Team Notes week 6 2021
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
The Cardinals remain the only undefeated team in the NFL, and their hope for a potential Super Bowl run continues to grow after a 5-0 start.
But they want to stay as healthy as they can.
Sunday's 17-10 win over the 49ers came with a price, when both tight end Maxx Williams (knee) and center Rodney Hudson (ribs) left the game.
As Kevin Parrish Jr. of the team's official website notes, Williams' injury did not look good, the helmet of 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley crunching out the inside of the right knee. Williams was carted off, an injury so severe that all of his teammates streamed across the field to the San Francisco sideline to give him encouragement.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Cardinals believe Williams has a season-ending injury.
"Football happens, you can't change it, you can't really do anything," Kyler Murray said. "I don't know what he could have differently, it's unfortunate. We're all behind him, praying for him,
"He's in a majority of a lot of our plays. He's a big part of our offense, so yes it takes a toll on a lot of the stuff you can do and call."
Murray said he hoped Hudson would be OK, but it is ribs injuries that kept Kelvin Beachum out most of two games and half of a third and sidelined cornerback Byron Murphy Sunday against the Niners will sideline Hudson this week.
Linebacker Ezekiel Turner (shoulder) also left the game. Murray was caught on camera getting his arm looked at and while Kingsbury said it was just "bumps and bruises" -- there may be more to it (see below).
Starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson also missed the 49ers' game with rib injuries.
"We're hoping the weekend off will benefit those guys," Kingsbury said. "We'll see. It will be day-to-day. We'll go in this week and see how they feel and how they're moving around -- and take it from there."
Kingsbury said the Cardinals have room to improve heading into the matchup with the Browns, but believes their ceiling is high if they can avoid durability problems.
"No doubt," Kingsbury said. "When you look at the tape; it's just little things here and there. But when you talk about effort and physicality and toughness -- and making plays in crucial situations -- they're coming through. But we have to stay healthy."
The Browns are another Super Bowl contender with injuries.
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney missed Sunday's game against the Chargers. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is on injured reserve, although he may return this week.
The Browns have a top-five ranked offense in the NFL, fresh off pouring 532 yards and 42 points on the Chargers. The defense -- led by All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett -- also ranks top-five in the NFL.
Injuries and all, Kingsbury is focused on facing another vaunted high powered offense and expects his team to be ready with the next man up mentality.
"The Browns are loaded," Kingsbury said. "They're as talented as roster you'll find in the NFL. Kevin Stefanski is an incredible offensive mind. He's a guy like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay that does a tremendous job with the quarterbacks -- building great weapons around them. Baker Mayfield is playing at a really high level and it will be a huge challenge for us."
Meanwhile, Associated Press sports writer David Brandt notes the "Kingsbury Experiment" finally looks like it's working.
The Cardinals took a risk three years ago by hiring the 39-year-old coach, who had a reputation for developing great quarterbacks but also lost a lot of games at Texas Tech. He now appears comfortable in the NFL and after the 5-0 start his career record has improved to 18-18-1.
"I've always been of the belief that it's about the players," Kingsbury said. "If you have really good players, you'll be a really good coach."
One issue for the Cardinals to work on: The run game.
They couldn't get much going on the ground Sunday. Murray ran for just 1 yard on seven carries. The team's leading rusher was actually receiver Rondale Moore, who had 38 yards on three carries. Give credit to the 49ers -- they're very good on defense -- but the Cardinals need to run the ball better to keep winning games.
Chase Edmonds had one of his least productive games of the season, running for just 15 yards and catching three passes for 19 yards. He also had what could have been a costly fumble in the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals' defense was able to come up with another big stop. ...
Other notes of interest. ... DeAndre Hopkins didn't have his best game ever, making six catches for 87 yards. But he was the closer the Cardinals needed Sunday, making a number of key grabs when it mattered most.
Hopkins also became the player with the most catches in NFL history before age 30, with his 770 receptions surpassing former teammate Larry Fitzgerald.
"I've got to thank all 20 of my quarterbacks," Hopkins joked, but added, "I just want to be reliable for my team.
"Shoot, draft day, I didn't think I was going to be a first-round guy. ..."
Moore had five catches for 59 yards and the above-mentioned three rushes for 38 yards, along with a 12-yard punt return. He made two huge plays, one a 26-yard run that was nearly a touchdown to set up the Cardinals' first score, the second an amazing 33-yard catch falling out of bounds in front of the Cards' sideline.
"He goes out there and wants to be in every play," Kingsbury said. "He stands right by me like a little puppy dog, like, 'What are you doing' (while) looking at me. But he is a tremendous football player."
As for the injuries. ... In the second half of Sunday’s win, Murray's right arm was getting attention from members of the team’s training staff when the defense was on the field.
Murray remained in the game and hit Hopkins for a key fourth quarter touchdown pass, but that doesn’t mean the issue was resolved. Murray was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and the Cardinals list him with a right shoulder issue.
Murray injured the A/C joint in his right shoulder last November and saw his production drop over the final weeks of the regular season.
Hopkins didn’t practice because of an illness. Hudson), linebacker Jordan Hicks (toe), cornerback Byron Murphy (ribs), defensive lineman Corey Peters (rest), linebacker Tanner Vallejo (hand), and cornerback Marco Wilson (ribs) were also out.
Beachum (ribs) and Edmonds (shoulder) joined Murray in the limited category.
I'll obviously be watching this situation closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News Section for the latest. ...
Williams was placed on IR Wednesday and the Cardinals placed star pass rusher Chandler Jones on the Reserve/COVID-19 list due to a positive test. They also activated tight end Darrell Daniels from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Chase Edmonds
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Zach Ertz, Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
A ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein recounted it, Kyle Pitts was running across the field in a third-down situation early in the second quarter. The Atlanta Falcons needed a play. Pitts' quarterback, Matt Ryan, was getting pressured. He needed to get the ball away and threw it in the general direction of his rookie tight end.
And at almost full speed, Pitts extended his right arm and the ball stuck to his enormous hand. For a second, it showed the immensity of his strength before Pitts pulled it in tighter to his body. It was, in a glimmer, the most impressive play of Pitts' still-nascent career, a 22-yard gain on an early drive in what was eventually a 27-20 win over the New York Jets.
But for Pitts, it was just the continuation of a different type of week.
Pitts turned 21 on Wednesday. He traveled overseas to play in the NFL for the first time on Thursday. By Saturday, it became clear he'd become one of the focal points of Atlanta's offense with Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage sidelined.
And on Sunday?
Pitts showed why there was so much to believe in when the Falcons took him fourth overall in the 2021 draft. Despite getting a lot of attention from the Jets' defense, Pitts led the Falcons in targets (10), receptions (nine) and yards (119) and also posted the first touchdown of his career.
The 119 yards are the third highest in a game by a rookie tight end over the past 20 years, behind Jordan Reed's 134 yards against Chicago in 2013 and T.J. Hockenson's 131 yards in the first game of his career in 2019 against Arizona.
After the Falcons waited a month for him to truly emerge, Pitts arrived on the day when they needed him the most.
"I just told him right before I came in here I'm proud of him," Ryan said. "I think there's going to be a lot of those in the future for him. He's done a great job of focusing on growth and development day-in and day-out and just trying to get better."
This shouldn't be a surprise coming from a player who, in college, had a color-coded schedule to make sure he had entire days and weeks planned out to make sure he was doing everything possible to reach his NFL goals.
Pitts has never been one to say much. But each week there has been progress. In a loss to Washington last week, he became more involved in the offense. He continued to show flashes of the player he could become. Sunday was Pitts' largest step to date. Over and over again, Ryan found Pitts. He found him in the end zone, on short routes that Pitts caught despite having the sun in his eyes, on intermediate routes and, when the Falcons needed a big play to help put away the game, deep routes -- including one in which Pitts caught a 39-yard pass in front of two defenders.
This has been what Pitts and his coach, Arthur Smith, have been preaching for weeks.
"I was just patient out there," Pitts said during a postgame television interview.
Patience is important when you're dealing with a rookie -- especially at a position like tight end, where Pitts is doing a little bit of everything. He's blocking. He's running routes. He's lined up at multiple spots within the offense.
Each week has been some sort of step for Atlanta, building up to Week 5, when Pitts showed for the first time exactly what his NFL future could look like.
The Falcons enter their bye week and will practice lightly Tuesday and Wednesday before taking the rest of the week off. Atlanta visits Miami on Oct. 24. ...
Also of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer x notes, the running game was fairly stout as Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson stepped up and combined to rush for 107 yards and 4.0 yards per carry. Patterson continued to be a threat in play-action and ended the game with seven catches for 60 yards. Davis had a 17-yard run.
Ball security was an issue, with tight end Hayden Hurst losing a fumble at the Jets 13-yard line and Davis losing a fumble at the New York 20. Both red-zone miscues prevented Atlanta from padding the lead and kept the Jets within striking distance. Both made up for their mistakes, though, with Hurst catching a 17-yard touchdown and Davis scoring the final TD.
One last note here... Ridley missed the trip to London due to a personal matter and dropped two passes the week before in the loss to Washington. The Falcons desperately need their No. 1 receiver to be at his best in the coming weeks if they are to contend for the playoffs. Smith had no update Monday on Ridley's status.
I'll be watching for more over the off week and report back further via Late-Breaking Update is more information is forthcoming.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman, Qadree Ollison
WRs: Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Calvin Ridley
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As NFL.com reported, "Lamar Jackson did it again, thrilling every one of those who witnessed the Ravens' 31-25 comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
"Even those who've been around the game far longer than his 24 years on earth were left in amazement."
"It was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen," head coach John Harbaugh said after the game.
Jackson rallied the Ravens from a 25-9 fourth-quarter deficit, leading three consecutive touchdown drives to send it into overtime. His fourth straight TD drive came in OT, where he ended the game on a five-yard toss to Marquise Brown.
Jackson's impressive night ended with a career-high 442 passing yards and four touchdowns on 37 of 43 passes (86 percent) with no interceptions. He added a team-high 62 yards on the ground. On a night where the Ravens fell one game short of breaking a tie for the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Jackson decided to set the franchise's single-game passing record.
On Tuesday, Jackson was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
"It wasn't easy. I mean, it wasn't like we came out up and down the field," Harbaugh said. "We had to overcome and fight through some things. ... He just came alive like all of our guys did. All of the guys made plays, but it starts with Lamar. He deserves the credit."
Per Next Gen Stats, the Ravens had a 4 percent win probability when the Colts took a 22-3 lead with 3:11 left in the third quarter. The Ravens flipped that number into an 86 percent chance of winning at the time he lined up for the game's final play.
"To be honest, it wasn't a doubt in my mind," Jackson said about his team's chances of pulling off the comeback win in OT. "Our team, we hit that peak that we needed at the right time in the second half. We just knew it was one play at a time -- that's all we kept saying in the huddle."
Jackson's night didn't come without any miscues. His third-quarter fumble at the goal line aided the Colts' early lead and continued a night that seemed destined to end in disappointment. Jackson never wavered, however, and by virtue of his uncanny ability to extend plays with his feet and a capacity to seemingly never miss a receiver on this night, the Ravens (4-1) won their fourth consecutive game thanks to one of the most memorable one-man performances.
"I was just locked in," Jackson recalled. "I was just calm, everything was moving slow. I was just taking it a play at a time."
Up next. ... A matchup of young start QBs as the Jackson and the Ravens host Justin Herbert and the Chargers on Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Ravens finished with 86 yards rushing. While Jackson was great, the running backs weren't. Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams and Devonta Freeman combined for just 24 yards on 11 carries. This was one game when Baltimore seemed to be affected by the season-ending injuries to running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
That ended Baltimore's streak of 100-yard games, which tied the 43-game run by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s.
The Ravens kept the streak alive when, instead of taking a knee, they ran for a few yards on the final play of their win over Denver in their previous game.
Mark Andrews helped spearhead Monday night's comeback, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns and both two-point conversions to force overtime.
The win, in which Andrews set a career-high with 147 receiving yards and two TDs, came with added motivation for the Pro Bowl tight end.
"My grandma passed this week and I wanted to play for her," Andrews said, via the team's official website. "I was sad I wasn't able to be there for her, but she means a lot to me. Growing up, she lived like a block away. I'd ride to her house, and all of our family is praying for her. I was glad I was able to play for her. She's the biggest Ravens fan ever. She looked up every article y'all have ever written. I know she's looking down on me watching, and I'm extremely blessed to have had her in my life."
Andrews' grandmother got to watch her grandson put on a show Monday night. The 6-5 tight end caught 11 of 13 targets, gashing the Colts defense with ease. Any time Jackson needed a big play, Andrew came down with the pigskin.
Andrews and Brown (125 yards, two TD catches) became unstoppable in the second half and overtime.
Monday night marked the first game in league history in which NFL teammates drafted out of the same college each had 100-plus receiving yards and 2-plus receiving TDs -- both played at Oklahoma (including one season together in 2017). It also was the first game in Ravens franchise history with multiple players with 100-plus receiving yards and two-plus receiving TDs, per NFL Research.
Jackson and the Ravens passing game has been shutting up critics with the help of Andrews and Brown. Both pass-catchers rank in the top 10 in the NFL in receiving yards through five games. Brown: 451 yards (8th), Andrews: 400 yards (T-10th). And the Ravens are the only team with multiple players with 400-plus receiving yards this season.
"I think we're growing, we're getting better, we're getting more mature," Andrews said. "All of those things that happen over the years. We have that connection. We've always had it, but when you have guys all around you that are making plays, it's hard to stop that."
On the injury front. ... The Ravens lost another offensive lineman to injury Monday night when rookie guard Ben Cleveland was carted off the field with a knee injury late in the first half.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) has been out since Week 1, still not 100 percent after last year's season-ending ankle surgery. Alejandro Villanueva, who moved from right tackle to left tackle in Week 2, suffered a knee injury in Week 4 and played Monday night despite being listed as questionable. Second-year offensive lineman Tyre Phillips, who has been out since Week 1 after suffering a knee injury, returned to practice Saturday but he is still on the injured list.
With Cleveland out, Powers would likely be depended upon to carry the load at left tackle in the second half.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins also left in the first half with a hamstring injury and is questionable to return. He was injured on the same play as Cleveland, when bounced off a Colts tackle on a 7-yard catch.
I'll have more on Watkins, who did not practice Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
A few final notes here. ... The Ravens announced that Miles Boykin has been activated from injured reserve before Monday night's game. Boykin returned to practice a couple of weeks ago after hurting his hamstring early in training camp.
First-round pick Rashod Bateman was designated to return from injured reserve on the same day as Boykin, but he has not been added to the active roster. Bateman had groin surgery and is targeting the Week Six game against the Chargers for his return to action.
I'll be watching for more on that as well.
And last. ... The Ravens are receiving trade calls on their running backs, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Williams is a young, affordable option with explosion.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Miles Boykin
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg noted, Josh Allen's fourth-quarter hurdle is the highlight that will be shown again and again after his winning performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. A quarterback hurdling a cornerback to gain a first down doesn't happen every day.
"Knowing the situation and how the game was going, I just felt like we needed something to get a first down there," Allen said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help our team win a football game. In my mind, that was at the top of the list."
But as Getzenberg added, that was just one of several big moments on a seven-play, almost eight-minute fourth-quarter drive that helped the Bills (4-1) secure a 38-21 win. That drive was one example of how Allen made gutsy plays to lead the offense to 30-plus points for a fourth straight week.
"You saw the drive that Josh put together," head coach Sean McDermott said. "I thought that was a phenomenal drive."
Buffalo and Allen were far from perfect in the victory, but Getzenberg contends that's what should make it that much more intimidating for the rest of the NFL. Allen's ability to rush and improvise helped lead to a statement win against the two-time defending AFC champions that reinforced the high ceiling for this team.
"I know we didn't have a lot of plays, didn't really have a lot of third downs, or really a lot of first downs but we had a lot of explosive plays," Allen said. "Guys got open and made some unbelievable plays."
Allen made "unbelievable" plays of his own, both with his legs and through the air.
He finished as the team's leading rusher with 11 carries for 59 yards and a score. The quarterback's biggest success in the air came downfield, completing 15 of 26 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. His 21 yards per completion were a career high and the most by any quarterback in the past two seasons. He threw for a career-high 213 deep passing yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
It was also Allen's fourth career game with three passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and one rushing touchdown -- fourth most in NFL history.
"[No.] 17 is special," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "... This dude was special tonight. He's a special quarterback and I played with a lot of great ones."
A significant part of the Bills' early lead came thanks to Allen's ability to move around and find receivers downfield, like the 53-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox in the third quarter on what seemed like a play with no chance.
"The whole time it's in the air, I'm just like, 'Gotta catch it, gotta catch it,'" Knox said of the play.
The Bills have scored at least 35 points in each of the past four games (with some help from safety Micah Hyde's pick-six this week).
Allen outplayed his counterpart, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, by a significant margin. While Mahomes had his moments, it was Allen who was extending plays and proved difficult to bring down. Allen wasn't sacked once -- thanks in part to his offensive line -- and did not make any big mistakes. You might even call it an MVP-type performance.
It was the first time an opposing quarterback had more passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns than Mahomes in his career.
What now for the Bills?
The hurdle of beating the Chiefs has been cleared. Allen has now put himself in the MVP race and shown concerns about him early in the season were overblown.
The Bills have the No. 1 scoring offense (34.4) and No. 1 scoring defense (12.8) with a plus-108 scoring differential. With the way the Bills defense has been playing all season long, it was imperative for opponents to find a way to limit the Bills' big plays. Now, looking through the conference, it's hard to find a team that will be able to do so if Allen is playing at this level.
Indeed, as Getzenberg added, with Allen becoming more dynamic and playing like a quarterback who received a six-year, $258 million extension prior to the season, the Bills will take his hurdling, scrambling and anything else he does on the field.
"I'll take that first down," McDermott joked after the game about the hurdle. "He can jump over me if he wants to."
Buffalo's redemption tour goes prime-time again with the Bills traveling to play the Titans on Monday night. With a 42-16 win on Oct. 13, 2020, Tennessee joined Kansas City and Arizona as being one of three teams to beat Buffalo last season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Knox went into Sunday night's matchup on a roll having scored four touchdowns in his last three games. The third-year tight end lost no momentum at Kansas City as he had three of the offense's six longest plays from scrimmage including a 53-yard scoring play.
"Josh trusts him to make plays, and he's made plays, and so those kind of grow together," said McDermott. "It was good to see. I mean he's done it now every game that I can think about this year. So he's off to a really strong start. I think Dawson would tell you in our entire football team will tell you, there's still work to do."
Knox's game-high 117 receiving yards marked a single-game career high for the tight end, who now has five touchdown receptions in his last four games.
"He's getting open I trust him," said Allen of Knox. "I've trusted him ever since I've known him. I think he's trusting himself now, understanding that every play there's a potential of him getting the ball. He runs the right routes. I've mentioned before, he's one of our better blockers and I'd say he's one of the better blocking tight ends in the league and he just comes to work each and every day and just wants to help the team win football games. ..."
As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow notes, running back Devin Singletary is listed as the starter, but continues losing touches and playing time to Zack Moss. Singletary finished with six carries for 25 yards and lost 2 yards on his only reception in playing 15 snaps.
Moss had 11 carries for 37 yards and three catches for 55 yards over 42 snaps.
The Chiefs came into the game allowing the second-most rushing yards per game in the NFL (146.0 yards per game). Buffalo finished with 121, including 59 by Allen, who finished as the team's leading rusher. The offensive line has been adjusted somewhat with rookie Spencer Brown starting the past two games at right tackle, but troubles remain.
Against a mediocre Chiefs defense, it was less of a concern. The big passing plays were there. But the offense has been more successful when the Bills are closer to balanced.
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Matt Breida, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, much of what plagued quarterback Sam Darnold in Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Eagles can be blamed on being pressured on a season-high 43 percent of his dropbacks.
But not all of it can be blamed on the pressure -- and Darnold, who threw as many interceptions Sunday as he totaled in the first four games (three), knows it.
Two plays in particular, Darnold would like to have back. One was a third-and-3 attempt to wide receiver Robby Anderson that came the play before the Eagles blocked a punt to set up the winning touchdown with 2:38 remaining.
The other was a first-and-10 attempt to Anderson near the sideline with about two minutes left that resulted in his third interception.
After that, Anderson was captured on the sideline by the television broadcast waving his arms and yelling. It's unclear at whom his anger was directed, but wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson was in the picture.
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed noted, Anderson has been underwhelming since signing a three-year, $27.5 million contract extension this summer.
Reed went on to suggest the lack of chemistry between Darnold and Anderson is perplexing considering they played together for two seasons with the Jets.
Anderson has been targeted 29 times this season but only has 12 receptions for 179 yards, one of those on a 57-yard touchdown in Week 1 against the Jets. Anderson was targeted seven times on Sunday against the Eagles and only caught two passes for 30 yards.
Head coach Matt Rhule said there no repercussions Monday from Anderson getting upset, but he admitted the team has to find a way to get Anderson the ball more.
"He wanted us to double a move, stutter and go," Rhule said. "No issue, as long as it stays within a certain realm."
After the game, Darnold simply said he was "going to keep that between Robby and everyone that was involved."
But Darnold didn't deflect the attention from his performance back to the lack of protection from a reshuffled line that played poorly.
"I've got to keep staying patient," Darnold said. "That's the biggest thing, is pressing too much. ... When I go out there, I've just got to understand, let the game come to me. I've just got to stay within myself."
The third-and-3 pass to Anderson was one of those moments.
"Missed him," said Darnold, who completed a season-low 56.8 percent of his passes after compiling a 67.8 percent rate the first four games. "Missed him. Got to put the ball on him. It was the perfect call. I've just got to put it on him."
"That's a bad ball," he said. “Robby came open. We have to throw and catch."
Newton reminded readers that not handling pocket pressure well was one of the issues that defined Darnold's career with the Jets. It's one of the things the Panthers (3-2) have worked to change this season.
Other than the third quarter of the Week 4 loss to Dallas, they did a decent job the first four games. However, Darnold was under duress from the get-go in this one with right tackle Taylor Moton replacing injured left tackle Cameron Erving (neck) and rookie Brady Christensen making his first NFL start on the right side.
He scrambled out of the pocket three times in the first quarter alone to get rid of the ball. At one point he'd been pressured on 49 percent of his dropbacks.
There also were several dropped passes and a couple of holding penalties to negate big runs by rookie back Chuba Hubbard that hurt Darnold's effort.
Darnold pointed the finger at himself.
"There was a lot of instances where I felt like I was hanging on to the ball too long, and I've got to get it out," he said.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Darnold was much more efficient Sunday with quick deliveries. At one point, he was 11-of-11 for 79 yards and a touchdown when he threw in under 2.5 seconds.
When over 2.5 seconds, he was 5-of-17 for 45 yards and two interceptions. All three of his interceptions came on passes that traveled more than 5 yards in the air.
"There's a bunch of things that go into it," Darnold said. "I've got to watch the tape to really tell you the truth on some of those."
One thing is clear: Darnold is more effective when given adequate time to throw, and he's better when Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey is on the field.
McCaffrey missed his second straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury. Rhule told reporters in his Monday press conference that he'll know more about McCaffrey's situation on Wednesday, but he's "hopeful" that McCaffrey will play against the Vikings this week.
McCaffrey injured his hamstring in Carolina's Thursday victory over Houston in Week 3, an injury he feels happened in part because of the lack of recovery time between games. McCaffrey was a limited participant in all three days of practice last week before being listed as doubtful.
Hubbard has started in McCaffrey's place for the last two games.
After Hubbard played in 65 percent of the snaps, up from 47 percent last week, and had a career game with 101 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards, Rhule said the running back has played well.
"I think he'll be a tremendous complement whenever Christian is back with us," Rhule said.
We'll see about that. McCaffrey tends to dominate snap and touches when he's healthy. He also makes a difference for Darnold.
With McCaffrey on the field, Darnold has taken only two sacks on 69 dropbacks (2.9 percent). Without McCaffrey, he's taken 12 sacks on 134 dropbacks (8.9 percent).
All six of his interceptions this season have come without McCaffrey on the field.
Again, Darnold didn't make excuses, instead praising Hubbard for his play on a day when he rushed for 101 yards and caught five passes for 33 yards.
But Rhule understands the importance of protecting Darnold.
"We've got to get good to the point the quarterback feels good to stay in the pocket," he said. ...
Darnold and the Panthers look to bounce back Sunday at home against the Minnesota Vikings. The defense has played well, but it's time for the offense to catch up.
McCaffrey's return would obviously help.
I'll have more on McCaffrey, who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Sunday in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... Sunday was a huge day for kicker Zane Gonzalez, who may have solidified his role with the team for the foreseeable future after connecting on field goals of 43, 48 and 50 yards against the Eagles. The Panthers have been struggling to find a reliable kicker since jettisoning Joey Slye in the preseason.
QBs: Cam Newton, P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Ameer Abdullah, Christian McCaffrey
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Shi Smith, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Alex Erickson
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
The Bears have searched for years for an offensive identity. But head coach Matt Nagy thinks his team might have finally found one.
After season after season of seemingly being stuck in neutral, the Bears' offense put together its second consecutive efficient outing in Sunday's 20-9 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Bears outworked the Raiders in every way imaginable, including on the ground, where, even without running back David Montgomery (knee injury), Chicago outgained Las Vegas 143 to 71 behind the physical running of veteran back Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert.
"It feels good to have that [identity]," Nagy said. "And now what we've got to do is as we go through this identity and figure out where we're at, is now be able to grow with that, right? Because teams start to see who you are and they're going to have counter ways to come back and counter you and counterattack you and I think that for us we've got to counter that. We always talk about you've got to keep them chasing the cat's tail. So I think that's important."
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson notes, the Bears' offensive epiphany coincided with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor taking over play calling duties prior to their Week 4 win over the Detroit Lions. In the two games for which Lazor has called the plays, a clear identity has formed, with Chicago ranking in the top four in designed run call percentage, play-action usage, percentage of plays outside the pocket and plays under center over that span -- all significant increases from the previous three games when Nagy was calling the plays.
The game plan still runs through Nagy, but Lazor has been in a rhythm.
Chicago recorded 19 first downs, went 6-of-13 on third down, tallied 252 net yards and surrendered only two sacks against a Raiders pass rush that ranked sixth in the NFL in pass rush win rate.
Nagy said the change in playcallers has helped him be more involved with all aspects of the team during games.
"I just think when you go through everything that we're going through, when you're able to step back and figure out, 'OK, what's best for this team?' Last week was my first time going through it [not calling plays], and I told you how good that felt after the game," Nagy said.
The improvements have not been lost on quarterback Justin Fields, who, because of the balanced attack on offense, is being used more as a game-manager -- who also happens to have impressive big-play potential.
"When we get the run game going like that, it's tough on opposing defenses," Fields said after the Raiders game. "I was glad the offensive line was able to do that, plus the running backs and tight ends. They did a great job blocking up front, and our running backs were making plays."
Worth noting. ... Fields played most of Sunday's game with a hyperextended left knee, the quarterback told reporters after the game.
Andy Dalton relieved Fields for two plays in the second quarter after Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacked the first-round pick from behind, which caused Fields' left leg to bend awkwardly.
"I knew I hyperextended it," Fields said. "I was just trying to see if I could get up and I was just able to walk off the field and then after a while I could start feeling my strength getting back, so I was just trying to see how stable it was and seeing if I could run on it."
The Bears quickly determined that Fields was healthy enough to re-enter the game.
Fields managed the offense effectively for Chicago. The 11th-overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft completed 12 or 20 passes for 111 yards, and tossed his first NFL regular-season touchdown pass to tight end Jesper Horsted.
Nagy did not seem overly concerned about Fields' knee injury moving forward.
"His toughness was great, it was awesome," Nagy said. "So that's all. That's the No. 1 thing I'm taking out of this, is his toughness."
On Wednesday, Fields told reporters that he’s feeling sore but that he has no concern about not being able to go in Week Six.
“I’ll be good by Sunday,” Fields said.
The question remains whether the Bears (3-2) can remain focused and disciplined on offense as the schedule turns tougher. With games against the Green Bay Packers -- in Chicago this Sunday -- and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the horizon, the Bears' new offensive identity will be put to the test.
As Dickerson summed up, "Any slippage, and all the good vibes from the Vegas trip will be wiped away. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, with Montgomery placed on injured reserve Saturday due to a sprained knee, Herbert rushed for a game-high 75 yards on 18 carries while Williams added 64 yards on 16 attempts, including a 4-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-3 lead with 1:56 remaining in the first half.
"When you have a guy like David who is a run-hard kind of guy and he's going to get those hard yards, that's what everyone is expecting," Williams said. "And me being who I am, that's how I carry myself as well. We are going to go in there and get these hard yards and keep going. And '24' (Herbert) had that same mentality, so whenever I went out and he went in, we kept doing the same thing."
Both backs benefited from strong blocking by the offensive line as well as receivers and tight ends.
"It talks a lot to the offensive line and tight ends," Nagy told reporters. "It talks a lot to those running backs. It talks a lot to our coaches for getting those guys ready. I think you guys would probably agree there's a little bit of an identity going on right now. That's real.
"When you have that running game it certainly makes things a lot easier in a lot of different ways."
From a fantasy perspective, this performance puts Herbert on our radar as a viable flex option with bye weeks beginning. ...
Allen Robinson caught four passes for 32 yards on Sunday.
With the Bears playing with a lead from the second quarter on, Fields threw only 20 passes, and Robinson tied for the team lead with five targets. However, Chicago didn't ask Fields to turn the ball loose downfield often, so most of Robinson's catches were designed to simply move the chains. As CBSSports.com notes, with four games of 35 yards or fewer and a season high of 63 yards, it's fair to question whether the limitations of the Chicago passing offense will continue to make this a lost fantasy season for the superstar receiver. ...
Cairo Santos made the only two field goals he attempted Sunday, both from 46 yards in the fourth quarter. His first gave the Bears a 17-9 lead with 2:45 to play and his second iced the game with :56 remaining.
Santos has now made a Bears-record 34 straight field goals, the NFL's longest active streak. ...
On the injury front. ... In addition to Montgomery, the Bears played without tight ends Jesse James (personal reasons) and J.P. Holtz (quad), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (groin) and linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (hamstring). Other inactives were quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Breshad Perriman.
Right tackle Germain Ifedi and reserve linebacker Caleb Johnson exited Sunday's game with knee injuries. Ifedi, who was placed on IR Wednesday, was replaced by Elijah Wilkinson. Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu left with a pectoral injury. ...
On Wednesday, the Bears added running back Ryan Nall to the active roster. Nall was promoted from the practice squad for last week's game. This week, it happened earlier.
And finally. ... The Bears would love to trade quarterback Nick Foles, with Fields and Dalton also on the roster. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, they've leaked that they'd listen to offers.
Once it became clear teams weren't pushing for a deal, the Bears held on to Foles and his $4 million fully guaranteed salary for insurance, which looked smart when Dalton suffered a knee injury in Week 2. Other teams with injuries at QB just aren't doing anything drastic, so Foles is set to remain a Bear unless more options open.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Nick Foles
RBs: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Damien Williams, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN.com's Ben Baby framed it, "One of boxing's oldest adages is that a fighter can't become a champion until they suffer their first loss.
"With 25 combined defeats in the previous two seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals had plenty of character-building experiences. But the Bengals are no longer the proverbial tomato can. After three wins in their first four games, Cincinnati has resembled a true playoff contender."
That's what made Sunday's 25-22 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers a different type of experience. Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said the contest against one of the NFL's best teams felt like two fighters trading punches.
"That's what it is every time we are out there," Awuzie said. "And that's what it seemed to be, like it's going to be for the rest of the season."
Indeed, the final minutes of the Bengals-Packers game at Paul Brown Stadium featured similar momentum swings. Both teams combined to miss five go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, the most in an NFL game since 1970, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Cincinnati was able to recover from an 8-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game in regulation.
That is why head coach Zac Taylor wasn't too despondent in the minutes following a game he described as a "roller coaster." For Taylor, there were no questions about what type of fight and energy this year's team has.
"I know exactly what kind of football team we have now," Taylor said.
However, the sense of urgency that has permeated this critical season still remains. After two years of being one of the league's worst teams, and in the midst of a five-year playoff drought, the Bengals know they need the wins that come with the progress they feel.
The Packers (4-1) are typical of the quality opponents the Bengals (3-2) will have to beat if Cincinnati wants to be in playoff contention by the end of the season.
Taylor said the Bengals don't need moral victories to show they are capable of beating the top teams in the league.
"We just want to win them," Taylor said. ...
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacy noted, the strange overtime loss Sunday was overshadowed by news that quarterback Joe Burrow got a precautionary postgame trip to the hospital.
Burrow, already playing on a surgically repaired left knee, was beaten up Sunday, suffering a throat bruise that affected his voice afterward. Taylor reported that Burrow wasn't admitted to the hospital and is expected to play against Detroit this week.
"Joe's back in the building," Taylor said. "He's in good shape. (I) expect no limitations from him, but we'll take it day to day."
But the quarterback is on "voice rest" this week.
Despite the need for the signal-caller to rest his voice, Taylor said everything is going as planned for Burrow. With the Bengals heading to Detroit in Week 6, the team is prepping for the silent count, which goes hand-in-hand with allowing Burrow to rest his vocal cords.
Whether Burrow might be restricted -- if at all -- calling plays or audibling Sunday isn't apparent this early in the week. What we do know is the injury won't keep the second-year quarterback off the field.
Burrow was sacked three times and hit eight other times but isn't sure when his throat was hit. It could have been a violent tackle by two Packers at the end of a second-quarter run that left him on the ground for an extended period. But he ran off under his own power and was on the field for the next series.
Burrow finished with 281 passing yards and two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.
Still, the Burrow-to-Ja'Marr Chase connection remains strong.
Chase, a former teammate and favorite target of Burrow at LSU, has been outstanding after dealing with dropped passes in the preseason. He caught six of 10 targets for a season-high 159 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown late in the first half that cut Green Bay's lead to 16-14.
The kicking game is not so strong.
Evan McPherson, the rookie out of Florida, already had two winning field goals this season. He had converted 5 of 6 attempts coming into the game, but had a rough afternoon. With 26 seconds left in regulation his 57-yard attempt bounced off the right upright.
With another chance in overtime, McPherson thought he had a 49-yarder -- he jumped into the arms of holder Kevin Huber after he hit it —that went just left at the top of the upright.
The good news?
The Bengals have a great chance to pick up another victory against the 0-5 Lions. If Cincinnati can prevail, it will equal its win total for all of last season (4-11-1). ...
Other notes of interest. ... Joe Mixon rushed 10 times for 33 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's overtime loss. He also caught his lone target for two yards.
Mixon overcame an ankle injury to suit up Sunday, but he was unable to command his usual workload. While still in double-digits, his season low in touches coincided with backup Samaje Perine garnering a high of 15, from which he gained 83 yards and caught a four-yard touchdown.
To his credit, though, Mixon still made a big impact by slashing his way to an eight-yard score in the fourth quarter, helping Cincinnati tie the game late.
That contribution worked to salvage Mixon's performance, and the tailback will now hope his ankle heals further in advance of Week 6's matchup against the winless Lions.
On Monday, the Bengals placed Perine on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
As CBSSports.com notes, unless Mixon makes strides in his recovery this week, Chris Evans could see a notable role in the Cincy backfield. Evans is worth adding in 12-team leagues in case Perine is sidelined in Week 6 against the Lions. ...
I'll be following up on Mixon, who was on the practice field Wednesday, and Perine as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also on the injury front. ... LB Jordan Evans (knee) was put on injured reserve Monday. G Jackson Carman and Perine went on the reserve/COVID-19 list. ... Taylor said safety Jessie Bates, who was hurt late in the game, will be OK for Sunday.
One last item. ... The Bengals are signing running back Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield, to their practice squad.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Mike Thomas, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers put it, "There were numerous bumps and bruises absorbed by the Browns in a high-scoring shootout loss on Sunday in Los Angeles.
"One won't show up on the team's lengthy injury report.
"Head coach Kevin Stefanski's sterling reputation took a hit. ..."
The NFL's coach of the year in 2020 made some questionable play calls in the fourth quarter -- most notably a third-down draw -- when the Browns were trying to protect a one-point lead in what became a hard-to-swallow 47-42 loss.
On Monday, Stefanski said he wished he'd done something different.
"This is where I have to put our guys in positions to succeed," he said, referring to his head-scratching decision to run the ball and giving it back to Justin Herbert and the Chargers. "I didn't do that there, and I'm sick about it."
Stefanski certainly wasn't the only reason the Browns (3-2) couldn't put away the Chargers (4-1).
There were costly injuries to Cleveland's inexperienced secondary, sturdy right tackle Jack Conklin went down with a knee injury that left the Browns playing backups at both ends of the line.
Stefanski offered no excuses. He accepted the blame for running on third-and-9 -- with star back Nick Chubb on the sideline -- on Cleveland's second-to-last possession when a pass play not only seemed obvious but essential.
The Browns couldn't stop the Chargers, but they were still up 42-41 when they got the ball back with 3:08 left.
After Kareem Hunt ran for a yard, quarterback Baker Mayfield threw an incompletion before Stefanski, who had aggressively gone on fourth downs earlier and has shown a fearlessness in two seasons, inexplicably called for a run that went 3 yards.
Cleveland punted, and Herbert quickly drove the Chargers for a TD.
Afterward, Stefanski said his decision on third down was influenced by the tenuous situation at tackle and because he "didn't feel like I wanted to give a chance for something bad to happen.
The comment raised eyebrows along with conjecture about whether he didn't trust Mayfield, who is playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Stefanski said he simply choked.
"I definitely got too wrapped up in the previous play call with the clock stopping and how that unfolded," Stefanski said, explaining his thought process. "I have to put our guys in position and I can't do that to our team.
"I have to do a better job. Bottom line."
Withers went on to note it was a rare misstep from the 39-year-old Stefanski, who has done little wrong in helping change Cleveland's culture over the past two years. He's drawn praise for being accountable, and this was yet another example -- a young coach admitting he maybe wasn't up to the moment.
Following the game, Mayfield and star defensive end Myles Garrett openly criticized the officials, focusing on an interference penalty against cornerback A.J. Green, who had his jersey grabbed by Chargers receiver Mike Williams.
Stefanski said he spoke to his players about handling blown calls.
"Listen, they're not going to get every play right, and I'm certainly not going to call every play right and we're not going to execute every play right," he said. "It's going to be imperfect, but for our team, we are not going to leave it in the hands of the officials.
"We control a lot of that game and we need to do better."
This week, the Browns get a third chance to beat an elite team as they host the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals (5-0). It's the first of three home games in 14 days for Cleveland, which will host Denver on Oct. 21 and Pittsburgh on Oct. 31.
One week after posting one of his lowest passing outputs of the last two seasons and vowing to be better moving forward, Mayfield fulfilled his promise and delivered one of his best performances of the year Sunday in Los Angeles.
Mayfield went 23-for-32 with 305 yards, two touchdowns and a season-high quarterback rating of 122.5 -- all of which contributed to the Browns' monstrous total of 531 yards from scrimmage against the Chargers.
But it wasn't enough.
"We didn't make enough plays to win the game, and that goes for everybody on our team," he said. "We just didn't make the plays we needed to."
The plays that were made, however, provided promise that the offense is ready to become more productive after struggling to consistently find points in the last two weeks.
Tight end David Njoku and wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins all opened the season on quiet notes before Week 5 -- the trio had combined for 282 yards and no touchdowns in the first four games -- but were Mayfield's top targeted players Sunday and combined for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Peoples-Jones recorded a career-high five catches for 70 yards, while Higgins caught his first touchdown of the season in the second quarter to kickstart the Browns' offense.
The biggest output, though, came from Njoku, who built a career-best day with 149 receiving yards and a touchdown on a 71-yard completion. That play was the longest of the season for Mayfield, who did a quality job turning to other receivers with top veteran WR Odell Beckham Jr. facing tight double coverage during most of the game.
Beyond that, Cleveland's running game is unrivaled. With legendary back Jim Brown watching from the owner's suite, the Browns gained 230 yards on the ground. They lead the league in total rushing yardage (938), yards per game (187.6), average per attempt (5.4) and touchdowns (12).
As CBSSports.com noted with Hunt continuing to dominate the red-zone touches and scoring twice from inside the 10-yard line Sunday, Chubb took matters into his own hands with a dazzling 52-yard TD run early in the third quarter.
The fourth-year back set a new season high in rushing yards while hitting triple digits for the second straight game, giving Chubb plenty of momentum heading into a Week 6 clash with the undefeated Cardinals. ...
Worth noting: Cleveland became the first team in NFL history to lose while scoring 40 or more points and having zero turnovers. ...
On the injury front. ... Receiver Jarvis Landry started running Monday and is eligible to come off injured reserve with his sprained MCL on Sunday, but the Browns seem to be bracing themselves for some of their key guys to miss time.
The Browns are beaten up. Stefanski was still awaiting more test results on Conklin, cornerbacks Denzel Ward (neck) and Greedy Williams (shoulder), who were all knocked out of Sunday's game.
Stefanski said it would not be "appropriate" to say if any of the injuries is long term until he sees the MRIs.
Rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was cleared to travel after being taken to a hospital for a throat bruise.
Beyond that, Chubb (calf) and Hunt (wrist, knee) along with defensive ends Myles Garrett (knee, ankle) and Jadeveon Clowney (elbow, knee) didn't practice Wednesday.
Garrett didn’t practice on Wednesday last week before playing in Sunday’s game. Clowney didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was questionable for last week’s matchup against the Charges before he didn’t play.
Conklin, defensive end Takk McKinley (ankle, knee), Njoku (knee), linebacker Malcolm Smith (abdomen), and center J.C. Tretter (knee) also won’t practice on Wednesday.
Stefanski however told reporters during his Wednesday press conference that he is not ruling anyone out from playing in Sunday’s contest against Arizona.
There was also some good news, as left tackle Jedrick Wills, Ward, and cornerback Greg Newsome returned to practice.
I'll have more on Chubb, Hunt, Njoku and Landry (and the rest) via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days.
Finally. ... The Browns placed three players on injured reserve and signed two from the practice squad, Dan Labbe of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard (triceps), cornerback M.J. Stewart (hamstring) and fullback Andy Janovich (hamstring) have been placed on IR. Fullback Johnny Stanton IV and defensive end Joe Jackson have been elevated from the practice squad.
Janovich has played sparingly over the last three weeks, but he helped navigate Hunt into the end zone for a touchdown during Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. The Browns acquired Janovich in a trade in 2020. Stefanski likes having a fullback on his roster, but has trended more towards the use of 13 personnel -- one running back and three tight ends -- in his heavier sets.
Stanton, a converted quarterback, has been with the Browns the last two seasons and has appeared in one game.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja'Marcus Bradley, Rashard Higgins, Anthony Schwartz
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As NFL.com's Michael Baca noted, fresh off the team's fourth straight win, wide receiver Amari Cooper is saying what all fans in Dallas must be thinking.
"When you're on a roll like this, you start thinking about a Super Bowl. That's just the reality of it," Cooper said, via the Associated Press. "You start to want it more and more the closer you get, and you start to worry about the little things more."
For Cooper, the little things refer to the Cowboys' sloppy start Sunday against the division rival Giants. Two first-half turnovers kept it a one-score game at half against the last-place Giants and, despite the Cowboys pulling away to a dominant 44-20 win, stumbles out of the gate like that can easily lead to losses against the elite teams of the NFL.
Yes, the Giants were decimated by injuries to Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay, but the Cowboys were able to put away their NFC East rival thanks to three Dak Prescott touchdown passes, a third straight game of at least 95 yards rushing from Ezekiel Elliott and a fifth straight game with a pick by Trevon Diggs.
The Cowboys have won four in a row for the first time since 2018 and are 4-1 to start a season for the first time since 2016. Their only defeat came in the season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who narrowly won the game on a last-second field goal.
Led by Prescott, the Cowboys' high-powered offense serves as a catalyst behind the excitement brewing in Dallas.
Through five weeks, the Cowboys lead the NFL in yards per game (439.6) and are second in points per game (34.0). While Dallas' defense lies in the middle of the pack so far in most major categories, its ball-hawking capabilities have already forced 12 takeaways (second in the NFL) and the momentum-changing plays are setting the offense up for even more success.
Dallas heads to New England in Week 6 to take on a team it's never beaten with Bill Belichick as the Patriots coach. Foxboro is also a place the Cowboys haven't won since 1987. Breaking old habits is necessary for a franchise that hasn't reached the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season, which led to the last of their five Super Bowl wins.
For a team that has found its identity and is growing confident by the week, focusing on the little things can make a big difference in ending a 26-year drought.
"We don't need to have those mistakes," said Cooper about the small details. "It's about us and our standard, who we're trying to be, where we're trying to go. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The running back tandem of two-time rushing champ Elliott and backup Tony Pollard is turning into something special. Both had more than 100 scrimmage yards against the Giants. Elliott had 110 yards rushing with a touchdown and a 4-yard receiving score.
Pollard finished with 75 rushing and 28 receiving.
Pollard never had consecutive games with at least 60 yards rushing in his two-plus seasons before his current streak of four games with at least that many. ...
Tight end Blake Jarwin's role in the offense remains a mystery when he figured to thrive in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's scheme in his return from a knee injury that sidelined him after Week 1 last year.
Jarwin was shut out for the first time this season against New York while Dalton Schultz had a team-high six catches for 79 yards. While Jarwin finally had his first TD last week, he has just nine catches for the year. Schultz leads the Cowboys with 26.
Can Schultz be trusted as an every-week starter going forward?
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer put it, "Trust, but be careful. The Cowboys have a 'democratic' offense. They won't rely on just one player. They won't rely on just the pass. They won't rely on just the run. They'll go with whoever or whatever is hot."
Schultz is off to a hot start, but this is still an offense that can hit the big play with CeeDee Lamb and Cooper, and they will get Michael Gallup back soon, too.
It is also an offense that's showing it can run on anybody with Elliott and Pollard.
Prescott trusts Schultz, who has now had six-plus receptions in three straight games, but Archer believes this might be as good as it gets. ...
On the injury front. ... Elliott missed two plays getting his back checked when he fell on a pylon, which have cameras in them. And that's not the only hard spot on them, Elliott said. "I think it is foamy, but it's hard," said Elliott, who said he also felt pain in his ribs. "The base of it is hard, too. It's definitely not soft. It definitely hurt. It kinda stabbed me. I lost my wind."
Fortunately he returned and finished the day without difficulty. ...
Still, Elliott was limited Wednesday with a rib issue due to that fall. He was on the injury report last week with a knee injury, missing the Oct. 6 session before returning to limited work.
“We’ll take him through the early part and we’ll see,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said before practice. “He’s still sore.”
Cooper was off the report after missing practice last Wednesday with a knee injury. He had limited practices the other two days last week but played 57 of 78 snaps.
Meanwhile, executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said the Cowboys came out of the game in good shape. With one more game before the open week, the Cowboys might hold off on bringing back S Donovan Wilson (groin), DE Dorance Armstrong (ankle) and Gallup.
I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon, Blake Jarwin
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, for the Broncos, it is how they start that is playing a troubling role in how they finish.
Even during their 3-0 start, their penchant for a stumble out of the gate most every week was a red flag hidden in the happiness. But now, at 3-2 after Sunday's 27-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field -- a game in which they trailed 24-6 in the third quarter -- it is officially a problem that has caught up to them.
"We've got to obviously start better," head coach Vic Fangio said. "We can't try and catch up being down as much as we were and wait to get some first downs on offense, stop some passes on defense, play the run better, et cetera."
"If we want to be who we want to be, we can't just start out slow, wait until we get in a hole," said Melvin Gordon. "And [then] try to pull it together at the end. This is the National Football League -- it's too hard."
The Broncos have trailed in the first quarter in three of their five games and have now trailed at halftime -- by double digits -- during losses the past two weeks. Offensively, they have yet to score a touchdown on the first drive of any game. Defensively, they have surrendered touchdowns on the opponents' first drive twice, including Sunday.
The Broncos' offense went 11, 8 and 8 yards on their first three possessions -- one of which began at the Steelers' 29 following a Malik Reed strip sack of Ben Roethlisberger that yielded only a field goal.
Later, in the second quarter, Broncos running back Javonte Williams went 49 yards on a run to the Steelers' 2-yard line. But Williams spiked the ball after the play because he was "mad" he didn't score and was flagged for delay of game. Williams said he didn't know the rule.
That moved the ball back to the Steelers' 7-yard line. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on the next play for a loss of 12 yards, and the Broncos were forced to kick another field goal two plays later.
"First-and-goal from the 7, we've got to be able to punch it in," Fangio said.
"Think it's got to be mindset, we've just got to have some energy," Bridgewater said. "We might need to do like the colleges and do like goal-line in the pregame or something. Just bash heads, get the blood flowing, juices flowing."
Sunday, a 1-of-8 start on third-down conversions (the Broncos had just three first downs in the first half) turned into a 2-of-12 performance for the game. And a team whose head coach and offensive coordinator -- Pat Shurmur -- have each said they believe in the importance of running the ball has now had 17 and 18 rushing attempts over the past two losses.
In the Week 4 loss to Ravens last Sunday, the Broncos ran the ball four times in the second half in what was a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. And in the loss to the Steelers, the Broncos ran the ball just eight times in the first half, as they sputtered enough that even Bridgewater's 176 passing yards in the fourth quarter couldn't save them.
"It's concerning -- we didn't move the ball very well at all until late there," Fangio said. "Obviously, it's a concern."
Still, in the midst of an offensive slump -- three touchdowns in the last 26 possessions dating back to halftime of the Week 3 win over the New York Jets -- Fangio threw his support behind the embattled Shurmur on Monday.
"I have no qualms with Pat other than our results haven't been good enough and we have to find a way to fix that," Fangio said.
The Broncos have sunk to last on third down (28.6 percent), 29th in red zone touchdown rate (42.1 percent) and 24th in scoring (20.4).
According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, one factor in Sunday's slow start might have been the Broncos' late arrival in Pittsburgh, where it's wedding season and the team couldn't find ballrooms for their Saturday walk-through and team meetings, which they held in Denver before catching a late flight out.
Being creatures of habit, a late arrival and early start may have thrown them off-kilter and played a factor, however small. ...
Whatever the case, the goal this week is obvious: Start fast and finish strong against the Raiders this weekend or questions will continue to swirl about Shurmur's job status, and even Fangio's. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Courtland Sutton caught 7-of-11 targets for 120 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. As ESPN's Eric Moody notes, the wideout was dealing an ankle injury heading into this week's matchup, but Sutton ran a route on 91 percent of Denver Broncos' passing plays and also amassed 47 percent of the team's air yards.
According to NBCSportsEdge.com, Sutton has the second most air yards in the NFL through Week 5.
Sutton's 644 air yards is second only to Devante Adams (728) thanks to Bridgewater consistently throwing downfield in what was expected to be a conservative Denver offense. Only four QBs have more pass attempts (25) of more than 20 yards than Bridgewater, and Sutton has 13 of those targets, leading all wide receivers through five games.
Sutton caught the deep touchdown pass on Sunday, but Tim Patrick kept the Broncos' hopes alive with consecutive plays on Denver's first touchdown drive.
On third-and-15 with Denver trailing 24-6, Patrick caught a pass for 10 yards to set up a fourth-and-5. On the ensuing play, Bridgewater went back to Patrick, who dove for the line to gain and extended the ball as he was being tackled. The game paused for an official measurement, and the Broncos were awarded a first down by the nose of the football. Denver scored later in the drive, and the Broncos eventually found themselves in a position to tie the game. Without Patrick's conversion, the team's hopes likely would've ended far earlier.
"That was a great play on his part, knowing where the sticks were and what we had to get," Fangio said. "He did a really good job on that. Tim is a battler. He's going to give you everything he's got. He's a guy that we have to get involved in the offense."
Patrick finished with a season-high seven catches for 89 yards. ...
Kendall Hinton, last year's emergency fill-in when all of Denver's QBs were quarantined, caught his first TD pass and set up Denver for first-and-goal in the final minute with a 23-yard catch. ...
A week after Noah Fant was targeted a season-high 10 times against the Ravens, he received just four targets in Pittsburgh -- and the first didn't come until early in the fourth quarter.
Fangio said the Broncos' protection plan to slow down T.J. Watt and Co. contributed to Fant's three-catch, 20-yard performance.
"We chipped their outside pass rushers a little bit more than normal," Fangio said. "That's going to limit any tight end's role in the passing game when you use that."
Fant remains on pace for a career high in catches and touchdowns, but his yardage totals have been down in 2021.
On the injury front. ... Gordon (lower leg) was not practicing Wednesday. He's played through this issue the last two weeks, but I'll continue to watch for more and report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
Cornerback Mike Ford might miss a couple weeks with a leg injury, Fangio said.
Fangio said Monday that Jerry Jeudy is making progress in his recovery from a right high-ankle sprain, but a firm target date for his return hasn't been established.
"In the last 10 days to two weeks, he's made good progress," Fangio said. "His return is not right around the corner, but it's getting closer."
Fangio previously said Oct. 6 that Jeudy was eyeing a return at the front end of a 6-to-8-week timeline for the injury he suffered in the Broncos' Sept. 12 season-opening win over the Giants. The coach's comments Monday don't seem to suggest that Jeudy's potential timeline has changed for the worse or the better, so fantasy managers should expect the wideout to remain on injured reserve for at least one more week.
As CBSSports.com notes, in Week 7, the Broncos will travel to Cleveland for a Thursday night game, so it could make sense for the team to wait until a Week 8 matchup with Washington to bring back Jeudy and grant him extra time to get comfortable in practice.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Finally. ... The Broncos were finalizing a deal with receiver John Brown to join their practice squad, NFL Network's Pelissero reported Tuesday. Brown signed with the Raiders in March and was released in August; he did not appear in a game for Las Vegas. Denver released WR Josh Malone to make space for the signing.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, K.J. Hamler
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Hogg noted, Dan Campbell wasn't nearly as emotional Monday afternoon as he had been after his Detroit Lions lost 19-17 to the Minnesota Vikings on another last-second field goal.
He still wasn't happy.
The Lions coach choked up repeatedly during his postgame news conference Sunday, moments after the Lions had become the first team in NFL history to lose two games on last-play field goals of 50 yards or more in the same season. Justin Tucker hit a league-record 66-yarder for the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 26 -- a game that also finished 19-17 -- before Greg Joseph's 54-yarder on Sunday.
"That showed that he cares -- this means something to him," running back D'Andre Swift said Monday. "He's a real high-energy coach that is passionate about wanting to win. He expressed that in that interview and now we've got to win some games."
As they did against the Ravens, the Lions took a late lead -- Swift's touchdown and a 2-point conversion made it 17-16 with 37 seconds to play -- but Kirk Cousins completed three passes for 46 yards to set up the winning kick.
"I thought that was our best defensive game of the season, but the last drive certainly hurt us," Campbell said. "When your defense is playing that well, you have to seal the deal. We'll learn from that."
Detroit's pass defense was competitive for the first time this season.
After allowing 10.6 yards per attempt in the first four games of the season, the Lions held Cousins to 8.1, including 7.4 before the final three completions.
The problems are obvious.
After five games, the Lions still haven't found any kind of vertical passing game. Jared Goff threw for 203 yards -- a season-low 5.9 yards per attempt -- but Detroit's receivers picked up 146 of those yards after the catch. Goff completed 21 passes for 57 downfield yards, an average of 2.7 yards per completion.
"We've got to do a better job of pushing the ball down the field," Campbell said. "If you look at explosive plays, they had seven and we had five; four passes and one run. Three of those came because of running after the catch, and that's a hard way to live.
"We can't ask our guys to catch the ball on an 8-yard route every time and bust it."
Beyond that, turnovers continue to haunt the Lions. Fumbling has been a problem for Goff, whose first-half fumble was his sixth this season, which leads the NFL. He's also lost four of those six fumbles. Then, he threw an interception in the third quarter for his seventh turnover of the season.
Since entering the league in 2016, Goff now has 81 turnovers, third-most of any player over that span, according to ESPN Stats and Information. As ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard nots, Goff helped the Lions mount another late rally Sunday, but will need to play cleaner games going forward.
The Lions will have to improve on both sides of the ball to beat Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and the seventh-rated defense in the league.
One thing that's working -- that will help against the Bengals, is the backfield tandem of Swift and Jamaal Williams.
Swift and Williams have been productive in splitting the load a running back. Sunday's game was another example of that.
Swift had 51 yards rushing and 53 receiving for 104 yards from scrimmage. Williams had 65 yards from scrimmage -- 57 rushing, eight receiving.
That's 169 yards from scrimmage for the two backs combined.
For the season, Swift has 442 yards from scrimmage -- 190 rushing, 252 receiving. Williams has 345 -- 244 rushing, 101 receiving.
Their total for five games: 787 yards from scrimmage for Swift and Williams. A 2,000-yard season is well within reach.
Through five games, Swift has 236 offensive snaps (67 percent) at the running back position. Williams has 128 (37 percent).
As DetroitLions.com's Mike O'Hara noted, just from the eye test, it seems like they've been closer to equal.
In Sunday's game, Swift had 50 snaps. Williams had 22 -- one more than wide receiver Trinity Benson.
And O'Hara contends comparing Swift to New Orleans star Alvin Kamara is becoming more valid. Swift had 110 yards from scrimmage -- 57 rushing and 53 receiving -- and he scored the Lions only TD on a seven-yard run.
Meanwhile, T.J. Hockenson has been trending in the opposite direction.
Why has he been so quiet over the past three weeks?
After the first two weeks, it seemed as if Hockenson was the clear-cut focal point of the Lions' offense. He came out hot, becoming the first Lions tight end to record eight receptions in consecutive contests. However, since then, he hasn't caught more than four receptions in any game.
As Woodyard noted, Hockenson was also limited in practice last week, even missing a day while dealing with a knee injury, so his timing was a bit off against the Vikings. More importantly, though, teams are game-planning against him specifically, and Hockenson is focused on "staying engaged."
His goal is to be a three-down tight end, and he isn't discouraged.
"The bottom line is we've got to get him going," Campbell said. "That's the bottom line because he can help us win. So, that's going to be a focal point for us."
For now, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has become Goff's go-to receiver.
St. Brown had seven catches on eight targets for 65 yards Sunday. That came after six catches on eight for 70 yards last week against the Bears.
On the injury front. ... The shoulder injury that wide receiver Quintez Cephus sustained comes at a time that hurts him and the offense. Cephus, who leads the team at 13.6 yards per touch and is the only wide receiver averaging 40 yards per game, is expected to miss a significant amount of time after breaking his collarbone.
"This is going to be weeks and weeks if we even get him back this season," Campbell said.
Cephus had four catches for 94 yards against the Bears last week, and three catches for 38 yards against the Vikings. That made for seven catches on eight targets in the two games. His size and strong, sure hands will be missed.
Offensive tackle Taylor Decker is eligible to return from injured reserve, and Campbell said he will probably rejoin the starting offense at his usual position of left tackle, with rookie Penei Sewell moving back to the right side. Adding to the woes, however, Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow now set to undergo season-ending toe surgery, a source confirmed to Woodyard.
NFL Network was first to report that Ragnow met with Dr. Robert Anderson to get confirmation on the best course of action to treat the injury.
Ragnow was already on the injured reserve list for what Campbell described as a "version of turf toe."
Hockenson was held out of Wednesday's practice. I'll hve more via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, D'Andre Swift
WRs: Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Brock Wright
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Megargee noted, they're missing their 2020 All-Pro left tackle, their best pass rusher and their top cornerback. They're not scoring as frequently or winning as decisively as they did last season.
Yet somehow and some way, the Green Bay Packers have made it through the first five games of the season with the same 4-1 record they owned a year ago.
They're just making their victories a little more suspenseful this year. Consider the Packers' 25-22 overtime victory at Cincinnati on Sunday a prime example.
"That just goes to show the type of men we have in our locker room," Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said after the game. "Nobody flinched. Nobody complained. Nobody did anything but their job and we were able to handle business and get the victory. That's what good football teams do. They find a way to get it done."
Twice in the last three weeks, the Packers have nearly lost a game they controlled most of the way, only to find a way to win at the end. Mason Crosby has played a major role both times, for very different reasons.
Crosby kicked a 51-yarder as time expired to give the Packers a 30-28 victory at San Francisco after the 49ers scored a go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds left. In the Bengals game, Crosby ended a franchise-record string of 27 consecutive successful field-goal attempts by missing three straight to keep the Packers from wrapping up the victory before he finally made a 49-yarder in overtime.
"We stuck together and that's all that mattered at the end," running back Aaron Jones said. "We didn't blink or flinch. That's the testament of a good team."
So is the Packers' ability to withstand injuries.
David Bakhtiari, the 2020 All-Pro left tackle, hasn't played all season. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and cornerback Zaire Alexander -- both Pro Bowl picks last year -- are on injured reserve and won't return anytime soon.
The Packers also played Sunday's game without 2020 Pro Bowl selection Elgton Jenkins and starting center Josh Myers on the offensive line. Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling missed a second straight game.
"There are some guys in that locker room and guys that played, they weren't with this football team in August and weren't with this football team in June," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "A lot of big plays and high-volume play counts for guys who we didn't count on being important."
Those types of contributions have helped the Packers continue figuring out ways to win when they're not at full strength.
Another thing that's helping?
The top playmakers on offense -- Rodgers, Jones and 2020 All-Pro receiver Davante Adams -- are making plays. This marked the first time in franchise history that the Packers had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.
Adams had 11 catches for a career-high 206 yards and one touchdown. He has 42 receptions for 579 yards this season to lead the NFL in both categories.
Conversely, Packers opponents have scored touchdowns every single time they've reached the red zone this season. The red-zone offense also struggled Sunday. The Packers settled for a field goal after having first-and-goal at the 6 early in the fourth quarter. Later in the period when the game was tied, the Packers had first-and-goal at the 18 and ended up missing a field goal.
This week, the Packers go back on the road to face the Chicago Bears, who are a game behind them in the NFC North after winning 20-9 at Las Vegas on Sunday. This is the second game in a five-game stretch that features four road contests. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Crosby had his worst day as a pro since Oct. 4, 2018, when he missed four field goals and an extra point in a 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions. This time, Crosby missed three field goals and an extra point before making the winner in overtime.
On Monday, head coach Matt LaFleur said the blame for the flubs doesn't rest entirely on Crosby's shoulders.
"I think there's just some things that we absolutely need to clean up just from an operation standpoint," LaFleur said, per ESPN. "You can't put all of that on Mason. I thought there's some areas that we have to make sure we get corrected, and we will."
Long-snapper Hunter Bradley has had issues this season, and punter Corey Bojorquez is in his first year as the holder. LaFleur spread at least part of the blame to all facets of the "operation."
"I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus, so I'm not going to expand on that," LaFleur said. "Sorry, you're going to have to watch the tape, evaluate it yourself and come up with your own conclusions there."
Crosby had made a career-high and Packers record 27 straight field goals before missing three in the final three minutes of the 4th quarter and overtime. The kicker had not missed a field goal since Week 17, 2019.
Crosby is the first kicker since Washington's Billy Cundiff in Week 4, 2012 versus the Buccaneers to make a game-winner in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or OT after missing his last three field goals in that game, per NFL Research.
The Packers' special teams have become an issue this season, even before Crosby's miss. The field-goal blocking unit is shaky, and the coverage team has given up some big returns, including allowing 120 yards on four returns Sunday. ...
Another issue: Tight end Robert Tonyan, who had 11 touchdown catches last season, was held below 10 yards receiving for the fourth time in five games.
On the injury front. ... CB Kevin King joined the long list of injured Packers when he hurt a shoulder Sunday. "He was playing a lot of that game, or part of that game, with basically one arm," LaFleur said Monday. "So I thought he competed well and was playing really, really well."
Elgton Jenkins (ankle) was a game-time scratch for the third week in a row. The Pro Bowl left guard had been filling in for Bakhtiari (who remains on PUP). Take away rookie center Josh Myers, who missed his first game of the season because of a hand injury, and only two regular starters were left up front. The day before the game, the Packers put All Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) on injured reserve, where he joined Smith.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Randall Cobb, Equanimeous St. Brown, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Robert Tonyan
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reported, in the week leading up to the Houston Texans' 25-22 loss to the New England Patriots, head coach David Culley had one message for his rookie quarterback.
You've got to protect the football.
Davis Mills was coming off a poor performance in Buffalo -- a 40-0 loss -- where he threw four interceptions and had a Total QBR of 0.8, the fourth-lowest Total QBR in the last five seasons.
Mills had by far his best game, but he hasn't shown enough yet to keep the starting job when Tyrod Taylor, who is eligible to return from injured reserve in Week 6, is healthy.
Culley told reporters on Wednesday that Taylor (hamstring) won't be available this week, but that he'll reclaim his starting job when he does return
Still, in the loss to the Patriots, Mills completed 21 of 29 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, joining Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to throw three touchdowns against the Patriots as a rookie in the Bill Belichick era.
Culley was particularly impressed with a 67-yard TD touchdown pass Mills threw to Chris Moore in tight coverage in the second quarter.
"If there were any hesitation at all with him, he wouldn't have made that throw because he would have been thinking about an interception," Culley said.
But while Mills took a step forward with zero turnovers and by far the best game of his young career, the Texans once again couldn't overcome a myriad of mistakes they made, falling to 1-4 on the season. With the way the roster is built, and the way the team has played thus far, the Texans need to stop shooting themselves in the football, Culley said.
"I don't think we have to be perfect, but we have to be more consistent than what we've been," Culley said Monday. "And when you're 1-4 and you look back and see why those things happen, you look back and you want to say, 'Was it the team you're playing?' That hasn't been the case with us. We've been the enemy sometimes. A lot of those miscues that we had, it wasn't because of what they did, it was what we didn't do.
"We were in a ballgame yesterday that we could have very easily won, and they made a play in the end to win the game and we didn't put ourselves in a situation to do that."
For weeks, Culley has lamented the penalties the Texans were committing that was forcing the offense to play behind the chains. On Sunday, the Texans had eight penalties for 70 yards -- an improvement over the week before in Buffalo -- but still something Culley said "kept us from being able to keep the ball moving along."
But while penalties were a factor Sunday, it was Houston's special teams that played a major role.
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed his first two extra point attempts of the game. After his first missed extra point, his kickoff went out of bounds to give the Patriots the ball at the 40-yard line. New England scored a touchdown on the drive to tie the game.
In the third quarter, the Texans tried to confuse the Patriots on a punt, resulting in a 0-yard punt after the ball hit the back of a Texans player. The Patriots started the drive at the Houston 36 before kicking a field goal.
And then in the fourth quarter, Fairbairn missed a 56-yard field goal. The Patriots got the ball at their own 46 and scored a touchdown to tie the game at 22.
And while players took the blame all the way around for the loss to the Patriots, a common theme was that the team let one get away from them after leading for three quarters.
"This one hurt a lot," safety Justin Reid said. "The game was right there. We had control of the game, and we let it slip through our fingertips. Couple unfortunate plays, couple plays that they made, and credit to them to go and close the game out. Just wish we could have some of them back. You always do whenever games end the way they do like that."
Now, the Texans' offense that was held scoreless for the final 28 minutes and 29 seconds of the game, has to take a step forward against the Colts on Sunday if Houston wants to find themselves in the win column again. On Monday, Culley said he didn't think Tylor would be activated from injured reserve for Week 6, the first game he is eligible to return from his left hamstring injury.
And if Mills plays against the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday, he said he thinks the loss to the Patriots the week before will help get him closer to his first win in the NFL.
"I think just kind of going out there and feeling the feeling of making plays and being right there close to winning games at the end [will help moving forward]," Mills said. "I think there's really a feeling of just learning how to win games and finish. And I think we're close. But just didn't do enough. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Moore, who was promoted from the practice squad Saturday, had five catches and led the team with a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown Sunday. It was the first time the six-year veteran had caught a pass since 2019 with Baltimore. He spent five years with the Ravens before signing with the Texans this season. He appeared in three games last season, but didn't have a reception.
On the injury front. ... Word earlier this week was that left tackle Laremy Tunsil would play through a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb, but Culley announced a change to that plan on Wednesday.
Tunsil will have surgery to repair the torn UCL rather than attempt to play through it. Culley added that the team hopes to have Tunsil back in the lineup in about a month.
Geron Christian replaced Tunsil after he was injured against New England.
Culley also said receiver Danny Amendola should play this week after missing three games with a thigh injury. Running back Rex Burkhead also missed the game with a hip injury.
Receiver Nico Collins (shoulder) returned to practice Wednesday and the Texans have designated him to return from injured reserve. The rookie wideout was placed on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2.
I'll follow up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Royce Freeman, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Davion Davis, Danny Amendola
TEs: Jordan Akins, Brevin Jordan, Pharaoh Brown, Jeff Driskel
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Andrew Walker of the team's official website suggested, take a quick glance at the final boxscore of Monday night's showdown between the Colts and the Ravens, and you'll see two quarterback performances more than worthy of primetime treatment.
For the Colts, Carson Wentz continued to take another step forward in his progression after some early-season bumps in the road, as he finished with single-game career-highs in passing yards (402), passer rating (128.5) and yards per pass attempt (11.49).
But after a quiet first half, it was Wentz's rival on the other sideline, Lamar Jackson, that stole the show -- and, eventually, the ballgame.
Jackson finished the game with a Ravens franchise record 442 passing yards and four touchdowns, but more importantly, he led Baltimore back from a 19-point second-half deficit to force overtime, where the Ravens would drive right down the field on their one and only drive and get into the end zone to defeat the Colts, 31-25.
After the game, Wentz, understandably, wasn't focused on his own performance.
Despite leading a Colts' offensive attack that, matched with some timely plays on defense, helped build a substantial lead on the road against one of the best teams in the league, Wentz was lamenting the fact that Indy's offense just couldn't do enough on its end to pull out a victory.
"Yeah, not a fun loss," Wentz said. "I talked to everyone after the game and said, 'Hey, we've got to have a killer instinct at the end of the day. And that goes for me and goes for all of us. We've got to be able to finish games and put teams away when we've got them on the ropes like that.' And, man, that's a good football team and a hostile environment for us to come out swinging the way we did. We just can't let up -- we can't let up -- and we've got to finish the game."
The Colts' offense, led by Wentz, was certainly clicking through the first three quarters of Monday's game, which started with a bang.
Facing third and 15 from his own 24-yard line Indy's opening drive, Wentz found running back Jonathan Taylor out in the flat to the left, and the second-year Wisconsin product did the rest from there, turning on the jets to leave the entire Ravens' defense in his dust for a 76-yard touchdown. That play was the longest receiving touchdown by a Colts player since T.Y. Hilton's 80-yard score in Week 9 of 2017, and the longest by an Indy running back since Marshall Faulk's 78-yard catch and score in Week 4 of the 1998 season.
Wentz and the Colts weren't done there, however. He finished the first half completing 14-of-21 passes for 189 yards and that aforementioned touchdown for a quarterback rating of 111.0, leading a balanced offensive attack that also featured some chunk plays in the run game from Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack.
Wentz was on fire coming out of halftime. In the third quarter alone, he completed 5-of-6 passes for 118 yards, and he connected with second-year wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on a go-up-and-get-it 42-yard touchdown passing play on Indy's opening possession of the second half. On that play, Pittman Jr. was able to withstand being interfered with by Ravens' All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, doing whatever it took to get the football and then find a way to get it into the end zone.
By game's end, Wentz had thrown for the most passing yards by a Colts quarterback since Andrew Luck's 464-yard performance against the Houston Texans in Week 4 of the 2018 season. He also joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in franchise history to throw for at least 400 yards with a passer rating of 128.5 and a yards-per-attempt figure of 11.4 or better; Manning accomplished that feat twice -- in Week 4 of the 2000 season, and Week 2 the following year.
But Wentz ultimately was left disappointed in the game's final result, as Jackson simply took over. The Colts' defense, worn down by injuries to its secondary, found it tough to stop the 2019 league MVP down the stretch; meanwhile, Indy's offense struggled to continue putting points on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, despite some prime opportunities in Baltimore territory. The Colts (1-4) would have their final two drives end with two missed field goals -- the first one of which was blocked, while the second one, a game-winning attempt from 47 yards out with four seconds left in regulation, missed wide left.
"I mean, you're feeling good, obviously. I mean especially offensively. … I thought we moved the ball really well offensively," Wentz said when asked what he was feeling when his team was up 19 points going into the fourth quarter. "And to be up in the fourth the way we were ... You know that we were confident in where we were, but that's why I say we've got to finish ball games. We can't ever relax. We can't ever rest in those moments. And that's all three phases. That's me, that's everybody. And, so this one, we will learn from."
Wentz and the Colts hope to bounce back in a major way on a short week, as they return home to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday to take on their division rival Houston Texans, who are also 1-4 on the season and coming off a hard-fought loss, 25-22, to the New England Patriots. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Taylor showed he's more than a running back when he caught three passes for a career-high 116 yards. As noted above, Taylor got it going offensively when he took a screen pass and went 76 yards untouched on the first series of the game for the Colts. The 116 receiving yards by Taylor were the most by a Colts running back since Marshall Faulk had 119 yards against the New England Patriots on Nov. 1, 1998. ...
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was warming up before facing the Ravens when suddenly he felt a twinge in his hip that would last the entire night.
"It was kind of a stabbing pain every time I cocked my leg back to swing," he said.
His angst -- and that of the Colts -- extended well beyond the final whistle of their overtime defeat Monday.
Blankenship missed a conversion, had one field goal try blocked and was wide left on a 47-yard attempt at the end of regulation. The misfires were just part of an overall collapse by Indianapolis, which held a 25-9 lead with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter before fading to defeat.
"It would have been nice to make that (47-yard) kick and win the game, but it just didn't happen," Blankenship said.
Blankenship was expected to have his leg examined on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Colts began working out kickers in an effort to find a potential replacement for him. Free agents Brett Maher, Mike Badgley, Aldrick Rosas and Riley Patterson were among those working out for the Colts, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
Badgley is the one the team will sign. He'll be on standby if Blankenship's hip is an ongoing issue.
T.Y. Hilton (neck) returned to practice Wednesday and the team designated him to return from injured reserve. Reports indicate he's ahead of schedule.
I'll be watching for more on that and will report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Also on the injury front. ... Reich said cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Andrew Sendejo are in concussion protocol.
And finally. ... The feeling around Indianapolis is the Colts want to do right by Mack, who has requested a trade, but there is not much interest just yet. Things could pick up closer to the deadline, and a conditional late-round pick probably gets it done.
As ESPN's Jeremy Fowler notes, the Eagles' Sirianni was Indy's offensive coordinator when Mack produced a 1,000-yard season in 2019. With the Eagles' tailback identity still in flux -- quarterback Jalen Hurts has 42 more rushing yards than any Eagles back through the season's first five weeks -- a change-of-pace player could help.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have looked into Mack, too.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is expected to miss extended time because of a knee injury suffered Sunday, so perhaps they add Mack to pair with Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Deon Jackson
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Parris Campbell
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
With Sunday's 37-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars became just the second team in the Super Bowl era to lose 20 games in a row.
Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-1977 (26 games) have lost more -- and that was an expansion franchise. The Jags' current streak came after winning their first game of 2020. Since then, it's been 20 Ls.
"You can't wrap your head around that," running back James Robinson said after the latest loss, via ESPN. "We've got to find a way to win.
"We're a really good team. Obviously, our record doesn't show it, but we've got a lot of great guys in the locker room, and we've just got to find something that's going to work for us."
This one was fairly routine for Jacksonville.
The defense struggled to get a stop when it mattered, giving up four straight scoring drives in the second and third quarters that blew the game open. The offense turned the ball over, including a Dan Arnold fumble on the opening drive returned for a TD. Another kicker missed another field goal.
Same old, same old. For 20 games.
The Jags have a shot at going down in infamy by losing their next seven games. They face the 1-4 Miami Dolphins in London in Week 6. If they lose on foreign soil, it's not looking great to find a win. The Jags then take on Seattle, Buffalo, Indianapolis, San Francisco and Atlanta.
Jacksonville then faces the Los Angeles Rams in a game that would break the record if they don't win beforehand.
It's worth noting Trevor Lawrence started his career 0-5 with eight INTs, second-most behind fellow rookie Zach Wilson's nine. The No. 1 overall pick, who wasn't part of last year's 15 straight losses, isn't fretting about the infamous record.
"We don't really talk about that [losing streak]," Lawrence said. "I don't think that's good to talk about that. You can't get desperate. You've got to just keep going to work. We're going to win some games. We're going to turn it around, and we all thought today was the day we were going to get that first win and it wasn't.
"We didn't execute enough down the stretch, but we're going to figure it out. We're going to turn this thing around. It's going to be a lot of fun when we do. We want to win. All the guys. We've got so many hard workers and everyone's so invested. It's not a team where you've got guys that aren't really committed or don't care. Everyone's all-in, so it'll come."
Embattled coach Urban Meyer, however, said he sees a team that is desperate to get a win.
"Pretty desperate," Meyer said, per the team's official website. "Desperate for a win. The way they go to work each day, each week. ... Desperate for a win. You can't worry about the past. You worry about the future. We've got to try to get a win. ... But yeah, they're desperate for a win."
The coach and QB not even being on the same page when it comes to how "desperate" they believe the team is underscores the issues currently festering in Jacksonville.
Also worth noting: Meyer has set a much very ambitious goal for his team.
Meyer said on Monday that he wants his team to rush for 250 yards both passing and rushing in a game, according to Mark Long of the Associated Press.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael Davis Smith suggests, that is unlikely. So far this season, no NFL team has managed 250 yards both passing and rushing in any game. The last time it happened was Christmas of last season, when the Saints did it against the Vikings, in a game best remembered for Alvin Kamara scoring six touchdowns. Suffice to say, this year's Jaguars do not have the offense of last year's Saints.
During his time coaching Ohio State, Meyer also set that goal for his team.
But the difference is, at Ohio State, where Meyer's teams were usually much more talented than their opponents, that was actually a realistic goal. To set that goal for the Jaguars does nothing but add fuel to the criticism that Meyer doesn't grasp the differences between coaching in college and coaching in the NFL. ...
Other note of interest. ... Robinson ran 18 times for a career-high 149 yards and a touchdown against the Titans, scoring for the third consecutive week.
His success made the decision to give the ball to backup Carlos Hyde on a fourth-and-goal play from inside the 1 in the fourth quarter even stranger. Hyde was dropped for a 3-yard loss, ending any chance the Jags had of making it a five-point game after trailing by 18.
"I don't micromanage who's in the game," Meyer said. "I should have. ..."
Robinson has now recorded at least 15 carries and 20 or more PPR points in his last three games. ...
Meanwhile, as ESPN's Eric Moody notes, Laviska Shenault Jr.'s "bigger role" did not come to fruition.
In fact, Shenault was only targeted three times against the Titans. He did have one 58-yard reception which showcased his speed and tackle-breaking ability. With D.J. Chark Jr. out for the season, many anticipated that Shenault would be more involved in the offense. But Moody points out the Jaguars moved him to an outside receiver role, as opposed to a slot role.
Shenault has actually run more routes and been targeted more as an outside receiver.
He should much be more involved against the Dolphins this week, with Marvin Jones Jr. most likely being shadowed by cornerback Xavien Howard. ...
Arnold led the Jaguars in receptions (6) and receiving yards (64), despite joining the team just two weeks ago via a trade with the Panthers. ...
What do the Jaguars do at kicker?
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes, Matthew Wright came up short on a 53-yard field goal attempt (after coming up short and right on a 50-yarder in pre-game) and also bounced a PAT off the right upright. The Jaguars are 0 for 4 on field goals attempts this season, and with Josh Lambo struggling and Wright not reliable, the Jaguars need to bring a few other options in -- and quickly, because the Jaguars leave for London on Thursday.
On the injury front. ... Linebackers Myles Jack (back) and Dakota Allen (shoulder) did not return. Allen was obliterated on a block by Titans running back Derrick Henry.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Devine Ozigbo, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Laquon Treadwell, Tavon Austin, D.J. Chark, Jamal Agnew
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, Dan Arnold
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, the raw statistics suggest the Chiefs have one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The eye test? Not much better.
That was especially evident in a 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, when the Chiefs gave up more than 315 yards passing and four total touchdowns to Josh Allen in losing the rematch of last season's AFC championship game.
Yet there is one problem on defense that is compounded by its partner problem on offense: turnovers. The Chiefs gave away the ball four times against the Bills -- Patrick Mahomes threw two picks, one returned for a touchdown, and they lost a pair of fumbles -- while their much-maligned defense failed to generate a single turnover of its own.
That dropped the Chiefs to minus-7 in turnover differential, better only than lowly Jacksonville in the entire NFL.
"It starts with me. Three of them were on me," Mahomes said. "It's something that I've not usually done in my career, but I have to reevaluate where I'm at, what decisions I'm making. We kind of hurt ourselves."
Indeed, Mahomes already has thrown six interceptions this season, the same number as last season and one more than the Super Bowl championship season in 2019. His pick percentage has gone from a league-low 1.0 percent last season to 3.1 percent and twice he's thrown two interceptions in a game; he's thrown at least two just four other times in his career.
"Turnovers are a huge deal in this league. Turnover margin usually decides games," Mahomes said.
It's not just Mahomes, though. Clyde Edwards-Helaire's fumble in Baltimore cost the Chiefs (2-3) a chance to kick a winning field goal, and Byron Pringle has fumbled the ball on kickoff returns in each of the past two games.
"They've got to stop for us to be competitive. And that's my responsibility," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "so I've got to make sure the team plays the right way. Right now, we're not playing the right way."
That includes on defense, where the Chiefs have picked off just three passes and forced one fumble this season. They had 22 takeaways last season and 23 during their championship year but are on pace for less than 14 so far.
"We have just got to find a way to stop the bleeding," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "If you look back we don't have a turnover the last three weeks. That is a big part of this game too, getting the ball back to your offense."
Worth noting, the offense will be without its starting running back through until next month.
Edwards-Helaire suffered an MCL sprain in Sunday night's loss, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. K.C. placed the running back on injured reserve on Tuesday.
Initial reports said the running back would miss a few weeks, which was good news considering how it looked when he went down. We now know Edwards-Helaire will miss at least the next three games. The Chiefs face Washington, Tennessee, and the New York Giants in the next three weeks.
Edwards-Helaire was on pace to outperform his rookie season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry through five games, but he'd yet to reach the end zone on the ground. He did have two receiving touchdowns, but he won't be able to assist the Chiefs as they attempt to dig themselves out of a surprising 2-3 hole after five weeks.
Instead, it'll be Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon in line to replace Edwards-Helaire, and we can bank on Andy Reid drawing up plays to get "carries" for their speedy weapons, namely Tyreek Hill. On Sunday night alone, six different players -- Patrick Mahomes, Williams, Hill, Edwards-Helaire, McKinnon and fullback Michael Burton -- finished with at least one carry.
The Chiefs will get creative, as they always are. But with a two-game deficit to the Chargers in the AFC West, they'll have to hope Edwards-Helaire bounces back quickly.
Williams and Jerick McKinnon are the Chiefs' backup running backs.
Williams has rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns and caught seven passes for 45 yards this season. McKinnon has one carry for two yards and three catches for 27 yards.
Expect Williams to get the bulk of the carries with McKinnon continuing to handle more of a receiving role.
In announcing Edwards-Helaire being placed on IR, the Chiefs also activated running back Derrick Gore and tackle Prince Tega Wanogh from the practice squad and waived receiver Daurice Fountain.
In addition, Reid revealed after the game that Hill suffered a knee injury, left guard Joe Thuney fractured his hand, tight end Travis Kelce suffered a "little bit of a stinger" and cornerback Chris Lammons had a skin laceration.
Reid indicated that Hill's injury isn't serious, saying the wide receiver "hurt his knee a little bit." That said, Hill did not practice Wednesday.
Kelce appeared to get hurt late in the fourth quarter after absorbing a hit from a Bills defender during a pass play.
Reid also said that linebacker Anthony Hitchens (knee), Chris Jones (wrist), tight end Blake Bell (back), and cornerback Charvarius Ward (quad) will not be practicing as the team begins their on-field preparation to face Washington in Week 6.
I'll have more on Hill and the others via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days.
Coming ahead, the Chiefs have had one of the toughest five-game stretches to start a season in recent history. The road gets a bit easier beginning with a trip to Washington on Sunday. ...
Harrison Butker is just about the only sure thing for Kansas City right now. The kicker is 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts after hitting both tries against Buffalo, and he is perfect on 19 extra-point attempts. He also hit a perfect pop-up kickoff late in the game that the Chiefs covered perfectly and nearly resulted in a turnover.
One last note here. ... The Chiefs signed running back Elijah McGuire to their practice squad. McGuire was with the Chiefs in 2019 and 2020 and will provide depth at the position with CEH sidelined.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Josh Gordon, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
When Jon Gruden returned to the Raiders back in 2018 he was greeted with a pep rally news conference, owner Mark Davis calling it a "dream come true" and the "biggest day of his life."
There was much less pomp and circumstance surrounding the coach's rapid departure, with Davis sending out a simple statement: "I have accepted Jon Gruden's resignation as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders."
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow noted, while Gruden was done in by emails he sent in the years before he rejoined the Raiders that the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported were filled with racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments, his work on the field never quite lived up to what Davis hoped when he completed his years-long pursuit of the coach of his dreams.
The Raiders had a 22-31 record in three-plus seasons under Gruden, ranking 22nd in winning percentage, last in points allowed and 24th in scoring as his poor personnel moves ultimately sabotaged his coaching record.
The revelations of the emails also brought shame to an organization that prides itself on a history of inclusion which includes refusing to play an exhibition game in the segregated South of the 1960s; the hiring of the second coach of Mexican descent in Tom Flores; and the first Black coach in the modern NFL in Art Shell.
That wasn't what Davis signed up for after pining for Gruden ever since taking over the Raiders following the death of his father, Hall of Fame owner Al Davis, in 2011. Mark Davis made several trips to Tampa, Florida, to meet with Gruden over the years to get his opinions on the Raiders and gauge his interest in leaving the broadcast booth to return to the sideline.
He finally got the answer he wanted in 2017, leading Davis to fire Jack Del Rio -- who led the Raiders to their only playoff berth in the past 18 seasons in 2016 and the only Raiders coach with a winning record since Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season after turning the Raiders into a contender.
But Gruden's second tenure never matched the first, when he was the hot-shot offensive guru who took the Raiders to the AFC title game in his third season and the playoffs again the following year, when they lost in the "Tuck Rule" game at New England.
Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay after that season for a boatload of draft picks and cash, then beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl his first season in 2002.
But he never won another playoff game in 10 seasons as a coach and was unable to turn the Raiders into a contender in his second stint.
Armed with a 10-year contract and total control of personnel, Gruden opted to overhaul the roster rather than retool it with the Raiders only a year removed from a 12-win season.
He traded away the team's best player, edge rusher Khalil Mack, before the start of his first season for a package that included two first-round draft picks. He then dealt star receiver Amari Cooper for another first-round pick midway through the season as the Raiders stumbled to a 4-12 record.
The following offseason ultimately defined Gruden's second tenure as he made a failed push to contend in the Raiders' final season in Oakland. He handed out big free agent contracts to Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams, and got little production out of the three.
His flashiest move was a trade for temperamental receiver Antonio Brown, whose erratic behavior led to his release before even playing a game.
Gruden also failed to hit on the three first-round picks expected to provide the foundation for the franchise's future. No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell is relegated to backup duty this season, while No. 24 pick Josh Jacobs and No. 27 selection Johnathan Abram have yet to make a big impact.
That led to a 7-9 season in 2019 as Gruden couldn't deliver success to the fans in Oakland who never stopped adoring him even after he left the first time.
There were a few signs of progress in the first season in Las Vegas as quarterback Derek Carr took a big step in his third year with Gruden and the offense was one of the better ones in the league. But Gruden's decision to hire Paul Guenther as defensive coordinator and the poor moves in free agency and the draft left the Raiders with one of the worst defenses in the NFL -- and three games out of a playoff berth at 8-8.
Gruden played whack-a-mole this offseason, trading away three veteran offensive linemen to create salary cap room to help build up the defense under new coordinator Gus Bradley.
Those decisions looked promising during a 3-0 start, but the poor offensive line play led to back-to-back double-digit losses in Gruden's final two games. Now come questions whether interim coach Rich Bisaccia can get the team back on track.
After Gruden's resignation Monday night, Rich Bisaccia was named the interim coach, the team announced Monday night.
Bisaccia has been on the staff as the Raiders assistant head coach/special teams coordinator for the last four seasons.
Bisaccia, 61, is currently in his 20th season as an NFL special teams coach. His coaching NFL career began in 2002 with the Buccaneers under Gruden and his stay in Tampa Bay lasted until 2010. Bisaccia coached with the San Diego Chargers (2011-2012) and Dallas Cowboys (2013-2017) before landing with the Raiders in 2018.
While the controversy surrounding Gruden will be the story, the Raiders offense has been an absolute mess the last two weeks.
In fact, as ESPN's Paul Gutierrez notes, after the way Las Vegas' offense was piling up yards in a 3-0 start, that is the biggest question in the Raiders locker room as they dropped their second straight game, 20-9, to the Bears on Sunday. Consider: entering the fourth quarter, the Raiders had compiled 410 yards of offense over its last seven quarters.
They averaged 471 yards of offense per game in their first three games. Uncharacteristic drops, untimely penalties (Yannick Ngakoue's early roughing penalty ignited the Bears) and another unproductive reshuffling of the offensive line doomed Las Vegas.
Next up, the Raiders visit Denver on Sunday in a matchup of teams that have lost two straight following 3-0 starts to the season.
Other notes of interest. ... Second-year receiver Bryan Edwards provided a late-game spark in overtime wins over Baltimore and Miami, but has struggled the past two weeks. He had just one catch for 5 yards two weeks ago and two for 22 against the Bears.
He also had a bad drop on a deep pass from Carr early in the game and appeared to have a miscommunication with Carr on a third-down pass in the end zone that led to a field goal.
On a more positive note. ... Josh Jacobs is healthy and has handled 37 of the Raiders 42 backfield touches over the last two games.
On the injury front. ... DT Johnathan Hankins (back) got hurt Sunday and his status is unknown for this week. ... Backup QB Marcus Mariota (quadriceps) is expected to return this week to practice and could be activated off IR to play Sunday. ... LG Richie Incognito (calf) remains sidelined, but Gruden is hoping he can return Nov. 7.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber, Jalen Richard
WRs: Hunter Renfrow, DeSean Jackson, Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones, Dillon Stoner
TEs: Foster Moreau, Daniel Helm, Nick Bowers, Derek Carrier, Matt Bushman, Darren Waller
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, Brandon Staley, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers are leading the AFC West while building an impressive early-season resume
The Bolts' 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday was their third fourth-quarter comeback against a team that made the playoffs last season. At 4-1, Los Angeles has a one-game lead over Denver and Las Vegas along with a two-game cushion over defending AFC champion Kansas City, including a victory over the Chiefs in Week 3.
"I think when you're at the game and it's happening for you, then that's when you can create even more belief because most people see better than they hear," Staley said. "We haven't flinched in some of those big moments, and I feel like that's the way we're trying to create that competitive environment."
After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, Herbert has put himself into consideration for NFL MVP. Herbert accounted for five touchdowns against the Browns, tying a career high with four passing scores. He is tied for third in the league with 13 TD throws and is fourth in yards (1,576).
While Herbert continues to play at an elite level, the Chargers are continuing to play complementary football. The defense forced a three-and-out late in the fourth quarter that led to Austin Ekeler scoring the winning touchdown with 1:13 remaining. Wins earlier this season at Washington and Kansas City were set up by the defense forcing fourth-quarter turnovers.
Even though they have confidence and momentum, the Chargers aren't interested in the standings at this point of the season with 12 games remaining.
"We can't look at it right now. It is only a quarter of the season and there's still a lot of ball to be played. I know we just got to keep building, keep getting better and keep sticking together as a team," safety Derwin James said.
They probably aren't interested in the stats either. But fantasy managers are.
Herbert went 26-of-43 for a career-high 398 yards and five total touchdowns, including his third game-winning drive of the season (best in the NFL). Over his last three starts -- wins against the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns -- Herbert has 12 total touchdowns and zero turnovers.
Sunday was Herbert's 11th career 300-yard performance, the most by any player in NFL history in their first two seasons, per Chargers Communications. There are 12 games remaining in the 2021 regular season.
Austin Ekeler secured his fourth straight game with over 100 total yards (119: 66 rushing, 53 receiving). He also scored three total touchdowns, all in the second half. Ekeler is tied with Tennessee's Derrick Henry for first in the league in total touchdowns with seven.
Ekeler is also tied for second with New England's James White for the most receiving touchdowns (19) by a running back through the first five seasons of a career, per Chargers Communications. Ekeler has 12 regular-season games to catch former Minnesota Vikings back Chuck Foreman's 21 (1973-77).
"What you can do is activate him in the passing game and in the running game to give you an advantage depending on how people are playing you. I feel like he showcased both of those things," Staley said of Ekeler.
Mike Williams has been used so much on short routes this season that Cleveland must have forgotten he was a deep threat. Williams had touchdown receptions of 72 and 42 yards en route to a career-high 165 receiving yards on eight catches. The fifth-year receiver is tied for sixth in receptions (31) and fourth in yards (471).
Williams already has six receiving scores on the year, tops in the NFL. He had five all of last season.
For the second straight week, tight end Donald Parham Jr. scored the first touchdown of the game for the Chargers. He finished Sunday with a pair of catches for 29 yards.
Are there issues?
Well. ... Tristan Vizcaino missed two extra-point attempts on Sunday and has botched four in the past three games. Staley said after the game that he continues to have faith in his young kicker.
"With Tristan, we're going to have to deal with this," Staley said. "He has a fantastic kickoff leg, and as a kicker, he needs to be in a lot of those situations to make sure he gets his rhythm and timing. He missed two today, that was disappointing. But what we need him to do is bounce back."
And the team's run defense continues to be a problem. Cleveland's vaunted rushing attack had 230 yards, but the Chargers have allowed at least 126 yards on the ground in all but one game. This was only the sixth time in 41 games since the 1970 merger when the Chargers have allowed 200 rushing yards or more and won.
That could be an issue as the Chargers hit the road to face the Baltimore Ravens, their final game before the bye week. It is the first time the teams have faced off since the Chargers defeated the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game during the 2018 season.
Other notes of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith reported, a strange situation unfolded late in the Chargers' win Sunday: Trailing 42-41, the Chargers had first-and-goal with 1:31 remaining in the game and the Browns were out of timeouts, so the Chargers decided to simply run out the clock until they could kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. Unfortunately, Ekeler scored a touchdown that he didn't want to score.
That happened because the Browns' defense dragged Ekeler into the end zone when he was trying to stop on the 1-yard line. That gave the Chargers a 47-42 lead, but it also gave the Browns the ball back with plenty of time to potentially drive down the field for a touchdown of their own.
Although the Chargers held on to win, Staley admitted after the game that things didn't go according to plan.
"That's one of those situations where we instructed him not to go into the end zone, and he did a great job of stepping up and giving himself up before the end zone. The Browns grabbed him and brought him into the end zone," Staley said. "That's a smart play by them. That's something that we have to talk about and continue to develop so that we can be better on that in the future."
Staley said he thought that once Ekeler attempted to give himself up, the play should have ended because Ekeler had stopped his own forward progress. Staley admitted he didn't realize the Browns could keep the play going by pushing Ekeler into the end zone.
Staley acknowledged that perhaps he should have just called for Herbert to kneel down.
"We were trying to finish the ball game without any time left," Staley said. "That's just not the way it happened. ..."
On the injury front. ... Right guard Oday Aboushi will require season-ending surgery after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the first quarter. Michael Schofield will take over with rookie Brenden Jaimes possibly seeing some playing time. Running back Justin Jackson missed this game with a groin injury.
I'll have more on Jackson via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
And finally. ... The Chargers announced right tackle Bryan Bulaga had core muscle surgery Tuesday. The statement added that the timetable for Bulaga’s return still is being determined.
The Chargers placed Bulaga on injured reserve Sept. 17.
Storm Norton has played every snap since replacing Bulaga.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed, Maurice Ffrench
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson, Tre' McKitty
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reminded readers, Sean McVay said early last week he wanted to get receiver Robert Woods more opportunities after the veteran receiver was largely ignored through the first four weeks.
Woods saw the lion's share of the targets in last Thursday night's 26-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, catching 12 of 14 targets for 150 yards. It was his highest output since Week 13, 2019, at Arizona (172 receiving yards).
Woods spoke with McVay about getting more involved in the game plan after the first four games saw him catch a total of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
"Being a competitor, I'm trying to do everything to be a part and help this team win," Woods said. "I was trying to be a playmaker and be involved in every aspect. The first couple of weeks, I was involved in the run game and tried to get involved in the pass game, but this week I was more involved, had the opportunity to get my number called, have some plays and capitalize on those opportunities."
Perhaps the Rams wouldn't characterize Woods as the squeaky wheel in his desire to be targeted more, but he certainly got the grease Thursday night.
McVay set up Woods to be the recipient of several clear-outs by Cooper Kupp that picked up chunk gains over the middle against a Seahawks secondary that seemed flabbergasted. The amount of wide-open catches Woods had underscores the plan to feed him the ball schematically. The rest the wideout did himself.
According to Next Gen Stats, Woods had 10 "open targets" -- defined as 3-plus yards of separation. He caught nine of the 10 targets for 122 yards. It was the most open targets by any receiver in a game this season.
"We were definitely trying to get him involved tonight," McVay said, stating the obvious. "He delivered in a big way, and they're a reason why he has a C on his chest. He's made the most of his opportunities that he's had the first four weeks. Tonight was an opportunity where he got 14 targets. He delivered on 12 of them. He's a stud, and just love the way he was instrumental in the win tonight."
Woods and Kupp (7 catches on 10 targets for 92 yards) saw the bulk of Matthew Stafford's 37 pass attempts (25 completions for 365 yards, TD, INT). Thursday night's win proved once again that Woods remains a force and that both of the Rams' top receivers can eat at the same table some weeks.
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, similar to a Week 2 win at Indianapolis, last Thursday night wasn't pretty, but the Rams found a way to grind out a victory on the road inside a hostile environment at Lumen Field.
Stafford overcame an uneven start, and an injury to his right index finger, to lead four second-half scoring drives to give the Rams the win as they improved to 4-1 and rebounded from a disappointing division loss to the Cardinals only four days earlier.
The Rams' 476 yards of offense were their most in their last 20 games and Los Angeles' third most in the past two calendar years. Pure yardage numbers aren't a perfect indicator of offensive effectiveness, but the Rams struggled to rack them up over the past two seasons, so they're grateful to be back among the league leaders in moving the ball regularly and efficiently.
The win keeps them firmly in second in the division race and sent them into a weekend off with a chance to recharge before a long Week 6 trip to New York to play the Giants.
One cause for concern?
According to Thiry, it's consecutive slow starts on offense.
Stafford was 13-of-19 for 131 yards with an interception in the first half. He overthrew receivers and was intercepted on a pass that he intended to throw away out of the back of the end zone. However, in the second half, Stafford found wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a 68-yard reception that set up a touchdown and finished 25-of-37 for 365 yards and a touchdown, with his passer rating improving from 65.9 to 97.2.
Also worth noting. ... For the first time, the Rams have reason to worry about kicker Matt Gay, who missed an extra point, pushed two kickoffs out of bounds and struggled with distance on others. Gay narrowly made a 47-yard field goal in the final minute, but a kicker who had been extremely reliable since arriving midway through last season is coming off a rough game.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Buddy Howell, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Odell Beckham, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, J.J. Koski, Robert Woods, Landen Akers
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds noted, the bad comes in bunches for the Miami Dolphins.
At some point in each of the past four games, there has been a stretch where the Dolphins have given up at least 20 unanswered points.
Not surprisingly, they've lost all four, including Sunday's 45-17 debacle at Tampa Bay that sent Miami three games behind Buffalo in the AFC East race.
"We've got a group that sticks together, that supports each other, that understands and knows how hard they work, how hard they prepare," head coach Brian Flores said Monday. "We're just not getting the results that we want right now."
An elixir or two might be awaiting.
There's only one team in the AFC with a worse record than Miami. That would be the Jacksonville Jaguars, losers of 20 consecutive games, and they will be the opponent for the Dolphins this Sunday when the teams meet in London.
And if that wasn't enough reason for hope, the Dolphins might get quarterback Tua Tagovailoa back this week.
During his Monday press conference, Flores told reporters that Tagovailoa is making a lot of improvement and could potentially get activated to play in London. The team officially designated him to return from IR on Tuesday, opening a three-week window to add him back to the active roster.
"What we need to see is to see him move around, see him throw the ball, see him on the run. See the deep ball," Flores told Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "The one thing we won't see is real and true contact. There will obviously be some pain tolerance he'll need to deal with."
What could complicate matters is that backup Jacoby Brissett is dealing with a hamstring injury. Flores described Brissett as sore following the team's Sunday loss to the Buccaneers.
"He definitely toughed it out yesterday with the leg injury," Flores said, via Kelly. "He's tough and competitive. I thought about pulling him a couple times and he fought me to stay in. Speaks to his competitiveness. He's definitely sore."
Tagovailoa suffered fractured ribs early in Miami's Week 2 loss to the Bills.
Brissett has completed 65 percent of his passes for 858 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also been sacked 12 times.
Beyond the situation under center, it's been the same story for Miami all season: Running the ball has been a challenge, only the New York Jets are averaging fewer points than the Dolphins after five weeks -- aside from their overtime loss to the Raiders, the club hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game this year, third-down conversions have not come enough on offense, third-down conversions are yielded far too often on defense.
But three of Miami's next four games are against teams in similar positions: Jacksonville (0-5) awaits this week, then the Dolphins return home to face Atlanta (2-3).
A trip to Buffalo -- the Bills are simply owning the Dolphins these days -- awaits on Oct. 31, to be followed by a matchup with Houston (1-4). And when that stretch is over, Miami will still have two games with the Jets and another with the New York Giants.
Things can be fixed. Maybe.
"Obviously, the cliché is, 'It's early in the season, but it really is,'" said Brissett. "We have a lot of football ahead of us and we can't focus so much on the results. It's just more so getting better each week and in which I think we are. I continue to say it, but we actually are getting better. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Myles Gaskin had 10 catches (on 10 targets) and two touchdown grabs, one of the very few bright spots for the Dolphins.
Will he remain this involved going forward?
According to ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques, co-offensive coordinator George Godsey said the team realizes that Gaskin is a guy they need to get the ball to more often -- but do not confuse Sunday's workload for the "new normal."
Miami played that one without wide receiver DeVante Parker and with a quarterback in Brissett who tends to check down, rather than push the ball downfield, although he was far more aggressive than usual against the Buccaneers.
In other words, don't expect 10 targets per game for him moving forward, but do expect him to be the Dolphins' primary back.
That being the case, don't overlook the fact he has favorable matchups in each of the next two weeks, against the Jaguars and Falcons. ...
On the injury front. ... Parker didn't even make it onto the field for pre-game warmups in Tampa due to tightness in his hamstring. He was also dealing with a shoulder injury prior to that. TE Adam Shaheen (knee) is considered day to day for now, and the Dolphins are unclear how much he will be available this week.
Will Fuller V (finger) will miss at least two more games on injured reserve.
I'll be watching for more on Tua, who was on the practice field Wednesday, Parker, who sat out Wednesday, and Shaheen in coming day and report back via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
Remember, the team will be flying to Long over Thursday night.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Jaylen Waddle, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford, DeVante Parker, Will Fuller
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, it's possible Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer's job was saved on Sunday by an unlikely and ironic source.
After a wild final two minutes, Greg Joseph booted a 54-yard field goal to help the Vikings narrowly escape the winless Detroit Lions 19-17. Considering the problems Zimmer has had with kickers over the years, a kicker taking the heat off the head coach was an interesting twist -- for the moment.
It was the third time in five weeks the Vikings had a game decided on a last-second field goal attempt. They're 1-2 in those situations.
"I'm usually saying, if they're kicking, 'Miss this, blankety-blank,' and if we're kicking it it's, 'Make this, blankety-blank,'" Zimmer said after the win.
The Vikings are 2-3 and travel to Carolina on Sunday to face the Panthers with a chance to head into a Week 7 bye with a .500 record. But this win carried a different feeling, one that was reflected in the exhausted body language of a coach and his players who missed countless opportunities to put their opponent away.
As Cronin put it, "Sunday's win felt like an indictment of where the Vikings sit under Zimmer; a team that played not to lose rather than to win convincingly."
At the close of the 2020 season which resulted in the Vikings missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record, Zimmer found a silver lining with the state of his offense. It was the most explosive unit he said he's had during his tenure in Minnesota, having ranked fourth in yards and 11th in scoring.
It looked anything but elite against Detroit and has only flashed that vigor through the first five games.
The Vikings have scored two touchdowns in their last two games and have not scored in the second half since Week 1. There is plenty of blame to go around, from penalties to the offensive line's struggles to the mistakes of first-time play caller Klint Kubiak, but it has felt like the Vikings offense has gotten worse, not better, as games wear on.
Minnesota found early success Sunday going to wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who had five catches for 104 yards in the first two quarters, but the Vikings seemed to abandon that strategy before halftime.
Leading 13-6, Minnesota had 41 seconds and two timeouts at the end of the first half. A strike to Jefferson or Adam Thielen, who saw one target go his way until the game's final moments, could have opened up an opportunity to score a touchdown, or at least put the team in field goal range.
Instead, Kubiak called back-to-back runs for Alexander Mattison, who was playing in place of an injured Dalvin Cook, that totaled six yards.
The Vikings chose to run the clock out on themselves. A loud chorus of boos let coaches and players know what the fans thought of that decision.
"I shouldn't have to explain all of this to you," Zimmer said postgame, "but the plan was to run the ball the first play, see how many yards we get and then go from there. If we get a first down, then we get on the ball and we move. But we got like no yards so that was that."
Minnesota thought a more conservative approach offensively was good enough to get it done against a struggling Lions team.
Instead, the Vikings invited Detroit to hang around.
Zimmer does not call offensive plays, but his influence is stamped all over Minnesota's approach. And the resulting self-sabotaging felt constant.
Kirk Cousins was a perfect 6-of-6 for 115 yards on passes thrown more than 10 air yards downfield to Jefferson, according to ESPN Stats and Information. But Jefferson was targeted twice in the second half, catching both for 20 yards.
Overall, Jefferson is building on his Pro Bowl rookie season with 33 catches for 462 yards through five games. He's sixth in the league in catches and receiving yards, making the failure to keep him in the mix throughout the game doesn’t make sense.
"I guess you just move on to the next play," Jefferson said. "I mean, throughout the game, you're not going to get every single ball, open or not. You've just got to keep moving and keep playing. I know the ball is going to come to me eventually."
There were seven instances of runs called on second-and-7 or longer, none of which yielded a first down. The Vikings have the fourth-highest designed run percentage on such plays this season. Only four of those runs out of 29 called in the first five weeks have resulted in first downs.
It wasn't until the final 33 seconds of the game that Cousins found Thielen. Cousins led the Vikings on the game-winning drive to set up Joseph's 54 yarder by hitting Thielen on throws of 21 and 19 yards, respectively.
Had it not been for the way the Vikings tried to run down the clock and hang onto the ball the series before, Minnesota wouldn't have needed that final drive to beat a winless opponent.
With two minutes remaining, the Vikings handed it off to Mattison on third-and-7 instead of calling a pass. A first down effectively ends the game. Instead, Mattison's fumble let Detroit take the lead on the next series.
"We have a lot of confidence in the receiver room, in this offense," Thielen said. "Yeah, do we want the ball in our hands to end the game? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, that's not our job. Our job is to make the play when it's there.
"We have a lot of faith in our offensive coaches. They do a heck of a job game-planning, doing their job and they are very critical of themselves as of us. At the end of the day, like I said before, you've got to make plays work. It doesn't matter what's called, we've got to make it work."
Whatever the case, the Vikings allowed themselves to revel in the win that almost wasn't, but it's right back to business this week.
Oh yeah. ... Then there was that weird sideline celebration as the game ended.
Turns out Cousins' extra-fiery response to Minnesota's walk-off win Sunday was exactly the type of emotion Zimmer has been looking for.
Some speculation circulated among fans when a sideline exchange -- both verbal and physical -- was shared between Cousins. Both easily explained the situation as nothing more than a celebration, though.
"Honestly, he's doing exactly what I want him to do. He's being a leader, he's being vocal, he's showing emotion. I've been talking to him about it all year," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Monday. "It's no different than when [Sam] Bradford tackled me in practice, because I was trying to get him to be the same thing.
"He came over and said, 'You like that?' and kind of gave me a shove, and I shoved him back, and it was all good," Zimmer added.
Asked shortly after the game, Cousins said, "I was just celebrating with him. I was just fired up. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Mattison played 44 snaps to lead the Vikings backfield as he had 25 carries for 113 yards. As noted above, Cook was inactive with an ankle injury. Fullback C.J. Ham played 32 snaps, and running back Ameer Abdullah was in for a dozen on offense.
Thielen (62 snaps) and Jefferson (60 snaps) had nearly identical workloads. K.J. Osborn played 42 snaps, while Dede Westbrook played a season-high 14 offensive snaps.
Tyler Conklin played 50 snaps to lead the tight ends group. The other two tight ends played the exact same amount of snaps as the week before. Ben Ellefson was on the field for 14 snaps again, while Chris Herndon played seven snaps.
When tight end Irv Smith Jr. was lost for the season with a knee injury before the season, Minnesota traded for Herndon from the New York Jets. The Vikings sent a fourth-round draft pick in 2022 for Herndon and a 2022 sixth-round pick.
Herndon doesn't have a catch this season and had two costly penalties on Sunday that negated first downs. He was called for an illegal crack-back block on Mattison's 9-yard run on third-and-1 in the third quarter and Minnesota had to punt
On the injury front. ... Cook missed his second game this season with a lingering ankle injury. With one game until their bye, it's fair to wonder if the Vikings won't hold him out until their Week 8 return.
That said, Cook returned to practice Wednesday, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reports. Jefferson and Thielen were among those not on the practice field for the start of Wednesday’s session, per Tomasson.
Mattison, who has now rushed for more than 100 yards in the two games Cook has missed, also didn’t appear to be practicing.
I'll have more on all of them via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Linebacker Anthony Barr returned Sunday for his first game since Week 2 of last season. He recovered from a knee injury in training camp after having last season cut short because of a torn pectoral muscle. He ended up playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Dalvin Cook
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss wrote, "Sunday wasn't the New England Patriots' best day, but when they needed it most, rookie quarterback Mac Jones delivered for them.
"Call it Mac's Moment. ..."
Jones led his first career game-winning drive in the NFL -- a 15-play march that chewed up seven minutes in the fourth quarter to set up Nick Folk's 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining -- helping the Patriots escape with a 25-22 victory against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
"I think I've said it every week, just how much we believe in him. The poise you've seen out of him these first [five] weeks, I can't imagine," starting center David Andrews said. "What a great win for him, what a great win for this football team. We needed it."
The Patriots rallied from a 22-9 second-half deficit to avoid a three-game losing streak and improve to 2-3. They now look ahead to next Sunday's home game against the Dallas Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
They do so with a growing comfort with Jones and how he's leading the offense. The rookie finished 23-of-30 for 231 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
"No. 10, man, he's a tough son of a gun. The kid stands in there, he makes throws, he takes hits," Andrews said. "He's never negative -- especially after some of our performances here of late -- [and] he has our back. When you get to play for a guy like that, it's a great opportunity."
That was one of the biggest takeaways after a daylong struggle for the Patriots in which their defense started alarmingly slow and a fumble at the goal line by running back Damien Harris negated a would-be touchdown in the second quarter: Jones continues to win over his teammates.
Starting defensive tackle Davon Godchaux's tweet after the game was one example.
"Mac gave it to us all day. I thought we moved the ball, and I thought he made a lot of good decisions," head coach Bill Belichick said. "There were some checks he had to make, but really the last drive -- the third-down conversion to [tight end] Hunter Henry and then we had a couple good runs in there.
"But Mac's been good for us all year in terms of his leadership, his resilience, and kind of always counting on him to do the right thing. And he really does it at a high level. It's been impressive."
Jones has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in four of his five starts, and his 135 completions are tied with Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals for the most ever by a rookie in his first five starts.
His top target Sunday was Henry, who finished with a team-high six receptions for 75 yards. Henry has been a big booster of Jones -- the two have connected off the field as neighbors -- and he said he was proud of Jones' performance Sunday.
"He's tough, man. He stands in there," said Henry, who caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on a corner route early in the fourth quarter and also had a key 10-yard reception on third-and-6 on the game-winning drive.
"It says a lot to the older guys who have been around, to be that young and stand in there and fire the ball, it gives a lot of confidence to the receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen, too."
The winning drive was aided, in part, by a roughing the passer penalty on third-and-18. It was the break the Patriots needed to get the drive started, and from there, Jones played like the "ice man" he said he strives to be -- "nice and smooth, cool, calm and collected."
"I don't know if we outplayed the other team, but we out-competed [them]," Jones said. "Sometimes you just have to find a way to win."
The Patriots also moved the ball much better on the ground, rushing for a season-high 126 yards after getting minus-1 yard in last week's loss to Tampa Bay. And they did it all with four starters on their offensive line out.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn and left guard Mike Onwenu were on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Right tackle Trent Brown was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a right calf injury and right guard Shaq Mason was ruled out with an abdominal injury. It left center David Andrews as the only healthy regular starter.
Belichick said it's a situation he can't recall seeing.
"I'm not saying it was perfect, but I thought they battled," he said. "For the most part, Mac had some time to throw, and we made some yards in the running game to stay balanced."
Belichick said he likes the progress the offense made overall as well.
"I think any time you do things well, it builds your confidence, whether it's in practice or, more importantly, in game situations," he said.
They'll need it this week when they host the Dallas Cowboys, who have the league's top-rated offense, averaging a league-high 439.6 yards per game. Dallas' 34 points per game ranks second only to Buffalo's 34.4.
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Damien Harris was in and out of Sunday's win over the Texans, but he reportedly avoided a serious injury.
Harris hurt his chest, returned to the game, and then left for good after hurting his ribs. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that tests on both injuries have not shown any sign of significant injury and that Harris can be considered day-to-day heading into New England's Week Six game against the Cowboys.
Harris ran 14 times for 58 yards and a touchdown against Houston. He has 63 carries for 230 yards and two touchdowns over the entire season.
Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden also saw action on Sunday. J.J. Taylor was inactive after playing in the previous three games. ...
For what it's worth. ... Harris thought he put a crucial fumble late in the Patriots' Week 1 loss to Miami behind him. But the issue returned Sunday in the second quarter.
With the Patriots trailing 12-6 and on the Houston 5, Harris had the ball punched out by Terrance Mitchell as he was about to cross the goal line. Though ruled on the field that he'd crossed the line before the fumble, an automatic booth review overturned call. ...
I'll have more on Harris and the offensive line issues via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
And finally. ... Folk booted four field goals in as many attempts, including two from 52 yards, but it was his shortest make that loomed largest: The above-mentioned 21-yard field goal to send the Pats to a 25-22 win. On Wednesday, Folk was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, James White
WRs: Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, N'Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel noted, the Saints got back to deploying versatile running back Alvin Kamara in the passing game and also got back to winning.
Kamara's touchdowns rushing and receiving, not to mention his 123 yards from scrimmage in Sunday's 33-22 victory over Washington, helped New Orleans cross the 30-point threshold for the first time since Week 1.
"Any time I'm catching the ball, I love it," Kamara said. "It adds an aspect to our offense."
Kamara led the Saints in receptions last season. So, it raised questions two weeks ago when the ball was not thrown his way once during a 27-21 overtime loss to the New York Giants. But that game plan was more run-oriented. And when Saints running back Tony Jones Jr. was injured, the Saints relied on Kamara even more in the running game.
He finished with a career-high 26 carries for 126 yards.
"Last week, we didn't throw him a pass and the sky was falling," Payton said facetiously on Monday while discussing the various ways the Saints use Kamara. "You're still looking at, overall, how's he handling the football. Obviously, yesterday, he was tremendously impactful with what he was doing."
For Payton, throwing the ball more made sense against a Washington defense that regularly fielded five-man fronts.
More passing meant eight targets for Kamara, who had five catches for 51 yards.
"We had a chance to kind of exploit what they were doing," Kamara said of Washington's defensive alignments.
Payton also assigned Kamara to return punts after primary returner Deonte Harris left with an injury.
Kamara said he enjoys the return game and joked about why he's not more involved in that.
"I only don't do it because they said they don't got enough money to pay me to be punt returner and a running back and receiver," Kamara, who returned three punts for 29 yards, said laughing. "If they got some more money, I'll do it full time."
But it was Kamara's dynamic presence on offense that not only paid dividends in terms of his own production, but also provided favorable looks for other receivers.
Even though Winston completed just 15 passes, he threw for a season-high 279 yards. He also passed for four touchdowns, his second most in a game behind the five he threw in a season-opening 38-3 victory over Green Bay. Second-year pro Marquez Callaway had two touchdown receptions -- one on a 49-yard desperation pass at the end of the first half.
His matchups should only become more favorable when opposing defenses are forced later this season to contend with the return from injuries of veteran receivers Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith.
Winston has completed four passes of 49 or more yards in his first five games as Saints starter, including touchdowns of 72 and 55 yards to Harris.
During the previous two seasons, New Orleans had just three pass plays eclipse 50 yards.
"We definitely have some areas we've got to clean up," said Winston, who is completing about 60.3 percent of his passes and has 12 TDs passing vs. three interceptions in his first season as Saints starting QB. "But we're going to do that and it feels good to get a win going into the bye."
The Saints go into rest and recovery mode this week, hoping to get a number of key players back from injury when they visit Seattle for a Monday night matchup on Oct. 25.
Reserve QB and part-time tight end Taysom Hill was concussed badly enough while attempting to catch a pass that he needed to be carted to the locker room. Harris has a hamstring pull.
While Payton declined to get into specifics, he said Hill was "doing well."
Finally. ... The Saints switched kickers last week by dumping Aldrick Rosas and brining in Cody Parkey, but Parkey's time in the lineup is up.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Saints are putting Parkey on injured reserve.
Parkey injured his groin in pregame warmups before the Saints beat Washington. He made three of the five extra points that he attempted in the victory.
It will be Parkey's second injured reserve stint of the year. He was briefly on the Browns' list during training camp before being released.
The Saints won't need to fill the spot this week because they have a bye. The hope in New Orleans is that Wil Lutz will be ready to come off injured reserve for Week 7.
QBs: Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Kenny Stills, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas
TEs: Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin, Adam Trautman
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
Sunday's matinee against the Cowboys quickly turned into something of a horror flick for the Giants.
First, New York lost running back Saquon Barkley to a freak ankle injury. Then, late in the second quarter, quarterback Daniel Jones exited after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit. Jones was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion and ruled out during halftime, as was receiver Kenny Golladay, who suffered a knee injury at some point during the first half.
To round things out, rookie wideout Kadarius Toney's monster day (10 receptions, 189 yards) was marred by a lower leg injury, as well as an ejection for throwing a punch at Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee. New York's 44-20 loss added further insult to its injuries.
Golladay is expected to miss this week's game against the Rams and maybe another game with a knee injury, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, but it's looked at as a major relief as the initial fear was it was a major injury.
On Monday, coach Joe Judge said Barkley's X-rays came back "with better news than it could've been. A little bit of a sigh of relief," according to SNY.
Judge added that Barkley is still being evaluated, but New York hopes it "dodged a couple of bullets."
Barkley isn't expected to play this week.
Judge added to that at his Wednesday press conference, noting that Jones would not practice to open the week because he has not progressed to that point in the protocol, but will be at practice as an observer. He said that Jones is “on track with everything” in his recovery and that playing against the Rams this weekend remains an option.
Judge added that will remain an option even if Jones doesn’t officially participate in a practice this week, although some on-field work is usually part of the clearance process after a concussion.
Barkley and Golladay will not practice Wednesday and both players are considered unlikely to play this week. Judge said Toney would be at practice.
With the new injuries further damaging an offense that was already in flux, Toney's importance to the unit increases exponentially, especially with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton still out due to hamstring injuries. Keeping this in mind, the reckless behavior he displayed against Dallas must be dealt with and eradicated early.
After sharing that he apologized to Judge and his teammates, Toney said he should be held accountable for his actions and assured everyone that the punch was "a one-time thing."
"With little kids looking up to me, it's not an example I want to set," he said before adding, "I'm a rookie, making early mistakes. Just got to learn off it and build off it."
For a team dealing with so many ailments, it would be ideal if Week 5 is the last time the Giants are involved in situations that hurt the team in other ways. We'll see if a week of rehab and film review give them a boost entering their Week 6 clash with the 4-1 Rams.
Backup quarterback Mike Glennon said the Giants can't afford to put their heads down.
"We will put our best foot forward and it is just business as usual," he said. "You have to come back every day, keep fighting, keep working and stick together."
Are there reasons for optimism?
Despite losing Jones to a helmet-to-helmet hit on his run, the passing game was effective. Glennon took over and was 16 of 25 for 196 yards and a touchdown to Toney. New York scored 10 points in the second half and had another drive end at the Dallas 2 because the Giants were stopped on fourth down needing a TD. New York finished with 294 yards passing, with Toney carrying the load.
By the way, Tony's set the team rookie record for most receiving yards in a game. Odell Beckham held the previous mark with 185 yards in a game against the Eagles in 2014.
But with the Rams, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and Tampa Bay Bucs on deck, the injuries will become issues. The Chiefs and Bucs are Monday night contests on the road. ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan believes they probably need two of the three -- Jones, Barkley and Golladay -- back to have any chance in any of those games.
In the meantime, Raanan suggests we should probably keep our expectations for Toney in check this week. It might not be wise to blow the waiver-wire budget on a player who is now nursing an ankle injury that must be monitored and who could be playing against the Rams' defense (and CB Jalen Ramsey) with Glennon as his quarterback.
Raanan went on to concede if Toney were the Giants' clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver, it would be worth the investment.
However, at this point, don't go overboard based on just one week. You've already missed the best spot to play Toney this season, especially with Shepard and Slayton both on the practice field Wednesday and both likely to return this week. Golladay is not far behind them. It's doubtful there will be another game this season where Toney gets double-digit targets.
That said, NBCSportsEdge.com notes that Toney leads the NFL with 141 yards after the catch over the past two weeks. The next closest receivers is Deebo Samuel with 106 yards after the catch.
Beyond that, what kind of workload should we expect from Devontae Booker while Barkley is sidelined?
Booker is now the clear-cut No. 1 back.
After all, the Giants' fullback was the No. 2 running back Sunday when Barkley went down, so it's mostly going to be "The Booker Show" for the next week or two. He's a good short-term fill-in, especially with the bye weeks now underway. Booker should get a good 80 percent of the Giants' RB touches and snaps in Barkley's absence. That volume alone makes him a quality RB2 -- as we saw against Dallas.
Booker wound up leading the Giants in rushing attempts and finished with 42 rushing yards and 20 fantasy points after finding the end zone both as a runner and a receiver. He's obviously not the player that Barkley is, but Booker's workload should be large enough to expect borderline RB2 value until Barkley returns, especially considering that he's an adept pass-catcher. He's a must-add.
Stay tuned. I'll obviously be following up on the status of Jones and Toney via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. And I'll have more on Barkley and Golladay as needed too.
QBs: Mike Glennon, Daniel Jones
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Dante Pettis
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As NFL.com's Chase Goodbread noted, Josh Allen and Zach Wilson might be on opposite ends of the NFL's starting quarterback landscape, but head coach Robert Saleh offered a reminder on Monday that Allen, nevertheless, is familiar with the view from where Wilson stands.
Yes, the Buffalo Bills' $258 million passer had a disastrous five-game introduction to the NFL that, at the time, looked no more promising than the Jets' struggling rookie.
"It's not easy being a rookie quarterback, never has been, never will be," Saleh said, via the Jets website. "Josh Allen the first five games of his rookie year, the numbers were the same as what our guy is going through."
Allen was crowned a rookie starter from the outset of the 2018 season, as Wilson was this year.
Allen lost three of his first five starts in completing 65 of 122 passes (55 percent) for a paltry 151 yards per game, only two TD passes, five interceptions and four fumbles.
Wilson, 1-4 as the Jets' starter, has completed 98 of 171 (57 percent) for 223 yards per game, four touchdowns, nine picks and two fumbles.
Ugly, to be sure, for both -- particularly in the area of ball security. Both were swallowed whole by opposing pass rushes early in their careers, as well; Wilson has been sacked 18 times, Allen 19 over the same rookie stretch.
"I know it can be frustrating sometimes, but it's going to start clicking," Saleh promised. "It's a rollercoaster ride and you have to take the good with the good, and the bad with the bad."
Just two days after Allen led a thrashing of the defending AFC champion Chiefs, and outplayed Patrick Mahomes while doing it, it seems like forever ago that Bills fans were rightly wondering if the club's first-round pick was a huge mistake. Three years later, they've got one of the NFL's elite at the position. And while that doesn't mean Wilson's career will track similarly, it's a stark reminder that it can always start tracking differently.
"We're always looking at ways to simplify things for him," Saleh said. "At the same time, we can't help with the speed of the game and the change of schemes. There are things he's seeing every week, things he has to get better at seeing."
Wilson isn't discouraged.
"I've obviously got a lot I'm learning every single week and I'm always putting my mind on new things I need to learn," he said Tuesday. "And with that sometimes comes being a little bit robotic.
"And I think sometimes that's how those throws come out, as if I'm aiming them. I've got to throw it and rip it."
After all, that's what made Wilson such a star at BYU, his combination of arm strength and multiple arm angles. And his ability to turn seemingly nothing into a big gain.
Coming off a disappointing 27-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in London, Wilson now regroups with an idle week before a Week 7 road game at New England on Oct. 24, against another rookie starter in Mac Jones.
The Jets will have the players work through Wednesday before giving them four straight days off on their bye week, as required by the collective bargaining agreement. They'll reconvene next Monday and begin preparations for a road game at New England.
Saleh and his coaching staff will spend a big part of this week reassessing everything, with the hopes the Jets will come out of their break looking like a team with promise.
"They're going to study, obviously study the tapes, study what they're asking of the players," Saleh said, "and then at the same time, just find ways to get our guys ready to roll and start the game. ..."
One last note here. ... As ESPN's Eric Moody notes, the good news for rookie running back Michael Carter is he led the Jets' "running back by committee" with 13 opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets), 58 total yards, and a touchdown against the Falcons.
The bad news is that the offensive line was unable to create running lanes for him.
Moody believes it's also concerning that the Jets don't seem to trust him at the goal line.
However, New York does have a favorable schedule coming out of their bye week with matchups against the Patriots, Bengals and Colts. Carter can be trusted as a flex option moving forward.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Austin Walter, Lamical Perine, Michael Carter
WRs: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, Keelan Cole
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco, Tyler Kroft
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, when the offense was ineffective for much of the game, defense and special teams bailed out the Philadelphia Eagles.
That's encouraging for an inconsistent team with a rookie head coach learning on the job.
The Eagles (2-3) moved the ball well and scored some points the previous two games, but the defense couldn't stop Dallas and Kansas City. Jalen Hurts and the rest of the offense struggled for most of three quarters against Carolina on Sunday, then took advantage of three turnovers and a blocked punt to earn a 21-18 comeback win.
"It was perseverance and his ability to just forget what happened in the first half because everything that we wanted out of that game, which is obviously to win the game, was right there in front of us," coach Nick Sirianni said about Hurts on Monday.
"He took advantage of it and played a really good game in the second half. You're just going to want some throws back, some reads back, and that kind of even extended into the third quarter a little bit for all of us, not just Jalen but the entire offensive unit and coaching staff.
"But again, it was just completely playing the next play and knowing that the defense was keeping us in the game and keeping us right there. Then it's just going to take one play to really turn the tide and he made a heck of a throw then to Quez (Watkins) to really turn the tide and help that comeback start."
Hurts' stats were ugly -- 22 of 37 for 198 yards and one interception -- but he used his legs to be a difference maker. Hurts ran for 30 yards and two scores and escaped pressure to complete a 2-point conversion.
His ability to bounce back after a poor first half showed his resilience. The second-year pro has only started nine games. He's looked impressive at times and struggled at points. He's growing, maturing, still learning. Just like his coach.
"I'm always looking to improve," Sirianni said.
For Hurts, he's had success throwing the ball to DeVonta Smith. The first-round draft pick has 14 catches for 199 yards in the past two games. He's the No. 2 rookie receiving leader with 314 yards, behind Chase (456). Smith also had a TD catch negated against Carolina because he stepped out of bounds before returning in play.
For Sirianni, the improvement could come from adding balance to an offense lacking it.
Running backs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell have only 69 carries in five games. The duo has run the ball on just 22.5 percent of Philadelphia's offensive plays. Hurts has 43 rushes himself. Some are scrambles but many are designed runs or run-pass options.
That said, nobody should expect a balanced approach Thursday night, when the Eagles host the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Worth noting. ... The Eagles placed tight end Dallas Goedert on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, putting his status for Thursday night's game in doubt.
Per NFL protocol, players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic can return after providing two negative test results 24 hours apart. According to NFL Network, Goedert is fully vaccinated.
Goedert was listed as a nonparticipant in practice on Monday because of an illness. He played Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, catching two passes for 28 yards on three targets.
Goedert, 26, ranks third on the team in receiving yards (216) and is tied for first in receiving touchdowns (2).
Veteran tight end Zach Ertz and rookie Jack Stoll will see an increase in playing time if Goedert is sidelined. The Eagles signed tight end Noah Togiai to their practice squad Monday.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
With wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster scheduled for shoulder surgery Wednesday that will sideline him for four months, head coach Mike Tomlin isn't looking for one person to replace his star receiver.
Instead, it will be a collective effort by players like James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud to fill the void left by the fifth-year receiver, who will be placed on injured reserve.
"When you talk about losing a guy like JuJu and how he functions within the framework of our offense, usually you're talking about multiple people assuming the role in some form or- fashion," Tomlin said Tuesday. "... We're not trying to replace JuJu. We're just trying to provide additional opportunity for those that get expanded roles."
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor notes, Smith-Schuster was fourth on the Steelers in targets through five weeks and had only 15 receptions for 129 yards and a rushing touchdown. But even while limited with the shoulder injury last week and the injury to his ribs against the Cincinnati Bengals, he played 69 percent of offensive snaps this season.
Smith-Schuster, 24, was also a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger. Since the start of last season, Roethlisberger had a 72 percent completion rate to Smith-Schuster, 10 percent higher than when he targeted all other receivers, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
And, while the rest of the Steelers' receiving corps struggled holding on to the ball, Smith-Schuster had only two drops since the start of the 2020 season, while his teammates had 43 in the same span.
Washington, McCloud and Cody White, who were signed to the active roster from the practice squad before the Steelers' Week 5 victory against the Denver Broncos, are first in line to absorb Smith-Schuster's on-field responsibilities and join Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as the Steelers' top receiving options.
Washington previously asked for a trade during the preseason because he was unhappy with his limited role on the team, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter, but he remained with the Steelers after his request. With injuries to others in the receiving room like Claypool and Johnson, Washington has already had an expanded role this season, but Smith-Schuster's injury gives him a more permanent place.
"We got a lot of confidence in James, and so however unfortunate the injury is for JuJu, it does provide an opportunity for James to expand his role and to do some things that we all know he's capable of doing."
Washington missed the Broncos game with a groin injury, but Tomlin said Tuesday he expects him to return to practice this week with a "strong consideration" to play Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks.
In four appearances this season, Washington has nine receptions for 99 yards, including a 30-yard catch against the Packers. He's shown big-play ability in his limited snaps throughout his career, and Roethlisberger advocated for Washington to get on the field more a year ago.
The Steelers will also look to primary return man McCloud as another player to plug the holes left by Smith-Schuster. And, it will give White, who filled multiple roles on the practice squad replicating opposing teams' best receiving threat, a chance to make an impact on his own offense.
"Ray-Ray carved out a niche for himself as a return man, but that's his day job, and he's been working to develop as a receiver and has done a great job of doing so," Tomlin said. "For a guy like Cody White, who's been fighting and scrapping for an opportunity to lay a foundation for where he hopes to be a good career for him. And he's had a window because of lack of availability of others over the course of the last several weeks."
Tomlin also didn't rule out looking outside the organization for help filling out the receiver room and later Tuesday, the Steelers signed veteran receiver Anthony Miller to their practice squad.
Initially drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 2018, Miller was traded to the Houston Texans before the season but was recently released by Houston after playing in two games. He has 139 career catches for 1,587 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career.
I'll be watching for more on the receiving rotation in coming days and report back via Late-Breaking Updates as developments warrant.
Meanwhile, the Steelers appeared to make progress -- and plenty of it -- during a 27-19 win over Denver on Sunday. The league's worst running game gained traction behind an offensive line that for once didn't look overwhelmed. The defense dominated for three quarters and did just enough in the fourth to halt a three-game losing streak.
The "chunk" plays -- code for big gains that don't require the offense to go on extended drives -- returned.
Still, Tomlin is well aware 60 minutes of competence doesn't mean everything is fine. The Steelers are still under .500 (2-3). The job of digging out of the early hole they dug for themselves is just beginning.
And while everyone from Roethlisberger to rookie running back Najee Harris made it a point to credit the line for taking what appeared to be a massive step forward, their head coach is nowhere near ready to say the unit has arrived.
"Time will tell that story," Tomlin said.
Still, but for the first time in 2021 the Steelers showed extended glimpses of what first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada's attack is supposed to look like: a massive helping of Harris -- whose 23 carries marked the most by a Steelers running back in nearly two years -- some creative misdirection, and a splash of vintage Roethlisberger.
The 39-year-old Roethlisberger and his coaches spent last week fending off questions whether he can still play at an elite level. He proved against the Broncos he can. ... When given time.
Claypool finished with five receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. Johnson hauled in a long scoring pass on Pittsburgh's opening possession for a second straight week as Roethlisberger finished 15 of 25 for 253 yards.
Having a running game that may finally be gaining traction helped. Harris' ability to gash the Broncos meant Denver had to crowd the line of scrimmage, giving Roethlisberger favorable one-on-one matchups down the field.
"I felt like could I sit back there and slide and go to second, third reads at times," Roethlisberger said. "Like I said, I'm proud of the way the guys played and fought today. We challenged the line this week to be better in the pass game, be better in the run game, and honestly, I thought they answered the challenge in my opinion."
Next up, trying to win consecutive games for the first time since the end of their 11-0 start to 2020 is on the agenda. Pittsburgh hosts Seattle Sunday night. The Seahawks will be without quarterback Russell Wilson, who is out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his right middle finger on Friday.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Cody White, Ray-Ray McCloud, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Eric Ebron
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
When quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out for Sunday's game due to a calf injury, head coach Kyle Shanahan said that Garoppolo remained the team's starter when he's healthy.
After Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Cardinals, Shanahan said "nothing's changed" regarding the team's quarterback depth chart and that he hopes Garoppolo will be healthy enough to play when the team returns from their bye in Week Seven.
During a Tuesday appearance on KNBR, Shanahan said he believes Garoppolo will be healthy enough to play in Week 7 against the Colts.
"I mean, he's doing good," Shanahan said, via 49ersWebZone.com. "We'll see when we get back [after the bye week]. I think he'll be ready to go next week when we get back. That's the plan. I know he's doing a lot better now than he was last week."
Shanahan said he won't "set it in stone" because calf injuries can be "a little bit weird" while citing George Kittle's current injured reserve stint, but noted the two injuries aren't the same while reiterating his hope for Garoppolo in Week Seven.
"The fact that he had a chance this week, that gives me a lot of hope coming back," Shanahan said. "I think any time you're dealing with calves and stuff like that, you never know how they're going to react. I think that was similar to with Kittle. I thought he was going to be alright a couple of weeks ago, and now we're going on IR. So, I don't want to speak too soon, but hopefully."
First-round pick Trey Lance ran for 89 yards while completing 15-of-29 passes for 192 yards and an interception.
But the rookie didn't walk away unscathed after his first NFL start.
Lance suffered a left knee sprain and underwent an MRI on Monday, Shanahan told reporters. He will be reevaluated at the end of the week. Shanahan said Lance's knee injury would be a one- to two-week injury at worst, but his status for the 49ers' Week 7 matchup versus the Indianapolis Colts is up in the air.
After watching the tape of Lance's first start, Shanahan offered Monday that he was "proud" of how Lance handled himself against a good team in a tough environment. Shanahan cited how aggressive Lance was and said he was pleased with how his rookie quarterback bounced back from an early interception.
Still, none of that has changed how Shanahan views the long-term situation at quarterback even as the 2-3 Niners are mired in a three-game losing streak.
"It doesn't change my opinion big-picture," Shanahan said. "Trey definitely has the ability to help us win games. I thought he was a big part of why we had a chance to win that game yesterday. I just wish we could have played better around him, too. Not that he was perfect by any means but he gave us a very good chance to win that game and I know he will give us a chance to win a lot going forward. But it's more of a decision than just which player do you want to go with?
"There's a whole team here, there's a lot more that goes into it and these three losses that we've had in a row, the answer good or bad, is not just the quarterback."
The 49ers are on their bye in Week 6.
They'll have things to work on. ... Like their fourth-down offense.
As the Associated Press noted, Shanahan went for it on fourth down five times, but only one was successful for the most blown fourth-down tries in a game for the Niners since 1999. Lance was stopped for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-2 from the Arizona 34 in the first quarter, Lance was stopped again at the goal line in the second quarter, Kyle Juszczyk was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 48 early in the fourth quarter and Lance threw an incompletion on fourth-and-4 midway through the fourth.
Also worth noting. ... Sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell has clearly established himself as the lead back with Raheem Mostert out after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him the past two games.
Mitchell played 44 snaps to fellow rookie Trey Sermon's two on offense. Mitchell had nine carries for 43 yards to go with two catches for 19 yards.
Finally. ... According to San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Eric Branch, the 49ers waived RB Jacques Patrick, whose too-high throwback pass was the indelible moment of his six-snap tenure.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon, Trenton Cannon, JaMycal Hasty, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, Deebo Samuel
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, Charlie Woerner
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
As ESPN's Adam Schefter noted, when Russell Wilson was wheeled into surgery last Friday, multiple doctors believed he would miss at least six weeks.
But by the time surgery was finished on Wilson's fractured right middle finger, doctors believed the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback had a realistic chance to make it back in four weeks, sources told Schefter.
"That's now the hope and, depending on some other factors, that's possible," one source told Schefter.
The Seahawks and doctors agreed that a four-week timetable is a best-case scenario for Wilson, who suffered the injury in Thursday night's loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Wilson ruptured a tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand and suffered a fracture dislocation in Seattle's 26-17 loss. The eight-time Pro Bowler began therapy this weekend, and the Seahawks said Friday in a statement that it is "highly anticipated he will return to play later this season."
He will miss Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, followed by home games against the Saints and Jaguars before Seattle's bye in Week 9. If his rehab and recovery go well, it's possible Wilson could return in Week 10 to play at Green Bay against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
But for the time being, Wilson's streak of 149 straight starts -- the longest by an active quarterback -- will be snapped; he hasn't even missed a single practice in his nine-plus seasons with the Seahawks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Peyton Manning (208) started more consecutive games to begin his career among quarterbacks since the 1970 merger.
Wilson has played through some notable injuries, including a sprained ankle and sprained MCL in 2016. But head coach Pete Carroll said "everyone was together" Thursday night in the decision to insert Geno Smith once it became clear that Wilson couldn't grip the ball well enough to throw it.
Carroll was adamant Friday that Wilson's issue is not one of pain management.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Eric Karabell noted, Smith last started for the Giants in 2017. Smith did not win the game and Eli Manning returned to quarterback the Giants the next week.
Smith backed up Philip Rivers for the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers.
Karabell went on to note that Fantasy managers will hardly gravitate toward Smith as a pickup this week, but they will worry about his effect on the other very relevant Seahawks fantasy options, led by wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
Smith played competently in relief of Wilson last Thursday. Metcalf scored a pair of touchdowns, one coming from each quarterback, and Lockett saw 10 targets.
Karabell summed up, "Even as there should be some downgrading of those other players due to the change in quarterback, fantasy managers should hardly unilaterally sit them against the Steelers. As always, it depends on other options, but Metcalf is special. Play him always. A healthy Chris Carson is often special. Lockett might be more of a flex option. ..."
But Carson is an issue.
After being listed as questionable entering Thursday night's game against the Rams, the veteran running back was one of the team's five inactive players and did not play.
Carroll said it's too early to say if Carson will play at Pittsburgh as he deals with a lingering neck injury.
"I don't know," Carroll said last Friday. "This is a day-to-day thing with Chris. We have to see how he responds. The short week did not help him at all."
General manager John Schneider said on the team's pregame radio show the injury began bothering Carson in the preseason.
Carroll indicated Friday the injury dates back further, without specifying exactly what it is.
"He's got an old injury that you can see (in exams)," Carroll said. "It's kind of, I don't know if it's chronic, but it occasionally pops up. It hasn't been an issue in the past. He didn't get hit, and that's how he got hurt. It's a condition he's got probably from weightlifting and all of the stuff he's done over the years. It could have been something a long time ago. It's just flared up some, so we're being real careful with him. He was too uncomfortable to play."
But there seemed to be some good news this week as Carson wasn't practicing Wednesday but is scheduled for a return Thursday, Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic reports.
Caroll said Monday that Caron had taken "a big turn" over the weekend. I'll watch for more on that in coming days (and check the Late-Breaking Updates section for that as the week progresses).
Seattle went with Alex Collins as the starter against the Rams, and he rushed for 47 yards on 13 carries on 46 snaps. DeeJay Dallas backed up and had 7 yards on four carries and 32 yards on two catches on 14 snaps. Travis Homer got seven snaps, mostly in third-down situations and had one carry for 5 yards and one catch for 13.
Carroll also noted that 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny is due to come off injured reserve after the Pittsburgh game.
Carroll indicated that for now, Seattle would be OK getting by with Collins, Dallas and Homer for a game until Penny can return.
Seattle also has undrafted rookie free agent Josh Johnson on the practice squad and could elevate him for up to two games.
"We'll look forward to getting Rashaad back," Carroll said of Penny, who has not played since the opener due to a calf injury. "He'll be back in a couple weeks. That'll be a big boost to us when we get him. The guys are doing what they can. I thought DeeJay did a nice job (Thursday) night coming off the bench, and Alex has been doing a solid job now at the one spot. ..."
Carroll said tight end Gerald Everett was cleared to rejoin the Seahawks on Friday after testing negative the required two times 24 hours apart for COVID-19.
But that was a day later than the Seahawks had hoped.
Carroll explained that Everett's tests needed to be sent to Burbank, California, to be approved, and that caused a delay that forced him to miss Thursday's game.
Seattle had appeared to clear a spot for Everett on the roster by placing receiver Dee Eskridge on injured reserve. Carroll said the Seahawks took the situation with Everett up to 1 p.m. Thursday before realizing he would not be cleared.
"That was really unfortunate, because we really had that one in hand," Carroll said. "We knew exactly what was going on and exactly how it was trending. His test results came back in the middle of the night (Thursday) after they arrived down south. He was cleared. He'll practice on Monday."
Seattle has just 52 players on its 53-man roster, so Everett can be activated without having to make room for a spot.
And finally. ... Blake Bortles may be getting another chance in the NFL.
Bortles, the free agent quarterback who has been out of the league this season, worked out with the Seahawks, according to Field Yates of ESPN.
Seattle could obviously use another quarterback with Wilson's injured finger keeping him out for at least a few weeks.
Smith and Jake Luton are the only other quarterbacks currently in Seattle.
The 29-year-old Bortles was the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and spent five seasons with the Jaguars. Since leaving Jacksonville he has spent time with the Rams and Broncos, as well as a very brief stint this offseason with the Packers. During his time with the Rams he was coached by Shane Waldron, who is now the Seahawks' offensive coordinator, which may give him a leg up on learning the Seahawks' offense if he's signed.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Chris Carson
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got back to their dominating ways, pillaging the Miami Dolphins for 558 total yards and 33 first downs in a 45-17 butt-kicking Sunday afternoon.
A week after Tom Brady was slowed down by Bill Belichick in a win in Foxboro, the G.O.A.T. unleashed fury on Brian Flores' team. The 44-year-old threw for 411 yards and five passing TDs for the first time in his 22-year career.
On Wednesday, Brady was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, earning a POTW nod for an incredible 32nd time (his second with the Bucs), which is an NFL record.
Sunday's blowout win underscored every which way the Bucs offense can win. Tampa scored on its first four possessions, with a lone missed 60-yard field goal attempt keeping them from a perfect first-half slate.
When Brady is humming like Sunday, there is no slowing the Tampa offense.
"We kind of got that monkey off our back," running back Leonard Fournette said of bouncing back from the Week 4 performance, per Pewter Report. "It's so funny that you say that. Prior to the third quarter Rich (Richard Sherman) came up to me and said, 'Man, I've never been part of a team with so much talent.' And I'm telling him like, and excuse my language, but this s--- is different.
"At any time, you have multiple. ... What I can say? Hall Of Fame player. Pro Bowl players, all over the field. Not to mention that we're missing [Rob Gronkowski], you know what I mean? This whole team as a unit, we can do a lot. We come out focused, put our minds together, understand the game plan and stay focused to the course."
The WR corps is a dominant force with three players who could all be No. 1 wideouts in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Head coach Bruce Arians said the trio puts defensives in a bind, with Brown feasting on lesser DBs. Brown went for 124 yards and two TDs on seven catches.
"When you got Chris and Mike, he gets the third guy," Arians said. "That ain't a fair fight. Now that he knows the offense and Byron's (Leftwich) putting him in a position where he knows what he's doing and can go really, really fast. Tom trusts him, so we like that matchup usually week-in, week-out. Now I'm sure it's going to switch pretty soon and one of those other guys is going to feast."
With Gronkowski -- one of Brady's favorite targets, particularly in the red zone -- unavailable, the running backs picked up the slack. Giovani Bernard caught a TD looking like TB12's new James White, and Fournette gobbled up 110 scrimmage yards and a rushing score.
The best hope for opponents is to try to outscore the Bucs and hope Brady makes a mistake or three. Sunday, he didn't, and Tampa romped.
But there are issues heading into Thursday night's game.
Brady is dealing with a right thumb injury.
The injured thumb is not expected to keep Brady out of this week's matchup with the Eagles, with the quarterback saying on his weekly podcast that he's dealt with worse on his hand over the course of his career.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Brady reiterated that he doesn't anticipate having a problem for Thursday.
"I mean, look, a quarterback's right hand is important at the end of the day. It's not like it's your left hand," Brady said in his press conference. "If it was my left hand, I wouldn't even think two seconds about it. But the fact that it's your throwing hand, there's not many things that are that important to a quarterback other than probably your right shoulder, right elbow, and your right hand. So anytime you get banged on one of those, it could be an issue. But like I said, there's no serious injury at all. It's just more discomfort, but I think that should be gone here in the next day or two."
Brady injured the thumb during the second quarter of Sunday's victory over the Dolphins but still passed for 411 yards with five touchdowns.
During the game, TB12 was seen icing his hand on the sideline. After the win, Brady showed up to his press conference with a wrap on his hand.
"In my younger days, I probably would have never showed you guys," Brady said, via ESPN's Jenna Laine. "I'd probably try to keep it a secret. But, I think, at my old age, I don't care so much. It's just kind of a football injury, so I'll do my best to get ready for this game -- we'll see what happens."
Given that the injury happened early and didn't restrict the 44-year-old QB in the least, it's not a surprise Brady's status, even on a short week, isn't in doubt.
"Whenever it happened, it happened early, so it didn't affect him too much," Arians said, chuckling.
At 44 years old, Brady currently leads the league with 1,767 yards passing. He's also atop the league in completions (149) and attempts (225).
Brady will play this week.
While Arians has said that Gronkowski would be close to playing on Thursday, the tight end is still listed as a non-participant on Tuesday's injury report and he was ruled out Wednesday.
The Buccaneers also ruled out linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. David hurt his ankle in last Sunday’s win over the Dolphins and Winfield missed that game with a concussion.
Center Ryan Jensen (hip), defensive lineman Pat O'Connor (calf) and edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder, hand) are listed as questionable. All three were listed as full participants in Wednesday’s practice.
I'll follow up on Brady, who avoided injury designation, via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff. ...
Also of interest. ... As ESPN's Eric Moody notes, Evans has rebounded nicely since his sub-optimal Week 1.
Evans has been marvelous over the last four games. He’s has now had 75-plus receiving yards in four consecutive games. He caught 6-of-8 targets for 113 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. Evans is an every-week WR1 and faces a generous Eagles se on Thursday night. ...
As for the backfield. ... Are we seeing the emergence of "Playoff Lenny" in October, or should we expect the RB touches to go back to being unpredictable at some point?
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, Arians is going with the hot hand right now in Fournette, who has a penchant for showing up in big games. Arians has been very complimentary toward his extra work in the passing game, and he called his play "outstanding."
Brady said, "There's a reason he's called Playoff Lenny."
In other words, this is a guy whom Brady trusts. Laine expects this will continue. ...
One last note here. ... Last week, it was Brown toasting Brady for breaking the NFL's all-time passing yardage record against the New England Patriots. This week, it was Brown's turn at making history.
With a first-quarter catch against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Brown overtook Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison to become the fastest NFL player to reach 900 catches. On first and 10 from the Tampa Bay 25-yard line, Brady found Brown on a slant route for a 10-yard gain.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Bucs' stadium PA announcer acknowledged Brown's achievement. He was given hugs on the sideline by wide receivers coach Kevin Garver, fellow wide receiver Jaydon Mickens and running back Ronald Jones. Other teammates came over to congratulate him on the sideline following Ryan Succop's 42-yard field goal.
Heading into Sunday's game against his hometown team, Brown, now in his 12th season and second with the Buccaneers, needed just one catch to reach the 900-mark in his 142nd career game. Harrison, who spent 13 seasons in the NFL -- all with the Indianapolis Colts -- did it in 149 games.
Brown would have achieved the milestone sooner had it not been for an eight-game suspension in 2020 due to burglary and battery charges stemming from an incident with a moving truck driver in January 2020. But in Tampa, he's been reunited with Brady, his mentor, he's worked to get his life back on track and he's found a career resurgence.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, Scott Miller, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
Derrick Henry is carrying the Tennessee Titans yet again.
The 2020 AP Offensive Player of the Year is leading the NFL with 640 yards rushing. He's atop the league with 142 carries and seven touchdowns, and he scored three more in a 37-19 win in Jacksonville in an almost pedestrian performance for Henry with 29 carries for 130 yards.
"Derrick understands what his responsibility is to this football team and how to prepare," head coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.
"We just have to try to be as smart as we can with recovery and how it's going in the game and how he feels. Then there's a fine line there between knowing what he needs and the impact he has throughout the course of the game. You see how he ran in the fourth quarter."
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the Titans have had to lean on Henry with Vrabel busy piecing together lineups after learning who's healthy enough to play each week. It hasn't been an easy task even with the NFL giving teams more flexibility with the injured reserve list.
The Titans (3-2) have 16 players currently on injured reserve and had 23 on the final injury report last week.
Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones has missed two straight games with an injured hamstring. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree, the big free agent signee, has sat out the last three as he recovers from a torn ACL that ended his 2020 season.
The Titans have an extra day to rest this week.
They host the Buffalo Bills (4-1) Monday night, and managing the week's schedule to help players be as fresh as possible is near the top of Vrabel's to-do list.
Worth noting. ... Henry now has more yards rushing over a 40-game stretch than any other running back in league history.
Henry has 4,792 yards since this 40-game span started in 2018, better than Pro Football Hall of Fame backs Jim Brown (4,759 between 1963-65), O.J. Simpson (4,739 in 1972-75), Terrell Davis (4,597 in 1996-98) and Eric Dickerson (4,594 yards in 1984-86). ...
According to ESPN.com's Turron Davenport, offensive coordinator Todd Downing had perhaps his best display of play design against the Jaguars. He put together a series of plays with bunch and other times stacked receivers at the line. Downing used layered route combinations to easily get various wide receivers open, especially on third downs.
The Titans converted on just under half of their third-down opportunities against Jacksonville.
Downing also did an excellent job attacking reserve cornerback Chris Claybrooks. Downing dug deep into the playbook, even employing some wildcat. The Titans still managed to get Henry his touches, yardage and touchdowns. ...
Also of interest. ... A.J. Brown returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury. But he caught three of the six passes thrown to him for 38 yards. Brown was on a snap count that limited him to 41 of 64 offensive plays.
"I'm not there yet, to be honest," Brown said. "Soon. Maybe. Hope so. But I'm not there yet."
The good news is that Brown didn't suffer any setbacks and is expected to bounce back against the Bills. ...
Another receiver, Marcus Johnson, also made a nice contribution in his first action of the season.
Johnson, who spent the first four games of the season on injured reserve, caught three passes for 52 yards in the contest. He sparked a touchdown drive with a 22-yard reception in the second quarter.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "All glory to God. I'm just thankful to be back. You know what I mean? Earning that trust in training camp, just fighting my way back during IR (Injured Reserve). I felt like it was a solid debut coming back." Brown acknowledged he's not 100 percent, but he was glad to be back. ...
That injury list grew longer in Jacksonville as CB Kristian Fulton (hamstring), LB Rashaan Evans (quadriceps), LG Rodger Saffold (shoulder) and LB Monty Rice (groin) all left.]
But all eyes this week will be on Jones.
Reporters at the open session of the Titans practice on Wednesday send word that Jones was on the field and taking part in the team’s first session of the week. With a Monday night game this week, the Titans won’t release an injury report with participation levels until Thursday but the fact that he’s working at all is a good sign for the chances of having him ready to go against the Bills.
In addition, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine missed the game in Jacksonville with a hamstring issue of his own. More on him as well. ...
Of course, with Henry rolling, the passing attack must be super-efficient to deliver fantasy production.
Ryan Tannehill completed 14-of-22 pass attempts for 197 yards and one touchdown against Jacksonville.
Pass protection remains an issue. He was sacked three times and took eight hits from the Jacksonville pass rush. Still, he completed 63.6 percent of his passes at 9.0 yards per attempt. As CBSSports.com suggests, Tennessee will likely need to throw more against the Bills in Week 6, so hopefully his receiving corps will be healthier. ...
The Titans made a number of roster moves on Tuesday, among them: Tackle Ty Sambrailo has been placed on the Reserve-Retired list. Punter Brett Kern has been placed on the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Johnny Townsend has punted for the Titans the last two games in place of Kern, who has missed the past two games with a right groin injury.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Jeremy McNichols, D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, Khari Blasingame, Darrynton Evans, Derrick Henry
WRs: Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Dez Fitzpatrick, Racey McMath, Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Cameron Batson
TEs: Geoff Swaim, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2021
According to Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno, Ron Rivera bristled at the notion of taking over defensive play-calling or making any changes to his coaching staff Monday in the aftermath of Washington giving up 33 points in a loss to New Orleans.
Rivera said, "That stuff makes no sense to me" and insisted four or five plays made the difference in the loss that dropped his team to 2-3 on the season.
"I like what we did," Rivera said. "I thought what we did last week gave us an opportunity, so at the end of the day, what we're going to do is we're going to continue to work guys. The only way you're going to get better is to work in practice, practice hard, practice as best as you can, then you go out and you play."
Jack Del Rio is in his second season as Rivera's defensive coordinator in Washington. His unit ranked second in the NFL last season.
That led to some high expectations, yet Washington's defense instead has been among the worst in the league, allowing 408 yards and 31 points a game. Blown coverages cost Washington two touchdowns against the Saints, and a lack of preparation led to the successful desperation pass for a TD at the end of the first half.
"If you really go back and look at it, and this is probably the first time that I can really say that this was a matter of four or five plays on both sides of the ball," Rivera said. "If we do certain things and eliminate a couple of things here, you'll see that we have a chance."
So, you're saying there's a chance? The urgency is definitely heightened with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town Sunday and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers up after that on the road next weekend.
"Coming into this game is there a concern? Absolutely," Rivera said. "But we're going to work and try and get ourselves ready so that we can handle those situation and circumstances."
So the defense is an issue. What about the offense?
More specifically, what has quarterback Taylor Heinicke proven?
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, Heinicke has proven he's not the long-term solution.
Keim explained: "He's a terrific story and teammates who respond to him. He's capable of excellent moments. But his arm strength, or lack thereof, was an issue on multiple throws Sunday and it's a problem for some tight-window passes."
It didn't help having key players missing with injuries.
But if Heinicke doesn't throw with anticipation, it becomes a bigger problem. He forces throws that good defenses (Buffalo, New Orleans) pick. His good can be good, but he's limited. If he's a good backup, that's OK and more than anyone anticipated from him a year ago. But it's why Washington will be in the market for quarterback in the offseason. ...
Meanwhile, for teams not living up to their expectations, it's the good players who are typically leaned on to help get the organization out of the funk.
The Football Team has some of those caliber players, and one is setting franchise marks, even as his team struggles to find its footing.
According to Sports Illustrated's David Harrison, we're talking about running back Antonio Gibson.
In Sunday's Week 5 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Gibson ran for two touchdowns while accounting for 60 yards on the ground and another 12 through the air.
Not a monstrous amount, but a consistent level of production from a guy playing through injuries, a guy who has been a steady contributor since joining the league.
The touchdown runs gave Gibson 14 rushing scores through 19 career games, which is top-20 among running backs all-time through the same amount of games.
His 14 touchdown runs are the fifth-most since he entered the league in 2020 - a mark made more impressive when you remember he missed two games, started just 10, and again, is playing with an injury this season.
By earning his third multi-score game of his young career, Gibson is also on pace to become the franchise's leader in that category, and currently has the most multi-score games through 19 played, in franchise history.
Entering the weekend, Gibson sat 19th in the NFL among running backs in carries with 59 through four games. His yards per carry average (4.4) was 11th among position peers with at least that amount of rushes this season.
He was also third among the group in receiving yards with 140, despite being targeted just 14 times, ranking eighth most among backs with a similar amount of carries in 2021.
When franchises look to turn their teams into true contenders, they have to identify their players worth building around.
In just his second season, Gibson has proven to the Washington Football Team that he is one of them. ...
Ricky Seals-Jones made the most of his promotion to No. 1 tight end in the absence of injured starter Logan Thomas. Seals-Jones made five catches for 41 yards against the Saints, including an impressive grab along the sideline to keep a drive going.
Beyond that, Dustin Hopkins made three field goals Sunday, and everyone got to see why Rivera has stayed with him: Cody Parkey missed two extra points in his first game with the Saints.
This is Hopkins' job for the foreseeable future.
On the injury front. ... Wide receiver Curtis Samuel's nagging groin injury crept up again Sunday and knocked him out of the game, so figure on him being questionable often, if not every week.
"He's going to be on a week-to-week basis," Rivera said. "We're just going to continue to be smart with it, and hopefully it'll settle in and he'll be ready to go."
Samuel and Gibson (shin) were held out of Wednesday's practice.
I'll have more on Gibson and Samuel via Late-Breaking Update in coming days; same goes for rookie Dyami Brown, who missed Week 5 with a knee injury and Cam Sims, who sat out with a hamstring issue.
Brown was limited Wednesday; Sims was held out.
Rookie right tackle Sam Cosmi injured his left ankle against New Orleans. If he can't play against Kansas City, veteran Cornelius Lucas gets the spot.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, DeAndre Carter, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes