Team Notes Week 6 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
The Arizona Cardinals, with the worst rushing game in the NFL, have acquired running back Adrian Peterson from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for an undisclosed 2018 draft pick.
The 32-year-old Peterson has rushed for 11,828 yards and 97 touchdowns in his 10-plus pro seasons. The four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection signed a two-year contract with the Saints during the offseason after spending his first 10 NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
"We are always on the lookout for opportunities to improve our team and we look at this as one of those opportunities," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in a news release announcing the trade. "What Adrian has accomplished in this league is well-established. Our needs for a spark in our running game right now is also obvious and we are excited to give him the chance to provide that."
Peterson has played sparingly with little success for New Orleans. He's gained 81 yards in 27 carries, an average of three yards per attempt with a long run of 11.
With an offensive line that wasn't all that strong to begin with now riddled by injuries, the Cardinals (2-3) are averaging a league-worst 51.8 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.
To make room for Peterson, Arizona released running back Chris Johnson.
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who grew up in Minnesota and still has a home there, is a good friend of Peterson. Fitzgerald sent out a tweet with an animated photo of a boy dancing happily under the heading "My mood this morning."
Cornerback Patrick Peterson tweeted "Today is a good day!!! Welcome to the #BirdGang @Adrian Peterson!!! We got work to do."
Arizona's players had Tuesday off and the team said Adrian Peterson would be at practice on Wednesday. The Cardinals were blown out at Philadelphia 34-7 last Sunday in one of head coach Bruce Arians' worst losses in five seasons in Arizona. They are home against Tampa Bay this weekend,
According to Associated Press sports writer Bob Baum, the Cardinals undoubtedly are under no illusions that Peterson is the running back he was in his prime. But Keim figures he's an improvement over what they had before.
Arizona lost one of the game's best backs, David Johnson, in the season opener. Johnson, a first-team All-Pro at the flex position and second-team at running back last season, is out for at least another month while recovering from surgery to repair a fractured wrist.
The other running backs on the team are Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams and Elijhaa Penny.
The Cardinals had a chance to draft Peterson in 2007 but chose offensive lineman Levi Brown with the fifth pick overall, instead. The Vikings selected Peterson two picks later.
Peterson missed all but one game in 2014 because of an alleged case of child abuse in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless assault in an incident involving his then-4-year-old son.
I'll be following up in coming days to get a better feel for how the workload might be divided, but it's not a reach to expect Peterson to immediately assume Chris Johnson's share -- and perhaps more if the newcomer is more productive with the turns than Johnson was. ...
All that said, ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss believes the idea that trading for Peterson will fix the Cardinals' rushing woes is one eternal optimists will grasp onto and never let go.
Acquiring one of the best running backs in NFL history, in theory, would seem like an instant upgrade for a rushing attack that's last in the NFL in total yards and yards per carry. However, the reality of the Cardinals' ground game isn't as rosy.
As Weinfuss put it: "It doesn't matter who's in Arizona's backfield. The offensive line is the problem, not the running backs, so adding Peterson might not be the answer the Cardinals hope it'll be."
The Cardinals' offensive line has allowed the most sacks (13), most hits (21), most hurries (68) and most pressures (102) in the NFL this season. On average, NFL lines have allowed 53 pressures in 2017.
Arizona has rushed 100 times this season and gained 259 yards -- an average of 2.59 yard per carry. The Cardinals ran for 31 yards Sunday in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles -- for the game.
Head coach Bruce Arians was quick to put the blame on the offensive line Sunday night, rather than on the running backs.
"It was mostly blocking," he said.
That won't change.
Not only has Arizona's offensive line been riddled with injuries this season, the right side, consisting of first-year starter Evan Boehm at right guard and Jared Veldheer, who moved to right tackle from left tackle this season, has been inconsistent.
"The right side's been struggling," Arians said.
As a tandem, Veldheer and Boehm have allowed 42 pressures this season and eight hits; both are the most among right-side tandems in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Together they've given up the second-most hurries (29) and sacks (five) among right-side duos.
In comparison, the average number of pressures allowed by right sides of offensive lines is 22, according to Pro Football Focus.
The injuries, however, have been the primary reason for Arizona's ineffective running game.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries suffered a sprained MCL in Week 1 and hasn't played since. Starting left guard Mike Iupati entered the season with an elbow injury, re-aggravated it in Week 1, missed the next two weeks and was placed on injured reserve Sept. 30.
In their places, Arizona turned to John Wetzel in place of Humphries and Alex Boone in place of Iupati in Weeks 2 and 3, Will Holden in place of Boone in Week 4 and Earl Watford in place of Holden in Week 5.
The Cardinals have been rushing toward stability in the offensive line this season.
Of Arizona's 259 rushing yards, 97 have come up the middle, 55 toward right guard and 48 outside of right tackle, according to ESPN Stats and Information, leaving just 59 yards toward the left side of the line.
However, the Cardinals could be getting Humphries and Boone back this week, Arians said, which would be more of an upgrade to a struggling run game at the moment.
"We'll see," Arians said. "But it looks like they're going to have a chance."
Other notes of interest. ... Another catch, another record for Fitzgerald.
With his reception on second-and-10 with 21 seconds left in the first half Sunday of their 34-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Fitzgerald has caught a pass in 200 straight games, joining wide receiver Jerry Rice (274 games) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (211) as the only players to reach 200.
Fitzgerald is No. 3 on the NFL's all-time receptions list with 1,151 catches.
Fitzgerald led the league with 107 catches last season at age 33 to finish with his second straight 1,000-yard season. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, it looks like John Brown is back in place as the No. 2 wide receiver -- at least for now. Brown was on the field for 80 percent of the team's plays compared to 60 percent for Jaron Brown, who had been on the field for 90 percent of the team's snaps the two previous games, and 53 percent for Nelson. John Brown drew seven targets, averaged over 18 air yards per target and found the end zone. ...
And finally. ... Arians said five long snappers were working out Monday after Aaron Brewer was placed on injured reserve. Brewer will have wrist/hand surgery on Tuesday and is out for the season.
Brewer's absence probably factored in kicker Phil Dawson's missed 51-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter. Brewer had been exceptional and will be greatly missed.
QBs: Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Brittan Golden, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
According to the Associated Press, head coach Dan Quinn is feeling better about his team's injury situation coming out of a bye week.
The long break gave All-Pro receiver Julio Jones and All-Pro defensive end Vic Beasley time to recover and allowed right tackle Ryan Schraeder and free safety Ricardo Allen to come back from concussions.
That's four starters the Falcons (3-1) didn't have at the end of a Week 4 home loss to Buffalo. A fifth starter, receiver Mohamed Sanu, left the game with a hamstring injury and seems doubtful for Sunday's home game against Miami (2-2).
Sanu was the only player unable to practice in some capacity Monday (he was not on the field again Wednesday with Jones listed as a limited participant, when work began in earnest), but the Falcons got some good news with defensive end Courtney Upshaw returning to the field as he recovers from ankle and knee injuries.
"It's a perfect time for us to reset," Quinn said. "For whatever reason, the bye hit us at the right time based on some injuries. It was great to have those guys back."
Jones, recovering from a hip flexor suffered against Buffalo, and Beasley, sidelined since Week 2 with a sore hamstring, are two players Atlanta can't replace talent-wise. Jones leads the NFL in average yards receiving and catches per game since he debuted in 2011. Beasley was the league's sacks leader last season.
But playing without Schraeder and Allen wasn't easy either. Schraeder has started 46 of his 58 career games. Allen has started 33 of his 34 games. Ty Sambrailo took Schraeder's spot and did a good job in the run game but struggled occasionally in protection. Damontae Kazee filled in for Allen but he's a rookie.
"There will be other opportunities for them throughout the year," Quinn said. "That's just the nature of the game and how it goes, but it was great to have a more full roster back. It was a good start to the week."
The Falcons' coaching staff spent part of last week doing a "self-scout" to see how each position could improve. Quinn cited third down as needing improvement even though his offense and defense are doing well statistically in both categories. Turnover margin, though, is the biggest concern.
Atlanta ranks 28th at minus-4. The defense has one interception and one fumble recovery. The offense has five picks and one lost fumble.
Quinn likes the team's intensity in practice. Now he wants to match it with executing plays and technique correctly.
"Not only are we hard to beat when those things really come to life we're a lot of fun to watch, we're a lot of fun coach and we're a lot of fun to be around," he said. "We are going to work like crazy to get those parts of your game, the battle, the prep, the competition and all of the practice things we want to improve upon."
On offense, the Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game a year ago and are currently sixth at 26 points per game while going 8 for 13 in the red zone. Devonta Freeman sits third in the NFL with five touchdowns, Tevin Coleman ranks third at 6.3 yards per rush and the Falcons average a league-best 6.69 yards per play.
According to ESPN's Field Yates, Freeman and Coleman are a rare one-two punch that can each play in any offensive situation. They're excellent pass-catchers and solid runners between the tackles, and each is effective in the red area. Together they account for 42.8 percent of the offense's yards from scrimmage.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure pointed out last week, reigning MVP Matt Ryan ranks in the top 5 at 8.2 yards per pass play, but he has five interceptions to go with five touchdowns and has a passer rating of 87.5 -- 22nd among quarterbacks. On passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field, Ryan is 3 of 15 for 161 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 66.3.
Jones, though leading the team with 19 catches for 295 yards, doesn't have a touchdown. Eleven Falcons have receptions, and nine have at least three or more.
The Falcons are 13th in sacks allowed per pass attempt, which could be worse considering starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) missed the past two games.
Quinn talked about the positives as well as areas in need of improvement with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
"The part that I like is the ability to utilize guys in different ways," Quinn said of Sarkisian. "I've loved seeing the packages where we've featured both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together, creating opportunities for guys in space to make plays. I've been encouraged that we've been a really committed running game.
"For sure we want to improve on our chances when we can take some shots down the field. Sometimes that comes with a little more time, but to be at our best, that's where some of the explosive plays happen on some of the play-action plays, so I think that part can come, but I have been impressed by his utilization of the guys."
Kicker Matt Bryant is 9 for 9 on field goals, with a long of 53 yards, and is 11 for 11 on extra points. He's tied for fifth in the NFL with 38 points. Return man Andre Roberts' 181 kickoff-return yards stands sixth in the league, with a long return of 61 yards against Buffalo. He's averaging 10 yards per punt return.
The bad news?
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bryant has a back injury and did not practice Wednesday.
The team signed kicker Mike Meyer to the practice squad to have someone on hand. He was in training camp with them this year. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates for more. ...
This week, the Falcons continue a three-game stretch against AFC East opponents following their loss to Buffalo with games against Miami (1-2), New England (2-2) and the New York Jets (2-2), the latter two on the road. Then division play starts with a Nov. 5 meeting with the Panthers in Charlotte.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Brian Hill
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer David Ginsberg, a strong performance on the road lifted the Baltimore Ravens out of a two-week funk, put them back in first place and instilled confidence in an offense that played its best game of the year.
In a feel-good 30-17 victory over Oakland on Sunday, the Ravens (3-2) looked nothing like the team that had been outscored 70-16 in successive defeats to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.
ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley wrote, from the 52-yard pass to Mike Wallace on the first play to running out the clock in the fourth quarter, the NFL's 30th-ranked offense showed more resiliency than it had all season."
Baltimore did not commit a turnover, got 222 yards passing from Joe Flacco and rushed for 143 yards even though starting running back Terrance West departed with a left calf injury on the opening drive.
After talking all week about the potential of the team's struggling offense, head coach John Harbaugh watched the Ravens reach the 30-point mark for the first time in nine games since Dec. 4.
"It's hard to have confidence if you're not doing anything to generate confidence. That's what faith is," Harbaugh said Monday. "But as far as confidence in athletic ability, there's something to going out and doing it."
According to Hensley, the Ravens' most efficient offensive performance all season -- scoring on five of eight drives -- began the night before. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went over all of the potential plays, and Wallace started dreaming of getting the go route on the first snap.
"If we get this play, it's on me to start the game off and going from there would be a snowball effect," Wallace, who came up huge with three receptions for 133 yards, said.
The Ravens, who had been shut out in the first half the past two weeks, scored 24 points before halftime.
Flacco had a run of 10 straight games with an interception before dissecting the Raiders' secondary on Sunday. In addition to completing passes of 52 and 54 yards to Wallace, he avoided being sacked and put Sam Koch in position to punt only three times.
And so, instead of being stuck in a three-game losing streak and a game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, the Ravens are back on track and tied atop the division.
"This one is a little more significant because just what it does for the mentality and the confidence of the football team," Flacco said, "and what not winning would have done to the mentality of the football team."
Flacco was protected by an ever-changing offensive line is without guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, both of whom are lost for the season. Matt Skura left Sunday's game with a sprained knee, but the unit nevertheless teamed to keep the quarterback clean.
"Very happy with the offensive line," Harbaugh said. "Our coaches did an excellent job of game planning and setting up different types of protections to keep (Oakland) off balance and our guys executed very well."
An MRI on West was negative for a long-term injury, but he did not practice Wednesday and his status this week is unclear.
Javorius Allen gained 73 yards on 21 carries against the Raiders and Alex Collins picked up 55 yards on 12 attempts. Worth noting: Allen took over as the team's red-zone back. He responded with a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Best of all, with Baltimore up 27-17 in the fourth quarter, the duo combined for 10 rushes during a 13-play drive that consumed nearly 6 ½ minutes and concluded with the clinching field goal.
"The running game came through when it had to," Harbaugh said. "It just goes to show, I think, the techniques were really good and the effort, the tenacity, the physicality, it was definitely there. We were strong at the end of the game. That's a statement for our guys."
The Ravens now find themselves tied atop the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers, although their rival owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
"It's a well-appreciated win for us," head coach John Harbaugh said. "For us to come out there and play against this team and this environment and to play the way we did was a plus for us."
Heading into Week 6, Baltimore is tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North.
The Ravens get a home game against Chicago, while Pittsburgh must travel to Kansas City, which could be the best team in the AFC. ...
A few final notes here. ... Jeremy Maclin saw a season-high eight targets but only totaled 43 yards. But as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, "With the Ravens employing a heavy run-focused approach, there just aren't many scraps to pick from the table for Maclin or his receiving compatriots."
So far this season, Maclin has yet to finish with more than 60 yards receiving and he's averaged fewer than 10 yards per reception in all but one game this year.
As for Wallace, outside of a 10-target Week 4 outing against Pittsburgh, Wallace averages just three targets per game. His yardage total against Oakland nearly doubled his season-total (76) coming into Week 5.
In other words, don't expect 133 yards out of Wallace on a weekly basis.
While Ben Watson continues to play through a calf injury, Maxx Williams missed another game last week due to an ankle injury. I'll be following on Williams and West (and likely Watson) as the week progresses; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
And finally. ... The Ravens re-signed Bobby Rainey with West ailing. There's been no timetable laid out for his return, but Rainey gives them a little more depth in the event that West misses time.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As the Sports Xchange notes, lost in the excitement over a 3-1 start for the Bills was the underlying reality that the offense just isn't very good, and that certainly manifested itself Sunday in Cincinnati.
The Bills were brutal, and it was the primary reason for a 20-16 loss.
The Bills scored only one offensive touchdown, gained just 221 yards, and only 36 of those yards came in a dreadful second half, the third-worst total in a half for Buffalo since its playoff drought began in 2000.
"It was definitely tough," said quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who struggled through a rough day with 166 passing yards and six sacks. "We didn't make enough plays on offense, and I'll take full responsibility. It just wasn't a great offensive performance. We had a bunch of opportunities, left some plays out on the field, got some turnovers and didn't convert. There's a sour taste in our mouths."
With running back LeSean McCoy generally bottled up for a fourth consecutive game -- he finished with 63 yards on 19 carries and has not reached 100 rushing yards since Week 1 -- it was up to Taylor to move the Bills' offense.
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak put it, "That proved an almost impossible task given Buffalo's depleted personnel at wide receiver and tight end."
Indeed, Taylor was not good, but the Bills may have the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and that was before Jordan Matthews got hurt and missed this game. For the season, the Bills' wide receiving corps has 24 receptions for 316 yards. Cincinnati's A.J. Green, who torched the Bills for 189 yards on seven receptions, now has 32 catches for 504 yards all by himself this year.
Sunday, the Bills started rookie Zay Jones, and veteran retreads Brandon Tate and Andre Holmes, and had Kaelin Clay in reserve. They combined to catch three passes for 34 yards, Tate providing the only highlight with a nice grab on a 12-yard touchdown strike from Taylor.
The Bills gained only 36 net yards in the second half, which is tied for their lowest second-half output in any game since 2001. They also gained 36 yards in a 2009 loss to the Jets.
Taylor entered Sunday with a 1-10 record when throwing 30 or more times. He attempted 37 passes Sunday, completing 20 for 166 yards. His final attempt of the game was his worst: a badly overthrown pass to Jones that was intercepted by Cincinnati to seal the win. Taylor's 63.6 passer rating was the third-worst of his Bills career.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in Tyrod Taylor," head coach Sean McDermott said Monday. As for the receivers, he said, "I'm confident in these guys. I know where you're going with that, and I'm confident in these guys. You keep working. That's what you do. You keep working and you learn from the tape."
But that only goes so far without viable personnel.
Adding to the issues, starting tight end Charles Clay is out indefinitely after having surgery on his left knee.
Without providing a specific timetable, McDermott said Clay will miss "multiple weeks."
Clay has been the Bills' most dependable and productive receiver. He's second on the team with 20 catches and leads Buffalo with 258 yards, and tied for the team lead with two touchdowns.
With Clay out of the picture, Nick O'Leary took over and set career highs for snaps played (59), catches (5) and yards (54). He had to leave briefly when he was laid out while blocking, but he was able to finish the game.
So, as the Xchange suggested, what the Bills need to do is scour the waiver wire and line up as many tryouts as they can during their bye week. It might also be worth giving practice-squad receiver Brandon Reilly a look. They cannot succeed with a passing game this terrible because not only can't the Bills throw the ball, that ineptness has affected the running game as well.
The Bills rank 25th in the NFL in points per game, 31st in yards, 29th in passing, and 27th in average yards per rush.
After leading the NFL in rushing the previous two seasons, the Bills have hit a wall in 2017. McCoy has managed only 279 yards in five games.
"It's not what we're used to," McCoy said following the loss to Cincinnati, during which he rushed for 63 yards on 19 carries.
The lack of a passing game has been a key component in this, but the Bills' offensive line has underachieved as well. Left tackle Cordy Glenn has missed four games with foot and ankle injuries; right tackle Jordan Mills is not competent enough to be a starter; and right guard John Miller, a two-year starter, was benched Sunday in favor of Vlad Ducasse, who wasn't exactly an upgrade. The line has not been able to get enough push, and it has struggled when opposing teams crowd the box because there's no fear the Bills can pass.
McDermott said Monday the Bills are still searching for the right combination up front, and that will continue through the bye week. "You'd like to," he said when asked if the Bills need to find a consistent starting five. "That is the ultimate goal."
We'll see how much headway they can make in achieving that objective in coming days.
Steven Hauschka continues to shine as he made all three of his field goals and his lone extra point.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed notes, Carolina is coming off back-to-back wins over Detroit and New England in part because of its ability to control the ball on offense in the game's final minutes. That has left the Panthers tied for the best record in the NFC along with the Packers and Eagles, who they'll host on Thursday night.
In each of the last two games, the Panthers have built big leads, only to have their defense surrender two fourth quarter touchdowns to allow their opponent back in the game.
But the offense has bailed them out.
On Sunday, the Panthers held on to beat the Lions 27-24 by running off the final 3 minutes, 22 seconds off the clock. A week earlier, the Patriots battled back to tie the game behind two late Tom Brady TD passes before Cam Newton drove the Panthers 36 yards and used all 3 minutes, 6 seconds off the clock to set up Graham Gano's winning field goal as time expired.
The Eagles will be with third straight division leader the Panthers face.
Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said it's a "huge" mental boost knowing the offense can put the game away when needed.
"We have the ability to close these teams out," said Dickson. "You want to finish with the ball in the offense's hands, kneeling and running the clock out."
Meanwhile, Newton has started to look like a league MVP again the last two games after a rough start to the season.
In the past two games he's completed 77 percent of his passes (48 of 62) for 671 yards with six touchdown passes and one interception. That's a drastic improvement over the first three games when he completed 61 percent of his passes with two TDs and four interceptions, good for a 130-plus passer rating in both games.
He's the first Panthers QB with back-to-back games with three-plus passing TDs and 300-plus passing yards since Steve Beuerlein in Weeks 14 and 15 in 1999.
Newton finished 26-of-33 passing for 355 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 141.8 passer rating in Sunday's win.
He's been mentally tough down the stretch of the last two games, including a third-down completion to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin against the Lions that essentially sealed the victory.
"The biggest thing more so than anything else is just the trust, the trust factor and Cam making decisions," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We gave an option in terms of where he could go with the ball. He saw what he was looking for and Kelvin was the target. And again, it's just he's doing some really good things right now and he's in real good sync with his receivers. They're running good routes and making plays for us."
Wide receiver Devin Funchess is one of those players with three TD receptions in the last two games.
"I mean, that's Panther football," Funchess said of the final drive. "O-Line toughed it out, running backs toughed it out, Cam (Newton) toughed it out and we just found our way."
Worth noting, the rushing attack is usually a good foundation for the Panthers.
So, rediscovering that element for the offense is one of the main orders of business as the team faces a quick turnaround before Thursday night's home game against the Eagles.
Head coach Ron Rivera said the team's 28 rushing yards in Sunday's victory at Detroit reflected a puzzling number. Most of the trouble came because of negative-yardage plays when defenders charged into the backfield to drop running backs.
With that, the offensive line will need to show improvement.
"We have young men who are more than capable of making those blocks," Rivera said Monday after studying the footage.
With a 4-1 record, the Panthers have the luxury of singling out certain areas in need of improvement. Rivera said despite winning the game 27-24 against the Lions, the lack of a better rushing attack isn't something that the Panthers can overcome all the time.
"To be successful, you've got to run the football," he said. "We were fortunate that we had some guys make plays for us."
Rivera said the Panthers became too one-dimensional because of the lack of the rushing attack. They were the beneficiaries, he said, of a big enough lead and that Newton had another strong outing.
The Panthers were held to one field goal over the game's final 25 minutes.
"You can't kick field goals and expect to win," Rivera said. "If you're in the red zone, you've got to score touchdowns.
Fantasy owners would certainly agree. ...
Worth noting, Jonathan Stewart on Sunday was on the field for more plays than Christian McCaffrey for the first time this season. Stewart took 40 of 66 snaps and McCaffrey 37 even though the Panthers rushed for only 28 yards. A week ago McCaffrey took 48 of 63 snaps.
McCaffrey may have lost a few snaps with slot receiver Curtis Samuel back. He played 15 downs. ...
Dickson had his second clutch game, though this one came with huge results. He caught five passes for 175 yards, eclipsing his total yardage from any of the past three seasons.
All this was made possible because of a Week 2 broken foot suffered by All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen.
"I'm just holding it down for him," Dickson said.
He might be doing more than that. Dickson's emergence as an offensive weapon has coincided with Funchess becoming a bigger impact player in the offense as well.
"Ed showed that he's a more-than-capable player in this league," Rivera said.
Funchess has target totals of 10, nine and eight in the three games since Olsen went down with a foot injury.
Gano missed a field goal for the first time this season when he was wide from 55 yards out at Detroit. He's 12-for-13 this season on field goals.
Heading into Thursday night, Funchess, who was walking through the locker room with ice on his knee Monday, is on the injury report. But Rivera told reporters on Tuesday that Funchess will be fine and he was on the practice field Wednesday.
Newton (right shoulder) and Stewart (ankle) were limited Tuesday, but there's no real concern about their availability Thursday night.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Damiere Byrd, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra framed it, "The curtain came down swiftly on the opening night of Mitch-a-palooza after Mitchell Trubisky tossed a game-sealing interception inside his own 25-yard-line with just over two minutes remaining. ..."
The pick came as the rookie rolled to his right trying to find tight end Zach Miller. Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith broke on the pass, swiping the ball and a chance for Trubisky to make a game-winning drive in his NFL debut.
"That's Mitch being a baller and trying to make a play. And for me I'd like to get back and break that up for him," Miller said after the 20-17 loss.
Despite tossing the interception, Trubisky's difference-making talent was obvious from the start as he made a heretofore zombie-like offense come to life.
"Our guys feel it. They feel his presence," head coach John Fox said. "I know he scrambled for a first down. I know they were able to do some different things with him as far as attacking the corner. For a first outing, I thought he was really good. I know his teammates feel the same way and he'll just get better with time."
Trubisky started out hot Monday night, with the rookie displaying pinpoint accuracy and rolling out of the pocket to dart passes all over the field. Penalties bogged down the Bears' offense in the first half, wiping away scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity. The party then hit a lull as Trubisky struggled, missing connection after connection. It then heated back up late in the fourth quarter as the Bears rallied to tie the score at 17. Then, like cops getting called to a block party, the mood was quickly wiped away by the interception.
While Trubisky took blame for the interception, teammates placed the blame for the loss on their shoulders, pointing to penalties that took points off the board early and missed assignments that led to botched plays.
"I thought he was really good, extended the plays for us," Miller said of the rookie quarterback. "Made plays downfield. Made plays with his legs. [He] put us in position to win that game. What we need to do is be better collectively around him. Too many pre-snap penalties. Too many things we are breaking down in technique ... I think he did everything he could for us to win that game. I'm excited for his future because he's a baller."
The stats were pedestrian: 12-of-25 passing for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Yet watching the Bears' offense, you couldn't help but notice a vast difference between Trubisky running the show and the Mike Glennon flailing operation we witnessed the first four games. Trubisky's elite accuracy was on display as Chicago rolled the rookie out of the pocket often and utilized play action to open passing lanes.
"The way we came out. First drive, he's dealing the whole time," Miller said of what impressed him about Trubisky. "He's getting outside the pocket breaking things down with his legs. I mean, he did everything really well aside from just late in the game where we all need to take better care of the ball collectively. I think he did a hell of a job for us."
The move to Trubisky wasn't about winning this week; it was about establishing a quarterback of the future and allowing him to grow on the field. The rookie received rave reviews from his locker room, despite the loss.
"He just has a very quiet confidence about him" guard Kyle Long said. "His preparation is obvious. He knows all the checks. He knows how to calm down a group of fat guys out there that are frantic."
Added receiver Kendall Wright: "He carries himself as a leader. I definitely think he'll bounce back. He's the type of guy that if he could, he'd try to go do something extra right now."
There will be growing pains for the rookie -- as we saw with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz last year -- but Trubisky showed flashes of why the Bears believe he has a chance to be the player that finally ends the decades-long search for a franchise quarterback.
While discussing the rookie's first touchdown pass, which was tipped to the tight end, Miller gave a glimpse of what might make Trubisky a special talent.
"The route was supposed to be a far corner, but here is the thing that's really good about Mitch that people aren't going to notice: His eyes directly told me where to go. Space that was wide open," Miller said. "And I'm supposed to go to the corner, and the safety's trying to cut me. And Mitch says, with his eyes, I can see him the whole time that he was going to throw it back that way. Devine intervention for us. That's just another part of his game that people aren't going to see, but it's awesome."
So it's a step forward. That said, many of the problems facing the Bears haven't changed.
They still have a receiver group of castoff players, and lack an established threat.
"The reality is we're 1-3 and I still like this football team, and we've got a chance to rebound and do something about it," Fox said. ...
One other note on Trubisky, as CSNChicago.com's John Mullin pointed out, Trubisky established himself as a quarterback who can run, but isn't a running quarterback. He was drafted for his arm more than his legs, and when Trubisky broke contain evading the rush -- he appeared to bail out too early on several occasions -- he was looking to throw and for the big play, not to demonstrate his rushing prowess.
Coordinator Dowell Loggains called 29 pass plays and 26 running plays, trusting in his offensive line to do enough against a good Vikings front to establish the play action the Bears want as a linchpin of their offensive structure.
It didn't happen sufficiently -- Bears running backs averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry, the third time in five games the offense has fallen short of 4 yards per carry. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, it's no surprise that Jordan Howard was the Bears lead rusher on Monday night, and he struggled with efficiency against a strong Vikings defense. With the game close the entire way, Howard got volume all the way, but did little with it gaining just 76 rush yards and he failed to find the end zone (he did have a touchdown that was taken away due to penalty).
Meanwhile, Tarik Cohen's usage was limited for the second straight game. He had just seven touches netting six yards from scrimmage. Benny Cunningham also rotated in and ended up scoring a receiving touchdown on a fake punt.
If Howard were to miss time, it seems like Cunningham would be the favorite for the volume role. As for Cohen, expecting consistent high-end production -- even in PPR formats -- could lead to disappointment. There will be big games (like we saw Week 1); but there will be plenty of games like Monday night. ...
And finally. ... The team announced that they have promoted wide receiver Tanner Gentry from the practice squad. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson was released in a corresponding move.
Thompson played in all five games for the Bears this season and he saw action in 23 games over the last two years. He's been the team's primary kickoff returner over that span and also caught 35 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns.
Gentry spent a week on the active roster earlier this season and caught two passes for 27 yards. He joins Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Tre McBride, Josh Bellamy and Taquan Mizzell as receivers on the active roster.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
A Bengals team that lost its first three games is getting rewarded with an extra day off this week.
That's how quickly things have changed.
Facing elimination from the AFC North only two weeks ago, the Bengals are back in the thick of the race -- only one game out of first place -- heading into their bye. A 20-16 victory over Buffalo on Sunday gave Cincinnati (2-3) a reprieve.
"It's been good, and now we have to keep going," head coach Marvin Lewis said.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Kay noted, "Rarely have the Bengals gone through such an about-face in their 50-season history."
They fired their offensive coordinator after failing to score a touchdown in their first two games.
Then they fell to 0-3 with an overtime loss in Green Bay. No Bengals team has reached the playoffs after such a bad start. No NFL team has done it since the 1998 Bills.
Yet here they are, right behind Pittsburgh (3-2) and Baltimore (3-2), with two games remaining against the Steelers and one with the Ravens.
Though back in it, they've left themselves with no margin for error. Following their bye, they play at Pittsburgh, which has won four straight and seven of the past eight between the Ohio River rivals.
Following a home game against Indianapolis, they play at Jacksonville, at Tennessee and at Denver in consecutive weeks.
The two straight wins -- and the rest of the division's struggles -- have provided a second chance.
And an extra day off.
Lewis made a deal with players last week: They beat the Bills, they get another free day during their bye week. He held up his end of the bargain, leaving them free after meetings on Tuesday.
The biggest transformation has been on offense. After firing Ken Zampese and elevating Bill Lazor to coordinator, the Bengals have gotten comfortable again.
Andy Dalton drew a lot of fans criticism after his five turnovers during a 20-0 season-opening loss to the Ravens. He's back in form, throwing five touchdown passes in the past two games. Since the Bengals changed coordinators, Dalton's passer rating is 116.2 and he's getting cheered.
"I guess that's why no one is talking about it, because this is what you expect," Lazor said Monday. "Andy is playing very decisively."
Despite a monster game with 189 yards and his longest touchdown in more than two years (a 77-yarder), A.J. Green had a hand in all three turnovers that turned into 10 Buffalo points.
Two went off his hands for interceptions. One was a fumble in the red zone that negated a 20-yard catch.
"I had three turnovers, but the defense bailed us out. Andy bailed me out," Green said.
Green now has 30 100-yard games, one behind Chad Johnson's club record. After his 328 yards, Dalton has 22 300-yard passing games, one behind Boomer Esiason's Bengals record. The 77-yard TD is their 47th scoring connection, tied for second most in Bengals history with the 47 of Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens and four behind Ken Anderson and Isaac Curtis.
The Bengals still are looking to establish a consistent rushing attack under Lazor. They averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on Sunday.
But, two key runs by rookie Joe Mixon showed signs of progress. In the fourth quarter, Mixon bounced outside for a 5-yard TD run to help the Bengals regain the lead. Then, with fewer than two minutes left, Mixon got around the right edge for a 10-yard run giving Cincinnati a first down to seal the win.
"We had to run the ball," Mixon said. "I felt like the line did a great job of helping us. Our backs were finishing. I'm happy with the win.
Mixon's touchdown was the first Bengals rushing touchdown of the season and an indicator the coaches have a lot of trust in him considering that it was a close game. According to ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, there will likely be more of those going forward as the Bengals continue to give Mixon a large share of the snaps.
The Bengals are off next week and will get to rest up before their showdown at Pittsburgh. They need it badly. The Bengals lost starting cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick to injuries on Sunday, along with wide receiver Tyler Boyd. That added to a list of injuries that already includes tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver John Ross and safety Derron Smith.
Boyd also is facing a drug charge in the state of Pennsylvania. He was a healthy scratch in Week 2 due to a purported hamstring injury that Lewis later refuted.
Ross sat out for the fourth time in five games with an injured left knee, hurt in the final preseason game. Ross worked out on a limited basis last week. The receiver also missed time during the summer because he was recovering from shoulder surgery.
"He needs a lot of time (to catch up), a lot of practice," Lewis said.
Eifert might need more than that.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Field Yates, Eifert is in Los Angeles deciding whether to undergo a third back surgery that would end his year. I'll be watching for more and report any developments in the Late-Breaking News section in coming days.
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Hue Jackson made a drastic decision on Sunday with DeShone Kizer.
As a result, Jackson had a bigger one: Keep the rookie quarterback on the bench or play Kevin Hogan.
And the decision was made Wednesday.
The team announced Hogan will start Sunday's game against the Houston Texans in place of Kizer.
"I've made the decision to start Kevin this week," Jackson said in a statement. "We've liked what Kevin has been able to do within our offense when he's been in there and he will start on Sunday because that's what we feel is best for our team at this point in time. This does not change the way we feel about DeShone going forward. He has worked extremely hard and still very much has a bright future. Right now, it's better for him and his development to back up Kevin."
Hogan replaced Kizer in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Jets, after the rookie struggled again. The offense functioned better with Hogan under center, scoring 14 points and gaining 244 total yards. With Kizer under center, Cleveland earned just 175 total yards and had two red-zone turnovers.
The move to Hogan helps Jackson in the short term try to get the Browns their first win of the season after another 0-5 start. Hogan, an athletic dual-threat, has a career 62.5 completion percentage in seven relief appearances with three touchdown passes and four interceptions. Sunday will mark the second-year pro's first career start.
The QB swap likely has as more to do with letting Kizer hit the reset button than what Hogan brings to the table. The rookie has had more valleys than peaks, struggling to read defenses, slow in his decision making, getting rattled under pressure and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Entering the draft, many believed Kizer needed time to develop before hitting the field. The Browns will now take a step back and hope the mental reset allows Kizer to relax and learn from the sideline.
It also avoids direct comparisons to Houston's Deshaun Watson, the quarterback Cleveland could have drafted with the 12th pick but didn't when they traded down for Houston's first-round pick in 2018.
Meanwhile, Hogan becomes the Browns' 28th starter since 1999.
As Jackson weighed the pros and cons on how to best handle Cleveland's latest quarterbacking conundrum, he again said that losing is taking its toll.
The coach and the Browns are reeling in sync.
"Hell, my confidence is shaken," Jackson said when asked if Kizer could be rattled by being pulled Sunday for Hogan. "We haven't won a game. I am, what, 1-30? I don't know what it is. My confidence is shaken, too, but I am going to walk in here every day and in this building every day with the mindset to get better and to get this organization and this football team to winning.
"DeShone has to do the same thing."
And the first step in that process for Kizer will be watching from the sidelines.
And while he may not be the long-term answer, Hogan will have to be a short-term solution. ...
Also of interest. ... Running back Isaiah Crowell had his best game of the season with 16 carries for 60 yards, but he advanced only one yard on a fourth-and-2 from the Jets 2 in the fourth quarter.
"They stood up well and we didn't really know where to run to," Crowell said. "I just tried to get behind the linemen and just push, but we didn't get enough yardage."
It was the eighth fourth-down attempt this season and the Browns have been successful five times. ...
Duke Johnson scored a touchdown for the third straight game, this time on a screen pass for 41 yards. He totaled 83 yards on just nine touches. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, the Browns "top receiver" Kenny Britt was out with a knee injury, so Ricardo Louis stepped up to assume the leading spot in the passing game. He was the only wideout to go out for more than 60 percent of the team's offensive plays. "The Browns wide receiver group is looking like something of a roulette wheel that is best not to make any plans around," Harmon added. ...
Britt was back on the practice field to start the week Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
David Njoku caught his third touchdown pass of the season. Njoku finished with three catches for 48 yards and looked more comfortable than he has all season. His size and strength will make him a dangerous end zone target all season.
The problem for fantasy owners is Cleveland continues to split the tight end work three ways with Njoku (46 percent), DeValve (49 percent) and Randall Telfer (44 percent) all maintaining almost equal playing timeshares. ...
Zane Gonzalez missed field-goal attempts from 52 and 39 yards. He missed from 48 yards on his final attempt against the Bengals on Oct. 1. Jackson has not ruled out trying out other kicker and ESPN.com's Pat McManamon believes Gonzalez's young career hangs in the balance. Teams typically aren't patient with kickers, and a kicker's confidence level can be fragile.
And finally. ... LB Jamie Collins has finally cleared concussion protocol after missing three games. ... Jackson said top pick Myles Garrett will play more this week after getting two sacks in just 18 snaps on Sunday. Garrett missed Cleveland's first four games with a sprained ankle. "He gave us some juice and gave us a lift," Jackson said.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Running back Ezekiel Elliott could learn his long-term fate for 2017 this week.
The decision from the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that should come down in the next few days, offering clarity on the ongoing legal fight with the NFL over his six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
The court could reject the NFL's request for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction that is keeping him on the field, forcing him to begin the suspension immediately.
The stay could be rejected, allowing him to play the rest of the season while the case is tried in court.
Or it could be thrown out completely by the 5th Circuit, re-implementing the suspension and forcing Elliott to try for another injunction with a court in New York.
If Sunday's 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers was his final game before being sidelined for the next seven weeks, considering this week's bye, he let his play do a lot of talking.
Elliott rushed 29 times for 116 yards in what was his best rushing game of the season. The 29 carries were the second most of his career.
He had 13 carries for 85 yards in the fourth quarter.
According to the Sports Xchange, his best and most important play might have been a stretch on a fourth-and-1 play that showed there is no quit in Elliott. Not this time.
Down 28-24, the Cowboys embarked on a 17-play, 89-yard scoring drive.
The crucial moment came on fourth-and11 at the Green Bay 20 with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game.
Elliott ran into a wall. The officials ruled him down, short of the first down. A replay showed that a determined Elliott stretched the ball over the yard line for a first down.
Head coach Jason Garrett threw out the challenge flag and the Cowboys kept the ball.
"I saw them in the goal-line defense with their four interior d-linemen just in a four-point stance crouching already low," Elliott said. "I knew they were going to go and cut our linemen. Then I saw the linebackers were positioned a little bit wide, ready for the bounce so I knew the only way I was going to get that was getting up over the pile and sticking the ball out. I hate doing that on short yardage. I knew in that moment you've got to have it, you've got to get that first down."
He got it.
Three plays later, quarterback Dak Prescott scored on a perfect zone read against a defense keying on Elliott.
It was Elliott's second 100-yard game of the season and evidence that the running game is showing signs of the former style that allowed him to lead the league in rushing as a rookie.
It was a matter of sticking with it on Sunday as Elliott had 30 yards on 14 carries in the first half, averaging 2.1 yards per carry.
"Got to thank (offensive coordinator Scott) Linehan," Elliott said. "That was genius how much he trusted the run game. You saw earlier in the game they were just stacking the box crazy. So many guys were in there. Linehan had faith in us and we kept running the ball and eventually wore them out. There in the fourth quarter we had some gashing runs."
Meanwhile, if the Cowboys need any reminder of their magical 2016 season, there's this: In five weeks, they have three losses. They lost just three games all of last season.
Just as the Cowboys have lost as many games so far as they did all of last year, Prescott has as many interceptions as he did a year ago.
The Cowboys will have two weeks to sit on this loss before playing the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 22 and wonder which direction their season will go.
A few final notes here. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, "If you're a Zeke owner and concerned about his legal battle, Alfred Morris seems like the clear-cut handcuff at this point. Darren McFadden was inactive again, while Morris rushed twice for 10 yards."
The only real mistake in the passing game was a critical drop by receiver Terrance Williams that turned into an interception return for a touchdown. Williams has to catch the ball with his hands. Otherwise, Prescott was seemingly flawless in this one, completing 25 of 36 passes for 251 yards and a career-high tying three touchdown passes.
Cole Beasley got into the act with two touchdown receptions. Dez Bryant caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Packers. He became the second player in team history with 70 career touchdowns.
Prescott threw passes to eight different receivers.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted this week, whether the Denver Broncos want to admit it or not, the schedule the league handed them in April was worthy of a raised eyebrow or two.
And as they officially exit their Week 5 bye Monday morning when they arrive for their meetings, the 12 games that remain in their regular season still feature some potential bumps in the road. Start with the bye week they just enjoyed.
"We've known it for a long time; it's not a surprise," head coach Vance Joseph said recently with a laugh. "It didn't sneak up on us; we've planned, and we'll stick to the plan and put the work in."
But the Broncos were among the four teams who got the first available bye week; there were no byes in the first four weeks of the season (except for an emergency one taken by Tampa Bay because of Hurricane Irma). The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins were the others.
As a result, just a month into the season, the Broncos are, for the most part, healthy across the roster. A later bye, like say Week 9, 10 or 11, could potentially bring more benefit to rest for the stretch run for a playoff contender.
Although the Broncos' players and coaches gladly took their four-day weekend, they will now play games for 12 consecutive weeks. The next opportunity for Joseph to give the players any additional days off won't come until Week 15 after the Broncos play on Thursday, Dec. 14, in Indianapolis.
Also, after the Broncos face the New York Giants Sunday, they will have already played half of the team's home schedule by the sixth game. It's early, but it's a possible trend worth noting given the Broncos' three wins have all come at home, and their most disjointed effort has come in the only road game -- a Sept. 24 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian did address the difficulty in gathering too many conclusions from four games' worth of work as the Broncos worked through limited on-field work this week.
"It's tough," Siemian said. "It's a small sample size, and we're in the middle of a season, so you're not rebuilding your game or anything. I think, as an offense, we're close to where we want to be. Again, it's a good spot to be in."
The Broncos will play seven of their next 11 on the road, including a stretch of three consecutive road games -- Oct. 22 against the Chargers, Oct. 30 in Kansas City and Nov. 5 in Philadelphia. Three consecutive road games is a schedule quirk that the team has not previously navigated better than 1-2 since the schedule went to 16 games in 1978. That includes the 2014 season, when Denver lost two in a stretch of three consecutive road games -- at New England and at St. Louis -- with Peyton Manning at quarterback on the way to a 12-4 finish.
This is why the Broncos, although happy with their 3-1 start, have been quick to point out that it's about the work from start to finish. They opened 4-0 last season and were 7-3 when they arrived at what they said was a well-positioned Week 11 bye and still missed the playoffs at 9-7.
"You want to be undefeated, but it's a tough league," said linebacker Von Miller. "I feel good. You want to go about 3-1 every quarter. That will put you right at the top of the AFC at the end of the season, right where you want to be. We're right on track to where we want to be."
"This staff has challenged this team to do more each week and not be satisfied with where we are," Joseph said. "Being 3-1 is a good thing, but we can do more and we can get better. It's a mature team, it's a motivated team and they want to win. They want to win it all, so my job is easy when it comes to that.
"We have to apply the pressure to our players to continue to do more and more each week as we have success."
Meanwhile, as the Broncos emerge from the bye with a Sunday night game, the potency of the passing game is an area of concern.
However, Joseph won't make changes simply for the sake of improving the numbers.
"We don't want to force feed the ball to those guys," Joseph told reporters on Monday regarding receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. "Obviously going into our prep and our game plan week, the pass game goes through Thomas and Sanders. That's not a secret at all. But it depends on how defenses play us. Whatever they give us from a defensive perspective, we're going to take advantage of. If they give us shell coverage and taking those two guys away, we're going to pound the football. Hopefully, we'll force those guys to close the middle and play more cover three and cover one so we can get a fair matchup outside. If they play shell, we're going to run the football. That's our formula to score points right now."
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested, that's the key when it comes to playing offense generally. If the defense takes away the run, you pass. If they take away the pass, you run.
And a coach can't worry about whether any specific players are frustrated about how it all plays out.
"Receivers? They're always frustrated," Joseph told reporters last week with a laugh. "They want to catch want to catch 10 balls a game. I like that. Especially from [Sanders]. I like his personality. He wants the ball every play. That's cool. He should want the ball every play. He's a competitive dude."
Through four games this year, Sanders has 20 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas has 18 receptions for 247 yards and no scores.
It's definitely a drop from 2016. Sanders had 25 catches for 293 yards and three scores through four games a year ago. Thomas had 21 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns. ...
The rushing attack has been on point. In fact, as the Sports Xchange noted, C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles have become one of the league's best one-two punches so far this season, and an overhauled offensive line has done a good job driving off the snap to create massive holes for the two veteran running backs, who have combined for 505 rushing yards through four games.
Denver has more rushes (130) than pass attempts (126) so far this season and the return of Devontae Booker adds another component. ...
And finally. ... The Broncos got tight end Jake Butt in the fifth round entirely because the former Michigan standout saw his draft stock take a hit because of a torn ACL suffered in last year's Orange Bowl his second ACL tear in a four-year span.
Now they will start finding out what they have.
Butt, who began the season on the non-football injury list, is expected to begin practicing next week, Joseph announced.
When Butt starts practicing, the Broncos will have 21 days to evaluate him before having to decide whether to move him to the 53-man roster or leave him on the non-football injury list for the remainder of the season.
"I want to make this team," Butt said. "I don't want to be handed a spot. I want to earn this and make this team. I've been having to do that off to the side without the coaches really coaching me and outside of meetings and everything. That's been the hardest part. I want to make this team.
The Broncos have been getting increased production from their collection of tight ends and could get a boost if Butt joins the lineup in the next few weeks.
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Matthew Stafford has taken a pounding this year.
Stafford has been sacked 18 times in the first five games, tied for third most in the league, and 12 of those sacks have come in the last two weeks.
Stafford finished Sunday's loss to the Panthers in obvious pain after he rolled his right ankle awkwardly on a fourth-quarter sack. He also received medical attention on his right leg earlier in the game for what ESPN reported was a hamstring injury.
Head coach Jim Caldwell would not say whether Stafford had X-rays on his right leg and ankle and would not say whether or not Stafford's injury was something that he was worried would linger into Sunday's game against the Saints.
When told the injury report does not say whether or not a player had X-rays, Caldwell said, "Then you're out of luck."
Caldwell brushed off a question about potentially sitting Stafford for this week's game against the Saint (and having him healthy for the long haul) versus playing him with limited mobility behind an offensive line that has allowed 12 sacks over the past two weeks. He responded that was a "hypothetical" question.
Detroit has a bye in Week 7 after it plays in New Orleans.
After the game, Stafford did not do a news conference at a podium (which is rare), and instead, briefly spoke to the media inside the locker room.
Then he hobbled out of the locker room as he exited, declining along the way to say what was wrong with him.
Stafford's backup is second-year pro Jake Rudock, who has never taken a regular-season snap. When Caldwell was asked how much confidence he had in Rudock, he first called it a "hypothetical," meaning he wouldn't answer the question. When it was rephrased as how much confidence he has in Rudock to play Sunday if necessary, Caldwell said "He's doing well."
While Caldwell declined to reveal the extent of Stafford's injuries, the coach made it clear his team needs to get better in pass protection.
"It's our job to protect him no matter what," Caldwell said. "I don't care if they're blitzing, not blitzing, four-man rush, whatever it might be. We didn't do a good enough job with that, but there are a lot of moving parts that deal with protection. It's routes being run properly, guys getting open, ball's delivered on time. Offensive linemen blocking, tight ends blocking, backs blocking. So there's a lot of different things that go into it."
Sunday's protection issues weren't entirely to blame on the offensive line as the Panthers won with a number of blitzes and the Lions struggled to get open downfield. Still, the Lions' offensive line has been a disappointment this year considering the resources the team invested up front.
In the past two seasons, the Lions spent first- and third-round picks on Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow, and handed big money to Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang in free agency.
Decker remains on the mend from a June shoulder injury and his replacement, Greg Robinson, has struggled mightily at left tackle - but Wagner has underperformed at right tackle and the Lions are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry rushing as a team.
Stafford said he needs to "get the ball out quicker" to help his offensive line, and Caldwell said he and his coaches need to put the offense in better positions, too.
"Obviously, anytime that you get disrupted it's a factor, and we just got to be better," Caldwell said. "We got to run the ball better, we got to throw the ball better, we got to catch the ball better. And that's really it.
And I'll be following up on Stafford's -- as well as that of Kenny Golladay (hamstring) and Dwayne Washington (quad), both of whom missed a second-straight game Sunday -- progress via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses, but all three were on the field Wednesday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Eric Ebron said he wasn't bothered by the repeated boos he got from the home crowd during Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Ebron ended up with one catch for six yards on his four targets -- his other non-catch was a ball that was thrown too far from him. After the end-zone drop -- a play that Stafford said "was not the best throw of my life" and would have been a "hell of a catch" -- Ebron was booed both after the drop and also when he was shown on the Jumbotron during a promotion in the break.
"They can (boo me) all they want to," Ebron said. "This is what I get paid to do, this is what I love to do, I'm going to continue to go out there and continue to try to make plays for our offense and just, take this one in the chin and got to get ready for New Orleans."
Ebron, though, is losing some work to Darren Fells, who the team signed in the offseason primarily for his blocking skills.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein notes, Fells' overall skills are also interesting. The former pro basketball player has the athleticism to frustrate opponents. He also has the size, at 6-7, to be a good red-zone target for Stafford. And with two touchdowns on Sunday and six catches over the past two games, Fells has proved to be a reliable option.
The Lions had already been giving him a time-share of sorts with Ebron, primarily to help the offensive line block in Decker's absence. But considering Ebron's drops, it might be time to use Fells more over Ebron.
In general, the Lions' receivers continue to be hit-and-miss when it comes to fantasy production. None scored touchdowns against Carolina and the Lions continued their spread-it-out style. B
The Lions ran for a season-low 50 yards and had just three gains of any substance. Ameer Abdullah, coming off a career-high 94-yard day, broke a 16-yard run on the first play from scrimmage but had just 31 yards on 10 carries for the game. Zach Zenner converted a third-and-1 with a big 14-yard pick-up behind a block from linebacker-turned-fullback Nick Bellore.
Neither Abdullah nor Zenner had much running room as the Panthers controlled play up front, but game script also dictated that the Lions rely more heavily on the pass.
One last note here. ... The Lions have lost defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to an elbow injury. The team announced Wednesday they've placed Ngata on injured reserve. The 33-year-old will miss at least eight weeks.
To help replace Ngata, the Lions signed defensive end Datone Jones and defensive tackle Caraun Reid. Detroit also waived linebacker Thurston Armbrister.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As the Associated Press noted, the Green Bay Packers knew all along what they had in Davante Adams. It was just a question of whether he'd be healthy enough to show it.
They didn't exactly know what they had in Aaron Jones. Now they might have found the kind of 1-2 punch in the running game that head coach Mike McCarthy has always preferred.
Adams and Jones -- along with Aaron Rodgers, of course -- were the stars of the Packers' 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Adams snared the game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers with 11 seconds to play, and Jones gave the Packers' struggling run game a lift by rushing for 125 yards, including a touchdown and a crucial fourth-down conversion.
Thanks to Adams' and Jones' contributions and Rodgers being Rodgers -- the two-time MVP completed 19 of 29 passes for 221 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions -- the Packers are now 4-1, and looking for more ways to improve.
Rodgers was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
"Hey, we're happy to be where we are, 4-1, but we need to play better," McCarthy said Monday. "We weren't as clean as we needed to be, and that showed up in our performance. That's why it's great to win and coach hard on Mondays."
There wasn't much to criticize about Adams or Jones.
Adams, who left Lambeau Field in an ambulance after a helmet-to-helmet hit left him with a concussion during the Packers' Sept. 28 victory over Chicago, was cleared to play on Saturday and played all but four of Green Bay's offensive snaps against the Cowboys.
He responded with seven receptions for 66 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the other one a 10-yarder for the Packers' first points. Adams and Rodgers couldn't connect on the play before the game-winner, and he came back to the huddle and called for the ball once more.
"I was going to call another play," Rodgers said. "But Tae came back and said, 'Call it again.' With his eyes, he just said, 'Throw a better ball.' (So I) just put a better throw on it and he made a great catch."
Adams enters next Sunday's game against NFC North rival Minnesota tied for the team lead in receptions (23) and leading the team in receiving yards (285). His four touchdown catches trail only Jordy Nelson's six.
Adams, who struggled with an ankle injury in 2015 and wasn't as productive as the Packers needed him to be that year with Nelson out for the season with a knee injury, has been outstanding since the start of last season. Including the playoffs, he has caught 91 passes for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"There was a never a doubt of, 'Can Davante Adams be an excellent, top-notch NFL football player?' But it's a process. Every player goes through it. You have ups and downs," McCarthy said. "He's the real deal."
Jones might turn out to be the real deal, too. The third running back on the depth chart to start the season, he was inactive for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against Seattle. He was pressed into action when Ty Montgomery (ribs) and Jamaal Williams (knee) were injured against the Bears.
McCarthy liked what he saw so much against the Bears, when Jones rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, that he bypassed Williams, who returned against the Cowboys, and started Jones in place of the inactive Montgomery.
McCarthy didn't just start Jones, he rode him.
The diminutive Jones (5-9, 208 pounds) showed some quickness this preseason when he was the Packers' leading rusher, albeit McCarthy didn't run the ball enough to have a great feel for any of his three rookie backs. And that quickness was apparent when it mattered. He hit holes quickly and even if he didn't always make the right read or cut, he did so decisively.
Indeed, in Sunday's win, no one made a bigger impact than the fifth-round pick from UTEP with his 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
His 22-yard run in the third quarter that set up the go-ahead touchdown was the Packers' longest rush of the season and their first over 20 yards. All but three teams had at least one 20-plus-yard run this season before the Packers got that one from Jones.
To cap it off, Jones sliced his way for a 15-yard run on the Packers' game-winning drive to at least put them into position for a field goal that would have forced overtime had Rodgers and Adams not come through.
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, this is why Ted Thompson picked three running backs: Williams in the fourth round, followed by Jones in the fifth and Davante Mays in the seventh. It was Mays who was active and ahead of Jones in the season opener.
Yes, the Packers have all kinds of problems -- their offensive line still isn't intact and their defense couldn't get that one last stop it needed when it allowed the Cowboys to go 79 yards on 17 plays over 8 minutes and 43 seconds to regain the lead with 1:13 left -- but now know they have plenty of depth even when Montgomery returns that perhaps they can finally field a one-two punch that McCarthy prefers over a workhorse back.
They also can afford to let Montgomery's ribs fully heal rather than him trying to play with a protective vest like he tried in practice last week.
Speaking of injuries. ... Right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned from a high ankle sprain and provided stability to an offensive line trying to get healthy. Bulaga was sidelined the first two weeks of the year, left in the third quarter of Green Bay's Week 3 win over Cincinnati, and missed the Packers' Week 4 win over Chicago.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) missed a fourth straight game. Left guard Lane Taylor started at left tackle for a second straight week and Justin McCray got the start at left guard.
And finally, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Nelson didn't draw a target in the first half but eventually scored a touchdown on one of his two catches. The veteran wideout wasn't present during Green Bay's two-minute game-winning drive against Dallas. McCarthy told reporters after the game that Nelson had an injury that kept him out last drive but wouldn't say what.
Apparently it's not a hamstring or a concussion.
Nelson said after "I'm good. We got a little banged up, but we'll be good."
I'll be following up on Nelson and Montgomery as need via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As the Houston Texans face another long stretch without superstar J.J. Watt, they know the rest of their defense will have to step up to make up for his absence after he and linebacker Whitney Mercilus both suffered season-ending injuries on Sunday night.
"These guys that are there, they're going to have to step in and. ... It's going to be multiple guys," head coach Bill O'Brien said.
"You don't replace J.J. Watt or Whitney Mercilus with one guy. That's just ridiculous. It's going to be a lot of different guys that are going to chip in to help and I think the coaching staff needs to do a great job, too."
O'Brien confirmed that both were season-ending injuries on Monday, a day after Watt broke his left leg and Mercilus, an outside linebacker, tore a pectoral muscle in a 42-34 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Watt sustained a tibial plateau fracture to end his season early for the second straight year. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year returned in 2017 after missing the last 13 games of last season following his second back surgery.
The defensive end played every game in his first five seasons in the NFL before his injury last year.
Mercilus, who is in his sixth season, started each game this season and had 10 tackles and a sack.
Jadeveon Clowney, who was the top overall pick in the 2014 draft, has grown into a leadership role on this team and knows he'll have to help the unit figure out a way to deal with the losses as the Texans prepare to host the Browns on Sunday.
"It hurts, a big blow to the team," Clowney said. "A lot of our game plan was around them two. So we've got to find a way to regroup because we've got a lot of season left."
Clowney had a breakout season last year with a career-best 16 tackles for losses after struggling with injuries in his first two NFL seasons to allow the Texans to remain one of the top defenses in the NFL despite losing Watt early. He's kept up his strong play early this season and has 16 tackles, three sacks and has returned a fumble for a touchdown.
"There's no doubt that (Clowney) will be a guy that we count on to play real well for us," O'Brien said.
The loss of Mercilus is the latest setback to Houston's linebackers after veteran middle linebacker Brian Cushing was suspended for 10 games on Sept. 13 for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
With Mercilus out, the Texans will look to Brennan Scarlett to fill in. Scarlett signed with the Texans last year after going undrafted out of Stanford. He appeared in seven games last season and has played in each game this year, but has never started.
In addition, general manager Rick Smith is bringing in a pair of established veterans to bolster his suddenly shallow pass rushing corps.
The Texans have agreed to terms with outside linebacker Lamarr Houston and signed defensive end Kendall Langford, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported.
The good news?
Deshaun Watson continued to impress in his fourth NFL start, throwing for 261 yards and five touchdowns to become the first rookie quarterback with five or more touchdowns in consecutive games in NFL history.
He made several big plays on Sunday night, but the most jaw-dropping one came when Rakeem Nunez-Roches tried to strip the ball out of his hands as he scrambled away from the pass rush. Watson smoothly moved the ball from his right to left hand to keep it away from Nunez-Roches before switching it back to his right hand and launching it 48 yards for a touchdown to Will Fuller early in the fourth quarter.
"Sky's the limit for him," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "Heck of a player. Elusive. Big arm. Sees things. Loves to play. He's got all that stuff ... Houston is lucky to have him."
Fantasy owners could say the same.
The injuries Houston suffered to Watt and Mercilus could derail Watson over time by shifting too much of the burden onto his shoulders as a rookie still finding his way. But the results on the field are impossible to ignore.
According to ESPN.com's Mike Sando, it's really laughable in retrospect that Tom Savage was in the picture as the opening-week starter, although giving a rookie additional time isn't a bad idea in theory.
"We knew he was going to be a solid performer," an offensive coach told Sando. "We didn't know he was going to run for a 50-yard touchdown to turn a Thursday night game, or that he would come back the next week against Tennessee and help them put up 57 points. But when you pair a solid performer who does not turn over the ball with a great defense, good things are going to happen."
And when you throw at least one high-end receiver into the mix?
DeAndre Hopkins had a career-high three touchdown receptions on Sunday to tie a single-game franchise record. He's the first Texan to have three touchdown receptions since Andre Johnson did it in 2013 against the Colts.
He had a 6-yard score in the second quarter and added 34- and 1-yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
He's excited about the possibilities for the offense as Watson continues to develop.
"I'm impressed with the things that he can do with his feet and with his arm as well," Hopkins said. "Everybody knows he can run, but still he looks downfield to make plays. The throws that he made toward the end of the game were some special throws."
While Hopkins has been a dominant force at the position (he's on pace for a 190-target season), Fuller has four touchdown catches in two games since returning from a shoulder injury.
Braxton Miller went from starting to being inactive again, a big demotion for the former third-round draft pick.
And finally. ... NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes that Lamar Miller remains the primary back for the Texans, which is not a surprise after his solid Week 4 outing. He played a season-high 87 percent of the team's snaps against the Chiefs but only managed 74 rush yards on his 15 carries. "Watson's strong play has elevated the entire Houston offense," Franciscovich added, "and Miller is a buy-low candidate with matchups against Cleveland and Indianapolis upcoming in the next few weeks."
D'Onta Foreman had just four carries for 34 yards in Week 5 and added one reception for three yards. He rebounded from a lost fumble and had a 25-yard run.
Foreman (hip) was limited at Wednesday's practice.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Tom Savage
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells wrote, "The bumps along the way, the ugliness at times and the losses have been there for the Colts this season.
"How else can you explain them needing overtime to beat the winless San Francisco 49ers after leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday?"
Wells went on to explain the Colts are fine with taking their current lumps -- and any others that will come along in the coming weeks -- because everything is about the big picture for them. It's a picture that has promise, because general manager Chris Ballard is assembling a young foundation of players who already have started to show they're the type that will fit with quarterback Andrew Luck in the future.
Running back Marlon Mack became the latest rookie to get in the mix when his big-play ability likely saved the Colts against the 49ers. The fourth-round pick out of the University of South Florida rushed nine times for 91 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco.
"Marlon is a guy that comes in to work," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "He was dealing with injuries early on. He's starting to get healthy. He adds another dimension to our running game. Having that explosiveness back there means a lot."
The Colts were looking to add another dimension in a backfield that already featured veterans Frank Gore and Robert Turbin, who are both considered power backs rather than speedy backs. Mack complements those two because he's more inclined to get to the edge and turn on his speed.
That was the case against the 49ers, as Mack averaged 14.2 yards per carry in the second half and in overtime, according to ESPN Stats and Information data. He had 35-, 22- and 16-yard runs during that span. The 22-yarder was a touchdown, and the 16-yarder was a yard short of being another score for Mack, who missed time earlier in the season with a shoulder injury.
"It feels good to come back from an injury and go out there and show people what I can do," Mack said. "Go out there and show them why they drafted me for and to perform like they know I can."
Ballard, wants to build the Colts roster through the draft, like what happened when he worked in Kansas City prior to his arrival in Indianapolis, rather than try to take shortcuts with aging veteran players in free agency.
At 34, Gore, who added 48 yards in 14 carries as he played against his former team, is in the final year of his contract, and Mack has the potential to be his replacement if he can continue to develop and remain healthy. If so, the Colts are in position to have their strongest draft class since the 2012 group that was highlighted by Luck and Hilton.
The Colts' first-round pick, safety Malik Hooker, already has three interceptions this season. Their second-round pick, cornerback Quincy Wilson, is a future every-down starter for the Colts. And fifth-round pick Nate Hairston has been the team's slot cornerback in every game that he has played in.
It has been a struggle for the Colts this season, but the vision Ballard and the rest of his front office have for the future is slowly starting to come together on the field.
Meanwhile, some of the team's older players continue to produce. In fact, the oldest might be the most productive.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri set an NFL record when he made his 10th game-winning overtime kick -- a 51-yarder -- in the Colts' 26-23 victory.
The kick was his 27th game-winning kick in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"Never," Vinatieri said when asked if making game winners ever gets old. "They're always fun. Every one of them is a little different in their own way. I'm not against 22-yard game-winners, either. I'll take them any way I can get them ... (The ball) was flying well today. I think we went back to somewhere around 60 (yards). We usually do. That's usually about what our range inside is. So, we kind of set a line of about 55 (yards), and then obviously if you get the situations right and you need a few more yards, you take it -- if it's the right situation."
The kick capped off a four field-goal day for Vinatieri, 44, who is 16-of-19 on field goals from at least 50 yards since the 2014 season. Vinatieri (2,413 points) is 22 points from passing Gary Anderson (2,434) for second place on the NFL's all-time scoring list and 132 from passing Morten Andersen (2,544).
"Vinny is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's money. He set records today. He's unbelievable."
"He's the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time)," Hilton said. ...
Vinatieri was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Meanwhile, being on Monday Night Football can be intimidating for younger players. Hilton has been through the routine and is trying to point the way for some of his less experienced teammates.
"You don't have to tell them anything," Hilton said Monday. "They grew up watching it. It's the biggest stage. There are a lot of media outlets. But at the end of the day, just go out there and play and have fun."
Injuries to key players have hit the division hard, especially this past weekend. But Indianapolis seems to be getting a bit healthier heading into Monday night's nationally-televised game against AFC South rival Tennessee.
Luck returned to practice last week, and the Colts remain hopeful they can get two rookie cornerbacks, Wilson and Nate Hairston, back on the field this week.
Wilson has missed three straight games with a knee injury. Hairston sat out Sunday with a quad injury.
The Colts could get even more help if safety Clayton Geathers is activated off the physically unable to perform list with a neck injury. Pagano said Geathers might be one or two weeks from participating in non-contact workouts and that he is expected to play this season.
The Colts won't return to practice until Thursday because they're playing at Tennessee next Monday night. Luck has already been ruled out of and Jacoby Brissett will continue to start.
Tight end Jack Doyle (concussion) was a pre-game inactive against the 49ers. His status for the Titans game has yet to be determined. Doyle was hurt against Seattle two weeks ago and he seemed to suffer a setback the middle of last week.
Matt Jones (knee) did not play against San Francisco. Jones was a late addition to the injury list last Friday. While a final decision on his availability isn't expected until the end of the week, Jones hopes to be able to practice on Thursday.
Receiver Chester Rogers (hamstring) saw light practice late last week. Rogers has been sidelined with a strained hamstring since early in training camp. He had been making good progress in rehab, but had a setback two weeks ago.
Receiver Krishawn Hogan suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Sunday's game and will undergo season-ending surgery in a few weeks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Indianapolis has only two passing touchdowns so far this season, which is the fewest in the NFL. The Colts also have eight rushing touchdowns, which is the most in the league.
In 2016, Indianapolis had four rushing plays of 20 or more yards (three by Luck and one by Gore). So far this season, the Colts have five rushing plays of 20 or more yards (three by Mack, one each by Brissett and Gore).
But Brissett had a career day for the Colts, completing 22-of-34 passes for 314 yards. He also threw a nearly-costly interception early in overtime. Brissett was spectacular when he was able to get outside the pocket and create on the move, displaying a strong arm.
He also hesitated on several throws, particularly the interception in overtime. Brissett zeroed in too long on rookie tight end Darrell Daniels, which brought inside linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong inside for the interception.
Hilton got off to a sluggish start in the game, dropping a couple of passes and being called for a pair of costly penalties. Hilton, though, responded when the game was on the line, ending up with seven receptions for 177 yards. Brissett and Hilton hooked up on a pair of long passes in the game. Donte Moncrief had three receptions for 32 yards and Kamar Aiken added two catches for 22 yards.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
There won't be any questions this week about why Leonard Fournette wasn't on the field for the Jacksonville Jaguars in critical situations.
Or when he's finally going to be able to break free on a big run.
All of that was answered in the Jaguars' 30-9 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday. Fournette carried the ball a career-high 28 times, scored a touchdown from the 2 and broke free for a 90-yard touchdown late in the game.
According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, it's validation of the Jaguars' faith in drafting Fournette fourth overall. They wanted him to carry the offense, so there would be less reliance on quarterback Blake Bortles. And score touchdowns, which was one of the first things that Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations and former coach, said after making the pick in April.
And much to the delight of fantasy owners invested in Fournette, the responsibility for the offense's success should be on his shoulders for the rest of the season. As DiRocco suggested, it might not mean 30 carries every week, but Fournette has shown through the first five weeks that he's capable of carrying the offense and making big plays when needed most.
"Coach Tom Coughlin, Coach Doug Marrone drafted me for a reason," Fournette said. "I can't really say it, but we have a long season to go and we have to keep fighting and moving forward."
Fournette had to fight through a Steelers defense that was stacked against him all day. He had 39 yards on 14 carries in the first half, and one of those went for a 2-yard touchdown. In last week's loss to the New York Jets, Fournette wasn't even on the field when the Jaguars faced a first-and-goal from the 6. Three consecutive passes led to a game-tying field goal.
Fournette ripped off 142 yards on 14 carries in the second half against the Steelers, helped, obviously, by the 90-yarder with less than two minutes to play. It was easy to see he was wearing down the Steelers' defense, which is what you'd expect from a 228-pound back that thrives on contact.
Any doubt about his conditioning or speed were answered on that 90-yarder too. It was his 28th carry in a physical game, yet he was still able to run away from defensive backs.
"That is impressive," said guard A.J. Cann, whose block helped spring Fournette. "All those carries, all that banging he took, and then just to be able to have that breakaway speed. That's a gifted kid."
It's understandable that the Jaguars want to be careful about overloading Fournette. He's a rookie, and his physical running style adds to the kind of pounding he takes, and the Jaguars want to make sure he's not exhausted or banged up at the end of the season. That's why they've been rotating in Chris Ivory through the first four weeks.
Fournette showed Sunday that not only is he capable of handling a heavy workload, but he thrives on it -- even when teams are stacking the line of scrimmage to stop him.
He came into Sunday's game with an NFL-high 29 carries against eight-plus men in the box.
It hasn't helped those opposing defenses.
Fournette is the only rookie this season to score a scrimmage TD in each of his first five NFL games. He is the fifth player since 1970 to begin his career with a TD in at least five straight games. If he scores a TD this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, he will join two others (Buffalo's Karlos Williams and New England's Robert Edwards) as the only rookies to score in their first six games.
It might not be the most visually appealing offense in an era where the quarterback rules, but the Jaguars have tried relying on Bortles for the past two seasons. He led the NFL in turnovers (45) and interceptions (34) and was sacked 85 times (second only to Russell Wilson's 86), and the Jaguars went 8-24.
As DiRocco summed up, "Now it's time to turn the offense over to Fournette. It could result in a division title. ..."
Well, Fournette and a defense that is setting records almost weekly.
Ten sacks at Houston. Fifteen yards allowed in the first half against Baltimore. Five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns , at Pittsburgh.
Five weeks into the season and the Jaguars have turned in three of the best defensive performances in franchise history. The most encouraging part for Jacksonville: Players and coaches anticipate even better results ahead, beginning with Sunday's home game against the Los Angeles Rams.
"We know when we play like we are capable of playing, that we will be hard to beat," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "I think the league has started to be on notice, a little bit anyway. ... We want to be a team that's a force to be reckoned with."
The Jaguars already matched last season's win total, surpassed last season's takeaway total (15 to 13) and tied a single-season team record (set in 1999) by scoring four defensive touchdowns.
They took it to another level against the Steelers.
The Jaguars picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times, returning two for scores on consecutive possessions in the third quarter to transform a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead.
The defense has been so dependable that it's allowed Jacksonville to get away with a run-first, hide-Bortles offensive scheme, a philosophy that was in plain view when the Jaguars closed out Sunday's 30-9 victory with 18 consecutive runs.
Bortles finished with career lows for pass attempts (14), completions (8) and yards (95) in the game but said none of that mattered as long as the Jaguars came away with a win.
"I've said the whole time I could care less about my numbers. If we're going to run the ball the way we ran it today, I'll hand it off every time," he said.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "Jacksonville will 100 percent take this sort of passing performance any day from Bortles, because it doesn't lose them the game. .. A defensive-heavy team can win games like this when they tee-off on the opposing quarterbacks, but it won't bring much fantasy goodness for the receivers."
In fact, it won't bring any fantasy goodness to those hoping to get consistent production out of Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted this week, by almost any measure, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is having the best season of his career.
Best season of anybody in the league this year, too.
He was 29 of 37 for 324 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in Sunday night's 42-24 victory over Houston, which kept Kansas City as the NFL's lone unbeaten team. That was good for a 130.2 passer rating, his sixth straight regular-season game with 100.0 or better.
His prolific night tossing touchdown passes followed a four-touchdown performance in the season opener against New England, and gave him 11 for the season, third best in the league.
Smith also ranks third in yards passing, better than such notables as Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. He ranks first in completion percentage at 76.6, more than 5 percent better than Josh McCown in second. And he ranks first in yards per attempt at 8.80, topping second-place Tom Brady, even though Smith has been saddled with a dink-and-dunk reputation as a game manager.
Oh, and he's run for more than 100 yards and another touchdown during the Chiefs' 5-0 start.
"He's really good at extending plays," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I'm not sure what he rushed for, but he ran for a lot of yards. He's a great player. He's playing at a high level right now."
The Chiefs are playing at a high level because of him.
This is the third time in franchise history the Chiefs have won their first five games, and the win in Houston was their ninth consecutive on the road, matching the franchise record set in 1966-67.
Since his arrival in a 2013 trade with San Francisco, Smith has helped the Chiefs piece together a win streak of at least five games during each season. That included nine straight to start the 2013 season, 10 straight two years ago and five in a row to win the AFC West last season.
"Alex is playing similar to how he's played before. The results are a bit different," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "It seems like he's more in tune, and the receivers are more in tune with their games with one another. (Offensive coordinator) Matt Nagy has done a phenomenal job as a coordinator and putting things together that are Alex's best stuff."
The fact that Smith has played at this level is remarkable considering the injuries that have ransacked the offense. They've been without center Mitch Morse and guards Parker Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, left tackle Eric Fisher has played through some back spasms, and more injuries hit during an otherwise dominant performance in Houston.
Tight end Travis Kelce was sidelined by a concussion, briefly returned to the game, then left again when he complained of memory loss. The Chiefs also lost No. 2 wide receiver Chris Conley with a ruptured Achilles tendon, further depleting a young and not necessarily deep position group.
None of that seems to have mattered, though. Smith just keeps making plays.
"I think we're just executing more consistently," he said. "I think we've had flashes in years past and I think we've had a good stretch week to week. I think we have a confidence about us that even when we do get little spills and things don't go our way, we still can find a way to go back to being us. We have the guys to do that. We have the coaches to do that. We have the confidence in that."
No mistake, the Chiefs are exuding confidence heading into Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, the team that knocked them from the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
That's because the biggest question mark surrounding the Chiefs the last few years has been the ceiling of their quarterback. Everybody knew that their defense was stingy and opportunistic, and that playmakers such as Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and now rooking running back Kareem Hunt gave Kansas City enough weapons to stay in the game with anyone.
What most people still questioned was whether Smith could carry a team on his right arm.
So far, he's answering their question with aplomb.
For what it's worth, Reid said during a conference call Monday that Kelce was feeling better but still must go through the NFL's concussion protocol. Kelce initially received clearance to return from the unaffiliated neurological consultant on the sideline. He experienced memory problems at halftime, however, and the team held him out for the rest of the game and put him in the league's concussion protocol.
Receiver Albert Wilson twice left the game against the Texans with leg spasms. It's unknown if the issue will cause Wilson to miss this week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hill briefly exited the game after tweaking his ankle at the end of a punt return. He returned to the game and later broke free for an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. ...
I'll have more on Kelce and Wilson (both of whom missed practice Wednesday) as well as the team's plans for replacing Conley (assume that's Wilson until you hear otherwise) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Hunt continues to pile up yards and help the Chiefs keep winning. He had 29 carries for 107 yards on Sunday night
"It's a great feeling," he said. "I love winning and the biggest thing is to get a win."
It was the fourth 100-yard rushing game for Hunt, who was drafted in the third round out of Toledo. He needs one more to tie Joe Delaney's franchise rookie record of five set in 1981.
He ran for 32 yards in the fourth quarter as the Chiefs tried to eat up the clock and keep the ball away from rookie Deshaun Watson.
"Hunt just continues to stay strong in the fourth quarter with his endurance. He's got ball-carrying endurance," Reid said. "I don't know, for a big guy, he can skedaddle and we really needed him there."
Hunt leads the NFL with 609 yards rushing. He's the first Chiefs rookie to have 600 yards rushing since Christian Okoye finished with 660 in 1987.
He leads the league with seven carries of 20 or more yards this season, his three carries of 40 yards or longer are also most in the NFL and he's tied for third with four rushing touchdowns.
Even with Hunt's spectacular play, Charcandrick West has carved out a role because of his ability as a pass receiver and a blocker.
In addition to pulling in a pair of touchdown catches, West threw a block during one of Kansas City's scoring drives that sent a pass-rusher flying. The block allowed Smith to escape a sack and scramble for yardage.
His greatest skill as a receiver might be his ability to run after the catch. His first touchdown Sunday was a catch in the end zone. He later made some defenders miss on a 4-yard scoring grab.
"My favorite thing is making people miss," he said. "That one was crazy. I want to watch that one myself. I'm ready to see how that one went down."
Of course, West's limited playing time is the issue for fantasy owners.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, West is definitely a handcuff to Hunt, but it's a frustrating thing that keeps happening to Hunt owners with these short-yardage scores. D'Anthony Thomas also scored a short receiving touchdown in the game. Any of those three scores could easily have gone to Hunt.
QBs: Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, with his team winless heading into a Week 5 contest against the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon wanted more involvement in the offense.
Head coach Anthony Lynn granted Gordon his wish, as the Wisconsin product rushed for 105 yards and added 58 receiving yards.
"He did run angry," Lynn said. "I told him if you get four more [yards], I'll give it to you again. And so he ran like he wanted it."
Gordons's 163 yards from scrimmage are the second most he has had in an NFL game (Gordon had 261 yards from scrimmage Nov. 6, 2016, against the Titans) and he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
Sunday was just the fourth time Gordon rushed for over 100 yards in his three seasons as a pro. It was his first game with more than 100 rushing yards since last November's game against Tennessee.
Gordon played 65 offensive snaps against the Giants -- that's most he's played in a game this season.
"I was tired and exhausted, but you have to find a way to push through," Gordon said. "I was not trying to get back on this plane with an 0-5 record. That was always on my mind. Regardless of how you feel, you push through it because your teammates are depending on you right now. You just run harder. That was my mentality."
Philip Rivers said Gordon started off slow like the rest of the offense, but finally got into a groove as the game wore on.
"He got going and popped a few runs," Rivers said. "He ran hard, and he always does that. He obviously caught those two touchdown passes and rushed for over 100 [yards].
"This has been tough for him, too, the last couple weeks, rushing for 25 yards or 40 yards -- whatever it's been. That's been hard. He's a competitor. And he wants to help us win like all of us do. He battled like crazy."
With one game left to be played in Week 5, Gordon is tied for No. 14 in the NFL with 273 rushing yards on 74 carries for a 3.7 per carry average. Gordon has added 155 receiving yards and has five total touchdowns on the year.
"[Sunday] was a statement that proved to ourselves that we have the talent, the team and the ability to push through close games," Gordon said about the Chargers' first win. "We just have to find a way to make it happen.
"We did that today. So now we know we can do it. So when we get back in this situation, we have all the confidence in the world to get through it because we just got through it now."
Indeed, a win was sorely needed by the Chargers, particularly in a close game. Since last season, the Chargers had lost 12 of their last 13 games decided by eight points or fewer -- but they rallied from a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter and held off the winless Giants.
"We've lost a lot of games like that, and we finally won one of those games, one of the close games," Gordon said. "That definitely gives you confidence and momentum going into the next one."
The next one is a trip to Oakland for an AFC West showdown with the Raiders.
Worth noting, the Chargers didn't force a turnover during their entire recent three-game home stand, but the defense came through late against Eli Manning. Melvin Ingram continued his spectacular start to the season by stripping the ball from the Giants quarterback during a sack and then recovering the fumble in the fourth quarter.
Ingram has 7 1/2 sacks already this season, sitting one sack behind Dallas' Demarcus Lawrence for the NFL lead.
Joey Bosa is also catching Lynn's attention, even if the second-year pro's season numbers haven't yet matched Ingram's eye-popping statistics. Bosa matched Ingram with two sacks and six tackles against the Giants, who couldn't handle the Chargers' bookend edge rushers.
In addition to playing strong defense, winning consecutive games for just the second time since 2014 means the Chargers likely will need to commit fewer than the 11 penalties for 87 yards that plagued them against the Giants.
Penalties were the first area of concern cited by Lynn when asked about Los Angeles' plans for the upcoming week. The Chargers' 38 penalties are the eighth-most in the NFL.
"Some of the aggressive penalties, those are going to happen," Lynn said. "It's the pre-snap penalties that we need to clean up. You just keep emphasizing it. You keep working it. You've got to hold the guys accountable. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... With the Chargers in position to get points and create some separation from the Giants early in the game, Rivers threw his fifth interception of the season. Rivers has turned the ball over seven times this year, leading to 38 points to the opposing team.
Lynn has to hold Rivers accountable for not taking care of the football.
Meanwhile, Rivers passed Fran Tarkenton for 10th all-time on the career passing yards list. Rivers now has 47,198 career yards through the air.
On Sunday, Rivers was sensational in two second-half drives. Good to see that Hunter Henry is back in the mix and Keenan Allen continues to prove he's one of the league's top receivers.
Allen is No. 4 in the NFL in receiving yards with 401, and has 28 receptions on 51 targets. Allen's 173 yards after the catch ranks No. 10 in the league. ...
Henry caught his 10th career touchdown pass. He ranks second among tight ends since the start of the 2016 season. ...
One last note here. ... Mike Williams is closing in on his NFL debut. The rookie wideout has been practicing since last month after missing the entire offseason and training camp with a back issue. Lynn told reporters on Wednesday that Williams is "very close. We'll see at the end of the week where he's at. He's been in the playbook the whole time."
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Greenspan, after their high-powered offense bogged down with turnovers and gaffes in the red zone in a loss to Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams vented their frustration in a variety of ways.
Head coach Sean McVay was watching the tape and taking a hard look at his play-calling. Sammy Watkins, meanwhile, took to Twitter.
Watkins, who failed to record a catch for the second time in his four-year career, responded to a tweet from former Rams receiver Torry Holt by saying, "Something gotta be going on," followed by an emoji of a face with the mouth zippered shut. He also retweeted several fans saying Watkins should have been targeted more than four times.
McVay spoke with Watkins on Monday and was satisfied with his explanations for those tweets.
"Sammy is a player that he wants to be involved," McVay said. "Looking at some of those social media exchanges, I think he was more just responding to those things and he knows that he'll do the right things moving forward."
Watkins has one catch for 17 yards since his breakout game in Week 3 against San Francisco, when he caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
"These last couple weeks I don't think are indicative of his production for the rest of the season," McVay said.
How Watkins, Tavon Austin and running back Todd Gurley were used against Seattle was certainly a topic of conversation online. The Rams got three points out of four red-zone possessions and ended the 16-10 loss with a turnover on downs at the Seahawks' 20-yard line.
"I think it was extremely frustrating after the game and still frustrating when you go back and look at it," McVay said.
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez notes, Gurley ran well early, gaining 9 yards on the Rams' second offensive snap, then turning the corner for what was initially ruled a 12-yard touchdown run. But replay overturned the call, ruling that Gurley was down at the 1-yard line and also fumbled the ball into the end zone and out of bounds, giving the Seahawks the ball on a touchback. It was Gurley's fifth fumble of the season, matching his total from all of 2015 and 2016.
Gurley didn't touch the ball in the red zone again. He carried the ball seven times in the first quarter and only seven times over the final three.
"It's kind of what it is," said Gurley, who finished with 50 scrimmage yards. "You can't get the ball every time. We have a lot of great playmakers. Even though I didn't get the ball, you see the situation we were still in [with a chance to win the game in the final seconds]. And I have to do a better job of just going out there and making plays. If I make plays, then I get the ball."
Austin, who could barely sniff the field in the season's first quarter, saw an uptick in workload on offense, running the ball six times for 27 yards -- the same yardage total as his touchdown run -- and catching three passes for another 14. Tyler Higbee had a career-high 98 receiving yards, Robert Woods made five catches for 66 yards and Cooper Kupp, who couldn't come up with a tough catch on the potential winning touchdown, totaled three receptions for 44 yards.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, "With no player crossing the 20 percent mark in the target share today, we got another reminder that the spotlight of the Rams offense will move from player to player on a weekly basis."
Beyond that, the red-zone issues must be addressed.
The Rams have scored one touchdown in their last eight trips inside the opponent's 20. McVay is reevaluating how he calls plays in the red zone before Sunday's visit to Jacksonville, the first of three straight games away from home, including a trip to London to play the Arizona Cardinals.
"These are positive problems when you have got a lot of playmakers," McVay said.
"We've got a lot of players that we have confidence in. Ultimately, I think people have a tendency to blame the quarterback on getting guys involved, but that to me is on me as a play-caller, because we try to call plays to get players involved to attack certain coverages."
McVay is already exercising his authority in delegating touches by giving Austin a "break" from returning punts. Austin muffed and lost a fumble against Seattle, one of five turnovers the Rams committed. Kupp and Pharoh Cooper will compete this week to take over those duties.
It could be the first step taken to address the many self-inflicted errors that cost the Rams a chance to assert themselves in the NFC West.
"When you look at it, I think the thing that's encouraging for us as a team is a lot of the things that we didn't get done are fixable mistakes," McVay said.
As for Goff?
As ESPN.com's Mike Sando points out, the QB's worst game of the season -- 22-of-47 passing with two picks -- felt better in the end than his best game as a rookie. That was because Goff, having taken the Seahawks' best punch, put the ball on receiver Kupp's hands in the end zone with the game on the line.
McVay, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson inherited a quarterback in Goff who appeared lost while going 0-7 as a starter last season. They have put Goff under center about 50 percent more frequently on early downs, forcing defenses to more fully account for the run game.
With a veteran offensive line and improved weaponry, Goff entered the Seattle game averaging a league-leading 13.1 yards per attempt from under center, up from 4.2 last season (he was 4-of-10 passing for 79 yards on those throws against the Seahawks).
Obviously, Goff and the Rams are not going to average 30 points per game all season. Goff will surely hit rough patches, but even if he falls off, the Rams know they have a viable young quarterback.
It was much tougher to be sure of that last season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Rams waived safety Maurice Alexander a day after he was a surprise healthy scratch. The Rams used Alexander's roster spot to bring back wide receiver Mike Thomas, who was suspended for four games after he violated the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Rams received a roster exemption after Thomas' suspension ended last week, but had to decide whether to activate or cut the receiver who was drafted in the sixth round in 2016.
Thomas is the seventh wide receiver on the Rams' 53-man roster.
One last note here, via Harmon: Higbee is out-snapping rookie teammate Gerald Everett. He was on the field for 65 percent of the team's plays to just 35 for his counterpart.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds, Robert Woods
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned Monday after a video that surfaced on social media of him snorting a white powder.
Foerster said in a statement that he will seek professional help.
"I am resigning from my position with the Miami Dolphins and accept full responsibility for my actions," Foerster said. "I want to apologize to the organization and my sole focus is on getting the help that I need with the support of my family and medical professionals."
This was Foerster's second stint with the Dolphins and second season with the team, which also released a statement.
"We were made aware of the video late last night and have no tolerance for this behavior," the team said. "After speaking with Chris this morning, he accepted full responsibility and we accepted his resignation effective immediately. Although Chris is no longer with the organization, we will work with him to get the help he needs during this time."
Head coach Adam Gase said Monday he was made aware of the video around 10:45 p.m. ET on Sunday night. General manager Chris Grier called Gase to offer details and discuss the next move.
Gase said he was surprised and disappointed.
"I don't think I can say what my reaction was," Gase said.
Gase said he had a brief conversation Sunday night with Foerster, who apologized to him and resigned Monday morning. Foerster was "mad at himself," according to Gase. As of Monday, the Dolphins do not know how recent the video is or the location. The team will continue to investigate. Gase said he is aware of how the video surfaced.
"It's not a good situation," Gase said. "It's not something you expect. But things happen sometimes that you don't anticipate and you have to deal with it. It's not fun, especially when you're close to somebody. But you gotta take the next step and move on because we're going to play on Sunday."
Foerster, who turns 56 on Thursday, was one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the NFL, at a salary valued between $2.5 million and $3 million a year.
"Since I've been around him, he's always been a guy that just put his head down and work," Gase said. "He was here are 4 in the morning, worked as hard as he could for us. It is what it is."
On Wednesday, the team announced that Dave DeGuglielmo was hired to fill the role.
DeGuglielmo spent three years as the offensive line coach on Tony Sparano's staff in Miami from 2009-11 and then spent 2012 in the same role with the Jets. He moved on to the Patriots for two years in 2014 and spent last season as an assistant line coach with the Chargers.
Even with a quick hire, Gase wasn't looking to spin it as a positive.
"Any time you lose a really good coach, it's not ideal," Gase said. "But it's the reality. We'll figure out a way. We will show up next week and do our thing."
This marks the second time in recent years that a Dolphins offensive line coach has been involved in controversy. The Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner in 2014 after Ted Wells' investigation into the bullying scandal in the team's locker room in which Jonathan Martin was harassed by his teammates on the offensive line.
The startling news on Foerster is just the latest in a series of blows to the team -- aside from "Bullygate" and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil's draft night video of him smoking from a bong. This season started with a game postponed due to Hurricane Irma and with Jay Cutler, pulled out of retirement to move in as the starter after Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in August.
And aside from the initial win over the Chargers in Los Angeles, the offense has failed to deliver in stunning fashion.
But center Mike Pouncey made it clear on Sunday the Dolphins' offensive struggles do not rest on one player.
"It ain't Jay Cutler>," Pouncey said bluntly. "Trust me. If it was Jay Cutler, Adam Gase would say that."
Still, Cutler had his third straight shaky performance, completing 12 of 26 passes for 92 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the win over Tennessee. The 92 passing yards were Cutler's lowest output since Oct. 20, 2013. He had a 52.1 passer rating, including a 14.6 passer rating in first half, and averaged 3.5 yards per attempt. Cutler has led the Dolphins to two touchdown drives in the past three games.
Against Tennessee, Miami produced just 178 yards of total offense.
As a result, disgruntled fans chanted, "We want Moore!" several times throughout Hard Rock Stadium, asking for backup quarterback Matt Moore. The Dolphins heard it but mostly shrugged their shoulders afterward. Multiple teammates and coaches came to Cutler's defense.
"Jay is way down on the list of things going on," Gase said. "If guys do what they're supposed to do, we'll be all right."
Cutler called the offensive performance "piss poor." He said the chants didn't bother him.
"I heard them but I didn't know what they were saying," Cutler said. "I don't think anyone is going to tell me what they were saying at that point. So I just kept going about my business."
The Dolphins' offensive issues might be too numerous and too deep-rooted to fix.
The offensive line has consistently struggled with run and pass blocking. Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi (77 rushing yards) fumbled against the Titans. And the receivers and tight ends aren't getting much separation and had at least four drops against Tennessee.
The Dolphins also lost their most dynamic receiver, DeVante Parker, to an ankle injury, and he could miss time. They are not deep enough on that side of the ball to sustain many key injuries.
Can this all be fixed by this week's game against the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons?
As ESPN.com's James Walker suggested, "Probably not."
But Walker went on to note the good news is Miami's defense is playing its best football in years. The Dolphins haven't allowed more than 20 points all season, and the defense is the primary reason they are 2-2 at the quarter point of the season.
But that side of the ball is due for a few bad -- or even average -- outings. It could come as early as this week at Atlanta, and Miami's offense must be ready to put up points to have a chance.
And Cutler will have to be a part of that.
"As soon as he starts throwing touchdowns, they will be cheering for Jay," Pouncey said. "That's just how it is. I'm a fan of different sports, and when my guys aren't playing well in basketball, I want to bench everybody. As a fan, you think that way."
Fantasy owners also think that way -- and rightly so.
And we're none too pleased with Ajayi, who has been a fantasy bust so far with 261 rushing yards and zero touchdowns. Miami's offense is in shambles and Ajayi's numbers have taken a major hit. He is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and isn't getting good blocking from his offensive line.
Tight end Anthony Fasano started against Tennessee, possibly replacing Julius Thomas, a favorite of Gase. Fasano, known mostly for his blocking skills, had one reception for no yards against the Titans.
Cody Parkey missed his second extra point of the season against Tennessee. Parkey is 1 of 3 on extra points this season.
Parker's injury could be an issue this week. Miami's leading receiver entering Sunday, Parker has 18 receptions for 230 yards and one touchdown in four games. With Parker sidelined, Jarvis Landry led all Dolphins receivers with five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee.
I'll be watching Parker's progress closely in coming days. Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section of the site for more as the week progresses.
And finally. ... When word came in September that Landry would not face criminal charges as a result of an investigation into whether he committed battery during an incident with the mother of his child, various reports suggested that a lack of charges didn't mean the league would make the same decision regarding discipline.
The league has been looking into the matter and Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that Landry is set to meet with people from the league about the matter on October 24. The report does not include mention of who will be involved in the meeting on the league side.
Landry and the woman both said that there was no physical hard done during their disagreement.
Andy Slater of WINZ obtained 15 seconds of surveillance video footage of the incident that does not provide a clear enough view of what happened to dispute that, although it's not clear if other footage may exist or if the league will evaluate the video the same way.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, the No. 1 thing the Minnesota Vikings did not want to lose when Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending knee injury was the rookie's ability to create explosive plays.
In Minnesota's first game without Cook, Jerick McKinnon showed why he can be called upon to fill that void in the Vikings' 20-17 win against the Bears.
McKinnon stepped in and assumed the biggest role of the night in the running game, rushing 16 times for 95 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Vikings a 17-9 lead.
"It felt good," McKinnon said. "When Dalvin was in those first couple games, he made those big runs. That gives those guys up front a lot of courage, a reason for them to play harder. Us running backs, we know we have an explosive group and we know we have to make those plays without Dalvin here."
McKinnon's touchdown run was not only the longest rushing play for Minnesota this season, it's the longest play by a Vikings player since McKinnon broke off a 68-yard touchdown run against the Giants in Week 16 of 2015, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
The Vikings picked up the pace the play before and went no-huddle on a 5-yard run by McKinnon. They continued going up-tempo on McKinnon's touchdown run and caught Chicago's defense off guard. Inside linebacker Christian Jones had his back completely turned to the offense as Case Keenum approached the line of scrimmage to call the play.
McKinnon credited a block he saw Nick Easton make when the left guard lunged forward and cut off Jonathan Anderson to open up a hole through the middle of the field. Center Pat Elflein ran with McKinnon for several yards downfield and blocked Kyle Fuller, clearing the path for the running back take it all the way to the end zone.
"It's a great collective effort," McKinnon said.
Minnesota struggled to establish the run early, totaling 33 yards in the first half. Once injured quarterback Sam Bradford was replaced by Keenum, the offense got into a rhythm by utilizing its running backs on short passes to start the third quarter.
"When you can run the football, it makes it tough," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "Defenses start loading up and give you a better chance to throw the ball some. The play-actions were better. We had a couple of boot[legs] in there that we hit for first downs."
Cronin reminded readers that Chicago's run defense gave Minnesota some pause ahead of Monday Night Football.
Through five weeks, the Bears have allowed 3.9 yards per rush. The Vikings averaged 5.1 per running play Monday.
"They've got a really good defensive front," Zimmer said. "I was nervous about being able to run the football against this front and I'm glad we were able to get some of it done."
In his first start with the Vikings, Latavius Murray turned in 12 carries for 31 yards and two receptions for 12 yards. C.J. Ham had an 11-yard reception and McKinnon added 51 receiving yards to his performance, finishing as the Vikings' top receiver.
As Cronin noted, McKinnon's versatility is a big asset to the Vikings. He excels in running routes, finding cutback lanes in space and using his agility to side-step defenders and change speeds. The running back's athleticism is critical for Minnesota, which hopes to keep creating these explosive plays.
With only three running backs on the active roster after Minnesota cut Stevan Ridley to make room for wide receiver Michael Floyd, the Vikings showed how they will approach the running game in the future. The by-committee design works with the personnel Minnesota has to create a balanced attack, with McKinnon relied on to provide the spark.
"My main focus was to make plays, feed off Latavius, C.J." McKinnon said. "Bring the energy and make plays. Make plays for the quarterback. Make plays to open up the passing game. As running backs, we did that."
As things stand today, McKinnon certainly looks like the more viable fantasy prospect. Whether that's sustainable remains to be seen. ...
Meanwhile, Sam Bradford returned after missing the Vikings' past three games with a noncontact knee injury sustained in the season opener and couldn't finish the first half. He was sacked four times throughout and at some point re-aggravated the injury in his left knee, forcing him to exit the game.
"I just thought it was best for him that we got him out of there," Zimmer said. "He didn't want to come out. He wanted to stay in there and fight, but I didn't want to get him injured anymore."
Zimmer said he thought about pulling Bradford earlier but the quarterback felt "pretty good about things."
Bradford had only participated in a limited capacity heading into Monday night after missing two weeks of practice. Still, Zimmer had said there was "no doubt" Bradford could play and even cited the Vikings practicing on turf two days last week as a reason they had confidence in his ability to return.
"We wouldn't have put him on the field if he wasn't healthy enough to play," he said. "He was very confident about it, felt good about it. Medical people felt good about it. Everybody."
Bradford finished the night 5 of 11 passing for 36 yards.
On Tuesday, Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman provided an update on Bradford's condition in a meeting with reporters. Sugarman said that Bradford had an MRI that showed no new injury and offered a different description of the quarterback's injury than the bone bruise that's been discussed for much of the last month.
"We're not dealing with a ligament injury to Sam," Sugarman said, via Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "We're not dealing with a bone bruise from a direct hit … wear and tear in knee joint."
With Bradford leaving early, Case Keenum bailed out the Vikings and proved why he should have started. Minnesota's veteran backup was 17-of-21 for 140 yards and a 13-yard touchdown to Kyle Rudolph.
The drama surrounding the Vikings' quarterback situation will grow in a matter of days. Teddy Bridgewater is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list following the Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers. Reports have indicated that Bridgewater has not experienced setbacks in his recovery and should be ready to practice once that window opens.
But practice is all the action Bridgewater will see, at least early. Minnesota has three weeks to determine whether he'll be activated to the 53-man roster this season.
With the possibility of two starting quarterbacks competing in practice, neither of whom is currently signed past this season, there is intrigue regarding what the Vikings will do in the immediate future and beyond.
Zimmer cited pain management as the root of Bradford's current knee problems. Both the Vikings and Bradford have said this issue is not expected to be long term.
"I'm still hopeful with him," Zimmer said. "Everything that's been from the medical people, the doctors, the second opinion, everything is it's going to get better. I just think he aggravated it a bit on one of those. We'll take every day, day by day, and see how it goes. I think he's going to get back and he's going to get better."
But after his Monday night performance, and with what could happen the next several weeks, Bradford's job could be in jeopardy when Bridgewater returns. ...
And I'll obviously be following up on Bradford, who didn't practice Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. The same goes for Stefon Diggs, who was held out Wednesday with an injured groin. Diggs was limited to one catch against the Bears. ...
One last note here. ... According to St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Chris Tomasson, Cook underwent ACL surgery Monday. A source told Tomasson the procedure went well and that Cook will "100 percent" will be back for the start of next season.
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As noted in this space last week, quarterback Tom Brady has been getting sacked more often than at any other time in his career this year.
After Thursday night's win over the Buccaneers, that remains the case.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith conceded, it's true that Brady getting sacked "only" three times on Thursday against the Bucs was a slight improvement over his 2017 average so far this season, but consider that the Bucs' defense only had one sack all season heading into that game. Against the worst pass-rushing team in the NFL, Brady was still taken down three times.
And Brady is still on pace to be sacked more this year than he ever has been: With 16 sacks through five games, Brady is on pace for 51 sacks this season. His previous career high was 41 in 2001, his first year as a starter. Brady's sack total this year has already exceeded last year's total of 15.
Smith added that Brady is also getting hit plenty after he passes.
Quarterback hits are not an official statistic for individual quarterbacks, but the NFL does track quarterback hits for ranking offensive lines. This year, the Patriots' offensive line has allowed 33 hits. That's an average of 6.6 a game, all on Brady. Last year, the Patriots' offensive line only allowed 73 hits for the entire season, an average of 4.6 a game, and many of those hits were allowed when Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett were at quarterback.
All those sacks aren't cutting down on Brady's productivity: He's on pace to throw for 5,446 yards, which would fall just short of Peyton Manning's single-season record of 5,477. But part of the reason Manning was able to stay healthy that season is that he was sacked just 18 times.
As Smith suggested, if Brady keeps taking all these hits, he might not play in enough games to challenge that record.
In fact, Brady missed practice Tuesday as he had an MRI performed on his left shoulder.
The MRI came back negative and Brady returned to practice Wednesday. He's fully expected to play against the Jets.
According to NBC Sports Boston's Mike Giardi, Brady suffered the injury during one of two Julius Peppers sacks in the Patriots' loss to Carolina on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Danny Amendola caught all eight balls thrown his way in the win over the Bucs.
With tight end Rob Gronkowski inactive due to a thigh injury and Tampa Bay decimated with injuries at both linebacker and safety, the slot receiver was turned to for a larger role in the passing attack. And as he's done in similar situations in the past, including key roles in recent New England postseason runs, Amendola lived up to head coach Bill Belichick's organizational philosophy by doing his job.
"Basically, the same thing we've seen from him all year and for many years," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels responded when asked what he saw from his receiver in the win in Tampa. "The guy, he's a great football player and he does a lot of things well - he's tough, he always makes an impact when he's in there, he blocks hard, he gets open in the passing game, he catches the ball, he's hard to tackle, he returns punts, makes big plays in the kicking game, he's a great teammate. There's nothing I don't love about Danny Amendola. Every time he's out there, you feel good about what may happen if the ball is headed towards him, and he always comes up big in the biggest moments or biggest games. Danny's having a very good beginning to the season, and we want to continue to try to do that."
Amendola, who also had a key second-quarter 40-yard punt return to set up a field goal, is now tied for second on the Patriots with 23 receptions through five games, despite missing one contest to a concussion. Though his role has ebbed and flowed based on his own health and the availability of other weapons during his time in New England, clearly his coaches are never hesitant to count on the veteran.
"Danny's a great teammate and he's a great team player," McDaniels continued to rave. "All I know is that he's ready to go each week, he always does his role to the best of his ability and he makes an impact for us on offense. So, I know he's doing a great job for us. Obviously, we love having him and it's a great part of our job to have an opportunity to coach guys like that."
As for Gronk, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss reported that one of the tight end's close friends had traveled to Tampa on Thursday with the expectation of watching him play, which reflected how Gronkowski's deactivation with a thigh injury came as a surprise to even some in his inner circle.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots expect Gronkowski to be ready for this week's game against the Jets (with Boston Herald staffer Jeff Howe reporting the same on Wednesday), and Reiss' sense from talking to those close to Gronkowski was that if the Patriots-Buccaneers game had been Sunday instead of Thursday, he probably would have been active.
So the quick turnaround might ultimately be the primary reason Gronkowski doesn't cash in on his playing-time contract incentives by season's end.
Gronkowski has now played 257 of 365 offensive snaps (70.4 percent) this season. One way for him to hit his top tier of $10.75 million is to reach 90 percent playing time. To hit the second tier of $8.75 million, it's 80 percent; the third tier of $6.75 million is 70 percent.
Gronkowski is currently right at the edge of the third tier when looking solely at playing time.
He can still reach the first and second tiers based on receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns or All-Pro recognition, which might now be his best hope after missing Thursday's game.
I'll be following the status of Brady and Gronk closely in coming days. Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking News section for more. ...
The same goes for Rex Burkhead (ribs), who was inactive and did not make the trip to Tampa. The running back has practiced on a limited basis for the last week-plus, but the first-year Patriot has now missed three games to the injury suffered in Week 2 at New Orleans. ...
Other notes of interest. ... When the Patriots have needed a yard, their inability to pick it up consistently on the ground showed up again when Mike Gillislee was stopped on second-and-1 in the second quarter in Tampa and had the Patriots passing on third-and-1.
"Certainly, we've got to do better overall in that area. I need to do a better job of putting us in a great position to execute something that we feel really good about, and we're going to work really hard moving forward on all those situational plays," McDaniels said.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out after the win over the Bucs, Chris Hogan now has five touchdowns since Week 2 and surpassed 60 yards in every game. He's been the model of consistency and currently leads the Patriots with 37 targets. Harmon added that even though Amendola is back in the fold, Hogan caught seven of his eight passes from the slot.
"At this point," Harmon wrote, "it's hard to consider him anything but a weekly must-play. ..."
In a related noted. ... Brandin Cooks has one monster game (7-131-2 TDs), a pair of 80 yarders and two with less than 40 yards. According to Harmon, "This sort of roller coaster is exactly what we grew to expect from the speedster during his days with the Saints. It's no surprise it carried over to New England. ..."
Stephen Gostkowski made all four of his field goal attempts (27, 23, 45 and 48 yards), and Buccaneers kicker Nick Folk missed his three attempts. Gostkowski's 48-yarder, which came with 1:14 remaining and gave the Patriots a 19-14 lead, was a clutch kick on fourth-and-3. If Gostkowski had missed it, the Buccaneers would have taken the ball at their 37-yard line and needed only a field goal to win.
Belichick debated whether to attempt the field goal and said it was a "tough decision," in part because of the crosswind. "Steve hit a great ball," he said. ...
And finally. ... Brady earned his 186th regular-season victory with the win in Tampa, tying him with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Adrian Peterson's career with the New Orleans Saints is over after just four games.
According to an ESPN report, the Saints traded Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday for a conditional draft pick.
As New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Josh Katzenstein noted, during the early portion of the season, it quickly became clear Peterson was the third option in the Saints' backfield behind Mark Ingram and rookie third-round pick Alvin Kamara. Both players offer more in the pass game than the 32-year-old Peterson for an offense that typically relies on versatility from its running backs.
Peterson had just 81 rushing yards on 27 carries and two catches for 4 yards so far this season. His 3-yard rushing average is 1 yard less than Ingram and 2.5 yards less than Kamara, and Peterson didn't average 4 yards per carry in any of the first four games, reaching his season highs with nine carries for 33 yards -- a 3.7-yard average -- against Carolina in Week 3.
Peterson should instantly have opportunities to help the Cardinals' offense, but based on his time with the Saints, it's unclear how successful he will be.
Although the Saints signed Peterson to a two-year, $7 million deal in April, the addition of the future Hall of Famer immediately seemed like a luxury with Ingram in the prime of his career. A few days after New Orleans signed Peterson, the team drafted Kamara, who already has 230 yards from scrimmage.
Still, even with Ingram and Kamara around, the team was optimistic Peterson would play a key role, particularly because he quickly impressed many teammates during offseason practices.
But, after just four games in New Orleans, Peterson will now try to resurrect his career with Arizona.
Beyond that, it's worth noting that Kamara actually leads the Saints' running backs in fantasy scoring through the first four games, even though he has 22 fewer touches than Ingram (35 vs. 57).
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, that's because Kamara has scored two touchdowns, while Ingram hasn't scored yet. That will likely change going forward, since Ingram is more likely to get goal-line carries. And Ingram's volume as a runner/receiver still makes him the smarter fantasy bet.
But obviously Kamara's big-play ability gives him the chance to score from anywhere on the field -- and will continue to earn him a larger role in the offense.
Meanwhile, the Saints return from their bye week to play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time in four weeks.
They should be better rested and healthier as they try to build on the momentum of consecutive victories since they last played at home. The game against Detroit (3-2) on Sunday starts a stretch of three home games in four weeks that is comprised exclusively of NFC opponents. New Orleans plays at Green Bay (4-1) before hosting Chicago (1-3) and Tampa Bay (2-2).
NFL coaches often divide the regular season into four four-game mini-seasons. The Saints showed improvement in the first mini-season compared to their poor starts each of the last three seasons. Now they have a chance to establish themselves as playoff contenders if they are successful in completing the first half of the season.
As the Sports Xchange notes, New Orleans showed defensive improvement in beating Carolina and Miami compared to how it defended Minnesota and New England in starting the season with consecutive losses.
But there are two primary areas where the defense is still lagging. New Orleans is last in the NFL in third-down defense (48 percent) and 28th in pass defense (265.2 yards per game). The Saints are allowing too many first- and second-down pass completions, which are making third downs too manageable for opponents.
The offense has been pretty much what it has always been under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees one of the best passing units in the NFL and one that would like to be a little better balanced.
New Orleans ranks fourth in passing (276.5) and 21st in rushing (94.0), having rushed for 100 yards just once in four games.
Though there's good enough balance to rank eighth in total offense, it has translated into just the 12th-best scoring average (23.2). ...
One last note here. ... Willie Snead is getting close to seeing his first action of the season. He was suspended for the first three games of the season, then was inactive for the game against the Dolphins because of a hamstring injury.
"(Snead) brings a physicality to him in his game, he's a business man, brings a lot of emotion in his game," wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson told the Times-Picayune. "We just need that and on some of those third downs, you would love to have Willie because that's what he does."
Payton told reporters on Wednesday that Snead is 100 percent coming out of the bye week.
I'll be following up on Snead via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As the Sports Xchange reported, the receiving trio of Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard have accounted for 719 of the team's 1,338 receiving yards and four of their eight touchdowns.
Yet the Giants (0-5), whose latest heartbreaking loss came at the hands of the previously winless Los Angeles Chargers, will have to soldier on without Beckham, now on injured reserve with a fractured ankle (Beckham underwent surgery on Tuesday); Shepard, who did not practice on Wednesday but is officially day-to-day with a sprained ankle; and Marshall, who announced on Instagram that he was having season-ending surgery on his ankle Tuesday.
Dwayne Harris fractured his foot and also underwent season-ending surgery Tuesday.
It's certainly a nightmare come true for head coach Ben McAdoo, whose offense had started to show signs of snapping out of its early season funk the last three weeks. Now left to pick up the pieces from such a devastating blow, McAdoo said there's no time to sit and feel sorry for themselves.
"We have to keep throwing effort at it," he said during his conference call Monday with reporters. "Yesterday, again, no excuses, we ran out of some firepower on offense. But the guys kept fighting. There is a lot of fight, the games go down to the wire. We just got to find a way to find our path to victory."
Their path to their elusive first victory will likely come via the trio of Roger Lewis, the only receiver on the initial 53-man roster to avoid the injury bug Sunday, rookie Travis Rudolph, who was signed from their practice squad, and Tavarres King, who was with them last year, but who was cut during the preseason.
The team also promoted practice squad WR Ed Eagan to the 53-man roster.
McAdoo and the Giants opted for Rudolph and King specifically for their familiarity with the offense. But starting this week, the focus will be on trying to get those two up to speed and on the same page with quarterback Eli Manning.
"We have to go out and we have to make sure we give them as many reps as we can with the quarterback," McAdoo said of the plan to bring the "new" receivers up to speed. "Get them into some type of rhythm. Get some type of chemistry going. There are guys who are familiar with what we're doing. So, we have confidence there. We know them, they know us. So, we just have to go out and put our work in this week."
Besides getting the new receivers up to speed with the offense, the other thing McAdoo is going to have to guard against is a feeling of despair settling in the locker room. Clearly no member of the team is happy with the winless start, but the loss of Beckham, the team's star player and its lone player who wears his emptions on his sleeve, is particularly devastating and one that could potentially suck whatever spirit is left in the players.
"Well, when they all go down, when you lose players, it's tough," Manning said after the game. "You like when they can get off on their own and hope it's not serious, but at the end of the game if you see your best player in pain, it can be a tough situation."
Tough or not, they have no choice but to make the best of a unique and difficult situation.
"It's still fight," said Lewis. "I feel like we're a close-knit team and I feel like there's nobody on this team that's going to give up. We're going to get ready for next week and go out and play hard again."
"We will bounce back. We will go out and flush it," added offensive lineman Justin Pugh. "We're still professionals. This is still our job. We have to go out there and execute. Get this thing done.
Meanwhile, Beckham had five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. His season ends with 25 catches, 302 yards and three touchdowns.
It will be the first time in his four professional seasons that Beckham didn't reach at least 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
And now the short-handed Giants play Sunday night in Denver against the league's top-ranked defense minus most of their receiving corps and with Manning possibly not at 100 percent.
Manning had an X-ray performed on his neck across from the Giants' locker room after Sunday's loss to the Chargers, the Daily News reported, but it came out clean.
Manning inadvertently took a knee to the head from teammate Ereck Flowers on the Giants' final series after being crushed to the ground by Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa coming from the opposite side.
Manning was down on the ground longer than usual before rising and looked a bit wobbly, but stayed in the game. Manning said after the game he did not have a concussion.
So I'll be following up on Manning and Shepard (whom ESPN reported would miss at least two weeks and he was wearing a walking boot on Tuesday) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days and I'll also have more on the replacement receivers and their anticipated roles as well. ...
Also of interest. ... With Paul Perkins sidelined by a rib injury, the Giants finished with a season-best 152 rushing yards on 25 carries thanks to the work of Orleans Darkwa and rookie Wayne Gallman.
And speaking of Gallman, how nice must it be for the Giants to finally have a running back who can bounce runs to the outside?
Gallman led the backfield in touches against the Chargers and totaled 82 yards from scrimmage, but failed to find the end zone. He also tied Beckham for the team lead in receptions with five, but as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, that likely had much to do with the fact that New York lost four of their top wideouts to injury during the course of the game.
Shane Vereen had a few garbage-time touches late in the fourth quarter but was a non-factor otherwise.
All that said, Gallman is looking like the Giants' running back of record for fantasy owners -- especially with Perkins not practicing to open the week on Wednesday.
And finally. ... McAdoo announced on Wednesday that cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been suspended. McAdoo did not provide many details beyond saying that Rodgers-Cromartie came to the team’s facility on Wednesday and decided to leave, which presumably triggered the decision to suspend him.
As Profootballtalk.com reminded readers, Rodgers-Cromartie has started the last two games for the Giants as they’ve opted to put Eli Apple on the bench to start games. Apple said Tuesday that he’s “uncertain” about his role on the team after saying he thought the “whole culture” of the team was to blame for the awful start to the season.
McAdoo said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv that he and Rodgers-Cromartie had a “conversation that was personal” on Tuesday before Rodgers-Cromartie decided to leave the facility on Wednesday. Safety Landon Collins said, via ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, that McAdoo and Rodgers-Cromartie had an “altercation” during last Sunday’s loss to the Chargers.
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini framed it, "They partied in the basement after outclassing the misfits and geeks. Now it's time to move up to the penthouse to hang out with the cool kids.
"Are the New York Jets ready for this?
"Yes and no.
"Give them credit for a three-game winning streak, equaling the win total many (including me) expected for the entire season, but the Jets can't possibly hope to upset the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium if they bring their B game -- their Browns game, that is. ..."
Cimini went on to explain the Jets were dreadful for large stretches on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, finally figuring out a way to outlast the winless Cleveland Browns 17-14. The Jets rushed for only 34 yards, committed nine penalties and were outgained by a 2-to-1 margin, making backup quarterback Kevin Hogan look like Brian Sipe.
To their credit, the Jets (3-2) -- in a three-way tie atop at the AFC East -- didn't try to put lipstick on this pig.
"We have to play tremendously better than we did [Sunday] if we want to walk away with a win next week," cornerback Morris Claiborne said.
The Patriots haven't approached their championship form during an uneven start, but they still have Tom Brady's ageless right arm and Bill Belichick's giant brain. The Jets have no shot if they can't find offensive balance and don't clean up the dumb penalties. They have big questions at running back, with Bilal Powell (calf) joining Matt Forte (turf toe) on the injured list.
The Jets haven't scored more than 23 points in a game, and it'll probably take more than 23 to take down Brady and Co. On the flip side, they have no pressure on them.
Head coach Todd Bowles will have plenty of teaching points this week. His one-dimensional offense, which abandoned the run early on, produced only 103 total yards through three quarters. The Jets nearly equaled that disturbing total with a 97-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots won't make it easy.
"We'll have to be at our best," quarterback Josh McCown said. "They're an excellent football team. They've been great for a long time. ... You can't ask for anything else than to be 3-2 going against 3-2 New England in a head-to-head matchup. This is what it's all about. This is why you play the game. We look forward to playing them."
Meanwhile, coming off the best game of his seven-year pro career, was hurt during the second quarter and did not return. Powell, who hasn't missed a game since the finale of the 2015 season, is day-to-day, Bowles said Monday.
Powell had only two carries for five yards and four catches for 28 yards before exiting.
Forte has missed the last two games due to turf toe, so rookie Elijah McGuire will take on an even bigger workload if Forte and/or Powell miss Sunday's game against the Patriots. McGuire had only 20 yards on 11 carries and two catches for 10 yards against the Browns.
McGuire and recently-signed Travaris Cadet are the only healthy backs on the Jets' roster, but Bowles said the team isn't planning to sign another back "at this time."
"I'll be concerned at the end of the week," Bowles said. "Right now, I'll see how the week goes and hopefully we can see some progress. ..."
Powell was not on the practice field to open the week on Wednesday; Forte, on the other hand, returned to work Wednesday. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... McCown threw an interception for the second straight week, but earns praise for the 97-yard drive that put the Jets up 17-7 in the fourth quarter, as 83 of McCown's 194 passing yards came on the eight-play march. It was the Jets' longest drive on the road since 1996, when they went 98 yards in Buffalo.
McCown was sacked three times, twice by Myles Garrett in his NFL debut, and has now been sacked 15 times this season.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has become a favorite target for McCown, as he has been targeted a team-high 18 times in his three games following a two-game suspension. The Jets have won all three games, and Seferian-Jenkins became someone fantasy football owners are scooping up off the waiver wire.
He has 15 catches for 106 yards, and his touchdown in Sunday's win over the Browns gave the Jets a 10-7 third-quarter lead and was his first since Week 1 of last season with the Bucs. The touchdown was the first for a Jets tight end since Kellen Davis in 2015. ...
The back-and-forth for the lead role between wideouts Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse shifted back to Kearse in Cleveland. That doesn't mean it will stay there. Expect both to have strong performances at times going forward; predicting when will continue to be difficult. ...
The Jets have added wide receiver Jalin Marshall to the active roster and waived cornerback Marcus Williams.
Marshall was suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers. He practiced with the Jets last week, but wasn't activated for New York's 17-14 victory at Cleveland on Sunday. The Jets had a roster exemption until Monday for Marshall, who had 14 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He was signed as an undrafted free agent last year out of Ohio State.
QBs: Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Derek Carr is expected to return to the Raiders' lineup for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, two weeks after suffering a broken bone in his back.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio confirmed Carr's return on Monday, echoing comments he made following the Raiders' 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens a day earlier.
"I pretty much said that yesterday," Del Rio said. "I anticipate he'll be ready to go. He was pushing pretty hard last week."
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Wagaman reminded readers, Carr was limited in practice much of last week. He got sacked by Denver defensive lineman Shelby Harris and took a knee to the lower back from defensive end Adam Gotsis during the same play on Oct. 1. There had been some speculation that Carr might play against the Ravens but Del Rio opted to keep the 2014 second-round draft pick inactive against Baltimore.
E.J. Manuel started in Carr's place and passed for 159 yards and a touchdown but Oakland fell behind by two touchdowns early in the first quarter and never recovered.
Del Rio praised Manuel's effort and said Oakland's problems against the Ravens went far beyond the quarterback position. Specifically, Del Rio pointed out that Baltimore handled the Raiders in the trenches and was more physical up front.
"I think E.J. handled himself," Del Rio said. "That kind of performance, play good defense, run the ball the way you're supposed to, you win a game with that kind of performance. He didn't put us on his shoulders, he just was solid and that's what we needed from him. We didn't get the other part done."
The Raiders gave up 365 yards to the Ravens' struggling offense. Oakland's defense allowed two touchdowns, three field goals and forced just three punts.
Despite three straight losses, Del Rio isn't ready to make a massive overhaul.
"We always look to freshen things up but the process remains paramount," Del Rio said. "It's the best you can do. You recover the best you can, then you prepare and then you go compete. That's the best way to consistently perform at a high level. We just haven't played well the last few weeks out. But the process, you have to remain true to it. ..."
I will, of course, keep a close eye on Carr's progress in coming days and report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Kevin Patra suggested, "If you were to rank the most disappointing, non-injury storylines through five weeks of the 2017 NFL season, Amari Cooper's disappearing act would sit near the top of the list."
In Sunday's loss to the Ravens, Cooper earned just one reception on two targets. With the Raiders down double-digits most of the game, it boggles the mind the talented receiver didn't see more looks.
"I wouldn't say it was by design not to have him get more targets," Rio said after the loss. "The read went away from him a couple of times, a couple of times it was supposed to be to him. I'd like to see him get the ball more. To me it's about execution right now. I'm not going to sit here and get into how or why individuals aren't getting the ball. I don't see where that's going to help us."
The struggles can't be blamed on Manuel taking over for Carr.
Sunday's performance wasn't an aberration. In the last three games combined Cooper has four receptions for 23 yards. He's dropped passes and caught only 39.4 percent of his targets (13 of 33) this season.
Five weeks into the season, Cooper has 13 catches for 118 yards. His last three games he's gone for 6 yards, 9 yards and 8 yards, respectively.
Entering a season in which most predicted the young receiver to make the leap into the top of the NFL's wideout rankings, it's a disappointing start. Cooper has 11 games to change the story of his 2017 season from disappointment to redemption. ...
Conversely, Michael Crabtree returned after a week off with a chest injury and still played his usual physical game. His 41-yard TD catch was his fifth score against the Ravens in three games over the past three seasons. It also was his longest TD catch in his three years with the Raiders.
As for the rushing attack, the Raiders averaged 4.3 yards per attempt and looked as if they could have worn down Baltimore had they not been behind 14-0 and been able to stick with it. Marshawn Lynch had 43 yards on 14 carries and Jalen Richard 37 yards on nine attempts. DeAndre Washington (hamstring) was inactive. Manuel had a 10-yard scramble for a red-zone first down on third-and-9.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "The only back worth owning in Oakland is Lynch, and even he is nothing more than a matchup-based flex at this point."
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
Riding a three-game winning streak and sitting in first place in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles have no time to enjoy their position.
They have to quickly get ready for the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
"You don't have time to dwell on your past success," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "We're in a groove and it's tough. We have to guard against complacency and it's my job to keep them grounded and keep them focused and come to work every day prepared."
After a dominating 34-7 win over Arizona on Sunday, the Eagles (4-1) were back at work preparing for Cam Newton and the Panthers (4-1). They could be missing another important player.
Right tackle Lane Johnson suffered a concussion against the Cardinals was ruled out Wednesday. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has missed the past two games because of a calf injury so it's uncertain whether he'll be ready to go.
The Eagles have overcome several key injuries -- top cornerback Ronald Darby hasn't played since Week 1 and do-it-all back Darren Sproles went down for the season in Week 3.
"It doesn't matter what happens with injury on our roster, the coaches do an outstanding job of getting that next guy ready and prepared to play," Pederson said.
"Everybody aspires to be a good football team. But the way we're doing it, with the amount of backup players in these first five weeks, is a testament to the coaching staff and the players in that dressing room and the resiliency that they have to never quit and finish."
Carson Wentz had the best game of his young career against Arizona and new receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have significantly improved the passing attack. LeGarrette Blount has bolstered the running game, giving the offense much-needed balance.
Blount has been part of two Super Bowl championship teams in New England over the previous three seasons. He knows what it takes to win and provides veteran experience and leadership.
"We have to forget about this one, it's already in the books," Blount said right after beating the Cardinals.
"We have to focus on Carolina, and make sure that we're locked in. You have to be students of the game. You have to know how to study, you have to be able to work in the classroom, gather all of the information that you can with limited participation on the field."
And you need a quarterback.
Wentz (21-of-30, 304 yards, 4 TDs, INT) established a personal best with four touchdown passes -- three of which came on consecutive pass attempts in the first quarter. He is the first quarterback with a touchdown pass on three consecutive attempts since Ben Roethlisberger did it Week 4 of 2016, per the Elias Sports Bureau, and is the first quarterback in Eagles history to throw three touchdown passes in the first quarter of a game.
According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, the breakout was somewhat expected internally.
Earlier in the week, a team insider told ESPN that Wentz's outing against the Los Angeles Chargers was being viewed as his best as a pro even though he finished with an average completion rate and one touchdown. They saw a signal-caller who was maturing in his decision-making and command. The statistical fruits of that growth came at the Cardinals' expense.
The hope was the second year for both Wentz and Pederson would be one of progress, but the general consensus was they were still a year away from being contenders. They've opened some eyes over the first five games. And with the division looking less dangerous than forecast -- the Eagles were the only NFC East squad with a winning record entering Week 5 -- the path might not be as treacherous.
The Eagles won their second straight game without standout defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf). The front four still managed to harass Carson Palmer, while a thin cornerback group kept the clamps on Arizona's speedy receivers for most of the day. The offensive line, meanwhile, carried on in the second half without right tackle Lane Johnson, who suffered a head injury that puts his status in doubt for Thursday at the Carolina Panthers.
While all areas of the team have contributed, including special teams (a 76-yard Kenjon Barner punt return and a field goal block factored into the win Sunday), quarterback play is an X factor in any season, and Wentz is playing at a high level.
Now 21 games into his career, the second-year player out of North Dakota State is showing positive signs he can develop into an elite quarterback. Never have those signs been more evident than Sunday against Arizona.
Zach Ertz continues to be a prime beneficiary of Wentz's success. The tight end enjoyed a season-high 12 targets against the Cardinals and he has double-digit targets in three of five games giving him a 27.6 percent target share this season. That number is 33 percent over the last three games.
Jeffery is second on the team with a 21.8 percent season-to-date target share. ...
And as mentioned above, part of Wentz's success has been a more effective rushing attack.
In their first two games, the Eagles' run percentage was just 30.6. But in the last three games, it's been 54.0. They have averaged 38 rushing attempts per game the last three games, gaining 529 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
"It's been a good recipe for us," Pederson said. "We need to establish the run game. It just helps our offense, helps our offensive line settle into games. Our line has done a really nice job of rising to the challenge against some really good defensive fronts."
The Eagles will need to have some success on the ground Thursday night against Carolina to keep the Panthers' pass rush from teeing off on Wentz. The Panthers have 17 sacks in their first five games.
Blount had another strong game Sunday against Arizona. He rushed for 74 yards on 14 carries. Blount has averaged 5.6 yards per carry on first down in the last three games. Thirty-six of his 56 carries this season have been on first down.
Blount leads the Eagles with 13 rushing first downs.
"He's been a great pickup for us," Pederson said. "He has outstanding vision and balance and can break tackles as well as anybody in the league.
Barner earned NFC Player of the Week honors this week because of his long punt returns. The Eagle averaged 36 yards on his three returns, including a 76-yarder. ...
Wendell Smallwood missed Sunday's game with a sore knee. Smallwood had inflammation in his knee all last week and was scratched on Friday. Smallwood did not practice Tuesday and his status for Thursday night's game is up in the air -- although he's making the trip to Carolina.
The Eagles went with three running backs Sunday -- Blount, Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner.
Cox is also making the trip.
I'll have more on Smallwood (and Cox) in advance of tomorrow night's kickoff.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
The Jaguars' secondary shook Ben Roethlisberger to his core on Sunday afternoon, picking off the veteran five times. After Pittsburgh's surprising 30-9 home loss, Big Ben caught himself once again questioning his own future in football.
When asked by reporters after the game if he was doing anything differently under center, Roethlisberger replied, "I don't think so, but maybe I am. Maybe I don't have it anymore. I'm not playing well enough."
Two questions later, he course-corrected. Asked if he is doubting his game, Big Ben responded, "Nope. If anybody in this room ever has that doubt, they probably aren't here. You know what I'm saying? Professional athletes shouldn't have doubt."
Roethlisberger's five interceptions were a career-high and the most thrown by a quarterback since Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed six in September 2016. But Big Ben acted unfazed by his career-worst outing.
"Yeah, that's the way the ball bounces sometimes," he said. "When you play this game long enough, you're going to get those games."
The veteran signal caller added to that on Tuesday, during his weekly appearance on "Cook and Poni" on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday morning.
Roethlisberger said "not at all" when he was asked about that comment and whether he's lost confidence in himself.
"Bad day at the office. You get frustrated, you feel like you let your teammates down," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger said he found that it's "not the worst game I've ever played" when watching the game on film and that he still feels like he's "one of the best in the world" at playing quarterback.
"I'm a gunfighter. I got in a gunfight and I lost," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger was also asked if his heart is still in the game after talking about retirement this offseason. He said it's fair for people to ask the question, but that he is "100 percent" into the game and cited how upset he was about his performance against Jacksonville as evidence for how invested he is in the team.
As NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman suggested, a confluence of unfortunate events preceded Big Ben's five-pick affair. A public spat between Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown over the quarterback missing his wide-open star wideout in Pittsburgh's Week 4 victory dominated the headlines leading up to this one. Surrounded by top talent at every position, the quarterback also hasn't had a very consistent statistical season, entering this game having not tossed for over 300 yards and completing just 62 percent of his passes.
On Sunday, it wasn't so much injuries and his health as it was poor performance that inspired Roethlisberger to consider football mortality in front of scribes. And upon further reflection, he's ready to move forward.
Fortunately, a teammate is eager to help Roethlisberger out.
Le'Veon Bell wanted to see a bigger rushing workload in Sunday's loss to the Jaguars. He got 15 carries for 47 yards.
"I don't think we got enough attempts," Bell said Monday when asked about the Week 5 production versus the previous week at Baltimore, which featured Bell rushing 35 times for 144 yards.
Bell said the Steelers did not plan to run the ball extensively Sunday. He didn't get an explanation, didn't ask why and hasn't lobbied for carries, he said.
Asked about any displeasure with that scenario, Bell said his frustration comes from the loss and not the workload.
But he did make clear what he feels is the best option for the Steelers: Running the ball.
"I feel we're a good enough team to wear guys out whether they know we're running the ball or not," said Bell, who has 371 rushing yards on 102 attempts and 144 receiving yards on 27 catches this season.
Bell said the entire offense didn't play well and didn't properly support Roethlisberger, who hasn't lost a step.
He also called a run-heavy offense "the formula for winning."
On the subject of why he doesn't lobby for more touches, Bell said, "It doesn't really matter what I think. I just go out there and play. ... When my number's called, I'll be ready."
And fantasy owners will be eager to see him prove it.
Bell has rushed for 100 yards or more just once in the first five games of the season. He rushed for 100 yards or more seven times in the final nine games he played in last season. He is averaging 3.7 yards per carry after averaging 4.9 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons. ...
For the record, Bell passed John Henry Johnson to become the fourth-leading rusher in franchise history. Bell has 4,416 yards. Only Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris have more rushing yards.
Brown became the fourth player in franchise history to surpass 9,000 yards from scrimmage against the Jaguars. Brown now has 9,041 yards after catching 10 passes for 157 yards Sunday. Franco Harris has the most yards from scrimmage in franchise history with 14,234.
Brown was targeted 19 times against the Jags. No other receiver had more than 58 receiving yards. Martavis Bryant was quiet yet again. He finished with five catches for 21 yards and hasn't been much of a factor this season after missing the 2016 season on a drug suspension.
One last note. ... With much of the focus on the performance of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown, tight end Jesse James offered another possibility: Predictability
"I think defenses have had good game plans for us," James told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "Jacksonville did a good job [on Sunday] taking away crossing routes, which we've been using the past couple of weeks. Obviously, they game-planned for that, hanging in the flat there, keeping an eye on us coming across. ... I think we will just hopefully be a little less predictable, get more game-plan stuff in."
As Profootballtalk.com suggests, while tactful, it's a clear criticism of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It's ultimately his responsibility to ensure that the game plans change enough from week to week -- and that strategy be disguised from snap to snap -- to avoid situations like this.
We'll see if there's some pushback on this at some point in coming days -- or if we see further evidence of it this weekend.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, Terrell Watson
WRs: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As the Sports Xchange suggested this week, just when they seemed to get head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense rolling, you had to wonder if the San Francisco 49ers were truly trying to win Sunday.
That's what happens when you sit out arguably your best two players for key stretches of a winnable game, then play for overtime when you're two yards away from that win.
"I would never do that just to do it, especially at this time," Shanahan insisted Monday when asked if his priorities have shifted more to playing younger players than trying to win. "I'm always going to try to do what I think gives us the best chance to win, because I still think we're really into this, and I do think we have had a chance to win these games."
Despite playing standout running back Carlos Hyde less than half the time when they were on offense and sitting star linebacker NaVorro Bowman almost one-quarter of the defensive snaps, the 49ers found themselves with a chance to win Sunday's game at Indianapolis.
Having scored on a fourth-down pass from the 5-yard line with 20 seconds left, the 49ers found themselves down just 23-22 and with an opportunity to go for a potential game-winning, two-point conversion.
But despite having all the momentum on his side, the fact that his team was desperate for a pick-me-up type of win, and facing one of the worst defenses in the league, Shanahan turned conservative. He called upon Robbie Gould to kick the extra point, which led to overtime and an eventual 26-23 defeat.
"I thought about it hard," Shanahan insisted Monday. "I felt like the longer that game lasted. ... I felt like the better team would win. And I felt like we were.
"If I felt extremely fortunate to be in that game, and I felt like it was a matter of time before the other team was going to get after us, then I'd take my shot at the (two-pointer) and go for it. But I felt pretty confident in our team winning over the long haul."
The 49ers did have this going for them they had their two best players fresher than most heading into the extra 10-minute session.
Hyde played a total of just 33 of the team's 72 offensive snaps, Bowman 58 of the 76 on defense.
Shanahan said he had different reasons the strategy.
"I plan on going with Carlos early, and I plan on spelling him with Matt Breida regardless," he said of his top two running backs. The rookie got 35 snaps in the game.
"We ended up just going with the hot hand," he continued.
As a result, Breida out-touched Hyde for the first time this season.
Shanahan went on to say that, ideally, Hyde would play even less, with him, Breida and third-stringer Raheem Mostert getting 25 snaps apiece.
It's something I'll be watching closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...
Worth noting, the 49ers managed 152 yards and six points in the first half but found what they were looking for in the fourth quarter, when they posted 180 yards of offense and 17 points on the board.
Also worth noting, the 49ers entered Sunday's game with the second-best chance to have the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, behind only the Cleveland Browns. If there was any solace in losing to the Colts, the hope was that it might come from a Cleveland win against the New York Jets. Alas, the Browns did not comply, losing 17-14.
The 49ers finish a brutal three-game road swing with a trip across the country to play the Washington Redskins this Sunday.
According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, former Redskin Pierre Garcon is clearly the Niners' best skill-position player, and he showed it on the game's opening drive when he caught all five passes thrown his way for 51 yards.
That looked to portend a big day for him, right?
Not exactly. The 49ers didn't go to him much the rest of the day, and he finished with eight catches for 94 yards. It was still a solid outing in a points-per-reception league, but it could have been so much more.
Looking for positives?
As the Colts' defenders focused on Garcon, the 49ers went deep, finding speedy Marquise Goodwin five times for a career-best 116 yards, a 23.2-yard average. The only thing Goodwin didn't do on his big day was find the end zone.
Then, having established Garcon underneath and Goodwin over the top, the 49ers went to tight end George Kittle in the exposed middle, hooking up five times for 73 yards on a game-tying, 89-yard drive at the end of regulation. Fittingly, the rookie hauled in the tying TD pass, a five-yarder on fourth down with 20 seconds left.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Kittle gets another good matchup in Week 6, "as Washington bleeds production to tight ends."
And finally. ... It's not really a surprise that Gould has made all 14 of his field goal tries this season, given that Gould has now made 31 straight, dating to 2015. What makes Gould a pleasant fantasy surprise is the same thing that makes the other 49ers something of a disappointment: there are few who would expect a Shanahan coached offense to struggle to score in other ways.
Alas, Gould has been the team's most consistent producer of points and a solid add in any fantasy league.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
In their first game without Chris Carson, the Seattle Seahawks running game was woefully ineffective.
Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and J.D. McKissic combined for just 39 yards on 19 carries against the Rams on Sunday.
"It wasn't effective enough," head coach Pete Carroll said of the running game. "I wish we would have got ahead a little bit more so we could really pound it a little bit and see if we could make some more yards with it. We kept our attitude about it, we kept trying and working at it."
As the Sports Xchange notes, six of Seattle's 25 carries went for zero or negative yards. They did not manage a single "explosive" run in the game, which the Seahawks categorize as any carry of at least 12 yards. In fact, Seattle didn't have a single carry of at least 10 yards in the game. A 9-yard scramble by Russell Wilson on a third-and-12 was the most effective rush of the game for Seattle and didn't even gain a first down to keep a possession alive.
"We need to do better," Carroll said. "I really want to keep pounding away until we get better at it. We'll make progress there.
"We're just going to keep working our guys and keep rolling them. They're both (Lacy and Rawls) really worthy guys and we'll just pound away and see what happens as the games go."
Carroll added: "There's no reason to have any criteria for it right now because we like our guys, and really, equal status now is good for us. We'll see how they do."
Rawls got his most work of the season against the Rams on Sunday, carrying eight times for 20 yards. Rawls has just 24 yards on 13 carries this season. He's missed large chunks of time since late in the 2015 season due to injuries. A broken ankle, hairline fracture of the fibula and high-ankle sprain have all forced Rawls to miss games.
"I thought Thomas did have a better feel as the game went on," Carroll said. "He just doesn't have much experience in the last year. We'll just keep bringing him along and see how he goes.
"He's working really hard and he's in good shape and his attitude is great and I don't think there's any reason other than just kind of bringing him along. Meanwhile, Eddie is pounding it and we'll be all right."
The Seahawks will get C.J. Prosise back from an ankle sprain after their bye week as well. McKissic also factors into the passing game, catching three passes for 36 yards against the Rams.
Nevertheless, running the football is a core element of the way the Seahawks want to play. Carroll frequently references a desire to reach 50 total completions and carries in a game as a benchmark number that generally points toward successful offense. It's a figure he attributes to former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.
In all three of Seattle's victories, that equation has featured at least 25 carries. In their two losses, they managed just 22 carries or less.
The Seahawks have a bye before playing the New York Giants on the road in Week 7. A bye in mid-October is typically earlier than most teams would prefer, but this isn't the worst time for the Seahawks to get a week off, with a few key players injured, several others playing nicked up and a long road trip upcoming.
In addition to Prosise, cornerback Jeremy Lane (groin) was out against the Rams. Defensive end Cliff Avril was out as well, and Carroll has said Avril's neck injury could be a long-term issue.
Even with the running game struggling, the Seahawks head into their bye on a high note, sitting atop the NFC West standings at 3-2 and with a head-to-head victory over the Rams, who look like their stiffest competition in the division.
Beyond the rushing attack, the Seahawks have a lot of work to do, particularly on offense. That group started slow, gaining only 46 yards and throwing a pair of interceptions on its first five possessions.
Seattle's offensive line struggled in pass protection while allowing three sacks and a whole lot of pressure. That was not the least bit surprising given how recent matchups between these teams have gone, but it was problematic. The Seahawks had to move the pocket quite a bit on designed roll-outs to give Wilson a chance.
And their struggles in pass protection may have led to the decision to not take one last shot into the end zone at the end of the first half.
Left guard Luke Joeckel will have arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday to serve as a clean-up procedure on the ACL injury he sustained last year.
Joeckel was eased into full work in training camp and has played each of the first five games of the season. However, his practice time has been reduced in recent weeks as the knee required further attention.
Carroll didn't have a definitive timeline on the time Joeckel is expected to miss, but said it would be a stretch to think he could play against the New York Giants in two weeks.
On a more positive note, as ESPN.com's Brady Henderson pointed out, the Seahawks finally got tight end Jimmy Graham involved in the red zone, where he has yet to be the difference-maker everyone expected him to be when Seattle acquired him in a trade in 2015.
Graham came down with a jump ball from Russell Wilson for a 4-yard touchdown before halftime. That's a play that, curiously, the Seahawks have not even attempted much, let alone had success with. Graham finished with six catches for 37 yards.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reported, the "Dougernaut" was back, and aside from a defense that held the Patriots to a season-low 19 points, Doug Martin was the true bright spot in the Bucs' 19-14 loss last Thursday night.
"I was trying to get contact all week," Martin said. "My coach (running backs coach Tim Spencer) brought me out there to punch the bags and I kept asking him, 'Do you want me to put some pads on?' He was like, 'No, don't put any pads on.'"
Martin recorded 74 rushing yards on 13 touches, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. His legs looked fresh. His cuts were cat-quick and decisive.
"That was probably the highlight of today, seeing him in the end zone," said Jameis Winston. "We missed him a lot. He toted that ball. The running backs played good, [Jacquizz Rodgers] came in and he handled his load ... I think we're all happy that Doug is back. That put a smile on my face. Thank you."
It looked like Martin could have done a lot more if the Bucs had continued to run the ball in the fourth quarter. At that point, they were down 16-7 and trying to play catch-up.
The Bucs' passing game struggled all night. In fact, it wasn't until the very end of the third quarter that Winston broke 100 passing yards. At that point, Martin had accounted for more than 41 percent of the Bucs' total offense.
"Oh Douglas, oh Douglas, I love Douglas. We love him," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "That's what he [does]. You can tell he's been working out pretty hard. Came back and didn't miss a beat."
Added coach Dirk Koetter: "Doug looked good; he definitely gave us a lift. He looked fast. Doug, you can tell, he's explosive. He's going to help us."
Tight end Cameron Brate chimed in: "I thought Doug did an awesome job. The fresh legs he had -- you could kind of tell there, right when he got into the game, he had a couple of big runs. He really lifted the offense. It's just unfortunate that we couldn't give it to him more. That's just kind of how the game went."
To be fair, Martin hadn't seen game action since his two touches against the Cleveland Browns in the third week of the preseason, nearly six weeks ago. He had just one actual football practice since his return to the team Monday because of the abbreviated week.
"It felt good to be out there," Martin said. "When I went out there for warm-ups -- just to hear the crowd and hear the fans again and to be out there with my brothers was definitely a good feeling. It's unfortunate that we got the loss, but we also came back. I'm just going to learn from this and come back and get ready for the Cardinals."
Between his performance Thursday night and in the preseason -- when, at one point, he was averaging 6.0 yards per carry -- imagine how much more juice Martin can give, especially this week against an Arizona Cardinals defense that ripped Winston to shreds last season with four interceptions.
The Cardinals are giving up just 302.8 yards per game of total offense -- seventh-fewest in the league. The Buffalo Bills, whom the Bucs play in two weeks, are right behind the Cardinals. The Panthers, who loom after the Bills, are even stingier, giving up just 282 yards per game -- fourth-lowest in the league.
But with the way the Bucs' defense played Thursday night -- and things should only get better once star linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander return -- Martin's efforts may just be enough.
"He's gonna be a huge part of us getting a lot of W's throughout the rest of the season," McCoy said. "We just love him as a person. He just brings so much joy to the locker room. He was Doug. He did what Doug [does]. That's why we love having him around here."
Beyond Martin, Winston and the offense did not take advantage of their opportunities against the NFL's worst pass defense and one that had allowed 32 points per game. Winston was erratic early and had 109 yards passing entering the fourth quarter. He finished with 334 yards passing and a touchdown with no interceptions.
Despite the poor overall showing, DeSean Jackson had a breakout game of sorts with five catches for 106 yards on nine targets.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Jackson's two big games came against vulnerable individual matchups with the Vikings struggling at corner opposite Xavier Rhodes and the Patriots leaky defense. Harmon added that Jackson is in another good spot this week facing the Cardinals No. 2 cornerback Justin Bethel (who has been torched on a regular basis this season, most recently by Philadelphia's Torrey Smith this past Sunday).
Also according to Harmon, Thursday night was the first time Brate out-snapped rookie O.J. Howard with Harmon adding that Brate is "looking like a safe weekly play with his targets going up every week (three, four, six, nine) and a touchdown in each of his last three games."
By the way. ... Mike Evans is still averaging 9.8 targets per game despite a slow outing against New England. ...
In case you missed it, there were problems in the kicking game. Not surprisingly, a change was made.
Patrick Murray was signed Monday, replacing struggling Nick Folk, who missed three field goals against the Patriots and has been placed on injured reserve with a "minor injury classification."
Folk, signed in free agency last spring to rectify a mistake Tampa Bay made by drafting Roberto Aguayo in the second round of last year's NFL draft, also missed two field goals and an extra point before booting a 34-yard winner the previous week against the New York Giants.
This will be Murray's second stint with the Bucs. He entered the NFL as a college free agent with the team in 2014, going 20 of 24 on field goals and converting all 31 extra points that season.
The 26-year-old spent 2015 on injured reserve, then appeared in two games with the Cleveland Browns in 2016. In 18 career games, Murray is 21 of 26 on field goals and 34 of 35 on extra points.
After Folk's poor performance against the Patriots, neither the kicker nor head coach Dirk Koetter gave any indication that the 11th-year pro might be injured.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, quarterback help may be on the way for the Tennessee Titans.
After missing Sunday's 16-10 loss against the Miami Dolphins, there's a reasonable chance Marcus Mariota (hamstring) can return for the Titans' game against the Indianapolis Colts next Monday night.
"I feel better about that one than this one," head coach Mike Mularkey said with a smile after the game. Mariota's potential return is one of the only things worth a smile regarding the Titans' offense Sunday.
Mularkey refuted an NFL Network report that stated Mariota would need to miss two to four weeks with his hamstring injury. He seemed optimistic about his chances for the Colts showdown if Mariota showed some more mobility.
"You can listen to NFL Network or you can listen to me," Mularkey said. "When I say day-to-day, I'm going to tell you like it is."
Mularkey said Mariota didn't get "real close" to playing Sunday, saying their franchise quarterback's lack of mobility against a strong defensive front and the road environment had an impact on the decision. He did note the decision would have been a lot harder if it was a playoff game.
Mariota threw 15- to 20-yard stationary throws in practice last week, but he'll need to be able to move around in the pocket to avoid a rush and make quick movements without worry of re-injury in order to play against the Colts.
The showdown against the Colts becomes a battle of two teams with injured franchise quarterbacks trying to find a way. Mariota appears a little closer to a return, and it's more important for Tennessee to get him back. A loss would send Tennessee to 2-4 and into the AFC South cellar.
Meanwhile, Wolfe wrote, "It was painful to watch the Tennessee Titans try to muster an offense without Mariota."
This team wasn't built for it, and Sunday's loss to the Dolphins proved its season will go downhill fast if the quarterback can't get healthy quickly and stay that way.
Matt Cassel looked hesitant, weak-armed and unable to intimidate a Dolphins defense that appeared to salivate every time he dropped back to pass. The Dolphins' first-quarter, strip-sack touchdown, which could just as easily have been ruled an incomplete pass, was a perfect example of a quarterback holding the ball too long in the pocket. It was the difference in an ugly, low-scoring game.
Mariota has the ability to scramble for several yards on that play, or at least use his mobility to get out of the pocket and make a throw downfield or out of bounds.
The Titans' 188 total offensive yards were their lowest output since their 2013 season finale. They averaged 3.2 yards per play and went 2-of-13 on third downs. They wasted a great performance by the defense, which allowed just 178 total yards.
"Might be one of the worst third-down games I can remember. Obviously, we couldn't get in a rhythm," Mularkey said. "I thought we were going to be able to turn that game around but just could not be consistent with our play offensively."
Cassel finished 21-of-32 for 141 yards and the second-half touchdown. It was a mix of checkdowns and intermediate throws. He also was the primary reason for the Titans' six sacks, frequently holding the ball too long.
Penalties made Cassel's job even harder. Taylor Lewan's knee injury forced reserve Dennis Kelly into action, making the offensive line look ordinary, but Cassel's limitations had the biggest impact on Tennessee's offense.
DeMarco Murray had a rough start before finishing the day with 14 carries, 58 yards, a lost fumble while facing seven- and eight-man boxes, but the Dolphins weren't going to let the Titans' run game beat them.
The Indianapolis Colts will have the same game plan next Monday night.
"We gotta run the ball better," Murray said. "Early on, trying to do too much, trying to make plays, me individually, I need to get downhill and take what's there."
But as Wolfe contends, there's not much reason for offensive optimism as long as Cassel is under center.
Indeed, NFL.com's Matt Harmon wrote: "With Cassel at the center, the passing game was predictably lifeless."
Harmon went on to explain that Cassel largely stuck with the traditional distribution. Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker both split the team-lead in targets and were on the field for 84 percent of the team's plays.
In addition, Delanie Walker is averaging just 5.8 targets per game through five weeks. At this point, his volume is a major issue. As Harmon suggested, "Walker looks like a high-end streamer, right now, not an every-week lineup lock."
The sub-par depth at QB brings up the puzzling question of why the Titans didn't do more to upgrade their backup quarterback position this offseason. Cassel, 35, is a smart veteran who can provide guidance, but he's not a quarterback who should see meaningful playing time. Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with a similar skill set as Mariota, would have seemed like a reasonable option, but the Titans were not interested when they worked out four quarterbacks this week and signed veteran Brandon Weeden.
So it appears they'll stick with what they've got until Mariota returns: Cassel and, if needed, Weeden. ...
Rookie receiver Corey Davis is "getting closer" to returning from a hamstring injury that has plagued him much of the time since training camp. He played a game and a half before reinjuring it and has not played since. The Titans will assess him at the end of the week to see if he can play Monday.
I'll obviously be following up on Mariota's progress -- and that of Davis -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. Stay tuned for more. ...
As noted above, Lewan suffered a knee injury against Miami. Lewan, who said his knee checked out OK structurally but trainers concluded there was some looseness in his knee, tried to return but he said his mobility and power was affected too much. Mularkey said he doesn't believe the injury is serious and Lewan agreed.
"I don't think it'll be an issue," said Lewan, who noted it was more movement limitations than pain. ...
And finally. ... Ryan Succop made a 45-yard field goal, marking his 46th consecutive made kick from inside 50 yards. That accomplishment tied an NFL record.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 10 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Brian McNally, the Washington Redskins returned from the bye week rested.
However, the team is not at all close to recovered.
The team was hit hard by injuries during an Oct. 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Multiple key players missed Washington's practice on Monday as it returned to work, including cornerback Josh Norman and left tackle Trent Williams. Their status for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers (0-5) is in doubt.
"Obviously the injuries are a little bit of a concern," head coach Jay Gruden said. "The bye week happens when it happens. Now we just have to understand that we have 12 weeks of straight ball. That's just 12 straight weeks. These guys have to commit themselves to a long haul."
Norman, Washington's top cornerback, sustained a broken rib in the Kansas City game and was expected to miss 2 to 4 weeks. Norman was not on the field at practice on Monday.
The Redskins would rely on starter Bashaud Breeland and young corners Quinton Dunbar (third year), Kendall Fuller (second year) and rookie Fabian Moreau to pick up the slack.
"I probably just go to the other side, but nothing is really gonna change," Breeland said. "We've been through this before last year with me being out hurt and another person having to step up. Same motto this year."
Williams is dealing with a right knee injury. He missed four snaps in the Chiefs game, but returned to finish. Williams, a five-time Pro Bowler, was listed week to week and needed an MRI last Tuesday.
His top backup at left tackle, Ty Nsekhe, had surgery last month for a core muscle injury. Nsekhe took over at left tackle last year during Williams' four-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy.
If Williams can't play on Sunday then T.J. Clemmings would start. Clemmings was cut by the Minnesota Vikings after training camp. All of those injuries made an early bye week more welcome than usual.
"We didn't even want to take the week off," running back Chris Thompson said. "I know we needed it. We've got a lot of injuries.
"But this year I felt like the bye was different. We're back at it now and excited to get on this 12-game stretch. The ultimate goal is to win out, Wish we could."
Thompson said he and quarterback Kirk Cousins were talking Monday about the number of teammates who chose to stay in Washington during the bye. The Redskins (2-2) are in second place in the NFC East.
There were other players missing from Monday's practice. Running back Rob Kelley (rib/ankle) did not participate.
Kelley was also held out on Wednesday and Gruden told reporters the second-year man is a longshot to play this week.
Safety has been a struggle all season for Washington and D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett missed practice as well.
The Redskins placed safety Su'a Cravens on the reserve/left squad list last month, which ended his season as he contemplated retirement. Inside linebacker Zach Brown also sat out, but he is fighting an illness, according to Gruden.
Doctson hurt his shoulder trying to haul in what would have been the go-ahead touchdown catch in the Oct. 2 loss at Kansas City had he not dropped the ball at the last instant. But Doctson returned to practice on Monday and was a full participant. He expects to play Sunday against San Francisco.
But Norman is the big concern. There was no lung damage diagnosed after the broken rib sustained in the second quarter of the loss to Kansas City, according to Gruden.
But the injury is serious enough Norman could miss 3 to 5 games. The Redskins will have a better idea on Tuesday after more tests.
"Josh is a great corner and he's one of the best corners in the league," Gruden said. "That's a significant player to lose on your football team. Fortunately we have some guys that I think are ready to step up and play in his absence."
Meanwhile, through the first four weeks, Cousins' performance hasn't yet settled the debate: Is he worth $24 million a season?
As ESPN.com's John Keim notes, there have been bad games (the opener in which he was too inaccurate), there have been terrific games (a Sunday night matchup against Oakland) and there have been moments (leading late drives for points in a win over the Los Angeles Rams and the tie Monday). Every game Cousins plays, it seems, leads to a variation of how much he should be paid.
One week he looks like a top-10 passer, but in others he looks much lower.
He has shown steady improvement each week, usually coming through when needed -- after the opener. Cousins' progression could take off in October.
"There is a lot to like, especially after the first game," Gruden said. "He was a little bit inaccurate the first game, more so then he ever has been, but a lot of that had to do with the pressure that Philly gave him. He has improved dramatically Week 2, Week 3 and even [Week 4]."
It's worth noting that Cousins started slowly each of his first two years as a starter, with a combined 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in the first four weeks. This season, even with the poor opener, he's thrown seven touchdowns and one interception.
But he lost two 1,000-yard receivers and now throws to one who is talented but raw (Terrelle Pryor) and another who is talented but inexperienced (Josh Doctson). As Keim suggests, Cousins must develop a trust with both players. Cousins also has a new play caller, albeit one in Gruden who became a head coach in large part because of his offensive mind and play calling.
And there's clearly still enough talent on board to be effective, especially with the rise of Thompson, who leads Washington in receiving yards (235).
There are no excuses for not being successful.
The Redskins haven't found a rhythm yet in the rushing game, either, but they've stuck with it far more than in the past. According to the Sports Xchange, that's probably a result of Gruden taking over the play-calling duties.
Washington is seventh in rushing yards per game (130.0) as it mixes Kelley, who has battled injuries, with rookie Samaje Perine and the versatile Thompson, who is a big reason the Redskins are ninth in rushing yards per play (4.48).
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul