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Team Notes week 17 2022
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The Cardinals thought they were going to give themselves a Christmas present Sunday night.
Instead, Tom Brady -- in the first game he'd played against the Cardinals since 2012 -- played just well enough at the end of the game to add another chapter to his magical career.
"We knew who was across the ball from us," said quarterback Trace McSorley, after Brady turned a 16-6 fourth-quarter deficit into a 19-16 overtime win for his Buccaneers, and left the Cardinals again looking for answers following a loss at State Farm Stadium.
"It sucks," linebacker Zaven Collins said. "We had them."
The Cardinals (4-11) lost their fifth straight.
While the defeat helps that part of the fanbase hoping for a better draft pick, to think the team closed out its home schedule with a lone victory would've been hard to fathom at season's outset.
To be fair, the matchup of third-stringer McSorley -- making his first NFL start -- and Brady -- making his 331st -- didn't bode well.
Most of the night, the Cardinals' defense made that even.
Brady threw two interceptions, both to cornerback Marco Wilson, and struggled all the way up to the point the Cardinals had their 10-point lead. The Bucs (7-8), needing a win to remain in first place in the NFC South, looked mostly impotent even with the G.O.A.T at quarterback.
Brady started the game 15-for-26 for 112 yards and the two picks. In the final 11 minutes of play -- a chunk of overtime and the end of the fourth quarter -- he completed 17 of 22 passes for 169 yards, a touchdown, no interception and one Christmas miracle dashed.
"If we keep it close in the fourth quarter, we know we've got a shot," Brady said.
McSorley completed 24-of-45 passes for 217 yards, and his one interception was a Hail Mary at the end of regulation that didn't matter. But while Greg Dortch had a great night -- 10 catches for 98 yards and another 25 yards rushing -- DeAndre Hopkins only had one catch for four yards.
The Cardinals tried to get the ball to Hopkins.
McSorley threw it to him 10 times. But his lone reception was quick screen for four yards designed mostly to make sure Hopkins continued his consecutive games with a catch streak (now at 147.)
The rest of the targets often weren't even close enough for Hop to get a hand on.
McSorley said the Bucs did a nice job disguising their coverages (especially for a young quarterback) and while Hopkins no doubt was disappointed, he wasn't about to criticize his QB.
"I know it's hard playing in this league, especially at the quarterback position," Hopkins said. "I'm not going to be hard on him if I'm having one catch. It's part of the process, he's dealing with a lot of stuff."'
Indeed, the last time McSorley had started a football game was Jan. 1, 2019, when Penn State beat Kentucky in the Outback Bowl following the 2018 season.
"I thought he battled," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He made enough plays to keep us in the game. There's some things he'd like to have back, no question, but he played hard and we had our opportunities."
Marquise Brown had a 47-yard catch to set up a score. The catch tied Dortch's longest reception of the year for the Cardinals, although unlike Dortch's catch-and-run in Mexico City, Brown's catch was actually 47 yards in the air -- by far the longest completion of the season for the Cardinals in air yards traveled.
Brown didn't start and didn't play much early. But asked if he was limited with his groin injury that landed him on the injury report, Brown responded honestly.
"I was late to a meeting so coach decided to cut my playing time," Brown admitted.
Meanwhile, as Darren Urban of the team's official website notes, all Dortch does is produce when given the chance. It's fair to believe he'll be in the mix for playing time next season.
Otherwise, the Cardinals rode running back James Conner, who had 79 yards rushing on 15 carries and a 22-yard TD for the 10-point lead, and he added seven catches for 41 more yards.
But on a crucial third-and-1 at the Tampa 42 and up, 16-13, McSorley's pitch to rookie running back Keaontay Ingram was fumbled, and the Buccaneers recovered.
Brady moved the Bucs to a tying field goal, and the lead was gone for good, as it turned out.
"I've got to put (the ball) farther out in front of him," McSorley said of the ill-timed fumble. "That's on me."
The Cardinals had the ball first in overtime, but quickly were forced to punt, and Brady needed only the one possession. Ryan Succop ended up booting a 40-yard field goal with 3:42 left to rescue his team and delivering another blow to the Cardinals in a season full of them.
"We know who's across the ball from us and with that much time left, that's a lot of time for him to operate and do what he did," McSorley said.
Kicker Matt Prater drilled 53- and 56-yard field goals (plus one from 39) and was the Cardinals' main offense again, but the Cardinals couldn't find a way to get him one more long try in regulation prior to the Hail Mary.
And so Brady got a win what will likely be his only regular-season appearance at State Farm Stadium, keeping his team's postseason hopes alive. The Cardinals will finish the season with back-to-back road trips to Atlanta and San Francisco.
They will chase a win they couldn't quite get against a legend.
"It's football," Brown said. "We know we're going up against Tom Brady."
The question now is whether the Cardinals will win either of their last two games?
With road games against the Atlanta Falcons and then the San Francisco 49ers, a 1-1 split is possible, but it wouldn't be surprising if they go 0-2 to finish the season at 4-13. ...
Of course, as Associated Press sports writer David Brandt notes, the only remaining storyline is the future of Kingsbury, who has a 28-35-1 record during his tenure.
It's unclear whether the 43-year-old Kingsbury will return for a fifth season. The organization is in a bit of disarray at the moment with GM Steve Keim having taken a medical leave of absence, capping a steady stream of unwanted headlines.
Kingsbury has remained stoic through it all. He's known for getting to the facility before 4 a.m. and his work ethic has never been questioned. The Cardinals have also had an avalanche of injuries this season, including losing franchise quarterback Kyler Murray to a knee injury earlier this month.
If Sunday's loss was any indication, the Cardinals will still play hard.
It remains to be seen if they'll play well enough to win, but it appears they'll have Colt McCoy back under center.
Kingsbury announced on Wednesday that McCoy has been cleared to return from a concussion and should be good to go this week against the Falcons.
“He’s doing well. Looks like he’ll start this week. He cleared the concussion protocol and looks good,” Kingsbury said.
Other notes of interest. ... According to Urban, Prater has dealt with a hip issue all season. He didn't even try a 50-yard field goal all season until he missed a 50-yarder against the Patriots a couple games ago.
Four straight, from 50, 55, 56 and 53.
The latter two came Sunday, and for the guy who owns the NFL record for most 50-plus field goals made in his career, sure, there was a hope he might be able to bomb one at the end of regulation.
With four seconds left, the ball was on the Arizona 49. It was just a little too far -- as good as Prater is, a 70-yarder probably held more risk than reward.
"A 69- or 70-yarder, it's such a long kick," Prater said. "Could I get it there? Maybe? Maybe not? Everything has to go absolutely perfect, so it's such a small percentage, I think they made the right decision to throw it."
"But I would've been willing to try," Prater added with a smile. ...
There have been two players that have been at the forefront of the "everyone needs to be a pro and play hard the balance of the season" for the Cardinals. One is J.J. Watt, and the defensive end has played excellent of late in backing up his words.
The other is Budda Baker, except now the safety -- and lone Cardinals Pro Bowler -- is done for the season after fracturing his shoulder during Sunday night's loss to the Buccaneers.
Baker played all 81 defensive snaps in Sunday's game. Earlier this season, Baker, who was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, seriously sprained his ankle against the Seahawks, and yet played the following week against the Rams even after Kingsbury had declared him out early in the week.
The Cardinals have two road games left, in Atlanta and San Francisco. It'll be up to Watt -- and others -- to carry the torch with Baker out.
Watt is retiring following the conclusion of the 2022 season. The star defensive lineman Watt on Tuesday tweeted out that this past Sunday was his last ever home game in the NFL.
"My heart is filled with nothing but love and gratitude," Watt said. "It's been an absolute honor and a pleasure."
Watt, 33, has produced one of his better seasons in 2022, collecting 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 33 tackles in his 12th season in the NFL.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and 2017's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner while with the Texans, Watt will soon find himself in at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. ...
Finally. ... During the Cardinals' game against the Buccaneers Sunday night, NBC's Melissa Stark reported that Murray will have his procedure to repair his torn ACL on Jan. 3 in Dallas. ...
Kingsbury had previously said Murray's surgery would happen sometime after Christmas.
After the loss to the Bucs, Kingsbury said he had not heard yet of Murray's specific schedule.
According to the report, the timetable for Murray's return would be about nine months, which would mean October of 2023, about four games into the season, give or take.
Stark also said the procedure would be done by the Cowboys team doctor. That would be Dr. Daniel Cooper. It doesn't hurt that Murray is from the Dallas area and his family resides there.
It's still unknown where Murray will do the bulk of his rehab.
Murray has been going through prehab at the Tempe facility, with father Kevin shuttling him back and forth since Kyler cannot drive with the injury.
You can access complete stats for the Cardinals Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Dobbs, Clayton Tune, Kyler Murray
RBs: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Emari Demercado
WRs: Marquise Brown, Zach Pascal, Rondale Moore, Michael Wilson, Greg Dortch
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer David Ginsburg noted, in a season filled with narrow losses, the Atlanta Falcons saw their slim playoff hopes end by virtue of a chilling defeat that featured a familiar slow start and ended with coach Arthur Smith again talking about the team's need to show progress.
In between the opening kickoff and final whistle of their 17-9 setback against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, the Falcons were plagued by untimely penalties, a costly turnover and poor execution in the red zone.
The loss eliminated Atlanta (5-10) from playoff contention, a fate that seemed inevitable after the team nosedived following a 3-3 start. Sure, the Falcons have dropped eight games by eight points or fewer, but that hasn't made their current four-game skid any easier to take.
"Ultimately, it's about winning," Smith said. "You can look at the progress that's being made. But we've got to find ways to play with a lead. We've got to find a way to get over that hump."
With rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder making his second NFL start, the Falcons went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions and had only 12 yards in offense during a first quarter played in frosty 17-degree weather. Baltimore built a 14-3 lead at halftime and cruised to the finish while keeping Atlanta out of the end zone.
The refs didn't help. In the final minute of the first half, an intentional grounding call against Ridder while he was seemingly being hit turned a first-and-goal at the 1 into a hasty field goal as time expired.
Smith furiously objected to the call from the sideline, but afterward opted to keep his comments -- and potential fine money for criticizing the officials -- to himself.
"I'd rather give that money to people in Atlanta," Smith said. "If they're going to fine me a lot of money, I'd rather give it to people who need it."
Atlanta was also burned by a holding call on a third-quarter touchdown run that would have cut the deficit to 14-9, pending the conversion. And there was a fumble by star receiver Drake London in the second quarter, which turned out to be the only turnover of the game.
Overall, the Falcons converted only five of 14 third-down tried, went 0 for 4 on fourth down and failed to score a touchdown during four trips to the red zone.
"Situation football," Ridder said. "At the end of the day, we go back and look at red zone, third down and turnovers, making sure we win all those things. Obviously, situational football wasn't our best today. That's something we'll look at and try to get better at."
Afterward, Smith talked about looking to show improvement in the final two weeks at home against Arizona and Tampa Bay.
"We're looking to win and progress. Then, I'll stop coming up here and sounding like a broken record," he said. "We need to win at home, win for our fans and finish this thing out right."
Ridder knows exactly how his coach feels.
"We've been on a bumpy road up and down this entire year," the rookie said. "We wanted to get over that hump today. Obviously we didn't. Now it's about going to get the next one."
That said, ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein contends that Start No. 2 went better for Ridder -- although it was another slow beginning with a rough first two drives that included a fumbled snap and a bad sack taken.
Once Ridder found the rhythm of the game, there were signs of potential.
He once again had a strong connection with London -- his most targeted pass-catcher (nine targets, seven catches, 96 yards) -- and while there were some off-target throws, Ridder often put his receiver in positions to make plays. He also showed he could make throws all over the field and again didn't have operational issues.
There are a lot of questions, but there was some tangible growth in a 22-of-33, 218-yard day with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
But the reality for the Atlanta Falcons showed up on Christmas Eve -- if everything isn't perfect, the Falcons will struggle to win, and that's not a surprise with a team in the midst of a rebuild. There are players to feel good about, notably cornerstones in defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, cornerback A.J. Terrell and offensive guard Chris Lindstrom, along with London and running back Tyler Allgeier.
But this is a team with a long way to go before it sustains success. This season has shown that.
The Falcons have two games left, both at home. They play the Cardinals Sunday and host Tampa Bay in the final week of the 2022 season.
One last note here. ... Allgeier carried the ball 18 times for 74 yards and caught four of five targets for 43 yards in Baltimore.
As CBSSports.com noted, the rookie has now topped 100 scrimmage yards in back-to-back games, and with Atlanta now eliminated from playoff contention, it's likely Allgeier will remain the top option in the Falcons backfield for their final two games ahead of 31-year-old Cordarrelle Patterson, who may not factor into the team's future plans.
Allgeier is hard to bring down once he hits a hole, and he's shown durability, playing in every game except Week 1 and not missing practice.
Heading into the Week 17 clash with the Cardinals, Allgeier has 817 rushing yards through 14 contests, giving him a shot at a 1,000-yard campaign with two games remaining. ...
The Falcons didn't report any new injuries after the Baltimore game.
You can access complete stats for the Falcons Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Ogbonnaya
WRs: Drake London, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The Baltimore Ravens clinched a playoff berth Saturday, although it felt like they were the last to know.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported, the Ravens beat the Falcons 17-9 in the coldest home game in franchise history but didn't secure the postseason spot until 20 minutes after their game ended. Baltimore (10-5) officially punched its ticket to the playoffs when the New England Patriots lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 22-18 -- a game that ended in the middle of head coach John Harbaugh's postgame news conference.
Asked how it feels to be in the playoffs, Harbaugh responded, "Are we?"
When told the Patriots had lost, Harbaugh added, "OK, it feels great. ... It'll probably sink in later tonight."
The Ravens reached the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but this postseason berth was different from those previous ones. This marked the first time Baltimore had clinched a playoff spot without Lamar Jackson as its starting quarterback since it did so with Joe Flacco in 2014.
Jackson has been sidelined since Dec. 4 with a sprained knee, and the Ravens offense continued to struggle without him. In three games without Jackson, Baltimore has scored two touchdowns and totaled 36 points.
"We can get better and we need to get better," tight end Mark Andrews said. "The playoffs is about doing that."
Harbaugh said he hadn't thought about how clinching a playoff berth might affect when Jackson would return.
The Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 1.
Jackson, who was injured earlier this month, has missed three games and most of a fourth with a knee injury.
According to Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio, the team continues to believe he will play again -- even if they don't want to come right out and say so.
"Players play when they're healthy and ready to go; that's really all we do," Harbaugh said. "When the player and the docs come back and say, 'Hey, it's time,' then [as] coaches, we build him into the game plan. That's really how [it works]. To think about it beyond that is just kind of a waste of energy and time."
Harbaugh added, "Lamar is working very hard to get back. The trainers are working very hard to get him back. I'm optimistic in so many ways, but focused on our team and the next game plan with who we have, really."
Asked if Jackson would practice this week, "We'll just have to see," Harbaugh said.
We got our first glimpse of that on Wednesday.
Jackson was not on the field for his 10th consecutive practice, according to multiple reporters on the Ravens beat.
All that said, there's actually a chance he'll play this week.
As Florio explained on Sunday's Football Night in America, it's right around 50-50 that he'll play against the Steelers.
For Jackson, the real question is whether he's willing to risk playing if he's anything less than 100 percent. He's so close to finishing his rookie contract that the risk may not be worth it -- especially if the risk is enhanced by Jackson's knee not being fully healed.
Again, the offense has struggled in his absence.
The Ravens' nine completions -- Tyler Huntley was 9-of-17 for 115 yards -- were tied for the fewest in a game since Harbaugh became coach in 2008. Baltimore beat Atlanta with its downhill running game and stingy defense.
The Ravens ran for 184 yards, getting 99 from Gus Edwards and 59 from J.K. Dobbins. The Baltimore defense stepped up to stop Atlanta on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter and held a team without a touchdown for the third time in six games.
The Ravens offense, however, reached the end zone in the second quarter, when Huntley threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson. It ended a drought of 20 straight drives without a touchdown. It was the first touchdown pass to a Ravens wide receiver since Week 3.
"Just scoring touchdowns, period, is like tears of joy," Huntley said.
Indeed, the passing game made strides as it made some big plays in big moments. Huntley connected with Sammy Watkins for 40 yards to set up a field goal. Huntley connected with Andrews for 36 yards to set up another Justin Tucker chip shot.
By no means was this a high-octane passing attack. But that shouldn't be the expectation with this wide receiver corps and Huntley under center.
This was good enough.
The Ravens can still capture the AFC North if they win out. Their last two games are against the Steelers at home and at the Cincinnati Bengals in the finale.
For the record, the Ravens' game this coming Sunday was flexed into prime time.
It will be their fourth night game of the season. They beat Cincinnati at home on a Sunday night, won at Tampa Bay on a Thursday night and won at New Orleans on a Monday night. ...
I'll obviously be watching Jackson's progress closely in coming days and you'll want to watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for all the latest each day.
But I'll also remind you the offense wasn't all that great with Jackson in the lineup. In case you haven't been following along, over his last nine games, Jackson threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.
There were still issues with scoring in the red zone and stretching the field in the passing game.
If the Ravens are going to make a run in the postseason, they need Jackson healthy and at the top of his game.
As for the running back rotation. ... There's a reason why Dobbins and Edwards both were introduced as Ravens offensive starters running out of the pregame tunnel.
They are a 1-2 punch where anybody can be the "1".
Dobbins has been all the rage the past couple weeks, and justifiably so, after running for 120 and 125 yards in his first two games back from his midseason knee surgery. But against the Falcons, the Ravens rode the "Gus Bus" for the aforementioned 99 yards on 11 carries.
Dobbins got his 59 yards on 12 carries, but didn't get touch the ball in the fourth quarter for a second straight game.
"That just kind of got to be a Gus deal at that point in time. Gus was coming downhill," Harbaugh said.
It was another dominant game for Baltimore's ground game that looks unstoppable right now, but the unpredictable nature of their usage is going to continue making things difficult for fantasy managers. ...
You can access complete stats for the Ravens Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
RBs: Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg framed it: "The wind at Soldier Field made the flags atop the goalposts flap viciously and the 9-degree temperatures at kickoff feel more like minus 9.
"The 20-plus mph winds -- plus the Chicago Bears' 27th-ranked run defense -- pushed the Buffalo Bills to rely on the run game. ..."
Thanks to a strong effort from the banged-up offensive line and running backs, the Bills put together their biggest rushing performance in six seasons. Their 254 yards on the ground were their most since they had 272 against the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Eve in 2016.
The 35-13 win over the Bears clinched a third straight AFC East title for the Bills. The explosive rushing performance was a long time coming.
"It was awesome. They ran it so hard," quarterback Josh Allen said. "And we've been hoping for a performance like that for a while and to get our O-line going like that and opening holes, and they were super excited and happy about that. Obviously, rush yards are stats for them too, and they take that to heart. I thought our guys ran the ball extremely hard. Got first downs when they needed to, and I thought that they were good out of the backfield in the pass game, as well."
Getzenberg reminded readers the Bills' rushing attack has been underwhelming at times this year and even a concern with Allen leading the team in rushing and rushing touchdowns for most of the campaign; he continues to lead in touchdowns with seven.
While Allen's ability to scramble and get past defenders is a positive, the team's running backs ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards entering Week 16.
But the group has picked it up in recent weeks. In the first 10 weeks of the season, the Bills averaged 24.7 rushes per game (tied for 22nd). Since Week 11, they have averaged 30.5 (12th).
Against the Bears, the Bills almost had two backs go for over 100 rushing yards, with Devin Singletary finishing at 106 yards and rookie James Cook, who has improved as the season has continued, at 99. Allen had six carries for 41 yards. All three scored rushing touchdowns, and the effort was highlighted by an explosive third quarter that featured 102 rushing yards (the most by the Bills in a single quarter since they had 110 in 2020).
But Singletary disputed the notion the weather was a factor in getting the running game going, instead pointing to the flow of the game.
"The O-line was making big holes for us," Singletary said. "All I had to do was run and make one guy miss. Yeah, it was cold. The grass felt like concrete. So, at times it was kind of hard to get your footing. But it was still fun."
The Bills created those lanes up front without starting center Mitch Morse, who is in concussion protocol.
The explosiveness of the backs can add so much to the offense. Buffalo is now fourth in the NFL in yards per carry (4.89) by running backs. The team's backs lead the league in yards before contact per rush (3.18), which shows the step forward the offensive line has taken.
It's worth noting that over the past four weeks, both Singletary and Cooks have averaged 11 fantasy points per game, sufficient to rank them just inside the top-20 fantasy producers at the position over that span.
"It just proves also to us that we are capable of it," tight end Dawson Knox said of the rushing effort. "The more we can show that we're two-dimensional, that we have that versatility, the better the offense is going to be."
Having that versatility going forward will be key, especially as the Bills prepare for one of the team's biggest games of the season at the Cincinnati Bengals this week on "Monday Night Football."
The two squads have 23 combined wins, tied for the most ever entering a MNF game (Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers, 1997). Running the ball against the Bengals will be no easy feat, as they have allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game (106.4).
If the Bills win their last two games -- against the Bengals and at home versus the New England Patriots -- Buffalo can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Bills have shown more balanced football can help do that.
"Credit to the offensive line and [Singletary] and James; they did a great job," head coach Sean McDermott said. "I know James had a long one there and made a great cut at the end to put it in the end zone. I think that that one-two punch with the run game combined with the pass game, it's just better complementary that way. ..."
Also of interest. ... Getzenberg believes it's fair to ask if Allen can curtail the questionable decisions that have led to turnovers.
Allen threw his first interceptions since Thanksgiving, finishing with two on the day -- his fifth multi-interception game. A league-high four of his interceptions have been thrown into the end zone. Too often, Allen isn't connecting with the open receiver in the middle of the field, instead looking for the big play downfield and trying to get the ball to certain receivers.
Against better defenses, those poor decisions will have more of an impact as the Bills march toward the postseason.
You can access complete stats for the https://www.footballdiehards.com/boxscores/2022/week-16/buffalo-bills-at-chicago-bears.cfm Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Allen, Kyle Allen
RBs: James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Reggie Gilliam
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Trent Sherfield, Khalil Shakir, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, right tackle Taylor Moton had all the offensive linemen wear black ski masks to Friday's walk-through, not just to fight the arctic blast that hit the South but to send a message that his group wouldn't be embarrassed for the second week in a row.
On the coldest day for a home game in Bank of America Stadium history, the Panthers used a red-hot running game to beat the Detroit Lions 37-23 on Saturday to set up a showdown next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South lead.
Carolina rushed for a single-game franchise record 320 yards, including a team-record 240 in the first half, during which Chuba Hubbard and D'Onta Foreman became the first pair of backs to each top 100 first-half rushing yards since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2006.
The offense overall was red hot with 570 total yards, blasting the team record of 548 against the Miami Dolphins in 2017.
The Panthers improved to 6-9, leaving them a game behind the Bucs (7-8), who beat the Cardinals on Sunday.
Carolina can win the NFC South by winning at Tampa Bay this week and at New Orleans the following week.
The rushing effort came a week after the Steelers limited Carolina to 21 yards rushing. It happened on a day when the temperature at kickoff was 20 degrees, eclipsing Carolina's 2010 record of 30 degrees in the season finale.
It came after interim coach Steve Wilks challenged his line to re-establish control.
Foreman, who finished with 165 yards rushing on 21 carries and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, said the masks symbolized a mindset the Panthers want to maintain the final two games with the playoffs still in reach.
"The mentality, you know, how they were going to attack it," he said of the line. "It was just the way they came in. I loved it."
The mindset was evident from the get-go. Hubbard rushed for 30 yards on the game's first play and 35 on the second. He later became the first player with three rushes of 30-plus yards in a half since Tampa Bay's Doug Martin in 2012 and the first in a game since Isaiah Crowell of the New York Jets in 2018.
Hubbard finished the first half with 109 yards rushing on six carries and had 125 yards on 12 carries by the end of the game.
"Coach talked all week about 'Let's show our true character, our true identity,"' Hubbard said. "It showed."
Quarterback Sam Darnold had a big day, too, in improving to 3-1 since taking over as the starter. He has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 759 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
He completed 15 of 22 pass attempts for 250 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, and rushed four times for 21 yards and a touchdown.
"The biggest thing that we are seeing guys, across the board, we are not turning the ball over," Wilks said. "That's the key with us. We always have a chance if we protect the football."
D.J. Moore played all but three snaps and was targeted seven times, making five catches for 83 yards and a TD. It was his most targets since Week 8 at Atlanta.
It was the type of complementary football Wilks, whose record is 5-5 as interim head coach, has emphasized since replacing Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. It's the type of football he believes opponents don't want to see late in the season when players are banged up, particularly once they get into the playoffs.
Smash-mouth football is his formula. It has helped the Panthers win three of their last four games, rushing for 185 or more yards in the wins. It's a formula the team believes it can sustain against Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
Carolina rushed for 173 yards in a 21-3 victory over the Bucs earlier this season, and Tampa Bay has been more vulnerable to the run of late, giving up 209 yards a few weeks ago to San Francisco.
The Panthers had 145 yards rushing against New Orleans, ranked 23rd against the run, in an early-season win.
"We talked all week about the true character of this football team will reveal itself by how we responded," Wilks said. "We came out and played against a good football team, a really good football team.
"Everything that we do starts up front. ..."
In a few related items. ... Hubbard (31) and Foreman (30) played nearly identical snap counts.
Carolina has rushed at least 42 times in each of its four wins since Week 10, ranking second in the NFL with 215 rush attempts in that span.
The Panthers had two consecutive touchdown drives of at least 90 yards in the first half. It was just the third time the Panthers have had multiple TD drives of 90 or more yards in a game, and the first time they've done it in consecutive drives.
The offense posted 10 plays of 20 yards or more, its most since 2011 (11, Week 4 at Chicago).
The Panthers went a third straight game without a turnover and fourth straight without an interception. Since Week 6, they've committed just nine turnovers, tied for second-fewest in the NFL. ...
Also of interest. ... When it comes to late-season consistency, the Panthers shouldn't need to look much further than kicker Eddy Pineiro for inspiration.
Pineiro has made 17 straight field goals since missing the game-winning 32-yard attempt in a Week 8 overtime loss at Atlanta, on a perfect stretch through November and December.
"The best thing I can do is try to be as consistent as I can, try to make all my field goals, try to put the team in the best position to win," Pineiro said. "That's all, and that's what they brought me here for."
Pineiro hasn't been flawless at Carolina since coming in for an injured Zane Gonzalez just after the preseason. Though his missed extra point and field goal attempt in the first Falcons game were pivotal, Pineiro has since only missed one extra point (in a Week 10 win over Atlanta) and hasn't missed any field goals in that span.
There have been tough times with Pineiro, but the Panthers didn't give up on him, and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor stood by him. Since then, the kicker has continued to bounce back.
Heading into Week 17, Pineiro is 26-of-28 (92.9 percent) on extra points and 31-of-33 (93.9 percent) on field goals. His 31 made field goals are the third-most in a single season in Panthers' history.
Pineiro in 2022 is behind John Kasay's 32 field goals in a 2003 campaign to the Super Bowl and 37 in the 1996 season that ended in the NFC Championship. ...
On the injury front. ... Cornerback Jaycee Horn will have surgery on his broken wrist Tuesday and the Panthers will determine then on whether he may be able to return this season. The Panthers are bringing in former CB Josh Norman today for a workout and Wilks said they "would love to sign him and get him on the roster."
They did just that, adding Norman to the practice squad later Tuesday. The expectation is that he will play at least a minor role against the Buccaneers with the division title up for grabs. ...
Receiver Shi Smith (foot, head) left in the third quarter; I'll follow up on his status via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
You can access complete stats for the Panthers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Jonathan Mingo, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Giovanni Ricci
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Gabby Hajduk of the team's official website noted, the Bears held a four-point halftime lead Sunday at Soldier Field, but were outscored 29-3 in the second half in a 35-13 loss to the Bills.
While the Bears offense started off strong -- scoring a touchdown on the opening drive and holding a lead the entire first half -- they managed just four first downs and 88 total yards in the final two quarters.
The Bears defense generated three takeaways Sunday as cornerback Kyler Gordon and linebacker Nicholas Morrow each intercepted Bills quarterback Josh Allen while linebacker Matthew Adams forced a fumble which was recovered by safety Elijah Hicks. Sunday marks the first time since the 2018 season that the Bears forced at least three takeaways in consecutive games.
"I was pleased with the three takeaways," head coach Matt Eberflus said. "We really were plus-2, I know we threw [an interception] at the very end there, but really good job of that. I just think we need to capitalize on those takeaways. I know we had three points on one of them, but we need to capitalize on those short fields and that's really complementary football. So I thought we needed to do a better job than that."
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin notes, the Bears couldn't run the ball, nor could they stifle Buffalo's rushing attack.
Justin Fields completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing for just 11 yards on seven carries. Fields posed no threat throwing (3.6 yards per pass attempt, excluding a 44-yard pass to Velus Jones Jr.) or running the ball.
One week after becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Fields rushed seven times for 11 yards.
Eberflus told reporters after the game that Fields injured his foot late in the fourth quarter after it was stepped on.
Running back David Montgomery led the ground game with 62 yards on 16 carries. But the Bears needed more from Montgomery with the Bills containing Fields by keeping him in the pocket and giving him no room to run. A shaky and short-handed line didn't make things any easier.
The Bears were missing right guard Teven Jenkins (neck) and left guard Cody Whitehair (knee).
Khalil Herbert -- averaging 6 yards per attempt coming in -- had just 7 yards on six carries after missing four games because of a hip injury.
With a ninth straight loss, the Bears fell to 3-12.
So how can the Bears fight off an offensive regression?
Eberflus has it right. They need to start scoring points off those turnovers. Saturday was their second straight game with three takeaways, but they scored only three points off turnovers.
Chicago had two drives that began in Buffalo territory at the 38- and 18-yard lines, respectively, and settled for field goals instead of touchdowns.
In addition, as Cronin noted, averaging 3.7 yards per play is no recipe for winning games.
For what it's worth, the temperature at kickoff Saturday was nine degrees, with winds of 26 miles per hour dropping the wind chill to minus-12. The temperature was the fifth coldest and the wind chill tied for the third coldest for a Bears home game since 1963.
"It was crazy," Fields said. "It really impacted the whole game, from snaps to even tosses. ... [Montgomery] had to lock in on the tosses, they were flying everywhere. The snaps, they were going everywhere.
"[The wind] definitely impacts the passing game with trying to figure out which way you want to throw the ball, like which way the wind is blowing it. You just have to think about all those things when you're of course calling plays and stuff like that."
Saturday was the coldest game the Bears have played at Soldier Field since Dec. 22, 2008, when it was eight degrees with a wind chill of nine below in a win over the Cowboys.
"It was the coldest I've played in," said tight end Cole Kmet. "Crazy wind. You get gusts at times. It was a game where you've really got to run the ball effectively. Cold conditions, but something you've got to deal with when you're playing here."
Kmet caught a game-high five passes for 27 yards after dropping the first ball thrown in his direction.
"It was tough," he said. "You've just got to make sure you're locking the ball in and focus on the catch first. I dropped that one early in the game. It was just about securing the catch and worry about the yards after that maybe a little bit later. But securing that football was key today."
All that becomes a bit easier this week, when the Bears travel to Detroit to take on the Lions and their suddenly very generous run defense indoors this Sunday. ...
Remember, the Bears entered Week 16 ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, averaging 186.9 yards per game.
On Saturday, they were held to 80 yards and 2.8 yards per carry. It was their second fewest yards in a game this season and the first time they didn't compile at least 127 yards on the ground since Week 5 when they were limited to 78 yards in a loss to the Vikings.
Fields, who entered Week 16 with 1,000 yards rushing, was held to just 11 yards on seven carries. It was his fewest yards of the season and snapped streaks of at least 50 yards in eight straight games—which was the longest active streak in the NFL—and at least 70 yards in five consecutive contests—the longest streak by a quarterback since at least 1950.
"The reality of it is I'm not going to be running for 100 yards a game," Fields said. "When a defense does a good job of taking my legs away, then my job is to take a defender with me, maybe take two with me and allow the running backs to work."
"My hat's off to Buffalo," Eberflus said. "They did a good job of keeping him in there, and when he tried to get out of there, I thought they did a nice job of the way they rushed the quarterback, and certainly had a couple guys assigned to him in some of those situations."
"They did a good job of bringing pressure and forcing us to go kind of where they wanted," Kmet said. "They've got good players up front. Credit to them. It was kind of like last week [against the Eagles]. [They have] a lot of guys that can rotate in. They came out with a good scheme. We've just got to execute better and be more physical up front. ..."
As noted above, the Bears were shorthanded on offense Saturday. In addition to Whitehair and Jenkins, they were without receivers Chase Claypool (knee) and Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) and tight end Trevon Wesco (calf).
A total of 12 Bears who have started games this season did not play Saturday due to injuries. In addition to the five mentioned above, the others were center Lucas Patrick, receiver Darnell Mooney, quarterback Trevor Siemian, middle linebacker Jack Sanborn, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor.
For the record, Eberflus insisted the Bears won't shut down Fields for the remaining two games.
In addition to the foot, his left (non-throwing) shoulder -- the same one he separated last month -- also bothered him during the game.
But Eberflus said Monday sitting him the rest of the way is "absolutely not" a consideration.
"Because we've got to get better," the coach said. "We want to improve. We want to see where we are. These last two games matter. They're division opponents to us, very important to our football team to see the competition, to see guys compete against our division. I think it's important for each man, it's important for each unit and it's important for our whole football team."
I'll be watching for more on Fields, Claypool and St. Brown, the latter two of whom did not practice Wednesday in coming days. In addition, Dante Pettis opened the week with a limited session Wednesday due to an ankle issue. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
Also of interest. ... Jones delivered his best performance of what's been a challenging rookie season in this game. The third-round pick from Tennessee showed his speed and explosiveness on kickoff returns of 40 and 43 yards in the first quarter and the aforementioned 44-yard reception on the final play of the third period.
"It felt good just to help my team out," Jones said. "Those guys were blocking their tails off on the kickoff. They've been doing it all year, so without them that wouldn't be possible. It feels good to help your team any kind of way."
Jones has struggled hanging onto the ball this year; he has committed three turnovers on two muffed punts earlier this season and one lost fumble on a reception last week against the Eagles. But he took advantage of his opportunities Saturday on offense and special teams. Jones, who entered the game with four catches for 27 yards this season, had two receptions for 52 yards.
"Was really pleased with Velus today," said Eberflus. "He did a very nice job on the kick returns and also that really big catch. It was good for him to bounce back from last week and did a really nice job with that."
Jones' 44-yard reception was the game's longest play from scrimmage. ...
Kicker Cairo Santos reverted to form, making all three kicks he attempted in the frigid and windy conditions—one extra point and field goals of 37 and 35 yards.
The veteran had missed five kicks in his previous five games—two field goals and three extra points. Santos has now made 20 of 22 field goals this season and has converted 44 straight field goals inside 40 yards.
You can access complete stats for the Bears Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Justin Fields, Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, D'Onta Foreman, Travis Homer
WRs: D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tyler Scott, Velus Jones Jr., Trent Taylor
TEs: Cole Kmet, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
Joe Burrow was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season after he keyed Cincinnati's 22-18 victory over New England, which put the Bengals in position to clinch a division title this week.
As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower noted, Burrow wanted to be happier after the Bengals walked off the field on Saturday.
Burrow threw three touchdown passes and the Bengals offense had nearly 500 yards. But it took the defense forcing a late turnover in the red zone to preserve the victory.
He also knows that won't be enough for his team to ultimately accomplish its goal this season.
"We got to do a better job on offense of putting teams away," Burrow said. "Teams that want to win the Super Bowl put them away a little earlier."
The Bengals (11-4) won their seventh straight and remained in the driver's seat for a second consecutive AFC North title. They clinched a playoff berth by virtue of the New York Jets' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, and still have a chance at the conference's top seed and a first-round playoff bye.
Despite leading 22-0 at halftime, the Bengals still let this one come down to the wire.
The Patriots had the ball on the Cincinnati 5 with just over a minute to play when Rhamondre Stevenson was hit by Vonn Bell and fumbled, leading to Josh Tupou's recovery. The Bengals punted it back four plays later, but the Patriots turned the ball over on downs.
Burrow finished 40 of 52 for 375 yards and two interceptions. Trenton Irwin had two touchdown catches. Tee Higgins had eight catches for 128 yards and a TD.
The frigid temperature did little to slow down the Bengals offense early, which scored on each of its first three possessions.
Cincinnati dominated the first half, compiling more first downs (22) in the opening 30 minutes than the Patriots had plays (17). Things changed in the second half. First an errant pass by Burrow was intercepted by Marcus Jones and returned 69 yards for a touchdown.
In the end, Cincinnati won at New England for the first time since 1986 to remain within striking distance of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but, as ESPN.com's Ben Baby reminded readers, for the second straight week, they won despite an inconsistent effort.
"We're going to be happy with the win because they are so hard to come by, and seven in a row, our guys have that confidence that we're playing good football," head coach Zac Taylor said. ...
Next up, the Bengals host the Bills on Monday Night Football. ...
Worth noting. ... Burrow has now won ten straight starts in December and January as the Bengals secured their first undefeated November and December in history.
Other notes of interest. ... Irwin has played mostly on the Bengals practice squad since catching on with the team in 2019. Going into this season, he had a total of three catches. His competent play as a fill-in when Ja'Marr Chase and Higgins were out with injuries earned him a spot in the rotation.
On Saturday, he caught touchdown passes of 23 and 4 yards, his third and fourth TDs this season.
He nearly had another, but the pass was just off his fingertips. Burrow and Irwin had hooked up on a pretty 45-yard flea flicker in the win over the Browns. ...
Should the run game be a concern?
After a good stretch in the middle of the season, Cincinnati's run game has sputtered the past two weeks. Against New England, the Bengals averaged 3.0 yards per rushing attempt. Cincinnati's ground struggles also prevented the Bengals from being able to ice the game away as things got close.
It's a part of the offense that has to be better as the Bengals prepare for a postseason run.
It won't help that Cincy will be almost certainly be without one of their top offensive linemen for the rest of the season.
After offensive tackle La'el Collins suffered a knee injury during Sunday's victory over the Patriots, a report emerged that Collins had torn his ACL and MCL.
On Tuesday, Taylor did not confirm that report. But he did concede it's unlikely to end up being good news on Collins whenever the news is confirmed.
"With LC, not optimistic that it's going to turn out well for this season, but we're still gathering information on that one," Taylor said in his press conference.
Collins has helped stabilize an offensive line that struggled mightily last season, despite reaching Super Bowl LVI. He's started all 15 games after signing with the franchise in March. Hakeem Adenjii is slated to replace Collins at right tackle.
Taylor also noted defensive end Sam Hubbard is day-to-day with his calf injury. Not playing until next Monday night may be helpful for his availability.
And while the club downgraded Hayden Hurst to out before traveling to New England, Taylor sounded like the tight end has a very good chance of playing against the Bills.
"He had a good week. Ultimately, that just came down to a coaching decision to give it one more week instead of playing up there in the cold when he was feeling really good," Taylor said. "But I thought if we could give it another nine days, he'd be in great shape going into this week.
"So, very optimistic about him. I think he's got a great mindset right now, health-wise, with how he feels. So, excited to get him back into the mix and feel good about this week."
Hubbard has 6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and a career-high 21 quarterback hits in 14 games.
Hurst has 48 receptions for 400 yards with a pair of touchdowns in 12 games this season.
I'll be watching for more on Hurst's status in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Finally. ... Evan McPherson missed out on five points when, kicking in the coldest conditions of his life, he missed two extra points and yanked a 43-yard field goal try left.
"The wind and the cold definitely factored into it," McPherson said. "It was kind of a weird day. I just didn't it hit like I wanted to. With the wind blowing and the cold, if you don't hit it well, the wind is going to take over … I think I was a little slow in the operation."
You can access complete stats for the Bengals Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Jake Browning
RBs: Joe Mixon, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Andrei Iosivas, Trenton Irwin, Kwamie Lassiter II, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Anthony Poisal of the team's official website noted, the Browns' chances of making the playoffs officially hit zero after their loss Saturday to the Saints, and what lies ahead now is a chance to pick up two wins in the final two games and end the season with some positivity.
"We do want to finish strong," head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Monday on a Zoom call. "We understand the scenario we're in, but we also understand we have an opportunity this week versus Washington and another opportunity the next week. That's really where our focus is."
At 6-9, the Browns are now guaranteed to have a losing record for the second consecutive year, but grabbing two more wins to close the regular season would likely signal the offense moving in a positive direction under QB Deshaun Watson and spark some hope that the Browns can take a crucial step closer to playoff contention next season.
The Browns, of course, believed they had the talent this season to get there, but a 2-5 start to the year created an uphill climb that became too difficult to overcome.
"It's extremely frustrating," OT Jack Conklin said. "We play this game to go to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, and not having that chance the last two years is frustrating. I think we really need to take a look at ourselves and figure out what we can do better at and what we're good at. We'll move forward on those things and come together as a team."
Now, with no shot at the playoffs, the Browns have a chance to instill some hope that a better season is ahead next year if they can defeat the Commanders, who are 7-7-1 and still alive in the playoff chase, and division-rival Steelers, who moved ahead of the Browns and into third place in the AFC North last weekend.
After that, the Browns have eight months to figure out how they can turn a disappointing season into a building block for better results in 2023.
"This next offseason is going to be huge, but the most important thing is these next two games," Conklin said. "We can't go into the dumps and leave these out here. These are two games where we can get better as a team and figure out how to get better as a team."
With the playoffs out of sight, the Browns don't appear to be planning on resting starters in the final two games.
That includes running back Nick Chubb, who suffered a foot injury last week and was able to practice just once before the Saints, and DE Myles Garrett, who has been battling through a shoulder injury suffered in a car accident in September for most of the season.
"Those type of conversations, really haven't gotten into," Stefanski said. "I know this: Every single one of our players wants to compete and wants the opportunity that all of these Sundays provide. I know all of our guys are excited about that. As far as those types of conversations, I haven't really discussed that yet."
So again, with the final two games on the road against Washington and Pittsburgh otherwise meaningless, getting more game reps for Watson will be Cleveland's priority. After that, the Browns will be playing only for pride in their final two games for a second consecutive year.
Watson, who attempted 31 passes on a day when standing up was difficult enough in gusting winds, fell to 2-2 since he returned from an 11-game suspension for sexual misconduct allegations. He completed 15 of those 31 attempts for 135 yards, one interception and no passing touchdowns.
He did score his first rushing touchdown of the season on a 12-yard scamper in the second quarter, but that was the only time the Browns found the end zone.
It's not what he or Cleveland had in mind when the Browns signed the quarterback to a fully-guaranteed $230 million contract in March.
But little has gone as planned for the Browns, who didn't live up to expectations despite a talented roster.
Watson said it's vital for the Browns to finish strong in upcoming games against Washington and Pittsburgh.
"We have to give everything that we have," he said. "We can't just go out there and lollygag. These are two opportunities for not just us as individuals but as a team and as this organization to try to get a boost for next year.
"We have to go in like we have something to prove. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... At least the running game still functions. Everything else seems in disrepair.
Cleveland rushed for 124 yards against the Saints, who outgained the Browns on the ground and won despite completing just eight passes.
Chubb ran for 92 yards but was conspicuously off the field for some key plays in the second half as he continues to battle a sore foot.
Chubb says he’s definitely playing the last two games and never considered shutting it down due to the issue. ...
Wide receiver Amari Cooper hasn't let a core muscle injury slow him.
Cooper had a game-high six receptions for 72 yards and went over 1,000 yards for the sixth time in eight seasons. He has been hurt the past three weeks but has continued to contribute at a high level.
While so much has gone wrong this season, Cleveland's acquisition of Cooper via trade from Dallas has been one of the few positives. ...
Running back Kareem Hunt appears to have run out of time in Cleveland.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers noted, after serving as Chubb's understudy, and sometimes as a complementary piece to the four-time Pro Bowler, Hunt has seen his usage drop along with his production.
He gained just eight yards on seven carries against the Saints. The 27-year-old still has some prime seasons left, but after failing to get a contract extension from his hometown team, he'll have to catch on elsewhere. ...
Tight end David Njoku took ownership of a drop on the second-to-last offensive play of the game that would've gone for a touchdown had he caught it.
The Browns had no timeouts on the third-and-10 play, which took place from the Saints' 15-yard line with 30 seconds left. Watson heaved a well-placed pass to Njoku's hands, but the ball bounced off him and fell incomplete.
"There's no excuse," Njoku said. "I dropped that ball. I feel like I let the team down myself, personally. I've got to own up to that, and I am. I have to get better."
Njoku approached Watson at his locker after the game to apologize.
"It was a missed opportunity, and stuff like that happens," Watson said. "Next time, we'll be sure to capitalize on it, for sure. I definitely have respect for Dave and everything he brings to this team and organization, and it shows how much he really cares about it, too. We'll continue to grow from it and learn. On the next opportunity, we'll take advantage of it. ..."
Finally. ... Garrett was benched for the start of Saturday's loss by Stefanski for an unspecified team violation, the latest twist in an odd season for the star.
Garrett wasn't on the field for the Saints' first series, and Stefanski revealed Monday that it was because he was being disciplined.
"Just a team thing," Stefanski said during a Zoom call, without elaborating. "That was my decision."
Stefanski benched starting safety Grant Delpit earlier this season for one play for a team violation.
Garrett has played much of the season with a shoulder sprain sustained when he flipped his Porsche while speeding after a practice in September.
He was on the field Saturday for the pregame toss as one of the team's captains, but he stayed on the sideline when New Orleans got the ball. With end Jadeveon Clowney out with a concussion, rookie Alex Wright and Chase Winovich started.
Garrett wound up playing in 36 of 54 defensive snaps as the Browns (6-9) were beaten 17-10 and knocked out of playoff contention. ...
You can access complete stats for the Browns Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Dorian Thompson-Robinson
RBs: Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell, Michael Woods II, Anthony Schwartz, Jakeem Grant
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
Another short week for the Dallas Cowboys, another chance to keep alive their chances of catching NFL-leading Philadelphia in the NFC East.
The Cowboys (11-4) visit Tennessee on Thursday night, which means the one victory needed by the Eagles to dethrone the defending division champs can't happen until three days later.
"For me, it's about worry about what you can control," quarterback Dak Prescott said after a 40-34 victory over the Eagles on Saturday that delayed Philadelphia clinching the NFC's top seed at least one more week.
"Obviously, I want the title and that would be great, but it would be getting into distractions that don't really pay us anything forward."
Dallas is about to finish its second stretch of three games in 12 days this season.
As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon reminded readers, the Cowboys almost always get the first because they play on Thanksgiving every year.
This second stretch has been different.
Dallas blew a 17-point lead in the second half and lost at Jacksonville on Dec. 18 but clinched a playoff spot anyway a few hours later when the New York Giants beat Washington.
Six days after that, the Cowboys rallied from 10-point deficits in each half to beat the Eagles and split the season series. Dallas would hold the tiebreaker with a 2-0 finish if the Eagles lose their last two games.
Now, it's a five-day turnaround to face the Titans (7-8), who are in the unusual position of playing a meaningless second-to-last game before a finale against Jacksonville with a playoff spot on the line.
"If it wasn't there, if it was there, we still have to keep our foot on the pedal," safety Jayron Kearse said of chasing the Eagles. "We have a whole other season in three weeks. You want to go into that postseason with momentum."
Looking for issues?
Through Week 14, the Cowboys had the second-best pass defense in the league at 182 yards per game. Trevor Lawrence threw for 318 yards in the Jaguars' 40-34 overtime time in Week 15 before Gardner Minshew had 355 yards passing filling in for the injured Jalen Hurts for Philadelphia.
Part of the problem is the pass rush. Dallas was leading the league in sacks before the current three-week stretch with just one sack.'
But CB Trevon Diggs' streak of games without a pass breakup is at a career-worst five after the second consecutive 300-yard day surrendered by the Dallas secondary.
Last year's NFL interceptions leader with 11 has been stuck on three this season since Week 7, and he seemed to acknowledge a subpar showing against the Eagles by tweeting "bad ball on my part" after the game.
But with opponents moving the ball and racking up points, it's forcing Prescott and the Dallas offense to play keep up.
And that's good news for fantasy managers.
Indeed, the connection between Prescott and No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb is the best it has been in their three seasons together.
Sure, T.Y. Hilton made the biggest catch of the game. Michael Gallup's touchdown on the side of the end zone was a huge play as well.
But the Cowboys don't win this game without Lamb's huge day -- and he did it all game long.
Lamb had 10 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but he was working the Eagles' secondary from all spots on the field. His first TD came out of the slot, he also lined up on the left and right side to slice up the Eagles.
Lamb, who made the Pro Bowl earlier this week, now has a shot to get a 100-receptions, sitting at 91 with two games to play.
Beyond that, Lamb has four 100-yard games in the past seven.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Hayes is the only Dallas receiver with more 100-yard games in his first three seasons with 13. Lamb has nine.
For the record, Hilton, who went unsigned after a 10-year run in Indianapolis before agreeing to a deal with the Cowboys less than two weeks before his first game, played 12 snaps against the Eagles.
That number figures to go up, perhaps substantially.
In addition, Tony Pollard (988 yards rushing) and Ezekiel Elliott (829) are the first pair of Dallas backs to surpass the 800-yard mark since Calvin Hill (942) and Walt Garrison (818) in 1969.
Beyond all that, the fate of the finale against Washington on Jan. 8 will be decided by the Philadelphia-New Orleans outcome on New Year's Day. If the NFC East race is over, there's a strong chance the Cowboys will be locked in to the fifth seed and a road wild-card game against the NFC South champion.
Even if Dallas doesn't have anything to play for, there's a chance Washington will be in the playoff hunt. That would make for some intriguing decisions with the Cowboys and some of their starters.
On the injury front. ... The Cowboys added linebacker Micah Parsons to the practice report Tuesday. He has a hand injury that limited him.
The team's practice report otherwise remained unchanged.
Pollard (thigh) again was listed as a nonparticipant on the report, though Mike McCarthy said earlier in the day he expected the Pro Bowler to be a part of a light practice.
Until this week, Pollard hadn't appeared on the report since Week 5 when he missed a practice with an illness.
He is officially listed as questionable.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan that he expects Pollard to play in Thursday Night Football.
"He looks good for the game," Jones said, via Mark Lane of WFAA. "I know it's a short week, but we don't have him down as something that [would keep him out]. We're counting on him playing."
According to NFL Network's Jane Slater, Pollard traveling to Nashville and will warm up with the team before the final decision is made.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) remains out of practice.
Safety Jayron Kearse (elbow/back), defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) and defensive end Sam Williams (concussion) were limited again.
Williams missed the Cowboys' victory over the Eagles after a car wreck left him with a neck strain and a concussion. The neck strain no longer is listed on the report.
Defensive end Dorance Armstrong (knee), receiver Noah Brown (foot) and right guard Zack Martin (knee) remained full participants.
I'll have more on Pollard and the rest as developments warrant; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
You can access complete stats for the Cowboys Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As NFL.com's Nick Shook put it, "What was once an exciting coach and quarterback pairing in Denver didn't last a full season. ..."
The Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett on Monday, ending his tenure in Denver after just 15 games (4-11).
"On behalf of our ownership and organization, I want to thank Nathaniel Hackett for his dedication as head coach of the Denver Broncos," team owner and CEO Greg Penner said in the statement. "We sincerely appreciate Nathaniel's efforts and wish him and his family all the best in the future.
"Following extensive conversations with (general manager) George (Paton) and our ownership group, we determined a new direction would ultimately be in the best interest of the Broncos. This change was made now out of respect for everyone involved and allows us to immediately begin the search for a new head coach.
"We recognize and appreciate this organization's championship history, and we understand we have not met that standard. Our fans deserve much better, and I can't say enough about their loyalty during such a challenging stretch for our team. Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise's winning tradition."
There's no good spin to put on firing a head coach before the end of his first season and Paton didn't try to do so on Tuesday.
"As I told the players yesterday, I take full responsibility for where we are as a football team. I brought in the head coach, I brought in most of the players," Paton said.
Penner said that he will run the search for the new head coach and that person will report directly to him, but that Paton will have input in a process that needs to result in a lot more success if Paton's going to be making many more decisions in Denver.
Senior assistant Jerry Rosburg will serve as the Broncos' interim coach for the remaining two games of the season.
Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton noted, Hackett lost his job a day after the Denver Broncos showed more fight on the sideline and in the postgame handshake line than they did in their 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
With the embarrassing loss, the rookie head coach whose mishandling of the offseason and mismanagement of games were hallmarks in a lost season that featured a shocking nosedive for quarterback Russell Wilson reached the end of the road.
Ensuring Hackett would get no mulligan, the Broncos cratered on Christmas when the only fight they showed came during the postgame handshakes when Randy Gregory interrupted all the holiday cheer by throwing a punch at LA offensive lineman Oday Aboushi.
That, and guard Dalton Risner's sideline shove of backup QB Brett Rypien for walking over to the O-linemen after back-to-back sacks of Wilson and imploring them to give their quarterback a hand and help him up instead of just staring at him.
Risner chalked that up to miscommunication and hugged it out with Rypien.
Gregory had no real answers for his actions, which led to a retaliatory punch from Aboushi and prompted the NFL to initially suspend both of them for one game. The suspensions were reduced to fines, the NFL announced Tuesday evening.
"Y'all want to know if I hit him in the mouth, I did," said Gregory, who also lost his cool during the game, throwing his helmet after the Broncos fell behind by three touchdowns in the second quarter and later hitting quarterback Baker Mayfield in the head in the fourth quarter.
Gregory has had a rough first season in Denver. He got a five-year, $70 million deal in free agency from Denver despite missing 31 games in five years in Dallas because of injuries or suspensions and never collecting more than six sacks in a season. After undergoing a shoulder operation that sidelined him for the entire offseason, Gregory has missed more games (nine) than he has played (six) because of a knee injury suffered in Week 4, and he has as many sacks this season (two) as he had 15-yard penalties Sunday.
Of course, Gregory's shortcomings have been overshadowed.
What looks even more like a blunder with each passing week is the $245 million extension Wilson signed before he threw a single pass for the Broncos that counted.
Wilson is 3-10 in his first season in Denver. He has thrown just a dozen touchdown passes to go with nine interceptions and he has been sacked 49 times, a big percentage of which are the result of him holding onto the ball for too long and having lost some of his famed ability to escape.
Like Gregory's, Wilson's dreadful season also hit rock bottom Sunday. He threw interceptions on his second and third pass attempts, putting the Broncos in an early 17-0 hole from which they never recovered.
Rypien led Denver to a season-high 24 points in a win over the Cardinals a week earlier when Wilson was sidelined with a concussion.
Under Wilson, the Broncos are averaging 14.8 points per game.
Denver's defense finally faltered, allowing Mayfield to complete 24 of 28 passes, surrendering 230 yards on the ground and failing to force a single punt all afternoon.
"I let us down," said Wilson, who had never before thrown three interceptions and been sacked six times in a game.
"The reality is it's been a storm," Wilson said. "It's been a storm all year. Not what we hoped for, not what we dreamed for. But it doesn't mean it's going to end that way for years to come. We've got to change it and it starts with me."
As Stapleton suggested, Wilson talks a good game but no longer plays one.
His awful season helped usher Hackett out the door. The offseason will show whether Wilson owns up to his role in the franchise's nosedive.
Next up, the Broncos visit Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are heavily favored to make it 15 consecutive wins over downtrodden Denver. ...
By the way, Wilson's comment about the season not being what they hoped for extends to the NFL.
After Wilson's arrival, the Broncos were put on prime time for six of their games. They were flexed out for one of them and scored 16, 11, 8, 16 and 14 points in the others. ...
One last Wilson-related item. ... Paton said at the above-mentioned Tuesday press conference that the Hackett move was about "the entire organization" but acknowledged that Wilson has to be better than he's been so far this year.
Paton also said that he's seen "flashes" from Wilson this season and that the team has no doubt that he can take a turn in the right direction in his second season with the team.
"It's not whether Russ is fixable or not. We do believe he is. We do," Paton said.
Paton said that the next coaching hire won't be based solely on getting Wilson back to where he needs to be offensively, but that they will want the next coach to have a "great relationship" with a player who has fallen way short of expectations in his Denver debut. ...
Other notes of interest. ... If you're looking for positives, look no further than wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who continued his impressive stretch of play.
Jeudy has seen at least eight targets in each of the last three games, and with 10 targets on Sunday, he put together a six-catch, 117-yard performance. His biggest play of the game was a 36-yard grab on fourth down, bringing Denver into the red zone and setting up tight end Greg Dulcich's touchdown catch.
The former first-round pick is hitting his stride, and after Sunday's game, he spoke about how rewarding it's been to see his hard work translate into productive outings.
"I'm just thankful, and I've just been putting in the work and grinding," Jeudy said. "The coaches and everybody are just helping me and putting me in the right spot to be successful. ... I'm just going to keep grinding."
While Jeudy had an excellent individual game, he noted that the team must find ways to perform better as a unit -- and it starts with reducing turnovers.
"It was a tough loss today," Jeudy said. "We had a hard time driving the ball down the field and we had a lot of turnovers. You can't win games having turnovers, so we've got to do a better job at that, but yeah, it was tough."
This weekend in Kansas City, Jeudy will look to replicate his career-best three-touchdown performance from Denver's Week 14 game against Kansas City. He and Wilson developed electric chemistry in that game, and Jeudy said he wholeheartedly believes that Wilson will bounce back from this loss to the Rams.
"Russ is a competitor," Jeudy said. "Russ is going to never quit. He's going to always keep grinding. Everybody has faith in Russ, and everybody knows what Russ is capable of. ..."
On the injury front. ... Wide receiver Kendall Hinton (hamstring) missed the game and fellow wideout Courtland Sutton (hamstring) played and caught five passes for 64 yards but was visibly upset on one play where he was open on the sideline only for Wilson to ignore him and throw deep over the middle.
Hinton was on the practice field Wednesday, but Latavius Murray was not. Murray played through a foot injury last week.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
You can access complete stats for the Broncos Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Johnson, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The Lions could have gained the advantage for an NFC wild-card playoff berth with a victory last weekend.
They instead got run over by the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, 37-23. Head coach Dan Campbell doesn't necessarily look at it as a bad thing. He's trying to spin the outcome into a positive.
"It stings. It's awful. But man, it's the best thing that could happen to us," Campbell said Monday. "No matter who you are and whatever you do, some of your best work is when you get your face kicked in."
After allowing a total of 167 rushing yards in their three previous games, the Lions were gashed by the Panthers.
The Panthers steamrolled the Lions on the ground, rushing for a franchise-record 320 yards.
Detroit's interior linemen and middle linebacker Alex Anzalone were particularly vulnerable as Carolina produced one big gain after another on simple rushing plays up the middle.
"There was a lack of aggressiveness, a lack of finish, a lack of detail, a lack of discipline," Campbell said. "It was a number of different things that showed up that were very uncharacteristic of how we play."
The good news for the Lions (7-8) is that most of the other contenders for the final two wild-card spots -- the New York Giants (8-6-1), Washington (7-7-1) and Seattle (7-8) -- also lost over the weekend. Green Bay (7-8) crept back into the picture by winning at Miami.
Detroit plays its final home game against Chicago on Sunday, then heads to Green Bay for the regular-season finale.
The Bears also present a challenge to the Lions' run defense, mainly due to the mobility of quarterback Justin Fields.
"We're going to do everything we can in our power to correct everything that came up," Campbell said. "We're going to make sure we're ready, 100 percent ready. We'll prepare for every look Chicago has. ... Our front seven and DBs, they're going to be ready to roll."
The objectives are clear: Recapturing the intensity, focus and execution they displayed for seven weeks prior to Saturday's debacle is a must for the Lions' home finale against the three-win Bears. A victory will keep them in the playoff picture, regardless of how the other teams fighting for the final two NFC wild-card spots fare.
But as ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard suggests, even if it doesn't make the playoffs, Detroit needs to be better than it was Saturday over the last two games to build on its positive momentum heading into the offseason. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Amon-Ra St. Brown has become the youngest Lions wide receiver to record a 1,000-yard receiving season.
At just 23 years, 61 days old, St. Brown broke the record set by Calvin Johnson who held the previous mark at 23 years, 69 days old. St Brown joins Johnson (2008) and Germane Crowell (1999) as the only players 23-or-younger with a 1,000-yard season in team history.
St. Brown caught seven passes for 76 yards to give him 96 receptions for 1,050 yards and six touchdowns on the year.
A fourth-round pick in 2021, St. Brown has become arguably the biggest steal of that draft class. He's just the third player in NFL history to record 90-plus receptions in each of their first seasons (Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr.).
Fellow wideout D.J. Chark recorded four receptions for 108 yards in the loss. It's the fifth 100-yard game of Chark's career and his first since the 2020 season.
The Lions were eagerly anticipating what rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams could do once he completed his rehab from knee surgery. Williams' lone reception in four games was a touchdown catch against Minnesota. Concurrently, Chark has given the pass game a spark with 90 or more receiving yards in three of those games.
Another game, another big play for wide receiver Kalif Raymond. He made a diving, twisting catch for a 65-yard gain.
When the Lions dealt T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota at the trade deadline, the expectation was that their remaining tight ends would be an afterthought in the passing game. That hasn't been the case. Brock Wright scored the decisive 51-yard touchdown against the New York Jets and former practice squad member Shane Zylstra caught all three of Jared Goff's touchdown passes against the Panthers.
On the injury front. ... Jamaal Williams departed during the third quarter on Saturday with a leg injury. Campbell didn't have an update on his status for Sunday's game.
I'll have more on Williams via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
Running backs D'Andre Swift and Williams were a non-factor on Saturday. They combined for 23 rushing yards on 11 carries. Goff led the team with 15 rushing yards on three carries.
Goff also completed 25 of 42 passes for 355 yards with three touchdowns in Carolina. He fumbled the ball once.
Goff put together a fine stat line for fantasy purposes, but the near complete lack of help from the run game made it difficult for the Lions to keep up with the Panthers. ...
You can access complete stats for the Lions Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones, Antoine Green, Jameson Williams
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, if Aaron Rodgers thought things were "looking up" for the Green Bay Packers last week, imagine how he felt leaving Florida with a three-game winning streak after Sunday's upset of the Miami Dolphins.
"Definitely better than three weeks ago," Rodgers said. "Four [weeks ago], I guess, because of the bye."
Rodgers then turned the question on a member of the Packers' staff.
"What do you think, pretty good?" Rodgers said. "Yeah, getting better. A lot of things happened our way."
That might be an understatement.
The Packers got all the help they could have gotten before they took the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Christmas Day. The four teams ahead of them in the NFC playoff race -- the Seahawks, Giants, Lions and Commanders -- all lost on Christmas Eve.
Then the Packers helped themselves with another double-digit comeback -- their third of the season, the most in one year with Rodgers at the helm. They turned a 20-10 first-half deficit into a 26-20 victory that has them at 7-8 heading into their final two games, both at home against the Vikings and Lions.
"I'd like to be, you know, 10-5, 11-4, but considering where we were a few weeks ago, a lot of has happened in our favor," Rodgers said. "All the games that needed to go a certain way went a certain way. Now, there's obviously much left [to do], but again, we've played meaningful games in December, we won all three of those. Now we're playing meaningful games in January, and we've got to win those."
The Packers' simplest path to the playoffs is to win out and get help from the Commanders with one more loss or the Giants with two more losses. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Packers would still have a playoff chance if they split their remaining two games and finished 8-9, but that scenario would require additional help.
Demovsky reminded readers it's a long way from where the Packers were on Nov. 6, when they lost their fifth straight game of the season to fall to 3-6. At that point, the Packers had a 9 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics. That number fell to 3 percent after Week 12, when they were 4-8. Now it's at 37 percent -- their highest since Week 8.
A loss to the Dolphins on Sunday would have dropped it to 3 percent.
A raucous locker-room celebration after Sunday's win was emblematic of an entirely different vibe around this team in part thanks to a defensive resurgence. Despite giving up big plays to Jaylen Waddle (five catches for 143 yards, one touchdown) and Tyreek Hill (four catches for 103 yards), the Packers came up with four turnovers.
Rodgers helped the cause, too.
He reminded the Dolphins why teams don't often blitz him. Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer blitzed Rodgers on 26 of his dropbacks Sunday -- the most he has been blitzed in a game since Week 15 of the 2017 season. Rodgers threw for 192 yards on 17-of-23 passing and a touchdown on those plays for his second-most passing yards against the blitz over the past five seasons.
It wasn't all ribbons and bows on Sunday, though.
The Packers were ineffective in the red zone (converting just two of five trips into touchdowns) and lost two of their most explosive players to injuries in the first half -- receiver Christian Watson (hip) and kick returner Keisean Nixon (groin).
The Packers also lost right tackle Yosh Nijman (shoulder) and defensive tackle Dean Lowry (calf).
Running back Aaron Jones' touches also appeared to be limited, as he has dealt with multiple injuries in recent weeks.
Watson had six catches, two more than his previous high for a game, for 49 yards in the first half before his day was over.
"Hopefully Christian's not too serious," Rodgers said. "I'm not sure what his status will be, but we had a lot of guys banged up today, and a lot of guys stepped up."
Watson said after Sunday's game that he was "all right" after injuring his hip. Head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that Monday, calling Watson "day to day."
Watson has missed time this season with hamstring and head injuries.
The rookie has become the team's No. 1 receiver. In the five games before Sunday, Watson had made 19 catches for 359 yards and seven touchdowns.
What happens if Watson's hip injury keeps him out?
His departure didn't seem to hamper the Packers in the second half. Fellow rookie wideout Romeo Doubs looks like he is ready for a bigger role. Plus, tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan both made big plays in the second half.
Lewis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal and had a 31-yard reception that led to the tying touchdown in the third quarter. The 38-year-old Lewis, normally used as a blocker, entered Sunday with just four catches for 34 yards. His 31-yard reception was his longest since 2020.
Meanwhile, A.J. Dillon carried the ball 11 times for 36 yards and a touchdown and caught two of three targets for 12 yards against the Dolphins.
His one-yard TD plunge in the third quarter tied the game at 20-20, and the Packers' defense dominated the final frame to secure the win. Dillon led Green Bay in carries and rushing yards with Jones (ankle) hurting, so even though the big back didn't fully take advantage of the opportunity, he could be poised for an increased workload in a must-win Week 17 game against the Vikings if Jones isn't 100 percent.
In addition, Rodgers picked up a knee injury Sunday. Rodgers and Watson were sitting out Wednesday's practice.
I'll obviously be watching for more on Rodgers, Jones and Watson in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
The Packers will try to gain revenge in each of their final two regular-season games as they host the Vikings and Lions. The Packers lost 23-7 at Minnesota on Sept. 11 and fell 15-9 at Detroit on Nov. 6.
You can access complete stats for the Packers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Emanuel Wilson
WRs: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, Dontayvion Wicks, Grant DuBose, Malik Heath
TEs: Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis, Ben Sims
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
After coming oh-so close in their past two games, the Texans finally got over the hump Saturday with a win over the Tennessee Titans to snap a nine-game skid.
Houston (2-12-1) beat Tennessee 19-14 for its first victory since beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 9.
The Texans entered Saturday's game having lost to the Cowboys 27-23 two weeks ago before falling to 30-24 to the Chiefs in overtime last week.
In the loss to Kansas City, Houston got beat after Davis Mills lost a fumble in overtime and the Chiefs scored on the next play.
This past weekend, Mills finally found a way to finish a close game. He connected with Brandin Cooks on a 6-yard touchdown pass with about three minutes left to put the Texans on top.
Rookie Christian Harris intercepted Malik Willis with about 1:30 left and fellow rookie Jalen Pitre grabbed his desperation throw in the end zone as time expired to secure Houston's win.
"We've been competitive throughout," head coach Lovie Smith said. "And it just takes time is the message. When you come in you want to win every game right away. But when you're changing culture, you're changing all these things. And you need to go through some adversity to figure out exactly who's with us. So that's what we went through there."
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken notes, Mills has faced plenty of adversity this season and was benched for the two games before the Cowboys loss after throwing 11 interceptions in 10 games.
On Saturday, he threw for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception to help Houston to the win.
"You can be down," Smith said. "If you keep fighting, there's a chance for you to get that bad taste out of your mouth."
Mills has been impressed with the attitude of his teammates in this difficult season.
"The record is what it is at this point, but we're coming and fighting for everything we can do, week in and week out to try to go out there and scratch our way to get some wins," he said.
The Texans host Jacksonville in their home finale Sunday before wrapping up the season at Indianapolis Jan. 8.
"The fact that we are finishing it off with divisional opponents, that's awesome to try to gain that momentum at the end of the season," Cooks said.
The Texans have won nine consecutive games against their next opponent, the Jaguars. Jacksonville, which is vying with Tennessee for the AFC South title, hasn't beaten Houston since a 45-7 victory on Dec. 17, 2017. ...
Worth noting. ... Saturday proved to be fruitful for the Texans: They got a win over Tennessee and an hour of time back to themselves.
The win came after the game was delayed by an hour.
Temperatures in the teens, and below, caused power outages around the region. With roughly an hour to go before the scheduled noon kickoff, the Titans, in conjunction with the NFL, the Office of Emergency Management, the Nashville Electric Service and the Mayor's office, delayed kickoff.
That group did so "to ensure that the game would not negatively impact our community in any way."
With an unplanned hour of free time, some Texans caught up on sleep.
"I might have taken a nap for about 20 of those minutes," Smith joked.
Mills used the extra time to fight the cold.
"Just kind of pushed back the pregame routine an hour," Mills said. "Stayed in the locker room, try to stay warm. It was pretty chilly this morning."
Smith, though, emphasized to his club the need to use that extra hour wisely.
"Right now, you've got a little bit more time to mentally get prepared to play," Smith said. "So, 'Hey, guys, we're not postponing the game. The game is going on, so get ready to go.' That's what they did."
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Royce Freeman had just 32 yards rushing on 16 carries against Tennessee in his second game filling in for Dameon Pierce, who is out for the season with an ankle injury.
The subpar outing came a week after he had 51 yards rushing on just 11 carries in his season debut.
On the injury front. ... OL Tytus Howard and DB M.J. Stewart both sustained concussions Saturday. ... TE Teagan Quitoriano hurt a knee against the Titans.
And finally. ... With how the Texans have looked in the past three games, does that take the heat off Smith?
As noted above, the Texans have played the Cowboys, Chiefs and Titans down to the wire. Those teams are competing for playoff spots, and the Texans had a chance to win all three of those games and closed the deal against the Titans.
As ESPN.com's DJ Bien-Aime notes, the team hasn't quit on Smith even though it has lost 12 of 15 games.
Will that help save Smith's job?
The team is showing life, and it's plausible it could carry this momentum into the 2023 season.
You can access complete stats for the Texans Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: C.J. Stroud, Davis Mills, Case Keenum
RBs: Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson, Noah Brown
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Teagan Quitoriano, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot noted, the Colts have tried just about everything to change directions this season.
A new coach didn't work. A new play-caller didn't work. And on Monday night, their third starting quarterback of the season, Nick Foles, didn't work, either.
Foles threw three interceptions, took seven sacks and went 0 for 10 on third down in his first Colts start as Indianapolis endured another ugly prime-time loss, 20-3 to the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was so bad that interim coach Jeff Saturday was asked if he considered pulling Foles for backup Sam Ehlinger.
"I said I didn't think a change was going to help us move the ball any more effectively," Saturday said. "I don't think making another change is going to spark it. Sam has had his shot as well. I wasn't here when that happened. As Nick was practicing, we felt like he gave us the best opportunity and unfortunately tonight was not his night."
It's not just Foles -- and it hasn't been just one night for Indy (4-10-1), which lost its fifth straight.
The playoff-bound Chargers (9-6) took full advantage of the miscues by intercepting Foles twice in the first quarter, adding a third pick in the third quarter and stopping the Colts at every turn.
Foles wound up 17 of 29 for 143 yards.
Ryan was brought in provide much-needed stability at quarterback. Instead, his first tenure as the starter ended with a flurry of turnovers, hits and sacks that resulted in an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Then the Colts turned to Ehlinger, a second-year quarterback who had never thrown an NFL pass. The predictable results: 11 sacks and 19 total points in two losses before coach Frank Reich was fired. Saturday took over and reinstalled Ryan as the starter.
Ryan won Saturday's debut game at Las Vegas, then failed to top the 20-point mark in the next three games and was unable to move Indy in the second half at Minnesota, which allowed the Vikings to rally from a 33-0 halftime deficit to win 39-36 in overtime.
Foles got his turn this week and it didn't fare any better. His first snaps with the starting offense since training camp came Wednesday, and the rust was apparent Monday night.
"Anytime there's change, you try to get acclimated as fast as you can and get the timing down," Foles said. "We had a really good week of practice and unfortunately the execution wasn't good enough to win this game."
The Colts have played musical chairs with their starting quarterbacks this season: Matt Ryan was brought in as the unquestioned starter, only to get benched after six games. Ehlinger then started two games and played so badly that he got Frank Reich fired as head coach. Saturday came in and put Ryan back on top of the depth chart, but after the Colts lost four straight games, Saturday switched to Foles.
Another switch is apparently not coming. With two games to go, the Colts are sticking with Foles.
Saturday confirmed on Tuesday that Foles will be the Colts' starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Giants and in the regular-season finale against the Texans.
On Monday night Foles completed 17 of 29 passes for 143 yards, with no touchdowns, three interceptions and seven sacks, in the Colts' 20-3 loss to the Chargers.
The once high-scoring Colts have failed to score a touchdown four times this season -- twice with Ryan and once each with Ehlinger and Foles -- and have only topped 20 points three times.
Indy has mixed and matched lineups along the highest-paid offensive line in the NFL, too, with little success.
It has allowed 56 sacks, the league's second-highest total through 15 games.
With 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor on injured reserve and only two games remaining, the Colts seem to be running out of options.
"I want to see them play a consistent, full game," Saturday said of his remaining goals. "We just haven't put it together yet. We'll talk about this one, situational football, on third down, they convert, we don't, they stay on the field and fatigue you. We didn't."
Again, the Colts now have lost seven of eight and five of six since replacing Reich with Saturday. Specifically, Indianapolis has given up 113 points in its past three games.
This week, they go up against the Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. ...
Also of interest. ... On a night where the team's anemic offense was particularly punchless, recently acquired running back Zack Moss provided the lone bright spot.
Saturday said the team planned to rotate Moss with backs Jordan Wilkins and Deon Jackson, but Moss started strong and ended up handling 12 of 13 running back carries for 65 yards against the Chargers.
"He was toting it," Saturday said of Moss. "It's competition, right? So he was out there, he was running that thing hard in between the tackles, breaking tackles. He did a really good job.
"(Running backs coach) Scottie (Montgomery) does a great job of rotating them but if he feels like one guy is rolling he's gonna keep him in. I don't get too involved in how he's going to separate them. But I know every time I looked up, Zack was breaking tackles and moving the pile."
Moss' work on the ground accounted for more than a quarter of Indy's 212 total yards of offense. He added one catch for five yards. Moss handled almost all of the rushing down snaps. Jackson worked as the passing downs back, making three catches for nine yards.
The Chargers are also one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, so the real surprise is the Colts didn't attempt to lean into the running game until the third quarter. ...
On the injury front. ... Two plays after being called for a facemask when Michael Pittman Jr.'s helmet came off, Chargers safety Derwin James was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver with the crown of the helmet and was ejected with 5:18 to play. The hit sent Colts receiver Ashton Dulin to the locker room, and Dulin was eventually ruled out with a concussion. ...
Kylen Granson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. He missed Monday night's game with the same injury.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
Finally. ... Team owner Jim Irsay addressed the future of his organization during an interview that aired on ESPN's pregame show.
Irsay said Saturday will be a candidate to keep the job next season.
"I will go into it open-minded, and I will be looking for the best direction for us to win," Irsay said. "Jeff I believe is an outstanding candidate so, obviously, he's competitive for that. Chris Ballard will be our general manager and the quarterback, it's very much up in the air right now on what direction we'll be going. ..."
You can access complete stats for the Colts Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Anthony Richardson, Gardner Minshew, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Zack Moss, Deon Jackson, Jonathan Taylor, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce, Josh Downs, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long notes, the Jacksonville Jaguars have ended all sorts of skids this season, so it shouldn't have been that surprising to see them stop a six-game road losing streak in prime-time games with a 19-3 victory at the New York Jets on Thursday night.
These aren't the Jaguars of the last two seasons -- or the last two decades.
They have seemingly flushed years of futility while winning three consecutive games and five of their last seven to find themselves in first place.
And they will play for a spot in the postseason in Week 18.
The Jaguars moved into a first-place tie in the AFC South Saturday when the Tennessee Titans (7-8) lost to the Houston Texans, 19-14, in a Week 16 game in Nashville, Tenn.
The Titans and Jaguars will play in the Week 18 regular-season finale at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville January 7 or 8.
The time and date of that matchup has yet to be determined. The game will decide the AFC South title.
The Titans have lost their last five games, including a 36-22 loss to the Jaguars in Week 14.
The Jaguars will play at Houston in Week 17 and the Titans will play host to the Dallas Cowboys.
But no matter the outcome of those games, Week 18 will decide the division.
If the Jaguars and Titans finish tied for first and the Jaguars win the finale, the Jaguars would win the South based on a series sweep this season.
If the teams tie for first and the Titans win the finale, the Titans would win the South based on a better division record.
And make no mistake: The team feels pretty good about their chances in a winner-takes-the-AFC South game with Trevor Lawrence leading the way.
It's a huge turnaround for a franchise that won four games over the previous two years.
"I think we've moved on past last season and all that," head coach Doug Pederson said Friday. "I think the guys are in a good place mentally. But I think the guys sense that, feel that, believe that. That's just where we are. If that means we've fixed some things, then, yeah, we've fixed some things."
The rebuild started when Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired Pederson to replace Urban Meyer in February. Pederson fostered a healing environment for players who endured Meyer's troubled tenure and then, along with general manager Trent Baalke, spent big in free agency to fill holes created by years of less-than-ideal drafting.
The results showed early and really have been evident of late, culminating with the team's first three-game winning streak since 2017.
Already this season, the Jaguars:
"There have been a lot of firsts this season, which is crazy," Pederson said. "There's no magic. There's no pixie dust. It's just what I feel is right for our football team and where we are."
If there are some issues to work on, ball security is at the top of the list.
Travis Etienne Jr. nearly fumbled twice in the rain at MetLife Stadium, and Lawrence committed his league-leading eighth fumble of the season. Five of those came in sloppy conditions.
"We definitely felt the weather," Etienne said.
That said, Etienne became the first 1,000-yard rusher in Pederson's six-year head coaching career. Etienne hit the mark with 83 yards rushing against the Jets.
He has 1,000 yards on 204 attempts, averaging 4.9 yards a carry.
Meanwhile, this one mattered to Evan Engram. A lot.
And Engram continues to matter to the Jaguars' offense very much -- as evidence by yet another clutch performance in a big situation.
Engram, the Jaguars' sixth-year veteran tight end, caught a team-high seven passes for a team-high 113 yards in a 19-3 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night. It was his second 100-yard performance in three games.
The performance came in Engram's first game at MetLife Stadium since signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. He spent his first five seasons with the New York Giants, who -- like the Jets -- play home games at MetLife Stadium.
It was a career-high yardage total for Engram in the stadium.
"It didn't really hit me until we landed last night," Engram said. "It was a very sweet night for sure."
The game continued a strong recent run for Engram. He caught a career-high 11 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-22 victory over the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago and followed that with eight receptions for 62 yards in a 40-34 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
Engram now has 68 receptions for 723 yards and touchdowns this season.
"He's a guy that can really do anything," Lawrence said. "You can't just put anybody on Evan. You have to really think about that match up and I think that adds some difficulty to teams that we play -- just the way he's so good after the catch too, so physical.
"There are a lot of things but he's been playing great and happy for him."
The Jaguars now have three receivers with multiple 100-yard receiving games in the past seven games: Engram, wide receiver Christian Kirk and wide receiver Zay Jones. The trio has produced 16 touchdowns and seven 100-yard games this season.
"We game plan for each offensive player," Pederson said. "Sometimes you just never know who is going to get the ball. Sometimes in games like this where the weather can be a factor, your tight ends can have bigger games.
"He (Engram) has gotten better with the offense learning the details that we teach. He's very unselfish. He works extremely hard in practice. He wants to be good. He loves being coached and it shows on the field. He's a really good teammate to have and leader of the team."
Otherwise, any complaints are nitpicking. ... Riley Patterson missed a 44-yard field goal against the Jets and had a kickoff go out of bounds for the second time in as many weeks. The weather in New Jersey surely had something to do with the minor miscues.
Still, Patterson was hit five of six kicks, which included one extra point and four field goals to pile up 13 points and collect AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
On the injury front. ... Dawuane Smoot, the Jaguars' sixth-year veteran defensive lineman, sustained a torn Achilles in the fourth quarter of the victory over the Jets and will miss the rest of the 2022 season. Smoot announced the severity of the injury on Instagram.
Smoot, a third-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft, registered five sacks and a forced fumble this season. He has 22.5 career sacks.
RG Brandon Scherff (ankle) should be fine with extra time to heal, and the Jaguars expect to get LB Travon Walker (ankle) and DT Foley Fatukasi (ankle) back this week.
You can access complete stats for the Jaguars Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, JaMycal Hasty, D'Ernest Johnson, Snoop Conner
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Jamal Agnew, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta pointed out, the Kansas City Chiefs wouldn't be in the race for a first-round bye in the AFC without Patrick Mahomes, who is charting a course toward a second MVP, along with three-time All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and a host of other big-name stars.
Nor would they have been in the mix without the unsung and overlooked.
At the top of the list is Jerick McKinnon, whose one-year deal paying him $1,272,500 was signed without fanfare -- it barely merited mention most places -- but has turned out to be one of the biggest steals in the NFL.
The journeyman running back has been on an absolute tear lately, tallying a league-most six total touchdowns in his last four games. Only the Los Angeles Rams' Cam Akers -- who also has six scores since Week 13 -- has matched McKinnon's production during that stretch.
Those six total scores include at least one receiving touchdown in each of the last four games, matching the longest streak for any running back since 1970.
His five receiving scores during the month of December marked the most in a calendar month for any running back since Chiefs' tailback Jamaal Charles did so in December of the 2013 season.
"Opportunity meeting preparation," McKinnon said, by way of an explanation. "The opportunities the last couple of weeks have ramped up from the beginning of the season and I prepared myself for this. Running with the opportunities I do get and making the most out of them."
The Chiefs hope to get 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire back from injured reserve, where he's rehabbing a high ankle sprain. But with seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco becoming the lead back, and McKinnon playing at such a high level, the Chiefs are suddenly flush with options in the backfield.
"He's just a true professional. He does everything the right way when he's in the building," Mahomes said of McKinnon. "He's taking care of his body every single day and he does everything -- like I said, he does everything the right way. He protects well, he runs routes well, he runs the ball well. And so, we can have him in there and trust that he's going to know exactly the protection assignment, where to be at, on time and whenever we give him the runs, he'll make plays."
It's not just McKinnon, though. The Chiefs (12-3) have a multitude of players in similar positions.
Right tackle Andrew Wylie became a starter because of injuries elsewhere a handful of years ago, and he returned to Kansas City on a one-year deal paying him $2,537,500. Yet he's been a stalwart up front for the highest-scoring offense in the league, not only protecting Mahomes but helping to turn Pacheco into a rookie sensation.
Then there's wide receiver Justin Watson, who signed a one-year deal for $1,035,000 with no guarantee that he'd even make the team. But when injuries hit Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney at various points, Watson became a useful option that allowed the Kansas City passing game to keep on humming.
On defense, guys such as defensive tackle Brandon Williams and safety Deon Bush have made important contributions.
The Chiefs will need all of them to keep it up. The Bills hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them with two games to go, which means Kansas City likely needs to win out and then hope someone tops Buffalo down the stretch.
The Chiefs face the Broncos on New Year's Day before concluding their season at Las Vegas. ...
Worth noting. ... The Chiefs have won at least 12 games in five consecutive seasons, the third-longest streak in NFL history. Only the Colts from 2003-09 and the Patriots from 2010-17 own longer streaks.
As for Mahomes and Kelce. ...
Mahomes completed 16-of-28 passes for 224 yards and three total touchdowns on Saturday, throwing for two scores before rushing for another in the fourth quarter. It was his 11th game with multiple touchdown passes -- which is tied for the NFL-lead -- and his 37 passing scores now on the season already match his total from last year.
As the team's official website notes, the star quarterback continues to lead the NFL in passing yards (4,720), passing touchdowns (37), passes of 25-plus yards (43) and passing first downs (245). Mahomes needs just 378 passing yards over the Chiefs' next two games in order to pass his single-season franchise record of 5,097 passing yards set during the 2018 season.
This marks Mahomes' fourth season with 4,500-plus passing yards and 35-plus passing touchdowns, making him one of only four quarterbacks in league history to do so four or more times. He joined Tom Brady (5 times), Drew Brees (4 times) and Peyton Manning (4 times) in that elite club of passers. ...
Kelce hauled in his 800th career reception on Saturday, making him just the fifth tight end in NFL history to hit that milestone. He joined Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Shannon Sharpe on that list, and with 15 more catches, he'll pass Sharpe for the fourth-most catches by a tight end in league history.
Additionally, Kelce is the fastest tight end in NFL history to reach 800 career catches, doing so in only 142 games. In fact, Kelce is the seventh-fastest pass-catcher -- regardless of position -- to hit that mark. Only Antonio Brown (126 games), Julio Jones (127 games), Marvin Harrison (131 games), Andre Johnson (137 games), DeAndre Hopkins (138 games) and Brandon Marshall (140 games) did so in fewer games.
Kelce finished Saturday's game with six receptions for 113 yards, marking his second-straight 100-yard performance. He now has six 100-yard games on the season. Only Justin Jefferson (10 games), Tyreek Hill (7 games) and Davante Adams (7 games) have more this year.
The Chiefs were just 3 of 11 on third down against the Seahawks, which was glaring given that they trailed only Buffalo for the best conversion rate in the league. Their offense only gained 297 yards with 14 first downs in the game.
The Chiefs need tight ends Noah Gray and Blake Bell, who just came off injured reserve, to play a bigger role in the offense -- and if nothing else, give Kelce a break. Jody Fortson had been a useful backup but is now on IR.
Does Harrison Butker's perfect day mean he's over his slump? Butker made all three of his PATs and his only field goal attempt, but it's premature to say all is good with the Chiefs' kicking game. He will be asked to make kicks more difficult than three PATs and a 47-yard field goal. It's a start, though, and should give him and the Chiefs some confidence going forward. -- Adam Teicher
On the injury front. ... The Chiefs hope Hardman (abdomen) plays this week for the first time since Nov. 6. He's practiced the past two weeks.
Reid suggested on Wednesday that Hardman is likely to take that step this week. Hardman has been sidelined by an abdominal injury and Reid said a setback on that front is the only thing that would keep him from making it back into the lineup against the Broncos.
“Now it’s a matter of getting him in the game. Unless there’s a setback, I expect him in there,” Reid said, via Nate Taylor of The Athletic.
Reid said Edwards-Helaire is “not ready yet.”
You can access complete stats for the Chiefs Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Justyn Ross, Justin Watson, Richie James
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Anderson suggested, if quarterback Derek Carr wants to return to the Las Vegas Raiders next season, as he has said, he hasn't done much the past month to help his case.
He hasn't completed more than 55 percent of his passes in any of his past four games, and he's thrown more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (six) over that span.
The Raiders are 2-2 in those games, with last-minute losses at the Los Angeles Rams and at Pittsburgh that have knocked them out of serious playoff contention. Las Vegas is behind four other bubble teams for the postseason with two weeks remaining.
Head coach Josh McDaniels said Monday that Carr isn't the only one responsible for making the passing game work, but he acknowledged the offense hasn't performed at an acceptable level.
"For us to be able to win at this time of the year and be productive, offensively you have to throw the ball better than what we've thrown at times here in the last month and a half," McDaniels said. "We've been able to win some in spite of that, overall, but clearly that's not the goal. The goal would be to be more productive than what we've been."
Based on all that, it should have come as no surprise when McDaniels announced on Wednesday the Raiders are benching Carr in favor of Jarrett Stidham for the final two games of the season.
In announcing the quarterback change, McDaniels said the Raiders wanted to evaluate their younger players at multiple positions.
Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick, will make his first career start Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. He is 8-for-13 for 72 yards in three games this season.
The move comes after Carr has thrown nine interceptions in the Raiders' past five games while completing just 57% of his passes. The Raiders won three of those games, however, and at 6-9 are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot.
In Saturday night's 13-10 loss at Pittsburgh, Carr engineered a 14-play, 72-yard drive -- passing for 55 yards -- to start the game and put the Raiders ahead 7-0. Las Vegas managed just a field goal the rest of the game as Carr threw for 119 yards.
"When you don't do your best, you let your team down, let the organization and fans down," Carr said after the game. "It breaks your heart. At the end of the day, nobody cares. You get back up and keep going."
Beyond the on-field play are the financial implications.
Carr signed a three-year extension in April in which he would be guaranteed $33 million for 2023 unless the Raiders move on before Feb. 15. If they do, his salary cap hit would be $5.6 million.
A serious injury over the final two games would mean Carr receives the $33 million, so there would be incentive to bench a struggling quarterback and not risk him getting hurt.
Carr has been at least an above-average quarterback over his nine years, and he willed the Raiders into the postseason last year with a late run. But that also was just the franchise's second playoff appearance with Carr behind center.
Management could take a look at the free-agent market, though there appear to be few if any options better than Carr. This projects as one of the better drafts for quarterbacks, but history has shown even those taken high often don't succeed.
Meanwhile, running back Josh Jacobs wasn't shy about sharing his feelings about the team after the loss to the Steelers.
Jacobs said their latest close loss was "bulls--t" and was critical of the team for not running the ball more on a cold night in Pittsburgh, calling it "a factor on everybody involved, top to bottom." Jacobs went on to say he's "tired of dealing with" coming in and busting "my ass and I see the guys busting their ass and the result is not there."
Jacobs had 15 total carries for 44 yards against the Steelers.
For the first time in seven weeks, Jacobs was held below 100 yards from scrimmage. In fact, his 50 total yards were his fewest of the season. Saturday was also the first time in nine contests he handled fewer than 20 touches.
McDaniels was not around for the first three years of Jacobs' run with the team, but the nature of Jacobs' criticism meant that he was asked about the comments on Monday.
McDaniels said he had no issue with Jacobs' airing of grievances.
"I love the guy. He stands for the right things. He wants to win," McDaniels said, via Vic Tafur of TheAthletic.com.
The Raiders didn't pick up Jacobs' fifth-year option and he's responded by setting a career high with 1,539 rushing yards already this season. Given the way he feels about how things have gone in Vegas, it seems likely that he'll be trying to top that mark for another team next season.
The Raiders are back at home Sunday to face NFC West champion San Francisco.
Las Vegas technically remains alive in the playoff race at 6-9, but because they also lead the league in blown leads, they're definitely on the outside looking in.
Also of interest. ... Hunter Renfrow recorded four catches (on seven targets) for 42 yards and a touchdown during Saturday's loss.
The Raiders marched 72 yards on the first drive of the game, capping it with a nifty play by Renfrow to get into the end zone from 14 yards out.
Otherwise, this offense more often than not found itself stuck in neutral.
According to CBSSports.com, it should be noted that Renfrow's seven targets marked his second-highest mark of the season, so in a unit composed of Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Mack Hollins, Renfrow is a hit-or-miss option, especially with a matchup against the 49ers' top-ranked defense on tap. ...
You can access complete stats for the Raiders Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer, Aidan O'Connell
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Tre Tucker, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Austin Hooper, Michael Mayer, Jesper Horsted
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry framed it, "A dominant defensive performance, coupled with timely plays on offense, provided the perfect formula for the Chargers. ..."
For the first time since 2018, the Bolts will return to the postseason, earning their first playoff berth under second-year head coach Brandon Staley.
Entering Week 16, the Chargers had a direct path to the playoffs if they won their remaining matchups. However, their postseason ticket came quicker than perhaps expected.
After shaking hands and walking off the field in Indianapolis, players jogged through a tunnel to blaring music, high-fives and hugs and headed into a first-time locker room scene for many of these Chargers -- a playoff party.
Austin Ekeler scored on two 1-yard runs and Los Angeles clinched its first postseason berth since 2018, intercepting Nick Foles three times to beat the overmatched Colts 20-3 on Monday night.
"We're in it, now let's go win it!" one player screamed before reporters were allowed into the locker room.
The bash included second-year coach Brandon Staley handing a game ball to owner Dean Spanos, whose organization earned its second playoff spot since 2014, a little less than a year after a brutal overtime loss at Las Vegas in last season's finale game kept LA out of the postseason.
Justin Herbert threw for 235 yards and Cameron Dicker made two short field goals for the Chargers (9-6), who won their third straight after getting the help they needed this weekend from Las Vegas, Miami, New England and the New York Jets.
When all four lost, the Chargers simply needed a win to clinch a playoff spot, and they did their part.
"It's been a while," receiver Keenan Allen said. "The playoffs are never guaranteed, so when you get in, it feels good. Now the season starts."
The defense struggled throughout most of the season, appearing to feel the effects of losing edge rusher Joey Bosa, cornerback J.C. Jackson and several linemen to injured reserve. But, the Staley-led unit is now peaking at the perfect time.
For a fourth consecutive game, the Bolts did not allow any points in the first quarter, the longest such streak by the team since 2011. Foles was 0-for-4 with an interception and a sack on third down. Three players -- cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. and safety Derwin James Jr. -- all intercepted passes. The Chargers held the Colts to 0-10 on third downs.
"0-10 on third down, that just kind of speaks for itself. That's just amazing," Allen said, via the team's website. "It's hard to score points when you can't move on third down. We didn't score as many points as we wanted to, but it didn't matter because the defense played so well. If we can just keep complimenting each other like that, keep getting better week-in and week-out, we'll be a tough team to deal with."
Herbert struggled early until Ekeler scored the first points of the game with his short TD run midway through the second quarter.
Ekeler had 18 carries for 67 yards, became the fourth player in 15 years to score at least 15 TDs in back-to-back seasons and needs one more catch to post the sixth 100-catch season by a running back in league history.
Allen had 10 receptions in a game for the 16th time in his career, the fifth most since he entered the NFL in 2013. In six games since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined and slowed Allen for nine games, he has once again become a go-to target for Herbert. Allen caught 11 passes for 104 yards.
Mike Williams caught 4-of-4 targets for 76 yards.
While Herbert went 24 of 31 and his three-game streak of 300-yard games ended, the numbers didn't matter. The win did.
"It was tough to lose to the Raiders at the end (last year)," Herbert said. "The guys in that locker room deserve this. So it'll be exciting to have that opportunity."
Next up, the Chargers return home to face the Rams in Sunday's Battle of Los Angeles. ...
The next two weeks will determine who the Chargers face in the first round of the playoffs and they'll have a shot of beating anyone if their defense continues to play as well as it did on Monday night. ...
Worth noting. ... Ekeler (knee) was listed as limited in practice Wednesday, although the team didn't hold an actual practice.
I'll be watching for more on the star running back in coming days, hoever; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
James was ejected from Monday night's game late in the first half after drawing two personal foul calls in three plays.
The three-time Pro Bowler drew a facemask penalty when Michael Pittman Jr.'s helmet came off following a 7-yard catch. Then, two plays later, James was called for hitting a defenseless receiver with the crown of his helmet.
The second play sent Colts receiver Ashton Dulin to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury.
James was escorted off the field after the two penalties allowed Indy to drive for 46-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
James also had the second of the Chargers' two first-half interceptions. He had missed the previous two games with a quadriceps injury.
Staley said James also entered the concussion protocol, adding that the helmet-to-helmet hit was unintentional.
"He made an aggressive play but he didn't intentionally go for the helmet," Staley said.
You can access complete stats for the Chargers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stone Smartt
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reminded readers, although the Rams attempted to trade Cam Akers before the Nov. 1 trade deadline, head coach Sean McVay said it would be "silly" for the running back not to be a "big part" of the offense moving forward.
Turns out. ...
McVay was critical of Akers early in the season, saying he wanted to see "an increased level of urgency and accountability snap in and snap out from" the running back.
Akers had just three carries for zero yards in the season opener, something he said later that he wasn't expecting.
Barshop went on to recount how Akers spent nearly a month away from the team in the middle of the season while the Rams were exploring finding Akers "a fresh new start with another team." The Rams ultimately did not trade the running back, and he rejoined the team after the trade deadline.
"I think he's just gone about his business the right way," McVay said Monday. "Really attacked every single day. Like I mentioned yesterday, I think he deserves a ton of credit. ... And it was great to be able to see Cam play the way that we know he is capable of.
"I think it says a lot about him for him to be able to kind of go through the things that he's gone through individually this year, and to be where he's at and continuing to play the way that he's played, is a real credit to him."
Akers had three rushing touchdowns Sunday against the Denver Broncos, giving him an NFL-leading six rushing touchdowns in December. Akers had just three rushing touchdowns in his first 23 career games combined.
McVay confirmed Monday that the Rams no longer plan to trade Akers in the offseason.
The coach sees him as a key part of 2023, when the Rams finally will be healthy again as they attempt to return to the playoffs.
"With what he's done continuing to build on that momentum, I think it'd be silly based on what a great job he's done to think of it anything differently than him being a big part of what you want to be able to do moving forward," McVay said. "But you just take it a day at a time. But that certainly. ... Is something that we've worked through and there's totally a different trajectory in terms of what he's done and the way that he's handled himself and the way that he's playing like we know he's capable of.
"And hopefully just continue to see him build on it these last couple weeks and into next year for the Rams."
Akers, who was a second-round pick for the Rams in 2020, will enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2023. Akers said last week that he wants to be in Los Angeles next season.
Along with his three rushing touchdowns Sunday, Akers ran for 118 yards on 23 carries and had two catches for 29 yards. He is the first Rams running back with 100 rushing yards and multiple rushing touchdowns in a game since Todd Gurley did it in Week 13 of the 2018 season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. It was also the second 100-yard rushing game of his career.
In 13 games this season, Akers has 559 yards and seven touchdowns on 148 carries.
This week he gets a plus matchup against a Chargers defense that's improved in recent weeks, but still isn't great at stopping opposing running backs.
Baker Mayfield's time with the Panthers was a bust in 2022, but he's ending the year on a high note.
Mayfield set a franchise record for completion percentage in a game during their win over the Broncos on Sunday. Despite not having much time to learn the offense, Mayfield went 24-of-28 for 230 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Tyler Higbee while leading an offense that never punted.
"The guy's a competitor," Higbee told Barshop. "He's a good quarterback. He belongs in this league, and he proved that today."
Where Mayfield's future will be remains up in the air, but he's answered a lot of doubts about having one since arriving in Los Angeles.
That doesn't erase the earlier struggles, but it makes for a happier way to put a trying year to bed.
With Akers running the ball and Mayfield excelling as LA's fourth starting quarterback of the season, the Rams have won two of three since the six-game losing streak that derailed their year. They're doing it with backups and stopgap veterans across their roster, underlining the coaching staff's persistence amid a tumultuous season.
McVay says the Rams will benefit from evaluation of players who normally wouldn't get an opportunity to prove themselves.
The wins aren't vital, but they're important in maintaining a successful culture for a franchise enduring its first losing season since 2016.
"Those are the things that you take some pride in and want to continue to see that reflected," McVay said. "'Hey guys, let's play to the best of our ability. Let's go cut it loose. Let's continue to pour into guys that are getting opportunities that maybe we didn't expect or anticipate.' Some of these guys are really doing a great job of establishing themselves as key figures for years to come, hopefully, and that's the approach that we'll take for these last 13 days."
Next up, a road game at SoFi Stadium. The Rams organization would dearly love to knock off their tenants on New Year's Day, but the Chargers are playing for much more. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham suggested, it's a nice problem to have, but Mayfield is probably playing his way out of LA. Looking comfortable in McVay's offense and delivering the ball with confidence and flair, the Heisman Trophy winner once again resembles the NFL-caliber starter he was in Cleveland.
With two more solid games, Mayfield seems quite likely to have more substantial offers than a backup job behind Matthew Stafford in 2023, which means the Rams would need to go shopping.
You can access complete stats for the Rams Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson, Demarcus Robinson, Ben Skowronek, Cooper Kupp
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long, Davis Allen
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
Tua Tagovailoa is in the NFL's concussion protocol, head coach Mike McDaniel announced during his Monday news conference.
On Wednesday, McDaniel announced that Tagovailoa won't play in Sunday's road game versus the New England Patriots.
Teddy Bridgewater will start in Tagovailoa's absence, per McDaniel.
Tagovailoa did suffer a concussion in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, McDaniel disclosed.
On Monday, Tagovailoa told doctors he was feeling concussion-like symptoms and he was promptly placed into the concussion protocol one day after Sunday's loss.
McDaniel said he was uncertain when Tagovailoa suffered a potential concussion during the team's 26-20 loss on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. McDaniel also said it was uncertain at this point if Tagovailoa had indeed suffered a concussion, but he had symptoms.
As NFL.com notes, video has circulated on social media of a first-half play in which Tagovailoa was hit from behind below the waist while completing a throw. During the tackle, Tagovailoa was spun to the turf and the back of his head hit the ground. Tagovailoa went 9 of 12 for 229 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions in the first half of Sunday's game. In the second half, he went 7 of 13 for 81 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions.
This is not the first time this season Tagovailoa has entered the league's concussion protocol.
The Dolphins QB exited a Week 3 win over the Bills in the first half with what was initially announced by Miami as a head injury. Tagovailoa returned to start the second half of the game and finished out the win. McDaniel said in the aftermath of the game on Sept. 25 that Tagovailoa had injured his back in the first half and the injury was exacerbated by a later hit. In the Dolphins' ensuing game -- a Week 4 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29 -- Tagovailoa was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after suffering a concussion on a sack in the first half.
Tagovailoa would then miss his team's next two games.
The NFL Players Association launched an investigation following the Dolphins' Week 3 game against the Bills to determine if proper concussion protocol was followed. The NFL and NFLPA announced in a joint-statement on Oct. 8 that while "the step-by-step process outlined in the concussion protocol was followed, the outcome in this case was not what was intended" with Tagovailoa's concussion evaluation on Sept. 25.
An amendment to the league's concussion protocol was made to enhance player safety going forward.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said Tuesday that Tagovailoa exhibited zero injury behaviors and reported zero symptoms "that would have triggered the (league's concussion) protocol" during the Packers game. Still, the NFLPA and NFL have launched another investigation into this incident.
The 24-year-old Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 draft, is in his third season in Miami. Tagovailoa has completed 259 of 400 passes (64.8 percent) for a career-high 3,548 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
It's fair to wonder if Tagovailoa will play again this season.
"I just want guys to really be done right by, by the information we have, the science and all the medical expertise that we rely on," McDaniel said. "I care very deeply about each and every player, I take that very serious. I just want him to get healthy and have peace of mind in that regard. ... It's about the human being and making sure he's squared away."
Miami plays the Patriots and the Jets to close out its regular-season schedule.
Last season, with a miraculous turnaround and a little good fortune, the Dolphins entered their Week 17 game against Tennessee on a seven-game winning streak, holding the last AFC playoff spot despite a disastrous 1-7 start to the season. Then the Titans beat them 34-3, dismantling their playoff hopes.
This year, the Dolphins started impressively but find themselves in a similarly precarious situation. Miami was undefeated in November but winless in December, including its Christmas Day collapse against Green Bay. The Dolphins again have a precarious hold on the final AFC wild-card spot.
"We've been learning hard lessons for the last month of games," McDaniel said, "and at some point, if we want to make the next step, we're going to have to put up or shut up."
The Dolphins are assured of making the playoffs if they win their final two games, but they have other paths.
They can make the postseason with a win at New England and a Jets loss against Seattle in Week 17. If Miami beats New England and the Jets beat the Seahawks, the division rivals will face each other with a playoff spot on the line.
If the Dolphins lose to the Patriots but beat the Jets, they would need New England to lose its regular-season finale against Buffalo. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Alanis Thames notes, Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill continue to make game-changing plays. Both had more than 100 yards receiving Sunday. Waddle had a career-long 84-yard touchdown in the first half and an athletic catch in the fourth quarter where he high-pointed the ball for a 16-yard gain.
Hill's four receptions gave him 113 on the season, breaking Miami's single-season record.
Their efforts prompted Louis-Jacques to wonder if the Dolphins are too reliant on explosive plays.
Waddle's 84-yard touchdown and Hill's 52-yard reception were great -- but Miami didn't sustain any scoring drives without the aid of either an explosive play or positive starting field position.
It's a microcosm of the Dolphins' play during their four-game losing streak, in which they've put together two touchdown drives without an explosive play. Those types of plays are absolutely part of the game and must be accounted for, but opponents will happily surrender those if they know you're incapable of sustaining a drive otherwise.
The Dolphins have two weeks to figure out how to do so or they risk limping into the playoffs -- or missing them altogether.
Raheem Mostert carried the ball eight times for 45 yards and caught two of three targets for four yards against the Packers. Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed nine times for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Mostert took the field for the Dolphins' first drive, acting as the starter, but the backfield touches were split evenly throughout the game. Including receptions, both backs saw exactly ten touches.
Mostert has failed to reach 50 rushing yards in three of the last four games but popped for 156 scrimmage yards in the fourth, making him a high-risk, high-reward option against the Patriots. Wilson still sits as an emergency-level play. ...
Finally. ... The Dolphins announced a pair of roster moves on Tuesday afternoon.
They have activated offensive Liam Eichenberg off injured reserve and placed running back Myles Gaskin on that list in a corresponding move.
Gaskin did not play against the Packers in Week 16 because of a knee injury. He has appeared in four games this season and has 361 carries for 1,355 yards and seven touchdowns. ...
You can access complete stats for the Dolphins Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Devon Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Chris Brooks, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson, Braxton Berrios, Erik Ezukanma
TEs: Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert noted, Justin Jefferson has now had arguably the best season for a receiver in team history. Greg Joseph has the franchise's longest field goal. And the team itself has performed better in close games than any other in NFL history.
Those were the historic takeaways of yet another thriller involving the 2022 Minnesota Vikings in what was a 27-24 victory over the New York Giants at U.S Bank Stadium on Saturday. By the time it was over:
"As much as I don't like it," Jefferson said, "it's normal at this point. It's just us going out there and just making plays and doing what we need to do to get the victory."
Indeed, the Vikings would prefer to win games in less stressful fashion.
But if nothing else, their high-wire act is now memorialized in NFL history. Although they are tied for the NFL's second-best record at 12-3, the Vikings haven't won a game by more than one score since Week 1. It has been a remarkable turnaround from last season, when the same core of players lost eight games by one score.
First-year head coach Kevin O'Connell focused on situational football starting with the first day of training camp, but even he admitted Saturday he never thought that emphasis would play a role in so many victories during his first season as an NFL coach.
"Our guys have the ability to play with a quieted mind," O'Connell said, "and just understand the situation of pitch and catch ... and have maybe the best execution all day in those [key] moments, and that's a theme for our team. Now what we've got to do is find a way to create that kind of urgency and execution level throughout four quarters and we're going to see something really special with this team."
"I got to be out in front making sure that I push our team to understand 12 wins is great," he added. "We've earned each and every one of those wins, sometimes right down to the very end. Most times right down to the very end. We're still building something here that every moment we get to prepare [and] grow as a team, those things matter, and we've got to take advantage of them."
Jefferson broke Moss' record on his second catch on Saturday, a 25-yard reception from quarterback Kirk Cousins in the first quarter. Jefferson finished the game with 133 yards on 12 receptions and a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 24-16 lead with 3 minutes remaining. He now has 1,756 yards receiving yards. Although he has the advantage of a 17-game season, Jefferson broke Moss' record in 15 games; it took Moss 16 games to get to 1,632 in 2003.
"It's an honor to break [Moss'] records and be in the conversation with him," Jefferson said. "But he has the golden [Pro Football Hall of Fame] jacket. That's what I want at the end of my career, and so I'm still chasing him, for sure."
Meanwhile, Joseph had been working toward this moment all season. His 56-yard field goal in a Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers tied the team record, but he later went through a rough patch in which he missed five consecutive kicks from 50 yards and farther. He also missed five extra points in a span of six games, but he has converted 12 straight after making a series of technical adjustments. Joseph hasn't missed a field goal since Week 8, having converted 13 consecutive attempts.
"I've had trust and confidence in myself," he said. "And I appreciate the trust and confidence that coach has to put me out there."
All the good feelings aside, Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell reminded his readers that all these fourth-quarter deficits are a pattern that can't be dismissed, either, if they're going to make more than a brief postseason appearance.
Their vulnerability on defense -- allowing the second-most yards per game and per play in the league -- is a glaring issue.
But an offense with Jefferson, two other Pro Bowl picks in quarterback Cousins and tight end T.J. Hockenson and a standout running back in Dalvin Cook ought to be producing more complete performances than it has.
"We're still hunting that four quarters of true, consistent football that we want to see," O'Connell acknowledged after the 27-24 victory over the New York Giants on Saturday.
The Vikings, for all their potency, have had few games this season when they didn't get stuck for extended stretches.
Their 71 punt attempts are tied for the sixth most in the NFL this year, including five against the Giants. Though they're seventh in the league in scoring with an average of 25.2 points per game, their 42 three-and-out possessions are tied for sixth-most per Sportradar data.
"We're well aware that our best football is hopefully out in front of us, and that's only going to come from the work and the commitment to continuing to build what we're doing here the right way," O'Connell said.
This week, they travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers.
It's worth noting the only game the Vikings have won this season without any doubt about the outcome during the fourth quarter was the opener against Green Bay, a 23-7 victory that the Packers have the opportunity to avenge on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have won three straight games to climb back into legitimate contention for the playoffs.
The Vikings lead San Francisco by one game for the No. 2 seed. They would lose a tiebreaker to the 49ers, who have won eight straight games and finish the season at Las Vegas and against Arizona. ...
Also of interest. ... Cousins has quickly developed a strong connection with Hockenson, who set a single-game Vikings tight end record with a career-high 13 receptions against the Giants. Two of them were touchdowns. In eight games since he arrived in the trade with Detroit, Hockenson has been targeted 73 times. ...
Cook's career rushing total now sits at 5,929 yards. He passed Chuck Foreman for third place in team history and trails Robert Smith by 889 yards. Over the last two games, Cook is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. could be back in the Vikings lineup before their season is over.
Smith was designated for return from injured reserve on Wednesday. He can be activated at any point in the next three weeks, so he could join the team in the playoffs even if he doesn’t get on the field in the final two regular season games.
Smith has been out since Week 8 with an ankle injury. The Vikings traded for Hockenson after Smith was injured and, as noted above, he’s taken on a big role in Minnesota with 52 catches in eight games with the team.
The Vikings also activated running back Ty Chandler from injured reserve. They had an open roster spot, so they did not need to make a corresponding move.
And finally. ... The NFL announced Joseph as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. He also took the prize after hitting a game-winner in Week 4.
You can access complete stats for the Vikings Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, Myles Gaskin, Cam Akers, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell, N'Keal Harry
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
Head coach Bill Belichick spared running back Rhamondre Stevenson for his late fumble that cost the team a chance to score a potential go-ahead touchdown in Saturday's 22-18 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm not going to second-guess Rhamondre on what he did," Belichick said Monday morning in his first public remarks since reviewing the game.
"Rhamondre's ball security has been pretty good all year. He had two hands on the ball, they were running him back, and they knocked it out at the end."
Later during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Belichick was asked whether there might be concern that the miscue affects Stevenson in the coming weeks. He said: "Rhamondre is a really good competitor. He's one of our best players. I'm sure he'll be ready to go."
According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, Belichick, who has benched running backs in the past for ball security struggles, might have believed Stevenson's forward progress was stopped on the key play, although he didn't say so directly.
Referee Craig Wrolstad said in a pool report after the game: "In order to have forward progress, the runner has to be controlled by the defense. He has to be held and controlled, and basically have his feet taken away. We felt that he still had his feet."
The fumble ultimately extinguished the Patriots' comeback hopes after they dug themselves into a 22-0 halftime deficit.
Trailing 22-18 with 1:05 remaining, they had the ball at the Bengals' 5-yard line, and Cincinnati was out of timeouts. Belichick explained that the strategy was a balance between "trying to score and trying to control the clock" when the Patriots handed off to Stevenson on first-and-goal.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Stevenson was stood up by defensive tackle DJ Reader, driven back 3 yards, and had the ball stripped by safety Vonn Bell. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou recovered.
Stevenson, who leads the team with 944 yards on 196 carries and five touchdowns, hadn't lost a fumble since the first game of his rookie season in 2021.
"I was trying to make something happen, probably doing more than I was supposed to do. Probably should have just went down," he said after the game.
As Reiss suggests, it was a dagger. For the second week in a row.
The Patriots had roared back from a 22-0 halftime deficit and appeared primed to go ahead only to fall short in the end.
At 7-8, the Patriots are still technically alive for the playoffs, but what hope is there when they keep shooting themselves in the foot?
The Patriots host the Miami Dolphins (8-7) on Sunday with Tua Tagovailoa in the concussion protocol leaving his status in question.
New England would qualify for the playoffs by beating Miami and then recording a victory over the Buffalo Bills on the road in the final week of the season. The Patriots have other scenarios in which they would qualify for the postseason, but winning the final two games is their most direct path.
The more immediate issue?
What are Belichick's plans with the offense?
There are still two games remaining, but everything seems secondary to how Belichick plans to address the offense in the big picture. The Patriots had 70 total yards of offense at halftime, and while there were signs of life in the second half, this is not a sustainable formula.
So it's a balance between doing whatever it takes to win the final two games (home against Miami, on the road against Buffalo) to stay alive but also acknowledging that the offense needs a major fix.
Still, for a team that started 1-3 and lost four out of five from Thanksgiving to Christmas -- one of them on a play that is in the running for one of the biggest regular-season blunders in NFL history -- having something to play for with two weeks remaining is encouraging.
"We're in a good spot here," quarterback Mac Jones said on his weekly radio appearance on Monday. "Just got to keep fighting. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Defensive back Marcus Jones intercepted Burrow in the third quarter and ran it back 69 yards for a touchdown that was New England's first score of the game. He now has scored on a punt return, interception return and as a receiver. According to NFL Research on Twitter, the only other player to do that in his entire career was Deion Sanders.
It's New England's NFL-leading sixth defensive touchdown of the season.
Given the team's issues scoring on offense, it's not a great surprise that some in New England are wondering if there's a way to get more out of Jones as the Patriots try to buck the odds and advance to the postseason.
Belichick fielded a question about that at his Monday press conference and said that Jones' roles on defense -- he's played at least 89 percent of the defensive snaps the last three weeks -- and special teams work against too much expansion of his role on offense.
"Well Marcus is -- he's had more in the last few weeks," Belichick said. "But anytime when you have a situation like that where you have a specialty player playing one side of the ball or another, at this point in time mid-season where the person doesn't really have a full background on that side of the ball whether that's Troy [Brown], or Julian [Edelman] playing defense, or Mike Vrabel playing tight end, or Marcus playing his role.
"I think to try to conceptually teach them the entire system, that's not something that we have done or probably would ever do. So there are certainly limitations on how far those players, Marcus in this case would be able to go.
"But can we use them a little more? Can we add on to what he's done?
"Sure. But I don't think he'll ever be a full -- have the full receiver playbook if you will at this point in time. Definitely not with his other responsibilities as well on defense and in the kicking game."
The Patriots need to have a more dynamic offense in the future, but providing it won't fall entirely on Jones' shoulders. ...
According to Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower, the emergence of Kendrick Bourne as a big-play receiver against the Bengals points to a bigger problem: Why has he spent so much time on the bench this season.
A week after being targeted once while playing 11 snaps, Bourne had six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, with five of the catches and the score coming in the fourth quarter. He was on the field for 57 percent of the offensive snaps -- just the sixth time in 15 games he has played more than half the time.
"I'm just happy the coaches still believe in me," Bourne said.
Asked why Bourne doesn't play more, Belichick said after the game: "No particular reason."
Bourne was New England's fourth 100-yard receiver of the season and first since Week 5, against Detroit. The Patriots did not have a 100-yard receiver last season.
On the injury front. ... Hunter Henry, who was dealing with a knee injury this weekend, is considered day-to-day, a source tell NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Henry, who left the game in the first quarter and did not return, is sore. But has a chance to play.
In addition, Damien Harris (thigh) and DeVante Parker (concussion) missed the loss to Cincy.
Parker did not practice Wednesday while Henry, Harris, Thornton (knee) and Stevenson (ankle) were limited.
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
And finally. ... Mac Jones addressed his low hit on Bengals cornerback Eli Apple on Monday.
Jones threw his body at Apple's legs while Apple was chasing after Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton in an attempt to stop Thornton from reaching Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt after Pratt recovered an apparent fumble. The play was ultimately called an incomplete pass.
Low blocks in such situations are against league rules and Apple called it a dirty play after the game, but Jones was not penalized.
During an appearance on WEEI, Jones explained what went into his decision to dive at Apple's legs.
"Obviously, I went down in front of him to kind of get in the way, to stop him from slowing down Tyquan, who obviously could make the tackle there," Jones said, via NESN.com. "Just kind of went down in front of him and tried to stop a fast guy from getting to another fast guy. Just a split-second decision, and there's a lot that goes into it. You're out there trying to compete, and it's a physical game, so just trying to help the team win. I have all the respect for Eli and the Bengals. They played a great game. There's no hard feelings and definitely no intention to hurt anybody on that play, nor do I believe that when I'm playing quarterback that's what [the defense is trying to do]. I get hit a lot, too. We're all out there playing hard, and it's just part of the game."
Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio, citing a source with knowledge of the situation, reports that Jones will be fined $11,139 for his low block on Apple.
You can access complete stats for the Patriots Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Mac Jones, Matt Corral
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Kayshon Boutte, Demario Douglas, Matt Slater, Tyquan Thornton
TEs: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel notes, it took until Week 16 before the New Orleans Saints finally managed to win two consecutive games this season.
Doing so after falling behind 10-0 in freezing Cleveland weather offered evidence that the Saints haven't quit on first-year coach Dennis Allen.
According to Martel, it's a silver lining for a team that is guaranteed to have a losing record at the end of the regular season and could be eliminated from playoff contention after this weekend.
"What it says is we've got a bunch of really mentally tough guys," linebacker Chase Hansen said Monday. "That's something that coach Allen preached all week. It's one thing to talk about it. It's another thing to see it come to fruition in a game like that.
"Just the mental toughness I felt like it showed at this point in the season, at that point in the game (when Cleveland led by 10), I was impressed by a number of guys and I was grateful to be a part of it," Hansen added.
To make playoffs, the Saints (6-9) will have to win their final two games -- one of which is on the road against the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles. They also need help in the form of two losses by Tampa Bay to win the NFC South.
Technically, the Saints also remain alive for the last wild-card spot, but they trail Washington (7-7-1) by 1 1/2 games and Green Bay, Detroit and Seattle (all 7-8) by a game.
Even if the Saints don't make the playoffs, Allen and his staff have an interest in showing their players haven't checked out. A strong finish could lead to a more stable, hopeful offseason.
There's still a lot to prove. Not one of New Orleans' victories has come against a team that currently has a winning record.
But the Saints didn't fold after falling behind by two scores at Cleveland during the coldest game in franchise history (9 degrees, with wind gusts making it feel even colder). Instead, they scored 17 unanswered points and made a game-saving defensive stand at the end.
"Definitely one I won't forget," offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said. "It was one of those nasty, grueling kind of games."
Now they get at least one more work week with a chance at the playoffs -- however remote.
"It shows a lot for what this team's made of," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're still alive and so we've got to keep controlling what we can control and see what happens."
The running game powered by Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill seems to be the thing that New Orleans can leverage offensively to reach their objectives.
Hill averaged 6.2 yards per carry on direct-snap runs. Kamara averaged 3.8 yards per carry on a combination of direct snaps and conventional handoffs. The Saints finished with 152 yards rushing, their second straight game with 134 or more.
"That's an important part of what we've been able to do the last couple weeks is kind of get the run game going," Allen said. "The run game is more about staying with it and staying committed to it. ... That's difficult to do in a game where you're down 10-0, but we stayed committed to it and it ended up paying off."
Kamara appears to be back in form, gaining more than 100 yards from scrimmage (76 rushing, 34 receiving) against the Browns. That gave Kamara two straight games with at least 100 scrimmage yards after a five-game rut in which he didn't reach that mark once.
That doesn't however, mean Kamara believes his talents are being maximized.
When asked why he's losing out on third down snaps this season, Kamara said, "I don't know. You got to ask someone else."
As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, for much of the 2022 season, Kamara -- among the league's best pass-catching backs -- has been used as an early-down banger and replaced on third downs. He told reporters after the Saints' Week 16 win against the Browns that he doesn't think his usage is related to pass protection struggles.
Through 15 games, Kamara has been on the field for 62 percent of the team's third downs, down from his 81 percent rate in 2021.
Allen said he didn't know why Kamara wasn't being used on third downs.
"That's just how some of the game plans have played out," Allen said. "He's been our primary (runner) for a majority of the season. ... It's still an area we want to try to utilize him and try to put him in spots to be a factor in the passing game."
As the NBC report summed up, "Gone are the seasons when Kamara would regularly rack up 80 to 90 receptions, often lining up as a receiver."
His altered role in the New Orleans offense means Kamara offers far less PPR upside, as fantasy managers know by now. It's also incredibly odd given the team's injury issues at wide receiver, with Michael Thomas placed on injured reserve early last month after appearing in only three games.
That extends to Sunday's game in Cleveland, with Chris Olave out due to a hamstring injury and Jarvis Landry landing on injured reserve due to a lingering ankle issue.
Even harder to understand after watching journeyman receiver Keith Kirkwood fail come down with two catchable balls thrown his way by Dalton, both on third-down plays. He finished without a reception.
I'll be watching for more on Olave's status -- he was limited in Wednesday's practice -- in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
You can access complete stats for the Saints Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Jake Haener
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller, Alvin Kamara
WRs: Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Tre'Quan Smith
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham, Taysom Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The New York Giants missed an opportunity to make the playoffs on Saturday when they lost 27-24 to the Minnesota Vikings on a 61-yard field goal as time expired at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Thanks to losses by the Detroit Lions in Carolina and Seattle Seahawks in Kansas City, the Giants are still in a win-and-they're-in situation this week when they host the Colts.
Washington (7-7-1) also lost later in the day in San Francisco to help out New York.
"We control our own destiny," running back Saquon Barkley said. "Win and you're in. At home. That's beautiful."
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, the Giants (8-6-1) are looking to end a five-year playoff drought. In fact, they entered this season tied with the New York Jets for the worst record in the NFL over the previous five seasons. They are currently sixth in the NFC in one of the final wild-card spots.
New York had its chances to clinch a playoff spot on Saturday afternoon in Minnesota. But the Giants had key drops, let an interception slip through their hands, had a punt blocked and threw an interception. ... In the fourth quarter alone. They did, however, drive down the field and score on a 27-yard touchdown run by Barkley before converting the 2-point conversion to tie the game with 2:01 remaining.
The Vikings, the NFC North champions, drove down the field for the game-winning field goal moments later and kept the Giants from joining them in the postseason. For now, at least.
"The fact that we didn't do that is sort of disappointing," quarterback Daniel Jones said.
It puts a lot on the line for Sunday against the Colts.
"Huge" is how wide receiver Darius Slayton described that game. Slayton, along with players like Jones, Barkley, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and a good chunk of this Giants roster, has never been to the playoffs.
"I kind of feel all these weeks [are huge] late in the second half of the season," Slayton said. "It's always, 'You gotta win this week.'"
Head coach Brian Daboll and most of the players said they were unaware Saturday of the Seahawks and Lions losing at the same time as the Giants. Barkley found out about those results when talking to the media.
Daboll didn't mention it afterward when addressing his team.
"Yeah, it wasn't really something that popped up," Jones said. "Our focus was on this week and win this game this week, and we didn't do that. So as far as how that affects our playoff picture, that's not something we're focused on. We want to win the game. That is always our goal."
Does that make this week an even bigger game?
"We're not in it yet," Daboll said. "I'm not going to look too far down the road, and we're going to try to beat the Colts. And that's where I'm at with it."
The reality is the Colts game is kind of a must-win game.
The season finale will be in Philadelphia against the Eagles, whose 13-2 record is the best in the NFL. There's a chance Philadelphia may have nothing at stake in the game, but this is a team that used its backup quarterback and scored 34 points in a loss against Dallas Saturday.
So the Giants certainly don't want to head down the New Jersey Turnpike in early January needing a win.
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan notes, Jones is having his best season. He was 30 of 42 for 334 yards, a touchdown and an interception Saturday. Forget the interception -- it was a good play by Patrick Peterson.
The Giants finished with 445 yards in total offense and Jones led a late TD drive and threw a game-tying 2-point conversion to tight end Daniel Bellinger.
In addition, receiver Isaiah Hodgins has stepped up since being acquired on waivers from Buffalo on Nov. 2. He had eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. In seven games with New York, he has 29 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns, which ties for the team lead.
Richie James caught 8-of-12 targets for 90 yards against the Vikings as well.
Hodgins and James have delivered sufficiently to be well insider the top-30 at their position over the last four games; Hodgins has been inside the top 15.
Conversely, Bellinger seemed to be a little more reliable before sustaining an eye injury that required surgery in late October. He remains a good blocker, but his lost fumble at the Vikings 23 after a 16-yard catch Saturday hurt. It took away a guaranteed three points with Graham Gano kicking and resulted in a Vikings' field goal.
You can access complete stats for the Giants Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Eric Gray, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
Another week, another quarterback shakeup for the New York Jets.
Cleared by team doctors, Mike White returns to the lineup this week and will be the starter for the remainder of the season, coach Robert Saleh announced Monday. The beleaguered Zach Wilson, once considered the franchise's long-term answer, will be inactive, meaning he may never again play for the team that drafted him second overall in 2021.
The Jets, whose slim playoff hopes received a boost over the weekend, face the Seattle Seahawks in a pivotal road game Sunday.
Joe Flacco will be the No. 2 quarterback.
White missed two games after fracturing at least two ribs on a Dec. 11 hit by Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano. As ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini reminded readers, initially, it was considered a three- to four-week injury. The Jets (7-8), losers of four straight, are hoping the popular White can provide a late-season spark.
"He's proven he can be a winner in this league, and he's proven he can be a winner in this system," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Obviously, the guys trust him. There's a spark when he's on the field. He knows how to manage the game well and make all the right throws. ... He's shown through the hard times and the good times that he's able to make something happen."
This is another setback for Wilson, whose future with the team appears bleak.
He now has been benched twice in a span of six weeks and replaced once within a game, fueling speculation that he won't be back in 2023.
"The plan for Zach hasn't changed," Saleh said. "I still think he has a future here. I still think he's going to be a really good quarterback. He needs time to just kind of sit back and continue the development that we were trying re-kick start, if you will, after the [Nov. 20] New England game. We still have him in our future and in our plans."
Wilson was benched after that game and was inactive for three straight games -- a "reset," the Jets called it. Saleh was prepared to ride White the rest of the year, but he returned to Wilson after White's rib injury. Wilson struggled and was booed off the field last Thursday night. He was replaced by former practice-squad quarterback Chris Streveler in a 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Afterward, Wilson admitted his confidence was shaken.
"He's not going to be a kid that quits," Saleh said. "I don't think he's looking at this and saying it's going to be an impossible hill to climb.
"While it doesn't look good and while it doesn't seem like there's light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to put your head down and keep working. There are a lot of quarterbacks in this league that made it out of a dark tunnel. And if you look throughout the league, more quarterbacks than not have started in the dungeon, if you will, and found their way out to sunlight."
Wilson is 6-3 as the starter but has only six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Against Jacksonville, he completed only nine of 18 passes for 92 yards -- his second sub-100-yard outing in his last three starts.
Saleh declined to say whether White has a chance to play his way into the 2023 starting job. He will be a free agent.
But Zack Rosenblatt of The Athletic reports that White's chances of starting for the Jets in 2023 do indeed hinge on his performance over the next two weeks.
"White is a free agent this offseason. Whether it's for the Jets or someone else, these last two games will go a long way toward determining whether White is a viable option as a starter," Rosenblatt wrote. "White could convince the Jets to bring him back on a short-term contract if he guts out a couple wins to close the year."
With White, the Jets are 1-2, averaging just 22 points per game, but they've moved the ball better with him than Wilson. They averaged 400 yards per game from Weeks 12 to 14, fourth in the league.
"I thought he did a great job moving the offense, sustaining drives, getting first downs -- much more efficient," Saleh said. "The offense was running with some good efficiency. So, it's a great opportunity for him and it's a great opportunity for everybody."
For what it's worth. ... Saleh said the addition of Streveler to the offense against Jacksonville "was a cool, little wrinkle" and compared it to what Taysom Hill has done with New Orleans. Streveler led the Jets with 54 yards rushing last Thursday night. "It's something that we're talking about," Saleh said. "But it's not a guarantee."
Meanwhile, Cimini notes the Jets have an 11 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN analytics.
Saleh himself conceded last Friday their chances were "farfetched," but they got help from the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, both of whom lost.
If the Jets win out, and the Patriots lose one of their remaining two games, the Jets will make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
"We've still got to find ourselves, we've still got to find confidence and we've got to get the ball rolling," Saleh said. "And it starts with how we prepare day in and day out and how we attack these moments.
"The playoffs and all that stuff is cool, but we've got to stay connected to this moment in Seattle and Seattle only. ..."
One last note here. ... As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. pointed out, the focus has been on Wilson, and deservedly so. But offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has failed to put the quarterback in a position to succeed by switching things up in his play calling.
Wilson has shown he's more effective out of the pocket, especially with a porous offensive line. But there has been little deviation from that by LaFleur, who declined to say why other quarterbacks not named Wilson have made plays in his offense.
"I'm not trying to compare Zach to all the other guys," LaFleur said. "I've got to figure it out and figure out how to get him in a rhythm and I haven't done that."
On the injury front. ... The Jets came out of the game without any new injuries.
You can access complete stats for the Jets Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Randall Cobb, Jason Brownlee, Xavier Gipson, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, Kenny Yeboah
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The No. 1 seed in the NFC is still on the table for the Eagles.
So is starting banged-up quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts missed Philadelphia's loss to Dallas because of a sprained right shoulder -- a defeat that denied the Eagles the NFC East championship and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Had the Eagles clinched those top spots, the need to have Hurts play again this season would have been erased.
According to ESPN.'s Adam Schefter, the Eagles wanted to see how this weekend played out in the NFC playoff race and how Hurts' shoulder responds to rest and treatment before determining whether the MVP candidate can play against the Saints.
"We'll see. One day at a time here," head coach Nick Sirianni said Monday, via video from the team. "You know how much he wanted to play last week and how much he did to get his body read, and again with Jalen, his body deals different than yours and mine. He's going to do everything that he can do to get himself healthy, and if he's healthy, he'll play."
Pressed again on Wednesday, Sirianni said the same: "Does he have a chance? Of course he does. ... We'll see what happens as the week progresses."
For the record, the Hurts did not participate in the Eagles Wednesday walk-through session.
Even at 13-2, the Eagles need their star QB to try to win one of the final two games to earn the No. 1 seed that would give them a bye and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Gardner Minshew was serviceable against the Cowboys.
But, as Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston notes, against a Saints (6-9) team still clinging to postseason hopes, the Eagles will turn to Hurts if he's deemed healthy to play.
The Eagles had steamrolled their way toward the best record in the NFL until they were upended Saturday in Dallas. So now the road to No. 1 is a bit messy: Should Dallas win its last two games and the Eagles lose to the Saints and Giants, the Cowboys are the NFC East champions.
And if that scenario unfolds, and somehow Minnesota and San Francisco each lose one of their two final games, the Cowboys are the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
That's a lot of wishful thinking in Dallas.
In Philly, it's a lot less complicated: win one (or a Dallas loss) and celebrate being No. 1.
Sirianni said he watched the Dallas loss eight times on Sunday to try to figure out what went wrong.
"One of the earliest talks we had in training camp is, adversity is coming. How are we going to handle that?" Sirianni said. "When you have go through those things in life, when you have to go through things in football, when you have the leaders that we have, it makes those roads a little bit easier to navigate."
Even if Minshew gets a second straight start, it's not exactly cause for concern quite yet.
The statistical website fivethirtyeight.com on Monday gave the Eagles a 97 percent chance of winning the NFC East, 96 percent chance of a first-round bye and still a 22 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. Minshew wasn't really the reason the Eagles lost, anyway (though a last-gasp throw was nowhere near a receiver).
He threw for 355 yards, completing 24 of 40 passes and two touchdowns in his first start of the season.
According to Gelston, the key here is this: The Eagles need more takeaways -- and to stop giving away the ball.
The Eagles had two of their four turnovers in the final five minutes against Dallas, and a team that raced to a franchise-record start on the strength of ball security is suddenly having a hard time hanging on. The Eagles' turnover margin over the first nine weeks of the season was plus-15, the best in the NFL. Since then, the Eagles are an NFL-worst minus-6. Their four turnovers against Dallas led to 20 points.
"You can't turn the ball over four times and expect to beat a good team," Minshew said.
The good news?
Receiver DeVonta Smith continued to deliver.
The second-year man had eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns and has teamed with A.J. Brown, who had 103 yards to form arguably the greatest wide receiver duo in franchise history. Smith has set a career high in receptions (79), yards (1,014) and TDs (seven) this season.
Saturday was the third time the Eagles had two wide receivers go over 100 yards in the same game.
As Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal noted, before this season, you'd have to go back to 2013 for the last time the Eagles had that happen even once.
Brown and Smith also became the first Eagles receiver duo to go over 1,000 yards each in the same season.
Miles Sanders is also over 1,000 yards rushing, and Hurts has 747 yards on the ground.
That said, Sanders didn't have a fantastic outing in Dallas. He finished the day with 65 yards on 21 carries, one catch (on his lone target) for six yards and lost a fumble.
Sanders' fumble with 2:19 remaining in the fourth quarter was a costly one, as the Eagles were forced to call two of their three timeouts to preserve time for a comeback effort.
But he wasn't having much success on the ground prior to that and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry for the game.
While Sanders has gone for 140-plus rushing yards twice in the last five contests, he's combined for 131 yards on 41 rushes (3.2 YPC) in the other three. As CBSSports.com put it, "Which Sanders shows up Week 17 against the Saints remains to be seen."
On the injury front. ... Beyond Hurts, Brown (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice while Sanders (knee) was held out along with Hurts.
Again, more on the ailing skill players via Late-Breaking Update.
The Eagles are expected to be without starting right tackle Lane Johnson and nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox for at least the final two games of the regular season.
Johnson, who was named to the Pro Bowl last week, suffered an abdominal injury against the Cowboys that could keep him out until the playoffs. Johnson left the game against the Giants two weeks ago with the injury, so it could be a lingering issue that affects him in the postseason, even after sitting out the final two games.
Adding to that, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Johnson will put off surgery so he could return in the postseason.
Maddox, meanwhile, suffered a toe injury that the NFL Network reported will keep him out "indefinitely." Maddox recently returned after missing four games with a hamstring injury. If Maddox goes on IR again, his season is over.
You can access complete stats for the Eagles Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves notes, the Pittsburgh Steelers have spent most of the past two-plus months asking rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to simply not lose games.
His marching orders from coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada were simple.
Take care of the ball. Make the right read. Play it safe. Don't screw things up for a defense that -- when right -- is one of the better ones in the league.
The next step in Pickett's evolution began with 2:55 to go in the game on Christmas Eve against Las Vegas.
Trailing by four, the Steelers needed a touchdown, something the offense hadn't produced during three nearly frigid hours.
Over the next 10 snaps, Pickett offered the first true glimpse of what the Steelers (7-8) hope he can become.
Facing a Las Vegas defense that suddenly seemed to forget it was only up by one score, not two, Pickett guided Pittsburgh 76 yards. The last 14 came on a perfectly executed strike to the end zone to George Pickens, who split two defenders and turned around at about the time Pickett's dart hit him in the gut for the winning score in a 13-10 victory that kept the Steelers' faint postseason hopes alive.
Besides the "feel good" vibes the play produced on a night Pittsburgh said goodbye to franchise icon Franco Harris -- the Hall of Fame running back died last week at 72 just days before the team retired his No. 32 during an emotional halftime ceremony -- it also offered tangible proof that Pickett can be not just a caretaker, but a potential difference-maker when things get tight.
While technically not his first fourth-quarter comeback -- that came in November when Pittsburgh entered the final frame trailing Indianapolis by a point in what became a 24-17 win -- Saturday night's performance looked and felt different.
"Make no mistake about it, it was a significant game, but it's probably just a significant game because so many of our guys are young and they stood up," Tomlin said. "And it was a growth outing probably more than anything."
A loss would have eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention.
Instead, Pittsburgh heads to Baltimore (10-5) on New Year's night with something still to play for, a scenario that seemed far-fetched the day before Halloween, when Philadelphia put on a clinic in a 35-13 romp that dropped the Steelers to 2-6.
They have won five of seven since, with the two losses coming by a combined nine points to Cincinnati and the Ravens. While the growing pains have been highly visible at times, Pittsburgh has stuck with the plan. So has Pickett, whose maturity is one of the reasons the Steelers were so drawn to him in the first place.
That's why there was no 'rah-rah' speech in the huddle before the last drive. Pickett would prefer to save the emotion for later while there was still work to be done.
"I don't really think too much about winning guys over," he said. "I think my preparation throughout the week, how hard I play, I hope their opinions are on the brighter side based off that. We all have a really good relationship. We all believe in each other. ..."
As noted above, the Steelers at Ravens game on Jan. 1 got flexed from a 1 p.m. ET kickoff to an 8:20 p.m. This AFC North rivalry game bumped the Rams-Chargers, who will now play at 4:25 p.m. ET.
This marks the first time the Ravens and Steelers will face each other in prime time in four years. From 2001 to 2018, Baltimore and Pittsburgh met 14 times in prime time over an 18-year period (including nine straight years from 2007 to 2015).
In this close rivalry, it's not surprising that, in the past 15 prime-time meetings, the Ravens have won eight times and the Steelers have won seven.
Other notes of interest. ... Scoring touchdowns continues to be a tough ask, the late march aside. With kicker Chris Boswell having an uncharacteristically off year -- he's now missed seven field goals this season, the same number he missed from 2019-21 combined -- Pickett needs to get the ball in the end zone more.
Najee Harris continued to get ample opportunities. The second-year man rushed the ball 16 times for 53 yards and added six receptions for 42 yards.
Harris paced the Pittsburgh backfield, accounting for 16 of the 24 rushing attempts by skill-position players.
However, he was largely stymied as a rusher and was held below 50 yards on the ground for the third time in the last five games. He still managed to salvage his performance with his most productive game of the season as a receiver, regularly serving as a dumpoff option for Pickett.
Overall, Harris has at least 90 total yards in four of his last seven games, and he also has five touchdowns in that span.
Jaylen Warren rushed six times for 23 yards against the Raiders, adding a seven-yard reception. Warren's seven touches were his second most in the past five weeks. ...
Connor Heyward has played in all 15 regular season games so far in his rookie season, and he has 9 catches in 13 targets as a receiver for 106 yards, with one touchdown and four of his catches being good for first downs.
He has one carry for 21 yards. He is tied-for-third on the team with 8 tackles on special teams. Heyward has played 137 snaps on offense and 256 snaps on special teams.
On the injury front. ... Diontae Johnson (toe) was limited in practice Wednesday.
Johnson missed two practices last week because of the toe issue and still played.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
You can access complete stats for the Steelers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, Calvin Austin III, Diontae Johnson
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
When Brock Purdy stepped in as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, his early success was initially seen as a surprise.
Now that the last pick in this year's draft has kept up that level of play for three straight starts, it's becoming expected.
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow notes, Purdy joined some illustrious company with his third straight winning start with two touchdown passes, leading the 49ers to their eighth straight win in a 37-20 victory over Washington on Saturday.
Purdy's play has ensured that the surging Niners (11-4) have shown no signs of slowing down after turning the offense over to their third-string quarterback.
San Francisco is assured of at least the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs and still have a chance to move up if Minnesota and Philadelphia falter down the stretch.
"At this point, we know who exactly who he is," receiver Brandon Aiyuk said about Purdy. "Nobody's surprised anymore. We know who Brock Purdy is. He came out, played a great game, controlled the offense, controlled the huddle, controlled the game."
Purdy's rapid ascent from an unknown Mr. Irrelevant to a key component to one of the NFC's top contenders has been impressive.
He threw two TD passes in a relief effort of a Week 13 win against Miami and then has won his first three starts, throwing two touchdown passes in each game.
He joined Hall of Famer Kurt Warner as the only QBs since 1950 to win their first three starts, while at least two TD passes each game.
"I still have that same fire and drive as before I wasn't playing," Purdy said. "I want to go in and I want to prove to my teammates and earn the respect every play, every snap, every drive, that kind of mentality. So, I just got to remind myself to not lose that passion and that fire and that it's never easy."
Despite Purdy's steady play, head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that he's not thinking about Purdy's long-term future with the franchise.
"I don't even know what year it is after this season's over," Shanahan said, via Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com. "I'm thinking about how to try to get him ready for [practice on] Wednesday, man. It's a great question. But, honestly, I don't look ahead like that. We got a number of big games in front of us."
In the last four games, Purdy has completed 69 percent of his passes for 846 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 8.0 yards per attempt -- good for a 110.0 passer rating. It's a small sample size, but that would rank ahead of Tua Tagovailoa (105.5), Patrick Mahomes (105.1) and Jalen Hurts (104.5), who are the league's top three in the category.
"I thought Brock played well, real well," Shanahan said of Purdy's latest performance against the Commanders. "He was smart with the ball.
"I thought he just did a great job of not doing anything stupid with some tough situations."
Whatever the case, Purdy has made it look easy, taking advantage of an offense that features several star playmakers and an elite play-caller in Shanahan.
While Purdy's biggest responsibility is to get the ball into the hands of players such as Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle, he has also shown an ability to stretch the field.
He threw his third TD pass that traveled at least 25 yards downfield on Saturday to Kittle, one shy of the total amount of those TDs the Niners had as a team since 2020.
That Purdy to Kittle connection, by the way, is turning into gold for fantasy managers.
Purdy has connected with Kittle for two touchdown passes in back-to-back games. Kittle has 10 catches for 213 yards and four TDs the past two weeks, giving him a career-high eight TD receptions on the season. Kittle is the first Niners tight end since the merger with back-to-back games with multiple TD catches. The last player to do it for San Francisco before Kittle was receiver Terrell Owens in 2002.
There are areas that need work.
Specifically, the red-zone offense.
San Francisco got inside the 20 five times Saturday and turned those trips into only one touchdown. They got stopped on fourth down from the 15 on opening drive and settled for three field goals in the second half, including on drives that started at the Washington 11 and 25 following turnovers.
"Any time you get the ball that much in the red zone and only have one touchdown to show for it, that was disappointing," Shanahan said. ...
Meanwhile, the Niners can do no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, but they said they wouldn't take their foot off the gas because the No. 2 seed is still in reach. While the 49ers didn't get help from the Vikings on Saturday, they are still just a game behind them for the second spot and need to just tie Minnesota in the standings to host at least two postseason games.
As long as that's the case, expect San Francisco to keep pushing, starting this Sunday against the Raiders in Las Vegas. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NBCSportsBayArea.com notes McCaffrey continues to further etch his name in the NFL history books.
In the win over the Commanders, McCaffrey had a rather modest game, rushing 15 times for just 46 yards on the ground while totaling two receptions for 12 yards through the air.
Those two receptions, however, placed him in elite company at the running back position. McCaffrey now has 76 receptions on the season, extending his 75-reception streak to four seasons. That makes him the fourth running back in NFL history, joining Larry Centers (five seasons), Marshall Faulk (five) and Alvin Kamara (four), with four or more seasons with at least 75 receptions.
In speaking to reporters after the game, Shanahan was asked about McCaffrey's gravitational pull on the field and how it opens up the offense for other weapons.
"Yes, and that's what we expect, too, so I hope it's like that, it's been like that and I think it should be like that," Shanahan said. "He does so many good things, and when he does have some good looks, he's pretty automatic on it, and that's why teams have to make sure he gets as few good looks as possible, and that helps out everyone else and we got a lot of guys like that, so that's what helps everybody with each person."
In 15 games this season, McCaffrey has 215 carries for 973 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while hauling in 76 receptions for 635 receiving yards and four touchdowns through the air.
McCaffrey's 1,608 all-purpose yards are the third most among NFL running backs this season and the most among NFC running backs. ...
Jordan Mason did not record a carry against the Commanders. The rookie entered the game listed as questionable with a hamstring issue. He was active but went down on the opening kickoff.
As NBCSportsEdge.com noted, Mason left the field under his own power and was never given an injury designation. He reappeared on another kickoff but never got a touch on offense. It's unclear if Tyrion Davis-Price playing ahead of him was always part of the plan or if the injury forced Shanahan to limit Mason to special teams duties.
Either way, fantasy managers shouldn't be gambling on McCaffrey's backup -- unless the situation changes materially.
To that point, the 49ers have done just fine despite several key players recently sitting out due to injury. As the playoffs approach, they could be adding major reinforcements.
Star wide receiver Deebo Samuel could return to practice this week after missing two games with an ankle sprain and knee injury, Shanahan told reporters Monday, and not only that, but running back Elijah Mitchell is likely to come off injured reserve soon.
As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams notes, the 49ers have only one short-term injured reserve designation remaining for this season. They have Mitchell and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway as options.
Shanahan confirmed Monday that "odds are" that the activation will go to Mitchell.
Mitchell, according to Shanahan, is "making real good progress" as the running back works his way back from a torn medical collateral ligament in his left knee.
"He's getting much closer to returning, too," Shanahan said, via David Bonilla of 49ersWebZone.com.
Mitchell went on injured reserve Dec. 3, his second stint on the list. He injured his knee in the season opener and missed seven games before returning Nov. 12.
The 49ers could open Mitchell's 21-day practice window late this week, and though he won't play Sunday, Mitchell could return to game action in Week 18.
"He's healing up," Shanahan added. "He's had no setbacks. He's doing well, so we'll see if he's available next week for us."
In four games this season, Mitchell has 43 touches for 231 yards.
Samuel, who serves as the 49ers' No. 1 wideout when healthy, is faring well in his recovery.
"Deebo, his ankle and knee are making real good progress, still working his way back," Shanahan said. "We'll see how it goes in these next two days with rehab. I think there's a chance possibly later in the week. We'll see, though."
Injured against the Buccaneers in Week 14, the veteran pass catcher isn't a lock to suit up for Sunday's game against the Raiders. But if he's back on the practice field by late this week, it's possible he could return to the lineup.
Regardless, Samuel should be in full form by the time San Francisco kicks off its playoff run in January.
In addition, Jimmy Garoppolo got the cast off his broken foot and is in a walking boot, but there are no further updates. ...
You can access complete stats for the 49ers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, 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 SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, three full games have passed since the most recent time the Seattle Seahawks found themselves in the lead.
That's 180 minutes of game time spent playing opposite the formula that worked so well for Seattle just a couple of months ago when it looked like a sure playoff team. Seattle's third straight loss and fifth in the past six games came last Saturday in a 24-10 setback at Kansas City where the Seahawks stumbled with clear chances to put a scare into one of the best teams in the AFC in the second half.
It was another game where the plan that led to success earlier in the season was flipped. While there were improvements defensively, Seattle was terrible offensively in the first half, finished just 2 of 14 on third down conversions and failed to score on three drives inside the Kansas City 40 in the second half.
"That's what it feels like. We're not playing connected to help one another out and take advantage of a terrific day of defense," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We weren't able to do that."
Yet, despite the glaring issues and appearance that Seattle doesn't have the look of a playoff team, the postseason is still a possibility. The first step is winning the final two home games, beginning with Sunday's matchup against the New York Jets. Seattle also needs help.
Ultimately, just having the lead again would be a good place to start for the Seahawks.
"We had a tough stretch, but that's in the past. That's got to be in the past," Smith said.
Kenneth Walker III was finally able to rediscover the run game in the second half against Kansas City. Walker had 91 of his 107 yards rushing in the second half, the first time Seattle's had a running back top 100 yards since Walker did it more than a month ago in Arizona. Walker had 126 yards total in his previous four games combined.
The challenge now is continuing it this week against a Jets defense that is 11th in the league at stopping the run.
In addition, Seattle must find a way to get better on third downs offensively.
The Seahawks were just 2 of 14 on third down conversions against the Chiefs and that was likely the place where the absence of wide receiver Tyler Lockett was felt the most.
Smith was 7 of 11 passing on third downs, but none of those completions resulted in first downs.
Ultimately, the Seahawks need to be better on first and second downs as 11 of the 14 third down attempts were of 6 yards or longer, and seven were 10 yards or longer.
In addition, Geno Smith has eight turnovers -- five interceptions and three lost fumbles -- during Seattle's 1-5 slide.
In the first nine games of this season, Smith had one lost fumble and four interceptions.
Whatever the case, Seattle will be trying to snap a three-game home losing streak when it hosts the Jets on Sunday. Seattle has not lost four straight at home since 2008. ...
On the injury front. ... The Seahawks hope to have Lockett back for their Week 17 home game against the Jets, but it's too early to know if that's a realistic possibility.
Lockett had surgery last week after breaking his finger in Week 15 and he is back with the team this week. Carroll said on Seattle Sports 710AM Monday that he doesn't know if Lockett will be well enough to play and that the team will "see where he is" over the coming days.
Carroll also acknowledge how much the team missed Lockett in their loss to the Chiefs.
"Third down was hard," Carroll said, via Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic.
A key point: Carroll said Lockett could conceivably play Sunday vs. the Jets without practicing (something he did earlier this season). That said. Lockett was on the field for the team's Wednesday walk-through session and reportedly caught the ball well.
Also. ... Travis Homer suffered a sprained ankle in Saturday's loss.
Stay tuned. I'll have more on Lockett and Homer via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Beyond that, the Seahawks placed starting tight end Will Dissly on injured reserve, the team announced Tuesday.
Carroll called Dissly's injury a knee contusion. Dissly was injured in Saturday's game against the Chiefs.
"He got banged on the knee," Carroll said. "He's got a contusion that he's dealing with, so we've got to figure what that's all about."
Dissly finishes the regular season with career highs in receptions (34) and yards (349) and had three receiving touchdowns. He also was a key contributor on special teams. ...
A few final notes here. ... Marquise Goodwin was targeted four times but didn't catch a pass against the Chiefs.
Goodwin missed a chunk of the third quarter after aggravating his wrist injury, but he returned to the game. However, Goodwin couldn't capitalize on the opportunity with Lockett sidelined, as he had his first catchless game since Week 4.
As CBSSports.com suggested, it's possible that Goodwin is actually more useful when both Lockett and DK Metcalf are in the lineup, as the spotlight isn't on him as the No. 2 receiver.
Regardless of Lockett's status, the Week 17 matchup against the Jets' stout secondary will be difficult, and it will be worth monitoring Goodwin's health in case his wrist flares up again this week. ...
Also according to Booth, Laquon Treadwell had a shaky outing after getting signed to the active roster last week. Treadwell had three catches for 26 yards on seven targets against the Chiefs. He had one key drop, but his bigger transgression came on the first play of the fourth quarter when he failed to get enough depth on his route on fourth down and came up short.
You can access complete stats for the Seahawks Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young, Jake Bobo
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall framed it, "Little has come easy this season for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Despite their struggles, though, they can repeat as NFC South champions and guarantee themselves a home playoff game by beating the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
"It always means something when you're playing for something at the end of the year," head coach Todd Bowles said after the Bucs (7-8) rallied to retain a one-game lead in the division with a 19-16 overtime victory at Arizona.
"You want to play good December football and you want to be playing meaningful games," Bowles added. "Next week, they need it and we need it, so it's going to be a good battle."
Had the Bucs failed to overcome a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Cardinals, they would be facing potential elimination this weekend when Tampa Bay hosts Carolina, which won an earlier meeting between the division rivals 21-3.
As it stands, a victory over the Panthers (6-9) will give the first-place Bucs consecutive division titles for the first time in franchise history.
"We know the importance of the game," Bowles said. "That doesn't have to be harped on."
A loss won't knock Tampa Bay out of contention, however Carolina would pull even in the standings and be in a position to claim its first NFC South title since 2015 with a win the following week at New Orleans.
"This team has a lot of resilience," said Brady, who rebounded from playing poorly while Arizona built a 16-6 lead to tie the score in the closing minutes of regulation and then orchestrate the 58th game-winning drive of his career in overtime.
"7-8 is not where we want to be, but we've got a chance to win a championship game next week," Brady said.
Eking out an overtime win against a Cardinals team that was down to its third-string quarterback wasn't exactly what the Bucs were hoping for, but Brady said his team is showing resiliency by winning close games.
"We keep it close in the fourth quarter, we know we've got a shot," Brady said.
The low-scoring Bucs finished with 396 yards total offense, but only produced one TD against the Cardinals. They were 6 of 17 in third-down situations, which has been a familiar theme.
On a more positive note, the Bucs have struggled to run the ball consistently, ranking last among 32 teams, but they changed that in Arizona with Leonard Fournette providing a spark.
Rookie Rachaad White started in the backfield once again but for the second week in a row it was Fournette who got the larger share of playing time.
Fournette drew 49 offensive snaps, his second-highest total of the season and his highest in the last four weeks. He turned that playing time into a season-high 162 yards from scrimmage, running 20 times for 72 yards and catching nine passes for 90 more yards.
White made the most of limited opportunities, averaging 5 yards per carry on seven attempts and catching four passes for 17 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Bowles addressed the current set-up in the backfield and once again referenced the idea of riding with the "hot hand."
"Lenny is a true pro," said Bowles. "He understood it, he knows Rachaad is up and coming. He knows he has a lot to offer as well. It really doesn't matter who starts for us between the two, it's about who gets hot during the game and then who makes the plays. So, he's a team player and we're happy he is."
The offensive line continues to be beset by injuries. Josh Wells is the latest casualty, with the backup tackle departing with a knee injury while filling in for injured starter Donovan Smith at Arizona. Wells was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. If Smith isn't able to play against Carolina, first-year pro Brandon Walton figures to make his first start since Week 3 against Green Bay.
RT Tristan Wirfs returned against the Cardinals after missing three games due to a high ankle sprain. Bowles said Wirfs aggravated the injury when someone fell on the back on the third-year pro's ankle. However, it's too soon to tell how that might impact his availability this week.
Smith's status will be determined later in the week, too.
Also worth noting on the health front. ... Fournette said in a tweet on Monday that he is playing through a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
"I'm playing with a Lisfranc in my foot every week can barely push off my foot," Fournette wrote in a tweet he later deleted.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith noted, it’s not clear why Fournette deleted the tweet, but it might be because if he's been dealing with a Lisfranc injury in his foot every week, that would mean the Buccaneers have been violating the injury reporting rules: Fournette was listed as questionable with a foot injury in Week 14 but his foot has otherwise not popped up on the injury report.
For his part, Bowles said shortly after Fournette deleted his tweet that he does not know the severity of Fournette's injury.
"He ran pretty good yesterday so I don't know the severity of it yet. The training room doesn't open until (later) today so I'll get the reports then," Bowles said.
Despite any injury issues, Fournette had a season-high 29 touches in Sunday's win over the Cardinals.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
One other injury-related item. ... As Profootballtalk.com framed it: "The Buccaneers have missed center Ryan Jensen. Badly."
Jensen had a significant knee injury on the second day of training camp, and the Bucs placed him on injured reserve Sept. 1 with a chance — however slim — that he could return this season.
That chance is improving.
Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports Jensen will return to practice Wednesday. That will open a 21-day practice window for Jensen.
The Bucs have not determined when Jensen can return to game action, per Stroud, with the team planning to evaluate his progress one day at a time. Considering he hasn’t played football in five months, Jensen likely will need some time to work his way all the way back.
Jensen did not require surgery after his July 28 injury, but his rehab was long and arduous.
The Bucs moved Robert Hainsey from guard to center to replace Jensen. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Russell Gage signed a three-year, $30 million contract in free agency last winter and has been slowed much of his first season with Tampa Bay by injuries. Over the past three games, though, he has begun to make a difference.
Julio Jones played against the Cardinals and was in the starting lineup despite being questionable for the game with his ongoing knee issue, but he logged only 22 snaps.
With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin playing 93 percent and 90 percent of the offensive snaps, respectively, it was Gage who was the more common third receiver in Week 16.
Gage was on the field for 53 percent of the offense's work and was able to haul in five catches for 65 yards on six targets, most of it in the second half and overtime.
Wideouts Scott Miller and Deven Thompkins each got four-play cameos on offense, with Miller drawing an unsuccessful go-ball target early in the second quarter.
One last note here. ... Brady on Sunday night became the first player in NFL history with 250 career regular-season wins. Adam Vinatieri (221), George Blanda (209), Gary Anderson (201) and Jerry Rice (194) round out the top five all-time.
You can access complete stats for the Buccaneers Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Sean Tucker, Chase Edmonds, 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 TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The Tennessee Titans have absolutely nothing on the line Thursday night except pride and the chance to build some momentum by snapping a five-game skid.
Getting as healthy as possible for their regular-season finale in Jacksonville (7-8) with the AFC South title on the line matters much more.
The Titans (7-8) are fighting for their fourth straight playoff berth because of the franchise's longest skid since 2015 after a 19-14 loss to the NFL's worst team in Houston. Now they face a quick turnaround hosting Dallas (11-4) with the Cowboys needing to win out to win the NFC East.
As much as coach Mike Vrabel might want to rest every starter and treat this as an exhibition, he also has the NFL's most banged-up team having used a league-high 82 players. That comes a year after setting the league record with 91 players in a non-strike season.
His message Monday was simple and short: "Say less and do more." Vrabel also calls this a great opportunity for players taking advantage of the chance to play.
"We'll just keep having to find guys that want to do that," Vrabel said.
That starts on offense.
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, Malik Willis scored his first NFL touchdown on a 14-yard run with an assist from offensive lineman Jordan Roos. But the rookie quarterback had as many throws (23) as Derrick Henry had rushing attempts.
Henry ran for 126 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry with a 48-yard touchdown run.
Willis was sacked four times by halftime behind the patchwork offensive line. He finished 14 of 23 for 99 yards passing with both interceptions in the fourth quarter, the last on the final play in the end zone with Treylon Burks manhandled with no flag.
The Titans got Burks back from a concussion that cost him two games.
Willis threw to him late in the first quarter for a 20-yard completion wiped out by a hold on rookie right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. Burks was targeted officially three times with no catches, though he did have one carry for 15 yards.
Veteran wide receiver Robert Woods caught all four passes thrown to him for a team-high 30 yards, and he leads the Titans with 44 receptions for 448 yards.
His best asset? He's been available every game despite the left ACL tear that ended his 2021 season.
Still, the Titans haven't had a pass-catcher post 100 receiving yards in five games.
Worth noting, Henry is the NFL's second-leading rusher has 1,429 yards and 13 TDs, but he also has five fumbles in the Titans' five-game skid. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL rushing leader came into this season with a combined 11 fumbles over his previous six seasons.
"That's three games in a row I've fumbled the ball and no excuse," Henry said. "I need to be better."
The Titans currently have a six-year streak of winning records at stake. The Titans also haven't lost six straight games since the skid that cost coach Ken Whisenhunt his job after a 1-6 start to his second season in 2015.
Still, the goal this week is to heal up as much as possible for Week 18 in a game whose date and kickoff has yet to be set. Having a division title on the line could push the game against Jacksonville to the NFL's final game of the regular season on Jan. 8.
Vrabel said on Saturday that the team had some decisions to make about who will play on Thursday and he revisited the topic during his Monday press conference. Vrabel said that "every time we come to work we're trying to win" while noting that the team has a lot of players who aren't 100 percent and they have to take that into account.
"The health of the football team and how many guys we realistically think can be back on a short week," Vrabel said.
A typical week would likely make it more realistic for the Titans to have players rested enough to give it a go against the Cowboys, but the short week and looming matchup with the Jaguars make it seem like a good bet that they'll be rolling with a skeleton crew.
Along those lines, the Titans returned to practice Tuesday and Henry (hip) did, too. He had a limited practice after being estimated as a non-participant Monday when the Titans had a walkthrough.
The Titans officially listed Henry as doubtful after Wednesday's session.
As ESPN.com's Dan Graziano reminded readers, three years ago, the Titans sat a relatively healthy Henry against the Saints in their second-to-last game of the season because they realized that winning or losing that game would have no impact on their playoff chances and everything rode on the season finale. Such is the case again this year.
Again, this week's game (on a short week, by the way) against the Cowboys cannot change the fact that Tennessee would win the division with a Week 18 victory over the Jaguars or miss the playoffs with a loss in that game. Sitting its star running back so he's fresh for the team's only remaining important game makes sense.
"If you're in your fantasy football championship and have been relying on Henry," Graziano wrote, "you might be in for a disappointment."
The doubtful designation pretty much seals the deal.
Hassan Haskins is next man up as the Titans appear to ready to give Henry a week off and preserve him for that all-important Week 18 showdown with the Jaguars.
Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on that as kickoff draws nearer. ...
Also doubtful are cornerback Kristian Fulton and outside linebacker Denico Autry.
Ryan Tannehill (ankle), defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (ankle), offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, safety Amani Hooker, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, linebacker Zach Cunningham, linebacker Dylan Cole and defensive back Josh Thompson have been ruled out.
For what it's worth, when asked why Tannehill remains on the 53-man roster instead of being placed on Injured Reserve, Vrabel said "I would say that's an indication that he's doing everything he can to get back and help this team at some point."
The Titans may need to reach the playoffs just to have a chance for Tannehill to return from an injured right ankle.
You can access complete stats for the Titans Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis, Will Levis
RBs: Derrick Henry, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore, Kyle Philips
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco
Washington CommandersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 December 2022
The Commanders are barely clinging to the last spot in the NFC playoff field. With two more games to play, they are turning back to quarterback Carson Wentz in their fight for a playoff berth.
The team announced Wednesday that Wentz will start in place of Taylor Heinicke when the Commanders (7-7-1) host the Cleveland Browns (6-9) on Sunday.
Wentz had started the first six games this season before breaking his right ring finger in an Oct. 13 win over the Chicago Bears. He was placed on injured reserve and did not return to the active roster until Dec. 17. Heinicke started nine games, leading the team to a 5-3-1 record.
However, Washington has gone 0-2-1 in its past three games. Though they moved the ball well with Heinicke, the Commanders have ranked 26th in red zone offense and 20th in points per game over his eight full starts.
Wentz replaced Heinicke in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Wentz completed 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought Carson coming in and, haven't played in a while, was a little rusty at first and then he started to sharpen up," coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday. "He showed he made quick decisions, and so that was good to see. There's still some things that he can continue to work on."
Heinicke had provided a spark with his mobility and penchant for clutch throws and late-game drives. Those attributes led to wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts while also resulting in a tie against the New York Giants. Heinicke has thrown 12 touchdowns to six interceptions while being sacked 19 times in his nine starts, with his ability to escape pressure enabling him to be sacked less.
But with the Commanders struggling to finish drives of late and a belief that Wentz's increased familiarity with the offense could lead to quicker decisions, Washington opted for this move.
The Commanders loved Wentz's arm strength and what it could do for the offense. His two drives against San Francisco showed them what they wanted to see.
"What he showed was that he's fully healthy, he's got fresh legs right now, and got a lively arm," Rivera said Tuesday. "He made very quick decisions. He showed us that quick twitch that you look for in quarterbacks, and his decision-making seemed to be right on."
Washington traded two third-round picks -- one in 2022 and another in 2023 -- and swapped second-round picks in April to acquire Wentz from Indianapolis. He entered the season as the clear starter, something even Heinicke acknowledged during a spring news conference.
Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, needed to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. He had played in the same system during his first five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and last season with the Colts.
In his first two starts, Washington scored a combined 55 points. But in the next four, the Commanders managed only 47. He has thrown 11 touchdowns to six interceptions and has been sacked 23 times.
Wentz's contract contains two more years but no more guaranteed money. If Washington opts to keep him around, it could restructure his deal or pay him $26.7 million in 2023. Heinicke is a free agent after the season.
Heinicke became a fan favorite after arriving in Washington in December 2020 as a fourth quarterback who could fill in if the other three were sidelined by COVID-19. Before then, he was living with his sister and taking classes to finish his degree at Old Dominion.
He ended up starting the team's playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that season and won over teammates with his daring style of play and pylon-diving touchdown runs.
Washington signed Heinicke to a two-year extension that offseason. He started 15 games in 2021 after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1 and went 7-8.
The Commanders have a 12-11-1 record under Heinicke the past two seasons. They are 2-6 under anyone else.
But the offense has stagnated the last few weeks.
The running game that had keyed a 6-1 stretch was ineffective, finishing with just 79 yards last weekend. Rivera credited the 49ers' league-leading defense.
"Some of the things that they do up front with their line movement, stuff like that is pretty good," he said. "Their linebackers' ability to run, it allows their defensive front to take more chances to work backdoor a couple of times. Their guys could run and make up for anything."
Washington averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and struggled to move the ball for much of the game, going three-and-out on the first two drives and getting stopped on fourth down from the 1 on the third possession.
I'll be following on the QB change -- and the health of Antonio Gibson via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
In his Tuesday press conference, Rivera told reporters that Gibson "has a sprain" and that they're "going to have to monitor that very closely this week" according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post.
Interestingly enough, Rivera did not specify what kind of sprain it is on what body part they will be monitoring.
Gibson, who did not practice Wednesday, had just five carries last week with Jonathan Williams grabbing a small share of the duties. Brian Robinson Jr. looks like he's in line for a big snap share this week against a Browns run defense that has improved of late but has given up plenty of RB1 games. ...
The Commanders finish with a pair of home games with the Browns coming to town this week and the Cowboys in Week 18.
Win both, and the Commanders will make it. Lose just one, and there's a good chance one of the various 7-8 teams (Packers, Lions, Seahawks) will slip in front of the Commanders, with 9-8 beating out 8-8-1.
It may come down to whether the Cowboys rest their starters in Week 18.
If the Eagles beat the Saints on Sunday and clinch the division title, the Cowboys will be locked into the No. 5 seed. There will be nothing to gain or to lose in the regular-season finale. ...
One last note here. ... The Athletic's Ben Standig points out that Jahan Dotson is coming on strong down the stretch.
Among all wide receiver with at least 50 targets this season, Dotson leads the NFL in TD catches per target at 14 percent.
That puts him ahead of Christian Watson (12.7 percent), Gabe Davis (8.4 percent), A.J. Brown (7.9 percent) and Davante Adams and Jaylen Waddle (7.5 percent).
Dotson’s seven touchdown catches match Tyreek Hill, DeVonta Smith, Christian Kirk and Amari Cooper -- except Dotson has done it in 10 games.
You can access complete stats for the Commanders Week 16 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Sam Howell, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Jonathan Williams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Dax Milne, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates