Team Notes week 14 2020

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

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

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it, "Gone is the idea that the Arizona Cardinals control their own postseason fate.

"And, for now, gone are the playoffs."

Both vanished Sunday afternoon, when the Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 38-28, at State Farm Stadium. Elsewhere, the Minnesota Vikings won their fifth game in six tries to tie the Cardinals with a 6-6 record, but because of the common-games tiebreaker, the Vikings now sit in the seventh playoff spot in the NFC.

Meanwhile, Darren Urban of the team's official website notes the pieces are the same. The play caller. The quarterback. The receivers (albeit with Larry Fitzgerald on the reserve/COVID-19 list). The running backs. The offensive line. How is the offense so much different right now, over this last three-game stretch -- all losses -- than it had been for most of the season?

This is what the Cardinals have to figure out.

And fast.

If the Cardinals win out -- at Giants, Eagles, 49ers, at Rams, so far from any certainty, especially with the way things have gone the last month -- they could still be in the playoffs.

But they have no chance of winning out without an offense to carry them.

That was always going to be the key of the 2020 Cardinals. The offense was going to have to drive. Feels like they've left the car in park for some reason.

On Sunday, the Cardinals had a pitiful first half, amassing 82 total yards -- 59 of which came on a touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to tight end Dan Arnold -- and had the ball for just 7:18, the shortest amount in a first half under coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Murray finished the game with only five carries for 15 yards. The passing attack didn't benefit, as he was 21-of-39 for 173 yards with three touchdowns, a fumble and a pick-six. The Cardinals' 232 total yards were a season-low.

"We've kind of hit a wall, as far as offensively," Murray said. "That first half of the season, it was kind of effortless. We were moving the ball, having fun, playing fast. When you face a little bit of adversity, how do you react? How do you adjust? Which we ended up doing, but it was just a little too late."

While Murray has said multiple times this season he doesn't believe he needs to run for the offense to be successful, the results are stark.

In the seven games he has carried the ball eight times or more this year, the Cardinals are 6-1 with an average total of 32.1 points per game. In the contests in which he has carried it fewer than eight times, the Cardinals are 0-5 while averaging 22.0 points per game.

Murray has rushed five times apiece in the past three games -- all losses -- and the offensive production has been substandard each time. The Rams sacked Murray twice on Sunday and forced several throwaways by hemming him into the pocket. His longest run was only seven yards.

KeeSean Johnson was the only wide receiver in the first half with a catch -- one for six yards -- and when the Cardinals finally did get into field goal range before intermission, kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard attempt.

"When you lose by 10 points, you look back and say, 'What could we have done?'" Murray said. "If we had a better first half, we probably would been in a better situation to win that game."

Kingsbury went back to his roots to open the second half, using four wide receivers and pushing the tempo without a huddle.

The Cardinals cut the deficit to three points twice in the second half, but the Rams responded with touchdowns each time. Any chance of a late rally was stopped when Murray lost a fumble and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Troy Hill on back-to-back drives.

"I thought he continued to play hard and compete when things were going bad," Kingsbury said. "He came back in the second half and continued to give us a chance. Kept us in it. Obviously it got out of control there late."

Kenyan Drake finished with 10 carries for 49 yards, but 27 came on a long run after the outcome was already decided. Chase Edmonds had six carries for 28 yards, and while the team yards per carry of 4.4 was respectable, the rushing attack was again far from the dominant group it was earlier this season.

As it currently stands, the Cardinals' passing game is struggling to move the ball efficiently, and Murray's legs are no longer able to cover up those issues.

Next up for Arizona is a Giants team that's won four in a row.

Other notes of interest. ... DeAndre Hopkins finally got to 1,000 yards for the season, although I'm sure he thought he'd get there sooner than he did. Only 52 yards on Sunday (on eight catches) and the Cards are going to struggle to get their offense going if they can't find a way to get Hopkins loose.

Hopkins was frustrated, not surprisingly, but late in the game, right before Arnold's second touchdown, he felt he was all but tackled before the ball arrived in the end zone by Jalen Ramsey. He waited until the Cards called timeout, but he took off his helmet and pleaded his case. It fell on deaf ears.

The Arnold 59-yard score was the longest against the Rams all season.

Arnold is turning into a consistent option in the passing game. His three TD catches this season have been during the past three weeks. ...

For what it's worth, Urban isn't sure what happens with Gonzalez, but his spot has to at least be under serious discussion this week. GM Steve Keim just said Friday "we have expectations of Zane" and making that kick Sunday was part of those.

It was his second straight missed field goal attempt. The last one was last Sunday in New England, on what could've been the go-ahead and, potentially, the game-winning field goal.

Gonzalez has missed two potential game-winning field goals attempts this season.

Kingsbury doesn't appear to be considering a change.

"Zane is our kicker," the coach said when asked directly about Gonzalez on Monday, via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic.

Kingsbury said he still has confidence in Gonzalez but acknowledges he's missing kicks he needs to make.

And finally. ... Fitzgerald missed his second straight game Sunday. He won't have to miss a third.

Fitzgerald is officially off the COVID list, with the Cardinals moving the wide receiver back to the active roster on Tuesday.

Adding the veteran back to the offense -- a unit that has struggled mightily in his two-game absence -- can only help.

Fitzgerald returns after going on the list on Thanksgiving. He has not practiced since that Wednesday, missing the last two games. He reportedly tested positive, although he has not confirmed that and the team is unable to say. Kingsbury said Monday the Cardinals have missed Fitzgerald both on the field and with his leadership.

Coincidence or not, the players the Cardinals have had spend time on the COVID list and then come back have had varying degrees of playing time since their return.

Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. has played a total of 59 snaps the past two games, fewer than he usually got in most single games this season, after returning to play 66 in his first game back. Safety Deionte Thompson just got off the list, and wide receiver KeeSean Johnson was on it earlier this season.

Meanwhile, linebacker Devon Kennard has played 11, 19 and 11 snaps in the three games since his return. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said it was a matter of specific game plans.

"To be completely honest it's frustrating," Kennard said Tuesday. "I want to be out there as much as possible to help the team. To be not out there on a consistent basis and get into a rhythm and try to help the team win, it's frustrating at times. But I am a team player and the most important thing for me is helping us win.

"I'm working my tail off to try to get back more heavily in the rotation like I was at the beginning of the year. I feel I was making an impact then and injury and COVID and it hasn't happened since then."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Harry Lyles Jr. suggested, the Falcons' defense wasn't prepared for a rematch against the Taysom Hill-led Saints offense in a 21-16 loss, a poor reflection on interim head coach Raheem Morris.

The Falcons' defense has improved since Morris took over as head coach. Coming into Sunday's game, the Falcons had just played their best defensive game of the season against the Raiders, forcing five turnovers and five sacks. Against Hill and the Saints, they looked like a completely different and much worse unit.

Sunday was the second time in three weeks the Falcons played the Saints, who got the best of Atlanta 24-9 in Week 11. In the first half, Atlanta had trouble stopping the Saints, whether in a zone or man-to-man. New Orleans was especially good with the intermediate passing game and run in the first half.

The Falcons' defense played better in the second half, but in terms of a complete body of work, it's exactly the kind of performance you wouldn't want to see from your defense against an inexperienced quarterback.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Triplett contends the most critical play in Sunday's loss was a microcosm of the Falcons' past two months: Running back Todd Gurley and the run game heading in the wrong direction.

Gurley lost 7 yards on a third-and-2 run from the Saints' 13-yard line with 1:49 remaining. Quarterback Matt Ryan then threw incomplete on fourth-and-9.

"Gurley saw the bounce look and he took the bounce look," Morris said of Gurley's decision to run wide before being hit by Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and brought down by Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

"You don't really want to take the bounce look in that situation. He did. He reacted as a football player would do. They were able to get him down around his ankles and get a big-time loss."

Obviously Gurley should not be singled out for the loss.

But Gurley and the Falcons' run game have been losing their footing for quite some time now.

After he started strong with his new team in the first five weeks, Gurley has averaged just 2.61 yards per carry since Week 6. That ranks dead last among 78 players with more than 25 carries in that span, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

As a team, the Falcons also rank last in the NFL over that span with 3.21 yards per rush.

Gurley has been dealing with an unspecified knee injury since Week 11 and did not play in Week 12.

Morris said they decided to use him "situationally" against a Saints' run defense that ranks No. 2 in the NFL this season. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said the plan for Gurley heading into the game was to use him on third down and in the red zone. In this case it meant the running back's primary usage came late in the game.

Gurley played a season-low 22 snaps and had only nine touches, including season-low totals of eight carries for 16 yards.

It's possible that the 26-year-old could get healthier this offseason and still be part of Atlanta's future plans after his one-year, $5.5 million contract expires. He looked like one of the team's bright spots early in the season, when he ran for 375 yards and five touchdowns with 4.75 yards per carry over the first five games.

However, the Falcons' running back situation should be added to a long list of areas this team will need to consider rebuilding this offseason.

Backup Brian Hill will also be a free agent.

Another popular topic in the Falcons' postgame interviews was whether the team still has confidence in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter as a play caller -- and whether he was right to call all three of those run plays in the first place.

Receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley didn't complain about that series of play calls, both giving almost identical answers about how no one would have second-guessed those decisions if the team had executed.

When asked about Koetter, Morris said he remains confident in the team in general -- "and you'll never separate anybody when you're talking about team."

And Ryan said, "I do have confidence" in Koetter, who "does a good job of putting the plan together and putting us in situations to be successful."

"I think like every week, there's some things he would do differently. And there's things we gotta do differently as players and make plays when the situations present themselves," Ryan said. "That's how I feel at this point. I feel like we've gotta find a way to get the job done.

"I don't think we've played well enough for sure. I don't think we've played up to the standard that we're capable of. And I think everybody needs to look in the mirror and find out what are the things individually we can all do better."

The lone bright spot offensively?

The Saints had not allowed a touchdown in 14 quarters, the longest streak in their franchise's history. The Falcons broke that in the fourth quarter with Ryan's 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage midway through the fourth quarter. The last team to go that long within a single season was the 2000 Steelers, who went 21 straight.

Another positive?

Younghoe Koo is the long-term answer at kicker. Koo had already established this with the season he's had, building off a solid 2019 campaign. But in a game that left the Falcons looking for any sort of positives, Koo remained the one constant that Atlanta doesn't need to fix.

Koo finished the game 3-for-3 on kicks, one of which came from 53 yards out. He's made 50-plus yard FGs in four straight games, one of the reasons why he shared NFC Player of the Month honors for November with the Saints' Cam Jordan.

Matt Bryant was automatic for the Falcons for years, and they'll hope the 26-year-old Koo can do the same.

Less positive?

Tight end Hayden Hurst has at least four catches in six of his last eight games. The two exceptions came against the Saints, including Sunday when he had only one catch for 9 yards on four targets. After having three touchdown catches in his first five games with Atlanta, Hurst has not scored in six consecutive games. ...

Next up. ... The Falcons head to Los Angeles on Sunday to face the Chargers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

Lamar Jackson returned from a bout with COVID-19 to blast the Dallas Cowboys in Tuesday night's 34-17 victory.

Jackson and the Ravens ran all over a feeble Cowboys defense to the tune of 294 rushing yards. Jackson, who missed last week's game after contracting COVID-19, galloped for 94 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries while adding 107 yards passing and two more TDs.

"I wouldn't wish that on anybody, though. It's not good to have," Jackson said of contracting the virus, noting that he still can't smell or taste.

"It felt like I didn't play for a whole season," he added, via the team's official website. "I was like, 'It feels good to be back with my guys.' Even in practice, walking into the locker room and stuff, I was like, 'Man, I couldn't wait to see you, your faces.' It was like two weeks that I didn't see those guys. I couldn't wait to get out there and perform for those guys, because I know how much it would mean for us to win games."

While fellow QB Cam Newton admitted to struggling in his return from his COVID-19 experience earlier this year, Jackson looked as good as he has in weeks against a Dallas defense that couldn't stop an ant even if it had an anvil.

Tuesday marked Jackson's third career game with two or more passing TDs and one-plus rushing score. While he exploited the Cowboys' inability to stop the run, Jackson also threw the ball better than he has in weeks. The counting stats won't jump off the page -- Baltimore didn't need him to put up huge passing numbers -- but his accuracy was better than it's been recently, highlighted by the pin-point TD pass on the move to Marquise Brown in the corner of the end zone. Jackson snapped a streak of six consecutive starts with a sub-100 passer rating, which was the longest streak of his career as a starter.

With his 37-yard rushing score in the first quarter, Jackson became the only player in NFL history with 5,000-plus pass yards and 2,500-plus rush yards over his first three seasons. Jackson's 5.9 career yards per carry are the highest by a player with a career average of 10.0-plus carries per game in NFL history, next on the list is Bo Jackson (5.9).

In truth, no one knew how Jackson would return from the COVID-19 list. The still-spreading virus affects everyone differently. Some have taken weeks to get back into the flow.

The Ravens desperately needed Tuesday's performance from the reigning NFL MVP to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.

"Well, the one thing you do know about Lamar, you're going to get everything he's got -- that's really all you can ask for," head coach John Harbaugh said. "He's going to give you whatever he has, and it turned out that he had a lot tonight. That was good to see. I don't think you could predict that.

"He came out to practice. He looked good in practice. He was strong and healthy. I'm just impressed by the fact that he was on top of the game plan so well. He'd been studying, obviously, through the whole time he was away, and he played a great football game."

That great football game pushed the Ravens to 7-5, one game out of the final playoff spot, ahead of a big AFC North matchup with the 9-3 Cleveland Browns on Monday night in Week 14.

The Ravens next play the Cleveland Browns (9-3) on Monday Night Football. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Ravens have rushed for 100 yards in 35 straight games, third-longest streak in NFL history. And as the overall total implies, it wasn't just Jackson who was running past Cowboys defenders. It was Gus Edwards, who only needed seven carries to net 101 yards. J.K. Dobbins (11 carries, 71 yards, one touchdown) averaged 6.5 yards per carry, and Mark Ingram (six carries, 28 yards) was also back in the lineup after he and Dobbins missed last week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It was very encouraging," Harbaugh said. "I think our guys did a great job. They blocked. They ran. Our wide receivers blocked. The tight ends, the guys that are new to the program, came in and did a good job. It's always a team effort. Obviously, Lamar had a lot to do with that, as well. So, yes, [I'm] very happy with that. That's big for us."

A strong rushing attack can carry a team in December, and if the Ravens continue to run the football effectively, it bodes well for their chances to make the playoffs. With their backfield intact and Jackson looking frisky after a one-game absence, the Ravens ran almost at will against Dallas. That's something they hope to build on, as they prepare for next Monday night's matchup against the surging Cleveland Browns (9-3).

While Dallas entered the game with the NFL's worst run defense, the Browns' run-stopping unit is in the league's top 10. It won't be as giving. ...

The game was supposed to feature Ravens receiver Dez Bryant going against his former team, but Bryant left during warmups and was scratched with what Baltimore termed "an illness."

Bryant wrote on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19 and later posted: "Yea I'm going to go ahead and call it a quit for the rest of the season... I can't deal with this."

He subsequently posted a series of tweets, including, "Yea I'm coming back... I'm being smart."

Bryant scored 73 touchdowns with the Cowboys from 2010-17. He was signed by the Ravens in October and saw his first action in two years, catching four passes in three games. ...

Kicker Justin Tucker isn't automatic, after all.

Tucker's NFL-record field goal streak ended Tuesday night when he sliced a 36-yard try wide left in the second quarter.

Tucker had previously made 70 straight field goals inside 40 yards. No other kicker in league history had made more than 67 in a row.

Tucker's miss came just after he had converted a 31-yard field goal that would've tied the game at 10. But guard Bradley Bozeman was called for a false start, moving the ball back 5 yards and forcing Tucker to kick again.

It marked the shortest field goal ever missed by Tucker. He had a 34-yarder blocked by the New England Patriots in 2016, when linebacker Shea McClellin leaped over long-snapper Morgan Cox.

Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, making 90.7 percent of his kicks even after that miss (284-for-313). ...

One last note. ... Mark Andrews and Willie Snead missed this game while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Andrews was activated from the list on Wednesday; I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

The passes zipped through the air one by one, almost always finding their intended target right on the hands and in stride.

By the time Josh Allen was done, the quarterback had finished one of the best games of his young NFL career, and the Buffalo Bills once again looked like one of the league's elite teams as they remained in sole possession of first place in the AFC East with a thoroughly impressive 34-24 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.

"That's our quarterback. He's a baller," safety Jordan Poyer said. "I don't know what answer you want me to say. It's no surprise to us what he does every week. I'm happy he's on our team."

Buffalo (9-3) moved a step closer to winning its division for the first time since 1995 thanks to a nearly flawless performance from Allen. The Bills are now one game ahead of the Miami Dolphins with four games left for both teams.

"I got into a zone today," Allen said, via Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com. "When it's spinning off your hand and you know what the ball's doing, what the tail's doing, that's kind of what I felt today."

In fact, Allen had one of the best performances of his NFL career. He completed 32-of-40 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns against a 49ers defense was ranked fifth in total defense entering the night.

The touchdown passes went to Cole Beasley, Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie and Gabriel Davis.

The 139.1 passer rating in the second best mark of his career behind the 146.7 posted against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. He completed 24-of-35 passes for 415 yards and four touchdowns that day. Performances against the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams this season are also standout showings for the budding star gunslinger.

Allen, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, being able to perform to this level consistently shows the massive progress he's made during his three seasons in the NFL.

It was Allen's fourth game of the season with at least 300 yards passing and three touchdowns, which set a franchise record. Jim Kelly did it three times in 1991 and Drew Bledsoe three times in 2002.

"As long as it correlates to team success, it means we're doing the right thing, making the right decisions and we're winning football games," Allen said. "That's all that matters to me."

The Bills had a much more pleasant trip to the desert than three weeks ago, when they lost a 32-30 heartbreaker to the Arizona Cardinals. That was the game when DeAndre Hopkins made a stunning catch over three Buffalo defenders with 2 seconds left for the game-winning score.

The Bills got a rare prime-time win. They're now 8-22 in prime-time games since 2000, and 2-8 on Monday night, with their one victory coming against the Jets in November 2014, when the game was moved back a day and played in Detroit after a major snowstorm snarled much of Buffalo.

It was their first win in an official "Monday Night Football" game since beating Miami 23-18 in 1999.

Next up, the Bills host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. ...

Other notes of interest. ... There was no John Brown and Stefon Diggs had a bit of a slow start, but Beasley keeps on producing for the Bills. Beasley hauled in a five-yard game-tying score in the second quarter. At halftime's end, Beasley had already passed up 100 yards, having caught seven balls on seven targets for 113 yards.

While the Bills' little big man had a huge opening half, Allen got just about everyone involved thereafter, as his touchdowns went to a different receiver every time. Diggs had a 92-yard night in which he surpassed 1,000 yards for the third straight season. Nonetheless, with Brown out and Diggs always commanding attention, Beasley's big start -- he ended the game with nine catches for 130 yards -- was a huge boost and has been much of the season. Much like Diggs, Beasley has blossomed since joining Buffalo.

McKenzie said after the game that the quality and depth of the group, even without Brown, makes life difficult for those trying to stop them.

"You gotta figure it out in a hurry because as a receiver group, all we think about is getting open and catching the ball," McKenzie said, via Matt Parrino of NewYorkUpstate.com. "Josh knows that -- we're going to get open for him regardless. When it's time to get open, we got to be open. The guys that are covering us have to be prepared to cover us. ..."

Zack Moss played only 11 snaps Monday night. Few came after the team’s first two possessions.

Moss fumbled on the team’s first drive, though it was overturned on replay. Replay couldn’t save him on the second.

Although the statistics gave Allen a lost fumble on an aborted play, the Bills make it clear Moss was at fault on the botched exchange. Moss did not return until the fourth quarter.

“The reason you didn’t see him is because we can’t put the ball on the turf like that and expect to win games. Zack had to learn a hard lesson,” head coach Sean McDermott said Tuesday, via AJ Feldman of RochesterFirst.com. “My conversation with Zack was really just more importantly is he able to reset, was he able to reset during the game.”

Moss ended up with three carries for 9 yards, his last coming on a third-and-one early in the fourth quarter. He lost a yard.

But McDermott made it clear the play call showed the trust the Bills still have in Moss.

“We brought him back in and I think that speaks to our trust in him and our belief in him, number one, and his ability to reset,” McDermott said. “[To] go back out there and make the adjustment he needed to make for our football team.”

Moss still officially has no fumbles on 83 touches this season. Allen is tied for fifth in the NFL with seven fumbles, six of them lost. ...

On the injury front. ... Beasley left in the first quarter and was evaluated for a head injury but quickly returned. ... Devin Singletary (knee) left in the first quarter but returned.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed, while the win-loss record might not reflect it, first-year coach Matt Rhule has the Panthers headed in the right direction.

The Panthers are 4-8 coming off the bye week and any realistic chances of reaching the playoffs -- even with an extra wild card team added in both conferences this year -- have all but evaporated.

But the playoffs were never an expectation for the Panthers, who began the season with a new coaching staff, a new franchise quarterback and a revamped roster with more turnover than any team in the league. The lack of an offseason and preseason games due to the coronavirus pandemic limited Carolina's chances of developing much in the way of chemistry and put Rhule and his staff of mostly college coaches even further behind the eight-ball.

Consider that running back Christian McCaffrey, the team's most dynamic player, has been limited to three games this season due to ankle and shoulder injuries, and it's quite remarkable the Panthers have been as competitive as they have been.

Carolina has been in every game in the fourth quarter this season except one.

This a team that went to Kansas City and nearly upset the defending champion Chiefs, losing 33-31 when Joey Slye's desperation 67-yard field goal at the end of regulation came up a couple of yards short.

While Rhule is incredibly competitive and wants to win now, he also understands that it takes time.

Reed reminded readers that Rhule has been through this type of rebuild before as head coach at Temple and Baylor.

In both cases, Rhule inherited bad teams and struggled with losing records in his first season, only to turn those programs into consistent winners. Whether that formula works for him at the NFL level in Carolina remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear players have bought into what Rhule is preaching.

"What coach Rhule is building here is fun to be a part of," Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "He's laying the foundation of a team that is going to be a tough team, a fast team and a team that plays for one another. That is great to be a part of. There is a competitive atmosphere and it is bringing out the best in everyone."

Rhule is most proud of the fight his players have shown this season. They never seem to give up, losing six games by a combined 25 points.

"That doesn't make us feel better, but it tells us that in a year when we were picked to be not very good -- where a lot of people didn't think we would have more than three, four or five wins -- we are closer and closer each and every week," Rhule said.

The biggest thing for the Panthers moving forward into 2021 is learning how to win those close games. But many of the pieces are place, including McCaffrey, wide receivers Curtis Samuel and D.J, Moore and right tackle Taylor Moton on offense, and defensive end Brian Burns and linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn on defense.

The biggest challenge moving forward will be adding depth.

Rhule often talks about building a winner being a "process" -- and he thinks the Panthers are getting there, maybe even faster than expected.

"I feel like we've come a long way in terms of the brand that we want to play, in terms of the style, in terms of the work ethic, the practice and the locker room," Rhule said. "The guys not feeling like they are independent contractors but feeling like they are part of a team."

At the beginning of the season, the talk was whether the Panthers would be in the so-called Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, meaning they would have a shot at the No. 1 pick in 2021.

They're clearly not.

The Panthers enter the final month of the season with a chance to break even at 8-8 if they can run the table with wins against Denver, Green Bay, Washington and New Orleans. The good news for the Panthers is that McCaffrey, who they planned to build their offense around this year, is expected to return after the bye week.

Win or lose, the Panthers will battle you until the end.

Rhule has made sure of that.

"I feel like we are a tough team," Rhule said. "We have battled back through adversity and we play really hard and we are competitive."

A couple problems. ... The Panthers are returning from a bye week to COVID-19 issues.

Receiver D.J. Moore and Samuel are among the eight players being added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Also given that designation were defensive tackles Derrick Brown and Zach Kerr, linebacker Shaq Thompson, tackle Greg Little, and punter Michael Palardy (who is on injured reserve), while wide receiver Ishmael Hyman will go on practice squad/COVID-19.

In addition to last week's additions of defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and practice squad defensive tackle Bruce Hector, that gives the Panthers 10 players hitting COVID-19 lists in the last week.

The facility was closed Monday and Tuesday, along with the rest of the league after the NFL instituted heightened protocols.

It is unknown whether Moore and Samuel tested positive for COVID-19 or was deemed a high-risk close contact to someone who did.

The reason for heading to the reserve list would indicate their potential availability for Week 14.

Moore left Week 12's loss to Minnesota after suffering an ankle injury late. Rhule noted X-rays were negative on the ankle, giving the wideout a chance to return after the bye week.

Now Moore is dealing with a different issue that could keep him out.

Taking away Moore and Samuel would subtract 36.5 percent of the team's receptions (Moore has 50 and Samuel 54 of the team's 285), 46.2 percent of their receiving yards (Moore 924, Samuel 517, team 3,120), and 46.7 percent of their receiving touchdowns (Moore four, Samuel three, team 15).

Their absence would leave the Panthers with Robby Anderson, Brandon Zylstra, and Pharoh Cooper as wideouts on the active roster. Zylstra and Cooper have combined for three catches for 44 yards this season. The Panthers also have Shelton Gibson and Marken Michel on the practice squad.

The good news here is there were no further positives tests on Tuesday and the Panthers remain on track to reopen their facility and practice Wednesday. Obviously, the players who tested positive and any high-risk close contacts won't be there, but the contacts are eligible to be cleared to play Sunday.

Also remember, teams don't necessarily announce whether a player tested positive or was just a close contact. If Moore and/or Samuel were in the latter group, they could be cleared to play on Sunday. ...

Of course, the Panthers are expected to get McCaffrey back this week, which should help spread out the offensive load.

He's missed the last three games with a shoulder injury.

"There's nothing to make me think that he's not," Rhule said, via David Newton of ESPN.

Well. ... That might have changed Wednesday.

McCaffrey was limited with a shoulder injury and a new injury -- thigh, which he tweaked last week, according to Rhule.

Rhule said it tightened up Wednesday.

McCaffrey suffered the shoulder injury against Kansas City on Nov. 8. That was McCaffrey's first game off injured reserve after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in the Panthers' Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers.

After becoming only the third player to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season in 2019, McCaffrey has played only three games in 2020. He's amassed 374 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns this year.

Backup Mike Davis has 52 receptions this year, showing he's able to be a key part of the passing game.

I will, of course, be following up on McCaffrey, Moore and Samuel via Late-Breaking Update as the week plays out.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson framed it like this: "Blow it all up.

"The Chicago Bears (5-7) are done. Finished. Over. ..."

Dickerson went on to explain that Chicago pulled off the impossible on Sunday when it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory versus a Lions team that just fired its coach and general manager.

Clinging to a three-point lead with 1:54 left in the game, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky made the unforgivable error of fumbling the ball on a strip sack that Detroit recovered on Chicago's 7-yard line. Adrian Peterson did the rest, scoring from five-yards out to give the Lions an improbable 34-30 come-from-behind victory.

The Bears have now lost six straight, and appear in serious danger of having the make major offseason changes.

The loss is particularly galling because Detroit accomplished Sunday what the rest of the league could not.

The Lions made the Bears' 31st-ranked offense look good, mostly.

Head coach Matt Nagy's offense -- ridiculed from coast-to-coast after three recent debacles in prime time -- controlled tempo much of the afternoon, albeit with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays for the second consecutive week.

The Bears had more points at halftime (23) than they had in six entire games in 2020.

Lazor wisely kept the Lions off-balance by calling second-year running back David Montgomery's number 11 times in the opening half. Montgomery -- fresh off a 100-yard performance at Green Bay last Sunday night -- rewarded the coaching staff with 62 yards and two rushing touchdowns, including a gritty 13-yard score when he skillfully bounced outside to avoid would-be tacklers and dove successfully for the front corner of the end zone.

As a team, the Bears rushed for 140 yards, with Cordarrelle Patterson chipping in 59 yards on the ground and a touchdown -- Patterson's first touchdown from scrimmage since 2018.

Trubisky, who started again over Nick Foles, followed a predictable pattern for whenever he faces the Lions, until the fumble.

Trubisky played smart, efficient and turnover-free football as he recorded a passer rating of more than 100.0 for the fifth consecutive time against Detroit, but the turnover at the end of the game will forever haunt him.

Now, the Bears are 13-15 since going 12-4 in Nagy's first season with the team and he was asked why things have gone south.

"I don't know," Nagy said, via Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times.

That's the sort of answer that leads to questions about job security and Nagy fielded those as well on Sunday. He said, via JJ Stankevitz of NBCSportsChicago.com, that his "job is to do is to make sure that each and every week I'm giving it everything I can as a coach and a leader" and that anything else would be a distraction.

Absent an immediate change in fortunes, it's going to be hard to ignore such distractions in Chicago the next few weeks.

Indeed, the incessant calls to fire Nagy, general manager Ryan Pace -- and, well, everyone in the building -- are about to reach a fever pitch.

It's going to be an excruciating final four weeks of the season in Chicago.

For what it's worth, Nagy didn't want to discuss his future during his postgame session with the media. And on Monday he said he hadn't talked about it with chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips.

"We haven't had any of those discussions," Nagy said. "Again, for me and I said it to y'all last night: My job is to make sure that I'm taking care of these players and this team. And then anything else, when that time comes, we have those discussions."

Does he think he still has management's support?

"Yeah I do," Nagy said. "And I think, again, just knowing the type of team and players and person that I am and that we are, and the building that we have with Ryan and with our players, we totally understand where things are at and the frustration, understanding it. But I think that's where just communicating as to where we're at, what we have in front of us and how we need to finish. That's the only thing that we can do. And that's exactly what our job is to do, and that's why we're here right now is to do that.

"So we need to do it."

The Bears will try again to stop the slide when they host Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Montgomery may be on track to better his rushing total from his rookie season when he finished with 889 yards and six touchdowns. So far this season, he has raised his yards-per-carry from 3.7 to 4.1. Montgomery is hopeful that his recent upturn in production will continue over the final four games of the season.

"Just staying together," said Montgomery, "just sticking with it, trusting that God is in charge of the path, which He is, and just go out there and have fun and try to play more and more and more for my brothers."

Allen Robinson led the Bears in receiving yards for the 10th straight game with 75 yards on six catches. He had five receptions for 71 yards in the first half before catching just one pass for four yards in the second half.

Tight end Cole Kmet, the second-round draft pick from Notre Dame, was targeted a career-high seven times, with a personal-best five receptions. He caught an 11-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

Javon Wims played for the first time since serving a two-game suspension, catching one pass for 13 yards. The 2018 seventh-round pick from Georgia sat out games against the Titans and Vikings and was inactive versus the Packers. Wims was suspended by the NFL for punching a Saints defender in a Nov. 1 game at Soldier Field. ...

In making his only field-goal attempt of the game, Cairo Santos has now connected on his last 16 in a row and is 19 of 21 on the season (90.5 percent). His last missed field goal came in a Week 3 win in Atlanta.

Santos' first extra-point try was blocked Sunday. It was his first missed PAT of the season after hitting his first 20 and he is now 23 of 24 this year.

One last item. ... Robinson, who played through a knee issue Sunday, was limited with the same injury Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, the Bengals proved not all losses to the Miami Dolphins are equal.

Last season, Cincinnati's overtime defeat sealed the right to draft quarterback Joe Burrow No. 1 overall and showed signs of fight under new coach Zac Taylor. On Sunday, hope and optimism were the last things to be found in Miami.

The 19-7 loss to the Dolphins was arguably the low point for the Bengals in Taylor's two seasons as a coach. The Bengals let a halftime lead slip away, were absolutely dominated in the second half and showed a stunning lack of discipline that hadn't been previously seen since Taylor was hired in 2019.

In a lot of ways, it was a lot of the same tune for a Bengals team that has struggled to win games.

Cincinnati fell to 1-5 this season when leading at halftime and 2-9-1 overall, which keeps Taylor at four wins in two seasons.

But that's just a peek at how bad things were Sunday. Cincinnati lost back-up quarterback Brandon Allen in the fourth quarter after Miami notched its sixth sack. Allen was sacked after Miami edge rusher Shaq Lawson beat rookie left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, who came in to replace 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams after he was carted off the field with a right knee injury.

(Williams was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday.)

Oh, and then there were the ejections. Receiver Tyler Boyd and safety Shawn Williams were two of five players who were ejected, with the latter coming on a brawl that came after Mike Thomas' second penalty for unnecessary roughness in punt coverage.

There have been some bad losses under Taylor's tenure, which is understandable given the deep rebuild required. However, this Miami loss was different.

The Dolphins (8-4) are good but not of the same caliber of other teams that have delivered big beatings the past two seasons. And the way everything fell apart in the second half was also something that hadn't been seen. According to Baby, it still might be too early to speculate on Taylor's status as Cincinnati's coach.

But no matter the case, it's hard to imagine a worse performance by the Bengals since the start of 2019. No matter what happens the rest of the season, Cincinnati has to find a way to turn in better performances. ...

Meanwhile, Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson reported Monday that Allen appears ready to play this week. He confirmed that when Dolphins linebacker Shaq Lawson sacked him he fell on the ball and lost his wind.

"It was just my wind. I knew what it was," Allen said. "I've had it done before, and I was trying to get the words out that I was fine, but just wasn't really able to get my breath back for a while there so I couldn't really spit out those words. ..."

Ryan Finley replaced Allen after replacing Burrow two games ago. Finley relieved Burrow two weeks ago against Washington, but Allen started the past two games.

Rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins, who had five catches for 56 yards, got hurt on the Bengals' lone play longer than nine yards in the second half when he said he "tweaked," a hamstring vaulting over safety Bobby McCain on the last play before the two-minute warning during his 22-yard catch-and-run from Finley.

Although it looked like he was done for the day, Higgins sounded like it wouldn't keep him out this week against Dallas.

And if he has to vault again, he says he will.

"I'm a playmaker. Playmakers try to make plays and I tried to make a play. So if it comes about again, I'll do it again," Higgins said. "100 percent. That's who I am. Just go out there and try to make a play. I call myself a playmaker, so that's what I try to do every play."

Higgins is on pace for 70 catches, which would be a first for a Bengals rookie receiver.

Meanwhile, running back Joe Mixon is eligible to come off injured reserve this week, but will not play versus Dallas, per Taylor. The coach added, however, there's still a possibility for Mixon to return later this season.

Giovani Bernard has lost steam as Mixon's replacement.

Bernard hasn't topped 32 rushing yards in any of his previous four games with Mixon on injured reserve. As Rotoworld.com suggested, without Burrow the Cincinnati offense has struggled mightily, rendering Bernard nothing more than a low-floor PPR play. His matchup versus the Cowboys this week is better than Miami, but expectations should be low. ...

I'll follow up on Higgins as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days while keeping an eye on Mixon to keep you up to speed on when/if he might return for those invested. ...

A few final notes. ... Boyd went from euphoria to ejection in about 17 minutes. His only catch of the day was a doozy, a 72-yard touchdown off a screen for the longest catch of his career and a 7-0 Bengals lead with 3:20 left in the first quarter. Then with 1:03 left in the half he was ejected along with Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard for throwing punches in the sequence that turned the game.

The longest play from scrimmage for the Bengals since A.J. Green's 77-yard touchdown on Oct. 8, 2017 was just exactly what the Bengals had worked on to counter the Dolphins' all-out zero blitzes. Quick throws. Screens. Motion.

"We schemed them up good and we were ready for their zero-pressure and had a lot of quick screens in the run game and stuff, but they did a good job in the second half," Allen said. "They were playing it differently, playing some double-coverage on certain guys and we weren't able to execute versus some of that press-man they were showing us and we've just got to be better. Obviously when they make adjustments, we make adjustments but we just got out-executed."

After getting just 155 total yards last week, the Bengals had 171 at the half.

After getting 40 rush yards all last week, they had 36 at the half. But they would finish with just 196 total on the day and ended up with another 40 on the ground.

While Boyd remains a reliable fantasy play, it gets sketchy after that.

And finally. ... Receiver Auden Tate underwent successful shoulder surgery Tuesday morning by Dr. James Andrews to repair a torn labrum, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. Tate is looking at a four-to-six month recovery and should be ready for training camp. Tate finished the 2020 season with 14 catches for 150 yards in nine games played. The 2018 seventh-round pick has one year left on his rookie deal.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, with Baker Mayfield playing the best football of his career right now, the Browns are poised to make some noise and perhaps make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

"We are definitely trending in the right direction," Mayfield said Sunday after Cleveland's 41-35 victory over the Titans, which included a startling 38-7 halftime lead. "I would be lying if I said otherwise."

With four straight victories, the Browns most definitely are surging at the right time. No Cleveland player more so than Mayfield.

Since tossing an interception on the first drive in Week 7 against the Bengals, Mayfield has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception. During that stretch, Mayfield ranks sixth in the NFL in QBR (72.3) and third in yards per passing attempt (8.58), trailing just Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, despite playing three of those games in inclement weather conditions that severely hampered the passing game on both sides.

Sunday, however, Mayfield delivered perhaps the finest performance of his pro career.

Capped by a 17-yard score to Rashard Higgins, Mayfield threw four touchdowns before halftime, the most by a Browns quarterback in a first half since Otto Graham in 1951.

Mayfield actually completed 13 of his first 15 passes, with one of the incompletions coming on a drop on the opening drive by Donovan Peoples-Jones that would've given Mayfield five touchdown throws in the half.

No other NFL quarterback has tossed four touchdowns in a half this season.

Mayfield has now accomplished the feat twice, becoming the first Cleveland quarterback since Brian Sipe in 1983 with multiple four-touchdown passing games in a season.

"He's making plays left and right, in the pocket and out of the pocket," said head coach Kevin Stefanski, who has proved to be the perfect play calling partner for the third-year quarterback. "We had some unfortunate drops there in big moments [or] the numbers would be even better. He's playing at a high level."

The Browns already boasted arguably the top ground game in the league, powered by the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt operating behind perhaps the league's most improved offensive line from last season.

Now they have a devastating passing attack to complement it, led by Mayfield's playmaking precision.

Mayfield's first three touchdown passes against Tennessee all came off play-action, and all three pass-catchers had at least 3 yards of separation, according to Next Gen Stats. But throughout the game, Mayfield was on the money, no matter the coverage. In fact, Mayfield had a 0 percent off-target percentage to go along with his season-high 334 passing yards. According to ESPN Stats and Information, that is the second-highest passing total with a 0 percent off-target percentage over the last five seasons.

"He was hot. He continued to stay hot," said wide receiver Jarvis Landry. "That's a testament to a lot of hard work and to the things that he has been doing in his approach to make those throws and be as accurate as he was."

This season started ominously for Mayfield. He threw an interception on the opening drive of the opening game, a 38-6 loss at Baltimore. He tossed a pick-six on the first series of a 38-7 defeat in Week 6 in Pittsburgh. The following week at Cincinnati, he failed to complete a single pass in the first quarter while throwing another opening-drive interception on the play on which wideout Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury.

But since then, Mayfield has bounced back in a big way. He answered with three go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally Cleveland past the Bengals. And now, he has quarterbacked the Browns (9-3) to the cusp of their first playoff appearance in 18 years.

"You don't want to play the mental game too much when you're playing quarterback," Mayfield said of the earlier struggles and subsequent criticism he faced. "Just realizing what I'm capable of. I've always believed in myself, and I'm not going to pay attention to B.S. Just put my head down and work. The job isn't finished yet. Playing confident, being who I am and not looking for any approval on the outside is how I've always been the best at what I have done."

Mayfield has found his best again, and has perhaps positioned the Browns to be a force come January. ...

Worth noting, since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Browns have posted only two winning seasons, with the other coming in 2002, the last time Cleveland advanced to the playoffs. The Browns haven't been 9-3 since 1994, when they finished the regular season 11-5 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

Following a losing record a year later, then-owner Art Modell relocated the franchise to Baltimore and renamed it the Ravens.

The Browns next face the Ravens at home Dec. 14 on Monday Night Football. Cleveland lost to Baltimore in the season opener 38-6.

With a victory, Cleveland would boast its best record in 51 years.

"Winning is hard in this National Football League. There are a bunch of good teams, and they are coming at you week in and week out," Stefanski said. "I think our guys understand that we are just looking to go 1-0 each week, and there is so much work that goes into going 1-0. ..."

A few final notes here. ... Landry's eight receptions in the first half Sunday marked his second straight game with eight catches.

Chubb now has 11 carries of 20 yards or more this season, a total that leads the NFL.

With KhaDarel Hodge sidelined, Peoples-Jones took over as Cleveland's third receiver. His 75-yard touchdown catch was the longest touchdown catch by a Browns player since Week 2 of 2019 (Odell Beckham, 89 yards, at New York Jets). Taywan Taylor (neck) also missed Sunday's game; he was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

On Monday the team announced that they have claimed Marvin Hall off of waivers. Hall was cut by the Lions on Saturday.

Hall appeared in the first 11 games of the season for the Lions. He had 17 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

Hall will go through COVID-19 testing protocols before he can be formally added to the active roster in Cleveland.

The Browns placed offensive guard Wyatt Teller on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Teller was a close contact of a COVID-positive individual and not yet positive himself. That means he could return to action in five days and still suit up for Sunday's game against the Ravens.

One last note here. ... According to NFL insider Josina Anderson, preliminary discussions have already begun between the Browns and Higgins on a contract extension.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer wrote, "Officially, the Dallas Cowboys’ season is not over. Not even with a 3-9 record following Tuesday’s 34-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"But in reality, it is over. And maybe it has been over for weeks now. Maybe it ended when the Cowboys lost quarterback Dak Prescott for the season in October. ..."

The Cowboys continued to hang on the notion that anything was possible considering the lackluster play of the NFC East, that everything was still in front of them and they just needed to put it all together.

They can continue to say that if they want -- they are just two games out of first place -- but Archer contends it will ring hollow.

"This is a bad team that does bad things and will be looking at a top-five pick in next spring’s NFL draft," he added.

The Cowboys have lost six of their past seven games and are guaranteed their first losing record since 2015. In his past 40 games, Mike McCarthy’s teams are 14-25-1.

As NFL Network's Bucky Brooks wrote on Wednesday: " From the silly penalties to untimely turnovers to blown assignments, the Cowboys have played bad football from Week 1 and McCarthy's inability to solve the team's biggest problems is disappointing based on his championship pedigree. The one-time Super Bowl winner is ultimately responsible for the Cowboys' failures as the leader of the team. Considering how the team has looked under McCarthy's direction, Jerry Jones has to wonder if the veteran coach has the ability to right what appears to be a sinking ship."

After a 12-day break because of the Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak, the Cowboys’ defense looked like a unit that had not practiced at all. How else to explain giving up three rushes of at least 30 yards in the first half? The Cowboys allowed more than 200 yards on the ground for the fourth time this season, the most in the NFL. There have been 24 other 200-yard rushing games allowed this season.

It wasn’t as bad as allowing a franchise-record 307 yards rushing to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, but it was close. Baltimore finished with 294 yards on the ground, led by Gus Edwards’ 101 yards. He needed seven carries. Lamar Jackson had 94 yards on 13 carries. J.K. Dobbins had 71 yards on 11 carries.

Alas, it is not as bad as 2000, when the Cowboys had five games in which they allowed at least 200 yards rushing. But they do have four games left.

The Cowboys’ offense was functional, but still not explosive. The struggles in the red zone continued (2-of-4). Andy Dalton was sacked just once but he did not have a completion of more than 19 yards until the final minute of the game. He was also intercepted in the second quarter, which the Ravens turned into a one-play touchdown drive. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Cowboys have been outscored 120-28 in points off turnovers.

Their minus-92 point margin is the largest in the league.

One major question in Baltimore: Why didn’t Ezekiel Elliott get the ball more?

Brooks wrote: "Perhaps Kellen Moore believed the Cowboys' best path to victory was through Dalton and the team's other playmakers but it was a little surprising to see Elliott's role diminished in the second half after a solid start. The All-Pro runner had it going against the Ravens with 53 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half, including a 13-yard run that showcased his speed, vision, and burst.

"Elliott's strong performance should've prompted Moore to give him more touches in the second half, particularly with the game within reach until the fourth quarter. The Cowboys' RB1 should've been the centerpiece of the offense's game plan with a backup quarterback and a patchwork offensive line facing one of the NFL's top defenses but Moore opted to feature others instead of leaning on the talented workhorse."

For perspective, Elliott had more yards in the first quarter than he had in the entire Thanksgiving loss to Washington. In the third quarter he opened the series with runs of 14 and 3 yards and was pulled in favor of Tony Pollard. While Pollard has done a nice job of filling in at times for Elliott, Tuesday was not one of those nights. Elliott was decisive in his runs and was able to break some tackles.

Reasons for optimism?

Dalton gave the cowboys a chance to win with his efficient effort from the pocket. He completed 31 of 48 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while connecting to eight different receivers. The veteran excelled directing the Cowboys' quick-rhythm offense that featured an assortment of quick outs and hitches designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Although the small ball approach didn't produce any explosive plays, it enabled the Cowboys to counter the Ravens' aggressive tactics without giving up negative plays.

Overall, Dalton played well enough directing the Cowboys' conservative offense to guide the team to a win if the complementary football game plan was executed properly on the other sides of the ball (defense and special teams).

One issue that's likely to be addressed quickly: Greg Zuerlein entered Tuesday having made eight straight field goals and hit a 31-yarder in the first quarter. He missed a 40-yarder in the second quarter (after a delay of game penalty), a 53-yarder in the third quarter and a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter. He entered the game with three misses on the season.

Once known as “Greg the Leg,” Zuerlein is 1-of-6 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or more this season.

His five misses from 50-plus are tied for the most in the NFL. When a team has no margin for error, the kicker just can’t miss.

The good news?

While the Cowboys have another road game against an AFC North foe, facing the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday should be less challenging than Tuesday night in Baltimore.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, through all of the quirks, tipped footballs and odd turns Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the Denver Broncos finally got the game they wanted against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Broncos forced the Chiefs to kick field goals instead of score touchdowns, frustrated Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, pounded out the rushing yards -- 179 in all -- and hung around. But it wasn't quite enough in a 22-16 loss -- the 11th in a row for the Broncos against the Chiefs, and one that just might sting a little more than something more lopsided.

In the defending Super Bowl champions' stadium against the league's best quarterback, this was indeed a night for composure for the Broncos, for some grown-up, do-what-we-can-do patience. Especially from quarterback Drew Lock, whose second pass attempt was just the kind of impatient mistake that could have put the welcome mat out for yet another Chiefs rout.

The pass -- ill-advised as he threw it on the run, bypassing the easy completion to Nick Vannett right in front of him -- was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu. But unlike in games past, the Broncos and Lock hung in.

Head coach Vic Fangio's defense continued to be tough to decode in situational football -- on third down and in the red zone. The Chiefs' first nine plays in the red zone netted them minus-3 yards as Kansas City (11-1) kicked three field goals, a semi-herculean feat for a Broncos defense that has mixed and matched all season.

Toss in two Tim Patrick touchdown catches and a secondary that held on just long enough and the Broncos (4-8) were in position for the upset special. They came up short, but should feel better about effort despite not getting the result they wanted.

It was the Broncos' best performance in Arrowhead Stadium since a 2015 win -- Denver's last win over the Chiefs -- and the first time they held a halftime lead on the road over their rivals in six years.

That still wasn't enough to earn a win -- or for the Broncos to be pleased with their performance.

"There's no moral victories," Fangio said. "We came here to win. I fully thought we would win and I'm disappointed that we came up short."

But the second half was encouraging. Lock found Patrick in the corner of the end zone for a completion that NFL's Next Gen Stats called the most improbable touchdown pass of his career. Patrick had just 0.8 yards of separation from his defender and 0.9 yards of separation from the sideline, and the play had just a 27.1 percent chance of being completed.

Patrick finished the game with four catches for 44 yards and two scores.

"Tim has been Tim this whole year -- Mr. Reliable, Mr. Consistent," Lock said. "He's always, always there for you whenever you need him."

But Lock, who posted his best quarterback rating of his three career games against the Chiefs, threw a game-ending interception on fourth-and-5. He also threw an interception on the first drive of the game to finish the night 15-of-28 for 151 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The young quarterback now has two touchdown passes and five interceptions in his career vs. Kansas City.

"I thought him and really our entire offense responded well," Fangio said. "We had some nice drives. We converted some third downs there -- had a higher percentage than we have [had] all year and gave ourselves a chance to win. But we didn't finish it and ultimately that's what we came here to do is to win, and we didn't get it done."

Without a victory -- moral or literal -- the Broncos will now turn their attention toward carrying the performance over to a Week 14 matchup against Carolina. ...

Other notes of interest. ... It hasn't been the smoothest of seasons for running back Melvin Gordon since he signed a two-year, $16 million deal in the offseason. There have been fumbles -- four lost -- and a DUI arrest earlier in the season.

But Gordon popped a 65-yard run on the Broncos' fourth possession and finished with 105 yards rushing in the first half -- the first time since 2017 he had rushed for more than 100 yards in the opening half of a game. He finished with 131 rushing yards.

Phillip Lindsay rushed 14 times for 26 yard while playing through a knee injury. Jerry Jeudy caught 1-of-4 targets for five yards while playing through an ankle injury.

And finally. ... Cornerback A.J. Bouye has been suspended for six games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The NFL made the suspension official Wednesday with a statement, adding that Bouye would be "able to participate in offseason and preseason practices and games."

It means Bouye, who was acquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, will miss the Broncos' final four games of this season and would have to sit out the first two games of the 2021 season.

With cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) on injured reserve, Bouye's suspension means the already injury-riddled Broncos defense would also be without its starting two cornerbacks.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

Darrell Bevell's first game as interim head coach of the Lions was a wild rollercoaster ride.

The Lions got down 9-0 early to Chicago, trailed 23-13 at halftime and lagged 30-20 in the fourth quarter. That's when the furious comeback began.

Matthew Stafford led a 96-yard TD drive to close the gap to three. Detroit then forced a Mitchell Trubisky fumble, converting that into another touchdown. In about 40 seconds of game-time, the Lions went from down 10 to up four points.

The rollercoaster didn't stop there. No, there was more gut-wrenching for Bevell and crew in store.

The Bears drove into scoring range in the final seconds, sitting with a fourth-and-1 at the Detroit 20. On a day when Chicago running back David Montgomery consistently plowed through Lions defenders, picking up the yard to give the Bears another shot to win seemed foregone. Except on this play, Detroit stuffed the back.

Ballgame. Lions win, 34-30.

"My emotions right now, I can't even think straight," Bevell said after his first win, according to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around this whole thing, what just happened. Like I said, it was a great job by these guys of believing from the moment we started until the end.

"My mentality was that. If I'm going to lead these guys, I got to have the same belief. I believe in these guys. I believe in what we're trying to do and it goes to them. Those guys believe in themselves as well and I think it showed with how they reacted in those situations and how they played [Sunday]."

With the cloud of the Matt Patricia-era lifted, it was clear Lions players were willing to fight for Bevell.

Given the circumstances of being down double-digits for much of the contest, Detroit players could have mailed it in. No one would have noticed. Fewer would have cared.

A four-win team losing a road game with an interim coach wouldn't warrant so much as a glance.

Instead, the Lions battled back.

Stafford credited the environment Bevell created in his brief time as coach.

"I think his energy is infectious and guys feed off it and I really appreciate him as a person and just happy that he helped us get the win today," the QB said. "Guys went out there and played fast and free and it wasn't perfect, you know, there's plays we want back, but never quit, never really looked at the scoreboard. Just keep playing and let it all kind of figure itself out and it did."

The Lions won for the first time when trailing by double-digits since Nov. 19, 2017, the year before Patricia took over.

Detroit's furious comeback offered a reminder of the pre-Patricia days when Jim Caldwell's Lions would often get down big and fight back with some ridiculous Stafford drives.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra summed up: "It's much too early in the process to suggest Bevell should be considered a leader to keep the job. But one thing is certain: It's a much looser Lions team with Patricia gone. ..."

Other note of interest heading into this week's home game against the Packers. ...

A couple weeks ago Stafford passed Hall of Famer Joe Montana in career touchdown passes. Sunday in Chicago, Stafford tied another Hall of Famer, John Elway, with his 31st fourth quarter come-from-behind victory, tying Elway for the seventh most all-time.

Five different Lions pass catchers caught a pass of 20-plus yards Sunday. Two of Stafford's three touchdown passes were on balls that traveled at least 20-plus yards in the air. On passes in the 10-to-20-yard range, Stafford was 13-of-13 for 204 yards with a touchdown. Stafford's 9.57 average yards gained per pass attempt against Chicago was his highest in any game this season.

As Tim Twentyman of the team's official website notes, the Lions did a great job pushing the ball down the field, and it resulted in them scoring at least 34 points in Chicago for the first time since 1983.

Marvin Jones Jr. is closing in on some personal milestones in his ninth NFL season and fifth with the Lions. Jones had eight catches for 116 yards and a TD Sunday. He needs two more catches for 400 for his career, and two more TDs for 50. He needs 63 receiving yards for 4,000 as a Lion. Jones also is durable. He played 64 of 68 offensive snaps, most of any Lions receiver.

Jones led the Lions with eight catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. He passed Cloyce Box (32) for the sixth most receiving touchdowns in franchise history.

T.J. Hockenson had seven catches for 84 yards, and it seemed like a routine day for the second-year tight end. That's a sign of how consistently good Hockenson has become. He is set up for a strong finish. ...

Sunday marked the first time in the illustrious career of Adrian Peterson that he has rushed for multiple touchdowns in back-to-back games. Peterson had a pair of touchdown runs on Thanksgiving against Houston.

Kerryon Johnson suffered a knee injury in the second half Sunday and did not return.

Kenny Golladay (hip) missed his fifth straight game and D'Andre Swift, cleared from a concussion last Thursday, was unable to play in this one due to an illness.

Bevell told reporters before Wednesday's practice that Swift would likely be limited to open the week while Golladay will sit out the session.

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

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, six quarterbacks in NFL history had thrown 400 touchdown passes before Aaron Rodgers reached that milestone Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

None of them did it as quickly as Rodgers.

Not Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Not Dan Marino, Brett Favre or Philip Rivers.

The Packers quarterback reached 400 touchdown passes for his career in his 193rd regular-season game. That's 12 fewer games than Brees, who was previously the fastest to 400.

On his milestone day, Rodgers finished 25-of-34 passing for 295 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Green Bay's 30-16 win that pushed the Packers to 9-3, one game behind the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs

Rodgers, who turned 37 on Wednesday, began the day needing three touchdown passes to reach 400. With those three TDs Sunday, he also reached 36 for the year, giving him his fifth season with at least 35 touchdowns -- the most such seasons in NFL history. He had been tied with Brady, Brees and Manning at four each.

After a four-touchdown game the previous week against the Chicago Bears, Rodgers threw two more in the first half against the Eagles. No. 398 came on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, a fade to Davante Adams, who tied a Packers record with touchdown catches in seven straight games (Don Hutson did it twice in the 1940s).

Career touchdown No. 399 came in the final minute of the second quarter, when Rodgers narrowly avoided a sack in time to find Robert Tonyan wide open down the field for a 25-yarder.

No. 400 came in the third quarter and went to who else but Adams. It capped a 99-yard drive that Rodgers started with a 42-yard bomb from the back of his own end zone to Adams.

Adams presented the ball to Rodgers after the play.

"Yeah, that was a special moment," Rodgers said. "I can remember all the hundred notches. I said after the game in an interview this will be the first out of those that I actually probably will get the ball. . . . [The receivers] didn't say a whole lot during the week. It's always interesting to see who gets the milestone throw. It was pretty cool that Davante got it. I didn't do a whole lot on that play. It was a really good scheme and play. He did the whole thing and stiff-armed his way into the end zone.

"It's fun to have those milestones in back-to-back weeks. Like I said last week, a lot of it is longevity, but there also is some consistent play tied to it."

Rodgers last week became the 11th player in NFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards.

Rodgers is the only quarterback who had fewer than 100 interceptions (he has 88) at the time he reached 400 touchdowns.

Narrowing the focus down to this season, Matt LaFleur is benefiting from having Rodgers as his signal caller and Adams as a prime target.

"Those guys are two phenomenal players," LaFleur said afterward. "You could argue they are the best at what they do."

It wouldn't be a difficult case to make.

With four games left in the regular season, Rodgers' 36 touchdown passes ranks as the second-most in team history through 12 games behind only his own mark of 37 in 2011 (when he finished with 45 in 15 games). Sunday was his ninth game of the season with three or more touchdown passes.

With only four interceptions, Rodgers has posted 35-plus touchdown passes and five-or-less interceptions in the first 12 games for just the second time in his career.

Take the first half on Sunday alone. Rodgers completed 13-of-14 passes, marking the second time this season he's posted a 90-plus completion percentage in a first half (he was 11-of-12 against the Vikings in Week 8). Before this season, he had never done that in a first half.

All that after just turning 37 years old last week.

Rodgers' case for a third MVP was strong before Sunday's game. It might be stronger now with the Packers (9-3) in prime position for a run at the NFC's best record.

By the way, Rodgers was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...

Did I mention Adams?

In his last 16 games, playoffs included, Adams has 132 catches for 1,680 yards and 17 touchdowns.

With 10 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, he matched Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only receivers in the Super Bowl era with 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in their first 10 games of the season. Remember, Adams missed two full games and half of another yet still ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,029 yards receiving and tied for the league lead with 13 touchdown catches.

Sunday was his seventh straight game with at least one touchdown catch, tying the franchise record held by Don Hutson (who did it twice in the 1940s). He also has a streak of seven straight games with six-plus catches and a touchdown, tying Owens for the longest such streak in league history.

Rodgers and Adams have connected on 75 percent of their targets for an average of 9.2 yards per attempt this season. Both would be career highs as teammates if they held up.

By the way. ... Rodgers and Adams will undoubtedly benefit greatly from going up against a generous Lions secondary in Detroit this weekend. ...

Meanwhile, running back Aaron Jones rushed for 130 yards on 15 carries, including a career-long 77-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left in regulation. On that play, Jones became the first Packers player to register two carries of 75-plus yards in the same season. ...

On the injury front. ... Tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion), running back/kick returner Tyler Ervin (ankle) left the game and didn't return; wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was evaluated for a concussion. More on all that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

LaFleur used the word "concern" to describe the injury status of Ervin.

Ervin played his first game since missing two games with injured ribs and hurt his ankle after only four offensive snaps and four on special teams. He also missed two games earlier this season with a wrist injury. The latest reporting indicates he's heading to IR.

New returner Tavon Austin was inactive Sunday but likely takes Ervin's place this week.

"He's got to be ready to go, and I think he was ready to go last week," LaFleur said Monday, via Bill Huber of SI.com. "Can he fulfill that role of Swerve? We'll see where he gets throughout the week but, as a returner, that's one of the main reasons he was brought here and he's got to be ready to go. I know he's excited for his opportunity and he's a guy that I've got a lot of familiarity with being with him in L.A. (with the Rams) and got a lot of confidence in his ability."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

Deshaun Watson sat alone on the bench, a towel covering his face and his head in his hands for several minutes on Sunday after yet another frustrating loss by the Houston Texans.

This one to the Indianapolis Colts hurt the most because the Texans believed they were so close to a win.

Houston had a chance to take the lead with about 90 seconds left. They were at the Colts 2 when Watson fumbled a low snap and Anthony Walker pounced on it to secure Indy's 26-20 victory.

"I should have just caught the ball," Watson said. "I know it was a little low and hot, but for me I take pride in catching every snap regardless of where it is and how fast it is."

The Colts (8-4) led 24-20 at the break after Phillip Rivers threw TD passes of 21 and 39 yards. Their offense didn't score after that, but the defense held Houston (4-8) scoreless in the second half and Justin Houston added a safety with a sack of Watson in the end zone.

Watson was still emotional more than an hour after the game, choking up more than once while talking to reporters. He spoke candidly about the toll losing has taken on him.

"This (expletive) hurts," he said. "I'm tired of losing. Being so close over the years, it's just tough. It's tough."

A state champion in high school and the winner of a national championship at Clemson, Watson has struggled to deal with the disappointment.

"As a player over my career, even back in Little League, you haven't lost as many games, it's tough to handle," he said. "You hold so much weight on your shoulders where it just becomes a breaking point."

Interim coach Romeo Crennel was impressed with his team's effort even though the Texans came up short.

"We fought all the way to the end, we felt like we were going to win it, and except for one play, we probably would have won it. But we didn't win it," he said. "But I told those guys to hold their heads up because their will to win was exhibited today on the football field."

And there were positives.

As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop notes, for the first time this season, the Texans had two wide receivers with more than 100 receiving yards.

No, neither player entered the season in Houston's top four at the position, but receivers Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen took advantage of playing time and showed the team might have some young playmakers.

After Will Fuller was suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances and the Texans cut veteran receiver Kenny Stills last week, Coutee moved up the depth chart and Hansen was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster.

It's only one game, but the fact that the Texans had both Coutee and Hansen on the roster makes their decisions about their wide receivers this offseason even more questionable. Former general manager and head coach Bill O'Brien not only didn't play Coutee, but because he believed there was no future for the receiver in the offense, he signed slot receiver Randall Cobb to a three-year, $27 million contract. Coutee was behind both Cobb and punt/kickoff returner DeAndre Carter on the depth chart, a healthy scratch for six of Houston's first nine games this season before Carter was cut last month.

Now, Coutee is coming off his first game with more than 100 receiving yards since his rookie season in 2018 and Hansen saw his first offensive snaps since 2017, when he had nine catches all season.

On Sunday, Coutee led the way with eight catches for 141 yards and Hansen had five catches for 101 yards. Veteran receiver Brandin Cooks also had six catches for 65 yards.

Watson completed 26 of 38 passes for 341 yards, but did not have a passing touchdown for the first time this season. He did run for 38 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

Watson's streak without an interception ended in the third quarter, when the Colts' Kenny Moore wrestled the ball away from Cooks. It was Watson's first interception since Week 5. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he had 237 pass attempts between interceptions.

David Johnson (concussion) carried 10 times for 44 yards and a touchdown while failing to bring in either of his two targets during Sunday’s loss to the Colts.

Making his return from a three-game absence, Johnson managed 4.4 yards per carry against a tough defensive unit and scored a six-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter. He was hardly a factor in the passing game, but it's probable the team intended to ease him back into the lineup while letting Duke Johnson handle that department.

Assuming Johnson emerges without any setbacks, he should be in line to handle a larger load this Sunday against the Bears.

On the injury front. ... Tight end Pharaoh Brown sustained a concussion in the first quarter.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days as the Texans prepare to visit Chicago.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells framed it, "T.Y. Hilton just needed to go home. ..."

Wells went on to explain that Houston is like a third home to Hilton. There's South Florida, where he grew up. Indianapolis, where he's been since 2012. And then there's NRG Stadium in Houston, where Hilton has had some of the best games of his nine-year NFL career.

Hilton, whose play this season has raised questions on his future in Indianapolis beyond this season, had his best game in nearly two years when he had eight receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Colts' 26-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

With his receiving touchdown, he tied Joseph Addai (48) for the 10th-most total touchdowns in team history and passed Dallas Clark (46) for the sixth-most receiving touchdowns in team history.

The victory was necessary for the Colts because Tennessee was nearly 800 miles away getting beat by Cleveland. The Colts and Titans are again tied atop the AFC South with 8-4 records. The teams split their season series.

The 110 receiving yards ended a streak of 21 straight games without topping 100 yards for Hilton. Sunday was his first 100-yard receiving game since he had 138 yards against the New York Giants in Week 16 of the 2018 season, when Andrew Luck was still quarterback of the Colts.

Hilton has showed some life recently, breaking out from the worst season of his career with 81 yards receiving against the Titans in Week 12.

Sunday against the Texans was his fifth game with at least 100 yards receiving against them in nine games in Houston. He's averaging 117 yards a game in those contests.

Hilton did his damage in the first half against the injury-depleted Texans secondary. The strong passing game set things up for the Colts to run the ball in the second half. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who missed the Week 12 game after being placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, finished with 91 yards rushing and the Colts gained a total of 109 rushing yards.

Taylor added three receptions for 44 yards and his first-career receiving touchdown.

As Wells further suggested, the Colts need more of Hilton during the stretch run because they are far from a lock to make the playoffs. They're on the road this week to play at Las Vegas, which only has one fewer loss than the Colts. Indianapolis also has to go on the road to play at undefeated Pittsburgh in Week 16. ...

Worth noting. ... Philip Rivers has a foot injury that, according to a report Sunday morning, he will need postseason surgery to repair.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Colts quarterback has a plantar plate rupture.

But it has not kept Rivers from starting or from playing most of the team's offensive snaps since he injured his foot in Week 11 against the Packers. Sunday marked Rivers' 236th consecutive start, the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Rivers was not giving up any details about his injury afterward, downplaying it.

"Yeah, I mean, rather than getting into the details of everything, shoot, I'm just working each week, finding a way to be out there," Rivers said after Sunday's win. "I don't feel any limitations as far as what I can do out there. It's just a matter of managing it week to week at this point."

Rivers did leave the stadium wearing a boot, via Kevin Bowen of 1070 The Fan, and took a golf cart to the team bus from the visiting locker room.

His postgame press conference was delayed likely because Rivers was seeking treatment on his foot. Rivers went 27-of-35 for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

Rivers, who turned 39 on Tuesday, signed a one-year, $25 million deal with Indianapolis this offseason.

So offseason surgery could complicate his and the team's plans for 2021, if Rivers decides he wants to play another season. ...

More immediately, Rivers did not practice Wednesday; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but there's not much reason to believe he'll miss this game. ...

For the record. ... With his first 22 yards, Rivers reached 3,000 passing yards for the season and became the fifth player in NFL history to reach 3,000 passing yards in 15 seasons, joining Peyton Manning (16), Drew Brees (16), Tom Brady (18) and Brett Favre (18).

He also joined Favre and Brees as the only players to do so in 15 consecutive seasons.

With his first 18 attempts, he reached 8,000 career passes attempted. He became just the seventh player in NFL history to reach that plateau, joining Favre, Brees, Brady, Manning, Dan Marino and Eli Manning.

Running back Jonathan Taylor led the team in rushing with 13 carries for 91 yards and also

Finally. ... It's bad enough that the Colts were missing starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo. It got even worse when Le'Raven Clark, Castonzo's replacement, left the game with an Achilles injury Sunday.

Chaz Green played left tackle and the Colts offensive line had a difficult time keeping the Texans away from Rivers, who was sacked a season-high three times.

Reich announced on Monday that Clark will be out the remainder of the 2020 season and discussed how the team will continue to monitor the knee injury to Castonzo as the week progresses.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

The Jaguars lost their 11th consecutive game, 27-24, to the Vikings in overtime Sunday, but one thing has become clear over the past several weeks: This shouldn't be a long rebuild.

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes, whichever GM is hired won't have the same task Dave Caldwell did when he was hired in 2012. The new front office doesn't need to blow it up and start all over. There are foundational pieces in place, and with a few additions -- with QB topping the list, obviously -- the Jaguars could be a solid team in 2021 or 2022.

The Jaguars have continued to fight and, with the exception of the loss to Pittsburgh in which rookie quarterback Jake Luton threw four interceptions, have been in games in the fourth quarter since the bye week. Even without four of their top five cornerbacks and their best pass-rusher (Josh Allen) the last two weeks the Jaguars trailed in the fourth quarter by single digits and had chances to either tie or take the lead.

Mike Glennon, like Gardner Minshew and Luton, isn't the Jaguars' franchise quarterback.

He was solid in his first start and had his moments against the Vikings. But his three turnovers -- especially an interception in overtime -- really hurt.

His lone touchdown pass should have been intercepted, too, but the ball bounced off Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd's hands and Laviska Shenault Jr. caught it in the end zone.

Unless the Jaguars go on an unlikely win streak they are virtually guaranteed a top-three pick and that will take care of the quarterback issue. The 0-12 New York Jets have the top pick and the Jaguars are at No. 2, which would give them their pick of any quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence.

The Jaguars have 10 more picks after that, including another in the first round and two in the second. Hit on those players and then use some of the approximately $60 million in salary cap space (per Over The Cap if the league uses a $175 million cap in 2021) to add several other pieces, especially along the defensive line and at tight end, and the Jaguars should be one of the league's most improved teams in 2021.

Meanwhile, Glennon will remain the starting quarterback.

Head coach Doug Marrone made that clear immediately following a loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, saying that Glennon will remain the starter when the Jaguars play host to the Titans Sunday.

"I think that I'm going to go with him," Marrone said immediately after the overtime loss to the Vikings. "I think he still gives us the best chance to win as of right now so I'm going to stick with him right now for this week."

Glennon, after throwing two touchdowns with no interceptions in a loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, completed 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. He also led a late game-tying drive and threw the tying two-point conversion to wide receiver Collin Johnson with 1:08 remaining.

Glennon completed six of seven passes for 73 yards on the game-tying drive.

Sunday marked the first time that Games 1-7 starter Minshew had been off the injury report since reporting a thumb injury following a Week 7 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Minshew had been inactive in four games since, with Luton starting Games 8-10 and Glennon starting against the Browns last week and again Sunday.

"We're going to look at Mike," Marrone said. "We're going to evaluate it, but I think we're going to try to clean some things up for him and see how we can obviously do a better job."

The bottom line?

Glennon is a better fit for what offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to do and one of the areas in which he's far and away ahead of Minshew and Luton is working the middle of the field. Jaguars tight ends combined for 10 catches for 86 yards against the Vikings, the most catches by tight ends in a game this season.

Worth noting. ... Johnson is emerging as a playmaker for Glennon.

Johnson caught four passes for 66 yards and the above-mentioned game-tying two-point conversion against the Vikings and has eight catches for 162 yards and one touchdown in the past two weeks with Glennon at the helm. That's more than half of his season totals: 15 catches, 231 yards, two TDs.

Johnson said he and Glennon developed a lot of chemistry while working together on the scout team early in the season.

Meanwhile, Chris Conley's fumble helped the Vikings kick a field goal late in regulation, adding to a disappointing season for the veteran receiver. Conley also has a team-high three dropped passes this season, making it unlikely he returns in 2021. He is scheduled to be a free agent, along with teammates and fellow receivers Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook. ...

James Robinson rushed 18 times for 78 yards and a touchdown while catching all six of his targets for 30 yards against the Vikings.

As CBSSports.com notes, Robinson continued his stellar rookie campaign, exceeding 90 scrimmage yards for the 10th time in 12 games. He scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season from one yard out with 1:08 remaining, and the ensuing two-point conversion tied the score to send it to overtime.

Robinson should remain the focal point of Jacksonville's offense against the Titans, whom he carved up for 102 yards and a touchdown on the ground back in Week 2.

And finally. ... Marrone said injuries to Shenault (thumb) and center Brandon Linder (ankle) were still being evaluated Monday. I'll have more on Shenault and Robinson (knee), who were limited Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta, it's a good thing that tight end Travis Kelce doesn't spend much time dwelling on gaudy individual statistics.

Looking at his own wouldn't give Kelce much time for anything else.

With a game-high eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in their 22-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, the two-time All-Pro eclipsed 1,000 yards for the fifth consecutive season. He became the 26th player in NFL history with a streak that long, and the only tight end. Eight of those players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That's just the start: He has 1,100 yards receiving, the most for a tight end through 12 games; he had his 24th career 100-yard receiving game, the second most in franchise history; he now has 82 catches, joining Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten as the only tight ends to eclipse 80 catches in a season at least five times.

"It's something cool to hang your hat on when your career is over, I assume. I'm just trying to win football games," said Kelce, whose 45 career touchdown catches are tied with teammate Tyreek Hill for fifth in Chiefs history.

"All that stuff, this game -- I'm not the same without 10 other guys on that football field playing their tails off and moving the ball down the field," Kelce continued. "I'm a firm believer that individual accolades are a little overrated in this game."

Maybe they are sometimes. But all those big achievements also are a big reason why the Chiefs are 11-1 for only the second time in franchise history, locked up a spot in the playoffs, and are zeroing in on their fifth straight AFC West championship.

"He really doesn't care how you win football games. He just wants to win," Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "He's going to compete every single play. He's going to block, he's going to catch, he's going to run every single play. When you have guys that talented, and they don't care who gets the success, you have guys you can go out there and win with."

Meanwhile, Mahomes knows something about gaudy numbers, too. He threw for 318 yards and a score against the Broncos, breaking a tie with Trent Green for the franchise record with his 25th game of at least 300 yards. It was his eighth this season alone.

But not all was fantastic.

Before the second-half touchdown pass to Kelce, the Chiefs had been 0 for 4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and their streak of seven consecutive trips without a touchdown dating to the previous week against Tampa Bay was the longest in the league this season. Penalties, lack of execution, and the inability to run between the tackles have been the culprits.

"I didn't do a very good job in the red zone giving the guys opportunities to get in," head coach Andy Reid said. "I'll go back and work on that part and make sure I put these guys in position to make plays."

Of course, there was one that got away.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Hill caught one of the most improbable touchdowns that never was.

With just under 11 minutes left in the second quarter, Mahomes lofted a pretty pass from just beyond the 50-yard-line, arching toward a streaking Hill in the end zone. The wideout prematurely jumped, and the ball ricocheted off his hands as he fell to the turf.

The pigskin followed.

After glancing off Hill's hands, the ball caromed off the helmet of trailing corner A.J. Bouye and popped into the air. With a newly found spiral, the oblong followed Hill to the ground, grazed the wideout's helmet and nestled snuggling into the crook of his arm.

The play happened so fast that to the world it looked like an incomplete pass. Even Hill had no idea he'd made the catch. It wasn't until after slow-motion replay showed the improbable catch did the world realize it'd been completed.

At that very moment, however, Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend was booting the ball away. Reid could no longer challenge.

"I'll take the blame for that one," Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. "I've never had a receiver that didn't know he caught the ball. He came off and said he didn't catch it.

"I probably should've hung on to that a little bit longer to look at the replay. I've been doing this a couple years -- I've never had that situation. It was a new experience."

As a result, the most explosive play of the game went unrewarded.

"They were on it right when they saw it. That was right when we were punting the ball," Reid said of his crew seeing the replay. "It was a bang-bang thing. We didn't have time to really look at it before we kicked the ball. We kicked it without about 10 seconds left, and normally that's kind of where you let it go down -- right in that area -- and go with it.

"I checked with Tyreek. He came off. You can normally tell with a receiver whether he had it or not. Especially Tyreek. He was as surprised as any of us that he ended up with the football."

With the Chiefs pulling out the win, the missed TD catch will become a footnote as K.C. moves to 11-1 in its quest to repeat as champs.

"Man," Mahomes told Hill, "you're so good at receiver (that) you don't even know when you catch touchdowns these days. ..."

Next up. ... The Chiefs return to the road for a pair of tough games against the Dolphins (8-4) and Saints (10-2) beginning Sunday, then wrap up the season with home games against the stumbling Falcons and Chargers. The playoff spot they clinched against Denver is a franchise record sixth straight for the Chiefs.

Kansas City would clinch a fifth consecutive AFC West championship by beating the Dolphins. The Chiefs are chasing the 11-0 Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed and a first-round postseason bye. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Clyde Edwards-Helaire (illness) was active during Sunday night win but did not register a single snap.

Edwards-Helaire missed practice Thursday and Friday due to a stomach flu, and Matt Derrick of Sports Radio 810 WHB reports that the illness even caused him to lose some weight. It was only after the game, and Edwards-Helaire's surprise goose egg in a key fantasy week, that Reid revealed his intent to hold the rookie running back out except as an emergency option.

At this point, it seems likely he'll return to his usual role this week, but if there are any lingering concerns about his health the team could simply lean on Le'Veon Bell again.

Bell led Kansas City's backfield with 11 carries for 40 yards and two receptions (three targets) for 15 yards with Edwards-Helaire relegated to spectator. ...

Sammy Watkins is still getting back to speed after a lengthy hamstring injury, but Demarcus Robinson has filled in nicely in the passing game. He caught both of his targets for 39 yards against Denver, and his crisp route-running and sure hands are a big reason why he's supplanted Mecole Hardman in the pecking order.

Worth noting. ... Hill was not on the field for the start of the team’s preparations for the Dolphins because of an illness. It’s the first time that Hill has missed practice this season and it will mark his first time on the injury report since a heel issue led to him being listed in Week 6.

Offensive lineman Yasir Durant was also out sick on Wednesday and head coach Andy Reid told reporters that neither illness is related to COVID-19.

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

And finally. ... Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that the Chiefs got word at 3:30 a.m. ET Sunday of seven positive PCR tests from the day before.

The positives were all coaches and staff, and the Chiefs immediately launched into contact tracing and re-testing. Those who tested positive had to immediately come to the facility to be re-tested.

Although no players had tested positive, some were involved in the contact tracing.

As it turned out, the positives were all false positives, due to an issue at the testing laboratory. Still, it took five hours to get the situation under control.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

The game appeared all but over and the Las Vegas Raiders were about to lose to the lowly New York Jets.

Derek Carr and his teammates refused to be embarrassed.

Carr heaved a perfectly placed 46-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III with 5 seconds left, lifting the Raiders to a wild 31-28 victory over the still-winless Jets on Sunday.

"Once I looked back, it felt like the ball was in the air forever, like it couldn't come down," Ruggs said. "I just had to find it and make the play."

It set off a wild celebration for the Raiders (7-5).

"It didn't feel real to me," said tight end Darren Waller, who had two touchdown catches. "I didn't know what was going on. I sprinted full speed to Henry. ... It was pandemonium on our sideline."

Carr threw for 381 yards and three touchdown passes, and ran for another score.

Waller had 13 catches for 200 yards, becoming the 12th tight end since the 1970 merger with 150 or more yards receiving and two or more TD catches in a game.

It was the sixth time in NFL history that a tight end has had at least 200 yards in a game. Waller joins Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith, George Kittle, Rich Caster, and Pete Retzlaff on that list.

"I would say it's easily the best game I've had statistically," Waller said. "As far as consistency, I feel like I just try to live one day at a time and make one play at a time, and then stuff like that adds up. It's just about showing up and being consistent as possible every each and every play, and the results can take care of themselves. But as long as I'm locked in and focused, and doing what I need to do to be of service to my teammates, that's what I'm trying to do."

Waller now has 77 catches for 742 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.

According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Carr looked uncomfortable at best most of the day, rattled at worst, by a better-than-advertised Jets pass rush.

He was underthrowing passes in the fourth quarter.

On the day, Carr finished 28-of-47 for 381 yards and three TD passes with an interception that bounded off Ruggs' hands. Carr also ran one in from 2 yards out to give the Raiders a 24-13 lead midway through the third quarter.

But it was the bomb to Ruggs that gave the Raiders the win.

It was Carr's 23rd career game-winning drive, second-most in the NFL since the start of the 2014 season (Matthew Stafford has 26 such drives).

Remember, the Raiders played without running back Josh Jacobs and safety Johnathan Abram and they may be without them again in Week 14.

Jacobs sprained his ankle in the team's Week 12 loss to the Falcons and Abram was sidelined by a knee injury. Neither player practiced at all last week and head coach Jon Gruden didn't sound optimistic about their availability for Sunday's game with the Colts.

"I wouldn't expect those guys to play right now based on what I saw last week," Gruden said, via Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. "I'm sure they're down there getting treatment. We'll get 'em back as soon as we can. Hopefully we get some news on Wednesday."

Jacobs was missed by the Silver and Black, as the team rushed 25 times and averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Devontae Booker rushed 16 times for 50 yards and added a one-yard reception on two targets while getting the start in Jacobs' absence.

Booker was bottled up in the first half, totaling five yards on five carries. He found some more running room after halftime but ultimately played second fiddle to Carr, who in addition to tossing three touchdowns and ran in another.

If Jacobs isn't ready to return in Week 14 -- and he wasn't able to practice to open the week on Wednesday, Booker would be in line to handle a similar workload against the Colts.

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

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

Anthony Lynn made his NFL playing career on special teams and started his coaching career there.

Now, special teams might be his undoing as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers melted down in a 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, allowing touchdowns on a punt return and a blocked field goal. They also missed a field goal and committed two gaffes on punt returns with a false start and 10 men on the field -- all in a disastrous first half.

"It was unacceptable, special teams was," Lynn said. "The whole operation. Today got confusing on the field. It was unacceptable."

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy notes, it was the worst loss in franchise history, surpassing a 49-6 defeat to Kansas City in 1964, and one which raised serious doubts about Lynn's job status with four games remaining in his fourth season.

Lynn said he has talked frequently with owner Dean Spanos, but whether he will be back for 2021 has never come up.

"He's frustrated as hell, just like I am right now," Lynn said. "Very frustrating. When I came here, we felt like the first couple years we got this thing going the right direction, and last couple years, it just hasn't been that way, so it's my job to get us back on the right track. And if I'm here, I will."

Lynn demoted special teams coordinator George Stewart on Nov. 25 in hopes of improving what had been a glaring weakness all season for the Chargers (3-9). There are now three coaches overseeing those units, including Lynn, but the bottom fell out with bad execution and worse decision-making.

Lynn wouldn't get into specifics other than saying the blame rested with Keith Burns and Chris Caminiti, who were elevated to oversee special teams when Stewart was reassigned, and himself.

"This is what we have to work with right now," Lynn said. "I'm helping now because they need help there. When you let one guy go, someone else has to step in. Helping out a little bit just in practice, just in drills and things like that, but the operation today was just, it was not good. It was unacceptable."

While the two teams appear to be relatively even in terms of talent, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff against Lynn's group was a mismatch.

In addition to forcing rookie quarterback Justin Herbert into mistakes, they could dominate on special teams.

Herbert has repeatedly pointed to his rough freshman season at Oregon as a touchstone in how he learned to deal with adversity on and off the field. That 2016 season, after which the Ducks made a coaching change, could again prove helpful in dealing with the speculation about Lynn.

For now, Herbert isn't worried about those questions.

"You know, we got beat 45-0," Herbert said. "It's not on him. It's on us. It's on the players that didn't execute. It's on the offense that didn't put up enough points, and especially with me. … I believe in this coaching staff and I'm going to keep giving them everything I've got."

To his credit, ESPN.com's Shelley Smith notes that Herbert got no help from the offensive line, which gave up three sacks, and he was rushed myriad other times.

He uncharacteristically threw two interceptions -- marking his second multiple-interception game as a pro -- as he was forced into unwise decisions by the Patriots' pass rush. Herbert ended up completing 25 of 50 passes for 209 yards and didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his young NFL career.

Nothing went right on Sunday. And Herbert's rookie record of 10 straight games with a TD pass. ... Is no more.

One last item here: Justin Jackson (knee) returned to practice Wednesday, meaning he has a 21-day window to return from IR.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry noted, Cam Akers kept it moving Sunday in a 38-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The rookie took a handoff in the second quarter from quarterback Jared Goff at the Arizona 9-yard line and his legs did not stop -- even as he carried a defender five yards on his back -- until he crossed the goal line.

"It's all a mindset thing," Akers said after the game. "If you don't got the mindset to be a dog, then the dog plays won't come to you."

The Rams are 8-4 and the victory, along with a Seattle Seahawks loss to the New York Giants, moved them into first place in the NFC West. They have the same record as the Seahawks, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

In a running back committee with Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown, Akers is emerging as a powerful weapon in a crucial stretch that includes an upcoming Thursday night matchup against the New England Patriots (6-6).

"He just continues to take great leaps," Goff said about the second-round pick from Florida State. "Early on in the year -- we have a lot of faith in everyone but Darrell and Malcolm were just a step ahead a little bit and understanding what we were trying to do on each play and at this point Cam is right there with them."

With his 9-yard score Sunday, Akers became the first Rams rookie since Todd Gurley in 2015 to score a touchdown in three consecutive games.

Akers caught a 4-yard pass to score his first career touchdown in a Week 11 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He followed in Week 12 with a 1-yard touchdown run in a 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I have supreme confidence in myself to go out and perform," said Akers, who turned 21 this past June.

Head coach Sean McVay described the run game against the Cardinals as "tough sledding" as they rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.

Akers, who came off the bench behind Henderson, led the way with 72 yards on a season-high 21 carries. He also caught a pass for 22 yards.

The rookie was also on the field for a season-high 63 percent of the snaps and according to Rotoworld's John Daigle, a season-high seven carries inside the 10-yard line.

"He had some really tough, hard-earned yards," McVay said. "You're seeing a really physical player that's got explosion."

Henderson and Brown also contributed.

In the third quarter, on third-and-7, Brown caught a short pass and went 30 yards to help set up a 39-yard field goal. And in the fourth quarter, with the Rams clinging to a 24-21 lead, Henderson broke away for a 38-yard touchdown run.

"All three of those backs did a great job contributing," McVay said.

Henderson, who missed time during the game because of a knee injury that he eventually returned from, rushed for 49 yards on three carries. Brown was unable to get moving in the run game, as he had minus-3 yards on three carries but came through with the third-down reception.

Akers' 22 touches were the most from any Rams back this season. Brown had 21 touches in a season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys and Henderson also had 21 in a Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Akers said his increased touches helped him find a flow.

"More always helps, I'll say that much," Akers said. "If you get more carries, it's kind of easier to get in a rhythm."

Said Goff: "He can catch, he can run, he can do anything we want him to do and he had a great day."

The Rams' use of Akers has been inconsistent.

Out of training camp, he earned the starting job ahead of Henderson and Brown. But he suffered a rib injury early in Week 2 and was sidelined the following two games. He returned in Week 5, but came off the bench. And despite being available in Week 6 and 7, he did not record a touch.

Over the last five games, Akers has rushed for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries.

At the start of the second half of the schedule, McVay said he trusted that Akers would have a "really good" remainder of the season.

So far, so good.

The Rams, who held a 14-7 lead at halftime, improved to 33-0 under McVay when leading at halftime and they stretch their win streak against the Cardinals under McVay to seven straight games.

With a division title, potentially their third in the last four seasons, within reach, there's no time for the Rams to rest.

As noted above, on Thursday night, they will take on the Patriots -- who dismantled the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday -- at SoFi Stadium. The Rams then continue at home against the New York Jets, before they close out the season with crucial division games against the Seahawks at Lumen Field and the Cardinals in L.A. ...

Also of interest. ... Goff turned the ball over three times in last Sunday's game against the 49ers and earned a rebuke from McVay for his lack of caution with the football.

That game ended a four-game run that saw Goff turn the ball over 10 times and the quarterback didn't take issue with his coach's belief that things had to improve in order for the Rams to get better results. Things did improve this Sunday.

Goff was 37-of-47 for 351 yards and a touchdown through the air against the Cardinals. He also added a rushing touchdown.

"I responded exactly how I expected to," Goff said after the game. "I've been through a lot of bad things in my football career before and have consistently responded. This was no different. I just had to put my head down and keep working."

The Rams got good news Tuesday as Akers and defensive lineman Michael Brockers were upgraded on the team’s practice report.

Akers (shoulder) and Brockers (neck) were limited participants Tuesday after the Rams estimated both as non-participants Monday.

Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (knee) remained limited Tuesday and backup offensive lineman Brian Allen (knee) again was a full participant.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe reported it, the Dolphins came out sloppy and struggled in the first half of a must-win game against the Bengals. But rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa helped them rise to the occasion in the second half, bouncing back from his own benching and injury for a 19-7 win Sunday.

There is plenty to correct including mistakes and penalties, and two separate scuffles that led to Xavien Howard, DeVante Parker and Mack Hollins getting ejected. This wasn't a pretty game by any means, but the Dolphins fought through adversity. That's an important attribute for a playoff team and one Tagovailoa is getting to prove he can excel in early on his NFL career.

Once again, the Dolphins' defense was the star of the show, getting six sacks, two turnovers and allowing seven points. For the first time since 2002, the Dolphins have allowed 10 points or less in consecutive games. Their average of 17.7 points allowed ranks second in the NFL, and is an astounding two-touchdown reduction from last year's 30.9, worst in franchise history.

Kyle Van Noy led the charge Sunday with three sacks, and Xavien Howard had his NFL-high eighth interception before he was ejected for throwing a punch.

Miami allowed only 25 yards in the second half and finished with six sacks.

"When you see a teammate make a play, you just feed off that," defensive end Shaq Lawson said. "And you want to go make the next play, and then we just feed off each other, man."

But this game was important for Tagovailoa as the Dolphins make a playoff push.

Miami's top draft pick had been benched in the fourth quarter of his previous start, and sat out last week because of a sore thumb. He returned against the Bengals and had 26 completions for 296 yards, both season highs, with no turnovers or sacks.

Tagovailoa was especially effective in the second half when the Dolphins went no-huddle and scored on three consecutive possessions.

"The up-tempo things that we did in the second half really helped us to get the ball rolling," Tagovailoa said.

The rookie improved to 4-1 as a starter, and became the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to not throw an interception in his first five career starts, joining Dak Prescott and Kyle Allen.

Sunday victory over Cincinnati left the Dolphins with victories in seven of the past eight games. The Dolphins have their best 12-game record since 2003, but the closing stretch is tough. Their final four opponents were a combined 32-15 through Sunday, including AFC West leader Kansas City (11-1).

"We're in a position where we get to play some meaningful games," head coach Brian Flores said Monday. "And that's good."

Still, the Dolphins rank fourth in trips to the red zone, but only 14th in scoring. They settled for field goals after stalling three times inside the 10-yard line Sunday.

That needs fixing.

In addition, Howard, Parker and Mack face potential additional punishment after being ejected Sunday -- but according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, it won't be suspensions. Expect all three to be fined, however.

"We've got to do a better job of keeping our composure," Flores said. "It is going to be a point of emphasis this weekend we'll leave it at that."

A few final notes here. ... Myles Gaskin (knee) rushed 21 times for 90 yards and secured both targets for 51 yards Sunday. He also lost a fumble.

As CBSSports.com notes, fresh off a four-game absence and injured-reserve stint due to a knee issue, Gaskin stepped right back into a bell-cow role with multiple backfield mates sidelined for the Week 13 contest. Gaskin did find running room surprisingly hard to come by at times against a Bengals defense that frequently has been gashed by running backs, but he ultimately put together a solid fantasy performance courtesy of robust volume and by gaining double-digit yardage on both catches.

Gaskin's day could have been even bigger had he been able to convert at least one of the multiple red-zone carries he received throughout the contest, but he'll nevertheless head into Sunday's showdown against the Chiefs with another strong effort under his belt.

Remember, Gaskin's return came with Salvon Ahmed (shoulder), DeAndre Washington (hamstring) and Matt Breida (reserve/COVID-19 list) all sidelined. It's not clear any of them will return this week; Ahmed was not on the pratice field Wednesday.

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

Mike Gesicki hauled in nine of 11 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown.

The third-year tight end led the Dolphins in receptions, receiving yards and targets on the afternoon, with his catch tally also serving as a season high. Gesicki's fourth touchdown of the season -- his second in as many games -- capped off Miami's first second-half drive and was an ideal bonus to what was already a very strong effort for the Penn State product in both seasonal and daily PPR formats.

Gesicki may be leaned on heavily once again in a showdown against the Chiefs that figures to feature an aggressive offensive game plan for Flores' squad.

And last. ... Receiver Isaiah Ford, traded from the Dolphins to the Patriots at the deadline and recently waived by New England, is expected to re-sign with the Dolphins' practice squad, a source tells ESPN's Field Yates.

It's a shot to continue developing with the team that drafted him.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, the Vikings' postgame has felt different the past two weeks, embodying a sense of relief rather than excitement after back-to-back nail-biting wins.

As Dan Bailey's 23-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 1:53 to go in overtime, signifying the end of a mistake-filled 27-24 win over the 1-11 Jaguars, the fanfare was kept to a minimum. Most players jogged to the locker room quickly rather than dawdle on the field and congratulate one another, eager to move past this excruciatingly ugly game.

"Usually after you win a game there's a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on in the locker room," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "The last two weeks it hasn't been like that because they know they can play way better than what they're playing, so I think right now they feel fortunate to be where they are but they understand -- I know they understand and I continue to preach it -- that we have to stop doing these things. It's going to cost us games down the road. If we stop doing those things and we continue to play with the heart and fight and things we have, we have a chance to play."

Although the Vikings are very much in the playoff hunt, having clawed their way to a 6-6 record after a 1-5 start, they haven't played well the past three weeks. Even with Kirk Cousins throwing three touchdowns each week since the Dallas loss on Nov. 22 and delivering game-winning drives in two straight victories, this stretch has been a struggle despite the results.

"You really don't want to win every game the way we had to do it today, but we'll take the win, for sure," Cousins said. "Offensively it felt like an up-and-down game. There were positives. We had some guys that played very well, but there were just mistakes scattered throughout that were very costly, and they had an impact on the flow of the game. And again, we're fortunate to be able to overcome them."

Still, with an assist from the Rams beating the Cardinals on Sunday, the Vikings slid into the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff picture.

"It's a credit to their heart right now that they're winning games by making these kind of mistakes, to be honest with you," Zimmer said.

With four games left, the Vikings' tallest task will be showing they can beat a team with a winning record. That's happened only once this season, when Minnesota took down the Green Bay Packers on the road in Week 8 to spark its second-half comeback.

The Vikings get an opportunity to show they can beat a winning team on Sunday on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team also fighting to remain relevant in the playoff picture.

Sunday's win over the Jaguars was a reminder of how important the run game is for Minnesota. At halftime, the Vikings had just over 100 yards of offense. Dalvin Cook then turned his 2.6 yards per carry into 24 runs and 99 yards in the second half and overtime, orchestrating a comeback that ended with Justin Jefferson becoming the fifth rookie to reach 1,000 yards receiving in his first 12 games.

While that formula feels predictable -- and it certainly is -- it will remain the plan over the final four games.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Minnesota has called a run play 51.3 percent of the time on first and second down combined, which ranks fourth in the NFL. While there's a benefit of being less predictable against a Bucs defense allowing a league-low 74.2 rushing yards per game, deviating from that strategy now doesn't seem like an option.

The Vikings clearly will ride Cook as far as he will take them no matter how much wear and tear he absorbs.

It's also evident that Jefferson will continue to be a focus of the offense. After two catches for 12 yards in the first half, Jefferson had seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

But what's most apparent is the Vikings can't get away with the same mistakes against winning teams like the Bucs and expect to be playing in the postseason. ...

Also of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com noted, for running backs, rushing yards became the dominant measure of effectiveness decades ago. Arguably, yards from scrimmage has as much if not more relevance to the player's overall productivity, especially since receiving yards for running backs still require routinely navigating congested spaces and gaining more yards with the ball in the player's hands than running a pass route and catching the ball well downfield.

By measure of yards from scrimmage, Cook continues to be the most effective in the league at his position.

He broadened his margin on Sunday, thanks to 179 total yards (120 rushing). Titans running back Derrick Henry managed 69 yards (60 rushing) and Saints running back Alvin Kamara added 97 yards (88 rushing).

Cook now has 1,564 yards from scrimmage in 11 games, with 1,250 rushing yards. That's a per-game average of 142.2 and 113.6, respectively. With four games to go, it projects to 2,133 total yards and 1,704 rushing yards.

Henry retains the lead in rushing yards with 1,317.

Meanwhile, Jefferson has done something only one other rookie in team history has done. He has 1,000 yards receiving.

Jefferson has a good chance to top the team's rookie record of 1,313 receiving yards set by Randy Moss in 1998.

Jefferson, who entered the day with 918 yards, went over 1,000 yards for the season on a 20-yard touchdown reception. It also gave the Vikings their first lead at 19-16.

Jefferson has five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in this one while Adam Thielen caught 8-of-11 targets for 75 yards and one touchdown.

Irv Smith Jr., who missed Sunday's game with ongoing back issues, was not on the practice field to open the week Wednesday; I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

The Patriots did what they needed to do in the first part of their two-game West Coast road trip, routing the Chargers 45-0 on Sunday.

Winners of four of its past five, New England (6-6) is back at .500 for the first time since Week 4 and still in the playoff hunt. But it still has little margin for error as it jumps into preparations for a Thursday night matchup with the Rams (8-4).

As the Associated Press notes, throughout the season, head coach Bill Belichick has been prodding his team to produce a complete effort in all three phases. It responded against the Chargers, suffocating one of the league's top offenses while posting a season-high four touchdowns in the first half. It included three scores on offense and one of its two TDs in the game on special teams.

"I think our entire team has gotten better pretty much weekly. We just do things better than we have done them before," Belichick said.

The bad news for the Patriots is that as well as they played on Sunday, they failed to make up any ground in the AFC standings.

They entered the week still in 10th place in the conference. The teams that currently occupy the three playoff wild-card slots -- the Browns (9-3), Dolphins (8-4) and Colts (8-4) -- all won on Sunday.

Miami is one of New England's final four opponents, along with Buffalo.

"We understand what position we are in, and everything is pretty much in front of us," said quarterback Cam Newton, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. "We just have to really hone in and focus on the opponents that we have to face that week and maximize each and every opportunity that we do get. If we keep that going on, we'll be in good graces."

That cautious optimism extended to Belichick.

"We'll see," Belichick said. "The Rams are a great football team. They're well-coached and they have a lot of great players. They're very difficult to play against, we all know that."

The Patriots remained in Los Angeles after Sunday's win and will practice on the campus of UCLA in preparation for Thursday night's matchup with the Rams. ...

Meanwhile, as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith notes, in his rookie season in 2011, Newton ran for 14 touchdowns. No quarterback had ever rushed for that many touchdowns in a season before, and no quarterback has done it since. But Newton is on pace to surpass that total this year.

Newton ran for two touchdowns against the Chargers, giving him 11 rushing touchdowns this season. Newton, who missed one game this season, is averaging a rushing touchdown a game.

That means if Newton continues at his current pace and plays the rest of the season, he'll finish with 15 rushing touchdowns, breaking his own record for the most rushing touchdowns in a season for a quarterback in NFL history.

Newton, who also had 10 rushing touchdowns in 2015, is the first quarterback in NFL history with three different seasons of at least 10 rushing touchdowns.

Sunday was the fourth time this season that Newton scored two rushing touchdowns in a game, the most such games by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history. And Newton has 10 career games with at least two rushing touchdowns, the most by a quarterback in NFL history.

Newton's 69 career rushing touchdowns are by far the most for a quarterback in NFL history. No quarterback has ever reached the end zone with his legs the way Newton has.

The offense ran for at least 150 yards for the seventh time, but continues to struggle in the passing game.

Newton was 12 of 19 for 69 yards, the third time this season he has thrown for fewer than 100 yards. He ranks 26th in the NFL with 1,051 of his 2,053 passing yards coming through the air to receivers. His 69.6 percent accuracy ranks 24th in the league.

"It's not the sexiest thing to see a quarterback throw for 69 yards," Newton said during an interview on WEEI's The Greg Hill Show Tuesday morning. Like last week, Newton reiterated he's all about winning.

The Patriots did get some more passing out of quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw a 38-yard touchdown to Gunner Olszewski in the fourth quarter.

"His growth and his development has really caught my attention," Newton said of Stidham. "Just to see him grow is something I am extremely pleased about."

New England's special teams contributed big plays for the second straight game. Olszewski had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 14-0 in the second quarter, along with a 61-year return in the fourth. Safety Devin McCourty also put points on the board, scooping up Cody Davis' field goal block in the closing seconds of the first half and returning it 44 yards for a touchdown.

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

The Patriots devote as many resources to special teams as almost any team in the league -- with players such as Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, Donte Moncrief and Matthew Slater signed specifically to play -- and this game showed how the "third phase" of the game can play a major role in a victory.

After being penalized 13 times over the previous two weeks, the Patriots were called for just three penalties on Sunday. But defensive lineman Adam Butler was responsible for two of the three infractions -- encroachment in the second quarter and holding in the fourth.

Cornerback Jonathan Jones and tight end Ryan Izzo suffered neck injuries and did not return, putting their availability in question on a short week. Neither player has missed a game this season. The Patriots have some depth in the secondary if Jones doesn't play. Tight end Dalton Keene was also active for the first time Sunday after spending three weeks on injured reserve.

Newton was limited in practice last week and that's how he opened this week. He's dealing with an abdomen injury and the Patriots listed him as a limited participant.

Cornerback J.C. Jackson was also listed as a limited participant. Jackson was listed with a hip injury coming into Sunday's game and he's now listed with a knee injury as well.

Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin), defensive tackle Adam Butler (shoulder), defensive lineman Byron Cowart (back), safety Kyle Dugger (toe), kicker Nick Folk (back), defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder), Izzo (hamstring, hand, neck), fullback Jakob Johnson (knee), Jones (neck), guard Shaq Mason (calf), Slater (knee), and running back J.J. Taylor (quadriceps) were also listed as limited participants.

I'll have more on their status via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday's game. ...

And finally. ... In case you missed it, wide receiver Julian Edelman still fully intends to return to play this season, but a source predicted to ESPN's Adam Schefter that the former Super Bowl MVP is "still a couple of weeks" away from rejoining the team.

Edelman, 34, is on injured reserve and has not played since Week 7. He also was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday.

Belichick, when asked last month about Edelman's potential return this season, told sports radio WEEI that the receiver "is working extremely hard. I would certainly never count Julian out of anything. ... It would take a lot for me to count him out."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett acknowledged, Taysom Hill hasn't been perfect. He is not a finished product. And he is no sure thing to become the New Orleans Saints' long-term successor to Drew Brees.

But after three starts and three victories as Brees' injury replacement, including his best performance to date in Sunday's 21-16 victory at Atlanta, Hill has at least done enough to prove that he deserves a chance at the job. And he should be taken seriously as a leading candidate.

Triplett went on to note it's unclear how much longer Hill's audition will last.

The 41-year-old Brees is eligible to return from injured reserve this week, and he has not yet ruled out the possibility that he could return from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung in Week 14 at Philadelphia.

"Maybe, we'll see. I'm just taking it one day at a time," Brees said Sunday night. "I know I sound like a broken record -- kind of sound that way to myself. But listen, I'm getting antsy, I want to play. But I also know there's a process with healing here and there's kind of some benchmarks I need to hit in order to get back out there.

"I think just overall I'm feeling better, [have the] ability to move better, the flexibility, the strength, all that stuff. It's just one step at a time, and I think I've got the best team working on it."

Speaking on Monday, head coach Sean Payton said of Brees' status: "I honestly wouldn't be able to give you a time frame. He's like a handful of the other guys that are down there working their tails off to get back healthy, 100 percent and we'll kind of see when that is."

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Brees won't practice much, if at all Wednesday. The quarterback is progressing well in his rehab from fractured ribs and a punctured lung, and New Orleans could increase his participation Thursday to see how he feels, but it's more likely Brees rejoins the game-day action in Week 15.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but there is still a good chance that Hill will start one or more games before Brees returns.

But if Sunday was his last start, it was an important sort of "prove it" moment for his potential to become a full-time NFL quarterback.

Again, he wasn't perfect. He had a shaky fourth quarter, including a costly lost fumble while the Saints were trying to close out their victory.

But up until that fourth quarter, Hill proved that his first start against the Falcons two weeks ago was no fluke.

He completed 27-of-37 passes for 232 yards and the first two touchdown passes of his career -- once again showing that he can be an effective pocket passer, even though the Falcons switched up their coverage looks in the rematch. At one point, Hill completed 10 straight passes on third downs, converting eight of them.

He also ran 14 times for 83 yards, including a 43-yard scramble.

"I think his third downs all game were strong. I thought his performance was strong," said Payton -- who blamed himself for putting Hill in a bad position with his play call on a fumble, while still stressing that Hill needs to improve his ball security as a runner.

Payton has consistently defended Hill, insisting last week that Hill played "just how I wanted him to play" in a conservative game plan at Denver. Hill looked lackluster in that game while completing just 9-of-16 passes for 78 yards with an interception, but the Saints cruised to a 31-3 win against a Broncos team with no quarterbacks available because of COVID protocols.

All told, Hill has completed 54-of-76 passes in his three starts (71.1 percent) for 543 yards, two TDs and one interception. He has run the ball 34 times for 176 yards, four TDs and two lost fumbles.

"I don't care as much as people might think about statistics and all that stuff. At the end of the day, I'm happy we've gotten three wins. So that is the statistic I care most about," Hill said after Sunday's game, while acknowledging his regret over the fumble. "As far as my overall development, I feel like I'm becoming more and more comfortable operating the offense, and I feel like there are so many ways that I can continue to get better."

Essentially, Hill is like any other young developmental prospect at QB, even as a 30-year-old late bloomer.

Highs and lows should be expected. And it remains to be seen whether or not he will ultimately pan out.

But at the very least, Hill has been able to display the potential that the Saints saw internally when they spent the past few years touting him as a QB prospect and signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract extension this past offseason.

Turns out he isn't just a gimmick, as so many critics suggested.

Meanwhile, the Saints needed their defense to end Atlanta's rally with a red zone stand late in the fourth quarter and a batted-down Hail Mary attempt as time expired. Before they allowed Atlanta to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Saints had gone 14 consecutive quarters without allowing a TD.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, that was the longest streak in the NFL since the New England Patriots (extending from late 2018 into early 2019).

Other notes of interest. ... The Saints are now 8-0 over the last two seasons when Brees isn't able to play.

Last season, they won all five games that Teddy Bridgewater started.

"That's the position everyone focuses on, but our team's playing well," Payton said. "We're fortunate to have depth at a number of positions, and that includes quarterback."

Michael Thomas became the fastest player in NFL history to record 500 career receptions, doing it in his 69th career game.

He surpassed the mark shared by Anquan Boldin and Julio Jones, who reached 500 catches in 80 games.

Alvin Kamara rushed 15 times for 88 yards and one score, catching 2-of-3 targets for nine receiving yards in a bit of a rebound game.

Kamara exploded for a 37-yard sprint in the first half and capped that drive with an 11-yard rushing score.

But Rotoworld.com suggests, it's still concerning that his receiving game usage has all but dried up with Hill under center, totaling six targets in the Saints' last three games; Kamara was averaging 8.9 targets per game from Brees this year. Kamara was obviously healthy, though, keeping balanced any time he ran up the middle all the while out-touching Latavius Murray 17-7 on the afternoon.

Bottom line? Kamara's all-around skillset keeps him as a low-end RB1 heading into your fantasy playoffs.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan reminded readers, there was a point earlier in the season when the eventual winner of the then-horrid NFC East was being viewed as future fodder for the wild-card games.

None of the four teams was playing well enough to be considered anything but an opening-round loser in the new seven-team format.

That has changed, especially the way the New York Giants are playing under rookie coach Joe Judge.

After an 0-5 start, the Giants have won five of the last seven games and taken over first place in the division. Not only are they riding a four-game winning streak, they knocked off one of the NFL's top teams on Sunday with a 17-12 win over the Seahawks (8-4) in Seattle.

What made the road victory even more impressive was the defense shut down Russell Wilson, and the offense rammed the ball down Seattle's throats playing with backup Colt McCoy at quarterback instead of the injured Daniel Jones.

This team has rediscovered smash-mouth football, the type of play that carried the Giants to four Super Bowls between the 1986 and 2011 seasons under Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin.

That's not to say this team is going to win another Super Bowl. The Giants just aren't going to be a pushover in the playoffs if they get in.

"I think each team's expectations and progress are unique," Judge said. "I didn't really have a definite timetable in terms of where they needed to be at certain points. There are still things we have to have a lot of improvement on and consistency going forward. We're far from where we need to be or want to be as a team. There's a lot of work ahead of us. But I was pleased with the constant progress."

At this point, the team is turning some of its weaknesses into strengths.

The young offensive line that started so poorly has paved the way for New York to rush for 100 yards in seven straight games and eight of nine. The run game had a season-high 190 yards against the Seahawks.

Alfred Morris scored the Giants' touchdowns on four-yard run and a six-yard reception in the third quarter, his first two scores for the Giants. The touchdown catch was the first in his 110-game NFL career. Morris' rushing touchdown was his 35th. Morris' two-touchdown game was his first since Nov. 2, 2014, when he scored on a 14 and two-yard runs for Washington vs. Minnesota.

Wayne Gallman had 16 carries for a career-high 135 yards, his first 100-yard game. His previous career best was the 94 yards he gained last week in Cincinnati.

Morris' touchdown was set up by Gallman's career-long 60-yard run.

Gallman's previous long run was 26 yards at the Rams on Oct. 4. Morris rushed for 39 yards on eight carries as part of the Giants' season-best 190 yards on the ground.

Evan Engram and Golden Tate led the Giants with four receptions apiece.

Meanwhile, with Jones sidelined it wasn't a pretty performance by McCoy.

McCoy finished 13-of-22 for 105 yards with one touchdown pass and an interception. But he made big throws to Darius Slayton and Evan Engram for first downs that kept the clock ticking.

McCoy did what the Giants asked of him for most of the afternoon. He kept them in the game and didn't make the big mistake. He didn't throw a pass longer than 20 yards until there was less than two minutes remaining.

It was what the Giants wanted during one week of fill-in duty.

Jones, who suffered a hamstring injury during last Sunday's win over the Bengals, was close to being ready for Sunday's game and who could return this week when the Giants host the now-struggling Arizona Cardinals.

Judge outlined what the team will be looking for before making a call about who starts this weekend. Jones was able to do a little bit at practice last week despite his injured hamstring and Judge said the team wants to be sure Jones' injury doesn't leave him as a sitting duck for the opposing pass rush.

"We're going to give him every opportunity to go on the practice field this week and show that he can defend himself on the field properly," Judge said, via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. "If that's the case, we obviously want him to play. We're going to make sure we're doing the right thing by him. . . . When there's pressure in the pocket, can he sidestep? Can he step up? If he has to leave the pocket and scramble, if there's a gap open for him to go ahead and tuck that ball and run to get a first down, are these things we're OK with him doing and we're confident that he's going to go out there and do it without getting hurt worse?"

Judge said on Wednesday that he’s “optimistic” Jones will be able to play this week. Per Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com, the plan is for Jones to participate in Wednesday’s walk-through before doing more in Thursday and Friday practices. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

The schedule is tough the next three weeks and Jones' return would help.

New York has consecutive home games against Arizona (6-6) and Cleveland (9-3), followed by a game at Baltimore (6-5) on Dec. 27. The season ends with a home game against Dallas (3-8).
DEPTH CHART
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

A stunning loss left the still-winless New York Jets disappointed and frustrated. It also cost defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job.

They're 0-12, and this nightmare of a season is crawling to its merciful conclusion.

"It's not fun. Losing sucks," quarterback Sam Darnold said Monday. "You don't ever envision yourself losing this many games in consecutive order. It's definitely tough."

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, it's hard to say when the Jets hit rock bottom because they seem to find a new low every week. But Sunday's 31-28 loss might be difficult to top, a demoralizing defeat that broke their hearts -- and maybe their competitive spirit.

The Jets were on the verge of their elusive first win, leading 28-24 in the closing seconds. But Williams inexplicably called for an all-out blitz against Las Vegas, and Derek Carr connected with Henry Ruggs III for what became a winning 46-yard touchdown pass with 5 seconds left.

The New York players went from celebrating just a few moments earlier to standing in stunned silence. Coach Adam Gase was furious at Williams' play call and decided -- with the blessing of CEO Christopher Johnson, general manager Joe Douglas and team president Hymie Elhai -- to fire the defensive coordinator Monday morning.

"I just felt like that was the best thing for our team moving forward," Gase said.

As Waszak noted, lost a bit in the shuffle was Gase's offense going three-and-out with a chance to seal the game, leading to the defense needing to take the field one final time.

The Jets are four losses away from joining the 2008 Cleveland Browns and 2017 Detroit Lions as the NFL's only 0-16 teams. It's looking increasingly more like a possibility with each brutal loss. Still, the move by Gase to fire Williams took some players by surprise.

"It's hard to explain because we have a ton of respect for Gregg Williams," defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi said. "We know this a tough business, but we have to figure out a way to move on."

Otherwise, these Jets will be making more dubious history before all is said and done.

They've already equaled the franchise record for the most consecutive losses with 12, tying the mark set over the 1995 and '96 seasons under Rich Kotite. That 1996 squad went 1-15 and is generally regarded the worst in team history.

As long as that zero remains in the wins column, this year's team has a chance to take that undesirable label.

"It's tough to not win a game at this point in the season," Darnold said. "You just never envision it as a player, as a coach, as a part of an organization."

Looking for positives?

The run game.

Out of nowhere, the Jets used a ground-and-pound approach that hadn't been seen in Gase's two seasons. Ty Johnson took over as the primary ball carrier after Frank Gore left early with a concussion, and ran for a career-high 104 yards with a touchdown on 22 carries -- the Jets' first 100-yard rusher since Isaiah Crowell had a franchise-record 219 yards in 2018.

Josh Adams finished with 74 yards on eight carries as New York racked up 206 yards on the ground.

Next up, the Jets will head to Seattle, where they'll face old friend Jamal Adams, looking to avoid setting some dubious team history Sunday with a 13th consecutive defeat.

They might have to do it without emerging rookie wideout Denzel Mims.

Mims is dealing with a family emergency and has left for his home of Texas, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. While his focus is on his family, the football-related issue is, does he make it back in time today to get tested and stay in the COVID-19 protocols?

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

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

Initially, Doug Pederson wasn't ready to commit to starting Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts at quarterback.

The Eagles (3-8-1) have lost four in a row and are headed nowhere in the NFC East, even though they're still within 1 1/2 games of the first-place New York Giants (5-7).

Wentz was benched in the second half of a 30-16 loss at Green Bay on Sunday following another subpar performance during the worst season of his five-year career. Hurts provided a spark against a defense that played softer coverage with a 20-point lead. He tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass but also threw an interception and was sacked three times after the Packers went back to their aggressive scheme.

"I'm still processing a lot of things and going through a lot of things before I make that decision," Pederson said Monday.

On Tuesday, the processing was done.

Pederson has made the decision that Hurts will be the starting quarterback on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field.

"I have come to a decision and I am going to go with Jalen Hurts this week against New Orleans," Pederson told the team's official website. "We're not where we want to be as an offense. I looked at the whole thing and decided that for this week to look for that spark again to try to get the team over the hump, to try to get everybody playing better."

The decision was his and his alone, Pederson said, and he did not want to get into the hypotheticals of whether Hurts would be the starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2020 season. Pederson also did not discuss the specifics of his conversations with both Hurts and Wentz, other than he notified them of the decision on Monday evening. He praised the way both players reacted.

"Carson is like all of us right now, he's disappointed. He's frustrated," Pederson said. "He's been a professional through it all. He supports his teammates and that's what you want to see from him, the leader of the team. I know sometimes the quarterback gets a lot of the blame like the head coach does. It's the good with the bad. It's not about Carson Wentz. It's not about one person. We know we have issues on offense and it has been a struggle for us all season. That's where the frustration lies a little bit, but he's been a pro and would expect nothing less."

Wentz started the first 12 games of this regular season, throwing 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He completed 57.4 percent of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 72.8 while throwing for 2,620 yards as the Eagles went 3-8-1 in those games.

At Green Bay on Sunday, Wentz completed 6 of 15 passes for 79 yards and was sacked four times before Hurts entered the game for the final offensive drive of the third quarter. He stayed in through the conclusion of the game and completed 5 of 12 passes for 109 yards, with one touchdown and an interception as the Eagles rallied from a 20-3 deficit to come within 23-16 before ultimately losing 30-16 for their fourth consecutive defeat.

As much as the Eagles want to see Hurts on Sunday against the Saints, the NFL's top-ranked defense, they also understand how important it is to get Wentz back on track.

In his fifth season, Wentz is signed through the 2024 campaign.

"Carson's been a big part of the success that we've had. He was on that championship team that got us to that level. Even in '18 and '19 he led the team and got us into the postseason and I know we can get back to that level. That's why I have so much confidence in him," Pederson said.

All of that is important and in the big picture, the Eagles and Wentz have work to do. For Sunday, it's a chance for Hurts, the team's second-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, to step up and see how he fares in his first NFL start after a storied collegiate career at Alabama and Oklahoma.

"I just want to see development. I think it's a great opportunity for him, a great opportunity for the team," Pederson said.

Hurts played 33 snaps in the first 11 games, lining up all over the formation while being used mostly as a gadget player.

Hurts racked up 52 touchdowns for Oklahoma last season -- 32 passing and 20 rushing -- on the way to finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting, behind Joe Burrow. The Eagles surprised many by drafting Hurts 53rd overall in April's NFL draft, despite giving Wentz a four-year, $128 extension in the summer of 2019.

Pederson and Wentz came to Philadelphia in 2016. They led the Eagles to the franchise's only Super Bowl title in 2017. Wentz was 11-2 before a knee injury forced him to watch Nick Foles lead the Eagles through the playoffs and victory over New England. Wentz finished third in NFL MVP voting that season, and last year he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards without one wide receiver having 500 yards receiving.

This week's game, which everyone thought when the schedule came out would be a marquee matchup between Wentz and Drew Brees, will instead likely be an intriguing matchup between Hurts and Taysom Hill.

Other notes of interest. ... Jalen Reagor showed on Sunday why he was the Eagles' first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

He caught a 34-yard pass from Hurts and returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown against the Packers. It's the first punt return touchdown by an Eagles player since Darren Sproles took an 83-yarder to the house in the upset of the New England Patriots in the 2015 season.

Reagor finished his college career as TCU's all-time leader in punt return average (17.8 yards). And his 34-yard reception was his longest since his 55-yarder in Week 1 at Washington.

"I think we're on the right track," Pederson said after the game about Reagor's development. "I think there is still more that we can do. Again, you've got to be smart on how much we give him. I don't want to overload him either. I just still want him to be able to play free, and that was a heck of a punt return today. And I thought he, for the most part ... got to go back and evaluate the film, but it looked like he played pretty well offensively, so he was another bright spot tonight."

Dallas Goedert caught five of seven targets for 66 yards.

The tight end once again led the Eagles in receiving despite the return of Zach Ertz to the lineup and a mid-game switch at quarterback. The uncertainty at QB makes it tough to trust any member of the Philly offense right now, especially headed into a Week 14 clash with the Saints, but Goedert has seen at least six targets in four straight games, posting a 21-251-2 line during that stretch.

Finally. ... Miles Sanders carried the ball 10 times for 31 yards and failed to catch his only target in Sunday's loss.

According to Rotoworld's John Daigle, Sanders' 35 snaps (56 percent) were his fewest in a full game this year; Jordan Howard got four snaps (25 percent); Boston Scott got two snaps (12.5 percent).

Still, as CBSSports.com notes, Sanders was actually the Eagles' leading rusher on the day, though Wentz and Hurts combined for 47 rushing yards between them. Sanders has now had two quiet performances in a row, and things won't get any easier for him against the Saints.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor framed it, "The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a lot of things Monday night at Heinz Field, culminating with the biggest drop of all: their undefeated season and an opportunity to clinch their first playoff berth since 2017.

"The Steelers fell to the Washington Football Team 23-17, blowing a 14-point lead that was the second-largest at home in franchise history. ..."

After being up 14-0 with seconds until halftime, the Steelers surrendered just their second loss when up by at least 14 points since 2004. Since drafting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, the Steelers are 109-2-1 when leading by 14 points at any point, including playoff games.

Tied at 17 with less than five minutes remaining, the Steelers had a chance to put points on the board. But with starting kicker Chris Boswell out with a hip injury, the Steelers elected to go for a fourth down conversion facing fourth-and-1 from the Washington 28.

Roethlisberger targeted rookie Anthony McFarland on a wheel route, but the running back, who has played sparingly, couldn't haul it in on a double move, and the Steelers turned it over on downs for the second time Monday evening.

The Washington Football team (5-7) responded by doing what the Steelers struggled to do all night: They moved the ball down the field and put points on the board. Quarterback Alex Smith hit Cam Sims on a 29-yard completion on third-and-4 to the Pittsburgh 25, and four plays later, kicker Dustin Hopkins kicked a 45-yard field goal to give Washington a 20-17 lead.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers had a chance to retake the lead with a two-minute drill, but Montez Sweat tipped Roethlisberger's first pass attempt, and former Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic hauled in the quarterback's lone interception of the night. Sweat was all over Roethlisberger's quick pass attempts Monday, batting three of them.

It was another painful weekday performance in a game that was rescheduled because of the COVID-19 ripple effect. Monday's game was initially scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but when the Steelers' game against the Baltimore Ravens was eventually pushed back to Wednesday, the league rescheduled this game for Monday afternoon at 5 p.m. ET.

Even with the adjusted schedule, the Steelers still had to prepare on a short week, while Washington had 11 days to ready for the league's only undefeated team.

For second game in a row, the Steelers sputtered against an inferior opponent, playing sloppy offense marred by drops -- and this time, it cost them an undefeated season. The Steelers had seven drops against Washington, their most in the past 15 seasons and the most in the NFL this season.

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who scored the Steelers' first touchdown, had three of the Steelers' drops Monday, and leads the league with nine this season. The three drops also ties him with Leonard Fournette and D.J. Moore for most in a game this season.

Roethlisberger passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off by Jon Bostic -- a former Steeler -- with 1:59 remaining.

For the second week in a row, the Steelers couldn't get anything going in the run game, with James Conner still sidelined on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Steelers rushed for a season-low 21 yards, averaging 1.5 yards per play in the run game. Benny Snell had eight carries for 5 yards -- including three runs that went nowhere at the goal line -- while McFarland had four carries for 15 yards.

The seven-drop performance and sluggish run game comes on the heels of a five-drop outing against the Ravens -- one Mike Tomlin expressed his disgust with after the close win by attributing the drops and red zone failures to one thing: "Us sucking."

Tomlin said the drops were happening on routine plays and he explained what the response will be to continued issues catching the ball during his Tuesday press conference.

"They can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those that will catch it," Tomlin said. "It's just as simple as that. Like I've often said, I expect guys to make routine plays routinely. When there's a pattern of that not happening, then we have to look at who we throw the ball to."

Johnson has a league-high nine on the season, which could lead him to be one of the players affected by Tomlin's desire to see more catches in the future.

The Steelers' offense looked more like its 2019 version Monday night, continuing a trend that first appeared last week against the Ravens. In the past two games, the Steelers have averaged 4.8 yards per play and 2.6 yards per rush. In 2019, they averaged 4.7 yards per play and 3.7 yards per rush, both 30th in the league.

The Steelers' defense nearly shut out Washington in the first half until they scored a field goal in the final seconds of the half. In the second half, Smith picked apart Pittsburgh's zone defense and outscored the Steelers 20-3 in the second half.

Next up, the Steelers face a stiff test next Sunday night in Buffalo. The Bills beat the Steelers -- minus Roethlisberger -- 17-10 at Heinz Field last December to lock up a playoff berth. ...

The Steelers also lost two more key members of their defense throughout the course of Monday's loss. Inside linebacker Robert Spillane sustained an apparent left knee injury in the third quarter, and though his return was listed as questionable, Spillane did not re-enter the game. Avery Williamson, whom the team acquired in a trade with the Jets just before the deadline, replaced him.

According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, Spillane is expected to miss time. But surgery won't be needed and he should be able to return this season.

Then, in the fourth quarter, cornerback Joe Haden sustained a possible concussion -- especially problematic with the Steelers already down a starting cornerback with Steve Nelson (knee) inactive.

Now for some good news. ... Conner, who was officially activated off the COVID list Wednesday, plans to play Sunday against Buffalo, a source tells ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. As noted above, the running game needs help.

Conner has 645 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He also has 25 receptions for 145 yards. Pouncey started Pittsburgh's first 10 games.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, technically, the San Francisco 49ers are still in the mix to get back to the NFC playoffs.

Barely.

That's true even after the Bills decimated the Niners 34-24 on Monday at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix. San Francisco had no answers for Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and the result was a loss that leaves the Niners clinging to the tiny thread that represents their postseason hopes.

At 5-7, the 49ers are a game back of the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals for the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot. As it stands, they would lose a tiebreaker to both teams, though they'll have a chance to change that over the final four weeks.

"We've got four more games that we can account for, that we're in charge of, and we've got to win all of them," head coach Kyle Shanahan said.

How can the Niners sneak back into the postseason?

By winning out, for one. That starts when they "host" the Washington Football Team next week in Arizona, then travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys. If, somehow, the Niners can win those two, they could get quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle back from injury to close against Arizona and Seattle.

The 49ers would need some help in the form of losses from the Vikings and Cardinals -- possibly more than one for each of them. Of course, none of that will matter if the Niners can't find a way to patch together a flourish to finish the season.

The 49ers have responded every time their backs have been against the wall in 2020. But the task has never been more daunting, and the Niners' path to the postseason is increasingly difficult to envision.

Remember, this week's opponent, the Football Team is coming off of an upset win over the once-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. While the 49ers postseason hopes appear to have dwindled, Shanahan remains optimistic. "We've got four more games we can account for and we're in charge of, and we can win all of them," Shanahan said. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Nick Mullens finished the contest completing 26-of-39 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. All-in-all, Shanahan was pleased with the fight of his quarterback coming down the stretch.

"I thought he made some plays," Shanahan said postgame. "You can see there at the end he made some plays. He can't make those turnovers that he had. Can't have that false start that he had there at the inch-yard line. I thought he gave us a chance. With the way the whole team played altogether, he did need to play better because I think we had to play perfect in a few areas. By no means do I think he played perfect, there's still stuff to improve on. There was some good and bad things he did today."

Brandon Aiyuk led the team with 95 yards on five receptions and a score. The rookie wideout came up big on several plays, including a 49-yard bomb downfield to put the 49ers in scoring position.

Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel (six catches for 73 yards) and Raheem Mostert (42 yards rushing on nine carries) had promising plays.

But Aiyuk has been especially impressive.

As numberFire.com's JJ Zachariason notes, over his last four games, the rookie wideout has commanded a 28.6 percent target share, just over 20 PPR points per game and finished as WR19, WR6, WR13 and WR12.

Worth noting: Samuel (foot) did not practice Wednesday. Shanahan said Samuel likely would have been able to practice if this was a normal week.

Nonetheless, I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth suggested, the situation was completely familiar for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Trailing late, with the ball, needing a touchdown to win.

The eventual outcome was far different.

But then, seemingly everything about the Seahawks' performance on Sunday was different than expected.

There were no late heroics for Wilson. Instead it was a long list of head-scratching questions about what went wrong against the New York Giants.

The third-best scoring offense in the league was brought to a halt by New York's defense. Wilson was indecisive and hesitant, taking sacks when he shouldn't. The run game was abandoned too soon, with Seattle running backs carrying the ball just 15 times versus 43 pass attempts.

Seattle took its first home loss of the season and threw the NFC West race into some turmoil. Instead of capitalizing on the softest portion of their schedule, the Seahawks fell back into a tie with the Los Angeles Rams on top of the division.

"I'm really surprised that this is how we looked against this game plan that they had," head coach Pete Carroll said. "I thought we could do a lot of stuff that just didn't happen for us. I need to see why and really break it down."

Seattle was held to 327 total yards by the Giants, the fourth straight game the Seahawks failed to reach 350. Making it more difficult was the lack of big chunk yardage that made Seattle's offense so potent earlier in the season. The longest offensive play was Chris Carson's 28-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that pulled the Seahawks within 17-12.

Wilson finished 27 of 43 for 263 yards. He threw an interception that bounced off Carson's hands and into the arms of Darnay Holmes. Wilson also muffed a snap that turned into a fumble in the first half and had several other dangerous throws that nearly became turnovers.

Most concerning were the sacks and hits Wilson took. Earlier in the season, Wilson was decisive and confident with his decisions. Against the Giants, he appeared hesitant, often holding back from letting go of a pass and exposing himself to extra time in the pocket -- and more hits.

Wilson was sacked five times, four for them for losses of 8 yards or more. He also had an intentional grounding penalty late in the first half that lost 11 yards and cost Seattle a chance at points.

The Giants were credited with 10 QB hits.

"They're a good defense, to be honest with you. They've done a good job, they're coached well," Wilson said. "They had some things covered up and they kind of tried to keep everything in front. We didn't really have anything down the field or anything like that."

Even with the offensive struggles, Seattle was still in position to pull out a victory. Wilson took possession with 1:48 left at his 20 needing a touchdown to win. It's a similar scenario to what Seattle faced in its Week 5 win over Minnesota.

The Seahawks reached the Giants 46, but after a pair of incompletions, Wilson took his worst sack of the day. Leonard Williams came free and instead of Wilson getting rid of the ball, he was thrown to the turf for an 8-yard loss. Seattle used its final timeout and a fourth-and-18 desperation heave was knocked down.

"We never got moving. It just isn't like that; none of us have seen us play like that," Carroll said.

While the lack of offense was the major culprit, the Seahawks were also disappointed in their defense, especially in the third quarter when the Giants took a 14-5 lead. New York had just 33 yards rushing at halftime, but Wayne Gallman's 60-yard run in the third quarter changed the momentum. The Giants rushed for 131 yards in the quarter and 157 in the second half.

"We weren't doing our job," Seattle safety Jamal Adams said. "When you don't do your job on defense and they're running the ball like the way they're running it, very efficient, you know you're going to have a long day. So we didn't do our job."

It all added up to a 17-12 loss at Lumen Field to the New York Giants, who were 4-7 entering Sunday and playing with a backup quarterback in Colt McCoy.

According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, it will go down as one of the most disappointing defeats of the Carroll era -- and it's doubly painful because the Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, McCoy hadn't won a game as a starter since the 2014 season, and the loss matches the largest upset of the season based on point spreads.

The Seahawks closed as 10.5-point favorites per Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

The Seahawks dropped back on a season-high 77 percent of their offensive plays, a curious and significant departure from their offensive approach in recent weeks. Seattle led the league in dropback rate over the first 10 weeks at 69.2 percent. That number was 62.3 percent (15th) and 57.4 percent (20th) in their past two games as they started to get back to a more balanced attack with running backs Carlos Hyde and then Carson back from injuries.

Both were available Sunday but combined for just 15 carries.

Carson got the majority of the work at running back for the Seahawks on Sunday, but it's not because he's fully recovered from the foot injury that kept him out of action for four weeks.

Carson ran 13 times for 65 yards and caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. Hyde only carried the ball twice and DeeJay Dallas caught two passes, but Carson played 42-of-72 offensive snaps over the course of the game.

While Carson was effective, Carroll said after the loss that the plan wasn't to overload him.

"He's making it to the game is what he's doing right now," Carroll told Henderson. "His foot is still sore but he can play, so you can see, he looked good, but it's just not 100 percent and so we're trying to not overload him."

Carroll added, "Carson came out of the game better so in the long run of it we'll have him, we hope, at full speed, full load this week."

DK Metcalf recorded five receptions on eight targets for 80 yards in this one.

He led the team in receiving yards, though he was unable to replicate his massive Week 12 performance in a tough matchup against James Bradberry. Even so, he supplied some of the Seahawks' most explosive offensive gains, including receptions of 21, 18 and 15 yards.

Metcalf also delivered his obligatory highlight reel play of the game when he stiff-armed Bradberry to the turf for a 14-yard gain midway through the third quarter.

Metcalf could be in line for a huge performance against the hapless Jets this weekend.

Finally. ... The Seahawks designated RB Rashaad Penny and CB Quinton Dunbar to return to practice off Injured Reserve. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall reminded readers, Bruce Arians never promised it would be easy to transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into championship contenders.

Even with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette and, more recently, Antonio Brown joining an offense that already included talented playmakers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Ronald Jones, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

The Bucs (7-5) have gone all in to try to become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium this season.

But to even have a shot at getting to the NFL title game, they first have to end the league's second-longest playoff drought.

Tampa Bay hasn't earned a postseason berth since 2007. It hasn't won a playoff game since capturing its only Super Bowl title 18 years ago.

Brady and Company limped into last week's bye, having lost three of their past four games -- all at home -- to playoff contenders.

"Everybody tried to hand us the Lombardi Trophy in August," Arians said. "You don't just throw guys out there with names. You've got to practice. You've got to learn to get in sync with each other. That takes time."

With seven wins, the Bucs have already matched their victory total from all of last season.

And, the remainder of the schedule -- home games against Minnesota and Atlanta, in addition to road dates against Detroit and the NFC South rival Falcons -- seems favorable nail down a spot in an expanded playoff field.

Still, Arians has mixed feelings about whether the team's record should be better than 7-5 at this point.

"Yes and no. I think defensively, we've had our chances to be better. Offensively, it was going to be a work in progress all season. I thought our kicking game has been outstanding for us, which was a problem in the first game only," the coach said.

"I've seen us get better throughout the season," Arians added. "We've just got to win the next one and stay in this playoff hunt."

Inconsistency on offense has been part of the problem, with Brady playing poorly in a pair of lopsided losses to New Orleans, as well as missteps against Chicago and the Los Angeles Rams.

The Bucs have been outscored 52-7 in the first quarter of their past four games, including 17-0 during last Sunday's 27-24 loss to reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas.

Brady rallied the team from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of TD passes, but also threw a pair of costly second-half interceptions against the Chiefs.

Through 12 games, the 43-year-old quarterback has thrown for 3,300 yards and 28 touchdowns while being besieged by questions about whether Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" push the ball down the field offense is a good fit for the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Nine of Brady's 11 interceptions -- three more than he had a year ago in New England and tied for second with Kirk Cousins and Drew Luck for the most in the NFL this season -- have come in four games against the Saints, Rams and Chiefs.

Brady, like Arians, said a lack of execution, especially on third down, has contributed to the team's offensive woes.

"I think as we keep going forward, we are learning more and more about ourselves, about what we need to do," Brady said. "We're going to get back to work and try and do a lot better of a job the last quarter of the season."

The defense has had issues over the past month, too.

Despite ranking No. 1 against the run and being among the league leaders in sacks, takeaways and points off turnovers, Tampa Bay has struggled to get off the field on third down and keep opponents out of the end zone lately.

The Bucs have missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons, the second-longest drought in the league behind Cleveland, which hasn't earned a berth since 2002.

Tampa Bay will be favored in each of its remaining regular-season games. And while most of the team's players, including Evans, Godwin, White and linebacker Lavonte David, have never been to the playoffs, there's enough veteran leadership on the roster to show them the way.

Brady, Gronkowski, McCoy and Brown, as well as defensive stalwarts Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh have all either won Super Bowl rings or appeared in at least one NFL title game.

"We know what we need to do, what's at stake. We win every game, we're in there. We don't have to worry about somebody losing or anything," Pierre-Paul said.

"We know what it takes to get there," the team's sack leader added. "It's are we going to do what it takes to get there?"

Worth noting. ... Godwin needed to have pins inserted in his finger after he broke it earlier this season, but things have healed to the point that Godwin can move forward without them.

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Godwin had a procedure on Tuesday morning to remove the pins.

Godwin missed the team's Week 8 win over the Giants as a result of the injury. He has 24 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown since returning to the lineup in Week 9.

Godwin did not practice Tuesday; I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Stroud also reports that cornerback Jamel Dean has been cleared from the concussion protocol. He practiced Tuesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, the Titans have lost their margin for error chasing the franchise's first AFC South title since 2008.

Their slow start in losing 41-35 to Cleveland dropped them into a tie with Indianapolis, though Tennessee (8-4) still has the divisional tiebreaker with a 3-1 record.

Luckily, they visit Jacksonville (1-11) on Sunday, one of the three teams currently with losing records in the four games on the Titans' schedule.

First, the Titans have plenty of corrections to make to a game in which they fell behind by 17 points, and only a late score made it seem much closer than it really was.

This was the fourth time the Titans didn't score a point in the first quarter, and right tackle Dennis Kelly said they have to be more consistent starting games.

"We can't have this up and down," Kelly said. "We can't wait to get a punch in the mouth, like (coach Mike) Vrabel said, to respond. We need to respond right out the gate."

Derrick Henry, who remains the NFL rushing leader despite having only 60 yards in the loss, said the Titans have to be better.

Henry entered the game having logged three consecutive 100-yard efforts on the ground, but he was limited in his impact against the Browns. His ineffectiveness played a key role in the Titans' 38-7 deficit, as he was stuffed on a short fourth-down play on the team's first offensive possession and then lost a fumble on the following drive.

Henry did get things going a bit in the second half, racking up several rushes of 10 and nine yards.

"That's definitely not how we want to play our style of football, and it's unacceptable how we played," Henry said.

The Titans managed only one touchdown while being blown out 38-7 in the first half by Cleveland. But they outscored the Browns 28-3 in the second half, bumping the Titans up to the NFL's third-best scoring offense, averaging 29.9 points a game.

That run should continue in Jacksonville, where Tennessee will try to beat the Jaguars for the eighth straight time in this divisional rivalry. Then it's back home to host Detroit (5-7), visit Green Bay (9-3) before wrapping up the regular season in Houston (4-8). ...

Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Corey Davis continues to come up big for the Titans.

Davis caught 11 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Davis now has four 100-yard games on the season. Through 12 games, Davis leads the Titans in catches (53) and receiving yards (801).

Henry praised Davis after the game for his effort, and consistency. "Corey is a big playmaker for us," Henry said. "He does a lot of great things being a receiver, catching, touchdowns, yards, blocking. I think his blocking is, you know, most underrated. People don't really appreciate it, but I know I appreciate it. He does a great job. He's big for us. Been big for us. That's the type of guy Corey is."

Davis, who missed two games earlier this season, said he's playing with great confidence. Davis was targeted 12 times by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

"I've been confident," Davis said. "(Just) go out there and play fast and physical and with a free mind."

Davis now has had four 100-yard receiving games this season after having only two combined over the past three seasons. He leads the Titans with 53 catches for 801 yards and is averaging 15.1 yards per catch. Better still, as Rotoworld.com notes, Davis is the 14th highest scoring receiver in fantasy football over the past five weeks and he's drawn seven red zone targets over those five games, two more than A.J. Brown. ...

After missing the previous three weeks with an injury, tight end MyCole Pruitt returned, and he showed up in a big way. Pruitt scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill early in the third quarter, and a few minutes later he rose to the occasion again, scooping up a Brown fumble at the three-yard line and taking it in for a touchdown.

Vrabel applauded Pruitt for his effort on a day when fellow tight end Anthony Firkser also caught five passes for 51 yards. Tight end Jonnu Smith did not play because of a knee injury.

"Coach (Vrabel) is always preaching effort and finish, finish longer than the guy with the ball," Pruitt said after the game. "Get there and be in the right spot, and you get rewarded sometimes for that."

As for Smith, it's not clear how serious his injury is or if there's a timetable for his return. He worked on a limited basis Wednesday while Brown (ankle) was held out. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

A few final items. ... Running back Darrynton Evans is back on the Titans' active roster.

The team announced that Evans has been activated from injured reserve on Monday. He was placed on the list with a hamstring injury in mid-October and returned to practice three weeks ago, which meant Monday was the deadline for him to return to active duty.

Evans was a third-round pick this year and he has run five times for 21 yards in two appearances with the team.

And last. ... The Titans have placed wide receiver Adam Humphries on injured reserve, the team announced on Tuesday.

Humphries missed four games after suffering a concussion against the Bengals on Nov. 1 and his stint on IR is concussion-related, per multiple reports.

Humphries played for the first time since sustaining the injury on Sunday. He was on the field for 26 snaps and was targeted four times, making one reception for nine yards in the loss to the Browns.

Overall in 2020, Humphries has played seven games, starting one. He missed one game earlier this season while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Humphries has caught 23 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns.

Additionally, Tennessee placed practice squad punter Trevor Daniel on their reserve/COVID-19 list.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 8 December 2020

As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, the Washington Football team crafted one of its best comeback wins in years, led by a man who knows all about comebacks.

Quarterback Alex Smith, whose career appeared over two years ago because of his gruesome leg injury, helped rally Washington to a stunning 23-17 victory over the previously unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1).

Trailing 14-0 in the first half, and showing little to no life offensively, Washington stormed back in the second half.

Smith completed 31 of 46 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. He was far from the lone hero (Dustin Hopkins kicked a tiebreaking 45-yard field goal with 2:04 remaining), but his steady hand has helped a young team in need of guidance.

"We've been down for such a long time and we're trying to rebuild ourselves and build up," first-year coach Ron Rivera said. "This is something we can build off of."

Meanwhile, Washington kept pace with the New York Giants in the NFC East. Both teams are now 5-7 with four games remaining after each pulled off an upset win on the road. Washington is 4-2 in its past six games, though three of those wins came vs. a wounded Dallas team and the Cincinnati Bengals.

But beating the Steelers, while rallying from a two-touchdown deficit, was the kind of win Washington needed to show the progress it's making under first-year coach Ron Rivera.

The offense, missing running back Antonio Gibson, came to life thanks to tight end Logan Thomas, receiver Cam Sims and running back J.D. McKissic. All made big plays to spark the offense; Thomas caught nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. McKissic pulled in 10 catches for 70 yards.

Washington showed that it has resolve as well as a young talent base that has provided hope for a fan base in desperate need of any signs of life.

Washington's defense also had a goal-line stand in the first half, shutting down Pittsburgh on four tries inside the 1-yard line. Young made a nice stop, Sweat had a tipped pass and the defense gave Washington momentum.

Washington's defense held Pittsburgh to 21 yards rushing on 14 carries.

After a rough summer because of so much controversy surrounding the franchise, Washington has become a feel-good story during the season. Whether it ends up winning the division becomes somewhat irrelevant. For the first time in a while, Washington is headed in the right direction.

Next up, Washington travels to Arizona next week to take on the San Francisco 49ers in a game relocated due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara, California, the site of Levi's Stadium. ...

Meanwhile, Keim believes we've moved past the Smith-is-a-great-story portion of the season and now must just look at who he is: a tough, smart veteran who can slog through a game and still help a team stay in it. He took two bad sacks at the end of the first half, but he also stays calm, and on a night like this, that was huge.

On his touchdown pass to Thomas, Smith stood in against a strong pass rush and waited until his target was open before unloading the ball. Smith remains a limited quarterback and there's a lot he can't do anymore. But there are still a lot of ways he can help. It's never been about the numbers for him, but rather the impact on those around him.

Thomas has proved to be one of Washington's best offseason signings in years although McKissic falls into that category as well.

But Thomas has provided Washington a big target for the quarterbacks. This summer, Thomas looked good in training camp, especially in the red zone. But he had never been more than a complementary player after switching to tight end earlier in his career. However, he has been a durable and consistent target and has improved as a blocker in the run game.

Whether or not he's a legitimate No. 1 tight end is debatable. But he's without a doubt a quality player who has helped his new team quite a bit. ...

As noted above, Gibson suffered a toe injury on his first carry of the game, hobbled off the field and never returned. He had the toe taped up on the sideline, but he was seen limping while testing it.

Gibson gained 13 yards on the play, highlighting what Washington had done well in winning two consecutive games. The team likes to use jet action with McKissic to slow the defense and hand it to Gibson going the other way.

Gibson, a rookie third-round pick, entered the game with 645 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. He had rushed for a combined 209 yards the previous two games as he developed more patience for a position he played only part-time in college.

He was a key to Washington's offense because of his big-play ability, but coaches were pleased that he was becoming much more consistent, not trying to turn every play into a long gain.

Rivera had no update Tuesday morning on the status of Gibson. But on Wednesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Gibson was diagnosed with a painful case of turf toe, which might knock him out of Sunday's contest versus the 49ers.

Gibson's status is in doubt, Rapoport added, but he'll be evaluated as the week progresses.

If he must miss multiple weeks, it would be a blow to Washington's offense. Peyton Barber lacks his versatility and big-play ability, while McKissic is the team's third-down back. He had 10 catches for 70 yards against the Steelers.

Bryce Love is on injured reserve and out for the season. He tried to practice last month, to see if he could be activated, but was quickly shut down. He needed to be activated in a 21-day window that has since passed.

I'll obviously be following up on Gibson as developments warrant in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Beyond hitting the game winner, Hopkins hit all three of his field goals, each of them 45 yards or more, and was perfect on his pair of PATs, as well. On Wednesday, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. ...

And finally. ... Smith's return from a right leg injury that nearly cost him his life has made him a lock for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. In the first half, Smith's left leg got some attention after he was stepped on.

"You get stepped on a bunch as a quarterback, especially that front leg," Smith said. "You get used to it. You get numb to it. Looked down ... (you could) visually see the blood pumping out. Never had one gush like that. New for me."

Smith remained in the game, his bloody sock giving his nearly all-white uniform a splash of color.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes