Team Notes week 3 2021
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Kyler Murray threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, and the Cardinals beat the Vikings 34-33 on Sunday after Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal wide right in the final seconds.
"I'd rather be lucky than good sometimes," tight end Maxx Williams told the Associated Press. "We got the 'W' with that missed field goal and I'm gonna celebrate it. It's hard to be 2-0 in this league, it's hard to win games in this league.
"It doesn't matter how it happens."
It was a fitting end to a seesaw game that saw the lead change hands eight times. The dizzying offensive pace -- Arizona had a 24-23 halftime lead -- slowed considerably in the final minutes, and there were no touchdowns in the final quarter.
Murray also ran for a touchdown and threw two costly interceptions, including one that was returned for a score. But there were a lot more good moments than bad.
"The game is really slowing down for him," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He's doing stuff that he did at the collegiate level where he's very confident in legs and moving around, extending plays."
The performance earned Murray NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Rondale Moore showed why Cardinals GM Steve Keim drafted the wideout in the second round in April. The rookie provides an element of speed and explosion the Cardinals' offense has lacked. Andy Isabella was supposed to fill that role, but it has not worked out.
Moore definitely worked out in Sunday's win over the Vikings.
"That guy is electric," Williams said.
"You see the dynamic; the stuff he can do in space," Kingsbury said. "When he gets the ball that first guy rarely tackles him. He's got legit 4.29 speed and he's starting to build more confidence."
Moore hauled in seven catches and led all receivers with 114 yards and a touchdown -- which came when Murray spun out of a near sack, scrambled left, and found an open Moore near the sideline. Moore took it to the house untouched for the score.
Moore is averaging 14.3 yards after catch this season -- 4.8 yards more than any other NFL player -- and said his only thought was to catch the ball.
"As he was scrambling, I was just like hopefully he sees me and as the ball was in the air I'm just thinking don't drop it," Moore said.
The Cardinals have had a balanced passing attack this season, with DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green operating outside, Christian Kirk in the slot, and Moore filling the role of "explosive." Through two games, the Cardinals passing game is averaging nearly 326 yards per game, second in the NFL. It's a reason to feel optimistic about the Cardinals chance to make noise this year.
"Back before the draft, I sent Steve (Keim) a video I saw on Instagram of his one-on-ones in college," Murray said. "I knew nothing about the kid, but from that video, I knew he knew what he was doing as far as route running. He knew how to set guys up.
"His feel, his ability, you could see it. So I expected it from Rondale."
We're also getting what all of us expected from Murray all along,
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss suggested, "Murray is playing at an MVP level."
Murray made big plays when Arizona most needed them.
"There may be other players playing better," Weinfuss added, "but none may be as valuable to their teams as Murray is to the Cardinals."
Is the Cardinals' offense good enough to carry this team to the playoffs?
In one word: Yes.
But it needs help. Arizona's offense has proven through two games that it stacks up against any in the league this season. It's that good. Murray has enough weapons around him to keep defenses on their heels all game. They can score with anyone in the NFL, putting up 38 in Week 1 and 34 Sunday.
The defense didn't have a great game Sunday, but it bodes well for the future that they were able to make quick adjustments and slow the Vikings in the second half.
Next up, the Cardinals travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Three of Arizona's first four games this season are on the road. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Matt Prater's 62-yard field goal just before halftime nearly matched his NFL record of 64 yards that he set in 2013 while with the Denver Broncos.
The 37-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl kicker was acquired in the offseason as an upgrade for Zane Gonzales, who made some big kicks in 2020 but was also inconsistent.
Prater's kick on Sunday had plenty of distance in the indoor setting, spitting the uprights with some room to spare.
Prater has been a long-kicking specialist since entering the NFL with Detroit as an undrafted free agent in 2006. The two-time Pro Bowler holds NFL records for most field goals of at least 50 yards (60), consecutive made 50-yarders (14) and consecutive conversions of at least 55 yards (seven). His success rate of 75 percent on 50-yard field goals and seven seasons with at least five 50-yard field goals also are records.
Prater is clutch, too. He hasn't missed in 22 attempts on game-winning field goals with two minutes or less left in the fourth quarter or overtime, including 16 for 16 at the end of regulation.
As NFL.com's Michael F. Florio notes, the Cardinals have not had a fantasy relevant tight end in sometime, but Williams is looking to change that. He was targeted seven times, the second most on the Cards. He caught all seven for 94 yards, scoring 16.4 fantasy points -- enough to make him the TE3 heading into Monday Night Football.
His usage is particularly interesting since the Cards use a good number of four-receiver sets, but usage like this from a tight end cannot be ignored. There is a chance that Williams is thrown back onto the waiver wire after Week 3 but given what he did this week he is worthy of a flier on a tight end needy team.
On the injury front. ... Rookie cornerback Marco Wilson is dealing with an ankle injury, while right tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs) was limited in his second straight game. Kingsbury said both players will be evaluated on a daily basis.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, if there was any question before, there shouldn't be now.
The Falcons have essentially no margin for error if they want to be competitive against the better NFL teams this season. Atlanta hung in for most of Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers -- cutting it to a three-point game at the start of the fourth quarter. But a critical mistake here (a Matt Ryan pick-6), another critical error there (another Ryan pick-6) and the close game became another blowout.
There was more promise for the Falcons in Week 2 than Week 1 -- the offense moved the ball, the defense created pressure on Tom Brady -- but just not enough for it to matter. Luckily for Atlanta, it faces three mid-level or worse teams next in the Giants, Washington and the Jets.
How they fare there will determine the rest of the season.
As Kris Rhim of the team's official website reminded readers, in Week 1, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts showed glimpses of the offensive weapons they could be. Patterson burst for multiple double-digit runs, finishing as the Falcons leading rusher, and Pitts finished with four receptions for 31 yards.
Against the Buccaneers -- Pitts, and Patterson fully emerged as offensive threats.
If nothing else, when Patterson joined the Falcons, he was an instant upgrade to the return team, which has not finished with more than 700 yards since Andre Roberts in 2017. Patterson is one of the best kick returners in league history and led the league in kick return yards the past two seasons.
But Patterson came to Atlanta with experience all over the field, mainly at running back and wide receiver, and on Sunday, he was effective in all three roles.
Just his presence as a kick returner helped the Falcons on Sunday.
The Buccaneers avoided Patterson entirely, with shorter kickoffs that put the offense in better field position. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians admitted post-game that he did not want the ball to be in Patterson's hands-on kick returns.
Avery Williams benefitted from the Buccaneers' strategy, returning the ball four times for 59 yards. Patterson ended up getting one return opportunity which he took for 27 yards.
Patterson had just 11 total yards on the ground, but the numbers do not reflect his impact. With the Falcons down 14-0 in the second quarter and in need of a score, Patterson got the ball on a pitch from Ryan and made a hard cut to evade a defender and score.
Patterson shined in the passing game, too, catching five passes for 58 yards for a touchdown. His best reception came with the Falcons down 28-17 in the third quarter. He released a block and caught a one-handed pass from Matt Ryan before running in the end zone. The Falcons made the two-point conversion and brought the game within three.
"[Patterson] is a good football player. We hope to build off that," Arthur Smith said post-game. "[He is] fun to coach, and I'm glad he's on our team."
As for Pitts, he led the team in receiving yards, with 73 on five receptions. Pitts' looked more like a wide receiver than a tight end when he made a one-handed grab on a ball that was thrown behind him on third and seven. Pitts took the pass 24 yards before being dragged down by multiple defenders.
Arthur Smith said that Pitts' performance was a sign of his growth and the chemistry that he and Ryan have built through training camp and practices.
"It's a hard position to play in the NFL," Smith said. "The way we ask him to play it. We ask him to go be a receiver; you're asking him to go block a tackle at times. We move him all over the place. A lot of rookies can't handle that, but Kyle clearly can."
While Smith admitted that Pitts' performance was impressive, he also noted that these types of games are what they expect from the rookie tight end.
"What you're seeing is why we brought Kyle in here," Smith said. "His growth has accelerated for what we're asking him to do. I'm pleased with that, and hopefully, he continues to build on it."
Beyond that, Calvin Ridley caught 7-of-10 targets for 63 yards and a touchdown, Russell Gage caught 5-of-6 targets for 28 yards (despite missing snaps with an ankle injury) and Mike Davis rushed nine times for 38 yards while adding seven receptions for another 25 yards.
This week, the Falcons will look to end a seven-game skid at the New York Giants on Sunday.
As the Associated Press notes, three of those losses came against the Bucs (2-0), who've outscored their NFC South rivals 124-62 over the past 10 quarters of those outings. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Ryan added another accomplishment to his storied NFL career, becoming the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards through a player's first 14 seasons on Sunday.
Ryan surpassed former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees with a pass to tight end Kyle Pitts in the second quarter.
Ryan, 41, set the record for the most passing yards (55,767) and completions (4,867) through a player's first 13 seasons in NFL history last season. He is currently ninth on the NFL's all-time passing yards list behind former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
He also holds franchise records for career passing yards (55,767), career pass attempts (7,443), career completions (4,867), career touchdowns (347), career passer rating (94.5), career completion percentage (65.4), and career 300-yard games (69).
Ryan has thrown for 4,000 passing yards in each of the past ten seasons. He and Brees are the only players to reach that mark in ten consecutive seasons in NFL history. ...
On the injury front. ... Gage is considered week-to-week with an ankle injury suffered on Sunday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The team will see on Friday if he can possibly go this week against the Giants, though it appears as a bit of a long-shot at first glance.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. ...
And finally, in what might be a related note. ... The Falcons worked out veteran wide receiver John Brown on Tuesday.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As NFL.com's Grant Gordon reported it, "One yard from a first down and victory, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh could be seen bellowing to his quarterback, 'Lamar! Do you want to go for this?'
"And Lamar Jackson most assuredly did."
The quarterback went on to seal a pivotal 36-35 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, gaining two yards on fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 43-yard line.
"I was like, man, I gotta get this first down no matter what," Jackson told reporters after the game of the play that came with 1:05 left.
When Harbaugh asked Jackson prior to the play if he wanted to go for it, the coach admitted it was somewhat of a rhetorical question.
"No there wasn't," Harbaugh answered when asked if there was any doubt he would go for it. "Maybe I wanted to be sure myself. I knew he was gonna say yes. But we were going for it, definitely."
Harbaugh's decision to go for it added 25 percent to the win probability, per Next Gen Stats.
The two-yard gain capped a comeback win for the Ravens that rescued them from another defeat to the Chiefs and an 0-2 start to the 2021 campaign.
Instead, Jackson's Ravens are 1-1 despite Jackson having turned the ball over twice in each of the first two games and he won for the first time in four meetings head-to-head with Patrick Mahomes.
"It feels good. It feels good to get that monkey off our back," Jackson said, via ABC Baltimore's Shawn Stepner.
Jackson threw a pick-six on Baltimore's first possession of the game to Tyrann Mathieu and tossed another one to the Honey Badger in the opening quarter.
It was a bad start that hardly foreshadowed the great ending to come.
Jackson finished the game going 18-for-26 passing for 239 yards and a touchdown, and added 107 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Those three touchdowns all came in the second half.
It was a 2-yard Jackson touchdown run with 14:13 to go in the game that cut the Ravens' deficit to 35-30 and it was a Jackson 1-yard rush that vaulted Baltimore to its first, last and only lead of the game at 36-35 with 3:14 left.
Then came the 2-yard fourth-down conversion that showcased Jackson's ability in the clutch and his coach's confidence in him.
"Man, no matter what, getting that first down," Jackson said in his NBC postgame interview of what was going through his head. "Coach asked me, 'Should we go for it?' I said, 'Hell yeah.'
"We had to get it."
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley put it, "As long as the Ravens have Jackson, their season isn't over. ..."
The Ravens play their next two games on the road, starting this weekend at Detroit. It's Baltimore's first visit to the Motor City since 2013, when Justin Tucker won the game for the Ravens with a 61-yard field goal. ...
A few Jackson-related notes. ... Jackson recorded the 11th double-triple of his career on Sunday night, extending his record for the most double-triples in NFL history.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith explained, a double-triple is when a player records triple-digit yardage in two different statistical categories.
That's the ninth time Jackson has had a double-triple in the regular season and he's done it twice in the playoffs. No one in NFL history has had as many double-triples as Jackson.
Michael Vick was the career record holder before Jackson. Vick had eight career double-triples.
No one is close to Jackson and Vick in NFL history: In third place is a three-way tie in career double-triples, with four each: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Bears great Walter Payton, and former Steeler Gary Ballman, who has been largely forgotten in NFL history but was once a very good playmaker and four times had more than 100 yards both receiving and returning kickoffs in the same game.
Jackson, at just 24 years old, may finish his career with dozens of double-triples. He's playing the game like no one ever has in NFL history.
Also. ... Harbaugh didn't see Jackson's flip into the end zone on his game-winning, 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.
Harbaugh learned about it later from his wife.
"Then I heard his hip hurt, and I'm like, 'I'm not surprised,'" Harbaugh said, via Hensley.
Jackson didn't stick the landing on his forward flip, but jumped right up and threw the ball into the stands.
While Harbaugh said he has no problem with Jackson flipping, the coach did add a caveat.
"As long as you hold onto the ball," Harbaugh said.
"I'm kind of sore," Jackson said Wednesday of the effects of his acrobatic touchdown, via Hensley. "I didn't want to tell (Harbaugh) because coach would've probably said something to me about flipping next time. I don't know. I'd probably do it again though. It was pretty cool. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The Ravens lost their top two running backs to preseason injuries and ran for 251 yards against the Chiefs anyway. As Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister suggested, Jackson's mobility obviously helps the ground game, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman deserves credit for establishing a running attack that can still excel under these circumstances.
"We have a philosophy. We have some principles that we believe in," Harbaugh said Monday. "Greg's author of the system. He's been building the system for many years, so we've built on that even more."
Decision making on 2-point conversions. After scoring a touchdown to pull within five points early in the final quarter, the Ravens had a successful 2-point conversion called back because of a flag. After the 5-yard penalty, they decided to go for 2 again and failed, leaving the score at 35-30.
After the go-ahead touchdown, Baltimore went for 2 again and missed. Had the Ravens simply kicked the extra point both times, they could have led by three instead of one at the end -- and that difference nearly proved decisive.
On the injury front....LT Ronnie Stanley (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. He missed Week 2 with the same ankle injury. Alejandro Villanueva started on Stanley’s place against Kansas City, but he was also missing from the practice field as the team prepared to face the Lions. ... Safety DeShon Elliott (concussion) left the game in the second quarter and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (neck strain) left in the third. Neither player returned.
Wide receiver Rashod Bateman (groin) is nearing an eligible return from injured reserve after Week 3, but Harbaugh wasn't keen on expecting the rookie's timely return. "We'll see," Harbaugh said on Wednesday. "It's hard to predict that stuff. Tried to predict it before and usually hasn't worked out. So, I try to stay away from that."
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
According to Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com, Josh Allen was well aware of the stakes as the Bills offense took the field for the opening drive of the second half at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.
The Bills took a 14-0 lead into halftime thanks in large part to a dominant effort from their defense. The offense had never quite established a rhythm despite reaching the end zone twice.
Extending the lead to 21-0 right out of the gate, Allen sensed, would give the Bills a stranglehold on the game and allow them to play freely for the rest of the afternoon.
"We knew we needed to get six there," Allen said. "We had a couple of plays early on in that first quarter that helped us get a couple scores. We wanted to put something together that was long, sustaining."
Allen opened the drive with a pass to Cole Beasley, who turned up the middle for a 22-yard gain. The next play was a strike to Emmanuel Sanders for 13 yards, sending the Bills into Dolphins territory. When it appeared the drive might stall in the red zone, Allen threw against his body to a well-covered Stefon Diggs to convert on third-and-6 at the Miami 15.
The eight-play, 75-yard drive had eaten 3:12 on the clock by the time Allen delivered his second touchdown pass of the afternoon to tight end Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone. The Bills never squandered momentum from that point forward in a 35-0 rout of their AFC East rival.
"I thought there was good communication leading into halftime by our offensive staff," head coach Sean McDermott said. "(We) came out and got into a better rhythm in the second half there. (Offensive coordinator) Brian (Daboll) did a really good job with that, and Josh seemed to find his rhythm as well.
"I didn't think we were really into a rhythm in the first half, even though we scored 14. So, it was good to see that in the second half."
The victory was Buffalo's sixth straight against Miami, tying a franchise record that was set from 1987 to 1989. Allen improved to 6-1 in his career against the Dolphins, against whom he passed for a career-high 415 yards and four touchdowns during Week 2 of last season.
This game was not that.
Allen, as he is prone to do most weeks, focused on the things he could have done better following a performance that saw him pass for two touchdowns, one interception, and 179 yards. Namely, he felt he could have strung together the sort of rhythm-establishing drive that opened the second half earlier in the game.
That the Bills still managed to put up 35 points on a less-than-perfect afternoon for the offense was a testament to its potential, particularly against a talented Dolphins defense that has ranked first in turnovers and sixth in points allowed over the past two seasons.
Devin Singletary dashed untouched for 46 yards to give Buffalo its first touchdown. The second was vintage Allen. The quarterback sidestepped Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah on a sack attempt, rolled to his right, and threw against his body to Diggs in the middle of the end zone.
Allen leaned on his connection with Diggs for another big play during the second half, a 41-yard heave down the left sideline that set up a jump ball between two All-Pros in Diggs and Miami cornerback Xavien Howard. Diggs came down with it.
Are Allen's inconsistencies a concern going forward?
Sure. ... But a strong rushing attack might alleviate some of those concerns.
After Buffalo's pass to run ratio in Week 1 was 2:1 with 51 pass attempts to 25 rushing attempts, the offense found some reliable balance in Week 2. The offensive line blocked well for most of the game as they cleared lanes for Singletary, Zack Moss and Allen to exploit.
The Bills leaned on their run game for balance in their offense as they reduced their usage of empty backfield sets to keep the Dolphins defense honest as to what was coming with heavier use of 11 personnel. It proved helpful especially when Buffalo's passing game couldn't get into a consistent rhythm through the first two quarters.
"Hats off to our guys up front and our running backs for establishing the run early," said Allen. "That helps us out so much. Our guys made some plays. To feel the way we feel, knowing we could have played better, winning 35 to zero, I think that's a good problem to have."
Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the offensive line was able to execute some of their run calls that were last minute changes to the game plan.
Singletary averaged better than six yards a carry for the second straight week, Allen was effective on some designed run calls, but Moss brought a welcome dose of power running to the equation.
The second-year back capped the ground attack with a couple of exclamation points on a pair of impressive physical second-effort touchdown runs in the fourth quarter that served as redemption for a fumble earlier in the game.
"Just make them count," said Moss of his two touchdown runs in the red zone. "We know as running backs that if you don't make them count down there, the chance of you getting another one is very slim. There's a chance that it might go in the air. So I just wanted to make sure that when I did get it I made sure that I had crossed that white line so that we couldn't go in the air and I didn't have to block anyone."
The last time the Bills had at least 30 carries in a game was Week 16 last season in their 38-9 win at New England.
Next up, Allen and the Bills will take on a Washington defense that hasn't been as stout as expected through two games.
On the injury front. ... Gabriel Davis (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice. He's been dealing with this injury since Week 1. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As ESPN.com's David Newton put it, the trade for quarterback Sam Darnold continues to look smart. Surrounded by good coaching and dependable weapons, he's become consistent and efficient.
Sure, Darnold had a strange interception when the pocket collapsed on him Sunday, but was otherwise clean in a 26-7 win over the Saints -- a game in which he got plenty of help from the Panthers defense.
"It's great, it's complementary football, we talk about it all of the time," Darnold said. "But us having the ball and sustaining drives, obviously we want to do more in the red zone, we want to score more points. But to be able to stay on the field as an offense and then our defense going out and creating three and outs and stopping them, it's really good football."
Darnold was 26-of-38 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, just short of his second straight 100.0 passer rating day (the pick dropped him to 99.1).
Head coach Matt Rhule correctly pointed out that the interception is something they have to get rid of, but on the whole, Darnold is doing the small things well.
"Obviously, the one turnover can't happen," Rhule said. "But I'm not asking him to be perfect the entire season. So, I thought he made big throws in crucial downs, on third down."
Darnold spread the ball among seven different receivers, and mixed things up considerably relative to last week.
With reserve wideout/special teamer Brandon Zylstra catching the first touchdown of the day, to tight end Dan Arnold finally giving them a target at that position (three catches for 55 yards), Darnold is moving the ball around to guys other than Christian McCaffrey (who had 29 more touches Sunday) and D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.
There are other factors working in Darnold's favor. Carolina's ability to run the football has opened up the play-action passing game and bootlegs for Darnold. With teams forced to focused on McCaffrey's game-breaking ability, it has bought Darnold more time to set up in the pocket or roll out and find his receivers. It also has kept him from getting sacked repeatedly as he was with his former team, the Jets.
When McCaffrey is not in the game, the Panthers are a different team. He missed two series with leg cramping late in the third quarter and Carolina's offense looked out of sync, resulting in Darnold panicking and turning the ball over on a shovel pass.
Whatever the case, Arnold said he can see his quarterback getting more and more comfortable.
"I think it's going to be really exciting to see his trend over the season," Arnold said. "I think this is kind of just the beginning of what he's capable of doing. He's definitely gotten way more comfortable. Him and coach [Joe] Brady are getting on the same page. They're really talking together and ironing out details in the practice week that need to be ironed out. Then we've been executing on Sunday."
This week, they'll do it on Thursday.
The Panthers enter Thursday night's game against Houston as a 7-point favorite, according to FanDuel SportsBook. The Texans will be without quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is having an MRI on his hamstring after having to be replaced by rookie Davis Mills. The Texans will make Deshaun Watson inactive, so that is not an option. Expect Mills to get the nod. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed suggested, McCaffrey has 59 touches in the first two games and that is a number that may not be sustainable moving forward. The problem is the Panthers aren't getting much help from their other running backs.
Rookie Chuba Hubbard was held to 10 yards on eight carries on Sunday, and Royce Freeman allowed a sack when he failed to pick up a pass rusher in his only play lining up in the backfield.
While McCaffrey is on track to play, the Panthers are set to be without one offensive starter. Rhule said that left guard Pat Elflein is not expected to play due to a hamstring injury. He was injured in the second quarter of Sunday's game.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos hurt his ankle and Rhule said he's concerned about his status.
Also according to Reed, the Panthers continue to struggle in the kicking game.
Zane Gonzalez replaced Ryan Santoso on the roster last week and had a 51-yard field goal blocked and missed an extra point. He made two short field goals and converted two extra points. He's guaranteed a roster spot for at least two more weeks because he was signed off another team's practice squad.
However, Gonzalez is far from a sure bet to stick around in Carolina.
The lack of consistency at the kicker position could come back to haunt the Panthers at some point. Gonzalez also lacks leg strength on kickoffs.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Andy Dalton dodged a significant knee injury.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning that initial exams on Dalton showed no ACL tear and no damage to the MCL, per a source informed of the injury. An MRI confirmed that Dalton merely suffered a bone bruise in his knee.
Head coach Matt Nagy confirmed Dalton did not tear his ACL, adding the club would know more about the QB's timeline later in the week..
Despite the injury to Dalton, Nagy wasn't prepared to discuss whether Justin Fields would take over as the Bears' starter on Tuesday.
Asked if Dalton is the starter if healthy, Nagy replied, "That's something that I'm not going to get into with scheme."
Suggested who starts at QB is not scheme-related, Nagy replied, "Of course it is. That's 100 percent scheme. That's 100 percent scheme."
Later, Nagy clarified his stance, having Bears PR deliver a message from the coach that Dalton is the team's starting QB when he's healthy, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Nagy's initial insistence that Dalton vs. Fields is a scheme matter tacitly indicates the difference in what the Bears plan to run if the rookie is on the field rather than the veteran.
All that became moot on Wednesday, when Nagy announced today that Fields will start this weekend.
Nagy is continuing to insist that Dalton is the starter when healthy, so Fields will only start until Dalton can return.
Nick Foles will serve as the Bears’ backup quarterback on Sunday.
Dalton looked like he might have suffered a major knee injury after hobbling on the sideline following a 14-yard scamper in the second quarter of Sunday's 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The veteran QB returned the next series but looked uncomfortable.
Dalton limped to the locker room and was eventually listed as doubtful to return to the game. The QB was on the sideline as Fields finished out the victory.
Dalton moved the ball well early against his former team, completing 9 of 11 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Fields took over and had an up-and-down performance, experiencing growing pains many rookie QBs go through.
The first-round pick threw a late INT when he didn't see a defender dropping into coverage. Fields also fumbled after getting blasted on the blind side but was able to pounce on the loose ball.
Amid the struggles, however, there were flashes of what makes Fields special. On the final drive, the rookie shed a tackle and picked up a key first down to melt the clock away and secure the win as the Bengals clawed back into the contest. His mobility opens up the Bears' offense in ways Dalton cannot.
Fields finished a pedestrian 6-of-13 passing for 60 yards and an INT, adding 10 rushes for 31 yards. Despite the poor box score, the rookie QB still made some impressive throws, with a dart called back due to penalty and Allen Robinson dropping a beautiful deep pass that could have been a touchdown.
Nagy insisted all offseason that Dalton was his starter until something tipped the scales. The injury could open that door for the Bears to give Fields the job, even if it turns out Dalton isn't seriously injured. As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reminded readers, last year in Los Angeles, we saw a freak injury to Tyrod Taylor pave the way for Justin Herbert to start.
Rookies rarely give the job back once they get on the field.
Can the offense drastically improve under Fields?
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson stressed, the offense still struggles no matter which quarterback is under center. The group is heavily penalized and often sloppy.
That being said, Dickerson noted Fields is a playmaker, and the Bears desperately need more playmakers on offense. Because of Fields' dynamic athleticism, it is reasonable to expect the offense to improve, but probably not by leaps and bounds.
However, if the Bears' defense gets after the quarterback and takes the ball away in bunches like in Week 2 -- coupled with Fields' emergence -- then the Bears are in much better position to succeed this year.
Now, we'll all get to see what Fields can do. And if he can do it well enough to retain the role. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Bears threw just one pass to a tight end, which Cole Kmet caught for no gain. Nagy said there were some plays called for Kmet and Jimmy Graham that the defense took away. But he also said the Bears need to get them more involved.
Dalton threw a touchdown pass to Robinson on the game's opening possession and was 9 of 11 for 56 yards against his former team. But now, he's hurt. If Fields is in the lineup this week and performs well, Dalton might not start again for the Bears even if he is healthy. Then we'll have to reassess Robinson, who has proven to be quarterback-proof over the course of his career. ...
On the injury front. ... Nagy said left tackle Jason Peters hurt a finger at one point Sunday but he thought he was fine.
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacy put it, "After an exhilarating overtime win in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals took a step backward."
Stacy went on to explain that offensive line issues stalled the running game and made for a long Sunday afternoon for Joe Burrow, who set a career high in passer rating (128.8) and threw a pair of touchdown passes the previous week.
The Bengals (1-1) put themselves in a hole against the Chicago Bears and, despite a late push by Burrow, ran out of time in a 20-17 loss.
Burrow threw three interceptions on consecutive pass attempts -- the third was tipped at the line -- and then tossed touchdown passes on two straight fourth-quarter attempts. A third-quarter Tee Higgins fumble led to a Chicago field goal.
"We gift-wrapped them 13 points," head coach Zac Taylor said.
Burrow was 19 for 30 for 207 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that may have been good enough to win if not for the turnovers.
"We're going to play a lot of great defenses in this league, and we feel like we've got a really good offense and a really good defense, and we just got to do a better job playing complementary football and winning these road games," Taylor said.
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, Taylor is among those who need to step up their game.
"A game that could have created some early-season momentum instead raised a very important question about the franchise's future," Baby wrote. "The defeat showed why Zac Taylor the head coach might have to take a hard look at Zac Taylor the play caller if he wants to put himself in the best position to succeed during a critical third season."
Baby went on to remind readers that in Taylor's first two years in Cincinnati, the offense struggled to be effective. During that span, the Bengals ranked 29th in yards per play and 30th in points per drive, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
The hope was that in '21, Cincinnati could turn things around after investing key draft resources to retool the offense. In 2020, the Bengals drafted Burrow with the first overall pick. This year, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was the fifth player off the board, as he was reunited with his former LSU teammate.
Cincinnati's offensive playmakers knew on Sunday what needed to be done to exploit a Chicago defense that allowed 34 points in a Week 1 loss. But a lack of application rendered that knowledge useless.
Comments from Burrow and Chase raised questions about the offensive approach.
"We waited to the last minute to take shots," Chase said regarding the lack of downfield targets.
In his postgame news conference, Burrow said the Bears knew the Bengals would try to use a quick passing game to negate a pass rush that was still effective without injured defensive tackle Eddie Goldman.
Burrow said the Bears' defense was sitting on Cincinnati's short routes underneath the coverage, which Chase confirmed and vocalized as well. The way to loosen the coverage, Burrow said, was to test Chicago downfield.
"You got to throw the ball over their head," Burrow, who threw three interceptions, said. "At least make them feel like you are going to be able to do that and call some plays that go over their head."
The Bengals did what the Bears expected. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bengals averaged 2.54 seconds per pass attempt, significantly lower than the 2020 league average of 2.74 seconds.
The game didn't turn until Burrow flung a deep ball to Chase for a 42-yard touchdown reception.
Taylor said Chicago's Week 1 loss to the Los Angeles Rams made the Bears focus on taking away deep passing threats on Sunday. However, Taylor also pointed out that the Rams were able to put Chicago on its heels by using longer passes.
Cincinnati did the opposite. In the first half, Burrow did not have a single pass attempt over 10 air yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
And the offense sputtered. The Bengals were held to 85 yards in the first half, which marked the sixth time Cincinnati failed to cross the 100-yard mark in the opening two quarters -- the most in the NFL during that span. The offensive line struggled against Chicago's vaunted defensive line. Burrow, playing on a surgically repaired left knee, was sacked four times.
Cincinnati couldn't get enough push to establish the running game, with Joe Mixon carrying 20 times for 69 yards, the longest a 10-yarder.
Pass rushers managed to reach Burrow unblocked in non-blitz situations.
"They had good pass rush, so we tried to get it out quick, and they knew that they had a good pass rush and we were going to get it out quick, so they just started sitting on all of our routes," Burrow said.
Burrow has been sacked nine times in two weeks and Stacy notes the QB is already getting nicked up.
Before the season started, Cincinnati's front office clearly expressed its expectation for a team with six wins in the past two seasons to be much better. The Bengals have drafted key players such as Burrow and Chase and also made uncharacteristic signings in free agency.
But on Sunday, Cincinnati's offense looked like the one that has sputtered the past two seasons. That has to change and it's on Taylor to make it happen, starting this week.
That won't be easy with the Bengals traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers (1-1). Pittsburgh lost to the Raiders 26-17 on Sunday.
"Obviously one of the better teams in the league, so we got to come with our big boy pants on and ready to play," Burrow said. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Generally speaking, the wideouts were on point in this one. Tyler Boyd was targeted nine times and made seven catches for 73 yards, a 10.4-yard per-catch average. Chase -- who had five receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings -- caught only two passes Sunday, but one was a 42-yard TD strike. Higgins had six grabs for 60 yards and a touchdown.
In a related note. ... In 1976, Vikings rookie receiver Sammy White had touchdown catches of 40 yards or longer in his first two NFL games.
That hadn't happen since then.
Sunday, it did.
With the above-mentioned 42-yard touchdown catch, became the first rookie receiver to do it since White, forty-five years ago. White and Chase are the only two to pull it off, since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Chase had two catches for 54 yards on the day. For the year, he has seven receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Xavier Su'a-Filo and Higgins are both day to day, according to Taylor. Higgins was scheduled to sit out Wednesday's practice before the team sees how he progresses during the week.
Trae Waynes (hamstring) will ease back into practice today.
I'll have more on Higgins via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last positive note here. ... Cincinnati's defense limited the Bears to 206 total yards, 3.4 per play. The unit kept rookie quarterback Justin Fields -- who replaced the injured former Bengal Andy Dalton -- from getting comfortable. Defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader recorded sacks.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Odell Beckham Jr. has a decent chance of making his 2021 debut against the Bears, a source tells Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mary Kay Cabot, which would ease the loss of Jarvis Landry to a sprained MCL.
Landry, the Browns' inspirational leader, is listed as week-to-week and it will be at least a three-week absence after the team placed the wide receiver on injured reserve Tuesday.
Landry played just two snaps in Sunday's 31-21 win over Houston before suffering an MCL sprain. The receiver caught a screen pass from Baker Mayfield for nine yards, hurting his knee at the conclusion of the play.
It's a blow to Mayfield, who will be without his most trusty target beginning Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Landry has caught 236 passes for 2,990 yards and 13 touchdowns from 2018-2020 while missing just one regular-season game.
When Landry exited early, Mayfield spread the ball around, hitting nine different targets on the day.
The veteran's injury places more significance on Beckham, who is working his way back from 2020's ACL tear.
That said, head coach Kevin Stefanski made it clear that Beckham's return won't be tied to Landry's absence, and that they'll evaluate him on his own merit. He said he'll revisit Beckham's status on Wednesday when the 1-1 Browns begin to game plan in earnest for the Bears, and go from there. A potential Beckham return could provide a big jolt for the Browns.
"We'll continue to bring him along and see when he's ready to go," Stefanski said.
But a source told Cabot that Beckham should be ready to give it a shot on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, providing his practice week goes well and he's feeling confident about his comeback.
Of course, it will be mostly up to Beckham to make the final decision, and no one can predict how he'll feel in taking the field for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair his torn ACL on Nov. 10. The Browns were confident that Beckham would feel up to playing in the opener in Kansas City based on his practices and medical evaluations.
But when the time came, he didn't feel up to it, and opted for the inactive list.
Stefanski then ruled him out for the Texans game last Wednesday rather than leaving it up in the air until game day again.
Again, Beckham, who will turn 29 in November, could be in his last season here considering his $15 million cap hit for next season, and no dead cap space, meaning the Browns could let him go without taking a financial hit. He made it clear during an interview July 25 at his youth football camp in Gates Mills, Ohio, that he'd return to the field on his own terms.
"I think what I used to get caught up in -- which led me down a path I won't go to again -- is you get hurt and we're all men and we want to show everyone we're a man and we want to come back," he said. "It (becomes) all this ego challenge. I'm not really in it for all that anymore because I don't feel like I really have anything to prove except to myself and me wanting to be the best."
With so many offensive weapons, the Browns won't pressure Beckham to come back with Landry out, and he won't put undue pressure on himself. The Browns have good young receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz, and a savvy veteran in Rashard Higgins. They also have rookie running back/receiver Demetric Felton, who established himself as a dynamic playmaker against the Texans, and can assume some of Landry's slot responsibilities.
Granted, Peoples-Jones and Schwartz, the world-class speedster, were both involved in turnovers against the Texans, but they've also made big plays for the Browns and will make plenty more. Mayfield also has a big-play threat in David Njoku, two other excellent tight ends in Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant, and a pass-catching back in Kareem Hunt, so losing Landry isn't catastrophic.
Even if Beckham does play, he'll likely be a on pitch count, so folks shouldn't necessarily expect a monster game. The Browns will likely limit him to a package of plays heading in, and go from there.
Meanwhile, Mayfield gave his team a scare in the first half of Sunday's win over the Texans.
Mayfield tried to make a tackle after being intercepted by Texans safety Justin Reid and went to the locker room with members of the training staff after the play to have his left shoulder evaluated. Mayfield wasn't inside for long and returned to the sideline in time to take the field for the next offensive series, which ended with a five-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 14.
Mayfield would break that tie with a third quarter touchdown pass and said the shoulder was not a big deal after the 31-21 win was in the books.
"Obviously, not an ideal situation," Mayfield said. "Trying to force him back inside. I think he realized it was me standing right there so he put his head down and ran right after me. It kind of popped in and out, but I will be good. Nothing too serious."
Mayfield finished the day 19-of-21 for 213 yards despite playing most of the game without Landry. That performance gives some hope that they'll be alright even if Beckham doesn't make it back.
For the record, Mayfield underwent an MRI on Monday, Cabot reports, and the results showed no structural damage.
"He's sore," Stefanski said Monday. "He's doing fine."
Also on the injury front. ... The coach had high praise for starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who started despite not practicing all week and played into the third quarter before being replaced.
"That is a big deal, and I think his teammates recognize that is a big deal when you fight to make it to Sunday," Stefanski said.
Looking ahead, Mayfield might have some limited practices this week, but it is his non-throwing shoulder, so the signal caller is not expecting to miss game action.
I'll have more on Mayfield and Beckham, who was scheduled to practice fully on Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Mayfield's left shoulder smarting and Landry in the locker room with a knee injury, Stefanski was forced to make an in-game adjustment.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers noted, "It was a no-brainer: Run the ball."
Stefanski turned to Nick Chubb and Hunt -- Cleveland's dynamic and devastating backfield duo -- to carry the Browns through much of Sunday's win.
It's a proven formula he may have to turn to again.
Hunt said he and Chubb relish the responsibility of delivering the knockout punch.
"We know what we're capable of doing running the football and we've just got to come out there and make it happen when the team needs us," he said. "Definitely we needed a touchdown and a good drive. Coach Kevin does a great job of calling plays. ..."
Felton turned his first NFL offensive touch into a touchdown.
A sixth-round pick from UCLA, Felton caught a short pass from Mayfield, darted up field, pulled off a startling spin move to evade two defenders, broke a tackle and outran the Texans for a 33-yard score.
"An amazing play," Chubb said. ...
Schwartz was a bright spot in the opener, but not so much Sunday. The speedster broke off his deep middle route and didn't contest a ball that was snared by Texans safety Justin Reid, who then ran over Mayfield. When he returned to the sideline, Schwartz, praised for his mental awareness in Week 1, got an earful from Stefanski.
"That is a mistake that a young player makes and he will not make it again," Stefanski said. ...
And finally. ... Wide receiver Davion Davis won't be added to the Browns' active roster this week.
Davis served a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy to open the season and became eligible to return to the roster on Monday. The Browns waived Davis rather than open up a spot for him on the roster. He cleared waivers, however, and was added to Cleveland's practice squad on Tuesday.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer pointed out, things could have gone worse for the Cowboys after their 31-29 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, but it's hard to imagine how much worse.
Consider the following developments:
At the start of the week, right tackle La'el Collins was suspended five games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Starting defensive end Randy Gregory was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
At the start of Wednesday's practice, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett suffered a torn quadriceps tendon and in the middle of the practice Gregory's battery mate, DeMarcus Lawrence, suffered a broken foot, requiring surgery the next day.
On Thursday, backup offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, who could have potentially replaced Collins, was taken to the hospital because of a heat-related illness and spent the night there for observation.
On Saturday, starting safety Donovan Wilson was ruled out because of a groin strain that kept him off the practice field all week, and his running mate, Damontae Kazee, was questionable entering Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of a quadriceps injury.
Despite all of that, the Cowboys managed a 20-17 win Sunday on the road against the Chargers -- a somewhat ugly and confusing win, but still a win. It was needed after pushing the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to the brink in Week 1 but coming up short.
After coach Mike McCarthy dealt with so many issues in his first year -- a shortened training camp, no preseason, the defense's implosion, the loss of quarterback Dak Prescott to injury, a high-volume of offensive line injuries and the tragic death of strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul -- he did not see last week's events as anything new.
"Unfortunately it's normal," McCarthy said. "I'm hopeful abnormal is getting back to not having these kinds of meetings. I think change is a constant in our game right now ... The most important part of my job is just to make sure the players don't see that or feel that and keep them focused on what's in front of them. ...
"I'm excited about what's in front of us with the Monday night game against Philadelphia, three games at home. This is an excellent win to build off."
"It's huge," Prescott said of the difference between 1-1 and 0-2. "It's only one game but it's huge. It's the confidence. The confidence of getting that first win, especially on the road going into the home opener on Monday night. We know what that atmosphere is going to be like. It's important to be going into that off of a win. It's the first one of many, but you've got to get the first one. Build off that and keep going."
Instead of talking about questionable clock management and coaching decisions, the Cowboys can talk about how well Micah Parsons performed as a full-time defensive end for the first time since high school, filling in for Lawrence after less than a week of practice.
Parsons' 38.9 percent pass rush win rate was the second highest of any player in Week 2, according to ESPN data powered by NFL Next Gen stats.
Terence Steele replaced Collins at right tackle and the Chargers' best pass-rusher, Joey Bosa, was credited with three tackles and no quarterback pressures. The Cowboys slid help to Steele at times and Prescott got rid of the ball quickly, but not every time.
"You've got to fill in when someone else goes down, have their back, but understand how great of an opportunity it is for you," said Prescott, who took advantage of his opportunity as Tony Romo's injury replacement in 2016. "If we want to be the type of team that we want to be and we want to make a run like we're going to, everybody's got to play a part in it."
Collins will miss four more games. Gregory is expected to be back this week, but Lawrence is on injured reserve and could miss two months. Wilson could be back this week, but other players will go down at some point.
It's just one game, but McCarthy believes it could mean more than one win.
"To come in here and win this game was important on a number of fronts for us. We needed it and we needed the confidence that goes with it," he said. "Winning in this league is so hard, so I'm just proud of the guys. ..."
The Cowboys get a rare three-game home stand starting Monday night against Philadelphia.
As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon suggests, they should be favored in all three, although it'll be close with the middle game against Carolina because of the early resurgence from the Panthers. The hapless New York Giants, another NFC East rival, finish the set. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Cowboys got the running game going after largely ignoring it in the opener. Tony Pollard had his third career 100-yard game with 109 while two-time rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott had 71. The 198 yards rushing were the most for the Cowboys under McCarthy, and they came a week after Prescott threw more than 50 passes for the third consecutive time in a full game and finished with 403 yards passing.
Prescott was 23 of 27 for 237 yards against the Chargers.
"We're trying to build this thing to win a championship," McCarthy said. "You have to have diversity and you have to have an understanding of what your opponents can and can't do."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is embracing the idea of a platoon between Elliott and Pollard, as Pollard continues to impress with his increasing role in the backfield.
Jones acknowledged Tuesday that the offense needs the smaller, more explosive Pollard more involved.
"I see it as a great asset to this team. You don't have an issue. We can have more carries or more touches by the running back, and in my opinion, will. Because both the players are outstanding out of the backfield as receivers, and quite a threat," Jones said during his weekly radio interview at 105.3 The Fan. "When you see (Kellen) Moore, our coordinator, doing the job he did to neutralize (the Chargers) defense, you see what getting the ball out quick, getting the ball outside to those backs can do."
On the injury front. ... Wide receiver Amari Cooper is dealing with bruised ribs sustained in Sunday's win, McCarthy said.
"We'll see Wednesday how he feels," McCarthy said. "I would probably put it in the classification of bruised (ribs)."
With an extra day of rest before next Monday's home opener against the Eagles, the Cowboys are scheduled to hold a walkthrough Wednesday and start their normal practice week Thursday.
Cooper had three catches for 24 yards Sunday. He exited the game on the final drive following a 12-yard catch and did not return.
McCarthy said starting defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (knee) and defensive end Dorance Armstrong (ankle) are dealing with injuries from Sunday. Both played over 25 defensive snaps as part of the line rotation, however.
I'll obviously be following up on Cooper via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
A few final notes. ... As noted above, clock management was a problem in the final minute. Dallas had plenty of time to get closer than the 56-yarder Greg Zuerlein made for the win. The Cowboys ran just one play in the final 33 seconds, choosing not to snap with about 10 seconds left and using their last timeout with 4 seconds to go.
McCarthy said part of the problem was the scoreboard clock he was using went blank after that only play, a 3-yard run by Pollard.
Also. ... The Cowboys must feel pretty good about Greg since they released kicker Lirim Hajrullahu from the practice squad after one week. Archer reports we could see Hajrullahu back at different points this season. The Cowboys added receiver Damion Ratley, who most recently had been with Detroit.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
It was a year ago that Courtland Sutton suffered a torn ACL in his left knee while attempting to make a tackle after a Jeff Driskel interception in the Broncos' Week 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since, he has pushed through good days and bad to get back on the field.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, during the Broncos' 23-13 victory over the Jaguars Sunday, Sutton had a career-best 159 receiving yards on nine catches. He worked the high-traffic areas in the middle of the field, made the tough catches in a crowd and added a 55-yard deep shot down the middle on the Broncos' first possession of the second half to help put the game away.
"He's back," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "He's back."
"Man, it was great seeing Court going out there and making plays," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "We did a great job, calling shots, just giving guys a chance. ... Great to see that, talk about Court, how hard he's worked, the sacrifices he's made to get back to this point. He's a Pro Bowl receiver and you saw [Sunday] why he's a Pro Bowl receiver."
"Even to just be able to go out to practice is a blessing," Sutton said. "It was a lot of hard work that went into it. ... I've had a lot of people in my corner supporting me throughout this process, and to be able to go out there and compete in games is just a blessing."
In the Broncos' Week 1 win over the New York Giants, Sutton had one catch, on three targets, as the Giants' defenders kept any and all plays in front of them.
Sunday, the Jaguars tried to pressure Bridgewater with extra rushers far more often than the Giants did and that left the Broncos' receivers in man-to-man coverage. And Sutton, with his knee injury in the rearview mirror, showed he was more than up to the challenge.
"Last week it wasn't like we weren't looking for him or he wasn't open, that's just the way the plays went, the reads for Teddy," Fangio said. "... I knew he was ready for a big game. I didn't know if it would be [Sunday], or next week, or the following week, but I knew he was ready for a big game."
Early in the third quarter, Sutton got a step on Jacksonville cornerback Chris Claybrooks and reeled in a 55-yard completion from Bridgewater, a play that moved the ball to the Jaguars' 17-yard line. The Broncos scored two plays later for a 17-7 lead that put the game firmly in their control.
It was the kind of play Sutton would have made before his injury and a barometer of his comeback.
"It was great," Fangio said of the play. "There's a lot of big plays in every game, but the catch he made the first drive of the second half was a big one, it was critical."
Meanwhile, the Broncos are one of two AFC teams that are unbeaten after two weeks.
The other is division rival Las Vegas, meaning the Broncos and Raiders are both looking down at the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time in what feels like forever.
Bridgewater has been a major factor in the success.
In fact, he's just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to open a season with two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 75 percent completion rate in each of his first two games of a season.
The others: Drew Brees in 2018, Aaron Rodgers in 2015 and Jeff George in 1994.
Bridgewater has completed 54 of 70 passes for 579 yards and four TDs.
And as Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton reminded readers, he's a cheap date for Denver, too.
Bridgewater is on a one-year, prove-it deal for $11.5 million. But the Broncos are only on the hook for his $4,437,500 salary as the Carolina Panthers paid his $7,062,500 signing bonus.
After GM George Paton acquired him from the Panthers, they redid his deal and erased the 2022 season, which means he'll be a free agent next March.
The Broncos could always move on and look for their 12th starting QB since Peyton Manning's retirement, but maybe they've found something in Bridgewater and maybe Bridgewater has rediscovered his mojo in the Rocky Mountains.
"He's just a damn good quarterback," Fangio said after Sunday's win, "and if you just go back in his career, he was the starting quarterback of a playoff team in Minnesota, had the catastrophic injury in practice just dropping back, he basically lost two years to his career because of that injury, ends up in New Orleans as a backup, gets five wins, pays the entire last year in Carolina, started off very well, now he's here with us."
And maybe for a while.
Overall, the offense is proficient and the defense opportunistic, a combination the Broncos haven't had in half a decade. Fangio isn't too worried about his ground game that has gained just 175 yards on 56 carries aside from the two biggest runs in each game: Melvin Gordon's 70-yard game-sealing TD in the opener and rookie Javonte Williams' 16-yard rumble Sunday.
"These first teams went to extreme measures to try to stop our run, which is one of the reasons we've been able to translate it into real good passing days these first two games," Fangio said. "So, you know maybe teams in light of our passing success these first two weeks will play the run a little more honest and maybe that will get it going, too."
A home game against the Jets this week could help in that regard. And it might lead to another win, which would give Denver its first 3-0 start since Gary Kubiak's last team went 4-0 before a 5-7 finish began the Broncos' five-year slide into mediocrity following Super Bowl 50. ...
On the injury front. ... When will the Broncos get to see Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, at their best, in the defense at the same time?
Since Chubb tore his ACL in a Week 4 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the coveted pass rush pairing of Miller and Chubb has been a star-crossed affair. Sunday was the first time Chubb and Miller had played in the same game since 2019 -- Miller missed all of the 2020 season after ankle surgery and Chubb missed the season opener last week with an ankle injury -- but Chubb left Sunday's win over the Jaguars and did not play in the second half.
Now we won't see him for a while. ... Chubb announced he is having ankle surgery on Wednesday. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported the surgery, to clean up a bone spur, usually has a recovery timetable of six to eight weeks. Chubb was officially placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
The Broncos defense handled its business Sunday after Chubb's departure, but the number that continues to show what the Broncos hoped to get back to is that in the 21 games the two have played at least some together they have 30.5 combined sacks.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
The Detroit Lions moved the ball at will for two quarters of Monday's eventual 35-17 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers.
After halftime, the same old Lions showed up.
"Yeah, we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot there," quarterback Jared Goff said. "We had a good thing going in the first half, and it was looking how we expected it to look, really. Yeah, just kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the second half."
Goff played well in the first half as he was kept clean by the offensive line, helping Detroit to a 17-14 halftime lead. Then it all fell apart.
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, the Lions ran just eight total plays in the third quarter, two that changed the entire complexion of the game. The first came on a wayward pass on 4th-and-1 with the Lions driving on their opening possession of the second half. Instead of running the ball, Detroit elected what turned out to be a difficult attempt to Quintez Cephus. Then, late in the third quarter, Goff fumbled a snap, leading to a third-straight Packers touchdown and the rout was on.
Goff added another interception on a poor throw on the move two drives later. The QB finished 26-of-36 passing for 246 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, a sack, and a fumble lost.
"The turnovers. That was the big thing," head coach Dan Campbell said. "It wasn't like we couldn't run it. Every time offensively we struggle it's because we've shot ourselves in the foot. The one possession we didn't score on in the first half was our own doing. We had a holding call, we had a false start, we had an intentional grounding. And then you go into the second half and we had the fumbled snap, so that's a wasted snap. They fall on it. We had the interception, trying to make a play. Which I understand why he's trying to make a play, you're down that much. It's self-inflicted wounds. And then you reach a certain point where you're trying to continue to run your offense and be able to run it a little bit. Run the ball. But, yet, you're also pressed, pressed for time. We only have two timeouts. You're down three scores. And you kind of get put in a bind. That's not the world we want to live in."
Patra went on to explain, for those not immersed in the Goff experience, Monday night was a microcosm.
"When protected well as Detroit did in the first half," Patra wrote, "Goff can make throws, move the offense efficiently and look really good. It's what keeps analysts and front-office people believing he can be a winning NFL QB. However, the moment pressure picks up, it all crumbles. The fumble was purely on the QB, his interception was a bad decision even if he was trying to make a play in a blowout, and the one sack he took came on a play where the ball popped out of his hands in the rain."
With Goff stumbling in the second half, the Lions' offense generated 86 yards on four drives before a final garbage-time drive made the box score look a little better.
Detroit's porous defense is going to put Goff and the offense in a spot where they need to be perfect to win games this season. They've played well at times through two contests but haven't put it together for four quarters against two potential playoff teams.
Monday's meltdown against Green Bay marked the fifth primetime game in which the Lions led an Aaron Rodgers team at halftime. Detroit lost all five.
Despite showing symptoms that they're the "Same Old Lions," Goff still believes in what Detroit is building.
"Yeah, it's a new crew now," Goff said. "Obviously, there has been history with that. I believe in the guys we have here. I believe in Dan. I believe in the staff. ... We believe this is a new regime and a new energy in the building. It's still early. Obviously, 0-2 is not where we want to be, but a lot of room to improve and a lot of wins to be had down the line."
We'll see where they are after they host Baltimore this Sunday. The Ravens are coming off a Sunday night victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Other notes of interest. ... Detroit's offense was 2-for-2 Monday in the red zone and were 3-for-3 last week against the 49ers. Detroit's short and intermediate offensive weapons can cause some matchup problems in the red zone, especially tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has two touchdown catches in the red zone this season. Detroit now just has to find a way to give themselves more of those opportunities in the red zone.
The Lions were without veteran wide receiver Tyrell Williams due to a concussion, and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said this week he needed someone in that receiver room to step up. Early on that was Cephus.
"A guy that we're starting to trust more and more," Goff said of Cephus after Monday's game. "Hopefully we can continue to build that rapport."
Cephus caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Goff to open the scoring in the first quarter for the Lions, a touchdown that was set up a couple plays earlier by a 46-yard reception by Cephus down to the Packers' 20-yard line. Cephus caught four balls on the night for 63 yards (15.8 average) and recorded a touchdown for the third game in a row.
Meanwhile, Campbell said at his Wednesday press conference that there’s been no change to Williams’ status and that he is expected to miss their game against the Ravens.
Williams signed a one-year deal with the Lions this offseason. He had two catches for 14 yards before getting hurt in Week 1.
Beyond Cephus, Trinity Benson, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond also caught passes last Monday night.
D'Andre Swift (groin) was limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reminded readers that Aaron Rodgers cautioned everyone not to freak out after the Week 1 blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Monday night, he propelled his team to a 35-17 blowout victory over the Detroit Lions with some sterling throws to overcome a first-half deficit.
Rodgers was asked after the game what changed from one week to the next.
"I don't know. I think we maybe tried to show that we cared a little bit more tonight," Rodgers said, a subtle jab at those who suggested he didn't care about the opening game loss.
After a bad Week 1, Rodgers predictably bounced back. The reigning NFL MVP is now 7-0 following a loss under head coach Matt LaFleur (since 2019), with 20 passing TDs and 0 INTs. Rodgers has thrown exactly four passing TDs and 0 INTs in the ensuing game after each of his last five losses.
"I just think people like to say a lot of bull[expletive deleted] and it's nice to come back in here after a game like that," Rodgers said, via the official game transcript.
Rodgers finished 22-of-27 passing for 255 yards and four TDs, while Aaron Jones led the Packers with four total TDs and 115 scrimmage yards.
Clearly, Rodgers heard the loud chatter about last week's performance.
"I think there's even more now than when I started playing," Rodgers said of the commentary regarding Week 1. "So many overreactions that happen. So it's nice to then come out and have a good performance and get the trolls off our backs."
Monday's performance against a rebuilding Lions team expected to be among the worst in the NFL helped get the Packers back on track in their bid to remain NFC North champs. It was a good day to wash the bad taste out of their mouths after Week 1.
A bigger test, however, comes on Sunday night when Green Bay heads to San Francisco for Sunday Night Football.
The last two times the Packers traveled to face the 49ers, they got their doors blown off. So it's another opportunity against a potential NFC playoff team for Rodgers to shut up the trolls.
Other notes of interest. ... A week after touching the ball just seven times, Jones got it 23 times (17 rushes, six receptions), piled up 115 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns.
"He's so dynamic," head coach Matt LaFleur said. "He opens up so much for us."
Three of Jones' four TDs came on pass receptions, making him the first Packers running back in 79 years with three touchdown catches in a game.
The other go-to weapon, of course, was receiver Davante Adams, with eight catches for 121 yards, so the two offensive stars accounted for 236 of Green Bay's 323 yards.
"It starts with getting the ball to our playmakers, which are '33' and '17,' said Rodgers, who posted a 145.6 passer rating (22-of-27, 255 yards, four TDs). "That's where it all starts, then finding ways to let our great role players make plays."
Jones became the first player to record four touchdowns on Monday Night Football since Marshall Faulk did it against the Buccaneers in 2000.
The Packers activated wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown from the practice squad, giving him the chance to play against his younger brother. The Lions selected receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown out of Southern California in the fourth round of this year's draft. Amon-Ra had the better stat line with three receptions for 18 yards, while Equanimeous had one catch for no gain.
And finally. ... The Packers are waiving tight end Jace Sternberger.
Sternberger was a third-round pick in 2019. His two-game suspension ended Tuesday, but Green Bay is moving on and Sternberger gets a fresh start.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Head coach David Culley confirmed Tuesday that quarterback Davis Mills will start against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football with starter Tyrod Taylor unavailable due to injury.
A rookie from Stanford, Mills completed 8 of 18 passes in relief of Taylor Sunday in a 31-21 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Taylor exited at halftime with a hamstring injury and did not return. The Texans placed Taylor (hamstring) and receiver Nico Collins (shoulder) on injured reserve on Tuesday.
Collins was also hurt on Sunday.
A third-round rookie, Collins started on Sunday against the Browns and had a 32-yard catch on the Texans' first offensive play. But he was then hurt on his second play and never returned to the game.
The Texans selected Mills in the third round of the NFL draft in the spring. It figures to be a challenging starting debut for Mills against a Panthers defense that has allowed the fewest yards per game (190) in the NFL through two games, and by a wide margin -- 44 yards per game fewer than the No. 2-ranked Buffalo Bills.
Per Culley, Mills will have receiver Anthony Miller (shoulder) at his disposal on Thursday, but will be without WR Danny Amendola (thigh), who could miss two to three weeks opening the door for Andre Roberts to see more work again this week as well.
The Texans also included these DNPs on their estimated injury report: safety Justin Reid (knee), linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (knee) and cornerback Terrance Mitchell (concussion).
Meanwhile, Davis finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He started just 11 times over four years of college ball. His introduction to the pro game wasn't a welcome one either.
Mills relieved Taylor during halftime of Sunday's 31-21 loss to the Browns when the game was tied at 14. His first two drives resulted in a three-and-out and an interception. The 22-year-old QB would settle in, converting a pair of third downs through the air and another by drawing a pass interference call before hitting Brandin Cooks for a 2-yard touchdown. But after the Browns pulled ahead by 10 late in the fourth, Houston went three-and-out and missed a field goal on its subsequent possessions in falling to 1-1 on the season.
The rookie finished 8 of 18 for 102 yards with the TD and INT.
It was, understandably, in stark contrast with the level Taylor had performed at over the previous six quarters. The 2015 Pro Bowler has completed 70.5 percent of his throws this year for 416 yards and three touchdowns without a pick, while also running for 55 yards and a score. The 6-4 Mills won't offer such mobility (nor does scout-team option Jeff Driskel) and has dealt with durability issues of his own in the past, but he's regarded as a polished passer whose upside excited the Texans brass enough to claim him with its first selection this past April.
His audition for the long-term job, which could extend to upcoming games against the Bills and Patriots, has now come earlier than anyone anticipated.
And just for the record, Culley announced on Monday that Deshaun Watson will be inactive once again this week.
So the good news here is Houston's defense has been better than expected early and will need to continue to force turnovers to help make things easier for the offense with Taylor out. And as Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken suggests, Mills must eliminate the rookie mistakes he made against the Browns and show more poise in the pocket to keep the offense on track.
It would also help if the team ran the ball more effectively.
Houston had 160 yards rushing in its opener, but managed just 82 yards rushing against Cleveland. The Texans will have to run the ball more effectively this week to help take pressure off Mills if he starts.
But Mills will have Brandin Cooks to help ease his way.
Cooks secured nine of 14 targets for 78 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland.
No other Texans wideout had more than one catch in the loss, cementing Cooks' status as the clear lead option on the depth chart. As CBSSports.com notes, the veteran's steady stream of targets notably survived the change to Mills after Taylor was sidelines. Cooks has quickly drawn 21 targets over his first two contests, parlaying them into 14 catches for 210 yards and Sunday's two-yard touchdown connection with Mills.
A few final notes here. ... Kicker Joey Slye made all three field-goal attempts in his debut with the team last week after Ka'imi Fairbairn was injured, but missed his only attempt Sunday from 41 yards.
The Texans elevated Driskel and tight end Antony Auclair to the active roster and added linebacker Hardy Nickerson to the practice squad.
Driskel will serve as Mills' backup since Watson is not an option.
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
The Colts already were unsure if Carson Wentz could play this week after injuring his right ankle.
On Monday, doctors found he'd sprained both ankles.
Head coach Frank Reich said the injuries could force the winless Colts to visit defending AFC South champion Tennessee without their starting quarterback and he does not yet have a timetable for Wentz's return.
"When it comes to sprained ankles there are degrees," Reich said before meeting with the doctors. "I know Carson has a high threshold of pain. My history with Carson is that he's a pretty fast healer and he's tough. If he can play, he'll play."
Apparently, Wentz played with a bad left ankle in the 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But when his right leg got twisted in a pile midway through the fourth quarter, the former North Dakota State star struggled to reach the sideline.
There, trainers examined him, re-taping the right ankle in hopes of getting him back on the field.
It didn't work. When Wentz realized he couldn't function well enough on the field, he tossed his helmet in frustration -- an action he later said he regretted.
Reich told reporters early Wednesday that Wentz did not participate in Indianapolis’ walk-through and will not practice on Wednesday. Per Stephen Holder of The Athletic, Reich said the plan as of Monday night was to aggressively treat Wentz’s ankles for 48 hours and see how he progresses.
So there is a chance Wentz could be on the practice field on Thursday.
Via Zak Keefer of The Athletic, Wentz was not wearing a boot or cast on Wednesday, nor was he using crutches. Keefer noted the quarterback also did not have a noticeable limp, as Wentz said the swelling has gone down and he continues to feel better. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it sound like the right is a high-ankle sprain and the left is the low ankle.
If Wentz can't play, Jacob Eason would likely make his first pro start. Eason didn't appear in any games in 2020, his rookie season, and was picked off by Rams All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on his second career throw.
Eason took most of the first-team snaps at training camp while Wentz recovered from surgery on his left foot. Eason and rookie Sam Ehlinger also split the action during the three preseason games. Ehlinger sprained his knee in the preseason and won't be eligible to come off the injured reserve list until next week.
The only other quarterback on Indy's roster is veteran Brett Hundley. He's on the practice squad.
But the Colts say they've been impressed by the progress Eason has made.
"He's grown so much and I think that happens for every player going from their rookie year to their second year," tight end Jack Doyle said. "And getting all those reps in training camp was huge. You've got to get the reps in to get better and I think he's taken a huge jump in reading defenses and identifying coverages."
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot understated, "They'll need Eason to play well to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2011."
For now, though, that's not the concern. The Colts want to get Went back quickly, and he hopes to be back Sunday, too.
"It definitely feels sore," Wentz said Sunday. "We'll see how it reacts this week."
Wentz's health has been a topic for a good portion of his career, especially this year.
Wentz suffered the above-mentioned foot injury that kept him out of most of Indianapolis' training camp, but was able to land on the shorter end of the wide 5-12-week timeframe for his return. He played in Week 1, completing 25 of 38 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-16 loss to Seattle in Week 1.
Prior to his exit, Wentz had completed 20 of 31 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown (to Zach Pascal, his third receiving score of the season) and one interception.
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Wentz was in a boot and riding around the facility on a scooter Monday, but he'll test out his ankles Wednesday in hopes of playing.
Wentz's injury is the most significant heading into Week 3. But getting injured right tackle Braden Smith (foot) back would give the Colts their projected starting offensive line for the first time this season. It's also unclear how much more time receiver Parris Campbell will miss because of his abdomen injury.
I'll have more on Wentz and Campbell, who was limited Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also worth noting. ... Wentz's ankle injuries are the biggest thing that the Colts have to worry about now and going forward, but ESPN.com's Mike Wells points out they would not be 0-2 for the first time under Reich had they been a better red zone team.
The Colts had two drives inside the Rams' 20-yard line only to come away with no points on either possession.
According to Wells, the more embarrassing of the two drives was on the opening series when the Colts had the ball first-and-goal from the Rams' 1-yard line. They attempted to run up the middle three straight times only to get stuffed on each one, and then Wentz was sacked on fourth down instead of taking points with a field goal. There were only three times a team ran four plays from the 1-yard line and failed to score on a drive last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
The Colts have come away with no points three times when reaching the opponent's red zone in the first two games of the season.
From a fantasy perspective, Jonathan Taylor has been emblematic of the issue.
According to Rich Hribar of Sharp Football, Taylor has racked up a league-leading eight touches inside the 10-yard line and six touches inside the 5-yard line through two weeks. He has zero touchdowns to show for it.
As Wells noted, Reich is supposed to be an innovative play caller, but he continues to struggle in that area inside the red zone for the Colts.
According to Marot, the offensive line has been an issue. The return of two-time Pro Bowler Eric Fisher provided a major upgrade at left tackle, but the Colts missed Smith. Wentz has been sacked six times and taken 21 quarterback hits in the first two weeks and the ground game has clearly been terrible in short-yardage situations.
On a more positive note. ... Michael Pittman Jr. caught eight passes for 123 yards Sunday, both career highs. It was the second 100-yard game of his career. Expect Pittman to emerge as the featured receiver over the next few weeks.
Not so positive. ... After a strong start, Nyheim Hines played a bit role this past weekend. He had one carry for 5 yards and only caught one of the two passes thrown his way for 17 yards. When the Colts offense is clicking, Hines is a key cog.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As Brian Sexton of the team's official website noted, Trevor Lawrence had a nice start to his first NFL home game Sunday.
The rookie was sharp, completing five of his first seven passes for 73 yards including third- down passes of 24, 13 and 25 yards. The 25-yarder went to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. for Lawrence's first touchdown pass in his new home stadium.
The rest of the game was a struggle.
Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, completed just eight 25 passes after the first drive for 45 yards with two interceptions. The frustration was evident on the quarterback's face during his post-game session with the media.
But if fans question play-calling and whether there should be more elements of the spread offense he ran in college, Lawrence focused on learning from the loss.
"We were in the game the whole game," Lawrence said. "But then, after that, I didn't think we kept playing like we did in that first quarter. Just figuring out what that is what's happening in that second, third quarter that we can get better at and obviously I have to go back and watch the tape and figure out what that is for me."
It marked the first time in Lawrence's football career he has endured back-to-back losses.
"I think I'm processing it as good as I can," Lawrence said. "You want to win. You work all week to win and when you don't, it's disappointing. But I feel like I'm in a good spot. I'm the same person, the same mindset. Nothing's changed. Making sure I keep my confidence every week is big, and I think I have that so we're going to get better.
"We're close. Last week and this week doesn't look that great when you look at the numbers, but we just have to make a few more plays and stick together."
Jones, a ten-year veteran, said Lawrence will be fine.
"One thing that sticks out about Trev is he has that same energy," Jones said. "It's tough. Sometimes it's unexplainable. We don't want to be in those situations, but we just have to figure it out. He was even-keeled on that first drive and the same throughout the game. We just have to keep at it, we're pretty close."
Head coach Urban Meyer said he needed to spend time with the tape before offering a more detailed analysis of his rookie quarterback.
"On Thursday he was 25 of 25 or 25 of 26; had a great Thursday practice," Meyer said. "I saw what happened on that first drive what happened in practice but after that it was just a hundred and a handful of yards. I see a very good leader, an exceptional talent and hopefully a guy the game is going to start slowing down for more and more as he gets more reps."
Still, as ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco suggests, the Jaguars need to get Lawrence a lot more help. At wide receiver, tight end and along the offensive line.
Lawrence didn't play well against Denver, but the Jaguars don't have a playmaker defenses have to game plan to stop. Jones is a solid receiver but Laviska Shenault Jr. isn't a game-breaker and D.J. Chark Jr. had just one catch. The tight ends don't help much in the pass game. Upgrading both tackle spots is a major need.
These are things the Jaguars can't address until the offseason, and there are defensive issues to fix, too. But if you're building around Lawrence, the offense needs to be the priority.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have dropped 17 consecutive games, including six in a row by double digits, and have provided little evidence they are nearing a turnaround. So, as Associated Press sports writer Mark Long suggests, there's a realistic possibility that owner Shad Khan's team could challenge or maybe even top Tampa Bay's long-standing mark for NFL futility: 26 straight losses between the 1976 and '77 seasons.
Jacksonville's current skid is tied for the fourth longest since the NFL merger in 1970 and includes 11 double-digit losses. And the team has allowed at least 23 points in each of the 17 setbacks.
They will try to break the streak against Arizona (2-0) at home Sunday. Lacking talent and still searching for an identity, Jacksonville might need to play mistake-free football to get a victory. ...
Other notes of interest. ... What's wrong with kicker Josh Lambo?
As DiRocco notes, Lambo is not dealing with an injury this season but this could be residual effects from a hip injury that cost him much of last season. The player fans nicknamed "Lambomatic" because he rarely missed hasn't hit at all yet in 2021. He went 0 for 2 against the Broncos and is 0 for 3 this season.
Even though two misses were from 50-plus yards, he had made 12 of 13 from 50-plus coming into his fourth season with the Jaguars.
When your offense struggles to score points -- especially when it's close early in games -- you can't have inconsistent kicker.
Meyer and all players who addressed the media after the game Sunday supported Lambo, who missed from 52 and 48 yards against Denver.
"Just keep going man, it's going to happen," Lawrence said when asked what he said to Lambo after one of the misses. "All of us have made some mistakes, I've had quite a few the first two weeks so just go and make the next one. I know as a kicker that's tough; everything is on you making that kick. I know how he feels. Good or bad, we're all in it together."
Still, when your offense struggles to score points -- especially when it's close early in games -- you can't have inconsistent kicker. ...
On the injury front. ... The Jaguars will be without James O'Shaughnessy for at least three weeks.
Jacksonville placed the tight end on injured reserve on Wednesday, clearing a roster space to officially sign cornerback Nevin Lawson.
O’Shaughnessy suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Week 2 loss to the Broncos. He was hurt early in the game, playing only three snaps and making one reception for 24 yards. In the Week 1 loss to Houston, O’Shaughnessy caught six passes for 48 yards.
O’Shaughnessy is in his fifth season with Jacksonville after starting his career with the Chiefs in 2015. He has 95 career receptions for 936 yards with three touchdowns.
Shenault has a mild shoulder injury, but he was practicing fully on Wednesday and should be able to play this week. ... Veteran CB Tre Herndon (knee) is expected to make his season debut and could step in for CJ Henderson (groin).
I'll follow up on O'Shaughnessy and Shenault via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra framed it, Sunday "was a night of September firsts for Patrick Mahomes, who recorded his first career interception and suffered his first loss in the NFL's opening month."
Prior to Sunday night's 36-35 defeat in Baltimore, Mahomes was 11-0 with 35 passing TDs and 0 INTs in the month of September.
The star quarterback's interception came with K.C. leading 35-24 deep in the third quarter with the ball near midfield. On the play, Mahomes moved up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but rookie Odafe Oweh shed a block and hogtied the quarterback by the legs. As he fell to the turf, Mahomes tried to make a play but instead turned the ball over.
"Yeah, I should have just thrown it to Demarcus Robinson in the flat, then I saw [Travis Kelce] come back to me," Mahomes said after the game. "When dude grabbed my leg, I thought I could get my other leg down. He spun me, and it was a dumb interception. Probably one of the worst interceptions I've probably ever had."
It's easy to question the decision until you remember that Mahomes has made a living in his still-young career making seemingly impossible throws.
"We don't, obviously, want the interception, but he has made some plays doing that. But in that case, we probably want that one back," head coach Andy Reid said.
With the Chiefs up double-digits and the ball at midfield, they had the chance to shut the door on a Baltimore comeback. Instead, Mahomes, who threw for 343 yards, three TDs and the interception, turned it over in prime position for the Ravens to cut into the lead with a quick TD.
"Yes, of course, the interception was not only dumb in the sense that it was a bad throw or not even close to the receiver," Mahomes said. "It was dumb at that point in the game. Even if I just throw to the flat, and he doesn't get the first down, we have a chance to decide if we are going to kick the field goal or punt and pin them back. So, it's just a lot of little things in games like this, that leads to losses in the end."
The final two K.C. drives ended with a punt and a critical Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble as Baltimore couldn't be stopped late.
Often in the past three years, it's Mahomes who makes the game-changing play to lift his team in a wild fashion. But, for the first time in a September game, the MVP QB was on the losing end.
It should be noted that Mahomes wasn't the biggest problem here.
For the second straight week, they had to score 30-plus in order to win but fell short this time. Their woeful defensive woeful play against the Ravens is more concerning for the Chiefs than it was in the opener against the Browns.
The Ravens were depleted at running back and on the offensive line, but they still piled up more than 30 points and almost 500 yards against K.C.
How often can the Chiefs outscore their woeful defense?
They answered the challenge against the Browns with three second-half touchdowns, but Edwards-Helaire's fumble killed the potential go-ahead drive against the Ravens. It's going to be difficult for the Chiefs to continue to operate on offense with no margin for error.
The good news?
Kansas City hosts the Chargers on Sunday and the Los Angeles defense hasn't exactly been imposing over the first two weeks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kelce finished with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, giving him 8,066 yards for his career. He joined Rob Gronkowski (8,613) and Jimmy Graham (8,350) as the only active tight ends with at least 8,000 yards receiving.
Tyreek Hill was double and triple covered by the Ravens most of the night, freeing up others in the Kansas City passing game. Byron Pringle had two catches for 63 yards and a score. Mecole Hardman had five catches for 55 yards. Backup tight ends Jordy Fortson and Blake Bell each caught a ball, as did backup running back Jerick McKinnon. ...
Edwards-Helaire rushed 13 times for 46 yards in a night overshadowed by the above-mentioned lost fumble.
As CBSSports.com noted, the Chiefs dialed up only 16 designed running plays for their backs (despite leading for the majority of the contest) after running 15 of those same plays in Week 1.
It appears that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy wants to keep the ball in Mahomes' hands as much as possible this season, which seems like a smart move. It doesn't help that Edwards-Helaire isn't doing much with the limited touches he has been receiving (3.3 yards per carry).
If this trend continues, then CEH's ceiling may be lower than many expected for 2021.
On the injury front. ... Reid told reporters that Edwards-Helaire (non-COVID illness), Chris Jones (wrist), Derrick Nnadi (hip), Bell (slight ankle sprain) and Anthony Hitchens (minor tissue surgery) are expected to practice in some capacity Wednesday.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As Levi Edwards of the team's official website noted, "And just like that, the Silver and Black are 2-0. ..."
For the first time since 1984, the Raiders start their second-straight season 2-0 after Sunday's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-17. This is their fourth win in their past five matchups against the Steelers as well.
The Raiders' success against the Steel Curtain was largely in part due to the man under center. Derek Carr picked up the road win in a hostile Heinz Field, playing some of his best football to date. This win now makes Carr 2-1 all-time vs. the Steelers, with a total of 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns across the three games.
Carr threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns with a 75 percent completion rate, and now with Carr topping 400 passing yards last week against the Baltimore Ravens, his 817 passing yards this season are the most in a two-game span in Raiders history.
And none of this is new to head coach Jon Gruden, who has been confident in Carr's abilities since coming back to the Raiders in 2018.
"I just let his performance speak for itself," Gruden said. "I've been clamoring about Derek Carr since I've been here. Hopefully he gets some recognition for doing what he did today. He had some long drives; he was big again at the end of the game against two great defenses two weeks in a row. And it's a big reason why we've been able to win."
Carr's ability to throw the ball on the Steelers was vital, considering the lack of a run game. The Raiders had 52 total rushing yards against the Steelers, with nine of those yards coming from Carr himself. He distributed the ball efficiently, connecting on passes with eight different receivers. The veteran quarterback gave credit to the stout Steelers defense and was satisfied with the success the Silver and Black were able to have against them.
"You're missing a superstar in Josh Jacobs, the O-line is banged up and all these kind of things. The AFC North, they want to stop the run," said Carr. "So I knew we would have to throw it to have a chance to win ... but I'm very proud of our guys."
As Edwards went on to note, Carr playing at high level isn't unusual to anyone who has been paying attention -- he's thrown for over 4,000 yards the past three seasons. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson stated last week that what has made Carr an underrated quarterback in this league is his win-loss percentage over the past few seasons. With the Raiders rejuvenated by their new-look defense under Gus Bradley and the weapons around Carr in Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, he wants to continue to dispel any naysayers had coming into the season.
"All of that preseason stuff, none of that matters. That's the beautiful thing about football. I say it all the time, 'You still have to put the ball down'. You still have to play. And whatever team put the work in and is on their stuff and is on the details, that's the team that's ultimately hopefully going to end up winning...
"We haven't done what we've wanted to do the last couple of seasons. We haven't been to the playoffs since 2016. I don't blame that thought process, but at the same time, as a competitor you're just like, 'I don't care about any of that, just put the ball down and let's see if we can turn these into wins.' We've started 2-0 before, but we have to keep going and we can't let this thing go downhill. Keeping the mindset, staying in the process, staying in the channel -- those are all the things that matter."
A play that helped put the game away for the Raiders was a long ball to Ruggs at the beginning of the fourth quarter that gave the Raiders a 23-14 lead. Ruggs ended the game as Carr's leading receiver with five catches and 113 yards to go along with the touchdown.
"It was a moon ball. He threw it up and I just had to run and go get it and do whatever I had [to do] to make the play," Ruggs said. "[Carr] came out and helped us win the game."
"That's one of the reasons we took Ruggs," Gruden said of the former first-round pick, via The Athletic. "He blew the top off in Arrowhead (last season) and helped us win that game and against the Jets.
"Not many guys can run that fast and track that ball."
Ruggs led the Raiders with 113 receiving yards, marking his second career game with 100-plus receiving yards (118 in Week 5, 2020 at K.C., as Gruden mentioned). Given Ruggs' standing as the top receiver in a loaded 2020 draft class, which included Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, etc., the Raiders have been waiting for the second-year pro to stack big games.
The Raiders started 2-0 last season as well before stumbling down the stretch. This season's fast start feels different with the weapons on offense coupled with Carr's willingness to take shots at any point in the contest. Ruggs becoming an every-week weapon alongside Waller, Edwards and Hunter Renfrow would make the Raiders offense even more dangerous.
Now for the splash of cold water: The Raiders aren't sure whether they'll have their starting quarterback and starting running back on Sunday against the Dolphins.
Gruden said on Monday that Carr had an MRI on his ankle and that the QB was questionable for Sunday's game against the Dolphins. Carr went down during Sunday's game against the Steelers in what initially looked like it could be a serious injury, but he ended up not missing a play.
But Carr was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, prompting a changed point of view for the coach.
“He’s good to go,” Gruden said Wednesday, via Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Gruden also called Jacobs "very questionable."
Jacobs, who did not practice Wednesday, suffered ankle and toe injuries in Week 1 against the Ravens and did not play Sunday against the Steelers.
I'll have more on Jacobs (and Carr if needed) via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
With Jacobs out in Pittsburgh, Kenyan Drake carried the ball seven times for nine yards. He added five receptions on six targets for 46 yards.
Drake was out-carried by Peyton Barber 13-7.
Neither mustered much on the ground, as Drake was limited to 1.3 yards per carry with his longest rush going for five yards. He showed a bit more promise as a receiver, breaking off gains of 13, 11 and 10 yards in that role. Drake's role moving forward will largely be dependent on the health of Jacobs. ....
Also on the injury front. ... The Raiders have been dealing with injuries to their offensive line. Getting left guard Richie Incognito up and running this week would do wonders to fix the issues. But ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez advised readers the bigger deal is at right tackle, where first-rounder Alex Leatherwood was lost at halftime with an oblique injury after having a rough go of it against T.J. Watt with a hold, a false start and a sack allowed.
With Brandon Parker acquitting himself well in place of Leatherwood, the Raiders' O-line had three backups in play -- John Simpson at left guard, Jermaine Eluemunor at right guard and Parker.
One last item here. ... Daniel Carlson was perfect on Sunday and earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. The educated foot of Carlson was tried and true on four field goals (46, 33, 41 and 45 yards) and a pair of point-after attempts.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Following Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, head coach Brandon Staley talked about one big thing that contributed to the team's loss, penalties. A total of 20 penalties were called between the Cowboys and Chargers, but the Bolts were penalized 12 times for 99 yards.
Two penalties negated touchdowns and Staley said not "playing clean enough" is something this team will rectify moving forward.
"We gotta play within the parameters of how the game is being called and we need to make sure that we keep our composure and then if we play a clean enough game none of that will matter," Staley said. "I feel like that's where you make it about you and you don't make it about anybody else which is what we're gonna do, were gonna make this about the Chargers. Offense, defense, kicking game, and I think we'll grow from this because with all that said, we're in the fourth quarter at very end against a very good team with a chance to win and so I felt like last week we won the game as a team and today I thought we lost as a team."
"We felt like we moved the ball well, but we shot ourselves in the foot," quarterback Justin Herbert said. "We had too many penalties and you can't expect to win the NFL with that."
Herbert finished the game with 31 completions for 338 yards and one touchdown. He did have two picks on the day, one in the red zone which he said, "I can't turn the ball over like that in the red zone and expect to win."
Staley noted the red-zone offense needs to get shored up and explained what the team's plan of action is to fix that going forward.
"I feel like running the ball better gives you a much better chance of being successful in the red area," he said. "So, just taking a look at our red-area plan…I felt like the red-area plan I really like, we practice it a lot but I think moving forward I think if we can run the ball better, we'll put ourselves in more favorable down and distances down there."
Herbert also said they'll grow from this game and work on red zone efficiency this week.
"It's probably a combination of mental and physical mistakes," Herbert said. "It's on us to be better than that. It goes back to our fundamentals and reads and progressions, and just something we have to cover this week in practice."
As the Chargers prepare to travel to Kansas City this weekend, Staley explained how they can accomplish the things the team needs to improve on. Staley said a main focus will be on how they can 'execute better.'
"There was a lot to unpack in that game number one, there was a lot that happened in that game and we stayed together and we had a chance in the fourth quarter and there wasn't anybody on our sideline that did not believe that we were gonna win and that's a big part of the NFL."
When asked about how the team will bounce back, wide receiver Mike Williams explained that while facing adversity comes with playing in the NFL, he's confident this team can turn things around moving forward.
"I mean it's the NFL so [there's] gonna be adversity," Williams said. "We are the best of the best that play this game, so we gotta learn how to let that adversity hit and overcome it. I feel like this team is gonna do that."
How can the Chargers better execute in the red zone when they play in Kansas City this week?
Their confidence has to be shot after two games of turnovers and penalties in scoring territory. Herbert made good plays to get the Chargers in position to score and running back Austin Ekeler was a bigger part of the offense as receiver as well as a rusher.
If not for the mistakes, they would be 2-0 now, so better concentration and execution is key. With Denver and Las Vegas already at 2-0 and favored in their games next week, Sunday's game at Kansas City takes on more importance. The Chargers won last year's regular-season finale at Arrowhead, but that was when the Chiefs were sitting most of their players. ...
Other notes of interest. ... While a main focus for the Chargers will be success in the red zone, Williams has turned into a reliable target for Herbert when it comes to scoring touchdowns.
After the game, Williams talked about what's led to his success in this offense.
"It's probably just getting opportunities," Williams said. "That's the main thing, you know previous years it was just [making catches] down the field, down the field. But now you know, getting the ball in my hand trying to make plays for the team and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."
Through two games in Williams' new role, he's notched 173 yards and two scores; 91 of those yards came on Sunday against Dallas.
Herbert talked about the type of player Williams is and the relationship the two have on the field together.
"Williams has really stepped up," Herbert said. "He's one of those guys that you really trust out there and he knows what he's doing. He's just so athletic and able to make so many great plays and one of those guys that you really trust when he’s is out there."
Of course, Keenan Allen remains a reliable weapon even with Williams' success. Allen snared four of his eight targets for 108 yards in the 20-17 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.
Allen's 42-yard reception was the longest play of the game, but the star wideout was otherwise kept in check. He should be set for a heavy workload against the Chiefs, having recorded at least eight receptions and 80 yards in each of his last four games against the aforementioned divisional opponent. ...
As noted above, this is the Ekeler we drafted.
After he was held without a target in Week 1, Ekeler caught all nine passes thrown his way against the Cowboys, good for 61 yards. He added nine carries for 54 yards. It's the role we expected and it's encouraging heading into a game that could be a shootout.
Meanwhile, in Week 1, rookie Larry Rountree III got the bulk of the carries that Ekeler didn't. In Week 2, Justin Jackson got them, finishing the game against Dallas with four carries for 21 yards. He added eight yards on one catch. At this point, Rountree and Jackson are essentially working in tandem behind Ekeler. Given that, their roles are going to be limited barring unforeseen developments.
Joshua Kelley was a healthy scratch for a second-straight week.
On the injury front. ... The Chargers got out of the game without any significant injuries. Staley is hopeful defensive lineman Justin Jones will be able to return to the lineup this week after missing the Dallas game due to a calf injury.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham notes, two games into his new career with the Rams, Matthew Stafford has added another fourth-quarter comeback to his impressive list.
And the Rams are already showing a knack for overcoming adversity with Stafford leading the way.
Stafford rallied the Rams from a momentary deficit early in the fourth and eventually led Los Angeles to a 27-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The veteran quarterback didn't do it alone, of course. His offensive line and receivers all came through, and the defense held Indy to 83 yards on 14 snaps in the fourth quarter, highlighted by Jalen Ramsey's all-but-clinching interception with 2:13 to play.
After what Beacham characterized as "a messy, choppy and ultimately satisfying win" in their road opener, the Rams are off to a 2-0 start for the fourth consecutive season. The drama in Indy aside, they appear to have a much-improved offense and another solid version of the defense that topped the NFL last year.
"We were on the road, in a hostile environment, and we found ways to win," said receiver Robert Woods, who had five catches for 64 yards on Sunday.
Stafford and his offense needed only four plays to reverse the Rams' first deficit of the season in that fourth quarter, going 70 yards for a TD with impressive precision. Los Angeles then drove for the winning field goal after Indianapolis tied the game.
Tom Brady and defending champion Tampa Bay are visiting SoFi Stadium this weekend, but the Rams seem confident they've installed a foundation that will hold up throughout the final 15 games of the regular season.
"Obviously, they've been playing incredible football for their first two games this year," head coach Sean McVay said Monday about the Bucs. "They finished on an amazing streak. But really, we're going to be worried about doing a great job with our process."
Meanwhile, it's only been two games, but the connection between Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp seems strong.
As Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons reminded readers, in Week 1, Kupp caught seven passes for 108 yards with a touchdown. In Sunday's victory over the Colts, Kupp had nine receptions for 163 yards with two touchdowns. He's had only one game with more yards in his five-year career.
After the game, Stafford said Kupp's talent is a big part of what's enabled them to be on the same page.
"He understands the game really well. I think it's probably just more of a testament to him than anything," Stafford said in his press conference. "He's one of those guys that's about as overlooked as anybody in the league. He's extremely talented, does everything that we ask him to do, whether it's blocking for his other guys on the team, whether it be receivers or running backs, running down the field making big plays, catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage and going for big plays. He's a really talented player, and I'm just happy that I get to work with him."
Kupp said Stafford did a good job of taking what Indianapolis' defense gave him. But even though Kupp has been plenty productive in the season's first two weeks, he feels like there's plenty for L.A. to correct.
"Like I've touched on before, it's obviously making the most of the reps we get," Kupp said postgame. "In the short time or OTAs, training camp -- we get the most of every rep we have, but also some time between to refresh on and be able to talk through the reps that we don't get to have. What we are seeing and how we would do things and get and add those mental reps to the physical reps that we are doing -- you can get a lot done.
"Still a lot to fix. You know there was the third down there that we weren't on the same page and that's really my fault, not being clear with how I run that route and that signal in terms of what I was thinking. Really comes down to me just being able to execute better for him on that. That's still a lot of stuff that we can improve on, but that's really what it is. It's just that time between."
Kupp and Stafford will have another tough test in Week 3 against the Tampa defense. ...
Of considerable concern. ... Running back Darrell Henderson played 40 of 59 offensive snaps Sunday, exiting with a rib injury in the fourth quarter. McVay said Monday that Henderson is dealing with a rib cartilage injury.
The team is hopeful Henderson can play Sunday, but his status might remain uncertain until Friday, McVay said. Henderson will not practice early in the week.
The team has Sony Michel, rookie Jake Funk and Buddy Howell on the depth chart.
McVay hopes Henderson will be able to play this weekend, but the coach said Michel and Funk likely will play more for the Rams regardless. "We've got to take the approach that those guys have to get ready to carry the load," McVay said. "And if Darrell can go, then that's a positive for us."
Michel, who arrived in an Aug. 25 trade from New England, had 10 carries for 46 yards against the Colts after getting only one carry for 2 yards in three snaps in the opener.
The Rams signed rookie running back Javian Hawkins to the practice squad and released running back Otis Anderson in a corresponding move.
In two games, Henderson has 33 touches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
I'll have more on Henderson via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... While the passing game has performed well, wide receiver DeSean Jackson has not been a part of it. McVay says that needs to change.
Jackson has just two catches for 21 yards this season, and yesterday he played only three snaps in Indianapolis. McVay said today that Jackson isn't injured and wasn't benched, it was just that the Rams didn't call for the right personnel groupings to get him on the field.
"I've got to figure out a better way of getting him involved in the rotation," McVay said, via Greg Beacham of the Associated Press.
Jackson will turn 35 this season and has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, but the Rams still hope he can become a big-play threat in McVay's offense.
And finally. ... McVay was not able to attend Wednesday's walkthrough due to an illness, offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell announced. McVay has tested negative for COVID-19 and was able to do the game-planning sessions and participate in meetings.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Head coach Brian Flores confirmed Wednesday that Tua Tagovailoais out Sunday against the Raiders. Jacoby Brissett will start.
Tagovailoa suffered the injury in last week's loss to the Bills and was replaced by Brissett. Both Tagovailoa and Brissett played poorly in the 35-0 loss.
Brissett is in his first year with the Dolphins after four years with the Colts. The Dolphins guaranteed him $5 million this season with the idea that they were getting one of the top backup quarterbacks in the league.
Now he'll have a chance to prove that.
Reid Sinnett will serve as Brisset's backup.
As NFL.com's Nick Shook noted, Tagovailoa exited with the ribs injury early in the first quarter after Bills edge rusher A.J. Epenesa slipped under a block from right tackle Jesse Davis and slammed into the quarterback's midsection, driving him into the ground forcefully as Tagovailoa's fourth-and-2 pass attempt landed incomplete. Tagovailoa did not return after the hit, forcing Brissett into action.
Brissett played the remainder of the game, completing 24 of 40 attempts for 169 yards, one interception and a passer rating of 59.3. Buffalo dominated Miami, winning 35-0.
Tagovailoa helped the Dolphins begin the season on a positive note, completing 16 of 27 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown (to rookie Jaylen Waddle) and one interception in a 17-16 win over New England in Week 1. He wasn't able to do the same in Week 2, with the injury ending his day after just nine snaps.
Miami's tough early season slate continues against a Raiders team that has won its first two games, including a triumph over the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
On a more positive note. ... After missing Sunday's loss to Buffalo due to personal reasons, receiver Will Fuller returned to the team facility Monday.
Fuller, who served the final game of his PED suspension in Week 1, was ruled out on Friday while dealing with a personal issue. Given Flores' noncommittal comments last week that suggested it could be more than a one-week absence, Fuller returning to the facility Monday is excellent news.
Wolfe reported that Fuller, who was on the practice field Wednesday, is in a better mind space and expected to make his debut Sunday against the Raiders.
The Dolphins signed Fuller this offseason to add another vertical threat to the offense. After later drafting Waddle in the first round, Miami's weaponry looked bolstered on paper.
We have yet to see them together on the field.
I'll have more on Fuller -- and Tagovailoa -- as developments warrant via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Pro Football Focus charged the Miami offensive line with 34 total pressures on 57 quarterback drop backs between Brissett and Tagovailoa. The Bills dialed up pressure time-and-time again often getting free rushers off the edge, unabated to the quarterback. Adding injury to insult, Jesse Davis exited the game with a knee injury.
"It was a rough day for us," Rob Hunt said. "Everybody saw that. We just have to, like I said, come back tomorrow, be better, man. Put pressure on ourselves, put this loss on us, because it is what it is. We know we need to be better. We know we have some issues. We'll come back and we'll work to correct those issues."
The offense, despite the early errors, had opportunities to make it a game in the first half.
No wide receiver in the NFL has more contested catches (PFF) since the start of 2019 than DeVante Parker. On a broken play in the second quarter, Parker did what he does best and boxed out Buffalo cornerback Tre'Davious White giving the long, leaping wide out an open shot at a 32-yard touchdown reception. Instead, the football separated his hands and fell harmlessly to the end zone turf.
Albert Wilson got himself open on a second-and-6 from the plus-11-yard-line just four plays later. Beyond the sticks with room to operate near the goal line, the ball again fell to the grass. On the very next play, Jakeem Grant caught a pass in traffic that appeared to set up a fourth-and-inches opportunity, but Taron Johnson's hit jarred the ball free, resulting in Miami's second turnover in the early-going.
Waddle dropped a swing pass that was thrown on his back hip, but he had both hands on the ball. He also muffed a punt when Miami had a chance to get points on the board with 30 seconds to play in the first half.
As the team's official website suggested, those are the type of mistakes that will bury a club against a strong team like Buffalo.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Greg Joseph was the first to realize the Vikings were in the process of falling to 0-2.
Moments after the 27-year-old kicker made contact on a 37-yard field goal attempt Sunday that would swerve to the right of the goal post and seal the Vikings' 34-33 loss at Arizona, Joseph threw his hands on his head in disbelief.
"This one's on me," Joseph said on Monday.
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin reminded Joseph is the fifth kicker to appear in a regular-season game for head coach Mike Zimmer, who's in his eighth season in Minnesota, and he's the latest to experience the Vikings' notorious kicking woes. It was the fourth kick he pushed wide right since joining the Vikings this summer, including a point-after attempt in the second quarter and two misses in preseason games.
Cronin added, "Kicking issues have become an embarrassment embedded in the fabric of this franchise for decades, dating back to Gary Anderson's missed field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship game."
Since Zimmer was hired in 2014, infamous misses by Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson, Dan Bailey and even Kai Forbath are a part of a bumpy history of kickers whose struggles have doomed the team in critical moments. Joseph is now a part of that unfortunate list.
The Vikings rank 28th in field goal percentage (80.9 percent) under Zimmer. Including the playoffs, Zimmer-coached teams are 15 of 23 (65 percent) on field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime when they are tied or losing by 1-3 points. That ranks 30th. It's even worse in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime when the Vikings are tied or losing by 1-3 points. In those situations, they're 4 of 10, which is the worst mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Because the Vikings found themselves in a position where they needed a game-winner to beat Arizona, Joseph's miss will often be remembered as the reason why they lost this game.
But there were other factors.
As Cronin outlined it, facing a fourth-and-one at their own 34 with 1:54 left in the first half, the Vikings had a 63.5 percent chance to get a first down, according to ESPN's Win Probability. According to those metrics, if you have a 56 percent chance or better to convert, you go for it. The Vikings punted, and Kyler Murray hit Rondale Moore for a 77-yard TD on the next play.
In fact, three of the five worst coaching decisions made in Week 2 -- including the top two -- were Zimmer decisions to punt, according to EdjSports, which tracks coaching decisions using a win expectancy model.
Factors also included scoring just three points in the second half -- after a terrific first half -- and the defense yielding 474 yards.
But none of those things is as magnified as the emotion behind a game-deciding missed field goal.
In another time, Zimmer might have handled Joseph's miss more tersely, sending a public message to his kicker the way he did after Walsh missed a 27-yard "chip shot" in the NFC wild card loss to Seattle to end the 2015 season. Or how he said in the 2018 preseason that if Carlson was going to miss kicks, the Vikings would instead go for two -- Carlson was cut after two games when he missed three field goals in Green Bay.
But the coach struck a different tone Monday.
"This kid has kicked well," Zimmer said. "He missed a couple this week. That wasn't the reason why we lost the game.
"Lots of kickers miss field goals. Let's give the kid a break, OK?"
Joseph said he clipped the ground on his approach on the extra point in the second quarter, a hiccup that slowed his hips on the follow-through of that kick that also went wide right.
Teammates from Dalvin Cook to Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen encouraged Joseph in the locker room after the final-play failure, a kick he said "felt good" off his foot.
The Vikings were better than they played against the Bengals in several areas against a Cardinals team that looks like a contender with quarterback Kyler Murray, yet still stuck with another loss.
The good news?
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell notes, the Vikings get three straight home games with friendly crowd noise to boost their defense, needing to start a winning streak to keep their bid for the playoffs viable. Any lesson learned from facing a dangerous scrambler such as Murray ought to help this Sunday against Russell Wilson and Seattle.
Wilson is 7-0 in his career against Minnesota; five of the wins have come against Zimmer. ...
On the injury front. ... Cook eventually made an early exit due to a sprained right ankle suffered when Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt tackled him low in the fourth quarter.
Cook, who finished with 148 yards from scrimmage, popped up and walked gingerly toward the sideline before dropping to the turf. Vikings trainers helped him to the sideline, where his right ankle was taped up. Cook returned, taking two more handoffs, but his movements were labored, and he was eventually replaced by Alexander Mattison on the final drive.
"He just got a little ankle sprain," Zimmer said.
As Minneapolis Star Tribune staffer Andrew Krammer suggested, a healthy Cook is invaluable to the offense. His acceleration and elusiveness were two reasons why Cousins didn't even face a third down on three touchdown drives during the first half. Overall, half of Cook's 22 runs gained at least 7 yards.
He was tough to bring down, and also difficult to knock out of the game. Cook insisted on returning with the injured ankle. Teammates lauded his toughness, acknowledging the heavy workload he handles. He was injured on his 22nd touch coming in the offense's 47th play.
"There are moments where you don't know if you have him for the rest of the game and then he's back in," Cousins said. "Just did a great job coming back and being tough and playing hard, running hard. We ask a lot of him. He's a warrior."
I'll obviously have more on Cook's status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Cousins is eighth in the NFL with a 112.9 passer rating that would be a career best for a full season, having adjusted to the loss of tight end Irv Smith Jr. by turning K.J. Osborn into a legitimate third option behind Justin Jefferson and Thielen. Osborn has 12 catches for a team-high 167 yards.
Cousins, who has yet to commit a turnover, gave his beleaguered offensive line a much better chance to succeed by delivering quicker throws and consistently avoiding the rush. He took only one sack and even extended two touchdown drives with scrambles for first downs, including a career-long 29-yard gain.
As Joe Colonna wrote in his Week 2 Injury Review/Waiver-Wire Preview this week, when the Vikings lost tight end Irv Smith during the preseason, there was some shifting in personnel. The Vikings have shifted to 11 personnel (three wide receivers, one running back, one tight end) and the primary beneficiary of that is Osborn, who came up with a huge 64-yard touchdown in Week 2.
Colonna went on to point out, in 2020, the Vikings only played 11 personnel just 29 percent of the time, per Sharp Football.
Early on this season, Minnesota has increased that to 45 percent. Osborn has a healthy 71.5 percent snap share and has proven he can be productive in this role through two weeks.
And finally. ... After being elevated from the practice squad in each of the first two games, quarterback Sean Mannion has been signed to the active roster. Mannion has served as Kirk Cousins‘ backup in both games with third-round pick Kellen Mond inactive.
While Mannion spent training camp with the Seahawks, he was the Vikings’ backup quarterback in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
As a corresponding move, Minnesota released running back Ameer Abdullah and re-signed him to the team’s practice squad. Because Abdullah is a vested veteran, he does not have to clear waivers to sign with the practice squad.
Abdullah was elevated from the practice squad in Week 1, catching a pair of passes for 15 yards while taking one carry for four yards. While on the 53-man roster in Week Two, Abdullah played 53 percent of special teams snaps and just one offensive snap.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As NESN.com's Zack Cox noted this week, Mac Jones has relied mostly on short, easy passes through the first two games of his New England Patriots career.
But his offensive coordinator insisted he's not taking a training-wheels approach with his rookie quarterback.
"I trust him completely," Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. "Believe me, there's not a whole lot we're holding back for him."
Jones ranks among the NFL's most accurate quarterbacks this season (sixth in completion percentage, fourth in adjusted completion percentage) and has yet to turn the ball over. He's decisively outplayed fellow 2021 first-rounders Trever Lawrence and Zach Wilson, who have endured early growing pains with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, respectively.
The offense Jones has operated, though, has been a conservative one.
Only Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton have lower average-depth-of-target marks than Jones, meaning the Patriots rookie is throwing shorter passes than almost any other NFL QB. Jones also ranks 24th among qualified signal-callers in yards per attempt (6.8).
In Sunday's 25-6 win over Wilson's Jets, Jones attempted just four passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He had twice as many (eight) to targets at or behind the line of scrimmage. His three pass attempts inside New York's 25-yard line -- excluding an intentional grounding -- traveled -5, 3 and -1 yards in the air.
McDaniels told reporters on Tuesday it boils down to a question of "risk versus reward."
"Certainly, you want to be able to attack all areas of the field and force the defense to defend everything," the coach explained. "And we'll continue to try to work hard at doing that. ... I think there's also a balance of the timing of the game, the score, the situation itself. You're weighing a bit of risk versus reward, etc. So I think there are a lot of factors there, but the short answer to your question is yes, it's important to have the ability to throw the ball to all levels and make them defend everything, which certainly would open up other things for you underneath, possibly.
"But at the same time, I think it's an important balance between just closing your eyes and heaving it deep when it's really not there. ... You have to make smart decisions about that if you're going to do it."
McDaniels noted Jones has attacked downfield at times this season, hitting Nelson Agholor with a pair of 20-yard strikes in Week 1 and connecting with James White (against Miami) and Jakobi Meyers (against New York) on over-the-shoulder vertical routes.
He also fired a possibly ill-advised deep ball into double coverage Sunday that was nearly intercepted but wiped away by a defensive offsides penalty.
"It's not like he's not (throwing downfield)," McDaniels said. "It's just there's certain times when it's the right time to do it and certain times where it's not. And I've got to continue to work hard myself to try to provide our offense with opportunities to do that if it presents itself."
But QB has passed up more explosive plays for safer ones, too, most notably on his trick-play completion to Jonnu Smith on Sunday. Jones had Agholor wide open for a touchdown and wasn't facing a heavy pass rush, but he chose the easier completion to Smith underneath.
After the game, Jones said he "can push the ball down the field more."
"But at the end of the day, it's about moving the ball and taking what the defense gives you," he added Monday on WEEI Radio. "If they give you the deep shot, then take it. But if they give you the short, then take the short. It's kind of what the defense is doing, really."
For the record, Jones was 22-of-30 for 186 yards as the Patriots used a pair of rushing touchdowns and the four interceptions of Wilson, and flawless kicking from Nick Folk to power the way to victory.
This week, the Patriots return home to host New Orleans on Sunday. It's their final tune-up before their highly anticipated matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower noted, the Patriots' offense continues to struggle in the red zone. It was just 1 for 3 on Sunday after going 1 for 4 in Week 1. That success rate of 28.6 percent ranks 31st in the NFL.
A week after his costly fumble in the fourth quarter helped cement the Patriots' loss to the Dolphins, running back Damien Harris responded with a team-high 62 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Jets.
His score came via a 26-yard run in the third quarter in which he appeared to elude seven different tackle attempts.
"Everybody was blocking their butts off," Harris said. "I got a lot of help from a lot of guys. Apparently, I got some help from Mac Jones, too. I'll have to watch the film to see that. It was a great play. It was just great to have that moment with the team."
Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who had a fumble of his own against Miami, was a healthy scratch this week. ...
Right tackle Trent Brown was sidelined by a calf injury after he got hurt in the season opener. His status for this week is uncertain, but head coach Bill Belichick said he's comfortable with the team's depth at the position. Yasir Durant (31 snaps) and Justin Herron (30 snaps) shared the spot against the Jets, though Durant allowed all three Jets sacks.
"I think we're all right here," Belichick said. "We planned to play Justin and Yasir both, and we did, and they both got some good experience, and they both had a lot of good plays. So, we'll see where we are this week and go from there."
Also on the injury front. ... Harris (finger) was limited in Wednesday's practice. It doesn't sound like a major issue, but I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. ...
And finally. ... After he was elevated from the practice squad to be the team’s place kicker in each of the season’s first two weeks, Folk has now been signed to New England’s 53-man roster.
The Patriots initially had undrafted free agent kicker Quinn Nordin on their 53-man roster, but placed him on injured reserve with an abdominal injury with the hope he can return in November.
Though he was on the practice squad, Folk has been fairly consistent for the Patriots. He’s made 33 consecutive field goals dating back to last season. But, Folk did miss an extra point in Sunday’s victory over the Jets.
Now in his third season with New England, Folk has connected on 90.4 percent of his field-goal attempts with the team and 91.7 percent of extra points. Folk owns a career 81.8 field goal percentage since entering the league as a Cowboys sixth-round pick in 2007.
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
The Saints went from 38-3 winners over the Packers in Week One to 26-7 losers to the Panthers in Week 2 and one difference between the two games was the number of assistant coaches they had available for the game.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper noted, eight of head coach Sean Payton's assistants were not at the game because of COVID-19 protocols and their absence was a topic of conversation at Payton's postgame press conference.
Payton said the team had to make adjustments to their operations because of the absences, but said "none of that really was a big issue" and said he wouldn't use that situation or the Saints' extended residency in Texas as an excuse for how poorly the Saints performed in Carolina.
"It's a disappointing loss," Payton said in his postgame press conference. "Give Carolina credit. We did a number of things, and things that you just can't do to win a game. Offensively, in particular, it's as poor as we've been in a long time around here, and that starts with me. We've got to do a better job going in. Our protection plan wasn't very good.
"It had nothing to do with us being shorthanded with coaches, or us being away, or the COVID. All of those would be excuses. They played better than us today and deserved to win the football game."
Running back Alvin Kamara concurred after the Saints were held to 128 total yards -- a stunning flop just one week after they dominated the Green Bay Packers 38-3 in the season opener.
"It wasn't about anybody not being here. I think it was our responsibility to still come out and play without coaches being there," Kamara said after being held to 5 rushing yards on eight carries.
"There's no handicap. We don't get an extra second on the play clock because we don't have coaches; we don't get an extra down because there's no coaches. It is what it is. There's still a game to play. The whole coaching staff could've been gone -- they wasn't gonna cancel the game. You gotta keep going. "[Now] you've got some adversity and you've gotta find a way to react and respond. It's on us. It's our responsibility to do better."
The Saints were also without five Week 1 starters because of injuries (center Erik McCoy, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kwon Alexander), which would be another excuse but all of the excuses in the world won't change the fact that they're 1-1 heading into next Sunday's trip to New England with a serious need get things back on track.
Against Carolina, the Saints' offense set a new low for yardage in the Payton era. And Jameis Winston posted the worst passer rating of his career while throwing his first two interceptions of the season Sunday.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, the Panthers pressured Winston on 18 of his 28 dropbacks (64 percent), which was the third-highest pressure rate for any defense since ESPN began tracking pressure in 2009.
When pressured, Winston was 4-of-13 for 54 yards with two interceptions and four sacks.
Winston also blamed himself for not communicating well enough with the line -- which is a work in progress considering former Saints quarterback Drew Brees used to handle the protections before injured center McCoy took over the lion's share of protection calls this year.
Second-year Saints offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz (a college center) did a solid job filling in for McCoy last week after sliding over from right guard. But as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett suggested, nothing went right for the Saints' offense in Week 2.
Both of Winston's interceptions were desperate heaves down the field late in the first half and late in the game, when the risks made some sense. But he didn't use that as an excuse.
"Still gotta make good decisions," said Winston, who completed just 11 of 22 passes for 111 yards and a passer rating of 26.9. "They came at inopportune times. I don't want to have us in that position in the first place, but still have to take care of the football."
He could use some help from his receiving corps.
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel notes, Saints wide receivers have largely struggled to get open through two games -- a span in which they have combined for 11 catches and 164 yards receiving. Much of Winston's production in the passing game has come with tight ends or running backs.
"Just keep fighting," Winston said of his postgame message. "We have to put this one behind us. We will get better. We will pick up our tempo. I will get better from a communication standpoint and get more efficient on first and second downs."
As noted above, the Saints will play in New England Patriots this week before finally returning home to New Orleans to practice and host the New York Giants in Week 4. The Saints have not won a game in Foxboro since 1995, or 11 years before Payton started his only head coaching job in New Orleans in 2006.
The Saints are 1-2 vs. the Patriots since, with the lone victory coming in New Orleans in 2009.
One last note here. ... Payton said there were no updates on Monday regarding which coaches would be cleared to return to work at practice or during games -- be it on the field or the booth.
Because they all have been vaccinated, they may return as soon as they've had two negative tests 24 hours apart.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
At the end of regulation Thursday night, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a 48-yard field goal, pushing the would-be game-winner right. However, refs flagged New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for being a fraction early on the snap, giving Hopkins another shot from five yards closer.
The Washington kicker made the 43-yard mulligan, sealing the Football Team's 30-29 victory in a wild edition of Thursday Night Football.
Despite the offsides leading directly to the second-chance win for Washington, head coach Joe Judge -- a former special teams coordinator in New England -- said he doesn't put the loss on Lawrence's shoulders.
"Obviously something we don't want to have, something that it's not acceptable," Judge said of the penalty, via the team's official transcript. "But look, we're not going to turn around and put this game on any one player and one play. There's enough things we can clean up as a team and we can play better going forward. We're not going to go ahead and isolate one incident and say that's the difference in the game right there. We got to make sure that we do a lot of things better for 60 minutes."
In fact, there were several situations in which New York came up shy.
A holding penalty negated a Daniel Jones TD run in the second quarter. Receiver Darius Slayton dropped a wide-open TD on a blown coverage. The Giants were called for 11 penalties for 81 yards. And the conservative coaching throughout ended up hurting Big Blue in the end.
The blunders helped scuttle perhaps the best performance of Jones' career.
The Giants' quarterback played well. He was constantly making plays -- on the ground and through the air -- despite being under constant pressure. He finished 22-of-32 passing for 249 yards with one touchdown pass. Jones also did some serious damage with his legs. He ran for 95 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. It was his second straight game with a rushing score.
Jones also would have rushed for another 58-yard touchdown had wide receiver C.J. Board not been flagged on the above-mentioned holding on the play. Instead, Jones settled for a 46-yard gain. The Giants settled for a field goal and another missed opportunity.
Meanwhile, it's worth noting Saquon Barkley was clocked at 20.39 mph on a 41-yard run in the first half. That was the 11th-fastest speed of his career.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan suggests, while that might not sound overly impressive, you have to consider this was Barkley's second game back from a serious knee injury. He tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 2 of last season, and was playing Thursday night for the second time in four days.
As he admitted during the week, it was not an ideal situation coming off that injury.
In fact, wide receiver Kenny Golladay has said it on multiple occasions. It might take the Giants time early this season to get the offense going.
Golladay missed a month because of a hamstring injury this summer. He still lacks explosion. Barkley is coming back from that knee injury and rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney didn't practice much from May through August. So it's going to take him time.
The good news?
New York has 10 days off before facing Atlanta at MetLife Stadium. The Giants should get healthier and feast against a bad Atlanta Falcons defense.
It all adds up to this bold prediction from Raanan: "The Giants' offense explodes for 30-plus points."
On the injury front. ... The recent time off should allow tight end Evan Engram (calf) to play for the first time against the Falcons. Golladay (hip) and Barkely (knee) were limited.
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Good news, the Giants don't have an issue between receiver and quarterback. Bad news, the Giants have an issue between receiver and offensive coordinator.
Golladay said Monday, via Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com, that late in Thursday's eventual loss to Washington he was screaming not at Jones but at offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
As Profootballtalk.com suggests, it's fair to ask how that makes it any better.
Basically, instead of having an issue with the guy who executes the plays, Golladay had an issue with the guy who calls the plays.
It's natural for 0-2 teams to have some stress and strain. It will continue -- indeed, it will get mount -- until the Giants get a win. Regardless, it's never good for any player to be shouting at a coach, whether it's Golladay and Garrett or, back in the day, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels. Or Tom Brady and Bill O'Brien.
Golladay said that Garrett spoke after the game, and that everything is fine.
Judge needs to be sure of that. The Giants already have enough stuff to worry about as they try to get to 1-2 with a winnable game against the Falcons. After that, the early portion of the schedule doesn't have all that many spots where a W is hiding in plain sight.
And finally. ... Graham Gano, who went 5-for-5 on field goals for the Giants in the loss to Washington, has now made 35 consecutive field goals, the longest active streak in the league.
The NFL record for consecutive field goals is 44, set by Adam Vinatieri with the Colts in 2015 and 2016. So Gano has to make his next 10 field goal attempts to break the record.
The last time Gano missed a field goal was on September 20, 2020, in Week Two of last season. So it's now been a year since he last missed a field goal.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Zach Wilson had a day to forget -- even if it will be difficult for Jets fans to do just that after New York's ugly 25-6 loss to New England on Sunday.
ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported it like this: "Wilson was brutal. The bally-hooed rookie threw four interceptions, all coming in his first 10 pass attempts -- a performance that conjured up scary memories of Sam Darnold's 'ghost' game against the Patriots in 2019.
"Wilson was too aggressive, forcing passes downfield instead of taking safe checkdowns. He got away with that at BYU; he's not in Utah anymore. The most disconcerting thing: Unlike last week, he wasn't under heavy pressure.
"No, this was all on Wilson, who delivered one of the all-time clunkers."
Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. was slightly less hyperbolic.
"Alarming? Sure," Waszak wrote. "Concerning? Maybe. Time to wonder whether the Jets overestimated Wilson's talent and he's doomed to be a bust?
"Uh, no. ..."
Two games in and Wilson has looked very much like a rookie, with an uneven but mostly solid opener at Carolina, followed by a brutally bad performance in Week 2. He took responsibility for the mistakes after the game against New England, but the key is to not let it bleed into next weekend -- when the 0-2 Jets travel to Denver to face the 2-0 Broncos.
"There's things he's going to learn from going through the experience of yesterday," head coach Robert Saleh said Monday.
Wilson was 19 of 33 for 210 yards and the four INTs, and also heard it from the frustrated MetLife Stadium crowd -- who booed the young quarterback after an overthrown pass in the fourth quarter.
After an outing such as that, it's natural to wonder whether a player's confidence is rocked.
Saleh insists he has no such concern when it comes to Wilson.
"He's such a resilient young man," the coach said. "I mean, he can probably recite every single play that happened and he's going to want to talk about it, go through it and learn from it. I know he's going to get better from this.
"He's in a good place."
That might be strange to hear, especially after watching Wilson seem overwhelmed and overmatched at times Sunday. But his mental makeup was one of the reasons the Jets jumped to take him at No. 2 overall. The playmaking ability was obviously at the top of the list, and New York is certain that will be the story more often than not.
"I haven't seen him with his head down," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "I haven't seen him looking sad or feeling sorry for himself. That's the kind of person that he is, the kind of man that he is.
"We all believe in him and we're all going to expect great things from him, but nobody ever said it was going to be easy. It's all about growing pains in this league and in life. I think he's going to bounce back. I know he will bounce back."
Maybe more so than Wilson, Cimini believes the bigger question now is how Saleh handles his first taste of adversity?
The first-year coach is 0-2, and his team has played like garbage in six of eight quarters.
And now he has to go on the road to face the Denver Broncos, another tough defensive team.
Before training camp, Saleh said he wouldn't learn about his team's character until it faced adversity. He welcomed it. He just got a heavy dose. No one expects the Jets to make the playoffs; they will be measured by progress. So far, we haven't seen much of that. ...
Adding to the intrigue. ... Saleh told reporters at his press conference that Wilson is going to be on the injury report this week as a result of a groin injury. Saleh said that the injury is a minor one and that Wilson would be a full participant in practice and any change on that front before the week is out would be a bad sign for the rookie.
Mike White is the only other quarterback on the active roster and Josh Johnson is on the practice squad. White has never taken a regular season snap and the lack of a veteran backup came up as a talking point for some after Wilson threw four interceptions in last weekend’s loss to the Patriots.
Other notes of interest. ... As Waszak notes, the running game is a positive here.
Rookie Michael Carter led New York with 59 yards rushing on 11 carries, and Saleh called him "electric."
Ty Johnson had 50 yards on 12 attempts and Tevin Coleman ran for 24 on five carries as the Jets finished with an average of 4.9 yards. That came a week after they averaged a dismal 2.6 yards against Carolina. The offensive line deserves some kudos, too, by bouncing back from a bad Week 1 and having a solid performance against the Patriots. ...
Denzel Mims, the team's 2020 second-round draft pick, played three snaps on offense in the opener and was inactive Sunday. Saleh has repeatedly referenced special teams value for anyone not a starter, and that's something Mims doesn't provide.
The speedy 6-3 wide receiver is buried on the depth chart behind starters Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder and Elijah Moore. Keelan Cole is the No. 4 receiver, and then there's Braxton Berrios (kick/punt returner) and Jeff Smith (starting gunner on punts). So that has left Mims out of the mix.
Elsewhere on the injury front. ... Beyond Wilson, Saleh reported no new injuries from the game. Crowder was a surprise scratch as he continues to recover from a groin injury. He worked out before the game, so he might be ready to play at Denver. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Defensive end John Franklin-Myers will not practice due to a calf injury, but Saleh said he expects him to play against the Broncos this weekend.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi put it, "Nick Sirianni's version of the 'Philly Special' was futile."
The Eagles blew a chance to start 2-0 mainly due to questionable play-calling, including the new coach's attempt to use a variation of the old coach's famous play that led to a Super Bowl victory.
With the Eagles (1-1) leading the San Francisco 49ers 3-0 in the second quarter Sunday, the offense had five cracks at scoring a touchdown after Jalen Hurts completed a 91-yard pass to Quez Watkins to the Niners 6.
On the sixth try, a fourth down from the 3, Hurts took a shotgun snap, handed it to wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who flipped to wideout Greg Ward on a reverse. Hurts drifted into the end zone and was Ward's only option. San Francisco's defense didn't bite. Ward, a college quarterback, threw it away.
The Niners drove 97 yards for the go-ahead score and went on to win 17-11.
Maaddi went on to remind readers that when Doug Pederson drew that play up right before halftime against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl four years ago, quarterback Nick Foles was wide open in the end zone and caught Trey Burton's pass. A statue of Foles and Pederson calling that play stands outside the Linc. Perhaps it inspired Sirianni to make the call in his first home game.
It never should've reached that point.
The Eagles had a first down at the 1 after a pass interference penalty. Instead of a sneak by Hurts, Sirianni called for a pass that fell incomplete, a shotgun handoff that went for minus-3 yards and Hurts scrambled for 1 yard on a broken play.
Hurts, by the way, scored on a sneak from the 1 later in the game.
"As far as the receiver pass, I don't feel great about that call," Sirianni said Monday. "That's a gadgety call right there. Again, don't feel great about that call."
Sirianni was critical of his play-calling just one week after designing a scheme that led to a 32-6 rout over Atlanta.
"This accountability thing only works if you're holding yourself accountable first," he said. "Everything is going to start with me. ... If I'm not holding myself accountable, everybody is not going to hold themselves accountable. That's how I view my role.
"If I want the players to do it, I need to do it first. I've got to lead by example."
"So, it kind of just goes through just watching the tape, checking the call sheet again, looking back at the studies that we did, and just evaluating every call like I evaluate every play of the players."
This week, the Eagles visit NFC East rival Dallas (1-1) on "Monday Night Football" for the Cowboys' home opener. Dallas nearly beat the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the season opener and edged the Chargers on the road Sunday. They'll be a formidable foe.
But Maaddi notes that Philly's defense nearly went six quarters to start the season without giving up a touchdown and has allowed 23 points in two games. The Eagles will be in position to win games because their defense is going to keep them within reach.
Other notes of interest. ... One week after torching Atlanta's secondary and completing 77 percent of his passes, Hurts only completed 12 of 23 passes against a secondary missing two starting cornerbacks. He underthrew two deep balls and Jalen Reagor's 36-yard TD was overturned because he stepped out of bounds before making the catch. ...
Zach Ertz' status for the Monday night's game is in jeopardy. Ertz tested positive for COVID-19, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported, and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Ertz is vaccinated, Pelissero reported, so despite the positive test, the veteran tight end could still play against the Cowboys. Per NFL protocols, vaccinated players need two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and no symptoms to return to the team.
The 30-year-old Ertz, a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, started on Sunday in the Eagles' 17-11 loss to the 49ers, registering one catch for six yards on two targets. He played in the team's opener, as well, and had two receptions for 34 yards.
Elsewhere on the injury front. ... Sirianni confirmed Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of the season. Right guard Brandon Brooks has a strained right pectoral and will likely be placed on injured reserve but is expected to return. Both are major blows. Brooks is one of the best at his position.
Rookies Landon Dickerson and Tarron Jackson saw increased roles in their absence, with mixed results.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
The Steelers added a significant name to their list of injured players Tuesday: Ben Roethlisberger.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said the quarterback was dealing with a left pectoral injury, but said he didn't know how it happened. It wasn't publicly disclosed during postgame interviews with Tomlin or Roethlisberger.
"I don't know specifically when Ben got injured in game," Tomlin said. "I don't know that he does. You know, sometimes just in the midst of competition, adrenaline and so forth, you just don't know. Sometimes things just come up after."
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor noted, Roethlisberger took just two sacks in the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, but he was hit 10 times. Tomlin acknowledged it was too much for his 39-year-old quarterback and offered solutions that could keep every week from being a repeat.
"Yeah, he did," Tomlin said. "He took too many hits. We can run the ball better. We can get the ball out of his hand quicker. We can stay on schedule and not get behind the sticks and get in situations where the line of the game is so far that that that enhances the rush."
Roethlisberger told reporters on Wednesday that he is “going to do everything I can” to play against Cincinnati.
Via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger said the injury occurred in the first quarter Sunday. The quarterback noted he’s experiencing pain, “when I reach for something outside the framework of my body or when I push up off the ground.”
Roethlisberger said he didn’t know when he’d last been hit so many times in a game.
“We knew going in they had a good rush with high-motor guys that were going to get after it,” Roethlisberger said. “So you have to prepare for that. But we all need to be better to eliminate hits, to have a better run game, to have more big plays, to be more efficient. It’s on all of us to help those things.”
The Steelers' injury issues, though, extend far beyond Roethlisberger. Four Steelers are dealing with groin injuries, including T.J. Watt, who exited the game in the first half. Fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is also dealing with a groin injury that wasn't disclosed after the game. He was previously working through a groin injury late in training camp.
Devin Bush and Joe Haden also have groin injuries that kept them out of Sunday's game.
"I'm not making any drastic statements about the availability of any of these guys because of the degree of the injury changes, the prognosis," Tomlin said. "And the man himself changes the prognosis. We'll give guys an opportunity that are close enough to help the practice. We'll give them an opportunity to practice during the course of the week.
"And if they practice, we'll look at the quality of that practice or how much they practice and let that be a guide for us in terms of their potential participation. Some more established players can play on less prep than others. ... There are a lot of variables at play, but not overly concerned about it. This, you know, this is the tightrope that we walk week in and week out."
Nose tackle Tyson Alualu also went on injured reserve with an ankle fracture and had surgery for it Monday, Tomlin said. The Steelers promoted defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux from the practice squad to fill Alualu's spot.
Wide receiver Diontae Johnson injured his knee on the final play of Sunday's loss. Tomlin was vague, yet somewhat optimistic about his status.
"He's looking better, but not to be confused with great," Tomlin said. "We'll follow him and his health as we get through the week."
During a Monday night appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot told listeners he expects Johnson to miss this week's game and perhaps another after that. Johnson did no practice Wednesday.
The Steelers do have depth at wide receiver if Johnson can't go in fourth-year man James Washington, who has seen limited playing time behind Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool.
Even with so many injuries ahead of an AFC North meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals, Tomlin said the answers are "in-house."
"Thankfully in today's NFL, with the flexibility of practice squads and so forth, we have all the answers in-house. I'm not necessarily worried about the injury in terms of our expectations, in terms of our performance," he said. "We have a week to prepare with known issues. In-game injuries cause more problems than known issues like you're faced with here at the top of the week."
I'll be following up on Roethlisberger and Johnson via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, although there figure to be plenty of moving pieces in the lineup on Sunday, the offensive line does not appear to be one of them. Tomlin said he will not make any changes along the line even with the Steelers ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards rushing through two weeks, the same position they held in 2020.
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves reminded readers, Steelers president Art Rooney set the mandate a couple of weeks after watching his team get blown out at home by Cleveland in the opening round of the 2020 playoffs. "Everybody in the building agrees you can't finish 32nd in the league in running and feel like you're going to have a successful season," Rooney said in late January.
Nearly every offensive decision the Steelers made during the offseason was aimed at fixing the problem. The offensive coordinator? Fired. The offensive line coach? Same. Their first four picks of the draft were used on a running back (Najee Harris), a tight end (Pat Freiermuth) and a pair of raw but talented linemen (Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr.).
And two weeks into 2021, little progress has been made.
The Steelers are 31st in the league in yards rushing (57 yards per game) and 30th in yards per carry (3.3). Take out a 25-yard run by Claypool in the opener against Buffalo and those numbers drop to 45 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.
The Raiders gave up 103 yards to largely unknown Baltimore running backs in an overtime win in Week 1 (not to mention the 86 piled up by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson). Harris ran just 10 times for 38 yards.
Only one of those runs -- a 14-yard burst in the first quarter that helped the Steelers get out of a hole -- came on a play that was perfectly blocked.
Otherwise, Harris largely found himself surrounded by white jerseys as he reached the line of scrimmage.
"We had some moments, but like anything else, we've just got to find ways to improve more, fix our flaws, fix our mistakes," Harris said.
Splitting a pair of games against two teams with legitimate postseason aspirations is hardly cause for panic, particularly with an extra week added to the schedule. Still, the Steelers have little wiggle room while playing in the AFC North. They failed to build off their road upset against the Bills and looked very much like the group that ended 2020 on a 1-5 slide.
The Steelers have dominated the series with the Bengals, winning 14 of the past 16 meetings. The goal in this one has to be finding some sort of rhythm in the running game. Cincinnati did give up 123 yards on the ground in a loss to Chicago on Sunday.
Taking Cincinnati for granted, however, would be ill-advised. The Bengals stuffed Pittsburgh 27-17 last December even with backup quarterback Ryan Finley filling in for the injured Joe Burrow. ...
Also of interest. ... Tight end Eric Ebron was targeted just twice and failed to catch a pass for the first time since signing with the Steelers in the spring of 2020. Freiermuth, by contrast, caught all four passes that came his way against the Raiders.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, the 49ers didn't intend to use newly acquired running back Trenton Cannon in any role other than special teams on Sunday.
As it turned out, they had no choice but to plug him into the offense.
By the end of San Francisco's 17-11 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Niners had lost their top three running backs to injuries in a span of about five minutes. That came after starter Raheem Mostert was lost to a season-ending left knee injury last week against the Detroit Lions.
First, it was starter Elijah Mitchell's right shoulder, then it was an ankle injury for JaMycal Hasty, and finally it was a concussion for rookie Trey Sermon. Mitchell departed after a 1-yard touchdown run was overturned with 11 minutes, 4 seconds to go, and Hasty and Sermon were out by the 5:45 mark.
Hasty and Sermon did not return to the game, while Mitchell reentered with 5:26 to play.
After the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan said that the hope was Mitchell's injury was just a stinger and wouldn't be anything that lingers long term.
"He said he was good enough to come back in, so that's when you think it's a stinger, but until you have time to go and get an MRI and stuff like that, you never know," Shanahan said. "But we're hoping it was just a stinger. You usually feel good about it the way he was talking and the way he was able to come back in the game."
For now, Mitchell is considered day-to-day. That said, he did not practice Wednesday with Shanahan telling reporters it's "a little worse than a stinger." The coach added "Mitchell has a chance to go Sunday."
Shanahan also said Sermon “is on a good path” and would wear a blue (non-contact) jersey at practice Wednesday and work on a limited basis.
The Niners finished with 117 yards on 38 carries, an average of just 3.1 yards per attempt on a day in which every yard was difficult to come by.
After rushing for 104 yards in his NFL debut last week, Mitchell started in Mostert's place but struggled to get much going on the ground, as the Niners' offense didn't get on track until late in the first half. Mitchell finished with 17 carries for 42 yards and had two catches for 11 yards.
Hasty had the most success of the Niners' runners, carrying five times for 38 yards to go with four catches for 21 yards. Sermon gained 8 yards on his lone carry but suffered a concussion when he took shoulder and helmet shots to the head on the attempt.
Sermon will immediately go into the concussion protocol and must clear it before he can return to the field. Shanahan was unsure of the severity of Hasty's ankle injury after the game, and he, too, is set for further tests back in the Bay Area.
In between Hasty's and Sermon's exits and Mitchell's return, Cannon carried once and lost 1 yard to put a cap on a whirlwind week in which the 49ers claimed him off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday.
"He's only been here since Wednesday and we dressed him to help us out on special teams today," Shanahan said. "And from what I saw he did a hell of a job and we weren't expecting him to go in at running back, but I think he did go in and I'm just glad he knew what to do."
Depending on the status of Mitchell, Hasty and Sermon come Wednesday's practice, the 49ers could need to add another back to the mix.
Veteran back Kerryon Johnson could be one option if needed after he was signed to the practice squad last week. In addition, San Francisco signed Jacques Patrick off of Cincinnati's practice squad.
Patrick appeared in all three preseason games for the Bengals, compiling totals of 31 carries, 156 yards and a touchdown. He displayed exceptional speed and an ability to make plays out of the backfield, traits that could immediately make him an asset for a team in need of playmakers at the position.
Prior to joining Cincinnati last April, Patrick shined with the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers in 2019, recording 60 carries for 254 yards and two scores in five games played. He spent the 2020 season on the Bengals' practice squad.
On Wednesday, they added another running back to their practice squad. The team announced the signing of veteran back Chris Thompson.
Thompson was a 2013 fifth-round pick in Washington and spent seven seasons with the team before moving on to Jacksonville last year. Thompson has 257 carries for 1,214 yards, 232 catches for 1,918 yards, and 16 total touchdowns over the course of his career.
I will, of course, be watching this situation closely and will report back via Late-Breaking Update -- likely on a daily basis -- as the 49ers prepare to host the Packers in their home opener on Sunday night.
Other notes of interest. ... The 49ers are 2-0 after defeating the Eagles on Sunday, a game in which Shanahan elected not to play No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance.
Shanahan said Monday that San Francisco isn't going to play Lance just to play him. But Lance's lack of snaps in Week 3 may also have to do with Jimmy Garoppolo's performance as the starter.
Through two games, Garoppolo has completed 71 percent of his passes for 503 yards with no interceptions. He's averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, taken only one sack, and has a passer rating of 111.4. But many of those passes have been close to the line of scrimmage, with Garoppolo not pushing the ball down the field too much.
Shanahan said that's not for lack of ability.
"Jimmy, with the way he throws and the torque he has in his upper body, he's almost just like a jug machine," Shanahan said, via Alex Didion of NBCSportsBayArea.com. "He can sit there flat-footed and just throw completely from his core with the way his upper body turns and the way his hip turns. He can make almost every throw.
"But Jimmy, as far as his footwork, I think his is the most consistent, the best he's been at it since I've been with him."
As Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons noted, how long that footwork will be able to keep Lance on the bench remains to be seen. But if Garoppolo can continue running the offense efficiently and effectively, Lance will have all the time he needs to get ready to start. ...
Deebo Samuel had six catches for 93 yards and Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow believes Samuel clearly looks like Garoppolo's top target early this season. His 282 yards receiving are the second-most in the Super Bowl era through two games for the 49ers, trailing only Jerry Rice's 285 in 1989.
Beyond that, Brandon Aiyuk had one reception (two targets) for six yards in Sunday's win.
Aiyuk returned to starting opposite Samuel after falling to fourth on the depth chart in Week 1. The 2020 first-round pick logged 54 percent of offensive snaps after being limited to just 30 percent last game. Despite the increase in playing time, Aiyuk didn't get much attention offensively. Shanahan claimed that Aiyuk's role reduction was due to a lingering hamstring injury, but the wideout has been a full participant in practices for two weeks now.
As CBSSports.com suggested, it is unclear when Aiyuk will exit the "doghouse" and return to a prominent role on San Francisco's offense, but fantasy managers should definitely wait to deploy him until we see some evidence that he is truly back.
Who's not in the doghouse?
George Kittle isn't in the doghouse, but he isn't very involved in the offense, either.
Kittle corralled all four of his targets for 17 yards against the Eagles, but was unable to break off any of his signature YAC runs in this one, as Philadelphia's fast defense was quick to take him down on all four of his receptions.
The star tight end hasn't gotten off to the start fantasy owners were hoping for, totaling just eight receptions (nine targets) for 95 yards and no touchdowns through two contests.
The positive news is that Kittle appears to be healthy, so there will be better days ahead for the unique weapon in Shanahan's offense. Perhaps a home matchup against the Packers under the lights of Sunday Night Football will be the game we see Kittle finally break out.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, it is one of Pete Carroll's favorite questions, whether in the midst of a news conference or rallying his players in the locker room.
"Can you win the game in the fourth quarter?" has been Carroll's cry, and usually during his time in Seattle the answer has been "Yes."
In Week 2, his team provided a resounding example of how to lose a game in the fourth.
While it hasn't always been textbook, the Seahawks under Carroll have rarely had a complete collapse in the final period. The lead might get taken away for a moment or two, but only on rare occasions have the Seahawks failed with their end-of-game execution.
Seattle lost 33-30 to Tennessee in overtime after blowing a 30-16 fourth-quarter lead. The offense sputtered. The defense let Derrick Henry run for 107 yards in the fourth and overtime. Jason Myers missed an extra point that changed some of the math.
It took a collective series of mistakes to send Seattle (1-1) to the surprising loss.
"There was a game to be won there. That's why it's a real disappointment to let them get away with it," Carroll said Monday.
While there was plenty that bothered Carroll, what stood out was penalties. Seattle was flagged 10 times for 100 yards, five of those personal fouls, including a taunting penalty on D.J. Reed.
"We failed to make the good decisions at the time of the end of the play," Carroll said.
But from a fantasy perspective, it wasn't horrible.
The Seahawks' new offensive system isn't lacking for big plays. Seattle already has three touchdowns of 60 of more yards after Tyler Lockett's 63-yard TD catch and Freddie Swain's 68-yard TD reception on Sunday. Lockett also had a 69-yard TD catch in Week 1 against Indianapolis.
The three TDs of 60 or more yards are the most in any single season for Seattle dating to at least 1994, per the Pro Football Reference database. And Seattle has accomplished it in two games.
But Booth notes that Seattle's late-game offense was abysmal and as much a cause for concern as the yards Henry churned out.
The Seahawks had just two first downs on their final four possessions, with both of those coming in the closing seconds of the fourth. Seattle went three-and-out twice while leading 30-23, and in its only overtime possession, Russell Wilson was overly aggressive with first- and second-down throws. Carroll wished Wilson would have gone with other options to try and get the offense moving.
"I wish he would have been able to keep us moving with a couple of check downs late in the game, in the overtime in particular," Carroll said.
While the overtime throws were noted, Wilson's bigger misses were in regulation. On third-and-2, Wilson couldn't connect with DK Metcalf on a downfield shot. On Seattle's next possession, Wilson seemed slightly late with his throw and Metcalf was stopped 1 yard short of a first down.
The Seahawks hope to get back on track this week as they begin a two-game road trip on Sunday at Minnesota.
Seattle has won seven straight against the Vikings, including last year when the Seahawks escaped with a 27-26 victory at home on a 6-yard TD pass from Wilson to Metcalf with 15 seconds left.
Other notes of interest. ... There's no disputing who has been the Seahawks' most explosive player through the first two games. Lockett is the answer, thanks to his league-best five receptions of 20 or more yards. He has 12 catches for 278 yards (second in the league), a staggering 23.2 yards per reception, with two of his three touchdowns being more than 60-yard catches.
Lockett's start to the season is notable historically, too. His 278 receiving yards is a franchise record for most through two games, a record previously held by Seahawks Legend Steve Largent (215). With 178 yards in Sunday's loss to the Titans, Lockett tied Largent's franchise record with four career 150-yard receiving games. ...
Chris Carson rushed 13 times for 31 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans.
The Seahawks shifted to a pass-heavy game plan Sunday, but Carson was the clear lead back, logging 13 of the team's 14 running-back carries. He wasn't effective with his limited touches, recording 2.4 yards per carry. However, he cashed in with two goal-line scores.
On the other side of the ball. ... Bobby Wagner set a franchise record with 20 tackles against the Titans. The fact he needed to make 20 tackles speaks to other issues with the defense, but the perennial All-Pro was everywhere. The impressive part was Wagner had 16 solo tackles. "It's cool, but we lost," Wagner said.
On the injury front. ... Right tackle Brandon Shell sprained an ankle in the fourth quarter, but Carroll said initial MRIs came back optimistic it isn't a significant sprain. ... WR D'Wayne Eskridge could return this week after suffering a concussion in Week 1 against Indianapolis. According to Carroll, Rashaad Penny will miss this week's game with the calf injury he suffered in Week 1 and that sidelined him against the Titans.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
In his 22nd season in the NFL, Tom Brady is hard-pressed to find many career "firsts." But through two weeks of the regular season, Brady has thrown a league-leading nine touchdown passes, besting his previous career high, after throwing five scores in a 48-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.
"I think any time you have a guy like Tom leading us, I think you're in a good spot," said wide receiver Chris Godwin, who has two touchdowns in two weeks. "All the skill players around him trust him, and trust is one of the biggest things you can have in this game."
Brady tossed a pair of touchdowns each to tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Mike Evans, and connected with Godwin in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Mike Edwards finished the job with two fourth-quarter pick-sixes, becoming the first player since Robert Massey in 2012 to record two interceptions returned for scores in the fourth quarter of a single game, and the first player since Zach Brown with two such touchdowns in a single game.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine notes, including the postseason last year, the Buccaneers (2-0) have now scored at least 30 points and won each of their past nine games, the longest streak in NFL history. Brady and Gronkowski have also combined for six touchdowns in three games dating back to Super Bowl LV -- their best three-game mark in 11 seasons together. And Gronkowski joined Ben Coates (1994) and Dee Mackey (1962) as the only tight ends in league history with at least two touchdown receptions in each of their team's first two games.
"It's dope. I think the more we go, the more we figure out each other, I think the better it's gonna be," Godwin said. "It's not easy to put up 30 points in this league. I think that's a testament to not only our offense, but our defense continuing to give us opportunities to go out there and score touchdowns.
In addition to Edwards' two scores from the defensive side -- just the third time in Buccaneers franchise history that a player has achieved that feat -- outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett picked off Matt Ryan in the third quarter, setting up Evans' second touchdown.
"What I think, and I'm sure other guys feel the same way, is I think we can do better. I really do," said Brady, who has thrown for 655 yards this season. "And I really think we have the opportunity, with the way that the games are flowing and the opportunities we're getting with the ball -- we have even more. ..."
"We're trying to do something special with the offense this year," said Evans, who had five catches for 75 yards. "We did pretty good today making plays, but obviously there's still more out there. ... But it's cool, man. Everybody has to be ready. We have so many guys that can get the ball at any given time. We just have to make sure we're ready."
Laine went on to suggest that despite the potent scoring, the Buccaneers' offense still feels like it hasn't reached its full potential.
Its five turnovers through two games are tied for the most in the NFL through Sunday's 4 p.m. ET games, as well as tied for the league lead of 22 penalties.
The Buccaneers have also posted a 39.1 percent conversion rate on third down, tied for 17th in the league. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone has been their strength, with their seven touchdowns in that area tied with the Arizona Cardinals for most in the NFL.
"We've been a little loose with the ball," said Brady, who lost a fumble on a first-quarter sack. "Some penalties at different times that have knocked us out of some scoring drives, some missed throws that I've had, some missed reads. I certainly wish I had made some better throws tonight. But it's good to get the win, be 2-0 and there's a lot to build on, and it's good to beat a division opponent."
The Buccaneers meet another high-powered offense in Week 3 on the road in the Los Angeles Rams, who are averaging 30.5 points a game with new quarterback Matthew Stafford. That will give an indication of where the Bucs stand this early in the season, especially after a 27-24 loss to the Rams at home in Week 11 last year.
"Obviously we got 14 points out of the defense but we left points out there offensively," head coach Bruce Arians said. "I haven't seen us get close to playing consistently yet. Hopefully we'll get there next week because we are going to have to. ..."
In a related note. ... According to the league, Brady's five touchdown passes on Sunday gave him 35 career games with four or more. That ties him for second all-time with Peyton Manning. Drew Brees has the record, with 37.
Brady could get there soon. He now has four straight regular-season games with four or more touchdown passes. That ties Dan Marino for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Peyton Manning, who did it five times in 2004, has the record. Brady is also only the fifth quarterback in NFL history with at least four touchdown passes in each of his team's first two games.
And he's 44. And, yeah, he'll probably play until he's 50. ...
With his pair of touchdown grabs against the Falcons, Gronkowski enjoyed his nineteenth career regular-season game with two or more touchdown receptions.
Gronk is now second on the all-time list among tight ends for multi-touchdown games. He passed Tony Gonzalez. With two more two-or-more touchdown-reception games, Gronk will match Chargers tight end Antonio Gates with 21. Gronkowski has added a pair of two-touchdown games in the first two games of the 2021 season. Only Ben Coates in 1994 and Dee Mackey in 1962 have matched that feat.
On 13 targets in two games, Gronk has 12 catches for 129 yards and four touchdowns. ...
The Buccaneers could be without one of their key offensive contributors for Sunday’s showdown with the Rams.
Tampa Bay announced that the team has placed receiver Antonio Brown on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Arians reporting that the team is 100 percent vaccinated, Brown’s placement on the list is the result of a positive test.
But Brown is eligible to return to the active roster with two negative COVID-19 tests 24 hours apart.
Brown started the season opener against the Cowboys and caught five passes for 121 yards with a touchdown. He played 65 percent of the offensive snaps in that contest.
But his playing time and targets went down in Week Two, as he caught just one pass for 17 yards while playing 44 percent of the offensive snaps. Brown also served as Tampa Bay’s punt returner in Week Two following Jaydon Mickens’ hip injury.
Brown is the third Bucs player to go on the COVID-19 list this week, joining linebacker Kevin Minter and practice squad receiver Travis Jonsen.
Tampa Bay is still pretty loaded at receiver, with Evans, Godwin, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Jaelon Darden at the position. Darden has been inactive for the first two weeks of the season but could make his rookie debut at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
The Buccaneers placed also linebacker Kevin Minter on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a result of a positive test and also placed practice squad wide receiver Travis Jonsen on the list as a result of a positive test. ...
I'll be following up on Brown's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... Running back Ronald Jones II was benched after losing a fumble in Week 1 against the Cowboys. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry on six rushing attempts versus the Falcons, but also missed a blocking assignment on a blitz that resulted in Brady being sacked. Arians reiterated the fourth-year pro has to eliminate mistakes that are undermining his performance.
"He's got to play better," Arians said. ...
Elsewhere the injury front. ... Mickens had an MRI performed on his hip. Arians was awaiting an update, but said he didn't think the team came out of Sunday's game with any serious injuries.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans found a way to silence Seattle's notorious noise that hadn't been heard for nearly two years.
The Titans leaned on their All-Pro star and staged the kind comeback they haven't pulled off in a regular-season game in more than a decade.
"I don't think anyone expected us to come here and get a 'W,'" Henry said. "I knew if we stuck together, trust in what we preach and what coach preaches, play the way we practice, it would eventually come together for us."
Henry ran for 182 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, Randy Bullock hit a 36-yard field goal midway through overtime, and the Titans rallied from a 14-point deficit to stun the Seattle Seahawks 33-30 on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Henry was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
"It just never ceases to amaze me. We just got to keep being in opportunities and being in football games where he can help us affect the outcome," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "That's really what happened today."
Down 24-9 at halftime and 30-16 early in the fourth quarter, the Titans leaned on their All-Pro running back, who carried them on the day Seattle welcomed fans back for a regular-season game for the first time since the end of the 2019 season.
They left in silence, thanks to Henry, a terrific fourth-quarter drive from Ryan Tannehill and Seattle's missed opportunities.
The Titans rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit to beat Kansas City 22-21 in the 2017 playoffs. The last time Tennessee pulled off a bigger comeback in the regular season was 2006 when it erased a 21-0 halftime deficit to beat the Giants 24-21.
Henry rumbled 60 yards for his second touchdown of the game less than a minute after Swain's TD catch. His 1-yard run with 29 seconds left in regulation and the extra point from Bullock tied the game at 30.
And when Tennessee needed yards in overtime after nearly ending the game with a safety, Henry had four runs for 21 yards to set up Bullock's winning kick.
Henry also had a career-high six receptions for 55 yards and his 182 yards rushing matched the most allowed by Seattle during coach Pete Carroll's tenure. Tannehill was 27 for 40 for 347 yards and Julio Jones had the 59th 100-yard game of his career with six receptions for 128 yards.
Most important, the Titans avoided an 0-2 start.
"I don't get caught up in all the scenarios and records," Henry said.
For what it's worth, Tannehill was 7 for 7 on the final drive of regulation, six of the seven passes going to running backs. The Titans faced just one third down and on first-and-goal, Henry plunged in from the 1.
Tennessee finished with 532 total yards, including 345 in the second half and overtime.
According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, Henry now has four career games with at least 150 yards rushing and three or more touchdowns. Only Barry Sanders (six), Jim Brown (six) and LaDainian Tomlinson (five) have more. Eric Dickerson also had four.
Henry also became the 18th player in league history with at least 10 games of 150 yards rushing. The Titans are 10-0 in those games.
"He got rolling, and when he gets rolling, he's dangerous," Seattle's Jamal Adams said.
The truth is, however, the Titans produced in all areas. The offense held the ball for 42 minutes, 33 seconds -- more than 20 minutes more than Seattle. The defense held Seattle to 4 of 12 on third down (33.3 percent), forced three-and-outs on three of the final four drives and got a third sack that was a near safety to force a final punt in overtime.
Bullock missed only one of four field-goal attempts, making a 36-yarder for the win. Punter Brett Kern flipped the field, pinning Seattle at its 13 in overtime with a 53-yard punt.
The Titans now have an opportunity to build some momentum with three straight games against winless teams. The Colts visit Sunday, then the Titans go to the New York Jets and Jacksonville before hosting Buffalo and Kansas City in the span of six days in October. ...
Other notes of interest. ... "Yes," ESPN.com's Turron Davenport wrote, "this was the Julio Jones Titans fans expected to see."
A seven-time Pro Bowler, Jones came up big for the Titans on Sunday after a less-than-stellar debut in Week 1. Jones caught six passes for 128 yards, including a 51-yard catch on a deep ball down the middle of the field. According to Davenport, Jones looked smooth as he ran under that one, and he looked tough when he snagged other catches out of the air.
Jones also looked like he got both feet inbounds on what was initially ruled a touchdown, but that call was later reversed.
"I always come out here and try to do every play the best way I can possibly do it," Jones said. "That starts in practice so that when I get to the game, I'm ready to go. I'm just out there having fun."
As for A.J. Brown, it was a struggle, as he let a number of balls go off his hands and caught just three balls for 43 yards on nine targets. "Someone from my family told me I wouldn't have caught COVID today if I'd tried," Brown said on social media after the contest.
The bet here is he bounces back against a Colts defense that's struggled to shut down Tyler Lockett and Cooper Kupp in two games this season. ...
On the injury front. ... The Titans' offensive line took a big blow two hours before kickoff when left tackle Taylor Lewan limped off the field with a knee injury suffered in early pregame warmups. Ty Sambrailo started in Lewan's place, the same role he took on last year after Lewan was lost to a season-ending knee injury in October. The injury woes up front persisted for Tennessee as left guard Rodger Saffold III went down with a shoulder injury briefly in the first half, returned, then left for good in the third quarter.
Also. ... Tight end Anthony Firkser missed Sunday's win with a knee injury. He did not practice Wednesday. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 September 2021
Ryan Fitzpatrick's addition to the Washington Football Team brought with it plenty of promise and possibilities. His departure in the season opener due to hip subluxation looked to be a deflating blow for the Football Team.
Enter Taylor Heinicke.
As NFL.com's Grant Gordon put it, "Having memorably filled in for another injured veteran QB in the postseason, Heinicke's fortitude and moxie keyed Washington's comeback on Thursday Night Football, as the Football Team rallied to a 30-29 win over the rival New York Giants."
"That's exactly how he played, it was very gutty,” head coach Ron Rivera said. "The thing that was real impressive about him was the way he bounced back after the turnover. Prior to that, he went down and, in what, three plays, he scored a touchdown and turned around, and we were trying to kill the clock, and he made a bad read, made a bad decision.
"But getting that opportunity, he stepped up again."
Heinicke, who finished the game 34-for-46 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns, engineered an 11-play, 50-yard game-winning drive that concluded with a Dustin Hopkins 43-yard field goal for the win. On the march to victory, Heinicke was 4 of 6 for 23 yards, but most importantly was able to shake off an interception to James Bradberry the previous drive and rally Washington.
It all added up to a dramatic win, but one Rivera admitted his team was "fortunate" to pull out.
After all, a 56-yard Daniel Jones touchdown run for the Giants in the first half turned into three points after a holding penalty on the play. A Jones would-be touchdown lob to Darius Slayton bounced off the receiver's grasp in the second half. And when Hopkins' 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt was no good, a Giants penalty gave him a second try that he converted from 43 yards.
But in just his third career start -- including last year's playoff loss to the Buccaneers in which he filled in for Alex Smith -- Heinicke led Washington to a win and showed the intangibles that convinced Rivera to stick with him rather than seek a veteran to take over in the interim for Fitzpatrick.
"He's got a little swagger to him and his teammates feed off of it, they really do," Rivera said. "When you watch the way those guys do feed off of him, it's pretty impressive. Just feeling that if he can make some things happen and the guys rally behind him, we can get some momentum and roll and see what happens."
Up next for Washington is a road game at Buffalo and plenty of time without Fitzpatrick and with Heinicke. The 28-year-old believes he has what it takes to lead Washington for the long run, including beyond the eight weeks Fitzpatrick is predicted to miss.
"I do," Heinicke answered when NFL Network's Michael Irvin asked him if he believed he'd earned the right to start for the rest of the year, "and I have confidence that I can do it. If those guys in the locker room and the facility believe in me, that's all that matters and I think they do, so [we'll] try to keep this ball rolling."
On Thursday, the ball was rolling the right way for Washington and Heinicke was a big reason why.
Heinicke targeted Terry McLaurin 14 times against the Giants, notable because Fitzpatrick did not throw the way of Washington's top receiver once in the quarter and a half before getting injured in the season opener. McLaurin made 11 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Next up, after the mini-bye week, which Rivera would have preferred later in the season, the Football Team visits Buffalo on Sunday.
It's worth noting that prior to the Week 1 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, McLaurin was asked the question: Who are the toughest cornerbacks he's faced in his young career?
McLaurin answered quickly with three names: the Philadelphia Eagles' Darius Slay, Green Bay Packers' Jaire Alexander and Buffalo Bills' Tre'Davious White.
McLaurin squared off against White during his rookie season at Highmark Stadium. Sunday's game against the Bills will be Round 2, and McLaurin knows that he's in for a fight.
"His press man technique is very patient," McLaurin said Tuesday. "He does a really good job of cutting off the receiver when they get into their route. He's strong when he's in press coverage with his jam, and he can run with pretty much any receiver."
McLaurin added that White excels at undercutting routes, which likely explains why he was ranked as the No. 7 cornerback by Pro Football Focus in June. In fact, 17.1 percent of targets in White's direction have resulted in either a pass breakup or interception in his career.
On the injury front. ... RB Antonio Gibson (shoulder) was limited in Wednesday's practice. It's an injury he first suffered in Week 1 but he was able to play through against the Giants last week.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes