Team Notes week 17 2023

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<


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

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As Darren Urban of the team's official website framed it after the Cardinals' 27-16 loss in Chicago: "There were no Christmas miracles to salvage a game in which the Cards fell behind 21-0."

They aren't built for such rallies. They aren't built to overcome 250 yards rushing from the other side, which is what the Bears (6-9) did behind running back Khalil Herbert (112) and quarterback Justin Fields (97 on just nine carries, most of them scrambles.)

Head coach Jonathan Gannon reiterated a lot of what he has said after losses, that he appreciated his team's fight. He insisted it doesn't bother him to deliver the same message.

"Not at all," Gannon said. "Because it's the truth. I know they prepare the right way."

Associated Press sports writer David Brandt suggests Gannon's being diplomatic with those comments. The coaching staff might have had some tough moments, but no more than a typical first-year staff. It's hard to see how any NFL coach could do a much better job with this group.

The real fixes for the Cardinals won't come until this offseason, when general manager Monti Ossenfort has 11 draft picks in April and a decent amount of cap space to start building a roster that could compete in 2024 and 2025.

The only real positive of the two games remaining this season is that it gives more opportunities for Murray to get used to his new offense.

In this one, the Cardinals benefitted from a first-half departure from Bears tight end Cole Kmet, who had four catches for 107 yards and drew a key penalty before having to leave with a knee injury. And star wide receiver D.J. Moore was a non-factor (three catches, 18 yards.)

But the defense never quite figured out how to handle Fields, whose passing day was OK but whose play extension work "killed us," Gannon said.

Offensively, the Cardinals still can't find consistency. Running back James Conner had 112 total yards and a touchdown and Greg Dortch made some plays. Kyler Murray's numbers looked OK -- 24 for 38, 250 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers -- but they tallied just 4 yards until about midway through the second quarter. Murray threw for 85 yards in the first half and 123 in the second half.

The wide receivers were more involved, with Dortch and Rondale Moore combining for 75 yards on four catches, but Michael Wilson was catch-less for a second straight game and tight end Trey McBride could only generate 31 yards on his six catches (and took some hellacious hits in the process.)

"We still have things we need to work on," Dortch said of the Kyler-to-wideout match. "We're trying to find that connection."

And why wouldn't they be?

As's Josh Weinfuss noted, Murray played just his sixth game of the season Sunday, so he's still trying to figure out how to work with his receivers and in this offense, and Arizona lacks a big-bodied pass-catcher it can go to in clutch situations to make a play.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals won the turnover battle, 1-0, on a Jalen Thompson interception, but their record dropped to 2-6 in such games.

Gannon briefly talked about the tough game coming in a week, when the Cardinals must play in Philadelphia -- where Gannon coached last season and a place that has many emotions for the Cardinals head coach.

They definitely can't have a slow start there.

"Do we have a sense of urgency?" Murray said. "Everybody knows the situation we're in you know as far as our record and stuff like that. But I've seen no quit as far as the urgency goes. It's a team full of grinders and we work hard throughout the week understand what we're about what we're trying to be about around here, moving forward."

The Cardinals play their final road game of the season on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a homecoming for Gannon, who was the Eagles defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.

Also of interest. ... Matt Prater took the NFL lead in 50-yard field goals this season with a 55-yarder in the third quarter, giving him nine (and only two misses).

That leaves him just two short of the NFL record. Prater also has six of at least 55 yards.

That field goal was set up by a great kickoff return by Dortch, a 40-yarder that was the team's longest of the season. Dortch seems to make at least one play every game when given the chance (or two, like his 38-yard TD catch later.)

Meanwhile, it's not clear if Brown will be available for Sunday's game against the Eagles. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

QBs: Kyler Murray, Desmond Ridder, Clayton Tune
RBs: James Conner, Michael Carter, Emari Demercado
WRs: Zay Jones, Michael Wilson, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, Zach Pascal
TEs: Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Michael Rothstein reported, early last week, the Atlanta Falcons offense met inside the team's practice facility.

They meet every week, but this was a little bit different.

The Falcons again had a quarterback change, going back to Taylor Heinicke from Desmond Ridder. The Falcons were in must-win mode for the rest of the season with an offense that hadn't achieved as much as people thought they might.

So, the offense -- the coaches and the players -- got together to work things out. The result, a 29-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, kept the Falcons in the NFC South and wild-card playoff picture as Atlanta put together one of its best offensive performances of the season.

"We just had an offensive meeting," tight end Kyle Pitts said. "And talked it out."

Pitts said the offense knew what was at stake. The 406-yard result -- 229 yards passing, 177 yards rushing -- was the fourth-best game for Atlanta this season. The balance third-year coach Arthur Smith had been searching for worked from the opening drive with Heinicke at quarterback.

The Falcons threw 33 passes and had 30 runs. Atlanta showed a level of unpredictability it hasn't often had this season. Heinicke completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Bijan Robinson rushed for 72 yards and caught seven passes for 50 yards.

Robinson said everyone in the meeting chipped in to work through things, with players discussing how to get to the point they believed they should be at while also working through what would work best with Heinicke back at quarterback.

Tight end Jonnu Smith said one of the messages the offense -- and really the entire team -- tried to drive home during the week was that Indianapolis "was going to be our best game of the season." Then, Smith said, the players proved they had actionable intent behind their words with how they practiced, watched film and played. It was emphasized starting Wednesday morning.

"We were just trying to see what to do in order for us to play the football that we know we can play," Robinson said. "We just had to stop messing around, do things the right way and have fun playing and not think we had any pressure on us."

In some ways, it fit the style of their quarterback, Heinicke, who often says he tries to play with the largest element of fun he possibly can. Teammates noticed as they worked on getting comfortable with Heinicke the second time around as the starter.

Arthur Smith said he felt good about his team's energy all week and, in an attempt to change momentum, he shaved his mustache over the weekend before Sunday's game.

"I had to change momentum," Smith said. "Clean up. Church myself up for the holidays."

Heinicke said after the game he didn't do or feel anything different, but teammates noticed a level of comfort from him this time -- both in practice and in Sunday's game -- that was missing in his first two starts earlier this season against Minnesota and Arizona.

Robinson said that during the week Heinicke was bobbing his head to music and seemed loose while throwing the ball to receivers. Receiver Van Jefferson said they worked a bit extra, with routes on air and extra film study, to understand how Heinicke wanted things run.

On Sunday, Robinson said the offense fed off Heinicke's energy, including rapping a song -- Robinson wouldn't say which one -- while they were in huddles to loosen the mood and keep everyone relaxed and confident.

The energy spread to the entire team.

Atlanta's defense had six sacks -- its most in a single game since 2019. The Falcons hit Indianapolis quarterback Gardner Minshew 11 times, held Colts running back Jonathan Taylor to 43 yards and had eight tackles for loss. Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo had five field goals. It was a thorough performance that kept the Falcons alive.

According to ESPN Analytics, the Falcons a 7 percent chance of winning the NFC South.

Can the Atlanta Falcons run the table?

As Rothstein suggests, if Atlanta plays like it did Sunday -- a balanced run/pass attack with 406 yards of offense and a defense that had six sacks and held the Colts to 262 yards -- it's possible. It is the best total game Atlanta has played this season, and while the Falcons will have to do it on the road, facing the under-.500 Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints is manageable.

Playoffs or not, this would show legitimate progress, including Atlanta's first over-.500 record since 2017 and the first three-game winning streak in the same season in Smith's three years as coach. ...

Other reasons for optimism?

The 29 points scored in this win was a new season high for the Falcons. Their previous high was 28 points in their Week 9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Atlanta's 19-point margin of victory is also a new season high. The previous best was 14 in their Week 1 win over the Carolina Panthers.

The Falcons averaged 6.34 offensive yards per play, which is the second-best average in a game this season. The best remains 6.39 in their Week 1 win over the Panthers.

All that said, Associated Press sports writer Charles Odum notes that wide receivers were an afterthought in Heinicke's passing game. Well, at least full-time wide receivers. Robinson sometimes lined up as a wideout as he set a career high with seven receptions. Tight ends Smith and Pitts combined for seven catches, and Pitts produced the only scoring catch.

Drake London's modest totals of three catches for 39 yards were the high marks for the wide receivers. No other wideout had more than one catch. ...

Worth noting. ... Atlanta was 0-for-3 in the red zone and 0-for-2 with goal to go Sunday.

Their two touchdowns on the day came on a 24-yard catch by Pitts in the first offensive drive of the day and a 31-yard explosive run by Tyler Allgeier to start the second half. Other than that, it was 17 points off Koo's accuracy as a kicker on PATs and field goals.

In the end, though? You live with that stat considering the level to which your defense was playing. You also live with it because, well, you won, in quite a dominant fashion no less, to a team with a winning record (something you haven't done to this point in the season, either). You keep yourself alive with a performance like that, and that's how the Falcons see it.

"You obviously want to punch it in a little more when you're down there, but a win's a win," Heinicke said, "and we're happy with it."

Smith agreed, adding: "You obviously want to get touchdowns late, but you also want to play to the situations. So, the last two red-zone drives, you could say we got a little too conservative, but you're making (the Colts) use timeouts. You do want to be aggressive, but that's the stuff as a coach where, yes, you want touchdowns there but you're playing the long game. ... We were still able to get points, but that's something we're going to continue to work on."

In all, Smith continued, when the Falcons needed a play, "guys made them." For that reason, they'll take the win and feel good about it, too. Perhaps they'll feed as good as they've felt about a win this year.

Finally. ... For the second time this season, Smith shaved his moustache before the game, perhaps hoping to change his team's luck following back-to-back losses to NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina.

"I had the change the momentum, you know, church myself up for the holidays," Smith said.

QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside, Kirk Cousins
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson
WRs: Drake London, Darnell Mooney, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Van Jefferson, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

According to's Jamison Hensley, when Lamar Jackson walked onto the field for pregame warmups, he heard the chants of "MVP" coming from Ravens fans at Levi's Stadium. After the Ravens' 33-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, it was Jackson's coaches and teammates declaring him "hands down" the best player in football.

"I thought Lamar had an MVP performance," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It takes a team to create a performance like that, but it takes a player to play at that level -- to play at an MVP level -- it takes a player to play that way. And Lamar was all over the field doing everything."

In a battle of the teams with the best records in the league, Jackson took control of the MVP race by resoundingly out-dueling 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. Weaving around the 49ers pass-rushers all game, Jackson threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns while leading Baltimore in rushing with 45 yards. Purdy, meanwhile, threw a career-worst four interceptions.

Entering Monday night, Purdy was the betting favorite for NFL MVP and Jackson was second, according to ESPN BET. After the game, Jackson became the frontrunner for MVP (-180) with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

"He can do everything," wide receiver Zay Flowers said. "You [saw] it [Monday night]. He ran it; he threw it; he led the team. That's the MVP. You lead your team, you have the best record in the NFL, and he just comes out and continues to come out and do what he [does] game in and game out even though people [say], 'He can't do this. He can't do that,' and he comes out and proves them wrong every time."

Hensley went on to suggest this season is setting up to be a repeat of Baltimore's 2019 season, when Jackson won NFL MVP and the Ravens were the AFC's No. 1 seed. Baltimore (12-3) can clinch the top seed on Sunday if it beats the Miami Dolphins.

On Monday, Jackson said he didn't care about what others described as an "MVP performance" and pointed out how the 2019 team lost its first playoff game, a 14-3 defeat to the Tennessee Titans.

"We know it was in 2019 when we were playing against [teams] like this [and] winning regular season games [and] when the time came, we didn't finish the season," Jackson said. "We're just going to keep taking it a day at a time, a practice at a time and a game at a time. That's all I'm focused on right now."

With 19 touchdown passes this season, Jackson would become one of the more unlikely NFL MVPs. The fewest touchdown passes by an MVP was 24 by Steve McNair, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But Jackson has captivated the football world by his elusiveness in buying time and throwing downfield. Against San Francisco, Jackson was 10-of-12 for 132 yards and a touchdown when pressured. That's his most completions and second-most passing yards when pressured in a game in his career.

"I think if anybody watched the game [or] if anybody watches football this season and watched the Baltimore Ravens, they know for a fact [that] Jackson is the MVP, hands down," Ravens middle linebacker Roquan Smith said. "Anyone that watches football and knows football and [can] see the type of impact he has on the game -- not even stat-wise, but just individually, the plays that he makes quarter in and quarter out, play in and play out -- compare his film to anyone else in the league. Then, I would love to hear what anyone else has to say after that."

The Ravens were 6.5-point underdogs to the 49ers. That's the second-largest underdog role in Jackson's six-year career. Being a decided underdog was brought up in Sunday's team meeting, and several players said they felt "disrespected" by so many picking the 49ers to win.

The prime example was NBC Sports and's Mike Florio, who said the 49ers were going to "kick the s--- out of" the Ravens.

The Ravens took that personally, used it as motivation, and kept the receipts. After the win, Jackson and Ravens players brought it up.

"We're in the NFL. We play ball. Not to take away from that team, but you can't just discredit us. We're grown men. We have to feed our families," said Jackson. "[Mike Florio] can have his opinion, but don't just talk like that. That's disrespectful. That's very disrespectful. Not to take away from the 49ers at all, because they're great all across the board, but we're going to come to play as well. Our record [isn't a] fluke. We play ball, and we showed that."

Jackson was talking about it before he even reached the Ravens' postgame locker room, joking around with left tackle Ronnie Stanley about comments from Mike "Flores. ..."

Meanwhile, the Ravens have won five straight and eight of their last nine, playing some of their best football when the lights were the brightest.

Safe to say they've earned whatever respect might have been lacking going into this one.

In addition, the momentum bodes well for how the Ravens will respond Sunday in Week 17 at M&T Bank Stadium in a huge game against the Miami Dolphins (10-5).

A victory over Miami would clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the Ravens, along with a first-round bye and the AFC North championship. As big as this victory was over the 49ers, a win over the Dolphins would allow the Ravens to accomplish all their regular-season goals.

It's clear the Ravens have a chance to do something special this season, but they are doing it with a week-to-week focus that has been unwavering up to this point.

While Harbaugh did not give an extended update on injuries after the game, he was optimistic that nobody who left the game early had suffered anything serious.

The Ravens had some players banged up in this game, including Kyle Hamilton (knee), Kevin Zeitler (thigh), and Patrick Mekari (head).

"It doesn't look bad for anybody," Harbaugh said after the game. "We will see tomorrow to ensure that."

It was another reminder of why getting a first-round bye is important -- one less game to play on a potential journey to a Super Bowl, and one less game for players to put their bodies at risk.

It's hard for players to get through 17 games unscathed, and almost every player is dealing with some type of physical ailment at this point in the season. The Ravens could use a bye week to rest and heal, and the shorter their path to a potential Super Bowl, the better. ...

A few final notes. ... Flowers had 13 targets while none of his teammates had more than four. The Ravens leaned on their first-round pick, who posted 72 receiving yards and a touchdown. ...

The running game looked a bit less dynamic without injured rookie Keaton Mitchell. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill had 57 yards on 19 carries.

Edwards rushed nine times for 31 yards and a touchdown, adding 39 yards on his lone reception.

As Rotoworld suggested, the yardage total was nothing to write home about but a robust short-area role inside the five yard line continues to return ample opportunities for Edwards to find paint. His score in this one came from one yard out to start the second quarter and he would be stopped on another carry from inside the five in the second half.

Edwards is unlikely to return a significant yardage total against the Dolphins this week, but there could be a touchdown or two in the waiting in what should be one of the games of the week. ...

Finally. ... Tylan Wallace has become a great weapon as a punt returner. His walk-off 76-yard punt return to beat the Rams in overtime was one of the biggest plays of the season. He almost took another return to the house in this game, finding a seam to his right for a 23-yard return that set up a touchdown.

QBs: Lamar Jackson, Josh Johnson
RBs: Derrick Henry, Justice Hill, Melvin Gordon, Keaton Mitchell
WRs: Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Mark Andrews

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

After a blowout win against the Dallas Cowboys, the Bills put together a less than stellar outing against a Chargers team that has struggled on defense and had a backup quarterback starting.

According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, we can certainly question the Bills for nearly losing to the fading, in-transition Chargers.

What can also be true is this being the type of slow-starting, turnover-filled outing the Bills would have lost two months ago.

That Buffalo found a way in pulling out a final-minute 24-22 win could well be a testament for a team gaining experience from its past.

Whatever was missing in style points was made up by Buffalo (9-6) winning its third straight and fourth of five to continue solidifying its bid for a fifth straight playoff berth.

The Bills also maintained an outside chance at winning a fourth consecutive AFC East title, with a season-ending showdown looming at division-leading Miami.

"It's not easy to win. It's not easy to win by a lot each and every week," quarterback Josh Allen said, a week after Buffalo's 31-10 rout of Dallas. "I'm just fortunate that we found a way."

The familiarity of so much that went wrong during the Bills past struggles was apparent at SoFi Stadium on Saturday. The most notable difference was the final score for a team with its playoff hopes hanging in the balance and a group doesn't often lose once the calendar turns to December, by improving to 17-2 since 2020.

Where a minus-three turnover margin cost Buffalo in a season-opening overtime loss to the Jets, the Bills defense kept the score within reach by forcing the Chargers to settle for two field goals off two second-half takeaways.

Where the Bills' slow-starting offense dug too deep of a hole in a 25-20 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 8, Allen and interim coordinator Joe Brady were quicker to find answers with Buffalo scoring touchdowns on its final two drives of the first half.

Where special teams were the difference in Buffalo's 24-22 loss to Denver a month ago, the same unit came away with the go-ahead score on Tyler Bass hitting a 29-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining. Punter Sam Martin contributed by pinning the Chargers inside their 20 three times.

And don't forget crediting coach Sean McDermott for putting the final kickoff in play to run a few crucial seconds off the clock after failing to do so against Kansas City two years ago in an eventual 42-36 overtime playoff loss. McDermott also sent his defense on the attack, with Ed Oliver sacking Easton Stick on the first snap to essentially seal the victory.

A week after Allen stood aside to let Buffalo's ground game trample the Cowboys, the quarterback played a key role in the clutch to post his 13th career game-winning drive. Allen set up the field goal by going four of five for 39 yards, including a 13-yard completion to Khalil Shakir on third-and-4, in which the back-pedaling quarterback lofted a pass in the face of a pass rush.

Buffalo's defense, meantime, was exceptional when taking into account it was missing six regulars with safety Micah Hyde (neck) and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa (rib) missing their second consecutive outings, and with tackle Jordan Phillips (wrist) landing on injured reserve.

McDermott referenced experience and faith when discussing how he stuck by running back James Cook and returner Deonte Harty after both fumbled in Bills territory.

In fact, Cook fumbled twice, and lost one at his 32 to set up Cameron Dicker hitting a 53-yard go-ahead field goal with 5:26 left. Harty fumbled a punt return at his 33, which led to L.A. going up 10-0 early in the second quarter.

Whereas earlier in the season he might have benched one or both, McDermott said: "I have confidence in those guys, and we're at the point in the season where you put your best players out there."

Having already lost to non-playoff teams such as the Jets and New England, the Bills were the better team in L.A.

"We gutted it out and we found a way," Allen said.

Now the Bills will try to close their home schedule against New England with a chance to make up for blowing a lead in the final seconds of a 29-25 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 22.

Allen and Co. got things going when they needed to, but the Chargers came into this game with one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Allen completed just 15 of 21 passes for 237 yards, a touchdown and a pick with miscues throughout the game in connecting with receivers. It remains inconsistent.

Allen threw interception was his 15th of the season.

Allen's rushing TD total stands at 51 after scoring twice, leaving him six behind O.J. Simpson for second on the team list. ...

It was a big game for Gabe Davis (four receptions, 130 yards and a touchdown), but as's Alaina Getzenberg suggests, there is just not any precedent to him continuing this success over consecutive games. Coming into this game, Davis did not have a reception in three of the last four games (with a six reception, 105-yard performance vs. the Philadelphia Eagles in between).

Davis excelled at running go routes and hitch routes Saturday, according to Next Gen Stats. On six hitch routes, he had three targets for two catches and 77 yards, including the TD. He had two other catches on go routes for 53 yards with one of them setting up an Allen TD run.

If he can use this as an opportunity to string big games together, that would be significant for the offense. ...

Stefon Diggs has gone nine weeks without 100 receiving yards in a game. He started the season with 100 receiving yards in five of his first six games. ...

Cook had a breakout performance last week against the Cowboys, but as noted above, he fumbled twice versus the Chargers and has dropped likely touchdown catches twice in the last month. His only other fumbles of the season came against the Broncos, but ball security and consistency with the football are becoming an issue.

QBs: Josh Allen
RBs: James Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson
WRs: Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dalton Kincaid, Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Time literally ran out on the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's 33-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but's David Newton contends it may have been just the beginning of rookie quarterback Bryce Young's time as a rising star in the NFL.

The top pick of the draft had his first 300-yard passing game for a career-best 113.0 passer rating and was within a tick of the clock from the Green Bay 31-yard line of sending the game into overtime with a field goal.

Young had never eclipsed 250 yards passing in a game prior to Sunday.

"There's so much more to come," said wide receiver D.J. Chark, who had a season-high six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns, when asked about Young. "He's making plays, he's comfortable, but that's who we know him to be, at least in this locker room.

"We believed in him the whole way through. And three, four, five years from now he's going to be definitely at the top, if not one of the top QBs out there."

Wide receiver Adam Thielen agreed.

"Watch out," Thielen said after catching six passes for 94 yards to help the Panthers erase multiple double-digit deficits. "He's got the hot hand, as we say. Obviously super impressive and excited to build on that."

Young completed 23 of 35 pass attempts for 312 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in a game that nearly got out of hand early with Green Bay jumping to a 13-3 lead.

He also rushed four times for 17 yards, including two on his first NFL quarterback sneak for a first down.

His effort came a week after engineering a game-winning 90-yard drive that interim coach Chris Tabor called a big step in the quarterback's development, just as he did again after Sunday's effort.

"He was in complete control," Tabor said. "Our quarterback is playing confident. He's a good player. I always said he was a good player. You saw it today."

Newton went on to suggest that had two plays gone different, Young and the Panthers (2-13) might have been looking at their second straight win. The first came with 2:39 remaining when officials ruled a 36-yard pass from Packers' quarterback Jordan Love to wide receiver Romeo Doubs was good in front of the Carolina bench.

Thielen, who had a bird's-eye view of the play standing only a few feet away, didn't see it as a catch.

"I saw a catch, and then the ball moving as he's going to the ground," Thielen said. "He controls it again, hits the ground and then loses it again. In my opinion, the ball moved twice, so there really wasn't enough time to control the ball.

"So kind of what you get when you play the Packers."

That play set up the game-winning 32-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining.

Young still had time for two throws when he took over from his own 25. He completed two 22-yard passes, the first to Chark and second to Thielen. He tried to spike the ball as the final seconds ticked off to give Eddy Pineiro a shot at a tying field goal, but the officials ruled time expired.

Replay officials in New York City confirmed the ruling on the field, but when asked if he thought a second remained, Tabor deadpanned, "Absolutely."

Young didn't question the play, but believed the effort of the offense "was as good as we've been as a unit."

Young has been saying all season he had the weapons to succeed offensively, but until Sunday there has been little evidence. Carolina hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in two straight games and had gone seven straight without a touchdown in the first half before a 20-yard reverse by Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Young and the offense seemed to take off from there, albeit he was facing a defense that has struggled.

That being said, Young took advantage of what he was given, something he hadn't done to this level all season when critics were suggesting Carolina made a mistake taking him over C.J. Stroud, who went No. 2 to the Houston Texans.

"The sting is that we lost," Young said. "You can try to make up whatever moral victory you want with whatever. At the end of the day, we do this to win, and we didn't get that done. I didn't do enough. We didn't do enough. "We all take accountability for that. There's stuff to learn from, stuff to build off of it. But it's fresh right now. We didn't get the job done. Ultimately, we've still got to be better."

Next up, the Panthers will travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars on Sunday. ...

A few final notes. ... With a 52-yard field goal in the first quarter, kicker Eddy Pineiro is now 10-for-12 (83.3 percent) on 50-plus yard field goal attempts. Since 2019, of kickers with at least 10 field goal attempts of 50+ yards, Piniero's 83.3 conversion percentage ranks first in the NFL. His five field goals of 50+ yards this season ranks as the third-most in team history.

Pineiro has now made 31-consecutive field goals at Bank of America Stadium, which ranks as the second-longest in Panthers history behind Graham Gano's 41-straight conversions from 2016-18. It is also the longest active streak for a kicker in their home stadium in the NFL.

In his career, Pineiro has gone 89-for-100 (89.0 percent) on field goal attempts. His 89.0 field goal percentage ranks fourth in NFL history among kickers with at least 100 field goal attempts.

But the veteran kicker missed two extra points a week after kicking three field goals, including the game-winner as time expired, to earn NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. ...

Sunday was Chark's fourth-career, multi-touchdown game. It is the first time a Panthers wide receiver caught multiple touchdowns in a game since D.J. Moore in Week 4 of the 2021 season against the Dallas Cowboys. ...

Smith-Marsette's 20-yard TD run was his first-career rushing touchdown and third overall. Smith-Marsette is the fifth wide receiver in Panthers history to score a rushing touchdown and first since Curtis Samuel in 2020. Smith-Marsette finished the day with two rushes for 33 yards (16.5 avg.) and one touchdown, as well as one reception for 18 yards.

Running back Chuba Hubbard punched in a 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter to record his fifth rushing touchdown of the season, matching a career high (2020).

Running back Raheem Blackshear had the highest points-per-snap ratio of the game with his two-point conversion, which tied the game on his only play. It was less of a day on his kick returns (averaging just 22.8 on the day when he entered the game at 27.9), but he's a contributor.

Tight end Tommy Tremble has evolved into something resembling an every-down tight end during this season of offensive upheaval and injuries. He's not a traditional body type at the position, but he's an eager blocker, and yesterday, he showed he can be a weapon in the passing game as well. Tremble recorded single-game career highs with four catches and 59 receiving yards.

QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, Diontae Johnson, Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Mike Strachan
TEs: Tommy Tremble, Stephen Sullivan, Ian Thomas, Hayden Hurst

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

According to's Courtney Cronin, head coach Matt Eberflus said he doesn't view Justin Fields' lack of gaudy passing statistics from a 27-16 win over the Cardinals as a detriment to the team's ability to win consistently.

"I see it as progress," Eberflus said of Fields' Week 16 performance. "When you're the winning quarterback on the winning team, that's always good, right? He's been part of that; the last three out of four wins have been coming out of the two-minute, and he's been part of that. I certainly do see progress."

Fields' dual threat abilities carried the Bears to their sixth victory of the season, which doubled Chicago's win total from 2022.

The quarterback completed 15 of 27 passes for 170 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception with a 71.5 passer rating. His passing total dipped from 135 yards in the first half to 35 in the second.

This after throwing for 166 yards the previous week. He also ran for 97 yards.

Remember, the Bears have a star receiver in D.J. Moore, another potential deep threat in Darnell Mooney and an improved offensive line. Despite all that, they're 28th in the NFL in passing after beating the Cardinals and Eberflus would like to see more big passing plays.

"We just got to just continue to work on that," Eberflus said Tuesday. "It's got to, to your point, get the downfield, explosive throws. How you score in the NFL is to get explosive passes and explosive runs. That's what you need to do."

The Bears are averaging 182.6 yards passing. And with two games remaining, they don't have much time left to work on it.

Against Arizona, Fields had a 53-yard completion to tight end Cole Kmet. But as noted above, his overall passing numbers were modest.

To be fair, Fields was without a healthy Moore, who became more of a decoy for the Bears on offense after aggravating the ankle injury he had sustained against Detroit in Week 14. Moore exited briefly after getting hurt on the second play of the game. Chicago's top receiver finished with three catches for 18 yards, his biggest grab coming on third-and-4 late in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal.

Fields also had to adjust to the second-half absence of Kmet, who did not return after injuring a knee. Kmet reached a career-high 107 receiving yards on four catches in the first half.

Kmet's career performance also led to a new career-best for most receiving yards in a season (678). His previous best was 612 yards in 2021.

But Mooney's production has been in decline for two years since he had 1,055 yards in 2021, his second season. And it was more of the same on Sunday.

Mooney was targeted four times and caught two passes for 5 yards. He has 31 receptions for 414 yards on the season.

Whatever the case, Fields ranks 21st in passer rating and 28th in completion percentage in his third season, and his future remains one of the biggest questions surrounding the franchise. The Bears could have the No. 1 pick in the draft after acquiring Carolina's first-rounder in the trade for Moore last March, and they have to decide whether to exercise their fifth-year option for 2025 on Fields.

There are positives.

Sunday marked Field's ninth career game with passing and rushing touchdowns, which ties former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh for the second-most such games in a season in franchise history.

In addition, the Bears' 250 rushing yards were their most in a game this season, as were their 150 yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Running back Khalil Herbert, who received his first start in three weeks after D'Onta Foreman was made inactive, generated a season-best 112 rushing yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

Most importantly, the burst that Herbert had displayed prior to an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve during Weeks 6-10 was back on display.

Fields also showcased his rushing abilities alongside Herbert, totaling 97 yards on nine attempts, including a season-long 39-yard carry.

Fields, whose 10.8 yards per carry marked his season-best, also credited the offensive line for creating not just holes, but "highways" against the Arizona defense for himself, Herbert and Roschon Johnson, who added 37 yards on nine carries.

"We are excited about that," Eberflus said of the run game. "A lot of times when you have a number like that, your quarterback is a big part of that. So 97 yards by [Fields]. Had some really dynamic scrambles and runs. What was cool, though, was that he looked down the field a lot of times and he made some passes, too, which is what he's been working on. That was really good."

Postgame, Fields dismissed the notion that he needs to reach any specific statistical threshold -- passing or rushing -- to be successful.

"I mean, I'm cool with whatever as long as we win a game, to be honest with you," Fields said. "If I have 100 passing yards with zero touchdowns ... we get the win, I'm cool with that. I know people love stats and -- 'he only threw for this much or that much.' I don't care. We won the game. As long as we win, I'm not really a numbers guy, you know? All I know is one went up in the win column today, so that's all I care about. ..."

The next chance to put one in the win column comes against the Falcons in Chicago this Sunday.

I'll be following up on Moore and Kmet's injury issues via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Worth noting. ... Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman points out the Bears have let double-digit advantages in the fourth quarter slip away in three of their losses. And they looked like they might do it for the second week in a row before hanging on against Arizona.

They let a 21-point lead in the first half dwindle to eight midway through the fourth quarter, after blowing a 10-point lead in a 20-17 loss at Cleveland. They also blew double-digit advantages against Denver in Week 4 and at Detroit in Week 11. ...

One last note here. ... Marcedes Lewis passed Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the most starts by an active player Sunday at Soldier Field.

Lewis is one of only three tight ends in NFL history to start 200-plus regular season games and post 400-plus receptions (435), joining Tony Gonzales and Jason Witten. Lewis also ranks first in games played (266) among active players.

Along with reaching that milestone, Lewis scored for the first time this season, catching a 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put the Bears up 21-0 -- his 40th career TD.

QBs: Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, D'Andre Swift, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, Khari Blasingame
WRs: D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Tyler Scott, Trent Taylor, Velus Jones Jr., Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Gerald Everett, Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacy suggested, the Bengals' confidence and playoff hopes came crashing down in Pittsburgh two days before Christmas.

Cincinnati had won three straight games to sneak back into the playoff picture. But the Bengals badly needed to beat the Steelers on Saturday to stay there. Instead, Cincinnati (8-7) took a thorough beating by one of the worst offenses in the league.

Jake Browning, making his fifth start in place of the injured Joe Burrow, threw three interceptions on ill-advised passes. And the Steelers exploited the Bengals' other weaknesses. Cincinnati couldn't run the ball -- What else is new? -- and the defense couldn't contain Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback.

The Steelers (8-7) hadn't managed to score 24 points in a game since Oct. 22. On Saturday they led 24-0 at the half en route to a 34-11 win.

The Bengals' collapse is hard to explain. With Rudolph at quarterback, practice-squad call-ups at linebacker and safety, and general in-house turmoil, the Steelers seemed beatable.

"I don't have an answer for you," defensive end Sam Hubbard said.

"We just have to continue to pick up the pieces and find a way to be better next week," coach Zac Taylor said.

The Bengals are on the verge of missing the playoffs after winning the AFC North the last two years. They play at Kansas City on New Year's Eve.

"We don't overreact. We've done some really good things the last couple weeks," Taylor said. "(Saturday) wasn't a great experience for us. We know what the narrative will be going forward, and so we'll just own up to it, be accountable to it and be ready to put our best foot forward at Kansas City."

Indeed, the Bengals need to clear this debacle from their minds quickly. They have to face the playoff-bound Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before the regular-season finale at home against Cleveland, which is highly likely to make the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

Still,'s Ben Baby believes the rout against the Steelers might be too much to overcome. The Bengals now need to likely beat both Kansas City and Cleveland to reach the postseason for a third straight season. According to ESPN Analytics, Cincinnati's playoff chances dropped to 14 percent after the defeat. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Browning threw for 335 yards and -- with star receiver Ja'Marr Chase sidelined -- distributed the ball to 10 receivers.

But he's making some bad decisions.

Browning threw an interception in the red zone on Cincinnati's first drive of the game. He had another interception in the first half and also had a fumble that Cincinnati recovered. Both of those interceptions turned into Steelers touchdowns.

The 27-year-old Browning, who could be auditioning for other teams that need a quarterback next season, looked overwhelmed against the Steelers after performing extremely well in his previous three starts, all wins.

Worth noting. ... The running game has been lackluster all season, allowing pass rushers to turn up the heat on Browning, who was sacked three times. He was blitzed on just three of his first 39 pass attempts. On the 34 throws in which he wasn't blitzed, he was pressured 17 times.

"There are lots of quarterbacks who had a bad game," he said. "I've got to find a way to respond. That's where I'm at, and that's where we're at."

Meanwhile, Tee Higgins had five catches for a season-high 140 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter. ...

Joe Mixon rushed 11 times for 43 yards and caught two of four targets for seven yards. He also caught a two-point conversion

Mixon was held to just four yards on five first-half carries. Cincinnati largely abandoned the run in the second half due to the large deficit, though Mixon found a bit more running room and caught a two-point conversion after Cincinnati's lone touchdown in the third quarter.

Mixon's 50 scrimmage yards marked his lowest total since Week 10, but backup Chase Brown had only 24 scrimmage yards, so Mixon remains in the lead role heading into the team's trip to Kansas City. ...

Finally. ... No news on Chase (shoulder)and there won't be until the Bengals re-convene Wednesday after getting Christmas Monday and their regular Tuesday off. Chase (shoulder) did travel to Pittsburgh even though he was inactive.

"We'll take it day-to-day with him," Taylor said. "What is today? Sunday? We practice on Wednesday, so I'm not going to go there yet."

QBs: Jake Browning, Joe Burrow
RBs: Zack Moss, Chase Brown, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Mike Gesicki, Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Coral Smith reported it, wide receiver Amari Cooper had himself a history-making game in Sunday's 36-22 win over the Houston Texans, hauling in 11 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

He broke the Browns' single-game receiving yards record, passing Josh Gordon's previous mark of 261 from 2013, and also set a new career-high for himself with his fourth game of 200-plus yards (tied for third-most in NFL history).

In addition, Cooper also became the first Browns player to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and joined Hall of Famer Terrell Owens as the only players in NFL history to have a 200-plus receiving-yard game with three different franchises (Cooper previously did it with the Raiders and Cowboys).

"Yeah, I mean every time I step on the field, I try to put forth my best effort, I do truly feel like I'm unguardable," Cooper said in a post-game interview with NFL Network's Stacey Dales. "You know it's all about opportunities, and I had a lot of opportunities today, so I was able to take advantage of them."

Cooper got to work from the get-go, opening up the afternoon with a 53-yard reception on the Browns' first play from scrimmage. He added on two touchdown catches, one for 75 yards, and averaged just over 24 yards per catch by the end of the game.

"He's a consummate pro. He's one of the best I've ever been around," head coach Kevin Stefanski said in his post-game conference, via Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot. "What he knows about this game. The way he sees in this game. He's like a savant out there, and combine that with the route running ability. He's one of this team's leaders. These guys love Amari, and the same come-through is awesome."

The catch that finally broke the franchise mark came in a big spot late in the game. On fourth-and-7 with under four minutes to play, the Browns were looking to run down the clock and avoid giving the Texans any chance to come back. Quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass, and with defenders closing in, threw toward the sideline to find Cooper for a 13-yard fourth-down conversion.

It was the sixth-most improbable completion in the NFL this season, per Next Gen Stats, with a completion probability of 13.8 percent. Cooper had four catches for 148 yards and two TDs on targets with less than a 33 percent completion probability on Sunday, the most such yards in a game in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016).

"Man, I've only been receiving passes from Joe for a short period of time, but one thing I learned quickly is he has amazing arm strength. So sometimes when it looks like he's down, if he sees you, he's going to get it out, so I just stayed alive," Cooper said to Dales of the fourth-down play.

The pairing of Flacco and Cooper has been fruitful through the first three games they've played together, having connected for 77 and 109 passing yards the last two weeks, though they blew those previous numbers out of the water with Sunday's historic effort.

"Man, Joe throws a beautiful ball, a beautiful ball, easy to catch," Cooper said to Dales. "He has a lot up here, he's a very cerebral quarterback, honestly he just has a good feel for the game, and us together, it's like we're in rhythm. Yeah, I plan to keep having these types of games with Joe."

Can the Browns keep airing it out like this?

With Flacco's big, accurate arm,'s Jake Trotter believes they absolutely can.

The Browns (10-6) figure to be playing for playoff seeding in their final two games. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cleveland now has a better than 99 percent chance to make the postseason. But the Browns can't clinch a playoff spot until next week, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills both winning Saturday.

Cleveland was alone in the 5-seed in the AFC playoff picture coming into the weekend. The Browns are still alive for the AFC North title as well, trailing the Baltimore Ravens (11-3) by only 1½ games. Baltimore faces San Francisco on Monday night. ...

For what it's worth, Trotter reports that all fourth quarter, Cooper was campaigning to get back in the game. It wasn't to break the franchise record, but rather to top 300 receiving yards in a game.

He didn't quite reach 300.

"It was a lot of time left, man. A lot of food on the plate there," said Cooper, who sat most of the fourth quarter with 252 receiving yards and a 36-7 lead. "So yeah, I was anxious a little bit, for sure. ..."

One last note on Flacco. ... In four games, he's passed for 1,307 yards -- more than any quarterback in that span -- and 10 touchdowns, tying him with Matthew Stafford of the Rams and Brock Purdy of the 49ers for the most during that period.

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers suggested, "Not bad for a guy who spent months watching games on TV at home in New Jersey while wondering if he had thrown his last pass. ..."

Also of interest. ... The running game was almost nonexistent at Houston, but that wasn't necessarily a problem. It could become one, however.

The Browns picked up 54 yards on 30 carries, a measly 1.8 yards per crack against the Texans. Stefanski tried the wildcat formation (direct snaps to running backs), but that yielded minimal success.

Cleveland's offensive line got a little healthier with two starters returning, and that helps. But with the weather likely to be an issue this week and potentially in the playoffs, the Browns have to be able to run the ball effectively.

The good news?

The Browns rushed for two touchdowns on Sunday. It was the second time this season that running backs Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt each had a rushing touchdown in a game. ...

The Browns have dealt with a slew of injuries throughout the season, and it continued once again in Week 16.

As a result, the Browns will try to clinch a playoff berth with a new kicker.

Dustin Hopkins will miss Thursday night's game against the New York Jets -- and maybe longer -- because of a left hamstring injury he sustained in the first half of Sunday's win.

Hopkins, who has been one of the NFL's most accurate kickers in his first season with the Browns, is "week to week," Stefanski said Tuesday. Hopkins got hurt while chasing Texans returner Dameon Pierce on a 98-yard touchdown.

Stefanski said it's too early to say if Hopkins would be back for the postseason.

The Browns have been ravaged by injuries since the opener, so losing Hopkins is just the latest challenge for Stefanski and his staff, which has spent the season plugging holes up and down the depth chart.

On Monday, the Browns worked out several kickers before signing Riley Patterson. He'll take over temporarily for Hopkins, who has made 33 of 36 field goals and all eight attempts beyond 50 yards.

Patterson has appeared in 37 games for Detroit and Jacksonville. He's made 58 of 66 field-goal attempts and 87 of 90 extra points. The Lions surprisingly released him in Week 15.

"Did a nice job in his workout, obviously has production in this league in this season," Stefanski said. "So a guy we're comfortable with."

The Browns also placed rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson on injured reserve with a hip injury sustained against the Texans. Thompson-Robinson made three starts for Cleveland. According to Withers, Thompson-Robinson came into the locker room briefly and was using a cane to assist him while walking.

P.J. Walker was activated from the practice squad and will back up Flacco. Walker made two starts earlier this season while Deshaun Watson was dealing with a shoulder issue. Walker also came off the bench at Indianapolis after Watson got hurt in the first quarter.

QBs: Jameis Winston, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Tyler Huntley, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Jerome Ford, D'Onta Foreman, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Jerry Jeudy, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Michael Baca suggested, the opportunity was there for Dallas to flip the script, but Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins continued the ongoing road struggles.

Head coach Mike McCarthy hopes it will be looked back on as a learning experience for the playoff-bound Cowboys.

"It was a hard-fought game," said McCarthy, via the team's official website. "It gives you a taste of if we have to go on the road to get this done, and there's a lot that we can draw from this. We're disappointed because we had some miscues. I had a horse---- backed up plan, and we were backed up twice and didn't move the field position, so we didn't help our defense out there.

"We didn't have a takeaway, but we had a giveaway. It's those big mistakes you can't make in these games, but I think the resilience, battle and grit that we're looking for -- we clearly have that."

Dallas fell to 3-5 on the road this season, and Sunday's razor-thin defeat resulted in the team's first losing streak of 2023. While the Cowboys are still in play for the NFC East title, which would offer a home playoff game (Dallas is undefeated at AT&T Stadium this season), McCarthy indicated the writing on the wall for what's to come in late January.

"We have to play better than we did today," he added. "We have to play above it on the road. Road warriors we will be."

It was a valiant team effort for the Cowboys, especially coming off a humiliating blowout in Buffalo last week.

Dak Prescott orchestrated a 17-play, 66-yard drive to get the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, which was a scenario and sequence that allowed the Cowboys offense to prove itself under pressure. The Cowboys' defense also played well against the high-powered Dolphins, holding the league's top scoring offense to just one touchdown and five field goals.

The 22-20 defeat was bookended by two key mistakes, however, which might have been the difference.

Dallas drove the length of the field on its opening possession, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock and setting a tone any successful road team would demonstrate. But a lost fumble on Prescott's handoff to fullback Hunter Luepke on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line ruined the brilliant start and left points on the board of a two-point defeat.

A facemask penalty on the first play of the Dolphins' game-winning drive set the Dolphins up for success. Tua Tagovailoa and Co. proceeded to pepper Dallas with an array of short passes before Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for a final first down to help set up Jason Sanders' game-winning field goal from 29 yards out.

"It was a juggernaut game, and what we expected -- situational football," McCarthy said. "The facemask penalty was a big call [on the final drive]. It's a challenge in these games because you know it's gonna come down to one play, and they probably made a play or two that we didn't."

The Cowboys (10-5) host the Detroit Lions (11-4) in Week 17 before heading to Washington for their final regular-season game. Beating a four-win Commanders team on the road won't change the narrative of the Cowboys' struggles away from Dallas, but they did experience just how small the margin of error can be.

McCarthy's team will put its best foot forward hoping to overcome those road woes on the biggest stage.


According to's Todd Archer, Sunday's loss to Miami was at least better than last week's 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, but there were too many lapses.

Like an offense that put up 153 yards in the first two drives of the game put up 9 yards on its next four drives.

CeeDee Lamb was so good early against the Dolphins, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did everything he could to take Lamb out of the game.

But that wasn't until after Lamb had extended his touchdown streak to seven games, becoming the third Dallas receiver to do that along with Dez Bryant (2012) and Terrell Owens (2007).

Lamb had 93 of his 118 yards in the first quarter in his seventh 100-yard game of the season. Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin holds the single-season club record for 100-yard games with 11.

Like a running game was the worst it has been all season.

Even on the first possession where Tony Pollard and Luepke were fed with a few carries, the big yardage plays only came in the pass game, and it wasn't like those plays were set up by the run.

The Cowboys are having a hard time generating explosive plays for Pollard in his first, and possibly only, season as the lead running back. He averaged 3.2 yards per carry against the Dolphins and his average for the season is at risk of falling below 4 yards. It's never been that low.

As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon noted, playing on the $10.1 million franchise tag in his fifth season, Pollard averaged at least 5 yards per carry in three of his first four years. He had 12 total TDs last season, but has just five this season.

In addition, a week after going 5-of-13 on third downs versus the Bills, the Cowboys were just 3-of-11 against the Dolphins. This is the fifth time in eight road games the Cowboys have not converted more than 40 percent of their third downs.

They need to do better when they host the Lions this weekend.

All that said, when the Dallas offense gets moving, it's hard to stop.

The Cowboys lead the league with 44 drives of at least 10 plays. The aforementioned 17-play drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter was their longest TD march of the season. A 15-play drive on the first possession ended in a fumble at the Miami 2-yard line.

QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As senior writer Jeff Legwold framed it: ""In a race to stay in the chase for an AFC wild-card spot, the Denver Broncos lost the most consistent player on their offense, lost a game in the final seconds and most likely lost their chance at the postseason in one exceedingly disappointing Christmas Eve. ..."

Wide receiver Courtland Sutton left Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots in the first quarter with a concussion and the rest of the evening didn't get any better.

Rookie kicker Chad Ryland powered a 56-yard field through the frigid night air with two seconds remaining and New England left with a 26-23 win in Empower Field at Mile High.

"It's disappointing, it's a disappointing loss," Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper said. "Everybody's feeling it, I know I'm feeling it, it sucks, man, it sucks. We've got everything to play for right there and we didn't get the job done, simple as that. ... It's going to be hard to enjoy Christmas ... plain and simple, it wasn't good enough."

The loss likely extinguishes the Broncos' (7-8) playoff chances without a wholesale collapse around them in the AFC. Denver is 4-6 versus AFC opponents, with games remaining against the Chargers and Raiders over the season's final two weeks.

"I haven't done the math, I'm feeling this loss right now," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We probably should have won this game, probably the best thing we can do is get up [Monday], be with our families and get back to work."

A dismal first quarter was the tipping point for a Broncos' offense, as it struggled mightily without Sutton in the game. Denver's first three possessions started at the New England 6-, 46- and 25-yard lines, but the Broncos came away with just seven points.

The Broncos followed that up with minus-7 net yards in the third quarter as Wilson was sacked five times. Denver had one play in the game longer than 21 yards.

The Broncos sorely missed Sutton, who has 10 touchdown catches this season.

Jerry Jeudy had an opportunity to fill the void, but he did not have a target or a catch until a 13-yard reception with 9:09 left in the game.

"Frustrating game in that we had a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half; offensively we struggled," head coach Sean Payton said. " ... Our margin for error right now isn't what it needs to be and we end up on the losing end of a game."

Sutton came into the game third in the league in receiving touchdowns this season with 10 and until a fourth-quarter rejuvenation, the Broncos didn't have anyone to close the deal in the red zone as he has done throughout the year. In the first half the Broncos had one reception by a wide receiver -- a 9-yard catch by Marvin Mims Jr.

Add all of that to a 20-point third quarter by the Patriots that included returning Mims' fumble on a kickoff for a touchdown -- their third of the quarter -- and the recipe was in place for the Broncos to also fumble away their playoff hopes.

"I felt like, personally, I blew it," Mims said. "That's a 14-point swing. It cost us at the end. I got to be better, I know that. At the end of the day, I mean things happen, but I just know I got to be better."

Payton said after the game Sutton was officially in the concussion protocol, which means he will have to clear several stages, including exams by an independent neurologist, before he can practice fully or play in a game. The Broncos will host the Chargers on Sunday.

Payton said he would give the players Christmas Day, as well as Tuesday, off before the team returns to the practice field Wednesday. ...

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

Also of interest. ... Javonte Williams had 11 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown while catching all three of his targets for a loss of five yards in this one.

Williams finished with negative receiving yards and 20 or fewer yards from scrimmage for the second game in a row. He also coughed up his first fumble of the season. Unlike the previous week's dud against Detroit, the 23-year-old was able to offset the low yardage total with a short touchdown run in the first quarter.

Williams also caught one of Wilson's successful two-point attempts in the fourth quarter to give another boost to his managers' fantasy scores Sunday. Despite his recent struggles, Williams figures to lead Denver's backfield in a more favorable matchup this week. ...

Tight end Lucas Krull, who has spent much of the season on the practice squad, had his first multi-catch game and the first touchdown reception of his career. The Broncos entered the game with the second-fewest catches in the league among tight ends with 31.

QBs: Zach Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin, Samaje Perine
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Brandon Johnson
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Detroit is back in the playoffs. ... The Lions dispatched their rival Vikings on Sunday, 30-24, clinching the NFC North for the first time in team history and a playoff spot for the first time since 2016.

It's the largest accomplishment of head coach Dan Campbell's three-year tenure thus far, a milestone that seemed far off after Campbell's inaugural 3-13 campaign and when Detroit started 2022 with a 1-6 record.

But the way his team fought over the back half of last year, winning five out of its last six to finish 9-8, carried into 2023, a season in which the Lions have cashed in on their potential.

Detroit last captured a division in 1993, though that was part of the now-defunct NFC Central.

"This is special. This is special," Campbell told reporters Sunday. "It's something you don't get to do all the time. They're always special to win a division. I don't care how many of them you get because of the work that goes into it. But to do something that hadn't been done in 30 years for a team is special, and that's a special group of men back in there that are staying tame at this point."

The team currently sits at 11-4 -- already assured a tie for the franchise's winningest season this century.

"It's cool. It really is cool," Jared Goff said. "Being able to really reflect on it like we did something that [hadn't been done by] team after team after team for 30 years. This 2023 team did it and broke that streak and we will guarantee a home playoff game. But, yeah, we've got some work to do next week and the following and see where we go."

Goff passed for 257 yards and a touchdown and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Ifeatu Melifonwu's interception of a Nick Mullens pass at the Lions' 5-yard line, with 58 seconds remaining and the Vikings driving for the potential go-ahead score, that sealed the victory. The interception was Mullens' fourth of the game.

"It was about time; that was my first career interception, and thank God for that," Melifonwu said. "I was in a post, and I saw Justin Jefferson in the middle, then I saw the quarterback and I jumped it. When Kerby [Joseph] got two earlier, it was a matter of time. My time was coming."

Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown also finished with his eighth 100-yard receiving game this season, tying Tyreek Hill for the most in the NFL. He ended with 12 receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. He admitted to feeling speechless after the back-and-forth battle.

"It was really important for us. I mean 30 years is a pretty long time when you think about it," St. Brown said. "I mean for us, we knew it. It was on our fingertips. It was here. This was a chance. We couldn't let it slip."

Entering the game, Goff said the current Lions team didn't "carry the weight of the last 30 years here" with the division-title drought. However, Campbell, also a former Lions player, made it a priority to help the guys understand the special opportunity they had in front of them with the chance to accomplish this season-long goal.

"I'm proud of everybody. This has been a long time coming," Campbell said. "Look, I'm proud of all the Lions fans out there that have been dying for this for years, man. That's for you, too. I know it's been a long time. You deserve that. And it's not over. That's just one."

After the victory, Campbell welcomed team owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood into the locker room, where he called offensive lineman Taylor Decker -- the longest-tenured Lion -- and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow in front of the team to be recognized after experiencing years of agony within the franchise before this moment.

"It means everything," Ford Hamp said. "It's amazing."

With this latest triumph, the Lions kept themselves in position to possibly ascend to the conference's No. 1 seed, and they're tied with the 49ers after Baltimore's win in San Francisco Monday night.

"It's emotional, but it's just the beginning for us," Goff said. "It's the first checkmark for us, and I get emotional thinking about all the guys that went through 3-13, went through 1-6 early last year and now can stand here NFC North champs."

Having gone 32 years without a postseason victory dating back to 1991, the Lions' division-clinching effort on Sunday means they've guaranteed themselves the opportunity to put an end to the drought in front of their long-starved fans. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Sunday marked St. Brown's 14th career 100-yard receiving game which is already the fifth most in team history. It also gives him 102 receptions on the season as he joined Herman Moore as the only players in franchise history to have multiple 100-catch seasons.

"He means a ton to this team," Goff said. "He means a ton to this culture and to our offense, certainly. A ton to me. He's getting himself open and running great routes. He's got great hands and communicates great with me, tells me what he likes and doesn't like. And yeah, I can trust him on every single throw you can ever make I trust him.

"He's a hell of a player and is only going to continue to get better and that's exciting. ..."

Second-year receiver Jameson Williams has continued to improve from week to week and posted his first career game with at least five receptions. He could be a key player down the stretch for the Lions. ...

The Lions have rushed for 2,116 yards and 24 touchdowns thanks to their 1-2 combination of David Montgomery (910 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Gibbs (872 yards, nine touchdowns, plus 51 receptions). Detroit has hit 100 yards in its past eight games and at least 140 in its past five.

Gibbs was a first-round pick, but it meant the Lions had to deal D'Andre Swift for a fourth-round pick, but he has become a key playmaker in the Lions offense. In fact, Gibbs passed running back Mel Farr (1,177 yards in 1967) for the fifth most scrimmage yards produced by a rookie in a single season. ...

Finally. ... The team's shortcomings at kicker continued as Michael Badgley's extra point attempt was blocked in the third quarter.

QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jameson Williams, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Antoine Green
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

A Packers offense riddled with injuries at every skill position turned to a familiar face during Sunday's must-win encounter with the Carolina Panthers.

And Aaron Jones did not disappoint.

Green Bay's seventh-year running back put his own recent injuries in the past during his finest performance of the season, 21 carries for 127 yards, to catapult the Packers to a 33-30 win over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

As Wes Hodkiewicz suggested, it was a special day for Jones, who got off to a terrific start in the opener against Chicago before sustaining a hamstring injury at the tail end of a second-half touchdown catch-and-run that hampered him during the first half of the year.

Just when it looked like injuries were behind him, the 29-year-old running back sprained his MCL on Thanksgiving against Detroit and missed three more games. Sunday was about gaining a victory more than personal validation, but Jones admits it was fun to remind the masses what he's still capable of.

"I think I showed that Week 1 and I just haven't been healthy to get out there and show it again," Jones said. "Finally getting back healthy, I feel like I showed people a lot of the doubters, people who may be saying, 'Oh, he's getting too old, blah, blah, blah.' It felt good."

While Jones missed three games earlier this month with a sprained MCL, Green Bay needed to lean on him due to mounting injuries on offense. That included Jones' running mate AJ Dillon, whose broken thumb limited him to just seven touches Sunday.

Like last week against Tampa Bay, Jones came out of the gates hot. He recorded 82 of his 121 rushing yards on the first two series in the first quarter. He ran for 38 yards and caught an 8-yard pass on Green Bay's first possession, a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Dillon 1-yard touchdown run.

Jones then busted a season-long 39-yard run on his first carry up the right sideline to start the next series. Jones thought he might have a chance at a touchdown before seeing Panthers safety Xavier Woods come into his vision.

The Packers used the explosive gain to orchestrate another TD-producing drive, with quarterback Jordan Love sneaking in for a 1-yard score on the first play of the second quarter.

Jones and the offensive line continued to wear down the Panthers' front in the third quarter, with the 5-9, 208-pound running back gaining 24 yards on four straight carries to set up Love's 5-yard touchdown pass to receiver Romeo Doubs on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"That's how he's been. He's been that dude," Doubs said. "It's easy outside looking in to speak on what he's done. He's had some trials and tribulations throughout the course of this year, but I'm not surprised that he played the way he did because that's how he always plays."

As a team, the Packers finished with 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Individually, however, Sunday marked the first time a Packers player has eclipsed 100 rushing yards since Jones rushed for 111 on 14 carries in a 41-17 win over Minnesota on Jan. 1, 2023.

Fittingly, the Packers will travel to face the Vikings this Sunday in a pivotal game for the NFC North rivals in primetime on New Year's Eve in what is almost a de facto elimination game.

Winner stays alive in the playoff hunt, and the loser is likely out.

"Everything's at stake," LaFleur said. "We're going into a great environment next week in Minnesota, against a really good football team. It's going to be a great challenge.

"This is what we prepare for all year."

As Jones gets closer to full health, the former Pro Bowler hopes to lead a Packers playoff push.

"I wouldn't say I was fully 100 percent but who's ever 100 percent in December?" Jones said. "But definitely getting back to myself and feeling better each week as the weeks go on. Hopefully next week I come out there and I am 100 percent. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... With the offense missing receivers Christian Watson and Jayden Reed, and with Dontayvion Wicks leaving with a chest injury after halftime following his TD catch, Bo Melton was determined to help Green Bay overcome his teammates' absences.

Elevated from the practice squad, Melton did a little of everything on the Packers' first two scoring drives en route to finishing with five touches for 51 yards (four catches for 44 yards, one carry for seven).

The opportunity meant everything to Melton considering Sunday was almost one year to the day that the 5-foot-11, 189-pound wideout first signed with Green Bay from Seattle's practice squad.

"It's been a roller coaster, for sure," Melton said. "Coming into the league, dealing with a little injury here and there, setting me back, but I didn't stop believing in myself. I stayed in the books, stayed in God. I came out here and did what I could do for this team. Just keep showing out as I can."

Meanwhile, tight end Tucker Kraft hasn't let the injury to Luke Musgrave slow down the Packers tight ends. Kraft caught four passes for 60 yards, including a 20-yarder that set up the game-winning score in the final minute. ...

Musgrave is designated to return; I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Finally. ... CBs Jaire Alexander was playing for the first time since missing six games with a shoulder issue and CB Eric Stokes was in his second game since coming off injured reserve with a hamstring problem, but neither player was effective Sunday.

Alexander, who hadn't been named a game captain, also still came out for the coin toss to open the game and nearly cost his team by initially saying the Packers wanted to be on defense first rather than saying they deferred the option. The Packers received a break when referee Alex Kemp asked him to clarify.

QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Josh Jacobs, A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor
WRs: Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, Malik Heath
TEs: Tucker Kraft, Ben Sims, Josiah Deguara, Luke Musgrave

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken reported it, Case Keenum and the Houston Texans' offense couldn't do anything Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in their second game without star rookie C.J. Stroud.

Keenum managed just 62 yards passing and threw two interceptions before being replaced by Davis Mills late in the 36-22 loss. Stroud remains out while recovering from a concussion he sustained Dec. 10.

"We just didn't do enough today," Keenum said. "We got our butts kicked and that's never fun. I hadn't had it like that in a while."

After squeaking out a 19-16 overtime win at Tennessee last week, Houston struggled from the start Sunday and didn't score on offense until the fourth quarter.

"When we had positive plays, we ended up having a negative play," head coach DeMeco Ryans said. "It just seemed like we couldn't get out of our own way. And when you continue to hurt yourself, the self-inflicted penalties, negative yardage, sacks, those plays just keep you behind the chains and it's hard to keep up versus a very good defense."

The setback decreases the chances the Texans (8-7) will make the playoffs.

"There's tough games, tough losses, it's about getting back up and going back out there and picking yourself up and dusting yourself off," Keenum said. "We still have a chance. We still have some opportunities."

Keenum was solid last week in his first action this year and first start since the 2021 season. He threw for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Titans.

Things were much different on Sunday when Cleveland's NFL-best defense hurried and harassed him constantly until he was replaced by Mills late in the third quarter.

"They didn't do anything really different than what they've done before, but man, they're a really talented defensive front and back end and linebackers," Keenum said. "I think that's one of the more talented defenses we've played. You've got to give them a lot of credit."

Mills, the team's starter for most of the last two seasons, cut the lead to 36-15 when he finally got the Texans into the end zone on a TD pass and 2-point conversion to Nico Collins.

Houston recovered an onside kick and added a garbage-time touchdown.

The Browns were up 28-7 late in the third quarter when Duron Harmon picked off Keenum, leading to another Cleveland touchdown.

Ryans was most disappointed in his team's defensive effort.

Cleveland's Amari Cooper finished with a franchise-record 265 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Joe Flacco was 27 of 42 for 368 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his fourth game since signing with the Browns Nov. 20.

"When you don't get pressure on the quarterback, no matter who's out there it's going to be a long day," Ryans said. "Flacco had a really good day against us. We didn't pressure him at all. He stood back in the pocket. He had all day to throw the football and we weren't where we were supposed to be in coverage."

Meanwhile, Stroud has begun to make some progress, and there is optimism he could be ready to play this week at home against the Tennessee Titans, a league source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Stroud suffered a concussion in the team's 30-6 Week 14 loss to the New York Jets and remained in the protocol after missing a Week 15 win over the Titans.

Asked last week whether Stroud's injury could end his season, Ryans said, "No."

And what if he can't return?

Should the Texans switch to Mills?

According to's DJ Bien-Aime, the answer is yes.

Keenum's run has been shaky at best, as the offense in two games averaged 9.5 points, and three of those points came in the overtime win against the Titans. The Texans were outgained by Cooper alone. They finished with 250 yards. As long as Stroud is out, they have to at least try Mills. ...

One last note here. ... Dameon Pierce returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7 in the second quarter. It was the first time Pierce, who lost his job as starting running back a few weeks ago, had returned kicks in his two-year career.

"Putting him back there at the kickoff return is something we explored throughout the week, and he did a really good job of practicing it," Ryans said. "And he showed up. He showed up and made a big-time play for us to spark our entire team."

QBs: C.J. Stroud, Case Keenum, Davis Mills
RBs: Joe Mixon, Dameon Pierce, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs, Noah Brown, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Xavier Hutchinson, Tank Dell
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Brevin Jordan

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Stephen Holder put it, "The Colts had everything in front of them heading into Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. ..."

Holder went on to explain they had momentum -- and promising playoff odds -- following last week's three-score win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which gave the Colts five wins in the past six games.

But a listless and lackadaisical 29-10 loss to the Falcons on Sunday leaves Indianapolis with little margin for error as it endeavors to reach the postseason.

The disappointing effort prompted an honest locker room speech from quarterback Gardner Minshew, who attempted to give his teammates a wake-up call after they, perhaps, took Atlanta too lightly.

"You start counting wins and you start doing schedule math and you look around, it's like, 'Well they lost to Carolina; we beat the Steelers,'" Minshew recounted later. "Well you know what? You gotta go earn it right now. And if you take this lightly, you might not end up with another [chance]."

The message was well received.

"I feel like Gardner said it perfectly," linebacker and defensive captain Zaire Franklin said. "Don't take it for granted. Being in a situation in December where you could fight for a playoff spot and play meaningful football, don't take it for granted. Don't feel like you beat a team on paper just because [we're] supposed to be better. It's hard to win in this league. Unfortunately, today was a lesson."

It's a lesson many players on the roster should already know. The Colts were infamously eliminated from the playoffs in 2021 after losing a Week 18 game to the Jaguars, who entered the game with two wins, had lost their previous eight games and were coming off a 40-point loss to New England.

On Sunday, the Colts showed shades of their performance on that fateful day. After an effortless touchdown drive on their opening possession, the Colts were outscored 29-3.

Few of the Colts' strengths showed up against Atlanta. Defensively, they entered the game with 25 sacks in their past six games and had recorded a takeaway in 19 straight games (the longest active streak in the NFL). The day ended without a turnover and just a single sack of new Falcons starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

Offensively, the running game fizzled after the opening drive, despite the return of star running back Jonathan Taylor, who was limited to 43 yards on 18 carries. And without No. 1 receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (concussion), the passing game was anemic.

Minshew completed just 20 of 37 attempts while under consistent pressure.

The longer the game wore on, the more the Colts unraveled.

"It wasn't us," coach Shane Steichen said. "You don't want to see it. You've got to stop the bleeding. It starts with myself going forward. We've got to get that corrected."

Worth noting. ... The Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars each had an opportunity to take control of the AFC South in Week 16 -- and all three teams suffered multi-possession defeats.

All three teams are now 8-7 with two weeks left; the Jaguars own head-to-head and three-way tiebreakers over the Colts and Texans and remain in first place.

The Colts are very much still alive in the AFC South, and Week 18 could set up for some epic scoreboard watching: If all three teams are still tied, a Jaguars loss to the Titans would mean the winner of the Colts-Texans game would win the division.

This week the Colts host the Raiders, who are coming off a huge win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Pittman's absence was felt, but the Colts didn't view it as an excuse.

The Colts on Saturday downgraded Pittman from questionable to out after Steichen said his concussion symptoms relapsed. Pittman is back in the NFL concussion protocol and will have to clear it to play on New Year's Eve against the Las Vegas Raiders.

With Pittman out, the Colts leaned on D.J. Montgomery to replace him in their lineup, with receivers and tight ends across the offense being counted on to make plays in place of the team's 1,000-yard receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, the Colts had a season-high six dropped passes on Sunday.

"We adjusted when we heard (Pittman was out), and we went from there," Steichen said. "We had full confidence in the guys who were out there, and we just didn't get it done."

The Colts' confidence in guys like Montgomery, Alec Pierce and Josh Downs is still high, with those players all delivering in key moments at times this season.

"Pitt's been so good for us this year, and we'll continue to be excited to get him back," Minshew said. "But it's next man up -- I have a lot of confidence in this guys that are in there, A.P., D.J., J.D. We just gotta figure it out and find a way."

Zack Moss also missed the game with a forearm injury.

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

Finally. ... As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot noted, Indy showed how much it values this position by opening the season with four TEs on the active roster and another on injured reserve.

Each week, it seems, a different player steps into the spotlight.

Last weekend, it was two guys -- Kylen Granson and Will Mallory. Granson had five catches for 62 yards while Mallory had four for 47. Indy finished with 20 completions for 201 yards passing.

QBs: Joe Flacco, Sam Ehlinger, Kellen Mond, Anthony Richardson
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Trey Sermon, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie, D.J. Montgomery
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

First, an ankle injury. Next, a concussion. Now, an injured shoulder. The durable Trevor Lawrence keeps getting banged up, and it's costing the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lawrence, who cleared the NFL's concussion protocol just in time to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ended up leaving in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury as the Jaguars lost 30-12.

Lawrence was ineffective before he got hurt, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble as Jacksonville fell behind 30-0 on the way to its fourth straight loss.

The third-year quarterback, who has never missed a game, said was hurt diving for a first down on a fourth-play late in the third quarter during Jacksonville's first scoring drive.

"Reached for the first down and got hit out of bounds and just landed on it," Lawrence said. "When I landed, I knew something was off. The next play, it kind of hurts to throw. I just wanted to finish the drive out. The 2-point (try), you just could tell by the way I threw it that I couldn't really get my shoulder up good enough to really keep playing."

C.J. Beathard replaced Lawrence with 13 1/2 minutes to play and Jacksonville trailing 30-6. Lawrence went 17 for 29 for 211 yards.

All three of his turnovers led to Tampa Bay touchdowns.

Head coach Doug Pederson announced on Tuesday that Lawrence has been diagnosed with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Pederson said that Lawrence is "doing better today than he did yesterday," but that he doesn't expect Lawrence to practice on Wednesday.

"It's a little bit early," Pederson said, via the team's website. "He may do a little something tomorrow, but I would doubt that. It's a little bit too soon, but we'll see as the day, as the week, goes on."

It's the third straight week that Lawrence is dealing with an injury as he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 14 and a concussion in Week 15.

Lawrence has basically played through everything in 2023.

The Jaguars believe Lawrence sustained a head injury while scrambling up the middle on the team's final drive of a 23-7 loss to Baltimore last weekend. He misfired on seven of his final eight passes after the hit, a stretch that raised concerns on the sideline. Lawrence reported symptoms after the game.

Lawrence, who entered the league as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2021, practiced for the first time all week on Friday. He was cleared to play by team doctors and the league's independent neurological consultant before traveling with the team to Tampa on Saturday.

There was precedent this season for players being cleared to play a week after entering the concussion protocol, with San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy, Cleveland receiver Amari Cooper and New Orleans receiver Chris Olave gaining clearance before their next games.

Lawrence's painful month began on Dec. 4, when he suffered a high ankle sprain during an overtime loss to Cincinnati. He threw for three touchdowns in a loss at Cleveland six days later.

Despite Sunday's one-sided defeat, Jacksonville (8-7) remains tied with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans for the AFC South lead. Both the Colts and Texans lost on Sunday.

The Jaguars have a 65 percent chance to win the AFC South, per ESPN Analytics, despite their four-game losing streak.

The Jaguars host 2-13 Carolina this Sunday, and then the Texans and Colts play each other in Week 18.

But as's Mike DiRocco notes, the Jaguars are playing their worst football of the season when it matters most, and nothing they did against Tampa Bay gives any indication that they're close to getting out of the funk.

"We've got two games," Lawrence said. "We've got to take care of business these next two weeks. It's really bad that we've put this on the field the last three, four weeks. It's a problem. You want to be playing your best football at the end of the season and go into the postseason hopefully, and we're playing our worst.

"We need to find answers, we've got to find answers quick." Lawrence added. "There wasn't much good to take from today."

One last related item. ... With Lawrence ailing, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports the Jaguars signed veteran QB Matt Barkley off the Giants' practice squad. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Lawrence was Jacksonville's leading rusher for the second consecutive game. That's a huge concern for a team that thought running back Travis Etienne Jr. was emerging as a top playmaker a month ago.

Etienne has 16 carries for 43 yards in his past two games and hasn't topped 50 yards rushing in any outing since Week 12. ...

Tight end Evan Engram caught 10 passes for 95 yards against the Bucs, giving him 24 receptions for 205 yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks. As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long notes, Engram been Lawrence's most dependable pass catcher since Christian Kirk landed on injured reserve with a groin injury that required surgery.

With Kirk (core muscle) is on IR and Zay Jones sitting out because of a hamstring injury, the Jaguars needed a receiver to step up. Elijah Cooks, an undrafted rookie, did for a bit in the first half, catching three passes for 38 yards -- including two that converted third downs.

Cooks has appeared in seven games this season and those were the first catches of his career. ...

Finally. ... Brandon McManus has missed five of his past six field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder against the Bucs that he pushed wide right. That was his third consecutive miss from 50-plus yards. His ability to make long field goals was one of the main reasons the Jaguars signed him in the spring and cut Riley Patterson.

QBs: Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Gabe Davis, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Jamal Agnew, Christian Kirk
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Isiah Pacheco trudged off the field after another unsuccessful offensive series, tried to sit down on one of the exam tables on the Kansas City sideline and promptly had it collapse on him, sending the Chiefs running back onto his backside.

According to Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta, that just about summed up Christmas Day for the defending Super Bowl champions.

In one of the sloppiest performances of the Patrick Mahomes era, the Chiefs allowed the Raiders to score defensive touchdowns 7 seconds apart, committed a slew of penalties, dropped more passes and were generally inept on offense. Twice they failed to convert on fourth down in the second half, including once inside the Raiders 10 with the outcome still undecided.

The result was a 20-14 loss that not only denied Kansas City an opportunity to clinch the AFC West for the eighth consecutive season, but also dealt coach Andy Reid's team a crippling blow to its hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Even after one of their ugliest games of the season, Mahomes said he saw a path for the Chiefs to achieve the heights they've been able to reach in recent seasons.

"I still believe that we can go do what we want to do," Mahomes said.

"It's just how can we correct it as quickly as possible," he added. "We're two games left that are guaranteed and then you talk about the playoffs and so all you can do is move on to that next day, get better then and try to be better the next time we step on the field."

"They played a better game than we did today," said Reid. "We have to make sure that we learn from what took place, and move forward. That's what you do, and that's where we're at right now."

As's Adam Teicher suggested, the Chiefs don't have to achieve much in order to find improvement. They finished the first quarter against the Raiders with minus-18 yards, the worst for any NFL team since 2011.

As noted above, both of the Raiders' touchdown came on defense, one on a fumble after a botched handoff between Mahomes and Pacheco and the other an interception thrown by Mahomes.

"You see glimpses of it," Mahomes said when asked what gave him reason to believe that the Chiefs could fix their offensive problems that have plagued them most of the season. "You see glimpses of us moving the football, you see glimpses of us scoring in the red zone. It's just we haven't consistently done it enough game in and game out at this end of the season. We kind of had one good game, one bad game, one good game, one bad game, but we have to be more consistent because when you get to the playoffs you have to string some together."

The Chiefs led the NFL in dropped passes and offensive penalties entering Week 16 and were among the league leaders in turnovers.

In fact, the Chiefs are now minus-10 in turnover differential this season.

"If we clean it up, we'll be able to score points," he said. "It's just [that] we've got to clean it up. We're two games left. You have to do it and if we don't, we'll be going home.

"If we clean it up, we can beat anybody. I truly believe that, but we got to prove that we can do it."

Mahomes was under pressure on many of his dropbacks, and his receivers weren't getting open on a lot of their routes, but he also has to be better.

Meanwhile, Pacheco left Monday's game with a concussion in the second half and did not return.

Pacheco returned to game action against the Raiders after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury. He scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run but otherwise had little impact in his return, rushing 11 times for 26 yards and catching four passes for zero yards.

The Chiefs, before the loss, placed one of their top running backs, Jerick McKinnon, on the injured reserve list with a groin injury. They finished the Raiders game with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and La'Mical Perine at running back. Perine was signed off the practice squad before the Raiders game to take McKinnon's roster spot.

Do the Chiefs have time to fix their many offensive problems?

Teicher contends the Chiefs' problems -- turning the ball over, dropping passes and committing penalties -- all season. Now, with protection problems against the Raiders, that's a lot to clean up in a short amount of time. If the Chiefs have made no progress in fixing those issues through 15 games, it's not reasonable to think they can do it in time for the playoffs.

The Chiefs will now try to turn the page quickly with a matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium this upcoming Sunday.

I'll have more on Pacheco's chances of playing against the Bengals via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Meanwhile, as Late-Round Fantasy's JJ Zachariason suggested on Tuesday, "If Edwards-Helaire is on your waiver wire, you need to snag him. He's a must."

It's not just the anticipated workload if Pacheco is out. It’s also the matchup against Cincinnati.

As Zachariason explained, the Bengals defense has been struggling hard lately, and they rank in the bottom-10 this season in rushing yards over expected surrendered per rush. They're an average opponent by adjusted points allowed, but Kansas City might actually be able to get something going offensively in the matchup.

Also worth noting. ... WR Richie James, who has played primarily on special teams, had three catches for 54 yards as he got more offensive snaps with Toney and Moore on IR. James will need to become a bigger part of the offense going forward.

QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert, Carson Wentz
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Kadarius Toney, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Skyy Moore, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

According to's Paul Gutierrez, Zamir White, making his second straight start in place of injured All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs, promised his offensive linemen that he would buy them each a pair of Nike Jordans if he went over 100 yards rushing Monday.

White had run for more than 28 yards in a game only once in his brief career, so it seemed a safe bet.

Then he rumbled for 145 yards on 22 carries, and his 43-yard burst up the right side at Arrowhead Stadium with 2:35 to play iced the Raiders' 20-14 upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"These are moments that you dream of and with my o-line and teammates, anything is possible," White said. "I should just go out there and trust in them guys right there."

With rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell not completing a pass after the first quarter -- he was a combined 0-for-10 in quarters 2-4 and had a career-low passer rating of 50.3 while the Raiders had just 48 net passing yards -- Las Vegas also had to trust in its defense.

The faith was warranted as, in a seven-second span in the second quarter, the defense scored two touchdowns -- a Bilal Nichols 8-yard scoop and score off an Isiah Pacheco-Patrick Mahomes botched exchange and fumble, as well as a 33-yard pick-six by Jack Jones off Mahomes. And the Raiders (7-8) not only denied the Chiefs (9-6) a chance to clinch the AFC West, but also kept their faint playoff hopes alive while further solidifying interim coach Antonio Pierce's claim on getting the job full-time.

Remember, the Raiders were coming off a 63-21 blasting of the Los Angeles Chargers, coming four days after a historic 3-0 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Not that a postseason bid was necessarily on the front of the Raiders' minds in middle America.

"It's a huge win," said Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, whose bookend edge rusher Malcolm Koonce sacked Mahomes three times and had seven pressures. "Back-to-back division wins. We're playing good football right now, so we've just got to keep improving.

"It's incredible. Every time we come out here, especially at Arrowhead, we know we're going to have to fight and we're going to have to claw. That's what everybody did out here, and I'm so proud of everybody involved. It's a beautiful day."

It was only Crosby's second win in 10 tries against the Chiefs since he entered the NFL in 2019.

Defense and a running game both travel, Pierce said, referencing the traditional staples of what works when teams are on the road.

As such, it was an old-school showing for the Raiders, who limited the normally high-powered Chiefs offense to negative-18 yards in the first quarter, and milked the clock in the fourth quarter.

"We talked about it all week," Pierce said. "Ill intent. Violence. Physicality. Pain. Enough is enough. I think that was displayed just right there."

White, meanwhile, had the third highest rushing total in franchise history against the Chiefs, trailing just the 164 yards Darren McFadden rushed for in September 2008 and the 154 Jacobs had last October.

In his two starts, White has rushed for 214 yards on 39 carries, perhaps giving the Raiders more to chew on this offseason with Jacobs scheduled to become a free agent.

White, a fourth-round draft pick out of Georgia last year, is focusing on the here and now -- both on and off the field.

"You have to be patient," he said. "You have to just trust your linemen and let them block for you."

That way, White can happily dole out more footwear while running the Raiders into rivalry wins.

"That's part of football right there," Pierce said. "When you can pound the rock and take three knees [to end] the game. Best formation in football? Victory formation."

The last time that the Raiders had wins over AFC West opponents in consecutive weeks was Weeks 9 and 10 of the 2020 season where they beat the Chargers and then the Broncos.

The Silver and Black are back on the road this week for their last away game of the regular season against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 31. ...

Has Pierce earned the full-time coaching job?

According to Gutierrez, "Almost."

There's no question the Raiders have played better under Pierce since he replaced Josh McDaniels on Halloween, going 4-3 thus far. But there is still the taste of a 3-0 home loss to the Vikings in Raider Nation's mouth. There are still two winnable games to go -- at the Indianapolis Colts and at home against the Denver Broncos -- for Pierce to fully lay his claim, and as he said with tears in his eyes after his win over the Chiefs, things will take care of themselves in due time.

Other notes of interest. ... As pointed out above, O'Connell's play was uneven at best -- he did not complete a pass after the first quarter. The rookie QB went 9-of-21 for 62 yards and a career-low passer rating of 50.3. With better play from O'Connell, the Raiders would have won this game by a landslide, thanks to the defense.

"One hundred percent. That is why it is a team sport and why you love playing," O'Connell said, via Vinny Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Obviously, I can't say enough about our defense and our offensive line and running backs, even the receivers blocking down the field. It was a team win, and those guys carried me."

O'Connell added that he was OK with being careful as a passer as the game unfolded.

"You want to be aggressive, but at the same time, you need to understand the flow of the game," O'Connell said. "Good teams can win different types of games. Obviously, we want to score a lot of points offensively, but our defense did such a good job."

The Raiders are 4-4 in games O'Connell has started this season.

The fourth-round pick out of Purdue has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,675 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions as a rookie.

One last note here. ... Las Vegas converted three of 12 third downs at Kansas City to continue a season-long issue. Six of the Raiders' nine drives ended in punts and none in touchdowns. (The Raiders scored their two touchdowns on defense.) Two series ended in field goals and the other was the drive that ran out the clock. The Raiders are 27th in the NFL in third-down efficiency, converting 34.6 percent.

QBs: Aidan O'Connell, Gardner Minshew, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Michael Mayer, Austin Hooper, Jesper Horsted

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy suggested, the Chargers looked like a different team under interim coach Giff Smith, even though it was a familiar result.

The Bolts' 24-22 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night was their sixth by three points or fewer this season and their league-leading 13th since 2020.

The loss also eliminated the Chargers from postseason contention and dropped their record to 5-10.

For all intents and purposes though, owner Dean Spanos pulled the plug on the season with the Dec. 15 firings of coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco after a 63-21 loss at Las Vegas.

"The game plan was tight. I feel like all week long we had fun and executed," safety Derwin James said. "We just came out a few plays short today. You've seen a team that was out there trying to fight hard."

According to Reedy, the Chargers did two things against the Bills that weren't evident in the past two games -- they had energy and played disciplined.

The defense allowed only three plays of 20 yards or more, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Davis when Josh Allen scrambled out of the pocket.

The offensive game plan played to Easton Stick's strengths, including a couple of runs on read-option plays.

As a result, the QB's second NFL start went much better than his first.

"The more that you play, hopefully, the better you get," Stick said. "Definitely felt comfortable. I felt comfortable with the plan."

He later added: "I thought that we prepared well, just the execution in some critical situations, obviously, is why we're sitting here feeling the way that we're feeling."

Stick completed 23 of 33 passes for 215 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 25 yards on the ground, including for a 1-yard touchdown that was the first rushing score of his career.

"I'll tell you, he really battled. He's a tough guy," Smith said.

"He definitely showed that he's an NFL quarterback. We were proud of the way he played and we'll continue to move forward with him," Smith added.

Quentin Johnston said: "I feel like even when Easton wasn't playing, he's always been real sharp on everything as far as plays, reads and stuff like that. I had confidence before he even stepped on the field."

It was the most comfortable Stick has looked since he came in for Justin Herbert during the second quarter of the Dec. 10 loss against Denver after Herbert fractured the index finger on his right hand.

Smith's message leading up to the game was for everyone to play for each other. Smith said he saw that, which bodes well for the last two games against Denver and Kansas City.

"Going into the game, I truly felt like they would play hard. I really did. My question, going into the game, was how would they react the first time Buffalo punches you in the face?," Smith said, "We go up, and then Buffalo scores, 14-10, that could be where you crash and burn, and they rallied and they fought. That's a step in the right direction."

Next up, the Chargers will try to take more steps in a positive direction in two games against division opponents. They are at Denver on Dec. 31 and haven't defeated the Broncos on the road since 2018.

Other notes of interest. ... Forget trying to get to the Pro Bowl. At this point, perhaps Cameron Dicker deserves some All-Pro votes.

The Chargers kicker drilled all five of his field goal tries in primetime while also adding an extra point.

And these all weren't chip shots either, as Dicker made three kicks from at least 40 yards (40, 45 and 47) while also drilling a 53-yarder that gave the Bolts a late lead.

"Felt good, operation was clean," Dicker said. "It was good [Friday] being able to hang out with everybody and enjoy time. I think it led to everybody playing for each other.

"The field goal unit did their job and was blocking everybody. Everything was smooth," Dicker added.

Smith said postgame that the Bolts were expecting "a heavyweight fight" and that "we were going to play it a little close to the vest" in terms of fourth-down aggressiveness.

That meant relying on Dicker, who has now made 24 of 25 field goals this season and all 35 extra point tries.

"That was the plan going in, that we were going to use him," Smith said. "Dicker, he's a cool cat. Kickers are different, but we sure are glad that we have him."

Dicker added: "Just finishing the year strong and continuing to do what we and see where it can take us. Have some fun with that."

Dicker is on a roll, but not everybody is heading in a good direction.

Running back Joshua Kelley played a season-low 12 total snaps, including seven on offense. Kelley was the Chargers' backup running back coming into this season and started two games while Austin Ekeler was out with an injury, but he appears to have fallen out of favor in the Chargers' backfield.

Ekeler picked up 65 yards on 15 carries and recorded 21 more yards as a receiver although it wasn't enough to secure the victory. The 28-year-old hasn't been able to surpass the century mark on the ground since Week 1.

On the injury front. ... WR Keenan Allen and DB Deane Leonard were both inactive because of heel injuries. LB Joey Bosa had his 21-day practice window to return begin last Thursday.

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

QBs: Easton Stick, Justin Herbert
RBs: Gus Edwards, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Josh Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Donald Parham, Stone Smartt

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

In Thursday night's 30-22 win over the Saints, the Rams scored 28 or more points for the fifth straight game.

As Stu Jackson of the team's official website points out, those five games have also overlapped with running back Kyren Williams being healthy again for Los Angeles.

In other words, the two go hand-in-hand.

Williams again eclipsed 100 rushing yards -- while also contributing in many other ways -- in the victory and has been an important part of this 4-1 stretch for the Rams.

"No doubt, we're different when he plays," head coach Sean McVay said postgame. "I mean, you just look at it, now there's enough inventory, and the energy, the production, just the overall work ethic. There are so many guys on this team that you just say, 'man, they are exactly what we're looking for in Rams.' I love him and I'm really so proud of the way that he responded."

Williams posted 22 carries for 104 yards and 1 touchdown, to be exact, becoming the first Rams running back since Todd Gurley in 2018 to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a single season. This came one week after he went over 1,000 scrimmage yards, becoming the first Rams running back to reach that mark since Gurley hit 1,064 in 2019.

"I think it means more to me because I'm able to share it with my teammates, because it's been a grind," Williams said of crossing 1,000 rushing yards this season. "It's been a grind from (training camp in) Irvine to where we are now, it's been a long grind and we're coming together. We're gelling as an offense, as a whole team playing complementary football. So it's been fun. Getting 1,000 yards, that was my goal, but I'm not satisfied. I'm going to go get a lot more. Just gotta keep playing ball with my friends."

Overall, it was the fourth time in five games Williams went for more than 100 rushing yards -- meaning he's done it in all but one game so far since his Week 12 return from an ankle injury.

As a result, Williams' 96.1 yards rushing per game leads the NFL. He jumped into second behind Christian McCaffrey with 1,057 total yards rushing while becoming only the second 1,000-yard rusher with which Stafford has ever played in his 15-year career.

Yes, that production on the ground has helped keep the Rams' offense on schedule.

But go back and listen to what quarterback Matthew Stafford said postgame, how "everything" that Williams is doing jumps out to him.

As the scrimmage yards indicate, he's been a reliable target in the passing game for Stafford. He's also been an enthusiastic blocker in pass protection when the the ball hasn't been in his hands -- the end-zone view of the all-22 video analysts routinely serve as defining examples of the saying "pass pro isn't passive."

"He brings great energy to our offense, great energy to our team and obviously a guy that can kind of do all of it which is rare these days," Stafford said postgame.

It's not just the play energy, work ethic and production that makes Williams a difference-maker for Los Angeles' offense.

He has generated explosive run plays, but his vision, patience, footwork and ability to set up blocks also play a big role in his ability to improvise those times when the holes aren't there.

And he's another example of the Rams maximizing talent on hand to improve as a team over the course of the season.

As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham notes, McVay, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, avoids praise like Williams avoids tackles, preferring to focus the spotlight on the players and assistants who execute his vision. But McVay's staff does deserve ample credit -- particularly defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who has built a remarkably solid unit out of the spare parts, youngsters and later-round draft picks scattered around Aaron Donald.

General manager Les Snead also came through, acquiring four key veteran starters -- Johnson, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, guard Kevin Dotson and receiver Demarcus Robinson -- and landing four major contributors in the last draft.

The Rams got record-setting receiver Puka Nacua, starting left guard Steve Avila and key defenders Byron Young and Kobie Turner, who have filled the gaping absence of proven pass rushers by combining for 12 1/2 sacks -- the top two totals among rookies in the NFL.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the Rams' surge is the continued good health of Stafford. The 15-year veteran is taking fewer hits behind an improved offensive line, and he has put together a string of outstanding performances with 14 TD passes in the past five games against one interception -- none in four straight games.

But McVay's creativity is all over the Rams' improvements on offense. He changed the structure of his rushing game, moving from an outside zone to a gap scheme in which Williams and the offensive line have thrived. He introduced dozens of new wrinkles to the passing game, particularly in the inventive pre-snap motions that have flummoxed defenses.

It's all adding up to a remarkable turnaround if the Rams can finish the regular season by holding onto their playoff spot.

"It's just a great opportunity," McVay said Friday. "These guys have earned the right to play meaningful games into December ... and we've got to keep it rolling, but these guys have done an awesome job."


The Rams struggled to finish off an opponent for the second straight week, giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns and being forced to run out the clock in a one-possession game after taking a huge lead. McVay frequently calls such concerns "Champagne problems," but he wants stronger late-game execution.

Still, Stafford has five straight games with a passer rating over 103, and McVay's passing offense is thriving. Nacua's latest monster night -- nine catches for 164 yards and a TD -- made him the first rookie in the Super Bowl era with four 150-yard receiving games, and he would've had a second score if Stafford hadn't overthrown him while wide open.

Robinson had a season-high 82 yards receiving with a TD in his fourth consecutive game.

Next up, the Rams will be rested and prepared to visit the New York Giants on New Year's Eve. Along with the still-to-be-determined playoff race implications, a victory would clinch another winning regular season. ...

Also of interest. ... The Rams' kicker woes continue, as Lucas Havrisik missed a field goal from 47 yards in the second quarter.

As's Sarah Barshop notes, Los Angeles has missed a league-high 11 field goals this season. It's the most by any team since the 2015 Buccaneers (11), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams' special teams woes also included a blocked punt in the fourth quarter that set the Saints up for a touchdown that made it 30-22.

QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Royce Freeman, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Colby Parkinson, Hunter Long, Davis Allen

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Following a five-season playoff drought, the Miami Dolphins have now made the postseason in back-to-back campaigns under head coach Mike McDaniel.

The Dolphins clinched a playoff berth Sunday with their 22-20 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

"I'm proud for this team because regardless of what people say. You have to get to a mode where you are solely worried about doing your job and being responsible for that with your teammates," McDaniel said after the game. "I thought this was a big win for this team."

In doing so, McDaniel, in his first two seasons helming the Fins, has become the franchise's first head coach since Dave Wannstedt in 2000-2001 to lead the club to repeat postseason appearances.

Next up will be securing Miami's first AFC East title since 2008. The Dolphins missed on that goal in Week 16 after the Buffalo Bills defeated the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night.

"It's awesome," Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa said about clinching a playoff spot. "That's what we work hard for throughout the entirety of OTAs and training camp. That's why you try to win as many games as you can early on in the season. I don't think that changes our mindset as a team."

Nonetheless, there's reason to celebrate on Christmas Eve as McDaniel's squad sits at 11-4 with a playoff spot secured and a division title within reach.

But all the news isn't great.

Receiver Jaylen Waddle is dealing with a high ankle injury, McDaniel said Monday, leaving his status for this week's game against the Baltimore Ravens in question.

Waddle left Sunday's 22-20 win over the Dallas Cowboys with what was described as a shin injury and did not return. McDaniel said Monday that Waddle's injury was actually "more of a high ankle" issue that the team must continue to gather information on.

McDaniel called high ankle injuries "tricky" but was optimistic about Waddle's prospects, considering his ability to return quickly from injuries in the past.

With Waddle hobbled and wide receiver Robbie Chosen ruled out of Sunday's game with a concussion, Miami was forced to abandon its plan of a snap count for Tyreek Hill, who returned from a one-game absence with an ankle injury.

Hill finished with 99 yards on nine catches and played 55 of Miami's 65 offensive snaps.

Waddle caught a 50-yard pass from Tagovailoa on the Dolphins' first offensive drive of Sunday's game, but eye and shin/ankle injuries limited him to just 28 snaps. The catch gave him 1,014 receiving yards for the season -- his third straight 1,000-yard season to begin his career.

He is the first player in franchise history to record three consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards.

Miami plays its final road game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 31 against the Ravens before returning home to Hard Rock Stadium for its regular season finale versus Buffalo in Week 18. A win in either game would clinch the AFC East crown for Miami for the first time since 2008.

One thing working Miami's favor?

Whichever direction a game flows, the Dolphins are equipped to adjust and find the winner's circle. For much of Christmas Eve, Miami's defense put the screws to an explosive Dallas offense, while the special teams unit fought to sustain critical field position and scored 16 points.

But the Cowboys offense was merely a sleeping giant that awoke in the fourth quarter to score 10 unanswered points, leaving the Miami with 3:23 of game time and two timeouts to drive into field goal range.

Miami, missing four starting offensive linemen, with Hill and Waddle not at 100 percent, and running back Raheem Mostert in-and-out of the lineup, executed a perfect four-minute drive to beat the clock and the Cowboys.

Rookie De'Von Achane's elusiveness got things started. Alec Ingold and Cedrick Wilson moved Miami into field goal range before Hill won a one-on-one to convert a critical third down that would afford the Fins the opportunity to drain the entire clock with one more first down.

To move the chains one last time, McDaniel called upon a gritty, sometimes forgotten veteran back with a penchant for the difficult yards.

"Jeff Wilson Jr. comes and fights for the yardage that allows us to kneel down and kick a field goal," McDaniel said. "That is happening all over the place in all three phases, which is why you're seeing a team that is playing very hard for each other each and every week. So many guys are contributing. So many guys are stepping up with injuries, and that's the most fun football to be a part of."

One of those guys is Jason Sanders.

The Dolphins' longtime placekicker entered the game just 6-of-16 from 50 or more yards since 2021, but he nailed kicks of 57, 54 and 52 yards -- as well as a 29-yarder to win the game with time expiring.

Sanders became the first Dolphin to connect on three kicks of 50-plus yards in the same game. It extended his streak of 50-yard kicks to five straight. Aside from a blocked kick in Week 14, Sanders has made 15 consecutive field goals to go along with 52 PATs without missing the target.

"I felt like I've been waiting for that moment since the Jets game last year," Sanders said. ...

Back to Mostert, who surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career with his 46 yards Sunday. The 31-year-old is the first player in his 30s to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since then-33-year-old Adrian Peterson had 1,042 yards for Washington in 2018. ...

I'll have more on Hill, Waddle and Mostert, who missed time with a knee injury but was able to finish the game, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, De'Von Achane, Jeff Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Christopher Brooks
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Odell Beckham, Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Claypool, River Cracraft
TEs: Durham Smythe, Jonnu Smith, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

A series of tests revealed that tight end T.J. Hockenson tore both the ACL and MCL ligaments in his right knee during the team's 30-24 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions, coach Kevin O'Connell said Tuesday.

Hockenson will be placed on injured reserve and surgery will be scheduled soon.

Recovery from double ligament tears can take a bit more time, but O'Connell said: "Knowing T.J., the type of player he is, I'm absolutely looking forward to when we can get him back rolling and ready to have a great 2024 season."

The injury occurred on the Vikings' second offensive play of the third quarter. After leaping to grab a 24-yard pass, Hockenson absorbed a hit to the knee from Lions safety Kerby Joseph. He immediately jogged to the sideline and was soon ruled out for the game.

"It was a very, very unfortunate play," O'Connell said. "We've done a nice job [in the NFL] of helping take out some of those head and neck area hits to the defenseless players, [but] some of those low hits can be incredibly catastrophic for guys. It was awful to see that happen."

Hockenson was having a career year in his first full season with the Vikings. He ranks second in the NFL in catches by tight ends (95), third in receiving yards (960) and has been the Vikings' most consistent offensive threat in a season where quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Justin Jefferson have both been sidelined by significant injuries.

As's Kevin Seifert notes, since the Vikings acquired him from the Lions at the 2022 trade deadline, Hockenson leads all NFL tight ends with 155 receptions. He signed a four-year contract extension in August that will pay him at least $66 million and up to $68.5 million.

The Vikings' remaining healthy tight ends are veterans Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt, who have combined for 27 receptions this season.

Second-year player Nick Muse is also on the 53-man roster but has not played in a game.

Meanwhile, O'Connell also confirmed that linebacker D.J. Wonnum suffered a torn left quadriceps during Sunday's game and will miss the rest of the season. Wonnum, who tied a career high with eight sacks this season, will be eligible for free agency this winter.

Two other players who departed with injuries -- receiver Jordan Addison (ankle) and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (shoulder) -- are day-to-day, O'Connell said. ...

Meanwhile, Cousins had started all but two games in his six seasons for Minnesota, giving the Vikings rare continuity at quarterback before he went down in October with a season-ending Achilles tendon tear.

On their fourth starting quarterback of the season, the Vikings are discovering the harsh reality of life without Cousins, the four-time Pro Bowl player who is already third in team history in passing yards.

While Josh Dobbs' sudden emergence provided a temporary solution, the swinging door at quarterback now has Minnesota out of playoff position in the NFC. Nick Mullens threw for 411 yards and two touchdowns but also had four interceptions -- and two fumbles the Vikings recovered -- in the loss to Detroit.

"I thought he was aggressive with his arm," O'Connell said. "There were some opportunities that, even on some of those turnovers that happened, I thought there was some potential grass to maybe throw the ball away from defenders, things like that. But I thought Nick battled."

Still, the Vikings may be making another quarterback change this week.

On Tuesday, O'Connell said that the team is still mulling whether they will stick with Mullens, go back to Dobbs or give rookie Jaren Hall his second start of the season.

"We're trying to work through what still gives us the best chance to be explosive, but we've got to still possess the ball," O'Connell said, via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Cousins attended his first home game since the injury and helped hype up Jefferson before the announcements for the starting lineup.

Jefferson knows the Vikings are missing him and need more time with Mullens, who had a number of passes arrive late to receivers.

"It's tough not having '8' out there, the captain that he is, the leader that he is," Jefferson said. "He's a great player. Nothing taken away from Nick. Nick is an outstanding player as well. We just need to build on that confidence that we have. We just need to go on that practice field and make sure that we're getting all the timing right, making sure the ball is where it needs to be."

For what it's worth. ... In his third game back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two months, Jefferson had six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown to lead an explosive group of receivers.

When the Vikings targeted him, Jefferson was back to his old electric self -- including on a diving 29-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter that NFL Next Gen Stats recorded as the lowest-probability scoring reception (21 percent) of his career.

Including Hockenson, Minnesota had six players with at least a 23-yard reception on Sunday.

The Vikings averaged 18.7 yards per reception as a team with K.J. Osborn adding five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Also worth noting. ... Jefferson has another NFL record to his name.

Jefferson passed Saints receiver Michael Thomas' record for receiving yards in a player's first four seasons.

Thomas racked up 5,512 in his first four seasons with New Orleans.

On a less positive note. ... A week after thrilling Vikings fans with a 132-yard breakout game in Cincinnati, Ty Chandler couldn't get going against a Lions defense that has been tough against the run and finished with 17 yards on eight carries.

Alexander Mattison return from his ankle injury in this one, finishing with two carries for minus-1 yard.

So is this it for the 2023 Vikings?

Seifert believe it almost certainly is.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Sunday's loss brought the Vikings' chances of making the playoffs down to 25 percent.

But they'll almost certainly rue the nature of some of their losses, almost all of which were by one score. Many of them were aided by turnovers; they entered the week ranked third in the NFL with 29. In the end, the Vikings will wind up about where everyone figured they would be -- out of the playoffs -- but they missed the opportunity for a special season.

The Vikings host the Packers on Sunday night football this week.

QBs: Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall, Sam Darnold
RBs: Aaron Jones, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Cam Akers
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Brandon Powell, Jalen Nailor
TEs: Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse, T.J. Hockenson

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Mike Reiss reminded readers, when the Patriots set their initial 53-man roster coming out of training camp in late August, quarterback Bailey Zappe wasn't part of it.

Being cut by the team was the lowest point of his football career.

He experienced the highest point Sunday night, helping lead his first game-winning drive in the NFL by setting up rookie kicker Chad Ryland's 56-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in a 26-23 upset of the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High.

Reiss went on to suggest the result was reflective of the resilience of both players, with Zappe having elevated from the practice squad to the No. 2 role and now the starter, and Ryland having endured a challenging rookie season that included a missed field goal and extra point on Sunday.

Zappe, who was 25-of-33 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and one lost fumble, shared after the contest that he had reached out to Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner after being cut.

"At that point in time, that was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my football career," Zappe said. "Me and him have built a relationship at the combine [and] I texted him because I know he has been through a lot. It wasn't a very easy career for him coming into the league, and he had to overcome a lot of adversity. I picked his brain about it."

Warner had shared the connection between the two during his work as an analyst on NFL Network's broadcast of the Patriots-Broncos tilt.

Zappe, who was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round out of Western Kentucky in 2022, had options to join other teams' practice squads in August but felt his best opportunity was to remain with the Patriots.

His patience ultimately led to him being thrust into the top role after New England starter Mac Jones was demoted in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants on Nov. 26.

"Back then, the decision that was made, I respected it," Zappe said. "If I had a time machine, of course, I would go back and change everything. But you don't. Now we're here, I'm going to be where my feet are and enjoy this win and enjoy the game-winning kick Chad made."

The Patriots (4-11) had blown a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter when Zappe and the offense took over at their own 19-yard line with 58 seconds remaining.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 6 yards on first down then 1 yard on second down, and after each play, the Broncos (7-8) called timeout in hopes of getting the football back for a possible game-winning drive of their own.

Instead, Zappe delivered one of his most impressive throws of the game -- a 27-yarder to wide receiver DeVante Parker down the left side. That advanced the ball to the Broncos' 47-yard line. Zappe then found Elliott for a 5-yard gain and tight end Mike Gesicki for a 4-yard pickup to the 38.

Enter Ryland, the fourth-round pick out of Maryland who came into the night 13-of-20 on field goals and seemed to be clinging to his hold on the job. That hold appeared to be even shakier after he pushed a 47-yard kick wide right in the second quarter and clanged an extra point off the left upright in the third quarter.

But Ryland seemed to know his 56-yarder was good shortly after the football left his foot, as he pumped his right arm multiple times in excitement, with Zappe leaping for joy on the sideline.

"Oftentimes, you find the greatest treasure in the darkest caves," Ryland said. "I've obviously been struggling a little bit this year. I was really, really fortunate to be surrounded by a team that believes in me."

Meanwhile, with their fourth victory of the season, the Patriots moved down in the draft order, from second to fourth overall. If they stay there, they would likely miss out on one of the top three prizes: Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams, Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. or North Carolina QB Drake Maye.

The Patriots finish with a pair of AFC East rivals that they've already beaten this season: the Bills on Sunday and the Jets on Jan. 7. The Jets (6-9) are already out of the playoff hunt; Buffalo (9-6) is in contention for the division title or a wild-card berth. ...

Worth noting for fantasy managers. ... The Patriots are the only team without either a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver in any game this season. No team has ever done that for an entire season of at least 16 games. The Colts did it in a nine-game season in 1982 and Washington did it for the entire 14-game 1977 season.


Demario Douglas is two yards shy of making Belichick-Era history.

The Patriots rookie wideout was one dropped pass away from making history with a strong five-catch, 74-yard performance on Sunday night. Douglas is now two receiving yards away from passing Aaron Dobson for the most receiving yards by a Patriots rookie wideout in the Belichick era. Douglas needs 53 yards over the final two games to have the most for any rookie pass-catcher.

As the Evan Lazar of the team's official website notes, in Denver, Douglas's separation quickness was on full display on a 13-yard slant and a nasty whip route to dust a Broncos defender. Douglas also showed off his contested catch ability on a 41-yard reception where Zappe extended the play and gave him a chance downfield.

Douglas has emerged as a clear building block for the Patriots offense moving forward, and if it wasn't for his lone blemish on the night, the sixth-round rookie would've passed Dobson already.

In addition a strong showing in the passing game for Elliott.

He became the Pats go-to safety blanket without Hunter Henry (nine catches), and the "traffic" plays into the flat are becoming a regular thing. Tight end Pharaoh Brown could not be contained with a key catch on third down and a 20-yard reception on a two-vertical concept out of 12 personnel with Mike Gesicki.

On the injury front. ... Special teams star Matthew Slater (hamstring) was a surprise scratch from Sunday's game. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, Henry (knee) and safety Jabrill Peppers (hamstring) were also inactive.

I'll have more on Stevenson and Henry via Late-Breaking Update in as the week progresses.

QBs: Bailey Zappe, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson, JaMycal Hasty
WRs: DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Matt Slater, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: Hunter Henry, Pharaoh Brown

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

The New Orleans Saints no longer control their own destiny after their 30-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

As's Katherine Terrell noted, the Saints (7-8) significantly hurt their postseason chances with the loss and now have only a 24 percent chance to make the playoffs with two games left to play, according to ESPN Analytics.

It wasn't for lack of effort.

The Saints deployed some aggressive tactics, going for it on fourth down three times but finishing 0-3 in those situations. One of those fourth-down calls, a 4th-and-5 on the Rams 42-yard line with 1:00 left in the first half, led to a Rams' touchdown four plays later.

"We went for it twice on fourth down in the first half. We came into this game wanting to be aggressive and knowing the type of team we were playing, the offense we were playing, we knew field goals weren't the way to try to win this game," head coach Dennis Allen said. "We didn't want to be reckless but we felt like, in both those situations, we felt like we had plays that we liked. And unfortunately it didn't work out. There was a mindset going into it to be aggressive."

The Saints also attempted an onside kick down eight points in the fourth quarter with 3:53 left in the game. The Rams, who recovered the kick at the New Orleans 44-yard line, were able to run the clock out.

Allen said he felt like taking a chance with the onside kick gave the Saints the best opportunity to win instead of giving the ball back to their defense.

"Honestly we hadn't done a great job of stopping them up to that point. ... So I felt like the onside kick was the right play. We didn't get it. We were going to have to stop them either way," Allen said. "We went for the onside kick to try to get it and see if we couldn't go down and tie the game."

The Saints have two games remaining in the season and will travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday to try to keep their playoff hopes alive.

"We certainly would have liked to have started the game better, played better, finished better. But we didn't. So. I'm not into the percentages. I'm really not," Allen said. "I'm just focused on, look, we let an opportunity go by and so now we have to get ready for the things we can control, which is getting ready to go play Tampa. ... We'll regroup. We're still in this thing."

And there are aspects of their game that might lead to optimism.

As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel noted, excluding some clutch situations when the Saints needed drive-sustaining conversions, the passing game has functioned fairly well. Against the Rams, Derek Carr exceeded 300 yards passing for the sixth time this season.

The Saints ranked 12th in the NFL in yards passing after Thursday night's game.

Carr also passed for three touchdowns. But two of those scoring strikes came after the Saints trailed by 23 points -- and after Carr had thrown an interception and had been unable to convert three fourth-down plays in Rams territory.

"We were moving the heck out of the ball," Carr said. "We had a lot of explosives in the pass game. We felt very confident with all that and that felt good. But the execution of critical situations wasn't there."

Chris Olave returned from an ankle injury and caught nine passes for 123 yards. The 2022 first-round draft choice has 1,041 yards receiving this season after finishing with 1,042 yards as a rookie. However, he had a third-down drop that led to one of New Orleans' fourth-down failures.

"He was certainly not 100 percent, but I was proud of him for coming in and battling the way that he did," Allen said. "Overall, there was a lot of good things I saw from him."

There are aspects that need improvement, like opening drives and the running game.

Both need work.

The Saints have not scored a touchdown on the first possession of a game all season -- often forcing them to play from behind.

"We certainly would've liked to have started the game better, played better, finished better, but we didn't," Allen said.

On Thursday night, the Saints rushed for just 35 yards. Alvin Kamara gained 19 yards on nine carries. Taysom Hill had 2 yards on two carries.

"We can't just be a drop-back passing team or a play-action passing team," Allen said. "We need to be able to run the football better."

That won't necessarily be easy going up against the Buccaneers on Sunday. ;..

On the injury front. ... RT Ryan Ramczyk (knee) missed his second straight game. Rookie RB Kendre Miller (ankle) missed his sixth straight. DE Cameron Jordan continued to play through an ankle injury but has just two sacks this season and could wind up with his fewest since having only one during his rookie season of 2011.

While DE Payton Turner (toe) has returned to practice from injured reserve, it's unclear when he might be activated.

Allen all but ruled out the return of top cornerback Marshon Lattimore or starting receiver Michael Thomas for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay.

Both players have been eligible to return from injured reserve since last week, but on Tuesday, Allen said, "I don't know that I expect to see those guys" at practice this week.

Allen also was vague about either player's prospects for returning before the regular-season finale at home against Atlanta on Jan. 7.

"We just play each week out as they go," Allen said.

Lattimore (ankle) and Thomas (knee) both were injured during a Week 10 loss at Minnesota

The 30-year-old Thomas, a two-time All-Pro who in 2019 set an NFL record with 149 catches in a season, has 39 catches for 448 yards and one touchdown in 10 games this season. He is playing on a one-year contract that was negotiated last offseason after he'd appeared in just 10 regular-season games combined during the previous three regular seasons.

Lattimore, 27, also played in 10 games this season. He intercepted one pass and has eight passes defensed. He also has 48 solo and assisted tackles combined, two for losses.

QBs: Derek Carr, Jake Haener
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller
WRs: Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Keith Kirkwood, Lynn Bowden, Michael Thomas
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Head coach Brian Daboll insisted last week that he wouldn't make a "week-to-week change" at quarterback, noting at the time that Tommy DeVito "earned" the chance to play out the season.

The coach backpedaled from that sentiment Monday, benching DeVito in the second half of the 33-25 loss on Christmas Day to Philadelphia in favor of veteran Tyrod Taylor. Kevin Patra of reports.

Daboll said he made the move to Taylor to "just try to spark the team."

On Taylor's first drive, he handed off thrice to Saquon Barkley, who cashed in a touchdown off of an Eagles fumble. The QB also splashed a 70-yard touchdown to Darius Slayton late in the fourth quarter but couldn't complete the comeback bid, tossing an interception to end the game.

Daboll declined to say whether DeVito would be back in the saddle in Week 17 or if Big Blue would go with the veteran Taylor to close the season.

"I'm just worried about [Monday] here," Daboll said, via's Jordan Raanan. "We'll talk about that here this week."

DeVito, an undrafted rookie, has been a sensation in New York since taking over, including leading a three-game win streak. But the quarterback struggled Monday, completing 9 of 16 passes for 55 yards, leading one field-goal drive before the halftime benching.

This came on the heels of another sluggish offensive performance the previous week in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.

"It's tough. It's just a constant reminder that it's a business," DeVito said. "They're always going to try to find someone to replace you, wherever it is.

"At the same time, it is a business. It's your job. I respect it. There's no hard feelings one way or another. I was hoping [Taylor] was going to go out there and ball and we win the game. It's nothing more than that. That's all it is."

Taylor suffered a rib injury earlier this season, paving the way for DeVito's rise. Even after the veteran returned healthy, Daboll stuck with the rookie. Though clearly disappointed at not regaining the starting job, Taylor wasn't campaigning for the gig after Monday's loss.

"That is not my decision," Taylor said. "My decision is to be ready when my number is called and I think that I proved that [Monday]. I will continue to keep preparing whether it is me moving forward or not. I told you all this before. My mood or my attitude doesn't change based on circumstances. I am the same person. I am the same leader each and every day."

This offense needs somebody to better lead them.

The Giants scored fewer than seven points in the first half for the 10th time this season (three points or fewer for the seventh time).

They have now lost all seven games they've played against teams currently with a winning record. Five of those have been by double digits. This season was supposed to be about closing the gap on the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Instead, the Giants have been outscored 122-42 in three matchups against Dallas and Philadelphia.

It shows just how far away they are from being able to compete in the NFC East, nevertheless the NFC. ...

Meanwhile, Taylor probably gives the Giants the best chance to win. He was the better of the two quarterbacks on Monday.

DeVito -- 9 of 16 passing for 55 yards with 0 TD, 0 INT -- averaged just 1.1 air yards. The Giants offense had 101 total yards in the first half. They also had 101 total yards in the fourth quarter last week in a loss to the Saints.

Taylor -- 7 of 16 passing for 133 yards with 1 TD, 1 INT -- hit the aforementioned 70-yard touchdown pass to Slayton for the longest Giants play of the season. But he also missed two key, relatively easy third-down passes that stalled drives.

But Taylor is not likely to be back next season and it could benefit the organization more to start DeVito and give him more game experience as he could be the backup next season.

I'll be watching for more on this as the Giants begin preparing to play the first of two games at home against the Rams (8-7) and then the Eagles (11-4) again in the regular-season finale. ...

Also of interest. ... Barkley, who was held to 14 yards on nine carries last week in New Orleans, had 80 yards and a touchdown (in addition to a two-point conversion) on 23 attempts in Philadelphia. In the process, he surpassed Brandon Jacobs (5,087) into fourth place on the franchise's all-time rushing list. Next up is Joe Morris, who is third with 5,296 yards. ...

Slayton continues to be the leading receiver on the team no matter how many other options they add to the roster. As noted above, Slayton hit a 70-yard touchdown to again show that he has that big-play ability. All they have to do is give him the chance. ...

Tight end Daniel Bellinger was targeted a season-high five times, which he turned into four receptions for 43 yards.

QBs: Tommy DeVito, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones
RBs: Devin Singletary, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray
WRs: Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

From the hiring of a new offensive coordinator to the signing of free agents, the New York Jets tailored their 2023 blueprint around one player: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

While Robert Saleh said he had no regrets even though he lost Rodgers to an Achilles injury on the fourth play of the season,'s Rich Cimini reports the coach conceded Monday the team could've done a better job of adjusting without Rodgers.

"When you have a Hall of Fame quarterback, you're going to build it around his strengths, period," Saleh said. "That's a very common thing throughout the league. It's not just a Jets thing. That's league wide.

"Could we have done things better? I'm talking about myself and the coaching staff, with regards to, 'All right, this is our worst-case scenario, now what?' Absolutely, and it's something that we will make sure that we do a heck of a lot better with in 2024."

At the start of the season, Saleh said the Jets were one of six to eight teams with a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl, but it unraveled quickly due to quarterback instability, injuries on the offensive line and a historically poor offense. The Jets improved to 6-9 on Sunday with a last-second 30-28 win over the Washington Commanders, but that doesn't erase two hard facts: This is their eighth straight losing season and their 13th consecutive season out of the playoffs -- both the longest active droughts in the NFL.

Reflecting on the struggles, coaches and players have acknowledged that the offensive system was constructed specifically for Rodgers, who helped with the installation in the spring. When he went down, the operation went haywire and the team was slow to adjust. It went through an 11-game stretch when it scored more than 20 points only once.

The other lingering question is whether the Jets erred in entrusting Zach Wilson, their former starter, with the backup position. The No. 2 overall pick in 2021 continued his struggles and eventually was benched in Week 12 in favor of career journeyman Tim Boyle, who was released after two poor starts.

When asked if he learned any lessons from relying too much on Rodgers, Saleh -- unsolicited -- mentioned Wilson.

"I still think when you look at the process that we went through in that regard, I still feel like it was sound," he said. "I don't think anyone anticipated (the injury) four plays in, but Zach is going to be a good football player for a long time in this league. I believe that."

It might not be with the Jets, though. Wilson was returned to the starting lineup, but his status for next season is up in the air even though he's under contract. Chances are, another quarterback will be backing up Rodgers, 40, who said he wants to play at least two more seasons.

One certainty is the return of Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, both of whom received a public vote of confidence Sunday from owner Woody Johnson. Also expected to return is embattled offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, a Rodgers confidant who received a glowing endorsement from the quarterback. Saleh said Johnson "has never wavered on his support for us and the things we're trying to get done."

Three years ago, in his introductory news conference, Saleh predicted multiple Super Bowls for the Jets. Since then, they're 17-32.

"It's been a grind," he said. "Everybody closes their eyes and imagines success right away, but we knew there was going to be a process. Obviously, we all felt great coming in this year with all the expectations and hype that's around the football team -- and that was awesome.

"It hasn't gone the way we obviously wanted, but it doesn't mean that the goal of winning championships is over. I still think we've got a really good football team. I've said it before: I think we've built a championship roster. There's a lot of things that we've learned through adversity over the last three months since Aaron's injury that will help us."

Quarterback Trevor Siemian will be behind center for the Jets when they play the Browns on Thursday night.

Saleh ruled Wilson out for Week 17 as he has not cleared concussion protocol. That means Siemian will make his second start for New York.

In Sunday's win over the Commanders, Siemian completed 27-of-49 passes for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Via Antwan V. Staley of the New York Daily News, Saleh said, "We will see" if Wilson will be available for the season finale against the Patriots.

Saleh also mentioned that tight end Jeremy Ruckert (concussion) has been ruled out for Thursday.

Saleh said Greg Zuerlein is dealing with tightness in his right quadriceps, so he's uncertain to play Thursday night. The Jets will see how the kicker, who's 30 for 31 on field goal attempts this season, feels before determining if they need to sign someone to potentially fill in for Zuerlein.

New York's game statuses will be released with its final injury report of the week on Wednesday. ...

Looking for positives here?

Look no further than Breece Hall.

Enjoying a late-season revival, Hall recorded the first multi-touchdown game of his career. He finished with 191 yards from scrimmage (95 rushing, 96 receiving), showing what the usually moribund offense can do when Hall is producing at an elite level.

QBs: Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Breece Hall, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Mike Williams, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Jeremy Ruckert, C.J. Uzomah, Kenny Yeboah

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

After nearly letting a 17-point halftime lead slip away for good, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 33-25 on Christmas. It was their 12th consecutive victory over the Giants and snapped a three-game losing streak. Now at 11-4, the win also keeps the Eagles as the favorite to win the NFC East.

The Eagles and their fans were hoping Monday's game against the Giants would serve as a get-right game after dropping three straight.

While they did pull out a win, their performance cannot exactly be described as confidence-inspiring.

Untimely miscues have been a theme of late, and Philadelphia committed a couple of them in the second half. They lost a fumble on the opening kickoff in the third quarter, and quarterback Jalen Hurts threw a pick-six to Adoree' Jackson when tight end Dallas Goedert stumbled making a cut, allowing the Giants to pull within two.

Hurts and the offense responded with an 8-play, 75-yard scoring drive to help pull out the win and avert disaster.

But the feeling in the stadium was less that the Eagles are back on track and more like they were fortunate to be playing a bad team.

Indeed, Nick Sirianni yelled and gestured at linebacker Haason Reddick, and the Eagles coach even had some words for wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who had caught a 36-yard touchdown. Sure, tempers flare on the sideline in the NFL all the time. But these arguments came in the waning moments of Sunday's win.

So it gives you an idea of the general mood in Philly.

But as Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston put it, "The fact remains, the Eagles do have 11 wins and are pretty healthy."

They'll be heavy favorites in their final two games -- against Arizona on Sunday and the Giants again in the finale -- and should win the NFC East and perhaps keep the No. 2 seed. The 49ers' surprising blowout loss to Baltimore even kept alive a still-long shot bid for the Eagles to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage, though the Lions could overtake them at No. 2 by winning their final two games.

But the fact also remains, the Eagles were bad during a three-game losing streak against the NFL's top teams in San Francisco and Dallas, played poorly against a so-so Seattle team and had to play to the wire against the five-win Giants.

Nothing here indicates another Super Bowl run is on the horizon.

"We've got two weeks to get it together," Smith said. "We've got to fix it in two weeks. Eleven wins, we're not playing good football. As an offense, we're not where we want to be. We got 11 wins and I'm not happy. What I want to do, what everybody else in here wants to do, where we want to be, we're nowhere near it."

At least there's a reality check inside the locker room.

The 49ers, Eagles and Lions are all tied at 11-4. The 49ers are the No. 1 seed because they hold the NFC tiebreakers.

"We know we have better football in us," Sirianni said. "To be 11-4 and still have better football left in you, that's encouraging, but let's go. We have to get there. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... The Eagles shared the workload in the backfield and were rewarded with strong games from both D'Andre Swift and Kenneth Gainwell. Swift ran for 92 yards and a TD and Gainwell rushed for 41 yards. He even had three catches for 38 yards receiving.

Gainwell also ripped off a 22-yard run after Eagles fans chanted "Run the ball!" once the passing game stalled in the second half.

Britain Covey has been among the leaders in punt return average for much of the season, but had his best game of the season with three returns for 66 yards, including an electric 54-yard return to set up an Eagles score on their first possession. The second-year player out of Utah also saw a bump in playing time at receiver and hauled in his first NFL catch.

The special teams have been very good this year, but made a big blunder to start the second half when Olamide Zaccheaus ran into returner Boston Scott, causing him to fumble. The Giants scored on the ensuing possession, tightening a game that for a moment appeared to be heading toward a blowout.

QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Mason Rudolph already saved the Steelers' Christmas with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals, and now he'll likely have the opportunity to bring his team a shiny start to the New Year, too.

Though Mike Tomlin stopped short of naming Rudolph the starter against the Seattle Seahawks on New Year's Eve,'s Brooke Pryor reports the coach said Rudolph will start the week with the ball as Kenny Pickett continues to rehab following his Dec. 4 TightRope ankle surgery.

"We're in the same position with Kenny as we were last week," Tomlin said Tuesday. "We'll give him a few reps and see where that leads us. ... Obviously we have a great deal more comfort because of what we've seen in-stadium for Mason Rudolph and that helps us, but we still really are in the same posture. He's got the ball to start the week, and we'll see where Kenny is from a mobility perspective and then kind of go from there and playing day by day based on the things that we see from that perspective."

Rudolph took all the first-team reps in practice in preparation for the Bengals, while Pickett participated in individual drills throughout the week before being ruled out following the final practice.

Rudolph started on Saturday and led the Steelers' offense on six scoring drives, putting up 34 points -- the most points scored by the team since 2021. Rudolph completed 17 of 27 attempts for 290 yards with two passing touchdowns. No other Steelers quarterback has thrown for more than 278 yards this season.

With Rudolph at quarterback, the Steelers also had three plays of at least 40 yards -- all on George Pickens receptions -- the most 40-yard plays for them in a game since Week 17 of the 2020 season.

"They stepped up big in a big moment," Tomlin said of his players. "They smiled in the face of adversity and played well on a lot of fronts and did what was required to secure victory. I think highlighting that obviously was the play of Mason Rudolph. ... We talked about him having a great deal of belief in himself and being aggressive in mentality and play and those things were confirmed in game.

"I thought he did a really good job of being comfortable being himself, communicating with people regardless of the moments I thought that showed the confidence that he has in himself showed, and I also thought that he remained aggressive throughout."

Tomlin also cited Rudolph's 66-yard touchdown to Pickens on third-and-1 in the third quarter as an example of the quarterback's aggressiveness being an "asset."

Tomlin deflected questions about what Pickett's potential availability could mean for the quarterback depth chart, repeating that he's "not into the hypotheticals."

"We'll see what the performance looks like tomorrow," Tomlin said of Pickett. "Rudolph has the ball as we stand here today."

Now that they know who the likely starter is, the Steelers can start figuring out how to try and win in Seattle for the first time in 40 years when they visit the Seahawks on New Year's Eve. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Tomlin took a fair amount of heat for his decision not to discipline Pickens -- publicly anyway -- for the wide receiver's sometimes iffy effort on the field and his occasionally petulant behavior off it. Pickens responded by becoming the first Steelers wide receiver since Antonio Brown in 2013 to have 195 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a game.

The second-year man showed that he has an impossibly high ceiling when he's at his best.

Also credit the offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner and play caller Mike Sullivan for letting Rudolph chuck it deep. As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves suggested, the search for "splash" in the Steelers offense has been a frustrating and maddening odyssey for most of the past four years.

Rudolph managed to do -- for one game anyway -- what Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky could not with any frequency (or accuracy): give Pickens a legitimate chance to be a game-breaker. ...

Finally. ... Najee Harris rushed 19 times for 78 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's win. He wasn't targeted in the passing game.

As notes, Harris powered in a three-yard touchdown in the second quarter, raising his season rushing touchdown total to five. He had a season-high 99 rushing yards and scored against the Bengals back in Week 12, so two of Harris' three highest yardage totals on the ground this season have come against the Bengals.

Harris is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry against opponents other than Cincinnati, but he continues to handle the majority of rushing opportunities in Pittsburgh's backfield over Jaylen Warren (eight carries Saturday) heading into Sunday's trip to Seattle.

QBs: Justin Fields, Russell Wilson, Mason Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

As's Nick Wagoner reminded readers, through his first 23 NFL starts, Brock Purdy has had his share of bumps in the road, most notably the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow suffered during last season's NFC Championship Game.

But Purdy had never had the type of on-field struggles that he experienced Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Purdy threw a career-high four interceptions, including three in the first half, and the Niners finished minus-5 in turnover margin on the way to a 33-19 loss that dropped them to 11-4 on the season.

"He's played this long, he never had a game like this," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It's pretty unusual. That's the reality of the NFL. I'm not saying it's bound to happen but wish he didn't have as many picks today."

Purdy finished 18-of-32 for 255 yards with no touchdowns for a passer rating of 42.6, the worst of any start in his career.

His night ended early when he departed in the fourth quarter after sustaining a left shoulder stinger.

By the time Purdy reached his postgame news conference, he already was pondering how things went awry against the Ravens and how he'd bounce back from such a rough outing for an away date with the Washington Commanders on Sunday.

"It's the NFL," Purdy said. "We have some opportunities coming up, and we still got two games left in the regular season before we get into playoffs. For me, [I'm] trying to look at the big picture of what we're trying to do, what our team goals are. But at the same time, I have to look myself in the mirror and ask myself why or how that happened and why I made those decisions?

"Our team came ready to play, and for me to make some decisions like that. ... It's not fair to these guys. I have to realize that and understand that, and I have to get better for my team."

As Wagoner went on to note, Purdy started well enough, as his third pass of the night was a strike to tight end George Kittle for a 58-yard gain to Baltimore's 28-yard line. He followed with another completion to Kittle for 13 yards. It went more poorly from there.

On first-and-10 at Baltimore's 15-yard line, Purdy forced a pass to wideout Deebo Samuel that Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton stepped in front of for an interception.

Purdy said he thought Samuel had flashed open but that he should have continued through his progression and checked the ball down instead.

"I thought the first one was the big mistake," Shanahan said. "And the other three were pretty unfortunate for him."

Each of Purdy's subsequent interceptions came with some sort of hit or deflection from the Ravens' defense.

The second pick was deflected into the waiting arms of cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

The third came when Purdy attempted to make something happen on a throw for Kittle during a scramble drill after running back Christian McCaffrey had been flagged for a chop block. Purdy said he was aware of the flags and had a feeling the penalty was on the offense, terming the decision to try the throw across his body "very dumb" because he made a bad situation worse.

That made Purdy the first NFL player to throw three interceptions in the first half of a game this season and the first 49er to do so since Nick Mullens in 2018. Purdy's four-interception outing was the first by a Niners quarterback since Colin Kaepernick did it in 2015.

With 8:19 to play in the fourth, Purdy took a sack from Ravens pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. Purdy briefly departed last week's win at the Arizona Cardinals with a shoulder stinger and endured a similar pain when Clowney took him down. The signal-caller jogged off the field and quickly headed to the blue medical tent as Sam Darnold replaced him.

Purdy potentially could have returned to the game, but Shanahan opted to keep him out in large part because the Niners' offensive line was down three players, including starting left tackle Trent Williams (groin) and left guard Aaron Banks (toe).

"I know he's disappointed not being able to finish it there, but getting that stinger again, I just wanted to keep him out of there," Shanahan said of Purdy.

Williams was injured while attempting to tackle linebacker Patrick Queen after Purdy's fourth interception. Despite his best efforts, Williams did not return. He was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday. Williams declined to speak at length after the game but told reporters in the locker room, "I'm good. I'll be all right."

Purdy's career-low 42.6 passer rating followed a six-game span in which he had a 138.1 rating -- the highest in NFL history over a six-game stretch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Now, Purdy will have a short week to prepare for the Commanders.

One silver lining the Niners were quick to point out after Monday's loss is that they still control their NFC playoff positioning. Wins against Washington and the visiting Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 7 or one victory and some help would give the 49ers the NFC's No. 1 seed, home-field advantage and a bye during the first weekend of the postseason.

But first, San Francisco will get a look at how Purdy rebounds following the worst outing of his two campaigns.

For the record, Purdy said after the game that he's expecting to be fine for the Week 17 game against Washington and Shanahan reiterated the same on Tuesday.

"Just watching him, how he was that week [after the Cardinals game], and then just being able to hear how he was today and talk to him last night after the game, I think he's going to be fine," Shanahan said, via David Bonilla of "I don't think it's going to bother him too [much].

"I mean, I don't want to take away from it. I'm sure it's a pain for him, but in overall things, I think he's going to be fine for us this week."

Other notes of interest. ... While there were plenty of struggles on Monday night, McCaffrey delivered once again.

He rushed for 103 yards on 14 carries and added six catches for 28 yards. McCaffrey moved into a tie for the NFL lead with Raheem Mostert with his 21st touchdown and leads the NFL with 1,932 yards from scrimmage.

McCaffrey set a franchise record with his eighth straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage.

Finally. ... As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow noted, San Francisco was penalized 10 times for 102 yards -- their second-most penalty yards in a game this season. Several of those infractions contributed directly to Baltimore scores.

Safety Tashaun Gipson was called for a face mask and pass interference on the Ravens' first TD drive, Ambry Thomas got called for holding on a field-goal drive later in the second quarter and punter Mitch Wishnowsky committed a late hit early in the third quarter to lead to a TD drive starting on the San Francisco 44.

QBs: Brock Purdy, Josh Dobbs, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

According to's Brady Henderson, Geno Smith went through a range of emotions last Monday night, first angry over Pete Carroll's decision to not start him because of his injured groin and then elated when Drew Lock led a game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Smith's eventful week ended with a game-winning touchdown drive of his own Sunday -- and a place in NFL history because of it.

Down 17-13 to the Tennessee Titans with three minutes, 21 seconds left, Smith took the Seahawks 75 yards on 14 plays. He capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Colby Parkinson with a minute left to put Seattle ahead 20-17 for good.

"I feel like Drew did a great job last week and we had a chance to match it this week," Smith said. "As I'm going out there, I'm not thinking about anything else besides the situation. ... And how we can get in the end zone. I thought [offensive coordinator Shane Waldron] did a great job. I thought protection held up great. Obviously receivers did a great job of getting open and Colby made a heck of a catch to seal the deal right there."

Parkinson's score marked the third lead change of the fourth quarter, following a Smith touchdown pass to DK Metcalf that put Seattle up 13-10 and then a Derrick Henry TD run. The two go-ahead touchdown passes give Smith six this season in the fourth quarter or overtime. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's tied for most in a season in NFL history. Four others have thrown that many, most recently Justin Herbert in 2021 and Kirk Cousins in 2020.

Smith also has three go-ahead touchdown passes in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime this season, which is tied for the most in NFL history, per Elias.

"You've got to be around him to appreciate the competitive mentality that he has," head coach Pete Carroll said. "He's in such a good place. He believes so strongly that it's going to happen and it's going to get done and his guys are going to come through for him. That belief, it translates to other guys and they feel him. They go through and do what they're supposed to do and it comes out well. He's having an enormous impact on these guys just because his mentality is so strong and so consistent."

Smith was playing for the first time since Nov. 30, when he had perhaps his best game of the season with three touchdown passes in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But his hopes of continuing that momentum the following week were derailed when he injured his groin in practice seven days later, causing him to miss the next two games. Smith worked out before the Eagles game and felt he was healthy enough to play, which is why he vehemently protested Carroll's decision to not start him.

Smith looked as though he might have had some rust to shake off in the first half Sunday, going 10-of-16 for 69 yards and barely missing would-be touchdown throws to Parkinson and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, both in the corner of the end zone. The Seahawks trailed 10-3.

Then Smith caught fire in the second half, going 15-of-20 for 158 yards and his touchdowns to Metcalf and Parkinson. He finished 25-of-36 for 227 yards, with three sacks and no turnovers.

"Those passes were like an inch from being a touchdown," he said of his first-half misses, "so you've got to kind of live with those at times. I wish I had thrown it sooner ... I wish I had thrown a little more flat ball to Jaxon. I thought I did a pretty good job to Colby. He got one foot in, wasn't able to get that second one down. But overall we've got to learn from those things and I think we corrected those in the second half."

Carroll said Friday that Smith appeared to be all the way back from his groin injury, and the coach reiterated that thought postgame Sunday.

"There's no doubt," Carroll said. "He got whacked a couple times today but he made it through it."

Smith's previous go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter or overtime this season came in wins over the Detroit Lions in Week 2 (two), Cleveland Browns in Week 8 and Washington Commanders in Week 10.

On Sunday, he went 7-of-10 for 57 yards on the game-winning drive.

"In those situations, they're nice because you get four downs, you know that going down the field you have four downs, incompletions are all right, on to the next play," Lock said. "I thought he did an awesome job of doing that tonight, even after a couple incompletions, next play. Next play mentality the whole drive. Keep chipping, chipping, chipping, chipping. Got it done."

Smith's final touchdown pass came on a play the Seahawks have had installed the entire season but had yet to run until Waldron called it. The 6-foot-7 Parkinson got a favorable matchup, one-on-one against 5-11 cornerback Tre Avery.

"That's cool because we've been working on it for a long time," Carroll said. "To make that play down there and to have a good matchup and Geno threw a great ball. He ripped it to him. It's been looking good in practice, so I love that we went to that right there because that was probably the last thing they thought was going to happen, that we would throw to him in that situation. They won't think that anymore."

Said Parkinson: "This was the first time that we called it and I didn't want it to be the last time, so I had to come down with the ball."

With Seattle improving to 8-7 and the Minnesota Vikings falling to 7-8 with a loss to Detroit, the Seahawks moved back into the NFC's No. 7 seed and now control their own playoff destiny. If they win their final two games -- vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday and at the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18 -- they'll be assured of a wild-card berth.

"That's a good thing," Carroll said. "That's a good thing. This week, that's all it is."

A postseason berth would be an accomplishment.

But at this point, is just getting into the playoffs satisfying enough, especially for a team that has only rarely looked like it's good enough to possibly win a game or two in the postseason?

"We'll find out what happens if we're fortunate enough to make to the playoffs how we play against whomever we play and we'll see what the heck happens," Carroll said during his radio show on Tuesday. ...

Also of interest. ... Metcalf's one-handed touchdown catch in the fourth quarter gives him six scores in the last six games and eight this season. He finished with four catches for 56 yards and also drew a pass interference penalty to set up the game-winning touchdown. ...

According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron again had a game plan that was confusing at times. He still appears to lack commitment to the run: Seattle had just eight rushing plays in the first half and 20 for the game.

There were also issues with certain position groups in key moments and a series of questionable play calls early in the second half inside the Tennessee 10 when Seattle had to settle for a field goal. ...

In addition, the most penalized team in the NFL entering Sunday, the Seahawks were flagged six times for 47 yards against the Titans, including a pass interference (Tre Brown) and unnecessary roughness (Artie Burns) on Tennessee's go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

QBs: Sam Howell, Geno Smith
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jake Bobo, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Fresh off a 30-12 Christmas Eve victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars -- their fourth straight -- Baker Mayfield said of his now rapidly ascending offense that's averaged 31 points a game the past three weeks: "It's a hell of a lot better than the last five years. I can say that."

As's Jenna Lane noted, Mayfield threw for 283 passing yards and three touchdowns to lift the Buccaneers to an 8-7 record and one victory away from an NFC South title, providing an exhilarating twist to a career that included four different teams in the last calendar year and a one-year, prove-it signing last offseason.

The Buccaneers, seeking to fill the near-impossible void left by Tom Brady, and Mayfield, eager to resurrect his once-promising career, both appear to be big winners in this.

"I would love to be here. It's a great city, great group of guys, great organization, but winning ball games takes care of that, so we'll have that discussion after the year," said Mayfield, whom the Buccaneers have not approached about an extension, sources told ESPN. The expectation is that those talks will not happen until after the season.

"He's been outstanding," said head coach Todd Bowles, who has also refrained from publicly discussing Mayfield's future. "He's been outstanding in December. That's what you want from your quarterback in December. Everybody knows each other's plays right about now. But when you're trying to make a push and your quarterback is playing great, it gives you a chance."

Mayfield has thrown 25 touchdowns for the season -- one off his personal best of 26 -- while only throwing eight interceptions. His chemistry with Mike Evans, who hauled in two touchdowns against the Jaguars, has been apparent all season, but now it's transcended the whole offense, with seven different receiving targets catching passes Sunday.

Mayfield's gotten much more comfortable airing it out too, averaging 12.3 yards per completion to Evans and 13.2 to wide receiver Chris Godwin, who followed up last week's 158-yard performance with 79 receiving yards.

On top of that, the defense, playing at full-strength, had one of its best games of the season.

"We're piecing it together, everybody's playing for each other, everybody's locked in, and we're trying to get in," Bowles said. "We're clawing, we're scrapping, we're doing everything we can, those guys have great attitudes, the leaders have been great for us getting us through tough times [and] coming out the other side and we know it's not over."

It was starting to look that way three weeks ago, when the Buccaneers had a 23 percent chance to reach the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics. Now they have an 84 percent chance to not only get in but to win the NFC South, which sets up a potential division-clincher next Sunday when they host the New Orleans Saints.

Because of the Saints' 30-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night, the Buccaneers only need to win one of their remaining games to lock up the division.

They close out the season on the road at the Carolina Panthers, where Mayfield spent the first seven games last season.

"That's our mindset -- going to close it out at home," said Mayfield, who was released by the Panthers on Dec. 5 last year before signing with the Rams the following day. "And then go in with the same mentality to Carolina. We're playing for better seeding. Obviously, if you win the division, you get the fourth seed. But who knows what can happen. So that one game at a time mentality, and we have New Orleans at home next week."

But Mayfield did confess that he broke his own rule on that.

"I did ask [Santa Claus] for a win, yeah," Mayfield said. "He brought that for me, so that's great. But I've got another one coming. There was two parts to the win."

An equally satisfied Bowles added that it's shaping up to be a "great Christmas" and "I won't be eating cookies tonight."

One issue that needs to be addressed: The Bucs continue to rank in the lower third of the league in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just 48.89 percent of their possessions inside opponents' 20-yard line. They were two for five against Jacksonville.

QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Sean Tucker, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

The Tennessee Titans had been the NFL 's best at winning games decided by three or fewer points through coach Mike Vrabel's first five seasons.

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, that's taken a hit this season, no more so than over the month of December.

Tennessee (5-10) is 1-3 this month with the first four games all decided by a field goal or less -- two losses in overtime at home after missed extra points in regulation. For the season, Tennessee is 4-7 in one-score games overall.

That's the biggest reason Tennessee lost 20-17 to Seattle in the first game of the Vrabel era with the Titans already eliminated from playoff contention. Penalties, missed plays and lots of new faces are part of the struggle to finish.

"We've been close a lot of times," Vrabel said Tuesday. "And. ... We could go through all the plays that are very positive, that are well coordinated with a lot of effort and execution involved in it. And then, there's just too many of those plays that get you beat."

Seven of 13 Titans on injured reserve are starters, including two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons who was added Dec. 23. Tennessee tied a season high playing 11 rookies against Seattle and started a season-high five rookies.

"We'll make sure there's 48 guys that're ready to go as healthy as they can be," Vrabel said.

Will Levis missed Sunday's loss with an ankle injury, but the team is hopeful he'll be able to get back on the field in Week 17.

Vrabel said on Tuesday he thinks playing in the final two games of the season would be "invaluable reps" for the rookie and noted that the chance to "handle the operation and work the offense" on the road in Houston this week would be a particularly good experience for Levis.

"I think he'll try and practice [Wednesday], probably in a limited basis," Vrabel said, via the team's website. "But I think that he's better, he's improved. He's been working hard to get back like everybody else."

Ryan Tannehill started in place of Levis on Sunday, but the future belongs to the second-round pick and the next two weeks are an opportunity to start growing toward a full season as the team's starter.

One concern?

The Titans gave up six sacks a week after allowing seven and getting Levis hurt. Only Washington, the Jets and the Giants have given up more than Tennessee's 56 sacks. Andrew Rupcich started the first NFL game of his career at right guard.

It's yet another change on an offensive line that features two rookies on the left side, an undersized undrafted free agent at center and has started four different Titans at left tackle and three at right tackle.

It's something to work on as they prepare for the final road trip this season to Houston. It'll be the Titans' second game in three weeks against their AFC South rival. Then the team will return home for the season finale in hosting Jacksonville.

A loss in either of these games clinches the franchise's worst record since going 3-13 in 2015. ...

Also of interest. ... Making his first start since Week 6, Tannehill completed 18 of his 26 pass attempts for 152 yards. But's Turron Davenport advised readers it was clear that he was rusty, as shown by how he frequently threw behind his receivers, forcing them to take big hits at times. ...

A week after being stifled in the run game, the Titans were much more effective running the football on Sunday.

Running back Derrick Henry ran for 88 yards on 19 carries, a 4.6-yard average, and Tyjae Spears carried the ball nine times for 40 yards. Throw in Tannehill's rushing yards and the Titans racked up 162 yards on the ground against the Seahawks.

"The line did a great job being physical," Henry said. "The guys blocked, and I just made my reads, and tried to make something out of it."

Henry became the fourth player in NFL history, including the postseason, with at least 10,000 yards from scrimmage and five TD passes. Henry, who has 11,585 yards from scrimmage in 124 games, joined Marcus Allen, Walter Payton and LaDainian Tomlinson -- who are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It also was Henry's third career game where he threw a TD pass and ran for a score. ...

For what it's worth. ... Henry likes to refer to himself as a "young Peyton Manning."

It started after Henry first started getting opportunities to throw the football. Well, Henry got another chance on Sunday, and his success continued. Henry threw a career-long 14-yard touchdown toss to tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo to give the Titans a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.

In his career, Henry has now completed 7-of-9 passes for four touchdowns. "It was exactly how we practiced it," Okonkwo said. "Derrick put it out there, and it was a touchdown."

As for Okonkwo. ... The second-year tight end caught every pass thrown to him for a team-high 63 yards and a touchdown. It marked the second-best receiving game of his career and the 12-yard toss from Henry was Okonkwo's first TD this season.

QBs: Will Levis, Malik Willis
RBs: Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Tyler Boyd, Kyle Philips, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco

Washington Commanders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2023

Sam Howell had a chance to clear some of the doubts as to whether he can be the Washington Commanders' quarterback of the future.

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. suggested, a second straight benching has only intensified them.

Howell was replaced in the third quarter Sunday by Jacoby Brissett, who led the Commanders on three straight touchdown drives to help Washington erase a 20-point deficit and take a late lead before falling 30-28 to the New York Jets on Greg Zuerlein's 54-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.

"It was tough," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We didn't help (Howell) early. We dropped a couple of balls that we probably should have caught. Your confidence sometimes can get shaken. That's what I started to feel in the second half and I was really concerned.

"That's why I made the decision that I did."

Howell certainly didn't help himself a week after being benched in Washington's 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Rivera stuck with Howell, who came in leading the NFL in interceptions and added the 16th and 17th of the season against the Jets. Howell was replaced by Brissett after being picked off the second time, finishing 6 of 22 for 56 yards with a 1.7 rating.

"It's obviously been a disappointing couple of weeks here," Howell said. "I would like to play some better football. All I can do at the end of the day is control my mindset, my attitude and how I move forward."

But whether the Commanders, who have lost six straight, proceed with Howell for their final two games -- and beyond -- remains to be determined. Rivera said he'd "evaluate everything" and decide early in the week on his quarterback for Washington's game this Sunday against San Francisco.

Rivera expects to announce a starter Wednesday.

"I'm still a young player," said the 23-year-old Howell, who's in his second NFL season. "I've got to do what I can to keep trying to get better and not let this moment define who I am as a player, who I am as a person."

AP sports writer Stephen Whyno noted, part of the equation is that Howell has been sacked 60 times and hit plenty more times through 15 games, the past six all losses as the Commanders have fallen to 4-11.

"He's taken a lot of snaps," Rivera said on a video call with reporters Tuesday. "The length of the season obviously is probably wearing on him, as well as the number of plays he's had and the number of hits he's had to absorb."

Howell's 557 attempts are second most in the league. The second-year pro has the most interceptions with 17.

Brissett has been one of Howell's biggest supporters, offering encouragement to the young quarterback -- especially since he has experienced the highs and lows of playing and being benched throughout his eight-year career.

"I told him this is going to be the hardest part of your career," Brissett said. "It's going to feel like you're in this by yourself and it's snowballing, one thing after another. I know from being in this league that the good ones find a way to get to the other side, no matter how long it takes, no matter how hard it is.

"I hope he leans on me as one of those good people who'll help him get through this because I will."

Brissett, who last started a game last season with Cleveland, was 10 of 13 for 100 yards and a touchdown in relief of Howell.

"Talking to Sam, some of these things you don't know or you learn it as you go," Brissett said. "You've got to go through it. For me, it's just about going out there and playing football, what I know how to do best and put our team in the best position possible."

Even if he's not with Washington beyond this season, Brissett continues to show teams he can handle stepping in on a moment's notice and make throws.

"That's a vet," running back Antonio Gibson said. "He's comfortable out there, so when he gets in, it's just another day for him."

After Rivera announces a starter, all involved will hope the offensive line can keep him upright against San Francisco, an angry opponent that's a 13 1/2-point favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook. Former Washington pass rusher Chase Young should be especially motivated against his old team. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Rookie running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. ran hard, finished with 58 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and showed that he could be a bigger part of Washington's future.

But Rodriguez injured his right ankle in the Jets game and was sporting a walking boot afterward.

Rivera said Rodriguez and CB Benjamin St-Juste (concussion) were getting further evaluation Tuesday.

With Brian Robinson Jr. dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out the past two weeks and Jonathan Williams in concussion protocol, Washington brought Jaret Patterson back on the practice squad.

"He's very familiar with what we do, and that's the biggest thing," Rivera said of Patterson, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2021.

The offensive line is also noticeably banged up. Starting right tackle Andrew Wylie hyperextended an elbow on Sunday, when the Commanders were already without starting left tackle Charles Leno (calf) and center Tyler Larsen (knee).

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

RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Austin Ekeler, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Dyami Brown, Jamison Crowder, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates