Team Notes Week 19 2019
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. ...
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
Baltimore will host the Titans in an AFC divisional round game Saturday night at MandT Bank Stadium. The sixth-seeded Titans earned their way into the divisional round with the day's biggest upset, knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 20-13, at Gillette Stadium.
It's the Patriots' earliest playoff exit since the 2009 season, when the Ravens went to New England and won, 33-14.
As BaltimoreRavens.com's Clifton Brown noted this week, the Ravens didn't face Tennessee during the regular season, and the Titans will arrive in Baltimore loaded with confidence.
The Titans made the playoffs by winning five of their last seven games during the regular season to finish 9-7, and they became a different team after Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback in Week 7. Tannehill had the best season of his eight-year career in Tennessee, throwing 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions and running for another four scores.
Meanwhile, the heart of Tennessee's offense is running back Derrick Henry, who was the NFL's leading rusher (1,540 yards) during the regular season. Henry was the workhorse against the Patriots, rushing for 182 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries, while Tannehill threw for just 72 yards.
Controlling Henry will be the top priority for the Ravens' defense that ranked fifth in the NFL (93.4 yards allowed) against the run this season.
Tennessee's defense was ranked in the lower half of the NFL, but the Titans turned in a clutch performance against New England as cornerback Logan Ryan sealed the victory with a pick-six against Brady in the final minute. The Titans held quarterback Tom Brady and New England's offense scoreless in the second half.
The Titans' defensive coordinator is former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and he will spend the next week working on a game plan to defend Baltimore's high-powered offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson. Baltimore had the NFL's highest-scoring offense, and Jackson is expected to win the MVP award after his spectacular regular season.
After a 14-2 regular season, winning their last 12 games, the Ravens spent the bye week practicing and preparing for one of their three possible opponents.
Now the focus narrows to Tennessee.
Worth noting: Jackson is eager to erase the bitter memory of last year's playoff debut.
In last season's 23-17 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Jackson had the worst start of his career, completing 3 of 9 passes for 25 yards in the first three quarters. The youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game, Jackson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to get Baltimore within one score, but that proved no consolation.
"That game still motivates me," Jackson said last Friday after the Ravens' final practice of the bye week. "I still haven't played my second playoff game yet. ... That game is over with. We've been having a great year this year. We just got to keep it going. I want a Super Bowl."
This may be the understatement of the year, but Jackson has come a long way since then. After leading the NFL in touchdown passes (36) and breaking the all-time quarterback rushing record (1,206), Jackson has established himself as perhaps the league's most dynamic offensive weapon.
Yet the question still remains whether somebody will "figure out" Jackson.
He and the Ravens' offensive scheme have gone against some of the NFL's brightest and most established defensive minds this season, and nobody has cracked the code yet.
So will Pees figure it out in a week?
"I'm not a rookie anymore. I've been around. I've seen everything they can bring," Jackson said. "So, I just have to keep playing ball, and we're going to see when it comes."
Asked Friday to name one thing he focused on this past offseason to get where he is now, Jackson said he "wanted to get better at everything, and still do."
"I'm not the greatest. I'm not the best," Jackson said. "I just want to win and keep winning. So, I just have to keep working.
"This playoff game is a Super Bowl game, because if you don't win, you're out. You're going home into next season. So, I'm treating every game like it's a Super Bowl game until I'm in there."
Worth noting. ... The bye proved timely for Jackson. He has been battling the flu, which forced him to watch parts of last Sunday's regular-season finale in the locker room. The illness also caused him to miss Tuesday's practice.
Jackson practiced last Thursday and Friday.
"I really don't get sick," Jackson said. "It was like a stomach bug. It was a weird, nasty feeling. Numbness. ... I'm over it. I'm good. I'm 100 [percent] right now."
Jackson's bigger concern is the fate of his play caller. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman interviewed Thursday night with the Cleveland Browns about their head-coaching vacancy.
In Roman's first season as the Ravens' coordinator, Baltimore led the NFL in scoring (33.2 points per game) and broke the 41-year-old league record for rushing yards (3,296) in a season.
"They need to chill out," Jackson said of the Browns. "We got something to do right now. We need him to focus because we need to focus. We're trying to get somewhere. You guys are going to have your own turn when the season is over with."
In addition, Mark Ingram missed Week 17 after suffering a calf injury, but the bye week will help get the team's top running back on the field for the Divisional Round.
Harbaugh said last Friday that Ingram is on pace to return for next week's playoff game. "He's on track to play, and he should be practicing next week full speed," Harbaugh said.
Ingram suffered the calf injury in Week 16, and while the RB initially feared the worst after the injury, an MRI confirmed it was only a slight strain.
The bulldozing running back has been the perfect complement to Jackson, able to plow through the middle of defenses if defenders try to key on the QB runs. Ingram dashed for 1,018 yards on 202 carries in 15 games, averaging 5.0 yards per rush, and gobbled up 15 total TDs (10 rushing), the most scrimmage scores in his career.
Getting Ingram back healthy for the playoffs provides a huge sigh of relief in Baltimore.
Jackson and Ingram are obviously big factors in the Jaguars usual formula.
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert pointed out this week, Jackson threw eight touchdown passes in the first quarter of games this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL, which helped his team get out to big leads.
If the Ravens can do that, Jackson and Co. are good enough from a personnel standpoint to roll from there.
Overall, the Titans finished ranked 21st in the NFL this year in yards allowed per game (359.5), but 12th in points allowed per game (20.7). They were tied for 10th in takeaways (23). Those numbers portray a bend-but-don’t-break defense.
However, Tennessee ranked 31st in the NFL this year in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 68.1 percent of opponents’ trips inside the 20-yard line.
They did get a big stop in New England though. Baltimore’s offense ranked second in the red zone, scoring 67.2 percent of the time. The only team with a better touchdown rate in the red zone was. ... The Titans, at 75.6 percent.
Baltimore’s defense, which had the third-best mark in the red zone (47.7 percent) may make the difference. ...
Finally. ... Offensive coordinator Greg Roman interviewed for the Browns' head coaching vacancy last Thursday, which Jackson was asked about during a session with reporters on Friday.
"They need to chill out," Jackson told the Baltimore Sun. "We got something to do right now. We need him to focus because we need to focus. We're trying to get somewhere. Let us do our thing. You guys are going to have y'all turn when season is over with. We're trying to get somewhere."
In the video of Jackson's response, it's clear that his tongue was in his cheek during that answer and the one he gave when asked if he's shared that opinion with Roman.
"No, he should know that," Jackson said.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, there have been many assistants who have done their jobs well during postseasons that ended with them taking head coaching positions with other clubs. There's no reason to think Roman couldn't do the same for the AFC's top seed in the coming weeks and Jackson's joking answer makes it clear he doesn't disagree with that point.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
As Packers.com's Mike Spofford reminded readers this week, the narrative surrounding the Packers' offense is that it's not operating at playoff-caliber.
In fact, they finished 18th in total offense (yards per game) and were never higher than 17th in the rankings after Week 8.
So the question this week, is how close are they to being ready for primetime heading into Sunday night's NFC Divisional playoff against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field?
Over the final four regular-season games, Green Bay scored 87 points, or 21.8 per contest. The chances to score so much more were evident, though.
In those four games, the Packers had 12 possessions that died in opponents' territory without any points being scored. Those do not include one kneel-down series.
The promising drives ended fruitlessly for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time the offense stalled, or lost yardage due to penalties or sacks, leading to eight punts. Twice the Packers went for it on fourth down and were stopped. There was also one turnover and one missed field goal.
Having the ball across midfield always has a team thinking points. The offense is on the edge of field-goal range, often just one first down (or maybe only 7-8 yards) from getting a chance to score.
If the Packers had managed just a field goal on half of those 12 possessions in enemy territory -- which still isn't great, but a considerable improvement -- their scoring average over the last four games would have jumped from 21.8 to 26.2. That's a much more satisfying number to take into the postseason.
The point is, it doesn't seem like it would take much, though it's always easier said than done.
"I've said it a million times, a lot of it comes down to staying on the grass, moving the sticks on third down, being in those manageable situations," head coach Matt LaFleur said. "(We have to) take advantage of those plays where … you're in that fringe field-goal range and you've got to make sure you're getting those five, six yards so you can have an opportunity at points."
So, as Spofford suggested, there are two ways to look at it. The Packers have been blowing chances they can't afford to squander in the playoffs, because a quick exit could result. Or they're on the verge of putting up a lot more points than they have with a timely, positive play here or there, which could help chart an extended postseason path.
Interpreting some of LaFleur's and quarterback Aaron Rodgers' comments during the playoff bye week, it sounds as though the approach for January is to zero in on what the Packers have done well to get to 13-3, and scale back on the portions of the playbook that haven't produced as many desired results.
The Packers held short practices on Thursday and Friday last week, and they worked out again Monday before embarking on the traditional three-day on-field game prep from Wednesday through Friday this week.
Rodgers was quick to say that all the timing of routes and throws wasn't going to get fixed over the bye, but sharpening the execution with what the Packers have done well offensively should pay dividends.
"It's just a matter of finding those concepts where the timing has been good," Rodgers said late last week. "Because there's been a number of concepts where we've looked good -- the ball's been coming out on time, I've been feeling good about the rhythm and guys are getting open on time.
"But there's I think too many concepts that we've really tried to hit and keep hitting and make it work, and we just aren't on the same page timing-wise. And that's why this has been a good week to just self-scout."
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky notes, Rodgers is coming off perhaps his most inaccurate game. He overthrew would-be receivers 16 times in the regular-season finale against the three-win Detroit Lions, a game the Packers didn't lead until Mason Crosby's winning field goal as time expired.
Yes, Rodgers got dialed in during the second half after trailing by as much as 14 points, but it tied for the most overthrows on incompletions in a single game since ESPN began tracking that stat in 2006.
LaFleur wouldn't put it all on the quarterback, whose only interception in the game came on an underthrown deep ball to wide receiver Jake Kumerow.
"I would rather a ball be [overthrown], especially when you're being aggressive down the field," LaFleur said. "Sometimes those underthrows can be killer. We just had a couple that, for whatever reason, we didn't connect on.
"We emphasize, whenever we talk to our wide receivers -- this is true to a lot of guys, and I'm not just saying receivers; I'm just saying that anybody that's out on a route, whether it's a back, receiver, tight end -- when you look back for the ball, the natural reaction is you slow down. We always have an emphasis on making sure you pump your arms because, if you slow down, that can be the difference a lot of times. I'm not saying that happened on all of them but it definitely happened on a couple of those passes. There were some that you just miss."
Theoretically, if the Packers are homing in on what they do best and can execute that one extra play they need when they get across midfield, the scoring possibilities increase significantly.
The offense gets into field-goal range and on the cusp of the red zone.
Given the fact the Packers finished eighth in the league in touchdown percentage in the red zone (32 of 50, 64 percent), better than all NFC playoff teams except Philadelphia (third, 36 of 54, 67 percent), it's not a wild exaggeration to say the Packers aren't that far away.
But again, making that extra play won't just magically happen. Part of the past week was spent studying the little things that led to success or failure in certain instances, and the next step will be applying what was learned to the upcoming game plan, now that the Packers know they're playing Seattle.
"Maybe we're not detailing up a route or a run concept as good as we need to," LaFleur said. "We're always trying to get to the why. If something is working, why is it working? Or if it's not working, why isn't it working?"
Added Rodgers: "That's our focus, finding what works and what we like from the first 16 weeks, what we want to adjust here in the next 10 days and go out and execute."
At the forefront of it all, of course, is Rodgers, who statistically hasn't had one of his better seasons (62 percent completions, 95.4 passer rating), but who has expressed confidence in his command of LaFleur's offense at the line of scrimmage -- making the right checks and getting the offense into the right plays based on the defensive looks.
If the volume he must process and stay on top of is narrowed to what has worked best, the hope is the tempo and efficiency will go up a notch, and that one extra play or two when on the edge of scoring range can be made.
Work to be done? Absolutely. Doubts it can get done?
"Absolutely not," Davante Adams said. "There's no question whatsoever. We all know what he's capable of. We're all human. It's not always going to be great plays every single play.
"But when it comes down to situations like this, playoff moments, with a Super Bowl on the line, that's my guy and I'm definitely not going to think he can't take care of that."
Of course, as ESPN's Kevin Seifert reminded readers, it wasn't that long ago that we saw Rodgers dominate opponents in the postseason. His performances in the 2010 divisional round against the Falcons, Super Bowl XLV and the 2016 divisional round against the Cowboys were transcendent.
The Packers have turned "winning ugly" into a motto, but it usually doesn't work that way in the playoffs. They'll need a superior, if not elite, game from Rodgers to ensure a victory.
They'll also need run effectively against Seattle's defensive front.
The Seahawks were 22nd against the run this year and you could argue Aaron Jones was the Packers’ offensive MVP in 2019. When he produces, the Packers win.
In fact, Green Bay is 6-0 when either Jones and/or Jamaal Williams rushes for 100 yards. That moves to 7-0, if you count Jones’ 159-yard receiving game vs. Kansas City. ...
For the record, the Packers and Seahawks will meet in the postseason for the fourth time. The most recent meeting was the 2014 NFC title game in Seattle, won by the Seahawks in overtime after a comeback that broke Packers' fans hearts.
Green Bay won the 2003 wild-card game and the 2007 divisional contest, both at Lambeau Field. The first playoff matchup also went to overtime.
The most recent regular-season meeting between the teams came last year, won by the Seahawks in Seattle, 27-24. ...
On the injury front. ... Williams (shoulder) and WR Allen Lazard (ankle) returned to practice for the Packers' Thursday bye week session and there don't appear to be any setbacks this week.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga remains in the concussion protocol. Bulaga was involved in practice on Monday but has yet to be cleared after suffering a head injury in Green Bay's Week 17 contest against Detroit. His availability against Seattle is obviously important considering Jadeveon Clowney lined up opposite Bulaga's position on 40 percent of his defensive snaps this year.
The 30-year-old tackle will be replaced by former retiree Jared Veldheer if he doesn't clear protocol by kick-off.
According to Demovsky, perhaps the biggest concern on the Packers' O-line, center Corey Linsley, seems to be headed in the right direction. He's been undergoing extensive treatment after his back locked up in the regular-season finale. However, he said he's never had any luck getting it "unlocked" when it happens during a game.
"When it seizes it up, it just seizes up," Linsley said. "We're working on it, and hopefully that never happens again."
LaFleur said there's been "a little bit of sickness" going through the team. The issue kept Elgton Jenkins from practicing Monday.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Tyler Ervin, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted this week, after scoring just seven points in his playoff debut a year ago, Deshaun Watson wasn't going to let the Texans falter again.
Even if it took an unbelievable play in overtime Saturday to get the win.
In the Texans' 22-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Watson spun out of what looked to be a certain sack on second-and-6 to stay upright and find running back Taiwan Jones for 34 yards to set up first-and-goal at the Buffalo 10. Watson flexed both arms as the crowd at NRG Stadium went wild. On the next play, Houston won the AFC wild-card game on a 28-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn.
"I just told myself to stay up," Watson told ESPN's Lisa Salters about avoiding the sack. "It's do or die right now, and all that work I put in in the offseason, I just had to make a play. Somebody had to be great -- why not me?"
The Texans will next go on the road to play the No. 2-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said he didn't realize Watson made two players miss until he looked up to the video board after the play was over. Watson, who was hit as he threw, didn't see Jones make the catch because he was falling to the ground.
"The pressure was there," Watson said. "I just kind of braced myself and spun out of it. I knew exactly where Taiwan was going to be at."
Watson was 4-of-5 for 107 yards when under pressure in the fourth quarter and overtime on Saturday, including that 34-yard pass to Jones, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
After Houston's offense struggled in the first half, Watson put the Texans on his back in the second half and overtime to lead his team to its first playoff victory since he was drafted in 2017.
"He's got a huge heart," head coach Bill O'Brien said of Watson. "He's been winning his whole life, and he knows how to win."
Houston trailed the Bills 16-0 with 6 minutes, 2 seconds left in the third quarter. Before the Texans' comeback Saturday, Watson was 0-6 in his NFL career when falling behind by 16 or more points (including the playoffs), and the Texans were 0-5 when trailing at halftime in a playoff game.
In the first half, Watson completed 6 of 8 passes for 49 yards and the Texans ran 20 offensive plays, their fewest in the first half of any game (including playoffs) in the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
"We knew exactly what they were going to do in the second half," Watson said. "All we had to do was just kind of get back in that routine and find that rhythm."
Watson finished the game completing 20 of 25 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. The quarterback also ran for 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
"All you need is a little spark with this team," Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. "You're never out of the game when you have Deshaun Watson as your quarterback."
On Watson's big play in overtime, Jones credited Watson for making a great call and said he "just happened to be in the right position."
"I just saw two people close in on him, and again, I can't explain how he got out," Jones said. "Again, it shows what kind of athlete [he] is. It was just, 'Oh my god, he's free and he's throwing me the ball.'"
Per ESPN Stats and Information data, Watson is the only starting quarterback in the past 15 postseasons with at least a 14-point comeback victory in both college and the NFL. He led a 14-point comeback win for Clemson against Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship.
After the Texans trailed 16-0 in the third quarter Saturday, Watson was 13-of-14 for 193 yards and a touchdown, with 41 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"The game is never over," Watson said. "Regardless if we're down 16-0, 7-0, 28-0, I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to keep playing. That's just me. I play the game. ... When I was in college, [Clemson coach] Dabo [Swinney] used to always tell us, regardless if we're up or we're down, 'Don't ever look at the scoreboard.' Keep fighting and keep pushing forward."
The Texans won despite the fact Watson was sacked seven times. According to ESPN Stats and Info research, over the past 10 seasons, including playoffs, starting quarterbacks were 1-117 when taking six or more sacks and trailing by 16 or more points in the same game. The lone win came from the Jaguars' Blake Bortles in 2014 against the Giants.
The previous team to overcome a 16-point deficit in the playoffs at home was the Seattle Seahawks, who trailed 16-0 against the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, per research from ESPN Stats and Information.
Before Saturday, the largest blown lead in Bills postseason history was 11 points, which happened in the 1980 divisional round against the Chargers.
Now, as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert reminded readers, what seems like many moons ago, we saw the Texans go into Arrowhead Stadium and take it to the Chiefs in Week 6.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was hobbled by an ankle injury then, but the Texans will go to Kansas City knowing that they have done this before.
The Texans also know they'll need Watson to produce a repeat of his Week 6 performance.
In that game, he ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third. The Chiefs gave up 5.0 yards per rush to quarterbacks this season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. There is an opening for Watson to do significant damage on the ground if he is up to it. ...
Meanwhile, the Texans got some happy news to start the week.
Wide receiver Will Fuller, who hasn't played since injuring his groin against the Buccaneers on Dec. 21, is expected back for the Texans' AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday against the Chiefs.
That's according to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport. "Not a household name, although probably will be this week," Rapoport said on the network. "When he is in the game, their offense legitimately changes. A deep threat. He's been battling a groin injury, also had a bunch of hamstring injuries during the season.
"From what I understand, the Texans do in fact expect him back on the field this week. Good news for their offense."
Rapoport's report falls into line with reporting from Aaron Wilson, who covers the team for the Houston Chronicle.
Also. ... CB Johnathan Joseph missed Saturday's game with a hamstring injury and is listed day to day this week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Keke Coutee was active on Saturday but was the only player aside from backup quarterback AJ McCarron who didn't play. Coutee, who had 110 yards receiving with a touchdown in Houston's playoff game last season, has fallen out of favor this season and his playing time has diminished despite Fuller dealing with injuries. ...
According to Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken, Hopkins didn't have a reception in the first half on Saturday for the first time since Week 16 of the 2017 season. He bounced back in the second half to finish with six catches for 90 yards. ...
J.J. Watt was pleasantly surprised with how good he felt on Saturday in his return from injury.
Watt's return, 69 days after tearing a pectoral muscle, was the latest example of his leadership role in the Texans' locker room. Watt knows he could have reinjured the muscle. But for at least one afternoon, when Houston completed a crazy comeback, the risk the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year took was rewarded.
But there was one moment where he was a bit worried that his surgically repaired pectoral muscle wouldn't hold up.
As he was about to dive to try and grab Buffalo QB Josh Allen, he wondered if that could be the moment where he was re-injured.
"But I dove and landed right on it, popped up, checked it out and looked over at the doctor who was standing like 10 feet away," he said. "And I was like: 'It's all right.'"
For all Watt's successes in his nine-year NFL career, it was only the second time he was on the field for a playoff victory. His first came after the 2012 season.
Going into Saturday, the plan was for Watt to play on third downs in passing situations, with he and the coaches "trying to pick our spots throughout the rest of the game, try and find pass-rushing situations and things like that."
He was on the field for 44 percent of the defensive snaps in the first half, but after the Texans started their comeback, he played 76 percent of snaps in the second half and overtime.
Watt was as effective as ever.
His pass rush win rate against the Bills was 26 percent, which was better than his percentage during the regular season (24 percent), which was good enough to rank seventh overall in the NFL, according to ESPN pass-rush metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. Watt was double-teamed on 50 percent of his rushes, also higher than his regular-season rate of 40 percent.
"He made some really game-changing plays," O'Brien said. "He just changes the game by his presence in there. His talent, he draws a lot of attention relative to blocking schemes and things like that, but he's a great player. ... It was great having him back in there."
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
The bye week has come and gone, and after Wildcard weekend, Kansas City will host the Houston Texans in the Divisional round Sunday afternoon in Arrowhead Stadium.
With the opponent set, the Chiefs resumed their regular schedule on Monday. They begin three days of on-field preparation Wednesday.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested last week, to say 2019 has been a disappointment for Patrick Mahomes is a bit unfair.
His stats weren't what they were during his MVP season of 2018, but Mahomes is still the biggest reason the Chiefs are optimistic heading into the playoffs.
"As long as you're out there on the field and you have Pat Mahomes on your side, you've got a chance," tight end Travis Kelce said.
Statistically, Mahomes isn't the same player he was in 2018, his first season as a starter. In 2019, he didn't lead the NFL in passing and didn't reach the impossibly high standard of throwing 50 touchdowns and for more than 5,000 yards, becoming only the second player to accomplish the feat.
His numbers this season were more modest: 4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns. Granted, Mahomes missed 2 ½ games in the middle of the season because of a dislocated kneecap, impacting those numbers. He won't be the MVP, having seemingly ceded that honor -- as well as the title of the league's hottest young quarterback -- to the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson.
As a team, the Chiefs scored 451 points -- 114 fewer than in 2018, when they were No. 1 in the NFL. On average, they scored about a touchdown less per game.
"It really put in perspective how hard it is to go out there week by week and put up numbers and get wins," Mahomes said. "You know it's a struggle in this league. Teams are coming with their best effort, playing us really hard.
"I realized this year that it's better just to find ways to win rather than try to put up all these numbers."
The Chiefs finished the regular season at 12-4, the same as in 2018. They won their last six games and claimed their fourth straight AFC West championship. Thanks to some fortune on the final day of the regular season, they again earned the bye, this time as the AFC's No. 2 seed.
MVP numbers or not, Mahomes can surpass 2018 with a playoff run to the Super Bowl, which would be the first for the Chiefs in 50 years. The Chiefs came ever so close last season, losing to the New England Patriots in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
And Kansas City enters the postseason with momentum.
"As an offense, I feel like we're kind of hitting our stride here as we get to the playoffs," Mahomes said. "Last year, we were kind of hot throughout the middle and as the season ended we kind of were fluctuating a little bit. I feel like we're really building right now at the end of this season."
Mahomes in 2019 had the second-best quarterback season in Chiefs history based off his passer rating of 105.3. In fact, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 26-to-5 is better than it was in 2018 at 50-to-12.
Besides the knee, Mahomes dealt with other injuries this season. He sprained his ankle in the opener against the Jaguars. He bruised his hand in a Week 14 win over the Patriots. Including the kneecap injury, Mahomes was listed on the Chiefs' daily report for one ailment or another every day from Week 2 until Week 17.
Mahomes was comparatively healthy in 2018.
"The injuries have been a hiccup, but he shows up every day and works his tail off," backup quarterback Matt Moore said. "He doesn't let the interruptions of injuries or anything else that's going on faze him."
Kelce said: "He's a competitor. He's an ultimate competitor. He's a tough guy. He's going to make sure that he's there for his teammates even when it's a little uncomfortable. I've seen him since he got here and this guy is more determined now than he's ever been."
The Chiefs have dealt with offensive injuries around Mahomes. Their best wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, missed four games. Their other starter, Sammy Watkins, missed two. The Chiefs were forced to start five different offensive line combinations because of injuries.
The Chiefs also went through most of the season without a consistent running game, which is always a quarterback's best friend. The Chiefs rushed for 98 yards per game this season, or 18 per game fewer than in 2018.
"He's learning how to win when things aren't perfect," offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "... Now, he's making plays with his feet in the pocket. He's making a call at the line of scrimmage and giving us an opportunity to pick up pressure from a late-rotating safety.
"Don't get me wrong: You always want to see those games where we can have 400, 500 yards passing and a lot of points. But you have to know how to win when things aren't perfect."
That lesson appears to have been learned, and that's why the Chiefs feel they'll soon rid themselves of a 50-year-old Super Bowl burden.
"I know the Ravens got Lamar," Hill said. "The Patriots have Tom [Brady]. But we've got Patrick Mahomes, baby."
And make no mistake, that's their ticket to post-season success.
Especially this week, going up against a Texans defense that has at times been gashed by the pass. As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert reminded readers, Houston gave up 33 touchdown passes this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL, and opposing quarterbacks compiled a 60.8 QBR against them, sixth highest in the NFL.
It sounds simple, but things set up perfectly for the Chiefs to win with their QB -- even with the return of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt -- in this rematch of their Week 6 nail-biter won by Houston on a fourth-quarter touchdown.
The Chiefs are so markedly different that their early October game is nearly meaningless.
The Chiefs were in the midst of a shaky 6-4 start to the season, their defense was still adjusting to Steve Spagnuolo's new 4-3 scheme, and their injury list lengthy. Five starters were missing because of injuries, including offensive linemen Eric Fisher and Andrew Wylie, and a handful of other key contributors were hobbled by ailments.
The easiest change to parse out between the Chiefs of three months ago and the current bunch is in personnel.
Fisher is back from his groin injury and Wylie from his ankle sprain. Chris Jones is back from his groin injury, fellow defensive tackle Xavier Williams has returned from injured reserve and linebacker Anthony Hitchens -- voted one of Kansas City's playoff captains -- has returned from yet another groin injury.
According to ArrowheadPride.com, there's even better news on the injury report this week: Reid told reporters on Monday that everyone is healthy after the bye week they unexpectedly earned in Week 17.
While the Chiefs have not yet officially placed him on injured reserve, obviously Reid was not including rookie safety Juan Thornhill among those who are practicing on Monday. Thornhill suffered a torn ACL in the final regular-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
In the team's last injury report before the Chargers game, just two players were listed as not practicing: cornerback Morris Claiborne and backup offensive lineman Cameron Erving. Claiborne has been recovering from a shoulder injury that has now kept him off the field for four games. Erving was suffering from an illness from which he has presumably recovered.
While left guard Andrew Wylie did practice before the Chargers game, he was listed as a limited participant and was made inactive on game day -- along with defensive tackle Xavier Williams, who had been a full participant in the last round of practices after returning from injured reserve but had been declared questionable for the Chargers game.
Like all NFL teams, the Chiefs have lost a number of players to injury this season. They include defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor, offensive linemen Martinas Rankin and Greg Senat -- and running backs Darrel Williams and Spencer Ware.
But it is excellent news that the Chiefs now on the active roster will begin the postseason at what appears to be a pretty healthy level. ...
For what it's worth, Seifert notes the season-ending knee injury to fellow safety Thornhill will put extra pressure on Tyrann Mathieu, who was named last week to the All-Pro team. Mathieu will play the mental battle against Deshaun Watson all game.
Can he cause a turnover and/or take away the middle of the field from receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills?
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
The underdog Vikings are alive and well in the playoffs. ... Ad are now headed to San Francisco.
Minnesota pulled off a dramatic 26-20 overtime win over New Orleans on Sunday, as the Vikings secured their first overtime playoff win in franchise history. The Vikings also secured their first road playoff win since Jan. 9, 2005.
The Vikings are forced to turn the page quickly on a short week, during which they'll prep for Saturday's Divisional round game against the 49ers.
The 49ers went 13-3 in the regular season and won the NFC West. San Francisco had a first-round bye, and has homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.
Minnesota knows all too well the pain of falling short after a big win, and the team doesn't intend to take its foot off the gas.
Two years ago, the Vikings defeated the Saints with a walk-off touchdown by Stefon Diggs to advance to the NFC Championship but played poorly at Philadelphia the following week. Head coach Mike Zimmer did not shy away from the reminder during his postgame locker room speech Sunday afternoon.
"The last time we won in the playoffs in the last second, we didn't play very good the next week," Zimmer told the team. "So, when we come back on Tuesday, we have to be ready to work."
In his session with media members shortly after, Zimmer added, "We've got to get back to work, focus on what we need to do and understand that I might have to be a little grouchy this week."
Monday, rather than the typical Tuesday, is the players' day off, but Zimmer and his coaching staff are hard at work readying for a San Francisco squad that finished the regular season 13-3 and earned a first-round bye.
Saturday will mark 13 days since the 49ers' most-recent game and just six for the Vikings. Defensive end Danielle Hunter emphasized the importance of starting recovery ahead of what promises to be another physical game on the West Coast.
"[We've] gotta get our bodies right and get ready for the game," Hunter said.
Receiver Adam Thielen, who made the 43-yard catch from Kirk Cousins to set up Minnesota's final touchdown, assured that he and his teammates are "ready to go" with the quick turnaround. The exhilarating road win bought the Vikings another week, but the No. 1 seed in the conference stands between them and the NFC Championship Game.
Thielen also referenced the January 2018 postseason.
"We've been through this emotional-type of victory before, and we know how we came out that next week, so we've got to make sure that we're dialed in on the plane and looking forward to San Francisco," he said. "The good thing is we know who we're playing, where we're playing and what time we're playing, so now we've got to start preparing against a really good football team."
But there's no doubt they're coming off an impressive win. And Cousins came up big when the Vikings needed him the most in New Orleans.
Cousins completed four of five passes for 63 yards in overtime, with the final attempt going for a 4-yard touchdown to Kyle Rudolph to win the game.
The quarterback completed 19 of 31 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. His passer rating was 96.4.
For what it's worth, Zimmer hasn't enjoyed talking about the perception that Cousins wilts in big games in the past, but he's been asked the questions often enough that he's well aware that it exists.
It was on Zimmer's mind on Sunday after Cousins threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Rudolph.
Zimmer gave Cousins a game ball in the locker room and explained why he did that when he met with the media on Monday.
"It was just about him solidifying himself with all of the bad rhetoric that he gets all the time about this or that," Zimmer said. "I just felt like it was time to tell a lot of people he's our guy and he did it."
Cousins is now 1-1 in playoff starts ahead of Saturday's game. He is 2-0 in his career against the 49ers, which includes his Vikings debut back in Week 1 of the 2018 season.
Beyond the signal caller, Dalvin Cook showed he is healthy while shining in his postseason debut. Cook had 28 carries for 94 yards on the day, and added two rushing touchdowns.
While most of his yards were tough-sledding against a defense that ranked fourth against the run in the regular season, he was able to pop free a few times. The 2017 second-round pick's longest run was a 22-yard scamper, but he also added a pair of 11-yard runs and five others that went for five or more yards.
Cook's effort helped the Vikings run for 136 total yards on the ground on 40 carries. Rookie Alexander Mattison ran for 20 yards on five attempts, and Ameer Abdullah gained nine yards on his lone attempt.
Saturday's game features two of the NFL's top rushing attacks. Minnesota ranked sixth in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game, while San Francisco was second at 144.1 yards per game.
Thielen led the Vikings with seven catches for 129 yards, but none were bigger than the above-mentioned 43-yard reception in overtime that put the Vikings at the 2-yard line.
That set up Rudolph's game-winning 4-yard touchdown catch on a fade pass from Cousins. The tight end finished with four catches for 31 yards.
Cook added three catches for 36 yards, and Diggs had two receptions for 19 yards, none bigger than a 10-yard catch on third-and-1 early in overtime.
Dan Bailey hit both field goal tries -- from 43 and 21 yards -- and was good on both extra points on Sunday.
Including the regular season, Bailey has now made 29 of 31 field goals (93.5 percent), along with 42 of 46 extra points.
It should be noted that the 49ers boast an elite defense, as they ranked second with 281.8 yards allowed in the regular season and were eighth with 19.4 points allowed per game.
On the other side of the ball?
San Francisco's defensive line features multiple first-round picks in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa -- a group that combined for 33.0 sacks. Armstead led the 49ers with 10 sacks, while Bosa had 9.0, Buckner had 7.5 and Ford got to the quarterback 6.5 times.
San Francisco's secondary is led by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who had a team-high three interceptions in his second season with the 49ers. K'Waun Williams had two picks; seven others had one interception.
The 49ers also had 15 fumble recoveries. Their 27 total takeaways ranked sixth in the NFL in the regular season. Minnesota was fourth with 31 takeaways. ...
On the injury front. ... Nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander didn't practice at all last week and was sidelined for the game by a knee injury, but backup safety Andrew Sendejo ably filled in for the majority of the snaps in the slot after never playing there in his entire career until practice on Friday.
Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen left the game with a knee injury, putting his status in question with the shortened week. Backups Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes each made a significant contribution on Sunday. Johnson took down Alvin Kamara for a 6-yard loss on a third-and-1 pass early in the third quarter, and Holmes recovered the fumble forced by Hunter at the Minnesota 36 late in the fourth quarter.
One last note here. ... Zimmer had his own negative outside noise to drown out on Sunday with multiple national media reports during the week that an ugly defeat had the potential to prompt a firing or even a trade by the Vikings. The 63-year-old Zimmer, who raised his postseason record to 2-2 in six years with the team, couldn't hold back his feelings in a postgame NFL Network interview with his former pupil, Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders.
Zimmer called speculation about his future with the Vikings "silly."
"Third-winningest coach in Vikings history, and I have to listen to this," Zimmer said.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
The San Francisco 49ers didn't have to wait too long to find out their opponent for Saturday's NFC Divisional Round. In the first game of Sunday's NFC Wild Card matchup, the Minnesota Vikings stunned the New Orleans Saints in a 26-20 overtime victory, earning their first playoff win on the road since Jan. 9 2005.
The Vikings have a short turnaround as they'll head to Santa Clara for the first playoff game in Levi's Stadium history on Saturday.
Worth remember, in the moments after an enormous road win against the Seahawks, head coach Kyle Shanahan stood inside a jubilant locker room and grabbed his team's attention. Like everyone else in the room, Shanahan wore a big smile, proud of what his team had just accomplished.
As Shanahan unfurled the league-issued NFC West division champions' shirt, his tone quickly shifted. The red shirt carried an important message that immediately resonated with Shanahan. Emblazoned in big, white letters was a simple statement: "The West Is Not Enough."
For a Niners team that finished 4-12 a year ago and hadn't won the division since 2012, the West would seem to be more than enough. But that's not the standard these Niners have set in a magical 2019 season.
"Even wearing these shirts and this hat, we've still got unfinished business," running back Raheem Mostert said. "Like our shirts say, the West isn't enough. We really want to go after the NFC championship and go move forward to the Super Bowl."
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, San Francisco's dramatic 26-21 win at CenturyLink Field not only ended a miserable string of losses in Seattle but brought with it everything the Niners had hoped to attain from the start of the season.
Because of their head-to-head wins against the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, the 13-3 49ers claimed the division crown, the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
All of those rewards are worthwhile, but none probably matter as much as the one other spoil the Niners took home from Seattle: The first-round bye.
Last week, the 49ers got in some work in on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with days off Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday before returning to work on Monday this week. That should allow players such as safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), defensive end Dee Ford (quad and hamstring) and guard Mike Person (neck) to get closer to full strength and potentially be available for the divisional round, if not sooner.
Shanahan said Monday he was hopeful and optimistic those three players would be ready to go for the divisional game on Jan. 11.
The 49ers also opened linebacker Kwon Alexander's practice window this week after being placed on Injured Reserve in Week 9 with a torn pectoral.
Alexander, who said he is planning to return whenever the coaching staff tells him he can, suffered the injury Oct. 31 and landed on injured reserve Nov. 5. League rules stipulate that before he could open his practice window, he had to be on that list for eight weeks. Now, the Niners have a three-week period in which they can bring him back to the active roster.
He can be activated at any point during that time as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Watt suffered the same injury four days before Alexander and returned to practice Dec. 24. He was activated Tuesday and is expected to play Saturday against the Buffalo Bills.
Alexander, 25, said Thursday that he has been in touch with Watt during this process, knowing he was going through something similar.
"I talked to him," Alexander said. "I'm happy to see him back. I can't wait to see him play on Saturday. He lifted me up, too, a little bit. I appreciate him."
The 49ers brought back defensive lineman Kentavius Street from injured reserve earlier this season, which means if Alexander is activated, he's the last player who could return from IR.
The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract March 13, making him one of the league's highest-paid linebackers. He quickly brought return on investment as one of the league's better coverage linebackers as well as being an emotional leader for the defense. In eight games, he had 34 tackles, an interception, four passes defended and a forced fumble.
Although a torn pectoral muscle -- and the accompanying surgery -- usually requires about a six-month recovery, Alexander said he never put any limit on when he could be back.
"That's always my mindset," Alexander said. "I never put a hold on me. Wherever my mind takes me, that's where I'm gonna go."
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first-career postseason start on Saturday. He appeared in a 2014 playoff game with the Patriots, but played just two snaps.
Garoppolo completed 329 of 476 passes (69.1 percent) for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as he started all 16 games for the first time in his career. His passer rating of 102.0 was a career high and ranked eighth in the NFL.
The 49ers feature a trio of running backs who each had at least 123 carries in 2019.
Mostert tied for the team lead with 137 carries and had a team-high 772 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Tevin Coleman had 544 yards and six scores on 137 carries, and Matt Breida had 623 yards and a score on 123 attempts.
San Francisco rushed for 100 or more yards in 12 of its 16 games, with the 49ers surpassing 230 yards in three of those games.
Minnesota's focus will surely be on All-Pro tight end George Kittle, who had 85 receptions for 1,053 yards and five scores in 2019.
San Francisco's aerial attack features explosive rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who had 57 catches for 802 yards and three scores. The 49ers also traded for Emmanuel Sanders midway through the season, as the wide receiver had 36 catches for 502 yards and three scores in 10 games with San Francisco.
Kendrick Bourne tied with Kittle for the team lead with five touchdown catches. San Francisco featured nine other players who caught a score, including three players with two touchdown catches.
The Vikings defense turned in a masterful performance Sunday against the Saints, holding New Orleans to just 324 yards. That included plenty of pressure by Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter on Drew Brees, as each player had 1.5 sacks.
Anthony Harris also had an interception late in the second quarter that led to a Cook touchdown, and Hunter stripped Brees late in the fourth quarter to preserve a 20-17 lead.
Minnesota was shorthanded in the secondary -- with safety Andrew Sendejo playing as the slot cornerback -- but the Vikings limited Brees to just 208 passing yards and a passer rating of 90.4.
Worth noting. ... The Niners special teams have been solid but unspectacular. Kicker Robbie Gould made 23 of 31 field goals (74.2 percent) in 13 regular-season games, and was good on 41 of 42 extra points. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who handles kickoffs, averaged 44.9 yards per punt. Richie James handles return duties for the 49ers. He averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return and 8.0 yards per punt return in 2019.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jordan Matthews
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Levine Toilolo
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, you can't quite call it a coming-out party for DK Metcalf. After all, he finished the regular season with 900 receiving yards -- third among rookie receivers -- and seven touchdowns on 58 catches.
Whatever you want to call it, Metcalf's performance against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night was good enough to get the Seattle Seahawks into the divisional round for a matchup at the Green Bay Packers on a night when didn't have much in the way of a running game.
Russell Wilson found Metcalf seven times for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks' 17-9 win over the Eagles. It's the most receiving yards by a rookie in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.
The Seahawks will need that connection to keep rolling Sunday at Lambeau Field, where they haven't won a regular-season or playoff game since 1999.
In Philadelphia, Seattle tied the NFL record with 10 single-score victories during the regular season. The Seahawks struggled to put away a team with a 40-year-old backup quarterback and continued to shoot themselves in the foot with pre-snap penalties, including more delay-of-game infractions like the one that cost them last week against the 49ers.
But they were good enough.
They struggled to run the ball in this one but put the game in Wilson's hands much more than they did against the Cowboys last year. He went 18-of-30 for 325 yards, the TD to Metcalf and no interceptions. Wilson had 45 of the team's 64 rushing yards, with 18 of them coming on a critical and improbable third-and-15 conversion late in the game.
Seattle averaged only 2.5 yards per carry as a team. Travis Homer rushed 11 times for just 12 yards, while Marshawn Lynch gained seven yards on six carries, including a bruising five-yard touchdown run.
Homer once again led the Seahawks in snaps, taking 39 to Lynch's 16, per NextGen Stats.
Head coach Pete Carroll would like to see that change.
With the Hawks heading to Green Bay to face the Packers in the Divisional Round, Carroll said on 710 ESPN Seattle Monday that he expects Lynch's workload to increase.
"Yeah, I think he's doing great," Carroll said. "I'm really excited about it. I want to see him do more now. He's made it through, again, two games. He felt good last night. I haven't seen him today, the day after sometimes but he felt good again. And, so, I think we can increase his role and allow him to be a little more active part of it. He does bring an element that we love and it's that style and that toughness. We saw it on the sidelines when he's dumping guys out of bounds. We saw it on the goal line when he's smacking it in the end zone after getting hit on that 3[-yard line] or 4 and still finished it off. But he's got all those elements that we love, so I think we'll see more of him in the next couple weeks here."
With Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise all out due to injury, the Seahawks' ground-and-pound approach has dissipated. In the past two games, Seattle running backs generated just 115 total rushing yards.
Given that Lynch is just two games into his return after being off the field for more than a year, it's unsurprising Seattle has brought him along slowly. The 33-year-old has lacked explosiveness in his return, but the hope is the rust is knocked off after two games.
Facing a Green Bay defense that has gotten gashed up the gut at times this season, giving Lynch the bulk of the snaps could be the plan as Seattle attempts to pull off another road playoff victory.
Seattle's defense has been materially better this season with free safety Quandre Diggs on the field. Just look at their opponents' passer rating and yards per play with Diggs on the field (77.1, 5.40) compared to when he's been off the field (89.2, 6.29). That trend continued in Diggs' return from a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him the past two-plus games.
The Seahawks will have a hard time against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers because of their defensive limitations elsewhere, but they're much better equipped to win that game with Diggs manning the back end as opposed to Lano Hill.
In a related note. ... The Seahawks' seven sacks against Philadelphia were two more than they had in any regular-season game. The biggest one came from Jadeveon Clowney on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter. That total comes with a caveat: A few of them came on scrambles on which Josh McCown was dropped shy of the line of scrimmage. And the Eagles were missing their starters at right guard and right tackle.
But, as Henderson noted, "a sack is a sack, especially for a defense that got only 28 of them in the regular season."
That was tied for the second-fewest in the NFL.
Speaking of few. ... The Seahawks allowed zero touchdowns in Philly, the third time Seattle has done that in the postseason. The Seahawks also kept the Vikings out of the end zone in their sub-zero win at Minnesota four years ago, then did it again the next year against Detroit. ...
On the injury front. ... As Profootballtalk.com notes, Clowney continues to deal with a core muscle that is expected to require surgery once the season is over. But while it’s not getting any better, at least for the time being it doesn’t appear to be getting any worse either.
Carroll said on Monday that Clowney emerged in decent condition from Sunday's win.
“So far he’s OK it sounds like,” Carroll said. “The report I just got is that he’s playing this week. He’ll be alright to make it. We’ll have to manage him throughout the week.”
Clowney played 57 of 69 snaps for the Seahawks on Sunday. He hadn’t played more than 43 snaps in a game since his memorable showing at San Francisco in November when he first sustained the injury. Clowney had five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss against the Eagles.
Carroll didn't have updates on three key players: Defensive end Ziggy Ansah, guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Duane Brown. Ansah suffered a stinger when he collided with a teammate. Iupati (stinger) and Brown (knee) both did not play.
Carroll said Iupati has been dealing with the injury for a few weeks and was not able to participate in practice last week. Brown is recovering from minor knee surgery two weeks ago.
Wide receiver Jaron Brown, who missed Sunday's game for personal reasons, should be back and able to play this week, Carroll said. The wideout's knee isn't considered to be a big issue now.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Travis Homer, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, John Ursua, Malik Turner, Jaron Brown
TEs: Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 January 2020
Winter Storm Henry blew through New England. The Tennessee Titans running back, that is.
Derrick Henry plowed over tacklers, carving through the Patriots' defense like a hot knife through butter in a 20-13 wild-card road victory.
In a slugfest, Henry was the biggest puncher.
"That's the way we like it," Henry said. "We don't want nothing easy. We want it gritty. We want it dirty. That's the mentality we got to have. Our main focus is just finishing, each and every drive."
The powering running back blasted for 182 yards on 34 carries for 5.4 yards per pop and plowed in for the eventual game-deciding touchdown. Henry also added one screen catch for 22 yards -- second-most receiving yards for the Titans on Saturday night -- that he took to the 1-yard-line to set up his TD.
"That has to be the formula ... to be able to run the football, stop the run, was huge," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "We're appreciative of everything he does and the way our offensive line and tight ends and fullbacks -- it takes all 11 to run the football. But certainly, Derrick's a huge part of that."
Entering Saturday's playoff tilt, in his last six regular-season games played, Henry had dashed for 896 rushing yards and 10 TDs. The furious finish to the season helped him clinch the NFL rushing crown with 1,540 yards. Along with Ryan Tannehill, Henry's surge down the stretch helped Tennessee go from afterthought to postseason winner.
Henry said he saw the playoff win coming well before the Titans got on a hot streak.
"I just said it during camp, Why not us?" he said. "I don't think nobody expected nothing from us, keep that underdog mentality and just stay hungry. Just keep believing in each other. All of us in that building, all of us together, we're the ones that got to make it happen, no matter what anybody writes, what anybody says. We're the one that got to go out there and do it."
On his 26th birthday, Henry became the first player to generate 200 scrimmage yards against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team in the postseason. The 204 scrimmage yards were also the most in Titans franchise history.
Henry broke tackle after tackle, churning the clock, gobbling up yards and moving the chains. Of the Titans' 19 first downs on the game, 13 came on the ground, most from Henry. While the Patriots got stuffed three times at the goal line, settling for a first-half field goal, Henry pounded his TD on one try. That juxtaposition summed up the difference in the game.
Have you ever tried to tackle a tank? That must be what it's like to try to take down the 6-foot-3, 247-pound back. Once Henry gets up to speed, he's nearly impossible to bring down, with defensive backs hanging on for dear life as they get plowed into the turf.
With the Titans' passing game grounded by a sticky Patriots secondary, throwing for just 71 net passing yards, Tennessee was comfortable putting the ball in Henry's gut time after time. Domination comes when an opponent knows your bread-and-butter plays and still can't stop it. Belichick is the best coach in NFL history because he usually negates an opponent's best player and forces others to beat him.
Saturday night at Foxboro, not even a Belichick-coached defense could stop Henry.
Now we'll see if the Ravens can.
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert suggested, we should expect an "old-fashioned run fest."
The Ravens (3,296) and Titans (2,223) finished the season ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in rushing yards, respectively. We know what they like to do. The Ravens want quarterback Lamar Jackson to do his thing with read options and designed runs. The Titans like to use Henry to wear down opponents.
No secrets there.
Again, Henry was responsible for 204 of the team's 272 yards in New England while running 34 times and catching one pass. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner accounted for 75 percent of the Titans' offense.
In the Super Bowl era, only two other players had a bigger share of a team's total yards in a playoff game: Eric Dickerson with 77.2 percent for the Rams against Dallas on Jan. 4, 1986, and Larry Brown with 76 percent for Washington against San Francisco on Dec. 26, 1971.
He also had the second-most yards on the road in the playoffs since 1950. Only Freeman McNeil ran for more with 202 yards for the Jets at Cincinnati on Jan. 9, 1983. Henry also topped his own postseason franchise mark of 191 yards from scrimmage set in 2018 at Kansas City.
Henry also ran the ball 32 times in Week 17 and Vrabel is not inclined to start doing things any differently when the team gets back on the field in Baltimore.
"I think Derrick trains and prepared to be able to handle that load, to carry that load," Vrabel said on Sunday. "He has a certain skillset, with size and strength and speed and durability -- those are all great qualities for a running back in January. So he'll do everything that he has to get ready and to do whatever it is that we ask him to do in the game plan. He's very unique -- there's not that many running backs in the league like Derrick, because there's not that many players in college that are like Derrick, and by that I just mean a bigger tailback."
The Ravens have the NFL’s No. 5-ranked run defense, allowing just 93.4 yards per game. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce clog up the middle, but there were times when Baltimore was gashed on the edges. Henry did much of his damage against the Patriots on outside runs.
So lots more Henry. But if we're looking for a wildcard for the Titans, who might it be?
How about Tannehill?
We know the Titans are going to ride Henry, but at some point they will -- like all teams -- need a play or two from their quarterback to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Tannehill was one of the NFL's top five quarterbacks in the second half of the season, making tough and accurate throws with regularity, but the postseason is an entirely different animal.
In fact, since taking over as teh starter, Tannehill is the highest-graded quarterback in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Tannehill threw 22 touchdowns to five interceptions and finished atop the league with a quarterback rating of 117.5.
He converted some big third downs on Saturday against the Patriots, both through the air and on the ground, but he also dropped the snap on a crucial failed third-down play.
The Ravens have perhaps the best secondary in the league, surrendering 207.2 yards per game (sixth-fewest). Baltimore’s defense has been defined by pressure, as they’ve blitzed more than any other team in the league (54.9 percent). Tannehill thrived against the blitz with a 120.3 passer rating.
Of some concern?
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the Titans were the NFL's worst in the regular season making only 44.4 percent of their field goals, and their fourth and current kicker Greg Joseph has yet to even attempt a field goal in his three games.
Vrabel passed up trying a long field goal in the fourth quarter at Foxboro, choosing instead to chew time off the clock with a couple of penalties before a neutral zone infraction by the Patriots. Vrabel then let All-Pro Brett Kern punt and trusted his defense.
Beyond all that, Tennessee must withstand the Ravens' typical early onslaught to get a win this weekend.
During the regular season, the Ravens had the NFL's best first-quarter point margin (plus-97). The Titans can't fall behind early if they intend to ride Henry in the second half. If they can reverse the Ravens' trends -- and be in a position where they don't need to pass to catch up on the scoreboard -- the Titans will have a chance for a big upset.
The winner will advance to the AFC championship game to play either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Houston Texans, who meet Sunday in Kansas City.
The Titans and Ravens have met on three previous occasions in the postseason, with the Ravens holding a 2-1 advantage. The Ravens won at Nissan Stadium following the 2000 and 2008 seasons, while the Titans won in Baltimore during the 2003 playoffs.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Tajae Sharpe, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt