Team Notes Week 19 2018

By Bob Harris
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NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

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

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Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

The Cowboys moved on to the Divisional Round of the playoffs with Saturday night’s 24-22 win over the Seahawks and quarterback Dak Prescott had a lot to do with the victory.

Prescott completed 22-of-33 passes for 226 yards and ran six times for 29 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown that extended Dallas’ lead to 10 points. Prescott also ran nine yards to put the Cowboys on the goal line and set up a touchdown by running back Ezekiel Elliott that gave Dallas the lead earlier in the fourth quarter.

After the game, Elliott, who ran for 137 yards of his own, said via Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper that Prescott “played like a grown-ass man and called the quarterback’s performance “legendary.”

Prescott said he feels like “a grown-ass man just in general” as part of his response to what Elliott had to say.

“I’m in a young career. I’m three years in. For him to say that. … I may have to tell him to not say that again or to wait until later,” Prescott said. “Obviously it’s a great compliment. Obviously it’s a guy we came in together and we’ve been through the ups and the downs of three seasons. Just to be where we are at with this team that we have and this offense that we have, it’s a lot of excitement. It’s a hell of a compliment.”

Of course, Prescott knew what was on the line Saturday.

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reminded readers, he said so during the lead-up to the matchup against the Seahawks.

"When you say success of quarterback or a quarterback's success depending on what they do in the playoffs, I think that's where the checks get written and they get their money, to be honest," Prescott said.

In the second playoff game of his career, Prescott did what he could to will the Cowboys to victory. That included running through three tacklers and flipping through the air on a third-and-14 fourth-quarter run.

A play later, Prescott scored the touchdown that clinched the Cowboys' 24-22 win against Seattle.

"It gives us a chance to keep going. Honestly, as simple as that," Prescott said. "Me and this whole team, we want to win it all. You can't do that without taking care of the first one. We were able to do that one tonight. A lot of excitement, but my goal is bigger than just one playoff win."

It wasn't just Prescott who had a lot on the line. So did Jason Garrett, who had only one playoff win as head coach of the Cowboys. So did owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who gave up a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Amari Cooper seven games into the season. So did Elliott. So did a defense that showed signs of cracking in the final three regular-season games.

Prescott's numbers are outlined above; Elliott, who did not play in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants to rest up for the playoffs, had 26 carries for 137 yards and a score. Cooper, who had only 13 catches for 83 yards in the three games leading into the playoffs, caught seven passes for 106 yards.

Saturday's victory should put to rest any thoughts Garrett would not return for the final year of his contract. And Jones moved a step closer to what he has yearned for: a fourth Super Bowl.

"This win against a very credible Seattle team will make people think more highly of Jason," Jones said. "Look around at all the teams searching for red October and trying to find themselves a coach right now. We've got one that has a lot of experience on our dime over the last several years. I'd like to use it."

Now the Cowboys will have to see if they can clear the hurdle of the divisional round. They have not played in a conference championship game since 1995, on their way to winning Super Bowl XXX. The 1996, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 seasons all ended in the second round of the playoffs. The 2007 and 2016 Cowboys had home-field advantage throughout the postseason and lost their first playoff games.

The 2014 Cowboys felt as if they had their season stolen from them at Lambeau Field after Dez Bryant's fourth-down catch at the Green Bay Packers' goal line was overturned by replay.

This weekend, it will be a road trip to Los Angeles to take on the Rams.

The last time the Cowboys won a postseason game on the road was in January of 1993, when the Cowboys beat the 49ers 30-20 in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. That game saw Troy Aikman throw for 322 yards and Emmitt Smith run for 114 yards.

As PFT suggested, the Cowboys will need Prescott and Elliott to have similarly productive games if they’re to beat the Rams or Saints on the road. Dallas will certainly be an underdog this weekend, but perhaps this can be the Cowboys team to snap that long road playoff losing streak.

Other notes of interest. ... In case you missed it, he Cowboys lost wide receiver Allen Hurns to a serious ankle injury in Saturday’s win over the Seahawks. He underwent surgery that night and the hope is he's recovered and ready to return to work in August.

Via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys placed Hurns on injured reserve Tuesday and promoted Lance Lenoir from their practice squad to take his place.

Lenoir has bounced up and down from the practice squad since joining them as an undrafted rookie last year. Dallas also backfilled the practice squad by signing wideout Brandon Reilly.

Beyond that, Cole Beasley sprained his ankle early on against the Seahawks, but he was able to continue playing and wound up recovering an onside kick in the final moments of the game.

On Sunday, Garrett said that the team will continue to monitor his condition in the days leading up to their game in Los Angeles.

“We’ll just see how he feels as the week goes on. He did get an ankle sprain in the game, was able to fight through it and be very effective for us throughout,” Garrett said, via the team’s website. “But we’ll see how it feels. Seemed like he was doing a little bit better today and we’ll just see how he is day by day as the week goes on.”

During an appearance on 105.3 The Fan earlier in the day, Jones said he is “pretty positive” that Beasley. who reportedly has a high sprain, will be able to play against the Rams. He said the same about wide receiver Tavon Austin as well and Austin, who returned in Week 17 from a groin injury, was limited in practice Tuesday.

For the record, the Cowboys started the week with 14 players on their injury report, including Prescott and Beasley.

The team listed Prescott with a knee injury, but he had a full practice.

Beasley, receiver Noah Brown(illness), defensive tackle Maliek Collins (illness/ankle), defensive lineman David Irving (ankle) and tight end Blake Jarwin (ankle) did not practice.

Austin (groin), defensive end Tyrone Crawford (neck), right guard Zack Martin (knee), left tackle Tyron Smith (neck), left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (ankle) and safety Darian Thompson (groin) were limited.

Su’a-Filo missed Saturday’s victory over the Seahawks, with rookie Connor Williams replacing him in the starting lineup.

Safety Jeff Heath (wrist) was a full participant.

Beasley and Jarwin were held out again Wednesday; Prescott practiced again Wednesday and downplayed the issue with his knee.

“My knee is good. It’s great,” the Cowboys quarterback said.

He has not missed a beat since flipping in the air on his 16-yard run to the Seattle 1 on third-and-14 late in the fourth quarter Saturday.

“I think he looks great,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “He’s always got something after a game, you know? Man, he looks great to me this week.”

Prescott said he took a helmet on his thigh, which sent him cartwheeling. Even though Prescott is on the injury report this week with a knee injury, no one with the Cowboys seems concerned.

He conceded he wore a sleeve on his knee during practice, but added again that he’s “good.”

“I think he’s going to be fine. I don’t think we’re concerned about it at all,” Linehan said.

We'll be following up in the News and Views section as needed in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... Austin spent the first five years of his career with the Rams, first in St. Louis, then to Los Angeles, before his trade to the Cowboys on draft day. According to Archer, while Austin said he felt "disrespected," by the trade he has made peace with it and is not carrying any grudges into Saturday's divisional round game against his former team.

"Every game is emotional, it ain't really a difference," said Austin, who had a 51-yard punt return in the wild-card win against Seattle. "I'm not going to make this a Tavon vs. the Rams thing."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott
WRs: Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Tavon Austin, Brice Butler
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot reminded readers this week, Frank Reich stuck with his old-school philosophy even when the Colts were losing games in September and early October.

The Colts’ first-year coach insisted that even in an increasingly pass-happy league a balanced offense would turn them into real AFC contenders.

Over the past 11 weeks, the perfect one-two combination has landed plenty of scoring punches, propelling the Colts into an improbable divisional-round matchup at AFC West champion Kansas City.

“To me, it’s imposing your will on the defense and what that is, is running when you want to run and throwing when you want to throw and being effective at it,” Reich said on a conference call Sunday. “Always use the boxer analogy, it’s not just throwing punches wildly, it’s landing punches.”

Few teams have delivered more big blows since Indy’s 1-5 start.

On Saturday, second-year running back Marlon Mack carried 24 times for a career-high 148 yards and one touchdown, leading the Colts (11-6) to a 21-7 victory at Houston. They hurt the league’s No. 3 run defense for a playoff franchise-record 200 yards, breaking the previous mark of 191 from their Super Bowl win over Chicago in February 2007.

Mack also broke Zack Crockett’s single-game franchise playoff rushing record (147), set in 1995.

As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggested, that the Colts were able to so thoroughly dominate a good Texans front shows just how impressive the turnaround has been on their offensive line, led by stellar rookie guard Quenton Nelson.

The Texans had allowed a league-low 3.4 yards per carry, a league-low three runs of 20 yards or longer and a league-low 19.7 percent first down rate.

And then the Colts came to town.

Indianapolis absolutely dominated up front on Saturday, with the Colts’ offensive line consistently blowing the Texans’ defensive line off the ball, and opening huge holes for Mack.

And this week, Mack could again become the feature attraction against a defense that finished No. 27 against the run this season. The Chiefs allowed 5.0 yards per carry and gave up a first down on a league-worst 30.4 percent of rushing attempts.

Marot went on to note if all this sounds eerily familiar to longtime Chiefs fans, it’s understandable given the previous results.

Edgerrin James ran for 125 yards, the third-highest postseason total in franchise history, in a 38-31 victory at Kansas City in January 2004. Joseph Addai rushed for 122 of the Colts’ 188 yards, now the third-highest total in franchise history, in a 23-8 wild-card round victory over Kansas City. That win jump-started Indy’s title run following the 2006 season.

“It’s December football into January,” tight end Eric Ebron said Saturday. “That’s what we’ve got to try to do. We pass it when we have to, but we’re going to try and dominate the run game and try to dominate the line of scrimmage. That’s the kind of football you have to play now.”

Even if it deviates from Indy’s longtime image. With Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck behind center for most of the past two decades, the league-wide perception has largely been the Colts are a pass-first team.

But Reich has spent this season trying to find balance, and after a rugged start the Colts have seen the benefits.

With All-Pro Nelson solidifying the left side of the offensive line and the emergence of right tackle Braden Smith, another rookie, Indy has been able to run effectively across the field.

And when Mack returned after missing four of the first five games because of a hamstring injury, the Colts hit their groove.

Mack has run for 1,022 yards and 10 touchdowns in the past 11 games, topping the 100-yard mark five times and establishing career highs in four of those games including Saturday’s. He ran for 119 yards and a score in the Colts’ Week 17 playoff-clinching victory at Tennessee and is now the first Indy player since James in 2005, to run for a TD in five consecutive games.

Not surprisingly, the Colts have gone 10-1 during that stretch, becoming the third team in league history to make the postseason after starting 1-5 and just the second to win a playoff game.

Of course, Luck garnered some MVP support as he led the team during that 10-1 run . During that stretch, Luck completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 2,801 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

In those 10 games, Luck was sacked a mere eight times and he wasn’t sacked in Saturday’s win at Houston.

It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs, who lead the NFL in sacks, will get pressure on Luck.

They will likely need to because Luck has a fair share of postseason playoff success against the Chiefs on his resume. He was 29 of 45 for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in a 45-44 win over the Chiefs in a wild-card game in 2014 in Indianapolis.

In that 2014 playoff game, receiver T.Y. Hilton torched the Chiefs secondary for 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Hilton is still going strong, catching 76 passes for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. In Saturday’s playoff win at Houston, Hilton had five catches for 85 yards.

Luck also has Ebron, whose 13 touchdown receptions tied for second in the NFL behind Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. On Saturday, Ebron scored the game’s first TD on a 6-yard reception.

If the Colts can carry their success through this weekend, they would become the first 1-5 team to play for a conference championship — and there’s no doubt inside this locker room they can.

“We know, and Frank has preached this, in any football game whether it’s playoff or not, you need to control the line of scrimmage,” Luck said.

“By no means was it perfect (Saturday), but man the positive run yards we got were great and we know that as an offense when we can do that, we can have a great balance. We can throw it a bunch. We can huddle up. We can go up tempo. We can slow down the tempo. We can run it.”

And that's going to cause opposing defenses problems -- no matter who they are. ...

On the injury front. ... As Profootballtalk.com noted, the Colts conducted a walk-through Tuesday, but they still a long injury list with several big names on it.

The team estimated Hilton (ankle) would have remained out of practice had the Colts practiced. It’s not a surprise as Hilton has not practiced much since injuring his ankle.

Safety Malik Hooker wore a walking boot on his left foot Tuesday, according to Kevin Bowen of 107.5 The Fan. Hooker injured his foot against the Texans but missed only five snaps.

Besides Hooker and Hilton, the Colts list defensive tackle Denico Autry (shoulder), Ebron (hip), safety Clayton Geathers (knee), receiver Ryan Grant(toe), receiver Dontrelle Inman (shoulder, finger), defensive end Tyquan Lewis (knee) and defensive end Jabaal Sheard (knee) as sitting out practice.

Linebacker Darius Leonard (shoulder, ankle) earned a limited designation.

Safety J.J. Wilcox (ankle) should return this week after being listed as a full participant Tuesday.

We'll be following up in the News and Views section as needed in coming days. ...

Safety Mike Mitchell won’t play for the rest of the postseason.

Mitchell, a longtime veteran who arrived with the Colts in October, has played well for the Colts this season, including being named the AFC’s defensive player of the week in Week Seven. But he suffered a calf strain in the wild card round against the Texans and the Colts put him in injured reserve today.

That’s a tough blow and a key reason that the teams earning playoff byes are better off than the teams that have to play in the wild card round. The Colts will face a well-rested Chiefs team on Saturday.

To take Mitchell’s place on the roster, safety Rolan Milligan was called up from the practice squad. The Colts also signed defensive end Anthony Winbush to the practice squad.

Other notes of interest. ... Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomeswas less than a year old when Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri’s career started in 1996 with the New England Patriots.

This weekend, Vinatieri will play in his 32nd career postseason game. That’s the second-most in NFL history (behind former teammate Tom Brady.

Vinatieri, 46, has scored more points than any player in NFL history (2,600), been part of four Super Bowl champions and has a well-deserved reputation for coming through in the clutch.

But don’t think Vinatieri is resting on his laurels. He made 23 of 27 field-goal attempts this season, including four from 50 yards and longer. ...

And finally. ... As PFT's Josh Alper reminded readers, Reich was the Colts’ plan B after Josh McDaniels decided to return to the Patriots at the 11th hour thanks to Saturday's victory. That win was the Colts’ 10th since starting the year with a 1-5 record and Hilton explained after the game why the team bought Reich’s message that the year wasn’t over at that point.

“He played the game, and he has a way of communicating with players that lets you know he cares about you,” Hilton said, via ESPN.com. “So everything’s about the players, and when he talks about everybody coming together for each other, it’s easy to all rally around that.”

After Reich was hired last February, Colts owner Jim Irsay gave one of those press conference pronouncements about how perfect the fit was with Reich. It sounded like a bit much at the time, but it was much easier to believe Saturday’s pronouncement that Reich “should have been our first choice” all along.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Marlon Mack, Spencer Ware, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal
TEs: Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox, Ryan Hewitt

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

As Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger put it, "Of course it’s the Colts. Had to be the Colts. Who else would it be?

"Who else could it be?"

Mellinger went on to note the Chiefs have won two playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium in 47 years, and the Colts have won the same number there.

“I know with the history and stuff like that, but at the same time, we are a different generation,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.

That said, the Colts are a handful for anyone.

Quarterback Andrew Luck just completed the best season of his career, behind one of the league’s best offensive lines and surrounded by impressive playmakers. The defense is stout, disciplined and stingy with big plays. They’ve won 10 of 11.

But the Chiefs (12-4) head into this week's game rested and relaxed, the byproduct of earning a first-round bye.

But the history is there. And everybody knows it.

This is the proud and storied franchise that played opposite the champion Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl, then won the Lombardi Trophy four years later against the Minnesota Vikings.

But since Len Dawson and Co. were victorious in 1972, the Chiefs have only appeared in one other AFC title game, losing to the Buffalo Bills after the 1993 season. Those two home playoff wins have come despite the fact that Arrowhead Stadium boasts one of the biggest home-field advantages in the game. And under coach Andy Reid, they are winless at home and 1-5 overall in the postseason.

There’s more, as if the Chiefs want to be reminded of it.

Only the Lions and Jets have gone longer without playing in the Super Bowl; the Browns, Jaguars and Texans have never been there. And the Chiefs’ only playoff win in 25 years came against Houston, which was led by quarterback Brian Hoyer.

The letdowns have been excruciating, too. There was the year Lin Elliott missed three field goals in a 10-7 loss to the Colts. The year the Chiefs lost a shootout to the Colts in which nobody punted. The year that Reid’s team blew a 38-10 second-half lead to — well, you can guess who.

Two years ago, the Chiefs lost a home playoff game to the Steelers despite holding Pittsburgh without a touchdown. Last year, they lost a home playoff game to Tennessee after blowing a 21-3 halftime lead.

“We’ve been in this situation before and we’ve learned from it,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce vowed, “and sure enough, we’ll make sure we give these fans and this crowd and city everything we’ve got.”

There are reasons to believe that will be enough this time.

The Chiefs have a record-setting offense that scored at least 26 points in every game, led by the best young quarterback to take the field in years. Patrick Mahomes eclipsed 5,000 yards passing and threw for 50 touchdowns as a first-year starter, shattering just about every franchise mark in the process.

Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hillgive him plenty of options on offense, and Spencer Wareand Damien Williamshave filled in admirably after the Chiefs severed ties with Kareem Hunt midway through the season.

And while the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense has struggled to stop anyone, particularly in high-profile shootouts against the Rams and Patriots, they have played better of late. They rank near the top of the NFL in sacks, thanks primarily to career seasons from defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Dee Ford.

“We know what it’s going to take,” Mahomes said. “It’s going to take a full effort from everyone, every single day of this bye week and into next week, to the game and hopefully on. We know that you have to capitalize on every single play. You can’t let one play get you down for the next. The next play is the most important play. We are excited we get the chance to do that.”

Indeed, the Chiefs are embracing their position as the No. 1 seed. They relish the fact that so many pundits are predicting Super Bowl success, even after all of those postseason flops. They know that they have a chance to scrub away the stink of all those losses, even if they refuse to reflect upon them.

“I don’t get caught up in all that bad luck. You create your own deal and you go play,” Reid said. “We don’t worry about all that stuff. Just go play. Get yourself ready, go through the process and get yourself ready to go. And then what happens on that field, man against man, you are playing the game.”

Meanwhile, on the health front. ... The Chiefs closed the regular season without wide receiver Sammy Watkins, safety Eric Berry or running back Spencer Ware in the lineup, but Tuesday brought some encouraging signs for their chances of having them in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Colts.

All three players worked on a limited basis as the team kicked off their on-field work for the week. Linebacker Dorian O'Daniel was the only player set to miss practice as he deals with calf and ankle trouble.

Watkins has missed five straight games and six of the last seven while dealing with a foot injury. He had 40 catches for 519 yards and three touchdowns before his extended absence to close the regular season.

Berry missed the first 13 games of the year with a heel injury and played a limited number of snaps in two games before sitting out against the Raiders. Ware sat out the final three weeks of the year with a hamstring injury.

Cornerback Kendall Fuller (thumb), Hill (heel), cornerback Jordan Lucas (shoulder), defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (concussion), linebacker Reggie Ragland (hip), cornerback Charvarius Ward (shoulder) and defensive tackle Xavier Williams (back, ankle) were full participants.

We'll be following up in the News and Views section as needed in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matthew McGloin
RBs: Damien Williams, Charcandrick West, Carlos Hyde, Anthony Sherman
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Demarcus Robinson, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

As Associated Press sports writer David Ginsburg noted, the Los Angeles Chargers’ prize for dismantling the toughest defense in the NFL is a road game against a team that has long been a nemesis for Philip Rivers.

Los Angeles advanced to the divisional round of the postseason by beating the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday. Next up, a matchup against the New England Patriots (11-5) this Sunday.

Since Rivers became a starter, the Chargers are 0-7 against Tom Brady and the Patriots, including 0-2 in playoff games. The last time they met, New England rolled to a 21-12 win in the AFC Championship game in January 2008.

Fortunately for Rivers, past performances don’t necessarily mean that much. Just two weeks after being dominated by Baltimore in a loss that knocked them out of first place in the AFC West, the Chargers (13-4) bounced back with a resounding win to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Rivers went 22 of 32 for 160 yards, his longest completion a 28-yarder to Mike Williams.

Going up against Brady and standout coach Bill Belichick is no easy task, but Rivers is up for the challenge.

“I’m not playing Tom by any means. But is it special to go to New England against a Hall of Fame coach and arguably the best quarterback ever to play and get another shot at ’em? Heck, yeah,” Rivers said. “To get an opportunity again to go against them, 11 years after we had the opportunity in the 2007 season, yeah, it’s awesome. Looking forward to it.”

The Chargers face a veteran quarterback after putting the clamps on a rookie, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, who fumbled three times, threw an interception and was sacked seven times in his playoff debut.

But Jackson didn't turn 22 years old until the day after Sunday's loss.

This week, the 37-year-old Rivers will take on 41-year-old Brady. Their combined age of 78 is the oldest ever for two starting quarterbacks in an NFL postseason game.

Brady also had a share of the previous record, set three years ago, when he was 38 and faced off against the 39-year-old Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game.

There was once an even older pair of quarterbacks in a playoff game, on January 3, 1971, when 37-year-old Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts beat 43-year-old George Blanda and the Oakland Raiders. But although Blanda played almost the entire game, he came on in relief of the 29-year-old Daryle Lamonica, who started for the Raiders.

So the record for starting quarterbacks belongs to Brady and Manning, and will be broken next weekend by Brady and Rivers.

One difference between this week and previous weeks, the Chargers placed tight end Hunter Henry on the active roster Monday, which means he could see action in an AFC divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

To make room on the roster, the Chargers placed linebacker Jatavis Brown on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Henry has been out since May after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee on the first day of offseason work.

Hunter had been on the physically unable to perform list since training camp. On Dec. 17, the Chargers started the 21-day practice window for Henry to return to the field; the team had until Monday to either place Henry on the active roster or on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

After being limited to individual work in his first week on the field, Henry participated in 7-on-7 and team drills last week, showing steady improvement.

Henry practiced with the starters last week, but he still has not participated in a fully padded practice.

In two NFL seasons, Henry has 81 catches for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, it's going to take some time for him to shake the rust off and get in football shape.

"You can't put a player out there for an extended period of time that hasn't played since last December," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "It would be in certain situations, probably. And he would be on a pitch count."

Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt echoed those sentiments, saying Henry will slowly be worked into the offense.

"I think some of it is how he feels," Whisenhunt said. "You'll have a certain number of packages or plays that you'll use him for, and then I think you kind of go from there."

Otherwise, the injury situation is good. ... Melvin Gordon, who injured his knee and came back in the game last weekend, is dealing with a little knee sprain. Gordon was not scheduled to practice Wednesday, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport advised viewers on Tuesday it’s nothing that makes his availability in doubt.

We'll be following up in the News and Views section as needed in coming days. ...

And finally. ... As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted this week, kicker Michael Badgley is playing postseason football in January for the first time, and enjoying every minute of it.

"It's the playoffs," Badgley said. "During the regular season, every point matters. But in the playoffs they matter even more. With the team we've got, as long as I can go out there and get my side of the job done, we're definitely a threat, so it's awesome."

An undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami, Badgley has been the soothing balm to the Chargers' kicking woes.

In his latest effort, Badgley buried a franchise postseason-record five field goals, including a long of 53 yards, in his team's 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He'll be called on again this Sunday when the Chargers play at New England.

With the Chargers spinning through six kickers since the start of the 2017 season, Badgley has brought stability to the position since taking over for Caleb Sturgis midway through the season.

In 10 regular-season games, Badgley made 15 of 16 field goals (94 percent), including a franchise-long 59-yarder in a Week 14 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Badgley also made 27 of 28 extra points (96.4 percent). His 94 percent field goal percentage set a single-season record for best in franchise history with at least 15 made field goals.

Because of his clutch performances, Badgley earned the nickname the "Money Badger" from Chargers fans on Twitter.

"I have a lot of confidence in that young man because he has a lot of confidence in himself," head coach Anthony Lynn said.

Badgley said one of the reasons for his success is the meaningful relationships he's quickly developed in the locker room, starting with veteran punter Donnie Jones and long-snapper Mike Windt, and expanding to the rest of the team.

With the way he's performed, players like Rivers say Badgley has earned their trust.

"He was really great today," Rivers said. "He made some tough kicks. We had so many guys contribute today. Uchenna Nwosu made a big play with that strip sack in the final minute, and Antonio Gates stepped up with two, big third-down receptions.

"Just so many guys stepped up to do their job, it's a fun team to be a part of."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Geno Smith
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Dylan Cantrell
TEs: Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Virgil Green

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

As the Associated Press reminded readers, before Jared Goff led the Los Angeles Rams into the NFL playoffs last year, his only adult experience in a postseason football game was at the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl.

Leading California past Air Force on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Fort Worth is a little bit different than taking on the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in prime time in your team’s first postseason game in 13 years. Most of the Rams had no NFL playoff experience, and Goff knows it showed in their 26-13 loss.

“It was a game that I would have liked to play better,” said Goff, who went 24 of 45 for 259 yards and one TD against Atlanta. “We would have all liked to play better. Ended not the way we would have liked it to. Hopefully we can use some of those experiences as a positive and move forward with them. ... That’s always big when you can get in those situations and get in those moments and feel it. Whether it ends up good or bad, just being able to experience it and feel it is important.”

Goff is determined to show everything he learned from that loss when the current Rams (13-3) begin another postseason run after their bye week.

The Rams will host Dallas on Saturday, when the franchise attempts to advance to its first NFC championship game since the 2001 campaign — also the season of the Rams’ last Super Bowl appearance.

Goff grew into a bona fide Pro Bowl quarterback this season, ranking fourth in the league with 4,688 yards passing and 32 TD passes. The Rams also evolved as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, proving last season’s success was no fluke while also realizing they need January success to back up their growth.

That loss to the Falcons at the Coliseum has been cited all season as a valuable lesson for a group that had never been on such a stage. According to coach Sean McVay, it was also a wake-up call for a coaching staff that now realizes it must grind even harder to advance deep in the postseason.

“I think we were all disappointed with the result, with what an abrupt ending it was to such a great season last year,” McVay said. “Such a fun season.”

Those 2017 Rams were a pleasant shock, with the arrival of McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips immediately galvanizing a long-struggling team to a seven-game improvement on 2016. The current Rams didn’t sneak up on anybody, yet they still earned two more victories to post this team’s best record since 2001.

And because the football world knew the Rams were good, they featured repeatedly in high-pressure matchups with national exposure.

Three of the Rams’ final six games alone were in prime time — and while they went 1-2 in those games, Goff believes it will all pay off when the Rams begin their toughest work next week.

“I think just understanding the opportunity is definitely part of it,” the third-year quarterback said. “Just having more big-game experience, being on prime time a handful of times this year and then having that playoff game last year and having games that are extremely meaningful late in the season. I think that all carries over into the playoffs and into that mentality that you have to have throughout the week.”

The Rams kept a mellow mentality while they waited for the NFC to sort out their opponent. They held two light practices, but otherwise used the bye week to heal from the accumulated wear of the regular season before watching the weekend’s playoff games from their couches.

“I’d be watching it whether we were in or not,” McVay said with a grin.

A playoff bye is another new experience for many Rams, including McVay, who never had that postseason week off in eight years as an NFL assistant. McVay leaned on Phillips and his other veteran assistants to formulate a plan for their time off.

“It certainly is something that you appreciate,” McVay said. “It’s a good balance of letting the players get away, and the coaches as well, but you’re also staying sharp, not getting too far removed from it where you let the rust set in.”

The Rams gathered no rust in December because they couldn’t let up down the stretch. The Bears pushed them for the No. 2 seed in the NFC until the final game of the regular season, forcing every starter except injured Todd Gurley and safety Lamarcus Joyner to play in the finale even though the Rams wrapped up their division four weeks earlier.

The past month was encouraging for the defense, which had struggled to match the offense’s performance earlier in the season. Los Angeles held three of its final five opponents — including Chicago, a potential playoff foe — to fewer than 17 points, showing tenacity and adaptability even in its opponents’ higher-scoring performances.

The Rams added a handful of playoff-tested veterans in the offseason, including Super Bowl champion Aqib Talib. If anybody didn’t get it last season, the veteran cornerback can tell his teammates all about the importance of meeting the playoff challenge.

“Football cranks up,” Talib said. “Gets a little bit faster. You’ve got to make less mistakes. It’s the playoffs, man, so it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time, second time. It doesn’t really matter. Everything is going to go a little faster and your margin of error has got to be that much better.”

As for Gurley. ... The Rams played without their star running back the final two weeks of the regular season because of a knee injury, but there’s been optimism about his outlook for Saturday’s game against the Cowboys. Tuesday’s update from McVay did nothing to change that.

McVay said that Gurley took part in the team’s first walkthrough of the day and that he would do the same when they hold another one later on Tuesday. He did -- albeit on a limited basis.

Gurley said last week he hoped to practice some this week to help get him back in football shape and McVay suggested that's the plan.

Whatever the case, Gurley appears to be on track to play in this one.

In the event things do go the other way, the Rams would turn to C.J. Anderson as their lead back. He ran 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the two games that Gurley, who scored 21 touchdowns, including 17 rushing, missed in December.

We'll be following up in the News and Views section as needed in coming days. ...

Also on the injury front. ... Defensive back Blake Countess (concussion) also was limited, while safety Lamarcus Joyner (ankle) had a full practice.

Worth noting. ... The Rams have issued a reminder that tickets to Saturday night’s game against the Cowboys at the L.A. Coliseum are available to be purchased. ]

And if Rams fans haven’t Cowboys fans definitely will.

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, Cowboys fans don’t travel well per se; they’re simply already everywhere. The fact that they’ve had so little postseason success since winning their last Super Bowl 23 years ago is a testament to the power of the brand. But the last year the Cowboys won the Super Bowl was the first year of a two-decade NFL hiatus from L.A., and a generation of Angelenos grew up free to root for any team, including the one that squatted on a nickname that resonates from coast to coast.

Remember the 2016 preseason game between the Cowboys and Rams that marked the NFL’s return to L.A.? That meaningless game had a postseason vibe. This very meaningful postseason game will have a Super Bowl vibe. And it could feel a lot like a Super Bowl being played in Dallas.

And that could help Dallas secure the ability to play for a berth in the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1996.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Jared Goff, Brandon Allen
RBs: Todd Gurley, John Kelly, Justin Davis
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, KhaDarel Hodge
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

Tom Brady, much like Patriots fans around the world, sat on his couch and watched the Los Angeles Chargers dispatch the Baltimore Ravens, 23-17, in the opening round of the playoffs Sunday.

With the win, the fifth-seeded Chargers will face Brady and the second-seeded Patriots at Gillette Stadium this coming Sunday at 1 p.m.

Brady, who beat the Chargers in the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, hasn’t faced quarterback Philip Rivers in January in over a decade.

He took to Instagram to share how excited he is to battle Rivers and the Chargers with a trip to the AFC Championship game on the line.

“See you next Sunday in Foxboro! Let’s have some fun! #LFG,” he wrote, posting a picture of himself and Rivers from September 2011.

But Brady's evening didn't end there.

“After that game ended, I was up watching film all night,” Brady said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “That’s the way it is. This is the biggest week of the year for me; everything is focused on what we need to do. You can’t watch enough film on weeks like this. You can’t get enough rest. You can’t get enough treatment, get enough training or get enough practice. It’s all about what we have to do to be at our best for the biggest three hours of the season when that ball kicks off.”

Sunday’s game will be Brady’s 38th in the postseason, extending his NFL record.

The 41-year-old Brady was asked in the radio interview if he’s grown accustomed to such pressure.

“I feel like I’m just really focused and I feel like I really can hone in on what I need to do,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of why I’m still playing at this point and part of why I’ve been able to do that. It just comes very naturally to me, without me having to think.

“Certainly there are things that don’t come naturally to me that I’ve had to work hard at. This is something that I really don’t have to think about much. It just naturally happens. The focus and the emotion really sharpens, tightens up. And I get to a place mentally where I need to be.”

Brady added that the daily pressure of playing under coach Bill Belichick helps harden the entire team for this time of year.

“I think when you play for the Patriots, there’s pressure on you from the day you walk into the door,” he said. “Coach is constantly putting pressure on us to exceed his expectations, which is very challenging, because he has high expectations. But it’s all for weeks like this. Whether it’s practice, walk-through, meetings, ultimately as it comes up to the game, this is when you need to be at your highest level of focus because it’s unlike any other game we’ve played all year. ...

“You just realize it’s all on the line. You have 65 plays left. You have two or three bad ones and that’s the season. You never want it to come down to that. You never really want you to be the reason why things don’t go well. So there’s an intense pressure. I already feel it.”

According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, players were scheduled to return to the facility on Monday afternoon for meetings, with their first practice of the week set for Wednesday.

That gives them five days since their last practice, with Brady saying the physical rest helps and that this is currently the time for more mental work.

Meanwhile, Reiss reminded readers that when the Patriots were preparing to face the Chargers in October 2017, Belichick noted the presence of pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa by saying they put the Chargers' defense into a “special category.”

“There’s not many teams in the league that have one player like this. They have two,” he said.

Belichick talking up the opposition is standard operating procedure, but anyone watching the Chargers’ victory over the Ravens on Sunday would be hard-pressed to disagree -- particularly with Ingram’s ability to control a game.

The Patriots haven’t faced too many disruptive pass-rushers like the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Ingram this season, and how they handle him is one obvious storyline heading into Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium.

What stood out most about Ingram on Sunday, when he totaled a team-high seven tackles with two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, was how he aligned in multiple spots on the line of scrimmage.

His speed, first-step quickness and dynamic pass-rush moves contributed to making him a first-round NFL draft choice out of South Carolina in 2012. Offensive tackles across the NFL can attest to how challenging it has been to face him, particularly over the past four seasons, as he has totaled 36 of his 42 career sacks over that span.

But the Chargers also move Ingram inside, where his speed is a tough matchup for guards and centers at times.

So it’s not just Patriots offensive tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon who have to study up on Ingram and Bosa this week, but left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason, as well.

That group on the interior has been a strength for the Patriots, with Thuney playing every snap this season and Andrews (99 percent) and Mason (84 percent) not far behind. This is their third year playing together, which has also helped from a cohesion standpoint.

“That group’s been pretty solid, pretty dependable, pretty reliable for us. We’ve been pretty fortunate in that part of the offensive line,” Belichick said in late November.

Brady has also helped his own cause at times with his knack for getting rid of the football quickly, which has negated pressure; the Patriots finished the regular season ranked third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed per pass play.

Brady will need a quick trigger Sunday against a Chargers defense that totaled seven sacks against Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, tying a franchise postseason record. All seven of those sacks came with the Chargers rushing four or fewer defenders, which is consistent with their approach in the regular season.

"Any time they can rush four guys and force the ball out quickly ... You hold the ball for an extra tick of a second, it's a strip sack by Ingram or Bosa," Brady said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI’s “Mut and Callahan Show.” "I think it's one of those games where we have to play on time."

Brady and the Patriots have faced some excellent pass-rushers this season, with the Bears’ Khalil Mack probably the closest to what they’ll see Sunday with Ingram. But Mack clearly wasn’t 100 percent in the Oct. 21 meeting between the teams.

Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt gave them some trouble in mid-December, as did the entire Tennessee Titans front in Week 10.

But this looks like a greater challenge than anything they’ve seen.

Still, this isn't the Patriots' first rodeo.

In fact, New England will extend their own NFL record by hosting a divisional-round playoff game for the ninth straight season. The Dolphins are second, with five straight from 1981 to 1985.

But of course, it goes beyond that. ... Three of the eight players who have played the most postseason games in NFL history will take the field this weekend.

When the Colts take the field on Saturday, former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri will play in his 32nd career postseason game. That’s the second-most in NFL history.

The record for the most ever belongs to Brady, who will play his 38th career postseason game on Sunday against the Chargers. Also playing in that game will be Vinatieri’s successor as New England’s kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, who will be playing in his 26th career postseason game.

So there's no shortage of experience in clutch situations for key players here. ...

Also of interest. ... What about Rob Gronkowski?

Gronkowski's 12 postseason touchdowns are an NFL record for a tight end, and he can break a tie with former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth for the second-most receiving touchdowns in NFL playoff history behind former San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice (22).

Furthermore, his 68 receptions for 972 yards are the most by a tight end in NFL playoff history. He is one of only three tight ends -- joining Vernon Davis and Keith Jackson -- with at least four 100-yard receiving games in the postseason.

But as Reiss noted, if Gronkowski breaks out, it would be a notable change from the regular season, as some opponents viewed him differently than in the past.

"We didn't game plan for him, or have any doubles on him. Our plan was to hit him early, stop him early, because he can't restart anymore if he's redirected," one defensive coach who faced the Patriots in 2018 told Reiss.

Expecting a huge post-season turnaround seems unlikely. ...

The Patriots announced Tuesday that they promoted tight end Stephen Andersonfrom the practice squad. They placed tight end Jacob Hollister on injured reserve in a corresponding move.

As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams noted, Hollister is out with a hamstring injury, which kept him out six games. He missed two other games with a chest injury.

The team’s third tight end played only 59 snaps on offense and caught four passes for 52 yards. He played 97 snaps on special teams in eight games.

Anderson, 25, has spent the season on the Patriots’ practice squad. He played 28 regular-season games and two postseason games with the Texans.

He has 36 catches for 435 yards and two touchdowns in his career. ...

A few final items. ... Brady had his personal throwing coach, Tom House, in town last week to fine-tune and sharpen his fundamentals entering the playoffs. Brady relayed that it was standard operating procedure for him.

To some teammates, Brady's attention to detail in that area is one notable example of what makes him great.

"Michael Jordan is my favorite athlete of all time, because of how great he always wanted to be. Tom is the football Michael Jordan. He has that mindset," receiver Phillip Dorsett said. "That's something that I've always liked about him -- he wants to be great. It's the work you put in that makes you great."

Dorsett said he can't think of another player who focuses more on fundamentals than Brady.

Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer agreed.

"Being around it makes you a better quarterback," Hoyer said. "You watch what he does and how focused he is with fundamentals -- front foot, shoulders, eyes, all those things. I remember going back to my first stint here (2009-2011) and I felt like I became such a better fundamental passer just by watching him and doing the same drills. He's obsessed with it."

As PFT suggested, there's no better time for such a fundamental tune-up than leading into the playoffs. ...

And finally. ... Last year, after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels jilted the Colts, many believed he’d stay in New England until Belichick retires.

That still seems likely.

McDaniels' only interview this cycle was with the Packers, who subsequently hired Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur as their head coach.

"The book is closed," he said Tuesday in a conference call. "It's always a humbling experience to have an opportunity. I was thankful for the opportunity to meet with Green Bay. Always very educational to go through it. I'm completely focused on the Chargers. I'll be here moving forward."

McDaniels shutting down further head coaching options this season indicates he only had interest in working with Aaron Rodgers or remaining in New England.

While McDaniels had been speculatively linked to the Browns' opening, the Pats OC told NFL Network's Michael Giardi he had not been in contact with the Cleveland brass.

A year after he reneged on the Indianapolis Colts coaching job, most figured McDaniels would have a cool market, yet he still garnered interest from the Packers

"I have no idea (if last season impacted interest)," he said. "You'd have to ask (other teams) if it had anything to do with it. I have one of the best jobs in the world."

McDaniels will remain in that job for at least another season. An additional year away from leaving the Colts at the alter could lead to further interest in the OC next hiring cycle. Or he could wait out Bill Belichick before taking over the Patriots head job, whenever the greatest coach in modern football decides it's time to step away.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Bruce Ellington, Dontrelle Inman, Phillip Dorsett
TEs: Ben Watson, Tyler Conklin

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

The New Orleans Saints will begin their playoff run Sunday by facing a monster they helped to create.

The sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles have turned their season around in a big way after suffering a 48-7 loss at New Orleans in Week 11 that Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins called "embarrassing" because of their lack of fight.

Since then, last year's Super Bowl champions have surged back to win six of seven games. They finished the regular season 9-7, then stunned the Chicago Bears 16-15 on Sunday in the wild-card round.

That earned them a return trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday.

Worth noting: There was already at least one Eagles reference on Sunday night to the Saints "running up the score" against them in that Week 11 blowout.

At the time, most Eagles players said they didn't blame the Saints for going for it on fourth-and-6 and throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara early in the fourth quarter when they were already leading by 31 points. Most Eagles said it was their own fault for not being able to stop the Saints.

Either way, emotions ran high enough that Jenkins was caught on camera extending his middle finger toward his former Saints coach, Sean Payton, on the sideline after he was victimized by Kamara on the play.

"I'm a competitor. I love Sean to death. I know what type of guy and coach he is. That was more so personal between me and him," Jenkins told NBC Sports Philadelphia after the game. "We talked after the game. It's all good. I know Sean. They're going to go for it. I was more so upset that it was on me."

Regardless of their motivation, the Eagles will obviously be eager to put up a bigger fight in the rematch -- especially on defense, where they have been playing much better football over the past seven weeks. They're led by first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who ranked second in the NFL this season with 34 quarterback hits.

Cox and the Eagles' front four will put pressure on a Saints offensive line that was beat up in December, leading to their worst stretch of the season on offense.

"They're a different team than we faced, obviously, earlier in the year. ... I think there's a confidence that you see," said Payton, who pointed specifically to the Eagles' pass rush as "something they've done very well" since Week 11.

"Our league is game to game," Payton said. "One of the things you know going in is gonna be pass rush, pass protection. They've got a dynamic run front. [Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] and those guys do a great job getting after the passer.

"This is a Super Bowl champion."

Remarkably, both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in this game, Drew Breesand Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, come from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.

Brees, who turns 40 next week, had one of the best regular seasons of his 18-year career. He broke his own NFL record with a completion percentage of 74.4 and set a personal high with a passer rating of 115.7 while throwing for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Brees, who threw four TD passes against the Eagles in Week 11, will once again need to exploit a Philly pass defense that ranked 30th in the NFL this season.

As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel pointed out, accuracy is Brees' greatest strength.

His pinpoint control was even documented in a ”Sport Science” episode in which Brees’ ability to hit a target compared favorably to that of an Olympic archer.

Yet Brees attributes his record career and single-season completion percentages to far more than his ability to throw passes wherever he wants. And he is also quick to stress that he can’t do it alone.

“We work at it. It takes an entire group and it starts with the guys up front, goes to the receivers catching the ball, tight ends, backs, everybody in protection and running routes and timing,” Brees said. “I mean, there is so much that goes into that.”

Brees takes time during or after virtually every practice or even offseason workout to help receivers and blockers see the field the way he sees it, to help them understand how he’s inclined to act when the approach of a defense causes plays to develop any variety of ways.

During the course of 18 full regular seasons, Brees has set an entirely new NFL standard for completion percentage. As noted above, his 74.4 percent completion rate (364 of 489) this season broke the NFL record of 72 percent that Brees himself set last season. Brees owns three of the six highest single-season completion rates in NFL history. His 70.6 rate in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, tied Kenny Anderson for the highest of all time. He owned the record alone after completing 71.2 percent in 2011. That stood until Sam Bradford’s 71.6 percent in 2016, which Brees broke the very next year.

Brees’ career completion rate of 67.3 percent also is highest of all-time. And he leads in passing yards and number of completions.

Payton, who played quarterback in college and very briefly as a pro, and whose entire 30-year coaching career at the college and pro levels has involved working with offenses, attests to the rarity of what Brees has accomplished by completing nearly three-quarters of his passes this season.

“Honestly, it’s a high mark. I can’t recall being with a quarterback or an offense where (a QB) is completing balls at that high number,” Payton said. “It’s exceptional and I don’t think you take it for granted. That efficiency is impressive.”

Brees is a stickler for throwing mechanics. He has trained for years with throwing coach Tom House, a former major league pitcher. And the ex-Purdue star sounds like an engineer when he explains the “kinetic chain,” which, in his case, refers to the transfer of energy from his feet to his hips, shoulders and ultimately the index finger in his throwing hand as he unloads the ball. He drops terms like “ankle eye,” referring to an imaginary eye on the inside ankle of a passer’s back foot, which should be looking straight at the intended target.

“His accuracy is exceptional,” Payton said. “Then the methodical approach, the amount of time he puts into the situations, those things factor in.”

Tight end Ben Watson, whose 15-year NFL career included several seasons with New England’s Tom Brady, said Brees spends as much or more time explaining what he’s thinking, seeing and needing on a given play than any QB or offensive coordinator he’s known. Brees goes into fine detail with receivers about route depth, timing and leverage. He reminds offensive linemen that when he’s taking just a three-step drop blocks need to be aggressive so that defensive lineman will be forced to engage with their hands, preventing them from getting their arms up to bat down the ball.

Sometimes, Brees can sound defensive when discussion turns to his completion rate, as if he’s sensitive to the notion it’s only so high because he often throws short, particularly to running backs. Brees tends to harken back to advice from his second NFL head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, who’d extol the virtue of modest completions by saying one never goes broke taking a profit.

“I know this: completions usually equal positive plays. Positive plays move the chains, moving the chains scores points, scoring points wins games,” Brees told Martel. “So you just focus on getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers as early and often as possible. Good things happen. But we work on that. That’s not easy.”

Added Watson, “The No. 1 thing about having a high completion rate is getting to a play that has a high chance of being a completion.”

“A lot of our plays have options,” Watson continued, citing different versions of a given passing play for zone or man-to-man coverage, as well of the option to check out of a play and call an entirely new one because of defensive alignments.

So Brees’ sophisticated understanding of opposing defenses “is just as important as his accuracy or a guy catching the ball,” Watson concluded.

Veteran receiver Ted Ginnplayed in Carolina when Cam Newton was the NFL’s Most Valuable player in 2015. Ginn said Brees was MVP-worthy this season — and not just for his completion percentage record or the fact that the Saints went 13-2 in Brees’ 15 starts.

“He’s one of the smartest human beings that I know on and off the field,” Ginn said. “You can understand why him and Sean have been together for a long time.”

And Ginn added that Brees’ affability, leadership and ability to communicate play a part, too.

“The guy is amazing and he does a lot of things that a lot of people wouldn’t even know,” Ginn said. “He’s really like a father figure out there to a lot of our guys that’s on that field. We really believe in that guy — and that guy really believes in us.”

Meanwhile, the Saints will be going up against one of the league's more generous secondaries.

Also worth noting. ... As Triplett pointed out, the Saints are actually the last team to beat Foles in the playoffs -- 26-24 at Philadelphia in the wild-card round of the 2013 season, which was Foles' second year in the league. And they are 2-1 all time against the Eagles in the playoffs (a 27-24 win at home in the 2006 divisional round and a 36-20 loss at home in the 1992 wild-card round).

The more relevant history for the Saints, though, might be their perfect record of 5-0 in home playoff games during the Payton-Brees era. As the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Saints don't have to leave home until the Super Bowl.

And finally. ... Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was the third candidate to interview for the Miami Dolphins’ coaching job. He met Saturday with the Dolphins, who earlier interviewed New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Miami is seeking a replacement for Adam Gase, fired Monday after three seasons.

Allen went 8-28 as head coach of the Oakland Raiders before he was fired four games into the 2014 season. Since he joined the Saints, they’ve risen from 31st in yards allowed in 2015 to 14th this season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 January 2019

The Philadelphia Eagles were desperately seeking a lift with little time left to save their season.

Nick Foles came through for the defending Super Bowl champions. And he did it just in time.

Foles threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tateon fourth down in the final minute, and the Eagles hung on for a 16-15 wild-card victory over the Chicago Bears after Cody Parkey’s missed field goal hit the upright and crossbar.

After squeezing past the NFC North champions, the Eagles (10-7) will visit top-seeded New Orleans (13-3) next Sunday.

“It’s going to be a tall task this week,” Foles said. “They had a bye week and they are a tremendous team. They had an amazing season. But you know, I love these guys that I get to play with. I know we’re ready for this week.”

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, the Eagles won five of their final six regular-season games. They squeezed into the playoffs by beating Washington and having the Bears (12-5) give them an assist by taking out Minnesota last week.

The Eagles are trying to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since New England in 2004. And they’re also trying to become the first sixth seed to win the title since Green Bay in the 2010 season. The Packers beat the Bears for the conference championship at Soldier Field that year.

“We have nothing to lose,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Nobody expects us to do anything. Everybody counted us out. So you know, what do we have to lose but our dignity and pride?”

Foles came through down the stretch against the NFL’s stingiest defense to help the Eagles pull out the tight victory. He completed six passes on a 60-yard drive for the go-ahead TD after Chicago’s Pat O’Donnell shanked a punt.

Three plays at the 2 went nowhere, with Kyle Fuller breaking up a third-down pass to Alshon Jeffery near the goal line. But with the season on the line, Foles rolled to his right and Tate reached to grab the go-ahead TD with 56 seconds left.

“He never tries to do too much. He tries to play within himself on every play,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “The moment’s never too big for him and he just resonates that calm and positive attitude.”

Foles is now 7-0 while filling in for Carson Wentz in must-win games the past two seasons, with a Super Bowl MVP performance against New England last year. And he came through against the Chicago when things weren’t looking so promising.

“You know, (Foles) just does a great job of just staying in the moment, staying calm and, you know, no panic,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “There was no panic on the offense or on the sideline.”

Wendell Smallwood’s 2-point conversion run failed. But the Eagles hung on when Parkey’s 43-yard attempt in the closing seconds hit halfway up the left upright and ricocheted off the crossbar. He was 11 of 12 on fourth-quarter field goals prior to missing the biggest kick of his career. And it was the sixth time this season he nailed an upright on a missed field goal or extra point.

That ended a stunning turnaround season for the Bears in their first year under coach Matt Nagy. They won the NFC North after four straight last-place finishes and reached the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Meanwhile, head coach Doug Pederson opened Monday’s press conference by saying that Foles‘ ribs are fine and that he will be starting in New Orleans against the Saints.

As long as Foles remains healthy, it’s hard to fathom anyone else playing quarterback for the Eagles this year and Nate Sudfeldis the No. 2 with Carson Wentz out due to a back injury. The Eagles have kept Wentz on the active roster despite his inability to play and Pederson explained why they haven’t made a roster move to bring in a healthier player.

“Well, listen, I mean, we keep winning,” Pederson said. “We keep putting ourselves in a position to be successful. You never know. You never know what next week might hold. So we just keep that — we’ve done it a lot this year. We kept Darren [Sproles] up all season. We’ve done it with other players this year. Sidney Jones is another one that we keep alive. We keep these guys coming and we’ll see where they are at in another week.”

It would take a strange turn of events for Wentz to wind up back on the field before the Eagles are done playing this season, but the team is staying prepared for such a development.

Beyond that, Tate (knee), Jeffery (ribs) and Mike Wallace (ankle) were all limited at Wednesday's practice. We'll follow up as needed in the News and Views section in coming days. ...

A few final notes. ... Running back Darren Sproles planned for 2017 to be his final season in the NFL, but a torn ACL and broken arm led him to reconsider and re-sign with the team this offseason.

Philly’s playoff run may not be Sproles’ swan song either. Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Sproles has been telling people around the team that he’s seriously considering one more year in the league.

If he does decide to keep playing, it seems likely that he’ll have a spot with the Eagles. Head coach Doug Pederson said recently that he’d love to have Sproles around as a “great leader” for the team in 2019.

Sproles missed 10 games with a hamstring injury after appearing in the opener. He’s run the ball 24 times for 110 yards, caught 11 passes for 138 yards and returned punts while scoring three times in those appearances.

And one last thing. ... Foles fell four plays short of earning a $1 million incentive when he bruised his ribs and had to leave Philadelphia's season finale against the Redskins last Sunday, but the Eagles intend to work on a solution to pay him the bonus, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Foles was on track to reach the incentive, which would've been triggered if the Eagles made the playoffs and Foles played 33 percent of the team's offensive plays this season. But he bruised his ribs in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' playoff-clinching victory over the Redskins. Foles had to leave the game, and he finished the season playing 357 of the Eagles' 1,092 plays -- four offensive snaps short of the 33 percent threshold.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cody Kessler, Nate Sudfeld, Carson Wentz
RBs: Jordan Howard, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers