Team Notes Week 3 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss wrote, "It's a good thing the win-loss column doesn't include style points."
The Arizona Cardinals did what they came to Indianapolis to do, and that was to get a victory. Phil Dawson kicked a 30-yard field goal to win the game 16-13 with 8 minutes, 2 seconds left in overtime. But it wasn't pretty.
"A win's a win," coach Bruce Arians said. "We never saw we're sorry for winning. We can play a hell of a lot better, I hope.
In fact, the Cardinals were lucky to beat the Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I can't explain the poor start," Arians said. Both sides. ... But [we] regrouped at halftime and made some plays to win the game."
But there's a bigger issue. For the Cardinals and fantasy owners. And to his credit, Arians knows what it is.
"The quarterback has to play better, simple," Arians said. "And we have to block a heck of a lot better."
Carson Palmer said he didn't want to respond.
"I'm always trying to play better," he said. "I'm always looking to play better and improve."
Worth noting: After watching the film, Arians was a lot less critical of his team's play, particularly Palmer's performance.
"He played a whole lot better than I thought he did," Arians said, "a whole lot better."
Palmer completed 19 of 36 passes for 332 yards and Arizona's lone touchdown with one particularly ugly interception.
"Really the only poor play that Carson had," Arians said Monday.
Arians added that Palmer was under pressure too much and laid the blame on the offensive line. By omission, he singled out the right side for criticism.
He said left tackle John Wetzel, filling in for the injured D.J. Humphries, "had a good game." Left guard Alex Boone, playing in place of injured Mike Iupati, "had a solid game," the coach said, and center A.Q. Shipley "had a real good game."
That leaves right guard Evan Boehm and right tackle Jared Veldheer. Switched from the left side this season, Veldheer had trouble all afternoon with the Colts' pass rush.
"It's not easy," Arians said of the switch, "but he's had enough work at it now to use the proper technique. He's got to trust his technique."
Chris Johnson, just re-signed after being released in the final roster cuts, was the most effective Arizona running back, gaining 44 yards on 11 carries.
"I liked what I saw in Chris," Arians said. "He's more than ready to go."
But the coach wouldn't commit to moving Johnson to the top of the depth chart for next Monday night's home opener against Dallas. Johnson said that didn't concern him.
"I just went out there and controlled what I could control and made the most of my opportunities," he said. "That's all I can do. Everything else is out of my control."
Still, as the Sports Xchange suggests, look for him to get the start next against the Cowboys.
That didn't happen Sunday in Indianapolis. He looked like he did in 2016, but worse. He may have had 162 yards in the first half, but he completed just 52 percent of his passes and missed on crucial throws, such as a back-shoulder fade to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone on fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter, all but erasing the three good passes he completed on that drive. After two straight three-and-outs, the Cardinals gave the ball back to the Colts with nothing to show for it.
"We couldn't get out of our own way," Arians said. "We've just go to clean up some things."
With games coming up against Dallas, then Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, Arizona may not be able to rally from such slow starts, as they did against Indianapolis.
"I can't explain the poor start -- both sides," Arians said. "But we regrouped at halftime and made some plays to win the game. ..."
On a more positive note. ... The offense showed signs of what it could be in the fourth quarter when Arizona was faced with a third-and-20. Palmer hit Jaron Brown for a 22-yard completion, with a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty added to the total. On the next play, Palmer hit J.J. Nelson for a 45-yard touchdown.
As the passing game got going, the run game started to find a rhythm behind Chris Johnson, who ran for 12 yards on four carries in the fourth quarter.
"We just have to be able to do that earlier," Fitzgerald said. "We just need more of that so I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I like how we finished the game. We just need to able to finish a little bit faster."
Arizona has an extra day to think about this one, thanks to their Monday night matchup with Dallas. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Of the four game balls awarded by the coach, Nelson was the only offensive player to get one.
Nelson and Jaron Brown played well. Nelson caught five of his seven targets for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Brown caught four of his 11 targets for 73 yards.
Nelson has emerged as one of Arizona's best late-game scoring threats. He has six touchdown catches in his last seven games dating back to last season, and four have come in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He has also turned in the second- and third-best receiving games of his career within the last four games, dating back to Week 16 of last season in Seattle when he had 132 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Nelson was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
With fellow receiver John Brown out for Sunday's game with a quad injury, Nelson knew he'd have an expanded role. But Arians said Nelson should be having this type of performance every week, not just when a teammate is down.
"That's what he is capable of," Arians said. "He is capable of a big play like that every game."
"He's got a knack for making plays, especially down in the red zone," Fitzgerald said. "For a guy that small he's able to get some separation and he's got really strong hands at the point in attack. ..."
For the record, Arians told reporters on Monday that it "doesn't look hopeful" for John Brown to play (and he did not practice Wednesday) this week, but there's still some time for that to change. The status of Jermaine Gresham, who missed Week 2 with an injured rib, remains unclear. Troy Niklas played against the Colts despite being listed as questionable with a hip injury, but his status bears watching in coming days.
With Gresham's injury and Niklas being somewhat hobbled, the Cardinals often stuck backup rookie tackle Will Holden at one of the tight-end spots to help block. That also changed the complexion of what the Cardinals' offense usually looks like and affected the play-calling.
"He has probably never done that in his life," Palmer said of Holden. "So there were some just very difficult situations we were in."
The Cardinals released tight end Jim Dray, the team announced Tuesday.
They signed Dray last Friday because of the injuries to Gresham and Niklas, so his release is probably a positive.
That said, I'll be following up on Brown, Gresham and Niklas as well as the running back rotation via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Phil Dawson has missed two field goals in his first two games with the Cardinals, including a 42-yard attempt on Sunday that would have won the game at the end of regulation. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano called a timeout just before his first attempt, which Dawson made. Dawson said having to constantly hear about how pitiful the Cardinals' special teams units were last season regrettably has been weighing on his mind. Though you admire his honesty, as the Sports Xchange suggests, these words from Dawson seem a bit peculiar for a 42-year-old veteran who has seen and experienced it all in the NFL:
"Since I became a Cardinal, I had to hear about last year almost daily. That builds up. To be around that so much and hear it so much, it's hard not to get caught up in it. ..."
One last note here: Palmer became the franchise leader with his 23rd 300-yard passing performance. He had been tied with Hall of Famer Kurt Warner with 22.
QBs: Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, head coach Dan Quinn said he didn't anticipate a "quiet" game for Julio Jones after the receiver was limited to four catches for 66 yards in the season opener at Chicago.
Quinn was right.
Jones had five catches for 108 yards on nine targets in the Falcons' 34-23 win against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. It was the 36th 100-yard game of Jones' career.
And the Packers made it easy for Jones.
"We just took what they gave us," Jones said. "They came out in single high, so we made them pay. When we get those opportunities where I'm in single coverage we just try to get me the ball and make the best of it because a lot of teams use two men on me."
The Packers doubled Jones on almost every play in last year's regular-season meeting, and Jones had just three catches for 29 yards. Then in last season's NFC Championship Game, Jones exploded with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-21 triumph against the Packers. His touchdowns of 73 and 5 yards in the title game both came against single coverage.
As McClure suggested, you figured the Packers would have learned from that experience, but they didn't.
"It was just the way the defense shook out," Matt Ryan said of going to Jones. "The last two times we played them, there was a lot of double coverage on Julio and (Sunday night), that really wasn't the case. We had some opportunities where he got singled up. Anytime he gets singled up, he's going to make plays for us. On the first pass, we hit a deep crossing route. It was just his speed and his athleticism outrunning their defense that really jump started our play-action pass for the game."
Getting Jones going early was key against the Packers. He had a 19-yard pickup on the game's second play then followed with a 34-yard reception on the opening drive, helping set up Devonta Freeman's 1-yard touchdown -- officially the first Falcons' score inside the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Even had the Packers decided to double Jones, it probably wouldn't have worked in their favor, not with the way Mohamed Sanu played. He looked swift and physical down the middle in catching five passes for 85 yards, including a long play of 24 yards.
Atlanta's offense clicked much better in the second game under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who said establishing the run would be key to getting into a rhythm. The Falcons, led by Freeman's 84 rushing yards and two scores, ran for 141 yards on 27 carries. Establishing the run also helped give the defense a breather.
"(Sarkisian) did a great job just being aggressive and making plays down the field all across the board; from the offensive line to the quarterbacks, to the wideouts and running backs," Jones said. "We did a great job of getting out there and getting after it."
Now the Falcons, and Jones, hope to maintain that offensive rhythm heading into next Sunday's matchup with the Lions in Detroit, even if starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) is unable to play.
While the Falcons moved to 2-0 with their win over the Packers, it looks like their push for 3-0 and beyond will have to come without the help of linebacker Vic Beasley.
Beasley left Sunday night's game with a hamstring injury and Zach Klein of WSB in Atlanta reports that it has been diagnosed as a "slight tear" that will leave Beasley out for at least a month.
They'll try to fill that pass rushing hole with the likes of Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn and first-round pick Takk McKinley as they take on the Lions this week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, the Falcons backfield returned to its 2016 ways on Sunday night against the Packers. Devonta Freeman scored twice in the first half to relieve fantasy owners who had him going in the late game, and both were goal-line situations which is a good sign going forward for his situational usage. Franciscovich added "Freeman is a locked-in RB1 and there should be zero concerns about Tevin Coleman siphoning touches. The duo will likely split work all year, but it seemed to work out well for both of them a season ago. I don't see that changing. ..."
Coleman received eight touches against the Packers. One was a 35-yard scamper up the right side of the field in the second quarter. He also scored on a three-yard catch just before halftime. In terms of snap count Freeman was the primary back on the field for 39 snaps compared to Coleman's 22.
Freeman's two touchdowns were his 24th and 25th rushing touchdowns since 2015 - first in the NFL during that time period. The Packers game was Freeman's eighth multi-touchdown game of his career, and his sixth game with two-plus rushing touchdowns.
Through two weeks, Mohamed Sanu has 11 catches for 132 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Sanu narrowly trails Jones (29.1 percent) on the year with a 24.8 percent share of Ryan's intended air yards. Sanu appears to have a locked-in role as the team's possession receiver and is worth owning in leagues that start more than two wide receivers.
Ryan finished the game 19-of-28 for 252 yards with one touchdown and a 108.0 passer rating. Ryan extended his streak of 200-plus yards passing to 57 games and he is now up to 20 games with a passing touchdown.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As the Sports Xchange notes, with the defense already playing at a high level, the Ravens are also finding some balance with quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense.
However, a 24-10 win over the Browns was dampened when six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was ruled out for the season with an ankle fracture. This means the Ravens will make their first-ever trip to London without their best offensive lineman against Jacksonville, which leads the league with 11 sacks over two games.
Nonetheless, Baltimore is a veteran-laden group that will enter the game with confidence.
"If you don't have passion, especially in football, and you're not flying around, getting after it and giving it everything you got, you might as well not be out there," head coach John Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "We've always had great leadership here. This group is another evolution of that: Ravens leadership."
Yanda missed parts of training camp as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. However, he was dominant in both regular-season games and anchored an offensive line that had already suffered several key losses.
Projected starter Alex Lewis (shoulder) and promising rookie Nico Siragusa (knee) went down with season-ending injuries in training camp. Center John Urschel decided to retire hours before the first full-squad practice. While Harbaugh said "nobody can replace Marshal Yanda," the Ravens will slot Tony Bergstrom in the spot at right guard. Bergstrom was previously acquired from Arizona for a conditional seventh-round pick in next year's draft.
Bergstrom, a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2012, has just four career starts, but played in 15 games last season with the Houston Texans.
Overall, Baltimore already has 15 players on injured reserve.
Meanwhile, one week after running the ball 42 times and attempting just 17 passes, the Ravens had a more balanced offense against the Browns. Flacco completed 25 of 34 pass attempts for 217 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The Ravens ran the ball 32 times for 136 yards with Terrance West scoring a touchdown from 4 yards.
Worth noting, Flacco faced five or more rushers only twice in Week 1, but he turned one of those plays into a 48-yard score to Jeremy Maclin. Sunday against the Browns, Flacco faced the blitz on 18 snaps, going 11-of-17 for 103 yards and two TDs on those plays.
Flacco showed better mobility and took several shots downfield. He was also effective rolling out of the pocket and did a good job avoiding tacklers.
Still, Flacco expects more.
"I was a little disappointed in myself. I feel like one of the things I can do is stay pretty patient when I go out there and play," said Flacco, who missed all of training camp with an ailing back. "I definitely felt like it got the best of me a little bit. We had some guys running open. I thought there was a couple of plays I was trying to do a little bit too much, hoping for too much, and I either missed something or threw a pick way down there. Once I got past all that stuff and being kind of mad at myself, the fact that we were winning and having fun as a group, it was definitely fun."
Flacco, who missed all of August due to a back injury, won't have to answer many questions about his health this week. ...
Baltimore will leave for London on Thursday. The Ravens, though, won't be doing much sightseeing. Once they land, the focus is solely on beating Jacksonville.
"It is always a business trip, and we know why we are there," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We know the Jacksonville Jaguars pretty well. The last few years we have had some pretty close games. We have to go in mentally prepared for a physical fight, even though we have to enjoy our time together with our family and our teammates. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Javorius Allen has gone from a spectator to the Ravens' busiest running back.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, after being a healthy scratch for the final four games last season, Allen surprisingly has received the most touches of any Baltimore back in the first two weeks of 2017. He has totaled 40 touches (35 rushes and five catches), which is decidedly more than West (29 touches).
Allen's 101 total yards were the ninth-most of any running back in Week 2.
West started his 15th straight game for Baltimore and scored a touchdown for the second week in a row, but he disappeared at a time when the Ravens normally would lean on their top back. He didn't get his hands on the ball in the fourth quarter, when Baltimore ran the ball 11 times and relied on Allen and newcomer Alex Collins.
West's final stats were a pedestrian eight carries for 22 yards (2.8-yard average). It also turns out that West got nicked up during the course of the game, He's currently listed as day-to-day with a soft tissue injury. He did not practice on Wednesday -- although NFL Network's Ian Rapoport advised his Twitter followers the absence was more precautionary than anything (watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on that in coming days).
With Danny Woodhead (hamstring) out at least eight weeks, Allen became an even bigger factor in the passing game. His 9-yard touchdown catch marked his first score in two years. Later in the second quarter, Allen nearly had a second touchdown. He broke a 37-yard run in which he was caught two yards from the end zone.
"To come up with that run at the end of the half, that's a big-league play," Harbaugh said.
A fourth-round pick in 2015, Allen became the Ravens' starting running back by the end of his rookie season. He was the featured back for the final six games after Justin Forsett broke his arm. In his second season, Allen plummeted on the depth chart behind West and Kenneth Dixon. He managed nine carries and three catches for the entire year.
This season, Allen got a break when Dixon had a season-ending knee injury and West struggled to produce big plays. He has tried his best to take advantage of the new opportunities.
"I've been through worse," Allen said of being limited to eight games last year. "Me personally, I know what I'm capable of doing. I believed in my preparation, I believed in my work ethic, and I never got down on myself. I never questioned, 'Why am I going through this?'"
Worth noting: Asked about Collins, who averaged six yards per carry in his Baltimore debut, Harbaugh said: "When you play well, you earn more playing time. ..."
Tight end Ben Watson caught eight passes for 91 yards against the Browns. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Watson played on 86 percent of the team's plays and caught all eight of his team-high targets. "With the overall lack of depth in the Baltimore pass-catching group," Harmon added, "Watson has staying power in the target pecking order. If you're in need of a tight end streamer, the veteran will be worth a look."
Maclin left the Week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter with a shoulder stinger, but was able to return.
Maclin, who was acquired in June after being cut by Kansas City, caught four passes for 31 yards with a touchdown. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace was on the field for 83 percent of the team's plays but has just four targets in the first two weeks.
As Harmon put it, "Doesn't have much meat to pick off the bone after Maclin and the pass-catching backs with the Ravens emphasizing the run more this year."
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As the Sports Xchange pointed out, "It really wasn't a secret, but just for clarification, the Carolina Panthers provided the blueprint for the rest of the league on how to stifle the Buffalo Bills' offense.
"You load up the box and concentrate solely on stopping running back LeSean McCoy, and if you do it well, the Bills are dead. ..."
The Xchange went on to add Buffalo's passing game is "simply pathetic," and in the 9-3 loss to the Panthers, the Bills were hopelessly in trouble when the Panthers held McCoy to nine yards on 12 carries.
Thanks to a great performance by their own defense, the Bills were amazingly still in the game and it came down to a final-play pass toward the end zone which, had it been executed, would have given the Bills a remarkably improbable victory.
Taylor completed 17 of 25 passes.
Looks OK, right?
His passing total was 125 yards, 107 net. He threw only three passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, and his average air yardage on his 25 attempts was 4.1 yards.
The Bills' wide receivers Jones, Jordan Matthews, and Andre Holmes combined to catch seven passes for 66 yards. They don't win on their routes and thus don't get separation, and when you couple that with Taylor's unwillingness to take a few chances and try to squeeze passes into tight coverages, the passing game is doomed.
According to the Associated Press, head coach Sean McDermott acknowledged the Bills need a semblance of a downfield passing game to prevent defenses from keying on McCoy.
Without being specific, McDermott said he and his staff are "looking at everything to change things up."
Whatever changes come, they won't include one at quarterback.
On Monday, he was adamant when pressed on the matter and said: "Tyrod's our starter. We look at every position. I've said that before. We look at every position. There's things that we can do better at every position.
"It's never just one guy, and that's what you have to understand. There's 11 guys on the field and there's 46 guys that are dressed, so it's never just one guy. So we can all do our own part, and do a better job. That's what I expect moving forward."
In the Bills' case, however, the quarterback doesn't do his part efficiently enough, and given the importance of the position, it's a key reason why the Bills never get anywhere and haven't been to the playoffs in 17 years.
Their quarterbacking for almost all of the drought has been sub-par, and it's not changing anytime soon with Taylor.
Whether rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman is the answer, we won't know for a little while, although the chances of Peterman being on the cusp of stardom, or even competency, seem pretty remote.
But here's what we do know: The Bills performed so poorly in the first half against Carolina that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison acknowledged he didn't have an opportunity call some of the 15 plays he scripted for the Panthers.
"We just didn't execute," Dennison said. "It wasn't just the wide receivers, it was everybody."
The defense is another story under McDermott, the former defensive coordinator of the Panthers.
Buffalo has allowed just 469 yards in its first two games. Last season, the Bills gave up 493 yards alone in a 37-31 loss to the Jets in Week 2.
The six sacks were the most for Buffalo since it had seven in a 38-3 win over the Jets on Nov. 24, 2014. The Bills also kept the Panthers out of the end zone by limiting them to field goals on each of their three drives inside the 20.
"It was good to see the resiliency of our guys," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.
Rather than pin blame on the offense, Frazier noted the defense's inability to generate a turnover, after managing two interceptions against the Jets.
"That had a lot to do with not winning the game," Frazier said.
According to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak, a significant part of the blame for Taylor's afternoon should fall on Taylor's receivers for not being open, and for Buffalo's management for not giving Taylor better options in the passing game. Before the Bills' final possession, Matthews and Jones were targeted a total of four times.
Jones finished with two catches for 18 yards, while Matthews had three catches for 30 yards.
Charles Clay was targeted only three times and he caught all three but for only 23 yards.
Taylor and his receivers did not get the job done, and unless McCoy is able to carry the Bills' offense going forward, the results in Carolina could be repeated again this season.
From a fantasy perspective, it couldn't be much worse at the moment. But it could get worse this Sunday, when the Bills return home to host the Denver Broncos.
After their receivers struggled against the Panthers' secondary, the outlook is not good for their matchups against talented Denver cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. It's not going to be pretty.
One last note. ... Clay, as is often the case, was limited by a sore knee in Wednesday's practice.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As Panthers.com's Bill Voth reminded readers, with the clock approaching the two-minute warning of Sunday's home opener, Cam Newton rolled right. It was third-and-goal from the Bills' 2-yard line, and considering the visitors had scored just three points in 47 minutes, a touchdown would've buried them.
But instead of a touchdown and a potential 10-point lead, Newton overthrew open running back Christian McCaffrey.
"I'm disappointed in myself," Newton said, "but happy for the overall team."
Even though the answer was obvious, the follow-up question had to be asked.
"Just the accuracy," Newton replied when asked what specifically disappointed him. "Missing layups like that, it's uncalled for. I wish I had about two or three balls back."
The miss to McCaffrey came at the most inopportune time, but there was also an overthrow of a wide-open Ed Dickson for the second straight week. After that one in San Francisco, head coach Ron Rivera said Newton "got excited."
"I don't know what it was," Newton said. "It was incomplete."
Add Newton's 20-of-32 for 228 yards performance Sunday with his stat line against the 49ers and you get 34-of-57 for 399 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. To be fair, those numbers could be much worse, and his throw to Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone on the Panthers' opening drive Sunday was a bullet that would've been a touchdown if not for safety Jordan Poyer's jarring hit.
But according to Voth, five and a half months removed from shoulder surgery, Newton isn't just battling soreness. It's clear his limited training camp and preseason has his timing out of whack. It also seems he's fighting his psyche.
"No matter how I was feeling I can't keep having those little mishaps," Newton said. "Let me check myself. I just have to trust the whole process. Even though we see what's going on, I see what's going on and it's not happening the way I want it to happen, I know in the back of my mind things are going to get shaking.
"We're good. I'm good. Just knowing what my expectations are for myself, it starts with me. As this team leader, knowing offensively it's my job to put points up on the scoreboard. We didn't have a touchdown today and I'm disappointed in that."
Newton wasn't helped when tight end Greg Olsen limped off with a broken foot or when an offensive line missing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil allowed six sacks. On the sixth, Newton landed awkwardly on his surgically repaired left ankle before he limped off the field.
"Man, it was scary," Newton admitted. "I didn't even want to say what I thought happened. When you hear it crunch up, the cartilage that was moving, just knowing when you get the blood back flowing and you start walking on it, you just gain confidence in it."
After trainers took a look at Newton's ankle, he returned for the Panthers' final drive looking like the MVP from 2015. He moved the offense with completions on six of his first seven throws. But then came the misfire to McCaffrey and a reminder that Newton's not yet the quarterback he wants and needs to be.
"I felt great. We felt great in that last drive. We were moving the football," he said. "We just have to find a way to get the football in the end zone inside the 5-yard line. There is no excuse that can fix this one.
"It all starts with me. If I complete that pass we're having a different tone in this interview. I'm optimistic for the future and things will get better."
Of course, a future -- at least for the next two months -- without Olsen isn't ideal.
Olsen had surgery on his broken right foot Monday morning, the team announced. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
Rivera said the team hasn't discussed what to do with Olsen's roster spot. He called timetables on Olsen "purely speculation."
But Rivera has discussed with his staff ways the Panthers can replace a player who has led the team in receptions and receiving yards the past three seasons. He liked that Newton targeted nine different players against Buffalo. He compared the situation to the 2015 season, when Newton spread the ball around more after losing wide receiver Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in training camp.
Newton went on to an MVP year, with a career-best 35 touchdown passes, and the Panthers led the league in scoring.
"That's huge," Rivera said. "When you start using all the weapons, it's tough to say, 'OK, who should we focus on? Who should be our primary focus?'
"If we can do that and be successful, that stuff carries over just like it did in 2015."
Rivera also liked what he saw out of Dickson, who had two catches for 26 yards against Buffalo.
"We're not going to change the offense because Greg's out," Rivera said. "We're going to do things that we do. One of the worst things you can do now is all of a sudden say we have to change all the things we've put in.
"Ed is more than capable."
Dickson has made his mark at Carolina primarily as a run-blocker. He has only 37 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns since joining the team as a free agent from Baltimore in 2014.
That's a far cry from the 284 catches for 3,185 yards and 16 touchdowns Olsen had during that span.
But of course Olsen is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who became the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Before the start of the season, the Panthers added $2 million in incentives to his contract based on receptions, receiving yards and postseason honors.
Olsen had one catch for 10 yards against Buffalo before the injury. He had two catches for 18 yards last week in a 23-3 season-opening victory at San Francisco.
Olsen has started 81 consecutive games, the third-most in team history behind safety Mike Minter (94) and offensive tackle Jordan Gross (84). His streak is also the second-longest among active tight ends, behind only Dallas' Jason Witten (164).
But as ESPN.com's David Newton suggests, the loss of Olsen, while big, is not as big as it would have been a year ago. The addition of McCaffrey, a threat as a receiver out of the backfield or from the slot and wide receiver positions, gives Cam Newton a security blanket.
Benjamin and Devin Funchess also have stepped up. Benjamin caught six passes for 77 yards on Sunday. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Benjamin left the game multiple times after taking that hard hit in the end zone that jarred loose a potential touchdown but still managed to lead the team in receiving.
Funchess had four catches for 68 yards. That's the most yards for Funchess since the 2015 regular-season finale.
So there is some hope.
Meanwhile, the Panthers sputtered moving the ball on the ground, posting only 77 rushing yards against Buffalo. Of those yards, 32 came on the game's opening drive. The offensive line simply couldn't hold its own, creating few open lanes for the running backs. Jonathan Stewart gained 40 yards on 15 carries, several times picking up yardage after being hit. The only rushing play for more than 10 yards came from Newton's 15-yard scramble.
On a more positive note, Graham Gano is making the coaches look good for selecting him as the team's kicker. He has gone 3-for-3 on field goals in both games this season.
For the record, Benjamin (ribs, knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice. Newton was limited due to his ankle. I'll have more on both when Late-Breaking Updates begin early Thursday.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
Head coach John Fox said the Bears won't be changing quarterbacks for their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend despite a rough outing by Glennon in his return to Tampa Bay as Chicago fell to 0-2.
He insisted the Bears "still feel pretty good" with the fifth-year pro and the problems in their 29-7 loss to the Buccaneers go beyond the quarterback.
As the Associated Press reported, Glennon struggled to move the offense through the first three quarters in a 23-17 season-opening loss to Atlanta. Chicago missed several chances to score a touchdown in the final seconds of that game. Against Tampa Bay, Glennon flopped in the city where he spent his first four years. He threw two interceptions with one getting returned for a touchdown and lost a fumble on a sack, leading to another TD, after playing turnover-free ball in the opener.
"I think after two games it's really hard to evaluate somebody," Fox said. "We're playing arguably one of the better teams we're going to play this year at home. We're going to do everything in our power to look a little bit like we did in Week 1 than in Week 2. It gives us a chance."
The Bears are a combined 0-8 in September in three seasons under Fox. They also go from hosting Pittsburgh to visiting Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for a Thursday night game.
Even if the Bears were at full strength, this would be a tough spot to start a rookie quarterback. And they are far from full strength.
Top receivers Cameron Meredith and Kevin White are on injured reserve. Running back Jordan Howard hurt his shoulder in the opener and ran for just 7 yards against Tampa Bay. He averaged 28 inches per carry in this one. An offensive line that was already missing Kyle Long took a few more hits against the Buccaneers with Josh Sitton (ribs) and Tom Compton (hip) leaving the game.
Even so, Glennon has done little to settle a debate that picked up steam in the preseason.
Trubisky dazzled at times with his quickness and arm strength, and he beat out veteran Mark Sanchez for the No. 2 spot. But the Bears aren't ready to start him.
"It's a timing thing," said Miller, who was with Jacksonville in 2011 when Blaine Gabbert started 14 games. "It's so sensitive with that position. You've seen it in the past and I've seen it personally, with different teams. You see guys, they get out there and they're not prepared and they're not ready to go and stuff starts to go south. It can put a dent in someone's career. It can hurt 'em early on."
The Bears might look for a softer spot in the schedule to start Trubisky if Glennon continues to struggle. The next game after the trip to Green Bay is a Monday night matchup against Minnesota on Oct. 9. Chicago also has a bye in Week 9, leaving two weeks between games against New Orleans on Oct. 29 and the Packers on Nov. 12.
"I think you just kind of know when it's time," Fox said. "You can't measure it all exactly the same because people are all different."
How does he know?
"I'm not the only one. There's a lot of people evaluating the situation, and like I said, I'd rather not try to predict the future," Fox said.
Meanwhile, the Bears and fantasy owners have to be concerned about Howard's overall lack of production.
Howard -- the NFL's second-leading rusher last season as a rookie -- practiced on a limited basis the entire week with the shoulder injury he sustained in Week 1. Did Howard's shoulder cause him problems against Tampa?
"I can't really say that yet until I talk to the player," Fox said. "I'm sure a lot of guys out there were dealing with a lot."
Howard said the injury is fine and doesn't restrict his play, but not much else. In fact, Howard has skipped out on his media obligations since the Week 1 loss to Atlanta, where he dropped the potential game-winning touchdown pass. Howard had another drop at Raymond James Stadium, and on the year is averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
In addition, diminutive running back/receiver/punt returner/Wildcat quarterback Tarik Cohen followed up on his brilliant Week 1 performance (158 all-purpose yards) with only modest success at Raymond James Stadium.
Cohen still officially touched the ball 17 times against Buccaneers, but accounted for just 78 total yards. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, with the presumptive top-two wideouts for Chicago, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, suffering season ending injuries, Kendall Wright is left to gobble up the bulk of the high-percentage looks from the slot, where he averaged just 6.6 air yards per target. With the offense struggling and negative game scripts already the norm, Wright will see plenty of volume. Five of his 10 targets came in the fourth quarter. As Harmon summed up, "Wright doesn't offer much of any ceiling appeal, but in PPR formats there is at least some sort of floor to chase. ..."
One last note here. ... Receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) practiced on a limited basis last week but did not dress for Sunday's loss to the Bucs due to the broken pinkie suffered in training camp. Wheaton is day-to-day and could make his Bears debut against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Wheaton is easily the fastest healthy Bears wide receiver and a deep threat is badly needed. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
After starting the season 0-2 and failing to score a touchdown in the first eight quarters, the Cincinnati Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese.
The team confirmed the move on Friday afternoon, hours after Thursday night's dismal 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans. Current Bengals quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor, a former NFL offensive coordinator for three teams, was named Zampese's replacement.
"Ken Zampese has done a tremendous job for us for my 15 years here, and I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "But I feel it best for the football team to breathe new life into the offense, and that's why I am making the change."
Zampese served as Bengals quarterbacks coach for 13 seasons before being named offensive coordinator in 2016 when Hue Jackson left to coach the Cleveland Browns. Last season under Zampese, the Bengals struggled to establish a consistent rushing attack and protect Andy Dalton who passed for 4,200 yards despite being sacked 41 times.
The Bengals lost veteran offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, and despite acquiring additional offensive weapons in the draft and having a healthy tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver A.J. Green, and running back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals' offense has sputtered.
Dalton threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in the season opening 20-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
"It's difficult to win many games when we don't score touchdowns," Lewis said, during his Friday afternoon press conference prior to announcing Zampese's firing. "That's execution and how we attack. We're not doing a good enough job."
After two home games only four days apart and zero touchdowns and nine total points scored, Lewis was facing a "near mutiny," a league source told Profootballtalk.com. The normally quiet Green publicly sounded off, and plenty of other players had plenty of pointed things to say privately, PFT's Mike Florio was told.
The Bengals are 0-2 for the 15th time in franchise history. They've never reached the playoffs after starting a season 0-2. The best record they've managed is 8-8.
Lewis said earlier Friday that Dalton's job is safe.
Through two games, Dalton has completed 54.5 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and a paltry 47.2 rating. He has been sacked eight times.
"I'm not worried about Andy," said Lewis. "We have to do things better around him."
Frustration was evident in the Bengals' locker room following Thursday's game.
Green had five catches for 67 yards on Thursday, but 50 of those yards came on one completion.
"I was running 20 yards down the field, and didn't see anything," Green said of the final fourth-quarter drive. "I didn't see the ball at all."
Lazor is in his 12th season as an NFL coach and in his second year as an assistant coach with the Bengals. He had been named Bengals quarterbacks coach on Jan. 18, 2016. He previously has served as offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach for Washington, Seattle, Philadelphia and Miami.
"Bill Lazor has great experience in the league and as a coordinator, and I feel Bill can progress our offense the way we need," Lewis said. "We have a lot of talent on offense, and we need to keep working to take full advantage of the personnel we have."
The clock is ticking on Cincinnati's season, however, with a trip to Green Bay coming. Lazor said the offensive staff will meet on Saturday and already is working on a plan moving forward.
"A lot of us are frustrated with the production and we all share the burden," Lazor said. "Our focus is on beating the Packers. We spent an awful lot of time building what we have. We're focused on making things better."
Firing Zampese isn't a magic fix, and nobody will know for a week if the team will be sparked by the change. But it shows that the Bengals are committed to doing whatever it takes to move this team forward instead of just spinning their wheels.
So what will Lazor need to do to turn things around?
According to PFT's Mike Florio, the Bengals seem to spread the ball around to too many weapons, instead of building the attack around their best player(s). Throw it deep to Green at least every other drive; even when he doesn't catch it, knowing it may be coming will open up the rest of the field. Pick a running back and make him the workhorse, instead of trying to spin the dial from Jeremy Hill to Joe Mixon to Gio Bernard.
The teams that can get away with having so many different players touching the ball typically have franchise quarterbacks distributing it — and distributing it so well that no one grumbles about not getting it enough. With Dalton regressing, the ball isn't being distributed effectively, and those who believe they should be getting it more often are going to begin to get upset.
"So that's the free advice to Lazor," Florio wrote: "Take shots to Green and John Ross, who disappeared after an unavoidable fumble that happened when Kareem Jackson put his helmet right on the ball. Pick a tailback and let him pound and pound and pound some more.
"Here's another tidbit for Lazor: Cultivate true leaders on offense. Dalton seems disengaged to the point of disinterested when things aren't going well. Someone needs to show some fire and passion to snap this offense out of its funk. If not the quarterback, then it needs to be someone else. ..."
Meanwhile, with uncertainty about Dalton increasing, the man first in line to replace him came to the starter's defense.
"I wish people would in this city would back him and go with it," AJ McCarron told Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Listen, I think I'm a great quarterback and I think he's an unbelievable quarterback. I love him to death. But he's our quarterback. Stop making it into something else. It's not into something else. Ride with him. Trust the team. Trust the process. And trust what we are trying to do. And be a fan of who is playing. We are all part of a team."
Other notes of interest. ... Eifert's good health didn't last long. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the star tight end is dealing with back and knee injuries and his status for this weekend's game against the Packers is "uncertain."
Eifert has just four catches for 46 yards this season, but has at least stayed on the field. He's been something other than durable, missing eight games last year, three in 2015, and 15 in 2014.
Eifert did not practice Wednesday.
Also. ... Tyler Boyd was a surprise scratch prior to Thursday night's game, allowing Ross to make his debut. Boyd reportedly developed a hamstring issue prior to the game, although Lewis denied that afterward. It was a curious decision to make Boyd inactive after he appeared healthy in practice all week.
Boyd never missed a game in his rookie season and was a permanent part of the Bengals' offense, catching 54 passes for 603 yards and a touchdown last year. He only had one reception in the Bengals debut against the Ravens and is limited to returning kicks on special times. Cody Core, who was active on Thursday, plays on several special teams units.
I'll obviously have more on Eifert in coming days. I'll also be watching for any news of potential changes to personnel and scheme under Lazor. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
DeShone Kizer gets a migraine headache once or twice a year. Unfortunately, as Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers reported, the rookie quarterback was afflicted by a nasty one Sunday — in his second NFL game, before a deafening, hostile crowd, and against one of the league's most tenacious defenses.
"That's one of my biggest fears being a guy who does get chronic migraines, it was bound to happen sometime for me," Kizer said Monday, a day after a migraine forced him out of a 24-10 loss to the Ravens.
Kizer said he was "back to normal" following the episode, which he said affected his vision in the first half and may have contributed to him throwing one of three interceptions, including one in the end zone when he had an open receiver.
The former Notre Dame starter didn't blame the headache for a game he doesn't want to repeat.
"That was one of my worst performances ever in any sport I've ever played," he said. "I'm definitely going to try to make that the biggest learning experience I possibly can and grow as much as I can from it."
The 21-year-old has been prone to the debilitating headaches since he was a kid and it's impossible to know when one might be coming.
"There's nothing you can really control, you just try to keep yourself out of stressful positions and continue to have regular sleep habits and a good diet," he said.
Kizer said the severity of symptoms can range.
"It can get to the point where you have some numbness in your limbs or your face and you get an aura that continues to grow within your eyesight and doesn't really allow you to see much," he said, "and then the pain is pretty tough."
Kizer takes medication when he has the onset of a migraine, and said he is usually feeling better within an hour, which would explain why he came back in the game.
During the first quarter, head coach Hue Jackson said he thought something might be wrong with Kizer when his young QB failed to put a wide receiver in motion before the ball was snapped. On the play, Kizer looked in the opposite direction than he's supposed to, and that was a sign to Jackson.
"When he came off and I asked him about it, he wasn't very clear to me about what it was, so then I knew then that something wasn't happening," Jackson said. "He told me, 'coach, my head is kind of pounding' so I knew then that something was not right."
Kizer sat out the remainder of the half and returned midway through the third quarter. Before he was taken out and checked by Cleveland's medical staff, the second-round pick said he experienced some vision issues shortly after completing a 35-yard pass on third down to wide receiver Rashard Higgins.
Jackson said the Browns were aware of Kizer's history with headaches, and the team isn't worried about them being an issue going forward.
The same can't be said of Corey Coleman.
Cleveland's top wide receiver broke his right hand again during Sunday's loss in Baltimore, and the 2016 first-round pick had surgery Monday. He was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. He is not expected to play again for at least two months.
It's the second year in a row Coleman has broken his right hand. While he fractured a different bone this time, Coleman's injury occurred almost exactly a year to the day after he broke it during practice last September.
Coleman did not have surgery last year, but missed six games.
The injury is a tough blow to Coleman personally and to Cleveland's thin wide receiving corps. The team likely will sign another receiver when Coleman goes on IR and one of the possibilities is Jordan Leslie, who was with the team this summer.
Jackson and his staff had been pushing Coleman to become a dependable playmaker, and he had made solid progress.
"He was getting better," Jackson said. "There is no question about that. He was definitely heading in the right direction."
His loss puts further stress on Cleveland's other wide receivers to pick up the slack. Rashard Higgins led the Browns with nine catches for 75 yards Sunday after being signed off the practice squad.
"Hey, next guy up," Jackson said. "We gotta go coach the guys that we have here. There's nothing magical that's going to happen that way. I know (VP) Sashi (Brown) and his team is going to do everything they can to see if there's somebody else who can help us. But I don't look at it that way. I think the guys that are on our football team have to step up and play, just like we saw Rashard go out there and play extremely well yesterday and do some good things.
"Who's going to be the next guy that steps up and take the opportunity and makes something happen? So that's what we have to do."
During offseason free agency, the Browns chose not to re-sign Terrelle Pryor, their leading receiver last season. Cleveland instead brought in veteran Kenny Britt, who has two catches for 15 yards in two games.
And after his successful day in Baltimore, Higgins figures to remain the Browns' slot receiver.
While Higgins came off the practice squad to have his first big day for the Browns at receiver -- and rookie David Njoku scored his first NFL touchdown, ESPN.com's Pat McManamon advised readers this group is too thin and too undependable to rely on in any fantasy league. ...
Meanwhile, Isaiah Crowell, one of the Browns' best offensive threats, carried the ball only 10 times. His 37-yard total was bolstered by one 17-yard run. As a team, the Browns had only 21 carries, and five of those were by Kizer. The Browns have to run the ball better to win, but once again they were behind 14 points at halftime and forced to throw more than they wanted to in the second half.
Duke Johnson showed elusiveness on five carries for 26 yards.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As the Sports Xchange suggested, "It wasn't so much that the Dallas Cowboys got beat on Sunday in blowout fashion to the Denver Broncos. ..."
Well. It was that. But some of the talk on Monday centered on the contrasting actions of their two leading performers, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott in the face of the adversity.
Prescott showed leadership and a contagious competitive fire while Elliott stood for an embarrassing lack of effort.
Head coach Jason Garrett wasn't pleased with Elliott's efforts after the Broncos intercepted Prescott twice, including a 103-yard return for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib late in the game. Elliott wasn't seen trying to prevent that score, and had his hands on his hips on an earlier interception as Chris Harris Jr. returned it 23 yards.
"One of the things we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there is a turnover, everybody is involved," Garrett said. "If you're an offensive player, become a defensive player on a fumble or an interception. Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I've ever been around. He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we've seen that through his first year playing. Those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor that he was and we have to get that addressed."
Expect the Cowboys to address it by showing those plays to the team this week as a teaching moment of what not to do. Expect them also to show plays where Elliott showcases his competitive nature.
Garrett said he had "no idea" why Elliott had such an uncharacteristic game, although frustration likely set in with Elliott who had only 8 yards on nine carries.
"I haven't spoken to him specifically. He certainly could have been frustrated," Garrett said. "Obviously, he had been very productive as a running back over the course of his career and certainly in the NFL up to this point and he had a game where he carried the ball nine times for 8 yards, so there's no question frustration could have set in."
The Broncos dared the Cowboys to beat them through the air.
Prescott had the worst performance of his career. He didn't get much help from offensive line, which didn't provide much time, or his receivers. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Brice Butler dropped passes. Bryant didn't win on the outside against Talib.
But Prescott needed to be sharp and make pinpoint throws in tight windows. He didn't. That could be a problem going forward as opponents will try to copy the blueprint.
Still, Garrett praised Prescott for how he handled his forgettable day. Prescott had his second career multi-interception game, was sacked twice and hit seven times and injured his ankle on a run.
But Garrett admired how Prescott didn't sulk in the moment and kept attacking as best he could. Garrett pointed to a sequence late in the game when Broncos linebacker Von Miller sacked Prescott on second down and then scrambled for 11 yards on third down to give the Cowboys a manageable fourth-and-three.
Garrett raved about the fight Prescott displayed throughout the game.
"Watch the tape of No. 4. No. 4 is a special player," Garrett said. "It was not an easy game for him. Got knocked around a little bit, got banged up early. And talk about a guy who battles. Talk about a guy who fights. Talk about a guy who leads the team under adversity, under duress. It was special."
But in general, watching the young start struggle was a surprise to all involved.
When was the last time Elliott was held to less than 10 yards in a game?
"Never," he said.
"I think we just couldn't get things started up front. We just really weren't on the field that long."
The blueprint the Cowboys have methodically followed and executed in the last year, the balance between run and pass that usually makes this offense so dangerous, was torn up and discarded.
When Prescott throws the ball 50 times and Elliott runs it only nine, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
And as Dallas Morning News staffer Brandon George put it, "The Cowboys of Prescott and Elliott aren't accustomed to these outings. The four games the team lost last season, including the playoffs, were by a combined 21 points. Dallas lost this game by 25 points."
"I don't feel like that was us," Prescott said. "We didn't go out there and execute the way we normally do."
The good news?
The Cowboys have had enough offensive success since the start of last season that it is hard to think this outing is a harbinger of things to come when facing teams other than the Broncos. They'll have an extra day to work through things before returning to action against the Cardinals in a Monday night game.
Other notes of interest. ... A U.S. District Court judge in Texas on Monday denied the NFL's motion for an emergency stay of an injunction that is allowing Elliott to continue to play while his NFL suspension works its way through the courts. The move means the case will now move to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where the NFL already has filed an appeal in the case.
The league has asked for an emergency order in the case as early as Tuesday. But Monday's ruling by Judge Amos Mazzant means Elliott can continue to play. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Witten has 90-plus yards and a touchdown in back-to-back games to start off the season. It's tough to lock that in as a likely scenario in any given week, given that the trailing script assisted in Week 2. "Yet," Harmon summed up, "don't ignore Witten as a startable tight end option right now. ..."
Harmon also pointed out that Bryant saw more high-percentage targets in Denver than he did in Week 1, averaging under 10 air yards per target. Harmon believes the star receiver will be volatile all year but bringing his targets closer to the line of scrimmage will help alleviate some of that. ...
As for Prescott's ankle, it will be monitored during the week. But the QB is said to be doing well and is all but certain to be ready to go against the Cardinals on Monday night.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As expected, a quarterback and a running back did indeed make Sunday's affair in downtown Denver a tidy little showcase.
And while Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott essentially found themselves in supporting roles, the Denver Broncos showed why they have consistently said they believe in what quarterback Trevor Siemian can do with the kind of run game C.J. Anderson can provide, as well as the team's swarming defense in his corner.
More important to the Broncos, the 42-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Sports Authority Field, which included a weather delay of an hour, showed why they simply like what their team is capable of accomplishing.
Siemian was efficient, finishing 22-for-32 passing for 231 yards and four touchdowns, while the Broncos recorded 178 rushing yards.
"So," as ESPN.com's Dan Graziano wrote, "Why is it, exactly, that it's so tough for us to believe in Siemian?"
"Maybe because he wasn't drafted in the first round," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "He comes from Northwestern. He doesn't like talking to the media much. As the season goes on, you may hear people talking about him, but it really doesn't matter."
Not on a day like this it doesn't. Not when Siemian was the best young quarterback in a game that featured Prescott. The Broncos' reputation is that of a team that can win with defense as long as the quarterback doesn't screw it up. But if you think this is one of those teams on which the defense resents the quarterback because it does all the work and he gets the glory, think again. The Broncos like Siemian -- a lot more than folks on the outside seem to.
"He's smart, and he's super-accurate with the football," cornerback Aqib Talib told Graziano. "He has the poise of an eight- or nine-year veteran. Trev could be a star in this league. If we do what we need to do on defense, Trev is going to be a star this year."
Still, Siemian was the Broncos' second choice as Peyton Manning's successor, and even after Brock Osweiler spurned them for the Texans' money, they still drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round. He feels a bit like a guy who got the job mainly by showing up.
But what if he's more?
As Graziano put it, "What if he's a talented, accurate thrower of the football who fell to the seventh round because he got hurt in his final year at Northwestern and teams aren't accustomed to looking for quarterbacks at Northwestern in the first place? What if he's a young guy who sat behind Manning as a rookie and learned some stuff, and who's developing into something more than his draft pedigree said he was?"
"You see the progression every week," said guard Ron Leary, who was blocking for Prescott in Dallas last season. "The men in this locker room, we always have faith in him, so it's just everyone else now seeing it. We have all the faith in the world in Trevor."
In truth, Siemian doesn't have to do much.
This Broncos defense showed once again Sunday that it can be the driving force that wins Denver's games. Holding Ezekiel Elliott to 8 yards on nine carries? Intercepting two passes from a quarterback who threw a total of four interceptions all last season?
The Broncos are still built to smother and demoralize opposing offenses, meaning the offense has to do just enough to win.
But as we've seen, they're capable of more. And Siemian has shown more since becoming the Broncos' starter than he tends to get credit for showing.
In case you haven't been paying attention, Siemian has six touchdown passes in two games, tied for the second-most in Broncos history in the first two weeks of the season behind Manning, who had nine scoring tosses in the first two games of his record-breaking 2013 season. His 106.9 rating (currently sixth-best in the NFL) is the eighth-best for a Broncos quarterback through two games, and the best for a Denver passer to start a season since Manning in 2014.
And if he's on a path of continued improvement, the Broncos could end up being a dangerous team. They'll certainly be more fantasy-friendly than we expected.
And that's okay. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Anderson ranks second in the NFL with 199 rushing yards. He is the first Broncos running back to rush for at least 180 yards in the first two weeks of the season since Travis Henry in 2007. After carrying the football 45 times in the last two games, he's on pace for 360 carries this season
"I got in the tub earlier today. I've got 48 hours to recover to get ready to run around on Wednesday. I'm fine." Anderson said after hammering the Cowboys.
According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, Anderson played 75 percent of Denver's snaps and had a massive workload in every quarter with at least six touches in each.
He'll be a must-start against the Bills in Week 3.
In addition, for the second straight week, Jamaal Charles had 10 touches as a change of pace behind Anderson. Charles had 52 yards from scrimmage and Franciscovich considers him a hold in fantasy leagues for now. He's definitely not a starter as long as Anderson keeps playing strong but could have some flex value down the line if his role eventually increases.
Devontae Booker's status remains up in the air as he completes his recovery from a fractured wrist suffered in March. Booker "has to get in football shape" before he returns, head coach Vance Joseph said. ...
Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both caught six passes on eight targets. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, while their overall volume was similar, Thomas got more downfield chances. He averaged over 10 air yards per target to 7.2 for Sanders. The latter just saw his looks in scoring position and delivered two touchdowns due to that.
"It's tough to find an offense like the Broncos where two options have such bankable floors," Harmon wrote, "but that's exactly what we have with Thomas and Sanders."
Bennie Fowler will be in the league-mandated post-concussion protocol after his head hit the ground hard as he tried to make a reception in the end zone during the second quarter. Fowler tried to walk back to the Broncos' sideline, but collided with a Broncos official while in an apparent daze from the concussion. He did not practice Wednesday.
And finally. ... When Talib picked off a pass in one end zone and raced 103 yards to the other end zone on Sunday, he joined some very select company. That pick-six was Talib's 10th career interception return for a touchdown. Only four players in NFL history have returned 10 interceptions for touchdowns.
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein reported it, "The pocket fell around Matthew Stafford, and once again, the Detroit Lions' quarterback was forced to improvise. Like he has done so often in the first two weeks of the season, Stafford spun out of the back of the pocket, away from the pressure.
"Then he made his decisions. Sometimes, if the lane was there, he took off, trying to get the first down. Other times he kept his eyes focused downfield, searching for a pass-catcher, any pass-catcher, to make a play."
Rothstein went on to note this was the Stafford the Lions have gotten used to seeing the past two seasons, the smart quarterback making intelligent decisions, the quarterback who so often took the very little he had to work with and somehow made a play.
He did this on Monday, too, without his starting left tackle, Taylor Decker, and on a night when Decker's replacement, Greg Robinson, struggled to handle the New York Giants' pass rush. Robinson picked up a couple of penalties, allowed a couple of pressures and was part of an offensive line that sent Stafford scrambling for 23 total yards in a 24-10 win.
It's the way he scrambles, too. He seems to have more of a feel for it than ever before -- knowing when to step up and when to roll-dodge out of the pocket on the back side. That's growth in the quarterback who has been the team's established starter for years now.
"I don't know, just play a lot of football," Stafford said. "It's not something I practice, not something I think about. It just happens. So [it] worked a couple times tonight. It has not worked a couple times in my career."
But these games such as Monday night are not games Stafford has historically won as Detroit's quarterback. Entering Monday night, he was 20-34 in his career on the road. He had won only one game -- against New Orleans in 2015 -- on the road on Monday night. More critical for Stafford was how he looked doing it, a 15-for-21, 122-yard, two-touchdown, no-interception night when he did everything he needed in order to win.
He played sharp. He made smart decisions. He moved the pocket well with his eyes and his footwork. These are all things the Lions have preached to him, and he has been able to improve under head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan, and he continually showed up against the Giants. Simply, Stafford played like the type of quarterback who understands what he needs to do on the road.
He took deep shots when he needed to -- including a touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the first quarter -- but minimized risk. Stafford did what so many top NFL quarterbacks do going into a tough environment on the road: He managed the game and his decisions to make sure his team was in position to win.
"I've got a lot of trust in him," Stafford said of Jones. "He's made some big plays over the years, came close a couple times tonight. I missed him early in the game on one, by, golly, a yard or two, and again later in the game. We'll continue to take shots, be aggressive, hopefully hit a couple more of them."
Stafford got help from the Lions' special teams, with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown from Jamal Agnew, and from a defense that sacked Eli Manning five times and picked him off once. Stafford even came back one play after getting poked in the eye to lead a touchdown drive in the first half -- a big momentum boost for the Lions.
These types of games are the ones Stafford had to start winning. Yes, he did so last season, to an extent. But so much of the Lions' success was based on his last-minute miracle comebacks instead of what he was able to do Monday.
Stafford led the Lions to a complete win, one in which Detroit never trailed, never looked frazzled and never seemed to not be in control of the game. On the road. On a Monday night. And that, more than anything else, might be the next step in Stafford's development as a quarterback. For the second straight week, Stafford completed more than 70 percent of his passes (71.7 percent) -- one of the team's biggest goals for him this past offseason.
As Rothstein summed up, "This was a national stage for Stafford -- his first since he signed his $135 million contract that made him the NFL's highest-paid player. He showed that not only could he handle it but he could also thrive in it. And that, for the Lions, might be the next step in the development of an elite quarterback and a team with which he can win. ..."
That said, it wasn't the fantasy-friendliest performance. But it demonstrated that even in games where the Lions might rely on other aspects of their offense, Stafford is still capable of putting points on the board.
Meanwhile, Ameer Abdullah ran for a career-high 86 yards on 17 carries. Abdullah was having an ordinary day until he broke a 34-yard run on his final carry of the game.
Given the gameplan, Theo Riddick didn't have a stellar outing. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich explained, "Riddick's value is in the passing game, and when he's not getting work there his floor is scary low." He should see more action against Atlanta in Week 3 (Chicago's Tarik Cohen and Green Bay's Ty Montgomery both fared well against the Falcons).
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, "Eric Ebron soothed the post-Week 1 worries of those who pegged him as a breakout candidate headed into this season."
Harmon further noted that Ebron's Monday night score came from inside the Giants' 10-yard line and he lined up in the slot on 38 percent of his plays and another 22 percent out-wide. Marvin Jones reminded us that he, not yet Kenny Golladay, is the top outside receiver in this offense. He was on the field for 89 percent of the plays to just 50 percent for the talented rookie.
Both Jones and Golladay will be volatile fantasy producers with high ceilings but low floors.
And with just 21 pass attempts, Golden Tate wasn't the kind of volume play fantasy owners have become accustomed to lining up. But as Harmon pointed out, "That's not a script we should typically expect for the usually pass-heavy Lions. Tate still maintained his slot receiver role, lining up inside on 76 percent of his plays. He gets the Falcons next week, who struggle to cover the middle of the field."
A few final notes here. ... Dwayne Washington left the game early with a quad injury. ...
Agnew was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his spectacular return that effectively sealed Detroit's victory.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
The good news -- at least early on -- would be that both escaped serious injury during Sunday night's 34-23 loss to the Falcons.
That doesn't mean they'll play against the Bengals this weekend, however. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Nelson's quad strain is not considered serious but he is "50-50" for Sunday. Cobb is considered day to day after undergoing an MRI on an injured shoulder. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is calling Cobb's injury "nothing major."
If both Nelson and Cobb are out, Adams will be a very busy man along with less-proven commodities like Geronimo Allison likely to play greater roles.
But the bigger injury issues come along the offensive line.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers got through a game with a pair of neophytes at the two most important offensive line positions without getting Aaron Rodgers killed, but head coach Mike McCarthy's altered offensive plan couldn't keep up with the wide-open Falcons offense and probably would be a severely limited if veteran starters David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) don't return soon.
Before last week's opener, Kyle Murphy had played a total of eight NFL snaps from scrimmage in his career. In two games this season, he's played 82 snaps at right tackle and 76 at left. Justin McCray made his first start at right tackle -- the same spot where Murphy made his first start a week earlier.
McCarthy said he stopped sliding help toward Murphy midway through the second quarter.
Bakhtiari and Bulaga, the two regular starting tackles, were pregame scratches after trying to fight through their injuries all week. Bakhtiari even went through an extensive pregame warmup routine shortly before inactives were due. Without Bakhtiari and Bulaga, who has yet to play this season, the Packers turned to a quick-passing game that was heavy on screens.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky notes, Rodgers threw 11 screen passes and completed all but one -- his most such completions in a game on screens since ESPN Stats and Information began tracking them in 2010. However, he was not as accurate when he tried to get the ball down the field, completing 36.8 percent of passes traveling more than 5 yards downfield. Losing receiver Jordy Nelson to a quad injury on the first series didn't help, either.
The short passing game helped McCray, a first-year guard and center who began working at tackle last week in practice just in case this scenario arose. But McCray, who before Sunday had never played a snap from scrimmage in a regular-season game, still had some problems. Rodgers was sacked three times, including the most vicious hit of the night from Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley after McCray half whiffed on a cut block.
For his part, Rodgers took a share of the responsibility for that play.
"I've got to get the ball out [quickly] in that situation," he said.
Whether McCray gets another start this Sunday against the Bengals will depend on how Bakhtiari and Bulaga progress with their injuries.
"We were just being smart," Bakhtiari said. "The injury, it sucks. I really want to be out there. I don't like missing practice and/or games, but it's tough. It's a decision that we thought was best for the team going into the game."
Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Jason Spriggs (another tackle out with a hamstring injury) tried to offer as much pregame and in-game advice as possible.
"It's kind of a new position for both of us, but I'm proud as heck of Justin and I think he battled his butt off," Murphy said.
The injury situation -- both at wideout and at tackle -- will be something I watch closely in coming days. Watch the Late-Breaking News section for more. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Packers never could get their running game going and finished with just 59 rushing yards. Montgomery had a rushing and receiving touchdown, but averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
Still, the two-TD outing kept Montgomery in the good graces of fantasy owners and should continue to do the same going forward. ...
And finally. ... At a time when the Packers are looking for reliable receiving targets, veteran tight end Martellus Bennett is off to a slow start to his Packers career. Against the Falcons, Bennett had four dropped passes to go with an unspectacular stat line (five receptions for 47 yards, on 11 targets).
He also was guilty of an offensive pass interference, which wiped out a 36-yard pass to Randall Cobb.
"I just go back to the fundamentals of it. It's as simple as that, to be honest with you," offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said, according to Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It really just always goes back to being fundamentally sound, trusting his training. He has really good hands. We just have to be fundamentally sound in those situations, not allowing the ball to cross your eyes, things like that, extending for the football.
"He's obviously a special player, but in that case it was more fundamentals than anything else."
As Profootballtalk.com suggests, the Packers need Bennett to be more reliable. Fantasy owners won't argue the point.
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Sara Barshop noted this week, although rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson showed flashes of what the Houston Texans were hoping when they traded up to the No. 12 pick in the draft, he acknowledged after leading the Texans to a 13-9 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday that he still has a lot to learn.
"I just want to be a complete professional quarterback, and that's going to take time," Watson said. "My reads, operation with the offense, timing with the receivers, routes, sitting in the pocket, trusting my line. Everything is always a work in progress."
The victory brought the Texans to 1-1, avoiding falling into a 0-2 hole before they travel to New England in Week 3 to play the Patriots. Even after the win on Thursday night, the Texans' offense still has only scored two touchdowns in two games: one from Watson to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Week 1 and a 49-yard run from Watson against the Bengals
Watson completed 15-of-24 passes for 125 yards and was more efficient than his second-half performance in Week 1. He also added 67 yards on five carries and the touchdown Thursday and did not turn the ball over.
"It wasn't perfect," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He did some good things. It will be a lot to learn from. We'll watch the tape."
Four of Hopkins' seven catches came in the fourth quarter when Watson was trying to drive down the field and eat time off the clock. Hopkins said it will take some time for him and Watson to continue to find a rhythm on the field, but said he was impressed by what Watson did on Thursday.
"This is our first time throwing this many balls since he's been on this team," Hopkins said. "So just getting that timing down, getting that chemistry and just building."
The rookie did take some reps with the first-team offense during the offseason workouts and training camp, but the majority of those were reserved for Week 1 starter Tom Savage. The more reps he has received, Watson said, the more comfortable and confident he has become.
"Each big play is always a confidence-booster," Watson said. "You try to learn as much as you can with each rep. I'm young in this league. I've only seen so much and have so much more to see and experience to be able to get to the top, where I want to be.
"That's going to take time, but just take it one step at a time and try to build my confidence."
Watson's touchdowns and the two field goals stood in part because the Texans' defense was so good on Thursday night. Houston only allowed 12 Bengals first downs, two field goals and held quarterback Andy Dalton without a touchdown. The Texans had the No. 1 defense last season, and with a rookie quarterback, they might need the defense to play at that level again.
"He's not going to be perfect -- he's a rookie," defensive end J.J. Watt told NFL Network on the field after the game. "There's going to be tough times throughout the year, but that's what the defense is for, to pull him out of it. If you've got to win a game 10-9 or 13-9 or whatever, you've got to do it."
Worth noting, Watson's 49-yard touchdown scamper is the longest run by a quarterback in Texans franchise history and represents the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history in a starting debut.
The touchdown run was a glimpse of how dangerous the first-round draft pick and consensus All-America selection from Clemson can be while learning on the fly against NFL defensive schemes that occasionally confused him. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested this week, in PPR formats, Lamar Miller was at least serviceable despite the fact that he didn't find the end zone against the Bengals. He totaled 87 yards from scrimmage, which considering the shape of the Texans offensive line, was decent.
Still, Franciscovich added, it will be tough to trust him in this offense going forward as anything more than a low-end flex.
And even that might be difficult if rookie D'Onta Foreman continues to impress. The second-round pick was solid on eight carries and looked good running the ball, breaking tackles and gaining five or more yards on his first four attempts. Franciscovich considers Foreman is an under-the-radar waiver add ahead of the Texans Week 3 game against the Patriots. ...
After leading the NFL with a 56 percent share of the Texans intended air yards in Week 1, DeAndre Hopkins bumped that up to a 63.3 percent share in Week 2. Not a surprise with all the team's tight ends missing the game along with fellow wideouts Bruce Ellington and Will Fuller.
Fuller practiced on Monday for the first time since breaking his collarbone Aug. 2, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. It remains unclear whether Fuller will play Sunday, though McClain said the receiver could play "if everything goes well with Fuller in practice."
Houston needs Fuller after cutting receiver Jaelen Strong on Monday.
Fuller, the team's first-round pick in 2016, will start opposite Hopkins whenever he returns to the lineup. He made 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
Fuller's prognosis was 2-3 months after surgery, so he has sped up the recovery process. But he won't play this week; the Texans have already ruled Fuller out this week. And even when he returns, it's unlikely to change the fact that Hopkins is the only receiving weapon in Houston with fantasy value.
A few final notes here: It appears the Texans will get at least on of their tight ends back this week. According to Chronicle staffer Aaron Wilson, Ryan Griffin is out of the concussion protocol and the New Hampshire native is looking forward to Patriots game, obtaining 40 to 50 tickets for family and friends.
Ellington also cleared the concussion protocol on Wednesday.
In addition, running back Alfred Blue (high ankle sprain) returned to practice Wednesday. It's not clear how long he'll need to get back into game shape.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Tom Savage
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells put it, "Welcome to rock bottom, Indianapolis Colts."
The Colts, once a franchise that was a fixture in the playoffs, hit their lowest point in the Chuck Pagano era when Westgate Las SuperBook listed them as 2.5-point underdogs to the Cleveland Browns in the Week 3 matchup of winless teams.
Repeat: The Colts are underdogs to the Cleveland Browns.
It's bad enough to be an underdog to the Browns, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2002. It's even worse when you're an underdog as the home team.
But that's how bad things are going these days for the Colts, who are still waiting for the return of franchise quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder). They were embarrassed by 37 points in their Week 1 loss and then when they looked like they were showing signs of hope, they blew a 10-point lead and lost in overtime to Arizona on Sunday.
Starting 0-2 is nothing new for the Colts. They've done it in each of the past four seasons.
If they fall to 0-3 with two of the losses coming at home?
As Wells suggests, that might even be enough for owner Jim Irsay to lose his cool. ...
Meanwhile, Luck will miss his third consecutive game Sunday after being ruled out by Pagano on Monday.
According to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, Pagano confirmed on Wednesday Luck would not practice this week, pushing the window for his return from shoulder surgery back at least another week.
As Profootballtalk.com suggested, if there was any optimism about him returning in early October, that's gone now. Luck missed all of the Colts' offseason workouts, all of training camp and the entire preseason after having surgery in January to repair a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Clearly he is going to need a few weeks to work his way back into shape to play. And expecting him to be in midseason form when his season is just starting is a reach.
That makes not only this week's game against the Browns out of the question, but makes it extremely unlikely he'd be back for the Oct. 8 trip to Seattle.
This week, Brissett will make his second straight start for the Colts for all the obvious reasons.
While it wasn't a win, there were more than a few silver linings in the loss. And the play of Brissett got Pagano's attention.
"I'm encouraged with the play of our quarterback. I thought Jacoby managed things really well in the short time that he's been here," the coach said.
"He's got great poise. (He) made great decisions. Hung in there. He stands tall in the pocket. He's tough as damn nails. He could extend some plays. (Brissett) had good presence and good command and poise. It's like he's been there for a long, long time, which is encouraging."
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer were able to have Brissett ready to play.
"The coaches did a great job with him and he did a great job," Pagano added.
Brissett completed 20-of-37 passes for 216 yards, completing passes to eight different receivers, and gave the Colts a chance to win the game in regulation.
Jack Doyle was perfect as a receiver, hauling in eight passes on eight total targets. Doyle did a nice job of moving the sticks over the first three quarters. T.Y. Hilton got off to a slow start, but wound up with four catches on six targets. Kamar Aiken added three catches. Donte' Moncrief had his struggles with just two catches on eight targets.
Frank Gore had a productive afternoon of work, rushing for 46 yards on 14 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Brissett had 22 yards on six carries, mostly coming on scrambles. Robert Turbin had 11 yards in three carries. As a team, the Colts ran for 76 yards and averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
In general, it's a difficult offense for fantasy owners to invest in on any given Sunday -- at least as things currently stand. ...
Also of interest. ... Chester Rogers (hamstring) appeared to be getting closer to returning last week. But Pagano said Monday the second-year player has suffered a setback. Rogers, who has been hurt since early in training camp, is scheduled to get an MRI of the injury sometime this week.
That might explain why the Colts signed receiver Matt Hazel. The Colts originally claimed Hazel off waivers from Washington on Sept. 3. He played three offensive snaps in the season opener.
Hazel has appeared in six career games, with one start, and has caught one pass for 1 yard in his time with the Colts (2017), Redskins (2016), Bills (2016) and Dolphins (2014-15). Hazel originally was selected by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2014 draft out of Coastal Carolina.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco recounted it, no running game meant no chance for the Jaguars' offense and quarterback Blake Bortles on Sunday in a 37-16 loss to the visiting Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee's defensive game plan was to stack the box to stop Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory and force Bortles to beat them by making him throw. He's had plenty of success against the Titans in the past, but without wide receiver Allen Robinson, who is out for the season with a torn left ACL, Bortles and the offense couldn't consistently move the ball.
DiRocco went on to suggest that's what it's going to be like the rest of the season for Bortles if the Jaguars cannot find success on the ground.
The Jaguars' formula of running the ball, minimizing the reliance on Bortles and playing good defense and special teams worked in the season opener against Houston. But play-action passing doesn't work when the running game isn't there. Through three quarters against the Titans, the Jaguars were averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and Fournette was at just 3 per carry. By that time the Jaguars trailed 23-3 and the Jaguars had to abandon the run.
The calls for Bortles' benching will surely increase this week, but the offense's struggles were not solely on his shoulders.
Bortles, who had thrown 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in six previous games against the Titans, turned the ball over three times. Two weren't his fault -- he fumbled as he was sacked by Brian Orakpo (who beat rookie left tackle Cam Robinson) and had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted -- but he also threw behind Marqise Lee and the ball was tipped and intercepted.
Don't be misled by Bortles' 63.7 passer rating. It's called padding your numbers after all hope is lost.
As the Sports Xchange notes, for three quarters, Bortles struggled throwing the ball with either tipped balls, hurried throws or passes that were just off the mark. Entering the fourth quarter, Bortles' numbers were horrendous - 11-of-25 passing for 89 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns, all of which resulted in a 20.2 rating. Only a fourth-quarter finish that saw him complete all nine passes for 134 yards and a touchdown that spiked his rating number to 63.7 did it prevent Bortles from posting the worst rating of his career.
He finished 20-of-34 for 223 yards and one touchdown but he had only 11 completions and 89 yards passing through three quarters.
In addition, the Jaguars hurt themselves with penalties. They had 10 downs on which they had 15 or more yards to go to reach a first down -- including six where they needed 20 or more yards -- in the first three quarters.
As DiRocco reminded readers, Sunday looked a lot like 2016, when everything that could go wrong on offense did. There was no margin for error, the offensive line failed to open much room for the running game, and Bortles wasn't able to find any kind of rhythm.
"Two picks and a fumble and then the penalties," Bortles said. "You're playing from behind the sticks and it's first-and-20, second-and-20, second-and-15. That makes it tough to call plays, tough to execute plays when you are playing from behind the chains like that. I think it was a bit of a combination of both. We were never really able to get anything rolling."
The Jaguars believed they had solved that issue by drafting Fournette fourth overall this spring and OT Cam Robinson in the second round in 2014; the pair would allow them to run the ball and control the clock and keep Bortles from having to throw the ball 30-plus times per game (he averaged 37 pass attempts in his career).
After success against Houston (Fournette ran for 100 yards and a TD), players on the offensive line talked about their belief in their ability to be one of the better units in the league even though those outside the locker room doubted they'd be able to hold up against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.
Now it's clear that if teams stop Fournette, Bortles isn't able to put the team on his shoulders, especially without his best threat in the pass game.
If that's the case, 2017 has the potential to be a repeat of last season -- yet another with double-digit losses.
"We don't have a margin for error," Lee said. "Penalties and things, we have to get rid of them. As you see with the penalties, we are going back to the same thing last year and two years ago. ... Even when we found ways to move the ball forward, we still found ways to bring ourselves back. You can't win the game doing things like that."
As noted above, Robinson's big-play ability was clearly missed against the Titans. Robinson tore a knee ligament in the opener and had season-ending surgery. Lee and Allen Hurns were on the receiving end of 13 of Bortles' 20 completions. But seven of those came after the game was well out of reach.
"We still have to get open and make plays," Lee said. "We have to take advantage of our opportunities."
This week, the Jaguars have a trip to London, where they'll face the Ravens. If there's a positive here, it's the Jags' are more experienced international travelers than the Ravens. ...
Worth noting. ... The Jaguars did make their first quarterback move since drafting Brandon Allen two years ago (and then releasing him just prior to the start of this season). The team signed Ryan Nassib, who has appeared in five NFL games and has completed 9 of 10 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. He was drafted by the New York Giants in 2013 and was released by the Giants during the offseason.
Nassib later signed with the New Orleans Saints this summer but was released in the cuts to 53 earlier this month
Head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had Nassib at Syracuse and Tom Coughlin drafted Nassib with the Giants. Remember, team picked up fifth-year option on Bortles and if they believe he's not getting the job done at any point they could put him on the bench to eliminate any chance he gets hurt and they're on the hook for the $19 million guarantee in 2018.
Also of interest. ... Bortles was the Jaguars' second-leading rusher with 29 yards on four carries, two of which were designed quarterback keepers around end after faking a handoff to a running back.
Ivory had the Jaguars' longest play from scrimmage when he took a short throw from Blake Bortles and turned it into a 29-yard gain. Ivory's two other receptions only netted two yards.
Running back Corey Grant had the Jaguars longest run from scrimmage in the game with a 13-yard pickup around left end. He was barely tripped up on what otherwise might have been a much longer gain. Grant continued to show his value as a kick returner with a 24.7-yard average on three kickoff returns.
Lee was targeted a game-high 12 times on Sunday and finished with seven catches for 76 yards, including a long of 19 yards.
A few final notes here. ... Former Texans WR Jaelen Strong was claimed on waivers by Jaguars Tuesday.
Strong was limited in his first practice with the team Wednesday due to a hamstring. Hurns (shoulder) was also limited Wednesday.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
If nothing else, the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs are developing different ways to beat their opponents.
In one of their two games, they prevailed in a high-scoring, high-yardage shootout. In the other, they played a defensive battle that was tied until midway through the fourth quarter, when Justin Houston deflected an Eagles pass that teammate Chris Jones intercepted. The play set up Kansas City's go-ahead touchdown.
The common denominator is that both games were Kansas City victories, the latest being a 27-20 decision against the Philadelphia Eagles at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Really meaningful," quarterback Alex Smith said of the Chiefs' ability to win a second game with different strengths. "No two games are alike in this league. You've got to find ways to make adjustments sometimes.
"I thought it was big that we didn't get frustrated. We made adjustments at halftime and came out in the second half and down the line pieced together some big drives that were able to open that game up.
It's the NFL. Everybody's good. ... To continue to fight and not get frustrated and stay together and find a way, I think that's important. I think good teams do that."
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher pointed out, the Chiefs' two games couldn't have been more different. The Chiefs beat the New England Patriots in the season-opener with a big-play offense that posted more than 500 yards and scored 42 points.
The Chiefs went over 300 yards against the Eagles but only by finding a rhythm late in the game. They scratched out a measly existence for almost three quarters before finally prevailing with two touchdowns from Kareem Hunt and one from Travis Kelce in the game's final 17 minutes.
The Chiefs trailed much of the game against New England but they always felt in control. Their offense usually had an answer for the Patriots.
Against the Eagles, it felt like the Chiefs were always living on the edge because they're offense couldn't handle what Philadelphia was bringing, which was relentless pressure. The Chiefs were rendered helpless for much of the game by the Eagles' heat. Smith was sacked four times.
But the Chiefs found a way to win, and for that they deserve some credit.
The Eagles presented the Chiefs with some problems the Patriots didn't, but the Chiefs hung around long enough to finally solve them.
Statistically, the second game of Hunt's NFL career has to be considered a letdown when compared with the first. Hunt accounted for 109 yards from scrimmage, down from 246, and he scored twice, as opposed to three times from his debut.
Artistically, Hunt put on every bit as much of an impressive show.
Hunt displayed his full range of talents on Sunday, making several defenders miss on a 16-yard pass reception early in the game, outrunning the Eagles to score a 53-yard touchdown in the third quarter and then running over defenders to score a 2-yard touchdown in the final period.
"Some speed, some power," Hunt said. "I pride myself on being a balanced running back."
He's proved himself to be that in his first two NFL games. The Eagles had him well contained for most of the first three quarters. Until his long touchdown run, Hunt had just 8 yards on seven carries.
But as he did in his debut a week earlier against the New England Patriots, Hunt saved his best for the game's final minutes. He wound up rushing 13 times for 81 yards.
"I thought Kareem and the offensive line kind of got warmed up as we went," head coach Andy Reid said. "We weren't having a ton of production in that first half with the run game. ... We got it straightened out, the offensive line kept coming and [the Chiefs and Hunt] ended up doing a nice job with it. It was important."
Hunt has 355 yards from scrimmage in two games, along with five total touchdowns. Only Dutch Sternaman of the 1920 Decatur Staleys scored more touchdowns in his first two career games, with six.
Hunt also is the first player in league history with at least three rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns in his first two games. He's the third player in league history with a touchdown of 50 or more yards from scrimmage in each of his first two NFL games, joining Dub Jones (1950) and Alan Ameche with that distinction.
Meanwhile, Kelce was one of their most indispensable players Sunday, catching a 44-yard pass from Smith on Kansas City's opening field goal drive and then later leaping into the end zone to complete a spectacular 15-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
But he almost cost them the game, too. He received a penalty for taunting the Eagles' bench after Hunt scored a touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead in the third quarter. The Eagles used the favorable field position to drive for a tying field goal.
That was on top of his taunting penalty in last week's game against the New England Patriots, and others in previous seasons. His most over-the-top penalty came last season when he was tossed out of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars for throwing a towel at an official who didn't make a call Kelce believed he deserved.
Kelce wouldn't address the matter after the game. Reid had some words for Kelce on the sideline after his penalty but few after the game.
"He's got to learn," Reid said.
But the good clearly outweighed the bad. On his touchdown, he took a shovel pass from Smith and leaped over a defender after going airborne at about the 5.
"I failed to hurdle a guy two plays before that so I just dusted myself off and tried it again," Kelce said.
Smith was more impressed.
"To go airborne like that, to find a way to get into the end zone I thought was crazy," he said. "Didn't necessarily think he was going to get in. Just a heck of a play. A lot of will with a heck of a lot of talent."
In typical Kelce fashion, he risked a penalty by flapping his arms afterward, Eagles-style. He might have saved himself by veering away from the Philadelphia sideline, showing unforeseen discipline in doing so.
All in all, Kelce caught 8-of-10 targets for 103 yards and the touchdown. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Tyreek Hill led all Chiefs receivers in playing time, going out for 88 percent of the team's plays. But Harmon added we saw some of the volatility in his usage today. "His four catches for 43 yards presents a tolerable floor," Harmon wrote. "But he averaged just 9.3 air yards per target. Without a deep shot mixed in, Hill will struggle to crack the 100-yard mark just on volume alone. ..."
One last note here. ... RB Akeem Hunt, promoted from the team's practice squad Saturday, spelled kickoff returner De'Anthony Thomas for two returns, including a 40-yard return. He played 13 snaps on special teams against the Eagles.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Alex Smith, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
Philip Rivers passed for 331 yards and a touchdown, but the Chargers' struggles to close a game out continued in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. The San Diego Chargers are looking ahead to Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and as the Sports Xchange suggests, after two heartbreaking losses that seems like a good idea.
But before the Chargers move forward, head coach Anthony Lynn was trying to put Sunday's defeat to bed. The Chargers lost to the Miami Dolphins 19-17 as rookie kicker Younghoe Koo missed from 44 yards out in the closing seconds.
The kicker is that defeat comes on the heels of the previous game when Koo had a late game-tying attempt blocked.
That's two games that the Chargers had a sniff at winning. But in the end, they just held their noses as they started 0-2 in Los Angeles.
"It's not strange to me," Lynn said of the Chargers stumble from the gate. "We started last year 0-2 and then won our next four games."
But that recipe didn't work so swell for Lynn and the Buffalo Bills.
The Chargers are hoping another dose of home cooking can snap them from their funk. But the Chargers also know that playing at StubHub Center means a split crowd. The loudest cheer from Sunday's game came when Koo was wide right, as Dolphins fans rocked the 27,000-seat venue.
"We're fairly used to the opposing team traveling well, but I thought the energy in the stadium was good," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We've got to find a way to win the game. That's what we're most concerned about."
There were plenty of red flags flapping in the fading light on Sunday. The offense had trouble running the ball. The special teams had a punt blocked and missed two field goals. The defense was steamrolled at times by Miami's running game.
The one positive?
Antonio Gates secured the record for touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. Rivers and Gates have connected on 85 touchdowns during their careers, the most in NFL history for a quarterback-tight end tandem. The duo tied Steve Young and Jerry Rice among all-time NFL quarterback-receiver duos with Gates' touchdown against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and now trail only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (112).
"It's a lot of touchdowns," Rivers said. "A lot of years, a lot of tight ends that have played in this league. It's certainly a special accomplishment for him. I'm just thankful that I could be a part of a lot of them -- not all of them but a lot of them. He's been awesome, awesome for a long time."
Putting a damper on the historic day was the fact that Gates' touchdown catch -- the 112th of his career to surpass Tony Gonzalez for the tight end record -- came in a loss.
"It was a bittersweet moment," Gates said. "Obviously, we scored and we were able to move forward in the game, but you still want to get a win for the whole accomplishment. But at the end of the day, my teammates embraced me. ..."
As for the rest of the receiving corps, with 20 targets over the course of 2017's first two weeks, Keenan Allen hasn't missed a beat in his return from a 2016 season-ending injury. Allen was simply dominant on the short routes. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon (citing Next Gen Stats tracking), Allen averaged 2.9 yards of separation on his targets, and averaged just five air yards.
Allen will maintain an excellent floor with that type of usage and if Rivers feeds him near 10-plus targets, he'll also have access to a tangible ceiling.
In addition, after a disappointing Week 1, Hunter Henry calmed some nerves in Week 2. He played more than Gates, 25 plays to 23, and caught all seven of his targets for 80 yards. Harmon believes that as long as Allen is a target hog in this offense, all the other players will be tough to predict week-to-week, including Henry. However, he's right at the top of the streaming crop.
Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon got into the end zone and that's swell, but it was tough sledding on the ground. The Chargers finished with 44 rushing yards as the front line was challenged to present many running lanes. Gordon did have seven of his nine receptions out of the backfield, which serves like a run. But there's work here to be done in a big-way.
As for Koo?
Lynn said he's sticking with the rookie kicker, even though Koo has missed kicks in consecutive weeks that could have either tied or won a game for his team. Lynn said as it stands right now the Chargers have no plans to bring in competition at kicker.
"Koo's our kicker," Lynn said. "He competed well all training camp. He kicked well in Denver. He got one blocked. This is the first time he's had a bad day. I told him you can have a bad play, but you just can't have a bad day ... we'll get a chance to see when things are going bad how he's going to respond."
Lynn said he had a conversation with Koo on Monday and still believes in his ability to make kicks.
"He's very confident," Lynn said. "And I have to give him the benefit of the doubt, after being around him the whole offseason and watching how he competed and how he took that job. He went out and had a bad day yesterday. And we're hoping that he'll bounce back."
Koo's struggles at the end of games continue a trend for the Chargers.
Per ESPN Stats and Information, the Chargers have missed four straight game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter dating back to last year. Josh Lambo missed two in Week 16 against the winless Browns. Prior to this stretch, the Chargers had made 16 consecutive game-tying or go-ahead FGs in the fourth quarter or overtime. The team's last miss before this stretch was Nov 27, 2011, a 48-yard field goal missed by Nick Novak with 12:36 left in regulation. ...
And finally. ... Star cornerback Jason Verrett, who is bouncing back from knee surgery, wasn't able to go on Sunday. Lynn isn't sounding overly optimistic on when Verrett, a Pro Bowler, might return. Verrett's career has been marked by stints of him being injured.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
The Los Angeles Rams lost their second game of the season by a 27-20 score, but Todd Gurley thinks it would've been a lot more lopsided if this were last year's team.
"It would've been 27-3," Gurley told ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, "instead of just as an offense being able to put points on the board and being able to keep our defense in it. It's a start."
The Rams were coming off an impressive, uplifting 46-9 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in their season opener. Their defense played poorly against the Washington Redskins in Week 2, but their offense -- last in the NFL in yards each of the past two seasons -- found ways to create enough explosive plays to keep them in the game. They trailed 13-0 early, but found a way to tie it at 20 late.
According to Gonzalez, it provided an undercurrent of encouragement in the midst of a disappointing loss.
"We probably could've even gone down 17-nothing and had a chance to fight back," quarterback Jared Goff said. "We've got the weapons out there to make the plays. ... I think it's drastically improved. We now know that we're never out of the fight."
Goff went 21-of-29 for 306 yards in Week 1, then went 15-of-25 for 224 yards in Week 2. He was stripped and nearly lost the football with less than two minutes left before halftime. And he threw an interception to seal the loss, on the first snap of a drive that could've resulted in the game-tying score.
But he also completed the longest pass of his career, when he waited until the pocket collapsed, rolled to his right and found a wide-open Gerald Everett, who caught a 20-yard pass and gained another 49. Down two scores near the midway point of the third quarter, Sammy Watkins picked up 28 yards on a short pass, Everett hauled in a 24-yard pass across the middle and Gurley picked up 18 yards on two straight plays, the last of which saw him hurdle a defender off a screen for his first career touchdown catch.
Gurley rushed for 88 yards on 16 carries and gained another 48 yards on three catches, though he fumbled twice and lost one. The third-year running back averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his best statistical game as a Los Angeles Ram.
In retrospect, the Sports Xchange notes, the Rams should have run the ball more considering the push Gurley was getting.
He called this game "something to build on" for his team.
"There are details that cost us the game," receiver Robert Woods said, "but I would say they're very little that we can correct and just tighten them down."
Woods was talking mostly about penalties. The Rams have had 22 total penalties in the first two games, fourth-most in the NFL, and had seven accepted for a second straight week. On the drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal, the Rams were hurt by four penalties -- an unnecessary roughness on Woods, a false start on Rodger Saffold, an offensive pass interference on Woods and a hold on Rob Havenstein.
"We can't hurt ourselves with the penalties, some of the different things that occurred throughout the course of the game," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "But I know that we'll look at ourselves critically in the mirror, coaches included, starting with me."
McVay blamed himself six separate times over the course of his postgame news conference -- for the game overall, for Gurley's struggles on the ground early, and for Goff's game-ending interception, when he tried to hit Cooper Kupp on the outside and instead threw it right into the hands of linebacker Mason Foster.
Goff, who took responsibility for the interception, believes that "as a team we can take a lot away" from an early loss.
"I think we saw that we can fight back," Goff said. ... The next fight could be a little easier. The Rams face the 49ers on Thursday night. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rookie Cooper Kupp maintained his hold on the team-lead in targets for the second-straight game. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggests, it's become clear that Kupp is the favorite in Goff's eye. But as Harmon added" Unfortunately, bankable volume in an offense like the Rams, which even though it is improved still wants to trend conservative, is only worth so much.
Also according to Harmon, Watkins took 55 percent of his plays at left wide receiver, which put him away from Josh Norman at left corner. The former Buffalo wideout finished with two catches for 30 yards on two targets.
Everett made an exciting play in the open field but was only on the field for 15 plays to 39 for Tyler Higbee. In addition, Everett suffered a thigh contusion Sunday and is day to day. Everett's 69-yard scoring catch and run before he was hurt was the longest reception by a Rams tight end since Lance Kendricks recorded an 80-yard touchdown pass vs. Tampa Bay in 2012.
The play was the longest pass by the Rams since WR Brian Quick notched a 73-yard reception vs. Carolina in 2013.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's James Walker framed it: "The Miami Dolphins have two offensive players with the same first name. However, they couldn't be more different. ..."
No doubt about that.
Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi is a 23-year-old from London, England, with an engaging personality and youthful exuberance. Quarterback Jay Cutler, 34, is a grizzled veteran from Santa Clause, Indiana, who joined the team six weeks ago and is still learning the names of his new teammates.
But together on the field Sunday, Miami's two Jays were the engine behind the Dolphins' 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Cutler and Ajayi complemented each other and provided the ideal balance needed for Miami to pick up its first win of the season. Ajayi rushed for 122 yards on 28 carries, while Cutler threw for 230 yards, one touchdown and, most importantly, no turnovers.
Sunday provided a trend to look for with Miami this season: The team will go only as far as the two Jays take them.
Miami's offense amassed 336 total yards and still has plenty to work on. But the two Jays provided enough flashes in the running and passing games for the Dolphins to be optimistic about this group.
"We just have to clean a few things up, but we are right there at the edge of blowing the doors off," Cutler said. "We have a lot of talent. I think that one of the things we have to work through is being able to distribute the ball to everybody and keep everyone happy. That is a good thing."
Cutler, who signed after Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, had a passer rating of 101.8. He had two completions of 31 yards to receiver DeVante Parker and one touchdown throw of 29 yards to Kenny Stills. On the touchdown, Cutler escaped the rush to his right and threw a rope to Stills.
Cutler (24 of 33, 230 yards, one touchdown) spread the ball around, but wide receiver Jarvis Landry was his favorite target, recording 13 receptions for 78 yards. Parker was the most spectacular receiver, however, with four receptions for 85 yards while Stills (two receptions, 37 yards, one touchdown) was the only wide receiver to record a touchdown.
Last week, Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram said Cutler didn't pose a threat to Los Angeles' defense. Yet, Cutler got better as the game wore on.
"It's just building more chemistry with us, and us building more chemistry with him," Ajayi said of Cutler. "I think the sky is the limit for what we can do."
Health permitting, Ajayi is setting himself up for another big year. The Dolphins plan to give him the ball a lot. Ajayi has looked sharp since missing two weeks of training camp due to a concussion.
Ajayi eclipsed 100 yards rushing four times during his Pro Bowl campaign in 2016. He already has one 100-yard game this year and is on an incredible (and maybe unrealistic) pace of 1,952 rushing yards.
"I will tell you what: I think I have the best seat in the house," Cutler said of Ajayi. "He is fun the watch. ... He is a heck of a back and I am glad he is on our team."
After being displaced on the West Coast for the past nine days due to Hurricane Irma, Ajayi was among many Dolphins players who are not sure what to expect once they return home. Millions of Floridians suffered property damage and/or loss of power.
"Hopefully all my power is on and I can be comfortable in my home," Ajayi said. "Because that would suck if there's no [air conditioning] in there."
In the end, the Dolphins won their season opener for the first time under head coach Adam Gase in thrilling fashion. And now, Miami will stay on the road in Week 2 with its first AFC East game against the New York Jets.
The Dolphins swept the Jets (0-2) last year and likely must do the same in order to be in playoff contention late in the season.
Miami also will play 16 straight games without a bye due to last week's weather cancellation. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Landry (knee) was seen riding a bike early in Wednesday's practice. It didn't appear he would be working.
The Miami Herald's Adam Beasley reports Landry's alleged domestic incident in March is still under review by both the State Attorney's Office and the NFL.
Tight end Julius Thomas came to life Sunday in a low-key way. Thomas, who was barely noticeable during training camp and preseason, ended with three receptions for 26 yards against the Chargers.
Kicker Cody Parkey, who hit the 54-yard game-winning field goal against the Los Angeles Chargers, is now 5 for 5 in his career on kicks of 50 yards or more. Parkey hit four field goals, from 30, 28, 35 and 54 yards, to secure the victory for Miami.
Parkey, who beat out incumbent Andrew Franks in a training camp battle, thanked the Dolphins for the opportunity to win the job.
"I could have been at home sitting on my couch," said Parkey, who was cut by Cleveland.
Parkey earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors on Wednesday.
And finally. ... The Dolphins had to make a last-minute decision to replace Lawrence Timmons with backup outside linebacker Chase Allen, who finished with four tackles in the game. Timmons was ruled inactive after going AWOL from the Dolphins on Saturday. On Tuesday, the Dolphins announced they have suspended Lawrence Timmons indefinitely. One he went missing on Saturday, Timmons' time playing for Gase was in doubt. The suspension likely voids his $4.5 million in 2018 guarantees.
Gase said Monday he's got two rules: be on time, and play hard.
Asked about his patience for violators, Gase asked rhetorically, "What do you think? I've got two rules. It's not hard."
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
Head coach Mike Zimmer believes that Sam Bradford's injured left knee is getting better. Zimmer is not sure when it will improve enough to allow the team's starting quarterback to return to the field.
Zimmer tried to be a little more forthcoming Monday about Bradford's health, a day after some ornery and curt answers only seemed to add more confusion to the situation. He said that he did not believe Bradford's injury would be long term, but said there was no timeline for his return.
"I anticipate that when he is ready to practice and he is ready to play, that he will play," Zimmer said. "Honestly, I don't have a crystal ball. I know you guys want to ask me about all these things, but I don't have a crystal ball. Wish I did. I'd call some games better."
Zimmer, speaking to the Tampa media on Tuesday, said Bradford "felt better" and remains day to day.
Zimmer talked about Bradford again on Wednesday and didn't provide any more clarity about when the quarterback might be back in the lineup. Zimmer said that Bradford is "doing good" and shrugged while answering "Sunday" when asked about when he might know if Bradford can play.
"It's day-to-day, how do I know?" Zimmer said.
The positive news? Bradford was on the practice field to start the week on Wednesday.
Of course, Bradford spent last week practicing on a limited basis when he wasn't getting an MRI in hopes of getting a handle on the swelling and discomfort in the same knee as his twice-torn ACL before a game-time decision to sit in Pittsburgh.
As Profootballtalk.com suggested, that's not quite the textbook definition of fine, especially with Zimmer unwilling to say when Bradford might play again.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports that Bradford is believed to have a bone bruise and that he will have an injection in his knee this week. The response to that injection will determine next steps and provide a better idea of when Bradford might be able to return to full action.
The Vikings host the Buccaneers this Sunday and they'll hold their first practice of the week on Wednesday. It's safe to say I'll have something on that when Late-Breaking Updates crank up early Thursday. ...
Meanwhile, one point Zimmer could deliver definitively: The Vikings will not be looking to bring in another quarterback to bolster the depth while Bradford works his way back. Backup Case Keenum struggled in the 26-9 loss to the Steelers on Sunday, going 20 for 37 for 167 yards.
But the issues went beyond the signal caller.
The offensive line that was praised for its stout coverage of Bradford last week had issues in pass protection against the Steelers. Minnesota couldn't find ways to establish a consistent ground game against Pittsburgh, either. A week after Dalvin Cook put up 127 yards rushing, the Vikings mustered 91 yards total in the run game.
Cook had 3 yards on six first-half carries. His 25-yard run down to the 1-foot line was magnificent, but the Steelers kept him bottled up for the most part with run blitzes and stout play up front. Aside from the 25-yarder, Cook ran for 39 yards on 11 carries.
While the offense struggled, Minnesota's defense didn't help itself out, either. Offsides and pass interference calls led the Steelers to set up their first three scoring drives. In total, the Vikings were flagged 11 times for 131 yards.
"That's how you lose games in this league," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "We talked about it all offseason. When you have a drive going, you cannot take a penalty that puts you in a second-and-20 or third-and-20. It's hard to get out of those situations. It's tough and that certainly puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Given all that, Zimmer said he felt comfortable going forward with Keenum as his quarterback until Bradford is healthy.
"Short week against a pretty exotic defense," Zimmer said. "They are very physical and fast. I thought he battled. I'm sure he would say he could do better on some things, but he did some good things as well."
The Vikings entered the season with a unique depth chart at quarterback. Bradford was the unquestioned starter and turned in a brilliant Week 1 performance in a win over the Saints. They also have Teddy Bridgewater, the one-time franchise quarterback still recovering from a horrific leg injury before last season; he's on the physically unable to perform list. After missing all of last season, Bridgewater has made promising progress in his comeback and is hopeful to be cleared to play at some point this season.
With that in mind, the Vikings opened with just Bradford and Keenum on the active roster and signed Kyle Sloter from the practice squad Saturday as an emergency move when it was determined Bradford would not be able to play.
Until Bradford is ready, it's just Keenum and Sloter, who was cut by Denver and came to Minnesota just before the season began and is still trying to learn the playbook.
"I'm not a master of it like Case or Sam are," Sloter said. "I could get in there and run about 70-80 percent of the playbook successfully. That's going to come with time. I'd say in the next couple of weeks, I'll be pretty good."
Keenum was under pressure for much of the game against Pittsburgh, but Zimmer indicated some of that could have been created by Keenum dropping back too deep in the pocket and putting his offensive linemen in a difficult position.
Zimmer raised some eyebrows after the game when he said that Bradford could be ready "maybe next week. Maybe in six weeks." He said Monday he was being facetious and apologized for snapping at reporters in the heat of the moment after a disappointing performance. In his four seasons coaching the Vikings, Zimmer has often chafed when asked about injuries.
He says that comes from a desire to protect his players and from the push for answers when he simply does not have them.
"Sometimes after the game I'm upset and I know our fans deserve better than that," Zimmer said. "They didn't have any wine for me in the locker room to chill out a little bit."
Meanwhile, this is the fifth straight season Bradford has missed at least one game, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The fact that no one knows or will say when that next snap will be is obviously a concern for owners invested in Stefon Diggs, Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. ...
Laquon Treadwell was targeted a career-high six times. Last year's first-round draft pick still shows a lack of speed that hinders his ability to separate. He had three catches for 33 yards, including a long of 15.
FB C.J. Ham scored a touchdown on the first NFL carry of his career. An undrafted rookie a year ago, Ham scored on a 1-yard touchdown run one play after a replay overturned what was originally ruled a 26-yard touchdown run by Cook. ...
In his ninth game as a Viking, Forbath made his only field-goal attempt, connecting from 42 yards to remain a perfect 19-for-19 going back to last season.
However, he also missed his only extra point. He has missed five of them in nine games as a Viking, and is 2 for 4 this season.
Zimmer was asked after the game if the miss was a concern.
"Yes," is all he said, sounding a lot like he used to before he was forced to dump Blair Walsh in favor of Forbath.
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith noted, when Tom Brady put up 447 passing yards yesterday against the Saints, it represented a new all-time high, the most yards ever for a quarterback 40 or older. And that will almost certainly not be the only age-specific record Brady breaks.
Brady is currently leading the league in passing yards, and if he leads the league for the entire season he'll be the oldest player ever to do so, eclipsing Fran Tarkenton, who led the league in 1978 at the age of 38.
And with 714 yards this year, Brady is on pace for a whopping 5,712 yards on the season. Obviously, he's unlikely to keep that pace up for 16 games, seeing as no player in NFL history has ever even had 5,500 passing yards in a season, but if Brady keeps up to anything even close to that pace he'll easily break the record for a 40-year-old quarterback.
Brett Favre had 4,202 yards in 2009 at age 40, and no other 40-year-old quarterback has ever topped 4,000 yards in a season.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady also joined Warren Moon as the only quarterbacks age 40 or older in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns in a game. Moon accomplished the feat in October of 1997.
In addition, Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
Smith added: "Brady will get old eventually, because everyone does. But while 40 is typically ancient by NFL player standards, Brady is not acting his age. ..."
It helped, of course, that the Saints' defense is one of the NFL's worst and continues to struggle.
So when looking ahead to this Sunday's home game against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans, it should be a much tougher challenge. But after a week in which emotions stirred, with Brady and the Patriots having extra time to stew on their season-opening loss, they'll deal with that challenge in due time.
One challenge it doesn't look like they'll have in addition to the Texans, is Rob Gronkowski missing time.
Gronkowski told reporters on Monday the groin injury he suffered in New Orleans is not serious and pronounced himself as "day to day" regarding this week's game.
"The reports say out there that it was my groin and, yes, it is my groin," the oft-injured tight end said of the injury that caused him to leave Sunday's game early. "It's nothing serious and I'm just day to day."
Gronkowski, who missed most of the second half of last season and the Super Bowl because of back surgery, caught six passes for 116 yards and a touchdown before leaving after a third-quarter hit. He did not return and was seen on the sidelines riding the stationary bike.
"Super relieved," he said of the injury. "I mean, I knew there was nothing really wrong. So I'm good."
Asked if expects to play Sunday, Gronkowski said, "I'm day to day. I feel good. Nothing serious."
Gronkowski also dropped a likely touchdown pass, the second straight game he had a near-miss in the end zone. But that doesn't take away from what the team did, with Brady carving up the shaky New Orleans defense with precision passing.
"As an offense we started clicking out there," Gronk said. "We were clicking first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter and we were working well together. The ball was getting spread out or spread out to many different players and everyone was doing their job, communicating well, and it went well."
And the quick start, including three TD passes by Brady in the first quarter for the first time in his career?
"The fast start's always important," he said. "It was just good to get it, and what's good is we went all the way through the game to finish the game as an offense to close out the game."
Gronkowski was on the practice field Wednesday.
In addition to Gronkowski, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who left the game in the second half with a knee injury, addressed reporters. He said he was "just a little sore" while relaying that he hopes to practice this week.
Gronkowski, Dorsett, and running back Rex Burkhead (ribs) all left Sunday's game with injuries. Burkhead was the only player to return, doing so on the punt-return unit in the fourth quarter, but he was not on the practice field Wednesday. I'll be watching the status of all three players -- along with Danny Amendola, who missed Sunday's game due to a concussion and an unspecified knee injury (but who was on the practice field Wednesday) -- when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
In addition, Chris Hogan appeared to be dealing with a right leg injury in the second half in New Orleans. The receiver was limping around and had the right knee/thigh area wrapped on the sideline although he finished the game. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) was inactive for the Week 2 win in New Orleans. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport advised his Twitter followers that the injury was diagnosed as the "2-3 week variety" and that Hightower could return as early this weekend. Hightower practiced Wednesday. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Hogan hit big out of the slot, where he saw five of his targets and recorded four catches for 72 yards and his lone touchdown. After averaging over 20 air yards per target, Hogan turned in an 8.2 figure today. The dip in deep usage should help stabilize volatility in his weekly production. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange notes, with the running game serving as a complementary factor in New England, carries can be as impressive as production for the Patriots. New England ran it 31 times as a team against the Saints, though that led to only 119 yards and a 3.8 average. Mike Gillislee led the way with 18 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown, a 3.8 average.
It was by no means a dominant day of production on the ground, but working with a big lead thanks to the passing attack the running game was good enough in New Orleans.
According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, James White led the Patriots backfield in snaps for the second straight week and did most of his damage on his eight receptions for 85 yards.
Behind Gillislee, Lewis had the second most rush attempts, four, for 14 yards, followed by White with two for 11 and Burkhead with two carries for three yards. Franciscovich believes Gillislee should be the leading rusher at season's end if he can stay healthy.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
ESPN.com's Mike Triplett framed it like this: "Spoiler alert: If you don't want to find out how the New Orleans Saints' 2017 season is going to end, don't go back and watch 2014, 2015 or 2016.
"The Saints have started 0-2 for the fourth straight year, and it sure looks like they're heading toward a fourth straight 7-9 finish -- heck, that might be a best-case scenario at this point."
Triplett went on to note that New Orleans is 1-11 in September over the past four years, the worst record in the NFL during that stretch, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Perhaps the season still can be salvaged -- the Saints did scratch and claw their way back to .500 each of the past three years after starting 1-3, 0-3 and 0-3. But it will require a major overhaul in a major hurry, with a road game upcoming against the Carolina Panthers in Week 3, followed immediately by a weeklong trip to London to face the Miami Dolphins.
"We'll find out a little bit about what we're made of," Saints coach Sean Payton said after Sunday's 36-20 blowout loss at home to the New England Patriots. "We just finished talking about the sprint here that we're in to improve each week. Obviously, you start off like this and there's disappointment. And yet, we've got the right type of locker room.
"But we've got to respond quickly."
But there are problems that won't necessarily be easy to overcome.
As the Sports Xchange notes, the Saints rearranged their offensive line in the absence of right tackle Zach Strief, who was sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the season opener. They inserted Senio Kelemete in Strief's spot to finish the opener because they didn't have a backup tackle active. Even though they signed tackle Bryce Harris last week, they stayed with the group that finished the opener, but with some maneuvering against the Patriots. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk moved from left tackle to right tackle, Andrus Peat moved from left guard to left tackle and Kelemete replaced Peat at left guard.
A week after converting 4-of-11 third downs, the Saints converted 4-of-12.
Against the Vikings, the average distance needed on third down to make a first down was six yards. Against the Patriots it was more than eight. The problem has been twofold: They have not run the ball consistently well on first and second down and too many of their first- and second-down passes have come when the Saints were far behind and play-action fakes weren't credible.
New Orleans has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game. The Saints had just 60 yards against the Vikings. They had more against the Patriots, but it was still just 81. The lack of rushing yards has a lot to do with the fact that they have been playing from behind, mostly trailing by multiple scores. That has contributed to them being second in the NFL in passing yards. New Orleans ranks 28th in rushing yards per game, but its average per attempt (3.7) isn't as bad, ranking 18th.
The Saints have good news and bad news with their turnover margin. The good news is they haven't turned the ball over. The bad news is they haven't forced a turnover either.
"I'm not concerned," quarterback Drew Brees said. "Listen, it's only a matter of time. And I felt like there are some things that came together this week that weren't there last week -- or that were better. It just hasn't been good enough yet."
Brees has thrown for 647 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions despite being noticeably on the wrong page with some of his younger receivers on certain deep balls that have missed the mark.
Of course, Brees' optimism should be taken with a grain of salt, since he always puts the most positive spin possible every situation.
But even Brees recognizes that the season already is on the ropes.
"Listen, we only have one way to go, and that's up. Right?" Brees said. "And we go on the road in the division against a very good Carolina team. So there's not much time to dwell on anything other than making the corrections that need to be made and focusing on a great game plan for this upcoming week.
"It puts you in a little bit of a hole. But again, we can't cry over spilled milk here. We have to press on, and we have to find a way to get a win. We do. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The Saints' backfield time-share is still muddled. Mark Ingram had eight carries for 52 yards (aided by a late 28-yard gain) and four catches for 24 yards. Adrian Peterson had eight carries for 26 yards and no catches. And Alvin Kamara had one carry for 3 yards and three catches for 51 yards.
Ingram and Peterson should have better days if the Saints can get their run game going and stop playing from behind so much. But there is no doubt that Kamara will remain a big part of this offense and cut into their snaps. Kamara's 38-yard catch down the field in the first half showed what kind of a dynamic difference-maker he can be. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, we have yet to see much of Michael Thomas' ceiling through two weeks but Sunday was an encouraging day for his usage. Not only did we see him as the clear target leader in New Orleans, but he also averaged 15.2 air yards per target.
The Saints are getting him involved at all levels of the field. Thomas also missed a few plays with injuries. Despite a slow statistical start, Harmon advised his readers "we don't have too much reason to worry about Thomas for the long term."
Also worth noting, Coby Fleener has two touchdowns in two games. Just keep in mind the fact that Fleener will likely give up most of his middle of the field work to Willie Snead when the wideout returns from a suspension in Week 4. Another player who will give up playing time is Brandon Coleman, who took 59 percent of his snaps from the slot today. That should be Snead's home when he gets back.
However, as Harmon pointed out, it's notable that Coleman was on the field far more than Ted Ginn in Week 2, with 56 plays to 41.
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
The Giants honored their 2007 team during Monday night's 24-10 loss to the Lions and their presence may have been on current head coach Ben McAdoo's mind when he met with the media on Tuesday.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper noted, that Giants team opened the season in Dallas and then got beaten soundly by an NFC North team — the Packers, in that case — at home in Week 2 before righting the ship for a run that ended with a Super Bowl title. McAdoo's team lost in Dallas to open this season, which made his response to a question about any panic over the team's start a timely one.
"We're not gonna panic. We're not the first good team to start 0-2," McAdoo told Tom Rock of New York Newsday.
Whether the Giants are a good team or not remains to be seen, but the same could have been said of that championship team.
The issues facing this year's team aren't the same as that one as the 2007 version gave up 80 points in the first two weeks while this year's club has managed 13 points in their two losses. McAdoo said that the team doesn't have "much rhythm" on offense and it's hard to develop any when your quarterback is getting sacked eight times in two games.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been the focal point for criticism of the line's play, but McAdoo said he's "absolutely" keeping his job. He was less certain about whether he'd continue calling plays on offense when they make the short trip to Philly this Sunday.
Still, as ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan wrote: "The New York Giants' offense is broken. It's to the point where 20 points is a miracle. Where moving the chains with any sort of consistency is asking too much. Where getting in the end zone and not committing costly penalties are rarities. ..."
The Giants scored three points in their opener.
They didn't do much better Monday night in a 24-10 loss to the Detroit Lions. It was the eighth straight game dating back to last season that the Giants failed to score 20 points.
"I'm very surprised," safety Landon Collins said of the offensive struggles. "There are great guys over there. They just have to figure it out. They have to figure it out."
The Giants have scored 13 points in two week, the third-fewest in the NFL. It's the fewest points the Giants scored in the first two games of a season since 1947.
Even star receiver Odell Beckham's return to the lineup -- he handled a limited workload and recorded four catches for 36 yards -- wasn't enough to save coach Ben McAdoo's stagnant West Coast offense. Quarterback Eli Manning struggled under constant pressure (four sacks in the first half alone) and has only one touchdown pass in the first two games.
What is wrong with the Giants' offense, which has the third-fewest points in the NFL (13) after two weeks? It seems everything.
The running game was again nonexistent. The Giants had just 62 rushing yards.
The offensive line struggled to protect, especially Flowers, who allowed three sacks. Manning was sacked a total of five times.
Manning struggled at times to make the simplest throws -- an off-target pass of about 7 yards deflected off tight end Evan Engram's hand and was intercepted in the first half -- and didn't make enough big plays.
"He had some good moments and some moments that weren't what we were looking for," McAdoo said of his quarterback, who finished 22-of-39 passing for 239 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "I didn't like the interception [after] when we got the turnover. The defense took the ball away. I thought it happened fast for him. I thought he should've went to [the] No. 2 [option] to check the ball down. He was under duress all night. I thought he did some good things in the pocket making some plays under duress."
But Manning apparently didn't do everything well.
As one point, the Giants, trailing by 10, were about to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the Lions' 2-yard line with just over five minutes left in the third. They never got the play off, instead being called for a costly delay of game that forced them to settle for a field goal.
"Sloppy quarterback play," McAdoo said. "Quarterback and center need to be on the same page there. We need to get the ball snapped."
Manning's self-assessment wasn't glowing.
"I can play better," he said. "So I've got to find ways to play better and get some completions, convert on third down. That's a quarterback's job. He's got to find ways to move the offense and move the ball and score touchdowns. So we're not doing that enough."
Manning wasn't helped by receiver Brandon Marshall, who had the most inopportune drop. The offseason acquisition had the ball bounce off his hands deep down the right sideline when the Giants trailed by a touchdown. Two plays later the Lions returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
"That was the moment. That was the biggest play of the game," Marshall said. "I let my team down. I got an opportunity to make a big play and change the momentum and I lost it."
Even after the Giants scored their only touchdown of the first two weeks, the offense messed it up. Engram received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for grabbing his crotch. The Giants then put the ensuing kickoff out of bounds and gave the ball to the Lions at the Giants' 45-yard line.
"The whole offense needs work," McAdoo said. "We're not in rhythm right now."
Some of the foolish mistakes and drops may be correctable. And Beckham will get healthier and more productive. He wasn't himself on Monday night.
But the offensive line has been a problem for the past few seasons. So has the running game. The answers don't seem to be walking through the door. McAdoo's offense has become predictable and inefficient. The Giants even continuously threw the ball short of the first-down marker late in the game as they were attempting to mount a comeback.
The Giants overcame the deficiencies last season to go 11-5 and earn a wild card because their defense won numerous games against inferior competition. The schedule this season isn't anywhere near as generous, and the offensive problems may be worse. At least it looks that way two games into the season.
And as quick as he was to criticize Manning, Raanan noted McAdoo's offense. It's his team.
McAdoo said after the game the loss was on him.
Because his team wasn't playing complimentary football. He left out that his offense just doesn't seem innovative enough. It's as if defenses still know what is coming even if the Giants are not playing with 11 personnel (three wide receivers) on every play. The offensive design hasn't been good enough. The play calling hasn't been good enough. And there's no sign a turnaround is imminent.
But there will be changes. McAdoo might give up his play-calling duties.
Another change might come at running back. ...
While many will lay the blame of the running game's woes at the feet of the offensive line, the fact remains that Orleans Darkwa managed to rush for 5.7 yards per carry this week behind the very same line starter Paul Perkins averaged a team-low 1.4 yards per carry this week.
When it was all said and done, the Giants averaged 3.4 yards per carry as a group, but that was aided by two end-arounds by receiver Sterling Shepard. Shane Vereen, thanks to his role in the passing game, remains a viable flex play. ...
Perkins was spotted with a wrap around his midsection after the game. He didn't comment on his potential injury, his status for this week uncertain and Darkwa appears to have earned more opportunities.
Beckham (ankle) continues to get treatment. McAdoo said he's still working hard to get back to his old self, but added that he made progress to that end Monday night with his game snaps.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Beckham only went out for 60 percent of the Giants' plays on Monday night, trailing Shepard and Brandon Marshall. He also registered just under seven air yards per target, running only short routes. "Eventually, we will see the true explosive and elite Beckham," Harmon wrote. "But we're not there yet. ..."
Meanwhile, Evan Engram was on the field for 76 percent of the team's plays on Monday night, after going out for 83 percent in the Giants' season-opener. According to Harmon, it's more than apparent that New York is not affording any sort of learning curve for Engram and expect him to remain a big part of the offense for the entirety of the season. "As such," Harmon added, "he will stick on the streaming radar for fantasy."
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
Let's not make this into something it's not. And the Jets' dismal 0-2 start is certainly no surprise, especially to the many fans and media who struggled to find a possible win while handicapping the schedule in the preseason.
In a rebuilding year with a revamped roster, the odds are stacked against Todd Bowles' bunch. But the coach is trying to focus on the positives after road losses to Buffalo and Oakland by a combined 66-32.
"Well, we're still learning about the identity part, but I know we have a lot of fight in us," Bowles said during a conference call Monday. "We just have to not make the mistakes we've been making."
The Jets held their own in Oakland for most of the first half Sunday before a muffed punt by Kalif Raymond swung the momentum to the Raiders with 1:50 left. Three plays later, Marshawn Lynch went up the middle for a touchdown that turned a 14-10 deficit into a 21-10 hole — and things snowballed from there for New York before falling 45-20 .
Next up is the Jets' home opener Sunday against the AFC East-rival Miami Dolphins (1-0), followed by another game the next weekend at MetLife Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1).
And heading into Week 3, they're already talking in make-or-break terms.
"I think we're at the point where I don't look at it as a test, in terms of becoming divided or anything like that," center Wesley Johnson said. "We just want to win."
While many fans are daydreaming about getting the possible No. 1 overall draft pick and spending their Saturdays channel surfing while scouting potential franchise quarterbacks, the Jets are thinking only about salvaging their season.
New York's 0-2 start is its first since 2007, when Eric Mangini's team finished 4-12. Coincidentally, the Jets also played the Dolphins in Week 3 at home — and won.
"I think we're learning a lot," Bowles said. "We learned a lot as the two weeks went by. But we'll learn a lot more these next two weeks whether we can correct these mistakes, which I'm pretty sure we can."
From an outsider's perspective, it's easy to see the root of the early-season troubles. The Jets have allowed a whopping 370 yards rushing, the most in the NFL. The 66 points allowed is also tops in the league.
"We're trying to correct it and we're trying to correct it now," McLendon said. "We're not trying to let this linger on with this running back we have this week."
That would be Miami's Jay Ajayi, who burst onto the scene last season with three 200-yard rushing performances, including two in consecutive games.
He's a difficult runner to take down, much like Lynch is, so the Jets are going to have to turn things around with their tackling — which Bowles said was the main culprit at Oakland — and fast.
"We'll fix it with practicing," Bowles said. "We can do it with bags and everything else. We have to wrap up. We have to wrap up and keep our head up. That's normal."
Meanwhile, there were some positives in Oakland.
Josh McCown was also mostly efficient, going 17 of 25 for 166 yards. McCown didn't throw an interception. He did lose a fumble, but he was otherwise pretty solid, throwing for two touchdowns to Jermaine Kearse.
Through two games, Kearse leads the Jets with 11 catches for 123 yards. Kearse was a good pick-up in the Sheldon Richardson trade. After two games, Kearse is by far their best receiver. He's also the only wideout averaging at least 10 yards per catch (11.2). He's certainly moved past Robby Anderson as the No. 1 fantasy option here. He and McCown already have good chemistry.
The Jets also rushed for 126 yards as a team, and five per carry. Running back Matt Forte didn't start; that honor went to Bilal Powell, but he did contribute with nine carries for 53 yards and four catches for 38 yards. Forte also out-snapped Powell by a count of 25 to 18. And rookie Elijah McGuire, a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette, got his first NFL carries, racking up 29 yards on six attempts and a seven-yard catch. McCown, however, had the longest run of the day, 22 yards on third-and-18, and finished with 31 on four carries.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro still hasn't missed this season. He's 4-for-4 on field goals and has made his only two extra-point attempts.
And this week, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will also be back from a two-game suspension, and that could help the Jets open some things in the passing game.
"You feel like you have your full complement of people," McCown said. "So, it will be a big positive. Obviously, Austin's a good player, so we look forward to having him back with us. It will be good."
The Jets refuse to give in to what those outside their facility say, insisting that the negative outlooks and predictions won't infect their team. For now, the message from Bowles remains only positive and he believes the Jets can get things going in the right direction sooner rather than later.
"I know my team and I know the locker room," he said. "I've seen a lot. I've been around these guys quite a bit and I have every confidence in the world in them. ..."
No. Fantasy owners shouldn't necessarily share in Bowles' confidence.
One last note here. ... Anderson (knee) did not practice Wednesday.
QBs: Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow notes, like most NFL coaches, Jack Del Rio focuses less on Oakland's back-to-back wins to open the season than on the little details that the Raiders will need to improve on to maintain this success throughout the year.
The offense has been near flawless, the defense has been much improved and the special teams has generated big plays to help Oakland to its first 2-0 start in 15 years.
Just don't expect Del Rio to be satisfied.
"I'm always really honest. I keep it real with our guys. I try to shoot straight," he said Monday, a day after Oakland's 45-20 win over the New York Jets in its home opener.
"This is what it is. This is our standard. This is what it needs to look like. This is where we're doing a nice job. You always want to feel good about winning, but hey, this is the reality of what we need to be better in, where we need to be better specifically, how we're going to be better and then let's get to work."
All that said, even the most discerning coach would have a hard time finding things to fix on offense. The Raiders can run with power behind Marshawn Lynch. They can get big plays on the ground with speed from Jalen Richard or even receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. They have game-breaking receivers on the outside in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and a tight end to target the middle of the field in Jared Cook.
It all adds up to one of the best offensive starts for any team in years. Oakland has had 19 drives in two games that didn't end up in a kneel down and has scored eight touchdowns, kicked five field goals, committed no turnovers and gone three-and-out just three times.
The Raiders are averaging 3.6 points per drive overall, the best mark in the league through two games since the 2008 Broncos. Oakland is the first team since Denver in 2000 to score at least 70 points and commit no turnovers over the first two weeks.
"We have so many weapons," Patterson said. "Sky is the limit for these guys, for us, and being part of this organization it's amazing. I'm glad I'm here, it feels good and you know there are weapons all around the board."
The lack of mistakes so far for the Raiders has been perhaps most notable, especially as many other teams around the league have struggled to find a rhythm early. Oakland has not turned the ball over, allowed only two sacks and committed its only procedure penalty of the season when Derek Carr was called for a false start in the closing minute Sunday.
Much of that comes because of a stellar offensive line that returns three Pro Bowlers from a year ago and has gotten strong play from the one newcomer at right tackle in Marshall Newhouse.
"There are some things we have to clean up," Del Rio said. "There are some things out there that have to be corrected and will be corrected. That's the good thing. You do it with a smile. As well as they played in certain spots, there's some other areas where have to be better."
With coordinator Todd Downing able to utilize so many different options the Raiders have been nearly unstoppable. Lynch is averaging 4.0 yards per carry and scored his first touchdown since 2015 against the Jets on Sunday. Richard added a 52-yard run and Patterson scored on a 43-yarder after motioning into the backfield from his receiver spot.
The aerial game has been just as effective with Carr completing 75 percent of his passes for the season and throwing three TD passes to Crabtree on Sunday after connecting with Cooper and Seth Roberts in the opener.
Carr has gotten rid of the ball faster than any quarterback in the league (averaging 1.91 seconds from snap to release), according to SportRadar, running Downing's offense almost flawlessly.
Hardly. Not, as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez notes, with an arm like Carr has, and not with the weapons at his disposal. So don't let these stats through the first two games -- his average pass has traveled an NFL-low 4.8 yards past the line of scrimmage and he has yet to throw a pass 20 or more yards downfield, per ESPN Stats and Information -- fool you.
It's all about efficiency for the Raiders quarterback at this point of the season.
So what if Carr and his three touchdown passes were overshadowed by Lynch's homecoming and dance party and another physical running game that simply wore down the Jets?
"Great, stats are cool, but I'm into winning," Carr said after compiling a passer rating of 136.6 in completing 23 of 28 passes for 230 yards and those three TDs. "So, I don't care if we run for 500 yards, just the fact that I get to be a part of this team and this city, be a part of something special that we're trying to do, I'm completely good with that."
And as long as he's tossing those TDs, fantasy owners will be fine with it too. ...
Next up: The Raiders travel across the country for a Sunday night prime-time game at Washington. Oakland leads the all-time series 7-5, though Washington has won the past two meetings, both in Oakland. The Raiders won 16-13 at Washington in 2005, Norv Turner's final win as Raiders coach.
Other notes of interest. ... As Gutierrez notes, if you started Crabtree as a receiver, you are grinning larger than maybe even he was after each of his three TD catches, from 2, 26 and 1 yards. It was the second time in his career he caught three touchdowns passes in a game; he also had three against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 2 last year.
The Raiders averaged 6.7 yards per carry mostly because Richard had a 52-yard touchdown run and Patterson went 43 yards for a touchdown on an inside handoff out of the shotgun. Lynch added 45 tough yards on 12 carries with a long of 13 and had his first touchdown as a Raider on a 2-yard run.
In all, the Raiders rushed for 180 yards.
And again, fantasy owners have no complaints.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, after getting Carson Wentz help in the offseason, the Eagles are still relying too much on their quarterback.
Wentz handed the ball off only 13 times out of 69 plays in a 27-20 loss at Kansas City on Sunday. He threw 46 passes, got sacked six times and had four scrambles.
"You don't ever want to throw the ball that many times. You want to have more of a balance," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "The run game is a part of that. But at the same time you end up doing sort of what the game dictates late in the game. And do I want him to drop back that many times? No."
For the second straight week, the ground game was unable to get going. After averaging just 2.4 yards per carry in an opening-day win against the Washington Redskins, the Eagles' running backs ran the ball just 13 times for 52 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The offensive line appeared to have its share of issues. Second-year guard Isaac Seumalo in particular seemed to have a rough day.
"We've just got to get the whole thing fixed," said head coach Doug Pederson. "When you play good teams like we did, good defenses, you have to have the ability to run the ball. This is two weeks in a row we've struggled, so it's an area that we have to fix."
LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns last season, didn't get a carry against the Chiefs. Instead, 34-year-old Darren Sproles was the primary back, running 10 times for 48 yards. Second-year-pro Wendell Smallwood carried three times for 4 yards. Wentz led the team with 55 yards rushing .
"It's just how the game went," said Blount, who led the way with 46 yards on 14 carries in Week 1. "That wasn't the game plan going in, but the game wasn't going the way we wanted it to, so we had to make some changes. We've just got to ride the wave. When your number's called, your number's called."
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus reminded readers, prior to the draft, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman deemed the running class potentially historic in terms of quality of depth. The first week of action did nothing to contradict his belief, with rookies accounting for three of the top six rushing performances. The Chief's Kareem Hunt, a third-round pick, was tops in that category and flexed his muscles again this week with a pair of touchdowns, including a 53-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
Pederson said Hunt was "definitely someone that we had our eye on." The same could be said for Minnesota's Dalvin Cook, among others. But they came out of the draft with fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey. He was firmly on the roster bubble at cut-down time and was inactive for the opener, and is now on injured reserve with a torn hamstring.
As noted above, Blount was a non-factor against Kansas City, and second-year back Wendell Smallwood has been used sparingly. Despite his hopes he would see some action this week, undrafted rookie Corey Clement barely saw the field on offense and didn't get a carry.
Sproles is not a season-long answer. Barring one of the other backs emerging, Wentz could be asked to do most of the heavy lifting throughout the season. That can be punishing work -- he has been sacked eight times through two games -- which is not ideal for a developing QB.
"Obviously more balance is usually the way to go," said Wentz, "but again, it was kind of just the nature of this game, the way they were playing some things and some things that we thought we could take advantage of that kind of led us down that route."
The Eagles gave Wentz more weapons when they signed receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency and drafted Mack Hollins in the fourth round. The trio caught 14 passes on 24 targets. Smith dropped two deep jump balls, but Wentz is throwing downfield more and has enough confidence in Jeffery and Smith to go to them in coverage.
However, Wentz tries to force plays at times and it's been costly. The turning point against Kansas City came in the fourth quarter when Wentz threw an interception on third-and-12 from the Eagles 31 with the score tied at 13. His pass bounced off Justin Houston's helmet, fluttered in the air and was picked. Wentz should've thrown the ball away and settled for a punt and better field position.
"We thought we could make plays in the passing game," Wentz said. "I am not overly concerned about the run game. I know that will be a big part of the offense going forward. When you have three guys, it is hard to get them all involved."
Of course, moving the ball won't be all that easy when the Eagles host the New York Giants in their home opener on Sunday. The Eagles are determined to fix the ground game. They have little choice but to try and make Blount a part of the solution. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Jeffery got cooking for the Eagles in Week 2 after a slow start in his first game with the club. The former Bear ripped through the Chiefs and collected 41.2 percent of Wentz's intended air yards. Harmon added, "It's safe to approach him as the team's clear top wide receiver but the first two weeks of results warn of us the volatility in his production -- starting this week while facing a stingy Giants secondary.
Nelson Agholor only saw three targets but made his lone catch count with a red zone touchdown. He played 75 percent of the team's plays, behind both Jeffery and Smith.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0, but they didn't get there in impressive fashion. They barely beat the Browns in Cleveland in the opener and played another inconsistent game Sunday in their 26-9 victory over the Vikings.
One reason it feels lackluster is the offense's performance through two games. The Steelers were supposed to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, but they're 17th in total offense and are averaging 23.5 points per game.
Most notably, Bell is off to a slow start after skipping all of training camp due to a contract dispute. He has just 119 yards rushing through two games and has not scored.
Indeed, the Steelers' modest 40-point offensive start through two games can be traced, in part, to the team's 2.8 yards per rush. Bell's 87-yard performance on 27 carries Sunday wasn't electric, but it showed progress, and toughness.
Bell took on a big workload, which is what he wanted. He played smart, avoiding big hits when possible. Now if he can only figure out the big-play dynamic, he'll be good.
As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler notes, his longest run through two games is 15 yards, of which Bell is well aware.
"I'm due for an explosion play," Bell said.
Bell said he felt an opening on at least three plays, but the Vikings made the sound tackle.
Coming off groin surgery during the offseason, Bell is eager to prove he can still break those plays. The groin is not an issue during games, he said.
Bell hasn't been as active in the Steelers' passing game, which is rolling mostly with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Jesse James. That plan can expand, but so far those five are the primary targets.
Bell is too good of a pass-catcher not to get more involved eventually, but for now his role is to wear defenses down with anywhere from 20 to 30 carries.
"It might take 20, 25 runs, but one of them is going to pop [eventually]," Bell said about his mentality in the second halves of games, when he feels he gets stronger.
On Sunday, those pops were "only like 6 to 8" yards in most cases, he admits. But the Steelers know they need Bell to carry a massive load against physical, talented fronts like Minnesota's. Otherwise, they have more chances to go after Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket, which is not what the Steelers want for their 35-year-old quarterback.
That's why Sunday's plan, though not flashy, worked despite some missed chances for big plays.
"We grew as a group today," Bell said.
Meanwhile, one week after catching two passes for just 15 yards, Bryant was the Steelers' leading receiver with 91 yards against the Vikings. Bryant had a 27-yard touchdown catch, a 51-yard reception and drew a 49-yard pass interference penalty.
Bryant missed the 2016 while serving a drug suspension.
"He's going to continue to get better," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "What you saw today was not a finished product. The guy's been out of the game for 12 months. We respect the process that he's going through. He respects the process that he's going through. Along the way he's got to give us positive contributions to our efforts and he's done that through two weeks, and we expect him to continue to that as he rounds his game off into what it's capable of being."
Bryant's value to the Steelers is in his ability to stretch the field. He did that effectively against the Vikings, who had a hard time defending him.
"I had no clue how many shots we were going to take," Bryant said. "All I had to do was play hard and take advantage of my opportunities.
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes shadowed receiver Antonio Brown for most of the game Sunday. With Rhodes on him, Brown caught only three passes for 28 yards, but also drew a 22-yard pass interference penalty. Against the few zone looks the Vikings showed, Brown had two more catches for 34 yards, including a 26-yarder against a busted coverage on a shallow crossing route.
But with Bell doing enough to keep the Vikings honest, Bryant was able to take advantage of the focus on Brown to make some plays.
And ideally, that dynamic will only get stronger as Bell and the rest of the offense hit stride. Brown and Bryant going off at the same time will mean liftoff for this passing attack. In Week 1, Brown went wild for 182 yards while Bryant stayed quiet. Bryant came alive Sunday, but Brown needed a late fourth-quarter drive to eclipse the 50-yard mark.
As Fowler noted, with the Steelers' playmakers, the standard is 30 points per game. That's their yearly goal, especially in Heinz Field, where the points are more plentiful.
With the Bears coming up this week, it would be nice for the offense to find its groove before the Ravens and Jaguars games coming in Weeks 4 and 5. ...
A few final notes here. ... Roethlisberger became the seventh player in NFL history to record 125 victories as a starter in the regular season, joining Tom Brady, Drew Brees, John Elway, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. He also became the seventh player in league history to record 70 home wins as a starter.
JuJu Smith-Schuster scored a touchdown on the first reception of his NFL career, a four-yard pass from Roethlisberger in the second quarter.
Jesse James is dealing with an ankle issue coming off the Minnesota game but plans to play Sunday in Chicago. James' health is important with Vance McDonald nursing a back injury. Backup Xavier Grimble, who played 16 snaps Sunday, is the primary backup for now.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, the San Francisco 49ers can't find the end zone, and because of it, they're 0-2 to open the 2017 season.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, for the first time in franchise history, the 49ers failed to score a touchdown in either of their first two games.
Last week against Carolina, a single trip to the end zone wouldn't have been enough. But on Sunday in Seattle, the inability to break through cost the 49ers a golden opportunity for a major upset as they dropped a 12-9 decision to the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
Despite a defensive performance in which the Niners repeatedly kept the Seahawks out of the end zone until the game's waning moments, the offense still lags far behind.
And although the 49ers also took a big step forward in the running game, Wagoner correctly notes the simply aren't getting enough from the passing game and quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Given his history of producing eye-popping passing numbers as an offensive coordinator, it's got to be hard for head coach Kyle Shanahan to watch the passing game's struggles through the first two weeks.
To be sure, Hoyer and the Niners have played two top-tier defenses so far, but San Francisco's defense has done enough to keep them in both games. The 49ers defense spent 36:58 on the field but didn't seem to tire until Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was able to hurt them with his legs on a pair of late fourth-quarter drives.
But Hyde's performance was even better than it sounds. In fact, it was historically good.
Let's start with the 124-yard rushing performance. It was just the second 100-yard effort at Seattle since the 2015 season.
The other? By Hyde (103 yards) last season.
As the Sports Xchange notes, the back-to-back triple-digit output at Seattle was just the eighth in Seahawks history, and the first since 2008, when Clinton Portis put up 143 yards after a 136-yard effort in his previous visit to Seattle six years earlier.
Hyde accumulated 102 of his 124 yards in the first half. The last guy to do that: Adrian Peterson in 2012.
And this might be the best part: The oft-injured Hyde demonstrated he might be better than ever Sunday, ripping off a career-best 61-yard run in the first half.
Oh, here's one more optimistic aspect of Hyde in the new system: The 49ers host the Rams this Thursday.
The last time the Rams visited Levi's Stadium, Hyde ran over them for 88 yards and two touchdowns in one of the 49ers' most impressive outings in recent years, a 28-0 triumph in last year's season opener.
"I've been pleased with Carlos in both games," Shanahan gushed Monday after having had a chance to look at the game film. "He came to compete (Sunday), and it showed."
Hyde not only looked like a good fit for Shanahan's new scheme, but afterward gave an indication that he's completely bought in.
Individual success, he insisted, wasn't enough.
"I put (the loss) on my shoulders," he claimed. "With those runs I broke (27- and 61-yarders), I've got to get to the end zone. I put it all on my shoulders. If I get in the end zone there, I change the game with a touchdown."
Shanahan spread the credit around.
"I thought we had a pretty good plan going against their fronts and our guys blocked well," he said. "Our guys ran hard. I was real pleased with the run game.
The passing game, meanwhile, has remained stuck in the mud. In his first career game at CenturyLink Field, Hoyer never appeared comfortable. Although the 49ers allowed their share of pressure, the offensive line was better than a week ago with Laken Tomlinson taking over at left guard for Zane Beadles.
Still, Hoyer never got into a rhythm. For the second week in a row, he threw an interception right to the opposing middle linebacker for a costly early turnover and finished 15-of-27 for 99 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of 48.2.
Even when Hoyer was on the mark, he didn't get much help as receiver Marquise Goodwin dropped a fourth-quarter pass in the red zone that might have gained a first down and allowed the Niners to score their first touchdown of the season. Instead, they settled for a field goal before Seattle responded with its first trip to the end zone.
Wagoner contends it's still too early to start calling for changes at quarterback, especially considering rookie C.J. Beathard is the only option behind Hoyer. But there's no denying that Hoyer must improve quickly or this season will slip away sooner than some might have expected.
Sure, the 49ers have been realistic about what this season will bring. They were very competitive in a tough environment Sunday against a team that has had its number for the better part of the past three years.
To move from competitive to victorious, though, Shanahan's offense is going to have to catch up to a defense that appears to be ahead of schedule. We'll see if the Rams can help them get there this week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, Goodwin dropped a critical pass for the second week in a row in Sunday's loss at Seattle. With the 49ers driving late in the game, Goodwin failed to hang onto a Hoyer pass that could have given the team a first down inside the Seattle 10.
Goodwin dropped a potential touchdown on a long pass from Hoyer on the opening drive last week against Carolina.
As the Xchange suggests, Shanahan has been quick to demote, and even cut, underachieving performers from the previous regime. It's going to be interesting to see if he does the same with his own guys, starting with Goodwin and eventually, perhaps, Hoyer.
And finally. ... George Kittle (hip) did not practice Monday. He dealt with an injured hamstring the first two weeks of the season. The injuries have not kept him from playing. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, with the offense so dysfunctional, we've yet to see the potential for Kittle. However, he was once again a mainstay on the field. The rookie tight end was on the field for 88 percent of the 49ers plays.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, Doug Baldwin didn't wait for the question to finish before launching into his answer. He was eager to rave about rookie running back Chris Carson, who had just helped the Seattle Seahawks close out a 12-9 win against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
"He's the real deal. He's the real deal," Baldwin said. "I've been telling you that since training camp. He is the real deal."
As Carson has risen up the depth chart because of performances like the one he delivered against the 49ers, Eddie Lacy has fallen down it. He was a surprise inactive on Sunday despite being healthy while Carson was the Seahawks' primary running back for the second straight week, which seems like an unmistakable sign of where those two stand in Seattle's backfield pecking order.
Who would have guessed that five months ago?
Carson was somewhat of an afterthought when the Seahawks chose him in the seventh round out of Oklahoma State. Seattle had already signed Lacy after showing interest in Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray. Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise were both healthy after injury-plagued 2016 seasons.
But through two games, he's has been Seattle's No. 1 running back. He started the opener against the Green Bay Packers and was again Seattle's primary option on Sunday. Rawls got the start but only carried five times for four yards, an intentionally light workload for his first game back following an injury.
In fact, Rawls played 16 of 82 offensive snaps in his first game of the season after missing the opener recovering from a high-ankle sprain.
Carson carried 20 times 93 yards, with 58 coming on the Seahawks' final two drives. The first of those drives produced the go-ahead touchdown and the second helped put the game away. Carson also had a 7-yard reception.
"He kept battling," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He kept running hard downhill, kept getting north and putting his foot in the ground."
Carson became something of a personal favorite of coach Pete Carroll during the pre-draft process. Carroll said he fell in love with Carson's style while watching his film in the same way he did two years earlier with Rawls. Carroll has an affinity for hard runners. He used to have one in Marshawn Lynch. He already had one in Rawls and now he has another one.
Carson has averaged 2.6 yards per rush after contact on his 26 carries through two games, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That's far better than Rawls (0.8) and Lacy (0.2) on their five carries apiece.
"I thought Chris has shown us nothing but really positive stuff. There's a style about the way he runs that you might recognize," Carroll said, perhaps in reference to Lynch. "High knees and chomping and eating that ground up. He's really downhill at you. We've seen it for a long time, and we just keep hoping to see it continue."
Carroll downplayed the significance of Lacy being a healthy scratch on Sunday, which came a week after he played only seven snaps in the opener.
"You only have so many spots," Carroll said in reference to game-day rosters being limited to 46 of the 53 players. "We wanted to see Thomas come back, and that was what the decision was, and there were a couple other things that entered into that, too. It's not like it has to be that way all the time, but it was in this game. I hate that he wasn't out there. I love Eddie, and he wanted to be part of it. But in this matchup with the guys that were healthy and all that, this was the way we had to go."
Could Lacy's days in Seattle's backfield be numbered?
The Seahawks have moved on quickly from free-agent busts before. Cornerback Cary Williams and offensive lineman J'Marcus Webb are two recent examples, both being released during their first and only seasons with the team. Then again, Seattle is guaranteeing Lacy nearly $2.9 million this season, so there wouldn't be much financial incentive to do so. And with Rawls and Prosise both having extensive injury histories, the Seahawks have to figure they may need Lacy at some point.
"He's part of our guys," Carroll said when asked where Lacy fits into Seattle's backfield going forward. "I'm fired up about our group."
Especially about Carson.
"I think we have something," Carroll said. "I think he's a really good football player. I say that because he's a good pass blocker, and he's a good catcher, and he's a good route runner, and he can contribute on [special] teams, too. That's a lot of real positives for a first-time guy."
Carson aside, there's plenty of handwringing about what's wrong with the Seahawks offense even as they sit at 1-1.
Carroll remained optimistic Monday that there was improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
"I thought we did some things better than we did the week before. But we still didn't score enough points like we like to," Carroll said. "But we're working at it. Glad to get a win at home, would have liked it to have been a little bit different."
Still, as Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth notes, finding the end zone just once is a concern with obvious similarities to a year ago.
Last season, Seattle had one touchdown in 22 drives over the course of two games. This season, Seattle has one touchdown in 22 drives over the course of two games.
Last season, the Seahawks were dealing with changes in the offensive line that had problems adequately protecting Wilson and struggled to get the run game established.
This year? The same thing.
Wilson continued to be pressured more than Seattle would like, getting hit 10 times and being sacked on three occasions. Carroll hinted there could be potential changes on the offensive line this week.
"The competition is on. ... We're looking to make sure we keep it at the right edge to get better. We've got to keep improving," Carroll said.
For what it's worth, recent history says they will. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Through two games this season, tight end Jimmy Graham has four catches for nine yards on a total of 10 targets.
While an ankle injury sustained in the second quarter against the 49ers affected his overall ability to perform, Graham still has struggled to make an impact through Seattle's first two games.
"He hasn't had many opportunities to do much so far," Carroll said. "He hasn't caught a lot of balls because we haven't got a lot to him. The balls he's got have been a lot of short stuff that's happened so far. That's the way it's gone."
Two of Graham's four catches have come behind the line of scrimmage as Wilson was avoiding a pass rush and looking for any option available. Carroll said Graham had a "hard game" in Seattle's opener against Green Bay. It didn't get any easier against the 49ers.
"He's got a sore ankle," Carroll said. "We've got to figure out what that means. We don't know yet."
Carroll said Graham has not been ruled out for this week's game against the Tennessee Titans. While the injury certainly had an impact, four catches for nine yards through two games is not the type of production Seattle is looking for from the highest-paid tight end in the league in 2017.
Graham did not practice Wednesday. ...
In addition, the go-ahead touchdown catch that Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson made Sunday must have been a painful one. Richardson suffered a compound fracture of the ring finger on his right hand earlier in the game.
The injury occurred on Seattle's opening drive, when Richardson reached down for a low pass from Wilson that skipped off the turf. He immediately signaled toward the sideline while running off the field then went into the locker room, where trainers applied stitches.
"It hurt a lot," Richardson said, adding that it was "nasty."
Richardson returned to catch two passes, including the go-ahead, 9-yard touchdown with 7 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Carroll didn't seem concerned that his finger will be an issue going forward, noting how he was able to return to the game.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
The Bucs were forced to take a Week 1 bye because of Hurricane Irma. A large majority evacuated, sitting in cramped cars for nine and 10 hours. It took offensive tackle Demar Dotson two days to drive home from Louisiana because of traffic on Interstate 10 -- not the most conducive way to heal from a groin injury.
Some players came home to property damage and no air conditioning with temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s.
When the Bucs assembled for practice Wednesday -- miraculously with all 64 players back despite not having a fully operational airport -- head coach Dirk Koetter didn't need to scream and yell at them. Instead, he gave them a long list of excuses that they could make. He then told them, "Nobody cares outside these four walls."
Quarterback Jameis Winston didn't need to give one of his spirited pep talks, willing his teammates to rise above their circumstances. He simply told them, "Nobody cares. It's time to play."
"I think everybody took it upon themselves," Winston said. "All those men were focused on getting their families safe, so they knew they needed to step up. They knew what was coming next with us having not played a game in three or four weeks. They knew that. We rose up to the challenge."
Added defensive tackle Noah Spence: "We all came out and were on the same page the whole week of practice. We knew what we had to do. ... You could feel it throughout the whole locker room. Everybody was ready. Everybody came out like, ‘Yo, let's get this win.' That's all you can ask for with this team."
The Buccaneers' defense feasted in Sunday's 29-7 win over the Bears, picking off quarterback Mike Glennon twice, including a pick-six from Robert McClain, who'd just won the nickelback job over Javien Elliott. They got two more takeaways, with Spence delivering a blow to Glennon that jarred the ball loose and into Lavonte David's hands.
Even with linebacker Kwon Alexander exiting the game with a hamstring injury, there was barely a hiccup.
Alexander hadn't played a game in a month, along with McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. They'd been held out of the third preseason game due to minor injuries. When Evans was asked earlier this week about rust with Winston and whether the break would upset their rhythm, he said, "We've played two seasons together, and we know how to play football. We'll be all right."
He was right. Evans caught seven passes for 93 receiving yards and had the first touchdown of the season.
Mature football teams have that kind of trust among core players. Mature football teams can handle unfavorable circumstances.
Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald agreed. "That is the sign of a mature football team. I think the simple part is that we stuck together -- during the hurricane, guys drove to Atlanta, guys flew and everybody stuck together even though we were apart during the whole week. We still stuck together through phone calls, text messages, just communicated. That's another sign of a mature team."
The Bucs had a lot of options for excuses this week. It turns out that they've gotten to a point as a team -- a mature football team -- where they didn't need any of them.
That's because they delivered.
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, the Bucs' 22-point margin of victory was the second-largest in a season opener in team history. In 1987, under Ray Perkins, they defeated the Atlanta Falcons by 38 points (48-10) at the old Tampa Stadium.
This was the Bucs' second straight year winning their season opener, the first time they've done that in back-to-back seasons since 2000-01, when Tony Dungy was the head coach.
The Bucs' four takeaways were their most in a season opener since 2005, when they had five at the Minnesota Vikings and won 24-13 under Jon Gruden.
The Bucs' seven points allowed were the team's fewest in an opening game since 2003, when they shut out the Philadelphia Eagles 17-0 under Gruden.
The Bucs allowed 20 rushing yards, the ninth-lowest mark in a game in Bucs history and the Bears' third-lowest total in the last 15 seasons. The Bucs allowed a 1.25-yard rushing average, also the ninth-lowest mark in a game in team history.
The Bucs have played one game fewer than 30 other teams in the NFL and they're already tied for third with most takeaways on defense (four). The Bucs' 20 points scored off of turnovers is also third in the league.
Cornerback Robert McClain's 47-yard interception return for a touchdown is the fifth for the Bucs in the past two seasons -- the most in the NFL during that span. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are tied for second with four.
Since the start of 2016, when Mike Smith was named defensive coordinator, the Bucs have recorded 30 takeaways on defense, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for second-most in the NFL, behind only the Baltimore Ravens (36). The Bucs have 33 total takeaways in that span, which includes special teams.
Evans caught his 28th career touchdown in the first quarter, which was also his 23rd receiving touchdown caught in the end zone. Only Antonio Brown (27) has caught more touchdowns on passes thrown to the end zone since the start of 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Winston threw his 51st touchdown pass, tying him with Josh Freeman for the most touchdown passes thrown by a Bucs quarterback in his first three seasons.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, with 19 carries in a blowout against the Bears, it's clear that Jacquizz Rodgers is the primary back for the Buccaneers until Doug Martin's suspension ends. Rodgers wasn't exactly efficient but the volume was what he needed to produce for fantasy owners.
He also punched in a short-yardage touchdown signaling that the team will use him in goal-line situations for now. Peyton Barber and Charles Sims came in to spell Rodgers but neither were real threats to his fantasy production. Barber did have 10 carries, but they were all in the second half when Tampa Bay had a huge lead.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, DeSean Jackson is going to be extremely hit or miss this year, which isn't much of a divergence from his usual ways, but when he hits it will be big. Last Sunday's game confirmed that. Jackson averaged 19.3 air yards per target against the Bears, despite only hauling in three catches.
The Buccaneers take on the Vikings in Week 3. Minnesota's defense will be more of a challenge than Chicago's.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggested, the calls for Derrick Henry to be the Tennessee Titans' starting running back are only getting louder. More confident and comfortable in the offense, Henry may soon force the Titans' hand.
The Titans' offense finally opened up Sunday -- scoring 37 points and keeping the Jaguars' defense guessing wrong for most of the second half. It was the type of football that many expected after all the resources Tennessee allocated on offense this offseason.
The second-half performance was anchored by the running game, except it was Henry, not lead back DeMarco Murray, doing the damage. One play, added late Saturday night and never practiced, defined Henry's game -- a 17-yard touchdown run where he ran through Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey while powering into the end zone.
"I definitely wanted to make him feel me," said Henry, who had a career-high 92 yards on 14 carries in the 37-16 victory over Jacksonville.
A "make him feel me" back is what the Titans need to leave defenses demoralized late in games. Henry, who doesn't smile often, unleashes a mischievous smirk when you mention bending a defense's will or making them hesitant to tackle him. That's what Henry is all about.
Remember, the Titans drafted Henry in the second round of the NFL draft last year, knowing that he needed to wait his turn behind Murray.
The primary reason for drafting Henry was that because the Titans are a run-oriented team and if something happened to Murray, there would be a plug-and-play replacement ready to insert into the backfield.
Early on against the Jaguars, Murray tweaked the hamstring that kept him out of most of training camp and preseason.
While some have called for Henry to get more action even with Murray playing well last season, the fact that Murray is off to a slow start and not healthy may give Henry more of an opportunity to carry the load in the short term.
"That's a position where if you can have the luxury of having, similar to Jacksonville, of having two guys that can run the ball like that, because that's a tough position, there's a lot of pounding that goes on their bodies, if you can have good depth at that position," head coach Mike Mularkey said. "We're fortunate that we have it. Yeah, that's part of the reason we drafted Derrick."
Mularkey insists that Murray is still at the top of the pecking order and will be his starter once he is healthy, though.
"I still see it that way. Yesterday I thought Derrick (Henry) came in, really both of them played in the first half. It was a grind trying to run the ball with both of them in there," Mularkey said. "When Derrick took over for DeMarco in the second half, we stayed patient with the run game and it started to hit some holes."
In fact, Henry gained 87 of his 92 yards after halftime when he dominated the touches. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry in the second half, punishing Jaguars defenders as they attempted to tackle him.
"Toward the end of the game, when you're running out of the clock, to have a back like that is huge," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "We'll continue to find ways to get him the football and we'll expect this from him."
Murray, the AFC's leading rusher in 2016, is more about vision and pass-catching ability. He's the better pass-blocker of the two backs and he offers proven big-play potential in a way that Henry still is trying to prove he has. But when on the field, Murray has struggled this season, totaling 69 yards on 21 carries.
On Sunday, Murray had trouble hitting his holes quickly. According to Wolfe, the veteran hasn't shown the same explosion in games or practice that made him a Pro Bowler last season.
Several Titans players don't believe there is a drop-off when Henry comes in for Murray.
Over the Titans' past five games, Henry has 253 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries (5.3-yard average). Murray has 16 more carries during that period, but has no touchdowns and just 221 rushing yards (3.5-yard average).
With Murray's status unclear, Wolfe believes Henry is entering an audition period to prove he's the best back on the roster and can complete all of the duties required of a three-down starting running back.
Murray had 293 carries to Henry's 110 in 2016. That margin is narrowing to start 2017 (Murray has 21 carries to Henry's 20).
Wolfe went on to suggest a60-40 split for Murray, or an even slimmer discrepancy, could be in store the rest of the way if both backs are healthy.
Even if Murray holds off Henry for now, the question always will be for how long. Injuries and age are starting to line up against the 29-year-old Murray.
As Wolfe summed up: "Henry is coming, and he plans to make it hard for the coaches to not give him the ball. ..."
For the record, the Titans list Murray as day to day heading into this weekend's game against the Seattle Seahawks.
In addition, rookie receiver Corey Davis (hamstring), also missed large portions of the win over the Jaguars. Davis, who returned late in the fourth quarter during the Titans' final drive into the red zone, said after the game he believed he would be OK. He said it was a positive that he was able to return to game action.
"We're just trying to be smart, and not expose him to some deeper routes," Mularkey said. "We put him down in the red zone, feeling like he wasn't going to blow it out down there ... With less territory to cover. That's why he went back in the game, where we were field-position wise."
Hamstrings are typically tricky injuries and the Titans will want to avoid either injury lingering. In the case of Davis, that means ruling him out -- as the team did Wednesday.
I'll have more on the status of Murray via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... Tight end Delanie Walker is faster after dropping about 10 pounds on a diet that cuts out pork completely and calls for less red meat intake. Walker looks faster, so the Titans used him on a jet sweep in the red zone and he scored his first rushing touchdown of his 11-year career against Jacksonville.
"I wanted to try something new, and I think it's paying off. I'm still a force (blocking) in the run game, even though I'm lighter, and I'm faster in the pass game," Walker said.
Mariota was 15 of 27 for 215 yards and one touchdown and one interception against the Jaguars. He shook off a bad throw that was intercepted in the first half and played much better in the second half.
It'll be interesting to see how Mariota and offense respond against the Seahawks, who will be easily the best defense the Titans have faced so far.
One last note here. ... The team placed linebacker Aaron Wallace on injured reserve due to a back injury Wednesday. Wide receiver Zach Pascal was promoted from the practice squad to fill his spot on the 53-man roster, no surprise with Davis ruled out.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 September 2017
As ESPN.com's John Keim reminded readers, head coach Jay Gruden mentioned it often in the offseason, throughout the summer and again during the week. Yes, he really did want more balance on offense -- and that meant running more.
It was hard to believe him after the opener. It was not after the Redskins' 27-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. With a passing game that remains in a funk -- whether it's protection, the quarterback needing to be sharper or receivers failing to get open.
That left the Redskins needing a dominant day on the ground. That's what they got, at least in the first half, and it was enough to carry Washington. Even though they didn't do as well running the ball in the second half, the Redskins still emphasized it -- again, partly because of their passing game problems.
Second-year man Rob Kelley gained 78 yards on his first 12 carries before leaving with a rib injury. Then Chris Thompson scored on a 61-yard draw in which he showed all of his skills: vision through the hole, patience to set up blockers and burst once daylight appeared.
Even rookie Samaje Perine helped, finally getting a rhythm late in the game. He did not play in the opener and, early Sunday, he appeared to shuffle more than usual on his runs. That's not his game. When he became more decisive, he ran well.
All totaled, the Redskins ran for 229 yards. Every one of them was needed.
Also, give credit to the line -- not to mention tight ends and receivers -- for their blocking against an excellent front seven. It was the sort of game in which the Redskins finally created an identity.
However, members of the organization will tell you they like their demeanor up front and it's a group needing to also gain a rhythm. They know players such as guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff and center Spencer Long fit the run-the-ball mode. Indeed, the Redskins excelled early at pulling their linemen, sealing the outside with tight ends blocking down, and allowing the backs to take over.
The Redskins started to create an identity Sunday. It's one they need to build on. ...
Meanwhile, Gruden offered good news on the Washington injury front Monday: Kelley and tight end Jordan Reed are day to day.
Washington feared a fractured rib for Kelley. Further testing revealed a rib cartilage injury, Gruden said via the team's Twitter account.
Reed has a chest or sternum contusion. He played 40 of 71 plays, returning for the final drive after sitting out much of the second half.
Kelley was in pads during stretching exercises Wednesday. He worked on a limited basis. Reed was not on the field and Gruden told reporters after the session was over that the tight end is "not healthy right now."
I'll obviously be following up on the status of both men via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange suggests, Thompson shouldn't be blamed if he's looking for an expanded role entering Week 3. After all, Kelley is hurt and Thompson has been electrifying early this season. He took a short pass 29 yards for a touchdown against Philadelphia, bouncing off Eagles defenders like a bowling ball, and then had a 61-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Thompson has 162 yards of total offense through two games - but at 5-8, 191 pounds and with a checkered injury history, Gruden is still cautious.
"Chris has got such a defined role for this offense and it could be expanded, but he's so important to us on third down we just have to be careful," Gruden said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. We don't want him to get 20, 25 carries a game and get a lot of pounding on that body. He's definitely needed in pass protection and the routes and all that stuff on third down and red zone.
"So we'll try to expand his role a little bit, but we don't want to go too crazy with him."
Of course, there's plenty of room to grow. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Thompson only had six touches in the game, but two of them were touchdowns. Thompson totaled 77 yards on his three rush attempts and added 29 yards on his three receptions for a total of 106 yards from scrimmage. But until fantasy owners see signs his role will grow, expecting Thompson, who has had just 13 total touches after two games, to continue producing at the same rate seems like a reach. ...
Cousins completed 18 of 27 passes for 179 yards as Washington turned to the run game to move the ball. Cousins had a touchdown pass - the game-winner to Ryan Grant late in the fourth quarter. Cousins is still trying to find common ground with Terrelle Pryor (two receptions, 31 yards) and Josh Doctson was a non-factor again with just one target. Jamison Crowder caught four passes for 21 yards.
Crowder muffed a punt in Sunday's loss to Philadelphia, but is in no danger of losing his job, according to Gruden. Crowder fumbled two punts as a rookie, but none last season.
And finally. ... The Redskins placed starting strong safety Su'a Cravens on the reserved/left squad list on Monday, which ends his 2017 season.
The decision came just 15 days after Cravens left the team suddenly while contemplating retirement from the NFL at age 22. The Redskins' second-round draft pick in 2016, No. 53 overall, Cravens was originally placed on the exempt/left squad list.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul