Team Notes week 5 2016
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Carson Palmer was going through the NFL's concussion protocol on Monday and head coach Bruce Arians said he wasn't ruling out the quarterback for Thursday night's game at San Francisco.
That changed on Wednesday, when the team did just that; Palmer was officially ruled out this week.
As Associated Press sports writer Bob Baum suggests, the loss of Palmer will be another blow to an Arizona team that has stumbled to a 1-3 start after opening the season with the highest of expectations.
Palmer's head slammed to the turf on a sack by Aaron Donald late in the Cardinals' 17-13 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
With Palmer out, the job falls to Drew Stanton, who re-signed this offseason to return as the Cardinals' backup.
Arians reiterated his confidence in Stanton, who he brought to Arizona after their year together in Indianapolis in 2012.
"He's beaten this team before, the 49ers," Arians said. "Everybody has a ton of confidence in Drew."
Stanton led Arizona to a 23-14 win over San Francisco in Week 3 in 2014.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is reminded of how Stanton filled in for Palmer in 2014.
"Drew did a nice job of coming in and winning," Fitzgerald said. "We have to keep playing. We have to keep fighting. If Drew is playing in San Francisco -- and we don't know what the scenario is going to be -- but we're going to be prepared. ..."
In a related note. ... Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported on Monday that the Cardinals would promote quarterback Zac Dysert from the practice squad. Dysert signed to the Cardinals practice squad after spending the summer with the Dolphins. He's also been a member of the Bills, Texans and Broncos since Denver drafted him in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, but has never appeared in a regular season game.
Dysert will be the man behind Stanton with Palmer out this week.
In addition, Chris Johnson left the Sunday game against the Rams in the fourth quarter when he sustained a groin injury after a 7-yard gain. He could barely walk off the field under his own power, and after the game, he needed a security guard to drive him to his car in the players' parking lot.
On Tuesday the Cardinals announced they had placed Johnson on injured reserve. He'll miss at least eight weeks.
Arians on Monday said Andre Ellington would take any snaps Johnson would have received when the Cardinals return to action Thursday night at the 49ers. The team also re-signed RB Kerwynn Williams on Monday. ...
Safety Tyvon Branch (groin), tight end Darren Fells (shoulder), defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) and defensive lineman Josh Mauro (chest) also did not participate in Monday's practice.
While Floyd was finding his way again, Brown was reintroduced to the offense. He had 144 yards on 10 catches after entering Sunday's game with games of 8, 14 and 70 yards.
But they were just minor bright spots in an otherwise unproductive offense. Palmer was sacked three times, threw one interception and barely escaped another.
At times, though, it wasn't just the on-field play that caused the offense to slow. A holding penalty by tight end Jermaine Gresham early in the second quarter erased a touchdown run by Chris Johnson. Arizona settled for a field goal.
But at times, the Cardinals' offense simply just struggled, such as when it failed to get a touchdown from the Rams' 4-yard line late in the third quarter. Arizona settled for a field goal.
Indeed, after leading the NFL in several major categories last season, Arizona's offense has begun this season in a malaise. Through four games, all 10 of Palmer's first-quarter drives have resulted in punts, putting the defense behind the eight-ball.
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling suggests, rather than using the run and the short passing game to set up downfield strikes, the Cardinals have been forcing the deep ball in inopportune situations.
David Johnson rushed for 83 yards on 17 carries an average of 4.9 yards per run but the Cardinals abandoned the ground game after proving it was effective and was starting to wear down the Rams' defensive front.
Johnson also lost his first fumble of the season, a critical error in the fourth quarter that killed Arizona's opportunity to run some time off the clock.
QBs: Josh Rosen, Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gabe Holmes
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Maybe they knew they were just saving it all up for the Panthers.
It sure looked that way Sunday, as the Falcons dominated what was supposed to be a strong Panthers defense in a 48-33 win thanks, in large part, to the deep connection between Jones and Ryan.
Jones had catches of 75, 53, 43 and 32 yards on a day he set a franchise record with 300 receiving yards. The 75-yarder was a catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter where he slipped by the coverage and a weak tackle attempt by Bene Benwikere. The play put him right at the 300 mark, the sixth time a player has had 300 yards in NFL history.
Jones also surpassed the previous record of 259 yards he had against Green Bay in 2014 en route to being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
"It looked pretty good from where I was standing," Ryan said of Jones' score off a crossing route. "That was a great call, I think a really aggressive call by Kyle [Shanahan] in that situation."
On the same play, Ryan set a franchise record with 503 passing yards (28-of-37 with four touchdowns) surpassing the previous record of 448 he put up against New Orleans in 2014.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there had never been a 500-yard passer and 300-yard receiver in the same game in NFL history.
Eighteen other players have thrown for 500 or more yards in a game. Norm Van Brocklin set the record 65 years ago, with 554. Five other players have 300 or more receiving yards in a game. The record of 336 was set by former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson in 1989.
"The connection with Matt and Julio today was as strong as ever," head coach Dan Quinn understated.
Going down the field and creating explosive plays is something Ryan and Jones talked about all offseason. In fact, Ryan spent time with two former baseball players to work on his throwing mechanics and strengthened his arm. Jones was one of the first to note how much stronger Ryan looked throwing the deep ball.
It helped that the Panthers single-covered Jones at key times with an inexperienced secondary no longer boasting Josh Norman. Rookie cornerback James Bradberry got banged up early in the game, which didn't help the Panthers' cause. Then another rookie cornerback, Daryl Worley, saw time on Jones.
"They put the young corner on me man-to-man," Jones said. "If they would have two-manned me or cheating a safety over to me, Matt would have made great reads and hit the others guys that were open. ... But they singled me out today one-on-one. And Matt made some great decisions."
Jones was asked if this might be the last time he draws one-on-one coverage.
"Um, we'll see," he said. "Defensive coordinators, you never know what they have in store. ... You just have to be ready for any and everything."
But Jones would be just fine if those defensive coordinator continue to single-cover him.
"I love it," Jones said.
So what does it all mean in the big picture?
Well, if the Falcons continue to be dominant on offense, they just might be able to compete with anyone in the league. Hitting on such big plays will be tough against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos this week and Richard Sherman and the Seahawks in two weeks.
But as McClure summed up: "The way Jones and Ryan looked Sunday, they look capable of being explosive against anybody. ..."
Worth noting: Three of the Falcons' five touchdown drives Sunday had distances of 92, 98 and 99 yards. Coming into the day, there had been one touchdown drive of 98 or more yards this season. It was only the second time in the last 15 seasons that a team had three 90-yard touchdown drives in a game.
The more impressive accomplishment for the Falcons is that, after losing badly at home to the Buccaneers to start the season, Atlanta has won three in a row, with an average of 42.667 points per game.
Again, the next two weeks will test the Falcons. But all indications so far suggest they're ready for Denver and Seattle.
But Coleman's status and role this week are in question.
Coleman carries the sickle cell trait, a genetic abnormality affecting red blood cells, which is worsened at high altitudes, such as Denver, sometimes causing severe dehydration or trouble breathing.
But head coach Dan Quinn said he expects Coleman to play against the Broncos.
"There's been a number of guys who have sickle cell trait who've played in Denver over the last nine years and certainly before then," Quinn said. "So we fully intend on Tev playing and playing well."
Quinn downplayed the possibility that Coleman's reps would need to be monitored.
"I guess coach will see how I feel when we get there," Coleman told ESPN. "And I just have to communicate with him, if I am out there [playing], if I'm dead [tired] or can't breathe. We just have to play it smart."
In August, Coleman was pulled from the end of a practice as a result of his condition and the extreme heat.
Through four games, Coleman has 129 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 40 carries. He also has 13 receptions for 181 yards.
I'll be watching for more on that in coming days, but Coleman confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to play. ...
Freeman recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season against the Panthers. He finished the game with 13 carries for 57 yards. The rushing score was the 13th of his career and his first since week 16 of 2015.
And finally. ... The Falcons signed free-agent linebacker A.J. Hawk to help fill a void at the position after losing Sean Weatherspoon for the season.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As the Sports Xchange suggested this week, much of the Ravens' success hinges on quarterback Joe Flacco's arm and his surgically repaired left knee.
If the offensive line doesn't find a way to protect Flacco better, he could have trouble making it through another season. In Week Four against Oakland, Flacco faced constant pressure and was sacked twice. The Ravens were missing two rookie starters on the offensive line left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis and their absence kept the team out of sync.
Head coach John Harbaugh expressed some optimism about getting those players back for the Week 5 game against the Redskins. Harbaugh is also hopeful the offense is ready to break out of an early slump.
"We are playing really hard, really physical, fast football," Harbaugh said Monday. "We are capable of being an excellent offense. We are going to get there. So, our guys are capable of doing it. We're going to keep pushing them and prodding them. We're going to keep encouraging them to get to the point we translate plays and yards into points. That's what we need to do."
Flacco was lost for the 2015 season when he tore his ACL and MCL on Nov. 22 against the St. Louis Rams. Over 10 games last season, Flacco threw for 2,791 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Baltimore finished the year 5-11 and Flacco aggressively rehabbed the knee to be ready for this season.
While Flacco has appeared healthy, he has dealt with consistent pressure over the first four games. So far this season, Flacco has thrown for 1,072 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating is 79.3.
Better performance from the offensive line will be the key going forward. ...
Meanwhile, Terrance West seemed to cement his grip on the primary tailback role for the Ravens with his career-high 113-yard, one-touchdown performance in Sunday's loss. But Baltimore Sun staffer Edward Lee reports that wasn't enough for Harbaugh's immediate vote of confidence.
During his weekly news conference Monday, Harbaugh declined to declare West the starting running back despite the fact West registering the team's first 100-yard rushing game since Oct. 11, 2015, when Justin Forsett went for 121 yards and a score against the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm not going to say that," Harbaugh said. "I'm not going to get into all that. I just think that's great to write about, but for us, it's nothing for us to waste any energy on. We're going to put the guys out there that are playing well. Our guys know this: If you're playing hard, you're playing smart, you're playing fundamentally sound, and you're productive, you've got a chance being out there again because everybody's counting on everybody else to get the job done. If one of those things falls down, then you leave the door open for another guy to get their opportunity."
But the Ravens did narrow the field on Tuesday, when they released Forsett.
With rookie Kenneth Dixon on the mend from a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, suffered in the team's third preseason game on Aug. 27, Forsett's struggles (98 yards on 31 carries) and the team's decision to deactivate him prior to Sunday's game hinted that he could be the odd man out if the organization needs to make a roster move.
That leaves West, Dixon and Javorius Allen on the roster.
Parting ways with Forsett didn't save the team any money, since his $3 million base salary was, as a practical matter, fully guaranteed by his status on the Week 1 roster. He now becomes a free agent. And he could find a home with one of the various teams that need running backs.
I'll be watching this situation in coming days. Baltimore Sun staffer Jeff Zrebiec believes, barring a setback in practice this week, Dixon will make NFL debut Sunday. Zrebiec added that West and Dixon should be No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Steve Smith caught eight passes for a game-high 111 yards with a touchdown against Oakland. Smith decided to forego his planned retirement after his 2015 season was cut short with a torn Achilles. Smith (985) passed Randy Moss (982) for 14th on the NFL's all-time receptions list.
"It has been a long rehab and next week will be 11 months," Smith said about the recovery time for the injury. "You just have to make the plays that come to you and that's what I'm trying to do."
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-year player from Harvard, set career-highs for receptions (six) and yards (56). Juszczyk was also effective picking up blitzes and has played himself into being a bigger part of the offense. ...
Tight end Maxx Williams left the game against Oakland with a lingering knee injury in the second quarter and could not return. Williams, a second-round pick from Minnesota in 2015, has struggled to get on the field this season. Harbaugh expects Williams to be available this week, but the team promoted Daniel Brown from the practice squad on Wednesday.
Brown played six games for the Ravens as an undrafted rookie last year. He caught six passes for 64 yards and has moved from wide receiver to tight end with Baltimore.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Alex Collins, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
After the Bills' 16-0 win Sunday over the New England Patriots, head coach Rex Ryan said he "expected" to win because Tom Brady was serving the final game of his four-game suspension.
"It's satisfying, but let's face it, they had a player out," Ryan said, referring to the Patriots' quarterback. "They had a player out, and we had our team, so we expected to win."
Time will tell if Rex Ryan can validate his approach over the long term, but for at least one day he led his team to a win over a divisional foe.
Prior to kickoff Sunday, Bills defensive backs and Patriots receivers were involved in an altercation during warm-ups that was quickly extinguished by coaches. Bills safety Robert Blanton and Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell were among those initially scuffling.
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft commented on the fight minutes later to 98.5 The Sports Hub, saying, "I think if you are less-than-disciplined in your personal approach, your team takes on the attitude of the coach. ... My guess is Rex [Ryan] probably loves that. ... Why Rex is Rex and Bill [Belichick] is Bill."
In response to Kraft's comments, Blanton said, "We have a disciplined team. I think it's clear today we also had the better team."
However, Ryan agreed with Kraft, saying, "I think so too. They probably weren't as disciplined as they should be. I think that's probably what happened."
Gloating from Ryan isn't a big surprise. The offensive output against the Patriots -- with Sammy Watkins not involved -- was.
The Bills had some early success through the air and it helped them jump to a 13-0 lead. Tyrod Taylor completed 27 of 39 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, and perhaps more important, he did not turn the ball over.
Taylor had never won an NFL start where he threw at least 30 passes. He had been 0-6 in such games.
The line committed five penalties, including four holds, but otherwise the protection was actually pretty good. One player who stepped up was Robert Woods, who had seven catches for 89 yards.
As the Sports Xchange suggests, what was interesting is that Taylor threw the ball over the middle on several plays, a weakness in his game to date.
In addition, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal points out the Patriots pressured Taylor on 40 percent of his dropbacks when they sent five or more pass rushers, but the Bills' quarterback completed 9-of-13 passes for 88 yards on those plays.
Taylor completed the game's lone touchdown to LeSean McCoy when facing a five-man rush from the Patriots. He also avoided a six-man rush and pressure on third-and-10 to complete an 11-yard pass to Walter Powell late in the game.
McCoy managed 70 yards on 19 carries, which doesn't look like much, but he actually had a great day in making something out of nothing. He also was a threat in the passing game as he added 38 yards in receptions. The Bills used Mike Gillislee a bit more and he had 30 yards on six carries, while Taylor ran a couple of keepers on options and gained 28 yards. ...
As mentioned above, the Bills announced last Friday that Watkins was going on the injured reserve list due to his sore left foot. He is eligible to return after eight weeks, but a report surfaced Sunday that Watkins is going to North Carolina for a second opinion, and he may opt for a second surgery that would end his season.
Watkins originally had surgery in March, and he really hasn't done much of anything since. In the two games he played, he caught only six passes for 63 yards.
I'll be following up on his status in coming days as well as that of Charles Clay, who was resting his injured knee on Wednesday (as he usually does).
In a related note. ... NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Wood suddenly has a solid target floor with Watkins out of the mix for the foreseeable future. This also an extended audition for Woods, who is a free agent after the year, to potentially garner interest on the open market from a team with more of a high-volume pass attack. He might be someone to sniff around in dynasty formats, especially.
And a few final notes. ... Wideout Justin Hunter, whom the Bills claimed off waivers from Miami last week, could make his debut this week. red reserve.
"It's a possibility we'll see him this Sunday," said Ryan. "I know he's been at it. He's studying so we'll see how he is on the practice field. I hope he can help us because I'd like to get that big body out there, that kind of size and speed that he has. I think that can really help us, particularly in the red zone. Hopefully he gets up to speed quickly."
The Bills made a roster move at the tight end position Tuesday. Buffalo released veteran TE Jim Dray. Dray was signed in the offseason to serve as a blocking tight end in the team's offense. The emergence of Bills former sixth-round pick Nick O'Leary however, has eaten into Dray's playing time the last couple of weeks.
Dray, 29, was used more by former offensive coordinator Greg Roman the first two weeks of the season. His role was reduced after Anthony Lynn took over play calling duties in Week 3. Meanwhile O'Leary, who got just three snaps on offense in each of the first two games this season, got 14 snaps against Arizona and then 27 in Sunday's win at New England.
The offensive staff likely feels that O'Leary offers more versatility as he can serve as an H-back, catches passes and has apparently improved his blocking to the point where he can help in the run game as well. That versatility makes Buffalo's offense more unpredictable.
Taking Dray's vacant spot on the roster was practice squad TE Gerald Christian.
QBs: Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Brandon Reilly
TEs: Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
The Panthers are 1-3, their MVP quarterback has a concussion and their young secondary just allowed Matt Ryan to throw for 503 yards and four touchdowns.
Yep, the NFC's best team last season is reeling.
The Panthers are 1-3 for the fourth time in six seasons under head coach Ron Rivera, but the two-time NFL Coach of the Year said this one feels different.
"I think we should be better than we are," Rivera said Monday.
Carolina has won three straight NFC South titles, but is two games behind the Atlanta Falcons (3-1) one quarter of the way through the season.
And now there's a chance they could be without Cam Newton for a while.
Newton left Sunday's 48-33 loss to the Falcons in the fourth quarter with a concussion and did not return. Rivera said Newton's status for next Monday night's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is uncertain. The Panthers visit the New Orleans Saints in another division matchup in Week 6 before a bye week.
Derek Anderson, who threw two TD passes and two interceptions against the Falcons, would start if Newton isn't cleared from the concussion protocol. Anderson was 2-0 as a starter for Carolina in 2014 with both wins coming against Tampa Bay.
Rivera last spoke to Newton after the game at the Georgia Dome and said the quarterback told him, "I'm fine."
But the coach said he hadn't spoken to Newton on Monday and that "I have no idea what has come out of the meeting with the doctors."
The Panthers returned to practice Wednesday and Newton was not on the field.
Newton inexplicably slowed down nearing the goal line on a 2-point conversion run on Sunday and took a legal hit from linebacker Deion Jones.
Rivera, a former NFL linebacker with the Chicago Bears, seemed to have no problem with the hit, saying "If I was playing I'd have taken the shot."
Even before the injury, Newton wasn't playing particularly smart.
He was flagged for a taunting penalty in the first quarter and finished 14 of 25 for 165 yards and a touchdown with a few overthrows.
Newton has eight combined touchdowns and six turnovers so far this season. At this point last season, Newton had nine combined TDs and three turnovers -- and the Panthers were on their way to a 14-0 start and a trip to the Super Bowl. His QB rating (80.2) is at a career low and he's only completing 57.9 percent of his passes.
The offensive line, which was missing left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) on Sunday, has allowed 13 sacks against Newton, considered to be one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league.
Rivera said the team needs to learn how to better utilize the options they have on offense in order to help preserve Newton.
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed suggested, "Newton has been a human pinball," getting hit 840 times while either throwing or running since entering the league as the NFL's top draft pick in 2011, according to ESPN. Second on that list is Russell Wilson with 303 fewer hits.
The good news? This week's Monday-night kickoff gives Newton an extra day to get through the protocol. I'll be following up on a daily basis via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
The same goes for Devin Funchess, who injured a toe on his right foot late in the fourth quarter on Sunday. His status for Monday night is unclear. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Jonathan Stewart missing his second straight game with a strained hamstring, the Panthers again failed to establish a ground game. Their 49 rushing yards snapped an NFL-best 30 straight games of 100-plus rushing yards. Falling in a big hole didn't help, but Cameron Artis-Payne who has rushed for 59 yards on 18 carries doesn't threaten defenses like Stewart does.
Stewart made his first appearance in a couple of weeks at Wednesday's practice, although not in pads.
Before Newton exited early in the fourth quarter, he did hit WR Kelvin Benjamin for a 6-yard score, the Panthers' first offensive touchdown in 18 drives. Fozzy Whittaker led the Panthers with nine receptions, which says plenty about their day.
QBs: Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Head coach John Fox didn't want to speculate Monday on how much longer Cutler would be out with a sprained thumb after calling it a "significant injury," but did say the starting quarterback position is like any other.
"I think it's performance-based," Fox said. "So anybody that's performing well, I don't think we're going to be likely to change."
Hoyer, an eight-year veteran, threw for 302 yards on 28 of 36 with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday's 17-14 victory over the Lions.
Hoyer has yet to throw an interception in three Bears appearances, and is 67 of 97 with a passer rating of 103.3 heading into Sunday's game in Indianapolis.
Cutler had a 75.7 passer rating and completed 28 of 46 passes for a touchdown and two interceptions. Cutler's two starts came against Philadelphia and Houston while Hoyer faced Dallas and Detroit.
When Cutler is healthy enough to return, Fox said evaluation of the spot will begin. At least until then, Hoyer is still the starting quarterback.
"I think we'll evaluate it just like we do every position on the football team," Fox said. "I think Jay has played a lot of good football.
"In fact in the (film) cut-ups watching Detroit in last year's two games I thought he played pretty well. We'll evaluate it like everything. Right now I don't like getting into speculation and predictions because we'll know more on Wednesday."
Another thing Hoyer did well was distribute the ball to different receivers after Alshon Jeffery had been the chief target opponents sought to stop.
Three Bears caught four or more passes and Eddie Royal took a pass over the middle 64 yards to set up a score.
It also didn't hurt Hoyer to be able to lean on a running attack that featured a back Fox said reminded him of former Carolina running back Stephen Davis.
"Just being the main guy, you know you can be comfortable and relaxed, sort of," Howard said. "You don't have to worry about being pulled very fast, so you can definitely get into a rhythm."
Fox said he thought Howard tired out Detroit's defense, and the rookie wouldn't disagree.
"I felt like they were getting worn down as the game went on," Howard said. "I definitely try to make the defense not want to tackle me toward the end of the game. So I try to bring everything I have on each run."
Langford is out with a sprained ankle and Carey with a hamstring pull. So it's likely Davis will continue to get work.
"He's got good feet," Fox said. "He's got good vision. I think his hands are better than I think we thought, even when we drafted him.
"He does have an even-keel demeanor. He's not going to go real high. He's not going to go real low. But he's a very instinctive football player."
Fox was also encouraged by another young player, wide receiver Kevin White.
But White suffered an ankle injury Sunday against the Lions the second-year wideout has been placed on injured reserve. He'll miss at least eight weeks with a reported high ankle sprain and fracture.
It's a major disappointment for White, who seemed like he was developing a good rapport with Hoyer. White had six catches in each of Hoyer's two starts.
"I thought it was by far his best game," Fox said. "I think he was real aggressive. I think he caught some contested balls.
"I think after the catch he was aggressive to get extra yards. I thought it was his best performance."
Now we'll all have to wait to see how long the absence will be. Royal will move up to the No. 2 spot in White's absence.
I'll also point out that Royal enjoyed his best game Sunday receiving yardage-wise since 2010 with 111 yards. His 64-yard catch-and-run came about because the Lions double-teamed Jeffery, who had run a route all the way near the Bears' bench, leaving the deep center and left unprotected.
Unfortunately, Royal (calf) and Miller (ribs) were both held out Wednesday. I'll have more on their status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
Getting back to the QB saga. ... It should be noted that Cutler played behind a leaky offensive line -- particularly in the opener at Houston -- and without the benefit of a running game before hurting his thumb in that game. That was also the case against the Eagles. But as ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson suggests, what cannot be disputed is that Cutler did not run the offense well prior to his injury.
Over seven quarters, Cutler guided the offense to 25 total first downs. He also committed three turnovers.
Compare that to Hoyer, who in about nine quarters has helped the Bears move the chains 49 times and has one turnover this season.
Dickerson added: "Hoyer did enough to earn another start. The days of Cutler having enough clout inside the organization to force himself back on the field -- ready or not -- are probably over. ..."
And finally. ... RB Raheem Mostert was waived Monday and DL CJ Wilson was signed back to the roster. Wilson was on the team briefly last week but was cut on game day to make roster room.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
TEs: Trey Burton, Dion Sims, Ben Braunecker, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted, there's a reason wide receiver A.J. Green is a clear-cut No. 1 -- for both his team and fantasy football owners everywhere.
When Green is on, there are few better options. And when he's having a big night, he's almost unstoppable.
After two relatively quiet weeks where he totaled 115 receiving yards in consecutive losses, Green bounced back in a big way against the Miami Dolphins last Thursday night, posting eight receptions for 123 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Green had already reached the 100-yard mark with 11 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the quickest to 100 receiving yards for any player this season. The previous high was set by Lions receiver Marvin Jones, a former Bengal, who had 111 at that point in Week 3 against the Packers.
Green set the tone with an athletic leaping catch over Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard for 51 yards. Green outmuscled Howard to come away with the ball, and followed that up with a 19-yard reception on Howard three plays later. Green capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown grab.
It's the second 100-yard game of the season for Green, who outmanned Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis for 180 yards and a touchdown in Week 1.
While Green has been carrying the passing attack, the red-zone offense has been an ongoing weakness for the Bengals.
As Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson notes, in the last three seasons, the Bengals have been in the NFL's top five twice as well as 11th, including their high of No. 2 in 2013. Last year with Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert leading the way with 13 touchdowns, the Bengals finished fifth with a touchdown percentage of 66.
But with Eifert (ankle) shelved for the first four games of 2016, the Bengals are threatening the Marvin Lewis-era low of 2008, when they scored 15 red-zone TDs all season in the year quarterback Carson Palmer missed 12 games and they finished 27th in the rankings.
Now they're heading into Dallas Sunday ranked 31st with just four touchdowns in 13 forays inside the 20 and only one of them on a pass -- and perhaps without Eifert once again.
According to Terrell and here ESPN colleague Adam Schefter, Eifert suffered setback at practice this earier this and he did not practice Wednesday. The issue is apparently with his back and Eifert is not expected to play now.
Nonetheless, I'll be following up on this status when Late-Breaking Update commence.
Assuming there is no Eifert again this week?
"If he doesn't come back right away we are going to get better regardless, said Ken Zampese Monday, the Bengals' first-year offensive coordinator juggling the new targets. "These will be the same guys doing it over and over again. We'll be better with the group we have. And when we get him back in the mix he'll add whatever he ends up adding to us."
By this time last season Dalton had six red-zone TD passes, three to Eifert, two to Green and one to Marvin Jones. It doesn't take a genius figure out that they're missing four of those with Marvin Jones averaging more than the red zone at 21 yards per catch for the Lions.
But Zampese isn't buying it.
"We should have more than we have," Zampese said. "And we've put ourselves in bad situations on our own. Self-inflicted. Regardless of who we have in there we're better than what we've shown and we'll be better as we go forward. We'll make sure."
And how do they fix it?
"It's not one thing. It's one thing this play and another thing another play and collectively it works out not to be productive enough," Zampese said. "So we'll keep at it. We're going to get those little techniques better and we'll have a more productive unit as we go forward."
Meanwhile, against the Dolphins, drives of 54, 80, and 85 yards resulted in field goals. The Bengals amassed 362 total yards, but scored only one touchdown, despite reaching Miami's 25-yard line on six occasions.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, kicker Mike Nugent probably needed some extra ice, after kicking a career-high five field goals on Thursday.
"I had a lot of opportunities tonight," Nugent said.
Let's hope those opportunities diminish in coming weeks. ...
One last note here. ... Cincinnati continues to make strides in the running game, which was non-existent through the first two weeks. Jeremy Hill has rushed for 174 yards combined over the past two games, including 71 on Thursday. Giovani Bernard's production was less than impressive against the Dolphins, as he managed just 18 yards on the ground on 10 carries and added 24 yards on three catches.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Bernard's fantasy value relies heavily on game script and Hill remains a touchdown dependent RB2. "Hill is the better option on a week-to-week basis," Franciscovich added. "But you'll have to hope for a touchdown whenever you roll the dice on starting him."
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Mark Walton, Giovani Bernard
WRs: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Cody Core, Bennie Fowler
TEs: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Mason Schreck
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
At 0-4, the Browns are the NFL's only winless team and the losing streak to start the season is being heightened by an alarming eruption of major injuries, costly turnovers, blown leads, missed opportunities and just some rotten luck.
"It's like nothing can go right," wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said Monday.
First-year coach Hue Jackson entered the season knowing it would be tough balancing the growth of one of the league's youngest teams -- Cleveland has 16 rookies on its roster -- with success on the scoreboard and standings.
"I didn't think it would be this difficult," Jackson said, cracking a smile.
"It's tough, but I'm seeing a lot of young guys improve. We're just not seeing what I want to see, and what the team wants to see, on the other side of the ledger."
Cleveland's rough start under Jackson continued on Sunday with a 31-20 loss to the Redskins, who took advantage of two fumbles -- one on a quick whistle -- and an interception thrown by Cody Kessler to put away the Browns.
The loss included another significant injury as starting center Austin Reiter tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in his first pro start and is done for the season.
Reiter is the eighth starter to get hurt and continues a constant shuffling of Cleveland's offensive line.
Reiter was starting because John Greco had moved back to right guard after Jackson benched Alvin Bailey for one game following his arrest last week on suspicion of operating a vehicle while impaired.
Greco had taken over at center after starter Cam Erving sustained a bruised lung in the season opener.
So in four games, the Browns have had three quarterbacks and three centers, a troubling scenario for any team to handle never mind one as inexperienced as the Browns.
With Erving expected to miss at least a few more weeks, Greco anticipates returning to center and Bailey will be back in the lineup after Jackson said his punishment is over.
"I don't hold grudges," Jackson said.
Of course, things won't get easier for the Browns, who have the misfortune of hosting New England on Sunday in quarterback Tom Brady's return from his "Deflategate" suspension -- and coming off a shutout loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"Not fun at all," Jackson said. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Marc Sessler notes, Pryor has emerged as one of the most fascinating players league-wide. Cleveland's quarterback-turned-wideout blasted the Dolphins for 200 total yards in Week 3 before making a rash of early plays against the Redskins.
Pryor notched his first-ever touchdown grab in the first half, but was largely erased over the final 30 minutes by All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
Unlike last week, Pryor barely played under center as Kessler guided a run-heavy operation. ...
Kessler made one major mistake and it was a costly one. He threw a fourth-quarter interception on a pass intended for Pryor. The Redskins converted the takeaway into a touchdown and an 11-point lead. Kessler showed maturation, though. He did not force the throw that was picked. Norman cut in front of Pryor to make the play. Kessler spread around 28 completions to seven different receivers. ...
According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot, Josh McCown (shoulder) will miss his third straight game this week and Kessler could ultimately secure the starting job permanent basis during McCown's absence. ...
Running back Isaiah Crowell joined some elite company when he added to his 2016 rushing total by running for 112 yards against the Redskins.
Crowell leads the team with 386 rushing yards this season, the most by a Browns player through the first four games since Jim Brown rushed for 476 in the first four games in 1965 on his way to being named the league MVP. Crowell is the first Browns player to record at least 60 rushing yards in each of the team's first four games since Earnest Byner did it in 1985. ...
Crowell (hamstring) was limited in Wednesday's practice -- as he was last week. The injury shouldn't be an issue, but I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, the Browns made the right decision to hold onto kicker Cody Parkey. After missing three field goal tries last week, Parkey was 2 for 2 against the Redskins, hitting from 51 and 45 yards.
"He's a good football player," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "In this league, you don't go to a Pro Bowl and hit the ball the way that this kids does (if you aren't)."
Parkey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with the Eagles. The Browns signed him on Sept. 24 when their kicker, Patrick Murray, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
A few final notes. ... Robert Griffin III will have his injured left shoulder re-examined this week. Jackson said the checkup could determine whether RG3 needs surgery. ... TE Randall Telfer sustained a high ankle sprain and will likely miss several weeks. ...
And finally. ... NFL teams were notified on Monday's official transactions report that wide receiver Josh Gordon remains on the league's reserve/suspended list.
Gordon checked himself into a treatment center late last week. He hasn't played since Dec. 2014 after being suspended for all of last season; terms of his conditional reinstatement in July included a suspension for the first four games this season. The Browns have hinted they'll be parting ways with Gordon at some point in the future.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Derrick Willies, Damion Ratley, Rod Streater
TEs: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, Dak Prescott never gets tricked by the question, no matter how someone asks what happens when Tony Romo returns from his latest back injury.
But Dixon went on to suggest the answer will only get more complicated for the Cowboys if the rookie keeps playing this well in his record-setting debut.
With a victory at home against Cincinnati on Sunday, Dallas (3-1) will be guaranteed a winning record for the widely projected Romo return date of Oct. 30.
Then again, maybe it's not complicated if you listen to tight end Jason Witten, Romo's favorite target, close friend and teammate for all of their 14 seasons since they came into the NFL together with the Cowboys in 2003.
"I think it's really simple," Witten said Monday. "I said how I feel about Tony, and I think there's only a few people that are on this planet that can do the things at that position what he's done in his career. He'll continue to come back and play at a high level."
And Witten isn't trying to downgrade the performance of Prescott, who has an NFL rookie record of 131 pass attempts without an interception to start in his career.
He has essentially shared the mark with Philadelphia's Carson Wentz all season. Wentz, who is at 102, had last weekend off.
Prescott has led the Cowboys to three straight wins after a loss in the opener dropped them to 1-14 without Romo since the 2013 finale.
The 23-year-old is a victory away from the franchise rookie record for victories in a season, and he's the first Dallas rookie with consecutive games of a 100-plus passer rating.
Every week, the questions for Jerry Jones get more direct over whether the owner and general manager is willing to let Prescott ride when Romo is ready.
"We know that we dream of having that kind of dilemma," Jones told reporters after the game in San Francisco.
"That is a good place to be as you look at the next 12 games in the NFL and playoffs is to be really sound at that position. I think we aren't out over our skis a little bit to think that way."
Yes, Jones said playoffs -- a year after the Cowboys slid from first to worst in the NFC East at 4-12 because they couldn't win without Romo and star receiver Dez Bryant, who has a hairline fracture in his right knee.
Dallas beat the 49ers without both, and without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, starting guard La'el Collins and stabilizing cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
Never mind the three suspended defensive players in pass rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and linebacker Rolando McClain.
Lawrence returns this week after a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"I didn't expect it," Jones said. "They are not looking back. They are lining up with literally who we have at game time. I like that attitude. We learned a lot last year."
Prescott has repeatedly said the Cowboys are still Romo's team, and he didn't skip a beat when asked in a slightly different way after Sunday's game if it was becoming his team.
One last item on Prescott: The Elias Sports Bureau notes the rookie became the first Cowboys rookie QB to win a game when trailing by at least 14 points. Prescott's 131 pass attempts without an interception are tied with Warren Moon for the 2nd-most attempts without one to start a career, trailing only Tom Brady (162). ...
Other notes of interest. ... Bryant isn't happy about an ESPN report early Sunday morning suggesting he had missed or been tardy to as many as 20-40 team meetings in his career, including more than a handful this season before he went AWOL earlier this week out of fear of a serious injury to his knee.
"I got to be America's most hated," Bryant said. "We don't even know who's saying it. That's the crazy part about it."
Bryant stirred controversy earlier in the week for no-showing for two MRI exams scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and missing team meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jones didn't deny the veracity of the report though he said the exact number of missed meetings was wrong. Most important, Jones said the Cowboys remain behind Bryant.
"He's loved by his teammates. He's respected by his teammates. He's respected by me. He's respected by his coaches," Jones said. "He has a few foibles. He's different than me. And so we have to look at those, but his qualities seriously outshine that. Since the beginning of time, meetings and the timeliness of his meetings have been his No. 1 issue."
For the record, Jones also said he "wouldn't rule out" Bryant (knee) for Sunday's game against the Bengals.
That said, Bryant did not practice Wednesday, instead doing some resistance training off to the side.
Also on the injury front. ... According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys might need to bring another kicker in this week after Dan Bailey felt a back injury flare up against the 49ers.
"We don't have anything scheduled right now," head coach Jason Garrett said. "But that is certainly an option as the week goes on."
Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal last week, his second miss in two weeks. He did hit a 22-yarder and all three extra points, but misses are rare for Bailey.
Watch the Late-Breaking News section for more on Bryant and Bailey in coming days. ...
Without Bryant, Brice Butler stepped up to fill a bigger role, tying for the team lead in targets. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Butler has the frame of a top wideout at 6-3 and over 200 pounds while demonstrating solid play speed. He's a sleeper to watch if Bryant misses more time. ...
And finally. ... As NFL.com's Marc Sessler notes, Ezekiel Elliott's yardage (51, 83, 140) and yards per carry (2.55, 3.95, 4.67) increased with each game heading into Week 4. His 138 yards at 6 yards per pop came within a fingernail of extending that trend, but forget the stats: Elliott is a massive talent, who runs downhill with power and grows stronger as the game winds on.
He initially struggled against this NaVorro Bowman-led defense, but caught fire once Bowman was lost to injury in the third quarter.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
WRs: Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Brice Butler
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Gary Kubiak always had a definitive answer last season when he gathered his players every Monday to let them know whether Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler would start that week.
"Trevor is our starting quarterback," Kubiak said, "and hopefully he is going to be OK. I'm really proud of Paxton and how he came in and played yesterday."
A week after becoming the first player in league history with 300 passing yards, four TD passes and zero interceptions in his first career road start, Siemian was off to another solid start Sunday. But he was sacked by Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who slung the Broncos quarterback to the turf on his left shoulder for an 8-yard loss late in the second quarter.
Siemian left the field on his own following his third sack and later received a ride to the locker room on a cart. He donned a baseball cap after halftime, finishing 5 for 7 for 68 yards, including an 11-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on Denver's first offensive play.
Lynch completed 14 of 24 passes for 170 yards and a TD to Emmanuel Sanders and engineered a 16-play scoring drive coming out of the break that chewed up more than half of the third quarter.
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton noted, however, as impressive as Lynch was in relief, Siemian, the 250th overall draft pick in 2015, has now outdueled three overall No. 1 picks in his first month as a starter: Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston.
Kubiak said Siemian was day to day with a sprained left shoulder, and the quarterback appeared to be in his usual high spirts as he zipped through the locker room Monday without stopping to take questions.
"Obviously, it's his non-throwing shoulder, so it's about getting him to where he feels like he can go through the motion again," Kubiak said, noting it would be a matter both of pain tolerance and mechanics. "Throwing the ball is not going to be a problem, it's how does it feel when he moves his whole trunk. We'll have to see."
Siemian on Tuesday told a local radio station that he was "feeling pretty good" and was "better today than I was yesterday."
"It's just sore," he added. "Thankfully, it's my left shoulder, so it makes it a little better."
Kubiak said he won't make a definitive decision on his starter until week's end but noted the cerebral Siemian could miss much of the week's practice and still get the starting nod Sunday. Indeed, Siemian was not on the field for positional drills on Wednesday.
If Siemian is a no-go, however, Lynch, the 26th overall pick out of Memphis in the NFL draft this spring, would make his first start when the Broncos (4-0) host the Atlanta Falcons (3-1) in the biggest showdown of the young NFL season.
For what it's worth, Kubiak sees his pair of young QBs not as a liability but as an embarrassment of riches.
"We're probably going to need them both. It's just kind of the nature of the business nowadays," Kubiak said. "Here we are, four weeks into the season, and we've used them both to get to where we're at. It's exciting to watch both of them grow and both of them prepare each week. I think they both have bright futures. That's great for our organization."
In a related note. ... When Lynch replaced Siemian, the Broncos didn't have to change one aspect of their offense, and Lynch looked comfortable operating under the Bucs' pressure.
In addition, Sanders remained the No. 1 receiver. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Sanders had six targets in the second half from Lynch to just four for Demaryius Thomas, and accumulated 33 yards and a touchdown. Lynch also brings more of a downfield element to the Broncos offense, even after Siemian showed progress as a deep thrower in Week 3.
Lynch's 13.4 average depth of aimed throw dwarfed Siemian's 7.6 average for the season.
Harmon went on to suggest that whoever starts, both Thomas and Sanders are viable plays with the concentration of targets and better than expected play under center in Denver. Sanders is the top player in town though, as he now has 42 targets to 26 for Thomas.
A few final items here. ... Despite C.J. Anderson's struggles with efficiency on Sunday, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes that his return to the end zone was a welcome one for fantasy owners. He bounced back a bit in terms of fantasy from a slow Week 3 game, but still didn't impress with his rushing production averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.
Franciscovich went on to suggest it's hard to complain about three rushing scores in four games, but surely Anderson's fantasy owners would like to see him churning out more yardage on a weekly basis.
He's collected just 86 rush yards over the last two games and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on the season. ...
And last but not least. ... Tight end Virgil Green practiced some Wednesday after missing the last two games with an injured calf.
QBs: Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Leslie, Carlos Henderson
TEs: Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Matt LaCosse
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Head coach Jim Caldwell is shrugging off speculation about his job security just a quarter of the way into the season.
The Lions' 17-14 loss to Chicago on Sunday dropped them to 1-3 and Caldwell's future came into question at Monday's news conference. Caldwell, whose four-year contract runs through next season, didn't seem concerned.
"We don't worry about that," he said. "My job is to coach this team and get this team headed in the right direction."
Caldwell said he meets with general manager Bob Quinn on a daily basis, but he would not elaborate whether his job performance has been discussed.
"If it was, I wouldn't tell you," Caldwell told reporters. "What we talk about in terms of those meetings are things we don't discuss publicly."
After a 39-35 win at Indianapolis to open the season, the Lions have dropped three straight by a total of 11 points. Two of the losses have been two NFC North rivals. Detroit hosts the undefeated Eagles (3-0) on Sunday.
Some Lions players defended Caldwell, who showed last season that a turnaround is possible. The Lions won six of their final eight games to finish 7-9.
"Coaches don't go out and play, they just prepare us," tight end Eric Ebron said after Sunday's loss to the Bears. "They don't play for us. We play the game. If we don't execute the game plan they put together, we lose."
If the Lions hope to put together some wins, they will likely need more from receiver Golden Tate, who was targeted four times against Chicago and caught one pass for one yard in limited action. Tate has 14 receptions for 95 yards and no touchdowns this season.
According to Detroit News staffer Justin Rogers, Tate was benched to open the third quarter after a route miscommunication at the end of the first half resulted in a critical interception.
Stafford berated Tate immediate after the play, but during his postgame news conference, the quarterback tried to take the blame for the mistake.
"At the end of the day, communication is on the quarterback, so I have to do a better job of getting what I want out to them," Stafford said.
Tate also looked to shoulder responsibility, saying he missed a pre-snap signal.
"Just a silly mistake on my part," Tate said. "That cost us three points. It's tough. That can't happen in this offense. This team expects more out of me, so I've got to be on point."
Tate started the second half on the bench and was used sparingly down the stretch, a move Caldwell attempted to play off as a premeditated decision not related to the turnover.
"We wanted to give Andre (Roberts) a chance," Caldwell said. "It was our plan beforehand."
In the locker room, Tate confirmed getting Roberts more playing time had been discussed.
He said he's keeping a positive attitude and will look to put in some extra work to get back to that level.
"I'm a very accountable person and I'm going to need to dig deep and find a way," Tate said. "Whether that's studying, spending another hour in the playbook, at the facility, with Matt. Whatever I need to do, I need to find a way to be more of an asset to this team. Right now, I'm not coming through."
Tate played a season-low 57 percent of the Lions' offensive snaps after averaging better than 85 percent in the season's first three weeks. He finished the game with just one catch for one yard. He also had a two-point conversion.
For the year, Tate has 14 grabs for 95 yards, well off his pace from the previous two seasons, when he averaged 94 receptions and 1,072 yards.
It's a situation I'll be watching for more on in coming days. Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking News section for more.
Another player I'll be watching is Dwayne Washington, who suffered a sprained ankle and foot against the Bears -- although the rookie running back is hopeful he won't miss any time with his injuries.
Washington has 76 yards on 18 carries this season and has been the Lions' most effective runner in the two weeks since Ameer Abdullah was placed on injured reserve with a potentially season-ending foot injury.
The Lions have run for just 116 yards total the last two weeks with Theo Riddick as their No. 1 back.
Washington had two carries for 6 yards and played just seven snaps against the Bears. Zach Zenner replaced him as the Lions' No. 2 running back in the second half.
If Washington can't play this Sunday against the Eagles, the Lions may have to sign another running back to their 53-man roster as Riddick and Zenner are currently their only healthy bodies at the position. It's worth noting that Caldwell said on Wednesday he'd like to get Zenner the ball more.
And finally this week, Ebron had an ice pack on his ankle after Sunday's loss and also hurt his knee during the game, continuing a year that's been plagued by injuries since Ebron hurt his ankle early in training camp. Washington, Ebron and Marvin Jones, who is nursing the same tender hamstring he played through last week, were all held out Wednesday.
More on all three via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Also of interest. ... Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the team signed tight end Clay Harbor to the roster.
Harbor was a member of the Patriots until he was released on Monday. He saw action in the last three New England games, but the team needs roster space with Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich returning from suspensions.
Harbor didn't catch a pass for the Patriots, but has 111 career catches over six years with the Eagles and Jaguars before he made the move to the Patriots. Cole Wick and Khari Lee have also seen time at tight end for the Lions this year with Wick joining Ebron as the only ones to catch passes from Stafford.
Orson Charles was released to make room for Harbor.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Bradley Marquez
TEs: Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to the Associated Press, an unusually early bye week did the Green Bay Packers some good.
The team returned to work Monday and practiced for about 90 minutes at nearly full strength as a few key defensive players returned from injury.
"The bye couldn't have come at a (more) perfect time," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said. "Now we're getting guys back, getting guys healthy, and that's what you really want going down the stretch."
Burnett joined star linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle Letroy Guion and defensive end/linebacker Datone Jones in practice after they were sidelined for Green Bay's pre-bye win over the Detroit Lions on Sept. 25.
The improved health of the team after a week off comes as the Packers (2-1) get ready to host the New York Giants on Sunday night.
"We need everybody out there," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "It's going to be a competitive game."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said earlier Monday that he would have to wait to see how the injured players who returned to the field fared in practice before assessing just how healthy the Packers will be for their next game.
Veteran cornerback Sam Shields still hasn't been cleared to resume football activities after missing the past two games because of a concussion.
"He's improving," McCarthy said. "I know the break was good for him. He was able to go home."
But McCarthy indicated the team is being very cautious with Shields, who has a history of head injuries. A concussion kept him from playing four games toward the end of last season.
"No stone has been left unturned," McCarthy said. "I think we have a very good handle on why and how and really the process for him to come back."
The Packers' pass defense has struggled without Shields, giving up numerous big plays and allowing an average of 307.3 yards through the air to rank 29th.
"Obviously, if it was that easy, anybody would be doing it," cornerback Damarious Randall said.
McCarthy and his staff devoted the team's meetings and practice time Monday to self-improvement with a focus on cleaning up the fundamentals.
And Green Bay's players are unfazed that having the bye after only three games means the team will have to finish the season with a long, uninterrupted stretch of 13 games and possibly more once the postseason comes.
Dating to the preseason, the Packers had four straight on the road -- the final two preseason games and the first two of the regular season -- followed by Sunday's home opener against the Lions. After the bye, they have three more at home before a stretch of four out of five on the road, including three straight from Nov. 13-28.
The only break comes following the Thursday night game against the Bears on Oct. 20; they'll have 10 days before their next game, at Atlanta.
"I'm not a big fan of it," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the early bye. "But it actually comes at a good time for us based on the way our team is health-wise The tough part is you go on a 13-game stretch after this. We do have a mini-bye after the Thursday night Chicago game, but health is a premium. We've seen it every single year. It's the teams that are playing the hottest but also that are healthy at the end of the year that go on a run."
TE Jared Cook remains out. The eighth-year pro suffered a significant injury to his right ankle in the pre-bye victory over the Lions on Sept. 25 and isn't likely to return this week and play against the Giants on Sunday night. FB Aaron Ripkowski went through practice Monday. The young starter suffered a back injury in the first half of the pre-bye victory over the Lions on Sept. 25 and didn't return to the game.
Considering Jared Abbrederis, Trevor Davis and Ty Montgomery have barely seen any playing time so far, Jeff Janis finally shedding the club cast he's worn to protect his broken right hand might not be revolutionary for the offense, but ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky notes the third-year receiver is ready if called upon like he was in last year's playoff loss at Arizona, where Janis had what seemed like a breakout performance with seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. ...
A few final notes here. ... Rodgers' four-touchdown performance in the first half of Green Bay's last game before the bye week was more like the Packers' vintage passing attack.
Rodgers & Co. had sputtered the first two games, particularly the Week 2 clunker in the prime-time road loss to the Vikings, before erupting at the outset of the Sept. 25 win over the Lions. That game ended Rodgers' dubious streak of 14 games with a passer rating below 100.
His passer rating early this season is only 98.6, but only eight full-time quarterbacks rank ahead of Rodgers.
However, Green Bay's undisputed leader needs to resolve surprising accuracy issues he has completed only 58.5 percent of his passes, though he's thrown just one interception with seven touchdowns. The protection of Rodgers by a revamped offensive line that no longer has Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton has been mostly solid. Rodgers has been sacked eight times, but he has been responsible for many of those.
Veteran receiver Jordy Nelson's return from a one-season absence because of a knee injury has been better than expected. Nelson has a team-best 17 catches for 216 yards and is tied for the league lead with four touchdown receptions.
Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy ended a personal drought of not rushing for 100 yards going back to Dec. 13 last season by running for 103 yards on 17 carries in Green Bay's most recent game. McCarthy made a concerted effort in that game to get Green Bay's running backs more involved after Lacy had only 26 carries in the first two games.
The punishing lead back is averaging 5.0 yards per rush, benefiting from an offensive line that is getting the job done in that area as well. The Packers, however, are sorely lacking punch beyond Lacy. Veteran backup James Starks has gained all of 9 yards on 12 carries. Rodgers (12 carries, 67 yards) and receiver Randall Cobb (four carries, 12 yards) have produced more than Starks so far.
And finally, with Cook ailing, free-agent tight end Robt Housler
worked out for the Packers.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Despite a 3-1 record and a two-game lead in the AFC South, there is still plenty the Texans need to work on before they travel to Minnesota.
Brock Osweiler has thrown six interceptions in the first four games, including two against Tennessee Sunday. Osweiler has thrown five touchdowns this season, with two of those coming in a 27-20 win over the Titans.
However, Houston coach Bill O'Brien said Monday he was not concerned about the number of interceptions Osweiler has thrown.
"I believe it will get fixed," O'Brien said. "Brock has played well for us. Other than the two interceptions, I thought the guy played a good football game for us, got us into the right plays, good tempo. We have to stop turning the ball over, and I think a lot goes into that, not just one player."
Osweiler completed 12 of his first 13 passes for 160 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 157.5 passer rating in the first quarter. However, he finished just 25 of 37 for 254 yards with the two scores and two interceptions for an 82.5 passer rating.
O'Brien said that when he looked at the interceptions, there was a lot that went into them, including Osweiler's decision, the way the receiver's route was run, protection and if Osweiler had to rush to get rid of the ball.
"The thing about interceptions is that when you study them, there have been a couple that haven't been good decisions that we have to clean up," O'Brien said.
Elsewhere on the offensive side, O'Brien said the Texans have to do a better job of getting DeAndre Hopkins the ball. Hopkins had one reception for 4 yards on six targets against Tennessee.
"They basically doubled him quite a bit," O'Brien said. "He had a big catch. Even though he had one catch, the catch he had was a big catch at the end of the game. It was a third-down conversion that took some more time off the clock.
"It's not like he didn't have a productive game. He blocked well, too."
Hopkins, who led the Texans in receptions last season, has 17 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games this season, but he is the second-leading receiver on the team. Rookie Will Fuller is the leading receiver with 19 catches for 323 yards and two touchdowns.
On a more positive note, with O'Brien calling plays, Texans get more creative, less predictable and harder to contain as a no-huddle attack kept the Titans on their heels in the first quarter. The tight ends were heavily involved. C.J. Fiedorowicz said O'Brien came up to him before the game and said he needed to "play big" this week. He did, with four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown.
"When he comes up to you, that means a lot," Fiedorowicz said. "When your number is called, you have to make the plays and I'll tell you I'm happy to get the ball."
In addition, the running game picked up steam. And the Texans capitalized on the rare speed of Fuller. There was even a flea-flicker pass, albeit one that didn't work out.
The offense converted both of its red-zone scoring opportunities. And the running game was more effective as the Texans averaged 4.8 yards per carry and finished with 115 yards on 24 attempts, led by running back Lamar Miller's 82 yards on 19 carries.
"I thought it was pretty effective," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "We moved the ball."
Despite the fast start on offense, in its first game without J.J. Watt since he was drafted in 2011, the Texans' defense did not have a great showing. A game after giving up 27 points to the New England Patriots, the defense allowed 20 to the Titans. The unit struggled against the run, something O'Brien had said would be a major key against the Titans' two power running backs, DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry. Murray scored two touchdowns and finished the game with 95 rushing yards.
"[He's a] very good running back," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Very fast, very elusive but can also run for power. A guy like that you just try to limit him as much as you can. You're not going to shut him down, but you have to limit the big plays and don't let him break as many tackles as he usually does."
Former No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney started in Watt's place at left defensive end. And while the front seven got some pressure on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, it had just one sack in the game.
"I had a bad series the last series, I had two offside penalties so I was like, ‘I got to make up for it this next series,'" Clowney said. "And I was just trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win the game."
One injury note of interest heading into this week's game against a very tough Vikings defense. ... Fiedorowicz suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, according to sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Tests on Monday determined that it's not a long-term injury. Fiedorowicz expressed relief Sunday that the injury wasn't more serious, but his status for this week is unclear. The Texans are already missing rookie TE Stephen Anderson (hamstring). Ryan Griffin should take over as the full-time tight end against the Vikings.
Also, Braxton Miller's status remains unclear. The rookie has missed the last two games with a hamstring issue and he isn't a lock to return this week -- although he was on the practice field Wednesday.
And finally. ... Fuller was named AFC special teams player of the week after helping his team beat the Titans with a 67-yard punt return.
Fuller also had seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, as he makes himself more a part of the offense as well.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, D'Onta Foreman
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Sammie Coates
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
It is one month into the NFL season, and the concern in Indianapolis is already growing.
Head coach Chuck Pagano is still trying to get his offense in sync, looking for ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks, working on convincing players to avoid preventable penalties and focusing on getting his team to function well at the same time.
If Pagano didn't have enough to contemplate before last weekend's trip to London, the eight-hour flight home certainly drove home the point.
"Obviously you can't keep spotting teams the leads and the points that we do and expect to have these comebacks," he said Monday.
The troubles have become pronounced that even players are speaking freely about what's gone wrong.
After Sunday's 30-27 loss to previously winless Jacksonville, Andrew Luck offered a rare, general critique by calling on the Colts (1-3) to "be more professional."
He also blamed this season's sluggish start to "bad ball" and a lack of "focus." Other players shared similar sentiments in the locker room.
And the usually cautious Pagano hasn't held back, either.
"Too many penalties. Too many missed opportunities. Too many dropped balls," he said Sunday. "We didn't tackle well, they ran the ball well. We didn't do our job on the defensive side when it had to be done."
For the Colts, these are not new problems.
Last season, they finished 18th in the NFL in penalties and routinely found themselves trying to dig out of early deficits.
Everyone from team owner Jim Irsay to Pagano's assistants spent the offseason discussing the need to better protect Luck, and general manager Ryan Grigson responded by using four of eight draft picks on offensive linemen.
So far, little has changed.
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells notes, so much of the Colts' success rides on the right arm of their franchise quarterback, but Luck can only carry them on his 6-4 shoulders for so long before it wears him down.
Luck was 26-of-41 for 232 yards with 2 touchdowns on the day.
"Andrew, as our leader, puts a lot on his shoulders," tight end Dwayne Allen said. "But it's not his fault. His supporting cast, myself especially, have to step up and play better. And we will play better."
It's true. At some point, somebody -- the front office, the coaching staff, teammates -- has to step up and lend a helping hand. Because while the Colts are trying to improve through the draft, everything in the end is based on results.
"We've all got to be better," Pagano said. "Every player in that locker room, player, coach, we're in this thing together."
Luck's skill-position players did not do any favors for the quarterback in the first half -- when Indy had four drops. To put those drops into perspective, 19 teams entered Week 4 with four or fewer drops on the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Three of the four drops were drive killers because they occurred on third down.
Meanwhile, Indy has allowed a league-high 15 sacks and Luck is on pace to be hit nearly 200 times this season -- far more than anyone wants.
While part of that could be explained by the infusion of rookies, three of whom started Sunday, the bigger concern has been the play of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a six-year veteran. Thirteen months ago, Castonzo signed a four-year, $43 million contract, but struggled most of last season and is off to another poor start this season.
But the problems go beyond the offense.
Only nine teams have fewer sacks than Indy (seven), only five teams have allowed a higher completion rate than Indy (68.1 percent) and only two teams have allowed more points than the Colts (125).
It's enough to baffle any coach, especially one such as Pagano, who had previously coached the secondary and served as a defensive coordinator.
"Penalties, poor execution, just fundamental things early on got us in the hole that we were in," he said. "Again, we had opportunities. There were plays to be made and we didn't capitalize on them."
So, before the Chicago Bears (1-3) come to town this weekend, Pagano will spend his waking hours looking for those seemingly elusive solutions.
"All you can do is keep coming to work, keep working to get better," Pagano said. "We've got to improve, got to find a way to play better early and you've got to finish."
Also of interest. ... Because of the long trip back, Pagano gave his players some extra rest Monday. Pagano also sounded hopeful about getting three injured players back this week. He said cornerback Darius Butler (hamstring) should return to practice Wednesday. He also expects right guard Denzelle Good (back) and right tackle Joe Reitz (back) to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.
Gore (chest) did not practice Wednesday -- not an unusual occurrence for him. But I'll follow up as needed Via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder) is continuing his rehab after being injured against Denver two weeks ago. He is not expected to return for practice for another couple of weeks at the earliest. Moncrief is listed as day to day in terms of his rehab work.
PK Adam Vinatieri improved his streak of consecutive field goals made to 33 with two against the Jaguars on Sunday. His streak currently ranks third in franchise history and is the longest active streak in the NFL.
And finally. ... The Colts announced that they have released cornerback Antonio Cromartie and waived linebacker Sio Moore. Both players started all four games.
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Jordan Wilkins, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Erik Swoope, Ryan Hewitt
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As the Sports Xchange suggested, it was not the most artistic win in the NFL on Sunday and was far from the most convincing triumph. But when you are the Jacksonville Jaguars and you have only tasted victory 12 times in the previous 51 games, your belief and response to that type of talk is "a win is a win."
Sunday's 30-27 victory over the Colts was not only was a win for Jacksonville, but it may have been a job-saving win. Talk behind the scenes and whispers in the locker room last week were that the Jaguars were playing to save head coach Gus Bradley's job. The ideal time to replace a coach during the season is the start of a team's bye week, thus giving the new man nearly two weeks to prepare for his first game.
The Jaguars are off this week in keeping with their request to have their bye week following their annual trip to London. So if Bradley was to be replaced, Monday or Tuesday of this week would have been the ideal time to do so. After all, Jacksonville had dropped its first three games of the season, albeit close defeats to both Green Bay and Baltimore, with a chance to win both games in the final couple minutes.
But on Sunday, it was just the opposite.
What the Jaguars do with the win in the weeks ahead will spell the difference between a successful season or another losing one. With upcoming games against Chicago, Oakland and Tennessee, all of whom appear to be close to the same level as Indianapolis, the Jaguars have a chance to right the ship and get beyond the .500 mark before a six-game stretch against Houston (two games), Denver, Minnesota, Buffalo and Detroit kicks in.
Before the season started, the Jaguars had the mind-set that if they could gain at least a split against their first four tough opponents, it would put them in a position to build momentum and make a strong second-half run. While they came up a game short of that mark, strong performances against both Green Bay and Baltimore lend support that the goal can still be reached.
It won't be an easy task. The Jaguars are young on offense and even younger on defense. In Sunday's game against the Colts, Jacksonville started four rookies on defense, while on offense, six starters are in their third year or less. That certainly bodes well for the future as only a handful of starters are older than 27.
One promising aspect from the London game was the dramatic improvement by young quarterback Blake Bortles.
The young signal-caller had not played well even though his 843 passing yards in the team's first three games might indicate otherwise. The most noticeable difference for Bortles was that he took care of the ball. He had thrown six interceptions and had one lost fumble in the team's first three contests. But on Sunday, Bortles had no turnovers and that enabled the Jaguars to keep their six scoring drives alive.
Bortles was quick to divert the praise to others.
"It was a really good team win," he said. "I felt like offensively it was good to see the run game get going and so some stuff there. I think the guys up front, the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and I think that's why we won the game. Allen Hurns (42-yard scoring reception) is an unbelievable player and can make plays and do things like that. I never thought he was going out of bounds (on his TD catch). He's an unbelievably smart player and he knew to stay inbounds to keep the clock running and then obviously he cut back and was able to make some guys miss and score a touchdown."
Bortles finished the game hitting on 19 of his 33 pass attempts, good for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with his season-best 96.4 QB rating.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted this week, Allen Robinson is still the target hog of this this offense, garnering just over 30 percent of the team targets including several red zone looks.
But Harmon felt there was a bigger game to be had here. The Colts committed multiple pass interference penalties on Robinson and he misplayed an end zone target.
Harmon went on to note that Allen Hurns still isn't seeing enough volume, accumulating almost all of his production on a long 42-yard catch and run touchdown. Hurns (89 percent) played more snaps than Marqise Lee (71 percent) but they are beginning to cannibalize each other. ...
Another positive. ... The Jaguars had rushed for less than 70 yards in each of their first three games, yet almost doubled that number with a 136-yard effort against the Colts.
The two-headed monster of T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory that was expected to be so potent still hasn't kicked in. Yeldon did his share in the game with 71 yards on 14 carries (5.0 per attempt), but Ivory continues to struggle as he only accounted for 29 yards on eight attempts (3.6 yards per carry).
The key to adding to the ground game was the scrambling of Bortles, who finished with 36 yards in seven planned runs or scrambles. Four of his five scrambles went for 6 yards or more. ...
On the injury front. ... The Jaguars have lost Luke Joeckel for at least half the season.
Joeckel has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury he suffered Sunday. Under the NFL's new rules, the Jaguars can decide in six weeks whether to bring him back after Week 12, or shut him down for the season.
Julius Thomas was declared inactive for the Colts game due to an elbow injury. He should return against the Bears in Week 6. Fellow tight end Marcedes Lewis suffered a hip contusion when he landed awkwardly after catching a pass in the second quarter. His status for Week 6 is unclear.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler
RBs: T.J. Yeldon, Jamaal Charles, David Williams, Leonard Fournette
WRs: Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, Dede Westbrook, D.j. Chark, Jaydon Mickens, Rashad Greene
TEs: Niles Paul, James O'Shaughnessy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, "The Chiefs will smell for quite a while."
Their embarrassing 43-14 loss on Sunday night left them 2-2 through their first four games, and with more questions than answers heading into a week off.
Their offense was inept, their defense was destroyed by Ben Roethlisberger and Co., and even their usually solid special teams were a stumbling mess.
"You'd love to go into it on a better note," Smith said of the bye, "but who knows? Whether we like it or not, it's here. We have to use it. Get healthy, regroup and bounce back from this."
The onus will be on head coach Andy Reid get things turned around. Long recognized as an offensive mastermind, Reid has stumbled through most of the first four weeks.
Perhaps the only bright spot against Pittsburgh was the return of Jamaal Charles, who tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 last season.
But the four-time Pro Bowl running back only carried twice and perhaps was pressed into service earlier than desired because of an injury to Charcandrick West.
Charles came out of the game healthy, but it's unclear what his workload will be like going forward.
"We'll see. We'll just play it by ear," Reid said. "See how he's feeling and the production and all of those things. We've got 12 games here to figure that out."
But according to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, Charles said that the next time the Chiefs play, in two weeks against the Raiders on the road, he'll be ready for whatever workload he's given.
"I could have played [more] tonight," Charles said after the loss in Pittsburgh. "I feel like I'm 100 percent. The plan was to put me in the game more, but I knew I wasn't going to start. Basically it was to get my feet wet again and get ready for after the bye week."
The Chiefs shut him down early, after falling behind 22-0. Charles was in for just a handful of plays and just one after the first quarter was finished.
Charles was given the ball twice. He gained seven yards. Smith also threw a pass his way but it was incomplete.
Charles said the original plan was for him to return against Oakland, after the bye. That plan was scrapped when West was unable to play.
But Teicher contends the breaking-in period for Charles is over, or at least it should be. Though Sunday night's game was the first for Charles since he tore the ACL in his right knee last October, he has been practicing for a month and a half.
The Chiefs can't afford to wait for Charles any longer, not the way they're struggling. And Charles said he has seen the signs on the practice field that he's the same player he was before the injury.
"I feel good making cuts ... Making a couple of guys miss," he said. "I feel I'm the same [player]."
Then, somewhat ominously, he added, "If I'm not the same [player], I don't care. I'm just happy I got a chance to play football again. That's really what it's about. I'll showcase my talent when it's time. Tonight wasn't that time. ..."
Kansas City escaped with just one player's status uncertain after running back Knile Davis was evaluated for a concussion. ...
The Chiefs' passing game has not been very productive for most of the first quarter of the season. That was no different against the Steelers. Smith threw 50 times and that's not a recipe for a K.C. victory. He completed 60 percent of his throws (30 of 50) for 287 yards, just 5.7 yards per attempt.)
Kansas City's pass protection could not stop Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward, who had three sacks and tipped a pass that was intercepted by teammate Jarvis Jones.
Of some interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon points out, in the two games where the Chiefs were forced to give chase (Weeks 1 and 4), Chris Conley showed off his talent. He saw 13 targets in those two games, catching 10 of them for 113 yards. ...
And finally. ... Rookie Tyreek Hill lost another return touchdown in Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh, the second he has had taken away in the last three games. Hill had a 78-yard punt return touchdown when he ran through the Steelers, but teammate Demetrius Harris was called for an illegal block.
In the Chiefs' loss at Houston, he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, only to have a phantom illegal block called against teammate Steven Nelson.
For the day, the rookie had 96 all-purpose yards. In four games, he has 366 yards as a runner, receiver and returner, with two touchdown catches.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matthew McGloin
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Anthony Sherman
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez suggested, it might be time to take the Los Angeles Rams seriously.
The Rams are 3-1, in first place in the NFC West after locking up victories against the Seattle Seahawks and, now, the Arizona Cardinals, the two teams widely expected to finish at the top of their division.
Thanks to a defense that forced five turnovers and a late drive that put them on top, the Rams beat a Cardinals team that had won four of the previous five matchups, claiming three of their first four games of the regular season for only the second time in the past 16 years.
Trailing 13-10 after giving away a multitude of chances to take control of the game on offense, the Rams finally got the spark they needed late. Aaron Donald and Eugene Sims combined for a sack of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer with less than six minutes remaining, forcing Palmer to exit and the Cardinals to punt.
The Rams' defense has carried the team over the past three games, but the offense has progressively played better, even while Todd Gurley -- 19 carries for only 33 yards in Week 4 -- still waits to get going.
The Rams have gone 12-for-27 on third down over the past two games, after going 6-for-27 in the first two. Case Keenum lost a fumble and missed some throws he should've made, but nonetheless finished 18-of-30 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
In addition, Brian Quick was in danger of losing his spot on the team four weeks ago. However, with two touchdown receptions Sunday against the Cardinals he now leads the Rams with three touchdown catches.
"I feel like it's the little things," he said. "Just come out and practice hard. My coach told me, 'The way you practice is the way you're going to play.' He said that I had a good two weeks of practice and that's going to translate to the game, and it did. Come out here and play fast."
"You can see it," head coach Jeff Fisher said of Quick's development. "He's had a really solid couple of weeks on the practice field making those kinds of plays. I think, in Brian's case, the game is starting to slow down a little bit for him. Now, you just go and make those plays."
As Los Angeles Times staffer Mike DiGiovanna notes, the common denominator of both touchdown catches: Quick's hops.
"That's a basketball player at heart," Austin said of Quick. "He really likes basketball better. I'm always on him about that. ‘No one can jump with you.' And it showed today. Nobody can jump with that man."
Quick, a second-round pick in 2012, caught 25 passes for 375 yards in the first seven games of 2014 before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Still bothered by the injury, Quick started only once in 2015 and caught seven passes for 73 yards on the season.
Now he appears to have established himself well ahead of the youngsters.
And Austin is satisfied at the team being 3-1. Whether he thinks others are buying in around the country isn't a concern.
"To be honest, I really don't care what people think," he said. "As soon as we're doing bad, they all boo. As soon as we're doing good, they're all over us. We're in it together. That's who we're riding for: L.A. Rams and our fans. That's all.
Also worth noting. ... According to Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith, since returning from that ugly concussion he suffered last year, Keenum has actually been decent as the Rams' starting quarterback. In the eight games since his return (four this year in Los Angeles and four last year in St. Louis), Keenum has thrown seven touchdowns to only four interceptions, and the Rams are 6-2.
Back to Gurley. ... Fisher said Monday that his second-year back is "very close" to breaking off big runs.
He's been saying that for four weeks now.
Gurley was held to a mere 33 yards on 19 carries against the Cardinals. That's 1.74 yards per attempt, the lowest rate among his 16 career NFL starts.
For the season, Gurley has amassed only 216 yards on 82 carries, ranking 44th among 45 qualified running backs (Adrian Peterson is the only one below Gurley, but Peterson has only played in two games). Stretching back even further, Gurley has been held below 100 yards in 11 of his last 12 games.
"As long as I keep winning, I can care less," Gurley said after his team's third straight win on Sunday. "It don't even matter to me."
But the winning probably isn't sustainable if Gurley isn't effective.
That said, Gurley finished with five catches for 49 yards, giving him a more respectable 82 yards from scrimmage.
As Gonzalez pointed out, pass-catching ability is an underrated part of Gurley's game, a skill that wasn't on display very often during a rookie season that saw him finish as the NFL's third-leading rusher.
But the running lanes haven't been there frequently enough for Gurley this year. He's averaging the NFL's third-fewest yards before first contact (0.90), with teams continuing to dare the Rams to beat them through the air. According to Pro Football Reference, Gurley is the first running back in history with 80-plus carries in his team's first four games and less than 2.75 yards per attempt.
"Obviously the running game hasn't been going as well," Gurley said Sunday night. "But hey, I got a couple passes in the backfield. That was key."
Look for the Rams to continue exploring that.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly, Justin Davis
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
How would you describe the Miami Dolphins' offense after four games?
Inconsistent? Sputtering? Lacking identity?
As ESPN.com's James Walker notes, the Dolphins have struggled with third-down conversions, scoring points and staying on the field for overall snaps. There is a lot to fix, but the team has a 10-day break in between games after last Thursday's 22-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Walker went on to explain that rookie head coach Adam Gase has a tall task ahead in fixing Miami's offense, which is averaging just 17.8 points per game.
There have been flashes -- such as the second half against the New England Patriots -- but the growing pains have been evident as the Dolphins' offense is among the worst in the league in third-down conversions and time of possession. The breakdowns are everywhere, as the offensive line, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running backs and receivers have all taken turns making mistakes.
Gase said he's experienced this before where it takes a while for everyone to get in synch while learning a new system. It will be Gase's job over the final 12 games to get everyone on the same page. And Gase isn't afraid of hurting some feelings as he goes about that task.
The Dolphins had eight changes to their starting lineup for the Bengals game, mostly -- but not totally -- due to a massive injury wave.
In fact, the big move, the punitive/corrective one starting second-year cornerback Tony Lippett over veteran Byron Maxwell backfired in a big way. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green toasted Lippett and fellow cornerback Xavien Howard for 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown.
Regardless, Gase said Lippett remains the starter.
And that should be OK because it's not as though Lippett is the No. 1 problem.
The Dolphins, who returned eight starters from an offense that apparently needed much more help, are struggling on both sides of the ball.
"We have to get it fixed soon," Ryan Tannehill said. "And by soon, I mean Monday."
Among the lineup changes for the Cincinnati games were three on the offensive line, where left tackle Branden Albert (ankle) and center Anthony Steen (ankle) missed the game. So the Dolphins shifted rookie Laremy Tunsil, the first-round pick, from left guard to left tackle, inserted Billy Turner as the starter at left guard and made center Kraig Urbik a starter.
They combined with right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja'Wuan James, benched for overtime of last week's 30-24 victory over Cleveland, to allow five sacks.
At linebacker, where starters Jelani Jenkins (groin) and Koa Misi (neck) missed the game, Neville Hewitt and Donald Butler weren't difference makers.
Now, for the second consecutive season, Miami is off to a 1-3 start. That record cost ex-coach Joe Philbin his job last year.
Gase, in his first season, isn't in danger of losing his job. But he might be about to lose his patience. ...
According to Walker, some problems can be fixed with personnel changes. Others can't
An example of the later would Tannehill's pocket presence. It's a weakness. It's been that way for four-plus years. Tannehill struggles with avoiding and feeling the rush and protecting the ball. One thing that could help is to move the pocket. Get Tannehill on the run to use his solid athleticism. He's often able to keep his accuracy on the run, which is an asset.
The Dolphins have these plays in their offense. The downside is moving the pocket cuts off half the field and only gives Tannehill a couple of passing options per play instead of the full field.
The Bengals' defense sacked Tannehill five times Thursday night while bringing four or fewer rushers.
Another issue: Too many running backs on the roster, preventing any one of them getting into a rhythm.
With Arian Foster out due to hamstring and groin injuries, the Dolphins have gone with a four-man rotation. Gase even admits that it's a challenge to keep up with which running back is in the game and calling the right play to suit that player. This is a classic example of making things more complicated than necessary. The Dolphins should cut their tailback rotation in half and go with two players at the position. Whether it's Foster and Jay Ajayi, or Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake, pick a duo and stick with it.
The good news there?
Gase admitted on Tuesday that using a four-man committee the past two weeks was "some bad coaching by me," and he plans to scrap it.
"Going forward, hopefully we can target a couple of guys a game or one guy a game and let that guy get in the flow of it," said Gase.
According to Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson, Gase didn't say this, but it's clear that Ajayi (4.2 per carry) and Drake (4.9) have earned more work.
Another suggestion from Walker is getting DeVante Parker more involved. Parker has the ability to make plays on all three levels and should get the ball on screens, intermediate and deep passes. He had just three targets, two receptions and 20 yards. Parker should be in the range of 7-10 targets per game.
Getting healthy will help too.
Miami is expected to get back a healthy center Mike Pouncey (hip), which will be big for the offense. Albert (ankle) and Foster (groin) could return too (Foster was on the practice field Wednesday -- in a bit of a surprise). Getting these three starters healthy and productive will make a difference. The Dolphins don't have a timetable for Cameron's (concussion) return.
Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported over the weekend that Cameron went to see a specialist in Pittsburgh for an evaluation of the injury. Gase confirmed that visit on Tuesday and said the team encouraged Cameron to seek out more information.
"I don't think it's alarming," Gase said, via the Miami Herald. "I think it's a guy that's just trying to make sure he's checking all his boxes and make sure things are right with him. That was something we really encouraged with him as well."
Gase described Cameron's condition as "day-to-day" and said that the team will do "everything we can to make sure he's right." The first step for Cameron will be to get out of the concussion protocol and anything else will have to remain on hold until that happens. ...
Jarvis Landry continues to be a shining star on an otherwise dull offense. Landry had seven receptions for 61 yards against Cincinnati, a low-key performance for him that was by far the best performance among Miami receivers on Thursday. ...
Another less positive?
Miami starts a critical four-game homestand with this week's game against Tennessee, followed by games against Buffalo, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets following the bye week. As the Sports Xchange suggests, "There's a good chance the Dolphins fall further into the abyss at the end of this stretch."
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Luke Falk
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, Senorise Perry
WRs: Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling noted, the Vikings' offensive performance on Monday night was easily their best of the season. And if the way the unit had played during its first three games made that an easy bar to clear, the good news is that what the Vikings did in a 24-10 win over the New York Giants should be repeatable.
Minnesota's offensive output was relatively modest -- 366 total yards, with 262 of them through the air, and four scoring drives (two of which were set up by turnovers). The Vikings protected Sam Bradford, opened enough holes that Jerick McKinnon gained 85 yards on his 18 carries, and didn't burn themselves with penalties. That was it.
And that might be all this team needs to go a long way.
That the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL should not be in dispute, not after Minnesota flustered Odell Beckham and dulled the impact of the league's third-ranked passing attack on the heels of victories over Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. But while the Vikings got a safety and a punt return for a touchdown last week at Carolina, they needed no direct contributions from the defense or special teams on Monday night.
The Vikings' much-maligned offensive line didn't allow Bradford to be sacked. Jeremiah Sirles, who did an impressive job filling in for Alex Boone at left guard last week, played so well in relief of an injured Andre Smith that he might have a chance to keep the right tackle job. As the Vikings cleared enough room for McKinnon, Boone was a commanding presence along the line of scrimmage after an uneven first three weeks.
Reliable offensive line play should be a reasonable expectation, and Bradford continued to make most of the right decisions on Monday night (his too-high pass to Stefon Diggs off an impressive double move notwithstanding).
Bradford completed passes to nine different receivers, hitting the short and the shots (a 40-yarder to Charles Johnson), and most importantly, hasn't thrown an interception since putting on the purple.
The Vikings won't hang 30 points on many teams, though they would have had 27 if not for a wide-left miss from kicker Blair Walsh. But with the way their defense is playing, the Vikings won't often have to score 30.
This isn't to say the Vikings' defense is immune to a game where some team makes enough plays to force Minnesota's offense to trade scores. That day could come, and the Vikings will have to hope their offense is up to the task, especially if that day comes in the playoffs. The formula they employed on Monday night, though, should be good enough to get them through most games. It's not much different from the one the Denver Broncos used to win the Super Bowl last season.
And after becoming the first 4-0 team in the NFC, the Vikings might find themselves in position to wonder about how far they can go.
Meanwhile, the question of the day in the wake of Monday night's game: Why haven't we been doing this with Cordarrelle Patterson all along!?
The former first-round pick had been relegated to star punt-team gunner and returner, registering just two catches on two targets last year. Monday night, he saw six targets (five catches) for 38 yards, mostly on short swing or stop passes.
"I talked to him during the week. I told him, 'We're going to get you in the game plan. Now it's up to you what you do with it. It's up to you.' He responded well," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He keeps working hard. I think it's good for all guys to see. If you work hard good things come. You keep fighting, you keep working and you get your opportunity and you take advantage of it."
The problems for Patterson in the past had multiple facets. Zimmer talked about him not knowing where to line up or not running crisp enough routes. The counter to that argument was always that offensive coordinator Norv Turner should simply feed him close to the line of scrimmage and allow his athleticism to take over. That was almost exactly what Turner did Monday night.
But the reason Zimmer has been so successful is also the reason Patterson had to wait for his breakout night. Talent is only one of the many components that earns a Vikings player time on the field. Watching the defense, it's easy to tell that professionalism, assignment knowledge and play speed are just as -- if not more -- important.
Establishing Patterson on Monday against a banged-up Giants secondary was a brilliant move. Not only is it engaging a superstar talent on offense, but it is throwing a warning shot to the rest of their schedule. Much like the Seahawks sprinkling in Percy Harvin, this is a component that Minnesota might not use every down, but could be effective if they decide to. ...
Kyle Rudolph has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Vikings' past three games, and has caught three of Bradford's four touchdown throws this season. He tied for a team high with seven targets on Monday night, catching five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' win against the Giants, and might have had a second score had he and Bradford been able to connect on a fade route in the first half.
One major problem?
As noted above, Walsh missed his third field goal try in four games this season for the Vikings, this one a 46-yarder that never really had a chance. He has also missed two extra points this year, and Zimmer has sounded more and more like he's losing patience with his kicker.
"We need to make those or it's going to bite us in the rear end," the coach said. "Our team is playing close games. That's how we're built."
Walsh did rebound to hit a 44-yarder not long after his miss, following an interception. But his hold on the job has to be considered tenuous at best.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Roc Thomas
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra, Aldrick Robinson
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
He's back! And as the Associated Press suggested this week, minus a surprise setback Sunday against Buffalo, it's almost like Tom Brady never left.
During a Monday night interview with Jim Gray on Westwood One, Brady said it was great to be back in the building with the team and that he's excited to get back to practicing while doing his best to keep the conversation moving away from issues having to do with Deflategate.
"I'm not really looking to reflect at this point," Brady said. "I've put that in the rearview mirror when I decided a while ago. I am looking forward to playing and doing what I love to do and being out there with my teammates who have done such a great job and I want to do a great job for them. I'm just focused on the present and focused on this week. That is what I am going to be all season long, it served me well in the past and hopefully it serves me well this week."
Brady's vow to keep his focus on the here and now extended to his answer about whether he'd be using the suspension as motivation over the rest of the season.
"I was motivated 17 years ago and I am motivated today," Brady said. "I'm motivated to win for my teammates. I am motivated to go out there and represent our city well.
Despite being without their franchise centerpiece for the past month while he served his four-game "Deflategate" suspension, the Patriots welcome Brady back on Monday 3-1 after a 16-0 loss to the Bills.
As much as the team has rallied behind Brady understudies Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett the past month, there is also no denying the eagerness in the Patriots' locker room to see No. 12 back in uniform.
"It's going to be great," receiver Julian Edelman said. "It's one of your best players on the team. A guy that leads us. ... Anytime one of your best players isn't there, there's something missing."
The wait is now over. And all in all, it could have gone worse.
Neither Garoppolo nor Brissett had made an NFL regular-season start prior to this season. Garoppolo made his debut a memorable one, throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown in New England's 23-21 road win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Garoppolo was having an even better outing against the Dolphins at home the following week, throwing three touchdown passes, before being knocked out of the game in the second quarter after having his right shoulder slammed into the turf. Brissett took over and helped the Patriots hold on for a 31-24 win.
With Garoppolo's shoulder still sore, Brissett ran for a touchdown the following week in his first career start in a 27-0 win over the Texans. He tweaked his right thumb in the second half but recovered enough to start Sunday against the Bills, which ended in his first career loss.
Of ongoing concern, Rob Gronkowski hasn't been himself since suffering a hamstring injury late during training camp. He missed the first two games of the season and has played sparingly since. But he finally broke through with his first reception of the season late in Sunday's loss. He, too, is looking forward to having Brady's presence back in the huddle.
"I mean, I don't even have to answer that," Gronkowski said when asked about Brady's impact. "You've got to give hats off to Jacoby going out there. Much respect to him going out there and doing what he did (Sunday) as a rookie, so hats off to our quarterbacks. They did a tremendous job the first four weeks and obviously it's exciting to get Tom back."
Brady isn't the only player the Patriots get back Monday. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich also returns after he received a four-game ban for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. But there is still a question of how healthy he is after suffering a triceps injury that sidelined him early during training camp.
Running back LeGarrette Blount was a saving grace for New England's offense with Brady out. Through three games, he was leading the NFL in rushing with a 99.3 yards per game average. His efforts earned him the AFC's offensive player of the month award for September. He finished with just 54 yards against Buffalo, but should help take the early pressure off Brady as he eases back in.
Brady's first taste of the 2016 regular season will be at Cleveland on Sunday. Will he have a healthy Gronk in this one?
A source tells NFL Network's Mike Garafolo that Gronkowski (hamstring) is "not right," and that his injury has "not come along like they thought it would."
Gronkowski admitted on Wednesday the hamstring is still limiting him. "When I can get rolling," he said, "I'll get rolling."
Having just one catch in two games lends credence to that notion even though the star tight end's playing time rose Week 4. Still, ran routes on only 13 of his 41 snaps. His status -- along with Brady's return -- will be something I follow closely in coming days. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
A few final notes. ... Martellus Bennett finished Sunday's loss with five catches for a team-high 109 yards, which marked the fourth career 100-yard game of his career. While he took a big hit late in the fourth quarter along the sideline and required some initial attention from the athletic training staff, he returned to the game and said afterward, "I'm good. Get knocked down, get back up. That's what I do."
Picking up two penalties on the same play -- holding and offensive pass interference -- Chris Hogan negated Edelman's 90-yard catch-and-run play on the Patriots' first possession. Does Edelman make the play without Hogan's penalties? It's a fair question, but it was a big part of the disappointing start that the Patriots couldn't overcome as Hogan was also held off the stat sheet (he was targeted only two times).
The Patriots announced they released TE Clay Harbor. Harbor appeared in three games with New England, mainly on special teams, and did not register any statistics.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Kenjon Barner, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, Cordarrelle Patterson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to the Associated Press, John Kuhn plans to stay in New Orleans during his team's Week 5 bye and try to get his first real taste of life in the Big Easy.
That option became a lot more attractive after he scored three touchdowns in the Saints' first victory of the season in San Diego.
"I won't feel like I have to have a hood up at all times," said Kuhn, who joined the Saints in August and knows what it's like to mingle with a passionate fan base from his nine seasons with Green Bay.
The Saints might be 0-4 now if not for a trio of Chargers turnovers inside the final seven minutes of New Orleans' 35-34 victory on Sunday. Then again, they were not far off from being 3-1, either.
New Orleans led Oakland in Week 1 until the Raiders scored a touchdown with 47 seconds left, and then added a bold, do-or-die 2-point conversion for a 35-34 victory.
The Saints still had a 61-yard field-goal attempt for the win as time expired, but Wil Lutz's kick narrowly swerved wide left.
In Week 2, the Saints lost to the Giants on a field goal in the final seconds. Only one of New Orleans' losses didn't go down to the wire -- a 45-32 setback against Atlanta in Week 3.
So the Saints head into their week off with at least a measure of hope they'll start winning more during the last three quarters of their schedule.
The bye also comes at what appears to be a preferable time for the Saints, who have been riddled with an unusual number of early season injuries to key players.
It is unclear whether starting left tackle Terron Armstead (knee), starting middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (quad), projected starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (quad), tight end Josh Hill (ankle) and left guard Senio Kelemete (hamstring) will return from injuries by the time New Orleans next takes the field at Carolina on Oct. 15. Ellerbe, however, appeared close to returning this past week, and another week off certainly helps the other hobbled players.
Meanwhile, players including safety Kenny Vaccaro (ankle) and receiver Willie Snead (toe) just returned from recent injuries on Sunday. They could use more time to heal.
And in just a few more weeks, starting cornerback Delvin Breaux and first-round draft choice Sheldon Rankins, a projected starter at defensive tackle, could be back. Both of them have fractured fibulas.
"We've got a lot of guys that we need to get back healthy, which will make us a lot better team," said Vaccaro, adding that he'll be staying in New Orleans this week. "I've got to get treatment on my ankle; it was really sore (Sunday), so I'll have to get treatment throughout the week."
While the defense was mostly responsible for the win in San Diego, Drew Brees also rallied personally after throwing a season-high two interceptions (one in the second quarter, one in the fourth). He finished 23-of-36 for 206 yards and two touchdowns in a victory that meant a lot to him.
Because of a scheduling quirk, this was actually Brees' first game in San Diego since the Chargers let him go in free agency after he suffered a major shoulder injury in 2005.
Brees brought that up in a passionate speech to the team before the game -- then he led the Saints to leads of 7-0 and 14-7 before the defense faltered in the second quarter.
The Chargers did a good job of taking away the deep ball and didn't give Saints wide receivers much separation, leaving Brees to throw a lot of balls to his backs and tight ends. In fact, wideouts caught just seven passes for 125 yards with the longest completion of the day to Snead netting just 23 yards.
Running back Mark Ingram was the leading receiver with six catches for 49 yards. Brees, who was sacked twice and had a passer rating of 74.7, did throw scoring passes of 4 yards to 5 yards to wideout Michael Thomas.
Brees said he and Thomas had to conquer the sun, too, on that touchdown pass. Sun played a role in earlier interception when Brees overthrew Thomas and Thomas couldn't locate the ball. Brees said they talked about it on the sideline, he told him he'd throw a lower ball later.
The Saints picked up 83 rushing yards, but they averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on 34 attempts. Ingram had 56 yards and a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter on 18 carries, but netted just 3.1 yards per carry. Daniel Lasco, a seventh-round draft pick, had 12 yards on four tries and Tim Hightower managed just 11 yards on four attempts.
Kuhn had three carries for 5 yards, but produced a couple of touchdowns a 4-yarder in the second quarter and the 1-yard game-winner with 1:57 remaining.
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Mike Gillislee, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, Tre'quan Smith, Brandon Tate
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Odell Beckham took exception to getting tagged by Xavier Rhodes just after he ran out of bounds, so he got up and exchanged a couple of words with the Vikings cornerback.
It was a benign confrontation by Beckham's standards, but still drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the officiating crew.
And as the Associated Press suggested, with that, the message was clear: The extremely talented and extremely volatile receiver is a marked man now, his reputation cemented as a player who needs to be closely watched for all the wrong reasons.
"It's always, it's just my fault. That's all I look at it as, it's my fault. Whatever you want to call it," Beckham said after having just three catches for a career-low 23 yards in New York's 24-10 loss on Monday night. "I just have to understand if I sneeze the wrong way, it'll be a flag, it'll be a fine. If I tie my shoe the wrong way, it might be a fine or a flag. It is what it is. You have to understand that."
Beckham's talent is undeniable and his production is top notch -- he already has more receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns than any Giants player has put up in his first three seasons, and Beckham's third year is only four games old. But the price the Giants pay for the elite playmaker comes in the form of tantrums, outbursts and penalty flags.
Last year he was suspended for a game after drawing three personal foul penalties in a vicious matchup with then-Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. It also prompted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to back a new rule that allows referees to eject a player after drawing multiple personal fouls.
He has already lost $130,000 in salary because of fines and suspensions in his young career. Beckham was so unruly on the sideline in a loss to Norman and the Washington Redskins last week that coach Ben McAdoo had to speak with him several times to try to calm him down.
Eli Manning backed Beckham earlier this week. But what should be worrisome to Beckham and the Giants is that officials are watching him more closely than ever now that his reputation as a hot head has been established.
Manning said after the game his receiver has to adjust.
"He's got to be aware," Manning said. "People are looking for him and he's got to be smart. He can't afford to do anything that they're going to call. He's brought that on himself, so he's got to be aware of that."
And there are signs the negative attention is starting to wear on other teammates.
"I'm not answering any Odell, those types of questions," receiver Victor Cruz said. "Ask me about him as a player or me as a player or our team. I'm not answering any Odell-infraction questions."
Beckham reflected on his image and on his role in New York's offense during an interview with ESPN's Anita Marks on Tuesday
"Football is my sanctuary," Beckham told Marks. "It's where I go to escape. It's where I'm most happy. I'm not having fun anymore."
A two-time Pro Bowler, Beckham had a career-worst 23 receiving yards on just three catches Monday. The Giants have targeted Beckham in the first quarter just eight times over their first four games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
When asked about potentially getting more involved in making offensive adjustments on the sideline, Beckham expressed more frustration to Marks.
"What I'm communicating, we're not doing," he said. "I'm not getting the opportunities to contribute, and that's frustrating to me."
Beckham had a long conversation with Giants general manager Jerry Reese in the locker room after Monday's game, according to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan.
Bob Glauber of Newsday said he asked Beckham whether he'd be willing to consult with a sports psychologist in order to better handle provocation from opposing players.
"There's still that stigma on it and I talked to Beckham about if would he be willing to go," Glauber said. "He says, ‘No, I'm in a good place right now, my mind is in a good place.' Oh really? Well, you saw what happened last night and you've got to say that there are issues going on here."
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggests, regardless of how or whether Beckham can fix it, he ultimately can blame only himself. Once he started publicly complaining about efforts by defensive backs to play him and not the ball, Beckham invited efforts to get under his skin. The manner in which he came unhinged against the Panthers last December proved that it works.
The last two games have underscored the value of harassing Beckham. Until he can demonstrate on a consistent basis that he won't take the bait, his adversaries will continue to bait the hook.
All that said, it's worth noting: Beckham has 22 catches for 303 yards this season. He started 2015 with 24 catches 307 yards and two touchdowns. The only difference is he hasn't scored and he's throwing more tantrums. ...
Other notes of interest. ... He piles up yards, but the Giants just don't get into the end zone enough to make Manning a weekly play. Manning threw for 261 yards against a good Vikings defense, but he didn't have a touchdown pass. That's not going to do it. Manning now has four touchdown passes this season in four games, in part because the Giants remain one of the league's worst red zone teams.
And finally. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted Tuesday, we got our first look at a Giants backfield sans Rashad Jennings on Monday night. Orleans Darkwa drew the start, but Bobby Rainey ended up out-snapping him 30-23, serving as the team's main pass-catching back with New York trailing in the second half.
Darkwa did get into the end zone and averaged 4.0 yards per carry on just 12 rush attempts while Rainey, who did most of his damage through the air, totaled 65 yards.
Both veterans actually had fewer total yards than rookie Paul Perkins who saw his first action of the season and exploded on a 67-yard catch-and-run to start the fourth quarter.
If Jennings has to miss another game, expect this sort of unpredictable backfield split to continue between these three backs, which seems like it will be more reliant on game script than anything else. But if you need to hone in on one guy to target for fantasy purposes, Franciscovich believes Darkwa is the best option seeing as he's received five rush attempts and two scores in the red zone thus far.
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Hunter Sharp
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., Ryan Fitzpatrick's confidence has not wavered.
Not by the nine interceptions in his last two games. And certainly not by the fans and media suggesting the New York Jets consider making a change at quarterback.
The Jets are 1-3 and Fitzpatrick realizes he's a major reason for the stunningly bad start. He also insists that he's the best option for New York to turn its season around, with tough road games at Pittsburgh and Arizona coming up.
"I know I'm the right guy for it," Fitzpatrick said Monday. "We found ourselves in a little slump last year and came out of it. Through all my experience and all the things I've been through in my career, I know I'm the right guy to get this thing headed in the right direction."
Fitzpatrick threw three more interceptions Sunday in a 27-17 loss to Seattle, causing many of the fans who cheered his return in July to question why New York ever brought him back in the first place.
"The last two games, with the amount of turnovers that I've had, you're not going to win football games that way and I know that more than anybody," Fitzpatrick said. "So, I take full responsibility for all those."
He set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes last season, bringing the Jets from a mediocre 5-5 mark to a 10-6 finish.
Fitzpatrick was re-signed by the Jets just before training camp opened, ending a contract stalemate in which a free-agent market never materialized for the 33-year-old quarterback. So far, though, things have been rough -- other than a fantastic performance against Buffalo in Week 2, when he threw for 374 yards and was selected the AFC offensive player of the week.
"I've got to play better," Fitzpatrick said.
Talk about an understatement.
Still, the Jets are sticking with Fitzpatrick.
"We'll go game by game," head coach Todd Bowles said. "I don't foresee any change right now."
When asked if Fitzpatrick could be on a short leash against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Bowles simply said: "Ryan's fine."
Fitzpatrick has thrown 10 interceptions for the season, but Bowles says he's still the Jets' top option. That means former starter Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg will continue to stay on the sideline.
"Right now, it's chemistry," Bowles said. "Obviously, everybody's got an arm and can throw the football. But based on what he did last year, going into the season from a confidence standpoint, he's our best chance to win."
Fitzpatrick earned respect from his teammates for galvanizing the locker room after Smith's jaw was broken by a punch from a teammate. The veteran assumed the starting role and never relinquished it, going on to one of the finest seasons by a Jets quarterback.
It was that performance that produced a very real loyalty to Fitzpatrick, who had receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, among others, openly campaign in the offseason for the Jets to bring him back this year.
Marshall came to his quarterback's defense again after the loss to Seattle, saying that he's, "Going down. In a boat. With Ryan Fitzpatrick." The receiver said Monday that he's not happy with Fitzpatrick's play or his own, or the rest of the team's play, for that matter. But he believes Fitzpatrick and the Jets can get the season back on track before it spirals away just a few weeks in -- a sentiment shared by the embattled quarterback.
"We're not going to have some magical players come in and fix everything," Fitzpatrick said. "We have to do it ourselves every day, starting today with making the corrections and working on the communication and then continuing Tuesday, watching some film, and Wednesday with practice. ..."
For the record, According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fitzpatrick is the first quarterback since Steve DeBerg in 1986 to throw nine interceptions in a two-game span. He is also the first Jets quarterback in two decades since Frank Reich in 1996 to throw at least three interceptions in back-to-back games.
And his 10 interceptions in the first four games make him only the fifth quarterback in the last 10 seasons to reach double digits within the first quarter of the season.
Against the Seahawks, Fitzpatrick did very little other than orchestrating a 10-play, 75-yard drive at the end of the first half that he ended with his best pass of the day, a perfect back shoulder throw to Brandon Marshall (12 targets but four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown), who was draped by CB Richard Sherman.
Quincy Enunwa (six catches for 60 yards) had two catches, both for first downs, on the Jets' first drive before the Seahawks clamped down on him. Running back Bilal Powell (six catches for 54 yards) ended up being the most reliable receiver.
The Jets were without Eric Decker, who sat out with a partially torn rotator cuff.
According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, Decker said on Tuesday he feels "better this week than last week," but he doesn't know if he'll play Sunday. Decker said he's having trouble sleeping because of the discomfort.
He didn't rule out surgery after the season. "Maybe after the season, we re-evaluate what it looks like structurally and go from there," he said.
It seems unlikely Decker will play in Pittsburgh (Cimini said "he won't), but Bowles said it's too early to tell. Bowles also said it's too soon to determine if the Jets could put Decker on injured reserve, which would sideline him for at least eight weeks.
Decker didn't practice Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Matt Forte (14 carries for 27 yards) racked up 19 yards on five carries on the Jets' first drive before running into a wall thereafter. Powell (four carries for 26 yards) looked far more spry in his most extensive action of the year, but game flow made it impossible to give him a bigger workload on the ground.
Worth noting: Forte wasn't on the post-game injury report; however, Forte was spotted taking a cart ride to the X-ray room.
Asked whether Forte had X-rays taken after the game, Bowles said, "Not to my knowledge."
Of course, that may mean Forte had X-rays but no one told Bowles about it. Forte was limited on Wednesday, however, with an undisclosed issue.
Either way, the Jets will need all the help they can get trying to keep up with Pittsburgh's potent offense this week.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Josh McCown
RBs: Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, Trenton Cannon, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor, Andre Roberts
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Jordan Leggett, Chris Herndon, Neal Sterling
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez reminded readers, Michael Crabtree had seemed finished two years ago when he referred to himself as a "third option," a "fourth-down" receiver for the San Francisco 49ers as a somewhat forgotten man in their offense.
But with the Raiders, a team many had expected to draft him in 2009, Crabtree has been reborn. In his three-touchdown performance -- each TD catch more impressive than the previous one, and two in the fourth quarter -- he assumed the mantle of Derek Carr's most trusted target in the Raiders' 28-27 win over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's a different situation [in Oakland than with the Niners]," Crabtree understated. "Different coordinators. Different quarterback. I mean, it's no comparison."
It was the first career three-TD receiving game for Crabtree, who came to Oakland as a free agent before last season after six seasons with the Niners. Crabtree finished with seven catches for 88 yards on 12 targets.
And when he left Santa Clara for Oakland, there was a little bit of luggage that came with him.
"He's been a great leader for us, and there were questions that were brought up that have not been a part of what we're getting," said head coach Jack Del Rio. "Great teammate and works hard every day, very friendly for the quarterback. So yeah, we're really glad we have him."
Del Rio said Crabtree's hands as a receiver were similar to those of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter.
"He's been sensational since Day 1 of being with us," Del Rio said. "He's a real pro. He's a tough guy. He loves football. He's really competitive ... he's playing really well."
Carr, who threw four touchdown passes on 25 of 35 passing for 199 yards and a 123.4 passer rating, praised Crabtree's competitive nature.
"That's a great message for young kids, man, they see all these plays being made and all these catches," Carr said. "Well, he does it in practice, every day. It doesn't just happen out here on the field. I love kids so I want them to know that."
Even with Crabtree's exploits, the defense needed to step up. The unit bent but did not break at the end.
The Raiders' 3-1 start is their best since they opened 4-0 in 2002, which is the last time they went to the playoffs and had a winning record. The Raiders also have a 3-0 start on the road for the first time since 2000.
Crabtree's TD receptions came on a 5-yard fade in the second quarter, a 13-yard bullet in the fourth and a 23-yarder in traffic to tie the score at 27 where he had to drag his toe on an acrobatic move at the back of the end zone. Sebastian Janikowski's extra point was the difference, as was Baltimore failing on a two-point conversion attempt in the third quarter.
It was also a game of attrition for the Raiders, who were already without three offensive tackles in Menelik Watson, Austin Howard and Matt McCants and lost tight end Lee Smith, tight end Clive Walford and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney during the game.
"I think we're playing good, period," Crabtree said. "On the road, at home, it don't matter. It doesn't matter where the game is or who we're playing."
In a related note. ...Carr completed 9-of-13 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter Sunday. It was the first time Carr went over 100 yards and threw two touchdowns in a fourth quarter in his career. Carr wasn't pressured or sacked on 13 fourth-quarter dropbacks.
Meanwhile, the Raiders offense continues to move the ball in fits and starts, but it's clear through four games that Carr and Co. are at their best when it matters most in the red zone. Through four games, the Raiders have penetrated the red zone 11 times and have scored 10 touchdowns, a percentage of 90.9 that leads the NFL.
The last time the Raiders didn't score a touchdown after reaching the red zone was in the third quarter of a 35-34 season-opening win over New Orleans when a drive stalled at the Saints 13-yard-line and Janikowski kicked a 31-yard field goal.
Other notes of interest. ... The NFL's No. 2 ranked rushing game managed only 62 yards on 19 carries, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt. The Raiders had 57 of those yards in the first half, and other than DeAndre Washington's 28-yard bolt during a touchdown drive, there was a lot of nothing. That play was the lone rushing first down of the game for the Raiders.
And finally. ... The Raiders came out of Sunday's win over the Ravens with a pair of players with significant injuries.
According to Michael Wagaman of the Associated Press, Del Rio said Monday that Smith and Heeney are both likely to be placed on injured reserve.
"Both of those guys are likely to go (on IR)," Del Rio said. "As they finish the work that is done on those guy with our doctors and all the experts looking at it, if we determine that the time is such that we won't be able to get them back they could in fact go down. It's not officially done but it's headed in that direction."
Smith was injured while being tackled by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the second quarter. His right ankle caught in the turf and was wrenched sideways as he fell to the ground. He had to be helped off the field by Murray and Carr. Heeney suffered an ankle injury.
Del Rio said after the victory the Walford could have returned to the game if needed. As such, he is expected to maintain his role as a pass-catcher.
QBs: Derek Carr, AJ McCarron
RBs: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Keon Hatcher
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, the question was about Carson Wentz and the way he is rolling and the timing of the Eagles' bye and whether offensive coordinator Frank Reich was even the slightest bit concerned that it might allow the quarterback to take a step back and see what's going on and. ...
Reich jumped in before the question was fully formed, and took the response in a direction that revealed plenty about where his head was in the moments immediately following a 34-3 Eagles thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm always afraid that any of us will take a step back. It's harder to deal with success than it is failure," Reich said. "So you've got to keep an edge. Even though it's a bye week, I'd just still say, don't let your guard down. Let's go relax and have fun, but we're still in season. Keep your guard up. We're still on. So yeah, I'm always cautious. We've always got to remind ourselves of that."
It's a message head coach Doug Pederson delivered last Monday -- multiple times, actually -- in his final meeting with the media before a week-long break.
"The biggest thing is complacency," Pederson said of what can sink a team that's riding high. "You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are. But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, 'Hey, we're back to work. We're zero and zero. This is Game 1 and let's go.' That's just the way it has to be."
Perhaps he and Reich had a sense of what was coming.
As McManus explained, it has been a bye week full of adulation for the 3-0 Eagles.
The players are being handed awards, the team's power rankings, ratings and Super Bowl odds have drastically improved, and the city of Philadelphia is smitten. History suggests the newfound optimism is warranted. According to the NFL, 75.6 percent of teams (99 of 131) that have started 3-0 since 1990 reached the postseason. Per ESPN's Football Power Index, the Eagles have an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs.
History also offers caveats. Over the past five seasons, at least one team that started 3-0 failed to make the playoffs in each season. The 2014 Eagles are one such example.
Pederson has seen it go both ways. Just last season, he was part of a Kansas City Chiefs team that started 1-5 and rattled off 10 consecutive victories to secure a playoff berth.
There are certainly worse problems than having to handle early success, but managing the team's psychology seems to be top of mind for the Eagles coaching staff as they transition into the second stage of the season.
"I think it's the No. 1 challenge for all of us. I speak for myself, too, when I say that we've got to stay humble through this whole thing. The season is very young, only three games in. A lot of football left, as you know. We just take them one at a time," Pederson said.
"That's just things that I've learned over my career as a player, as a coach at this level. Twenty-two years in the National Football League, you've seen a lot of ball. You have been on teams that have started fast; you have been on teams that started slow. It's just how you stay the course. You can't substitute preparation, hard work for anything. If we just stay the course and the guys prepare the way they've prepared each week, then we'll see what happens on Sundays. But so far it's been great and it'd be good to give them some time and get ready for the second half of the season."
One thing that's safe to say: Wentz is not your typical deer-in-headlights rookie.
Through three games, he has a 103.7 passer rating, a 64.7 completion percentage and hasn't thrown an interception in 102 attempts. He has shown extraordinary poise and excellent decision-making.
In addition, Wentz might be coming back from the bye with reinforcements.
Tight end Zach Ertz told reporters Monday he has been medically cleared to return to the team after suffering a displaced rib in their Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Ertz had six catches for 58 yards in that contest, which he made it through even after suffering the injury.
Ertz has improved upon his numbers each year since entering the league in 2013. Ertz passed Brent Celek on the depth chart heading into the season and was a clear favorite of his rookie quarterback in their opener.
Also worth noting, the Eagles are running the ball a lot 32 times per game but not always well. As the Sports Xchange notes, they are 21st in the league in yards per attempt (3.7). Ryan Mathews, who was supposed to be the team's bell cow back, is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, but he was limited by a sore ankle the last two games.
Pederson said on Wednesday that Mathews is healthy and remains the starter.
Starting right tackle Lane Johnson will appeal his 10-game PED suspension to an arbitrator on Tuesday. The appeal is not expected to be successful. Assuming the arbitrator rules against him, his suspension will begin Sunday.
In other Eagles injury news, Leodis McKelvin told reporters it looks like he'll play Week 5 against the Lions. Like Ertz, the cornerback has also been out of action since leaving the win over the Browns with a hamstring injury.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves framed it: "His first real game in 11 months finally at hand, Le'Veon Bell expected a few jitters. Or maybe a least a small sliver of rust.
There certainly were no visible signs of that. ... Maybe because Bell was too busy providing a needed reminder of what he can do when he's healthy and -- perhaps just as importantly -- not in trouble with the commissioner's office.
Tearing through the Chiefs defense with alarming ease, Bell rolled up 178 yards of total offense in a 43-14 romp on Sunday night that showcased just how dangerous the Steelers can look when all of their remarkably talented parts are on the field at the same time.
"It's the 'Juice,"' wide receiver Antonio Brown said. "Anytime we have Le'Veon out there on the field, we know the problems he's going to present to the defense."
One the Chiefs had no answer for, not after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lit them up for four first-half touchdowns (five in all) and then let Bell get to work behind an offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage.
"I was in the flow of the game," Bell said. "I wasn't even thinking about (being rusty)."'
Lining up all over the field in a variety of formations, Bell caught five passes for 34 yards and ran for 144 yards on 18 carries, including a 44-yard zig-zag in the fourth quarter that highlights Bell's unique combination of patience and agility.
"We asked him to do a lot," Roethlisberger said. "Not just be a running back and run the ball. But we put him in motion. We put him at wide receiver. We threw screens to him. We did a lot. And that's the confidence and faith we have in him and his ability."
Considering he missed the second half of 2015 with a torn MCL in his right knee and the first three games of this season while serving a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Bell wasn't exactly going to be picky about how he was used. Simply being out there and looking like the player who was an All-Pro in 2014 was enough.
"I just missed it," Bell said.
DeAngelo Williams filled in admirably for Bell in his absence, but Bell adds another dimension to the offense. The only thing missing in Bell's 2016 debut was a touchdown. Williams scored two plays after Bell got the Steelers in scoring range.
"Le'Veon is one of the best in the world at what he does," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "His presence is always significant, because he does so many things well. Whether it's running, or receiving out of the backfield, or whether it's aligning out of the backfield. We challenged him intellectually this week and he delivered."
And the Steelers missed Bell, recovering from a 31-point loss to Philadelphia the week before by handing Kansas City its worst setback in Andy Reid's three-plus years on the job.
"Any time you get blown out, you want to respond," Brown said.
Roethlisberger was held in check in a 34-3 meltdown at Philadelphia. A week later, he had as many touchdown passes as incompletions while going 22 of 27 for 300 yards and a quarterback rating of 152.5. Two of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes went to Brown while Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jesse James caught one each.
In fact, Coates had a team-high 79 receiving yards. Wheaton caught a 30-yard touchdown and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 31-yard touchdown.
Roethlisberger was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. It's his 14th player of the week award.
"I think we were hungry," said Brown, who finished with four receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns. "Last week, we got blown out on the road. And anytime you get blown out, you want to respond. I think it was a great response to the week prior.
"When you have a Hall of Fame quarterback, it looks good like that," center Maurkice Pouncey said.
Brown boosted his career touchdown reception total to 42 and paid tribute to legendary golfer Arnold Palmer (a western Pennsylvania native) by wearing a pair of cleats that featured Palmer's image. ...
Injuries could be an issue this week, however.
Tomlin listed the injured players Tuesday, and at least six starting-caliber players are either questionable or could miss practice time. Of interest to fantasy owners, Eli Rogers is expected to miss his second-straight game with a turf toe. Heyward-Bey injured a shoulder against the Chiefs; he should be ready for the Jets this weekend, but his practice availability is in question.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble
San Diego ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra framed it: "The San Diego Chargers' ability to conjure up new and impressive way to lose football games is becoming quite a show.
"Sunday's edition of 'How To Lose A Game in 10 Ways' included two fumbles inside their own 31-yard-line on back-to-back drives with a 13-point lead and under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter."
"(I'm) furious," head coach Mike McCoy said when asked about his state of mind after the 35-34 loss to the New Orleans Saints, via ESPN. "It's a major disappointment. You get the lead we had, and to fall apart -- a major disappointment. Frustration is an understatement. I can't say right now in this microphone how I really, truly feel."
Sunday's loss pushed the Chargers to 1-3 for the season. In the past two years, San Diego is 3-12 in games decided by eight points or fewer. In a league in which most teams hover around the .500 mark in toss-up games, McCoy's 20 percent win-rate in such contests protrudes in the negative.
Coaches get fired for losses like Sunday. McCoy entered the season on the hot seat. So it's safe to say there's no cooling in sight.
McCoy's squad has lost 15 of their past 20 games. In each of the three losses this season, the Chargers owned a lead with under five minutes remaining and blew it.
San Diego ownership might not be one to make hasty decisions -- 1998 marked the last in-season coaching change -- but do have an offensive coordinator in Ken Whisenhunt with head coaching experience.
"I know one way -- to come in tomorrow, work my ass off and get this team ready to go to Oakland," McCoy said when asked about his job security. "I don't worry about any of that. I am coaching this football team the way I know how to do it, and we're going to grind."
The way McCoy has been coaching so far has led to close loss after close loss.
According to the Sports Xchange, that wasn't all sweat in quarterback Philip Rivers' eyes in the wake of Sunday's dreadful loss.
Rivers seemed on the verge of tears and his voice cracked with heartbreak after the Chargers squandered another fourth-quarter lead. "It seems like each loss we say, 'I don't know if it can get any tougher than that,'" Rivers said. "Somehow, we found a way to top each one. This one is really unlike any other I can remember in the way it happened."
According to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams, San Diego needs more of a player-driven system to have more success. McCoy should take a back seat to the more dominant personalities on the roster, such as Rivers, nose tackle Brandon Mebane and Antonio Gates.
"The only thing we can do is hang together and make plays," Mebane said. "We have confidence in ourselves as players. We can still win our division. We're going to look at the film on Monday and stay together."
Bottom line? As San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Kevin Acee notes, it's not a stretch to say the Chargers could be 4-0. But they are not. They are 1-3. They are 5-15 since the start of last season.
If this season is not already lost, it could be soon.
Three of the Chargers' next four games are against AFC West opponents. Two of those are on the road. Things need to change, but based on what we've seen from McCoy run teams, there's not much reason for optimism. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Gordon is the only back to score in every game this season. But his six touchdowns, which included two on Sunday, are overshadowed by his critical fourth-quarter fumble. His first fumble of the year fueled the Saints' unlikely rally. "I have to be better in that situation," Gordon said.
Still, Gordon continued to prove he might be the most improved player in the NFL from a season ago.
As NFL.com's Edward Lewis noted, despite the late-game fumble, Gordon showed off patience and burst that he lacked last year. He didn't rush for much on the ground, compiling 36 yards on 19 carries, but he scored a touchdown for the fourth consecutive game and now has an NFL-high six rushing touchdowns this season. He did damage through the air, too, catching six balls for 43 yards.
Rivers threw for 321 yards, completing 28-of-43, with a touchdown. But some key drops killed him; his pass protection was leaky when it counted most; nothing was bigger than Benjamin fumbling a reception late in the game without being hit.
Dontrelle Inman has led the Chargers in wide receiver snaps after Keenan Allen went down. But as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Inman turned that into production in Week 4 against a deficient secondary as Tyrell Williams, who left the game for a stretch with an injury, and Benjamin disappointed.
Gates (hamstring) missed his second straight week. Gates, 36, hasn't practiced in two weeks -- although he was on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice (taking part in the stretching portion). Rookie Hunter Henry has filled in admirably. In fact, Harmon believes Henry may even be an upgrade at this moment in their careers.
And finally. ... ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that CB Jason Verrett played past two games with what he worries could be a torn ligament in his knee. He is meeting with doctors Wednesday to determine the extent of the knee injury, and whether or not he can play through it.
Verrett is hoping that it's not severe enough that he misses games, but he does not know the extent of the injury, and it's possible he has been playing with a torn ligament. If he misses any time, it would be a continuation of big blows for a Chargers team that already has lost Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead to season-ending injuries.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis
TEs: Virgil Green, Antonio Gates
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Head coach Chip Kelly is not contemplating a quarterback change after the 49ers' 24-17 loss Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, their third consecutive defeat.
In fact, Kelly didn't think starter Blaine Gabbert performed poorly at all.
"I thought Blaine played well today, to be honest with you," Kelly said. "Besides that one throw."
But as Sacramento Bee staffer Matthew Barrows notes, that one throw was pivotal.
Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter, the 49ers got a boost when Jeremy Kerley returned a punt 26 yards to the San Francisco 45-yard line. On the next play, wide receiver Torrey Smith was in his element -- running deep downfield and cruising past cornerback Morris Claiborne.
But instead of hitting Smith in stride for the touchdown, Gabbert's pass was short and hung in the air, and Claiborne made an easy interception. The Cowboys then went on an 11-play, clock-grinding drive that ended with a field goal.
"That's on me," Gabbert said. "I've got to throw him to the middle of the field. I've got to throw him to the hash, and I just cut it a little too early and just missed him wide."
Smith is by far the 49ers' best and most experienced receiver. But for the second consecutive game, he was a non-factor. He and Gabbert connected only once, late in the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-6 play. The reception gained just 3 yards, allowing the Cowboys to take possession and run out the clock.
Gabbert, criticized for throwing short of the first-down marker last week against the Seattle Seahawks, didn't seem to know just how far the 49ers were from a first down on the play.
"We came up a yard short," he said. "That's the way it goes. We're 3 feet short and that's a tough pill to swallow. We were driving there pretty good there on that last drive of the game and they just rallied to the ball."
Those two plays doused what had been a hot start for Gabbert.
After going 0 for 10 on third-down conversions through three quarters against Seattle, Gabbert and his teammates began 7 for 7 in that category Sunday. One of those conversions was a 33-yard touchdown to Kerley. Another came on a 3-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde, who initially took a step forward, saw no openings in front of him, then scooted to his right and found a clear path to the end zone.
Of course, the offense wasn't the ultimate culprit in the loss.
Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott finished with 138 yards, becoming the third consecutive running back to gain 100 yards or more against the 49ers.
In fact, after holding the Los Angeles Rams to 185 total yards in Week 1, San Francisco's defense has given up more than 400 yards in the past three games, with Dallas producing 428.
The unit also likely will be missing two stalwarts, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and lineman DeForest Buckner, who were injured in the second half. Bowman suffered an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Buckner (foot) is doubtful for this week.
Gabbert finished 16 of 23 for 196 yards with a respectable 91.9 passer rating. But he threw for only 87 yards in the final three quarters.
Smith was seen throwing his helmet on the sideline in frustration after the fourth-quarter interception. Similarly demonstrative scenes from Smith and from then-starting wide receiver Anquan Boldin last year preceded the 49ers replacing Colin Kaepernick with Gabbert.
"We were both frustrated," Gabbert said. "I mean, that was a huge play in the game. Every game in the league comes down to one or two plays that change the outcome and that definitely had an impact on it, and that's on me."
Smith has just nine catches for 106 yards and one touchdown through four games with the NFL's least productive passing offense.
"I'm fine being patient, I'm completely fine not getting the ball as long as we're moving the ball and we're scoring points," Smith said Tuesday. "I'll never complain about that. It's tough when I'm waiting and I know we have an opportunity to change a game like that and we miss. It's tough."
Smith's biggest strength as a receiver is his ability to get deep and that has not meshed well with Gabbert's abilities. Gabbert has completed just one of 10 pass attempts at least 20 yards down field - a 28-yard TD catch by Smith against Carolina - and his 33.3 rating on those attempts is the second worst in the league, according to SportRadar.
The Niners had their best success a year ago throwing to Smith, generating a 116.9 passer rating on those throws in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. That has not been the case this year when that rating has dropped to 37.7
Smith was targeted 16 times the first two games - catching just five of those passes - but has been rather invisible the past two games with just six targets and four catches for 38 yards.
Bottom line? Those expecting a Smith renaissance this season probably need to set their sights lower at this point. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Hyde scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season in Sunday's loss. Coupled with his two-TD effort the previous week at Seattle, it marked the first time that Hyde has rushed for touchdowns in consecutive games in his career.
Kerley had six catches for 88 yards and the above-mentioned touchdown against the Cowboys. Kerley's TD, the 10th of his career, was a 33-yard reception from Gabbert in the first quarter. Kerley suffered an ankle injury in the game and is questionable for Thursday's game against the Cardinals.
Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge made his first career start on Sunday. His one catch went for 5 yards.
Tight end Vance McDonald (hip) sat out Sunday's loss. McDonald is expected to return to practice this week and might return for Thursday's game. TE Garrett Celek took advantage of McDonald's injury to haul in five catches for 79 yards. Both the receptions and yardage were career highs.
McDonald was limited in Tuesday's practice and he was listed as questionable for Thurday night's game along with Kerley.
QBs: C.J. Beathard
RBs: Alfred Morris, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis , Trent Taylor, Victor Bolden, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Head coach Pete Carroll was full of optimism entering the bye week.
There seems to be good reason for that with Seattle sitting at 3-1 and coming off consecutive impressive victories.
But it was a declaration about what this Seahawks team could become that was surprising even for the always-positive head coach.
"I've loved this team all along. I've seen it coming. Just the way they've gone about all the work, we have a chance to be something really good," Carroll said Monday. "We just have to go out there and keep doing it, one day at a time, one week at a time and see where that leaves us. That's nothing to project what's going to happen the end of the year. I don't know that. But I do know what these guys have put into it, how they're approaching it, how determined they are, how they practice and how they've applied themselves, it's everything we're looking for."
The Seahawks arrived at the bye following a 27-17 win over the New York Jets on Sunday, a game that Seattle dominated more than the final score indicated. Russell Wilson threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns and if not for a fluky fourth-quarter fumble that turned into a New York touchdown, the Seahawks would have held a third opponent to 10 points or less.
And now Seattle gets two weeks to get a number of its key players healthy. Wilson will continue to get rehab on his sprained left knee and sprained right ankle during the bye week, and is expected to have more of his mobility back after being limited against the Jets.
Carroll said the ankle sprain is all but gone at this point and that Wilson is working like crazy to keep his movement and flexibility intact.
"He's gaining strength and flexibility and making sure he's maintaining all the range of motions and all that stuff," Carroll said. "He's very aggressively going after it. He's not sitting down at all."
"We should have a really strong QB playing underneath the center when we get back a couple weeks from now."
The timing of the bye should also help the likes of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jarran Reed and Nick Vannett get healthier or be able to play when Atlanta comes to Seattle on Oct. 16. Baldwin told ESPN's Dan Graziano that Tyler Lockett is playing through a torn PCL in his knee.
Seattle was unable to get its run game started against the Jets in part because of New York's stout defensive line. Wilson's lack of mobility also ensured he wasn't a threat to escape the pocket as he normally does. What Wilson excelled at was throwing from the pocket into small windows, particularly finding Jimmy Graham downfield. Graham posted his second straight 100-yard game with 113 yards on six catches, showing no impact from the torn patellar tendon injury suffered last November.
No Seattle player has ever had three straight 100-yard receiving games.
Graham is the first Seattle player since Mike Williams in 2010 to have 100-yard receiving games in consecutive weeks. No Seattle player has ever accomplished the feat in three consecutive games. Against Atlanta in two weeks, Graham will have the chance to become the first.
"Jimmy Graham is a bad, bad man," Wilson said. "He can do anything. He can make any play, any catch. He's a special player."
All six of Graham's catches went for at least 12 yards. He made a one-handed catch on a back-shoulder throw on Seattle's first possession, then saw Wilson drop a perfect pass over his shoulder for 27 yards.
Defensively, the Seahawks forced three turnovers and suffocated the Jets on the ground. Matt Forte had just 27 yards on 14 carries.
But that defense will be slightly short-handed for the next two months. Starting outside linebacker Mike Morgan was placed on injured reserve Monday and will undergo surgery on Tuesday in Philadelphia for a sports hernia. Morgan played Sunday but remained on the East Coast to have the injury taken care of.
He could return later in the season. The recovery should take only five or six weeks.
As ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia suggested this week, it may well be that the chance to beat the Seahawks this year has come and gone. If they're only going to get healthier and better from here, you'd have to view them as the conference favorites -- especially with Carolina and Arizona struggling to find their footing. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Christine Michael contributed 90 total yards and a touchdown against the Jets. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, despite his inefficiency on the ground, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, Michael still logged 18 rush attempts and added 32 yards on five receptions along with a receiving touchdown.
For as long as Thomas Rawls is out, which should be for at least another month or so, Michael will be locked-in as an RB1 in fantasy football. Carroll called it a four- to six-week injury, and it has been just over two weeks since Rawls sustained the injury in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Rookie running back C.J. Prosise is expected to be able to play soon after the bye week. He missed the past three games due to a broken bone in his wrist. It hasn't kept him from practicing, but he hasn't been able to control a football sufficiently enough to be active for games. Carroll said it may take one more week to get back, but Prosise then will be ready to jump back into the lineup.
Newcomer C.J. Spiller rushed two times for 12 yards and caught 2-of-3 targets for five yards and one touchdown in his Seahawks debut.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown, Brandon Marshall
TEs: Will Dissly, Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson, Darrell Daniels
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
Jameis Winston says it's not difficult to determine why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't winning.
The young quarterback has turned the ball over nine times during the team's three-game losing streak, prompting coach Dirk Koetter to say he's "very" concerned about the second-year pro's play.
"At times, I do try to do too much and that's a part of the problem," Winston told the Associated Press after throwing a pair of interceptions during Sunday's 27-7 loss to the Denver Broncos.
"I've just got to do my job" and put teammates in position to make plays for an offense that been held to seven points twice in the past three weeks.
Head coach Dirk Koetter said Monday that the 22-year-old, who threw for more than 4,000 yards as a rookie a year ago, has to learn to be more patient in attacking NFL defenses.
Winston ranks among the league leaders with eight touchdown passes, however he's also thrown eight interceptions and lost two fumbles during the team's 1-3 start.
Two of the turnovers have been returned for TDs. The Bucs turned the ball over three times in the first half against Denver, which used a pair of interceptions deep in Bucs territory to set up their first two touchdowns.
"I need to protect the football," Winston said flatly.
It's a lesson Koetter thought his quarterback learned last season, when Winston rebounded from throwing seven interceptions in his first four games.
Many of Winston's mistakes occur in situations where he's scrambling, trying to extend plays that have broken down.
"At that position, taking care of the football is the No. 1 priority. Like I said, I thought we were past this, and I was confident we were past it. But we're struggling with it right now, and we've got to fix it," Koetter said.
"I think the real trick is Jameis is such a competitive guy and Jameis is always trying to -- it's a positive trait that he has -- make a play when sometimes there's no play to be made," the coach added.
"And sometimes that's throwing the ball when he doesn't need to, sometimes that's trying to keep a scramble alive too long and taking an unnecessary hit."
In addition to sacking Winston five times, the Broncos finished with 16 quarterback hits.
As Tampa Bay Tribune staffer Rick Stroud noted, suggested Winston's fight is admirable, it's also what hurts him as an NFL quarterback.
Koetter said Winston has to know his limitations.
"Not every play is going to be a big play," Koetter said. "We went through this very similar thing the first four games last season. And hopefully we'll learn the same lesson we learned last year and get on a little roll here."
A year ago, Winston, as a rookie, had six interceptions through his first four games. Then he virtually willed himself to stop turning the ball over. He went four straight games and five of six without an interception or a lost fumble.
As Stroud summed up, "That's what the Bucs need Winston to do right away. Otherwise, the player who gives the Bucs the best chance of winning is the biggest reason they will keep losing. ..."
Worth noting. ... The plan Sunday was to run the football and Denver had been vulnerable against the run this season. Koetter called 20 run plays in the first half, but they netted only 54 yards.
In two games as the feature back, Sims has rushed for 83 yards on 28 carries (2.9-yard average). The Buccaneers likely will turn to Jacquizz Rodgers, who has 69 yards on 13 carries (5.3 avg.) this season.
"Maybe we got to go back and look at fitting the roles into the player's specific strengths in the run game," Koetter said. "We're going to get Doug back here at some point and he's one of the best running backs in the league. That would be a welcome site when we get him back in there. But we can't just keep doing the same stuff because that's not working."
Adding to the intrigue, Sims took a hit on his right knee in the first quarter from Aqib Talib. He finished the game but wasn't on the practice field to start the week. Martin is expected to miss Monday night's game at Carolina with a hamstring strain.
I'll be keeping a close eye on developments at halfback in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
Tight end Brandon Myers left the game with an injured hip and did not return. He was playing for injured starter Luke Stocker, who has missed the last two games with a hip injury. Stocker could return to the lineup Monday at Carolina.
The status of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is in jeopardy because of a calf injury, according to Koetter.
McCoy suffered the injury Sunday. He and rookie defensive end Noah Spence, who suffered a shoulder injury, left the game in the first half and did not return. After the game, McCoy was seen with a walking boot on his left leg, and Spence had his right arm in a sling.
According to Profootballtalk.com, the Buccaneers have promoted wide receiver Jeremy Butler to their active roster. Butler signed to the Buccaneers' practice squad after failing to make the Ravens this summer.
Butler caught 31 passes for 363 yards in eight games for the Ravens last year and caught 16 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns this preseason.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted on Monday, "It's deja vu all over again for the Tennessee Titans, who are starting out 1-3 for a third straight season and fourth in the past five years. ..."
Even with a new coach, they are struggling to clean up penalties and turnovers that have cost them in back-to-back losses. The latest mistakes cost special teams coordinator Bobby April his job on Monday, a day after his unit gave up 10 points in a 27-20 loss at Houston.
Head coach Mike Mularkey said he just didn't see improvement out of special teams before deciding to fire an assistant who worked for him in Buffalo in 2004-05. Mularkey spoke with Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk on Sunday night and says he isn't worried about his own job security.
He also insists the Titans are better.
"We're very close. I know people are tired of hearing that, I'm tired of saying it. But it's a fact," Mularkey said.
"There's a few plays, four to five plays a game, that have made a difference in the outcome of these games. I know in the past two years if we had been down 14 points in Houston, that would not have been a pretty outcome. And this team is competing with every team that we've played and had a chance to win every game we played. We've got to find a way to win."
The Titans came into this season expecting a turnaround behind a new general manager with Mularkey fully in charge, having been given the job permanently in January along with 23 new players on the roster. Now a month into the season, they are on the same track that wound up costing Ken Whisenhunt his coaching job after a 1-6 start.
The Titans have had the ball late in each of the last two losses with a chance to either force overtime or go for a 2-point conversion and the win. But they've put themselves in catch-up mode with too many mistakes.
The second-least penalized team in the NFL last season, the Titans have been flagged for 19 penalties for 163 yards combined the past two games. A penalty for 12 men on the field at the end of the first half turned a punt by Houston into a 45-yard field goal and a 20-17 halftime lead for the Texans.
The Titans also gave up a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter that decided the game, which certainly didn't help April. Steve Hoffman, who is in his fourth season as an assistant with Tennessee and his 27th in the NFL, will take over special teams.
Tennessee's losses have come against teams with a combined 9-2 record in Minnesota, Oakland and Houston. The schedule for the rest of October gives the Titans a much more even playing field against opponents who are 3-13 combined. They visit Miami (1-3) on Sunday before hosting Cleveland (0-4), Indianapolis (1-3) and Jacksonville (1-3).
Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota had another rough day, completing just 13 of 29 passes Sunday and throwing his fifth interception in four games this season.
Mularkey said the Titans' receivers are as much or more to blame than the second-year quarterback.
"People look at Marcus when it comes to really the last two games. Our passing game has not been efficient, and we really haven't been efficient outside," Mularkey said. "We haven't been very precise. We haven't been very detailed. That starts with those guys outside. They need to carry over what they're being taught in the classroom, and what they're doing on the practice field needs to carry over into games, and it will function better."
Kendall Wright saw his first action since last Dec. 27, after missing all of preseason and the first three games due to a hamstring injury. Wright had two catches for 14 yards but also "rushed" some of his routes and breaks, according to Mularkey.
Still, ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky believes something is not right with Mariota. Kuharsky contends Mariota is getting better protection than he had as a rookie. The weapons may not be better, but they are different. The scheme was changed to enhance his play, but it has not.
And he's not throwing the ball particularly well. His percentage is down to 58.8 for the season and he's got more interceptions, six, than touchdowns, five.
The Titans should have been expecting far more from him than they've gotten through the first quarter of the season.
They need to find a way to get more in Miami next week and beyond.
"We're close," Mariota said. "And we've got to continue to believe that. It's a process. Continue to believe in each other, stay together, and just go back to work. ..."
On a more positive note, DeMarco Murray is playing well. Really well.
He put up another 100-plus yards and scored twice, taking advantage of a J.J. Watt-less Texans defense on Sunday. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes that Murray has finished no worse than fantasy's RB10 (standard) in any week this season.
Derrick Henry only got three attempts (nine yards) on Sunday and nothing notable near the goal line, in part because this game ended up being high-scoring by Titans standards and Murray seems more adept in the passing game. But against the Vikings in Week 1, one of Mularkey's strengths as a play-caller was the talent he deployed in versatile backfield formations.
Still, as Franciscovich suggested, Henry remains merely a bench stash for now, as the volume just wasn't there, and hasn't been there, for the rookie just yet.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker, Delanie Walker
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 October 2016
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, a few days before the most productive game of his NFL career, running back Matt Jones noticed on film the difference in his two halves the previous week against the Giants. In one half, he was hesitant, hit the wrong holes and failed to maximize the yards available. In the second, he ran with power.
He liked the second half better. So, too, did the Redskins. But the question before Sunday's game against the Browns was this: Would Jones carry over the momentum from the fourth quarter of last weekend's game against the Giants, in which he gained 35 yards and ran the way Washington has wanted him to all season?
The answer was yes.
Jones' legs were the difference in a 31-20 victory that saved the Redskins from a bad home loss and 1-3 start to the season.
Keim went on to note we can give a partial assist to his mother, who was watching him in person for the first time in his NFL career.
"I just wanted to be decisive and show my mom what I got and what I'm capable of, what she brought in this world," Jones said. "It meant a lot to me. And my [two] little girls calling me, just telling me they see me on the TV. It just means a lot to me and just finding out who I am as a person. I'm a role model to my kids and I don't want to let them down."
The defense helped by forcing three turnovers on a day it otherwise struggled to stop Cleveland's offense. If you're going to struggle to stop teams, you might as well help by forcing turnovers. But the defense absolutely must play better if the Redskins want to contend this season. Too many missed tackles; too many yards after contact; too much success on the ground by the opposition.
Keim added that Jones still has times when he stutter-steps too much and tries to dance around smaller players -- it happened in the first half. When that happens, and his feet stop, Jones is just a guy. But when he's patient, plays off his blocks and runs decisively, he can be a guy the Redskins rely on for a while.
"Looked like he was running with more power and more conviction," head coach Jay Gruden said. "You're not going to make every correct decision, but when you make a decision, make it and be decisive. He was more decisive and more physical."
As Keim summed up, "Jones is still figuring out who he is as a runner. Actually, he knows who he needs to be. He just has to find a way to be that guy with regularity. Washington saw Sunday the difference it can make."
Fantasy owners saw it, too. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kirk Cousins was a picture of perfection out of the gate, completing his first nine passes and throwing touchdown strikes on Washington's opening two drives. The quarterback crashed to earth one series later, though, tossing a costly pick that set up Cleveland's second touchdown.
After mounting the 14-0 lead, Cousins (21-of-27 passing for 183 yards) and the Redskins scored just three points over the next 35 minutes before the signal-caller sealed the game with his third touchdown dart of the day in the final frame.
It was clear right away that Jordan Reed was in for a productive day against a Browns defense that came into the game allowing the NFL's third most receptions (22) and fifth most yards (244) to tight ends. The Redskins pass-catcher caught two touchdowns in the space of seven minutes and finished with a team-leading nine grabs for 73 yards.
Reed finished the day with nine catches for 73 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has 207 receptions for 2,179 yards and 16 touchdowns for his career.
As announced by the NFL, Reed made it to 200 catches faster than any other tight end in league history. Reed got there in 38 games; Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow did it in 39.
The knock on Reed hasn't been his ability to produce but his durability. Since joining the league in 2013, he has missed 14 games. This year, he has appeared in all four games.
The Redskins didn't complete much down field. But two pass interference penalties drawn by DeSean Jackson were good enough for 80 yards by themselves.
One last note here. ... Josh Doctson missed his second game of the season Sunday with a sore left Achilles tendon, an injury that has bothered him since May and cost him almost all of the preseason.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris, Trey Quinn, Michael Floyd, Cam Sims
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle