Team Notes week 16 2016

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 21 December 2016

The roots of the Cardinals' 5-8-1 record can be traced back to issues in training camp, the team's general manager said Monday in the wake of a 48-41 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

"I don't think we came together as a team," Steve Keim said Monday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "There were very few games this year that we played well in all three phases, which is disappointing.

"You know you can't win many football games when one side of the ball lets you down."

Keim used "underachieved" to describe this season for Arizona, which has failed to live up to lofty expectations of a Super Bowl run.

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss notes, Sunday's loss to the Saints was no different.

Despite the loss, Keim found a handful of bright spots. He was again impressed by quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns without an interception behind a "patchwork" offensive line.

One area Keim praised was the Cardinals' resiliency. He said the team hasn't showed any quit.

"There's been some times they've been put in situations where I know it's been tough, but the mental mistakes and the miscues have certainly been a major concern, and it's disappointing as we all know," Keim said. "But I think that this group will continue to fight and finish strong."

Of course, fantasy owners with David Johnson on their rosters have zero complaints.

Indeed, Johnson took a few more steps Sunday to becoming the best running back in Cardinals' history.

With a 5-yard run early in the fourth quarter, Johnson became the first player in league history to start a season with 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 14 games.

"That's very unique," head coach Bruce Arians said. "I'm very happy for David. I'm very proud of him."

His sights can now be set on Barry Sanders' NFL record of 15 straight games.

"It means a lot," Johnson said. "No one else has ever had it, so this is probably my favorite thing that I've accomplished that has to do with football. From everything that I've been through, this means the world."

Johnson said he was "pretty aware" of how close he was getting to breaking the record. After his second touchdown, with 8:57 left in the game, he figured he had broken it -- but in reality, he'd already held the record for more than two minutes at that point.

But as Weinfuss pointed out, Johnson's exploits weren't contained to just the league's record book. In less than two seasons, Johnson has already left his mark on the Cardinals' as well.

With two touchdowns against the Saints, he tied John David Crow for the franchise's single-season touchdown record with 17, a record that has stood since 1962.

Johnson also finished Sunday with 13 rushing touchdowns this season, one behind Crow's franchise record of 14, also set in 1962.

Johnson's role began to evolve Sunday, as the Cardinals played their first game without wide receiver Michael Floyd. Johnson saw more snaps in the first half as a wide receiver than usual, with Kerwynn Williams taking snaps at running back and quarterback in the Wildcat offense.

"We scripted it all week, to have me play receiver a bit," Johnson said. "I enjoy doing that -- anyway I have a chance to have the ball in my hand."

His 108 yards from scrimmage were 25.4 percent of the Cardinals' total on Sunday.

Johnson has a tough matchup against the Seahawks this week, but he managed 113 rush yards against Seattle in Week 7. Play him if you got him. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted this week, J.J. Nelson is a nice addition to an offense, but it's hard to claim he's the type of player who needs to be getting 11 targets in a game. That was his highest game since Week 8. The Cardinals do not have much of choice right now with the state of their receiving corps. In the absence of Floyd, John Brown saw his snap rate to go up to 59 percent. The team still does not want to put much onto his plate with his sickle cell trait issue.

Harmon added that for the third straight year we are watching Larry Fitzgerald slump toward the end of the season. Since Week 11, the veteran receiver averages 52.6 yards per game and has collected double-digit targets just once, something he did six times in the nine games prior. Still, Fitzgerald has a league-leading 98 catches.

Appearing on Westwood One with Jim Gray, Fitzgerald seemed to create the impression that he'll play in 2017 -- if he's playing for a contender.

"No, I wouldn't say that I'm contemplating [retirement] right now," Fitzgerald told Gray. "But I'm uncertain what I'm going to do moving forward. But I still love the game, I love the competition. I love being around the guys and competing for a championship. That's a lot of fun to me, and that's kind of where I'm at right now."

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, "Where's he's at right now is with a team that isn't competing, and that may be replacing Palmer in 2017. It seems that Fitzgerald still wants to play if playing means winning. The real question is whether he thinks winning will happen in Arizona. ..."

For what it's worth, Palmer told a local radio station he hasn't "thought about next year but I expect to play in 2017. ..."

Chandler Catanzaro missed another extra point attempt and was well short on a 54-yard field goal.

Arians said he still has confidence in Catanzaro.

"Yeah, I do. He's a talented guy," Arians said.

The coach was asked if Catanzaro's issues have been caused by a lack of confidence or the fact he's had to deal with three different holders already this season.

"It's mostly three different holders," he said. "Give him the benefit of the doubt, because in Miami we were working two holders to see who was going to punt. Now we switched the holders on him again. That's not easy for a kicker."

Whatever the case, it keeps Catanzaro from being a trustworthy fantasy prospect.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon
RBs: David Johnson, Elijhaa Penny, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, D.J. Foster
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Williams, Brice Butler, Christian Kirk, J.J. Nelson
TEs: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Gabe Holmes, Bryce Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Talk about meeting and exceeding expectations. ... Devonta Freeman scored three rushing touchdowns and ran for 139 yards on 20 carries as the Falcons ripped through a rather anemic 49ers defense to the tune of 550 total yards, including a season-high 248 on the ground, which is the highest total Atlanta has recorded since week 17 of 2011 (251 yards).

And they accomplished all that with Julio Jones (toe) inactive.

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure noted, Freeman's success on the ground was expected, considering the 49ers came into the game allowing a league-worst 170.8 rushing yards per game. But no matter the opponent, it was important for Freeman, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, to have a big day running the ball as his team heads toward the playoff push.

The Falcons are 9-5 and remain atop the NFC South. Although the Matt Ryan-led, high-powered offense seems to be able to generate 30 points in its sleep, having a strong running game should only help the Falcons become that much more dangerous come the postseason.

Freeman, who has shared carries with Tevin Coleman throughout the season, still has to be the catalyst of that running game with his rugged style and tremendous vision. He leads the team with 12 touchdowns, including 10 on the ground. Remember, Freeman was the fantasy star a year ago with 14 touchdowns.

Freeman became the ninth Falcon with two seasons of 10 or more touchdowns. Freeman and Coleman finished with 221 total yards. This is the third time this season the two have combined for 200-plus yards. The two have combined for 2,023 total yards and 21 touchdowns this season.

Establishing the run will help set up the big play-action passes for Ryan. No team wants to go into a game being one-dimensional, and the Falcons have way too much offensive talent to rely on just one aspect of their game.

Freeman always talks about how he gets better with more touches. Well, the Falcons won't neglect him anyway, especially when he runs the ball like he did against the 49ers.

And his performance came just a week after he had a season-low 6 yards on six carries against the Los Angeles Rams. Freeman's 100-yard effort against the 49ers was his second of the season, including a 152-yard outing against the Saints in Week 3.

By the way, Freeman has three games with three rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons. According to ESPN Stats and Info, no one else has more than one such game over that span.

It's hard to keep a dynamic back down long, especially one with Freeman's drive and determination.

Meanwhile, head coach Dan Quinn said Jones' status for the Christmas Eve matchup against the Panthers looks promising. Jones is recovering from a toe sprain.

"I can't say it's for sure until he can explode like he can," Quinn said, "but I think he's a heck of a lot closer than he has been over the last two weeks."

Wednesday will be key.

"It's just going to be a matter of him getting out and running full speed," Quinn said of Jones. "[Tuesday when the Falcons are scheduled to practice] will be a different pace, probably. Then the following day, we'll really be running and operating at full speed. So, we'll get a much better sense on Wednesday.

Once again Sunday, others stepped up.

The previous week, Taylor Gabriel and Nick Williams combined for 131 yards on seven catches. This past week, Aldrick Robinson turned in a career-high 111-yard effort on four catches and Gabriel scored another touchdown.

"Even when Julio is playing, he comes out the game sometimes," Robinson said. "When he comes out the game, we still believe we can be as efficient as we want to be."

The Falcons have other injury concerns besides Jones. Rookie Austin Hooper exited Sunday's game with a knee injury. Quinn said the injury is not a long-term issue, although Quinn did not discuss the details of the injury.

Hooper, who caught a 9-yard touchdown against the 49ers, had an MRI on Monday morning, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. Hooper exited the locker room Sunday with his left knee in a heavy brace but without crutches.

"We got good news with Hooper where [it] is not a long-term injury for him," Quinn said. ``Hopefully we'll have him back sooner than later, so that's good news for us, too."

Hooper was seen wearing nothing but a sleeve on the knee Tuesday, but he has yet to practice this week.

If Hooper is sidelined for any period of time, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Falcons elevate D.J. Tialavea from the practice squad to be the third tight end and join Levine Toilolo and rookie Joshua Perkins.

Williams (concussion) was inactive against the 49ers, but he could return for Carolina.

In addition, Gabriel (shoulder) turned up on the injury report Wednesday after working on a limited basis.

I'll have more on Jones, who was indeed on the field Tuesday and Wednesday (also on a limited basis), and the others via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Meanwhile, Ryan's 9-yard touchdown pass to Hooper, and Matt Bryant's extra point gave the Falcons 449 this season, setting a franchise record. The previous mark of 442 was set by the 1998 team, the only team in franchise history to advance to the Super Bowl.

Ryan tied his career high in touchdown passes with 32 on the pass to Hooper. He also had 32 scoring passes in 2012.

Ryan completed 17 of 23 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and finished with a 144.5 passer rating against the 49ers.

Tampa Bay's loss to Dallas on Sunday night dropped the Buccaneers to 8-6, moving the Falcons closer to clinching the NFC South. They have a one-game lead and own common-opponents and conference-record tiebreakers over Tampa Bay. The teams are tied in division record. The Bucs finish with games at New Orleans and at home against Carolina.

Finishing as a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NFC would give the Falcons a home playoff game, and they're currently third (by virtue of common opponents tiebreaker against Detroit).

Atlanta is only one-half game behind Seattle (9-4-1) for the No. 2 seed behind Dallas (12-2). The second seed would give the Falcons a first-round bye. The Falcons play two beatable divisional opponents, as does Seattle, which is home against Arizona (5-8-1) this week and visits San Francisco (1-13) in the finale.

In other words, no worries about the Falcons taking their foot off the gas.


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

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As the Associated Press noted, the Ravens are headed for a showdown with the Steelers, a Christmas Day matchup with all sorts of playoff implications.

A victory puts the winner on the cusp of a division title while the loser will likely be on the outside of the Wild Card race, needing help to get in the postseason.

The Ravens have won the past four matchups against their archrival and should be unfazed by the thousands of Terrible Towels waving at Heinz Field. Baltimore, however, would also likely need to beat Cincinnati in the regular-season finale to win their first AFC North crown since 2012.

"The situation we find ourselves in is something that we've been working hard for," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Our guys have been fighting like crazy to go to Pittsburgh and then onto to Cincinnati to try and win a division championship. They've earned the right to do that and we're fired up about it. We can't wait to play the game."

With a victory over Pittsburgh, Baltimore (8-6) would sweep the season series and take over first place in the division. The Steelers (9-5) would clinch their seventh AFC North title with a win against Baltimore. Pittsburgh closes out its regular season with a home game against the winless Cleveland Browns.

One key for Baltimore over the final two weeks of the regular season will be establishing a more balanced offense. Joe Flacco has attempted 579 passes, while the the team has run the ball 325 times, ranked 27th in the NFL.

The emphasis on throwing the ball almost ended Baltimore's postseason hopes Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It appeared the Ravens were about to put the game away when Flacco found receiver Mike Wallace for a 54-yard gain with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter. With a 10-point lead, Baltimore could have just run the ball and settled for a field goal from the reliable Justin Tucker.

However, Flacco threw an interception on the next play that helped Philadelphia get back in the game. The Ravens eventually stopped a 2-point conversion with four seconds remaining to preserve the 27-26 victory.

Harbaugh said the decision to throw the ball was "the all-time worst call ever." Flacco, however, defended the aggressiveness of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"Well, you can say it all you want but, I mean, to be honest with you, my thought was 'shoot, Marty is going to give me a third touchdown pass on the day,' " said Flacco, who was 16 of 30 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and the interception. "I was kind of happy about it at that point, I mean, being selfish, but you've got to just to take care of the football and it's a non-issue."

Nonetheless, the Ravens earned the victory. Now, they control their own destiny for the postseason after a one-year hiatus.

"We want to win a Super Bowl, so we have to go through Pittsburgh next week to get there," running back Kenneth Dixon said. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to go prepare and do our best."

The Ravens' dominant run defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL, also appeared to wear down against the Eagles. Running back Ryan Mathews barreled over Baltimore's defenders rushing for 128 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. Philadelphia finished with 169 total rushing yards more than twice as many yards Baltimore (75.5) had allowed per game this season.

The Ravens will have to find a quick fix before trying to contain the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted this week, the Baltimore backfield has been unpredictable the last few weeks and it remained that way on Sunday. Following last week's coming out party for Dixon, it was Terrance West who came out of the gate hot.

West racked up 122 scrimmage yards by the end of the game and finished as a top-15 fantasy back in standard scoring. West also out-snapped Dixon by a count of 26 to 15.

Dixon, who is known for his pass-catching ability, didn't haul in a single reception in the game. But he did score a touchdown despite just 36 rushing yards. Franciscovich added, "The Ravens backs will both be risky plays next week against the Steelers, mainly because of their unpredictable usage. ..."

In fact, Baltimore Sun staffer Jeff Zrebiec doesn't believe the Ravens trust either Dixon or West on third downs.

Zrebiec noted that Dixon missed a critical block on third down against the Eagles and was scarcely used after that. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk out-snapped both Dixon and West in that game and was often the only back in on passing downs.

Flacco has numerous targets on offense and he has been able to spread the ball around. For example, Flacco threw to 10 different receivers against the Eagles.

While this might appear to be a good problem, several players would like to be targeted more. Receiver Kamar Aiken is one of those players after struggling to get passes thrown his way.

When Steve Smith went down with a season-ending torn Achilles last year, Aiken became the primary receiver and had the best year of his career.

This season, though, Aiken has become the fourth option behind Wallace, Smith and Breshad Perriman. Aiken managed his first touchdown of 2016 in the first quarter against Philadelphia.

That reception, though, didn't do much to settle some of his overall frustration.

"It's been very difficult," Aiken said. "I'll have to look back at it at the end of the year and see how I handled it and how I dealt with it, but it has been a difficult year. ..."

Smith moved into seventh place on the NFL's all-time receiving list on a 34-yard touchdown reception in Sunday's game. Smith jumps ahead of Marvin Harrison, who produced 14,580 yards from 1996 to 2008. Smith entered the game only needing three yards to surpass Harrison.

This is expected to be Smith's final season. He hasn't announced his retirement, but he told Harbaugh this year that this would be his last year. ...

Tucker isn't just the most accurate kicker in 2016. He is now the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

After Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey missed two field goals Sunday night, Tucker took over the top spot among kickers with a minimum of 100 kicks. Bailey was short on a 56-yard field goal and wide left on a 52-yarder.

Tucker has made 89.6 percent of his kicks in his career, or 163 of 182. Bailey's conversion rate dropped to 89.4 percent (169-of-189).

One big difference between the kickers is that Tucker plays in tougher weather conditions in an outdoor stadium in Baltimore, while Bailey has the advantage of kicking inside for home games.

This has been quite a tear for Tucker recently. Since December 2015, he has connected on 38 of 39 kicks for an amazing 97.4 percent success rate.

The only blemish was a blocked kick against the New England Patriots this season.

He has certainly earned the title of most accurate kicker by the distance of his kicks. On Sunday, Tucker tied an NFL record with his 10th kick from 50 yards and beyond. The rest of the NFL's kickers entered Sunday 61-of-118 (51.7 percent) on such kicks, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, Kenneth Dixon
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, John Brown, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
TEs: Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Rex Ryan might be entering his final days in charge of the Bills, but he insisted after Sunday's 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns he knew nothing about the status of his employment beyond this season.

"Here's what we all have in common, everybody in here: Nobody knows what my future is," he said. "I just prepare the team to the best of my ability and that's what I'm going to do. ... How much chance [at the playoffs] we got left, I don't know, but we still got somewhat of a chance -- a puncher's chance, I believe. So we're going to take our swings."

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak noted, with the New England Patriots' win Sunday over the Denver Broncos, the Bills remain mathematically alive in the postseason race, although they're chances are slim.

As justified as Ryan might be in continuing to fight for his job over the final two games of the season -- at home against the Dolphins and on the road against the Jets -- Rodak believes the results of those two games should not weigh heavily in owners Terry and Kim Pegula's decision whether to keep Ryan as coach next season.

Rodak went on to contend the Pegulas have a 30-game portfolio from which to evaluate Ryan, and the performance of his team to this point should largely decide whether Ryan stays or goes. With a 15-15 record as Bills coach, Ryan has yet to fail so egregiously that he absolutely must be fired, but he has also done little to distinguish himself as worthy of continuing to lead the Bills forward.

Whether it is the ongoing struggles of the Bills' defense or the lack of accountability among Ryan's players, the Pegulas have plenty of reason to fire Ryan if they so choose. It is hard to see how Bills wins over the Matt Moore-led Dolphins or Bryce Petty-led Jets should change that thinking, even if the Bills are potentially able to keep the Dolphins, now 9-5, out of the playoffs with a victory Saturday.

According to Rodak, the Pegulas' decision about Ryan should come down to whether they prefer to maintain continuity with their coaching staff and give Ryan a third season, or if Ryan's first 30 games have revealed flaws in his approach that necessitate a change. ...

Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy continues to have a superlative season for the Bills, far and away their best player on either side of the ball. McCoy slashed his way to 153 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns in the win over the Browns. McCoy now has 1,129 yards rushing, 44 catches for 333 receiving yards, and 13 total touchdowns.

As the Sports Xchange notes, McCoy has piled up those numbers despite missing the equivalent of two full games due to injury, and he has kept the Bills on the top of the rushing chart in the NFL for two full seasons. They are averaging 163.4 rushing yards per game, nearly 10 more per game than the Dallas Cowboys.

As ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft pointed out this week, McCoy has more fantasy points than any other running back since the beginning of 2011 (1,180), and he has scored in double digits in 68 percent (78 of 115) of his career games. Incredibly, McCoy has never scored more than 33 fantasy points in a single game which speaks to his consistency.

Unlike McCoy, tight end Charles Clay has been largely invisible in the offense this season. But he has a touchdown reception in each of the last two games his first two of the season. Against the Browns he caught a season-high seven passes for 72 yards, including a few over the middle, an area of the field that has been a black hole for the Bills this year due to the limitations of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

"Charles definitely had a very big day today," Taylor said. "Watching the film, he could win the matchups versus the safeties and the linebackers. So that would be a strong point going into this game and we were able to take advantage of some of the matchups that we got with him."

Clay's production came on a day Sammy Watkins disappeared. He caught just one pass for 10 yards on four targets.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, after trending up in playing time culminating with a 90-plus percent snap share in Week 14, it was disappointing to see Watkins slip back down to go out on just 64 percent of the plays. That could have easily just been due to the blowout nature of this game, which favored the Bills.

Harmon added it also appears we will be playing a guessing game with his health and usage the rest of the way.

Taylor didn't do anything to change the narrative on his season, but in this game, he didn't need to. For the ninth time this year he failed to reach 200 yards passing, but with the Bills running the ball so well, the passing game was an afterthought. Taylor completed 17 of 24 passes for 174 yards.

For the record, Watkins and Clay didn't practice Tuesday (Watkins returned on Wednesday). Both should play as usual. In addition, McCoy practiced fully on Tuesday despite a sore knee. ...

The Bills face the Miami Dolphins at home this week.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: AJ McCarron, Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy, Travaris Cadet
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Brandon Reilly, Jeremy Kerley
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to the Sports Xchange, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has three tenets: 1) stop the run; 2) run the ball; 3) rush the passer.

They did all those in their 26-15 victory in Washington on Monday night

The Panthers sacked Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins just once, but Wes Horton's strip-sack to start the second half was a big one. More importantly, the Panthers dominated both sides of the ground game.

Running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 132 of Carolina's 148 yards, his biggest output since he went off for 155 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 7, 2014.

"We were getting push at the line," Stewart said, "and we matched up pretty well against them. We were running on some good cylinders."

Head coach Ron Rivera liked the physicality of the offensive line and Stewart on Monday night. The coach is hoping that carries over into this week's game against Atlanta (Stewart didn't play the last time Carolina faced the Falcons, sidelined with a hamstring injury).

Defensively, the Panthers held Washington to 29 rushing yards, an impressive effort against a team that had averaged 119.4 yards on the ground over its past 10 games.

"I think we took away their play-action passing," Rivera said. "We were able to keep the ball in front of us. We didn't allow a big ball over the top. We were able to slow this offense down.

Meanwhile, another week, another seemingly illegal hit on quarterback Cam Newton and another clip for the Panthers to send to the league asking why a flag didn't fly.

Well, one did, but it was a penalty against Newton for throwing the ball at Redskins defensive end Trent Murphy. The taunting call penalized the Panthers 15 yards, pushing them out of field goal range while an in-stadium replay showed clear helmet-to-helmet contact.

"What I saw was that Cam slid late and the defender went over the top," referee Walt Coleman told a pool reporter. "I didn't see any forcible contact with the head."

Rivera, who saw what everyone else did by looking up at the scoreboard, said afterward that he thought Murphy should have been penalized, an opinion that obviously hadn't changed less than 24 hours later.

"I'm (Newton's) coach," Rivera said Tuesday. "I'm most certainly going to favor him and I am biased."

What happened later certainly didn't help quiet those who feel there's some sort of conspiracy against Newton and the Panthers.

With less than five minutes left in the game, Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short was flagged for roughing the passer after he pushed a scrambling Kirk Cousins out of bounds.

So why did one quarterback get the call while the other didn't?

"I've said it before, look at what used to happen to Shaquille O'Neal," Rivera said. "(Newton's) a big guy and when he takes hits, it's a little different.

"When (Short) hit the quarterback, he was still two feet inbounds. But KK hit him pretty good and he flew through the sideline, into the cheerleaders, up against the wall. It looks pretty dramatic.

Meanwhile, a week's worth of Washington cornerback Josh Norman storylines translated into little to talk about following his reunion with the Panthers on Monday night.

Norman didn't appear to yap all that much as he and his former teammates played nice.

For the most part, this was the sum of Norman's night: In coverage on a couple of completed slants, some missed tackles and a great pass breakup near the end zone that could've been an interception.

Newton, who had gone four straight games completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes, went 21 of 37 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

In four games against the Redskins, he's totaled 1,003 passing yards, nine touchdowns and no picks.

Greg Olsen caught six passes for 85 yards. The tight end was on the verge of NFL history in Washington, but couldn't quite finish the deal – or the game.

Olsen is trying to become the first tight end to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He was at 992 early in the fourth quarter Monday, but was out for all or parts of the last two series because of an elbow injury.

"He took a shot on the elbow. We'll see how it is," Rivera said Tuesday. "I know he's going to see the doctors and they'll take care of it and we'll go from there."

Olsen, assuming he's healthy, will try to eclipse the mark Saturday against Atlanta.

Olsen has played in 156 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest active streak among tight ends behind Jason Witten (216).

"The very first thing he's going to want, he's going to want the ball early," Rivera said jokingly. "I'm glad to hear (of the record). He's a young man that's been solid for us ever since he's been here. My six years having him here have been tremendous."

for the record, Olsen wasn't practicing Wednesday; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

Philly Brown, who had just four receptions since Week 6, made three catches for 42 yards.

Kicker Graham Gano missed a 38-yard field goal, but made his four other attempts.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne, C.J. Anderson, Elijah Hood
WRs: Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Of the Chicago Bears' many confusing moments in 2016, ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson believes the decision on Sunday to ignore wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for three quarters ranks near the top of the list.

Cameron Meredith had nine catches for 104 yards. Deonte Thompson had a career-high 110 receiving yards on eight catches. And Jeffery, in his return from a four-week suspension for PED violation, had six catches for 89 yards. All of Jeffery's came in the fourth quarter after he'd been used largely as a decoy early.

Barkley threw 23 passes before the fourth quarter. Only one went to Jeffery.

While the Packers' defense of course paid close attention to Jeffery, the NFL's top receivers routinely face difficult coverage, and their quarterbacks still work to get them the ball.

The Bears are an abysmal 3-11 for a variety of reasons, none greater than the trouble they have scoring points. That's been a serious problem all year. Entering Sunday, the Bears were 30th in scoring, getting just 17 points per game.

Say what you will about Jeffery's regrettable four-game PED suspension -- he is still the best skill-position player on the roster. In 2013 and 2014, he caught a combined 174 passes for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. He played in just nine games last year, and he still caught 54 passes for 807 yards and 4 touchdowns.

When the Bears commit to Jeffery, 26, good things tend to happen on the field -- Jeffery finished Sunday with 6 catches for 89 yards and 1 touchdown, all in the last 15 minutes -- but you can't wait until the final quarter to do it.

As Dickerson put it, "Jeffery isn't some garbage-time player. The Bears have to get him involved early and often."

The way the offense flowed for much of Sunday gave the distinct impression the Bears are content to let Jeffery walk in 2017.

Are they ready for that?

Jeffery is an upper-tier receiver in the prime of his career. The Bears? Well, they've missed the playoffs nine of the past 10 years. And chasing off quality players probably won't break them out of that funk.

On a more positive note, Barkley proved again on Sunday he is a solid choice to open 2017 as the primary backup.

In a refreshing, but nonetheless depressing twist, Barkley consistently puts the Bears in position to win games, or at the very least reach overtime -- until John Fox's team inevitably blows it.

The 26-year old quarterback turned the ball over four times (one turnover occurred on a Hail Mary before halftime) against Green Bay, but still passed for 362 yards and two touchdowns, even though he did not throw to Jeffery until the final quarter.

Assuming the Bears don't blow up the entire operation, Barkley is a good quarterback to have on next year's roster. He has ability (most importantly), knows the offense, stays out of trouble and appears to have earned the locker room's respect.

Much work needs to be done at quarterback, but the Bears can take comfort in Barkley's development.

Aside from Barkley, the front seven on defense and the emergence of a handful of younger players, the Bears don't have much else to show from 2016.

Other notes of interest. ... Jordan Howard gained 90 yards to pass 1,000 for the year and performed steadily on Sunday against the Packers. He didn't have a gain longer than 13 yards and ran hard extremely near the goal line. The Packers have usually found it easy to limit the Bears on the ground by crowding the line, so the ability to eventually gain valuable yardage there against these tactics was encouraging for the future.

There was also a Jeremy Langford sighting. According to the Sports Xchange, if you looked closely, you saw the player who was supposed to be the starter this season. The unsung goat of the game is Logan Paulsen, the backup and run-blocking tight end. He got called for holding with the Bears at the Packers' 3-yard line in the closing minutes and they had to settle for a tying field goal instead of scoring the winning touchdown.

From a fantasy perspective, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested this week, Howard is seeing too much playing time to leave on the fantasy bench and is clearly the centerpiece of the Bears offense. He'll be a low-end RB1 this week against the Redskins. ...

Receiver Eddie Royal will miss the Chicago Bears' final two games because of a toe injury.

Royal will become the 18th Bears player on injured reserve after head coach John Fox announced Monday that the nine-year veteran is done for the year. Fellow wideout Marquess Wilson (foot) was placed on injured reserve last week as well.

Sidelined since Nov. 27, Royal has been limited to nine games in each of his two seasons in Chicago after agreeing to a three-year deal in March 2015. He caught 33 passes for 369 yards this year after finishing with 37 receptions for 238 yards and a TD last season.

Royal has 408 catches for 4,357 yards and 28 touchdowns with Denver, San Diego and Chicago.

According to local observers, Royal has likely seen his last playing time in Chicago.


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

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

The Bengals are officially out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. For many on the roster, it's uncharted territory. Only 12 Bengals (two of them specialists) were on the 2010 team that won only four games. At best, this team will win seven games, also making it the first losing season since 2010.

Down seasons are expected in the NFL, even for successful teams. But not this team. Not this season.

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell reminded readers, the Bengals were a popular pick to make it to the playoffs again this season. They have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who has been in their system for six seasons, and Pro Bowlers in Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Green and Adam Jones. The basic core of a team that went 12-4 last season was intact.

The only knocks against the Bengals were their own history and an 0-7 record in the postseason under Marvin Lewis. The team was considered talented enough and experienced enough to make a run.

There were no excuses. The Bengals were almost completely healthy all season. Yes, the six games missed by Eifert and five games missed by Green hurt, but they also underachieved when they had both healthy, going 1-1-1 in that span. Outside of those two players, their starting lineup was almost completely intact for most of the season.

Whatever it was, the Bengals couldn't find that extra something needed to overcome troubles. When it came down to it, the Bengals were just plain bad in the fourth quarter, scoring only four touchdowns in that quarter and none since Week 8. Each of those games ended in a loss. Their five wins came against four teams with a combined record of 18-38.

"That's unfortunately the story of a lot of our season," Lewis said. "We come up short and our inability to score points in the second half."

Added team captain Andrew Whitworth: "The fourth quarter's been tough for us. We just haven't seemed to have been able to find the finishing touches. ... We just haven't found what it takes there at the end."

What exactly went wrong for the Bengals? They came into the season with a big overhaul of the coaching staff -- a new offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, defensive backs coach, linebackers coach and defensive line coach.

They had to replace a few positions -- they let go of right tackle Andre Smith for Cedric Ogbuehi, who struggled enough that he was placed in a rotation with Eric Winston and eventually benched. They didn't re-sign wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and weren't able to retain wide receiver Marvin Jones. Safety Reggie Nelson left for the Raiders in the offseason and slot corner Leon Hall went to the Giants.

Those would be weak excuses. Attrition is something every team goes through. If anything, the Bengals are unusually loyal with both their players and coaches. Former quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who has been with the Bengals since Lewis arrived, was promoted to offensive coordinator this season after Hue Jackson left for Cleveland.

For whatever reason, the Bengals' offensive production has plummeted this season. They have averaged only 20.6 points per game, their lowest amount since the 2010 season.

On Sunday, the Bengals had just 38 yards of total offense in the second half as the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to win 24-20.

How much of that can be put on the coaches? There's at least some blame to go around in equal parts.

The Bengals lost a lot of innovation when Jackson left for Cleveland. There are injuries as well with Green still nursing a strained hamstring and running back Gio Bernard out for the season with a torn ACL.

But, the fourth-quarter issues aren't something that transpired over the past four weeks after Bernard and Green went down.

"I wouldn't say there's a common theme," said Dalton. "A couple weeks ago, we had a couple fumbles that hurt us. At the end of the day, we've just got to execute."

Meanwhile, Terrell reports that Lewis was quick to end a potential line of questioning on Monday. Now that the Bengals are out of the playoffs, would he consider giving younger players more snaps to see what he has for the future?

"No. No. Our thought is to win these last two football games with the best players we can put out there to play, and that's what we owe to everybody," Lewis said. "This isn't junior high school."

Lewis said his only thought is to play to win the next two games and finish the season on a high note with the players that give them the best chance to win.

That thought applies to Green, who Lewis has said repeatedly could come back before the season ends, regardless of the Bengals' playoff chances. If Green is healthy, he'll play.

"If they can't do their job physically, they're not going to be out there anyway," Lewis said.

He added: "We have to play to win the game. That's what it's for. We owe it to everybody. The guys out here put their neck on the line all the time. We have to make sure we're all doing it in the same direction. If we have somebody that's not quite in step with us, then we'll have someone else in there."

For the record, Green practiced on a limited basis during the week but was inactive for Sunday's game, the third straight he's missed with a strained hamstring. Green told reporters Sunday that he expects to play this week at Houston and ESPN's Bob Holtzman reports that barring an unforeseen setback, the veteran wideout will indeed return to action Saturday in Houston.

He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday. Tight end Tyler Eifert (back) and Jeremy Hill (knee) were held out on Wednesday.

Green remains 36 yards shy of reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth consecutive season, something only Randy Moss has accomplished.

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

Other notes of interest. ... Dalton passed for 116 yards in the first half, but just 41 after halftime with an interception when he had a receiver open but didn't see Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons underneath.

Eifert had only one catch and three targets.

Brandon LaFell, with the Steelers seemingly content with taking Eifert and rookie receiver Tyler Boyd out of the passing game, had a big day with seven catches for 91 yards and a 13-yard average.

Hill managed minus-1 yards rushing after halftime against Pittsburgh. Hill finished with 43 yards on 20 carries for a 2.2 average.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel, Logan Woodside
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Mark Walton
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Cody Core, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone
TEs: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Mason Schreck, Ryan Hewitt

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers framed it, "RG3 is getting chance No. 3. And maybe his last one for the Browns. ..."

Still looking for that elusive first victory, head coach Hue Jackson is keeping Robert Griffin III as his starting quarterback this week against San Diego for the bad-to-the-bone Browns, who are desperately trying to avoid an 0-15 start and perhaps the second 0-16 season in NFL history.

"We'll go out there and give him another opportunity to take a swing at it," Jackson said.

Jackson had considered changes following Sunday's 33-13 loss in Buffalo, the Browns' sixth straight by double digits. However, after watching the game tape, Jackson felt Griffin made more progress in his second start since Sept. 11 and will give him another one.

"There was some improvement," Jackson said on a conference call. "There were some things that I thought he did much better when you go back and watch the tape than the first time he played. Hopefully there can be another jump in this next game. But I think he needs to go play and he needs to play well."

Griffin completed 17 of 28 passes for 196 yards against the Bills, who flushed him from the pocket throughout much of the game and sacked him five times. Griffin, who missed 11 weeks after breaking a bone in his left shoulder in the season opener, ran eight times for 48 yards and scored on an 18-yard scamper.

It was an upgrade from his return against Cincinnati a week earlier, when he went 12 of 28 for 104 yards and an interception.

"I thought in the second half, I thought he stood in there and threw some good balls," said Jackson, who is using the final four games to evaluate whether Griffin can be Cleveland's QB going forward. "I thought he started managing and running our offense with efficiency. I thought he was in rhythm. You know for a moment there we looked like the offense that I've come to know a little bit, and I thought there was an uptick in performance."

But despite Griffin's jump, Jackson wants more and said he will not hold back in pulling Griffin in favor of rookie Cody Kessler, who made eight starts while RG3 was recovering from his injury.

In fact, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram staffer Scott Petrak reported that Jackson said on Wednesday that Kessler is getting extra reps this week even as Griffin prepares to start. Not surprisingly, Kessler wants to play again.

"I won't be hesitant in this game because I would like to see a little a bit of Cody before the end of this season, and if things are not going as well as I like, I do have that card to where I could put Cody in the game," Jackson said.

With every loss, the Browns inch closer to unwanted infamy.

They set a franchise record with their 13th straight loss and matched the club record for losses in a season. The Browns have dropped 17 in a row over the past two seasons, and including their four exhibition games this season, they're on a 21-game losing streak.

After hosting the Chargers, the Browns will wrap up a season that can't end fast enough on Jan. 1 in Pittsburgh.

Jackson said he worries about the negativity shaking his players and carrying over into 2017.

"You can very well think that way," he said. "But we're going to fix this and we have to on all levels, and that's one of the levels. I think really dealing with our players once this season's over and once we get back, we've got to rid the whole locker room and everything of those feelings and those thoughts because once this is over it's over, and we've got to move forward and move on to bigger and better things.

"I truly believe our players understand that, I know our staff will and I know our organization will and that's what we'll do."

Meanwhile, a torn finger ligament could keep receiver Terrelle Pryor out of Cleveland's final two games.

Pryor was hurt in Sunday's 33-13 loss to the Bills, dropping the Browns (0-14) to within two losses of becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history.

Jackson said Monday that Pryor's ability to play through pain will determine whether he'll be on the field for Saturday's home game against San Diego.

"We would hate to lose Terrelle," Jackson said.

Pryor needs surgery after the season, a person familiar with the injury told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

In his first full season as a wide receiver, the former quarterback Pryor leads the Browns in receptions (67), yards (877) and four touchdowns. However, his production has slowed in recent weeks and he has just four catches for 22 yards over the last two weeks.

Pryor had four catches for 19 yards against the Bills, one week after he was held to just one reception for 3 yards against Cincinnati and was targeted in a heated rant by Bengals cornerback Adam Jones afterward.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Corey Coleman led the team by going out on 94 percent of the plays to 83 percent from Pryor.

Although the wideout practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, Jackson said if Pryor can't play then rookie Ricardo Louis would likely start along with Andrew Hawkins, who caught one pass for 33 yards against the Bills. It was his longest reception of the season.

Jackson wanted to get Pryor more opportunities Sunday, but the Bills took them away.

"Terrelle has a reputation now," he said. "People know who you are and are trying to take you out of the game, and we're trying to get it to him. Sometimes the ball doesn't go where it should or protection doesn't hold up. It's not that we're not trying to get him the ball."

In addition, tight end Randall Telfer (ankle) will be evaluated when the Browns return to practice this week in advance of Saturday's game against the Chargers.

I'll follow up on both men via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

The Browns, as usual, gave up on the run quickly after falling behind. When they did attempt to run, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson had very little room. Griffin ran eight times to lead the Browns with 48 yards. There was no rhythm to what the Browns were trying to do.

Cody Parkey kicked one field goal 35 yards and another 40 yards. He is 15 of 16 on field goal attempts after missing three of five kicks in his first game with the Browns on Sept. 25 against the Dolphins.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, Antonio Callaway
TEs: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggested, the lasting memory from the Cowboys' 26-20 win won't be that it was the Cowboys' 12th victory of the season. That Dak Prescott had just four incompletions in a resounding rebound from two subpar performances was probably more important but definitely not as eye-catching.

The defense's four takeaways played probably a bigger part than anything in the win, but it wasn't as funny as Ezekiel Elliott's quick disappearance.

In warm-ups, Elliott noticed the red, over-sized Salvation Army kettles in the end zone, and that gave him the idea. After his 2-yard touchdown run with 12:34 left in the second quarter, the rookie weaved through myriad photographers and jumped into one as part of the celebration.

It took the officials some time to throw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the act was as memorable a celebration as the Cowboys have had since Terrell Owens was with them, be it grabbing a bag of popcorn from somebody or pretending to fall asleep after scoring a touchdown.

Elliott meant no harm.

"When we go out there, we have fun, but we get to work, and I think we're at our best when we're having fun," Elliott said. "Having fun is key. But we knew what we had to do this week, and we had to come back out and execute."

What some might not see in the fun is the work Elliott puts in and the effect he has on the Cowboys' offense.

Elliott should become the second Cowboys back in three seasons to lead the NFL in rushing. DeMarco Murray ran for 1,845 yards in 2014. With two games to go, Elliott leads the NFL with 1,551 yards on 310 carries, good for a 327-yard lead on Murray, who is now with the Tennessee Titans.

Elliott finished Sunday with a career-high 159 yards on 23 carries. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season and second of more than 150 yards. Gaining the 258 yards necessary to break Eric Dickerson's NFL record for rushing yards by a rookie (1,808 in 1983) doesn't seem so impossible now.

Rarely does the fourth overall pick in a draft exceed expectations.

"I wanted to come here with all the right tools we have," Elliott said. "I have a lot of great players around me. I have the best O-line in football. It's what's expected."

As much as they have used Elliott, the Cowboys could actually stand to use him more.

After his score, which set a franchise rookie record for most rushing touchdowns in a season, Elliott did not have another carry in the second quarter. He had five carries for a quiet 33 yards in the third quarter. Until 6:55 remained in the game, Elliott had one fourth-quarter carry for 2 yards.

And then he came alive.

Elliott had 76 yards with his final seven carries, including a 42-yarder that took the Cowboys from their 24 to the Tampa Bay 34. On the next carry, he picked up 10 more yards. He finished a yard short on a third-and-2 carry, but the Cowboys were able to kick a field goal for a 26-20 lead with 2:58 to play.

"You've heard [Garrett] say all the time, those 3- and 4-yard runs turn into big runs down the stretch, and he's built for that," tight end Jason Witten said. "That says a lot about him. It looks like he continues to get stronger as December comes."

The Cowboys will need more of it as December continues. They'll need more of the fun too, even if it doesn't include any more jumps into the kettle.

"The kickoff team had my back," Elliott said. "They covered really well [after the penalty]. They didn't even get to the 25. I thought they had my back. It worked out."

Worth noting. ... In the roughly 12 1/2 hours after Elliott's jump, until 10:30 a.m. ET on Monday morning, the Salvation Army took in $182,000 in online donations, said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe.

Busroe said that was a 61 percent increase over a similar time period from Sunday night into Monday last week. ...

Prescott rebounded from his worst performance of the season by completing a career-high 88.9 percent of his passes (32-of-36) for 279 yards and ran for a touchdown Sunday night.

The completion percentage was the second highest in NFL history in a game of at least 30 pass attempts.

It quieted a lot of critics and skeptics who had called for veteran quarterback Tony Romo to replace him in the starting lineup after his woeful effort in the 10-7 loss to the New York Giants the week before, a situation that was fueled in part by Jones.

But as the Sports Xchange suggests, Prescott wouldn't have been named the starter over Romo if he was going to wilt at the first sign of trouble. He came through big time against the Buccaneers. ...

Meanwhile, if the New York Giants lose to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, the Cowboys will clinch their second NFC East title in three years and home-field advantage in the playoffs -- even if they don't win either of their final two games.

If that were to happen, the Cowboys could consider a rest versus rust debate, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones didn't want to go there on Monday.

"We've got to get this thing [wrapped up]," Jones said, "We've got to get it in here, and I think the Giants just really made you more aware that a lot of slips could happen here. After you've got a record like that, you want to take advantage of it, and you should have as many advantages as you can. That's a big edge, those byes, home field and all that."

The last time the Cowboys had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs was in 2007 when they lost to the Giants in the divisional round and saw their NFC East rival go on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2014, with their playoff seeding set, Jason Garrett chose to play his regulars -- even DeMarco Murray, who had a broken hand -- for most of a 44-17 win against the Redskins. The Cowboys beat the Lions at home in the wild-card round before losing to the Green Bay Packers the following week at Lambeau Field.

A few final notes. ... Witten caught 10 passes for 51 yards against Tampa Bay. Witten's 10 receptions gave him 1,086 for his career to pass Owens (1,078) for seventh on the league's all-time receptions list.

Darren McFadden's return meant Alfred Morris was a healthy scratch against the Bucs. McFadden played 12 snaps in his first game back and had three carries for 10 yards with Lance Dunbar serving as the receiving threat. Dunbar had two catches for 20 yards.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bo Scarbrough, Trey Williams
WRs: Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Cedrick Wilson
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold framed in on Tuesday, "After 14 games, the Broncos offense continues to be an odd, maddening mix of potential, futility, production and broken dreams."

And the Broncos (8-6) now have just two weeks to get it right, or at least just get it a little better, or that same offense will be regarded as the leading culprit in how their Super Bowl defense could end with a playoff miss.

"We are struggling," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "But we've been different offensively. We've tried some two-back, (then) we lost some of that. We've been at one-back and we've had some things going on, but there are no excuses. I have to do a better job with them. The guys are battling. ... But we need more consistency in what we're doing. Really, I look at myself. I have to do a better job for them."

The Broncos believe the math is easy right now. They have two games remaining in the regular season -- Christmas night in Kansas City and New Year's Day against the Raiders -- and have to win both to have any hope of a playoff spot.

When the Broncos exited the preseason the biggest question about the offense was quarterback Trevor Siemian.

Siemian has since been forced into being a more integral part of the offense because the Broncos haven't consistently run the ball.

He has thrown for 3,012 yards in his 12 starts -- he missed a game with a left shoulder injury and a game with a left foot injury. In his last six starts he has averaged 300.2 passing yards per game to go with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

In his last three starts against respected veteran defensive minds such as Bob Sutton, Dick LeBeau and Bill Belichick, Siemian has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown one interception -- his only major mistake in Sunday's 16-3 loss to the Patriots.

"I think Trevor is getting better," Kubiak said. "He is becoming a good football player."

The Broncos also have two 1,000-yard receivers -- again. Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have now topped 1,000 yards together in each of the last three seasons.

Sanders finished Sunday's game with three receptions for 48 yards, all in the second half. Thomas led the Broncos with seven receptions for 91 yards.

But with all that, the Broncos are still 27th in the league in rushing yards per game. They've surrendered 40 sacks -- Siemian has been sacked 20 times in his last five starts -- they're 26th in the league in third-down conversions and 29th in the league in red-zone performance.

And in their last two games -- back-to-back losses -- they have scored 10 and three points, respectively. While they often do their best work in a three-wide receiver set, they find it subjects Siemian to more punishment because the Broncos struggle to protect him.

"Everybody is playing, I can tell you that, everybody is getting a chance to contribute for us offensively that are suiting up," Kubiak said. "We just have to keep going."

Many in the league quickly say the root of the Broncos' troubles is the offensive line, where the Broncos simply haven't had much consistency and injuries have eroded the group's practice time together. Start with center Matt Paradis' hip troubles that have limited him to one or two days of practice each week and go from there.

Running back C.J. Anderson is on injured reserve, rookie running back Devontae Booker has looked fatigued at times and the Broncos have not had a No. 3 option step forward in the passing game to complement Thomas and Sanders.

Justin Forsett started at running back against the Patriots in place of Booker and it didn't take long for the Broncos to surpass their rushing total of a paltry 18 yards from the previous week, but after some early success, the ground game stalled and was eventually abandoned, as the Broncos ran just five times after halftime.

It has all left the Broncos feeling unfulfilled with the offense. Things boiled over this past Sunday after the Patriots' win left some of the Broncos' defensive players openly frustrated.

"I think it starts with demanding more of ourselves and demanding more with our technique and handling our errors," tackle Russell Okung said. "We need to help this team out. We need to help this team win games."

For what it's worth, the Broncos downplayed any disharmony in their locker room that erupted following Sunday's loss.

Cornerback Aqib Talib objected when Okung rose to speak after head coach Gary Kubiak asked if anyone wanted to address the team in the locker room after the loss. That started a shouting match between defensive players who had held Brady in check and the O-linemen, who have taken the brunt of the blame for Denver's dive.

Denver's defense has carried the team for two years now, and the frustration boiled over after they held Tom Brady to a season-low 188 yards and no touchdowns on 16-of-32 passing.

Kubiak said he didn't have a problem with Talib's reaction Sunday after the game, but insisted it wasn't a big issue that could fracture his team.

"It's OK to be upset," Kubiak said. "There's pain in what we do and you put a lot into it. There's no division. That's battling and that's part of football. Defensively, we should feel really good in how we played yesterday. Offensively, we should look at it and say, 'Damn, we did some good things, we should have scored some points.'"

Kubiak said he would "never let something be divisive," and wasn't bothered by the friction.

On the injury front. ... Kubiak said defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck) was day to day, but that tight ends Virgil Green and A.J. Derby were both in concussion protocol. Derby has 16 receptions for 160 yards since joining the Broncos a week before the trade deadline. ...

Green and Derby were among those sitting out Wednesday's practice. Thomas and Sanders.

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

And finally. ... Kubiak again defended PR/WR Jordan Norwood, who fumbled his fourth punt and also fumbled away his only catch after Kubiak activated him over rookie Kalif Raymond on Sunday.

He did say, however, that he's considering using Sanders to return punts, something Sanders said he'd welcome.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, De'Angelo Henderson, David Williams
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Leslie, Carlos Henderson, Daesean Hamilton
TEs: Jake Butt, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Austin Traylor

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted this week, it has always floated near the surface this season. Even as the Lions' defense improved and the special teams remained consistent and the offense kept pulling out wins, there was a rough truth there.

Detroit, as it has always done under Jim Caldwell, struggled running the ball. Some of the numbers -- and they haven't been all that good anyway -- are skewed because of Matthew Stafford's rushing stats. But even when running backs have been handed the ball this season, things just haven't been consistent or close to what head coach Jim Caldwell has said he strives for.

The Lions have just one game with over 100 rushing yards since Ameer Abdullah injured his foot in Week 2. Caldwell said he wants his backs to hit 4 yards per carry in every game. Since the Abdullah injury, the Lions have hit that mark in only four games. In four other games, the Lions were below 3 yards per carry.

The offense looked devastating in the opener against Indianapolis and had good movement in Week 2 against Tennessee before Abdullah got hurt. Since then, the Lions have gained over 350 offensive yards just twice, in part because one aspect of their offense has essentially broken down.

Other than Abdullah, no Lions running back is averaging 4 yards per carry. Even though he hasn't played since Week 2, Abdullah is less than 300 yards behind Detroit's leading rusher this season, Theo Riddick, who has played in 10 games and has 357 rushing yards (3.9 yards per carry).

Riddick has missed the last two games with an injured wrist.

There are two games left, but those numbers are among the worst for a season-leading rusher in modern Lions history, on par with Jahvid Best's 390 yards in 2011 and James Jones' 342 yards in 1987.

It's a situation, too, that puts a lot of attention on Detroit's passing game, takes away play-action opportunities and puts more pressure on Stafford.

The Lions displayed this often at New York, facing a Giants defense that was among the best in the NFL at stopping the run (90.1 yards per game and 3.6 yards per rush). Despite those numbers and the Lions missing their top two running backs (Abdullah and Riddick) and their starting center, Detroit often seemed to run right into the middle of the New York defense.

There were some promising runs early by rookie Dwayne Washington, who averaged 2.2 yards per run, but it eventually, predictably went poorly. Still, after the game Caldwell defended sticking with it.

"In that particular ballgame, we have to try to manufacture a run and try to get some yards here and there," Caldwell said. "I don't think you can be too patient in that situation, particularly with a team that can rush the passer. We were hoping to find a few more cracks, but we didn't quite get as many as we would've liked."

Coaches will always say they want to establish the run, though. It's an axiom as old as football itself. But when a team is 29th in yards per game (81.7) and 26th in yards per carry (3.7), it can seem counterproductive.

And for the Lions, it has been one of their biggest issues all season long.

Meanwhile, Stafford spent all week answering questions about wearing a glove and his injured right middle finger. So did Caldwell.

In the end, though, it might not have mattered much at all.

Stafford said after Sunday's loss that the injured digit and glove were not issues. Stafford finished 24-of-39 for 273 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.

"I don't think so, no," Stafford said. "I felt pretty good."

Stafford took multiple deep shots, even connecting on a 67-yard pass to Golden Tate in the first half. But he also missed on some deep throws, and a couple looked a bit off target.

Caldwell said "it's going to be a little bit different for him" in terms of adjustments Stafford may have to make, but that the quarterback's play was not the reason Detroit lost.

"I thought he played good football," Tate said. "I thought he definitely gave us a chance. I thought the receivers, running backs and tight ends could have made a few more plays to crack this game open. That's a tough guy and I will never question him, ever.

"We just have to be a little bit better all around."

For the record, Stafford likely needs time, and perhaps surgery, to heal. The Lions don't have a great option behind him with backups Dan Orlovsky and Jake Rudock.

Stafford has thrown three interceptions, playing through the injury, in two games after going eight straight games without getting picked once.

Caldwell acknowledged it has been a difficult transition for Stafford.

"Here's a guy that's been holding a football in his bare hand for years and years and years, and all of a sudden he's wearing a glove," Caldwell said. "Do you think there's going to be a difference? I mean these guys aren't any different than concert pianists. ... There is some adjustment that's made there. It's not a non-issue until he doesn't have it off and doesn't have it on anymore, so there are things. Now, can he perform with it? There's no question he can perform with it."

He's expected to continue wearing the glove for the rest of the season. ...

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Tate has double-digit targets in each of the last three games. He's started to distance himself from the spread-out nature of the distribution in the Lions passing game. The snap counts for all the other players are intact, as Anquan Boldin, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron all went out for at least 81 percent of the team's plays.

The issue is that the team only ran 59 total plays. Harmon added, "With the running backs absorbing nine targets, despite Riddick not playing, there's just not enough volume to go around here. ..."

One last note here. ... The Lions might be heading into their most important two-game stretch of the season without No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay. He suffered his second hamstring injury of the season in the second quarter Sunday, after he drove hard off his right leg to make a tackle on Odell Beckham Jr.

I'll have more on Riddick and any other injury situations of interest in advance of this week's game against the Cowboys via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, LeGarrette Blount, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Bradley Marquez, Andy Jones, Jace Billingsley
TEs: Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovksy wrote, "Yes, the Green Bay Packers have a running back, and his name is Ty Montgomery.

"Oh, yeah, and they still have Aaron Rodgers too. ..."

And it's a good thing they had both on Sunday against the Bears or they would be answering for one of the biggest collapses of the season.

They blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, and then with one Rodgers heave -- a 60-yarder to Jordy Nelson to set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired -- the Packers escaped Soldier Field with a memorable 30-27 win.

It wasn't quite the Hail Mary from last year at Detroit, but it will go down as one of Rodgers' most memorable throws in a career full of them.

"Let's be honest, you're sitting there, it's third-and-11, you let the clock run out -- that's a decision you have to make," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We felt like we were going to take the shot at the conversion."

Up to that point, McCarthy relied heavily on Montgomery.

For weeks -- even the past couple of months -- McCarthy has been telling anyone and everyone that Montgomery is no longer a receiver. Forget that he still wears No. 88; players can't change during the season.

And 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns sounds an awful lot like a running back.

All he needed was some time to get used to the intricacies of his new position and the kind of opportunity that presented itself on Sunday at Soldier Field. On a bitterly cold day with a wind chill of minus-4 degrees at kickoff and without James Starks (inactive because of a concussion), Montgomery obliterated his previous career high of nine carries.

In the process, he took some of the pressure off an ailing Rodgers, who hobbled around on a bum right calf.

The highlight was a potential 2-yard loss that Montgomery turned into a 61-yard gain in the first quarter.

In all, the Packers rushed for 226 yards -- easily their season high. Christine Michael also got into the act with a 42-yard touchdown, giving the Packers their first game with three rushing scores since Week 16 of the 2013 season against Pittsburgh.

But it will be Rodgers' last throw, which traveled 52 yards past the line of scrimmage for his deepest completion of the season, that will be most remembered.

"I saw Jordy put his hand out, figured that the safety on the back side hadn't rolled to the middle, so they were playing a quarters look," Rodgers said. "I tried to put enough air on it for him to run underneath it and that's what he does. He makes those kind of catches."

However, with a running game like McCarthy's team displayed Sunday, the rest of the NFC North should be concerned about the hard-charging Packers. At 8-6 and with everything falling their way for a change -- Detroit and Minnesota both lost -- the Packers now stand just a game behind the first-place Lions (9-5) and a game ahead of the Vikings (7-7).

"Puts us in position to control our own destiny, and that's all you can ask for at this time of year, especially going into two more division games and especially for what we've been through earlier," McCarthy said. "We're getting stronger as far as our performance and our mentality, but we need to get healthy, because we've got another rough one at home on Saturday [against Minnesota]."

On Montgomery's long run, he gained all 61 of those rushing yards after initial contact. The Packers haven't gained that many rushing yards after contact in a single game since Week 7, when they gained 67 against the Bears, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Montgomery's 123 yards rushing was the most before halftime for a Packers running back since Ahman Green had 133 in Week 1 of 2001 against Detroit. It was the most in any half since Green had 166 in the second half against Denver in Week 17 of 2003.

Montgomery had the best single-game rushing performance by a Packer since Samkon Gado ran for 171 yards against the Lions on Dec. 11, 2005.

Montgomery isn't sure whether he will be as integral of a piece to the offensive game plan going forward as he was Sunday. The Packers host the Minnesota Vikings for a Christmas Eve game Saturday afternoon.

But he's going to be a popular fantasy play regardless...

Meanwhile, the Packers needed every bit of what Montgomery gave them on the ground to help offset a tough day by Davante Adams, who cost the Packers eight points with a pair of dropped passes on drives that ended with field goals, and because of Rodgers' limited mobility and a defensive meltdown that almost cost them.

"Every win you get, confidence grows," Nelson said. "But I don't think it ever wavered in our losing streak. We just needed to win and play better football. Obviously, we have some areas that we can improve, and that's where I think we can become a good team to a great team, is you still have to improve and get better off of wins. You can't settle just because you won. You've got to be able to really critique yourself just like you do in a loss, and pick it apart and fine-tune some things and be able to move forward."

Rodgers got sacked four times during the game and had some moments when he moved gingerly, but had a couple of productive scrambles and was able to sprint down field in time to spike the ball ahead of Crosby's kick. McCarthy said Monday that Rodgers emerged from the game in good physical shape.

"The early indication is he's better today than he was going into the game," McCarthy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. "So we feel good about that."

While Rodgers is feeling good on Monday, it seems like a safe bet that the Packers will keep him from doing too much in practice on a short week heading into Saturday's game against the Vikings. McCarthy also said that the team does not have a "high concern" after guards T.J. Lang and Lane Taylor were injured on the play before Rodgers' bomb to Nelson.

Whatever the case, McCarthy said he's going to have a light week of work for his entire roster in advance of Saturday's game against the Vikings.

"It won't just be Aaron Rodgers, the plan for the whole team is a low workload," McCarthy said. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Jared Cook was a top target for Rodgers in the passing game Sunday, a week after the veteran suffered a bruised chest in the blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks. Cook was targeted eight times and had a season-high-tying six receptions for 85 yards in the three-point victory over the Bears.

McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday that Starks is still in the concussion protocol. With a game three days away, that's not a good sign for him. That said, the veteran halfback was already falling behind Montgomery and Michael before he missed last week's game. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, Devante Mays
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, DeAngelo Yancey, J'mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Tom Savage will start at quarterback for the Texans on Saturday against the Bengals.

Head coach Bill O'Brien announced the decision on Monday, a day after Savage took over in the second quarter when Brock Osweiler was benched against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We make decisions on what we think is the best way to help the team, what helps the team win," O'Brien said.

"And I think that yesterday and this week I feel like Tom Savage gives us the best chance to win. I'm going to give him a week to prepare as a starter and see what he can do for us on Saturday night against the Bengals."

Savage threw for 260 yards to help Houston rally from a 13-point deficit for a 21-20 win in his first regular-season action since 2014.

"He threw the ball very accurately," O'Brien said. "I thought he made the right reads. It wasn't perfect. There were some things he needs to improve on, but I thought he made some good throws, made some big throws, a couple on third down, a couple down the field.

"Some were caught, some weren't caught, but I thought they were in the right spot."

According to Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken, O'Brien wouldn't say if he planned to start Savage for the rest of the season, saying the team is focused on the Bengals.

Osweiler has struggled in his first season in Houston after signing a $72 million contract to join the Texans from Denver.

He threw two interceptions before he was benched on Sunday to give him 16 interceptions and just 14 touchdowns this season.

O'Brien praised Osweiler for his work this season and how he handled the benching and talked about the difficulty of making the change.

"It's a hard thing to do as a coach," O'Brien said. "That's what they pay me to do is to make decisions like this in the best interest of the team and that's what I'm trying to do. I think that it will help our team."

O'Brien recounted his conversation with Osweiler when he gave him the news.

"He didn't say much," O'Brien said. "I'm sure he didn't agree with the decision, but he's a pro. That's what he is. He's a pro football player and he understands that he's got to continue to compete, and he needs to be ready to play ... now he's in a similar situation that Tom (was) in. He's one play away. Got to be ready to go."

Savage was a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft and appeared in just two games that season.

In the first one he did not attempt a pass and in the second one he was 10 of 19 for 127 yards with an interception after taking over midgame when Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg on Dec 14.

But Savage injured his knee in that game and missed the last two games before suffering a shoulder injury the next preseason and missing all of the 2015 season.

When Savage starts on Saturday he will be the sixth quarterback that has started for Houston in the past two seasons after injuries and ineffective play forced the Texans to start four quarterbacks last season.

The Texans believed they had found the answer to their longtime woes at the position when they snagged Osweiler from Denver.

Now they're left with the league's most expensive backup and must figure out how they'll deal with him moving forward with three years left on his huge contract.

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop pointed out, one area in which Osweiler especially struggled was throwing downfield.

On passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield on Sunday, Osweiler was 0-for-2 with two interceptions, while Savage was 4-for-8 for 89 yards. In 14 games this season, Osweiler averaged 5.75 yards per attempt, which is on pace to be the NFL's third-lowest average in the last five seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Another area were Savage showed promise was in getting wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins involved heavily in the offense. The fourth-year receiver had eight catches for 87 yards, which is the most yards he's had in a game since Week 2. In Houston's seven most recent games before Sunday, he had just one with more than 60 receiving yards.

Osweiler was intercepted on his lone throw to Hopkins on Sunday, his ninth interception while targeting the Pro Bowl receiver this season. Savage was 8-of-14 targeting Hopkins. The eight receptions were tied for Hopkins' second-most in a game this season.

"You know that he's one of the best receivers in this league, and it was good to show that today," Savage said.

In 2015, Hopkins ranked third in both targets (190) and receptions (111). Through 14 games this season, he is tied for ninth in targets and tied for 23rd in catches.

On Saturday, against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Texans will face a passing defense ranked 13th in the league. The Cincinnati secondary, led by cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, has allowed an average of just 241.6 passing yards per game.

Other notes of interest. ... Lamar Miller expects to play Saturday night despite suffering an ankle injury during the fourth quarter of Sunday's win. Miller threw his helmet in frustration during the final minutes of the game and limped off the field. However, Miller insisted that he merely tweaked his ankle and is optimistic about his status for the next game.

"I feel like I just tweaked it a little bit, my ankle," said Miller, who rushed for 63 yards on 22 carries. "I'll be all right. Just have to get some treatment, get some rest and I should be straight. Of course, I'll be out there."

Miller scored the game-winning touchdown for the Texans on a one-yard plunge up the middle with 2:51 remaining during a 21-20 win.

"We just needed one yard," Miller said. "The offensive line did a great job of just getting their guy in the end zone and I was just trying to be decisive and tried to make a play for this team."

Miller had an MRI after the game.

While he wasn't on the field for Wednesday's practice, Miller is expected to play against the Bengals. In addition C.J. Fiedorowicz, who missed last week's game with a concussion, returned to work Wednesday. Ryan Griffin filled in for Fiedorowicz, but would take a backseat again if the starter returns to action.

Nick Novak made four field goals despite nursing a sore lower back.

I'll have more on Miller, Fiedorowicz and Novak via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Saturday's game.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb
RBs: Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Bruce Ellington, Braxton Miller, Keke Coutee, Sammie Coates
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, MyCole Pruitt, Jordan Akins

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Hold off on closing the door on the Indianapolis Colts having a chance to the win the AFC South.

Just when you thought the Colts were basically done, they put together their most complete effort of the season and dominated the Minnesota Vikings 34-6 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, it's OK if you're scratching your head trying to figure out the Colts. You're likely not the only one.

It was just a week ago that the Colts had one of their worst efforts of the season, losing to the Houston Texans and blowing their chance to control their own destiny in the division.

But now Indianapolis is right back in the thick of things.

The Colts did their part by dismantling the Vikings. While that was happening, Houston and Tennessee -- the two teams in front of the Colts in the division -- were struggling in their games, giving hope that Indianapolis could jump back into the mix with two games remaining. The Texans and Titans both rallied to pull off come-from-behind victories, which pushes the Colts closer to missing the playoffs for the second straight season.

"Right now we're playing well, [but] unfortunately we do need help and we're not controlling our own destiny," Colts safety Mike Adams said. "That's the most unfortunate part right now. If we didn't need help, we're clicking at the right time. Our momentum right now is crazy."

Head coach Chuck Pagano spent the days leading up to Sunday consistently saying his team would be ready for a Vikings team that went into the game with the NFL's second-best defense and that was getting All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson back for the first time since Week 2.

The Colts in turn had to get over the mental hurdle of losing to the Texans, and were also starting three rookies on the offensive line.

None of those things was an issue for the Colts, and their defense smothered the Vikings' offense all game.

Rookies Ryan Kelly, Le'Raven Clark and Joe Haeg teamed with Jonotthan Harrison and Anthony Castonzo to help quarterback Andrew Luck go 21-of-25 for 250 yards with two touchdowns, and the Colts gained 161 yards on the ground. And just as important, the Colts didn't give up a quarterback sack.

After giving up 31 sacks in their first eight games, the Colts have allowed only nine sacks in their past six games.

"Nobody thought the O-line was going to come and do the job that they did," Pagano said. "They all got game balls. Those guys manned up and they did one heck of a job against a really good defense, the No. 2 defense in the National Football League."

Give Luck time and open up holes for the running backs, and Indianapolis will be in the playoff race until it's over. That's why they had two touchdown drives of at least 91 yards in the first half.

And now there's hope again that the Colts can find their way into the playoffs.

"The margin of error is always slim in December, no matter what situation you're in," Luck said. "We know what situation we put ourselves in, and that's the reality of it. We'll go out and keep preparing."

Other notes of interest. ... Luck enjoyed his best game of the season on Sunday. He ended the game with a 125.6 passer rating.

Tight end Erik Swoope had a big day, hauling in three passes for 50 yards and the TD. It was his first-ever touchdown in any level of football as the former collegiate basketball player never played the sport before signing with the Colts. Jack Doyle added four catches for 32.

Phillip Dorsett scored on a long 50-yard deep-shot, but as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, that came on his lone target of the day despite going out for 81 percent of the team's plays.

Doyle far and away led the team with a 73 percent share of the team's snaps. Dwayne Allen was down to 47 percent and Swoope was up to 37 percent. According to Harmon, Swoope has the size-speed combination to make plays deep and in the open field, as he did in this game.

One has to wonder if an offense quietly starved for difference-makers continues to find ways to get Swoope involved.

Frank Gore ran for 101 yards on 26 carries as the Colts did a very good job of keeping Minnesota's defense off balance. Backup Robert Turbin had a strong game, rushing for 32 yards on seven carries. Turbin also scored a pair of touchdowns on runs of 2 and 6 yards. Indianapolis averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.

Prior to this game, Luck had been 0-2 in his Colts career with 100-yard rusher.

They recorded 21 first downs in the first half of the Vikings game, which is the most for the team dating back to at least 1950 for a first half.

Luck told reporters after the game he was wearing a glove because he had a cut on his thumb. "Blood is a little slippery so I needed to get a glove on there," he said.

With Luck wearing a glove again on his right hand at Wednesday’s practice, the right thumb has been added to his entry on the injury report. He was also limited by the right shoulder, as has become the norm in recent weeks. ...

And finally. ... Receiver Donte Moncrief (hamstring) was a pregame inactive against the Vikings. He was hurt in the early stages of last week's loss to Houston. Moncrief did not practice in the week leading up to the Minnesota game. He was limited in Tuesday's practice and was on the field again Wednesday.

Watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Brad Kaaya
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Josh Ferguson
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, KJ Brent, Daurice Fountain, Deon Cain, Krishawn Hogan
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope, Darrell Daniels, Ross Travis

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

The Jaguars are looking to their past to potentially find their future head coach. General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin "would be somebody we'd be interested in talking to" about the team's coaching vacancy.

The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise's ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.

The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville's first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league's football operations department.

Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.

"Tom's a great man and a great person, and we'll see where it goes," Caldwell said. "There will be a lot of guys we're interested in talking to."

Caldwell won two Super Bowls with the Giants and led them to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons (2005-08).

"He's got so much experience on myself or on any coach that we have in this building and he's a great individual, so I think you can always learn from people," Caldwell said. "There's always a place for knowledge."

Caldwell said head coaching experience "would be helpful" for Bradley's successor. But he didn't rule out hiring someone without any.

"I don't want to avoid a candidate if he doesn't have it because you can be overlooking a great future head coach," Caldwell said. "Experience is critical, even with our players. Our players are young, but they may lack experience in certain areas and I think experience is invaluable."

Caldwell picked offensive line coach Doug Marrone as the team's interim coach for the final two games. Marrone went 15-17 in two seasons (2013-14) as Buffalo's head coach.

Marrone won't make any major changes when he holds his first team meeting Tuesday. He's even sticking with quarterback Blake Bortles, who was the main reason for Jacksonville's offensive struggles this season.

Caldwell remains committed to and confident in Bortles, but said he won't mandate that the new coach be dedicated to keeping Bortles under center. Bortles is tied for second in the NFL with 20 turnovers, and his sloppy mechanics have caused inaccuracy and inconsistency all season. He also has been playing through a shoulder injury.

"I always feel it's the coach's responsibility to play who he feels like gives us the best chance to win, with anybody," Caldwell said. "I still believe Blake gives us the best chance to win on Sundays. I know he's fighting through a lot of different things from a health standpoint."

Caldwell declined to name any other coaching candidates aside from Coughlin and Marrone.

According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long, former San Francisco 49ers coach and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get consideration, too.

Caldwell acknowledged that part of the reason Khan fired Bradley with two games remaining was to get a jump on the coaching search, especially after the Los Angeles Rams parted ways with Jeff Fisher last week.

Khan and Caldwell discussed potential scenarios at the owners meetings in Dallas and decided later in the week to fire Bradley following Sunday's game at Houston, win or lose.

"There are some dynamics that when the ball started rolling that we didn't want to be left behind," Caldwell said.

Bradley met with local media for more than 35 minutes Monday.

He expressed no hard feelings toward the franchise and got emotional near the end of the session. He sat in complete silence for 15 seconds when asked his one regret from a four-year failure.

"I'd just like to be here with this team when it's successful," Bradley said. "The regret I have is not seeing these players (win). When you go through something that's hard and then you come through it and you have success and you say, 'That's why we do it. Look at where it took you. ...

"I regret (that) because I do believe that's going to happen. I regret not being here to see that."

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes, Bradley could never get things right on offense. He went through three offensive coordinators, and Bortles regressed to the way he played as a rookie. His loyalty to Bortles ended up being his ultimate undoing.

Bortles set franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35) in 2015, and that came after he spent two months during the offseason working on and fixing his flawed fundamentals and footwork. But he didn't spend as much time working on those issues this past offseason, and he played poorly throughout the 2016 season.

He has 20 turnovers, the most of any player in the NFL this season, and he has thrown three pick-sixes to bring his career total to 11.

Despite those struggles, though, Bradley stuck with Bortles as the starter. He was repeatedly asked if it would be good for Bortles to sit a game to get a different perspective or just get a breather, but each time Bradley said that was something he wasn't even considering.

It made sense to a degree, because one of the most important things Bortles wanted from his coach was unwavering loyalty. It was an important part of their relationship. That's something other coaches and quarterbacks have, and sometimes it's the only thing that can sustain the relationship.

Unfortunately, it cost Bradley his job.

During the nine-game losing streak, Bortles has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,958 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions -- three of which were returned for touchdowns. The Jaguars never scored more than 21 points in any game.

Receiver Allen Robinson went from a Pro Bowl player (80 passes for 1,400 yards and a franchise-record 14 touchdowns last season) to an afterthought. He and Bortles never clicked, and there was a meeting between the two along with offensive coordinator Nate Hackett -- who took over after Greg Olson was fired in late October -- to try to get them both back on the same page. Since that meeting, Robinson has caught three passes for 32 yards.

There were reports that at least one starter wanted Bortles benched for Henne, and looking back on the last nine games, that may have made a difference in the Jaguars' season. The Jaguars have lost those games by an average of 8.1 points.

Other notes of interest. ... Robinson's struggles continued as he caught just two passes for 15 yards against Houston. He now has 11 catches for 105 yards in his last five games combined.

Marqise Lee who, leads the team in receiving yards (728) and is second in catches (54), failed to make a catch in the Houston game. It's only the third time in Lee's three-year career that he's been held without a catch.

Special teams breakdowns continue to haunt the Jaguars. When they were forced to punt from their own end zone, Neal Sterling was called for holding in the end zone, awarding the Texans a safety.

Jacksonville had not given up a safety since Houston got one on the Jaguars two years ago.

Even when the Jaguars come up with their best special teams play of the year, they make a bonehead move. Lee returned a kickoff 101 yards for their first score on a kickoff since Maurice Jones-Drew did it in 2007 against New Orleans.

But just before Lee was about to cross the goal line, he made the type of inexcusable move for which the Jaguars have become known. He pointed a finger at a Texans defender and was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty. While the touchdown stood, it forced Jacksonville to kick off from the 20. Houston returned the kickoff 40 yards to midfield, but the Texans were called for holding on the kick, sending the ball back to the 24.

The Jaguars were able to hold Houston, forcing it to punt after three plays.

Jason Myers is now 5-of-9 in field goal attempts of 50 yards or longer this season. His latest conversion was a 50-yarder against Houston. Two of the four misses by Myers were blocked. ...

Chris Ivory gained 44 yards in 10 carries for a respectable 4.4 average, but take away his one good run of 17 yards and he's left with 27 yards on nine attempts, a mere 3.0 yards per attempt. T.J. Yeldon continues to lack the strong running skills he showed a year ago in his rookie season. Yeldon gained 28 yards on eight carries, with almost half of the yards coming on one 12-yard run.

Once again, the five guys up front did a poor job of creating space for Ivory or Yeldon to run through and neither back is elusive enough to gain yardage around end.

Jacksonville had scored just five rushing TDs in the league this year, tied for the fewest number along with Houston when Bortles scored from a yard out in the second quarter. It was Bortles' third rushing TD this season, which now leads the Jaguars.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Tanner Lee
RBs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Donte Moncrief, Marqise Lee, D.j. Chark, Rashad Greene, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Niles Paul, Ben Koyack

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As their leader in touchdowns by a large margin, rookie Tyreek Hill is at least a candidate to be the Kansas City Chiefs' most valuable player. As if to prove the point, Hill got the ball on a handoff on the Chiefs' second offensive play of Sunday's game against the Titans and took it 68 yards for a touchdown.

Such an obvious threat, Hill seemed destined to get the ball many more times against the Titans. But that was it for Hill Sunday. He didn't get it on any of his other 29 offensive snaps.

The Chiefs certainly played like they didn't get the ball again to one of their best offensive players. They managed just 10 more points and lost 19-17 on a field goal as time expired.

"I have nothing to do with (any) of that," Hill said. "I just go out there to play. That's what I'm paid to do. I just go out there and play and run as fast as I can."

He did that well enough on his touchdown run, which was well-blocked but also featured Hill's speed and ability to run past defenders in the open field. Safety Kevin Byard was in position to make the tackle down the field but Hill's speed made that meeting a mismatch. Byard never got close to making the tackle.

"I'm supposed to feel confident about myself," Hill said. "This is the NFL and everybody's good. But I'm supposed to make him miss every time."

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, that's why it's puzzling that the Chiefs didn't make more of an attempt to get Hill the ball. The Chiefs threw him the ball three times and he dropped one of them, a deep pass. That was understandable given the frigid Kansas City weather.

The result was Hill was held without a catch for the first time in his NFL career.

Speaking of the Chiefs' general offensive problems after scoring two early touchdowns, tight end Travis Kelce said the Chiefs got too conservative with their play calling. Quarterback Alex Smith disagreed, saying, "That's easy to say when things don't go well."

Hill's take?

"I guess we started feeling comfortable with ourselves," he said. "It speaks for itself. We came out hot. We scored on a long run and came back with another touchdown. We started feeling comfortable, like, ‘Hey, we can make plays on these guys easily.'"

If the Titans were taking away Hill as a receiving threat, the Chiefs could have done more to feed him as a runner. His carry against the Titans was his 15th of the season and he's gained 157 yards and scored two touchdowns that way. Most of Hill's carries in the running game have been on sweeps and other open-field type of plays.

The Chiefs wouldn't want to use Hill a lot as a running back, mainly because at 5-10 and 185 pounds he's not built to take that kind of physical pounding. His pass-blocking skills would be another issue.

But Hill played a lot of running back in college, so it's something he's familiar with.

"I'm comfortable (as a runner)," Hill said. "I was a college running back. Many people don't know that. But I was a college running back coming out of (Oklahoma) State and West Alabama."

That's now 10 touchdowns on the season for Hill, and those scores have averaged 36.4 yards per play. He has the Chiefs' longest run at 68 yards, longest catch at 49 yards, longest punt return at 78 yards and longest kickoff return at 86 yards. Three of those four plays were touchdowns.

On the season, Hill has 1,547 all-purpose yards on 118 runs, receptions and returns. That's an average of 13.1 yards every time the ball lands in his hands.

For what it's worth, head coach Andy Reid said he has no problem with how Kelce was critical of the play-calling in the final three quarters.

"He's an emotional guy," Reid said. "He plays the game that way. Nobody wants to win more than him. I understand that. That's what makes him the player he is."

Kelce had his streak of games with 100-plus receiving yards snapped at four.

If Reid had any regrets, it sounded like the failure to complete a pass to Hill was it. The Chiefs threw three passes to Hill, but he was shut out of receptions for the first time.

"I could have dialed him up more," Reid said. "I could have called his number a little more. I don't think it was necessarily anything (the Titans) were doing."

One positive item that came out of the Chiefs offensive performance against Tennessee was an increased role for wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. He became a bigger part of the Chiefs' offense than he's been in the last two months. Maclin caught six passes for 82 yards against Tennessee. Both numbers are season highs for Maclin, who has fought injury and the death of one of his closest friends.

"I think he had a pretty good day," said Reid. "There's always a few pluses in a bad result. I thought he did OK."

Maclin had a 44-yard connection with Smith in the first quarter that helped set up Kansas City's second touchdown in the game. It's his longest catch of the season.

"I was able to make some plays down the field a little bit today," said Maclin. "But it wasn't enough."

On the season, Maclin has 37 catches for 474 yards and two touchdown receptions. ...

Other than Hill's big run, the Chiefs picked up just 90 yards on the other 27 running plays, just 3.3 yards per carry. Other than Hill, there was no explosion in the K.C. running game, as the longest run by a running back was just nine yards.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Spencer Ware put up another average performance against a tough Titans rush defense on Sunday. He remains the clear-cut primary back, but he's struggled with efficiency for several weeks now. The worst part about Ware all season has been his lack of scoring, but he's provided a safe floor for several weeks. Smith ran in a touchdown on his own in the game too, so Ware has fallen victim to vulturing for two straight weeks now (it was Charcandrick West last week).

Based on volume, Franciscovich considers Ware a low-end flex play this week against the Broncos.

On the injury front. ... Tight end Demetrius Harris (ankle) left the game in the second half after suffering an ankle injury in Sunday's game against Tennessee. Harris eventually returned to the game.


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

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, rookie quarterback Jared Goff is getting hit way too much.

"Most definitely," Todd Gurley said after last Thursday's 24-3 loss, the team's ninth in a span of 10 games. "Definitely getting hit too much. Gotta protect him, man. Can't have our quarterback on the ground. Just can't."

Goff left the game under the NFL's concussion protocol, and though teammates deemed him fine after the game, it was the last thing the 4-10 Rams needed to see out of the 2016 No. 1 overall pick.

"You admire his courage," interim coach John Fassel said, "but you just have to get out of bounds."

It was only the last of an assortment of hits Goff took Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

Said Gurley: "I felt like they should've been checking on him between the five or six sacks he already took, and all the hits."

Goff was actually sacked four times, but he was hit three other times and was again consistently hurried behind his suspect offensive line. He took only one sack against the Miami Dolphins in his NFL debut. Since then, Goff has been sacked 14 times in four games. That averages out to 56 sacks over a full season. Throughout NFL history, there have only been 13 instances when a quarterback was sacked more often than that.

"It's kind of what you would expect with a new quarterback," Rams center Tim Barnes said of the pressure Goff is facing. "We've been struggling picking up all kinds of blitzes, and obviously we know they're going to try and do that. But we just have to do a better job. We have to do a better job blocking, and do our job first, then worry about our team second."

Goff -- who also delivered a block when Austin changed course on a handoff -- again didn't do a whole lot through the air, going 13-of-25 for 135 yards to put his Total QBR at a dreadful 24.1 through his first five games.

But again, he also didn't get much help.

The Rams dropped three passes in the first half on Sunday and as many as seven against the New England Patriots seven days earlier, with two of those leading directly to interceptions. On Thursday, veteran tight end Lance Kendricks dropped the first pass of the game, and rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas soon dropped an easy pass while wide open down the field for what would've been about a 45-yard gain and potentially a touchdown. There were also several instances when Goff and his receivers miscommunicated, most notably when Brian Quick was wide open in the end zone and Goff threw way behind him.

The Rams' offense -- last in the NFL in first downs, yards, points and pretty much any other major stat -- ultimately failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time this season, tops in the NFL.

And a lot of that falls outside of Goff. With two games remaining, you wonder if the Rams will use the incident last Thursday to shut Goff down for the rest of the year

Goff remains in concussion protocol -- although he practiced fully Tuesday.

Interim coach John Fassel told reporters Monday that the team may play Sean Mannion this week if Goff isn't cleared.

Fassel told reporters he hopes to make a decision on Goff by Thursday. He was clear that nothing has been decided yet.

Case Keenum, who started the season before being replaced by Goff, is a free agent at the end of the season. Though there's much to be settled and decided with the Rams — starting with the next head coach — it's hard to imagine Keenum returning, so the team giving Mannion some game experience makes sense.

A third-round pick in 2015, Mannion was 6-of-7 passing for 31 yards in one appearance last season. He was the No. 2 quarterback the last time the Rams played the 49ers, in the season opener when Goff was inactive.

"We've talked about both Case and Sean," Fassel said. "We'd love to get Sean some reps in the situation like last week, where something happens to Jared – whether he can't find his helmet or his shoelace breaks – get Sean in there for a little bit of work.

"Case has performed well when required, but it would be good for the team to get a look at Sean and see what he can do if pressed into service by necessity."

Mannion was Keenum's backup, but did not play, during the Rams' season-opening, 28-0 loss at Levi's Stadium.

The 6-6, 233-pound Mannion said he has remained ready.

"You always try to prepare as if you have to go in the game and win so that's the mentality that I've taken all year," Mannion said. "So nothing changes there.

"But obviously, like anybody, you want to get an opportunity to play."

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

Meanwhile, Gurley rushed 14 times for 38 yards against Seattle, including a long of 22, yards, but it was another long, dismal performance for a team that came into the season with the idea of anchoring the offense with a run game powered by Gurley.

Kenny Britt caught four passes for 50 yards, including a long of 24 yards. Britt led the team in receptions and receiving yards. Britt now has 987 receiving yards on the season.

Looking for positives?

Punter Johnny Hekker averaged 54 yards per punt on four kicks to continue one of the best seasons for an NFL punter in some time. On the other hand, he made a bad throw on a poorly devised fake punt in the end zone that helped set the Seahawks up in scoring position.


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

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's James Walker, an interesting question was posed to several Miami Dolphins Saturday night: If they knew in training camp they'd be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill late and Pro Bowlers Mike Pouncey and Reshad Jones and others for most of the year, what would be their reaction?

"Well, you know, I would be worrisome right now," Miami running back Damien Williams said laughing.

The same question was asked of outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

"I definitely would have some concern," Jenkins said. "Those are some great players."

The Dolphins are doing something they weren't even sure was possible following their 34-13 victory over the New York Jets. At 9-5, they are thriving down the stretch without their cornerstones.

Backup quarterback Matt Moore was the latest representative of this recurring theme. The Dolphins lost their franchise quarterback -- Tannehill -- six days earlier to a knee injury, and they actually played better with Moore under center.

Miami played arguably its most complete game in all three phases, and its 21-point victory margin was its largest of the season. Moore threw a career-high four touchdowns. The special teams scored a touchdown, and the defense forced four turnovers.

How do you explain it?

"A lot of these guys have heart," Dolphins veteran guard Jermon Bushrod said. "That's what I love about these individuals we have in this locker room. You're here for a reason. They pay you for a reason. You wouldn't be in this locker room if you didn't show signs of being successful."

The Dolphins have won eight of their past nine games. They currently own the final wild-card spot in the AFC by a half-game over the Denver Broncos (8-5), who will host the New England Patriots (11-2) Sunday.

There are more talented teams than Miami at this stage of the season. But few are playing a better team brand of football. The Dolphins are getting key contributions from players up and down the roster, and they're peaking at the right time.

A week ago, it appeared Miami's playoff hopes were done without Tannehill. A week later, the outlook is looking stronger than it has all season with Moore under center.

"I haven't been around a team like this," Moore said. "Guys understand that they are truly on a team."

Dolphins first-year coach Adam Gase deserves credit for changing the team's mentality. Miami traditionally struggles with adversity. But that has changed this season.

"A lot of people's opportunities have come from someone going down in front of them," Jermon Bushrod said. "That's how I got my opportunity."

For what its' worth, Moore won his first start since 2011 on Saturday. And looking beyond the four scoring throws, it's worth noting a majority of his success can be tied to thriving against New York's blitz.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Moore was 8-of-13 throwing against five or more pass-rushers. In addition, 205 of Moore's 236 passing yards and three of four touchdowns came against the blitz. That included Moore's best pass of the night, which was a 52-yard bomb for a touchdown to receiver Kenny Stills in the second quarter. New York brought eight defenders on that play.

"He did a good job staying with what we talked about all week," Gase said of Moore. "They did do some things that surprised us a little bit. They were a little more aggressive on third down than I think we anticipated, but we took advantage of it."

Moore handled New York's multiple pressure packages very well and, as a result, the Jets had no counter. Moore showed his veteran savvy by hanging in the pocket and, at times, taking a hit to deliver a big play. He has 26 career starts and improved to 14-12 as a starter.

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

"I feel good," Moore said. "Yes. I got hit a little bit, which hasn't happened in a while, but it feels good to feel that way."

It will be interesting to see how teams game plan against Moore going forward. It made sense for the Jets to constantly blitz Moore last week to see if he could shake the rust after sitting behind Tannehill for nearly five full seasons. Now that Moore has a full game under his belt and showed he can handle the blitz, that makes the Dolphins' offense tougher to defend.

Miami (9-5) currently holds the final wild-card spot in the AFC by a full game over the Denver Broncos (8-6), Tennessee Titans (8-6) and Baltimore Ravens (8-6). The Dolphins control their own destiny if they can beat the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in their final two games.

Other notes of interest. ... Running back Jay Ajayi has rushed for 1,007 yards on the season, becoming the 10th Dolphins player in franchise history to accomplish that feat. But his contribution yardage-wise has diminished.

Ajayi rushed for 529 yards against Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets, but he has just 361 yards rushing in the six games since. He's averaging 3.5 yards per carry in that span, which is far fewer than his 4.8 yards per carry season average. ...

Jarvis Landry has 1,031 yards receiving, giving him back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Landry has 82 receptions, and is averaging 12.6 yards per reception. Landry recorded a career-best 110 receptions for 1,157 yards and four TDs last season, an average of 10.5 yards per reception.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills nearly split the secondary receiver duties, going out for 28 and 26 snaps respectively in New York. The Dolphins were also in the three-wide receiver set for 18 of 46 plays run on Saturday.

Whether he is healthy or not, Parker has target totals of four, three and three from Weeks 13 to 15. As Harmon suggested, that's not enough to sustain the momentum he was gaining from Weeks 10 to 12. ...

Tannehill, who has two sprained ligaments in his left knee, disputed a report that his MCL (medial collateral ligament) was torn off the bone.

"It's not completely all the way off," Tannehill said. "It's categorized as a Grade II sprain, so there's some integrity left in it."

Tannehill didn't address a report that his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) will require reconstructive surgery.

It's unclear whether Tannehill would be able to return for the Jan. 1 finale against New England or a possible wildcard game. But nobody should be banking on that.

And finally. ... Via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, center Mike Pouncey told reporters today that he thinks he tried to come back too soon from the hip injury he suffered in training camp and made the problem worse, and that his career might be in jeopardy if he had tried to play again this year.

So as tough as it might be to watch others possibly end the team's seven-year playoff drought, he's taking the long view of the injuries.

The Dolphins put Pouncey on injured reserve, a decision he wasn't initially on board with. But he eventually came around to the notion, and said he expected to participate in the offseason program once he fully heals.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Bryce Petty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, Senorise Perry
WRs: DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, A.J. Derby, Gavin Escobar, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Adrian Peterson was hoping his faster-than-expected return would help catapult the Vikings into the playoffs.

Instead, the Vikings fell flat in a 34-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, a curiously uninspired performance that all but eliminated them from postseason contention. Peterson, who had not played since September because of a torn meniscus in his right knee, had just 22 yards on six carries, including a crucial fumble in the first half on a rare trip into Colts territory.

Before he came back, Peterson said he would not play the remainder of the season if the Vikings were out of contention. He didn't want to risk any further injury with an uncertain future. But after the Colts loss, Peterson said he planned to play Saturday in Green Bay.

"Definitely not what I envisioned coming into this game," Peterson said. "It's unfortunate that it ended the way it did."

The U.S. Bank Stadium crowd gave him a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game, but he had runs of 2, 1, 0, 2 and 4 yards behind an offensive line that has struggled to open holes in the running game all season long. He popped one solid run — a 13-yarder — but had the ball stripped out by Mike Adams to stunt one of the few drives the offense had going in the first half. The Vikings managed just two first downs in the first two quarters and trailed 27-0 at the break.

"There were some runs he probably needed to do a little bit better, and there were some times where there wasn't much there," bead coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. "He only had 12 plays."

With the Vikings facing such a big deficit, they had to shift to a pass-heavy offense in the second half. Peterson watched nearly the entire half from the sideline while Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata — backups more proficient in receiving and pass blocking than Peterson — shared the workload.

"It was tough. You look at the scoreboard and you're down by a couple touchdowns. The running game is irrelevant at that point," Peterson said. "Of course I don't like being on the sideline, but I have faith in Matt and Jerick. Those guys do a great job."

The Vikings (7-7) have two more games left, at Green Bay on Christmas Eve and home against Chicago in the season finale. While he was rehabbing his injury, Peterson gave thought to not playing at all for the rest of the year. He will enter an intriguing offseason, when the 31-year-old is due to make $18 million in the final season of his contract in 2017. Most believe he will have to take a significant pay cut to stay in Minnesota, but it remains unclear if the Vikings will want to bring him back.

Should Peterson get injured again, or even if he has two more low-production games, his stock could take a hit.

While Peterson did commit to the Packers game on Saturday, he said it was too soon to think about the finale.

"I'm not going to jump ahead two weeks," Peterson said. "Just look forward to this week."

For the record, Peterson started this week by sitting out Wednesday's practice with knee and groin issues. I'll have more on the veteran running back via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Worth noting. ... With right guard Brandon Fusco out because of a concussion, the Vikings, amazingly, went with their seventh different combination on the offensive line this season. That's seven in 14 games.

The Vikings gave up five sacks, but the game got out of hand so quickly that the Colts knew the Vikings weren't even going to try and run the ball.

Garbage time allowed Sam Bradford to pad the stat book with 32 completions for 291 yards, but as NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, it's astounding that Bradford had 41 targets and Stefon Diggs only got five of them.

Diggs had the quietest game of any he has played in this season.

"We need to get the ball to Stefon more. He's too good a player," Bradford said after Diggs was held to two catches for 13 yards, the lowest totals in a game he's played this season.

Adam Thielen took a vicious hit to the head and neck area that drew a personal foul on Darius Butler. Thielen left the game to be checked for a concussion but was diagnosed with an injured neck. He was downfield as a defenseless receiver when Butler unloaded on him. Thielen didn't catch a pass for the first time this season.

Thielen's injury brought Charles Johnson back into the fold. Jerick McKinnon's passing game role with nine targets was notable.

With the Vikings season officially in the drain, Harmon believes we'll see McKinnon plenty going forward, especially in passing situations when they take Peterson off the field.

For what it's worth, Thielen told reporters on Tuesday that he felt fine and he expects to play this weekend. He practiced Wednesday and is not on this week's injury report.

In addition to Peterson, Diggs (hip) and receiver Laquon Treadwell (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday. I'll follow up along with Peterson as needed.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, Roc Thomas
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kendall Wright, Laquon Treadwell, Tavarres King, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell, Tyler Conklin

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggested, "Sunday couldn't have unfolded much better for the New England Patriots.

"Beating the Denver Broncos, 16-3, on the road, which has been their kryptonite. Check.

"Clinching the AFC East division for the eighth straight year, which is an NFL record. Check.

"Earning a first-round playoff bye. Check.

"Getting some help when it comes to competition for home-field advantage with the Kansas City Chiefs losing at home to the Tennessee Titans. Check.

"If you're a Patriots fan, what more could you really ask for?"

OK, home-field advantage, but that wasn't an option on this day, when the Patriots played their best game of the season -- a turnover-free effort that had the offense, defense and special teams complementing each other in the way that Bill Belichick preaches on a daily basis.

This was a field-position type game and two drives by the Patriots' offense stood out for their excellence, even though they both ended in punts.

Midway through the second quarter, the Patriots took over at their own 8 with 5:14 remaining and dug the ball out to midfield to kill the clock and take a 10-3 lead into halftime. Then in the third quarter, when they were backed up at their own 5 with 4:25 remaining, they once again dug out to midfield before punting it away and pinning Denver deep in its own territory.

Those are championship type drives in this type of game. They won't show up on many of the highlight shows, but that's what this game was all about -- playing clean, for good field position, and using their quicker running backs (Dion Lewis, James White) more than the norm on inside running plays.

Indeed, on a day when Tom Brady missed his first six pass attempts, not throwing a completion until the second quarter and failing to record even a single first down on six of possessions, the defense more than picked up the slack.

And special teams were mostly tight, with punter Ryan Allen, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones (recovered fumble) leading the charge.

A Patriots team that's won four in a row and is now 7-0 on the road this season is in the driver's seat to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. It's proven its mettle with consecutive wins over the rival Ravens and Broncos. It now has a defense that's peaking at the right time and sharing the winning load.

"That's ultimately the most important thing," Brady said of winning despite the offenses struggles. "It was good with turnovers and field position. It makes it tough on the other team. We've been on the other side of that, too. That's the way it goes."

The Patriots' most complete game of the season comes at a time when they often are at their best.

With a home game against the New York Jets this Saturday, followed by a season finale at Miami on Jan. 1, there's one more goal left to chase: home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

The Patriots learned how important that was last year, and they look primed to make sure it doesn't slip from their grasp. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Reiss noted, when the game began, Julian wasn't part of the two-receiver package, but his inclusion into that package on the fifth drive seemed to help settle down Brady, who started slow. That was the drive that the Patriots scored their only touchdown of the game, with Edelman on the receiving end of passes of 17, 15 and 12 yards.

Edelman finished with six catches for 75 yards and said after the game, "I've won a division title here every year I've been here, you can't take that for granted. This is one of the steps and it doesn't come easy. Coach [Belichick] is always on us and it's tough, but that's what gets wins."

With the Patriots adopting a game plan that favored the quickness of Lewis on inside runs over the power of Blount, Lewis played a season-high 30 snaps and finished with 95 yards on 18 carries (5.3 avg.).

"It was great to see him make the moves that we're used to seeing him make," Brady said of Lewis. "That's the way it goes when you come back from some pretty tough injuries. It takes some time to get acclimated."

Playing 23 snaps, which was the lowest total among the team's running backs, LeGarrette Blount finished with 31 yards on 17 carries (1.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Blount became the team's single-season record holder for touchdowns (15), breaking Curtis Martin's record set in 1995 and 1996, but elected to keep a low profile after the game and didn't address reporters.

Despite the slow day in Denver, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich believes Blount remains the most reliable fantasy option in New England but Lewis can be considered a flex play next week against the Jets given his usage uptick.

The normally reliable Chris Hogan dropped a pass over the middle late in the third quarter that would have resulted in a first down. He had a quiet game on the stat sheet, as he was targeted just twice and finished with one catch for 18 yards.

But as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, it was clear that the Patriots were never going to attack Denver by throwing into the teeth of their secondary, which is why Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell combined to see just three targets. That was predictable. Mitchell was still on the field for 89 percent of the snaps, so he has not lost his shine.

Going up against the Jets, both outside receivers will once again be in strong positions to make plays against a cornerback group that is on the other end of the quality spectrum of the one they just faced. ...

Michael Floyd was a healthy scratch in Denver, his first game in New England after being claimed by the team Dec. 15 off waivers from the Cardinals. Less than a week after a DUI arrest in Arizona, Floyd watched his new team clinch the AFC East and a first-round playoff bye from the sideline at Mile High.

As for this week, and Floyd possibly playing Saturday against the New York Jets, Belichick said, "We'll try, but I don't know. We'll just have to see how it goes."

For the record, Floyd had a blood-alcohol level of .217 when he was arrested after the wide receiver fell asleep in the driver's seat of his vehicle while stopped at a traffic signal on Dec. 12, the Scottsdale Police Department said Wednesday.

Extreme DUI in Arizona is defined as having a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher within two hours of operating a vehicle. If convicted, he'll fact 45 days in jail.

Police have released video of the incident, which shows Floyd's eyes were closed, his head was back and his mouth was open when an officer approached his Cadillac Escalade at approximately 2:48 a.m. on Dec. 12. After the officer knocked on the window with his flashlight in an attempt to awaken Floyd, the officer pounded on the window with his fist and Floyd awoke with surprise.

Floyd was ordered to put the car in park and turn off the vehicle, but he did not immediately follow those instructions. Floyd then rolled down his window, with the officer ultimately reaching into the car to unlock the door to remove Floyd from the vehicle.

Belichick on Wednesday said the team was aware of the video of the incident and that Floyd was expected to practice with the team.

"Yeah, we were aware of his situation when we claimed him," Belichick said. "He's in an ongoing legal situation; I'm not going to comment on."

Belichick was asked if the team has a system in place to support players in those types of situations.

"We have a lot of things on our team to handle a multitude of things that players, coaches, anybody in our organization, really, that come up," Belichick said. "There are a lot of things outside of football that we all deal with. It's a long, long list and we provide a lot of resources for everybody on that. ..."

Also worth noting. ... Martellus Bennett (shoulder, ankle) and Brady (knee) were limited in Wednesday's practice. Hard to imagine either is in danger of missing any game time, but I'll have more on that -- and Floyd -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Danny Amendola (ankle) missed his second straight game with the reported high ankle sprain that's expected to sideline him for the final month of the regular season.

Gostkowski seems to be finding his groove, hitting field goals of 45, 40 and 21 yards with his usual solid kickoffs, while Allen's punting was a weapon in a field-position type game (7 punts, 44.6 average, 41.0 net, 3 inside the 20). "Our specialists did a really good job," Belichick said.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Troy Niklas

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett asked on Monday, "Has any one player exemplified the highs and lows of the New Orleans Saints season more than Brandin Cooks?"

Remember, the third-year receiver started the season off with a 98-yard TD catch in Week 1 and an 87-yard TD catch in Week 6.

Then he underwent some turbulence over the past month, first expressing his frustration over his role in the offense following a zero-target game, then dropping a potential TD pass last week.

And now Cooks busted loose on Sunday with the best game of his career -- seven catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns in New Orleans' 48-41 win over the Cardinals and the likes of Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.

Cooks now ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,056 receiving yards -- his second straight 1,000-yard season -- and tied for sixth with eight TD catches.

And just like the Saints, when he's on his game, he's among the best in the NFL.

"Obviously he's hard to catch once he gets by you," Drew Brees said after Cooks torched the Cardinals with TD catches of 65 and 45 yards.

As Triplett suggested, Cooks has probably been driving his fantasy owners even more nuts than Saints fans this year since he has mixed a handful of very quiet games with a handful of monster performances. There are probably some who kept him on the bench Sunday, considering Arizona had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and had not allowed a 300-yard passer all season.

Plus, Cooks had never done nearly as much damage on the road as he had at home. Before Sunday, Cooks had 13 career TDs at home and only five on the road. And he was averaging 77.3 yards per game at home vs. 53.3 on the road.

"You know, I think about that all the time when I come on the road," Cooks said. "Great players do it home and away. And I've gotta find a way to make that happen and be consistent on the road."

Cooks has also vowed over the past two years to become more well-rounded and not just be known as a deep threat because of his speed (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the combined). The main source of Cooks' frustration was that he was being used too often as a clear-out receiver to open things up underneath.

However, Cooks doesn't shy away from the fact that he is still a potent deep threat, first and foremost.

"I'm not blind to ... I know that's my strength," Cooks said. "But there's also other parts of my game where I want to become good at or become great at. And that's what I'm gonna keep pushing for."

One of the main reasons that Cooks' production is so inconsistent is that the Saints have always spread the ball around to the open man under Brees and Payton. And now they have even more options with the emergence of rookie receiver Michael Thomas -- who also caught his eighth TD pass on Sunday at Arizona.

For the record, Thomas started after missing the previous game with a foot injury. He had seven catches for 52 yards with the TD while playing 70 snaps.

Of course, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, while there was plenty of volume here for everyone to produce, we must remember the Saints ran a whopping 83 total offensive plays. That does not happen often, even for a team like New Orleans who leads the NFL in plays run per game (68.8).

Whatever the case, as the Sports Xchange suggested, Sunday's game was especially sweet for Brees, who had no touchdowns and six interceptions in the losses to the Lions and Bucs.

"We'd been disappointed with the last two games, just because it wasn't to our standard," he said. "It wasn't anything earth-shattering this week; it wasn't like we made a wholesale change or anything like that. We just got back to ourselves, put execution at a premium."

When a reporter mentioned that it was good that Brees snapped out of his two-game funk, Saints coach Sean Payton tried to manage a smile.

"It was good for him, but it was good for the coach, too," Payton said. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper notes, the Saints scored a touchdown to go up 48-34 with just over three minutes to play in Arizona on Sunday afternoon, which put the game all but out of reach for the Cardinals but didn't leave everyone on the New Orleans side ready for a dance in the streets.

Running back Mark Ingram had gained two yards on a third-and-one to give the Saints a first down at the Cardinals' 2-yard-line, but Payton pulled him out of the game in favor of Tim Hightower. Ingram could be seen yelling at the coach after exiting the contest.

Ingram, the Saints' leading rusher this season with 850 yards, was apparently angered by Payton's decision to remove him and put in Hightower. Hightower scored on the first play after Ingram gave his team a first-and-goal at the Arizona 2.

Payton declined to talk about the incident in his postgame news conference, but Ingram, who led the Saints with 78 yards on 17 carries, said the outburst was a result of his competitive nature.

Ingram was seen congratulating Hightower, a former Cardinals player, shortly after the latter's second rushing touchdown of the day against his old team.

"I'm real competitive in everything I do," Ingram said. "I've got to be smarter, I've got to control my emotions better. But we had a great win as a team ... that's our No. 1 goal and that's what I'm happy for."

"It's a tough situation, especially when you get down there to the goal line. ... As a running back, your eyes are lighting up," Hightower noted. "I understand his frustrations. I know he knows it's an emotional game, you've just got to make sure you control your emotions."

Ingram credited his teammates and coaches for calming him down, saying, "That's what a family's about. I appreciate all those guys being there for me and being understanding."

Before his outburst, Ingram became the fourth Saint to surpass the 4,000-yard rushing mark for his career.

On his fifth carry of the Saints' opening possession, Ingram had an 11-yard gain that gave him 35 yards for the day and pushed his career total to 4,002 yards.

That enabled the six-year veteran to join an elite list that includes Deuce McAllister, who is the franchise's all-time rushing leader with 6,096 yards, as well as George Rogers (4,267) and Dalton Hilliard (4,164).

Ingram, a former first-round draft pick, finished the day with 78 yards and now has 4,045 for his career. ...

Running back Daniel Lasco was inactive Sunday because of a hamstring injury he's been dealing with for the last month and a half. His return date is unknown. ...

And finally. ... The Saints signed wide receiver Corey Fuller from the Detroit Lions' practice squad.

It's unclear what role Fuller might play for the Saints, who already have six other receivers on the roster. But at this time of year, it's possible that they just want to take a look at a player they've had high grades on in the past.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Tom Savage, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Daniel Lasco, Boston Scott, Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Brandon Coleman, Tre'quan Smith, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan pointed out this week, the Giants are an average team on the road. They're a dominant team at home.

That's what their record says after they defeated the Detroit Lions 17-6 Sunday afternoon. If you come into MetLife Stadium this season, you're likely to lose.

"I think we've got to give the crowd some credit," coach Ben McAdoo said of what he thought gave the Giants an advantage in New Jersey. "They were loud today, they got after them a little bit and that's always encouraging when the crowd gets behind you. I think from a communication standpoint, it helps offensively and the noise helps on defense."

The Giants (10-4) will finish the regular season 7-1 at home this year. They're 3-3 on the road, and their home dominance has them on the brink of qualifying for the postseason.

Now it's a matter of whether they get another home game this season.

The Giants play at Philadelphia and Washington in the final two weeks of the season. If they make the playoffs – which seems destined to happen – they're unlikely to play another home game unless the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys collapse.

On Sunday, their stingy defense didn't allow the Lions into the end zone, and they made just enough offensive plays to beat a quality opponent. Odell Beckham had a fourth-quarter touchdown reception, his 10th in his past 10 games. Seven of his 10 touchdowns this season have come at MetLife Stadium.

It didn't even matter that the Giants lost top cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the first half Sunday to a back injury. They moved veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from the slot to the outside and inserted Coty Sensabaugh into the nickel package. The Giants continued to shut down the opposition.

The offense still wasn't a well-oiled machine, but it again proved better at home than on the road this season. Quarterback Eli Manning completed his first 10 passes and went 20-of-28 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time in the Giants' past three games he topped 200 yards passing.

Manning came into the contest having completed 66 percent of his passes at home compared to 59 percent on the road. It helps the Giants move the ball more effectively. They also ran for 114 yards on Sunday against the Lions. They came into the contest averaging 79 yards per game on the ground.

Only a blown lead in the fourth quarter of a Week 3 loss to the Redskins kept the Giants from sweeping their home slate.

Winning out could give them a shot at another home game, because home is where they want to be. But one problem this week, the Giants could be heading into their quick turnaround game with the Eagles short-handed.

Head coach Ben McAdoo disclosed Monday evening that third-down back Shane Vereen reinjured his triceps in his second game back after tearing the muscle in the third week of the season and having surgery.

McAdoo did not know if Vereen would require surgery again, but the receiving back was placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday.

"It's unfortunate," the rookie coach said. "He worked his tail off to get back to where he was, and I am disappointed for Shane."

Backup QB Ryan Nassib was also placed on injured reserve and running back George Winn was signed to active roster.

There also is concern about Jenkins for Thursday night's game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Jenkins had to leave last Sunday's game after taking a knee to the back and went for further tests to rule out any injuries to internal organs. Jenkins was a limited participant, which should be a good sign for his chances of playing against Philadelphia. He was officially listed as questionable on Wednesday.

As for the quick turnaround, Manning, who threw for four touchdowns in the Giants' win over the Eagles earlier this season, said there is no use complaining about the schedule.

"For me, it's just about getting mentally prepared, learning all the plays and seeing the defense and getting the preparation done," he said. "Obviously understanding for the offensive linemen, defensive linemen, running backs, linebackers, it's about getting your body back. Just the soreness. It can depend on the week before. How many hits you take or how sore you are if you're dealing with an injury.

"Right now, late in the year, it's a chance to earn a playoff spot. ..."

Meanwhile, when Beckham says he wants to do it all, he's not kidding.

Beckham's latest quest in life is to train himself to become ambidextrous, particularly when it comes to his craft. The third-year receiver believes that if he can train his left hand to be as proficient as his right one that will make him even more productive in the Giants' offense.

Beckham's practice with using his left hand paid off big-time for the Giants Sunday as he made that vital TD catch with his left hand.

Beckham finished Sunday's game catching six of eight pass targets for 64 yards (10.7 per catch) and the one touchdown. He also has one rushing attempt that went for 9 yards on a reverse and returned two punts for nine yards, with a third punt, one that was a 63-yarder for a touchdown, being wiped off the board thanks to a penalty.

With Sunday's performance, Beckham became the first receiver in NFL history with at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons. Given the many great receivers who have played the game, the fact that no one else has done it makes it incredibly impressive.

Beckham also has joined select company by snagging at least 10 touchdown passes and 1,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons. Only John Jefferson and Randy Moss have done that.

While Beckham still has a long way to go, he's laying the foundation for a memorable career. Possibly a historic one. ...

No, there weren't any 100-yard rushing games by any one individual, but the Giants backfield finished with 3.6 yards per carry and 114 yards, which is a step in the right direction. Rookie Paul Perkins led the pack with 56 yards on 11 carries (5.1 yards per carry) and showed a much better feel for the ebb and flow of the blocking. Interestingly enough, Perkins and starter Rashad Jennings both received an equal amount of game snaps, with Perkins doing more with his actual touches than Jennings (18 carries, 38 yards, 2.1 yards per carry) did with his.

And finally. ... The NFL has informed the Giants of the discipline imposed for the use of a walkie-talkie by coach Ben McAdoo during the Week 14 game against the Cowboys. The team will pay a $150,000 fine, McAdoo will pay a $50,000 fine, and the team's fourth-round pick will move to the bottom of the round, after all compensatory picks have been made.

There's one caveat: The selection will drop by no more than 12 picks.

McAdoo used the walkie-talkie after the team's coach-to-quarterback communication system stopped working. NFL rules clearly prohibit the coach from using the walkie-talkie, which is present for the purposes of monitoring the coach-to-quarterback communication system.

A source with knowledge of the situation told Profootballtalk.com the penalties were light in comparison to other violations (e.g., the Browns for texting the sidelines and the Falcons for using fake crowd noise) because the Giants used the walkie-talkie for only five plays in one game, the Giants had no prior violations of the policy, and the Giants fully cooperated with the investigation.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Roger Lewis, Kalif Raymond, Travis Rudolph
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

Head coach Todd Bowles said during a Monday radio interview that a CT scan on Bryce Petty's chest was negative and the quarterback will play Saturday at New England.

Petty was injured on the first play of the fourth quarter of the Jets' 34-13 loss to Miami last Saturday night when he was sandwiched by Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh as he threw a 28-yard pass to Robby Anderson.

Bowles told ESPN New York radio during his weekly appearance that Petty was sore, but is "a lot better than we thought he would be."

Bowles said he wanted to see how Petty felt before determining a starter for Saturday's game against the New England Patriots, but the coach confirmed after Wednesday's practice that Petty will indeed start this weekend.

Depending on Petty's health, Bowles says the Jets could have three quarterbacks — including rookie Christian Hackenberg — active at New England. The second-round pick has been inactive for every game.

Petty is 1-2 as a starting quarterback this season, including 1-1 since being named the starter two weeks ago. The Jets intended to start him for the final two games as part of an end-of-season evaluation.

Petty has completed 75 of 130 passes (57.7 percent) for 809 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating is 64.6.

Meanwhile, Bowles blamed himself for the latest mess, saying what 4-10 coaches are supposed to say. It was his "buck stops here" moment, a rite of passage for every New York Jets coach.

"It's all on me," he said Saturday night after a 34-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. "I did a terrible job of getting these guys ready to play. ... As head coach of this team, it's not looking very good right now. It's all a reflection of me. I take full responsibility."

According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, Bowles shouldn't.

The Jets put a bad team on the field, a team with a neophyte quarterback, a fourth-string right tackle and 11 players who weren't on the roster at the start of the season. Eight of the 11 players on the opening kickoff joined the team at various points in the season.

The Jets' season was cast weeks ago, perhaps months ago, when they fell hopelessly out of the playoff race.

What's left is an injury-decimated team that shifted into evaluation mode two weeks ago, when Petty was named the starting quarterback.

If owner Woody Johnson fires Bowles after a 10-win season in 2015, it would be akin to Leon Hess sacking Pete Carroll after only one year: a knee-jerk reaction. General manager Mike Maccagnan is just as responsible for this mess as Bowles. Give them a mulligan and focus on 2017.

"I can sure coach better and make sure the coaches and players understand exactly what's going on, play by play," Bowles said. "When we're not winning games, it starts with me. I take full responsibility. I will be a damn better coach and we'll be a better team. ..."

Also of interest. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, it appears that Anderson's clear chemistry with Petty has earned him an expanded role. He went out for 93 percent of the team's plays on Saturday, the second-highest rate among wide receivers. Anderson hauled in a 40-yard touchdown reception, which was his third 40-yard catch over the last three weeks.

One last note. ... Once again, why did it take so long to feature Bilal Powell (16 carries for 84 yards)?

As the Sports Xchange notes, the big second-half deficit forced the Jets to turn away from the run, but Powell was the best player on the field Saturday night. Matt Forte (four carries for 21 yards) was inexplicably active despite playing through a torn meniscus. The Jets need to give the majority of carries to Powell.

The Jets need to give the majority of carries to Powell -- and it appears a shoulder injury Forte sustained against the Dolphins could be an issue.

In fact, Bowles said Forte's shoulder could keep him out this Saturday night if it doesn't improve by then.

In addition, Brandon Marshall (foot, back, knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice.

I'll have more on Forte and Marshall via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh McCown, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Thomas Rawls, Trenton Cannon
WRs: Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, ArDarius Stewart, Devin Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Charone Peake, Chad Hansen, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Leggett, Clive Walford, Chris Herndon, Eric Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, despite Derek Carr having taken every snap for the past three-and-a-half games out of either the shotgun or pistol formation since dislocating his right pinkie finger on a mistimed exchange from center Rodney Hudson -- "He double-snapped it," Carr told coach Jack Del Rio on the sidelines after the mishap, as caught by NFL Films -- the quarterback insists all is well with the digit.

Even if the finger is taped during games and he has yet to take a snap from under center since the injury, which has only cost him one series since.

"I did it in pregame," Carr said Sunday of taking snaps from under center. "I have no limitations. This is just what we've been doing."

True, Carr did line up directly behind Hudson once in Sunday's playoff-clinching 19-16 victory over the San Diego Chargers, but that was just to get them to jump offside on a hard count.

It worked.

And ever since he got hurt on the second play of the second half against the Carolina Panthers, Carr has led Oakland to comeback victories over the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Chargers, with his only loss coming last week at the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the truth is, the Raiders are limited in what they can do offensively out of the shotgun or pistol -- especially deep in the red zone.

"Yes, it is somewhat of an issue," Del Rio acknowledged after Sunday's victory. "It is not ideal. Being completely honest about it, it is an issue that we are working through, but it is the way we're choosing to work through it right now.

"At some point, we will feel better about going under center, we will; but until then, we'll execute the best we can out of the formations we feel most comfortable with."

Still, per Pro Football focus, the Raiders ran the ball 17 times out of the pistol in San Diego and rushed for 76 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. They also passed from the pistol four times, with Carr completing three passes for 22 yards.

But again, things bogged down when Oakland closed in on the Chargers' goal line. The Raiders went just 1-for-7 in red zone efficiency while committing two turnovers -- a Carr interception and a Latavius Murray fumble -- inside the 10-yard line.

As Raiders radio broadcaster Greg Papa and sideline reporter Lincoln Kennedy, a former All-Pro offensive tackle, noted on the call, it is hard to run "power" running plays out of the pistol, when the running back lines up three yards directly behind the quarterback, who is four yards behind the line of scrimmage himself.

Carr, though, credited the Chargers.

"San Diego is a really good red zone team," said Carr, who nonetheless authored his seventh game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. "They do a lot of different things. They have great coaches, and they know how to scheme things."

Especially when the Raiders are able to only show one or two looks when it comes to where the quarterback is standing before the snap. At least the Raiders still have two games -- against the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos -- to work on it before the playoffs. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, after a few games where the Raiders featured Murray as a primary back, they reverted to their early season ways and mixed in a few other guys Sunday.

DeAndre Washington suited up for the first time in weeks and he and Jalen Richard rotated in behind, sapping Murray's volume upside.

That said, Franciscovich went on to point out that Murray still ran with a purpose averaging 6.2 yards per carry and totaling 92 yards against the Chargers and he remains a low-end RB1 against the Colts, while the other members of the Oakland committee aren't fantasy relevant. ...

NFL.com's Matt Harmon, meanwhile, notes that Amari Cooper is ending yet another season with anything but a bang.

Harmon notes that Cooper has not hit 60 yards and scored just twice since Week 9. Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, who is in the middle of a tremendous run covering wideouts, was a factor. The duo matched up on 21 pass plays, and Cooper saw just three targets and found his long catch for 28 yards.

"This is not a shot at Cooper's quality of play," Harmon wrote, "but there is reason to worry about his fantasy future."

Harmon explained that Michael Crabtree and his 9.1 targets per game is once again on pace to out-target Cooper (8.4) on the season. He's not going away any time soon. So, Cooper is (at best) the 1a receiver on a team that relies as heavily on the run as Oakland does. "That's not the ingredients of a WR1 in fantasy," Harmon summed up.

And finally. ... Sebastian Janikowski had four field goals, the 22nd time in his career he has had four or more in a game.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Connor Cook, E.J. Manuel
RBs: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, Ryan Switzer, Johnny Holton, Marcell Ateman
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, Philadelphia Eagles are 5-9, have glaring weaknesses and several holes to fill during the offseason.

Still, they may not be too far away based on six losses in one-score games.

Every NFL team can play the "what if" game and come up with more wins, but the Eagles could point to one play that would've changed the outcome in five different losses.

"It seems like it comes down to one or two plays every game," Carson Wentz said. "We just need to keep building on our success."

The play that will stand out most occurred Sunday in a 27-26 loss at Baltimore. If Wentz connected with Jordan Matthews across the middle on a win-or-lose 2-point conversion attempt with 4 seconds left, the Eagles win 28-27 instead.

Same story last week in a 27-22 loss to Washington. If Wentz throws a touchdown pass from the Redskins 14 instead of losing a fumble on the final drive, the Eagles would've won.

In Week 9, Wentz threw four straight incomplete passes from the Giants 17 with under two minutes left in a 28-23 loss. He just missed Matthews in the end zone on his last pass in that one. One completion equals a win.

A week earlier, the Eagles blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 29-23 overtime loss at Dallas. If coach Doug Pederson allowed Caleb Sturgis to try a 51-yard field goal with 6:34 left and he connected — Sturgis made one from 55 earlier in the game — instead of punting away, perhaps Philadelphia wins that game.

In Week 5, Ryan Mathews fumbled after running for a first down with the Eagles leading the Lions and 2:34 left. If Mathews secures the ball, the Eagles could've run out the clock and won that one.

But none of those plays went Philadelphia's way so they are what their record says they are, as Bill Parcells once said.

The Eagles have no time to dwell on what-ifs or a five-game losing streak. They have to get back to work and prepare for a home game against the Giants (10-4) on Thursday night.

"We got a quick turnaround," Wentz said. "We just have to move on from this one as quickly as we can and get ourselves ready to go."

And there is some good news.

Right tackle Lane Johnson was back at the Eagles' practice facility Monday after missing the last 10 games for his second violation of the league's PED policy.

Despite the short practice week, Pederson said that Johnson will immediately be plugged back into the starting lineup for the game.

"Lane will go in as the starter," said Pederson, who still hadn't even seen Johnson yet when he made the announcement about him starting.

As the Sports Xchange notes, the truth is he doesn't have a lot of options.

The Eagles started their fifth offensive tackle -- rookie Isaac Seumalo in Sunday's loss to Baltimore. Seumalo played well, but tweaked his ankle late in the game. The man Seumalo had replaced -- Allen Barbre -- still is recovering from a hamstring injury. The man Barbre replaced -- rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai -- has missed the last four games with a knee injury and still isn't quite ready to play.

That leaves Johnson, ready or not.

In addition, running back Darren Sproles will play Thursday after clearing concussion protocol, Pederson said. Sproles was on the practice field Tuesday. Fellow running back Kenjon Barner was ruled out with a hamstring injury and subsequently placed on season-ending IR.

Sproles and Matthews (ankle) practiced fully on Tuesday and Wednesday but both are listed as questionable. Expect both to play as usual -- as Matthews did under similar circumstances last week (I will follow up via Late-Breaking Update in advance of the game, including posting their official status in the 90 minutes prior to kickoff).

Having Johnson and Sproles back will help. But a week after converting just one of four red-zone opportunities in a five-point loss to the Redskins, the Eagles converted just two of five against the Ravens.

Their season-long red-zone struggles -- they're 24th in the league in red-zone offense (50.0) have done wonders for Sturgis' Pro-Bowl chances, but very little for helping them win games. Against the Ravens, Wentz completed just two of nine passes for eight yards inside the 20, dropping his red-zone completion percentage for the season to 50.0 (40-for-80). ...

Mathews appeared to come out of Sunday's game in pretty good shape. The oft-injured Mathews had a season-high 128 yards on 20 carries. It was only his second 20-carry game of the season. After his last one in a Week 1 win over Cleveland, he played sparingly in the next two games because of an ankle injury.

Despite Mathews being so busy on the ground, Wentz still attempted 42 passes in this game. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, outside of Jordan Matthews and his 11, the distribution was widely spread out. Trey Burton's playing time fell back to the pack (25 percent of plays) this week after 19 total targets the last two weeks.

Nelson Agholor appears to be well out of the coaching staff's doghouse, as he led the wide receiver group by playing 99 percent of the team's plays.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Markus Wheaton
TEs: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers, Dallas Goedert

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, that the Steelers could look this sloppy at times Sunday and still beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-20 in Paul Brown Stadium displayed serious resolve, which is the only way to combat 104 penalty yards, missed opportunities and the Bengals' fierce tackling.

"We have played that team five times in 12 months -- it's not a lot of secrets," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's just technical expertise and a lot of butt-kicking, and smiling in the face of adversity."

Pittsburgh will enter its Christmas Day clash against the Baltimore Ravens fortunate that its big three -- Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown -- remained healthy and intact in Cincinnati. This game was that physical, and it will be felt all week: December football turned cage match, with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict taking center stage.

Now Pittsburgh has key injuries to tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee), two pieces they'll need against the Ravens at Heinz Field.

But the Steelers' offense came alive, and that was the difference. In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh figured out the Bengals' Cover 2 defense -- striking over the middle instead of trying deep shots. Green and Eli Rogers were huge late, with Rogers -- the owner of the Steelers' only receiving touchdown over the past two weeks, a 24-yarder -- finally being utilized after a slow month of production.

Scoring range was kryptonite for much of the game, with Roethlisberger completing five of his first 14 passes inside the Bengals' 40-yard line. Steelers place-kicker Chris Boswell's six field goals were the only hope for a large part of the game.

"We wanted to try to take advantage of the middle of the field," said Roethlisberger, who finished with 286 passing yards and the touchdown strike to Rogers with 7:29 left. "We just had to stay patient."

Pittsburgh was clutch enough to overcome those problems, and the defense adjusted with disciplined play in the second half. After Bengals running back Jeremy Hill pretended to rip a towel after a 4-yard touchdown to go up 17-3, the Steelers outscored Cincinnati 21-3.

The Steelers found a way to run the ball 16 times in the second half with Bell despite playing from behind for most of it.

"We understood we couldn't blink," said Bell, who finished with 131 total yards. "Stay with our game plan. They were up 20-6, they didn't score the rest of the game."

This Steelers team has shown the mettle to adjust late in games. They'll need to do that at least one more time to secure a playoff spot.

Brown and Bell didn't have their usual explosive stats Sunday at Cincinnati, but they did manage to break a few records.

With three catches for 58 yards, Brown became the NFL's all-time leader in receptions over a four-year span with 471. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison previously held the record with 469 catches from 1999-2002, a stretch during which Harrison produced four straight 100-catch seasons. At 96 catches with two games left, Brown is set to join Harrison in the 4 x 100 club.

"I'll have to get the quarterback a good gift for that," Brown said of Roethlisberger, the other half of one of the NFL's best tandems.

As for Bell, the star running back now has 5,913 total yards from scrimmage since being drafted in 2013. That's the most by a Steeler over a player's first four seasons. Jerome Bettis held the record of 5,804 yards from 1996-99. And to think Bell has missed five games due to suspensions. That number would be closer to 6,500 over a full slate.

Bell is averaging 128.5 yards per game over 46 games, the highest clip in NFL history among players with a minimum of 40 games.

With both players in their primes -- Bell is 24 and Brown is 28 -- no wonder Brown says the duo can do "amazing things" together as Steelers. ...

Other notes of interest. ... If Green has a concussion, that could be even more problematic for the Steelers' offense. He has developed into a nice option for Roethlisberger in the passing game. He had five catches for 72 yards against the Bengals.

Tomlin said Tuesday that Green was visiting with a doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for an evaluation of his injury. There were reports during the offseason that Green was dealing with lingering symptoms from a concussion he suffered last season, although the Steelers and Green said that an ankle injury was the reason for his absence from the field.

Tomlin said that Green's history with concussions is not making the team handle this injury any differently than they would under other circumstances.

"We'll follow the protocol to the letter as we always do," Tomlin said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "His level of participation is an indicator of where it's going or not going."

As the Sports Xchange notes, the game plan against the Steelers' offense continues to be playing two deep safeties and forcing the Steelers to work the middle of the field. The two-deep safeties make it difficult for Brown and other outside receivers to make a big impact on the game.

That's why the production of Eli Rogers and Green against the Bengals was so important. Rogers led the Steelers with five catches for 75 yards and the go-ahead 24-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

"They did a good job of taking away the outsides with two wide safeties," Roethlisberger said. "It took away Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, and Cobi Hamilton. We just wanted to take advantage of the middle of the field. Ladarius and Eli worked down the middle and got open on nickel guys and linebackers."

Roethlisberger took advantage of the safeties on the touchdown pass to Rogers.

"When that play was called, I saw the safety get wide, and Eli did a great job with a head fake on the top of the route," Roethlisberger said. "I put it on his body, and he did the rest."

Given Green's value to the offense in that regard -- and his fantasy upside, I'll be following his status closely in coming days. He did not practice Wednesday. ... Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Worth noting. ... ESPN's Britt McHenry was told that Deangelo Williams' knee started swelling Sunday morning and it was a "late, late decision" to declare him inactive. Tomlin expects him to be ready this week, but Williams' fantasy relevance at this point is minimal.

Boswell tied a franchise record with six field goals against the Bengals, joining Jeff Reed and Gary Anderson as the only other kickers to boot six field goals in a game. According to ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockroft, Boswell's 23 fantasy points today tied Adam Vinatieri's Week 5 output for the best single-game score by a kicker in 2016. Boswell didn't attempt a single extra point.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble

San Diego Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

While speculation swirls about what might lie ahead for the Chargers and their head coach, Mike McCoy said Monday that he was more focused on the near future.

"We got to worry about going on the road and playing Cleveland," he said. "That is my No. 1 concern right now."

Still, many questions linger after a tough 19-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday that said a lot about where the Chargers stand right now. The score almost took a backseat to the environment, in which thousands of Raiders fans filled Qualcomm Stadium and black and silver were more prevalent than Chargers colors.

The Chargers elected not to introduce their team before the game. They knew each player would be welcomed by a chorus of boos from the crowd. The Chargers (5-9) were even forced to use a silent count on offense because of the noise generated by the Oakland contingent.

"It stinks," said McCoy. "It's not what you want. It's unfortunate. But I think the players and coaches responded the right way."

Worries about the Chargers potentially relocating to Los Angeles, and consecutive losing seasons, have demoralized the fan base.

"Everyone is frustrated, McCoy said. "These players and coaches work extremely hard and they deserve to win these games."

But that seldom happens of late. The Chargers have lost 21 of 30 games and 12 of their past 13 against AFC West foes.

McCoy's Chargers have sunk to the depths of the last-place Chargers squads from the 2000 and 2001 seasons. They won a combined six games over two years and were the last Chargers teams to produce consecutive losing seasons.

Mike Riley, the coach of those teams, was fired after the 2001 season.

"The ball doesn't always bounce your way from year to year," McCoy said. "There are certain teams that have gotten every break in the business this year. I was on one of those in Carolina in 2003 when we went to the Super Bowl."

McCoy was also on the Panthers' staff two years earlier when Carolina went 1-15. Then, and now, he knows where the blame lands.

"I'm the head coach," he said. "I take full responsibility for all those mistakes. That's my role and I understand that. (But) no one is out there trying to make a mistake."

McCoy, a first-time head coach at any level, is 27-35 in his three-plus seasons. He broke fast in 2013 when leading the Chargers to a road AFC divisional playoff win over the Bengals. Since then, there's been little to celebrate.

McCoy said he hasn't been offered a contract extension. It's routine that a coach receives an extension going into the final year of his deal but McCoy said there haven't been discussions about one.

Meanwhile, ass the face of the franchise, Philip Rivers served as one of the spokespersons for the Chargers' failed stadium effort in November. Whether he plays well or not, Rivers is out in front of reporters, providing sometimes painfully honest evaluations of himself and the team.

The veteran quarterback has had to deal with a rash of injuries that have severely limited his ability to consistently move San Diego's offense.

And on Sunday, Rivers dealt with one of the most embarrassing moments in franchise history -- being booed and having to use the silent count on his own field.

To his credit, Rivers did not use the unique environment as an excuse for his play.

"It was a road game," Rivers said. "In Oakland, it was the same. I appreciate the fans that did come out -- the Chargers fans -- I appreciate them. It was just more people than in Oakland, but it was similar. We were ready for it and embraced it."

Rivers also acknowledged that the past two years with the organization dealing with the stadium issue have been hard.

San Diego has won a combined nine games the past two seasons. The Chargers have been in most every game, but have found inventive ways to lose in what seems like every week.

"It's just been two tough seasons -- obviously two of the toughest in my 13 years," Rivers said. "There was a stretch there where we were 8-8 or better for a long time. These last two have been tough and we've had a lot of tough, home losses. Obviously, there are some other things going on as well."

The "other things" appear to be the eventual relocation of the franchise to Los Angeles.

For the record, Rivers wasn't bad as it's tough to plant your feet and be secure in the pocket with fire coming from all angles. Once again, the pass-protection was tested against the Raiders' rush. He was sacked three times and hit on many more occasions.

Rivers threw for two scores, to Hunter Henry and Travis Benjamin. But there was also a fourth-quarter interception, something Rivers can't avoid throwing as he tries to will his overmatched team back late in games.

Rivers' receivers remain green and it shows often in games.

That said, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman are clearly the top-two players in this passing game right now, and they were No. 1 and No. 2 in the target distribution. They are really the only players we should be monitoring in this offense, even with Williams' slow day.

Williams exited the game with concussion symptoms. He returned later in the contest.

Antonio Gates led the tight end group in snaps played with 35, but Henry was not far behind with 29.

Meanwhile, McCoy didn't seem to think running back Melvin Gordon would be ready to go this week. Gordon, who is 3 rushing yards shy of 1,000, missed Sunday's game with a hip and knee injury.

"We are going to see how it goes but not has changed from the other day," McCoy said.

Gordon's cause isn't helped by the game being played on Saturday. He wasn't able to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Running back Kenneth Farrow, an undrafted rookie, had a so-so day in his first NFL start. He rushed for 39 yards on 15 carries and one killer fumble.

"He didn't do a bad job," McCoy said. "Unfortunately he had that fumble and that is tough." Farrow's fourth-quarter turnover helped the Raiders rally for the win.

Ronnie Hillman saw his first action with the Chargers after three weeks and was productive. Hillman rushed for 34 yards on seven carries.

The good news for all involved?

Much like Santa Claus, the Browns' defense is coming to town. Okay, so the Chargers are going to Cleveland, but that doesn't change much.

The Browns have allowed 31 touchdown passes so far this season and instead of getting better, their rush defense is regressing.

It's safe to say the Chargers don't want to be "that" team -- the one that provided the first victory for the winless Browns, who are two games from becoming the second team in NFL history and first since Detroit in 2008 to finish 0-16.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Russell Hansbrough
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dylan Cantrell
TEs: Virgil Green, Braedon Bowman

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

About the only thing left to determine for the San Francisco 49ers will be if 2016 will go down as the worst season ever in franchise history.

After losing their franchise-record 13th straight game on Sunday in Atlanta, the Niners (1-13) must win their final two games to avoid matching, or breaking, the team record for losses in a season.

San Francisco can tie the single-season loss record reached in 1978, 1979 and 2004 by losing at the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. With a loss in that game, the 49ers can set the record with a loss in the season finale at home on Jan. 1.

"I don't think it's the time right now where we sit down and look at it and say, 'All right. Let's evaluate from a 50,000 foot above, take a look at the entire season,'" coach Chip Kelly said Monday. "We'll have time to do that once the season's ended. Right now, we're just really on a week-to-week deal."

Kelly said the approach right now is the same as it is every week: Evaluate the previous game, make the necessary corrections and move on to the next opponent.

There is plenty to fix from the latest loss, a 41-13 defeat that was the second-most lopsided of the season for San Francisco.

The Niners fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter, were held scoreless in the second half for a third straight game and allowed 550 yards to the Falcons.

"It can get difficult for them," Kelly said of his players. "They're human. Everybody can kind of, when you start to look at it and say, 'Hey, it's not going the way we want to get it going.' But, the one thing I don't think they do, I don't think they blame others.

"I think they take responsibility. Everybody does. We're not looking to blame people. We're looking to try and find solutions in terms of moving forward to rectify the situation."

The Niners were once again hampered by injuries. One week after losing receiver Torrey Smith to a concussion and tight end Vance McDonald and center Daniel Kilgore to season-ending injuries, San Francisco lost several more players.

Receiver Quinton Patton (foot), linebacker Nick Bellore (elbow) and tight end Blake Bell (shoulder) all left the game with injuries and will not return this season.

Torrey Smith (concussion) was inactive for Sunday's loss at Atlanta. Smith remains in concussion protocol, and possibly could sit out the final two games of the season as well. He did not practice Wednesday.

Given those issues, the 49ers are promoting receiver DeAndre Smelter to the active roster. The team also signed veteran free-agent tight end Jim Dray.

Defensive back Jimmie Ward (shoulder), center Marcus Martin (ankle) and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey (undisclosed) also were hurt in the game and their status is unknown.

They join players such as left tackle Joe Staley, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman (Achilles tendon) and Ray-Ray Armstrong (chest), who were lost for the season early in the year.

Making matters even worse, inside linebacker Gerald Hodges was suspended for the game for violating team rules, forcing safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Antoine Bethea and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks into inside roles.

"Part of being really good in this league is staying healthy and when you can stay healthy and you're playing with your front-line guys then you've got a shot," Kelly said.

"If not, everybody, no matter where you are, I don't think there's a team in the league right now that says, 'Hey we're good. We haven't sustained any injuries.' Everybody's sustained something to some extent. You just have to be able to deal with them."

Meanwhile, the 49ers rushed for a 5.3-yard average, which usually is a good sign. It wasn't Sunday at Atlanta, where an early 21-0 deficit put the club in a passing mode, resulting in more passes (33) than runs (20).

That's never a recipe for success for this team.

Carlos Hyde posted the best game of his NFL career in Week 14 against the New York Jets. New York entered that contest fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and second in yards allowed per carry. Although there had been signs of weakness in preceding weeks, Hyde's 193-yard outing caught everyone by surprise.

Including the game against the Jets, Hyde was averaging 109 yards and 6.32 yards per carry over the past four weeks. He'd moved to within 121 yards of his first career 1,000-yard season. Atlanta's run defense, meanwhile, had been mostly middling this season.

The Falcons were 23rd in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.3) and 14th in rushing yards per game allowed (101.1).

Hyde followed with another solid performance, but he probably didn't get as many chances as the Niners would have liked because they fell behind by so much so early. He finished with 71 yards on 13 carries, a strong average of 5.5 yards. But as the 49ers flailed in their comeback attempt, they threw 33 passes and Hyde wasn't able to post back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career.

Kelly made another quarterback change Sunday, but it didn't involve Colin Kaepernick.

For the first time this season, he activated Christian Ponder to serve as the backup instead of Blaine Gabbert.

No disrespect to Gabbert, the coach explained. He said he just wanted to reward Ponder for his hard work in practice this season.

"We've seen him in practice do some really good things. He earned a spot," Kelly said. "It's got nothing to do with Kap."

Kaepernick was 20-of-33 for 183 yards with two touchdowns, for a passer rating of 95.9. He also had three carries for 21 yards.

But even with the game out of reach late, Kelly stuck with Kaepernick rather than giving Ponder his first chance to play in a game since the preseason.

"No, we are trying to win football games," Kelly said. "This isn't open tryouts right now."

It still stands to reason that Kelly would want to get a look at Ponder over the final two weeks, if only because Ponder is a free agent -- like Kaepernick and Gabbert -- after the season. It would be worthwhile to figure out how he might fit moving forward.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis , Richie James
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

According to the Sports Xchange, head coach Pete Carroll had to have a sit-down meeting with Richard Sherman on Friday after Seattle's star cornerback was openly critical of the coaching staff following last Thursday night's 24-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

After an incident on the sidelines in the third quarter when Sherman was seen in an apparent argument with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Sherman was open about exactly what upset him when he spoke following the game.

"I don't like it when we throw the ball at the 1," Sherman said after the game. "We throw an interception at the 1, luckily it went incomplete and I wasn't going to let them continue to do that."

Russell Wilson had nearly been intercepted by Rams linebacker Bryce Hager on a throw toward the back right corner of the end zone intended for Jimmy Graham. The ball caromed off of Graham and eventually was corralled by Hager only to be ruled out of bounds by the officiating crew. The play was reviewed but the call stood as an incomplete pass.

The play seemed to be an all too similar reminder of the final play of Super Bowl XLIX, when Wilson was intercepted at the goal line by Malcolm Butler as the Seahawks came up a yard short of winning consecutive Super Bowls.

"I'm upset about us throwing from the 1," Sherman said. "I'd rather do what most teams would do and make a conscientious decision to run the ball straight up the middle.

"We've already seen how that goes. I'm sure you guys have seen that play enough times."

After a fullback dive from Marcel Reece didn't reach the goal line, Wilson completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin to cap the drive.

It didn't do much to assuage Sherman's anger about the sequence.

Sherman was openly critical of the plays being calls and the execution of those plays by his teammates. Carroll had tried to downplay the significance of Sherman's sideline blowup after the game, but Sherman's comments led to the meeting in his office Friday morning.

"We had a terrific meeting today," Carroll said. "We addressed the issues of being a disruption or disturbing a moment in the game and all that and he didn't want to affect his team that way."

Sherman's criticism could be viewed as an act of insubordination toward Bevell and Carroll. Carroll seemed to agree, stating that their morning meeting was critical to how he handled the situation moving forward.

"I think if we weren't able to come back from that, I think so," Carroll said. "I think it would depend on how the meeting went. The meeting went very well and it was very clear. And I know the guy I'm talking to. I know him as well as you can know a guy. I know how he feels about it and I'm fine about what happened.

"That doesn't mean that it was OK. That doesn't mean that it isn't something that needed to be addressed. He's the only guy that was in my office this morning so we went right after it and I was going to make my decision on how to move forward based on what happened and how we communicated and I feel very good about it."

Sherman said he felt 100 percent justified in the comments he was making after the game.

"We go out there. We battle. We don't give away our battle. You honor our sacrifice," he said.

The issue between Sherman and the coaching staff overshadowed the Seahawks clinching the NFC West with their victory over the Rams on Friday night. They're the first team in the league to win a division title this season and have guaranteed themselves at least one home playoff game in January. It's the fifth straight season that Seattle has made it to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks had been averaging 164 yards per game and over 5 yards a carry over the last four games prior to last Thursday night.

That string of success came to an abrupt end against the Rams.

Seattle managed just 72 rushing yards on 30 carries against the Rams, who entered the night as the league's 20th-ranked rush defense. Their longest run of the night was a 26-yard run by punter Jon Ryan on a fake punt in the fourth quarter. If you remove that from the equation, the rest of Seattle's offense managed just 46 yards on 29 carries, which resulted in a paltry 1.6 yards per carry average.

"It was really hard. We had a hard time blocking them and sustaining stuff," Carroll said. "But that wasn't going to be an issue in this game for us. We were going to keep running it and we needed to keep plugging away and calling it and staying with it. (Darrell Bevell) did a great job of doing that but we had trouble at the line of scrimmage an array of issues."

Thomas Rawls had just three carries that gained more than 5 yards in the game. He finished with just 34 yards on 21 carries for Seattle.

On a more positive note, NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out that Thursday was the game that so many were waiting to see for Tyler Lockett, as the second-year wide receiver finally put the full range of his powers on display. He made tough catches, ran clean routes and then stung the Rams best corner, Trumaine Johnson, for a 50-plus yard touchdown reception.

Lockett matched Jermaine Kearse in play participation (63 percent) and led the team in targets, while registering an 11 average depth of target to show that he's more than just a deep threat.

Harmon conceded it's hard to know whether Lockett's emergence will make him a viable threat in the last two regular season games this year, but we are seeing why he was a potential sleeper before a PCL injury this year.

In a related note. ... Wilson passed for 229 yards and three touchdown with an interception against the Rams. However, Wilson had another ill-advised throw turn into a near interception in the end zone that could have cost Seattle seven points.

The Seahawks have signed running back Terrence Magee to their active roster from the Browns' practice squad and have claimed wide receiver J.D. McKissic via waivers from the Falcons.

Running back Kelvin Taylor was waived. ...

And finally. ... C.J. Prosise was to be re-evaluated on Monday to see how he is healing from a fractured scapula sustained last month. The Seahawks hope he can return for post-season play.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis, Alex McGough
RBs: Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown, David Moore
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly, Tyrone Swoopes

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine notes, the Buccaneers aren't out of the playoff race at 8-6, but Sunday's 26-20 loss to Dallas means they no longer control their own destiny. Their path to the postseason just got tougher. For the players, though, the stakes haven't changed.

"Every game in the NFL is a must-win," said tight end Cameron Brate. "It gets amplified here at the end of the year. It's a great opportunity for us. We put ourselves in a good spot. Things didn't go our way today, but if we win our last two, we feel like we have a good chance of making the playoffs."

If the Bucs do win out, which would mean beating New Orleans Saturday on the road and Carolina the following week, they would finish 10-6.

But they need some help to win their division or a wild-card berth.

Since the Bucs and Saints became part of the NFC South and began playing twice a season, the Bucs have only swept the Saints on three occasions -- 2005, 2007 and 2011. The Bucs have also only beaten the Saints twice in the past 10 meetings.

The Bucs have swept the Panthers three times since they began playing in the NFC South -- in 2002, 2010, 2012. The Bucs have never before swept the Saints and Panthers in the same season.

Quarterback Jameis Winston isn't getting caught up in the numbers, though. ... Or history, for that matter. He's trying to be 1-0 every week, believing the team's place in the standings will take care of itself.

"We just have to keep winning and see how it plays out," said Winston, vowing to "hit next week hard. ... I'm going to keep fighting and I am not worried about not fighting. We just need to keep winning games, and the more games we win, the better chance we have to get into the postseason."

As for Sunday night, Winston had his usual up and down performance in a hostile environment on national TV.

Winston started slowly as the Buccaneers had the ball for only nine minutes in the first quarter. But he led two touchdown drives in the second half and Tampa Bay rallied from a 17-3 deficit and led 20-17 to start the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, pass protection has been an issue all season. Playing without starting right tackle Demar Dotson, who missed the last two games with a concussion, Tampa Bay failed to give Winston time to throw in the fourth quarter.

"I'm not one to pin on all our woes on the offensive line," head coach Dirk Koetter said Monday. "We all took turns."

The Cowboys entered the game tied for 20th in the NFL with 26 sacks for the season. On Sunday, they sacked Winston four times, forced a fumble and intercepted him three times, including a Hail Mary and a heave on the final play of the game.

"We're having some trouble in multiple spots," Koetter said. "We've been too inconsistent overall on offense. We got out of our rhythm. We've been on a nice little roll of not turning the ball over and we got back to putting our defense in bad positions.

"We had a couple of chances early, but we've got to finish drives with touchdowns. Those first two drives we kicked field goals and left eight points out there. Those look pretty big at the end of the game, and a couple offensive turnovers led to field goals the other way."

One issue for the offense that's having a trickle-down effect is the fact that the Buccaneers averaged 69.9 plays per game in Week 1-11, second-highest in the NFL. Over the last month they have run just 61.8 plays per game, falling to 18th most.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, not coincidentally, Mike Evans has target totals of 11, six, eight and eight in that span, whereas he averaged 12.1 the first 11 weeks of the season.

Tampa Bay has slowed down the pace of their offense, which is helping them win more, but also taking out potential volume in their offense.

According to Tampa Bay Times staffer Greg Auman, Evans did not practice Tuesday, but Koetter wasn't worried. "I wouldn't read too much into anybody who was or wasn't out there today," the coach said.

Evans subsequently told Laine he would be practicing Wednesday and that Tuesday was just a day off for him.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed, but expect him to play as usual unless/until you hear otherwise. ...

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers cannot get Doug Martin going.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Martin had posted two straight games with a touchdown despite his lack of efficiency (2.9 yards per carry for the season), but failed to score against Dallas thanks to an offensive line isn't creating many holes. Martin was held to 42 yards on 16 carries in the loss on Sunday night.

The return of Charles Sims, who had just six total touches in Dallas, has apparently left Jacquizz Rodgers out in the cold. Rodgers was a healthy scratch against the Cowboys. I'll be watching for signs that might change this week. ...

And finally. ... Kicker Roberto Aguayo went a perfect 2-for-2 against the Cowboys. It was the second week in a row in which the former Florida State standout was flawless from the field.

After a rough start to his NFL career, Aguayo has improved in recent weeks, and is now 20-of-27 from the field in his rookie season. More importantly, he has climbed out of the cellar and is no longer statistically the worst kicker in the league. Despite still having a long of only 43 yards, Aguayo has steadied himself following a start that had some questioning whether he'd be cut during the year.

Aguayo hit on field goal attempts from 25 and 36 yards in Dallas to bring his conversion percentage up to 74.1 percent. Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro, however, has gone 16-of-22 this season, good for a conversion percentage of 72.7 percent.

Aguayo has also gone 27-of-29 from extra points, which is far better than the 20-of-26 clip that Minnesota kickers Blair Walsh and Kai Forbath have been responsible for so far in the 2016 season.

Following a rough preseason and a start to the regular season where he missed often, Aguayo came under scrutiny from fans and media because of his second round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. The kicker became the first player at his position to be picked at such a high number (59th) since Mike Nugent went to the New York Jets in 2005 with the 47th overall pick.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino, Bobo Wilson, Bernard Reedy
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, the resilient and increasingly confident Titans are targeting the playoffs now rather than waiting for the future.

"We want to win the division," Marcus Mariota said. "We have an opportunity to do that. We are in the thick of it. We cannot look at the big picture. We have to focus on taking it one game at a time. Get our mind focused for Jacksonville. We will see where the cards fall and hopefully we will be where we want to be at the end of the year."

Yes, the Titans are setting their sights high considering they haven't made the postseason since 2008 and their last playoff victory came in January 2004.

Winning four of five can do that for a team, especially with a three-game winning streak that includes a 13-10 win over the defending Super Bowl champs in Denver and a fourth-quarter rally in the coldest game in franchise history to beat the Chiefs 19-17 in Kansas City.

The last two easily are the most impressive, not because of who Tennessee beat to improve to 8-6 and remain tied atop the AFC South with Houston. The Titans shook off Mariota's worst game as a pro to beat Denver and overcame three turnovers, a 14-point deficit after the first quarter and a failed 2-point conversion to win in Kansas City.

They also lost two defensive starters to injuries when cornerback Jason McCourty left early with a bruised chest and sprained shoulder before safety Da'Norris Searcy had a concussion.

Any of those mistakes would have crushed the Titans' thoughts of a comeback in previous seasons.

"We're learning a lot about ourselves, what we're capable of doing, what we can and cannot do," head coach Mike Mularkey said Monday with his players given the day off. "That's going to be a weekly thing for this team until we get where we want to go."

Against the Chiefs, the Titans fell behind by double digits for the fifth time on the road this season.

They won for only the second time in that situation thanks to a defense with five rookies on the field after those injuries. The Titans had a goal-line stand at their own 1 in the second quarter, held the Chiefs to a field goal after reaching the Titans 16 late in the quarter and got the ball back with rookie cornerback LeShaun Sims' interception in the end zone in the third.

Mariota shook off a fumble and an interception in driving the Titans to 12 points in the fourth quarter for his fourth comeback victory in 26 career starts.

"That was big for this team to know we can do something like that in a tough environment," Mularkey said.

Tennessee visits Jacksonville (2-12) on Saturday and the Jaguars interim coach Doug Marrone, who interviewed for the Titans' job in January.

Tennessee routed the Jaguars 36-22 on Oct. 27. But this franchise was thumped last season by Miami in its first game with an interim coach and has a string of similar losses to struggling teams in recent years. Mularkey, fired by Jacksonville after going 2-14 in 2012, plans to make clear how close the Jaguars have been this season with seven losses by a touchdown or less.

"We will not have a letdown for any reason," Mularkey said.

Sweeping Jacksonville for the first time since 2008 would set up a regular season finale Jan. 1 in Nashville against Houston with the division title and playoff berth at stake.

"They've earned the right to be here right now," Mularkey said. "We'll see where it goes from here. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry provided a solid one-two punch, combining for 147 yards on 27 rushes and keeping the Chiefs' defense off balance with their solid work.

Murray dominated in terms of playing time and touches against the Chiefs. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Murray put up another huge fantasy day with 141 yards from scrimmage, doing work both on the ground and as a receiver. The one thing Murray didn't do was score a touchdown.

That honor went to Henry, who scored two rushing touchdowns and gained 58 yards on just nine carries.

Henry only played 16 snaps in the game (compared to Murray's 50), making it very difficult for fantasy owners to predict or cash in on his success. ...

Meanwhile, Mariota's numbers weren't spectacular -- 19 of 33 for 241 yards, one interception -- but he showed tremendous poise in the fourth quarter in leading the comeback win.

Rishard Matthews had 105 yards receiving on four catches for the Titans Sunday, but lost a fumble at the 5-yard line that cost the Titans potential points in the first half. ...

Kicker Ryan Succop, who returned to his former home in Arrowhead Stadium and nailed a 53-yard game-winning field goal to beat the Chiefs Sunday, said he didn't even try a kick beyond 49 yards on that end of the field in warm-ups, because he figured there would be no need to.

Succop initially kicked the ball short, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid called timeout, giving the Titans kicker a do-over on the kick, which just cleared the crossbar, setting off a celebration by the Titans.

On Wednesday, Succup was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month.

On the injury front. ... Phillip Supernaw suffered a concussion Sunday and is in the protocol.

Defensive end Karl Klug, who has been with the club for six seasons, suffered a torn left Achilles tendon in Sunday's game. Klug will undergo season-ending surgery and be placed on injured reserve.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert, Luke Falk
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley
WRs: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Deontay Burnett
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2016

As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, the Redskins survived minus tight end Jordan Reed at times during the season. It was obvious they could have used more from him Monday night, but it was just as obvious Reed was still in a lot of pain.

And it's a bad night when the only highlight from him involves a punch and not a catch (only one for six yards). Reed, of course, was ejected in the fourth quarter of Washington's 26-15 loss to Carolina after he punched safety Kurt Coleman.

Reed appeared frustrated that Coleman wouldn't let go of his right arm (his injured shoulder was the left one) and after words were exchanged, Reed landed a punch.

It was an unfortunate way to sum up his night -- and it clearly begs for him to be smarter in such situations. There were points in the game where Reed took hard hits to the shoulder and perhaps he'd had enough when the incident with Coleman occurred. Reed was gone before the media entered the locker room and was therefore unavailable to talk.

"He's a very talented player, one of the best in this league and one of the best tight ends I've played with," receiver DeSean Jackson said. "He just made a mental mistake in the heat of the moment. I've been in situations like that."

But the punch aside, the bigger issue for Washington is what can it get from Reed over the final two games? He's a big part of the offense and even though the Redskins have survived in games without him, they're much better with him.

And the offense will face two excellent defenses in the final two games. Chicago's record is terrible (3-11) but the Bears' defense has played well (ninth in total yards; 16th in points). The New York Giants' defense is playing at a high level now, too (third in points per game and a combined 13 points allowed the past two weeks).

The Redskins are fighting for their playoff lives; to do so without Reed makes it tougher. After the game, head coach Jay Gruden only said they'll have to look at Reed's shoulder again. But it was obvious in the game that he was struggling with his left shoulder and that it bothered him to be hit on that side.

If that's the case, it's tough to put him on the field.

"For a few weeks this year, we haven't had him, and our offense has still been fairly productive," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "So it's no excuse not having him."

No, it's not.

In two full games without him (the first Eagles game and against Detroit), the Redskins gained 906 yards total, including 546 through the air. He only played 10 snaps vs. Philadelphia last week, and they averaged 8.05 yards per play when he wasn't in the game (thanks in part to an 80-yard Jackson touchdown catch).

For the season, they've averaged 6.79 yards when Reed wasn't in the game (compared to 6.39 with him). His absence is no excuse; but they also don't want to lose one of the best at his position.

The Redskins still have enough talent to produce with Jackson and fellow receivers Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder plus tight end Vernon Davis. Cousins still completed 32-of-47 passes for 315 yards and an interception against Carolina.

But missed high, wide and low and failed to see some open receivers. Cousins certainly can -- and must -- play better.

But Monday? He wasn't good.

In fact, as the Sports Xchange noted, it was Cousins' worst effort since the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh.

He threw two interceptions that day. On Monday he fumbled once -- on the opening play of the second half -- and threw an interception. There were far too many drops by his sure-handed wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Pierre Garcon had one. Vernon Davis had another. Chris Thompson had one, too. That hurt and is part of why Washington had a season-high six drives go three-and-out.

But Cousins wasn't always in rhythm, either. There were wild throws out of bounds and others that didn't seem to reach their intended target.

So while Reed's injury did not cause them to lose, it made it harder to win – and it will do so over the next two weeks even if Reed plays.

Along those lines. ... Head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday the plan as of now will be to play Reed versus Chicago. But Gruden added if after talking to Reed they feel it's holding him back too much then he might sit.

One last note on Reed. ... The anger that led to his ejection is uncharacteristic of the tight end, who remains third on the Redskins in catches (61) and fourth in targets (81) despite missing three games due to injury and being a limited factor in two more.

"(Reed is) a pretty laid-back guy," left tackle Trent Williams said "He lost his cool. It happens, man. Football's an emotional sport.

Also of interest. ... The Redskins were even worse running the ball than they were throwing it. Redskins players expressed bafflement afterward that they had just 13 carries -- and only 11 of those by the running backs. Washington finished with a season-low 29 yards and 2.2 yards per carry against a formidable Carolina front seven that was again without star linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion).

Despite the disappointing overall outing, Cousins broke his own team record for passing yards in a season Monday night. He now sits at 4,360 yards and tied his own record for 300-yard passing games in a single season (seven).

Davis became the 12th tight end in NFL history to reach 500 career receptions in Monday's game against Carolina.

Dustin Hopkins missed his third extra point of the season. His struggles continue.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Robert Kelley, Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Brian Quick, Maurice Harris, Robert Davis, Trey Quinn
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle