Team Notes week 16 2020
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. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As Darren Urban of the team's official website reminded readers, offense for the Cardinals was supposed to be special this season, and there are times when indeed it has been.
Many of the times it has qualified, it's been because of the strength and size of the hands of DeAndre Hopkins, clutching a pass that many others would drop -- like, for instance, Sunday's game-winning touchdown catch against the Eagles, a 33-26 win the Cardinals had to have.
Those kinds of catches are the flavor the Cardinals have seen for years, thanks to Larry Fitzgerald. And the future Hall of Famer had one of his own against the Eagles as well, his first touchdown of the season on a ball many pass catchers would have dropped.
But it was the next generation of Cardinals superstar receiver -- and the quarterback who is throwing the balls -- that sparked against Philly.
"I like him versus anybody, and I like me to put the ball where it needs to be," said Kyler Murray when asked of his trust level with Hopkins, "so I guess 99.9 to 100 percent."
Murray had a career-high 406 yards passing to go with three touchdown passes, and he ran one in too. He wasn't perfect, and was the first to admit so, losing a fumble while being sacked in part because he didn't put the ball away, and then later throwing a bad interception in the end zone when it looked like the Cardinals would take control of the game.
Still, Murray was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
It was an odd game for the Cards, who had 526 yards of offense -- their highest total since Kliff Kingsbury became coach -- but converted only 3-of-10 third downs, making many drives harder than necessary.
Those three conversions though? All Hopkins magic.
Hopkins ended up with nine receptions for 169 yards, his best day as a Cardinal.
The lone flub?
Hopkins fumbled the ball away inside the 10-yard line on the initial drive of the game, throwing away his gloves after the play and getting a new pair -- "Those were 4Xs (extra-large) and they know I wear 5Xs," he said -- for his sizable hands.
That cost the Cards one potential touchdown. Murray's end-zone pick, the other.
"The interception really had me. ... Obviously, I just have to let it go," Murray said. "Just as far as throwing interception and the timing, in that moment when we are about to be able to put the game away you or try to… just can't do that, that's not playoff football."
That the quarterback thought of the interception first -- over his big passing day or the offense's gaudy stats in general -- is not a surprise.
"I hold Kyler to a high standard," Hopkins said. "He holds me to a high standard. He shouldn't have thrown that interception down there knowing where we were, and I shouldn't have fumbled the ball and he'd probably say the same."
The victory, however difficult it was to pull off, was the important end result.
"When you have three turnovers in an NFL game, they don't have any and you find a way to win, it's a heck of an accomplishment," Kingsbury said.
The Cardinals put some distance between themselves and the Chicago Bears, who, at 7-7, are the eight seed, one spot out of the playoffs. With the San Francisco 49ers up this week and the Los Angeles Rams in the season finale, the Cardinals can lock down a playoff berth on their own.
If the Cardinals can clean up their mistakes, they showed Sunday that they could come back when needed to keep a win.
With Zane Gonzales (back) out the rest of the season after going on IR on Saturday, Mike Nugent made all his kicks again, 4-for-4 extra points and a 40-yard field goal.
On the injury front. ... If the Cardinals had practiced on Tuesday, Fitzgerald would have sat out with a groin issue. Others who would have missed practice were outside linebacker Haason Reddick (shoulder), tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring/calf), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) and running back Chase Edmonds (ankle/knee).
Guard Justin Pugh, who missed Sunday's game with a calf injury, would have been limited. Kingsbury said he's unsure if Pugh will return to the lineup this week or in the season finale against the Rams. Safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) and outside linebacker Kylie Fitts (hamstring) also would have been limited at practice after missing the game against Philadelphia.
Worth noting, when Williams went out with his ankle injury -- and remember he was on IR earlier this season with an ankle problem, so this might be the same one -- he came to the sideline and spiked his helmet. Usually not a good sign. Edmonds, on the other hand, out-touched Kenyan Drake against the Eagles playing through the same issue.
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
In addition, cornerback Robert Alford is out for the season on injured reserve. He also now is on their COVID-19 reserve list.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
The Falcons suffered a third-consecutive loss on Sunday, blowing a 17-point lead to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, 31-27.
As AtlantaFalcons.com's Matthew Tabeek put it, "You've probably heard the saying before.
"Once is chance, twice is a coincidence and a third time is a pattern.
"Well, what is it when it's the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or in the case of Sunday's loss to the Bucs, a ninth time? That's the number of games the Atlanta Falcons have blown leads this season."
Whatever you call it, Tabeek knows the end result: Change.
Change is coming, and it's why the Falcons have already interviewed two men for their general manager vacancy.
Blown leads have crushed this team, dating back to Super Bowl LI. And blown leads have gutted this team in 2020 as well.
It's a big reason why the Falcons got off to an 0-5 start, prompting owner Arthur Blank to part ways with general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn in October. Blank said he's tired of losing and has made it clear that he wants a new regime to install a culture of winning.
"I think we need to win, and that's what our fans are counting on, that's what they're signed up for," Blank said.
On Sunday, the Falcons led the Buccaneers by 17 points on two different occasions. Atlanta went up 17-0 right before halftime on Younghoe Koo's 32-yard field goal with 18 seconds left. Then, midway through the third quarter, Atlanta went up 24-7 when Matt Ryan drilled a 7-yard pass to Hayden Hurst in the middle of the end zone.
At that point, the Falcons' win probability was at 95.3 percent.
But, like eight other times this season, including four times when they had at least a 95 percent chance of winning, the Falcons -- and their lead -- crumbled.
It's tempting to look at some of those games and think the Falcons are closer to being a contender or are better than their 4-10 record would indicate. It's easy to think about the onside kick against the Cowboys or the accidental roll into the end zone against the Lions and think they should have more wins.
According to Tabeek, that would be a mistake.
This is who the Falcons are.
"It's called lack of winning," Blank said of the Falcons' struggles over the few seasons. "So, the problems we have to solve are all of the problems that are ahead of us that keep us from winning."
Who will ultimately solve those problems has yet to be determined, but the consequences and expectations have been made clear. ...
But if you're a fantasy manager looking for positives, ESPN.com's Harry Lyles Jr. suggests that Matt Ryan perhaps softened concerns surrounding his play for at least a week after his performance, going 34-of-49 for 356 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons also had three touchdowns in the red zone despite having the league's second-worst red zone scoring offense coming in. It was a stark turnaround to the Falcons' poor showing last week against the Chargers.
But as the Falcons slowed down offensively in the second half, their defense had trouble staying off the field, which helped the Buccaneers back into the game. That has been the recipe for the eventual Falcons breakdown the past few weeks, give or take some other herbs and spices like poor tackling and penalties.
Still, Ryan's first half was incredible. He completed 23-of-31 passes for 235 yards, and two touchdowns (for comparison, he was 21-for-32 for 224 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions last week). Ryan was particularly great on play action, going 7-of-8 for 121 yards and a touchdown.
However, that wasn't the story in the second half, as the Falcons had one touchdown drive.
Calvin Ridley is the first Falcon not named Julio Jones to have 150 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown since Roddy White in 2012. He finished the game with 10 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.
One other positive: The Falcons improved their draft stock. That's not saying the Falcons are trying to lose games, it's quite obvious they aren't. Interim coach Raheem Morris has put his best effort forward given the group of guys he has and the circumstances, and done a great job.
Also, we have an emerging fantasy prospect at a great time.
The Falcons are paying running back Todd Gurley $5.5 million this season. The Falcons are also paying running back Brian Hill $2.1 million this season. But neither one of them is the team's top running back.
That distinction belongs to Ito Smith, who makes just $750,000.
Morris confirmed Monday that Smith is the lead back going forward. That comes a day after Smith carried six times for 24 yards against the Buccaneers, while Gurley and Hill had a combined six carries for minus-3 yards.
Morris made clear that all three running backs are healthy enough to play, and the decision is a result entirely of performance. Smith will get the bulk of the carries because Smith is the best running back on the team.
And, as Profootblltalk.com pointed out, that's a good reminder of how often running backs who get paid prove not to be worth the money. More than any other position, running backs found late in the draft, or on the waiver wire, can out-perform running backs who cost a lot of money.
The Falcons would have been wise saving the salary cap space they spent on Gurley and Hill, and spending it on someone who could block for Smith. ...
Younghoe Koo has been arguably the best kicker in the NFL in 2020, and he now has made more field goals in a single season than any other kicker in Falcons' history.
With a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Koo's total for the season reached 35, placing him one ahead of Matt Bryant, who made 34 field goals in both 2016 and 2017. The NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November, Koo entered the weekend leading the NFL in points scored, and he hadn't missed a field goal since Week 3 - his only miss of the season.
It's possible Koo could end the year with more made field goals in a single season than any other kicker in league history. The current record holder is David Akers, who made 44 field goals for the San Francisco 49ers during the 2011 season. Koo has proven to be extremely accurate so far this year, and he's gotten plenty of chances to kick the ball as Atlanta's offense has struggled in the red zone.
So there are positives.
But it became clear early this season that the Falcons weren't going to be fixed, and with the end of the season near and hires to be made at head coach and general manager, the next regime benefits from this loss.
With regard to that, Morris has done a good enough job this season that the team will consider giving him the coaching job on a permanent basis.
Falcons President Rich McKay told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Morris will interview for the full-time job.
"He will definitely, in the process, be interviewed," McKay said. "He's earned that right. I've known Raheem a long time. I remember when we hired him in Tampa as an assistant secondary coach. He is really a good football coach. He inherited a situation. We were 0-5. When you're an interim coach with 11 weeks to go, that's more than challenging. He's earn that right to be interviewed and he will."
Morris has gone 4-5 after inheriting an 0-5 team from Dan Quinn. Morris previously went 17-31 in three seasons as head coach of the Buccaneers, and although his tenure in Tampa didn't exactly make him a hot head-coaching candidate, the Falcons like what they've seen this year.
And finally. ... On the injury front, Morris said Wednesday that Jones will work with trainers for the day’s practice, adding the wide receiver “is a little bit closer” this week, via Jason Butt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are playing their best football of the season at just the right time.
Looking just as dangerous as he did in last season's NFL MVP campaign, Jackson threw three touchdowns and ran for another as the Ravens routed the outclassed Jacksonville Jaguars 40-14 on Sunday.
This marks the first time Baltimore has scored 40 or more points in consecutive games since November 2019, when the Ravens had the league's highest-scoring offense.
The only bad news for Baltimore was the Miami Dolphins beating the New England Patriots. Winners of three straight games, the Ravens (9-5) remain No. 8 in the seven-team AFC race behind the Dolphins because Miami (6-4 in the AFC) currently has a better conference record than Baltimore (6-5).
The Ravens' chances of reaching the playoffs are 88 percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
"We've just got to keep focused on what we have in front of us," Jackson said. "We've got the Giants in front of us now. We've got to focus on those guys, get on the film, and watch those guys and pray next week, the ones we need to lose, lose, because we've still got to try to get to the playoffs -- that's our goal. But one game at a time. We can't peak too soon."
For the first three months of the season, Jackson and the Ravens struggled to regain the rhythm of last season. It got so bad for Baltimore that Jackson even acknowledged defensive players were calling out the Ravens' plays.
But, strangely enough, it all changed when Jackson tested positive for COVID-19. After returning, Jackson has totaled 10 touchdowns (six passing and four rushing) in his past three games, showing the same relentlessness and energy as last season.
According to the team's official website, Jackson and the offense checked off several boxes that have been lacking.
Marquise Brown, who had just six catches for 54 yards in four November games, has 17 receptions for 272 yards over the past four weeks. While Brown's three-game streak of scoring at least one touchdown was halted against Jacksonville, his 98 receiving yards were his most since Week 1.
Perhaps more important than the numbers were the drops that have plagued Brown in recent weeks didn't rear their head against the Jags, as Brown caught six of seven targets.
"As a receiver in this league, you can't drop the ball," Brown said. "So, that's what I pride myself on, and that's what I'm going to continue to work on going forward."
One of the best signs was that Brown hauled in a deep 44-yard pass along the sideline from Jackson in the second half. That kind of deep connection has been missing for much of the season, which has hampered the Ravens' ability to threaten defenses vertically.
Other wide receivers have stepped up, too. Dez Bryant caught his first touchdown in three years and Miles Boykin, who went three straight games without a target, has caught two touchdowns in the past three games. Eight different players caught a pass against the Jaguars.
That included tight end Mark Andrews, who recorded five receptions on five targets for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Andrews continued his run of strong production in the second half of the season. For his third consecutive game, he logged five receptions and has surpassed 60 receiving yards in four consecutive contests. His production against the Jaguars came in the form of several long receptions -- including gains of 27, 18 and 12 yards -- and was capped by a three-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter.
"This offense is extremely dangerous," Bryant said. "It's up to us what we want to do from here on out."
Meanwhile, Baltimore is now 40-0 when entering a game as a double-digit favorite. The Ravens are the only NFL franchise not to lose such a game.
"You always just hammer home what's at stake and looking straight ahead, having your eyes neither wander to the left or to the right, but keeping focused on what's in front of you," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I think it just goes back to guys who are character guys and understand perspective and understand what's at stake. I'm proud of our guys for being able to do that over the years. This bunch just did. ... Really, this game was one of the best jobs that we've had the whole time we've been here."
Worth noting. ... The Ravens have been dominant in December.
They are now 12-2 in this month since 2018, when Jackson took over as a starter. That's the best record in the NFL in that span. Baltimore has outscored teams 398-161 in December in the past three seasons.
Against the Jaguars, Jackson produced four touchdowns for the sixth time in his career. He was efficient in the red zone, throwing touchdown passes to Miles Boykin (four yards), Dez Bryant (11) and Mark Andrews (three). He also had a five-yard touchdown run.
For the most part, Jackson did his damage through the air, completing 17-of-22 passes for 243 yards. Jackson recorded a 133.1 passer rating, his third straight game with a rating better than 100.
The Ravens will face a tougher matchup this week when they go up against the Giants.
No, the Giants aren't great. But they play better defense than the toothless Jaguars. ... Still, the Ravens are 6-1 against teams with losing records this season, including 3-0 against the NFC East.
Other notes of interest. ... Mark Ingram was a healthy scratch for Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
The veteran tailback played only one offensive snap against the Browns the week before. Without Ingram in the mix, J.K. Dobbins led the way, carrying the ball 14 times for 64 yards and a touchdown. He added one reception for 17 yards.
Dobbins paced the Ravens' backfield, though Gus Edwards still commanded nine carries to eat into his workload. His longest rush came on the fifth play from scrimmage, when he racked up 11 yards along the left side of the offensive line. Dobbins continued to rush well throughout the first half, ripping off runs of seven, eight and nine yards on two separate drives before plunging into the end zone from two yards away.
He has now hit pay dirt in four consecutive games and will head into a Week 16 matchup against the Giants with a seemingly secure workload.
With Edwards established as Baltimore's secondary back behind Dobbins, and Justice Hill's work on special teams making him a more valuable option for the depth role, Ingram, who has just 35 snaps since returning from an ankle injury in Week 10 and played one snap in Week 14, may not see the field again this season if his fellow running backs remain healthy -- although Harbaugh contends that's not the case.
On Monday, Harbaugh said that the team needed to activate more cornerbacks and called Ingram a "consummate professional" about the situation.
"For the team, it's a good situation," Harbaugh said, via the team's website. "We have a chance to keep getting Mark healthier and stronger. We've got a lot of good backs that can contribute. His time is coming, there's no doubt about that. ..."
As noted above, Bryant was able to officially throw up the X for the first time in 1,106 days.
Bryant caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jackson in the second quarter Sunday, marking the first time he had reached the end zone since Dec. 10, 2017. He immediately celebrated with his signature X, crossing both arms in front of him.
"The meaning is to X out the negative, to truly never give up and beat the odds and destroy adversity," Bryant said. "That's what it means. That's why I do it. Me throwing up the X and the world seeing it, it makes me feel good."
Wearing a gold chain with the letter X hanging around his neck, Bryant held up the football that he caught in the end zone and said he's going to give it to his 5-year-old daughter, who inspired him to come back and play. She frequently asked him on Sundays in the fall: "Why are you not playing football?"
"After I realized I scored, the first person I thought of was my baby girl," Bryant said. "I had no intentions for playing ball. If it wasn't for her, I don't think I'd be out here."
This marked Bryant's first game since he tested positive for COVID-19 a half hour before his much-anticipated meeting against the Cowboys.
Bryant, 32, became just the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to return to the NFL after missing two full seasons (Josh Gordon was the other, when he returned to the Browns in 2017). He began on the Ravens' practice squad before being signed to the active roster Nov. 28.
This was his fifth and most memorable catch in his fourth game with Baltimore.
After seeing the catch, Jackson threw up the X in Bryant's direction. ...
Bryant was listed as a non-participant as the Ravens began on-field preparations to face the Giants this Sunday. His 11-yard touchdown against Jacksonville was his first since catching four passes in Week 11.
Defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Marcus Peters were out of practice with calf injuries. Both players were out last weekend.
Defensive back Anthony Levine (abdomen), linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), guard Tyre Phillips (concussion), center Matt Skura (back), cornerback Jimmy Smith (ribs, shoulder), and linebacker Kristian Welch (foot) were also out of practice on Wednesday.
And finally. ... The Ravens will have a couple of players back from reserve lists for their Week 16 game against the Giants.
Wide receiver Chris Moore has been activated from injured reserve and safety Geno Stone has been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Stone was the only player on the COVID-19 reserve list before the move.
Moore played his only game of the season in Week 8 and has been out with a knee injury. He made one tackle on special teams in that appearance.
Stone appeared in two games and saw most of his time on special teams. He was a seventh-round pick this year.
The Ravens placed cornerback Davontae Harris on injured reserve. He injured his thigh on Sunday.
Also, the Ravens signed tight end Eric Tomlinson to the active roster from the practice squad.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Josh Allen turned in a dominant performance against the Broncos, passing for 359 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for two more. As the team's official website suggested, he played with as much poise with a division title on the line as he did while leading a game-winning drive in Week 3, or while playing in the wake of a personal loss in Week 9, or while delivering a win against his childhood team on Monday Night Football in Week 13.
"It's hard to even be impressed now," Cole Beasley said of his play-making quarterback. "It's more expected. He's been doing it all year now. He's been dropping some dimes, man."
Allen's performance this season has earned mentions not only alongside some of the NFL's modern-day elite, but next to the best passers in Bills history as well. Consider the following:
Allen's passer rating against Denver was 114.5, his seventh game with a rating above 100. That's a Bills single-season record.
After making headlines with the first 300-yard passing game of his career back in Week 1, Allen now has seven. That ties the Bills single-season record set by Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
Allen's two rushing touchdowns gave him 25 for his career. That not only ties the franchise mark set by Jack Kemp, it ranks second in NFL history by a quarterback through 42 career games (one behind Cam Newton).
Allen broke Jim Kelly's single-season franchise record with his 35th total touchdown against the Steelers last week, prompting praise from the Bills legend. His 4,000 passing yards are already more than Kelly threw in a season (albeit in a very different game) and just 360 short of Drew Bledsoe's record.
"I'd be surprised if Josh doesn't break all my records," Kelly said last week. "Then, after he continues to grow, he'll start breaking his own records."
The numbers stack up just as well against Allen's contemporaries. His 39 total touchdowns rank second in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers. He's just the second quarterback in NFL history with 30 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns in a single season.
The other, Cam Newton, won the MVP the year he pulled off that feat.
Perhaps the most impressive mark is Allen's completion percentage, which at 68.69 percent currently stands as another Bills record and ranks sixth in the NFL. Accuracy was the trait most used by those who criticized the Bills' selection of Allen with the seventh-overall pick in 2018.
The Broncos were one of the teams that passed on Allen that year, opting instead to draft defensive end Bradley Chubb with the fifth pick. Bills offensive linemen Jon Feliciano said he suspected that decision added extra fuel to Allen's performance Saturday.
Whether that's true or not, we may never know. Allen stayed consistent in his response once again, shedding off questions of personal accolades or secret motivations like would-be tacklers.
"I'm where I'm supposed to be," he said.
Meanwhile, facing a secondary short on cornerbacks, Buffalo's vaunted receiving corps had to have visions of multiple receptions and touchdowns dancing in their heads.
It didn't take long for Allen to unleash the multitude of weapons he has at his disposal in the passing game to demoralize a beleaguered Broncos defense.
His primary players all season, Stefon Diggs and Beasley, caught eight of his first 13 completions on the team's first two scoring drives.
"Our guys have been doing a good job of getting open and it's my job to give them a chance to go catch the ball," said Allen plainly. "They've been doing a real good job of that. That's the quarterback's job."
But Saturday looked like a passing clinic. By halftime Diggs had already had a stat line some NFL receivers would take for a full game with seven receptions for 67 yards.
Beasley didn't have quite the same production in the first half, but things picked up over the final two quarters.
Though neither Beasley nor Diggs had a touchdown catch, they did each post 100-yard receiving days. Diggs posted a season-high 11 receptions for 147 yards, his sixth 100-yard day of the regular season.
He also set the team record for most receptions in a single season breaking the tie he had with Eric Moulds' previous record of 100 in 2002 entering Saturday's game. Diggs got to 111 catches on the season by posting his third straight game of 10 or more receptions, making him the eighth player in league history to do so.
Beasley also hit the century mark with 112 yards on eight receptions, the fifth time he's done so in 2020.
Jake Kumerow's first reception as a member of the Bills was a 22-yard score and Dawson Knox added an early touchdown in the game. He has three touchdowns in the past four games and is getting hot at the right time.
Not surprisingly, Allen was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
Worth noting. ... Diggs suffered a foot injury late in the game. Head coach Sean McDermott did not have any updates on the foot injury postgame, but early indications are that Diggs' injury does not appear to be serious. Kim Jones of the NFL Network reported the injury should not affect Diggs' availability going forward.
In addition to Jones' report, another encouraging sign for Bills fans was seeing Diggs return to the sidelines late in the victory. He seemed to be moving well on the foot as he interacted with his teammates.
McDermott lent further credence to Jones' report on Monday when he said initial reports on Diggs' foot are not overly concerning and on Wednesday he announced that both Diggs and Tre'Davious White, who suffered a stinger, would practice Wednesday as the Bills begin on-field preparations for Monday’s game against the Patriots.
McDermott said that wide receiver John Brown will also practice. He was designated to return from injured reserve last week, but he was not activated in time to face Denver. He’s been out with an ankle injury.
More on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Beyond that, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were not utilized much in the run game early. There was no reason with Allen being able to throw it all over the field. However, late in the game both players stepped up when called upon.
When Buffalo was trying to milk time off the clock, Moss had a few impressive runs to move the chains. He finished with 81 yards on 13 carries (6.2 YPC). Following an odd decision by Denver to kick the ball onside despite the game being well in hand, Singletary took a first down carry 51 yards for a score. The duo combined for 149 yards on the ground.
And finally. ... Tyler Bass was perfect on field goals (2-of-2) and extra points (6-of-6).
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
According to Darin Gantt of the team's official website, it wasn't just that Teddy Bridgewater fumbled.
It was also where he fumbled. But mostly how.
In the second quarter of Saturday night's loss in Green Bay, the Panthers' quarterback lost the ball at the Packers' 1-yard line, a play that could easily serve as the epitaph for the second half of the season.
"That play at the goal line is obviously a killer," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said, among his immediate takeaways.
He mentioned some other things (including yet another penalty on special teams that put them in a deeper hole late). But if not for a solid second-half effort by the Panthers' defense, Bridgewater's miscue would have been the solitary talking point after a 24-16 loss.
Rhule made it clear that all players, not just the quarterbacks, have been told not to reach the ball across the goal line unless it's fourth down, and Bridgewater said it was a lesson learned.
"It's always disappointing when you get down there and have points, and you do something like that to prevent your team from scoring," Bridgewater said. "It's a situation where, I guarantee if I ever have to run a quarterback sneak again, for the rest of my career, I'll make sure I never reach the ball over the top unless it's fourth down."
Things were already bad, as the Panthers had lost seven of their previous eight. But having Bridgewater's failed attempt to dive over the pile at the goal line go so tragically wrong was the kind of play that carries more emotional weight than statistical.
Undrafted rookie running back Rodney Smith had just given the Panthers a shot of energy, converting a fourth-and-1 with a 12-yard burst. But then, steps away from making it a 14-10 game, the unthinkable happened.
Bridgewater appeared to try to dive over the top, but never got much air, and had the ball swatted out of his hands by Packers linebacker Krys Barnes. It was recovered by cornerback Kevin King and returned 48 yards. The Packers followed with a touchdown to make it 21-3, enough breathing room for the rest of the night.
Bridgewater said he heard the Packers defense calling out the sneak, which caused him to try to go over the top. He added that Packers linebacker Za'Darius Smith "did a great job of leaping as well," and Smith caught him mid-thigh as he tried to rise.
"His momentum stopped my momentum," Bridgewater said. "If I sneak behind the guys, dive in low, we may score, or it's second down."
A tick-tock description of the way the play happened doesn't fully explain the swing of the moment, though. It was a dramatic blocked dunk at the rim, a saved penalty kick, the kind of thing that takes all the air out of the team on the short end.
The Panthers weren't operating with much of a margin of error to begin with, and missing that kind of opportunity was crushing.
Given all the attention paid to the embattled quarterback for a third-down decision to rush a play and a fourth-down pass short of the sticks last week, Rhule was trying to leave some breathing room for Bridgewater.
But the result remained, and remained unacceptable.
"I hate to beat him up on just that one play," Rhule said. "There were a lot of things that were not up to our standard across the board.
"But that play just can't happen."
For what it's worth, it sounds like that resonated with Bridgewater.
"I think we're realizing if we just do it the way we're coached, in all three phases, it works," he said. "I think what happens is, we get to that moment sometimes, we think we have to do something a little different, for instance me on the quarterback sneak. And if I continue to just trust my coaching, and do it the way I'm told, then we're celebrating going into the locker room, as opposed to learning new lessons each week.
"This team, this is a team that's going to win these games down the road. We just have to believe in ourselves and believe what the coaches are telling us. ..."
Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey has played only three games in 2020 due to various injuries, but the 4-10 Panthers have not shut him down.
On Monday, Rhule said whether McCaffrey plays Sunday depends on if he's available earlier in the week.
"I'm hopeful to see him practice on Wednesday," Rhule said. "If he can, then I think we're on track. If he can't, then I probably would just give those reps to Mike Davis and Rodney Smith and prepare them to play. It's been a long time for Christian in terms of practicing, so even if he's healthy to play, he'll need to practice some. So I'll have a better feel Wednesday, but I think there's a possibility."
We got that better feel.
Rhule told reporters McCaffrey is doubtful to play against Washington after the running back was unable to practice Wednesday..
I'll continue to follow up via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses, but McCaffrey investors should be making other plans. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Bridgewater scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season and second in as many games. He is tied for fifth among quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns this season.
D.J. Moore hauled in a game-high 131 receiving yards to top 1,000 for the season. He's just the fourth Panthers' player (Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith, Greg Olsen) to record consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Robby Anderson topped 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
Anderson and Moore became just the second pair of Panthers' wide receivers (Patrick Jeffers/Muhsin Muhammad, 1999) to reach 1,000 yards in the same season.
Moore played 81 percent of the snaps in his return from the COVID-19 list, totaling a game-high 131 receiving yards on six receptions.
Curtis Samuel played a season-high 84 percent of the offensive snaps. He had four catches for 42 yards.
Tight end Ian Thomas played 72 percent of the snaps and had a season-high 29 receiving yards on three receptions.
And finally. ... Add the Panthers to the list of teams looking for a new general manager.
The team announced that they fired Marty Hurney on Monday. Hurney's contract ran through June, but team owner David Tepper said he believed that now was the right time to make a move.
"I think sometimes you just need a restart, a refresh," Tepper said, via Darin Gantt of the team's website. "We did it last year on the coaching side. Maybe you could say it should have been done before on the G.M. side. Maybe it should have been. I'm sure people may say that, or otherwise, on both sides. I think it's just time, on both sides, to do that. It just seems like the right time to move forward."
Hurney was in his second stint as the team's GM He was in the role from 2002 to 2012 and returned in 2017 after Dave Gettleman was dismissed.
Tepper said he wants more of a data-driven approach to the football operation and that Rhule will play a role in the search process for Hurney's successor because "to not have a head coach with some input into that is stupid."
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Against the Vikings, the Bears offense moved the ball more effectively and consistently than they have in two seasons.
The 33-27 victory didn't include gaudy passing stats, but according to the team's official website, the game still reflects well on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Trubisky completed 15 of 21 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 97.7.
However, it was Trubisky's command of the situation that impressed head coach Matt Nagy.
"It was great to see the way that he ran the offense all day today," said Nagy, "decision making with these nakeds getting onto the edge, and it's a stress to the defense with the moving parts. I think he's doing a really good job at just commanding it and making good decisions."
On Sunday, Trubisky became the quickest Bears quarterback to hit 10,000 passing yards for his career for a player who began his career in Chicago, doing so in 49 games. However, the Bears opted to put most of their faith in the running game, with 42 of 63 plays being rushes.
"We wanted to go out there and establish the run today," said Trubisky. "The O-line with their mindset, and David Montgomery with his, we just went out there, and that's what we did. We passed when we needed to, and it was a pretty balanced game all across the board."
Trubisky stated after the game that he felt the offense was getting better every week. The results speak to that. After facing a better defense against the Vikings than they saw against the Detroit Lions or Houston Texans the previous two weeks, the Bears still were able to move the ball and put points on the board.
The team was able to play complementary football, with each unit feeding off the other's success. Until recently, the concept had been brought up frequently but not realized.
"It starts with running the football and then the play-action," said Trubisky, "movement game that comes off that and just being efficient on first and second down and being a balanced offense. I feel like we have more of an identity now. Guys are buying into it. There's more passion and excitement at practice over the last few weeks."
Trubisky contributed 34 yards on eight carries, allowing him to cross 1,000 career rushing yards. Trubisky is only the sixth Bears quarterback to reach that mark. While he shouldn't be confused for a run-first quarterback, Trubisky's presence has paid dividends for the Bears rushing attack.
At the beginning of the year, Nagy emphasized the importance of Trubisky's eyes going to the right places on the field. While an offense that rushed 67 percent of plays is not likely to become the norm under Nagy, the coach praised his quarterback's efficiency on Sunday.
"We're all collaborating and talking through schematics of the plays," said Nagy, "and what we like and what he feels good with. And not that we haven't been doing that before, but you can obviously see that some of the stuff is a little different, and it's fitting us, and it's working."
Trubisky has succeeded in narrowing his scope.
He has avoided the long throws into coverage that resulted in two interceptions in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers. Instead, his passing has served to keep defenses from selling out to stop Montgomery.
And it's working.
The Bears have won two straight games to keep hopes of making the playoffs alive in Chicago and Montgomery has had a lot to do with their change in fortunes.
Montgomery followed up a 113-yard performance in Week 14 by setting career highs with 32 carries and 146 yards in Sunday's 33-27 win over the Vikings. Montgomery also scored a pair of touchdowns in a performance that led Nagy to say that the rest of the team is "feeding off" the running back.
The numbers bear that out. Montgomery also caught two passes, which meant he touched the ball on 34 of the team's 64 offensive plays.
"Make it count," Montgomery said, via Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. "Let's not regret giving me that many carries. Let me make sure I show my O-line that I'm giving them everything that I got, show the wide receivers that I'm giving them everything I've got every chance I get."
In case you haven't been following along, the 23-year-old running back has scored touchdowns in four straight games -- the first Bear to do so since Tarik Cohen in 2018. Sunday, Montgomery became the first Bears player since Jordan Howard to rush for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games. Montgomery, who has the fourth most total opportunities among running backs since Week 8, has now topped 100-plus rushing yards in three of the past four weeks.
Montgomery's next chance will come against the Jaguars and their 30th-ranked run defense.
As Profootballtalk.com suggested, barring a Rams-style meltdown, that should go well for him and the Bears' hopes of remaining in the playoff picture.
The Jets win in Los Angeles pushed the Jaguars into the top draft position ahead of their Week 16 game against the Bears and Nagy vowed on Monday that his team won't be taking the Jags lightly.
"We have not done anything yet. The last thing we're going to do is look past anyone," Nagy said.
Remember, another victory Sunday would give the Bears three straight years of .500-or-better football for the first time since 2010 to 2013. Nagy is 27-20 (including the playoffs) as coach of the Bears. He still has a shot to guide the Bears to their second playoff berth in three years, which for Chicago is a rarity.
Hold off on the sweeping offseason changes at Halas Hall -- for now. ...
Also of interest. ... Allen Robinson caught four passes for 83 yards on Sunday.
With the Bears leading this game throughout, the team attempted just 21 passes, leading to Robinson seeing just five targets. However, a 35-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter helped him salvage his fantasy day. He's now posted at least 74 yards in five of his last six games, and he'll be an excellent fantasy option against a weak Jacksonville defense that has a depleted secondary.
Wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Tulane, broke Harlon Hill's record for most receptions by a Bears rookie wideout. Mooney, now with 46 catches on the season, played an important role in Sunday's victory, with four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown. Mooney also ripped off a 16-yard run on a well-executed jet sweep.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson put it, "The feel-good story of 2020, the Cairo Santos experience gets better every week."
The veteran kicker -- signed by the Bears in late summer -- has now made 22 consecutive field goals after converting all three of his attempts on Sunday. There seems little doubt the Bears offer Santos, 29, a contract extension after he's kicked for the league minimum ($910,000) this season. Santos is a remarkable 25-of-27 on the season.
On the injury front. ... The NFL's best kickoff returner evaded a scare Sunday. Cordarrelle Patterson, briefly sidelined during the Bears' win over the Vikings, avoided a serious knee injury, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. The special teams ace and reserve running back looks to have a pretty good shot of playing against the Jaguars in Week 16, Pelissero added.
Patterson was held out Wednesday; Robinson was limited by a hamstring. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
Patterson leads the NFL in KO returns (32), yards (942) and average (29.4).
The Bears have activated wide receiver/return specialist DeAndre Carter off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Carter has missed Chicago's last two games while on the list, initially going on it on Dec. 10. He's played in two contests for the Bears since the club claimed him off waivers from the Texans on Nov. 18, returning one punt for five yards.
In all, Carter's appeared in 11 games this season. He's averaged 8.4 yards on 12 punt returns and 20.8 yards on 12 kick returns.
The Bears also signed former Chiefs running back Spencer Ware to their practice squad and activated wide receiver Thomas Ives to the practice squad off the COVID-19 list.
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, head coach Zac Taylor might have just picked up the win that saves his job.
Regardless of how hot the seat was under the second-year coach, it might be cool for several months after a massive 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the short term, Cincinnati ended a five-game losing streak.
But Taylor's fifth win in two seasons with the Bengals should quiet those who have asked about his job security after a rough couple of years. Cincinnati was 14.5-point underdogs at home and beat the AFC North-leading Steelers for the first time since 2015. On Monday Night Football, no less.
Taylor needed the victory more than the Bengals needed to inch a little closer to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. It was the type of performance that showed the team still believes in Taylor despite all the losses and the optimism their coach holds for Cincinnati is warranted.
The Bengals jumped out to a 17-0 lead to stun a Paul Brown Stadium filled with Terrible Towels. Then the Bengals were able to withstand a 10-point run from Pittsburgh, bleed the clock in the fourth quarter and score a touchdown that salted the game away.
For a franchise and coach looking for building blocks, Cincinnati found one against Pittsburgh. ...
Adding to the good vibes for the Bengals, they needed a big play to hold off the charging Steelers in the second half. Quarterback Ryan Finley provided that with his 23-yard touchdown run off a read option. Finley handed the ball off on those plays all night.
But with the edge rusher crashing down, Finley kept it, had a wide open lane and went untouched into the end zone. It was exactly what the Bengals needed to give them a little momentum to hold onto the victory.
Finley was summoned into starting duty after Brandon Allen couldn't play with knee and ankle injuries.
Finley looked awful in mop-up duty throughout the season as Allen and starter Joe Burrow went down with injuries. Finley was demoted to third string because of those performances. But against Pittsburgh, Finley was everything the Bengals needed him to be. He completed 7-of-13 passes for 89 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers.
But his biggest contribution came with his legs on the aforementioned touchdown run in the fourth quarter that proved to be the winning margin. Finley played well enough to merit consideration as the starter for the rest of the season, even if Allen gets a full bill of health.
Beyond that, the players felt they beat the Steelers at their own game, an unvarnished, bare-knuckled AFC North game.
"We knew it was going to be a dirty game. Coach Taylor brought it up," said running back Giovani Bernard after he ran and caught it for a combined 97 yards on a night yards were sparse. "When you play those divisional games, the records don't matter. It's about who wants it more and it just showed just the type of mentality that we had going into the game. We started off hot coming back after the second half, we started off slow, but we continued to keep fighting."
The team that had turned it over the week before on its first three possessions beat the NFL's best at turnover differential with a resounding plus-three while turning those three turnovers into 17 points in vintage Steelers fashion.
The team that was on pace to throw their most passes ever beat the AFC North leaders with their second backup quarterback throwing 13, their fewest passes since a 1987 strike game.
The team that started its eighth straight different offensive line paved the way for the Bengals' most rushing yards against the Steelers' sixth-ranked run defense in 20 years with 152.
Finley praised Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and offensive line coach Jim Turner for crafting a run game that included using him 10 times for 47 yards on an arsenal of zone reads. The ground game had struggled as of late, but on this night it controlled the tempo the Bengals had built with 32 minutes of clock.
"When you can eliminate one guy out of the box that you don't have to block and read. It just kind of came about," Finley said. "I thought Zac Taylor called an unbelievable game. It was the type of game we were expecting -- gritty at times with a lot of running the ball. It was really well done from everyone involved.
"It was just the decision we made earlier in the week," Taylor said of running it 41 times, the most rush attempts in his 30 games as coach. "You've got a long week to think about it, and we played them before. And, really, I thought we had a good plan the first time we played them -we just struggled on third down and with the turnovers. But again, our guys just did a good job executing and played with a ton of energy. You know, it was just fun to watch them go. ... I thought our guys controlled the energy throughout the entire game. And a divisional game. That's important."
The team that supposedly loses its cool against the Steelers watched Pittsburgh implode on a late hit. The team that has been accused of letting the Steelers get in their heads the past five seasons watched Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster do his pregame thing on the Bengals midfield logo before safety Vonn Bell forced him to fumble on a hellacious hit that turned into seven points in a 10-point win.
Taylor gave a game ball to everyone for this one, but if anyone typified the win it was Bernard after he carried it 25 times for 83 yards and slithered away from three Steelers on a 14-yard-catch-and-dash touchdown.
He is a reminder that there have been good days here and not too long ago. He mirrored what he did on a Monday night seven years ago as a rookie when he also scored a touchdown running and receiving in a 10-point Paul Brown Stadium win over the Steelers.
Plus, it was only a week ago he watched his NFL-best streak of carries without a fumble end on the game's second play. That skein that stretched all the way back to that rookie year. It was one of those three deadly turnovers against the Cowboys and he carried only two more times the rest of the day.
It turns out they were just resting him up.
Receiver Tyler Boyd is in the concussion protocol, per head coach Zac Taylor. Boyd left Week 15 early due to the injury. Taylor also said the decision to start either Allen or Finley will come down to how Allen's injured knee looks at the end of the week.
More on Boyd and the QBs via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Joe Mixon will not be back this week, per Taylor. The coach added: "We'll see about next week."
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ClevelandBrowns.com's Anthony Poisal noted, Baker Mayfield has built several memorable performances in 2020 that have helped the Browns offense ascend into one of the best units in the NFL.
In Week 7, he threw five touchdown passes to help push the Browns to a last-minute win over the Bengals. In Week 13, he threw four touchdowns in the first half to give the Browns a massive lead in a statement win over the Titans. Last week on Monday Night Football, he threw for over 340 yards and nearly pushed the Browns to a win over the Ravens.
Mayfield added another gem to his 2020 collection Sunday night in New York.
This performance -- 27-of-32 with two touchdowns, 297 yards and a 126.2 quarterback rating -- might be the smoothest of them all. It gave the Browns a 20-6 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium and was a result of Mayfield being in control for four quarters against a defense that was ranked top 10 in the league.
He played mistake-free football. He made it look easy. He looked his best.
"Baker was outstanding tonight," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He was dialed in. It is really what I expect from him, and it is what he expects from himself. I really thought he was sharp."
The only errors Mayfield made Sunday night were his five incompletions, which came at mostly inconsequential times and never cost the Browns on the scoreboard. They won with no surprises from the offense, which has made these performances feel routine after 14 games, and that's because Mayfield was moving the Browns downfield at a smooth, poetic pace.
His completion percentage Sunday (84.3 percent) is the third-best in franchise history. The leader is Vinny Testaverde, who holds the record at 91.3 percent.
He hit 84.3 percent in 2018 against the Atlanta Falcons. 2018, of course, has been remembered for the magic Mayfield orchestrated as a rookie. He broke the rookie touchdown record and electrified the city of Cleveland with the kind of quarterback play the Browns had fought so hard to find.
Now, he might be playing even better than that. Over the last four weeks, Mayfield has thrown for over 1,200 yards and recorded 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He was 3 yards away from back-to-back games of over 300 passing yards, and he's had a quarterback rating over 110 in three of the last four games.
When Mayfield is in control, so is the rest of the offense. That was on display for 60 minutes on a primetime stage against the Giants.
"He plays at a high level," wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. "I keep on saying that for us to get where we want to go, and win these games, it all starts there. He's a big part of everything we're trying to do. He's playing lights out."
Mayfield's most important throws Sunday were a 2-yard lob pass to tight end Austin Hooper and another 2-yard pass to Landry -- both were caught in the end zone for his 24th and 25th touchdown passes of the season, which eclipsed his total from last year.
But the other throws that put them close to the goal line were the same crisp passes Mayfield has been delivering for the last month.
It didn't matter if defenders were in the area. It didn't matter if it was third down. It didn't matter if Mayfield was under pressure. He found a way to get the ball to its intended target. On Sunday, he used eight of them -- yes, eight Browns receivers caught a pass. Mayfield was clearly comfortable through all of his progressions. When he found an open receiver, he hit them.
That's how a confident quarterback should play. Right now, no one is questioning Mayfield's confidence.
"(I'm) trusting these guys around me, trusting the guys up front, going through my progressions and just delivering the ball and letting them make the plays," he said. "Our guys are making a ton of plays. Our protection continues to be great, and these guys continue to make plays for us. That is why the confidence is so high. I don't have to do anything else. It's these guys doing their job."
Mayfield looked at ease Sunday. His chemistry with his receivers has only grown each week as the Browns near a spot in the playoffs, which is now even more realistic.
The postseason hasn't been in Cleveland since 2002. Now, it's closer than ever.
Mayfield is doing his part to help make it a reality. He's pulled through with plenty of big performances that have made this season his best. He added another game to that list Sunday.
He believes he has more big performances to come.
And if he's right, the next one could come with even bigger historical implications.
"We are of the mentality right now that we control our own destiny," Mayfield said. "(It's) a notch on the belt, and then move on. We're not done yet."
With the win, Cleveland moved to 10-4 and into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns, who face the 1-13 New York Jets next weekend, now have a 90 percent chance to advance to the postseason, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
One last note on Mayfield, via Field Yates of ESPN: Over the past four weeks, Mayfield ranks second in TD passes (10), third in passing yards (1,232), fifth in completion percent (70.2) and third amongst all QBs in fantasy points (98.9 point in ESPN scoring formats).
Other notes of interest. ... Nick Chubb played 38 snaps while Kareem Hunt was on the field for 21.
Chubb rushed 15 times for 50 yards and a touchdown while catching both of his targets for 18 yards. Hunt had seven carries for 21 yards and three receptions (three targets) for seven yards.
Both Hunt and Chubb struggled to establish their usual dominance over opposing defenses.
Chubb punched in a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to salvage what would have been a mediocre outing in a favorable matchup (the Giants entered ranking 20th in points allowed to opposing running backs). It was the first time the star back was held under 4.0 yards per carry in a game this season (3.3), which is not surprising given that he entered the contest with a league-best mark of 5.9 yards per tote.
As CBSSports.com notes, the fact that Sunday's modest output is considered a down performance is a great indicator of the elite level Chubb has been performing at in 2020. The 24-year-old will look to break the 1,000-yard mark in rushing yards (10 starts) when the Browns take on the Jets.
Hunt was especially disappointing, as his lack of production as a receiver was also accompanied by a second consecutive week of single-digit carries. Mayfield's elevated play this season has begun to shift the Browns' offensive game plan towards a more balanced approach as opposed to a heavy reliance on the team's two star backs.
Hunt has been able to stay fantasy relevant as a backup with his ability to contribute as a receiver and a nose for the end zone, but managers are left with occasional clunkers when he fails to hit pay dirt.
Rashard Higgins led all WRs with 47 snaps. Landry followed with 45 and Donovan Peoples-Jones had 38. KhaDarel Hodge, in his first game back from a hamstring injury, played eight snaps.
Higgins caught 4-of-5 targets for 76 yards; Landry caught 7-of-8 targets for 61 yards and one touchdown; Peoples-Jones caught 3-of-3 targets for 55 yards
David Njoku (31) and Harrison Bryant (30) split snaps equally as the No. 2 tight end. Austin Hooper led the way with 45.
Hooper caught 5-of-6 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.
On the injury front. ... Chris Hubbard, starting in place for an injured Wyatt Teller, was lost for the game after just two plays. Rookie Nick Harris, who was drafted to play center, filled in for the remaining 62 snaps and more than held his own.
Hubbard is having surgery this week to repair torn ligaments in his knee and will miss the remainder of the season, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggested, even if a good portion of their fans would like the season to be over, the Cowboys aren't dead yet.
The Cowboys' 41-33 win against the San Francisco 49ers, coupled with the Washington Football Team's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, means the Cowboys will go into Week 16 with a chance to make the postseason, even with a 5-9 record.
In order to win the NFC East, the Cowboys will have to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, and Washington will have to lose to the Carolina Panthers and Eagles.
What all of this means, of course, is winning could cost the Cowboys' serious positioning in the 2021 NFL draft.
The Cowboys entered Sunday with a projection of the No. 4 overall pick. With the win, they could inch closer to a top-10 pick instead of a top-five selection.
But head coach Mike McCarthy isn't concerned about draft positioning. He has said the goal is to finish strong, conjuring up his first season with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 when they won their final four games to finish 8-8 and used that as a springboard to a 13-3 record in 2007.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones isn't concerned about draft positioning, either.
As long as the Cowboys have a chance at the postseason, he wants to win and host a playoff game at ATT Stadium, believing anything is possible in the COVID-19 era.
And the Cowboys players want to win every game they play, regardless of who is or isn't on the field. On Sunday, the Cowboys did not have running back Ezekiel Elliott active because of a calf bruise.
For the first time since Week 7 and 9 last season, the Cowboys have won back-to-back games. Winning consecutive games was a goal McCarthy talked about during the week, which speaks to how this season has gone if winning two in a row is such an accomplishment.
"To me, it's all about the commitment. The commitment doesn't change," McCarthy said. "We all signed on for 16 regular-season games and we want to see this through and be the best we can be. We need all of those opportunities."
It was hardly aesthetically pleasing, but that's to be expected when nearly $70 million of the Cowboys' 2020 salary cap is on the sideline.
Andy Dalton's biggest play came when he was forced out of the pocket and found wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for 45 yards that came before the quarterback's touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz.
A running game that went nowhere for most of the day secured the win with Tony Pollard's 40-yard touchdown run, his second of the game with 2:27 to play.
Indeed, Pollard got his first chance at a full-time role, and the dynamic running back didn't disappoint.
With Elliott inactive, Pollard earned 52 snaps (89.7 percent), his first career game with more than 30 snaps.
"It was big for me, a dream come true -- being in the league, getting a chance to start the game out, knowing the team would be dependent on me," Pollard said, via the team's official website. "I just tried to take advantage and make the most of it."
Against a solid 49ers run defense, the Cowboys didn't do a ton of straight-ahead running. Pollard led Dallas with 12 carries for 69 yards and two TDs. The second-year back, however, proved he can be a difference-maker as a pass catcher. His dynamic ability in the passing attack offers the Cowboys a different approach than Zeke. Pollard added six catches for 63 yards.
That's not to say Pollard can't do damage on the ground. At a pivotal point in the tug of war with the Niners, the shifty back took a carry, blasted to the second level, juked, then spun away from three potential tacklers for the above-mentioned 40-yard scamper. The play showed Pollard's dynamic ability, and was the key score in the Cowboys' fifth victory of the season.
"My guys did a good job holding their blocks, and I just let my natural ability make up for the rest," Pollard said.
Lamb was more forthcoming with praise.
"The 40-yarder was just icing on the cake," Lamb said. "He balled. Obviously, with Zeke being out, I know he felt a lot of weight on his shoulders when he was named the starter. But guys like TP, they're ready for it."
Zeke was glad to see his backfield mate get a full-time workload.
"It was great," Elliott said. "He's a guy who you know is super explosive, you know he can break one at any moment. Before the last play I told him to go put it on ice, and that's exactly what he did."
All season, Pollard has displayed his potent ability in brief moments of opportunity. He's been the more dynamic of the Cowboys backs this season, despite Dallas' reliance on Zeke. The second-year back hopes that Sunday's showing will lead to a bigger share of the backfield snaps.
"It's big. Just knowing that everything doesn't have to run through one guy, or a few guys," Pollard said. "There's different guys on the team that can carry the weight, help take some of the weight off the other guys' shoulders, the leaders on the team. It's definitely big."
Meanwhile, Elliott, Jones and McCarthy all said last week they expected Elliott, who was questionable, to play. He didn't.
"Honestly, I hadn't been feeling the best all week, but on game days I've been able to go normally," Elliott said after the game. "At first, I was feeling good. But yesterday I felt a tug. And that's something I can't really play with. I can play with pain and soreness, but with a tug, I can't be as explosive as I need to be."
Elliott plans on finishing the season if his calf will allow. He played through a hamstring injury earlier this season and the calf injury hadn't kept him out until Sunday.
"Oh no, I'm not shutting it down," he said. "We'll see how it goes, and I'll see if I can get out there next week."
Elliott, a two-time rushing champion, is having the worst season of his career. He is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 64.0 rushing yards per game and has only 832 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Also on the injury front. ... Michael Gallup avoided serious injury in Sunday's win. The wideout exited in the third quarter with a hip pointer. He hasn't been ruled out for Sunday's divisional game against Eagles, but I'll obviously be watching Elliot, who was set to work on a limited basis Wednesday, and Gallup, who wasn't mentioned in McCarthy's pre-practice comments Wednesday, as needed in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates for more. ...
Worth noting. ... Lamb led the Cowboys in receiving yards with 85, his highest yardage total since Dalton took over for an injured Dak Prescott in October. In addition to his 45-yard reception leading to the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown in the third, Lamb, 21, also clinched the game with a 47-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
"You get those opportunities with CeeDee," Dalton said. "I talked about [Pollard] being special. But CeeDee's another guy if you give him chances, he's going to make plays."
Schultz, 24, had two catches for 14 yards, but his four touchdowns on the season is the most by a Cowboys tight end not named Jason Witten since Gavin Escobar had four in 2014. With Dallas having lost Blake Jarwin in the season opener to a knee injury, Schultz has shown he can be a reliable outlet in an offense normally built around stars.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold framed it, "In a season of glimpses for the Denver Broncos -- of youth, athleticism, glimpses of, maybe, hope down the road -- quarterback Drew Lock once again showed flashes of the really good and made other plays that simply can't be a part of the equation. ..."
The Broncos have just more than $53 million in salary-cap charges on injured reserve. They will play two cornerbacks signed from the practice squads of other teams to close out the season. They have now missed the playoffs five consecutive years.
Even with all of that swirling around him, Lock still remains the team's central focus with two games remaining -- Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers and Jan. 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
"We want to put ourselves in a position to win a game," Lock said about moving forward following Saturday's 48-19 blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Lock completed 20 of 32 passes for 132 yards with a touchdown in what was largely a four-quarter flex for the playoff-bound Bills. It was the fewest passing yards in any of his 16 career starts -- save Week 4 in Pittsburgh when he left in the first quarter with a right shoulder injury.
Legwold went on to note the discussions about where Lock fits into the plan for 2021 will happen in the weeks to come and are largely for entertainment purposes until John Elway publicly weighs in at season's end. But turnovers will top the not-to-do list in Lock's final two games.
He had one turnover against the Bills, but it was a game-changer. His third-quarter fumble was returned for a touchdown just 17 seconds after the Bills had scored a touchdown. In those 17 seconds a 21-13 Bills lead went to 35-13 and officially slammed the door on the Broncos' hopes of finishing the season at .500.
The Broncos' offense gained all of 91 yards in the second half Saturday, Lock completed eight passes for 33 yards after halftime with only two of those completions -- for 3 yards -- coming during the third quarter team-wide meltdown.
"I thought in the first half it was pretty good," said head coach Vic Fangio. "We had been moving the ball, we had some first downs, we had a chance for 17 points there which would have been a nip-and-tuck game. In the second half we just couldn't get anything going until late and we didn't help him with the rest of the team either ... it was a total team failure there in the second half."
"It was definitely a bad day, it was not a good day for us," Lock said. "I wouldn't say any of us are feeling in a way we're taking a step back, but that was not a good day for us by any means and our job is to figure out why it wasn't."
Lock has turned the ball over 16 times (13 interceptions, three lost fumbles), ranking near the bottom of the league with Week 15 nearly finished.
Lock can't control how the Broncos will deal with four defensive starters on injured reserve or that a fifth defensive starter (A.J. Bouye) is suspended. That's not his department, neither are the repeated stumbles on special teams.
But turnovers, intensity, preparation are all on him over the final two weeks.
He needs to close strong the way he did last season. It starts on Sunday against the Chargers and their rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
Meanwhile, the Broncos' hopes of running the ball and controlling the clock against Buffalo were hindered by Phillip Lindsay's sore hip and Melvin Gordon's sore shoulder -- both were limited in practice this past week.
Lindsay was a nonparticipant on Wednesday, when the Broncos began preparing for this week's game.
The Broncos had 14 carries, with limited success, in the first half, and after Andre Roberts' kickoff return and Lock's fumble in a grand, third-quarter meltdown that also included rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia's inexplicable personal foul, the only meaningful opportunity to run for the Broncos was to the locker room after the game.
On the injury front. ... Fangio said he's "not optimistic" LB Von Miller will return this year.
As Rotoworld.com notes, Miller has yet to practice at any point this year, which would be the first step towards any miraculous return. At 5-9 and third in the AFC West, however, the Broncos are clearly better off keeping the 31-year-old preserved and off the field for the team's remaining two games.
Miller is expected to return at full health in the spring since he avoided a torn Achilles' when initially going down in September. ...
And finally. ... Brandon McManus missed Saturday's game because of close contact with someone who has COVID-19. His replacement, Taylor Russolino, did not play well.
Kicking in the NFL for the first time, Russolino went 0-for-1 on field goals and 1-for-3 on extra points. Afterward head coach Vic Fangio said he was expecting better from Russolino.
"He had a really good day in practice the other day and I was encouraged by him. Obviously, there was some wind out there, but it didn't bother their kicker," Fangio said, via SI.com. "I thought he was going to kick better than he did."
Bills kicker Tyler Bass went 2-for-2 on field goals and 6-for-6 on extra points. Suffice to say that Russolino's first game as the Broncos' kicker was also his last.
The Broncos activated McManus from the COVID list on Wednesday.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Matthew Stafford showed off his toughness and grit by starting despite a rib injury that had the quarterback convinced he wouldn't play early this week.
The Lions didn't allow him to be sacked even once.
They just couldn't overcome three turnovers and a failed fake punt or recover an onside kick to stay in a shootout with Tennessee. Instead, the Lions officially were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday after a 46-25 loss to the Titans.
"I did not feel good enough at all on Wednesday, or Thursday, or Tuesday, or any of those days," Stafford said. "So just glad it kind of turned the corner for me and I just want to go out there and try and help us win."
Friday in practice, he took a few reps. By Friday night, Stafford made the mental decision "something bad was going to have to happen between Friday night and Sunday" to keep him off the field. And it didn't -- even if he was still in pain.
This was one of the closest times in his career where he thought he might not play and then ended up actually out there.
Remember, Stafford couldn't finish the Lions' last game, a loss to Green Bay. He now has started all 14 games this season, overcoming this rib injury, a recent thumb injury and landing on the COVID-19 list as a close contact. He missed the second half of last year with a hip and back injury.
Detroit drafted Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009 and injuries limited him to play in just 13 games over his first two seasons. He bounced back from his injury-riddled start in the league to play in every game for eight straight years before ailments stunted his 2019 season.
He downplayed his return for a team banged-up on the offensive line and especially in the secondary.
"I felt good enough to go play," Stafford said. "I felt like I could be effective and when I was in there, I felt like I was doing a decent job, just got to get us in the end zone a couple more times."
Stafford threw for 252 yards and a touchdown. He was hit for a loss by Teair Tart after center Joe Dahl had a bad snap early in the fourth quarter, played another snap but stayed on the bench for the final two drives.
"It's a valiant effort for him really to even get out there," interim coach Darrell Bevell said. "It was amazing watching him during the week, and I just want to say that about him, just how tough and gritty he is."
The Lions will be following the same plan that got Stafford on the field last week as they prepare for this Saturday's game against the Buccaneers. Bevell said the team will take it day by day and that the team hasn't had any thoughts of shutting Stafford down.
"To be honest with you, I don't think he'll let that happen," Bevell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
The Titans are not practicing on Tuesday after a pair of positive COVID-19 tests, so Wednesday will be the first chance to see if Stafford is doing on-field work.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted, Stafford's future is unknown after the season.
If the Lions' new head coach and general manager decide they need to completely rebuild the franchise -- and the argument for a teardown is strong -- it would be reasonable for Detroit to look away from its 32-year-old quarterback as its long-term solution. Not because of questions around his talent but because of what his talent could provide in return to put together more pieces for the future.
It is possible, perhaps even probable, Stafford is back with the Lions in 2021. Detroit's eventual new staff could decide, like so many before, Stafford is the quarterback they want to entrust with their present and future. His talent makes a case for it.
But it is no longer a guarantee and we should probably appreciate what we might see from him in the season's final two games against Tampa Bay and Minnesota. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Lions fired another coach.
The team announced Monday that special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs has been relieved of his duties.
The news comes as somewhat of a surprise as Coombs, in his first season in Detroit, helped turn around the Lions special teams quickly this season after a disastrous 2019.
The Lions' special teams unit had been the best crew the Lions put on the field for much of the season, including several blocked punts and significant returns.
Birkett reported that the move was an organizational decision that had been building over the course of the year. Detroit ran a fake punt in Sunday's blowout loss to Tennessee, which Coombs reportedly didn't run by Bevell.
After the Lions fired Matt Patricia, most of the coaching staff was expected to be overturned. Coombs' exit from Detroit comes a few weeks early. ...
Meanwhile, D'Andre Swift scored two rushing touchdowns for the second time this season. That gives him seven rushing TDs for the season and nine overall with two on receptions. It's the most TDs scored by a Lions rookie since Barry Sanders had 14 -- all rushing -- as a rookie in 1989. ...
Marvin Jones continues to have a late-season contract-year surge, catching 10 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets -- building on a string of second-half performances helping to carry the offense.
With those 10 receptions, Jones has taken over the team lead with 65. T.J. Hockenson was held to two catches and is next with 60 catches. Jones also leads Hockenson in TD catches, 7-6.
It was good to see undrafted rookie tight end Hunter Bryant make a big play in the game. It's been a long season for Bryant, who was terrific the first week of training camp, but then suffered a hamstring injury, followed by a concussion, and is just now getting a chance to make an impact.
Bryant showed Sunday why the Lions kept him on the 53-man roster when he got behind the Titans' defense for a 44-yard reception in the first half. It was Bryant's first catch as a Lion. ...
Kicker Matt Prater converted a 53-yard field goal Sunday, his 58th career field goal of at least 50 yards, which ties Sebastian Janikowski for the most in NFL history. Prater now has five seasons with at least five made field goals of 50-plus yards, the most such seasons in NFL history. ...
The Lions have a decision to make soon on whether to shut wide receiver Kenny Golladay down for the season. If they do, Golladay said last Friday he hopes he has not played his last game in Detroit. "I want to be here, like the city, like what's going on," Golladay said in his first public comments since October.
Asked to explain why, Golladay said he feels loyalty to the team that drafted him.
"They believed in me," he said. "And say, if a contract, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out, then I'll go somewhere else and ball out and play. But like I say, I'm a loyal person and of course I want to be here. I started my career here."
Golladay, 27, has not played since straining a hip flexor muscle in a Nov. 1 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He returned briefly to practice two weeks later, but was out again the next day and has not practiced or played since.
While some have speculated Golladay's prolonged absence -- he missed his seventh straight game against the Titans -- is related to contract talks that stalled before general manager Bob Quinn was fired Nov. 28, both Golladay and Bevell said that is not the case.
Golladay said he "tweaked" his injury when he tried to return to practice in November, "but it didn't get any worse and it's kind of just a little lingering thing right now."
"I for sure want to be on the field," he said. "Even when I was going out there (for practice), I for sure thought I was ready or I wouldn't have went out there and, yeah, clearly it just wasn't ready yet, to be honest. It sucks, really, but I got to be smart with my body."
Golladay, who has 20 catches for 338 yards in five games this season, said he never fought to stay off injured reserve because of his contract situation.
"To be honest, it really wasn't like I need to stay off this (because) this is my contract year," he said. "I mean, everybody know what I'm capable of doing. I wasn't worried about like, 'I need to play, man. I got to show the people.' People know who Kenny Golladay is and I was really trying to make sure my body was right. I don't want to go out there and put bad stuff on tape."
Golladay, who led the NFL with 11 touchdown catches last season, is expected to be one of the top free agents on the market when the 2021 league year opens in March.
While talks are on hold now as the Lions undergo a regime change, the team could use the franchise tag on Golladay for 2021 at a projected cost of $15.5 million.
Golladay said he would prefer a long-term deal. Several of the NFL's top receivers signed contracts earlier this year worth $20 million or more annually, including Amari Cooper (five years, $100 million), Keenan Allen (four years, $80.1 million) and DeAndre Hopkins (two years, $54.5 million).
"Being honest, I'd rather get a deal done," Golladay said. "But if the franchise tag would come, I wouldn't be able to do anything about it. So yeah, for sure I want to get a long-term deal done."
As for playing again this season, with two games left, Bevell said conversations about placing Golladay on injured reserve are "coming."
"We're really trying to get him back," Bevell said. "He really wants to play, he wants to be in there. But that's a conversation that, where we're at in the season that it might come to that."
I'll be watching for more on that in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest on Golladay and Stafford. ...
And finally. ... It's not clear if Bevell will be coaching this one.
What we know for sure is Bevell will be watching Wednesday’s practice on Zoom because he’s quarantining as a close contact to people in the organization who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Bevell said on a Wednesday video conference that he has not tested positive and is staying at a hotel away from his family while waiting for word about when he will be able to return to the team. He told reporters that he hopes to have an answer about his ability to coach against the Buccaneers on Saturday by Thursday.
“I’m getting baptism by fire. In a very short time, I’m getting about all the situations I can possibly be put in. It’s giving me great experience,” Bevell said of going through this as an interim head coach.
The positive results that caused the closing of the team facility Tuesday resulted from the Lions travel, and the team is working with the NFL to determine high-risk close contacts.
How that process shakes out could determine how few coaches Detroit might field Saturday afternoon against Tom Brady and the Bucs.
Other coaches, including defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, are also away from the team and Bevell declined to say who would take on new responsibilities if the coaches are missing for the game. He did say that they have enough coaches on hand to run practice on Wednesday afternoon.
If Bevell isn't available Saturday, QB coach Sean Ryan would likely step in as the play-caller.
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
It didn't take long for Aaron Rodgers to get right to the point.
"Tonight, we had a couple of good quarters and a couple stinkers," he said within seconds of starting his postgame remarks. "That's just not consistent, winning football."
It was enough to beat the Panthers, 24-16, on Saturday night at Lambeau Field, but just barely.
An offense that started on fire with three straight touchdowns morphed into a struggling unit that was dropping passes, taking sacks, and hardly moving the chains.
During a span of five possessions through the second and third quarters, the Packers had just three first downs, went three-and-out three times, and let a lesser opponent back into what had been a 21-3 game.
Then, needing one first down to close it out, they went from second-and-3 to fourth-and-18 after a stuffed run and season-high fifth sack, forcing them to punt for the sixth time in a stretch of seven drives.
It was frustrating as well as concerning with a playoff-caliber opponent in Tennessee visiting next week and the real playoffs starting soon enough. The Packers are two wins away from securing the NFC's No. 1 seed, a first-round bye, and home-field throughout, but there wasn't much celebration of that status following such a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance.
"We just know that type of football in the second half (is) not gonna get it done in the playoffs," Rodgers said. "That's where we're going."
Stating a review of the film is necessary to fully understand what went wrong, Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur offered some immediate thoughts.
For one, Davante Adams (seven catches, 42 yards) didn't get enough chances and the Packers didn't adjust when the Panthers focused on taking him away. Adams' team-record streak of games with a TD catch ended at eight. He had just two catches for four yards in the second half, and LaFleur regretted not moving him around and putting him in motion more.
"We gotta keep finding ways to get him the ball because he's just so dynamic," Rodgers said. "And we'll look at all of it. It is frustrating, but we're 11-3, we won the game. That's a good problem to have."
There were regrets for not sticking with the running game, too. Aaron Jones rushed for 114 of his 145 yards in the first half. The Panthers clamped down on him a bit, but Jones still had runs of 10, 5 and 7 yards in the second half, and more commitment there could have taken some of the heat off Rodgers. It didn't help that Jamaal Williams left with a quad injury, but Jones still had just eight carries in the second half.
"It definitely there was more pressure on our quarterback tonight than we've seen probably since the Tampa Bay game," LaFleur said. "It seemed like once it started to snowball, we could just never get out of the rut."
The Packers get an extra day to parse through this one, having played on a Saturday, and they'll use it.
Rodgers said "just nothing felt good" and admitted his history-making 40th TD pass was "bittersweet."
LaFleur will review his play calls with a critical eye as the Packers head into a showdown against Tennessee Titans (9-4) that should provide a more accurate review of where the Packers stand as they head toward the playoffs.
Also of interest. ... With rookie A.J. Dillon back from the reserve/COVID-19 list, LaFleur went back to using Jones and Williams in tandem packages again.
At least, that was until Williams exited in the second quarter and didn't return. Instead, Jones handled almost all of the backfield work besides an 18-yard carry by Dillon near the end of the first half.
"Whenever things like that happen, we know we have to step up and take up for our brother and make up," Jones said. "We missed having Jamaal out there, but we know we'll have him back soon. He missed being out there. He was still on the sideline with me and AJ, staying in our ear and making sure we stay positive, being a great leader."
The offense did fall into some second-half doldrums, going three-and-out twice in the third quarter before rallying in the fourth to put away the Panthers.
Despite missing two games with a calf injury, Jones needs just 32 yards over the next two weeks to become the first Packers running back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Eddie Lacy (2013-14).
A strong start to the month of December has helped put Jones in that position, with 344 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries (6.9 yards per attempt) over the past 14 days.
"I'm a Sagittarius," said Jones when asked about his success this month. "December football is definitely, it's when it's time to turn it up. ..."
Saturday was Robert Tonyan's fifth straight game with a touchdown, making him the first tight end in the NFL to do that since Rob Gronkowski (spanning the 2014-15 seasons).
While Adams' streak of consecutive games with a touchdown ended at a franchise-record eight, he and Tonyan made it the third time in Packers history that multiple players caught 10 or more touchdowns in a season. It also happened in 2014 (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb) and 2016 (Adams, Jordy Nelson).
ESPN Stats and Information charged the Packers with three drops in the first half, including one by Allen Lazard with 16 seconds remaining in the second quarter that would've put them in field goal range. They finished with four drops, two by Adams and one each by Lazard and Jones.
They have 25 drops on the season, trailing only the Steelers (33) for most in the NFL. Adams still caught seven passes but for only 42 yards. ...
The Packers began preparing for Sunday night's game against the Titans a little early with a Tuesday session.
Williams was not at practice due to the above-mentioned quad injury. He was held out again Wednesday. Jace Sternberger remains in the concussion protocol.
I'll have more on both men via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot noted, Deshaun Watson choked back tears two weeks ago, blaming himself for a late turnover that sealed Houston's fate in a loss to Indianapolis.
On Sunday, after watching virtually the same ending, Watson trotted out a new approach.
This time, the Texans' franchise quarterback offered support to receiver Keke Coutee, whose late fumble near the goal line cost Houston another ballgame. And this time, he asked his Houston teammates to help him get it right in this final two-week fight.
"It's tough, but I'm not going to lose my faith and I'm not going to lose my spirit in this organization and what we can do," Watson said after a 27-20 loss. "My confidence and my level of play and leadership is going to continue to grow."
Houston (4-10) needs Watson to keep things on track. Since he signed a four-year, $177 million contract in September, little has gone right for the Texans.
They lost their first four games and endured the midseason firing of head coach Bill O'Brien. They've watched former star receiver DeAndre Hopkins thrive in Arizona. They've seen the constant battering of Watson continue with five more sacks Sunday and 16 over the past three weeks. And they don't even have a first- or second-round pick next spring to help bail them out of this frustrating cycle.
But the most discouraging chapters have come in the past three weeks -- all losses.
After Watson marched Houston to the Indy 1-yard line with 1:28 to go, the shotgun snap went low and outside. When he couldn't corral it, defensive tackle Grover Stewart knocked it away and linebacker Anthony Walker recovered it.
Houston didn't rebound the next week, either. Instead, Chicago snapped a six-game losing streak by handing a humiliating 36-7 victory to the Texans.
Then, in Sunday's rematch with the Colts (10-4), it happened again.
On third-and-11, Watson fired a 14-yard dart to Coutee who turned and started toward the end zone. But as Coutee reached the 2-yard line so did Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard. With one punch Leonard jarred the ball loose and sent it bouncing into the end zone, where Bobby Okereke recovered it with 19 seconds left.
"It's honestly unbelievable," David Johnson said after catching 11 passes for 106 yards. "We have so much momentum. ... And it's just tough the way the outcomes are. This (Indy) is a playoff team and we played them down to the wire both times and we had a chance. It just wasn't our day either time."
Afterward, Watson acknowledged "plays like that happen."
But that makes it no less disheartening to players or fans, who weighed in quickly on the turnover.
Coutee, who has had all three of his 100-yard games against Indianapolis and caught five passes for 53 yards including the tying score Sunday, responded to them with a short, succinct Instagram post.
"Most if not all of you have never put on a helmet in your life, so y'all can chill with the crazy messages," he wrote. "Much appreciated!"
The bigger question is what can the Texans do to get out of this funk?
They close the season with home games against struggling Cincinnati, then Tennessee, which shares the AFC South lead with the Colts. Because of the division chase and the tiebreakers, the Titans may need to win that game to clinch a home playoff contest.
Houston, meanwhile, wants to do more than just close out a bad season. Watson would like to start building for a more promising future.
"Keep working, keep fighting have some pride," Watson said. "Have respect for the game and this organization and your families and their name on the back jerseys, and go out there and play. This year we're eliminated and, we haven't been winning, but at the same time, this is a profession. This is your job. So what you put film on each and every Sunday, that's going to dictate your future."
The Texans have one more divisional test this season when they host the Tennessee Titans in Week 17, to see where they stand in the AFC South.
Other notes of interest. ... Watson's protection was again an issue on Sunday. In his last three games, Watson has been sacked 16 times, bringing his career total to 168. According to ESPN Stats and Information, that is the fifth-most by any player through their first four seasons since the merger in 1970.
According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, this was the David Johnson -- at least in the passing game -- that Bill O'Brien was hoping for when he traded for the running back in March. As noted above, along with 27 yards on eight carries, Johnson caught 11 passes for 106 yards. But this was Johnson's best game of the season by far through the air and probably not a sign of things to come.
He hasn't been good at running the ball either: in nine games this season, he has 479 yards and four touchdowns on 121 carries.
Will Johnson even be back in Houston in 2021? With one year left and $9 million remaining on his contract, it seems very unlikely Johnson will be back, especially with a new general manager in charge.
Receiver Chad Hansen continued his stretch of strong play, extending it to a third week as he pulled in 2-of-3 targets for 55 yards and a touchdown
According to Next Gen Stats, Hansen's 13.2 yards of separation when the pass arrived on his 38-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, the second-most open player on a passing touchdown this season. The Texans now have the two most open touchdown catches of the season after Will Fuller had 18.8 yards of separation on his Week 12 score.
Brandin Cooks caught 6-of-7 targets for 59 yards in his first game back from a one-game absence; Coutee caught 5-of-7 targets for 53 yards and a touchdown; and Jordan Akins caught 5-of-6 targets for 50 yards.
Duke Johnson (neck) and C.J. Prosise (ankle) both missed Sunday's game; I'll have more on their status going forward via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
But it's worth noting the Texans activated running back Dontrell Hilliard from the exempt/commissioner permission list and also announced they had waived defensive tackle Corey Liuget. ...
According to Barshop, the Texans have fined multiple players who attended the grand opening of Watson's new restaurant franchise.
Watson, a minority owner of the cheesesteak franchise Lefty's, hosted the grand opening on Dec. 15. Despite the NFL's COVID-19 protocols prohibiting more than three players from gathering, at least six Texans players, including Watson, were in attendance at the event.
According Barshop's sources, at least one player involved was fined $5,000 and Watson was fined more because it was his event.
Teammates pictured together at the event included offensive linemen Tytus Howard, Roderick Johnson and Laremy Tunsil, running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Defensive end Charles Omenihu was also in attendance.
When Watson was asked whether the event was following the NFL's protocols last week, the quarterback said, "Yes, for sure."
"I mean, we had the masks," Watson said. "We did everything that we were supposed to do. Six feet from different people. It was a restaurant opening. It wasn't really an event. It was a grand opening of my restaurant. ..."
And finally. ... Former Lions and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell has interviewed with the Texans about their coaching vacancy.
The Texans announced their interview with Caldwell Monday.
Crennel, the Texans' interim head coach, is expected to be a candidate for the job on a permanent basis.
Caldwell was fired despite going 9-7 in back-to-back years in Detroit, a move that now looks like a mistake after Caldwell's successor, Matt Patricia, never came close to winning nine games in a season. Caldwell has a reputation for working well with quarterbacks, and the Texans want a coach who will help the development of Deshaun Watson.
In addition, the Texans announced Tuesday they interviewed Matt Bazirgan for their general manager vacancy.
Bazirgan currently serves as the team's director of player personnel. He joined the Texans in 2018 after working in the Jets' personnel department for 14 years.
While with the Jets, Bazirgan was director of college scouting after previous stints as director of pro personnel and assistant director of pro personnel.
Bazirgan, a starting quarterback for Bates College, began his career in the personnel department as an area scout, college scouting assistant and intern for the Jets.
The Texans previously interviewed ESPN analyst Louis Riddick for the job.
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, once the regular season ends and the Colts are in the playoffs, people won't remember how the Colts beat the Houston Texans in Week 15.
Not many will remember that the Colts struggled stopping Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson after pressuring him consistently for most of the first half. They won't remember that the passing game struggled for most of the second half until quarterback Philip Rivers found receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 41-yard reception to put the Colts in the position to win the game with two minutes remaining.
None of that matters.
The Colts beat the struggling Texans 27-20 and are a step closer to getting back to the playoffs for just the second time since 2014.
That's all that matters.
The Colts looked like they were going to make a laugher out of Sunday's game to start. The offense was humming -- both with the run (Jonathan Taylor five-yard touchdown run) and the pass (Rivers 11-yard touchdown throw to Zach Pascal) -- and the defense was swarming Watson, and the result was a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter was a completely different story, however. The Colts' offense began to stall, and Watson took advantage of some busted coverage on one play -- resulting in a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chad Hansen -- to get red hot from there on out.
By halftime, the Texans had cut the Colts' lead to 14-10.
The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter, and then Rodrigo Blankenship nailed another kick -- a career-long 53-yarder -- four plays into the fourth quarter to give the Colts a 20-13 lead.
Watson stayed hot, however, leading the Texans down the field to tie the score.
Now it was on the Colts' quarterback(s) to get the job done on their end.
Rivers completed four of his first five passes for 26 yards on the ensuing drive to get to the Houston 36-yard line, but his final pass of that sequence, a six-yard completion to Michael Pittman Jr. on third down, was one yard short of the first-down marker.
On 4th and 1, the Colts brought backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett onto the field as part of his special short-yardage package; he was able to get enough push up the middle on the QB sneak to move the chains.
But Pittman Jr., trying to free up Hilton on a rub route, was then flagged for offensive pass interference. With Rivers off the mark to Pittman down the left side of the field on the following play, that set up 2nd and 20 from the Houston 44.
Most teams in that down-and-distance, from that spot on the field, in a tie ballgame, are simply looking to get back into field goal range.
But, then again, most teams don't have a 17-year veteran at quarterback who can trust a nine-year veteran at wide receiver to make a huge play deep down the field.
Rivers, who got the look he was wanting, launched the ball deep down the middle of the field, where he found Hilton, who had beaten linebacker Tyrell Adams in coverage to get open over the top. The 41-yard connection set up 1st and goal from the 3-yard line.
Two plays later, Rivers found Pascal, who stretched out for the pylon for his second receiving score of the day, this time from five yards out, to give the lead back to the Colts.
"I really credit Nick Sirianni and the offensive staff. That's a play that we had put in, trying to get against the coverage that we ended up getting, and unfortunately, we were in a long-yard situation. It was just a gut feeling that we had to make a play and had to take a shot," head coach Frank Reich said of the deep pass play to Hilton.
The win for the Colts (10-4) keeps them tied atop the AFC South Division standings with the Titans. While the Titans currently have the advantage in all tiebreaker scenarios with two games left, Indianapolis remains in control of a Wild Card spot as they head into this week's game against the Steelers. ...
Also of interest. ... The Colts had 350 yards of total offense on the day today; converting 6-of-11 (55 percent) opportunities on third down. Rivers completed 22-of-28 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no picks for a QB rating of 124.4; he was sacked just once on the day.
Taylor had another strong outing on the ground for the Colts, as he finished with 16 rushing attempts for 83 yards (5.2 avg.) and a touchdown, becoming the first Colts player since Joseph Addai in 2007 to rush for 80 yards in at least four consecutive games. Nyheim Hines also added five rushing attempts for 43 yards (8.6 avg.).
As Rotoworld.com notes, out-touched 20-7 by Taylor, Hines saw his snaps drop from 24 in Week 14 to 16 (via Pro Football Focus). After employing a three-man backfield most of the season, the Colts are now settling into a more tradition bell-cow/change-of-pace setup, with Taylor dominating work and Hines checking in to provide a different look. ...
Pascal led the way among receivers with five receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns, tying a single-game career-best. Hilton added four receptions for 71 yards.
Pascal has spent most of the season getting credit for his ability to block downfield for other receivers and running backs. But Pascal proved there's more to his game in this one. ...
On the health front. ... Indianapolis was thrilled to have punter Rigoberto Sanchez back in action less than three weeks after he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The Colts were missing linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi. Team officials said Saturday that Brogonzi would stay home because of "COVID-19 related reasons."
Receiver Marcus Johnson left in the first half with an injured quad and did not return. Beyond that, Reich said Rivers (toe) will not practice again Wednesday, which has been the case every week since he hurt his toe.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, head coach Doug Marrone knows that fans in town are giddy at the possibility of having the No. 1 pick and landing Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
But he isn't going to change his approach over the final two weeks of the season. He's not going to sit healthy players, he's not going to make blatantly bad in-game decisions, and he's not going to put together a questionable game plan.
He's still going to try to win the Jaguars' final two games, even if that means the Jaguars lose out on a player that could potentially transform one of the NFL's worst franchises.
"No one's advised me anything different than to go out there and win," Marrone said Monday. "I mean I was young growing up and had a favorite team and was excited to see where they were going to pick. I look back and I understand, but, I mean. We're trying to win. I mean, we're doing everything we possibly can and that's my job right now and I owe it to the coaches and players.
"None of us are going to look at this and the future. No one knows what's going to happen tomorrow, never mind at the end of the year. But I do understand the question and appreciate it."
The New York Jets' victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday gave them and the Jaguars identical 1-13 records, but the Jaguars own the tiebreaker thanks to a weaker strength of schedule. That means if the teams finish with identical records at the end of the season the Jaguars would edge the Jets out for the first overall pick.
What would mess things up is the Jaguars finishing with more victories than the Jets, who have games against Cleveland (10-4) and New England (6-8) remaining. The Jaguars play host to Chicago (7-7) and finish the season at Indianapolis (10-4). The only way to guarantee that Lawrence ends up in teal and black in 2021 is to lose both of those games.
Marrone reiterated that no one in the organization has told him to do that and he'd be unable to handle it if someone did.
"I wouldn't be able to do that," he said. "I couldn't do it. I just wouldn't. I've never done it at anything in my life. I got trouble letting my kids win when they were little."
The Jaguars have lost 13 consecutive games, which ties the franchise record set over the final five games of the 2012 season and the first eight games of the 2013 season. And yet there's a real movement in the city for the Jaguars to stretch that streak to 15.
Even the city's mayor, Lenny Curry, was caught up in the Lawrence mania, putting out a pair of tweets on Sunday night, the second of which read: "Tis the season and Santa smiled on Jax today."
Marrone said he's not paying any attention to that, nor any of the talk of Tanking for Trevor that has been around since September.
"I feel a sense of responsibility," Marrone said. "I've always taken a lot of pride of being able to get a football team to play well and a team that people can be proud of. I think when people start talking about that then they know that you're not obviously performing to the level that you want to perform to. Myself personally it's very difficult for me to manage a team to really read about what goes on or what people say or anything like that, so I really don't pay a lot of attention to that. I've just got too much going on.
"But I'm not an idiot, either. I understand that there's talk out there. I just think the way today's world is everyone's going to have their opinion, everyone's going to write what they want to write, and they're free to do it. That's why it's such a great country."
Whether they lose out and secure that first overall pick or win out, a complete housecleaning should be expected when the season ends in two weeks.
Owner Shad Khan has already fired GM Dave Caldwell and it would be a surprise if Marrone and his staff aren't let go shortly after the season as well -- or after a new GM is hired. Linebacker Myles Jack threw his support behind Marrone earlier in the week and made the point that Marrone didn't get enough credit for the 2017 success and received too much blame for the debacles of the past three, but that's unlikely to be enough to save his job.
The housecleaning might not stop there: A complete re-evaluation of the football part of the organization has to be done, from scouting to player personnel and strength and conditioning to equipment. What has happened in the past 13 years is unacceptable -- one winning season and 10 seasons with 10 or more losses since a playoff appearance in 2007 -- and since it spans three GMs and four head coaches (not counting 2011 interim coach Mel Tucker), it's a complete organizational failure.
It has been a mess in Jacksonville for a long time, but the 2020 season has set a new low for a franchise that has had more than its share. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Ravens sacked QB Gardner Minshew five times on Sunday and not all of the blame belongs on the offensive line. One of the criticisms of Minshew is he sometimes leaves the pocket too early, plus he looks uncomfortable and unwilling to trust what he sees at times and make the throw.
So this can't be coincidence: The Jaguars have given up 28 sacks in the eight games in which Minshew has started and only nine in the six games in which Jake Luton and Mike Glennon have started.
Beyond that, the Ravens were down two of their top three cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith and three of the five that were active were listed as questionable on the game status report because of injuries. But the Jaguars were unable to attack that weakness in the first half.
Minshew completed 8-of-11 passes but for only 53 yards and was sacked four times. The goal each week is to get James Robinson going, but the Ravens' defensive game plan clearly was to shut down Robinson, who managed just 18 yards on nine first-half carries, and make Minshew beat them.
Minshew didn't have success until the second half, when the outcome was no longer in any doubt.
Marrone for a second consecutive week declined to name a starting quarterback immediately after Sunday's game, saying his focus at that point was on the players and coaches dealing with the emotions of yet another loss. Marrone named Minshew the starter last Monday.
On Wednesday, the coach told reporters that Minshew and Glennon will both take reps to see who comes out ahead for Sunday.
“I want to see which one can execute the game plan better during the week to feel [who] gives us the best opportunity, because I think when I look at both of them, there’s plusses and minuses with both,” Marrone said during his Wednesday press conference. “We’re just going to keep looking and keep trying to put the best people in [so] that we can win -- not put people in there just to see what they can do. But just keep pushing everyone as much as we can just to put ourselves over the top.”
Meanwhile, The Ravens entered the game focused on taking Robinson out of the offense. This makes sense because he was the NFL's third-leading rusher entering the game -- and because the Jaguars' passing offense has struggled all season. The Ravens succeeded against Robinson as well as any Jaguars opponent this season, holding him to 35 yards on 16 carries. The 2.2-yards-per-carry average was Robinson's season-low.
Robinson was ultimately forced out of Sunday's game with an ankle injury.
Marrone told reporters they'll rest Robinson in practice this week but the rookie running back has told Marrone he wants to play and thinks he can play Sunday.
Next men up for Jacksonville's carries in his absence would be Dare Ogunbowale and Devine Ozigbo.
I'll have more on Robinson and the QB situation via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
A few final item. ... Aldrick Rosas had kicked in 51 games for the Jaguars and New York Giants. But he never had punted in a game. That changed Sunday because the Jaguars' regular punter -- Logan Cooke -- was unavailable because of an illness. Rosas not only made both of his extra points Sunday, but he punted three times for a 36.7-yard average.
He also averted disaster when he picked up the ball after a fumbled snap and got off a 32-yard punt under pressure. An impressive day considering the circumstances.
The team announced on Monday that Cooke has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. If a positive test is the reason for the move, Cooke will be out against the Bears in Week 16 as well.
And last. ... Former Texans General Manager Rick Smith has landed another interview for one of this year’s GM openings.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Smith is interviewing with the Jaguars on Wednesday. He interviewed with the Falcons last week and word earlier this month was that he is expected to interview with the Lions as well.
ESPN analyst Louis Riddick has also interviewed with the Jaguars and interim GM Trent Baalke is also considered a candidate for the job on a permanent basis.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, the highlights that usually accompany another win by the Kansas City Chiefs tend to showcase Patrick Mahomes making a did-you-see-that throw, Travis Kelce turning a broken play into a big gain, or Tyreek Hill wagging his finger at some helpless defensive back as he speeds away.
Rarely do they showcase the big guys up front that make everything happen.
They probably should after Sunday.
With their fifth different starting offensive line facing one of the league's best defenses, the Chiefs managed to grind their way past the New Orleans Saints in crunch time.
They opened enough holes for Clyde Edwards-Helaire -- before he left with hip and ankle injuries -- and Le'Veon Bell that Mahomes and Co. merely had a supporting role in finishing off a 32-29 victory over the Saints that wrapped up a perfect season for the Chiefs on the road.
"We scored points against a good defensive front," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "You are talking about one of the best defensive fronts if not the best, statistically. We ran the ball efficiently, especially in the second half. We threw the ball well with the exception of a couple of blitzes that they had. They got us at the end, but we were clean for the most part."
Eric Fisher started at left tackle despite missing practice recently with a bad back. Nick Allegretti, a 2019 seventh-round pick, started at left guard. Austin Reiter handled the middle of the line. Stefan Wisniewski signed with the Chiefs a month ago and was starting at right guard. Andrew Wylie started at right tackle for the first time since college.
Quite the group to send up against the NFL's third-rated defense -- and No. 4 against the run and No. 5 against the pass.
They were still good enough against the rush to allow Mahomes to throw for 254 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. And when the Saints started to get to him, the Chiefs (13-1) pivoted to the run, and Edwards-Helaire and Bell produced 141 yards on 29 carries and allowed Kansas City to control the ball more than 41 minutes.
"Attitude," Bell said. "We had to come in with the mindset we could get the job done with whatever we needed, whether we had to throw it or run it. Really in the second half, we were called upon to run the ball a lot. I think the guys up front did a tremendous job of moving guys off the ball and creating lanes for me, 25, and 31 to make some plays."
The Chiefs can clinch the AFC's No. 1 overall seed and a first-round playoff bye next week with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers in either of their next two games, including on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Chiefs could also clinch the No. 1 seed by winning both of their remaining games, including in Week 17 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
They'll have to do it without Edwards-Helaire, who was bent backwards late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. The injury is likely to keep him out at least until the postseason.
Edwards-Helaire suffered a hip and ankle injury. Initial X-rays were negative, Reid said after the game.
A firmer timeframe on the running back's rehab was likely generated after a Monday MRI was conducted, but it hasn't been shared publicly.
Given the awkwardness in which CEH landed, with his left leg caught underneath him as he hit the ground, the potential for a playoff return is the best news possible at this point.
I'll have more on Edwards-Helaire via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. In the meantime, while he was shaken up on his final play, Bell (if healthy) will be key moving forward.
Bell had his busiest -- and most productive -- game since joining the Chiefs. He carried 15 times for 62 yards and scored a 12-yard touchdown after taking an option pitch from Mahomes.
Mahomes had crossed the line of scrimmage before pitching to Bell.
"Knowing Pat, I knew he'd pitch the ball wherever on the field," Bell said. "That play was really a fun play. I don't think I've ever had a play like that. I know in the NFL I've probably never had an easier touchdown."
"He's been a great addition," Mahomes said. "He's been making plays when he's been in the football game. Obviously we're hoping Clyde gets back quickly, but I think we have good guys in that running back room that will step up and really embrace that role. ..."
In a related note. ... The Chiefs will be bringing in RB Elijah McGuire for a visit. He spent the end of last season with them and was waived at the start of this regular season; he could provide depth with CEH out. He has spent time on the Cowboys and Dolphins practice squads since leaving Kansas City. ...
And finally, for the record. ... Hill had his 15th touchdown receiving early in Sunday's win, tying the franchise record set by Dwayne Bowe in 2010. Hill also has two touchdowns running this season.
This week he has a sore hamstsring.
Hill was one of a few Chiefs players not on the field as the club began preparing for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
Hill experienced hamstring tightness following Kansas City’s win over New Orleans, but it doesn’t appear to be too serious.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” Reid said Wednesday, via Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star.
Linebacker Damien Wilson (knee) and Edwards-Helaire also did not practice.
I'll have more on Hill via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
According to multiple reports, Derek Carr suffered a significant groin injury last Thursday night that was expected to sideline the signal caller 10-14 days. That would put Carr's status in doubt for Saturday's matchup of playoff survival versus the Dolphins, though he will push to play if possible.
Carr is pushing to beat the low end of that projection. Head coach Jon Gruden, who said last Friday it was 50-50 whether his QB1 would be available for this one, said on Tuesday that Carr was a limited participant in the team's first practice since that loss. He and Marcus Mariota alternated snaps.
Gruden said Carr is "champing at the bit" to play, but that the team will be smart when it comes to deciding if he or Mariota gets the start.
"We'll do what we think is right for Derek and this team," Gruden said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com.
Carr made it clear after the session that he'd like to play in this week's game.
"If it's up to me, I'm going to do everything I can to be on that field," Carr said, via Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The quarterback added he was "feeling great" after Tuesday's practice, but didn't know exactly what that would mean for later on this week.
Carr referenced his first ever meeting with Gruden, when the coach stressed the importance of availability.
"I've done everything in my power to make myself available this week and I'm going to continue to try my best to do that because I promised him I'd do that," Carr said, via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN. "[It] may not always be perfect, but they're gonna know when I've left, I gave everything I had, that's for sure."
A loss to the Dolphins would end any playoff hopes for the Raiders and the next couple of days of practice might provide further hints about who will run the offense as they try to stay alive.
Carr was injured while sacked in the first quarter of Las Vegas' overtime loss to the Chargers, interrupting what has easily been one of his best seasons.
The setback also paved the way for Mariota to make his Raiders debut.
Mariota, using myriad run-pass option plays, rushed for a game-high 88 yards on nine carries. Eight of those attempts resulted in a first down. The only NFL quarterbacks to have more first-down runs in a game since 1992 are Lamar Jackson with 10 such runs last season against the San Francisco 49ers and Michael Vick with nine against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006. Mariota also had a tough 2-yard TD run.
Mariota also passed for 226 yards, with a pretty 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Waller down the left sideline, Mariota's first TD pass since Sept. 29, 2019.
"It was tough to see Derek go out, No. 1, but yeah, I feel like Marcus played great," said Waller, who had nine catches for 150 yards. "The way Marcus comes to practice every day, has a good attitude and plays hard, I feel like it was no surprise to how he played tonight."
Added running back Josh Jacobs, who rushed for 76 yards, including a 1-yard over-the-pile TD, on 26 carries: "He made the defense play honest. The ends couldn't come chase us down like they did last game we played them. They had to play their gaps and play their responsibilities."
Mariota now will prepare to make his first start in more than a year, with his new team fighting for its playoff lives no less.
At 7-7, the Raiders need to beat Miami and then the Broncos in Week 17 and also receive help to end a three-year playoff drought.
Meanwhile, the talk of a brewing quarterback controversy isn't surprising. But, as Mariota himself said, he is not trying to take Carr's job.
"This is Derek's team," Mariota said after his first significant action since Oct. 13, 2019.
"For me, I just try to come in and help these guys get a win. Derek is a great leader and somebody this team can look to. It was cool for me to get to experience playing again after not playing for a while and to have his support, have Coach Gruden make that transition a little easier for me meant a lot. I thought it was the reason we had some success."
That said, Mariota's rushing ability seemed to bring out a facet of Gruden's offense that's been missing since he returned to the sidelines in 2018.
The Raiders had been taking heat for the massive-for-a-backup-QB contract he was given -- Mariota is making $7.5 million this season -- and his lack of involvement. But Gruden said Mariota's play Thursday night "put an exclamation point" on why the Raiders signed him.
"I just wish," Gruden said, "we could've won the game for him."
Indeed, a win would have netted Mariota a nice payday.
As it was, thanks to his convoluted contract, Mariota earned a $200,000 incentive (it would have gone up to $325,000 with a win) by playing at least 60 percent of the Raiders' offensive snaps, and his base salary went up by $625,000 by passing that single-game snap threshold.
It all makes for an interesting discussion -- if Carr's groin injury is significant enough to keep him out against the Dolphins, and with the Raiders all but eliminated from the AFC playoff race, should Gruden simply shut Carr down and roll with Mariota the final two games, just to see what he can do?
Carr, the Raiders' all-time passing leader who signed a five-year, $125 million extension in the summer of 2017, will be entering a contract year in 2021. His play was worthy of an extension at the midway point of the season, but, like the rest of the team, has slipped of late with eight turnovers in the four games preceding the Chargers loss.
After all, Mariota was Raiders general manager Mike Mayock's top QB prospect in the 2015 draft -- ahead of No. 1 pick Jameis Winston. Gruden, then with ESPN, suggested whichever team drafted Mariota build its offense around him.
So it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out. I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update as the Raiders continue prepping for Saturday's game.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy wrote, "It has come too late for the Los Angeles Chargers this season, but back-to-back game-winning drives by Justin Herbert could bode well for future seasons. ..."
Fantasy managers in Dynasty leagues with Herbert on their rosters undoubtedly feel the same.
Herbert's 1-yard keeper in overtime Thursday night gave the Chargers a 30-27 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders and completed his second bit of late-game heroics in five days. He also led the Bolts into range for a field goal on the final play in last Sunday's 20-17 win over Atlanta.
"It's very important we close these games out. You see a lot of times when teams finish strong they start fast the following season," head coach Anthony Lynn said.
Herbert was 22 of 32 for 314 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders. With his 26-yard touchdown to Tyron Johnson in the second quarter, Herbert tied Baker Mayfield for the most passing touchdowns by a rookie in NFL history with 27.
Thanks to his 53-yard pass to wide receiver Jalen Guyton in overtime, Herbert currently has the most completions of 50-plus yards of any QB this season. His eight 50-plus yard completions are two more than Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill who each have six.
Herbert set the all-time rookie record notching his seventh game with 300-plus yards passing previously breaking Andrew Luck's record in 2012. Herbert finished Thursday's game going 22-of-32 for 314 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.
Even more important for the Chargers (5-9) is that they bounced back with two straight wins after their 45-0 loss to New England on Dec. 6.
"A couple weeks ago we got beat pretty bad," tight end Hunter Henry said. "We've got a bunch of fighters. We got backed up into a corner but kept swinging."
Now, the Chargers get a little bit of a late-season mini-bye before playing their final two games. They have their final home game of the season on Dec. 27 against the Denver Broncos. LA had a 24-3 lead during the third quarter of their Nov. 1 game before Denver rallied for a 31-30 victory on the last play of the game.
Also of interest. ... With Keenan Allen and Mike Williams limited due to injuries, the reserve receivers stepped up and Herbert maximized their value.
Guyton had four receptions for 91 yards, including the above-mentioned 53-yarder in overtime down to the Raiders' 2. Johnson hauled in his third TD of the season and rookie K.J. Hill saw his most extensive playing time to date with three catches for 39 yards.
Henry caught his 60th pass against the Raiders, which is a career high for the fifth-year tight end. He had 55 last season. This is also the first time since 2017 that Henry has played in at least 14 games in a season.
Henry and Allen, by the way, were held out of Tuesday's practice.
I'll have more on the health of Allen, Henry and Williams -- and Austin Ekeler, who went into last Thursday's game as questionable with a sore quad, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Michael Badgley missed two fourth-quarter field goals as doubts persist about whether he is truly the right kicker for the Chargers. Badgley is 17 of 17 within 45 yards and is one of nine kickers still perfect from that range. But from 46 yards and beyond he has made only three of 12, including his last five. The 25 percent accuracy rate is second-worst.
Finally. ... Lynn said the team does not intend to shut down defensive end Joey Bosa for the season after he suffered another concussion. Lynn added that tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and linebacker Denzel Perryman (back) are expected to return to practice this week.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
The Rams will be without a big piece for their big Week 16 matchup.
Head coach Sean McVay told reporters on Monday afternoon that running back Cam Akers is dealing with a high-ankle sprain and will not play against the Seahawks.
Akers briefly exited Sunday's stunning loss to the Jets after injuring his ankle early in the second quarter. He returned later in the quarter and finished the game with 15 carries for 63 yards.
This despite losing 50 yards and a touchdown to penalties.
The fleet-footed rookie has been a revelation since emerging from L.A.'s backfield committee in recent weeks. He played 63 and 79 percent of the snaps in Week 13 and 14 against the Cardinals and Patriots, respectively; he recorded totals of 50 carries for 243 yards and touchdown (4.9 YPC) in those wins.
After seeing their snaps decrease in recent weeks, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown will again be called up to anchor the run game against a Seahawks defense that's defended the run well during the second half of the season.
And the Rams will be looking to rebound.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, the Rams were poised to celebrate wrapping up a playoff spot with a win on Sunday. Instead, they have to grapple with letting a golden opportunity slip away after handing the New York Jets their first victory.
The Rams' 23-20 loss makes them the fifth team since 1978 to go down to defeat when favored by at least 17 points. Not only did Los Angeles (9-5) fail to wrap up its fourth postseason berth in five years, but it fell out of the NFC West lead.
The obvious question after the game was if they overlooked a winless team? Los Angeles came in rested after a 24-3 win over New England on Dec. 10, but it looked dazed for most of the game.
"That question is always going to be up in the air. With the room we have I don't think that's the case," offensive tackle Rob Havenstein said. "Obviously it didn't translate to a winning game."
The offense got off to another slow start by coming up empty on the first six drives, including a blocked punt and interception. Jared Goff was 11 of 20 for 86 yards with an interception in the first half before throwing two touchdowns in the second half.
Akers, who rushed for 171 yards against the Patriots, was held to 63 yards but had two fourth-quarter runs of 18 or more yards wiped out by penalties. One of those was an 18-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game at 23 pending the extra point. Instead, it was nullified due to a holding penalty on Austin Corbett.
The Rams had to settle for Matt Gay's 42-yard field goal that brought them within 23-20.
Akers' 17-yard run late in the fourth quarter would have put the Rams in the red zone at the Jets 17, but Tyler Higbee's block in the back moved it back to the 43. Los Angeles got to the 37 before turning it over on downs after two incomplete passes by Goff.
"We had a little bit of a layoff and weren't sharp. The penalties were really hurtful," head coach Sean McVay said.
Los Angeles was sixth in the league converting on third down at a 44.8 percent clip, but it was a woeful 2 of 11 against the Jets.
"They did a good job defensively to prevent us getting to rhythm. In second half we bounced back but it was too little, too late," said Goff, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.
The loss knocked the Rams out of first place in the NFC West and makes this week's game against the Seahawks a must win if they hope to win the division.
McVay cited that game while discussing the need to move on from a terrible loss.
"I've got to do a better job getting us ready to go and really it was in all three phases, it wasn't good enough," McVay said, via Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com. "This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to. It's gonna be embarrassing, sick to your stomach about it, but we do have two games left and we have got to find a way to rebound and respond on a short week, not really a short week but this week, as we get ready for the Seahawks. But very humbling and it's going to be humbling, but we're going to move forward and that's exactly what we'll do. That's all I know how to do."
McVay was asked about a couple of play calls on the team's final offensive possessions. They had third- and fourth-and-4 from the Jets' 37-yard-line with over four minutes to play and chose a couple of deep passes that went incomplete.
The Rams had some success running the ball, but McVay said, via Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, that they got the looks they wanted on both plays.
The looks were not matched by execution and the Rams are now looking up at the Seahawks in the NFC West. ...
Meanwhile, most of the attention will be focused on the offense, but all three phases had breakdowns.
On special teams, Johnny Hekker had a punt blocked in the second quarter, which led to the first of Sam Ficken's three field goals and a 10-0 deficit for the Rams.
The defense failed to generate a turnover for the first time in eight games and had a three-game streak snapped where it scored a touchdown. The Jets were second-to-last in the league on third-down conversions, but were 7 of 17 on Sunday.
Sunday's NFC West showdown at Seattle was already important, but it takes on greater significance if the Rams want to claim the division. Los Angeles has to beat the Seahawks to at least gain the tiebreaker for sweeping the season series. The Rams then finish on Jan. 3 by hosting Arizona while Seattle faces San Francisco.
Also of interest. ... The Rams removed safety Nick Scott and practice squad linebacker Jachai Polite from the COVID-19 reserve list, but they added three players to it.
The team announced it placed defensive back Juju Hughes, practice squad defensive lineman Marquise Copeland and linebacker Derrick Moncrief on the reserve/COVID-19 list. It is unknown whether the players tested positive or were close contacts with someone who did.
Hughes has played 10 games this season, seeing action on six defensive snaps and 174 on special teams He has two tackles.
Copeland has played only one game, making one tackle in three snaps against the Cowboys in the opener.
Moncrief played 15 special teams snaps against the Dolphins, his only action this season.
Scott went on the COVID-19 list Friday, missing Sunday's loss to the Jets. He is a key special teams contributor who had played a bigger role on defense in recent weeks. He has 14 tackles.
The Rams also signed cornerback Dee Virgin to the practice squad. He played two games for the Lions this season, seeing one snap on defense and 30 on special teams.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe put it, "What a time for the Miami Dolphins' rushing attack to come alive."
Down their top three receivers and top running back because of injuries and COVID-19, the Dolphins rushed for a season-high 250 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry on their way to a 22-12 win against the New England Patriots in their final home game of the season. The Dolphins' grinding ground game sent the Patriots into full retreat and out of the playoff picture for the first time in 12 years.
Undrafted rookie Salvon Ahmed and veteran Matt Breida combined for 208 yards rushing Sunday to lead the Dolphins.
The Dolphins entered the game last in the league in yards per carry, and Ahmed became their first 100-yard rusher since 2018, totaling 122 yards and scoring a 2-point conversion on a trick play.
"I just went out there to try and do my best," Ahmed said "It's just fun to be part of a win. This is a big win."
Breida added 86 yards and the Dolphins totaled a season-high 250, the most allowed by New England in seven years.
As a result, the Dolphins (9-5) bolstered their wild-card chances and are assured of a winning record for only the second time since 2008.
"It's always good to win, that's why these guys put all the blood, sweat and tears in," said head coach Brian Flores, a Belichick protégé. "I'm happy we can bring some joy to our fans, because they deserve it."
With their three most productive pass catchers -- DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Jakeem Grant sitting out the game because of injuries, the Dolphins kept it on the ground. They were shut out in the first half, but mounted a 14-play, 90-yard touchdown drive midway through the second half to take the lead for good.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ran it in from the 3 on third down after he couldn't find an open receiver.
"When you have that kind of success in the run game, I think it doesn't just help the quarterback, it helps the whole team," Tagovailoa said.
The Dolphins then sprang a hook-and-ladder for the 2-point conversion, with receiver Isaiah Ford flipping a lateral to Ahmed, who ran into the end zone untouched. That put the Dolphins ahead 15-9, and they sealed the victory by mounting a grinding 75-yard touchdown drive on their next possession.
Ahmed became the first undrafted rookie in Dolphins history to rush for 100 yards.
"Ahmed ran hard. Breida ran hard. The offensive line blocked well," Flores said. "It's about execution, execution, execution."
As noted above, the Dolphins guaranteed they will have a winning season by beating the Patriots, but they still have work to do before they will secure a postseason berth.
Baltimore moved to 9-5 with a win over the Jaguars, which leaves them right on the Dolphins' tail for the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Dolphins own the tiebreaker edge, but they can only guarantee themselves a playoff spot by winning both of their remaining games.
While that remains up in the air, Flores said he was OK with people talking about the playoffs in Miami because his mindset is that they will be playing a playoff game in Las Vegas this Saturday.
"Our playoff is this week against the Raiders," Flores noted Monday when asked if any players had talked about the playoffs, via the Palm Beach Post.
"We're in a one-game season," Flores added. "... It's good to kind of go through that and realize you're still playing meaningful football."
If the Dolphins and Ravens both win this weekend, the stakes will remain the same for the Dolphins in Week 17 against the Bills so it could be an extended playoff run for Flores' team before the actual playoffs start.
Other notes of interest. ... The Dolphins were unable to convert several scoring chances, including when they drove 95 yards in the first quarter before J.C. Jackson made his eighth interception of the year, picking off a third-down pass by Tagovailoa at the goal line.
"I tried to force one in there." Tagovailoa said.
An 86-yard touchdown on a fumble return by Miami's Xavien Howard was reversed by a replay review that showed the loose ball touched another player with a foot out of bounds. The reversal represented a 10-point swing, because New England kept the ball and kicked a field goal on the next play.
But silver lining there is obvious: The Dolphins now have a takeaway in 20 straight games, extending the NFL's longest active streak. Howard didn't get an interception for his sixth consecutive game, but the NFL Defensive Player of the Year contender forced a fumble on wide receiver Jakobi Meyers that set up the Dolphins in great field position.
The Dolphins' defense continues to be the strongest point of this young team. ...
As noted above, Parker and Grant missed Sunday's game with hamstring injuries. Gesicki was out with his shoulder injury. There were various reports leading up to kickoff suggesting that Parker and Gesicki were close to playing against the Patriots, so it seems they'll have a chance to play against the Raiders on Saturday night.
All three were limited participants when the team began preparing for that game on Tuesday.
I'll have more on their progress this week via Late-Breaking Update. ...
In a related note. ... Wide receiver Isaiah Ford has been promoted from the practice squad as a COVID-19 replacement. He will revert to the practice squad after Saturday's game against the Raiders.
With Parker and Grant out on Sunday, Ford played 54 offensive snaps against the Patriots. He had three catches for 18 yards in his return to Miami's lineup.
Ford played the first seven games of the season for the Dolphins before being traded to the Patriots for a conditional draft pick. He never played a game for the Patriots and returned to Miami after getting cut. ...
And finally. ... The Dolphins announced on Monday that wide receiver Antonio Callaway has been released.
And for what it's worth. ... Ahmed's grandmother is in the hospital. He promised her that he'd have a big game, and he delivered.
"She's just dealing with some things," Ahmed said. "She's in the hospital. She's doing really good now. Just really happy to go out there and get a win for her."
He vowed to rush for 100 yards, and he did.
Will he get that chance again Saturday night?
Running back Myles Gaskin could be back in the Dolphins lineup in Las Vegas.
Gaskin practiced for the Dolphins on Wednesday, which means he’s been cleared to return to the active roster from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Gaskin missed the last two games while on the reserve list.
Ahmed backed up Gaskin when both players were at the University of Washington and we’ll see if things revert to that arrangement against the Raiders.
Gaskin has 121 carries for 477 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 32 catches for 249 yards.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, when Kirk Cousins spoke ahead of the Minnesota Vikings' 33-27 loss to the Chicago Bears, the quarterback discussed how critical it would be to play "our best when our best is required."
And after rushing for 132 yards, the most allowed by Chicago this season, Dalvin Cook urged the offense to "look in the mirror" and figure out what needs to improve.
Told of his star running back's message, head coach Mike Zimmer had another thought.
"I'd say the defense has to look in the mirror too," Zimmer said.
The Vikings allowed 397 total yards, including a career-high 146 yards rushing to David Montgomery, in a 33-27 loss to the Bears on Sunday that dropped them to 6-8 and badly damaged their faint playoff hopes.
"Well, we're disappointed," Zimmer said.
The game only further illustrated why the Vikings are on the outside of the postseason picture.
Without fans in the stands and crowd noise to feed off, the Vikings finished 3-5 at home. The defense, a staple of Zimmer's tenure with the Vikings, failed to make key stops on so many occasions.
Rookie cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney were learning on the fly this season, and injuries made the situation more challenging. The front seven was unable to mount a consistent pass rush without injured defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr.
Playing a third straight game without linebacker Eric Kendricks, the inexperienced defense couldn't handle a Bears attack with a rejuvenated Montgomery and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Chicago (7-7) has scored at least 30 points in three straight games for the first time since 2013.
"I just feel we didn't have the recipe to play as one," Dantzler said. "We couldn't stop the run as well as we did in the past. I just feel we have to build and learn from it, and just finish the season off strong."
For the fourth time in five weeks, Minnesota hosted a losing team with a chance to escape its own losing record and stay in the chase for the expanded playoffs. The Vikings can look back at a slate of home games in which they trailed by at least nine points in each one and went 2-2 against Dallas, Carolina, Jacksonville and Chicago -- four teams currently outside of the playoff picture.
Meanwhile, Cook enters Week 16 with a career-best 1,484 yards, but he's 195 shy of NFL rushing yardage leader Derrick Henry.
In attempting to defend his rushing crown, "King Henry" rumbled for another 147 yards Sunday, helping the Titans defeat the Lions.
As noted above, Cook churned out an impressive 132 against the Bears as Minnesota remained committed to the run in trying to come back against Chicago, but he still fell further behind Henry.
The Florida natives have become friends and frequently talk. There's a mutual admiration between the former second-round picks.
Cook, who was tabbed 41st overall by Minnesota in 2017, recently credited the 45th overall pick of 2016 for the way he "just keeps elevating" his game.
"I've just got to try to get somebody to stop him," Cook said last week when asked about his own shot at becoming the first Viking to lead the NFL in rushing yards since Adrian Peterson did so with 1,485 in 2015.
Henry's final two games are at the Packers and Texans in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively, so that doesn't bode the greatest for Cook getting shutdown help.
Cook averaged 106.5 yards per game against the Packers and totaled 130 at Houston back in Week 4.
Minnesota's final two games of the 2020 regular season are at New Orleans on Friday and at Detroit on Jan. 3, 2021.
The Saints defense ranks fourth in the NFL with a stingy 95.6 rushing yards allowed per game and second with a downright Scrooge-y 3.79 rush yards allowed per attempt.
The Lions are quite the opposite, allowing 137.3 rushing yards per game (29th in the NFL) and 4.47 rushing yards per play (19th). ...
On the injury front. ... Zimmer told reporters on Tuesday he didn't know if injured linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf) will play Friday against the Saints or for the remainder of the season. Kendricks has missed Minnesota's last three games. The LB was listed as a nonparticipant on Tuesday and Wednesday, as was tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) and running back Alexander Mattison (concussion).
I'll follow up on Rudolph and Mattison via Late-Breaking Update as Friday's game approaches. ...
Also of interest. ... After a week of kicker tryouts and an anxious air hanging over the special teams unit, kicker Dan Bailey made all of his kicks against Chicago. He went 2-of-2 on field goals and 3-of-3 on extra points. Zimmer's decision to look at Bailey's entire body of work and not make a knee-jerk reaction to two bad games was the right one. ...
And finally. ... The Vikings had to trade receiver Stefon Diggs because off his dissatisfaction with the passing game. The Vikings don't have to worry about having to trade receiver Justin Jefferson. At least not yet.
After Cousins threw the ball to Jefferson in the end zone during the second half of Sunday's 33-27 loss to the Bears, a field microphone captured Jefferson yelling, "F-k, Kirk! Come on! Throw the ball!"
Said Jefferson in response to a tweet of the moment, "Y'all love blowing stuff out of proportion. And I ain't no diva don't get it twisted."
The Vikings retweeted Jefferson's tweet to amplify the message.
As Profootballtalk.com suggests, Jefferson shouting frustration at the back of the end zone is a far cry from getting in the quarterback's face or having an incident on the sideline. Jefferson hasn't been a problem in any way this season.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
The New England Patriots officially were eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with their 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and they lost one of their best players in the process.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, left the game late in the second quarter with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
"Disappointed," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about missing the playoffs. "But we didn't deserve to win today."
As for the game, the Patriots struggled to stop the run (the Dolphins totaled 250 rushing yards) in a performance that ensures they'll miss the postseason for the first time since 2008 -- a year in which Tom Brady missed the season with a torn ACL sustained in the opener.
"We have to coach better, we have to play better, we have to tackle better. A combination of all those things," Belichick said.
The Patriots' 11-year streak of making the playoffs was the longest in NFL history. The Cowboys (1975-1983) and Colts (2002-2010) were tied for second with nine straight years qualifying for the playoffs.
"It's hard to sustain winning ways in this league. Unfortunately all good things come to an end," said captain Matthew Slater, the team's longest tenured player (since 2008). "We're certainly disappointed in that, but I feel blessed to be part of such a great run here."
Dropping to 6-8, they will finish in third place in the AFC East. From 2000 to 2019, they finished worse than second just once -- in 2000, when they were last in Belichick's first season as coach.
The Patriots dropped to 9-12 on the road vs. the Dolphins under Belichick, the only team the Patriots have a losing road record against since 2000 (minimum 5 games). Miami's Tua Tagovailoa became the first rookie quarterback to beat the Patriots since Geno Smith (Jets) in 2013, breaking a streak of nine straight wins for New England in those situations.
Cam Newton called it a "frustrating" season for the Patriots.
"But I don't want to dwell on what's obvious. This whole season has kind of been the tale of just coming just a tad bit short. Call it however you want to do. We've still got guys that are new to this system. We've still got guys that are young. We've still got guys that just don't get it. And we've still got guys that are battling their tails off each and every week. So we've just got to keep building on the optimism of what we can become and just move from there," he said.
Newton finished Sunday's game 17-of-27 passing for 209 yards, getting sacked on fourth down with a little over a minute to play to seal the loss. New England didn't score a touchdown in the game, its offense largely ineffective.
Belichick said "we'll see" when asked if he'd start second-year QB Jarrett Stidham over Newton. During a Monday interview on WEEI, Newton was asked if he thinks he'll still be New England's QB1 this week.
"I'm going to leave it up to the people who I've been leaving it up to since Day 1. I'm not going to feed into that," Newton said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN. "I'm still on a job interview, to be honest with you."
Newton has thrown for 2,381 yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. He's also rushed for 489 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The quarterback was also asked if he's considered retiring and replied he hasn't.
"Listen, I am not there. One of my goals this year, for what's worth, was just to finish the year healthy. This year God has granted and gave me the opportunity to have a healthy season," Newton said, via Ryan Hannable of WEEI. "I still have a lot of football left and the urge to be better. After putting out this film? I can't go out like this."
After playing just two games in 2019 and going through 2018 with a shoulder injury, Newton being able to play throughout this season is an accomplishment -- small though it may seem. But now that the Patriots won't be competing for a championship, Newton may have run out of opportunities to display his effectiveness as a QB in 2020.
In a related note. ... Jakobi Meyers reeled in seven of 10 targets for 111 yards and lost one fumble during Sunday's loss.
Meyers' third-quarter giveaway didn't come back to haunt New England, as the Dolphins were forced into a punt just three plays later. With that in mind, the 24-year-old's Week 15 outing will go down as one of his most impressive of the 2020 campaign, as he eclipsed the century mark in receiving for the second time this season.
A Week looming matchup against Buffalo could allow Meyers to expand on a noteworthy Week 8 performance in a loss to the division rivals in which he notched six catches for 58 yards over 10 targets.
In addition to the loss, the Patriots had several key players leave with injuries, a group that included Gilmore, starting center David Andrews (calf), starting linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (arm) and starting outside linebacker John Simon (hamstring).
Damien Harris (ankle) was ruled out on Saturday. With Harris out, Sony Michel ran for 74 yards on 10 carries, adding an eight-yard reception during Sunday's 22-12 loss to Miami.
As CBSSports.com notes, Michel garnered 10 of New England's 13 RB carries.
The 2018 first-round draft choice excelled with the opportunity, establishing his second-highest rushing output of the season. Michel's fantasy value has been diminished by the fact that he hasn't scored a touchdown over six appearances since Week 1, but his 7.4 yards-per-carry average from Sunday is nevertheless encouraging heading into a matchup against the Bills' 21st-ranked rush defense -- assuming Harris remains out.
I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, Gilmore suffered a partially torn quad, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Gilmore was set have surgery to repair it Tuesday and should be able to participate in some portion of the offseason program, Rapoport added. The diagnosis is considered a positive given that the injury initially appeared worse and there is no structural damage to his knee.
Still, the injury could complicate his future in New England as he enters the final year of his contract. Gilmore is scheduled to earn $7 million in base salary, a low figure for a player of his stature and the result of the club advancing him $5 million from 2021 to his 2020 salary back in September.
Since that time, there has been a widespread expectation the Patriots and Gilmore would meet up again at the negotiating table in the offseason. Gilmore initially signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Patriots in 2017 after spending the first five years of his career with the Bills.
And finally. ... Quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch will be moving on from New England.
Fisch is being hired as the new head coach at the University of Arizona, ESPN reports. Fisch interviewed for the job on Monday.
Arizona fired head coach Kevin Sumlin after he wrapped up an 0-5 season with a 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State.
The 44-year-old Fisch is in his first season with the Patriots after spending the previous two seasons with the Rams. Before that he has been on the staff at UCLA, Michigan, Miami, Minnesota and Florida at the college level, as well as the Jaguars, Seahawks, Broncos, Ravens and Texans in the NFL.
Fisch is the second NFL assistant to leave for a college head coaching job in less than a week; Bret Bielema left the Giants’ staff to take the Illinois head coaching job on Saturday.
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, Drew Brees found his rhythm a little too late in his return Sunday from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Brees started 0-for-6 passing with an interception in the New Orleans Saints' 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the first time in Brees' 20-year career that he had started a game 0-for-5 or worse, according to research by ESPN Stats and Information.
Brees rallied back with some big-time throws, including a 51-yard deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders, an impressive escape from pressure for a 24-yard touchdown pass to Latavius Murray and fourth-quarter TD passes to Alvin Kamara and Lil'Jordan Humphrey.
Chiefs gut out tough, physical victory over Saints to retain hold on AFC's top seed
But he was ultimately too sporadic -- and the Saints too depleted at wide receiver as they lost their second straight game and fell to 10-4 on the season.
Brees -- who missed the previous four games because of his injuries -- finished 15-of-34 passing for 234 yards as he fell short in the marquee quarterback matchup against Patrick Mahomes. His completion percentage of 44.4 percent was the third-lowest of his career. The Saints also finished 1-of-11 on third downs.
It didn't help that the Saints are so depleted at wide receiver. Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris were placed on injured reserve Saturday and Tre'Quan Smith left Sunday's game early with an ankle injury.
The Saints' defense put up a valiant effort against Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense but ultimately ran out of gas with Kansas City running 92 offensive plays and possessing the ball for 41 minutes, 14 seconds.
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan was also ejected late in the game for connecting with a punch against Chiefs offensive tackle Andrew Wylie. Replays showed Wylie clutching Jordan's jersey by the collar and not letting go. Jordan tried to shove him away before throwing the punch; he tried explaining that to officials to no avail.
The Saints will need to bounce back quickly on a short week. They host the Minnesota Vikings in just five days on Christmas Day.
So will Brees be better?
Jay Glazer of FOX Sports spoke to Brees on Saturday, and Glazer shared the information he gleaned on Sunday's pregame show.
Per Glazer, Brees wasn't 100 percent. Brees said he can throw "without issues," however.
Triplett followed up on that after the game.
The QB let out a big chuckle when asked if he was 100 percent.
"No," Brees responded, "but I'm on my way."
The question is when will he get there?
"I'll be honest. I think there's some things that I'm still kind of working on. But it is what it is," Brees said of his return from injury.
The 41-year-old has played in 285 career games. The 44.1 completion percentage Sunday marked just the eighth time in his career he's completed 50 percent or fewer of his passes in a game. It was the first time since Week 6, 2013 (2,625 days ago).
Remember, the club still has a chance at the NFC's No. 1 seed. At 10-4, New Orleans is one of three teams in the conference to already clinch a playoff berth, but currently sits at No. 2 behind 11-3 Green Bay.
Even if Brees is feeling find physically, the Saints would undoubtedly like to get a week off to rest and heal with the NFC's only playoff bye. ...
Meanwhile, Alvin Kamara carried the ball 11 times for 54 yards and caught three of six targets for 40 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's loss.
With Brees back under center instead of Taysom Hill, the Saints' offensive scheme returned to normal, and Kamara hauled in his first receiving TD since Week 10 -- Brees' last appearance before injuring his ribs. No matter who's been at QB, Kamara has been productive, topping 90 combined yards in three straight games, and he's now reached 1,500 scrimmage yards on the season for the third time in his career.
Kamara will look to keep rolling in Week 16's clash with a Vikings defense that just surrendered 162 yards and two touchdowns to David Montgomery.
In case you missed it. ... Thomas will miss the final two games of the regular season because of his lingering ankle injury, but the Saints expect him close to 100 percent for the start of the playoffs, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Saturday.
Thomas was placed on injured reserve prior to Sunday's game. He had been playing through the ankle injury since returning in Week 9.
Thomas' ankle just was not getting better with practice and games, sources told Triplett.
Thomas, who was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 with a league-record 149 catches, has only played in seven games this season. He originally suffered a high ankle sprain in the final minutes of a Week 1 victory against Tampa Bay.
When he was close to returning to the lineup, Thomas was benched for one game as discipline for a practice altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Then he suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two more weeks.
Thomas has been productive since returning from the injuries, however. Over the past six games -- four of them with Hill -- Thomas has 37 catches for 421 yards.
In seven games this season, Thomas has 40 receptions for 438 yards. With his regular season now over, the he'll have zero touchdowns in what has become a marred 2020 campaign. ...
A few final notes. ... Jameis Winston was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list in advance of Sunday's game.
There's been no immediate word on whether Winston tested positive for COVID-19 or went on the list because of exposure to someone who did.
I'll have more on that -- and on Smith's ankle (he was unable to participate as the team opened practice on Tuesday) -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Also, the Saints did not list Brees on their injury report Tuesday.
And last. ... The Saints designated receiver Marquez Callaway to return from injured reserve, according to the NFL's Tuesday transactions.
The rookie injured his knee in the Saints' victory over the Broncos on Nov. 29, with the team placing him on IR on Dec. 5. He has missed three games.
Callaway has 15 catches for 136 yards and has averaged 10.6 yards on 10 punt returns and 23.5 yards on three kickoff returns. He also has two special teams fumble recoveries.
Head coach Sean Payton told reporters on Wednesday that Callaway could play against the Vikings.
With Winston on the COVID-19 reserve list, the Saints re-signed quarterback Trevor Siemian to the practice squad. They waived Siemian after Brees returned from injured reserve last week.
The Saints also signed tight end Garrett Griffin to the practice squad.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
The way the Cleveland Browns had been scoring, coach Joe Judge felt the New York Giants were going to need points to beat Baker Mayfield and company.
So they gambled despite using a backup quarterback and play caller and came up short in a 20-6 loss to the red-hot Browns on Sunday night.
It not only cost them a game and a chance to go back into first place in the weak NFC East, the Giants (5-9) need help to make the playoff for the first time since 2016 with two games left in the regular season.
"That's the way you've got to go and play it sometimes," Judge said after the Giants stayed a game behind first-place Washington (6-8). "All right. But we've got to go ahead and make the decision to be aggressive. Obviously, their team scored a lot of points throughout the year. It's an explosive offense and they've done a very good job of moving it. They've been on a hot streak lately. We knew coming in what kind of team they were, and we had to call a game a certain way."
The Giants got into the red zone on their first three possessions with Colt McCoy starting at quarterback instead of the injured Daniel Jones and former Browns coach Freddie Kitchens calling plays on offensive with coordinator Jason Garrett sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.
They came away with three points. It was par for a team that has now scored 13 points in its last two games.
On the opening drive of the game, the Giants got to the Browns 8. On fourth down and 5, Judge sent out his field goal team and used a trick play. Before the snap, the line and kicker Graham Gano shifted, leaving center Nick Gates eligible. Holder and punter Riley Dixon took the snap in the weird formation but his pass to a well-covered Gates in the middle of the end zone fell incomplete.
Judge thought it was a well-designed fake. The team had practiced it throughout the year.
"I thought the timing was right and you ought to go ahead, just roll the dice sometimes to take a chance," Judge said. "You hit that thing and everyone is saying 'You're the guru.' You don't and everyone wants to second guess the decision."
A field goal by Gano gave New York a 3-0 lead on the second series, but the Browns took the lead on a 2-yard pass from Mayfield to Austin Hooper.
The Giants drove 68 yards on their next series and had a fourth-and-2 at the Browns 6. Instead of closed the deficit to a point, Judge elected to go for a first down and Wayne Gallman came up a yard short.
Mayfield then drove the Browns 95 yards in 10 plays, capping the march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry for a 13-3 lead. The extra point hit the upright.
The Giants never threatened again in losing their second straight.
McCoy, who was 19 of 31 for 221 yards, said there was no problem working with Kitchens.
"We just didn't finish drives," McCoy said. "In the first half I felt like we didn't even punt. So we were moving the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot. You know, we went for it on fourth down and in tight came up a half short. Those are huge plays in a game like this that we've got to make if we want to go for it on fourth down with a fake field goal. We've got to convert it if we want to win football games."
The Giants will play Baltimore (9-5) this weekend and close the regular season at home against Dallas (5-9).
Will Jones be back for this one?
According to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, Jones will not only be back, he'll be back at relatively close to 100 percent.
"Well," Raanan added, "maybe it's not 100 percent, but the quarterback should be good enough to be a threat against the Ravens."
Raanan contends Jones will at least be healthy enough to play at a high level and actually run when necessary.
It won't be the immobile Jones we saw in the loss to Arizona last week. He will have had two weeks to recover from the mild ankle sprain suffered against the Cardinals, and the hamstring has been improving.
The Giants just thought it was best with both injuries for Jones to sit out the Sunday night loss to the Browns. They made the final decision to go with McCoy on Saturday. Jones had been working behind McCoy all week, and even though Jones made a push to play, it was in his -- and the team's -- best interest for him to take another week to get healthy.
For the record, Judge said on Wednesday that he’s gotten “good feedback” from Jones and the team’s trainers about the quarterback’s hamstring and ankle, but that they’ll see how things go in practice before making a call. Judge hopes to make that call on Friday, but doesn’t need to wait to make a long-term call on Jones.
Judge was asked if he believes Jones is the man for next year and beyond, he said Jones is “our quarterback.”
“This guy’s definitely earned my respect. I kind of made it hard on him in a lot of ways, and he didn’t blink,” Judge said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.
Jones may be their quarterback for 2021, but there’s plenty of work for the Giants to do on offense. They rank 31st in points scored and yards from scrimmage, so settling the quarterback position hasn’t been a boon for the unit as a whole.
I'll have more on Jones via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
One last note here. ... The Giants will have starting corner James Bradberry back for Sunday's game against the Ravens, as the club activated him off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday afternoon.
Bradberry went on the list because he saw a chiropractor from outside the organization who then tested positive for the virus. Bradberry missed Sunday's loss to the Browns.
The Giants could have used him in Week 15, as Cleveland's Baker Mayfield completed 84 percent of his passes for 297 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
In 13 games this year, Bradberry has three interceptions, 17 passes defensed, and two forced fumbles.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Jets head coach Adam Gase has heard plenty of calls for his head this season and, given how many Jets fans hoped to land Trevor Lawrence, that number may go up after Sunday's 23-20 win over the Rams.
The win allows the Jets to avoid an 0-16 season, but it knocked the Jets out of the top spot in the draft order. They can't move back in front of the Jaguars unless they wind up with fewer wins than Jacksonville, but that wasn't on Gase's mind when he met with the media after the game.
"I'm just so happy for our guys," Gase said. "They've done such a great job with how they've worked. It's been too long for us to even remember what a win feels like almost. It was great to see those guys get excited."
With the win, the Jets snapped a franchise-record 13-game losing streak.
The visiting Jets closed as 17-point underdogs versus Los Angeles. It was tied for the second-largest upset win for them in the Super Bowl era; the only one larger was the 1968 Pro Football Championship vs. Baltimore (+18).
It's the third straight season an underdog of 17 points or more has won outright. From 1978 to 2017, there had been only three such upsets, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
As a result of Sunday's decision, the Jets won't join the 2017 Cleveland Browns and 2008 Detroit Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history.
Gase was asked how it felt to avoid 0-16 from a personal perspective and again said that he's just happy for players who have worked hard enough to deserve better results this season. He said the team's locker room is "lively" as a result of the win, which is the expected and proper response even if some back at home were hoping they'd snatch another defeat from the jaws of victory.
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. suggested, having players happy but fans angry about a win -- and both be right -- says everything about the state of the franchise.
The task for the Jets, and it's a massive one, is to make sure both sides are never again in this awkward spot.
"It's a huge relief for a lot of the guys in the locker room to be able to get this win," Sam Darnold said Monday, "and it means the world to us."
Darnold was asked postgame on Sunday how he feels about fans who wanted the team to lose out to secure the 2021 draft's top pick. At least outwardly, he didn't take it personally.
"It doesn't affect us," Darnold said. "We're focused on one job every single week and that's winning a game. Anything other than that, we're not focused on."
Rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton has been one of the few bright spots for the Jets while quickly pancake-blocking his way to being a fan favorite. But even he ticked off some of those same supporters when he questioned fans' loyalty during a postgame interview with SNY.
"You ain't really a fan if you didn't want us to win, honestly," Becton said. "I mean that in the nicest way possible. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. But I mean if you wanted us to lose, you're not a real fan, honestly. We've worked too hard to just go out there and take a loss every week."
This is where the unfortunate separation in perspectives has occurred.
Tanking is never in the game plan for coaches and players, even when losing now could pay off in the future. For the fans who have gone years -- and, some, decades -- waiting to feel good about their team, the bigger picture represents the hope for the future in the face of losing.
Jacksonville is now the front-runner to pick first in the draft, with the Jets sitting at No. 2. There will be massive changes this offseason for New York, starting first with the likely firing of Gase. From there, the Jets brass will need to decide on someone to lead the franchise and whether Darnold is still the quarterback of the present and future.
If not, general manager Joe Douglas will be able to target someone -- likely other than Lawrence -- with that pick. Or, maybe he goes for a sorely needed edge rusher. Or, he could trade down and collect more selections.
Either way, the Jets have to make it up to their fans. By winning -- and everyone being happy about it. Not just the players.
"The excitement they had on the way home," Gase said of his team, "it was fun to see as somebody that's been through a lot of different things in my career, I don't think I've seen a group more excited after a game than what I saw last night."
Next up, the Jets try to put together a winning streak when they host Baker Mayfield and the Browns on Sunday.
The Browns are on the verge of clinching their first playoff berth since 2002, but New York wouldn't mind playing spoiler and getting win No. 2 in the process.
One last note here. ... Gase announced defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (concussion/neck) is done for the season and will be placed on injured reserve.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Doug Pederson continues to commit to quarterback Jalen Hurts on a week-to-week basis despite the rookie's impressive play.
The coach announced Monday Hurts would start Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys, noting the transparent nature of the decision.
"Obviously, I'm going to continue to have Jalen [Hurts] start this week. I'm focused on only this week," Pederson said.
Pederson stating the obvious makes the coach's persistent need to play it week to week all the more baffling.
In two weeks under Hurts, the Eagles offense has been far more impressive, fluid and productive than with Carson Wentz at the helm. Even if the rookie struggles in Week 16, wouldn't it behoove the franchise to see how the young QB bounces back in Week 17? Anything other than giving Hurts the final two weeks of the season seems folly at this stage.
In Sunday's loss to Arizona, Hurts threw for 338 yards, three TDs and rushed 11 times for 63 yards and another score without turning the ball over.
Hurts is the second rookie QB since the 1970 merger with more than 400 combined pass and rush yards, four combined TD with 0 INTs in a game -- the other was ?Justin Herbert in Week 7, 2020.
A previously dull Eagles offense that couldn't get out of its own way has suddenly come to life with Hurts running the show. The Eagles compiled 422 total yards in Sunday's loss. The rookie deserves to continue spreading his wings.
Asked how involved GM Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie been in the QB decision, Pederson responded: "None. Absolutely None."
Pederson added that any conversations he has with Roseman or Lurie would be kept private.
The future under center for the Eagles can be decided in the offseason. For at least the time being, it's Hurts job.
Perhaps one day, Pederson will commit to longer.
Hurts has thrown five touchdown passes to one interception and has rushed for 198 yards and a score in two-plus games since taking over for Wentz, who struggled through the first 12 games of the season. He is the first player in NFL history with 500 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in his first two career starts, per Elias Sports Bureau research.
Meanwhile, Wentz is not pleased with the way events have unfolded in the organization and would want to move on from the Eagles if the current situation continues, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, adding another pressure point to a quarterback situation that promises to dominate the offseason.
The Eagles are committed financially to Wentz after giving him a four-year, $128 million extension in the summer of 2019. They would face a dead-cap hit of around $60 million if they cut him and would take a cap hit of more than $30 million in a trade.
If Philadelphia elects to move on from Wentz, it must act by the second day of the 2021 league year because his $22 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed and his 2021 roster bonus of $10 million is paid out on the third day of the league year.
Also of interest. ... Mile Sanders carried 17 times for 64 yards and caught one of two targets for an additional 26 yards during Sunday's loss.
Sanders averaged just 3.8 yards per carry as his long gain for the day went for only 10 yards. He turned one of his targets into a 26-yard reception, but fantasy managers were likely left wanting more as it wound up being his only contribution of the day in that phase. Sanders was coming off his best all-around performance of the season in a win over the Saints, but he's now been held under 4.0 yards per carry three times in the last four games.
Perhaps Sunday's meeting with a beatable Cowboys run defense can help Sanders get back on track. ...
Though wide receiver Jalen Reagor suffered an ankle injury during last Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, he will practice on Wednesday. Philadelphia’s first-round pick in 2020, Reagor had a season-high five receptions for 49 yards in the contest.
Cornerback Darius Slay missed last week’s game with a concussion, but Pederson said Slay has cleared the protocol and will practice on Wednesday. Slay’s started 12 games for the Eagles this season, making five passes defensed.
But, punter Cameron Johnston is still in the concussion protocol. And defensive end Josh Sweat has a wrist injury, that will keep him out for at least this week, putting the rest of his season in doubt.
I'll have more on Reagor via Late-Breaking Update if/as developments warrant. ...
The Eagles activated wide receiver DeSean Jackson's 21-day practice window on Monday. Jackson is eligible to come off injured reserve and will be added to the active roster if he can show in practice this week that he's good to go.
Jackson suffered a lower-leg injury on a late hit by Giants safety Madre Harper while fielding a punt return in the Week 7 win. He's missed the past seven games.
In all, Jackson has played just four games in 2020, catching 13 passes for 155 yards in 159 snaps. He also missed three games after suffering a hamstring injury in the Week 3 tie with the Bengals.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Jackson has led the NFL in yards per reception four times in his career, most recently the 2018 season. He ranked first in NFL history in touchdowns of 60-plus yards (24) and is second with 31 touchdowns of 50-plus yards.
Jackson is fifth in the NFL among active players with 10,575 career receiving yards. His 6,431 receiving yards as an Eagle rank fourth in franchise history.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor noted, it was supposed to be a get-right game against a two-win team, the perfect stage on Monday Night Football to stop a two-game skid and reclaim the AFC North crown for the first time since 2017.
Instead, it was an embarrassment.
Rather than clinching the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped their third straight in a 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals to snap the Steelers' 11-game win streak against the franchise.
The Steelers entered Monday night's game as a 14.5-point favorite. With the loss, they matched their largest upset defeat since 1966.
Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' 38-year-old quarterback, looked every bit his age in the first half, putting together a two-quarter performance that led to the worst offensive effort of any first half in his 17-season Steelers career.
In addition to setting new lows in pass yards (7) and yards per play (1.4), the Steelers also matched their fewest first downs (2) and most turnovers (3) in a first half with Roethlisberger as their starter en route to a 17-point halftime deficit.
The Bengals took those three turnovers -- two fumbles and an interception -- and turned them into two touchdowns and a field goal.
Instead of relying on short passes, Roethlisberger came out and attempted long and intermediate throws that seemed missing from the offense the last few weeks. But he didn't have any success pushing the ball down the field, misfiring and underthrowing his receivers.
Pryor went on to note the drops that plagued his receivers in recent games weren't the problem. Roethlisberger's throws just weren't on the mark.
Roethlisberger failed to complete any of his seven throws of 10-plus air yards in the first half, and six of them were broken up or intercepted by Bengals defenders.
For the first time in 20 seasons -- including the postseason -- the Steelers went 3-and-out on their first five possessions, including two fumbles that led to 10 points for the Bengals. It was the first time since Week 3 of 2017 at the Bears that they lost two fumbles in the first quarter.
The Steelers failed to gain a single first down in the first quarter for the first time since 2018 Week 8 vs the Browns. Their first first down came with just less than 10 minutes to go in the second quarter.
The Steelers started to climb out of the three-score hole in the third quarter as Roethlisberger completed 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown on a 23-yard deep strike to Diontae Johnson -- his first completion of 10-plus air yards Monday night.
Playing without James Conner, who was ruled out with a quad injury prior to the game Monday, the run game was once again non-existent in the first half. But this time, Benny Snell came alive in the second half with runs of 13 and 29 yards. The 29-yard gain was the longest run by a Steelers' running back since Week 2 when Conner picked up 59 yards.
Still, it wasn't enough.
Prior to Monday night's game, the Steelers opined that the stretch of three games in 12 days contributed to their first two losses of the season. They believed this week was a chance to reclaim their signature physicality and finally get a much-needed full week of preparation. Instead, the offense stumbled again, and so too, did the Steelers.
Roethlisberger finished the game completing 20 of 38 attempts for 170 yards with one touchdown and one interception, just enough to give him 60,000 passing yards in his career.
Roethlisberger was asked after the loss if he's 100 percent.
"Well I don't think anybody that plays this game at any position whether it's Week 1 or Week 16 feels 100 percent. So I would say, no, I don't feel 100 percent, but nobody does right now," he said.
While Roethlisberger's statement is accurate, it also does a good job of obscuring any issues he may currently be dealing with. He hasn't practiced on Wednesdays each of the last two weeks but the team has listed is absences as not injury related.
He has been listed on the report every week since Week 11 with not injury related designations paired with knee and quadriceps issues.
Last week against the Bills, Roethlisberger completed 21-of-37 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Monday night against the Bengals, Roethlisberger was just 20-of-38 for 170 yards with a touchdown, interception and lost fumble.
It's the first time Roethlisberger has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in consecutive games since a three-game stretch over the final three weeks of the 2013 season
Still, Roethlisberger wants to continue playing next season and, barring a change of heart, intends to fulfill the terms of a contract that has one season remaining on it after this one, league sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Roethlisberger has said as much in the past. But after this season, which has taken a physical toll on him, sources around Roethlisberger believe the two-time Super Bowl champion is having too much fun and likes his team too much to walk away from it after the 2020 season.
Unless Roethlisberger has an offseason change of heart that is not expected, his plan would be to return in 2021 for his 18th NFL season.
Roethlisberger missed most of last season because of an elbow injury that required surgery. But the six-time Pro Bowler has been productive in his return this season, passing for 3,292 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first 13 games.
Meanwhile, losers of three straight, the Steelers are eager to get back in the win column in Week 16. For that, they'll need to get back some injured starters.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that they hope to see Conner, linebacker Vince Williams (COVID-19 list) and offensive lineman Kevin Dotson (shoulder) return for their critical showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.
Conner was ruled out hours before Pittsburgh's loss Monday night to Cincinnati after being listed as questionable. Snell, who finished Monday night's game 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, his best output since Week 1, will fill again if need be.
In other injury news, Tomlin said fullback Derek Watt (concussion) and tight end Eric Ebron (back) are still being evaluated. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that Ebron should be okay after exiting Monday's loss early.
I'll be following up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
And finally, for what it's worth. ... When Bengals safety Vonn Bell spoke to reporters late last week, the topic of JuJu Smith-Schuster's habit of dancing on opposing team's logos came up.
Bills safety Jordan Poyer said after a Week 14 win over the Steelers that Smith-Schuster gave them some "extra fire" and Bell sounded like he felt the same way. He called it "disrespectful" and that the Bengals would have to "go out there between the lines and hit him and let him know where he stands."
That's exactly what happened.
Bell rocked Smith-Schuster after a catch late in the first quarter to force a fumble that the Bengals recovered to set up a Giovani Bernard touchdown. Linebacker Josh Bynes said the hit gave the Bengals "so much momentum, so much energy" on their way to the shocking win.
"I seen 19," Bell said, via Paul Dehner of The Athletic. "I'm not a boastful guy, man. I just go out there and let my play do the talking. It just happened that it comes to that. I'm just playing football, man. Just going out there and trying to make a play."
Tomlin was asked about the dances on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Smith-Schuster caught three passes for 15 yards and lost that crucial fumble.
"I am aware of it and I do plan to talk to JuJu," Tomlin said. "But we're professionals. I doubt any of those antics and things of that nature are legitimate motivating factors as you step into professional stadiums. But it's about respect and so we'll have a conversation.
"But I understand it's about the quality of play inside the white lines. I'm not seeking comfort or looking for excuses based on our recent performances on things that occur in pregame or things of that nature that are social media related."
The Steelers meet a tough opponent in Indianapolis this weekend, which owns a 10-4 record and is playing quality football of late. They'll need more from their offense, which has scored fewer than 20 points in each of its last four games for the first time since Weeks 11-14 of 2004, back when Roethlisberger was a rookie.
To that effort, Tomlin said there won't be sweeping changes within the team this week. He'll instead expect every member of his team to look themselves in the mirror with the goal of "being himself, but his best self."
Indianapolis presents quite a challenge, one Tomlin hopes his team will embrace.
"We don't need to run away from the kitchen," Tomlin said. "We need to run to it."
As NFL.com put it, "The heat has turned up in said kitchen. We'll see if the Steelers can handle it."
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, for most of the past two months, the San Francisco 49ers have looked like a team careening toward their inevitable elimination from postseason contention.
Sunday's 41-33 loss to the Dallas Cowboys made it official, as the Niners have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. But the harsh reality for the 49ers (5-9) is they haven't looked the part of a postseason team for many weeks.
Which is why Sunday's loss to the lowly Cowboys (5-9) was the best thing for the franchise moving forward.
Obviously, it's never a good thing for a team to be eliminated from the postseason, and franchises rightfully bristle at the discussion centering on NFL draft positioning. But if the Niners are going to return to the postseason mix next season given all of their salary-cap constraints and the 40 players scheduled for some sort of free agency, they need all the help they can get.
With games remaining against the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, both of whom are in the thick of the playoff chase, there's a real chance the Niners will finish 5-11. It's a tough look for a team coming off an NFC championship, but it's also one that is directly correlated to its overwhelming injury issues.
The result, however, makes it entirely possible the Niners could finish with a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, perhaps even in the top five if certain things break their way. That might mean a crack at a long-term franchise quarterback, another top edge rusher or a shutdown cornerback, all of which are obvious needs.
When Jimmy Garoppolo missed most of 2018, the Niners' season got away from them to the point where they landed defensive end Nick Bosa, the player who made the biggest difference in helping them jump to contender status in 2019. A hefty dose of improved injury luck and another impact player taken near the top of the draft could be just what the doctor ordered if the Niners are going to bounce back in 2021.
Next up. ... The Niners play a "road" game at Arizona on Saturday in the stadium that is their temporary home.
They'll do it without Nick Mullens.
The quarterback sustained a significant ligament injury to his throwing elbow in the 49ers' loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Kyle Shanahan confirmed the injury Tuesday and said Tommy John surgery is a possibility.
Mullens removed himself from the game late in the loss to the Cowboys after defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence hit Mullens' right arm as he was throwing.
Mullens started eight of the 10 games in which he appeared for the 49ers this season. He started every game Garoppolo missed this season with two separate injuries.
Mullens completed 64.7 percent of his pass attempts for 2,437 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Mullens is scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The 49ers were 2-6 in the games Mullens started.
C.J. Beathard will make his first start since Week 8 of the 2018 season against the Cardinals.
The 49ers would have been expected to promote Josh Johnson from the practice squad to serve as the backup. But the club placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Johnson unavailable, the 49ers on Tuesday opened the practice window for Garoppolo, who remains on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. He has not played since Nov. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Garoppolo has a $24.1 million base salary in 2021, and he's signed through 2022. The 49ers could easily get out from under the balance of his contract, if they want, either by cutting him or by trading him.
All indications are, Garoppolo will not play and they added to that on Tuesday.
Thanks to a change in league procedures allowed the 49ers to sign a player and have him join the team immediately as long as he travels privately and does not miss any COVID-19 tests in the league's protocol.
That being the case, the 49ers signed QB Josh Rosen off the Buccaneers practice squad on to their active roster. Rosen, who signed a one-year deal, will back up Beathard.
As ESPN's Field Yates suggested, any QB getting the chance to develop under Shanahan is in good hands. And it's a chance for San Francisco to evaluate the 2018 10th overall pick.
As for Garoppolo, given that the 49ers have been eliminated from playoff consideration, Profootballtalk.com notes there's no strategic reason for playing him that's relevant to the 2020 season. However, the 49ers have a decision to make about Garoppolo in the offseason. His practice performance likely won't do much to influence a decision that will be made based on prior performances. ...
Meanwhile, Raheem Mostert will be placed on injured reserve after he suffered a high-ankle sprain, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday. ...
Mostert's season is over. In eight games played, Mostert racked up 677 total yards and three TDs on 120 touches.
Jeff Wilson Jr., Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon will fill the void at running back with Mostert out. ...
In the midst of all the bad news, it's probably worth noting the 49ers have not shut down tight end George Kittle for the rest of the season.
In fact, Shanahan said on Tuesday that Kittle could be back on the field against the Cardinals.
Kittle has been sidelined since Nov. 1 with a fractured bone in his foot.
Kittle returned to practice last week as the 49ers practice in Arizona. He remains on injured reserve, but could be activated at any time.
"I think he has a chance this week," Shanahan said. "That was the point of getting him back at practice last week, to see how he responded. I know he responded good from a medical standpoint and from him. So I'm looking to see how he is this week. And if he's good, I plan on him playing."
Shanahan said if Kittle's foot is fine and he is cleared to play, he cannot justify sitting him out of action.
"If he's healthy I just don't see the reason why not to," Shanahan said. "I mean, (that's the) same with every other player on our roster. If you're healthy and you're not risking -- we'd never ask him to play injured or anything like that -- but he had a good week of practice last week. Most of the soreness was going away."
Kittle signed a five-year, $75 million contract extension with the 49ers in the offseason. He figures to be a key component of the 49ers for a long time -- at least through the 2025 season.
Kittle is also a team captain, and Shanahan said it is difficult for him to keep a healthy player on the sideline as merely a precaution against an injury.
"Players risk every time they step on the field," Shanahan said. "No matter who you are, you're risking your career. That's the tough thing about this sport, and that's why I don't think players get paid enough -- even though a lot of people would disagree with me on that.
Kittle last played in Week 8 and has 37 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns this season.
I'll have more on Kittle, the backfield -- including Beathard and Garoppolo -- and whatever else arises via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Until then, there are positives here.
Or at least a positive.
One of the few bright spots has been the play of rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk. He had nine catches for 73 yards and a touchdown Sunday and is having one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history. Aiyuk's 59 catches are the second most for a Niners rookie and his 733 yards receiving are third to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (927) and Samuel (802).
He also has five TD catches, tied for the second most to Dave Parks' eight in 1964.
With Deebo Samuel (hamstring) expected to miss the final two games, Aiyuk has a clear path to workload. Expect the production to follow.
A few final notes. ... The 49ers signed receiver Jordan Matthews to the practice squad. The team also placed WR Trent Taylor on the reserve/COVID-19 List and also placed tight end Chase Harrell and fullback Josh Hokit on the practice Squad/COVID-19 List.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson noted, the Seattle Seahawks are headed back to the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 seasons under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
The win that secured their latest postseason berth might have been a preview of their first-round matchup.
The Seahawks rushed for 181 yards Sunday and held off a late rally by the Washington Football Team to escape FedExField with a 20-15 victory in Landover, Maryland. What was shaping up to be their second straight blowout win ended up coming down to the final possession, with Seattle needing three sacks on Washington's final drive to close out it out.
With the Rams (9-5) getting upset by the previously winless New York Jets on Sunday, the Seahawks (10-4) can claim the NFC West title with a win over Los Angeles next Sunday at Lumen Field. Still in play for the Seahawks is a trip back to FedExField to face Washington as the No. 5 seed, which would have been the case had the playoffs started this weekend.
"It's a really big deal," Carroll said of Seattle's postseason berth. "There's a lot of stuff that happened. Getting 10 wins is a marker, and being in the playoffs with games to go, that's a beautiful thing. We're playing for everything, which is great. Again next week will be another championship game for us, just what we've been preparing for."
The Seahawks led 20-3 early in the third quarter after Carlos Hyde burst through a huge hole on the right side for a 50-yard touchdown. That overtook Russell Wilson's 38-yard scramble from earlier in the game as Seattle's longest run of the season. Chris Carson led the Seahawks with 63 rushing yards on 15 carries while Hyde (two for 55) and Wilson (six for 52) also topped 50 yards on the ground.
Carroll wanted to get Rashaad Penny, Seattle's 2018 first-round pick, four or five carries in his first game since tearing his ACL last December, but he carried twice for 6 yards. Carson got most of the work with 40 snaps and 15 carries compared to 10 snaps for Hyde.
The Seahawks placed Travis Homer on IR when they activated Penny on Saturday then lost DeeJay Dallas to an ankle injury that should sideline him for multiple weeks.
Seattle played much of the game without two starters on the offensive line after left guard Mike Iupati departed with a neck injury. Right tackle Brandon Shell was inactive with an ankle injury.
Whatever the case, the Seahawks' offensive game plan to combat No. 2 overall pick Chase Young and Washington's loaded defensive line was to get the ball out quickly on shorter throws. That contributed to Wilson finishing with a season-low 121 yards on 18-of-27 passing, but it also kept him clean. He wasn't sacked for the second week in a row as Washington finished with only three official QB hits.
"This is a tremendous pass-rush team," Carroll said. "They've got four [first-round picks] up there hauling ass at you, and they didn't get Russ. That was awesome."
Wilson's lone touchdown pass was a 10-yard laser into the end zone to tight end Jacob Hollister. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Hollister had 0.92 yards of separation on the play. That gave Wilson's 31 tight-window touchdown passes since the start of 2017, nine more than any other player in that span. (A tight window is defined as less than 1 yard of separation.)
Wilson was intercepted in the fourth quarter, ending a Seahawks drive into Washington territory, when his roll-out pass was tipped. His 121 passing yards were his fewest since Week 14 of the 2018 season and the fourth-lowest total of his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Just a day removed from returning to the Seahawks' active roster and five days away from a potential return to the field, wide receiver Josh Gordon will not be allowed to play or practice with the team indefinitely after a setback in his battle with substance abuse broke the terms of his conditional reinstatement.
Gordon is allowed to be with the team, but he's prohibited from playing or practicing.
The Seahawks had cleared a spot on the roster Monday to activate him prior to a new issue arising.
Gordon was conditionally reinstated on Dec. 3. His reinstatement came following an indefinite suspension on Dec. 16, 2019 for violating the NFL policies on performance-enhancing substances and substances of abuse. It was the fifth suspension in Gordon's career.
The wide receiver, who's previously played with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to suspension.
Seattle re-signed Gordon to a one-year deal in September.
While Gordon won't return, another asset will.
Tight end Greg Olsen was designated for return from injured reserve last week after missing the last four games with a foot injury. Carroll said that Olsen looked good in practice and that the plan is for him to play against the Rams this weekend.
"Olsen is returning this week," Carroll told the team's website. "He had a really good week last week, so he'll be back and ready to go, so if he makes it through the week and all that, we'll have a guy to add to it, so we've been really excited about whatever Greg contributes."
Olsen had 23 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt. ...
One last note here. ... Jason Myers made two field goals (43, 40) and has now been good on 31 straight attempts dating back to last season, breaking Olindo Mare's franchise record. Myers is 20-of-20 this season. Michael Dickson averaged a net of 51 yards on his four punts, which were downed at Washington's 4, 10, 8 and 15.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reported, the Buccaneers' 31-27 win over the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta not only improved their record to 9-5, ensuring their second winning season since 2010, but inched them one step closer to their first playoff berth since 2007.
And the play that ultimately got them there came from the one player whom many in league circles questioned truly deserved to be there.
With 6:25 to go in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Brady heaved a 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown -- his first TD catch as a Buccaneer -- to make it 31-27. Brady and head coach Bruce Arians both enveloped Brown in celebratory hugs after the reception, which sealed a comeback from 17-0 down, the second-largest rally in franchise history.
"I'm just grateful that these guys believe in me," said Brown, who had 93 receiving yards on the day. "To get the opportunity to come here, be a part of the team, to put my hand in the pile to help these guys win. They were excited for me. I'm super grateful for it."
Brown hadn't caught a touchdown pass since Sept. 15, 2019, during his one-game stint with the New England Patriots.
"It's been a long journey for me," he said. "As soon as I caught it, I went straight to my knees and called God and gave praise. [I'm] extremely grateful to be here with Tampa Bay and have the opportunity to live out my dream and play football -- it's something I love to do. I know not only was I excited, but I know my close friends and family and my kids are all excited for me."
The play was actually one the Bucs ran earlier in the game -- something Arians rarely does -- and involved Brown and Mike Evans running go routes with Chris Godwin running a crossing route on the inside. But instead of hitting Godwin across the middle, Brady went to Brown.
"They both were wide open by 5 yards, and it was just 'pick your poison,'" Arians said. "I was really happy to see AB get in the end zone. It was good for him and good for all of us."
Added Brady: "It was great. He's been working hard at that, and [we] finally got him an opportunity to touch one of those. Mike did a good job on the other side, the safety kind of got stuck in the middle, and AB just ran right by him. I put it out there for him, [and] he made a great catch. Love seeing him get in the end zone."
Brady advocated for the Bucs not only to sign Brown, who is currently on probation for felony burglary and faces a civil lawsuit for sexual assault, but welcomed him into his home and got him in touch with Tony Robbins, the famed motivational speaker.
"Obviously as a teammate, as someone who knows him pretty well, he's done a lot of work to get to this point," Brady said of Brown. "[I'm] just proud of him and his focus, and how he's prioritized different things. A lot of the guys in that receiver group have helped him. He's making great contributions."
Arians ultimately signed off on the move after saying earlier this year that Brown "wasn't a fit" for his locker room. The coach believed Brown could help the Buccaneers' injury-plagued receiving corps.
"He's done a good job," Arians said. "He's doing the best with his opportunities. Really glad to see him get in the end zone. He's been doing extremely well."
Brady now has seven career comebacks when trailing by 17 or more points, tying him with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers for most in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau data.
The Bucs had been on the wrong side of history when it came to halftime deficits. From 2015 to '19, they were 7-36 when facing a halftime deficit. This season, while slow starts have been the Bucs' Achilles' heel, Brady has led them to three second-half comebacks. After mustering just 60 yards of offense in the first half, Brady calmly led four touchdown-scoring drives and a field goal in the second half. The first was a 1-yard touchdown run from Leonard Fournette that was set up by a 32-yard pass over the middle to Mike Evans, followed by a 4-yard touchdown catch by Chris Godwin.
Then, in the third quarter, following a defensive pass interference penalty on Edmond Robinson, Fournette pushed his way over the pile for a second score before Brady connected with Brown.
Brady's 320 passing yards in the second half were the most of any quarterback in a second half this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
Brady is now 7-0 in his career against the Falcons -- including Super Bowl LI, in which he led the Patriots from a 28-3 deficit to a 34-28 overtime win -- showing that at age 43, the "comeback kid" can still do it.
"I think a lot of it is his track record [with] the belief he kind of inspires in all of us," tight end Cameron Brate said of Brady. "He's done it on the biggest stage -- the 28-3 [Super Bowl comeback]. We've seen him do it, and we just have a ton of confidence in him, and he puts that confidence in us, as well. ..."
The Bucs can clinch a playoff spot by winning at Detroit on Saturday.
For what it's worth. ... On Monday, Arians talked at his press conference about why the offense has failed to catch fire earlier in games.
Arians said he does not think it is an issue with play calling because the coaching staff consults Brady when putting together the script for the early part of games.
"A lot of thought goes into scripting what plays Tom likes, what we like. It has nothing to do with scripting the plays, we just need to execute better," Arians said, via WDAE.
Arians said Brady was calm in the locker room at halftime because the team would get the ball and have a chance to make a play early in the third quarter. They made one to start the comeback, but it would make life easier for everyone in Tampa if they find a way to start making them earlier. ...
Also of interest. ... With Ronald Jones out, the Bucs averaged just 2.8 yards per carry rushing, gaining 51 yards on 18 attempts. Fournette led the way with 49 yards on 14 carries, but did score the above-mentioned pair of 1-yard runs.
Arians said on Tuesday that Jones is doubtful for Saturday's game.
I'll be watching for more on Jones in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest. ...
Beyond that, safety Antoine Winfield is listed with a shoulder injury and cornerback Carlton Davis is sidelined by the groin injury that knocked him out of the win over the Falcons. Both players have started all 14 games the Bucs have played this season. The only other player on the injury report is edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. He's listed as limited with a knee injury, which has been the case quite often this season but Pierre-Paul hasn't missed a game.
Arians said Tuesday that left tackle Donovan Smith, who was removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list, is back at full speed.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
The Titans insist they aren't satisfied with much bigger goals than simply winning 10 games for the first time in 12 seasons.
They keep this up, returning to the AFC championship game could be only a stop on the way.
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, the Titans (10-4) are on an offensive run enjoyed by only four other teams in NFL history with five straight games with at least 420 yards and at least 30 points. They have to score a lot because the Tennessee defense is really good at coming up with turnovers, and that's about it.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said the Titans understand this is when the good teams keep improving and separate themselves by staying focused on work. That's why the Titans are nitpicking the drives that didn't result in points in a 46-25 rout of Detroit.
"We're going to try to find a way to win each drive, to finish in the end zone, and if it takes 30-plus points to win a game, that's our mindset," Tannehill said.
The Titans face their biggest challenge Sunday night to winning the AFC South for the first time since 2008. They visit the Green Bay Packers (11-3), currently the top seed in the NFC. Tennessee is tied with Indianapolis (10-4) but hold the divisional tiebreaker over the Colts.
"Hopefully we don't spend a whole lot of time talking about 10 wins," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "That's not what anybody is here for."
If the wins are going to keep coming, so will the points.
The Titans are tied with Kansas City averaging a league-best 31.1 points a game, scoring at least 30 points nine times and topping 42 in four games, including a season-high 46 against Detroit. The Titans also rank second only to the Chiefs with 399.4 yards total offense a game.
"We come out to score on every drive, every time we get the ball," receiver A.J. Brown said. "We just got to put it all together."
Derrick Henry remains the NFL's rushing leader with 1,679 yards. Tannehill has thrown for 3,482 yards, and Corey Davis has a career-high 945 yards closing in on his first 1,000-yard receiving season.
Davis posted his fifth 100-yard receiving game this season after topping 100 yards just twice in his career before this year. As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport pointed out, Davis is finally healthy and the results are showing. He has also shown growth by consistently making contested catches like he did on a third-down across the middle to keep a touchdown drive going for the Titans in the second quarter.
Brown isn't far behind for his second straight with 881 yards, and he's also tied for fifth with 10 TD catches.
For what it's worth, Tannehill just had his fifth straight game with a passer rating over 100, the longest active streak in the NFL and a franchise record. He also joined Michael Vick (Nov. 15, 2010) and Jack Kemp (Dec. 4, 1960) as the only players in NFL history with at least three TD passes, two rushing TDs and a 145.8 or better passer rating in a game.
Only four quarterbacks have more than Tannehill's career-best 31 TD passes: Aaron Rodgers, (40), Russell Wilson (37), Patrick Mahomes (36) and Tom Brady (32). Tannehill is fourth with a 110.4 passer rating.
So the offense is working just fine. Now they need to figure out the defense.
Tennessee remains last in the NFL with only 14 sacks, and on third-down defense. The Titans allowed Detroit to convert 7 of 12 third downs (58 percent), and they gave up 430 yards. Luckily, they did force three turnovers, and safety Kevin Byard got his first interception of the season.
Indeed, the Titans once again lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-12, tied with Indianapolis.
That will help with a trek to Lambeau Field for a prime-time game Sunday night with the Packers. It's one of only two games this week between teams each with double-digit wins.
The other? The Colts visit Pittsburgh earlier Sunday.
Then it's the regular season finale, with the Titans visiting Houston and the Colts hosting the woeful Jaguars.
Needless to say the Titans will have something on the line down the stretch. ...
One few final notes here. ... It was no surprise seeing Henry impact another game like he did. Henry went for 147 yards and another touchdown, and in the process became just the 4th player in NFL history to record 1,500 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs in consecutive seasons, joining Shaun Alexander, Terrell Davis and Larry Johnson.
With two games to go, Henry now has the aforementioned 1,679 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But how about the play of fellow running back Darrynton Evans in his first action since the October 13 contest against the Bills? Evans looked fast against the Lions as he ran for 30 yards, while also catching two passes for 27 yards and a score. He returned a pair of kickoffs as well. ...
In case you missed it over the weekend, the Titans placed wide receiver Kalif Raymond on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday.
And last. ... Kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 38-yard field goal at the end of the first half, and he made all six of his extra points. ... And a tackle.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 December 2020
Thanks to the failure of the rest of the NFC East, the Washington Football Team owns a one-game lead in the division race with two to play.
When Washington faces its head coach's former team this week, leave the talk of revenge at home. This game is about getting a step closer to the postseason.
"We're focusing in on the playoff run right here," Ron Rivera said. ... "It becomes a storyline if you guys continue to make it a storyline. I'm not going to. After today, I'm not going to address it."
In his first season in Washington, Rivera has the Football Team on the precipice of an unlikely appearance in the postseason. Washington is just 6-8 after all, which would put them all but out of postseason consideration entirely in a typical year. But this year is atypical for so many reasons, with one being the NFC East's ineptitude.
At 6-8, Washington leads the division and got some help Sunday when the Eagles and Giants each fell in their respective games, while the Cowboys inched closer with their second straight victory. Washington lost to Seattle in Week 15, ending its four-game winning streak when a victory would have made things much more comfortable over the final two weeks.
Instead, Washington will need to keep its pedal to the floor in order to maintain its one-game lead over its division rivals. That means there's no time to allow nostalgia and reflection to creep in -- not with the target still in sight.
"The emotion of this game, for me, is this organization," Rivera said. "This organization right now is more important than my personal situation. And I mean that. We've got 53 guys downstairs and a group of coaches that, we want to get into the playoffs. They want to get into the playoffs, and we want to do it for them and for us. So we have to focus in on the game."
If you'd taken a look at the Football Team a month or so into the season, you'd have little indication that this would be a team owning an inside track to a division crown just before Christmas. Washington was 1-4 after five games, with all of its losses coming by multiple possessions. It wasn't until the insertion of Alex Smith (out of necessity) that Washington had the look of a team that might go on a run.
Rivera first saw the potential back when his team was 1-4 -- primarily because no one else in the putrid NFC East had taken control.
"Week 5 really was where I thought 'hey, you know what, we have a shot for the playoffs' because of the way the division is," Rivera said. "Nobody's started out 3-1 or 4-0, and I just thought 'wow, there's a chance.'
"That's kind of what we're working toward and that's kind of what I'd love to have the focus stay. This is about the organization winning and getting into the playoffs, not Ron Rivera winning and getting revenge. That's the last thing I want this to be."
Rivera admitted he owes "the franchise a lot," recounting his first opportunity to serve as a head coach and his team's run to Super Bowl 50. But as he stated multiple times Monday, Week 16 isn't about Rivera facing his former team -- it's about finishing what he thought might first be possible in early October. ...
Meanwhile, Dwayne Haskins showed, once more, the good and the bad.
It explains why Washington fell behind by 17 points to Seattle. And it explains, in part, how it was able to come back -- and nearly stun the Seahawks.
For much of Sunday's 20-15 loss to Seattle, Haskins struggled. In the second half, helped by a defense that shut down Seattle, Haskins showed that maybe he could help them if he needs to keep starting.
Haskins completed 38-of-55 for 295 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. This is a team that knows it can't drop back 55 times and win many games; certainly, that was proven again Sunday.
Haskins made his first start since Week 4, when he was benched after a 1-3 start. Coaches wanted to see better preparation from him, among other things. They wanted him to execute better on the field -- go through his progressions properly and handle protection calls right.
But ESPN.com's John Keim reports the one thing Haskins has shown in his two seasons with Washington is resilience. He displayed that again Sunday.
Haskins struggled for most of the first two-and-a-half quarters. In the first half, he completed 15-of-24 passes for only 98 yards and an interception. The pick was critical because it came at the Seattle 27-yard line and removed a chance for points. The Seahawks drove 97 yards for a touchdown. Haskins forced a pass that sailed on him to Isaiah Wright; it was tipped in the air. Those missed points proved critical in the end.
His second pick came on a first down at the Seahawks' 43-yard line, a first-and-10 in which Seattle corner D.J. Reed looked like he would carry receiver Terry McLaurin deep. That would have left a deep crosser open for Cam Sims. But Reed dropped off, perhaps reading Haskins' eyes, and made the easy pick.
However, after that point Haskins came to life as did the offense. He led touchdown drives of 96 and 64 yards to get Washington within 20-15. A late drive reached the Seattle 23-yard line before Haskins took two sacks and threw incomplete on fourth-and-24.
Haskins did not impress the previous week in relief of Smith. There's a long road he still must travel to get where Washington needs Haskins to be considered a legitimate quarterback of the future. Right now, though, Washington just needs someone that can help them win a game to stay in the playoff race.
There was some question, however, as to whether he would be able to do that -- at least until Wednesday.
That's because of social media posts which showed Haskins partying maskless at a gentleman's club while surrounded by partygoers following Sunday's loss to the Seahawks.
Washington stripped Haskins of his captaincy as part of his punishment for visiting the club in violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
Rivera said Wednesday the quarterback apologized to his teammates and was punished for his Sunday night transgression. He will not lose his job.
If Smith, who was held out last week with an injured calf, can’t start Saturday against Carolina, Haskins will, Rivera said.
“One thing I appreciated was his honesty in the conversation,” Rivera said, via Kimberley A. Martin of ESPN. “He and I probably have talked five or six times in the past two days.”
But Haskins will pay a price for the photographs posted on social media showing him at the club without a mask.
“There have been consequences and we’re moving forward,” Rivera said, via JP Finlay of NBCSportsWashington.com.
Haskins’ teammates had voted him a team captain during camp. All 32 starting quarterbacks on opening day wore the C on their jerseys.
Haskins no longer will.
The team also fined Haskins $40,000, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. Rapoport added that it’s the “largest known fine for a player for a COVID-19 violation — more than half of Haskins’ weekly paycheck.”
Meanwhile, Haskins took all the first-team snaps in Wednesday's practice, though Smith hasn't been ruled out for Sunday's game and is considered day-to-day. He was seen working on the side Wednesdayl
I'll have more on Smith and rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after missing a second-straight game with a turf toe injury, and Terry McLaurin, who was held out Wednesday with an ongoing ankle issue, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Logan Thomas caught 13 passes for 101 yards and continues his effective season. He caught a career-high 16 passes last year; he now has 62 receptions this season. Thomas provides a good underneath security blanket for whomever plays quarterback for Washington.
He's not dynamic, but he creates enough separation and uses his size well.
McLaurin caught seven passes for 77 yards. He now has 16 games with 70-plus receiving yards, the most through 28-career games in Washington history.
Wide receiver Robert Foster caught a nine-yard reception, his first catch since Week 13 of 2019.
Running back Peyton Barber ran for five yards and one touchdown while J.D. McKissic paired 13 rushes for 51 yards and nine receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown.
McKissic's 67 receptions are the fourth-most in a single-season for a running back in Washington history.
McKissic registered his third-career receiving touchdown and first since Week 9 of 2019.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes