Team Notes Week 17 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly 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. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
If Sunday was Larry Fitzgerald's last home game as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, he went out in historic style.
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss noted, the veteran wideout "gave the people what they wanted to see. Catches. Touchdowns. Records. Trickery. And even a pass."
And plenty of fantasy production.
At one point in the first half, the Cardinals had two 20-yard pass plays. Fitzgerald had caught one and thrown the other.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Fitzgerald completed the first pass of his career in the second quarter on a 21-yard throw to fellow receiver Jaron Brown. Fitzgerald took a handoff from Stanton, ran a few yards and pulled up for the pass.
"It was a spiral," Brown said. "It was a clean spiral. I was screaming on the sideline. I was hoping that he saw me, and he did. I talk junk to him in practice but he made a heck of a throw."
It was Fitzgerald's third attempt of his career. The first two were incompletions, and he was sacked before he could get a throw off on a 2004 play call.
All this after Fitzgerald put on a show in a 23-0 win over the Giants, catching nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. The offense, as usual, didn't specifically look for Fitzgerald, head coach Bruce Arians said. But quarterback Drew Stanton found Fitzgerald often, especially in the first half -- a product of the looks from the Giants' defense.
That's what led to Fitzgerald's historic day.
He entered the game with 92 catches for 982 yards on the season. His first reception was for 10 yards. His second was a flea-flicker for 19 yards, pushing him over 1,000 yards for the third straight season and the ninth time in his career. That alone was historic enough.
But with 1:07 left in the second quarter, Stanton hit Fitzgerald for a 13-yard touchdown. The yards helped pad Fitzgerald's stats, but the catch was his 100th of the season, making 2017 the third straight year he not only had 100 catches but had 100 catches and 1,000 yards in the same season.
And doing it at 34 years old made Fitzgerald the oldest player in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
"I've got a great coach that schemes well for me," Fitzgerald said. "I don't mind that. I wish I had done it a little bit better today. It's nice to be able to play the game you love and really do it at a high level still, especially to be able to do it in a win."
This was also Fitzgerald's fifth 100-catch season of his career, tying him with Antonio Brown, Andre Johnson and Wes Welker for the second most in NFL history behind Brandon Marshall's six.
"Congratulations to him for another milestone," Arians said. "I don't know if there's any milestones left. Unbelievable performance by him."
Fitzgerald, however, wouldn't play along with the notion that Sunday might have been his last home game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Fitzgerald, who signed a one-year extension last month, said this week that he'll "take some time and figure it out." How long "some time" is has yet to be determined. Last year, he took a month to decide if he was going to play this season.
"I don't like to get into that type of thinking because it's a lot bigger than me," Fitzgerald said. "This is the Arizona Cardinals with a bunch of guys on the team. I need to be fully engaged in what I'm doing. That's how I am as a person. That's how I play -- just stay in the moment, always."
Arians wouldn't touch the idea of Sunday being Fitzgerald's last game.
"You're going to have to ask him," Arians said. "I don't get into all that 'last home game' stuff."
If Sunday was, in fact, Fitzgerald's last home game, he made sure to tie up any loose ends. His nine catches put him second on the NFL's all-time list for most catches in one stadium with 561. He also has 7,052 career yards at University of Phoenix Stadium, dating back to its inaugural season of 2006 -- Fitzgerald's third NFL season.
Fitzgerald wouldn't have been able to reach the milestones he did Sunday without Hall of Fame-worthy longevity, which Fitzgerald credited to the genes his father, Larry Fitzgerald Sr., helped pass along to him.
But there's more to Fitzgerald's having played 14 seasons -- 11 of which were at a Pro Bowl level.
"I've been blessed," Fitzgerald said. "I've been very fortunate the Lord has looked after me. I've worked hard at it, preparing myself mentally, physically, spiritually, to deal with what you have to deal with on the football field.
"I've had some wonderful teammates that have put me in a position to be successful. So it's a lot of things. ..."
Also of interest. ... Stanton completed 20 of 34 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and showed he was not afraid to rely on his best target (Fitzgerald) early and often. NFL.com credits Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin for getting a little more creative than usual and not handcuffing Stanton, even tossing in the aforementioned flea flicker and Fitzgerald pass.
That said, it doesn't matter who's at quarterback for the Cardinals, they're going to get hit. And hit a lot. Drew Stanton was hit three times in addition to two sacks Sunday. It was just as much a result of having an inexperienced offensive line -- especially at tackle with rookie Will Holden on the left and John Wetzel at right.
But even when Stanton wasn't hit, he threw two interceptions to offset his two touchdowns.
With his two catches Sunday against the Giants, Brown now has 30 on the season, which apparently triggered a $500,000 bonus, according to Fitzgerald.
"I made him an extra $500,000. I'm happy for him and his family," Fitzgerald said. "I'm glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron."
In the locker room after the game, Fitzgerald brought the bonus up to Brown, who laughed and acted like he didn't know what Fitzgerald was talking about.
Brown's 30 catches, 452 yards and three touchdowns this season are all career highs. ...
And finally. ... Arians has dealt with some health issues in recent seasons, which have cast some doubt about his future in the business.
But he denied a report that a decision had been made about his future.
In response to a report from Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly which said Arians and the Cardinals "will agree to part ways" after the season, Arians told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that was at least premature.
"Never heard of the (reporter)," Arians said in a text to Bell. "Nothing decided."
Of course, as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio notes, saying that nothing was "decided," is also a step away from a flat denial.
Arians is 48-30-1 in five seasons with the Cardinals, and has a pair of coach of the year awards on his resume (including one from his year as interim coach of the Colts).
But considering his health issues and the fact the Cardinals could be on the verge of a major reboot, the time could also be right for a change. ...
Whatever the case, the Cardinals will conclude their season with a shot at going 8-8 in Seattle on New Year's Eve.
QBs: Josh Rosen, Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gabe Holmes
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure noted, Matt Ryan has talked all season long about the offense being "close" to putting it all together.
When you're talking playoffs, close isn't good enough.
Although the percentages say the Falcons (9-6) should make the postseason, missing out remains a possibility if they don't handle their business -- and get the offense going -- against Carolina in the season finale.
The Panthers (11-4) already secured a playoff berth and still have dreams of a division title. Meanwhile, the Falcons would secure the sixth and final playoff spot and likely road matchup with the Los Angeles Rams with a victory over the Panthers. A Falcons loss would keep things open for Seattle, who the Falcons hold the tiebreaker edge over but still could fall behind record-wise.
If Ryan and the offense flow, beating the Panthers would be a strong possibility.
But as McClure suggested, that's a big if.
It's been a roller-coaster season under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The Falcons are now 0-6 when they fail to score 20 points after Sunday's 23-13 loss to the Saints. Besides the 13 against New Orleans, the Falcons scored 17 in losses to Buffalo, Miami and Carolina, nine in a loss to the Vikings, and a season-low seven points in a loss at New England.
The team that averaged 33.8 points per game a year ago with Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator now averages a mere 22.1 points per game.
So how do the Falcons find their offensive touch with just one regular-season game remaining against one of the league's top defenses?
"I think we stay on schedule," Ryan said. "We can't put ourselves behind the chains with self-inflicted wounds. We can't do that. And then when we get our chances to make plays, we've got to make the plays.
"It's not that complicated. When we get our opportunities, we've got to make plays. Again, we believe we're going to do that. We're going to have a great week of preparation. We're going to put this [Saints] game behind us because that's what we need to do and get back to work and try to have the best week of preparation that we've had all year. And really, that's what we can control at this point. That's where our mindset's got to be."
McClure went on to suggest that ball security is something the Falcons can control, and usually sure-handed running back Devonta Freeman has four fumbles over his past three games, losing one at the goal line against the Saints on Sunday. He is the first running back to have two fumbles at the opponent's 1-yard line in the same season since Matt Forte did it in 2009.
"When it comes to the offense, there's plenty of things I can get better at. One is obviously ball security," said Freeman, who had one fumble all of last season, which he lost. "I can't turn the ball over in the red zone. I've got to do better by holding the ball."
Ryan still sees his receivers dropping passes, like Marvin Hall did Sunday leading to the now-infamous "butt pick" or "butt interception" by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The receivers have let Ryan down with 24 drops -- tied for fourth-most in the league -- although his accuracy hasn't been totally on point, either.
If there's a positive to take from the Saints game, it was the connection Ryan had with Julio Jones, who caught seven passes for 149 yards on 11 targets despite entering the game recovering from ankle and thumb injuries. Jones had six catches for 118 yards when the Falcons faced Carolina in Week 9.
"I always have confidence in him," Ryan said of Jones. "That's never going to change. He's made so many plays. He's unbelievable. He's a great competitor. You know he's gutting it out with some of things he has going on, but he doesn't let that be known. He just goes out there and competes and plays really hard. I always trust him to make plays."
As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal pointed out, Hall was bizarrely chosen to be in the game on third-and-long over Jones in what was a rough performance for the Falcons' offensive coaching staff. Another key third down included Ryan missing a wide-open Taylor Gabriel on a play that could have turned into a touchdown.
Ryan has been just off all season and now only has one game to turn that around.
So unless the Falcons can avoid foolish penalties, stop dropping passes and score in the red zone, maybe they'll be a team you can trust come playoff time. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, a rough go for Freeman on Sunday might have squashed your fantasy hopes and dreams. In addition to the lost fumble and other struggles at the goa line, Freeman finished with just 13 touches for 56 total yards. He had scored in two straight games heading into Sunday but literally dropped the ball for fantasy managers looking for a title in Week 16.
Tevin Coleman scored the Falcons only touchdown of the game.
"When it comes to the offense," Freeman conceded, "there's plenty of things I can get better at. One is obviously ball security. I can't turn the ball over in the red zone. I've got to do better by holding the ball."
Jones caught a pass for 9 yards on the first play of the game to move pass Terance Mathis into second place on the franchise's all-time time receptions list. Jones, who was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2011, had 573 catches. Mathis made 573 receptions over eight seasons (1994-2001) with the Falcons.
Roddy White is the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 808 catches, 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns.
Jones has 8,771 yards and 43 touchdowns. ...
As was the case last week, Jones (ankle, thumb) will be limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll follow up on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
And finally. ... According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, tight end Levine Toilolo suffered a sprained MCL against the Saints. That puts his status for Sunday's game in doubt.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The Ravens' ugly performance last Saturday night has them sitting pretty in the AFC playoff race.
With a 23-16 win over the struggling Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens can clinch their first playoff berth since 2014 in three different ways. Baltimore (9-6) can earn a wild-card spot by either beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale, the Tennessee Titans losing their final two games or the Buffalo Bills losing at the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.
Now, the Ravens certainly didn't look like a playoff team against the downtrodden Colts (3-12). Playing as sloppy as the muddy field in Baltimore, the team made it too hard on itself with dropped interceptions on defense, unfinished drives on offense and a late punt getting blocked against one of the worst teams in the NFL.
As 13-point favorites, the Ravens weren't able to breathe a sigh of relief until the final two minutes of the game.
"We didn't play our best game," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's not a beauty contest. We haven't won many beauty contests around here. We all know that. We're not pretty, but our guys are tough."
Baltimore essentially won with marathon possessions and Justin Tucker's leg. The Ravens' five drives of at least 10 plays are tied for the most by any team in a game this season and are the most by Baltimore since 2011. The problem was that most resulted in field goals by Tucker, who converted from 30, 39 and 36 yards.
Quarterback Joe Flacco finished 29-of-38 for 237 yards and two touchdowns in a game in which he wasn't always sharp. Baltimore dominated time of possession 35:48 to 24:12.
"Our goal's to get to the playoffs, and once you get to those games, you can't rely on winning those games by 20 or 30 points," Flacco said. "You have to rely on being able to play 60 minutes and being able to have the nerve and everything else that goes along with that. Winning the game on the last drive; stopping the team on the last drive. A lot of things go into that. So, the fact that we've had to deal with this is definitely a positive."
This was expected to be another pushover game like the ones against the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions. Instead, Baltimore was on its heels all game against the NFL's No. 31 offense and couldn't consistently get into the end zone against the league's No. 30 defense.
But in the end, the Ravens moved into the No. 5 spot in the AFC heading into Week 17, taking a half-game lead over the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills. Baltimore has put all of its focus on this Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-9), who've beaten the Ravens in six of the past eight meetings. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Baltimore Sun staffer Childs Walker noted, Flacco still hasn't thrown for 300 yards in a game this season, and he'll undoubtedly continue to be criticized by national analysts for his modest production.
But he's played noticeably better over the past six weeks, minimizing the interceptions that undermined him early in the season and making throws on the move that we simply didn't see when he was recovering from his preseason back injury.
"I just feel that as an offense, we're starting to hit our stride," he said. ...
Mike Wallace, tight end Ben Watson and running back Danny Woodhead were all targeted six times, tied for the team high. Wallace's 60 receiving yards on four catches were tops among all Ravens.
For the year, Wallace leads the offense in receiving yards with 708, and his 47 receptions trail only Watson's 54. He is on pace for 755 yards, which would be the second fewest of his career.
With his 30-yard field goal with 6:34 left in the first quarter on Saturday, Tucker joined a rare club of kickers.
That field goal was his 30th of the season, and he has now registered five seasons of at least 30 field goals - the most in NFL history. Tucker joined David Akers, John Carney and the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski as the only kickers to reach that mark.
Tucker's third field goal was the 200th of his career and gave him 801 points in his 95th game. He became the fastest true kicker in league history to reach that milestone. Gino Cappelletti, a kicker and wide receiver for the former Boston Patriots, accumulated 800 points in 93 games.
Jeremy Maclin, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, was not on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
And finally. ... Alex Collins had been a stud for a solid month heading into the fantasy playoffs, and he had a big Week 14 against the Steelers. But as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Collins' last two games have been disappointing. Considering he touched the ball 21 times on Saturday in a favorable matchup against the Colts, Collins' 66 total yards was a huge letdown.
He's averaged 2.2 yards per carry over the last two weeks and has sunk your fantasy lineup with consecutive single-digit outings.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Alex Collins, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
Yes. There's been no shortage of second-guessing the NFL's controversial decision to overturn a 4-yard touchdown catch by Kelvin Benjamin in Sunday's 37-16 loss to the New England Patriots.
But as tough as the call might be to swallow for the Bills -- and for fantasy owner invested in Benjamin and/or Tyrod Taylor, the call didn't knock Buffalo out of playoff contention.
While the chances are slim, the Bills still have something to play for.
The Bills would need a win Sunday at the Miami Dolphins and a Baltimore Ravens loss to make the playoffs. Or, the Bills would need to win against the Dolphins and have the Titans lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chargers lose to the Oakland Raiders in order to clinch a wild-card spot.
It did not have to be this difficult. As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak noted, the Bills had their chances Sunday against the Patriots, who continued to look mortal.
Despite winning three of their past four games, the Bills scored a total of six points in the second halves of those contests. The Bills scored three points Sunday as the Patriots pulled away with three consecutive touchdowns.
Still, for the first time since 2004, the Bills will be alive in the playoff race entering Week 17, and that could work in favor of fantasy owners in leagues that extend into this weekend and for DFS players, who can continue playing through this week and the postseason.
But once we get past this season, the Bills face plenty of issues.
First and foremost, according to Rodak, the inability of their offense to move the ball and score points could cost Taylor his job. It could also cause head coach Sean McDermott to consider whether offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is the best fit in 2018.
Taylor completed 12 of 22 passes for 153 yards in the first half of Sunday's game, with his 76.5 passer rating edging that of Patriots counterpart Brady (76.4), who was intercepted. Taylor's rating would have been higher if the above-mentioned touchdown pass to Benjamin had not been overturned in a controversial ruling by the NFL.
The second half was a different story. Taylor went 9-for-16 passing for 128 yards, managing four first downs after the opening drive of the second half. That promising 10-play possession ended in a field goal, as New England held Buffalo to 0-for-4 in the red zone.
Similar to most games through his three-year tenure in Buffalo, Taylor's performance was a mixed bag of encouraging passes and frustrating plays. He made a pair of impressive throws to wide receiver Deonte Thompson of 46 and 33 yards, but Taylor made simpler passes look difficult at times.
Taylor was also sacked six times, which was jointly an indictment of the offensive line and quarterback for holding the ball and leaving the pocket. There were plays, such as tight end Charles Clay's dropped pass in the end zone preceding Benjamin's overturned touchdown, that will count as a negative against Taylor's statistics but were not his fault.
The bottom line is the Bills' offense continues to exhibit signs that it is broken, particularly when a LeSean McCoy-centric game plan falls apart and Buffalo must play from behind.
Taylor's second-half passer rating, average yards per pass attempt and Total QBR have declined each season since he joined the Bills in 2015. Entering Sunday, when the Bills have trailed by one score (eight points or less) in second halves, Taylor had completed 57 percent of his passes for 7.08 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, five interceptions, a 75.6 passer rating and 52.1 Total QBR.
It would be unfair to pin all of the Bills' offensive problems on Taylor, but in the NFL, all roads lead back to the quarterback. ...
Also, for the record. ... Benjamin said Sunday he did not believe he bobbled a first-half touchdown catch that was overturned, saying, "I was just pulling it in, trying to secure it before it hit the ground. But you can't do nothing about it."
In a related note. ... Benjamin continues to work through a torn meniscus that will eventually need surgery. He did not practice Wednesday but it expected to play again this weekend. I'll be following his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Travaris Cadet was carted off the field with an ankle injury during the first half against the Patriots. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Cadet is out for the season with a dislocated ankle and will have surgery Wednesday morning.
The Bills placed Cadet and receiver Andre Holmes on injured reserve Tuesday.
Holmes injured his neck against the Colts in Week 14. He played only 14 plays in Week 15 and was inactive Sunday. He made 13 receptions for 120 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season.
The Bills promoted running back Marcus Murphy and receiver Malachi Dupre to their active roster.
QBs: Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Brandon Reilly
TEs: Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, "It wasn't pretty. You could call it downright ugly. ..."
But as Cam Newton has said more than a few times this season, there is no such thing as an ugly victory -- particularly when it clinches a spot in the playoffs.
That said, this one was ugly.
The Panthers got a first down by inches on fourth-and-1 from the 3 with 39 seconds remaining. On the next play from the 2, Newton fumbled the snap out of the shotgun, had the ball bounce back into his arms and scored the winning touchdown with 35 ticks left.
All of a sudden, a huge upset bid by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned into an early Christmas present for Carolina, a 22-19 victory.
And get this: The Panthers (11-4) still could win the NFC South if the Buccaneers (4-11) can beat the New Orleans Saints (11-4) this week.
But for now, Carolina can head to Atlanta for its finale knowing it at least is headed for the playoffs and knowing it can win even when it doesn't play well.
Prior to Newton's touchdown run, the Panthers had done little right offensively. The defense had struggled, too.
Perhaps the ugliness showed the Panthers were indeed distracted during a week in which they dealt with the news that team owner Jerry Richardson plans to sell the team after the season amidst an NFL investigation into his workplace misconduct.
Players insisted they were focused on football, not the off-field distractions. But they didn't play like a focused team offensively or defensively.
Newton struggled all day, a week after throwing for four touchdowns against Green Bay. He completed 16 of 25 pass attempts for 160 yards and no touchdowns.
As the Charlotte observer noted, Newton's lone interception was not his fault. But that doesn't mean he played well. Newton held the ball too long in the pocket waiting for receivers to get open. But he was money on the final drive, which he capped with the game-winning, 2-yard TD run.
Brenton Bersin's drop in the third quarter resulted in a Kwon Alexander interception. Devin Funchess, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, was a nonfactor. He had three catches for 11 yards - all of which were in the first quarter.
Christian McCaffrey caught everything thrown his way, but couldn't shake loose for any long gains in the run or pass games. Jonathan Stewart was invisible, with seven carries for 19 yards and one reception for minus-1 yard.
The Panthers got big plays from Damiere Byrd the last two weeks, but he won't be making any others this season.
Head coach Ron Rivera said on Tuesday that Byrd is headed to injured reserve with a lower leg injury. Rivera said that Byrd's loss is a "shock to what we're trying to do," but that they'll look to other wide receivers to fill the void.
Byrd caught two touchdowns against the Packers in a 31-24 win in Week 15 and he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's 22-19 win over the Buccaneers. Byrd was on injured reserve earlier this season with a broken arm before returning in Week 13 and catching 10 passes for 105 yards the last four weeks.
He accumulated 146 yards on returns against the Buccaneers before he was hurt. But not before he earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Funchess, Kaelin Clay, Russell Shepard, Mose Frazier and Bersin are the other receivers on the 53-man roster while Clay, McCaffrey and Fozzy Whittaker have also seen time on kick returns this season.
QBs: Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
In a season full of disappointments, the Chicago Bears (5-10) can at least say they avoided losing to the winless Cleveland Browns (0-15).
The Bears got a rare chance to celebrate with a 20-3 victory over the Browns in Sunday's snowy home finale, and they weren't about to let it pass even if they were facing a winless team.
"It was fun to play in the snow," Trubisky said. "I took my glove off early cause it slipped out of my hand. So it was just better in the snow to go with bare hands. Hroniss (Grasu) did a great job of the snaps under center and shotgun and that's a crucial part of the game. Take care of the football, staying on schedule and helping our defense get off the field. Just get a complete team win."
There certainly hasn't been much fun for the Bears (5-10) in a season where they hoped to take a step forward.
They will try to end it on a strong note at Minnesota, where the Vikings will be attempting to secure a first-round playoff bye to go with their NFC North championship.
The final game of the season could also be John Fox's final game as head coach. With a 14-33 record and one of the lowest winning percentages in franchise history, he could be on his way out after three seasons.
The Bears would probably bring in an offensive-minded coach to help develop Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the draft. But the more immediate issue is simply finishing strong.
Chicago is wrapping up a fourth straight losing season and fifth in a row without a winning record. Fans are continuing to tune out, with 17,539 no-shows and just 41,257 in attendance to watch the Bears beat the Browns.
Those who went to the game saw Chicago pull away for a rather lopsided victory after dropping six of seven. If the Bears manage to beat Minnesota, they would end the season by winning three of four.
It would also give them a win over a team hoping for a playoff run unlike the two teams they beat recently - Cincinnati and Cleveland with a loss at Detroit in between.
"It's just going out, having fun, and just doing what we love to do," receiver Josh Bellamy said. "Everything's not always going to be perfect. I've never seen a team that's just gone undefeated every year. We're just trying to build something here and keep it going. Hopefully this will lead into next year; building confidence and building each other up."
The Bears were helped by some sloppy play by Cleveland, whether it was DeShone Kizer hitting an open Kyle Fuller in stride in the end zone or Carl Nassib lining up offside. One breakdown resulted in an interception, the other wiped out Myles Garrett's apparent interception return for a touchdown.
But there were also some strong performances by Chicago.
Trubisky threw for 193 yards while playing turnover-free ball after throwing a career-high three interceptions against Detroit.
The Cleveland-area product completed 14 of 23 passes, many of them screens to offset the Browns' blitz. The Bears effectively used veteran running back Benny Cunningham (two catches, 62 yards) in the screen game, which caught Cleveland's defense off guard.
"He played with poise," Bellamy said of Trubisky. "He played great. He always plays like that. When you just let him take the wheel, when you let him do his thing, he's a playmaker.
"He's an athlete. You can see what he can do with his legs. He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, he's a great quarterback. He'll be real good."
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, Trubisky's best work came on the ground, as he rushed for 44 yards and 1 touchdown on 7 carries. That said, Trubisky (2,015) still passed Kyle Orton (2,005) for the most passing yards in a season by a Bears rookie.
In addition, the Browns entered Week 16 with a better-than-average rushing defense, but Jordan Howard still ran for two touchdowns.
The workhorse back had just 44 rush yards on 22 carries but the scoring runs saved the day for fantasy owners. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Howard's fantasy output has spiked and dipped along with the Chicago offense all season, so he's been an inconsistent asset but has put up two big games in the last three weeks.
Right now, Howard has enough total fantasy points on the season to rank as a top-10 running back in standard leagues.
One last note here. ... Adam Shaheen, who missed the last two games with a chest injury, was limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll follow up on the rookie tight end via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
TEs: Trey Burton, Dion Sims, Ben Braunecker, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted, there's no question the Bengals are about to conclude one of their most disappointing seasons in years.
But the team seemed determined to provide some hope for the future, at least on this Sunday, snapping a three-game losing streak to beat the Lions 26-17 in what could be the final home game for head coach Marvin Lewis.
Lewis, whose contract is up after this season, has refused to publicly acknowledge that possibility despite a report last Sunday by ESPN's Adam Schefter that said Lewis would leave the team at the end of the season.
Perhaps the players needed some spark to get them out of the funk they have been in since blowing a 17-0 lead in a loss to the Steelers several weeks ago.
The Bengals (6-9) had one of their best games in weeks against the Lions (8-7), playing in front of a small, but clearly frustrated, fan base. The team appeared to have woken back up after two humiliating weeks where they were outscored 67-14.
They also gave some hope for the future.
Forced to shuffle around the offensive line due to injuries, the Bengals moved guard Clint Boling to left tackle and played two little-used guards in Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman. The Bengals were surprisingly efficient with the patchwork line, particularly in run blocking.
With Joe Mixon leaving early with an injury, Giovani Bernard reminded people how good he could be when given playing time. Rookie Brian Hill had a nice reception for 34 yards.
The offensive line has been an area of serious concern all season, but Sunday's performance showed there might be more answers already on the roster than originally believed.
While the Bengals' season was ultimately disappointing, it's clear there's a good base to work with for next season, even if there is a new coaching staff overseeing that roster.
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, folks who had relied on Bernard the last few games seemed out of luck. But Mixon's injury led to a 30-touch game by Bernard, which resulted in 168 total yards and a touchdown, marking his second-straight game with a trip to the end zone and his third-straight double-digit fantasy game.
Bernard came into Sunday with just 290 yards on 72 carries in 14 games. He rushed it 23 times for 116 against the Lions.
Mixon and Bernard in the backfield sets a solid foundation for whoever is coaching the Bengals in 2018. ...
For the record, Mixon went to the locker room with 7:17 to go in the first quarter. He came back to the sideline, but he never returned to action. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Mixon was not on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice while Bernard (ankle) worked on a limited basis. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
A.J. Green topped the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards for the sixth time in his career. He was robbed of that accomplishment a year ago after tearing his hamstring on the first play of the 10th game of the year.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Mark Walton, Giovani Bernard
WRs: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Cody Core, Bennie Fowler
TEs: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Mason Schreck
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The Browns are barreling toward a winless season, and defensive end Myles Garrett had a message for anyone afraid Cleveland will draft them - don't be.
Instead, embrace the opportunity.
"Don't be fearful, be grateful," said Garrett, the No. 1 pick this year. "No matter where you're picked. If you're part of the Browns, or you're part of Chicago, whoever you are, be grateful of the opportunity. There is no curse, there is no problem here. You got to be able to execute and finish games."
That continues to be an issue for the Browns, who got hurt by two more interceptions by DeShone Kizer and two turnovers in the red zone on the way to a 20-3 loss to the Chicago Bears on a snowy Sunday.
The Browns fell to 1-30 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson. And if they lose at AFC North leader Pittsburgh this week, they will join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to finish 0-16.
Kizer called it an ugly record and said avoiding a winless season is the bigger concern.
"You have to accept that for what it is and do whatever you can to learn from that and allow that to motivate our change," Kizer said.
The good news?
The Browns clinched the first pick in the draft with their loss.
And after Sunday's defeat, Jackson spoke confidently about the future.
"I just know without question that we are going to get this fixed," Jackson said. "I was able to look right in certain people's eyes right after the game, right in our locker room, and I know we're going to get this fixed.
"It's just hard going through it."
The team has not budged from its stance that Jackson will be back, but outside speculation and chatter increased that owner Jimmy Haslam will change his mind and turn to a new coach in 2018 to go with new general manager John Dorsey.
As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon pointed out, there is precedent to Haslam revisiting a promise.
Haslam vowed during 2015 training camp he would not "blow it up" if things did not go well, then he fired coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer after the season. He vowed a multiyear rebuild when he hired Sashi Brown, then fired him before two years had ended and brought Dorsey aboard.
There's also the unprecedented.
The Browns have followed a franchise-worst 1-15 season with an 0-15 start; it's the worst stretch for a coach in NFL history, one game worse than Phil Handler, who coached during World War II.
Haslam, though, was adamant when he hired Dorsey that he would bring Jackson back.
He said it in a statement, and he said it in a news conference. He said he hoped it would happen for 2018 and many years beyond, and he said it would happen even if Jackson finished 0-16.
Haslam evidently believes that the talent on Cleveland's roster is lacking, and with a more complete team Jackson would be a better coach.
Jackson obviously wants a chance to prove he is better than 1-30 or 1-31, and he doesn't want that record to hang on his future.
The only way to prove that is to return and improve the record.
Jackson said he was "pissed off" about the record, but he also made it very plain and clear Sunday where he plans to be in 2018.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," Jackson said. "So hopefully we'll get on the other side of this. We're going to get this football team where it needs to be. We're going to get this organization where it needs to be and move forward.
"Right now we're going to take the lumps, and we deserve them. This is who we are and what we are. Our record is what it is, what it's been for the last two years.
"But like I said, I'm not going to let this define our organization, our players, our coaches, as we move forward.
"This is not going to be who we are. ..."
The good news?
The Browns catch a break for the finale. With Pittsburgh's win over Houston and Jacksonville's loss, the Steelers clinch the second playoff seed and a first round bye. Which means the Browns will try to get their first win against a Steelers team that should be resting their starters. ...
Also of interest. ... According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Terry Pluto, Jackson said Josh Gordon was "feeling under the weather." He caught only two passes for 19 total yards. He was targeted eight times as Kizer often was fixated on getting the ball to Gordon. And Gordon was not running hard every play.
Meanwhile, one of the players who really poured every ounce of energy into this game was Duke Johnson. He caught all seven passes thrown to him.
Johnson and Isaiah Crowell were limited in Wednesday's practice with the same shoulder issues they played through last week (and have played through in past weeks). I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but expect both to play until you hear otherwise.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Derrick Willies, Damion Ratley, Rod Streater
TEs: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer put it, "Ezekiel Elliott did not look like a player who had missed six weeks of an NFL season on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. ..."
In fact, Elliott carried 24 times for 97 yards in the Cowboys' 21-12 loss 49 days after his last previous carry in an NFL game. He caught four passes for 21 yards.
"I knew what type of guy Zeke is," Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. "I knew he was going to come back in game shape."
When he left after the Cowboys' Nov. 5 win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he had no fewer than 26 carries and no fewer than 93 yards rushing in each of his final four games. He was looking every bit like he did in 2016, when he led the NFL in rushing.
Despite the layoff, the Cowboys planned on giving Elliott what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan called "significant touches," after the running back's second practice.
And Linehan did. Until Linehan didn't.
Elliott wore on the Seattle defense throughout Sunday's contest. He had 73 yards on 15 carries in the first half. He had 11 carries in the first quarter, just the third time he had 10 or more carries in a quarter all season. He did not have a carry of more than 9 yards for the game, but he had just one carry for negative yards.
In the second half, he was limited to just 24 yards on nine carries.
"My job is to play football," Elliott said. "It's not to coach. It's not to call plays. I go out there and do what the coaches tell me. Coach Linehan has been doing this for a long time and I trust him. I trust his judgment."
"Obviously, Zeke is a very good player," head coach Jason Garrett said. "We like him and we give him plenty of opportunities. In that particular case, it didn't work out for us. And that was a big part of the game."
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted Sunday night, Elliott has a tough matchup against the Eagles in Week 17, but at this point, what do you have to lose?
Meanwhile, the Cowboys will carry what ifs with them from the loss to Seattle throughout the offseason.
They will carry what ifs with them regarding Elliott's absence. They went 3-3 without him, but the offense was unable to generate a touchdown in the three losses, and the passing game became stale without the threat of Elliott.
It wasn't better on Sunday with him. Prescott threw for 182 yards, completing 21 of 34 passes. It was the seventh time this season he did not throw for at least 200 yards.
But when it mattered most, the Cowboys went with the pass instead of handing the ball to Elliott.
"It was just one of those days," Elliott said. "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We beat ourselves."
And they will have to watch the playoffs as a result.
Not surprisingly, Jerry Jones expressed disappointment in the way the Cowboys' playoff chances ended Sunday.
But according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram staffer Drew Davison, the own essentially had a simple message to fans: Don't worry.
"I'm extremely excited about our future," Jones said.
Jason Garrett is the right coach. "I feel good about our head coach," Jones said.
Prescott is the right quarterback. "I'm excited about our future with Dak at quarterback," Jones said.
And Jones isn't ready to throw the towel in on Dez Bryant being an elite receiver. Don't worry about Bryant failing to have a 100-yard receiving game this season, or going through a five-game touchdown drought, or having a $16.5 million cap figure in 2018. And don't worry about the drops. Prescott knows he has to hit Bryant in the facemask these days.
"We have a lot of respect for all the good things that Dez brings," Jones said. "He's come a long way and made some serious positive contributions to the team."
And don't worry about anything else that may be seemingly wrong with this Cowboys team.
Don't worry that All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith has missed multiple games with injuries for consecutive seasons and has been flagged a career-high five times for holding. Don't worry about linebacker Sean Lee's struggles to stay healthy an entire season. Or kicker Dan Bailey posting a career-low field goal percentage, or defensive backs Byron Jones and Anthony Brown regressing this season.
Right now, all the Cowboys have to focus on is a meaningless game against the Eagles. They'll have plenty of time this offseason to address the issues.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
WRs: Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Brice Butler
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As the Denver Broncos prepare to close out their frustrating trek through the 2017 season Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, it's abundantly clear the Broncos still haven't escaped the funk they fell into after the Chiefs' most recent visit to Denver.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold suggested, after the 27-11 loss to the Washington Redskins, the Broncos left FedEx Field with real confirmation that they're kidding themselves if they think a new quarterback will fix all their problems.
Set to face Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins -- a potential free-agency prize if Washington lets him into the open market -- much of the discussion this season has been about the Broncos' travails at the position and whether a veteran such as Cousins, or a high-prized rookie, is what they need.
There is no question, even as president of football operations/general manager John Elway started his early draft work this past week by attending Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen's bowl game in Boise, that the team's quarterback plan will dominate the offseason work. But Sunday's loss offered proof the Broncos (5-10) can't stop there.
According to Legwold, they need to decide what they want to be on offense. As they have at times this season, they essentially pulled the chute on what this team does best Sunday after finding trouble. A game they had dominated by pounding the ball in the run game in the opening quarter got away from them when they let a couple second-quarter turnovers change their approach.
The Broncos went from 12 carries in a first quarter in which they controlled the tempo -- they outgained Washington 86 yards to 14 and held the ball for 10 minutes and 58 seconds -- to far less enthusiasm about running the ball after an interception and a fumble by Brock Osweiler.
By the end of the third quarter they had added only 12 carries to their first-quarter total and had fallen behind by 10 points. That's happened over and over again in a season where they're 5-0 when they run the ball more than they throw it and 0-10 when the scale tips the other way.
That transitions rather smoothly to the Broncos' difficulties in pass protection. A new quarterback won't do much good if the Broncos can't give the guy a cleaner pocket when they do want to throw. Consider: Osweiler's fumble and interception in the second quarter were each byproducts of breakdowns up front.
Rookie left tackle Garett Bolles will need to make a big jump in both play as well as on-field maturity next season. The Broncos need far more depth and need to decide if Menelik Watson, currently on injured reserve, is the plan at right tackle (he's never started more than 12 games in any of his five seasons).
When all was said and done, the Broncos' season was summed up perfectly by a play just before halftime. Down 10-3, but having put themselves in position for a field goal in the final seconds of the first half, Osweiler threw a short pass to rookie wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie to get kicker Brandon McManus a little closer.
McKenzie caught the ball near the Redskins sideline and could have stopped the clock by simply running out of bounds to set up McManus. Instead, McKenzie took the ball and cut inside toward the middle of the field. The clock ran out, leaving the Broncos to run down the tunnel empty-handed.
When all was said and done, after reeling off consecutive wins earlier in December, Denver barely mounted so much as a whimper, totaling 330 yards (credit to C.J. Anderson's 5.5 yards per carry) but converting just 5 of 17 third-down attempts and repeatedly failing to capitalize on promising drives.
Osweiler came back to earth after his sparkling performance against Indianapolis, falling out of the sky from a 147.7 passer rating back to a 60.5. The quarterback turned the ball over twice in the first half and was shown trying to fire up his teammates on the sideline while most of them ignored his pleas.
Osweiler finished 22-of-38 passing for 193 yards and the one interception for a miserable rating of 60.5.
Considering this performance, it's safe to say Denver needs to get one last look at Paxton Lynch before entering the offseason with quarterback atop its wish list. The Osweiler experiment is over and the hunt for the next QB is on.
For the record, Lynch practiced last week as he recovered from a high-ankle sprain, but wasn't deemed ready to start to they rolled Osweiler out there one more time.
But Joseph made it clear the hope was to see Lynch.
"Our goal is to see him play, so absolutely," Joseph told the team's official website. "If he's ready to go [this] week, he will probably play for us."
Lynch was still limited in practice last week, and that likely led to the decision to wait. He was a full participant in Friday's practice.
The 2016 first-round has appeared in four games in his career, and has thrown 97 professional passes.
As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted, one more meaningless game against the Chiefs shouldn't weigh too heavily in their evaluation, but they need more tape on Lynch before they embark on an offseason in which will doubtless include a search for a starting quarterback. ...
A few final notes here. ... Anderson led all running backs with 88 yards and a touchdown Sunday, inching closer to 1,000 yards on the season. Anderson needs 54 yards in the Broncos' season finale to cross the 1,000-yard threshold for the first time in his career and become the first Bronco to do so since Knowshon Moreno (1,038) in 2013.
"I've got one game to do it and need to make it happen. Just keep grinding," Anderson said. "I know that O-line is going to play well for it. The receivers will block for it. I'll just continue to keep doing what I'm doing: keep my head down and keep grinding."
For the first time since he signed with the Broncos in May, veteran running back Jamaal Charles was inactive for a game. Joseph had said earlier that the team planned to give rookie De'Angelo Henderson time on the field before the season expired and with four backs on the roster, someone had to go down.
Sunday's healthy scratch could mark the end of Charles' tenure in Denver, should the team stick with Henderson for the season finale on Dec. 31.
Emmanuel Sanders, who missed Sunday's game in Washington with an ongoing ankle issue, was not on the practice field Wednesday; Cody Latimer also missed Sunday's game with a bruised thigh. I'll have more on both as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Leslie, Carlos Henderson
TEs: Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Matt LaCosse
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
Head coach Jim Caldwell couldn't totally explain it. In a game his team had to have, a game to keep his team's season alive, his players made mistake after mistake. They didn't gain control at any point.
And as ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein suggests, it all leads to one thing: Who will be in control of the Lions six months from now and should it be Caldwell?
Caldwell's job has been in question since the middle of the 2015 season, when the Lions started out 1-6, leading to the firing of his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Less than two weeks later, the team president and general manager were gone. Caldwell survived that season and was retained by new general manager Bob Quinn after he spent a week learning about the head coach he inherited.
Even last season, when the Lions made the playoffs, there were questions about Caldwell's job security because of how it ended -- four straight losses to playoff teams.
Detroit signed him to an extension this offseason. He seemed safe. Then earlier this month, after two straight losses where the Lions never led, the "multiyear" extension turned out to be only one year guaranteed. And Caldwell went right back to the hot seat again.
It seemed like making the playoffs again might save him, but now that's impossible.
So what does that mean for his future? Even he doesn't seem to know.
"You know what, any time you lose in this game, everything's up for consideration, all right," Caldwell said. "What we have to be concerned about is getting our team focused again, ready to go. We can end up 3-1 in the quarter, that's not where we want to be but it ends up with a pretty decent clip just in terms of if you can get to 3-1."
Caldwell was asked if his team is still trending in the right way Sunday afternoon. He wouldn't say yes. He wouldn't say no.
"Well, I think that's one of the things that you can just look at it and make an assessment yourself," Caldwell said. "We'll look at it ourselves after it's all set and done next week and we'll make a determination. You look at record-wise, where we are, we still got one game to go."
Yes, a win over Green Bay in the season finale Sunday would give Detroit an identical 9-7 record to what it had last season.
But that team made the playoffs and was dispatched of handily in the postseason 26-6 by Seattle.
This year's team, in a more competitive NFC, won't even get there. Detroit put itself in this position early with losses to New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta. It sealed it with a two-possession loss to an under-.500 Bengals team.
"Had we won, we're still in it," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We lost, so we're out, and that's tough. We need to come with it for the next game and play lights-out. We laid an egg out there today, and we have to come back."
Detroit looked like a team that was playing down to the level of the Bengals and hoping to do what it always does: Keep it close and pull it out in the end.
Jones said it came down to "execution," a refrain similar to other times the Lions struggled this season.
"It just wasn't good. It just wasn't good execution," Jones said. "That's just what it is. There's definitely a lot of times where we could have got out with some points and we didn't. You know, it is what it is. Obviously, we don't want it to be like that. It happened. They made more plays than we did. They controlled the game, and we didn't do a good job of doing that."
Who is to blame for that?
Jones said it's on everyone. But Caldwell is first in line for that blame. And the most likely to face consequences. ...
For the record. ... Caldwell said he's given no consideration to resting any starters Sunday Green Bay. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions have to address their running back situation in the offseason, but Tion Green has proven his worth as a hard-charging runner who generally picks up positive yards. Green had 43 yards on seven carries, including his 5-yard touchdown run, and converted an important fourth down in the fourth quarter.
Theo Riddick made his fourth straight start, but he wasn't much of a factor with eight carries for 16 yards and three receptions. ...
Eric Ebron has target totals of 11, seven and eight over his last three games. He had not cleared seven in any game prior to Week 14. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, debate will rage this offseason as to whether this was a legitimate turning of the corner for Ebron or just a December mirage.
For the first time in his career, Jones is a 1,000-yard receiver. And he did it against his former team.
"It's always a milestone for a receiver to go over 1,000," Jones said. "You know, so yeah, I'm looking forward to it."
Jones downplayed his return to Cincinnati this week, saying he going to see a couple of friends but didn't have much nostalgia.
Jones entered Sunday with 243 career catches for 3,629 yards and 27 touchdowns. His numbers have improved every season in his career, from 201 yards as a rookie to 816 yards in his final season with the Bengals in 2015.
In addition, Matthew Stafford became the second quarterback in NFL history to have seven straight 4,000-yard seasons.
With a 14-yard pass to Kenny Golladay in the second quarter, Stafford went over 4,000 yards this season, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, who each had six straight 4,000-yard seasons. Ryan can still tie Stafford for second on the list next week when Atlanta host the Carolina Panthers. Ryan threw for 288 yards Sunday against the Saints and now has 3,778 passing yards.
The only player who has thrown for more than seven straight 4,000-yard seasons is Drew Brees, who has hit over 4,000 yards every year from 2006 to 2016 and entered Sunday 150 yards shy of his 12th straight.
Stafford entered Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals 80 yards from the mark. He threw for 203 yards.
The mark also gives Stafford the most 4,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history before the age of 30, breaking a tie with Manning, who had six 4,000-yard seasons. No other quarterback in league history has had more than four.
Stafford became the fifth player in NFL history with at least seven 4,000-yard seasons, joining Manning, Brees, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
Earlier Sunday, Stafford also moved into 30th place all time in passing yards, moving past Steve DeBerg (34,241 yards) with a 14-yard toss to Golden Tate in the first quarter. Stafford entered Sunday with 34,223 passing yards.
Next up for Stafford is Jim Hart, who had 34,665 yards for St. Louis and Washington from 1966 to 1984.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Bradley Marquez
TEs: Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
Head coach Mike McCarthy is sticking with Brett Hundley, but he'll have some more new more faces around his quarterback for the regular-season finale at Detroit Sunday.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, if ever there was a time to give Joe Callahan his first NFL start, this would have been it after the Green Bay Packers were shut out Saturday night for the second time in Hundley's eight starts since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.
"Not sure why you'd want to pull the quarterback," McCarthy said Sunday, a day after the Packers' 16-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. "There's a lot more going on than just the quarterback."
Injuries and dropped passes were of greater concern to the coach.
He lost another right tackle, Jason Spriggs, to a left knee injury on the first play of Saturday's game. Spriggs sustained what McCarthy termed a "serious injury." Spriggs is the fourth player to start a game at right tackle for the Packers this season. The primary starter, veteran Bryan Bulaga, was lost for the season to a torn ACL in his right knee on Nov. 6.
Spriggs is expected to be placed on injured reserve.
"When he gets back here Wednesday, we'll probably talk about the potential of him going through the procedures and following the rules to put a player on IR," McCarthy said with an obvious reference to the ESPN report about teams claiming the Packers violated injured reserve rules pertaining to Rodgers (more on that below).
The Packers also appear likely to be without running back Aaron Jones, who left Saturday's loss with a knee injury. McCarthy said it was a similar injury to the one he sustained on Nov. 12 at Chicago, where he sprained the MCL in his right knee. But this injury is to his left knee.
Receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Richard Rodgers, who both left the game with shoulder injuries, were still being evaluated, McCarthy said.
The Packers already were without five starters on Saturday night - not including Rodgers, who's on IR. The inactive list featured receiver Davante Adams (concussion), linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (knee).
Although Hundley completed just 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions -- and in the process set an NFL record for most pass attempts at home in a season without a touchdown -- McCarthy said the coaches assigned seven dropped passes after watching the film. (ESPN Stats and Information counted six, which was the most by the Packers in a game since the 2015 season.)
"I thought he competed at a very high level," McCarthy said of Hundley. "That's important. We should have had the ball ran a few more times, if we're being critical. But really, I look at [other than] the interception in the red zone, our issues were more with other positions. I felt the dropped balls were a big part of our inability to continue drives, because a number of them were either big-play opportunities or first downs. I don't know how you put that all on your quarterback.
"I did not lose confidence in Brett during the course of the game. Obviously, I'm right in the middle of what he's experiencing. You lose Richard Rodgers, all your two-tight-end offense goes out the window. That could have helped us there, particularly they were fitting their force with their safeties and so forth in the run game and the things you can do off that.
"Every game has challenges, no excuse. But he had to play uphill in some spots. But I was not considering a change. It never crossed my mind. ..."
For the record, Adams has not cleared the concussion protocol yet, McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday; the coach also said Nelson would not practice Wednesday. The veteran wideout worked instead with the rehab group. "We'll see," McCarthy said when asked if Nelson might be ready to play Sunday. "It'll be tough for him to make this week. ..."
In addition, with Jones likely out this week, McCarthy told reporters that could open door for fellow rookie Devante Mays to get more work in Detroit behind Jamaal Williams.
I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... Rookie receiver Michael Clark caught three passes for 36 yards (which tied for the team lead) and had one drop while playing the first 28 snaps of his NFL career.
Finally. ... As noted above, multiple teams complained to the NFL last week that the Packers violated the rules regarding players who are eligible to be placed on injured reserve -- and that Green Bay should have to release Rodgers as a result, league sources told ESPN.
NFL rules stipulate that a player needs to have suffered a new injury that would sideline him at least six weeks to be placed on injured reserve. If that is not the case, the team is obligated to release the player once he is healthy. Rodgers was activated off injured reserve and played last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers but came out of the game because he was "sore," according to McCarthy.
It is not believed that Rodgers suffered any type of new injury against the Panthers. If Rodgers didn't suffer a new injury but was placed back on injured reserve anyway, NFL rules stipulate that the Packers would have to release him -- which nobody expects will happen. It is why multiple teams raised the issue. Teams wanted to know why the Packers were being granted immunity.
The NFL referred all inquiries about the situation to the Packers, who have declined comment. But one source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that Rodgers wasn't going to be medically cleared to play in Green Bay's next game, and the Packers knew he wasn't 100 percent.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, DeAndre Hopkins has made many impressive one-handed touchdown catches in his five-year NFL career, but his best yet may have come in Monday's 34-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the fourth quarter, the star receiver made an acrobatic catch near the sideline of the end zone. With Joe Haden guarding him, Hopkins attempted to catch the pass one-handed with his right hand but instead deflected the ball up in the air. He immediately let go of Haden with his left hand and used it to bring the ball to his chest and make the one-handed grab. He was able to do that while keeping both feet inbounds.
"[It was] pretty unbelievable for him to gain possession and get two feet down with [Haden] underneath him and secure it with one hand, kind of tip it to himself," quarterback T.J. Yates said. "The guy just never ceases to amaze anybody."
And although even Haden called it "an amazing catch," Hopkins said he doesn't think it's one of his better ones because he was supposed to make the play with his right hand. "I'm mad I didn't catch it the first time," Hopkins said. "I was supposed to catch that one the first time with my right hand."
Hopkins has credited the hard work he puts in during the offseason as the reason he is able to have the body control to make plays like the one-handed catch he made on Monday.
"I work on my craft a lot," Hopkins said. "I try to perfect it. I'm a perfectionist. I'm just going out there and making plays whenever my number's called. So hopefully I can give them more excitement, more catches like that in the future."
With that touchdown catch, Hopkins now leads the NFL with 13, three more than the next player. He has done that while playing with four quarterbacks this season: Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Yates and now Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke replaced Yates for less than two series on Monday and attempted only one pass. Hopkins had four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown on Monday, giving him a touchdown reception in an NFL-high and franchise-record 10 games this season.
"I've got to thank my quarterbacks for being able to get me the ball," Hopkins said. "This coaching staff trying to get me the ball and me wanting the ball every chance, every play if possible, and two guys on me and my quarterbacks trusting me. [With] two people on me, [the Texans are] going to give me a chance.
"[I'm] trying to gain that title instead of going out and getting first downs all the time or getting into the red zone and not capitalizing. Touchdowns is the main thing of this game. ..."
Worth noting. ... Hopkins has at least one catch in all 79 career games, which is the longest streak in franchise history to start a career, the longest active streak in the NFL to start a career and the 12th-longest streak of games with a catch to start a career in the Super Bowl era, according to the Texans.
Hopkins notwithstanding, there's not much worth getting excited about here heading into the regular-season finale other than the fact it's against a team, Indianapolis, that actually has a worse record than they do.
Alfred Blue was a consistent force on offense, the only one until Yates started throwing to Hopkins in the fourth quarter, with 16 carries for 108 yards.
The offensive line allowed seven sacks, but, considering the shuffling it has had to do because of injuries, it wasn't all bad. Blue didn't have to do all the work by himself. There actually were some holes for him and Lamar Miller, who carried 10 times for 55 yards.
And finally, as the Houston Chronicle suggested, although they were no match for Pittsburgh, it didn't look like they quit as it did in the 45-7 loss eight days before at Jacksonville.
Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, Yates left the game after he was sacked for the fourth time in the first half and was evaluated for a concussion. He later passed the concussion protocol and came back into the game. Yates was 2-of-7 for eight yards, with an interception and a fumble at the time of the injury.
Heinicke came into the game for one play and handed off the ball to running back Alfred Blue. Heinicke then started the second half and played one series before he was sacked and left the game. He was evaluated for a concussion and later ruled out for the rest of the game. Yates replaced Heinicke on the next series.
Heinicke was signed to the Texans' active roster after Savage sustained a concussion in Week 14. Houston placed Savage on injured reserve on Saturday.
Watson tore his left ACL during practice in November after a promising start to his rookie season.
With Heinicke still under the NFL concussion protocol and Savage out for the season, the Texans had only one healthy quarterback in Yates heading into Wednesday's practice. So they added a body by signing Josh Johnson before the session began. The team had signed (and later released) him earlier this season after Watson tore his ACL.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, D'Onta Foreman
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Sammie Coates
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, not all was bad for the Colts in their 23-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The loss, their 12th of the season, has guaranteed them a top-three pick in next spring's NFL draft. At this point in the season, draft positioning outweighs victories for Indianapolis. The Colts, depending on what happens in their season finale against Houston on Dec. 31 and what the New York Giants do in their final two games, could move up to the second spot in the draft.
Despite the season-long struggles, head coach Chuck Pagano, as he pointed out earlier in the week, said the Colts were playing to win, not purposely starting a youth movement in their final two games. The Colts went toe-to-toe with a Ravens team that needed the victory to remain in position to make the playoffs.
Indianapolis put itself in position to tie the game when rookie linebacker Anthony Walker burst up the middle and blocked Sam Koch's punt with 2:36 left in the game. Fellow rookie Tarell Basham recovered the loose ball at Baltimore's 27-yard line. The blocked punt was the first by the Colts since they had one against the Steelers in Week 8 of 2014, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
The Colts' attempt to at least tie the game ended when Jacoby Brissett's pass to receiver T.Y. Hilton was broken up by Ravens cornerback Maurice Canady at Baltimore's 5-yard line. It looked like Canady had his arm on Hilton, who was clearly upset about the non-call. The Colts are on a six-game losing streak and haven't scored more than 17 points in any of those games.
As trying as this season has been on the Colts, the one thing they haven't done is quit on Pagano, who is trying to do everything he can to hold on to his job, despite having 17 players put on injured reserve this season.
As the Indianapolis Star put it, "The Colts are a team painfully short on talent right now. But they aren't playing like one that believes it's overmatched."
"I take my hat off to all the guys," 13th-year veteran running back Frank Gore said. "When it's toward the end of the season and your record is 3-11 (entering the game), it would be easy to just give up, man. As a team, we came in here like we were fighting for something."
The Colts will get the lowly Texans once more in a week at Lucas Oil Stadium, a bad game to end a bad season to end a bad year. At least after four more quarters the suffering for this franchise will come to a (temporarily) halt. The focus then shifts to the future.
The Colts, who will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, need to improve their roster before thinking about postseason, even if quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) is completely healthy next season.
Selecting third puts the Colts in prime position to select NC State pass-rush specialist Bradley Chubb. The Colts have registered just 23 sacks this season. Moving up to second will help Indianapolis if it wants to acquire more picks by trading the selection to a quarterback-hungry team and sliding down some spots in the first round.
The Colts lost the game Saturday but helped themselves in the draft. ...
Also of interest. ... Hilton hit a season-high 12 targets for a 100-yard outing on Saturday. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, wide receivers have stung the Ravens badly with Jimmy Smith out of the mix. Hilton had not hit 100 yards since the first week of November, and didn't clear 55 yards in any week in between. "Hopefully," Harmon added, "Luck will return next season and stabilize Hilton's weekly output."
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Jordan Wilkins, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope, Ryan Hewitt
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco put it, "Blake Bortles isn't the hottest quarterback in the NFL anymore. ..."
No doubt. Not after throwing three interceptions in the Jaguars' 44-33 loss to San Francisco at Levi's Stadium.
DiRocco went on to stress that one bad game in the past month shouldn't overshadow the fact that he's still playing the best football of his career and the Jaguars (10-5) are AFC South champions in large part because of the way he has played in 2017. Yet that's not going to stop the Bortles criticism from getting louder this week.
Not from his teammates, though.
"Personally, I'm still riding with 5," cornerback Aaron Colvin said, referencing Bortles' jersey number. "I have all the confidence in the world. I know he's going to play perfect when we need him to play perfect. Everybody has a bad game.
"I know him. I know his competitive drive, and I know he'll come back next week and dominate."
Remember: It was hard to find anyone outside of the Jaguars organization who believed in Bortles after he led the NFL in turnovers (63) from 2013 to 2016, and his five-interception training camp practice and preseason benching (for a week, anyway) ramped up the criticism even more.
It wasn't until the 25-year-old was the NFL's highest-rated quarterback (128.6) in the first three weeks of December, when he threw for 903 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions that perception started to turn.
Sunday's performance is probably going to swing things back the other way, but DiRocco contends it really shouldn't.
Bortles didn't play exceptionally well, but the Jaguars didn't lose to the 49ers only because of the way he played.
Bortles completed 32 of 50 passes for a career-high 382 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw the above-mentioned three interceptions, including one that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown. That pass bounced off the hand of rookie receiver Keelan Cole, who stopped his crossing route. After the game, Bortles said he was to blame because Cole read the coverage correctly and he shouldn't have tried to lead him with the pass.
The second interception was on Bortles. He failed to get the ball over defensive back K'Waun Williams, who made a one-handed grab. The third pick was a miscommunication because Cole was supposed to break off his route and didn't.
"It starts with me and turning the ball over and then kind of everybody understanding their assignments and executing them," Bortles said. "I thought we had a good plan going into the week. We just have to find ways to move the ball, score points and take care of it [not turn the ball over]."
That was the first time Bortles had thrown three interceptions since Week 3 of the 2016 season.
He now has 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 2017, which is nearly a 2-1 TD-to-interception ratio. He's still on pace to commit the fewest turnovers of his career.
Plus, he has been playing without his No. 1 receiver (Allen Robinson) all season, hasn't had Allen Hurns (ankle) for the past six games, and didn't have Marqise Lee (ankle) on Sunday. His top four receivers Sunday were Cole (now with 38 career catches), fourth-round pick Dede Westbrook (26), first-year player Jaydon Mickens (six) and third-year player Jaelen Strong (31), who was active for the first time since Week 2 with Houston.
Cole, Westbrook and Mickens have played pretty well the past several weeks, but at some point that inexperience was going to catch up to the Jaguars, and that's what happened Sunday.
"For sure," said tight end Marcedes Lewis. "Like I said before, it's better to happen now so we can correct it moving forward rather than in two weeks where it's too late."
It's easy to lay the bulk of the blame for Sunday's loss at Bortles' feet. He does deserve some, but the defense gave up 131 yards on the ground, let Jimmy Garoppolo throw for 242 yards and two scores while only sacking him once, and ended up with three 15-yard penalties for taunting, unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness.
Take out Bortles' 31 yards rushing and the Jaguars' running backs averaged 2.7 yards per carry, so he didn't get much help there, either.
Bortles didn't play particularly well Sunday, but that doesn't change the fact that this has been the best season of his career and the Jaguars are no longer winning games in spite of him.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars won their division Sunday before they even played, but they didn't wear their hard-earned hats and T-shirts home.
That's because that while their season's worth of work was rewarded once the Titans lost to the Rams, their own play against the 49ers Sunday left plenty of questions to be answered heading into the final week of the regular season.
"I don't think anyone is happy or pleased with what went on," Bortles told Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. "We have to get some things fixed and get some things right."
With the Steelers winning Monday, the Jaguars can't claim a bye in the AFC playoffs, which might lead some teams to think about resting starters this week against the Titans. But the Jaguars haven't had a losing streak all season, and they want to keep it that way. They've bounced back from their previous four losses with wins of 37, 21, 27 and 20 points, and want to carry some degree of momentum into the playoffs.
"The thing this team has always done is come back strong [after a loss] so I expect the same thing and I told them there will be heightened awareness," head coach Doug Marrone said.
That's not good news for the Titans, who are fighting for a playoff berth of their own, against a Jaguars team trying to prove they belong after an embarrassing last game out. ...
Also of interest. ... T.J. Yeldon finished Week 16 with 12 touches, including a team-leading seven receptions. He logged 77 total yards and found the end zone on a goal-line run late in the game. Yeldon outscored his teammate, Leonard Fournette. Both backs scored touchdowns, but as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, Fournette's outing was inefficient and somewhat disappointing.
And finally. ... Strong said Monday he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at San Francisco. Strong announced the news in two Instagram posts, saying "this lil setback setting me up for a greater comeback."
Strong caught three passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco. It was his debut with the team.
The Jaguars claimed Strong off waivers from Houston early in the season, and he spent the previous five weeks on the practice squad before getting called up because of injuries. His first reception went for a 5-yard score, but he was hurt late in the game.
The Jaguars promoted wide receiver Montay Crockett from their practice squad on Tuesday to fill Strong's spot on the roster.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler
RBs: T.J. Yeldon, Jamaal Charles, David Williams, Leonard Fournette
WRs: Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, Dede Westbrook, D.j. Chark, Jaydon Mickens, Rashad Greene
TEs: Niles Paul, James O'Shaughnessy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, Alex Smith's smile was possibly more telling than his comments about a possible week off now that the Chiefs have clinched the AFC West title with one regular-season game remaining.
"We'll see," Smith said after the 9-6 Chiefs wrapped up their second straight division title with a 29-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. "I'm pumped about the back-to-back thing right now and, obviously, clinching. We'll see what [coach Andy Reid] does."
Reid was noncommittal about his plans for the New Year's Eve game against the Broncos in Denver.
But as Teicher pointed out, if history holds, Smith and other key Chiefs players can expect to have a bye week, of sorts.
The Chiefs have nothing to gain or lose in the standings with a victory or loss to the Broncos. They are locked into the AFC's fourth seed, which won't give them a postseason bye but will allow them to play their opening playoff game at Arrowhead, on either Jan. 6 or Jan. 7.
The Chiefs could finish with the same record as the 8-7 Chargers but would hold the tiebreaker for the division title because they swept the season series against Los Angeles. The Chiefs also could close with the same mark as 10-5 Jacksonville, but the Jaguars would own the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed, holding a better record in games against AFC opponents.
Faced with a similar situation in 2013, when the Chiefs had their playoff seed set before the final regular-season game against the Chargers, Reid sat many of the Chiefs' key players, including Smith, running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, tackle Branden Albert, defensive lineman Dontari Poe and linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
Based off that, Smith, running back Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce, Houston, cornerback Marcus Peters and others could be looking at a down week.
In fact, Smith definitely is.
Reid announced on Wednesday that rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs' first-round draft pick who hasn't yet taken a snap this season, will start this week.
Of course, sitting starters can be a two-edged sword.
"I think there are advantages and disadvantages [to resting players] that you could make arguments for," Smith said earlier this week.
The main advantage is, of course, that those key players would be protected from injury against the Broncos.
"This is a physical game and you don't know what can happen," Smith said.
But the Chiefs also could lose the momentum they've built by winning three straight games, this after losing four in a row.
"I don't think that necessarily outweighs the other things," Smith said. "But again, I don't get to make these decisions."
The Chiefs, with backups in key roles, played well in that 2013 regular-season finale in San Diego. They lost to the Chargers in overtime, but only after missing a potential game-winning field goal attempt in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Then they charged to a 38-10 lead in the third quarter of their wild-card round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, only to waste that huge advantage and lose by one point.
Worth noting: Now that we know he's not playing, Smith has completed one of the best seasons by a Chiefs quarterback in the franchise's history. He surpassed 4,000 yards (4,042) and owns a 104.7 rating, a mark that would be the highest in team history.
Smith impressed early against Miami, consistently marching the Chiefs down field and completing tight throws to covered targets, including a 52-yard reception to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and a 9-yard pass to Kelce. Smith ended the day connecting on 25 of 39 passes for 304 yards.
But as Kansas City Star Blair Kerkhoff suggested, there is an eagerness to see Mahomes in action for the first time since the preseason. The Chiefs traded up to pick the Texas Tech star 10th overall, and he became the team's first quarterback selected in the first round since 1983.
Has Mahomes had enough reps during practice to be sharp this week?
"I think on the mental side he's obviously watching and mentally observing and (taking) mental reps," Smith said. "But throughout the week, limited reps. He's running the (scout) team and obviously trying to prepare as much as he can to get ready.
"So he hasn't seen live bullets since camp. ... So in a sense it's been a while. But I've said this all along, he's a pretty natural player."
Whatever the case, we'll all get a glimpse of the future on Sunday. ...
After toughing out a mid-season slump, Hunt has been a true RB1 for fantasy managers when they needed him the most the last three weeks. He recorded 33 touches against the Dolphins on Sunday. Hunt found the end zone for the third-straight game and piled up 106 total yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, he's legitimately bookended his stellar rookie season and has now logged 25, 24 and 29 carries in consecutive contests.
He should finish 2017 as a top-five fantasy running back and head into 2018 as a certain first-round pick.
One last note here. ... Only one player scored in the second half of Sunday's game -- Harrison Butker. The Chiefs' kicker punctuated his team's defensive dominance by banging home three field goals after the break and five total. His long was 49, but all 17 of his points were equally important in the Chiefs' 29-13 victory. He is the AFC Special teams Player of the Week.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matthew McGloin
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Anthony Sherman
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
Melvin Gordon finished with 81 rushing yards on 19 carries, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his three-year NFL career, in the Chargers' 14-7 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.
The Wisconsin product finished just 3 yards shy of 1,000 last season, and he wanted to make sure he reached that mark this season.
"It just shows that we're effective running the ball as a unit," Gordon said. "It might get shaky, but you can find a way to get through it. It's just a great accomplishment to the guys around me. It's a milestone, I think, as a runner. Every running back wants one."
The Chargers now have a 1,000-yard rusher in Gordon (1,012) and a 1,000-yard receiver in Allen (1,260) for the first time since 2013 (Ryan Mathews had 1,255 rushing yards; Allen had 1,046 receiving yards).
Gordon and Allen have finally flourished in the same season, giving quarterback Philip Rivers consistent production on the ground and through the air.
"It's big, having that one-two punch," said Allen, who had five catches for 63 yards on Sunday. "They've got to respect both things -- running and passing. And the way Phil plays... It's going to be ridiculous."
Allen earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl this season, while Gordon was an alternate for the Pro Bowl for a second straight season. Gordon served as an injury replacement for the annual all-star game last season.
"He's ran hard all year," Rivers said about Gordon reaching 1,000 yards. "He ran hard again [Sunday]. He caught the ball well again, and that's two weeks in a row. The screen was a nice catch.
"When you're an older player, it's fun to see the young guys really turn into pros and see their progressions -- watching Keenan do it, watching Melvin do it. It's fun to see that, because we all remember when we were 22, 23 or 24, going through that. He's continually ascended as a player."
With Allen and Gordon clicking at the right time, the goal for the Chargers is to keep them playing at a consistently high level. And the Bolts will need the same type of effort from both players when they host the Oakland Raiders in the regular-season finale next Sunday at the StubHub Center, with a playoff berth potentially on the line.
"You love to see your teammates succeed," said Chargers right tackle Joe Barksdale. "You're here working with these guys from the beginning of the offseason until the end of the regular season. So anytime guys can get accolades or reach goals, it's a good thing to see."
It's also good that Gordon hit that mark in New York. He might not get a chance to move beyond it.
Head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters on Monday that Gordon's left foot is in a boot after suffering an ankle injury late in the game. Lynn said Gordon could be a game-time decision on Sunday in the team's regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.
He's seeing the doctors tomorrow [Tuesday], and we'll know more about Melvin as we get going here," Lynn said. "Ankles can be kind of tricky. We can keep him out all week, and he's had enough reps where he can go out and play. He knows what he's doing, and that's something that we'll look at. But he's another guy that's probably going to come down to the end of the week."
"I just rolled it," Gordon said. "I do it a lot. I had rolled it earlier but just kept playing through. Then I rolled it up again. I'll be fine. I do it a lot. I'm able to recover and bounce back."
Indeed, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that Gordon is optimistic about playing Sunday in part because the swelling was minimal.
More on Gordon, who did not practice Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
With Gordon nursing an ankle injury and Austin Ekeler dealing with a broken left hand, Lynn said he could promote running back Russell Hansbrough from the practice squad to the active roster for added depth this week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... In need of a jump-start on offense with second-year pro Hunter Henry done for the year, the Chargers turned to veteran tight end Antonio Gates, and he delivered.
Gates caught six passes for 81 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown, as the Chargers handled the New York Jets 14-7 at MetLife Stadium on Sunday to remain in the postseason hunt.
"Our goal all along was to have a chance to play meaningful football in December, and we have a chance to do that," Lynn said. "So I take my hat off to the coaching staff and the players. They all hung in there and put up with me. And we've got a lot to play for next week."
Rivers completed 22 of 40 passes for 290 yards, a touchdown to Gates and no interceptions. Allen finished with five catches for 63 yards, while Tyrell Williams caught five passes for 50 yards.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis
TEs: Virgil Green, Antonio Gates
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, Aaron Donald didn't just vouch for it; he basically demanded it.
"MVP, for sure," Donald, the Rams' star defensive tackle, said of Todd Gurley. "If he don't win it, there's something wrong."
Robert Quinn, the Rams' veteran outside linebacker, was just as firm.
"MVP," Quinn said. "That's it, MVP. Point-blank, period."
Gurley further strengthened his case for an award that traditionally goes to quarterbacks on Sunday, amid a 27-23, division-clinching victory over the Tennessee Titans from Nissan Stadium. Gurley picked up a career-high 276 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns, adding to his NFL-leading total of 19. He also hurdled two defenders, just for fun.
And if he hasn't locked up the actual NFL MVP, Gurley probably locked down Fantasy MVP honors in Tennessee.
He did it by delivering when it mattered the most.
Gurley has now gained an NFL-best 2,093 scrimmage yards this season, and 456 of those have come over the past two weeks, when the Rams rode him to lock up their first NFC West title since 2003.
Gurley joined Jamaal Charles (2013) as the only players with at least 10 rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a season over the past decade, according to data from ESPN Stats and Information. He's also the third player in NFL history with 2,000 scrimmage yards, 10-plus rushing touchdowns and more than five receiving touchdowns, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and O.J. Simpson.
With Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown nursing injuries, it looks as if Gurley's only real threat for MVP honors is New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had a subpar game on Sunday -- 21-of-28 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception -- and has cooled off lately.
But history is on Brady's side. A quarterback has won MVP after nine of the past 10 seasons.
"Change the trend up a little bit," receiver Tavon Austin pleaded. "Give it to a running back.
It took a 2,000-yard rushing season from Adrian Peterson to interrupt that stretch, and teammates believe Gurley's season should do the same.
"Absolutely," Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. "That's biased and it's real, because the guy has done so much for this team and so much in the league."
Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold believes "there hasn't been a more complete back" than Gurley. "He has highlights in the pass game, highlights in the run game, highlights in blocking that you guys [the media] don't highlight. That's huge."
Gurley put himself in the running over these past two games, first by rushing for 152 yards and scoring four touchdowns in what was basically a must-win game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, then by going off in the clincher on Sunday. On Wednesday, Gurley was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in Tennessee.
Gurley's 276 scrimmage yards -- 118 on the ground, 158 through the air -- were the most in a game this season and the most by a Rams player since Faulk in 2000. His 184 yards after the catch, a number helped by an 80-yard screen pass that resulted in a touchdown, were the most in the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
Gurley became the first player since Herschel Walker in 1986 with 100 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in a game. And he joined Pierre Thomas as the only players ever with 100 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards and 10 catches, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Rams have secured a home playoff game and don't have a chance at a first-round bye. They don't have a whole lot to play for in Week 17, and it's possible that head coach Sean McVay will rest some starters in the season finale against the San Francisco 49ers. Gurley might not play much until the playoffs, but teammates believe he already has solidified his case as the MVP.
"He is in my book," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "If there's a running back that deserves it, he's the guy. I know there's a bunch of other guys in the league doing great things, but he's got my vote."
Meanwhile, McVay said players would be off Monday and Tuesday and then return to prepare for the season finale at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
McVay also said he expects to rest some starters for the regular-season finale against the 49ers.
There's "a vision to make sure we're as ready as possible for that wild-card playoff game," McVay said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com.
The Rams already have clinched the NFC West and cannot improve their playoff position. They are locked into either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed and will host a wild-card game either way.
Expect Gurley, Goff and Andrew Whitworth among others to sit on Sunday.
Other notes of interest. ... As Los Angeles Times staffer Lindsey Thiry noted, Sam Ficken started the week working at a brokerage firm in Connecticut, having never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Not surprisingly, the kicker's performance wasn't without struggle, leaving the Rams in a position to evaluate the future.
Ficken won a tryout to replace Greg Zuerlein, the Rams' "Mr. Automatic" and the NFL's leading scorer. And the rookie overcame a disastrous start, missing an extra point and a field goal in the first quarter before settling into a rhythm. "He found a way to respond and came away being able to make the rest of the opportunities that he did have," head coach Sean McVay said.
Ficken finished by making three extra points. The rookie also handled kickoffs.
Ficken found a rhythm in the second quarter. He followed another Gurley touchdown with an extra point, and repeated in the third quarter after Sammy Watkins caught a touchdown pass to give the Rams a 20-13 lead.
Ficken finished with an extra point in the fourth quarter to make it a four-point game after Cooper Kupp caught the game-winning, 14-yard touchdown pass.
"I knew he needed to warm up a little bit and get him a little loose," Goff said, adding, "He finished up out there for us pretty good."
The Rams are sticking with Ficken this week.
"I think there were some conditions where you're talking about a couple inches one way or the other and that field goal is going to be good," McVay said Tuesday, via quotes distributed by the team. "Those things do happen in the NFL, but I think what we talked about right after the game is really the response, which was encouraging. I think when you have such a small sample size, there was a reason why we signed him -- because he had a great workout, his resume, kind of going back to what he's done in college is something that we felt good about.
"We're going to continue to give him an opportunity, and we believe in Sam. Like we said, we loved the way that he responded and I think this week will provide a great chance for him to continue to do some things for our team, and we're going to move forward with confidence with him."
That doesn't mean you should share in their confidence. ...
Goff joined Kurt Warner as the only Rams quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards and four touchdowns twice in the same season. Goff went 7-of-12 for 128 yards and 4 touchdowns against the blitz on Sunday. ...
And finally. ... Gurley addressed his season via Twitter after Sunday's game, when he wrote: "Fantasy owners you're welcome now leave us alone. Merry Christmas!"
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly, Justin Davis
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
One year ago, the Miami Dolphins were hot playoff contenders on the rise under first-year coach Adam Gase.
A year later, the Dolphins (6-9) are sputtering toward the finish and have cemented their first losing season under Gase.
A lot can change quickly in the NFL. The Dolphins faced that harsh reality Sunday as a 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs officially eliminated Miami from playoff contention.
The Dolphins lost their second straight game and have dropped seven of their past nine overall. It is a stark contrast from last season, when Miami won nine of its last 11 to make the playoffs.
This season, the Dolphins never had the look of a playoff team. They lacked discipline and playmakers on both sides of the football, couldn't overcome penalties, and quarterback Jay Cutler isn't good enough to carry the team. Kansas City (9-6) exposed many of those issues again Sunday.
The Dolphins finish 2-6 on the road this season, and their last road victory was Oct. 15 against the Atlanta Falcons and Gase announced on Wednesday that Cutler remains the starter because hasn't done anything to be pulled. ...
But the question remains: What can they do to turn things around next season?
ESPN.com's James Walker contends they should take a long look at their Week 16 opponent.
Walker went on to explain the Chiefs took the approach of strengthening their pieces around a solid-but-not-great quarterback in Alex Smith. Studs such as Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill provide the necessary supporting cast to give Kansas City an explosive offense as long as Smith isn't single-handedly losing games. Playmakers on defense, such as elite cornerback Marcus Peters, give the Chiefs just enough on the other side of the ball.
On Sunday, Kansas City forced three fumbles, recovering two, as Miami self-destructed on the road.
Walker believes the Dolphins should take note of the Chiefs' formula and copy it as early as next season.
Miami doesn't have a franchise quarterback. Miami's top option is to turn back to Ryan Tannehill who, like Smith, is a solid-but-not-great quarterback. In fact, Tannehill often draws comparisons to Smith due to their similar arm strength and ability to make plays with their feet.
The Dolphins should focus on continuing to add elite playmakers around their quarterback. They need a major upgrade at tight end -- Julius Thomas, who is on injured reserve, is no Kelce -- and must retain the services of pending unrestricted free agent Jarvis Landry, who has now made more than 100 catches for the second time in four seasons.
Maybe Kenyan Drake is the answer at running back. Similar to Hunt, Drake is explosive, as evident in his 4.8 yards per carry this season. That would be a major plus.
The Dolphins also unleashed their version of Hill on Sunday in Jakeem Grant. The second-year receiver had his first 100-yard game, highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown. Maybe Grant can develop something like Hill's consistency in making big plays. It's not going to happen overnight.
Miami has some talent on defense. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones are among the best at their positions. But more game-changers are needed and should be a focus in the offseason.
The Dolphins are a long way from building a Super Bowl contender. But that doesn't mean this team is too far from the likes of Kansas City, which is more consistently in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the season is over for Miami, but the team has one game left to play. The Dolphins will host their final game of the season next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. It is a rematch of last week's 24-16 loss in Buffalo and a chance for Miami to avoid the season sweep and finish 3-3 in the AFC East.
Other notes of interest. ... The Dolphins moved the ball well offensively Sunday. They had a good game plan against the Chiefs, which included a lot of crossing routes and misdirections. But turnovers and settling for field goals kept the game out of reach.
Drake had been an absolute stud for fantasy owners over the last month and based on volume potential alone was a must-start against the Chiefs. But despite playing on 94 percent of Miami's snaps on Sunday, the second-year back came up short with just 57 total yards (all rushing).
With five catches Sunday, receiver Jarvis Landry also went over 100 receptions in a season for the second time in his four-year career. This also is a contract year for Landry, who increased his price tag with production.
Grant was a fantasy sleeper Sunday. He recorded his first 100-yard game of his career with four receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Dolphins have gradually increased their offensive package for Grant, who is arguably the fastest player on the team.
One last note here: The Dolphins put receiver Leonte Carroo on IR, ending his rookie season a week early.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Luke Falk
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, Senorise Perry
WRs: Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper reported, "A frigid night, a battered Packers team and another stellar defensive performance carried the Minnesota Vikings to their first shutout victory in over 24 years Saturday night in Green Bay. ..."
Stefon Diggs caught a 4-yard touchdown, Harrison Smith intercepted Brett Hundley twice and Kai Forbath booted three field goals as the Vikings earned a 16-0 victory over the Packers to improve to 12-3 on the season.
The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Davante Adams, Damarious Randall and Jahri Evans before the ball was even kicked off. They would lose right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and wide receiver Geronimo Allison over the course of Saturday night's game as well.
Hundley completed just 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards against the Vikings. The few receivers Hundley had remaining to work with dropped several passes that could have helped Green Bay remain in the game. The Packers also were unable to convert on a pair of fourth downs in Minnesota territory that allowed the Vikings to keep points off the board.
The Vikings didn't do anything special offensively against the Packers, but they didn't have to either. Case Keenum completed 14 of 25 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown pass to Diggs. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 111 yards rushing on the ground.
Minnesota did lose left guard Nick Easton to a right ankle injury late in the first quarter. Long snapper Kevin McDermott was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury just before halftime and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen did not return due to an ankle injury as well.
Forbath converted a 49-yard field goal to get Minnesota on the board on their opening possession. A 39-yard pass interference penalty against Josh Hawkins set up Diggs' 4-yard touchdown late in the quarter to give the Vikings a 10-0 cushion at halftime.
Forbath would add field goals from 20 and 27 yards in the second half to give Minnesota the 16-0 victory.
It was the first shutout by the Vikings since a 13-0 victory over the Detroit Lions on Dec. 5, 1993.
It was a good thing the defense was on point because the Vikings had a season-low 236 yards of total offense, one yard shy of their previous low this season of 237 in Week 2 at Pittsburgh.
It was 10 degrees at kickoff and the field was slippery at Lambeau.
"I think the field conditions had a little bit to do with it," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "We missed a few throws and third downs where we had opportunities we went in other directions, but we started out good and kind of fizzled out there. But we'll get back going again."
Keenum credited Green Bay's defense but also said he could have played better.
"There were some shots that I missed and I take full responsibility," Keenum said. "Some of them I thought were good throws, but winded up being too short or too long. Guys ran some great routes and I've got to make those plays."
Meanwhile, with the Eagles clinching home-field advantage after beating the Raiders on Monday Night Football, the top seed in the NFC playoffs is out of reach for the Vikings.
Minnesota will now aim to lock into the No. 2 seed and clinch a first-round bye in Week 17. The Vikings can do that with a win over the Bears, a Carolina loss to Atlanta, a Saints win over the Buccaneers or a Rams win over the 49ers.
If any of those scenarios play out, the Vikings will begin play in the postseason in the divisional round, which takes place Jan. 13-14. The only way they wouldn't be at least the No. 2 seed is if they lose to Chicago, Carolina beats Atlanta and New Orleans loses to or ties Tampa Bay.
While all of that is still up in the air, one thing has already been decided: The NFC's road to the Super Bowl will go through Philadelphia.
The Vikings are already guaranteed to host at least one playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium. That number could be as many as three if you include the Super Bowl. Remember: Minnesota has outscored opponents 352-234 at home during the last two seasons. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end David Morgan came through in the clutch as an emergency long snapper during the win. Morgan successfully snapped for three punts and two field goals in the 16-0 victory.
Multiple outlets are reporting that McDermott dislocated his left shoulder, which will potentially cause him to miss Sunday's regular-season finale against Chicago.
Zimmer confirmed that the Vikings will bring in free agents for a workout on Tuesday and that there's "a possibility" that Minnesota will make a roster move.
If the Vikings choose to sign a long snapper ahead of Week 17, they might not need to create additional space on the roster. Zimmer said the team is not planning to sign another offensive lineman to replace Easton, who fractured his ankle and will have season-ending surgery.
Easton was replaced by swingman Jeremiah Sirles, who will presumably fill that role indefinitely. Sirles took over at left guard from Weeks 5-7 after Easton suffered a calf injury on Oct. 9.
Morgan, the Vikings' No. 2 tight end, played 43 of Minnesota's 65 snaps against Green Bay. He just recently began to practice long snapping "one or two days a week, (for) five or 10 minutes."
That emergency preparedness paid off on Saturday.
"Last year we had a couple of guys that did it, and then this year they all kind of left, and he was like, "Hey -- we need you to try and do it,'" Morgan said. "So, I just started practicing. It's been probably going on two weeks I've been doing it."
On the injury front, McKinnon (shoulder) practiced fully on Wednesday while Kyle Rudolph (ankle) was lmited. I'll follow up on Rudolph via Late-Breaking Update as needed, but expect him to play until you hear otherwise. ...
One last note here. ... According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Zimmer told reporters on Wednesday he anticipates Sam Bradford returning to practice next week. Not that anybody should expect seeing him in game action barring the catastrophic.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Roc Thomas
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra, Aldrick Robinson
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
Rob Gronkowski is 6-6 and 265 pounds. His teammate, running back Dion Lewis, is 5-8 and 195 pounds.
Yet when it comes to the tale of the tape, Gronkowski says in some ways he doesn't measure up to Lewis, a teammate he has come to respect greatly.
"He's a beast for his size," Gronkowski said after Sunday's 37-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. "I look up to him. The way he plays, the way he doesn't let people take him down, inspires me because I'm like, 'If that guy can do that, why can't I be able to break tackles like that?' So that just shows his inspiration of how hard he plays, how hard he works. He's a great dude to have on the team."
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes, Lewis, who started the year as the team's fourth rusher, has decisively taken over a lead role ever since an Oct. 15 win over the New York Jets.
Sunday's outing against the Bills might have been his best work yet, as the team needed him in an expanded role with Rex Burkhead (knee) and James White (ankle) out with injury. That meant Lewis stayed on the field on third down (a role normally reserved for White) and obvious passing situations, in addition to his standard early-down work.
He thrived in playing a season-high 51 offensive snaps, setting a career high with 129 yards rushing on 24 carries (a 5.4-yard average.), while adding five catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
"Dion's been able to play for us in all situations," head coach Bill Belichick said. "James is our best third-down guy, he's one of the best guys in the league, but we have other players that can do that and Dion's taken a lot of those snaps. He obviously ran the ball well but did a good job on third down too."
Lewis, who is an unrestricted free agent after season, entered the game leading the NFL in yards after contact. He called Sunday "a lot of fun," because "it's Christmas Eve, I'm out there doing what I love to do with a great group of guys. [There's no one else I'd] rather do it with."
"I just had to take on a little bit bigger role than I usually have, and I embrace it," Lewis added. "I love to play and love to get the ball. When you get opportunities like that, you just got to make the most of them."
Lewis has done so ever since his arrival as a free-agent signing in 2015. His biggest obstacle has been coming back from a torn ACL in 2015.
"He's been incredible," New England quarterback Tom Brady said. "He got here and no one really knew much about him a few years ago, and he got an opportunity and took advantage of it and played unbelievable for 10 to 11 weeks and then got injured. He fought really hard last year to get back to full strength and came in this year and you just can't say enough good things about him and what he's done."
Of course, Gronkowski once again dazzled against the Bills.
His 17-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter might have been the best of his career, as he reached up with his right arm while tightly covered by safety Micah Hyde in the front-left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski snared it with one hand while also somehow keeping his feet inbounds.
It is an indefensible play on a back-shoulder throw, an example of what Belichick said last week when he referred to Gronkowski being open even when he's covered.
"It was a great catch, spectacular," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It was man coverage, I was trying to give him a back-shoulder [throw] and it was probably a foot further back than I wanted to. He's got incredible control, hand-eye coordination, and that was a big play in the game."
In general, Gronkowski was a difference maker. He finished with five catches for 67 yards and the touchdown -- a stat line that didn't truly reflect his full impact because he was also excellent as a run-blocker.
Asked why he always seems to play his best against the Bills, he said, "When your hometown team passes on you twice in the draft, you kind of remember it still. No lie, I remember it every single time I play them."
That might be the best news of all for the Patriots: As they set their sights on home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs -- which they can earn with a win over the visiting New York Jets next Sunday -- Gronkowski has never looked better.
"Any time you can throw it to Rob," Brady said, "it's a good play. ..."
The Patriots have clinched a first-round bye, but the Steelers' victory in Houston on Monday prevented New England from securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- for now, at least.
The Patriots will get another chance in Week 17. They can clinch with a victory over the Jets, or with a Steelers loss to the Browns. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, a healthy scratch for nearly two months, Mike Gillislee suited up for the Patriots on Sunday to face his former team, the Bills.
With Burkhead sidelined, Gillislee played second fiddle to Lewis. He rushed for 28 yards on six carries and scored on a predictable goal-line plunge. True revenge. Meanwhile, Lewis was the Patriots' lead back and logged 29 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown of his own. While the Patriots have rotated four backs all season, their performances have actually been predictable for the most part.
Burkhead is not expected to return this week. It remains to be seen if Chris Hogan (shoulder) and White return either.
Burkhead and Gillislee weren't on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice. According to Boston Herald staffer Jeff Howe, Gillislee's knee was wrapped in ice Sunday. In addition, Brady wasn't on the field either. This is not unusual in that Brady often opts for treatment on a lingering Achilles issue rather than practice early in the week.
I'll obviously be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Mitchell was at practice. The Patriots have three weeks to decide to activate him to the 53-man roster. Mitchell has been on IR all season. ...
And finally. ... The Patriots signed former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison to a one-year deal Tuesday, a source told ESPN's Field Yates.
The Patriots released linebacker Trevor Reilly to create a roster spot for Harrison, a source told ESPN.
Harrison, 39, visited the Patriots on Tuesday after clearing waivers on Monday to become a free agent.
He posted a photo of himself with the 40-year-old Brady from the Patriots locker room on his Instagram account, joking that he finally has a teammate who is older than him.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Kenjon Barner, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, Cordarrelle Patterson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
With a playoff berth at stake, the Saints found ways to capitalize on the mere presence of hobbled star receiver Michael Thomas.
New Orleans had been working on ways to exploit the attention opposing defenses pay to the sure-handed, 1,000-yard receiver, so Thomas figured he could still help the team despite his sore hamstring, which had left him officially listed as questionable for Sunday's 23-13 victory over Atlanta.
Thomas had a particular play in mind: a deep pass designed for speedy wide receiver Ted Ginn.
"I had my hamstring issue, but all week I knew that was going to be a key play," Thomas said. "That was one of the reasons I played, for situations like that."
The play came to fruition in the last minute of the first half, a few plays after Marshon Lattimore's unusual interception of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ginn sprinted behind the Falcons' cornerback Desmond Trufant and the Atlanta secondary couldn't recover because safety Ricardo Allen had shaded toward Thomas to help cover him. Brees' downfield throw hit Ginn in stride and he raced to the end zone for a 54-yard score that widened New Orleans' lead to 13-0.
Now in his second NFL season, Thomas said he'd caught passes running the same rout he ran on Ginn's touchdown - and out of virtually the same formation - during his three previous games against Atlanta, the most recent about two weeks ago.
Head coach Sean Payton was hoping to plant a false sense of recognition in defensive backs' minds, and it worked, Thomas said.
"He thought he saw it, but he really didn't see it," Thomas said of Allen. "He bit the cheese."
Thomas was able to run well enough to make a few catches as well - four, in fact, for 66 yards.
Meanwhile, now that everybody is back in sync again, it sure looks like the Saints (11-4) are primed to host another playoff game in two weeks. To do that, they'll have to either win at Tampa Bay Sunday or have the Carolina Panthers (11-4) lose at Atlanta.
The Saints had hit a bit of a lull over the past month, losing two of the past four games and playing sloppy in the previous week's 31-19 home victory over the Jets.
But Sunday was a strong performance filled with big moments from every unit -- from Lattimore's incredible "butt pick" interception that came to a rest on his backside before he secured it against his thigh; to Brees' 54-yard TD pass to Ginn three plays later; to a pair of goal-line stands by New Orleans' defense in the second half; to Mark Ingram's 26-yard TD run; to Alvin Kamara's 49-yard kickoff return and more.
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett note, the Saints' defense especially rose to the challenge -- in a week in which they lost both starting linebacker A.J. Klein and starting safety Kenny Vaccaro to injured reserve.
Still, if Sunday's game was an indication, the Saints sure look poised to peak at the right time. ...
One last note here. ... Kamara totaled just 70 yards Sunday against the Falcons. But for PPR managers, the rookie did rack up seven receptions which should be enough to get you by. Ingram totaled 66 scrimmage yards and scored a rushing touchdown. It wasn't one of those dominant games we've grown used to for the Saints backfield, but it could have been worse (as Devonta Freeman owners would tell you).
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Mike Gillislee, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Tre'quan Smith, Brandon Tate
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The New York Giants appear to be sticking with quarterback Eli Manning even in the final week of the season against the Washington Redskins.
"Eli will start, and then we'll probably take it bit by bit," interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said after Sunday's 23-0 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. "We just take it and see how it goes. Eli is the starter."
Manning started Sunday, and the Giants lost tight end Evan Engram (rib) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (neck) by the end of the game. He threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a score. He also played from start to finish despite the lopsided result.
Rookie Davis Webb wasn't even an option. He was inactive for the contest, the 15th time in as many games the third-round pick failed to dress.
That will apparently change this weekend, however; According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Giants plan on deactivating Geno Smith this week, as Webb will be the backup. This opens up the possibility that Webb will get snaps, as Smith did earlier.
But since Spagnuolo was named interim coach in place of the fired Ben McAdoo earlier this month, he has insisted that the Giants are prioritizing winning and that Manning gives them the best chance to win.
The Giants still scored 10 points or fewer for the sixth time this season Sunday and lost their fourth straight game.
Spagnuolo didn't contemplate taking Manning out for backup Geno Smith at any point.
"No. I really didn't," Spagnuolo said.
Smith started a game earlier this month in Oakland to end Manning's streak of 210 consecutive starts. McAdoo was fired less than 24 hours after the game, and the Giants reversed course with their plan, which was to eventually get to Webb.
Co-owner John Mara said he wanted to see the young quarterback play, and by play he didn't mean come in late to close out a game.
Manning went 27-of-45 passing for 263 yards against the Cardinals.
"Hey, we didn't score any points, so I didn't play well enough," he said.
Neither did his supporting cast. The Giants fell to 2-13 this season and are in position to potentially land the No. 2 overall pick in next year's draft.
That could put them in position to draft Manning's potential successor, namely UCLA's Josh Rosen or USC's Sam Darnold. But Manning wasn't ready to discuss his future after the latest loss Sunday.
"I'll figure out next week and go from there," he said.
Other notes of interest. ... The Giants entered Sunday's game against the Cardinals looking to reach 30 points for the first time in two years, but in their 23-0 loss, they wound up without a single play for 30 yards (a 27-yard pass to Rhett Ellison was the longest).
Here's what you need to know about the running game: When Manning scrambled for 5 yards on a fourth-and-25 play in the fourth quarter, it was their second-longest gain on the ground. The Giants managed only 43 rushing yards on 20 carries and Wayne Gallman "led" the team with 18 yards on 10 carries. Manning was sacked twice, fumbled twice (losing one of them) and intercepted twice.
As noted above, Engram, the team's leading receiver this season, left with a rib injury in the first quarter and did not return. Engram was injured reaching for a Manning pass that tipped off his finger and was intercepted by Antoine Bethea, the Cardinals safety's first of two INTs on the day. Spagnuolo couldn't say how serious Engram's injury was immediately after the game, but reports on Wednesday indicate the injury is bruised ribs. X-rays were negative.
Shepard, who dealt with what the team called migraines a few weeks ago, also left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a neck injury after being driven hard into the turf on a catch. But Shepard said "I don't have a head injury. My neck is just sore. It's all good, though."
"It's not too bad," Shepard said. "It's just they made me come out of the game. I wasn't gonna come out the game but they made me come out. It's frustrating, though."
The Giants truly have dealt with an unbelievable amount of injuries to their top receivers: Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris all suffered season-ending injuries in Week 5. Shepard has been banged up throughout the season.
Shepard did not pactice Wednesday.
In addition, safety Landon Collins fractured his forearm and will miss the closer.
I'll follow up on Engram and Shepard via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
And finally. ... The Giants today announced that they have suspended cornerback Eli Apple for the season’s final week, including their game Sunday at home against the Washington Redskins.
Apple was notified of the suspension this afternoon in a meeting with interim general manager Kevin Abrams and Spagnuolo.
“We have suspended Eli for a pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team,” Abrams said.
Apple played in 11 games this season with seven starts. He had 49 tackles (41 solo) and eight passes defensed. Apple was inactive for four consecutive games from Nov. 19 to Dec. 10. He returned to action against Philadelphia on Dec. 17, and had a team-high nine tackles (seven solo).
Last Sunday in Arizona, Apple played only on special teams. Brandon Dixon and Ross Cockrell each played all 68 defensive snaps at cornerback.
“The way the practices went last week, we felt that the two guys that we played practiced better with the group and that’s why we went in that direction,” Spagnuolo said.
Spagnuolo addressed another Apple-related matter at his news conference today after Collins was critical of the second-year pro in a radio interview yesterday.
“(Landon and I) had a quick conversation this morning and then I had a quick conversation with Eli,” said Spagnuolo. “And then all three of us had a really good conversation and it was very productive and I’ll just leave it at that. It’s between them and they were really great.”
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Hunter Sharp
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The record is bad -- 5-10 -- but head coach Todd Bowles won't be judged on the record, according to his boss. Acting owner Christopher Johnson set modest expectations for the New York Jets, saying in September he had only one "p" word on his mind -- progress, not playoffs.
"It's not going to come down to games [won]," Johnson said then. "It really won't. It's more about the play on the field. Are we getting better?"
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes, it's hard to find evidence of that in recent weeks, because the offense is an absolute mess without injured quarterback Josh McCown. Still, the Jets have played competitively in almost every game. They lead the league in moral victories, the latest a 14-7 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. In an epic quarterback mismatch -- Bryce Petty versus future Pro Football Hall of Famer Philip Rivers -- the Jets somehow still had a chance to tie the game with three minutes left.
Johnson doesn't like losing -- he noted that too in September -- but if he judges Bowles on the ground rules he spelled out, the decision seems obvious: He'll keep the coach. If he fires Bowles, it'll be because he went from patient boss to bottom-line boss.
Owners are allowed to change their minds -- hey, it can happen when their team loses eight out of 10 -- but the sense around the organization is Johnson wants to give Bowles another shot in 2018. The ownership gutted the roster and handed Bowles a major rebuilding project. Bowles hasn't been perfect -- too many empty fourth quarters -- but he also hasn't botched the assignment.
The assignment was to build a cohesive team, improve the culture, develop young talent and set a foundation for the future. Bowles has accomplished that, albeit with some frustrating losses. If Johnson and older brother/owner Woody Johnson don't see it that way, it's because they got fixated on the won-loss record. From all indications, they're trying to focus on the big picture.
"You just keep your head down and just keep working," Bowles said of the two-month stretch of mounting loses. "We're in every game. We're not closing them out. We're not finishing them. For whatever reason, we're not making plays in the fourth quarter to finish these games. You keep working and you keep trying to find a solution."
On Sunday, Bowles showed some flair, starting the game with an onside kick, the first time the Jets have done that since 2012. Amazingly, it worked, as they recovered the loose ball. For the most part, the Jets played well defensively. Bilal Powell carried the offense, but it wasn't enough. In the end, Bowles provided fodder for his critics with questionable clock management, but a closer look reveals that it wasn't as bad as it seemed.
Afterward, there were mixed emotions in the locker room. A frustrated Jermaine Kearse, tired of the moral victories, said, "Being competitive means winning ballgames, and that ain't happening. I don't know how long we're going to say, 'Oh, we're in the game.'"
Asked if he sees hope, Kearse said, "Winning games gives me hope."
Bowles' fate will be known in seven days, perhaps sooner. If he's fired, he could emerge as a candidate with the Arizona Cardinals, should Bruce Arians retire, as previously reported. Bowles was a popular defensive coordinator in Arizona in 2013 and 2014. If the Cards really want him, it could set up a fascinating tug-of-war, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Right now, it's the Johnsons' move.
Meanwhile, Petty started for the second straight week and struggled mightily with his accuracy again. The offensive line produced 197 rushing yards despite missing two starters. But seven points isn't going to win you any games.
Despite Petty's poor play, Bowles said he never even considered playing backup Christian Hackenberg.
Afterward, Bowles asked if Hackenberg is "that bad" that he can't get into a game.
"He's not bad," the coach said. "Bryce is the backup quarterback. He won it in the summer. You put the backup in, you don't put a three over a two. Christian is not that bad. Bryce didn't have a good start. It's only his second start. I'm not going to sit here and condemn the guy because he didn't play well in week two of starting this year after not playing all year. I'm just not going to jump a guy in that hasn't played all year."
Petty (15-for-28, 119 yards) came up short for the second straight week, missing a handful of open receivers on basic throws. In two games, the Petty-led offense has scored only three touchdowns in 26 possessions. The Jets (5-10) have lost three straight and eight of their past 10, a miserable finish to a season that, for a minute or two back in October, appeared promising.
"It's frustrating; it's really frustrating," Petty said. "Mentally, I know exactly where I want to go with the ball. It's just that my feet are faster. They're not as relaxed as my mind, if that makes sense. ... I promise you, I promise you, it's there. It's there."
The Jets wasted a 145-yard rushing day by Powell, whose big day included a 57-yard touchdown that tied the game in the third quarter. When a team has a 145-yard rusher, it usually wins, but the Jets are deficient in too many areas. In the past three games, they've managed only 26 points. Some of that can be attributed to McCown's season-ending hand injury in Week 14, underscoring the lack of hope at the quarterback position.
Petty was confident that he would rebound after last week, vowing to make "easy fixes" to his mechanics -- specifically, sloppy footwork. He didn't.
Playing behind a patchwork line that did a decent job, Petty simply didn't make enough plays. He played hurt -- he banged his right arm and hand on two separate occasions -- but he didn't play efficiently. He threw one interception, but that was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. The offense didn't make it to the red zone until late in the fourth quarter. The teams combined for 18 punts, nine apiece.
Petty had a chance to tie the game with three minutes left, but he missed receivers in the end zone on two straight passes.
"It's something we have to figure out," Bowles said of Petty's struggles. "Accuracy. Timing. Pass routes. The whole thing."
Looking for positives on the year?
Robby Anderson went from a one-trick pony to an all-around receiver, only 61 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. He still has a long way to go; maintaining his focus will be the key to reaching his full potential.
Also, one of the offseason stars, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was able to carry the momentum into the season. His production has waned in recent weeks, but he still has exceeded expectations with 50 catches. More importantly, he has cleaned up his personal life.
And finally, on the injury front. ... Anderson (illness), Matt Forte (knee), Sefarian-Jenkins (ribs, foot) and Kearse (ankle) were all held out of Wednesday's practice. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Josh McCown
RBs: Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, Trenton Cannon, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor, Andre Roberts
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Jordan Leggett, Chris Herndon, Neal Sterling
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez framed it: "Last year, Derek Carr was Captain Clutch for the Oakland Raiders, authoring seven comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime as they ran off to a 12-3 start.
"This year, it's more like Captain Not So Much. ..."
While that might be a harsh assessment, it's not inaccurate. Carr has one comeback victory and has cost Oakland dearly the past two weeks with bad late-game decisions, typifying his fall from grace in the minds of many Raiders fans. Especially with that monstrous $125 million contract extension he received last summer.
Against the Cowboys, it was Carr losing a fumble through the end zone for a game-sealing touchback with 31 seconds remaining in regulation -- he was trying to stretch to hit the pylon for a touchdown -- and the Raiders trailing by three points.
Monday night, at the Eagles, it was a curious pass he threw behind Amari Cooper that was intercepted by Ronald Darby at the Eagles' 48-yard line with 54 seconds to play on second-and-10 in a 10-10 game.
"They were playing just man-coverage," Carr said, "so I went with our one-on-one to our 'X[-receiver].' It was a slant and, yes, we didn't make the play."
That has been a theme in 2017.
"It's come down to the end and we have not made plays," Carr added. "We have not done what we need to do to win the games and that's pretty much how our year has been -- we haven't done enough. All the little details, everyone's assignment. … We win and lose as a team, but you can always put it on me.
"Everyone should feel sick right now. We lost."
Carr had two interceptions and just 22 of his 140 passing yards (the fourth-lowest single-game output of his career) came after halftime. He had a passer rating of 126.4 at halftime and finished with a career-low 48.1. His 22 passing yards, on 17 attempts, were the fewest he had ever thrown for after halftime, with a minimum of five attempts.
In fact, Carr was just 1-for-6 on throws more than five yards downfield in the second half for eight yards, with the two picks. Overall, he was 3-10 on such throws, the 30 percent completion rate on those throws was the worst of his career.
Would head coach Jack Del Rio have preferred to see Carr wait and take more deep shots?
"Obviously, both quarterbacks had a hard time throwing it tonight," Del Rio said, referencing Eagles QB Nick Foles, who struggled as well. "I don't think either passing game lit it up tonight. But I'm not going to sit here, trying to do that with our quarterback."
Of course, some would point to the offensive line and a rookie starting at left tackle in David Sharpe, in place of IR'd Pro Bowler Donald Penn as a reason for Carr being skittish, though others would say he has been skittish since a Week 3 loss at Washington.
And Carr did say he got hit a few times by the Eagles and had to get rid of the ball early.
Then there's this: Carr now has 21 career games with 25 or more passing attempts but less than 200 yards passing, the most in franchise history, per Associated Press research.
The thought of last year's broken passing pinkie finger and right leg were surely on his mind as he entered training camp this season, then came the three broken bones in his back, suffered in a Week 4 loss at the Denver Broncos that cost him only one game.
Before going down in Denver, Carr had thrown for 753 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions while completing 67.9 percent of his passes, in three-plus games.
Since returning from the injury, Carr has 14 TDs, 10 INTs and 2,500 yards while completing 60.9 percent of his passes in 10 games.
And now, the Raiders are 6-9, left to play spoiler at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Carr challenged reporters to look at what went wrong with the Raiders this season, after last year's successes -- as in what was different, what changed, and what went wrong?
Many will look at first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing, a close friend of Carr.
"When things get tough, a lot of people point fingers," Carr said. "And I've tried my best, every single time, to sit up here and be a man and just take it. That's who I am, that's how I was raised and I'll always be that way. So when it gets hard, I fight. Nothing's going to change -- hopefully, the results change -- but I'm going to keep fighting.
"I've been 0-10, I've been in sucky situations. I've been in hard times. More so in life than football, to be honest with you, and we're going to come out of this and people will look back on it and just be like, 'Wow, what happened?'"
Whatever the case, as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reported last Sunday, league source say that Del Rio returning as the Raiders head coach in 2018 is currently a 50-50 proposition.
Regardless of what happens with Del Rio, Florio reports it's believed to be a near certainty that Downing will be gone. ...
Meanwhile, Cooper's first catch since Nov. 26 was a big one, a 63-yard touchdown in which his double-move on a "sluggo" route from the right side absolutely smoked Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills. Cooper, who missed two of Oakland's previous three games with a left ankle injury, has tied his career high with six TD catches, the same he had as a rookie in 2015.
When Carr hit Cooper for a 63-yard score, the Raiders quarterback passed Andrew Luck for fourth place on the NFL's list for most TD passes through a player's first four seasons. The list: Dan Marino (142), Peyton Manning (111), Russell Wilson (106), Carr (102), Luck (101). ...
The Raiders return to a former home in traveling to play the Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) in the season finale, albeit in a soccer stadium in Carson. Raider Nation overtook San Diego last year and many expect a similar result in this L.A. suburb. Plus, the Raiders, who lost, 17-16, to the Chargers in October, could have a chance to knock their rivals out of the AFC playoff hunt.
One last note here. ... Del Rio told reporters on Wednesday that Michael Crabtree dealt with hamstring injury late in Monday’s game. The injury affected his workload. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Derek Carr, AJ McCarron
RBs: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Keon Hatcher
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The good news for the Philadelphia Eagles is they secured the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 19-10 win against the Oakland Raiders.
The bad news is they once again looked shaky while doing so.
For the second straight week, the Eagles found themselves in a dog fight with a bad team.
According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, head coach Doug Pederson likened what happened the previous Sunday against the New York Giants -- a nail-biter in which an anemic Giants offense racked up more than 500 yards and 29 points -- to his old days coaching high school ball, when a power team would enter overly confident against a lesser opponent and get caught off guard.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz cited a lack of urgency, suggesting his unit had grown accustomed to winning easily and wasn't playing with the same fire from start to finish. Both agreed that these were important lessons to learn before the postseason, and that the Eagles would be better off for having been battle-tested.
But McManus believes Monday night's performance raises the possibility that the team's issues might go beyond the need for a mentality shift.
Last week, the defense was the issue. This time around, it was the normally reliable offense that struggled. Quarterback Nick Foles (19-of-38, 163 yards, TD, INT) came back to earth following a four-touchdown outing against New York.
He was off-target on a number of throws -- including a pair to tight end Zach Ertz deep in Oakland territory that could have put them in control. His high pass on a short throw to Ertz midway through the fourth quarter tipped off Ertz's outstretched hand and was intercepted by safety Reggie Nelson. If not for the defense's efforts, that could have been the game's key moment.
Behind Foles, a team that had been red-hot on third down went just 1-for-14 in those situations.
Still, the Eagles found a way to pull the game out -- just as they did against New York the week prior.
A Ronald Darby interception of Derek Carr late in the fourth quarter set up a go-ahead 48-yard Jake Elliott field goal with 22 seconds remaining, and the defense capped the night with a Derek Barnett fumble return for a touchdown. The win moves them to 13-2 on the season and ensures that they will not have to leave Lincoln Financial Field until a potential trip to Minneapolis in February for the Super Bowl.
With the No. 1 seed nailed down, the Eagles have nothing to play for on Sunday against the Cowboys. So the question is whether and to what extent the Eagles will play their starters.
"I'll evaluate that [Tuesday] when we get in and see where we're at injury-wise," Pederson said after Monday night's win over the Raiders. "I might have more information for you tomorrow, but it will probably be more like Wednesday before I finally make a decision on who we play."
Even with the Eagles unable to improve their branch position on the NFL playoff tree, the extra live reps could help Foles, if he physically survives them. Besides, and as Pederson pointed out, he may have no choice but to use Foles.
"Right now with only two guys [at quarterback], I would assume he'd probably have to play some," Pederson said.
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio notes, beyond keeping his starters healthy, Pederson needs to worry about them being rested to the point of rusty. With the bye week looming, they Eagles will go three weeks between meaningful games. And they'll be facing a team that will have just won a potentially hard-fought wild-card win. And they'll be carrying the weight of expectations that comes with being the No. 1 seed.
There's no easy answer.
If Foles plays and gets hurt, Pederson will be second-guessed. If Foles sits and stinks in the divisional round, Pederson will be second-guessed. It's arguably a small price to pay for being the first seed in the NFC.
It's something I'll be following via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler noted, a big reason the Steelers are ready for anyone in the playoffs is the same reason they can survive without Antonio Brown, at least in the short term.
Ben Roethlisberger has the offense humming.
Fowler went on to explain that not many quarterbacks are hotter than Big Ben, who posted his seventh consecutive game with multiple touchdowns in Monday's 34-6 blowout of the Houston Texans, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Since Week 11, Roethlisberger is averaging 325.5 passing yards per game with 16 total touchdowns to five interceptions while completing 173 of 255 passes (67.8 percent). A conservative second-half game plan while protecting a sizable lead over Houston kept Roethlisberger from increasing his 226-yard total with two scores.
Take away his interception in the final seconds of the loss to New England in Week 15 and Roethlisberger played a near-perfect game on the biggest stage.
After completing his 200th game with the Steelers on Monday, Roethlisberger sounded less like a player taking a career victory lap and more like one setting the pace.
"To be with one team, to put the black and gold on every week for as many years as I have, for the fans and my teammates and the many, many teammates I've played for -- I've been blessed," Roethlisberger, 35, said from the podium.
Monday's win clinched a first-round playoff bye for the Steelers, who had the extra week of rest before reaching the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2010. Roethlisberger acknowledges he feels it's time to return, but sets a tone necessary for getting there: "It's not going to be handed to us. It's not going to be given. We have a lot to work to do."
That Pittsburgh emerged from the 27-24 Patriots loss more emboldened than deflated was not a facade.
From Roethlisberger's arm to Le'Veon Bell's workload to coordinator Todd Haley's game-planning, the Steelers have a top-five offense they believe can contend with anyone.
Monday showed they were ready to take out their frustrations on the next opponent in their way, with the defense pouring six sacks on the Texans' ill-equipped quarterbacks and the offense utilizing several playmakers.
Roethlisberger used those playmakers in waves. Tight end Vance McDonald (four catches, 52 yards) started hot. Martavis Bryant (three catches, 60 yards) broke the first half open with several slick plays, including a physical push over the first-down mark on a routine slant and nifty sideline footwork on a go route. He has looked beastly the past two games, mostly without Brown.
And JuJu Smith-Schuster (six catches, 75 yards) sealed the game with his inside-outside physicality, most notably winning a hands battle with a cornerback 30 yards downfield for the catch over the top.
Fowler was quick to stress that offense won't be nearly this easy every week.
The Texans' lost season imploded long ago. But the game's best wide receiver was out and Roethlisberger still had plenty of options -- in part because he hits those options in stride, completing 4 of 6 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against Houston blitzes.
"You can't fill his shoes," Roethlisberger said of Brown. "I just tried to tell them [before the game] don't try to fill them, just be the best you can be."
Roethlisberger's slow start to the season took him out of the most valuable player race (a passer rating in the low-80s through eight weeks was among the lowest of his career), but his recent stretch has very much been MVP-caliber. He's throwing the ball with authority, he's well-protected in the pocket and the decisions are quick.
For the record, Monday's victory in Houston clinched a first-round bye for the Steelers. To earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they'll need a Week 17 victory over the Browns and a Patriots loss to the Jets.
Getting the bye is obviously a positive, especially since Brown was not expected to be ready for the wild-card round of the playoffs. Brown suffered a partially torn calf muscle in Week 15 against the Patriots. The Steelers hope to have him back for their first playoff game.
Still, head coach Mike Tomlin isn't sure how long of a break he wants to give his star players before the postseason begins.
According to the Associated Press, Tomlin is going to wait to determine how much Roethlisberger, Bell and company play during Sunday's regular-season finale against winless Cleveland.
"We will play to win that football game," Tomlin said Tuesday. "Who we choose to employ or utilize or activate -- we are in the process of discussing. Make no mistake about it. The expectation will be what it is. The people we put on the field will be expected to play and play winning football."
The Steelers held out Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown in their meaningless 2016 finale against the Browns when backup quarterback Landry Jones guided Pittsburgh to a comeback 27-24 victory.
Jones could again get the call or at least play extensively, though Tomlin insists he's not going to make personnel decisions based on what the scoreboard is telling him about the game in Foxboro.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reported, after the Niners' 44-33 win against AFC South division champion Jacksonville, there's a genuine belief in the Bay Area in this idea: With Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for the Niners now and in the future, all things are once again possible.
Wagoner went on to note that after each of Garoppolo's first three starts with the team, cynical observers pointed to the opponent and wondered when Garoppolo would prove himself against a true playoff contender. A narrow win against Chicago wasn't enough. Neither was the victory the following week against Houston. Even beating Tennessee, a team in the mix for an AFC wild card last week, in dramatic fashion wasn't enough to make some believe in the Garoppolo effect.
But even the most pessimistic of 49ers fans are now running low on ammunition after Garoppolo and the Niners knocked off a Jacksonville team that boasts a potentially record-setting defense and that San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan last week called a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The overriding takeaway of Sunday's victory is that the Garoppolo effect is real.
While the numbers weren't as overwhelming as they've been in recent weeks -- Garoppolo finished 21-of-30 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 102.4, to go with a rushing score -- it didn't really matter. Garoppolo got the Niners off to a 16-0 lead against a dominant Jacksonville defense that had been allowing only 169 passing yards per game this season. He threw for 187 yards in the first half alone. His total passing yards were the third most that Jacksonville has allowed this season.
Garoppolo and the Niners' offense were so efficient in the early going that Jaguars defenders were spotted on the sideline arguing and shoving each other. With the victory, Garoppolo won his sixth consecutive start to open his career, tying him with Mike Kruczek, Marc Bulger and Kurt Warner for fourth-most all time to begin a career. Along the way, Garoppolo passed Warner for most passing yards by a quarterback in his first four starts with a team.
But the Garoppolo effect doesn't stop there. His presence has raised the play of all of those around him. That was evident again Sunday, as fullback Kyle Juszczyk set a career high for receiving yards in a game (76) for the second time in three weeks. Garoppolo got rookie tight end George Kittle and rookie receiver Trent Taylor into the end zone again, and the quarterback helped rookie running back Matt Breida to a career day that included his game-clinching 30-yard touchdown run.
The trickle-down effect of that offensive output was another mostly strong showing by the defense. The Niners intercepted Blake Bortles, who entered Sunday's game as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, three times, including one that was returned for a touchdown, with the other two also setting up scores.
And a 49ers run defense that a year ago was the worst in the NFL has continued its improvement, as it no longer has to spend long periods of time on the field. Jacksonville's vaunted rushing attack was limited to 92 yards on 28 carries, a meager 3.3-yard average.
Giving all of the credit for those things to Garoppolo is overstating it, but it's not saying too much that he at least has had a hand in all of those things. That's what a good signal-caller can do in this quarterback-driven league.
It's far too late and the sample size far too small for Garoppolo to be in any real conversation among the league's MVP candidates. It's not, however, too soon for 49ers fans to begin imagining the possibilities for next year and beyond. After all, with Garoppolo at quarterback, this once-moribund franchise and its fans have a whole new outlook.
Indeed, the turnaround over the past month has been dramatic.
And while Garoppolo has led the charge, there have been major contributions up and down the roster. As noted above, rookies like tight end George Kittle, Taylor and Breida have played key roles. Free-agent additions like Juszczyk and receiver Marquise Goodwin have emerged as go-to targets in the offense.
The numbers wrought by those performances speak for themselves. In the past four weeks, the Niners are the only undefeated team in the league. They're sixth in points scored, yards per game and offensive efficiency, fifth in total yards and giveaways, second in time of possession and third in passing yards per game and third-down efficiency.
It's definitely the most promising string in recent memory and more than enough to give all of us some hope for continued improvement next season.
QBs: C.J. Beathard
RBs: Alfred Morris, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis , Trent Taylor, Victor Bolden, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
The Seattle Seahawks are still alive for a playoff berth. They have their defense to thank for that.
A week after the most lopsided loss of the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks looked more like the Seahawks on Sunday. They struggled on offense in the first half -- producing 44 net yards through two quarters -- but forced three turnovers on defense to pull away for a 21-12 win over the Dallas Cowboys in what was an elimination game for both teams.
All hope seemed to be lost for the Seahawks after they were hammered 42-7 last week by the Rams. They needed to win out and get some help in order to make the playoffs for the sixth straight season, and taking care of their half of that equation by no means seemed like a given by how poorly they played against Los Angeles.
But sneaking into the playoffs suddenly looks a lot more possible after their win over Dallas.
To repeat the Seahawks playoff scenario, Seattle needs to beat Arizona and hope that the Panthers can win at Atlanta.
If those two things happen, then the Seahawks will get a wild card spot. If only one or neither happens, then Seattle's season is over (actually, Seattle can also get in with a win and an Atlanta tie, or with a tie and an Atlanta loss).
If they get to into the post-season it would be as the No. 6 seed - Seattle has two more losses than every other team in the NFC that has already clinched a playoff spot.
That would mean Seattle would go on the road the first weekend to one of four sites - Minnesota, Los Angeles, Carolina or New Orleans. Most likely to end up as the No. 3 seed appears to the Rams, though it's hard to tell how Los Angeles will approach its final home game against the surging 49ers with the division title already wrapped up and playing only for the difference between being the three seed or the four.
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson noted, the Seahawks might be headed toward an eventful offseason that includes a significant roster overhaul, but that conversation can wait at least another week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Also according to Henderson, the way this game was going for the Seahawks on offense, it felt like they needed a big play or two on defense to have any chance of winning. So they got three. Byron Maxwell channeled his 2013 self and punched the ball out of Dez Bryant's hands, forcing a fumble that K.J. Wright recovered.
That set up the Seahawks' first touchdown just before halftime. ..
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson tied a career high with his sixth recovery of his own fumble, a play that was as big as any other in Sunday's win over Dallas.
Wilson was credited with the fumble on a botched zone-read handoff to running back Mike Davis on a first-and-goal play from the Dallas 1 late in the second quarter.
What could have been disaster was averted when Wilson dived on the ball to keep Seattle with possession at the Dallas 3.
Wilson took the blame for the fumble, in which a moment of indecision led to Davis not being sure if he was taking the ball or if Wilson was keeping it.
"It was one of those zone reads and it just got funky," Wilson said. "As soon as I saw it on the ground I went for it and laid out for it. I didn't have time to sense anything. With the year on the line, I went for the ball. Again, do whatever it takes. So I leapt onto the ball."
That a recovered fumble might have been Wilson's most important play typified what a strange day it was for the Seattle offense.
The Seahawks gained just 136 yards, their fewest since getting only 135 in a win at St. Louis in 2013. Wilson had just 93 yards passing, the fewest of his career.
But Wilson was big when he needed to be. He was 2 for 2 for 15 yards and a touchdown on the drive that put Seattle up 7-6.
And he was 4 of 6 for 35 yards and a touchdown on the 79-yard drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth that put Seattle ahead 21-12.
"That's kind of how he does it, you know?" head coach Pete Carroll said. "He wasn't able to get much going early, but Russ always finds a way. He did again and he came up with some great throws down there to get our scores."
As Seattle Times staffer Bob Condotta noted, Wilson again led Seattle in rushing with 29 yards on nine attempts and with one game remaining is basically assured of leading the Seahawks in rushing this season. He has 560 yards with Chris Carson next at 208.
Davis finished Sunday's win with 25 yards on 15 carries and needed to make a few nifty plays just to avoid would-be tacklers who had penetrated the backfield without much resistance. It's one thing to be a bad running team. Seattle is a bad running team that sometimes sticks with the run in key situations, which hurt the Seahawks a few times on Sunday.
They finished with 76 yards rushing and only 136 yards overall. That's their fewest net yards since 2013 against the Rams, a game they also won. ...
Jimmy Graham gave the Seahawks their first points with a 3-yard touchdown reception before halftime. That was his only catch of the game, which mirrors how his season has gone to some degree. Graham leads all tight ends with 10 touchdowns but is on pace to finish with fewer receptions and receiving yards than last season. ...
One last note here. ... Running back Eddie Lacy was inactive for the fourth time this season.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown, Brandon Marshall
TEs: Will Dissly, Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson, Darrell Daniels
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, "The quiet rumblings from Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans calling for coach Dirk Koetter's job turned to listless groans after the Bucs lost to the Carolina Panthers 22-19 on Sunday. ..."
It was their fifth straight loss and fourth in a row by three points or in overtime, and the seventh time they lost having scored 20 points or fewer.
Laine went on to explain that on one hand, quarterback Jameis Winston's play over the past two weeks has brought some optimism. On Monday night against Atlanta, he produced the second-highest passer rating of his career with a 130.5. Against the Panthers on Sunday, he beat that and nearly beat his personal best with a 131.1.
On the other hand, the Bucs went 1-for-6 in the red zone (16.7 percent), where they've sputtered not just this year but in the two years that Koetter has been coach and the three that he's been calling plays, despite outfitting the offense with increased talent each year.
Koetter even admitted it, saying, "I should have given better calls in the red zone. I stunk in the red zone, but we just didn't get it done."
As Laine further noted, in 2017, the Bucs have 48 percent red zone efficiency, which is 25th in the league. They're also tied for second in the league in red zone turnovers. They attempted 35 passes from within the red zone into the end zone, more than any other team in the league, but managed to complete only 13 of them (37.1 percent, 18th in the league). With one game left, the Bucs' 49.3 completion percentage in the red zone is 22nd in the league. Inside the 10-yard line, they are 21st in the league in scoring.
In the past two years, with Koetter as coach, the Bucs are tied for 25th in the league in red zone efficiency (50 percent), which is actually almost three percentage points worse than in 2014 when the Bucs didn't even have an offensive coordinator because Jeff Tedford took a leave of absence. His replacement, Marcus Arroyo had never even called plays in the NFL before.
The staff has preached patience, but it's difficult when the rest of the league seems to be operating on a different timetable and the Bucs have been left in the dust.
As Laine pointed out, Sean McVay, who wasn't even born yet when Koetter took his first college coaching job, took the Los Angeles Rams from being dead last in the league in scoring under Jeff Fisher (14 points a game) to third in 2017 (27.93), just behind the Eagles and Patriots. They had a 47.1 percent red zone efficiency rating in 2016 (25th in the league) and have jumped to 56.1 percent, 12th in the league.
Doug Pederson has taken the Eagles from averaging 20 points per game in 2015 and in 2016, his first year, to averaging 28.71 points per game, the most in the league. They went from 52.5 percent in the red zone, 23rd in the league in Chip Kelly's final year in 2015, to a league-leading 67.3 percent.
The Jaguars went from averaging 18.93 points per game in 2016, 24th in the league, to 23.87, seventh in the league, with Doug Marrone taking over.
What's even more impressive is that the Rams and Eagles have done it with second-year quarterbacks, while Marrone has made it work with Blake Bortles, a quarterback whom the majority of the league had given up on.
Jimmy Garoppolo led San Francisco to 38 points Sunday under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan. In Garoppolo's past three starts, the Niners have averaged just less than 30 points a game, despite his having the playbook for just more than one month.
Koetter has had Winston, Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson in the same system for three years, but they're averaging 18.87 points per game, which is actually slightly worse than the 19.87 they averaged in 2015 before Koetter took over.
The rest of the NFC South -- the Panthers, Saints and Falcons -- all have averaged better than 24 points a game going back to 2015, making it tough for the Bucs to win many games.
As Laine summed up: "It also does nothing to quiet the fans who are calling for the return of former coach Jon Gruden, whom they believe can give their offense a much-needed spark. ..."
Meanwhile, few have ever compared Winston to Dan Marino - until now.
Winston, who turns 24 in January, has tied the Miami Dolphins legend for the most NFL touchdown passes before his 24th birthday with 68, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He tied the mark with an 18-yard pass to former college teammate Bobo Wilson.
"It doesn't really matter if you have those games when you lose," said Winston, who was 21-for-27 for 367 yards and a touchdown, but three fumbles against Carolina. "I have to say, a bunch of unfortunate things just happen to us. We just have to get better."
Through three seasons, Winston has 41 interceptions with one game to play. Marino had 43 picks in his first three seasons. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Bucs were without two of their favorite targets Sunday with wideout DeSean Jackson out with an ankle injury and tight end O.J. Howard on injured reserve.
But some young players stood out in the loss. Rookie Chris Godwin started in place of Jackson and had three catches for 98 yards, including a 70-yard catch and run. Wilson's first NFL reception was the above-mentioned touchdown to give the Bucs a 16-12 lead in the third quarter.
Freddie Martino had two catches for 57 yards, including a 39-yarder. Of course, that went with Evans' big day (six for 107 yards), and Humphries (three for 51) pitched in.
Godwin is of particular interest here after posting a combined 16 targets in the two games where Evans or Jackson did not play. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggests, he should see his role grow in his second season and will likely earn some sleeper consideration.
For the record, Jackson was on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice; Brate was not. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
For the second consecutive season, the Tennessee Titans' playoff dreams will be decided by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe noted, the Titans' playoff scenarios are clear: win and you're in. Don't worry about what Buffalo, Baltimore or the Los Angeles Chargers do. It's the easy route for a team that has done everything possible to give away once-comfortable 8-4 playoff positioning during their current three-game losing streak.
But because of the struggles of AFC teams around them, they're in with a victory and they could still get in with a loss if the Bills and Chargers also lose.
"That's all you could ever ask, you just want a chance. You just want an opportunity," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "We let one slip away, we let kind of three in a row slip away. But, all you can really ask for is an opportunity. I look forward to getting back to work and doing our best to hopefully get this one."
Mariota remembers the Jacksonville nightmare well. It was on Christmas Eve in Jacksonville last season that he broke his right leg. The Titans also saw their playoff and AFC South championship chances die that night.
Now the Titans get a chance for redemption.
"That's why we not sweating it right now. We got a chance," Casey said. "These three games have been a bummer, but once we get in those playoffs everybody is going to love us. That's what it's all about -- getting to the playoffs. Once we get in there, we know we can make a push."
The Titans do get a break in that the Jaguars, who fell to 10-5 with a loss to the 49ers on Sunday night, have nothing to play for. With a win over Houston on Monday, the Steelers clinched a first-round bye and ensured Jacksonville will host a game on wild-card weekend.
The Chiefs are already locked in the No. 4 seed, meaning the Jaguars will be the No. 3 if the Steelers win another game.
To make matters even more interesting, a Titans victory over the Jaguars, paired with a Ravens victory over Bengals, would have Tennessee travel to Jacksonville in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
For what it's worth, the Titans looked better Sunday against the Rams, and for the first time in a while -- exciting. But Mariota failed to notch another game-winning comeback drive. On the Titans' final fourth-quarter drive, it appeared he missed an open Delanie Walker for a first down. Mariota said he lost track of him initially. There have been too many of those sort of misses this season.
"We let one slip away. We let three in a row slip away," Mariota said.
Mariota finished 22-of-35 for 275 yards, but going 1-of-4 in the red zone cost the Titans the game.
"We had opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them. We still got an opportunity against Jacksonville, but when you got it in your hands -- you basically gave it away," Walker said. "We better have a fight. We better be ready to go. We got our backs against the wall. We can only fight our ways out. It's Titans vs. everybody."
DeMarco Murray suffered a right knee injury that head coach Mike Mularkey initially said "it didn't look good."
But a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter the MRI revealed that Murray has a third-degree MCL tear. Murray believes he can play through it Sunday and Mularkey changed his tune a bit on Tuesday.
According to Jim Wyatt of the team's official website, Mularkey said Tuesday that Murray was a "tough guy" and declared him "day to day," with a knee injury, refusing to rule him out. That said, Murray did not practice Wednesday.
I'll be watching for more on that and reporting further via Late-Breaking Update.
All that said you have to wonder if this won't be an opportunity to give us a preview of what Derrick Henry might be capable of given a full workload. ...
Also of interest. ... Corey Davis had his breakout game, finishing with six catches and a career-high 91 yards. It was big for the Titans to see that performance and for owners who were bold enough to start him. Rishard Matthews (48 receiving yards) and Delanie Walker (33 receiving yards) were fantasy busts.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker, Delanie Walker
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the wins matter and finishing with a non-losing season does as well for the Redskins. The question then becomes: What does it mean? And that will be hard to assess until they figure out the quarterback situation and how they add to the roster.
For now, though, it means the Redskins have a chance to end the season feeling better about themselves. There certainly were games they could have won despite their numerous injuries -- such as New Orleans (though building a 15-point lead on the road was almost as inexplicable as their collapse).
But finishing 8-8 with their schedule -- they played seven games with teams who have won at least nine games; and five against teams with at least 11 -- would be an accomplishment.
And doing it with players such as left tackle Trent Williams, running back Chris Thompson, tight end Jordan Reed and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen missing a combined 33 games matters to them, as well.
It's certainly not what anyone wanted; it beats falling apart and going 5-11. For those who only care about the draft, yes, it hurt their standing. But coaches and players do not consider tanking. Trying to build a certain culture does not include "tanking" games to get a better draft pick.
The question, though, remains whether they build with or without quarterback Kirk Cousins.
He continues to talk as if he's part of the future, knowing full well he might be elsewhere. Going 8-8 for him is better than 7-9. His answer reflects some of what he'll be looking for in the future, be it here or with another team.
"I want this brand, this organization to be associated with winning and when people around the league and our fans that support this league think about this organization, I want them to think of winners," Cousins said. "I know 8-8 isn't 13-3, but it also isn't 7-9 and I think that's where our focus is right now to get to another non-losing season and say now we've strung three together in a row and we can build on that with some of the talent we have that's been on [injured reserve] and coming back, so that's really where our focus is."
It matters to head coach Jay Gruden, too.
"We're accomplishing the standard we set here, that's the No. 1 thing," Gruden said. "Every week you come and prepare and you play your tails off, and that's what the guys are doing. We set a standard here with the veteran guys we're going to have next year, and that's how it's going to be, week in and week out, no matter what the circumstances are."
The Redskins have been helped by playing quarterbacks such as Arizona's Blaine Gabbert and Denver's Brock Osweiler the last two weeks. They end the season against a 2-13 New York Giants team. But that also was a quirk of the schedule; had these teams been interspersed through their most difficult stretch, they might be playing for a winning record. But they weren't, so here they are.
"We didn't give up," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "We didn't throw in the towel. It's really big for us."
Remember: The Redskins have won two straight with some starters who had been cut in camp; and with other players viewed as a part of the future. And for now, that's all they have to play for as the season closes.
As for Cousins?
As usual, there was reason, again, to ponder every aspect of his game. He missed too many throws early, whether on deep outs or go routes. Cousins also was 8-of-19 for 97 yards at halftime. One of those misses was a drop by receiver Josh Doctson in the end zone, a perfect ball Cousins stuck between two defenders. But he also underthrew Doctson on a deep ball.
The second half, however, showed the grit in his
game. Cousins completed 11-of-18 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. After a solid drive ended in the ugly -- a Cousins interception in the end zone when Doctson was smothered by multiple Broncos -- the offense responded well. Cousins drove them 55 yards for a field goal, followed on the next series by a 48-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Doctson. Cousins made a perfect pass on a bootleg under duress to tight end Vernon Davis for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
As NFL.com noted, there's plenty of reason for optimism for the Redskins entering 2018 -- especially if they retain Cousins.
He isn't a superstar. However, the Redskins' most recent two victims, Arizona and Denver, would take him in a heartbeat.
Was this Cousins' last home game in Washington? As Keim summed up: "That question won't be answered for several months. It'll be discussed endlessly."
And finally. ... Washington waived running back Kenny Hilliard on Tuesday, via the NFL's official transactions wire.
The team signed Hilliard three days ago after placing running back LeShun Daniels on injured reserve with a fractured hand. But Washington listed Hilliard among its inactives for Sunday's game against Denver.
Washington has had nine running backs on its 53-player roster this season.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris, Trey Quinn, Michael Floyd, Cam Sims
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle