Team Notes Week 8 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 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it, "That slam you heard -- the loud one that echoed across the Atlantic Ocean -- was the Arizona Cardinals' window closing."
A win against the Los Angeles Rams in London would have given the Cardinals a shot at the division lead next week. With nine games left and a bye coming up this weekend, Arizona could have put itself in position to make a playoff run while erasing the memory of a disappointing and underachieving first half of the season.
Then the Cardinals' season, which already faced a crossroads in Week 1 when David Johnson got hurt, came to a screeching halt Sunday.
Carson Palmer broke his left arm late in the first half when he was hit on a throw that was intercepted, and he did not return. Palmer had surgery to repair the injury upon return from London.
Originally, it was thought he would miss eight weeks upon undergoing surgery, which in effect, would end his season and possibly his career should the 37-year-old opt to retire.
Palmer, however, apparently has talked with doctors who believe he could be ready to play in as little as four-to-six weeks. He was scheduled for surgery on Wednesday. The Cardinals are off this week and play at the 49ers a week from Sunday.
"Yeah, he was saying four-to-six," head coach Bruce Arians said, laughing. "And I said, 'That'd be great.'"
Asked if that is overly optimistic thinking, Arians said, "It depends what the surgeon says. He is a fast healer."
If Palmer is placed on injured reserve and becomes healthy enough to play in a reasonable amount of time, Arians said the Cardinals will hold one of their two IR activations for their quarterback. The other spot will go to Johnson, who suffered a fractured left wrist in the season opener. If Palmer were to go on reserve/injured, he couldn't play for eight weeks.
Johnson was going to be the centerpiece as he chased a firm grasp on elite status and the MVP trophy. Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald were going to be complementary pieces in one last push for that elusive Super Bowl ring. Arians was going to show that he could reinvent his scheme after a mediocre 2016 and get back to coaching a high-flying offense, as he did in 2015.
None of that has happened as Arizona enters the bye. None of that likely will happen.
After Palmer's injury, Arians gave the keys to the Cardinals' offense to backup Drew Stanton, as was expected. Stanton is no stranger to filling Palmer's shoes. He's 6-3 in place of Palmer since the two QBs became teammates in 2013, including a 5-3 record in 2014 when Palmer missed time for both a shoulder injury and a torn ACL.
"We played with Drew before, you know," Arians said. "We have lost [Palmer] long. Drew has played and won a lot of games for us."
But this year is different. Arizona originally built its offense around Johnson, then had to reconfigure almost everything after his injury. The Cardinals thought they found hope when they traded for Adrian Peterson, but Peterson was ineffective Sunday, running for 21 yards on 11 carries.
"Well, we obviously weren't blocking well enough and Adrian missed a few holes," Arians said.
Without Palmer, Arizona will be lost. The team will be without perhaps the two most important pieces of its offense for who knows how long. How much sense would it make for Arizona to bring either or both back if the season is lost by the time they're healthy?
When is it time for the Cardinals to tie the bow on 2017 and start planning for 2018? Wouldn't this be a good time to see what Gabbert is (or more likely isn't) capable of?
According to Weinfuss, the argument should be settled simply by comparing the number of career starts of the pair. Gabbert has 40, including 27 over his first three seasons with Jacksonville and 13 with the 49ers from 2014 to 2016. Stanton has 13 career starts, eight coming in 2014. Gabbert has played 2,339 offensive snaps. Stanton: 984.
Say what you want about Gabbert -- and Weinfuss concedes there's plenty to be said, specifically about his 9-34 career record -- but when it comes to being able to manage an offense, run a scheme, control a locker room, those 27 more starts give Gabbert a clear advantage over Stanton.
Then there's Gabbert's production.
He's a career 56 percent passer, with 38 touchdowns against 37 interceptions. Stanton has completed 52.7 percent of his passes and thrown 14 touchdowns against 20 interceptions.
Stanton is five years older than Gabbert and has been in the league four more years, which begs the question: Shouldn't he have been a starter by now?
Arians made it clear he would approach his quarterbacks in order. Stanton is his No. 2 and Gabbert is his No. 3.
"I don't skip two and go to three," Arians said.
"Maybe he should," Weinfuss wrote, "just this once.
"Maybe Gabbert can give Arizona the spark it needs. The Cardinals already got the running back they needed to make a push, trading for Adrian Peterson to fill in for David Johnson. Now all they need is the quarterback to replace Palmer, and it should be Gabbert. ..."
From a fantasy perspective, neither Stanton nor Gabbert will offer much confidence when it comes to inserting Fitzgerald in their lineups. And it will make it downright difficult to roll with John Brown, Jaron Brown or J.J. Nelson -- at least until we see something in coming games.
On the loss of Palmer, Fitzgerald said, "That's a real gut punch, to lose your best offensive player, your quarterback. There's no really positive way to sum it up, honestly. You say you have to go forward and you have to do things, but we all know that's a tough pill to swallow for us."
The Cardinals are signing former Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici to their practice squad, pending Bercovici clearing medical protocols on Tuesday morning.
Bercovici most recently was on the Los Angeles Chargers' practice squad. He was released in September during the team's roster cuts after the preseason to 53 players.
And finally. ... As the Sports Xchange notes, Phil Dawson has now missed five field-goal attempts, including a 32-yarder on the game-opening drive during Sunday's loss to the Rams. Asked where his patience level is at the moment with the 42-year-old Dawson, Arians said, "He's our guy, you know. Unless it's something better behind door No. 2, he's our guy."
QBs: Drew Stanton, Mike Glennon, Sam Bradford
RBs: Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Julio Jones acknowledged there was a moment during the Falcons' 23-7 loss to the Patriots when he huddled with Matt Ryan, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel on the sideline in an intense discussion.
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Jones emphasized it was a discussion, not an argument or a blame session.
"We wasn't frustrated at all," Jones said. "It's probably one of those things, we were just trying to get on the same page. That was it. Using words like 'frustrating,' we're never frustrated. It's a process. We're going to work. We're going to try to get it done. We don't like gray area."
Maybe Jones didn't raise his voice Sunday, but perhaps he should have. The Falcons are failing to play up to their full capabilities on offense coming off a season where they led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game. They currently average 22.8 points per game and had a 91-minute, 20-second scoring drought from the second quarter of the Miami Dolphins game until the fourth quarter against New England.
As McClure suggested, "That's hard to fathom from a team that scored 30 or more points in 13 games last season."
Yes, the Falcons did get Jones more involved against the Patriots, particularly in the red zone. He scored his first touchdown of the season and caught nine passes for 99 yards on a season-high 13 targets. But the offense still sputtered, running just 56 plays and not sustaining drives, which kept the defense on the field that much longer.
Many would point to new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as the biggest problem, especially after Sarkisian called a jet sweep to Gabriel on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1 that lost five yards. But the players continue to stand firmly behind Sarkisian. Jones was asked if he has a good connection with Sarkisian.
"Yeah, everybody [does]," Jones said. "No doubt. ... Yeah, he's good."
But the offense certainly hasn't been "good" through six games. Jones admitted himself "we're just not on the same page yet," in dissecting the offensive woes. Such was expected coming into the season, with players getting adjusted to the new wrinkles implemented by Sarkisian and guys such as Jones (foot surgery) and Gabriel (lower leg) missing valuable offseason and preseason work with Ryan due to injury. But six games into the season, most figured the Falcons would take a step forward offensively, not regress.
Their scoring output has gone down every week since Week 2: from 34 to 30 to 23 to 20 to 7.
"I've played in this league long enough to know that, one, it's hard to win games and, two, it's a tall task to be productive week in and week out," Ryan said. "It takes a lot of hard work. We haven't been as productive as I think we're capable of being. From a players' standpoint, I feel like it comes down to missed opportunities. … I sound like a little bit of a broken record for the first couple weeks of the season, but when we got our chances, we have to make plays. And we haven't done a good job of that."
Ryan, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown to Jones against the Patriots, was off on his throws, including consecutive ones to Jones and Sanu in the red zone.
Ryan's best plays against the Pats came on runs, and as McClure suggested, that's never a good sign.
"I had a chance on third down to Sanu in the red zone," Ryan said. "I thought he ran a good route and just overthrew him by a hair. ... That's a play I can make. And when you're playing a good football team like that, those are the tight coverage throws that you've got to hit."
In fact, as Associated Press sports writer Charles Odum noted, the Falcons struggled in the red zone and on third down as they were held below 20 points for the third straight game. Head coach Dan Quinn said he will devote practice time to the problems which led to only two third-down conversions in nine attempts and one touchdown in four red-zone possessions.
Matt Bryant hit the upright on one field goal attempt and had another attempt blocked.
Quinn expected better results in the Super Bowl rematch against the Patriots' defense, which ranked at the bottom of the league. He thought good practices the last two weeks and the return to good health of such players as Sanu would lead to an offensive recovery.
"I was surprised we didn't execute at the level I thought we would," Quinn said.
As for the play call on Gabriel's failed jet sweep?
"As you look back to it, I definitely would rather have a better play for that," Quinn said, adding he'd prefer to have a running back carry the ball.
"That was definitely one that I'm bummed where it went, how it went through," he said. "If you had a call back, damn right you'd want to have that one back."
Most of the players continue to use the same clichés about getting better every week, taking it one game at a time, and not reflecting on last year. Jones' comment about not being on the same page was as honest as it got, though Jones didn't single anyone out.
"I'm a grown man. Of course if I want to raise my voice, I raise my voice," Jones said. "But I don't need to. We good. We're men. We talk to each other."
It looks like the Falcons need to talk it out a little bit more before the season continues a downward spiral, with a current three-game losing streak going into next week's road matchup with the New York Jets.
"I think it's all of us: Nobody can point fingers at nobody," Devonta Freeman said. "We just need to figure out ways to win. It's all three phases. … It ain't no fingers at nobody because [whenever] we win the Super Bowl, there isn't going to be any pointing fingers at how good we were. ..."
The Falcons don't have the appearance of a playoff team while sitting at 3-3 in the NFC South. They need to get better in a hurry with games coming up against the Jets (away), Panthers (away) and Cowboys (home). ...
Other notes of interest. ... Jones caught nine passes for 99 yards and his first touchdown of the season. On his second catch of the game, Jones broke the 8,000-yard mark, becoming the second fastest player in NFL history to reach 8,000 receiving yards. His touchdown moved him into sole possession of fourth place on the franchise's career receiving touchdown list (41).
The Falcons tried get the running game going early, but were stymied. Freeman had five carries for 16 yards and Tevin Coleman had three carries for five yards in the first half. Freeman rushed 12 times for 72 yards and Coleman rushed six times for 16 yards.
The running backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry and have been more involved in the game plan. When the run game is shut down, Ryan is not effective with his play-action fakes and that showed in New England.
Coleman (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper understated, "The Ravens went into Week 7 with one of the league's worst offenses and they won't be climbing the rankings after their game against the Vikings."
Baltimore gained 208 yards on their way to a 24-16 loss that leaves them with a 3-4 record. After all four of those losses and at least the first of those wins, there's been discussion about what to do about an offense that can't put up enough points to win and this Sunday was no exception.
Quarterback Joe Flacco pointed to the impact of missing four receivers -- Breshad Perriman, Chris Matthews and Jeremy Maclin didn't play while Mike Wallace left early with a concussion -- while trying to make the case that the unit isn't in need of a total overhaul.
"You go back to work. You get better. You look at where you made mistakes," Flacco said, via the team's website. "But I wouldn't say overall that we're trying to fix something that's completely broken. We can't look at it that way."
With the passing game unable to threaten downfield, Baltimore could not get its running game going against the Vikings' stout defense. The Ravens finished with 64 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Alex Collins had 30 yards on 10 carries and has been their biggest spark on offense.
Head coach John Harbaugh won't use the mounting injuries as an excuse for their recent woes. But clearly the depleted roster has taken a toll on the team.
As Associated Press sports writer David Ginsburg pointed out, the Ravens, who have 15 players on injured reserve, have lost four of their past five games. Baltimore trails first-place Pittsburgh (5-2) by two games and has already lost to the Steelers at home.
Harbaugh estimates the Ravens need at least 10 wins to avoid missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years. That challenge could be daunting.
"We're already in unchartered territory," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "I don't know how many other teams have had this many injuries on offense. We'll just see how it plays out. We have a lot of tough guys. It's about mental toughness. You have to put everything aside, ignore the noise and go out there and fight. We have a bunch of guys I know who will do that."
Baltimore has scored one offensive touchdown in the past two games.
In addition to missing the issues at wideout, Baltimore is also missing two starters on the offensive line and has been forced to start rookie Jermaine Eluemunor at right guard.
"Reality is what it is. We have to find a way to do what we have to do," Harbaugh said about overcoming the injuries. "We did not turn the ball over and that was a goal in this game. We thought that would give us a chance. We didn't do enough of the other things we need to do to win the game."
Flacco has taken much of the criticism for the team's struggles on offense. Over seven games, Flacco has thrown for 1,189 yards with five touchdowns and eight interceptions. His 70.0 passer rating ranks 31st in the league.
Following the loss to the Vikings, Flacco said the team cannot use the injuries as a reason for the lackluster play.
"It's tough to talk about how tough it is," Flacco said. "It is what it is. We have to go out there and we have to play and that's why we have 53 guys on the roster that are active every week so that everybody gets a chance to step out and make it happen. It obviously isn't the best situation, but we've got to make it work."
On the other side of the ball, Baltimore was expected to get a boost with defensive tackle Brandon Williams back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with a foot injury. The Ravens had allowed 169.5 yards per game and went 1-3 with Williams out. Minnesota still managed 169 rushing yards on 33 carries.
The defense has now allowed more than 100 yards on the ground for five straight games. Part of the issue is Baltimore's defenders are left on the field for long stretches after the offense goes three-and-out.
Williams said the team did show some overall improvement against the run.
Baltimore faces another tough matchup this week against Miami running back Jay Ajayi, who is ranked seventh in the NFL with 442 yards on 125 carries. ...
For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes that Wallace's spirited attempt to return to Sunday's game was appreciated by teammates and coaches. The Ravens later acknowledged they wouldn't expect anything less from the determined wide receiver.
It just didn't change the fact that the Ravens weren't going to let Wallace go back on the field after suffering a concussion.
"Mike is a tough guy and he was adamant about coming back in to the game, but he has some kind of concussion, to some degree," Harbaugh said. "We will find out over the next couple days how that shakes out, but it does not surprise me."
Wallace has been one of the most durable wide receivers in the NFL. He has missed only one game in his nine-year career, and he has played in 71 straight games. But it will be challenging for Wallace to suit up in a short week.
Wallace was knocked out of the game by a vicious shot to the head from Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo in the first quarter. Wallace's helmet flew off from the collision, and Sendejo was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. He was subsequently suspended for one game.
Wallace went to the locker room for further evaluation before returning to the sideline. The Ravens ruled him out in the second quarter, and Wallace appeared visibly frustrated by the decision.
Without a deep threat like Wallace, Flacco averaged a dreary 4.8 yards per attempt and didn't complete a pass longer than 23 yards.
According to Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun, Maclin said he and Perriman were "doing everything we can" to get ready to play Thursday night against the Dolphins.
Maclin has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. Perriman left the Bears game two weeks ago with a concussion. But Maclin, Perriman and Wallace have practiced on a limited basis, which was good since reserve Michael Campanaro has not practiced because of a shoulder injury.
Ben Watson (knee), Maxx Williams (ankle) and Terrance West (calf) also sat out on Tuesday.
The official verdict came with the release of the final injury report on Wednesday:
West and Williams are ruled out. Campanaro and Matthews are doubtful. Wallace, Maclin, Perriman and Watson are questionable.
I'll have more on their status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday and I'll follow up through the inactive announcement Thursday night. ...
Receiver Griff Whalen, who was signed last week because of injuries, had an effective debut. He had four catches for 23 yards and showed solid hands. Whalen could get more opportunities moving forward even if Baltimore gets some of its injured receivers back in the lineup.
Tight end Gavin Escobar was signed Monday to give Flacco another target downfield. Escobar is a 2013 second-round pick by the Cowboys and had 30 receptions for 333 yards and eight touchdowns during his career in Dallas. In a corresponding move, OL Tony Bergstrom was released.
Javorius Allen led the backfield in touches, but it didn't amount to much. He totaled 20 rush yards and just 29 receiving yards on eight receptions. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, if snap counts mattered for fantasy, Allen would be an RB1 as he played 40 snaps compared to Collins' 18. But that's not the case. The fact of the matter is that the Ravens offense is bad, and Allen is being held back because of it.
It's usually not a good sign when your best players are your kicker and punter. But that's how it went for Baltimore. Justin Tucker converted all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 57-yarder. San Koch had a 60-yard punt. There were breakdowns in coverage as the Vikings returned three punts for 83 yards.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Kenny Bell
TEs: Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Held to 3.2 yards per carry through the first five games of this season, LeSean McCoy was looking forward to Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a chance to turn his season around. Instead, he let his team down -- then redeemed himself.
For only the second time in his Buffalo Bills career and the first time since 2015, McCoy lost a fumble. That gave the Buccaneers the ball with 9:30 remaining in the fourth quarter in a tied game, and Tampa capitalized with a touchdown to take the lead. Already "angry" with himself over his performance to start this season, McCoy wouldn't have felt any better after what looked like a potential loss.
"I was definitely upset, I wasn't happy [about the fumble]," McCoy said. "But I controlled myself. I just wanted to get another opportunity, praying the defense would get a stop. Get that second chance. So things happen. It's how you adjust, how you respond, how you bounce back."
Buffalo finished with 173 rushing yards, its most since Week 1 when Buffalo ran for 190 yards against the Jets.
McCoy started the day with just 279 yards rushing and no touchdowns, but the Bills diversified their run package and McCoy was able to find space on the edges as well as up the middle.
"We changed the scheme up a little bit," said McCoy. "I had more one-on-one opportunities and I felt I ran solid, too.
McCoy gained 91 yards on 23 carries, failing to surpass 100 yards for a fifth consecutive game. However, his two touchdowns were his first two of the season and played a critical role for an offense that again had issues at times Sunday moving the ball through the air.
Of course, the Bills have had problems all season with an unproductive wide receiving corps, but perhaps they found a solution with veteran newcomer Deonte Thompson.
Cut by the Bears last week, Thompson signed with the Bills and was thrust into action immediately, and he produced. He had four catches for 107 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game for the Bills this season, in the 30-27 victory Sunday over Tampa Bay.
Thompson's biggest play came with three minutes left when he reeled in a 44-yard pass from Taylor to set up McCoy's game-tying touchdown.
"Love his attitude, man," head coach Sean McDermott said. "Obviously, he loves that attitude that we have, and that's toughness and mental toughness and physical toughness - the underdog. He embraces that, and that's what you saw. He made a huge play late in the game and a couple of big plays during the game."
Thompson has bounced around from Baltimore to Chicago to Buffalo since entering the league in 2012. He started six games for the Bears last season and caught 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and this year in five games (three starts), he had 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown before the Bears released him.
"It came out of nowhere," he said of his somewhat surprising release from a team that is even worse than the Bills in the passing game. "I was one of the leading receivers over there. I was playing great. To this day, I still don't know why or what I did. It's very cold-hearted, man. I've been cut before, but that one cut deep. I felt like I was a leader on the team. I still don't understand."
The Bills recognized an opportunity to grab a player who has some viable NFL experience, something they were gravely in need of. Through Sunday, the Bills' wideouts have just 34 catches for 461 yards combined, 145 of the yards coming against the Bucs.
"There's a whole bunch of guys in here that other teams didn't want," said Thompson. "We all feel like that, but this is a great team. This team is going to do some special things this year. We believe in one another."
It also helped that Thompson had a relationship with Taylor as they spent two years together in Baltimore.
"It's great to see him come in and have the game that he did," Taylor said. "I've known DT for a while now. I'm proud of the way he played. I'm proud of the way everyone played. ... He was able to take advantage of some matchups, and he was able to make some plays downfield."
As the Sports Xchange understated, the Bills' passing game is desperate for a spark.
The Bills still rank 29th in the NFL in passing, and will be playing several more weeks without tight end Charles Clay. Jordan Matthews is a solid veteran, but he's battling a thumb issue following surgery and his effectiveness was limited Sunday. Then there's rookie second-round pick Zay Jones, who is enduring a nightmare of a season. He has only seven catches for 83 yards despite playing 85 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps.
So the timing may be perfect for Thompson, a player who was with the Bills briefly at the end of 2014, but was cut in training camp by then-head coach Rex Ryan the following year, which led him to joining the Bears
The Bills remain at home this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, who will have extra rest after Thursday's last-second win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills will once again have their hands full with a passing offense featuring Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. ...
The Bills have a problem in their secondary, and this is not the week to be experiencing personnel issues. Cornerback E.J. Gaines suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter and was unable to finish the game, and free safety Jordan Poyer suffered a knee injury on the final play of the game, a wacky, multiple-lateral play that made his injury a bit tough for McDermott to swallow.
"Those are unfortunate," McDermott said. "It'd be nice if there was a time clock on those plays just to, you know, after a certain time you've got to call the play dead. That would've been helpful."
On Monday, McDermott said that both Gaines and Poyer will for now be listed as day-to-day. Given that Poyer has played almost every defensive snap in the first six games, and been one of the Bills' best players, that one in particular is a critical injury.
Worth noting. ... Taylor had one of his best games of the season with 268 yards passing, 53 yards rushing, and no turnovers. He also won for the third time in 19 tries in games where the Bills trailed by at least four points at any stage of the game.
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak pointed out, normally known for his precise deep ball, Taylor entered Sunday just 9-of-21 with one INT and no TDs on throws of 15-plus yards this season. He completed five such passes against the Bucs for 142 yards and a TD to tight end Logan Thomas.
Matthews returned after missing just one game with a broken thumb, though he had only two catches for 10 yards.
On the injury front. ... Clay (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Thomas was been excused for personal reasons, while McCoy had a veteran rest day.
QBs: AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed, head coach Ron Rivera suggested it may be time to simplify what the Panthers are doing on offense after managing just three points against the Chicago Bears.
During his news conference Monday, Rivera said he may be asking too much of his new/young players in terms of the number of formations and personnel groupings they've been asked to learn.
"You put some young guys and new guys out on the field and it's not like you had in the past," Rivera said. "You are missing some key elements. You are missing a Greg Olsen and a Ryan Kalil and some of the other veteran guys. When communications are made there are little hand signals and their tempo picks up and they can play faster. We're in a situation where we have so many new guys that it takes a little while to register."
The Panthers managed just a field goal in a 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Chicago scored two long defensive touchdown -- one on a Cam Newton interception and another when rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel fumbled a pitchout from Newton.
It's the second time this season the Panthers have failed to score an offensive touchdown.
The loss dropped Carolina (4-3) out of first place in the NFC South. The Panthers visit Tampa Bay (2-4) on Sunday in a divisional matchup.
"There's no excuse not to come in and find a way to win this football game," Newton said after the loss to the Bears. "We squandered that opportunity, but I'm not feeling sorry for myself, nor do I expect anyone else to. Life goes on and we just have to get ready for our next opponent."
The Panthers have been playing without Olsen, who led the team in receptions the last two seasons. The second team All-Pro is on injured reserve recovering from a broken foot and will miss at least three more games.
Carolina also lacks a deep threat.
The Panthers allowed wide receiver Ted Ginn to walk in free agency, figuring the team's first two draft picks -- Christian McCaffrey and Samuel -- and veteran receiver Russell Shepard would help stretch the field with their speed. But the Panthers have struggled in that area all season.
On Sunday they had one pass of longer than 20 yards -- that a 37-yard reception by Kelvin Benjamin seconds before halftime while the Bears were in prevent defense.
McCaffrey, a running back, leads the team in receptions but hasn't broken many big plays. Seven of his receptions resulted in just five yards per catch.
Samuel is a wide receiver with great speed but hasn't been able to spring himself deep. Rivera suggested the coaching staff may be expecting too much of Samuel -- and are putting too much on the rookie's plate.
Newton was sacked five times by the Bears and hit 11 times, so just getting the passing attack cranked up tends to be a problem.
Considering that the Panthers trailed for almost the entire game, there needs to be more production in this area.
Newton was at his worst against the blitz, going 4-for-11 for 11 yards and two interceptions.
As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, this is a season-long problem. In Carolina's three losses, Cam Newton has a 41 percent completion percentage against the blitz and has thrown one touchdown to four interceptions. In four wins, he has completed 81 percent against the blitz, firing three touchdown passes to no interceptions.
"I'm not feeling sorry for myself, nor do I expect anyone else to," Newton said. "Life goes on and we just have to get ready for our next opponent."
With opposing defenses not respecting Carolina's deep passing game, teams have been able to put an extra safety or two in the box to stuff the running game.
The Panthers put up 108 rushing yards, but most of those were hard-earned and almost half of those (50) came from Newton. Plus, it was an option play on a pitch that resulted in a fumble that was returned for Chicago's first touchdown. Newton, though, continues to show that he's a threat by carrying the ball.
Jonathan Stewart had 48 rush yards on his 14 carries and for the second straight week, he was out-rushed by Newton. Stewart had just two touches in the second half. According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, Stewart has been "one of the most inefficient running backs in the league the last few games and is droppable at this point in shallow leagues."
Newton sidestepped a question on whether Carolina's lack of deep throws are the result of those plays not being called by offensive coordinator Mike Shula or just receivers not being open.
"Sorry, I can't answer that question. I'm executing the play that is given to me and pretty much trying to check what the defense gives me," Newton said.
When questioned about the team's offensive play calling, Rivera said he's "happy with what we're doing on offense."
The good news?
Tampa Bay is struggling, too, giving up 68 points in its past two games. The Panthers can't afford to lose another game they are favored to win, because the schedule only gets tougher after that. ...
On the injury front, Rivera said middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion) will be seen by an independent physician before the team returns to the practice field Wednesday. Kuechly did not play against the Bears but he worked fully on Wednesday; tight end Ed Dickson (ankle) was not. ... Rivera offered no update on the status of Kalil (neck) and guard Trai Turner (knee).
Stewart (ankle), Newton (right shoulder) and Devin Funchess (hamstring) were limited Wednesday.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker, who suffered an ankle injury Oct. 12 against Philadelphia, wasn't on the active roster for the Chicago game as he continues to deal with that injury.
With Graham Gano working through a knee issue, Carolina was working out kickers Tuesday, including Andrew Franks, Mike Meyer, Roberto Aguayo, and Younghoe Koo.
They signed Aguayo to the practice squad on Wednesday. Gano isn't ruled out and was practicing fully on Wednesday. But it's a situation worth watching. ...
The Panthers claimed wide receiver Kaelin Clay off waivers from the Bills. A sixth-round selection of the Buccaneers in 2015, Clay spent his rookie year with the Ravens. He was out of football in 2016. ...
Olsen can't play until Nov. 26 against the Jets, but he becomes eligible to practice next week. He went on injured reserve with a broken right foot in Week 3.
"I'm doing good," Olsen said Monday, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. "I'm starting to move around. Start progressing here and. ... Hopefully start getting on the field and doing some stuff by next week, and just take that next step. Everything's going well."
Olsen no longer wears a protective boot and part of his rehab includes running on an underwater treadmill. The next step is getting back on the practice field.
"We won't really know a lot until you start really getting out there and moving around and running around and see how it responds," Olsen said. "So far so good."
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Torrey Smith, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky didn't mince words after his team's 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers.
"I thought I played really poor," Trubisky told reporters. "I just have to be better overall."
The entire offense does, too. A lot better.
Ad Dickerson put it, it's hard to fathom the Bears beating many opponents over the final nine games if the offense has the ball for only 21:25.
On Sunday, the Bears ran just 37 plays compared to 67 by the Panthers. And the Bears offense didn't accomplish much when on the field. Trubisky finished the afternoon 4-of-7 for 107 yards passing.
Take away Tarik Cohen's 70-yard reception -- Trubisky's only memorable throw of the day -- and the Bears were 3-of-6 for 37 yards through the air.
The last team to have seven or fewer pass attempts all by the same player are the 2006 Panthers, coached by -- you guessed it -- John Fox. The Panthers quarterback that day in 2006: Chris Weinke, who beat the Falcons 10-3.
"I've seen a lot," Fox said. "I've been part of those games. This is a team game. Sometimes, it's going to be one-sided in one way or another. I've seen that before. It's about execution. But at the end of the day, you have smiling faces in the locker room, and they fought hard for that victory."
It's true: Winning cures mostly everything in professional sports.
But weren't many smiles in Chicago's offensive meeting rooms Monday when they turn on the tape to review that performance.
Even the running game sputtered.
Say what you want about conservative play calling to protect a lead -- many Bears offered that explanation in the postgame locker room -- but the Bears' identity on offense is built around running the football.
Fresh off a monster game in Baltimore, Bears running back Jordan Howard was limited to 65 yards on 21 carries (3.1 yards per attempt). Cohen didn't carry the ball a single time out of the backfield. And Trubisky was credited with 3 yards on five rushing attempts, giving the Bears a grand total of 68 yards on the ground.
Factor in the lost yardage on the sacks, and the Bears had 153 total net yards of offense.
"We just have to be more consistent on offense to help our defense out; we just have to get a couple more scores and downs together to keep them off the field," Trubisky said of Carolina, which had the ball for 38:35. "It was hard to get in a rhythm because we really weren't on the field for much of the first half because they were driving the ball. It was kind of strange, but we will take them how we can get them. It was nice to get the win, but we just need to be better on offense."
The Bears have a defense with emerging playmakers such as Eddie Jackson (who was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after scoring two touchdowns against the Panthers), Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd and Danny Trevathan, just to name a few. But for the Bears to make real noise in the second half of the season, when the schedule lightens up, the offense has to pull its weight.
That didn't happen on Sunday.
And the question becomes this: Do the Bears let Trubisky wing it or keep pulling in the reins to get back to .500 this week against New Orleans at the risk of slowing Trubisky's development?
Fox said it may not come to this with the Bears offense, if their low-profile receivers and Trubisky find a way to get in sync. Then there may be more than seven passes, like Trubisky threw against the Panthers.
"We're a work in progress," Fox said. "A lot was made about the receiver position; we're learning more and more about those guys each week.
"We made a change at quarterback three weeks ago. We've had a couple of line injuries that we've kind of weathered. We were close in the run game yesterday. Our stats weren't as glowing as they have been, but that defense is pretty good, in fact really good."
So Fox figures the offense will eventually start to resemble a legitimate NFL attack and not a Pop Warner team running the T formation, even with nondescript Tanner Gentry, Kendall Wright and Tre McBride as potential targets. The nature of the opponent may dictate this, as well.
"All the games take on different personalities," Fox said. "The matchups are different. The offense is different. The defense is different. The kicking game is different. It changes."
Fox said Trubisky has also been playing against strong defenses.
"To go on the road and play against a very opportunistic defense in Baltimore, and then a very, very good defense yesterday, it's not like he's had any cupcakes as far as the defenses he's going up against," Fox said.
Trubisky's first game was against Minnesota, the fourth-ranked defense. Carolina is third. Baltimore is 18th.
"And there's been enough flashes there where you see bright things," Fox said. "Whether it was the third-and-11 to put us in field-goal range in Baltimore. Or a couple of the passes he made in the first half of the Minnesota game, albeit we might have shot ourselves in the foot with some of it."
Whatever the case, fantasy owners need to take it all into account.
Even without Luke Kuechly, the Panthers swarmed the Bears' outside run blocking schemes and forced Howard to become a cutback runner. It's not his strong suit. The only time Howard was effective was when Carolina's defense was going all out to get back the ball in the final five minutes. He powered through them at this point.
The Bears didn't give the ball to Cohen for a single rushing attempt, and it might have been an option to see what a cutback threat could do.
Offensive line penalties shredded any chance to build running game momentum.
Unless and until the passing attack can keep opposing defenses honest, Howard owners will have to hope his sheer volume leads to some big play. Fortunately, he has a great matchup with the Saints this weekend.
One last note here. ... The Chargers traded wide receiver Dontrelle Inman to the Bears for a seventh-round pick on Wednesday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Given the current state of Chicago's passing attack, Inman might not be any busier as a Bear than he's been as a Charger to date this season.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Bennie Fowler, Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN's Katherine Terrell put it, "So much for positive momentum. ..."
All of the strides the Cincinnati Bengals made to dig themselves out of an 0-3 start came to a quick halt somewhere toward the end of the second quarter of a 29-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Bengals (2-4), fresh off two straight wins, were matching the Steelers score for score, but things began to fall apart after the Bengals failed to gain a yard with less than two minutes left in the first half. Two defensive penalties led to a Steelers field goal, followed by two straight interceptions off deflected passes from a hobbled Andy Dalton.
Dalton, who injured his ankle two weeks ago against the Bills, insisted he was fine, but was badly limping at points during the game on Sunday. At two points late in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals desperately needing to convert on third down, Dalton was sacked.
When the Bengals most needed Dalton to step up, he took a step back, and the offensive line did him no favors.
The defense, which had been one of the bright spots of the team, looked lost at times and failed in basic fundamentals, missing several key tackles.
The Bengals were able to overcome these deficiencies against teams like the Bills and the Browns, but their weak spots were exposed against the Steelers. While they can go back to the drawing board this week and perhaps gain some confidence against the hapless Colts, teams with strong defenses are going to be able to key in on A.J. Green like the Steelers did.
Without Green, who else do the Bengals have?
The Bengals' porous offensive line has hindered their ability to run the ball, and their usage of rookie Joe Mixon, who made some big plays in the first half but was largely absent in the second half, was curious at best. With Dalton hobbled and the offensive line struggling, it was clear the Bengals weren't going to be able to generate enough offense to make a comeback against the Steelers.
Mixon did not have a carry in the second half, although Dalton did throw two passes his way. He voiced his frustration for the Cincinnati running back group after the game.
"It's frustrating. I feel like I'm seeing [Le'Veon Bell] got the ball 35 times, and I got it seven in the first half and then don't touch the ball again," Mixon said. "Jeremy Hill only got one touch in the second half. It's frustrating to us running backs. We feel like we're in the room and we feel like we're part of the offense. If it worked in the first half, why not do it in the second?"
Mixon, who finished the night with seven carries for 48 yards and three receptions for 20 yards, said he couldn't help but notice the Steelers' success running the ball, with Bell getting 35 carries for 134 yards.
Mixon said he didn't understand why the Bengals didn't give him a chance to do that, as well, when he was averaging 6.9 yards per carry. The Bengals attempted two runs in the third quarter, with Hill and Giovani Bernard combining for nine yards. Two of the third-quarter drives were cut short by turnovers.
"Me personally, I feel like I can do way more than [Bell] did. Like I said, I only had seven carries. I can't showcase nothing if I don't get the ball. There's nothing else I can say," Mixon said.
Head coach Marvin Lewis was terse when asked about the absence of Mixon, who briefly went to the locker room during the game but quickly returned.
"He was there in the third quarter," Lewis said. "Whatever plays are called are called."
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor had the offense humming the past three games after taking over for Ken Zampese in Week 3. But as Terrell suggested, the Bengals are a flawed team on offense, and without the likes of Tyler Eifert or John Ross, they don't have many ways to mix things up. It became clear on Sunday that the offense won't be able to bail them out when the defense is struggling.
And without that ability, it's going to be a long season for the Bengals. That said, with the Colts coming to Cincinnati, the run game (and hopefully Mixon) should get back on track. ...
Worth noting. ... Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft each pulled in touchdown catches. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, LaFell is routinely on the field for over 90 percent of the Bengals snaps but this is the first time he's done anything of consequence for fantasy all year. He's yet to crack 35 yards receiving. "It should go without saying that this is not something to chase," Harmon added.
On the other hand, Harmon views Kroft as a perfect streaming tight end. He only saw four targets but was on the field for 98 percent of the team's plays and hauled in his touchdown with the Bengals in the red zone.
And finally. ... Ross was inactive for the fifth time in six games on Sunday with a knee injury that has limited him to one touch through the first seven weeks of his rookie season. On Monday, Lewis would not offer any prognostication on when Ross might return to action.
Ross practiced last week, but was limited. He worked fully Wednesday, however, to start this week.
"When John Ross is suited up, he'll be out there and suited up," said Lewis.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
DeShone Kizer's on-field mistakes have hurt the winless Browns. He doesn't want to make things worse with his off-field behavior.
The rookie quarterback, who has been benched three times in three weeks for interceptions, vowed Monday to change his habits after a video surfaced of him at a bar with some teammates on Friday night.
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers, Kizer met Monday with head coach Hue Jackson to discuss his actions, the latest drama surrounding the Browns (0-7), who will play Minnesota in London this week.
Jackson was unaware of the video until it was pointed out to him following Sunday's overtime loss to Tennessee.
Jackson was surprised to learn of Kizer's actions and the 21-year-old QB said he better understands that he being an NFL starter is much more than knowing the plays and making throws.
"As a quarterback of this organization, I know there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that and a big part of it is being a leader," he said, "and being a leader is making sure you understand that distractions in any fashion aren't good for an ultimate goal and when you become the centerpiece of a distraction for a week, it definitely is very frustrating on my part. That's not who I am. My mother wouldn't be proud of this and that's pretty much the biggest takeaway - is do whatever you can to make sure you're not a distraction."
Jackson benched Kizer in the second half on Sunday after the second-round pick from Notre Dame threw his second interception - and 11th this season - on consecutive possessions. Following the game, Jackson was blindsided by the report on Kizer, which came on the heels of the Browns fining wide receivers Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman for missing a curfew when the team was in Houston and sending them home.
Jackson, who is under pressure because of a 1-22 record over the past two seasons, has warned his players about the perils of going out publicly.
He didn't have a problem with Kizer's social activity, but urged him to be more cautious.
"They are young men and they can go out," he said. "Our players, our quarterback, whoever that is, you want to make sure that those guys understand the situations that you can and can't be in."
Jackson said Kizer's late-night adventures would not have any bearing who starts this week and he was good to his word.
The Browns announced Wednesday morning that Kizer will start on Sunday against the Vikings in London.
Although Jackson says publicly that he's confident in Kizer, his actions over the last two weeks haven't shown it. And it's fair to wonder if even Kizer shares in his coach's confidence.
"I can't worry about confidence," Jackson said. "You guys keep talking about confidence. We are in the business of winning games."
Well. ... If that's the case, business is not good.
And as ESPN.com's Pat McManamon suggested, with the Browns this season, winning comes with an asterisk. Because this season was also about developing a quarterback, nursing him through the tough times and seeing if a 21-year-old from Notre Dame has what it takes to be the guy.
A team with limited talent would certainly try to win games, but this season was about growth, the quarterback and setting a foundation. If wins followed, great, but that wasn't the emphasis.
And Jackson vowed he would stick with Kizer in part to help build his confidence.
Instead, Kizer was benched two weeks ago in favor of Kevin Hogan, who started and did not play well. Then he was re-installed as the starter last week, only to be benched again, this time in favor of Cody Kessler, during the game.
All this after promising he would ride out the ups and downs of a rookie and work him through the tough times.
"The Browns aren't working Kizer through much of anything," McManamon wrote. "They're more working him over."
Kizer is not helping with his league-leading total of 11 interceptions, but when a guy starts to play with fear, he makes more mistakes. If Kizer is looking over his shoulder, he can't play freely.
The question now isn't so much whether Kizer will be the guy going forward, but whether he's a lost cause for this season.
Whatever the case, the Browns' offensive struggles and inconsistency make all of Cleveland's skill players a tough choice for fantasy owners. With different quarterbacks playing and throwing three interceptions and inexperienced and undependable players at the receiver spot, the Browns are a risk on any fantasy offense.
Adding to the concerns, left tackle Joe Thomas will miss the rest of the season after an MRI discovered a torn triceps in his left arm, the team announced Monday.
Thomas had not missed a snap for the Browns since he was taken third overall in the 2007 draft, a streak of 10,363 consecutive plays that the team said is unprecedented in NFL history. He is also one of five players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of their first 10 seasons in the league, joining Mel Renfro, Merlin Olsen, Barry Sanders and Lawrence Taylor.
Other notes of interest. ... Isaiah Crowell managed 71 yards from scrimmage against the Titans Sunday. He had 35 rush yards and 36 receiving yards. It was yet another disappointing outing for Crowell, but as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich wrote, "At this point, we can't say that it comes as a shock. He has yet to find the end zone this season, and maxed out at 8.6 fantasy points in Week 1. He's not a startable running back in fantasy football, and especially not against the Vikings (this) week."
Duke Johnson was the most targeted player in Cleveland's passing game and hauled in six catches for 45 yards, adding 26 rush yards. But with a tough matchup, Johnson's standing as a solid flex play with upside is probably also in question -- although he remains on pace for a 98-target season.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, for whatever reason, David Njoku was on the field for just 39 percent of the plays this week. Despite being one of the lone bright spots on offense, his playing time has actually been trending down the last month. "It's a decision that doesn't make any sense," Harmon added.
Which is a recurring theme in Cleveland. ...
The Browns promoted tight end Matt Lengel from the practice squad on Wednesday.
The Bengals originally signed Lengel as an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of Eastern Kentucky. He spent all of his first season and the first eight weeks of the 2016 season on Cincinnati’s practice squad before New England signed him to its active roster Nov. 2.
Lengel appeared in six regular-season games for the Patriots last season, as well as all three of the team’s postseason games, including Super Bowl LI. He finished the year with two receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown.
The Browns signed him to their practice squad Oct. 10.
One last item here. ... Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett has been placed in the league's concussion protocol after turning up at team headquarters with symptoms.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, Bryce Treggs
TEs: Darren Fells, David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Ezekiel Elliott will get at least one more game before another court ruling in his fight against the NFL over a six-game suspension on domestic violence allegations.
Beyond that, the Dallas Cowboys aren't sure.
They just know they could use their star running back over a four-game stretch that includes two division rivals (Washington and Philadelphia), a team tied for the best record in the AFC (Kansas City) and defending NFC champion Atlanta.
As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon added, the Cowboys (3-3) don't have the luxury of the fast start that carried them to the best record in the conference last season.
That belongs to the NFC East-leading Eagles.
"I don't like to think about playing ballgames without Zeke," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said after Sunday's 40-10 win at San Francisco. "We don't need reminding. He's an integral part to our team and he'd be an asset to anyone playing football."
Elliott, last year's NFL rushing champion as a rookie, had a career-high 219 yards from scrimmage against the 49ers. That included a season-high 147 yards rushing and a 72-yard touchdown on a screen pass. His three TDs tied a career best.
The 22-year-old Elliott was cleared for Sunday's visit to the Redskins when a federal judge in New York turned down an NFL request for an expedited hearing on the latest attempt to stop the suspension by players' union attorneys representing Elliott.
Elliott got his second temporary restraining order last week, clearing him to play against the 49ers. A hearing over a preliminary injunction that could keep him on the field the rest of the season was set for Oct. 30, a day after the Washington game.
After playing the Redskins, Dallas gets the Chiefs at home before visiting the Falcons. The difficult four-game run wraps up against the Eagles, the first of three straight at home in a span of 12 days.
"I felt like there was an approach that we were hungry," tight end Jason Witten said of a team that had a losing record on its bye after finishing an NFC-best 13-3 last season. "We've got to stay hungry. Certainly our margin's still small. We've put ourselves in a little bit of a hole."
A few things are working in the Cowboys' favor as the defending NFC East champs try to stay within range of Philadelphia.
The running game finally resembles last season after a sluggish start. Elliott had 85 yards in the fourth quarter of a 35-31 loss to Green Bay, his best quarter of the season, and the bye didn't stop that momentum. He had two touchdowns in the first seven minutes against the 49ers.
The Cowboys have 265 yards rushing, their most in six years. They had their first 500-yard game (501) since 2015.
"We saw in the Packers game before the bye, the offense start clicking in the fourth quarter, and the running game starting to open up," said Elliott, who entered Monday sixth in the NFL with 540 yards rushing. "We definitely carried it over to this game."
The Falcons and Chiefs are suddenly looking vulnerable, with Atlanta having lost three straight since a 3-0 start and the Chiefs on a two-game skid since being the NFL's only undefeated team at 5-0.
Of course, plenty can change in two or three weeks -- including Elliott's status.
"There's never a game that we look at say, 'Boy, we got it all down,'" head coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "The identity of the football team continues to grow as the season goes on. That's important to us."
On a less positive note. ... Kicker Dan Bailey will miss a few games after sustaining a groin injury while warming up in the first half Sunday. Safety Jeff Heath made two of three extra points against the 49ers, becoming the first non-kicker or punter to make multiple PATs in a game since Houston linebacker and current Green Bay GM Ted Thompson made four in 1980.
But the Cowboys won't be counting on Heath going forward. They worked out three kickers - Mike Nugent, Jason Myers and Sam Irwin-Hill - on Tuesday, before settling on Nugent to handle the job against the Redskins game this weekend.
None will have the pedigree of Bailey, the most accurate kicker in NFL history with an 89.9 percent career field-goal percentage.
"You want a guy who is reliable," Garrett said. "It's really important at that position you have a guy you can trust and count on. You want that throughout your whole team at every position, but that's a very valuable position."
The importance of the position can't be overstated. This is a team that played in 10 games, including the playoff loss to Green Bay, decided by one score or less last season. Two of the past three games this season have been decided by one score or less.
Sunday at Washington will mark the first game Bailey has missed with an injury. He has played in every game with the Cowboys since 2011.
The Cowboys will have to carry two kickers on the roster until Bailey returns, forcing them to make a cut at another position. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Todd Archer notes, Dak Prescott did something in San Francisco that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach never did in their Hall of Fame careers with the Dallas Cowboys. With touchdown passes to Jason Witten, Elliott and Dez Bryant, Prescott recorded his third straight three-touchdown game of the season.
Twice Don Meredith had three consecutive games with three touchdown passes. Tony Romo did it three times, with the last coming at the end of the 2014 season.
Prescott finished with 234 yards on 16-of-25 passing. He also ran four times for 26 yards and had his third rushing touchdown of the season. It was only the third time in team history a Cowboys quarterback had three touchdown passes and one touchdown run in the same game. Romo did it twice in 2007.
Prescott's touchdown pass to Witten, who had four catches for 54 yards, was the 66th of the tight end's career, passing Hall of Famer Michael Irvin for third place in team history. Bryant's touchdown catch was the 71st of his career, tying Hall of Famer Bob Hayes for the most in team history. Bryant led the way against the 49ers with seven receptions for 63 yards as he and Prescott seemed to be on the same page for the first time all season.
That said, Elliott's 72-yard touchdown catch, on a screen, was the second-longest of Prescott's young career.
Elliott has the longest at 83 yards on a screen pass last season against the Steelers.
"It's actually funny," Elliott said. "That is the same screen play we scored on last year in Pittsburgh. I had a good feeling it was going to pop again. I tell Dak that every time, that I have the longest receptions of his career, so if he wants to throw a long touchdown, just throw me the ball."
Or hand it to him. I think it's safe to say that fantasy owners don't care how the ball gets into Elliott's hands as long as it gets there.
One last note here. ... According to Profootballfocus.com Prescott has a 154.4 QB rating when targeting Brice Butler. That's the highest in NFL among wide receivers with at least 10 targets.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
In an article published last Sunday night, ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold wrote: "Don't look now, but the Denver Broncos have used up virtually every ounce of goodwill, quality mojo and any momentum they had just a few short weeks ago."
After Sunday's 21-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Broncos are officially a 3-3 team in season-changing trouble that had a 25-year-old scoring streak snapped in a soccer stadium. Their offense hasn't really been seen since an everybody-feels-good Week 2 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Their special teams are a growing detriment, and the running game has been largely ornamental in two consecutive losses.
Toss in the fact that quarterback Trevor Siemian is both skittish and battered at times behind an offensive line that has struggled to hold its ground against even four-man rushes on key downs, and the Broncos have the recipe for one gargantuan migraine for coach Vance Joseph that even its own elite defense won't cure.
On Sunday, Broncos tight end A.J. Derby fumbled in the Broncos' first possession, and punter Riley Dixon put a low-slung effort down the middle of the field in his first punt of the game that Travis Benjamin returned 65 yards for a touchdown. That was in just the first seven minutes of the game.
And you know you're not the team you hope you are at the moment, when even when it's good, it goes bad. Derby's fumble came after a 23-yard gain. Benjamin's return came after the Broncos' defense had constructed a remarkable goal-line stand -- the Chargers had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line and failed to score on four consecutive Melvin Gordon runs -- and Demaryius Thomas' 80-yard reception in the third quarter was negated by a pass interference call, on Thomas, in what was still a two-score game.
Even in a game in which Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy came into the afternoon's work with a rather extensive knowledge of the Chargers' personnel, given he was the Chargers' coach when most of the players were acquired, the Broncos continue to be stuck in something well below neutral. They've been outscored 31-3 in the first half of the past two games combined and haven't had nearly enough pop to overcome that.
One day after being shut out for the first time in 25 years, Joseph declared they would not make a change at quarterback.
Is Siemian still your quarterback?
"Absolutely," Joseph said in his Monday give-and-take with local media.
Denver's scoring streak stretched 394 games and ended Sunday in a 21-0 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos unloaded for 42 points against the Cowboys in Week 2; in the next four games they've scored 42 points total.
"It's not a Trevor problem," Joseph said. "It's a unit problem."
As the quarterback, Siemian has taken much of the blame for an inept offense that spans two coaching staffs and three seasons. But it's not time to for Brock Osweiler, Joseph said. And backup-to-the-backup quarterback Paxton Lynch has returned to throwing workouts but is still on the shelf with a shoulder injury.
"We have to coach better," Joseph said. "We have to play better."
Joseph put much of the burden on the lackluster play on the offensive line -- both in the passing game and in the running game.
"When there was space to make yardage, they did," Joseph said. "When there wasn't, they didn't."
And more importantly (and obviously), they didn't score.
In fact, the Broncos are now 2-of-12 in the red zone over the past four games, and that number isn't worse simply because they ventured inside the Chargers' 20-yard line only once on Sunday.
The Broncos' run game has largely disappeared in losses to the Giants and Chargers with 46 and 69 yards rushing respectively. The offense has continually found itself in poor down-and-distance situations and defenses are turning their pass rushers loose.
Siemian threw his seventh interception of the season -- a play that infuriated the quarterback so much that he was shouting to no one in particular as he went to the bench. He was tied for the NFL lead after two games with six touchdown passes and now, after six games, Siemian has eight touchdown passes to find himself tucked between Marcus Mariota (23rd) and Ben Roethlisberger (25th) in passer rating.
His seven interceptions also put him in the league's top eight in a category no quarterback wants to be. The Broncos ended a scoring streak of 394 games.
Demaryius Thomas still doesn't have a touchdown catch six games into the season, Emmanuel Sanders is dealing with an ankle injury and Denver's rout of the Cowboys seems like a long time ago. Almost as long ago as when the Broncos were last shut out -- in November 1992, a streak of 394 consecutive games with points.
Oh, and the Broncos' next two games are in Kansas City and in Philadelphia.
The record may say 3-3, but make no mistake -- the season is in the balance. ...
Other notes of interest. ... For a second consecutive week, the Broncos couldn't mount any consistent push against a struggling run defense as the Chargers limited them to just 69 yards on 19 carries. C.J. Anderson's 11-yard run in the third quarter was Denver's longest of the day, as the well of explosive runs into which the Broncos tapped so frequently in Weeks 1-4 seems to have dried up against defenses that are clogging the box more often.
After a strong start to the season, Anderson has just 61 rush yards in his last two games combined with no touchdowns. You have to wonder at what point Joseph and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will realize that Anderson had at least 20 carries in the team's wins this season. It might be worth trying that again. ...
Beyond Anderson, Jamaal Charles totaled eight touches for 22 yards and Devontae Booker had five touches for 28 yards. ...
Derby saw a season-high seven targets against the Chargers but as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, he was still on the field for just 47 percent of the team's plays. With the Broncos offense looking broken at the moment, we probably won't crown Derby as a priority option anytime soon. However, it's nice to have another option on the streaming radar.
Of course, we didn't expect Thomas to be limited to just six targets with Sanders out, especially with the team in negative game script all day. His two catches for nine yards look like a massive disappointment but do remember that he had a long catch and run called back on a somewhat nitpicky offensive pass interference.
In a related note. ... The Sports Xchange reports that Sanders walked without crutches and a boot through the locker room Monday, eight days after spraining his ankle against the Giants. Sanders is considered "day-to-day."
Cody Latimer is expected to return to practice this week after missing three games because of a knee injury. Isaiah McKenzie is "day-to-day" because of a sprained ankle, Joseph said on Monday. McKenzie missed the Chargers game after suffering the injury against the Giants on Oct. 15.
As noted above, Lynch has been throwing and he accompanied the team to Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Lynch practiced for the first time since he was injured Aug. 26.
QBs: Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Jim Caldwell didn't have any big revelations about his team over last week's bye. In fact, the head coach said he walked away from a deep self-scout feeling exactly the way you'd expect about a 3-3 football team.
"That's what I think we are," Caldwell said. "That's what we look like. You are what your record says you are, so it's our job to get better."
While much has been made of the Lions' offensive struggles - they rank 30th in yards per play and 26th in total offense - there's plenty of room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball, too.
The Lions have struggled at times with the big play. They rank in the bottom third of the league in red-zone defensive percentage. And their pass rush, with a hobbled Ziggy Ansah, has looked anemic at times this year.
Ansah and Anthony Zettel are tied for the team lead with four sacks, but Ansah has been quiet since a three-sack outing in Week 2 against Ereck Flowers and the New York Giants. He didn't record a tackle in a Week 3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and his fourth sack of the season could have easily been credited to teammate Akeem Spence.
Two years removed from his career-best 14.5-sack season, Ansah has been limited by a knee injury all season, though Caldwell defended the defensive end on Monday.
"I don't know if he's struggled mightily," Caldwell said. "He's gotten a few sacks here and there and the season's not over yet. Six ballgames. Let's talk about that at the end of the year, see where he is."
Caldwell said Ansah's play shouldn't be judged on sacks alone, and he expressed confidence that the 2015 Pro Bowler will be a force again before the season is done.
"You guys look for sacks and those kinds of things," Caldwell said. "We look for disruption and assists, he has a lot of that. He makes plays for us. He sets the edge for us. He does a lot of things extremely well, but when you talk about overall, the things you guys focus on are strictly numbers in terms of sacks. Let's see where he is at the end of the year, then let's talk about it. But I think he'll be alright.
Meanwhile, Taylor Decker is closing in on a return from June shoulder surgery, though Caldwell acknowledged Monday that the left tackle will need practice time to knock the rust off before he's ready for game action.
"It's just like anything else, it just takes a little time to get their timing back, physical nature of the game, and all of those things that go along with it," Caldwell said. "It's a process. Best way I could explain it to you."
Left guard Graham Glasgow told reporters last week that Decker is "getting more and more antsy" to return, but Caldwell declined to update Decker's timetable on Monday.
Decker tore the labrum in his right shoulder in early June. The expectation has been that he'll be back at some point in November.
Greg Robinson, who has started all six games in Decker's absence, did not practice Monday because of an ankle injury. If Robinson can't play this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brian Mihalik could make his first career start in his place.
In general, the Lions have been a disappointment offensively this year as Matthew Stafford has eight turnovers in six games and has been under constant pressure with 23 sacks.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Stafford is completing just 60.4 percent of his passes and has turned in three straight subpar performances after a strong start. Stafford hasn't gotten much help from his supporting cast. Protection up front has been abysmal, especially from Robinson and right tackle Rick Wagner. The Lions have allowed 23 sacks this season and are on pace to give up 61 this season. That's an eye-popping number and would be 16 more than he's taken in any other season in his career.
Consider this: The Lions are allowing an average of 3.83 sacks per game. Over his career, Matthew Stafford has taken an average of 2.3 sacks per game.
In addition, no one beyond Golden Tate (36 catches, 363 yards) is consistently getting open to catch the ball.
Rookie Kenny Golladay has been slowed by a hamstring injury almost since his two-touchdown debut, and tight end Eric Ebron (13 catches, 102 yards) is the biggest disappointment.
But it doesn't end there.
Running backs coach David Walker said the fairest way to judge the running game is by looking at yards per carry, and six games into the season, the Lions are averaging a disappointing 3.5 yards per rush (Walker said 4.2 yards was the goal).
Ameer Abdullah is the Lions' only true rushing threat with 342 yards on 90 carries. He had a nice game against the Vikings before leaving in the fourth quarter with an injury, and has generally gotten what's available running behind a sketchy offensive line.
Theo Riddick isn't a threat as a runner, and big backs Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington have been non-factors.
The Lions currently rank 26th in the NFL at 84 yards per game, and they have just two rushing touchdowns.
According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, predictability has been an issue.
For instance, when Nick Bellore comes in the game at fullback, Zenner has been the running back. It's typically been a run, too. The Lions did this last year, also, with jet sweeps and tip-passes to Tate. That's a valid criticism of Jim Bob Cooter. Instead of using a different play once in a while, when it could be a big gainer, it turns into multi-play usage, where defenses can sniff it out.
Some of the play sequencing has been rough, too, but it's not entirely clear how much fault Cooter gets for that versus Stafford potentially changing calls based off what he sees.
Plus, defenses are good, too.
But the play-calling has to improve. Cooter has shown some innovation and some really smart wrinkles, but the play-to-play work has not been as good as it needs to be for the Lions to have consistent success.
On the injury front. ... Tate, who was in an arm sling over the weekend, was reportedly not expected to play Sunday against the Steelers. But in a surprising development, he was on the practice field Wednesday. Golladay was also practicing although it's not clear how much either were doing.
I'll obviously be following up on the progress of both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
All that said, the Lions added a wide receiver to their active roster on Wednesday.
Jace Billingsley is the new addition after being elevated from the practice squad.
Billingsley spent almost all of last season on the Lions' practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster at the end of the regular season, but didn't play in any games with the team. He had 10 catches for 106 yards in the preseason for Detroit this year. ...
Ebron did not practice Monday. Ebron, whose fiancée gave birth to the couple's first child over the bye, is expected back with the team on Wednesday. ...
And finally. ... The Lions are signing Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater to a three-year contract extension worth $11.4 million with a max value of $12.15 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Prater's deal includes a $3.6 million signing bonus and will be signed Wednesday.
One of the league's top kickers, Prater was in the final season of a three-year pact in Detroit and will now be under contract through 2020.
Since joining the Lions in 2014 from Denver, Prater has been an above-average kicker, ranking 11th with 85 made field goals and 13th in points (355). He has made 10 of his 12 field goal attempts this season with a long of 58 yards.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reminded readers, Mike McCarthy's support for Brett Hundley as Aaron Rodgers' stand-in was so emphatic that you thought the coach would turn his quarterback loose in his first NFL start Sunday against the Saints.
Instead, he never gave him much of a chance.
McCarthy's ultra-conservative, run-heavy game plan and play calling in Sunday's 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints offered few answers about whether Hundley can keep the Packers in the NFC North race until Rodgers can possibly return from his broken right clavicle.
Demovsky went on to suggest that when McCarthy and his coaches take an introspective look during this week's bye, they should realize that, for better or worse, they're going to have to let Hundley use his cadre of talented receivers and throw the ball downfield. Because if Hundley's first start proved anything, it's that they can't win playing it safe. The Packers picked off Drew Brees twice, blocked an extra point and rushed for 181 yards, yet they still lost a winnable game at home.
"The emphasis was just making plays with my legs today, so that was pretty much [counting] one, two, three, and then get out and make something happen," said Hundley, who completed just 12-of-25 passes for 87 yards and no touchdowns with one late interception. "That was a big emphasis on today."
Then maybe McCarthy should have run it 45 times.
Rookie running back Aaron Jones, in the best game of his short career, rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
In the long run, however, it goes back to McCarthy's trust in Hundley's ability to throw the ball on anything other than a dump-off pass or a check-down route. Hundley attempted only four throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information. None of them was completed. One was picked off.
Hundley completed just 3-of-8 passes for 25 yards when he targeted Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Rodgers, by comparison, connected on 64 percent of his throws to those two this season, including 10 touchdowns.
Green Bay's leading receiver was tight end Martellus Bennett, who had 17 receiving yards. Nelson had one catch for 13 yards, Adams had just two catches for 12 yards and Randall Cobb had two receptions for 15 yards.
Last week, a long-time NFL scout told Demovsky it was impossible to say what Hundley's best attributes are because he had played so few meaningful regular-season snaps. That same scout told Demovsky Sunday night that he's still not sure because Hundley was kept under such constraints by McCarthy.
McCarthy last week bristled at the idea of bringing in a veteran quarterback, stating emphatically that Hundley was his starter and Joe Callahan his backup. Yet McCarthy did little to put Hundley in a position to much other than run.
Yes, Hundley rushed for 44 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown, but he couldn't get into any kind of passing rhythm.
"It was a challenge that I didn't meet today," McCarthy said. "He didn't get comfortable in the pocket, and that's my responsibility. So I did a poor job coaching.
"Our passing game, we can sit here and pick it apart all we want. Let's just blame it on the head coach today."
Who knows what McCarthy said to the team behind closed doors, but publicly he took his share of the blame.
We'll have to wait two weeks -- the Packers (4-3) don't play again until Nov. 6 against the Lions on Monday Night Football -- to see if he gives Hundley more freedom to use his throwing arm. Last week, he pointed to the three years he has invested in Hundley. If there's any hope for saving this season, McCarthy will have to trust that he trained his quarterback right.
"I've been learning from [Rodgers] for three years and all I have to say is, don't write us off," Hundley said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We've got to get better and we will get better, but we're not out [of it].
"We could still win the division and make the playoffs, and down the road if Aaron is healthy and comes back and we're still rolling, he'll be available. But we've got to just win games and keep the season rolling."
For what it's worth, Hundley won't be taking the bye week off.
"I'll probably stay around here," Hundley said.
And even though he probably won't have any receivers to work with since McCarthy is expected to give the team off most of this week, there's plenty he can do during the bye.
"I'm sure me and Mike will sit down and go over the game, like we always do, and we'll talk and we'll figure out what we can do more of and what we don't want to do going forward," Hundley said. "So that's something that we'll figure out down the road."
McCarthy typically gives his team the entire week off -- after they review the film on Monday -- during the bye. He and his coaching staff spend an few days on their self-scouting project, but this year, the offensive side of the ball will spend much of its time trying to figure how to win with Hundley.
Their next on-field work won't come before Oct. 30; players are off through at least this Sunday.
McCarthy's plan between now and then?
"Just keep working every day and stay focused on offense and try not to get outside of yourself," McCarthy said. ...
For the record, Green Bay's 181 rushing yards were a season-high. Jones' 46-yard touchdown run on the Packers' opening drive was the Packers' longest since James Starks' 65-yarder against San Diego on Oct. 18, 2015.
Jones played 44 of Green Bay's 55 offensive snaps (80.0 percent), while Ty Montgomery played just seven (12.7 percent).
"Ty Montgomery is an outstanding football player," McCarthy said. "This has never been a one-man deal with running backs. I look for Ty to just keep going. Aaron has done some really good things. Aaron needs to be better on third down, frankly. He did a great job on first and second down. Ty Montgomery is still a big part of our offense."
Still, with Jones starting, Montgomery might have to play special teams again.
Montgomery was the starting kick returner for the Packers during his rookie season until an ankle injury, and he blocked a punt as an interior rusher in 2016.
"You read my mind," special-teams coordinator Ron Zook said. "I don't know what offensively the plans are yet, but that's something I made a note to talk to coach about. Ty's a pretty good special teams player, as well. He's a powerful guy. He blocked a punt at Minnesota last year, and he did a good job on the kickoff team and did a good job in returns. It's something that we'll lobby coach for, and we'll see what happens."
With Hundley under center, this could become a more run-heavy offense and Jones owners should benefit.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
The Texans started Tom Savage at quarterback in Week 1, and the result was a disaster, as the Texans were held scoreless in the first half. Head coach Bill O'Brien made a change at halftime, and the results have been extraordinary.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith pointed out last weekend, since Deshaun Watson became Houston's starting quarterback in Week 2, the Texans have scored more points than any other team in the NFL. The Texans have scored 170 points since Week 2, five more than the Chiefs, who have scored the next-most -- and the Chiefs did it in one more game because that includes the 30 points the Chiefs scored on Thursday night.
But even that 170 points since Week 2 understates just how much of an impact Watson has had on the Texans' offense because his first start came on a short work week on a Thursday night in Week 2, and that night the Texans won by a score of 13-9.
Since Week 3, when Watson got his first start with a full week to prepare, the Texans have scored 157 points -- 19 more than the second-place Chiefs who, again, have played one more game than the Texans over the same time period.
Watson has 14 touchdown passes over the last four weeks. No other player has more than 10. With 15 touchdown passes in six games, he's on pace to throw 40 touchdowns this season.
Watson also leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards, with 202.
In a short period of time, the Texans' offense has gone from incompetent with Savage under center to sensational with Watson running the show. There's no question that Watson is a dynamic young talent.
As Smith summed up, "The only question is, what the hell was O'Brien thinking starting the season with Watson on the bench?"
Ranked 31st in red-zone scoring last year, the Texans are now third in the NFL behind the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.
Between Watson being a threat to score with his arm or his legs, the Texans suddenly have a potent scoring offense in close quarters.
"It had to get better," O'Brien said Monday. "I mean, it was terrible. So, there was only one way to go but up, you know what I mean? It wasn't very good. I think when you get down in there, if you're kicking field goals versus most teams, you're going to be in trouble. So, we've spent a lot of time on it.
"We work on it almost every day during the week of practice this year relative to years past. I think we put as much time into it in the meeting room as much as we always have, but we practice it more. I think it has improved, but it has to continue to improve.
Watson's emergence also lent credence to those believing the decline in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' production a year ago could be chalked up easily to the incompetence of $72 million quarterback bust Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler routinely threw interceptions while targeting Hopkins, sailing throws.
Hopkins wound up falling to 78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns last season one year removed from making the Pro Bowl when he caught a career-high 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns.
With Watson throwing him the football this year, Hopkins' production has skyrocketed to 37 catches for 382 yards and six touchdowns. He's on pace to catch 98 passes for 1,018 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"I don't know that he's getting back," receivers coach John Perry said. "The big thing I had talked to him about was the leadership, and he's been an unbelievable leader. He's brought out the best in every guy and that's important."
In addition, Will Fuller has improved his hands and has become a major scoring threat since returning from a broken collarbone.
Meanwhile, between veteran Lamar Miller and rookie D'Onta Foreman, the Texans have built an effective running back tandem.
Miller leads the Texans with 372 rushing yards and has one touchdown, also catching 15 passes for 175 yards and a score.
A third-round draft pick from Texas who grew up in Texas City, Foreman has gained 207 yards and had a season-long 39-yard run against the Cleveland Browns.
"I think they've been a good combo so far," Texans running backs coach Charles London said. "We've taken a few carries off of Lamar. He's averaging somewhere between 15 to 18 carries a game. D'Onta's kind of picking up the slack from there, but I think he keeps him fresher toward the end of games and hopefully fresher in December and January."
Foreman is averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
"He still has a long way to go, but he's coming along," London said. "He's a downhill, north-south, violent runner. He's always falling forward. He runs tough. ..."
Also worth noting. ... Left tackle Duane Brown ended his holdout and reported to NRG Stadium on Monday.
"I'm just ready to get back on the field with my brothers," he told reporters.
Brown, 32, said he is "very ready to play" on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, but whether he will play is "up to the coaching staff."
Brown missed the Texans' voluntary and mandatory offseason programs and did not report to The Greenbrier at the start of training camp. Brown told reporters in September that he "definitely" planned to play football this year.
Brown has two years remaining on his six-year, $53.4 million contract but does not have any guaranteed money left in the remaining two years. Brown lost almost $553,000 a week in game checks for each of the six games he missed. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Texans considered trading Brown and spoke to teams such as the Seahawks, but nothing materialized.
Brown needed to be on the Texans' 53-man roster for six games in order to accrue the season.
Chris Clark, who has started at left tackle since Week 2, is out with a calf strain. When both Brown and Clark are able to play, Clark could slide to right tackle, as he did after Derek Newton tore the patellar tendons in both knees in Week 7 of the 2016 season.
And finally. ... According to the Houston Chronicle, starting tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz returned to practice for the first time since being placed on injured reserve with his second concussion this year.
He's trending toward returning from a concussion and being activated from injured reserve in the next few weeks, according to O'Brien.
"He was out there today," O'Brien said. "He looked pretty good."
Fiedorowicz has improved markedly in recent weeks. He remains on injured reserve, but can be designated to return and activated in two weeks.
Fiedorowicz suffered a concussion during the preseason. He passed a mandatory baseline neurological exam before sustaining another concussion in the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars weeks after signing a three-year, $21.5 million contract extension that included $10 million guaranteed.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden
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 24 October 2017
Receiver T.Y. Hilton criticized the play of his team's offensive line after the group gave up 10 sacks in a 27-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
"We were winning our matchups. The O-line just has to play better," he said when asked if it was hard for the Colts' offense to get into a rhythm with quarterback Jacoby Brissett constantly being hit.
Hilton, who had only two catches for 27 yards, was asked what the receiving group can do better to help Brissett.
"We've got to take some pride up front and block for him. What if we put them back there and take those hits? We've got to start up front."
"Far as receiving, nothing can change," Hilton said. "We've got to take some pride up front and block for him. What if we put them back there and take those hits? We've got to start up front. Once we get the O-line going and back in rhythm, we will be fine."
The 10 sacks on Sunday tied for the second-most given up in Colts franchise history.
Hilton's comment didn't go over well with his teammates.
On Monday, left tackle Anthony Castonzo acknowledged that while the comment was made out of frustration following a loss that the players cannot start pointing fingers.
Head coach Pagano said Monday that he had a private conversation with Hilton. The coach, however, said that he wouldn't go into specifics of what was said.
"We'll keep it between us," the coach said, adding that he didn't expect any lingering issues in the locker room
Hilton said later that he "100 percent messed up" and that he intended to talk to the offensive linemen individually.
While Hilton didn't need to say it publicly, the wideout wasn't wrong.
"I would probably say without looking at the film it wasn't very good," Pagano conceded. "You credit Jacksonville, right? Ten sacks. You're not going to do much giving up 10 sacks."
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells reminded readers, the offensive line has been a struggle every season under Pagano, and it's part of the reason quarterback Andrew Luck is still out rehabbing from right shoulder surgery in January. The Colts have given up 28 sacks this season.
The Colts were manhandled in every facet of their 27-0 loss the Jaguars, failing to score for the first time since Dec. 26, 1993.
Hilton's criticism of the offensive line adds to what has already been a trying season for the Colts.
Luck is sidelined indefinitely, the defense went into Sunday ranked 29th in the NFL, and the Colts' next three games are at Cincinnati, at Houston and against Pittsburgh.
"What is it, two in a row we've lost? Next week it's going to be a tough game," Hilton said. "We've got Cincinnati, so we've got to bring it all, or the same thing will happen. ..."
For the record, Brissett completed 22-of-37 passes for 200 yards. He ended the day with a 74.2 passer rating. The receivers couldn't get much, if any, separation from the Jacksonville secondary. Tight end Jack Doyle had six catches for 44 yards. Marlon Mack added four catches for 40 yards, but also had a couple of key drops on swing passes and screen passes.
Hilton has had just three catches total over the last two games. Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken and Chester Rogers all had two pass receptions against Jacksonville.
Compounding the issue, Indianapolis had a tough time putting together a consistent running attack.
As a team, the Colts had 96 yards rushing in 20 rushing attempts. Frank Gore led the way with 34 yards in nine carries. Brissett added 31 yards on five scrambles. Mack showed flashes once again and ended the day with 26 yards on five carries. The running game never got fully untracked, although there were glimpses of what could be.
Brissett and Mack both had 14-yard runs.
Losing center Ryan Kelley to injury in the second half certainly didn't help matters.
Injuries in general, have been -- and will likely continue to be -- an issue.
Luck will not throw again this week after being temporarily shut down last week because of soreness in his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. But Pagano reiterated on Wednesday that the Colts expect Luck to play this season.
While Kelly (hamstring) is expected to practice Wednesday, inside linebacker John Simon (stinger) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (concussion), both starters, may not be available for the Bengals game.
And, as feared, the rookie season of promising safety Malik Hooker is over after he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Indy's first-round draft pick was tied for third in the NFL with three interceptions, and his absence leaves a gaping hole in an already undermanned secondary.
"He's a ballhawk. You can't really teach that," cornerback Vontae Davis said. "The games he did play -- he was always around the football. We've just got to do a better job of just continuing to create turnovers -- overemphasize it."
All of it looks as if the Colts may have hit rock bottom after 5½ seasons under Pagano.
But inside the locker room, Pagano insists there's time to find a fix.
"You've got to execute and you've got to make plays. There's nothing magical about it," Pagano said. "We've got to coach better, we've got to play better."
Fantasy owners shouldn't count on them doing either.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco noted, when the Jaguars ruled running back Leonard Fournette out of Sunday's game against the Colts, the pressure got ramped up on quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing game to deliver.
And he did.
Bortles set a franchise record by throwing for 282 yards in the first half, and the Jaguars totaled 330 yards and a touchdown in the pass game in their 27-0 victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. For just the second time this season, Bortles showed that he can be more than a game manager.
Bortles completed two passes of 50 or more yards: a 52-yarder to Keelan Cole and a 50-yarder to Marqise Lee. He hadn't had any in the Jaguars' first six games. He also had a 45-yarder to Lee and a 28-yarder to Corey Grant.
DiRocco noted those are the big-chunk plays that were missing in the passing game the first six weeks, plays the Jaguars needed to loosen up the defenses that have been zeroed in on stopping Fournette and the run game.
No team entered the weekend with more rushing attempts against defenses with eight or more players in the box than the Jaguars (66).
In Week 6, the Los Angeles Rams used a goal-line defense in the middle of the field because they had no respect for Bortles.
"The main thing we have to show is that we're capable of throwing the ball and things like that so we can open it right back up so we get opportunities for the running backs to have an easier run game," Lee said. "But that's pretty much what you've got to do: Take advantage of all opportunities. We know teams are still going to stack the box regardless, so we've just got to come out and execute."
Granted, Bortles' big day came against one of the NFL's worst defenses -- the Colts entered the game ranked 32nd in scoring, 30th in passing, 20th in rushing and 31st in total yards -- but Bortles did exactly what you're supposed to do against bad defenses. He distributed the ball, didn't force throws, made good decisions, and let the playmakers he had do their thing.
"I think it's something that everybody knew we were capable of," said Bortles, who completed 18-of-26 passes and posted the fourth-best passer rating (124.7) of his career. "Even the past six weeks I think it's something we knew we kind of had and were able to do whenever the time came. It just happened to be this week that we needed to do it, throw the ball and air it out and throw it down the field."
It sounds so simple, but if you've watched Jaguars football over the past two seasons, you know that Bortles hasn't done any of that consistently -- or very much at all. That's why his future with the team beyond the 2017 season is uncertain, even though the Jaguars did pick up his fifth-year option in April.
What Bortles did against the Colts doesn't change that. The Jaguars are still investing a lot of effort scouting the quarterback draft class, and they will be evaluating free agents and trade targets once the season ends. The Jaguars have shown their defense is close to being elite, Fournette is absolutely the real deal (he was second in the NFL with 596 yards rushing entering the weekend), and they have a downfield playmaker in Allen Robinson (who likely will be franchised if they cannot work out a long-term deal).
They're missing a few pieces on offense, including a consistent quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over much and can put the team on his shoulders when needed. The Jaguars at one point thought Bortles was that guy, but he's regressed over two seasons.
As DiRocco suggested, maybe Bortles can still can be that guy, but he'll have to do more than just dominate the Colts to prove it. He's got the rest of the season to prove he can consistently be more than just a game manager -- and maybe change the team's mind about his future.
"I think when you do it once people will look at it and then they'll make you prove it again," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I think when you do it again I think people look at it and they'll say, 'Well let's see if he can do it against us.' And then when you do it again then [other] people are going to say, 'Well, it's not going to be against us.'
"I think it's one of those things that you've just got to go out there and you've got to prove it each week."
In case you haven't been following along, big wins have been anything but common for the Jaguars.
You have to go back nine years to total up the last time the Jaguars have won four games by more than 20 points. That's nine years, 144 games to get four overwhelming wins. Compare that to the 2017 team that has accomplished the same feat but in only seven games.
What else is remarkable about the big wins is where they took place. Three of the four blowouts from 2008-16 took place in Jacksonville.
This year, the four 22-point-plus victories have all come away from EverBank Field, albeit the 37-point win over Baltimore was considered a home game, even though the game was played in London. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Fournette sitting out and with the team's top lineman thus far, left tackle Cam Robinson going out with an ankle injury on the second play of the game, it wouldn't have been a surprise for the ground game to sputter.
Just the opposite however, as Josh Wells replaced Robinson at tackle without any dropoff and T.J. Yeldon responded with his first game action this season by gaining 122 yards on nine carries. It was the third time in his three NFL seasons that he's finished in triple digits. The first two came in 2015 when he rushed for 105 yards at Indianapolis and when he went for 115 three weeks later against Buffalo.
With starter Chris Ivory adding 47 yards, the Jaguars combined for a team total of 188 yards, slightly above their NFL-leading average of 165.8 per game.
Yeldon's 58-yard run was his career long and marked the team's fourth rush of more than 50 yards this season.
With the Jaguars now enjoying their bye week, Fournette should be at full strength for the next game against Cincinnati on Nov. 5.
Allen Hurns had his best production of the season with five receptions for 101 yards. It marked the first time that Hurns had reached 100 reception yards since 2015 when he surpassed the century mark five times.
Josh Lambo got into the Jaguars record book in his debut with the team on Sunday. Lambo converted on both of his field-goal attempts and made all three extra points to finish with nine points, the most points by a Jaguars kicker in his first game with the franchise.
And finally. ... The Jaguars ran their sack season total to an NFL-best 33 on Sunday when they recorded 10 sacks for the second time this season. Jacksonville first established a team record in the season opener against Houston when they recorded 10 sacks. Sunday's effort matched that total and enabled the Jaguars to join two other teams the 1984 Chicago Bears and the 1967 Oakland Raiders - as the only NFL teams with multiple games of 10 sacks or more in the same season.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, the Raiders had seven games to prepare for Kareem Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie who has taken the league by storm, and still couldn't stop him.
Slow him, yes. Stop him, no.
So while the Chiefs spent the weekend ruing a last-play loss to the Raiders on Thursday night, they could at least take solace in another dazzling performance from their running back.
He carried 18 times for 87 yards. He caught four passes for 30 yards. He topped 100 yards from scrimmage for the seventh consecutive game, stretching his own rookie record.
"The Raiders knew what we were doing. We had run those plays a couple times and had success with them with the same look," head coach Andy Reid said. "So we have a lot of trust in him."
So much trust they're willing to give him a hefty workload.
Hunt is on pace to finish with 284 carries, which would have ranked fifth in the league last season. He is also on pace to catch 57 passes, giving him well over 300 touches.
That would surpass any kind of workload he had during his four years at Toledo.
"I'm not telling you he's waking up after games wanting to go run a marathon. That's not what he's doing," Reid said. "That's part of his position and how you feel. I think he's doing a heck of a job. He was strong again the fourth quarter and we have a lot of trust in him."
Trust to tell his coaches when they're overusing him, too.
Remember, the third-round pick was supposed to share reps this season, part of a crowded backfield that was supposed to be the Chiefs' strength. But veteran Spencer Ware tore knee ligaments and was lost for the year in a preseason game, and backup Charcandrick West sustained a concussion a couple weeks ago against Pittsburgh, leaving Hunt and journeyman C.J. Spiller to start against Oakland.
Spiller was released on Monday and the Chiefs hope to have West for their game Monday night against Denver, but that probably doesn't mean that Hunt's workload is going to ease much.
"Unfortunately for us we've had some injuries this year," offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said, "but that's every team in the NFL right now and we understand that. Our guys get it and that's why it's just so important for the guys that aren't getting the physical reps each day in practice to stay mentally prepared so when they do get their opportunity we don't skip a beat."
Hunt acknowledged that learning to take care of his body has been just as important as learning the playbook this season. He's been spending time in a room inside the Chiefs' facility dedicated to recovery from practices -- cold tubs, sure, but also compression boots and other high-tech gadgetry.
Nutrition, stretching and a multitude of other factors have also helped keep him fresh.
"Yeah, it starts now just taking care of your body every day," Hunt said. "Even when you're not that sore, you just got to keep working to get your body all the way back together."
Reid certainly sounds confident his young horse can hold up through 11 more regular-season games, not to mention the playoffs, leaning on running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to monitor his work.
"I don't think he's not fresh. I think he is where he is in the season," Reid said. "He's strong and obviously we're aware of that. We look at it -- he is a rookie, so Eric, I think, does a phenomenal job with that stuff, along with the trainers and Barry (Rubin) our strength coach. That's where we're at. We rotate enough that he gets a breather with rotation. He'll be all right. ..."
Meanwhile, Reid needed his pass defense to come up with just one play at the end of last Thursday night's 31-30 loss and, despite four cracks at denying Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, the defense failed each and every time.
The Chiefs surrendered 505 yards to the Raiders. Carr led the way with 417 yards through the air on 29-of-52 passing along with three touchdowns and he wasn't sacked. The secondary failed to make stops at the end of the game, but failure in the secondary haunted the Chiefs all night long.
Injuries have taken their toll on the team's pass defense. The team lost starting cornerback Steven Nelson during the preseason with a core muscle injury. All-Pro safety Eric Berry's season ended with an Achilles injury during Week 1. The team certainly missed Berry's ability to help neutralize opposing tight ends against Oakland. Jared Cook hauled in six catches for 107 yards.
The Chiefs could get Nelson back soon. That would lighten the load on the Chiefs' cornerbacks, where Terrance Mitchell and Phillip Gaines have logged expanded roles in Nelson's absence.
But the fact that Kansas City's offense has needed to play keep up hasn't hurt fantasy owners. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tyreek Hill briefly left Thursday's game following a big hit from safety Reggie Nelson at the end of a 31-yard reception. The team reported Hill had blood in his mouth following the collision, but he returned on the team's next offensive drive.
Hill saw eight targets on Thursday night, tied for his highest total on the year. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, it's not surprising that his three games with eight targets (versus Patriots, Chargers, Raiders) are his best fantasy outings. With a catch rate over 73 percent, Hill has been able to maintain some semblance of steady production despite the lack of elite-level volume.
Demarcus Robinson, in his second start since replacing injured Chris Conley, caught a career-high five passes for 69 yards against Oakland. Robinson also played a career-high 61 snaps, missing only one offensive play.
Albert Wilson, who entered the game questionable with a sprained knee, caught a 63-yard deflected pass for a touchdown, the longest scoring play of his career.
Even with Wilson playing, Robinson saw 98.4 percent of the team's snaps. He saw 90.7 percent the week before against the Steelers.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Kerwynn Williams, Damien Williams, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
The Chargers returned "home" to a stadium filled with orange-clad Denver Broncos fans at StubHub Center on Sunday.
It didn't matter.
Just as they've done the previous two weeks, the Bolts leaned on a dominant performance up front defensively in shutting out their AFC West rivals 21-0.
The last time the Chargers posted a shutout was in October 2014, a 31-0 victory over the New York Jets in Week 5. The last time the Broncos were shut out was in November 1992, a 24-0 loss against the Los Angeles Raiders.
The victory gives the Chargers a three-game winning streak and pushes them to 3-4 on the year.
Entering Sunday's contest, the Chargers had lost six of their past seven games against the Broncos. But the victory helped the Bolts break a seven-game losing streak at home that dates back to Week 10 of last season, when they defeated the Tennessee Titans in San Diego.
The victory also was win No. 100 for Philip Rivers, who finished 15 of 26 passing for 183 yards and two touchdown.
The Chargers harassed Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian into five sacks and forced three turnovers, and they held the Broncos to 251 total yards.
But not all was well -- especially for fantasy managers relying on Melvin Gordon.
As a former running back in the NFL who played behind Hall of Famer Terrell Davis while with the Denver Broncos, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn understands what it takes to be an elite back in the league.
And according to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams, that's why Lynn was so strong in his admonishment of Gordon after he failed to get into the end zone from a yard out on four straight runs on the Chargers' first drive of the game in a shutout win over the Broncos on Sunday.
"If I get a good back on the 1-yard line, I put it on the back," Lynn said. "I don't give a damn what the offensive line does or the fullback, I put it on the back."
The Chargers ended up turning the ball over on downs. However, Gordon was bailed out when the Chargers' defense forced the Broncos to punt, and Travis Benjamin returned the punt 65 yards for a score.
"I've got to make it happen," Gordon said. "It falls on me. On the third attempt, I got a one-on-one battle and I lost. It's just me, bro. As a back, I kind of pride myself on when I get in that area to make it happen, regardless of how it's blocked.
"My mindset is 'Get in and find a way.' And I fell short of that for the first time in a while. So I've just got to bounce back and regather. And I'll be good. And when I get back in the situation again, I'll make the best of it."
Gordon said looking back he should have made one attempt to jump over the pile, especially on the fourth-down run. Gordon jumped over the pile for a 1-yard score in a win over the Oakland Raiders last week, but got hit in the groin and said he'd rather not take a leap at the goal line.
Entering into Sunday's contest, Gordon had been mostly effective in goal-line situations. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Gordon was 7-for-12 getting into the end zone from the 1-yard line in his career, including 2-for-2 this season.
But Lynn wasn't holding back in his assessment of Gordon's work near the goal line against the Broncos.
"That was absolutely terrible," Lynn said. "Anytime we have the ball on the 1-yard line and I give it to my back four times in a row and we don't get it in, that's awful."
But the offense wasn't good in general.
The Chargers finished with just 242 total yards on offense, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the fewest in a win since 2012. ... Positives? The Chargers did not turn the ball over against the Broncos for just the second time this season, and have two turnovers in the last three games. ...
The Chargers now travel east to face the defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots, on the road for the first time since 2011. They have a chance to get to 4-4 before the team's bye week.
Other notes of interest. ... The Chargers signed Benjamin in free agency last year during the offseason because of his ability to field punts, but they had not got much return on their investment until Sunday. Benjamin jump-started the Chargers with the above-mentioned 65-punt return for a score in the opening quarter, giving the Bolts a 7-0 lead.
The last time the Chargers had a return for a touchdown was a 65-yard punt return for a score by Michael Spurlock in a December 2012 game against the Jets. Benjamin also caught a 42-yard touchdown for a score. He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Hunter Henry totaled four catches for 73 yards while playing 81 percent of the snaps. Keenan Allen finished with three catches for 41 yards. Allen played through a shoulder injury (he was listed as questionable after a fall in practice last Thursday) without any apparent difficulty. ...
Wide receiver Michael Williams dropped the only pass aimed his way on Sunday. Williams made his debut last week, and had a catch, after sitting out the first five games with a back injury. Lynn didn't sound pleased about Williams' drop, while stressing that he is healthy. ...
Undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler finished with 38 yards on seven carries for a 5.4 per carry average. Ekeler had just as many rush yards as Gordon, on 11 fewer attempts. He also had four receptions, one of which was a touchdown.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggests, this won't be a weekly occurrence, but the vulture scenario was as frustrating as it gets.
And finally. ... The Chargers traded wide receiver Dontrelle Inman to the Bears for a seventh-round pick, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As the Sports Xchange notes, the surging Los Angeles Rams hit their bye week playing as well as anyone in the NFL and perfectly positioned at 5-2 to make a legitimate playoff push across the second half of the season after pummeling the Cardinals 33-0 in London on Sunday.
It's been a remarkable turnaround for the Rams, who haven't had a winning season in 13 years and were a miserable 4-12 last year in their first season back in Los Angeles.
The progress they've made is nothing short of shocking, beginning with the hiring of young head coach Sean McVay and the additions of veterans like Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Connor Barwin and John Sullivan and the drafting of sure-handed wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
All of which has unleashed running back Todd Gurley back on the NFL with a vengeance, the former Offensive Rookie of the Year rebounding from his terrible sophomore year last season to establish himself this year as a MVP candidate while running for 627 yards and adding 293 receiving yards.
That has also helped put former top-pick in the draft Jared Goff on the path to his ceiling after a disastrous rookie season in which some people were calling him a bust. Goff has been efficient and effective while throwing for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns against just four interceptions.
A defense that eased into the transition to the 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Wade Phillips has hit its stride while allowing just 39 points over the last 14 quarters.
Couple all that with the expertise of McVay, the offensive-minded head coach, and you have a team as dangerous as any in the NFL -- not that McVay is having any of that talk.
"We haven't arrived by any stretch," the rookie head coach declared from London. "5-2 is a good feeling, but that's all it is right now."
In Sunday's Week 7 win at Twickenham Stadium, the Rams held the ball for 39 of 60 minutes, converted 28 first downs and outgained the Cardinals by 232 yards.
Goff, light years ahead of where he was as a rookie, threw for a touchdown, ran for another and completed 22 of his 37 passes, with only one of those throws resulting in an interception.
The Rams have been held back by their offense for about a decade and have finished last in the NFL in yards each of the past two seasons. But they have scored 212 points in seven games this season -- only 12 fewer than what they scored in 16 games last season.
Goff believes there are still "a lot of things we can clean up offensively, which is the exciting thing."
That's the point.
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez notes, the Rams entered this season as the NFL's second-youngest team, behind only the Cleveland Browns. They have the youngest head coach in the league and were integrating a new defensive system under coordinator Wade Phillips. If they remain healthy, they should only grow as the season marches on.
Their defense, which has allowed only 39 points in the past 14 quarters -- after allowing 90 in the previous 10 -- is a vivid example of that.
"They're playing together," McVay said. "I think they're getting more and more comfortable with the system and the way that we want to operate. ... The thing that we're most pleased with, especially with regards to the defense, is that they have continued to improve and get better as the weeks have gone, and that's a positive sign for us going into the bye week."
The biggest key, perhaps, is the offensive line, boosted by the additions of Whitworth and Sullivan. (Sullivan left Sunday's game with a knee injury, but McVay thinks he is "going to be OK").
Goff has been sacked only 10 times through the first seven games, after absorbing 26 sacks in seven games last season.
Gurley, meanwhile, has already gained 374 yards before first contact in seven games, after totaling 442 yards before first contact in 16 games last season.
The Rams have beaten two good teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars, on the road. They have two blowout victories, against the Indianapolis Colts to open their season and against the Cardinals to head into their bye week. And they would've beaten the Seattle Seahawks had it not been for five turnovers, most of which were easily avoidable.
They look like a playoff team.
"Call it whatever you want, man, we're just trying to win games every week," Goff said. "I don't think we're ever content with where we're at."
The Rams fly back home Monday morning, concluding an 11-day trip that took them from Southern California to Northern Florida to Western Europe. They covered something in the neighborhood of 12,000 airline miles. And in the days leading up to Week 7, McVay challenged his team to put together its best performance yet.
McVay called Sunday "our best game of the year" and said, "You can feel everybody's pushing in the right direction."
He conceded that it was "a great day for the Rams."
But not much beyond that.
"We have experienced a lot of things in these first seven games, but by no means have we arrived," McVay said. "There's a lot of improvement that we can continue to focus on, both as coaches and players. ..."
For the record, Goff completed 22-of-37 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). Goff rushed nine yards for his second rushing touchdown of his career and first of the season.
Gurley notched his fourth 100-plus-yard rushing game of the season. Gurley rushed 22 times for 106 yards and caught four passes for 51 yards.
Gurley recorded his eighth touchdown of the season (five rushing, three receiving). Gurley has 24 career touchdowns. ...
Cooper Kupp registered his third touchdown of the season on an 18-yard pass from Goff.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Kupp and Woods combined for 110 yards and a score on nine catches as McVay continues to show us weekly that this offense will be one that game plans for specific opponents and targets will get handed out based on the other team's defensive struggles.
Watkins had three catches Sunday, which was more than he had in the previous three games combined. According to Harmon it's probably worth exploring buying Watkins, if owners are willing to legitimately give him away, in the hopes that the team comes out of the bye with him more involved in the game plan. Harmon added, however, the opposing cornerback schedule is still quite stiff. ...
Greg Zuerlein converted four-of-four field goals (23, 33, 53, 34). Zuerlein entered Sunday's game as the NFL's leading scorer and he added 15 points to push his season total to 84 points.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine, Matt Moore will start by default this week for the Dolphins, leaving their simmering quarterback controversy on hold.
Jay Cutler suffered multiple cracked ribs in Miami's latest win and is unlikely to be available Thursday at Baltimore, head coach Adam Gase said Monday.
Moore came off the bench in the second half Sunday to replace Cutler and lead a 31-28 comeback victory against the New York Jets.
Gase declined to say whether Cutler remains the No. 1 quarterback and will return to the lineup when healthy.
"You're getting way ahead of me," Gase said. "With this quick turnaround, I'm really focused on this week.
"When we get through Thursday, we've got our bye weekend, and then I'm able to see where we're at -- the total picture and the health status of a lot of different people. I'm not ready to go anywhere near anything with the quarterback. I know who is available this week."
It's possible Cutler will be unavailable for more than one game.
"It becomes a huge pain tolerance thing once you get everything calmed down," Gase said. "It's not an easy injury. It's tough to breathe, let alone throw."
Left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who left Sunday's game because of a knee injury, wasn't seriously hurt and might play against the Ravens, Gase said.
A hit by Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins sidelined Cutler in the third quarter. Moore came on and threw two touchdown passes to help Miami (4-2) erase a 14-point deficit in the final 12 minutes.
Moore went 13 for 21 for 188 yards and one interception.
"You just tell yourself, don't try to do too much and play within the scheme and let your guys make plays, which they did," Moore said. "It was great."
When Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp, Gase coaxed Cutler out of retirement and quickly gave him the starting job ahead of Moore, who is in his seventh year with the Dolphins.
They're off to their best start since 2003, but the offense has sputtered, ranking last in the NFL in yards per play and per game.
Cutler ranks 28th in passer rating, and he drew boos in his Dolphins home debut two weeks ago. The crowd cheered when Moore replaced him against the Jets.
"Matt's just a slinger, and he's going to throw it to the guy that's open," receiver Kenny Stills said. "You can see the crowd loves him. We do too when he's in there. We have a lot of trust in him."
Players also speak highly of Cutler, and there's no hint of locker room division regarding the two quarterbacks. But Wine notes that Moore is more the gregarious personality, and his supporters argue the team plays with more energy when he's in the game.
That was the case Sunday, Gase acknowledged.
"Any time you're the backup quarterback and you go in there, there's a sense of urgency increased," Gase said. "This last game, guys realized the position he got thrust into."
As ESPN.com's James Walker wrote: "Moore has been overlooked in Miami time and time again. It's time that the Dolphins finally give him the keys to the offense. ..."
Moore is 15-14 as a starter, including 2-2 in 2016. He helped the Dolphins reach the playoffs last season after Tannehill hurt his knee in Week 14, but Miami was blown out in its final two games.
Now the Dolphins are on their third quarterback of the year, the latest challenge in a season full of strange twists.
The opener was postponed because of Hurricane Irma, linebacker Lawrence Timmons briefly went AWOL, and offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after a video surfaced showing him snorting wide powder.
Despite it all, only one team in the NFL has fewer losses.
"To be 4-2 with the craziness this season's been," Moore said, "you feel good. ..."
Speaking of quarterbacks, while the starting job requires no decision this week, the backup job could be in question. Miami has second-year quarterback Brandon Doughty, a seventh-round pick from Western Kentucky, on its practice squad, but David Fales, who was with Miami in training camp, is rejoining the team in advance of Thursday's game.
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted this week, Jay Ajayi found it to be tough sledding against the Jets, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry on his 23 attempts for 51 yards. He added 26 receiving yards on three receptions but failed to find the end zone.
Despite the slow game, Ajayi is set up nicely with a Week 8 matchup against the Ravens who have been gashed by running backs in recent weeks. The Ravens have allowed 169 yards rushing -- the sixth most in Week 7 -- and gave up a season-worst 5.1 yards per carry.
Baltimore has now allowed 1,017 yards rushing, the most in the NFL. The issues in stopping the run were supposed to get resolved with Brandon Williams, the team's top run-stuffer, who has been dealing with a foot injury. In two games with Williams, the Ravens allowed 85 yards rushing per game.
In four games without him, Baltimore gave up an average of 169.5 yards on the ground, including a team-record 231 in Week 6 to the Chicago Bears.
Baltimore has allowed 100-yard rushers in consecutive weeks -- to Chicago's Jordan Howard and Minnesota's Latavius Murray, who was making his third start in place of the injured Dalvin Cook.
So Ajayi might be able to add some actual production to go with his volume. ...
Meanwhile, Stills and Jarvis Landry, rode to the rescue of a struggling offense against the New York Jets, combining for 13 receptions, 178 yards and three touchdowns.
Stills (six receptions, 85 yards, two touchdowns) had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first to cut Miami's deficit to 28-21, and the second to tie the game at 28.
Landry (seven receptions, 93 yards, one touchdown) hurdled a defender after one of his receptions and scored on a 4-yard reception in the first quarter to tie the game at 7.
Stills and Landry did this, of course, without fellow wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle), who missed his second consecutive game, and while Ajayi was being manhandled.
That, and a commitment to a more aggressive attitude in the passing game opened the door for Stills and Landry to excel. That should continue with Moore under center. ...
Julius Thomas had his best game of the season by catching three passes for 58 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Thomas is steadily getting either four or five targets every week and even with Parker out, doesn't seem to have a path to more. Thomas was only on the field for 54 percent of the plays.
Fellow tight end Anthony Fasano had a 4-yard TD reception in the second quarter against the Jets. Fasano, a capable red-zone receiver, ended with three receptions for 25 yards.
It's unclear whether Miami goes with more two-tight end formations or three-receiver formations when Parker returns.
Parker is listed as questionable for Thursday night. The wideout, who was injured on the third snap of the Tennessee game, has essentially missed the last three games, although officially it's a two-game absence. He has, however, worked on a limited basis in practice this week.
I'll have more on his status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday morning. ...
Cody Parkey hit the game-winning 39-yard field goal with 22 seconds left against the New York Jets. Parkey, a perfect 8 of 8 on field goals, has provided the winning points in three victories, making a 54-yarder with 1:05 left in the 19-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, a 38-yarder with 2:40 left in the 20-17 victory over Atlanta, and the field goal against the Jets.
And finally. ... The NFL's latest investigation into a player who was not charged by authorities for alleged off-field misconduct has resulted in a much more expeditious outcome.
Via Josina Anderson of ESPN, the NFL has determined that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Landry committed a violation of the league's personal conduct policy.
It makes it very hard to conclude that credible evidence exists to show a violation if there's no evidence at all, because the only witness to the incident (apart from a video that was inconclusive at best) is saying nothing.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake
WRs: DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray, Gavin Escobar
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin reminded readers early this week, most scouting reports for Latavius Murray read the following when the running back signed with the Vikings in free agency:
Big, powerful rusher. Great pass protector. Downhill runner. Long-strider who can break off big runs. Good in space. Athlete.
Murray used those attributes to provide the Vikings with momentum when the passing game couldn't get going Sunday against the Ravens. The running back scored Minnesota's lone touchdown in a 24-16 win, while field goals carried the team the rest of the way.
In Murray's best performance to date as a Viking, the running back rushed 18 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. Ahead of Week 7, he had a total of 97 yards on 41 carries.
"The thing I liked about it today was the physicality he ran with," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's a slashing-style runner. Yards after contact was good today, made the safety miss on the touchdown run. All those things were good. It's good to see him get going. It adds to our dimension on the offensive side with a guy like Jerick McKinnon and a guy like him."
Murray's big, physical presence wore on Baltimore's deteriorated run defense, but most of his yards came before he bulldozed through the tackles.
Of Murray's season-high 113 yards, 75 were before initial contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That's the second-most allowed by the Ravens defense this season.
On his 29-yard touchdown run, Murray gained 22 yards before contact. The running back found a hole created when Kyle Rudolph forced his defender inside and Adam Thielen pinned Eric Weddle, leaving Murray one-on-one with safety Tony Jefferson, whom he juked before diving into the end zone.
"I said they're going to talk about me if I let them tackle me, so I have to score this touchdown," Murray said. "I just tried to take a hard angle and let them think I was going to head for the pylon. Once I saw them bite on it, put my foot in the ground and get back up field."
So should fantasy owners get excited by this?
Well. ... It was Murray's first time rushing for over 100 yards since Dec. 8, 2016 when he picked up 103 yards in the Raiders' loss to the Chiefs. His banner day against the Ravens says as much about his ability as it does the offensive not missing a beat, even after sustaining two injuries.
Left guard Jeremiah Sirles, who started the last two games in place of Nick Easton (calf), went down with a knee injury in the second quarter and was replaced by Danny Isidora. The injury to left tackle Riley Reiff was less noticeable because there was no stoppage in play.
Reserve Rashod Hill came in and made the transition appear seamless.
"For me to not notice it, really, the exact moment when they came in. ... I think that's a really good thing," quarterback Case Keenum said. "We kept our foot on the gas pedal and drove down to score again."
Murray actually did most of his damage between both guard spots, but even when Sirles went down and Reiff was injured, the strength of the left side didn't waiver. Murray picked up 66 yards on six rushes when going toward the left guard. His next best fit was to the right of guard Joe Berger, where he took five carries 31 yards.
The rest of his significant damage came up through the middle of the field on four carries for 13 yards.
He performed like the physical, between-the-tackles bruiser that the Vikings expected when they signed him. The O-line did its job in creating opportunities for Murray to hit the open holes. He took it from there.
Of course, you could argue that Murray should have been successful running against a Baltimore defense that has been increasingly generous in recent weeks.
McKinnon played a few more snaps than Murray, but wasn't as effective. He rushed for 47 yards on 14 carries and caught three passes for 10 yards. It was McKinnon's first slow game since Dalvin Cook's injury, and he should be able to bounce back this week against the Browns even if Murray continues to handle the early-down work successfully. ...
Meanwhile, as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio pointed out, lost in the fact that Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared to practice but not play is the reality that, for the kind of injury Bridgewater sustained (and in light of the position he plays), clearance to practice is clearance to play.
Which means that he's good to go, right now, if the Vikings want him to play.
But the Vikings don't want him to play, right now. As one source explained it to Florio, the Vikings and Bridgewater definitely don't want him to play in London, given the notoriously slippery surfaces of the soccer pitches used for the London games.
So he'll be back on the roster for Week 10, the first post-bye game to be played by the Vikings. The question then becomes when he'll actually play.
That one will be more complicated, given that Keenum has played very well this season in the absence of Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, who didn't play for the fifth time in seven games and doesn't appear to be close to returning from the left knee injury he suffered in the season opener (he was not scheduled to practice Wednesday).
Keenum, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday due to a sore chest, has been good, but Bridgewater could be better -- and he could take the Vikings farther than Keenum ever will.
Keenum raised his record as a starter this season to 3-2. But he was far from sharp. Despite not taking a sack, Keenum had a sloppy performance that saw him miss several receivers, throw his second interception of the season and post a 67.7 passer rating.
Keenum threw for only 188 yards as the Vikings settled for field goals six times. ...
Stefon Diggs (groin) missed his second straight game. Before that, he caught only one pass for four yards the week before in Chicago.
A groin injury stopped his momentum a year ago as well. It's not clear if he'll be ready to play in London, but he was able to practice on a limited basis last Friday and he took part in drills on a limited basis Wednesday before the team departed for London and Zimmer said the wideout will make the trip overseas.
I'll have more on his status (I'll also keep an eye on Keenum) via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Meanwhile, Thielen continues to be the most-targeted wideout on the team -- a distinction that's been aided by Diggs' absence. In fact, Thielen has been the target on 33 passes in the last three games, starting with Chicago, when Diggs was hurt.
Receiver Jarius Wright had a nice game with three catches for a team-high 54 yards and three first downs. Two of his catches converted third downs, while the other was a game-high 30-yarder.
With Diggs and Michael Floyd (calf) out (he worked on a limited basis before leaving for London on Wednesday), Laquon Treadwell was on the field for 83 percent of the Vikings' plays. Unfortunately, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, he saw just four targets in a tough matchup with the Ravens secondary. Several mistakes and miscues throughout the day won't help him build momentum to get more playing time. ...
Kai Forbath reached a career milestone when he made all six of his field goal attempts against the Ravens, including four from 40 or more yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Distance didn't bother Forbath, whose field goals reached lengths of 52, 51, 43 (two times), 34 and 32 yards.
So a missed extra point following Murray's 29-yard touchdown run in the third quarter won't hurt Forbath's confidence. It's one of four misses for Forbath on the season, with three of those coming on extra points.
Forbath was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against Baltimore. ...
And finally. ... Andrew Sendejo returned after missing the Packers game because of a groin injury. He was flagged for a vicious blow to the head of Ravens receiver Mike Wallace three minutes into the game. Wallace, whose helmet was knocked off as he slammed to the turf, suffered a concussion and didn't return. The NFL announced Monday Sendejo would be suspended for one game for the hit.
QBs: Kirk Cousins
RBs: Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Tavarres King, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower, the Patriots turned a corner in capturing their third straight victory on Sunday night, this time taming the Atlanta Falcons in a dominating 23-7 win.
The biggest leap forward for the Patriots, though, was probably made in the run game, which helped them control the game after being mostly underwhelming for most of the season.
Offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead was back after missing the four previous games with an injury to his ribs. It gave New England a full complement of running backs for the first time since Week 2.
It paid off with the Patriots rushing for a season-high 162 yards, their highest output since their season-opening loss to Kansas City. Dion Lewis led all rushers with 76 yards on 13 carries.
Those aren't huge numbers, but it's progress for a team that's still adjusting after it parted ways with LeGarrette Blount in free agency this past offseason.
Head coach Bill Belichick said he thinks the improvement is a product of better overall execution in recent weeks.
"The more runs you have, the more yards you're going to gain," he said. "We played the game from ahead, which what was a switch. We hadn't had a ton of that this year, so that gives you the opportunity to have the ball more."
New England had only four regular-season games in 2016 when it ran the ball fewer than 25 times. Entering Sunday night, it had already had four such games. The Patriots ran a season-high 36 times against Atlanta, as compared to 29 passing plays.
Tom Brady said that balance was key in helping them maintain a more than eight-minute advantage in time of possession.
"That was important," he said. "We did a great job staying balanced ... and we ran the ball really well, really efficiently."
Under Belichick, New England has never been a run-dependent offense. It has instead utilized its backs mostly via short passing routes and jet sweeps which have effectively served the same purpose as short-yardage run plays. James White's receiving touchdown Sunday was his first score of the season.
But the Patriots were somewhat spoiled by Blount's breakout 2016 season that saw him average nearly 75 rushing yards per game to go along with an NFL-leading 18 regular-season touchdowns.
They decided not to re-sign the 30-year-old Blount, and instead brought in 26-year-old Mike Gillislee. He has scored four touchdowns thus far, though hasn't reached the end zone since Week 2. He's also yet to rush for more than 69 yards in a game this season.
But Gillislee's strengths aren't in short-yardage situations. That's where Burkhead's return is helpful. He thrives in those 1- to 2-yard situations, but also has burst. He showed it when he had three separate gains of 9 yards in a drive in the second quarter to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 29-yard field goal.
"We've got so many backs than can do multiple things," Burkhead said. "When you have that versatility, it really helps us out as an offense and as a unit, so we love that."
Lewis said Sunday's output is validation that this group can produce at a higher level.
"Everybody's running hard and doing whatever it takes to win," Lewis said. "You've just got to compete. The best thing you can do is compete -- just trying to prove that you deserve to be out there."
Indeed, Lewis built on the momentum from last week's win over the Jets, in which he played a season-high 29 offensive snaps, by starting over Gillislee and finishing with 76 yards on 13 carries, with a long run of 25 yards.
It's good to get an explosive run in there," Belichick said. "When you can get a 20-yard run or a 15-yard run, that helps the running game a lot more than seven 3-yarders. It's good to have a couple of those."
Thanks to a strong rushing attack, Brady threw a season-low 29 passes, only 11 in the second half, completing 21 of them for a season-low 249 yards on the way to the controlled victory.
He threw a pair of short touchdown passes, including a little toss on what goes down as an 11-yard completion on what was essentially a jet sweep to Brandin Cooks.
White, who had 14 catches against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, had a team-high five catches for just 28 yards, including the above-mentioned two-yard touchdown. Cooks had four catches for 65 yards, including the score. Chris Hogan added four grabs for 71 yards, including a key 20-yarder on third-and-16 to extend a drive that ended in the Cooks score.
It wasn't a high-flying performance for the potent Patriots attack, but it was more than enough for the win.
Hogan, who has been dealing with a rib injury, walked off the field with trainers in the second half against Atlanta and spent some time with the staff in the medical tent on the sideline.
Hogan did return to action to close out the game.
Not surprisingly, Rob Gronkowski was the most-targeted receiver with just seven. Due to the light overall passing game, Danny Amendola's role was limited.
It was a rare three-penalty night for Gronkowski -- offensive pass interference when his left arm extended to gain separation, and two false starts.
One last note: According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, five trips and two touchdowns isn't the progress Brady was hoping for when he said on Friday, "Some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team.
"Hopefully I can do a better job for this team."
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Troy Niklas, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
The New Orleans Saints' fourth consecutive victory was more difficult than their first three.
The Saints had beaten Carolina, Miami and Detroit by at least 14 points each and had taken the lead for good in the first half of each game. But on Sunday at Green Bay, New Orleans didn't get its first lead until the third quarter and fell behind again early in the fourth before scoring the final 10 points to win 26-17.
Drew Brees threw two first-half interceptions against the Packers, but the Saints didn't turn the ball over after that. They only had one takeaway after having nine during the first three games of the streak, but safety Kenny Vaccaro's fourth-quarter interception of Brett Hundley helped seal the victory.
But as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett suggested, the beauty of this victory was just how ugly things started out for them.
The Saints have been far from perfect this year. But their resilience is unquestioned after they survived a hideous 0-2 start to rattle off their first four-game winning streak since 2013.
"It's not time to come up with any summaries yet," head coach Sean Payton said. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us and very easily could've lost a game like this with some of the mistakes. But there's a little bit of resiliency that I'm proud of -- especially in the second half of this game."
The dynamic running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara was the best thing the Saints had going from start to finish in this one (Ingram finished with ; Kamara had 57 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards).
The Saints have had their two best rushing games the last two weeks. After rushing for 193 yards against Detroit last week, they had 161 against Green Bay as Ingram had his second consecutive 100-yard game. He finished with 105 rushing yards, one touchdown and 5 receiving yards. Kamara had more than 100 yards of total offense as he rushed nine times for 57 yards and caught five passes for 50 yards.
New Orleans gained at least one first down on each of its 11 possessions against Green Bay.
In the second half, the Saints did not punt and the Packers managed just four first downs
Receivers Ginn and Michael Thomas also played big roles.
In fact, Ginn had his biggest day yet with the Saints (on offense, anyway). The speedy 32-year-old had seven catches for 141 yards -- including a 47-yard catch-and-run up the middle and a 40-yard deep ball. Ginn has firmly established himself as New Orleans' No. 2 receiver -- especially since Willie Snead has been a nonfactor so far this year.
Snead was inactive Sunday after being limited in practice all week with a lingering hamstring injury and has missed a total of five games due to suspension and injury.
The Saints will be favored at home in the Superdome against the Chicago Bears and rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky in Week 8. But that doesn't seem to mean much in the NFL this year, and the Bears (3-4) are suddenly hot.
Still, as Sunday's home game approaches, there seems to be little doubt that the 2017 Saints are a substantially improved product, particularly in the running game and on defense.
After allowing no fewer than 470 yards in its first two games, New Orleans' defense has allowed no more than 347 yards in its past four, and less than 300 yards three times. The strong defense and rushing attack have reduced pressure on Brees, who isn't piling up passing yards at his usual pace, but has been efficient and effective, completing better than 69 percent of his passes and throwing for 11 TDs.
He completed 27 of 38 for 331 yards and a touchdown against the Packers.
The question now seems to be: How will the resurgent Saints handle success?
Payton, who has been known to warn his players not to "eat the cheese," when compliments start rolling their way, is again emphasizing that now is no time to start looking down on the competition from their perch atop the division. "I don't think anyone's paying attention to the horse at the quarter pole," Payton said. "What we're paying attention to most is the things that we have to clean up. ..."
A few final notes. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Thomas drew a team-high 11 targets in Green Bay, putting him on pace to finish with over 140 for the season. Thomas has a combined 56 yards from their game in Minnesota in Week 1 and their game last week where the offense mounted just 16 possessions. In his other four games, Thomas cleared 80 receiving yards and hauled in at least five catches.
Also according to Harmon, Coby Fleener was on the field for 27 percent of the team's plays, trailing Michael Hoomanawanui and Josh Hill among tight ends. Even with Snead not back, Fleener is well off the fantasy radar.
Finally. ... Thomas was not on the practice field Wednesday due to a knee injury while Snead, a surprise inactive in Green Bay, was on the field. Snead had been listed as questionable because of a hamstring injury, but after missing the Oct. 1 game against Miami because of the injury he had played with it last week against Detroit.
I'll be following up on both Thomas and Snead via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Drew Brees, Tom Savage
RBs: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Williams, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan framed it: "This is life without Odell Beckham for the New York Giants. Offensively, everything is a grind. Nothing comes easily."
First downs are hard to come by. There were four in the entire first half Sunday. There were no big plays by the injured Beckham. Or by Brandon Marshall. ... Or by Sterling Shepard, who missed his second straight game as New York lost 24-7 to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Giants (1-6) have rookie tight end Evan Engram and little else to threaten opposing defenses.
The offense has scored 112 points, which is the fifth fewest in the league.
However, Miami (92), Cincinnati (98) and Denver (108) have had bye weeks and have played six games.
Cleveland (103) is the only team that has fewer points after seven games.
This is their reality, now and for the final nine games of the season. Nothing is going to magically fix this offense. Not offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan calling plays. Not head coach Ben McAdoo calling plays. And not any stronger reliance on the running game.
It's going to be difficult for the Giants to score points and make plays. They managed 177 total yards against the Seahawks.
It's a combination of everything. The Giants don't have the pass-catching weapons they'd planned to have for quarterback Eli Manning, the offensive line can't pass-protect for long and the run game, while better in recent weeks, doesn't exactly strike fear into defenses. Manning also isn't capable of putting this group on his shoulders and carrying it. He doesn't have the weapons or the mobility.
It's an ugly combination that couldn't be disguised by a strong defensive effort Sunday against the Seahawks.
According to Raanan, everything needs to be perfect with the current composition of this roster. The Giants were down seven starters when Sunday's game began, and nine by the time it was completed.
The result is that Manning had 17 yards passing in the first half. He finished 19-of-39 for 134 yards and one touchdown. Engram accounted for 60 of those yards and the TD.
The offensive struggles aren't going away. They were hidden in the stunning upset of the Broncos in a Week 6 win. But in that game, the Giants managed just 266 yards and 16 points on offense. (The other scoring was provided by Janoris Jenkins' interception return for a touchdown.)
On Sunday, the Giants were outgained 222 yards to 42 in the first half, yet -- incredibly -- still managed to lead 7-3. But an inability to move the ball eventually caught up with them.
It was inevitable. Every special-teams or defensive miscue gets magnified.
This is the Giants' reality. They have to play perfectly to have any chance. Their offense isn't anywhere close to good enough.
But McAdoo realizes a change of quarterback won't help.
McAdoo made it clear Monday that the Giants' 1-6 record is not grounds for handing the quarterback job to third-round draft pick Davis Webb so the team can evaluate him in regular-season action.
While McAdoo is in charge of the lineup, he said he would talk to both general manager Jerry Reese and the team's ownership if he decided not to play Manning.
"It's not to that point now, and I don't see that point coming," McAdoo said Monday. "Eli is our quarterback. I have 100 percent confidence in Eli. We're going to get a week away from it and we're going to come back with fresh minds, fresh bodies, and play better football."
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan noted, Webb showed a strong arm and a good touch in training camp. He never got any quality time in the preseason and he has been inactive for every regular-season game.
McAdoo described Webb as a gym rat who helps Manning get ready to play every week.
Meanwhile, Shepard, who sprained his ankle against the Chargers on Oct. 8, should be ready to go when the Giants face the Rams on Nov. 5.
Others players who might be ready to return are starting center Weston Richburg (concussion), running back Paul Perkins (ribs), defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (neck). Richburg, Perkins and Vernon missed the past three games, one more then Casillas.
During the bye week, McAdoo said the coaching staff will look at what they have been doing and decide what to keep and what to throw out.
"We'll just take a look at the way we are using players and take a look if there are roles we can change to help us as a football team," said the second-year coach who led the Giants to an 11-5 regular-season record last season and their first playoff berth since the 2011 season.
It'll be interesting to see what they come up with. But given that the roster is what it is, the Giants might be facing an uphill battle in fixing what currently ails the offense.
One last note here. ... Aldrick Rosas, who has missed a field-goal attempt in each of the last three games, has not lost the confidence of his head coach. "I have confidence in Aldrick. Again, I see him kick on a day-to-day basis, he's a young player that is improving," said McAdoo. "He missed a kick, we want to have that kick, it ties the ballgame in the fourth quarter. He needs to learn from it, he needs to grow from it."
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As the Sports Xchange suggests, when you lose a game you were winning by 14 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday, there's always plenty of contrition on Monday.
Said quarterback Josh McCown of his interception that gave the Dolphins the ball on the Jets' 27-yard line with 39 seconds left in a tie game, essentially gift-wrapping Miami a win: "Just a bad feeling. ... I hate it for our team in that moment. I hate it for everybody because we all wanted to win."
The always optimistic 38-year-old added, "It's something I'll learn from and move on. I want to be better in that situation. I plan to be better in that situation."
Wide receiver Robby Anderson took off his helmet and flung it toward the sideline on the second-to-last play of the game, something he was "very apologetic" for on Monday, wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell told ESPN.
Head coach Todd Bowles said he spoke to Anderson on Monday, and the two are "on the same page" about the situation.
"We don't condone anything like that," Bowles said, "and we don't tolerate anything like that. It won't happen again."
Bowles said the 24-year-old has to "find a better way to handle his frustration, and he will."
Also, cornerback Buster Skrine, who picked off Tom Brady last week, had three of the team's 12 penalties (two for holding and a 28-yard pass interference on third-and-8), all coming on Miami touchdown drives. He also botched the coverage on the Dolphins' first touchdown pass and was guarding Kenny Stills on both his touchdown catches.
"It wasn't his finest day," Bowles said Monday of Skrine, adding that he won't bench the seven-year veteran.
It wasn't the Jets' finest day, either, as they blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for the first time since 1995.
Said Bowles: "We have a 24-hour rule in this building. Win, lose or draw, we come back in, watch the film, correct it and then we move onto the next opponent."
Bring on the 3-3 Falcons.
The Jets' fourth-quarter struggles continued Sunday, as they've been outscored 67-17 in the final period this season.
Four weeks ago, they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jaguars but won in overtime. Against the Dolphins, they weren't as fortunate.
"We've got to have more poise under pressure," head coach Todd Bowles said Monday. "I didn't (think the team got complacent), we just didn't make enough plays at the end of the game."
The Falcons, the Jets' next opponent, lost a 17-point halftime lead to the Dolphins two weeks ago. Atlanta is 3-3 following last year's Super Bowl appearance, when it famously blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead.
"We try not to worry about what the opponent's going through," Bowles said. "We try to correct our mistakes and move on from there."
One thing Bowles wouldn't classify as a mistake on Monday was letting McCown pass from his own 15-yard line with 47 seconds left and the Jets holding all three timeouts, despite McCown's interception.
When asked why he didn't run a "safe play" like a draw or a screen in that situation, Bowles said: "It would look no different if we ran the ball and somebody fumbled. You get a turnover, you get a turnover. When there's ... Fifty seconds left and you need three points, and you got three timeouts in a tie ball game, you go for the win. ... We don't feel any regrets about calling the plays."
Whatever the case, the Jets insisted the team remains unified despite Anderson's actions and the two tough losses.
And as Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, the truth is New York has already surpassed the dismal preseason expectations by many outsiders and was one of the NFL's early season surprises. ...
Other notes of interest. ... McCown threw three touchdown passes for the first time this season and his three-touchdown pass, one-touchdown rush performance on Sunday was the first time a Jets quarterback has done that since Al Dorow in 1960 (when the team was still known as the Titans).
But McCown has now thrown at least one interception four straight weeks and is tied for sixth in the league with seven picks. He was also sacked three times, bringing his total in that category to 22 for the season. ...
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has scored in three straight games. His five targets from Sunday were his second lowest of the season but he remains a front-line fantasy starter. ...
Having Matt Forte, Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire all healthy for the first time since Week 3 helped, as the Jets ran for a respectable 4.2 yards per carry on 22 attempts. But after they went up 28-14, the Jets had 13 more plays and only five were rushing attempts. Part of the problem was that they were in long down-and-distances because of penalties, but all season the Jets have shown an inability to sustain drives simply by running the ball.
Forte finished with 82 yards from scrimmage, showing incredible determination. Forte broke nine tackles on his 12 touches, per Profootballfocus.com, gaining an average of 4.7 yards after contact per attempt.
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini noted, some people want to write him off, but he still has value to the team. ...
With their top three backs healthy, there was no longer a spot on the roster for Travaris Cadet. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Jets released Cadet on Tuesday. ...
Anderson worked on a limited basis Wednesday due to an ankle issue he's played through in recent weeks. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but expect him to play barring the unexpected. ...
Finally. ... Quincy Enunwa, who is out for the season with a neck injury, posted Monday on Twitter that he had a post-operation visit with his doctor earlier in the day and that his "X-ray looked really good." Underneath the tweet was a meme of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook smiling.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Thomas Rawls
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Andre Roberts, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Derek Carr's third-time's-the-charm dart to Michael Crabtree was a season saver for Oakland and quite possibly a career definer for the Raiders' fourth-year quarterback.
While Carr was shaking off two overturned touchdown passes in the final seconds to connect with Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch was in a hoodie watching from the stands following his ejection for shoving line judge Julian Mapp after running onto the field during a scuffle earlier in the game.
The NFL suspended Lynch for one game, so the Raiders will also be without their power back Sunday at Buffalo.
Had Lynch not snapped, he likely would have had the chance to be the hero Thursday night after Jared Cook's apparent go-ahead TD catch with 18 seconds left was overturned. Replay officials ruled he was down just shy of the goal line.
These were the kinds of situations the Raiders were relishing when Lynch came out of retirement to play for his hometown team.
Instead of being able to hand it to his power back, though, Carr threw three passes, from the K.C. 1, 2 and 5-yard line in a wild sequence in which another TD catch was nullified by an offensive penalty; a misfire was negated by a Chiefs infraction; and finally, Crabtree hauled in Carr's winning pass on an untimed play.
Giorgio Tavecchio won it 31-30 with the extra point, sending the Chiefs (5-2) to consecutive losses for the first time in two years and snapping a four-game skid for the Raiders (3-4), who are back in it in the muddled AFC West.
"If there's one thing about Crab, it doesn't matter what happens throughout the rest of the game, he always shows up," Carr said.
Not so Lynch, who showed up in the stands and then the locker room to congratulate his teammates. And Lynch will be limited to a similar role this week.
The NFL announced Tuesday appeals officer James Thrash, jointly appointed by NFL and NFLPA, upheld Lynch's one-game suspension.
Lynch was ejected after he ran onto the field and made contact with an official while trying to separate cornerback Marcus Peters from a scrum. Lynch was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected. He was suspended one game by the NFL on Friday.
Lynch's suspension appeals hearing was held Monday, and Peters was among those on the conference call, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Peters, a close friend of Lynch's, pleaded with Thrash to overturn the one-game suspension.
After a promising start, Lynch hasn't provided much production for Oakland. He had just two carries for 9 yards before his ejection and has rushed for 266 yards on 72 carries (3.7 yards per carry) with two touchdowns so far this season.
After gaining 121 yards the first two weeks, he is averaging just 29 yards per game the past five weeks.
With Lynch sidelined, the Raiders will rely heavily on smaller, second-year backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
Richard has rushed for 158 yards on 35 carries this season, while Washington has 53 yards on 23 runs.
"They don't have the size and the power but they have a little more quickness," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "They catch the ball a little easier, better route runners. If you're playing a little more wide open in some respects they give you a little more juice. Marshawn gives you the power back when you want to finish people in tough situations. Those guys give you more than a change of pace."
And this week, they'll be the primary weapons in the backfield. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Withdraw the missing persons report. Amari Cooper is alive and well after 11 catches and 210 yards, the latter the second-best in franchise history (Art Powell had 247 in 1963).
Cooper had 146 yards all season going in to the game.
"You guys are going to think I'm crazy but there was no difference," Carr said. "We put him in positions to make plays. We knew there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or anything like that. We know what we have here and if we stay the course and grind through the tough times. ... I just felt good for him."
Although Del Rio denied it, Cooper said the Raiders intended on being more aggressive downfield.
"We have a lot of playmakers at the receiving position," Cooper said. We went into this week saying we want to take more shots, more explosive plays."
In fact, Carr made downfield throws of 20 yards or more 10 times, three times more than in any other game. He finished 29 of 52 for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He got Cooper involved early and often, as the slumping receiver was targeted 19 times. ...
Cooper was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Tight end Jared Cook had six catches for 107 yards.
There were no sacks. There were still a handful of off-target throws Carr hopes to get rectified.
Crabtree's 2-yard touchdown pass on an untimed down to end the game was his sixth of the season, tied for the most in the NFL.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus reported, safety Malcolm Jenkins said that he has so much confidence in quarterback Carson Wentz and the offense that he doesn't even get off the bench on third down -- he just assumes they'll convert.
His faith was admittedly tested, though, on a third-and-8 early in the fourth quarter Monday, when the Redskins defense appeared to swallow Wentz up near the line of scrimmage. Improbably, Wentz shook loose from the scrum and dashed 17 yards to sustain a scoring drive that helped put the game away.
"The one where he scrambled out of there, I literally turned around and grabbed my helmet, and somehow, I look up at the screen and he's still running," said Jenkins. "That's the magic of Carson Wentz."
Asked to describe Philadelphia's 24-year-old quarterback in a word, Jenkins went back to the same descriptor.
"Magic," he said. "To be as young as he is, we forget that it's only his second year. The things that he does ... A lot of times I'm on the sideline yelling, 'Slide!' because sometimes he goes for the extra two yards that we really don't need. But it's fun to watch him, man. He's an exciting, electric player. Obviously, you've got a lot of eyes on him around the league."
There's no doubt Wentz's star is rising both in Philadelphia and around the NFL, and the team's hopes are ascending right along with it.
The win against Washington moves the Eagles to 6-1 overall, the best mark in the league. They are home for the next two weeks (49ers, Broncos) -- a good chance to add to their win total prior to their Week 10 bye. Wentz has fueled the unexpected start.
Wentz had his second four-touchdown game in three weeks and averaged 10.7 yards per attempt. He coolly changed the call at the line of scrimmage on a TD pass to Nelson Agholor, found Corey Clement in the end zone with a defender wrapped around him, and threw a 64-yard strike to Mack Hollins.
He now leads the league in touchdown passes (17) and ranks fourth in passing yards (1,852).
In addition, Wentz had a career-high five rushing first downs against the Redskins Monday. He has 15 this season, which is second on the team to LeGarrette Blount's 16. It's also the second most in the league among quarterbacks. Only Cam Newton has more (20).
If there was any doubt he was an MVP candidate, he erased it Monday in front of a national audience.
The play that generated the most awe from teammates and fans alike was his touchdown pass to running back Corey Clement, when he dodged the first wave of defenders, stepped up and, with two Washington players tackling him, lofted a perfect ball to Clement in the right corner of the end zone for the score.
"I don't know how he saw me," said Clement.
"He must have Spiderman vision out there," added receiver Alshon Jeffery. "The one to Corey, he just came up out of [traffic], he senses it and just lets it fly."
The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks to season-ending injuries Monday, and are already without the services of running back Darren Sproles.
Those are key injuries that, depending on severity, could be felt down the stretch as they face a challenging second half of schedule that includes road games against the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, and a Christmas home game against the Oakland Raiders. The imagination-stirring play of their quarterback, though, has Wentz's teammates feeling confident that this team will continue to find a way to get it done.
"He's doing a great job," said tight end Zach Ertz. "He's leading our team. He's the face of the franchise, he's the face of the city right now, so it's an exciting time in Philadelphia. ..."
Not surprisingly, Wentz was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Blount averaged just 2.1 yards per carry, but had a 21-yard run on a second-and-14 late in the game that kept the ball away from the Redskins. But the big difference-maker on the ground on this night was Wentz, who rushed for 63 yards and had the above-mentioned career-high five rushing first downs.
Pederson said the team hasn't made a decision about who will replace Peters at left tackle, but he did note that Lane Johnson has played at a high level at right tackle, putting into question whether the Eagles would slide him over to the left.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced Peters at left tackle during Monday night's game.
Hicks, who was unable to put pressure on his right leg as he left the field, had been dealing with ankle and calf injuries over the past several weeks.
Najee Goode and Joe Walker filled in for Hicks, who has seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries in 31 games with the Eagles.
Pederson indicated that the Eagles would look for Peters' and Hicks' replacements in-house.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Mike Wallace, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
The Pittsburgh Steelers laughed along with Martavis Bryant a week ago as the talented but erratic wide receiver downplayed reports he requested a trade.
It's not quite so funny anymore.
Bryant stayed home on Monday with an illness. The timing looked considerably curious after Bryant defended himself on social media and took a shot at rookie teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster following another ineffective performance in an otherwise dominant victory over Cincinnati.
After an Instagram user claimed Bryant was being ignored by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Bryant posted -- and then promptly deleted -- from his verified account a comment in which he claimed Smith-Schuster is "no where near better than me."
Bryant amended it later to call Smith-Schuster a "great talent" while adding "I just wants mine period point blank."
Bryant added fuel to the fire on Tuesday. The receiver told ESPN's Josina Anderson he wanted out of Pittsburgh if the team isn't going to use him.
Head coach Mike Tomlin, however, reiterated the team has no plans to trade Bryant.
"We've invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him. He's not available via trade. We've invested a lot," Tomlin said.
But not so much that they're afraid to bench him.
Bryant returned to the team in advance of Wednesday's practice but found himself demoted to scout team duty. According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, the development affects Bryant's chances to play Sunday at Detroit. OG Ramon Foster said Justin Hunter took his role in offense for this practice.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is reporting that Bryant will be inactive.
The 25-year-old has 18 catches for 234 yards on 36 targets this season. He has seen his playing time reduced each of the past two weeks. Bryant played just 34 snaps in Sunday's win and tallied a combined three catches for 30 yards in Weeks 6 and 7.
Tomlin said he would talk to the receiver about the social media posts -- and he obviously did.
"We've covered a lot of ground," Tomlin said. "It's obvious that we still got more ground to cover with him because were having a conversation about him that's not football related. But we have, he's done a lot in the period of time that he's been here in terms of improving, not only as a player but as a man. But we still got a ways to go. He was out of bounds with some of his actions, in terms of the things that he said on social media."
Roethlisberger suggested during a radio hit on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday that Bryant needs to talk to him instead of using outside methods to voice his frustration.
"Come talk to your quarterback," Roethlisberger said. "Yesterday we had a really long conversation over text messages and things like that. He was telling me about his frustrations and whatever and I told him. ... The one thing you haven't done is come talk to me. How can I help you?
"I know it seems crazy and you guys may be rolling your eyes, but he is. He is a good teammate. We've just got to talk and figure this thing out."
With Bryant making $615,000 this year and $705,000 next season, the Steelers are in no hurry to jettison a player with talent as they plow towards the postseason.
Bryant told Anderson if he's not traded, he would play out his contract in Pittsburgh with no plans to re-sign.
The Steelers and the receiver, however, have more than a year to figure out their differences.
In the meantime, all involved -- Bryant notwithstanding -- are being reasonable enough.
Smith-Schuster, who scored his third touchdown of the season on a 31-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter against the Bengals, said he spoke to Bryant and didn't take Bryant's frustrations personally.
"I understand where he's coming from," Smith-Schuster said. "If I was in his shoes, I put myself in his shoes. ... It's tough."
At 20, Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in the league. Yet, as Associated Press sports writer Will Graves noted, the rookie has played long enough to understand the careful balance of egos involved, particularly on an offense as loaded as the Steelers (5-2), who are in firm control of the AFC North as the season nears the midway point.
"Hopefully we do get him the ball more, we do feed him," Smith-Schuster said. "He's a great athlete. I would like him to be on our team and moving forward I think he's going to be big for us."
Bryant was in 2014 and 2015, when he caught 14 touchdowns over 21 games while helping the Steelers to consecutive playoff berths.
Then the suspension hit in March 2016 and Bryant spent a year on his own, getting his life in order while living in Nevada.
Bryant has said and done all the right things in his return, yet at this point his frustration appears to be bubbling over.
For the record, the NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday and moving Bryant doesn't make much sense for the Steelers even if Bryant's production dips.
If he runs afoul of the substance abuse policy one more time, the ensuing discipline could effectively end his NFL career. That's a significant risk for any team that would consider acquiring him in a trade.
Besides, the Steelers still believe Bryant can make an impact even if he's not catching the ball. He still draws extra attention when he runs deep, opening things for others. It may not be the path Bryant envisioned, but it is one Pittsburgh would be just fine with him following.
"There's only one ball," Smith-Schuster said. "It's hard to spread it around. At the end of the day, we all got to focus on the bigger picture. ..."
Safe to say I'll be following up on this one in coming days. But expect Bryant to sit this one out with Hunter handling his role7. ...
Meanwhile, despite a few flat moments late, the Steelers looked as crisp as they have all season in their win over the Bengals, ripping off 251 first-half yards on the league's second-ranked defense and never looking back.
The identity is intact: Give Le'Veon Bell the ball a ton and throw blockers all over the place, and stop the run as a way to create turnovers on defense.
As Fowler noted earlier this week, Bell has looked like his old self the last few weeks, but he punctuated that reality with a fierce 42-yard reception that included a stiff arm so hard that Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick bounced off the turf like a basketball. Bell finished the play by throwing linebacker Vincent Rey to the sideline.
Bell's got it working right now, and the Steelers would be smart to keep riding him.
Next up, the Steelers match up with the Detroit Lions on the road next Sunday night, then head into a bye, when, worst case, they'd be 5-3. Roethlisberger, whose decision making has been better the last few weeks, typically likes throwing in a dome. He threw for three touchdowns last year at Indianapolis. ...
Also of interest. ... Antonio Brown already has 84 targets on the season. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, he's pacing to approach his career-high mark of 195 from 2015. In what was meant to be a packed high-flying passing offense, Brown has been the only consistent asset from the season's start.
And finally. ... Smith-Schuster opens the week in the concussion protocol while tight end Vance McDonald bruised a knee against the Bengals and it may affect him this week, McDonald had two catches in the game, but dropped a touchdown pass.
I'll be following up on both -- as well as Bryant -- when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner framed it, "The stage was set for rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard to have the kind of fairy-tale first start that would give him and the Niners a nice memory in an otherwise lost season."
But there were no happy endings in this one.
After three weeks on the road, the 49ers finally returned to Levi's Stadium. The opponent was a historical rival in the Cowboys, and the Niners happened to be honoring franchise legend Dwight Clark and hosting more than 30 alumni from the team's Super Bowl XVI team as part of the proceedings. Included in those in attendance was another fairly well-known third-round quarterback, Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
But according to Wagoner, "If there's one lesson Beathard and the Niners can take from their first seven games of this season, it's this: The NFL has a harsh way of taking a feel-good script and turning it to dust."
That's precisely what happened Sunday as the Cowboys came to town along with plenty of their fans and ran roughshod over the Niners in a 40-10 victory. Unlike in the past month-plus, when the 49ers became the first team in league history to lose by three points or fewer in five straight games, this one was never close.
In dropping to 0-7 on the season, the 49ers seemed to get off to a good start by forcing Dallas to go three-and-out on the opening possession, but that was really the high point of the day on the field and it happened 45 seconds into the game.
From there, San Francisco punt returner Trent Taylor coughed up the ensuing return, Dallas recovered and running back Ezekiel Elliott cashed it in three plays later. Before Beathard even got on the field, his team was down 7-0, and before the offense even managed a first down, it was 14-0.
Considering Beathard was making his first start, it was safe to assume Dallas had already intended to throw a variety of defensive looks and blitzes in his direction. With an early lead, Dallas only increased the pressure. And though Beathard lived up to his billing as tough and unafraid, he often looked overmatched.
As pressure engulfed him from all over, Beathard was dropped for five sacks and six more quarterback hits, according to unofficial press box statistics. Much of that could be attributed to shoddy protection, but some of it also stemmed from Beathard's knack for holding onto the ball too long. Perhaps too eager to make something happen, Beathard stood in a firm pocket but didn't get rid of the ball, only to take a sack on at least two occasions.
All told, Beathard finished 22-of-38 for 235 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 76.1. Those numbers bore a resemblance to what Beathard did in two and a half quarters against the Redskins last week but without many of the positives.
That said, he set a 49ers franchise record for most passing yards by a rookie making his first NFL start. He threw for 235 yards, a full 29 more than the previous best, which had been set by QB Tom Owen against the Oakland Raiders in 1974.
Beathard also scored on a four-yard run, becoming just the third 49ers rookie quarterback to register a rushing TD.
But Beathard also fumbled twice when he was sacked and was unable to lead the 49ers into the end zone until his 4-yard scoring run with 6:14 left in the game. Head coach Kyle Shanahan also attempted to take advantage of Beathard's athleticism (at least relative to Brian Hoyer) with mixed results.
Beathard did have that touchdown and 16-yard run on a zone read, but he also found little room to run on other attempts, finishing with 30 carries for 5 yards.
Realistically, nobody expected Beathard to come in and be a panacea for the Niners or their offense. From the moment Shanahan made the change last week, he did it knowing the rookie quarterback would have his share of bumpy moments over the final 10 games. Beathard provided a spark in that game. This week was more of a fizzle.
That's all part of the process of trying to determine what the Niners have in Beathard before potentially chasing a quarterback in the offseason.
But Sunday offered a sobering reminder for anyone hoping Beathard could be a long-term solution of just how far he has to go to even make that a serious conversation.
All that said, quarterback is far from San Francisco's only issue.
Through the course of the first six weeks, Shanahan repeatedly maintained that one of the positives of his team's losing streak, if there was such a thing, was that it would give him a chance to evaluate what his young players are made of. The Niners are one of the league's 10 youngest teams and had 12 rookies on the active roster Sunday.
Despite a devastating series of near-misses, Shanahan's Niners fought back every week to make those games close and seemed to have a short memory going into the following game.
After Sunday, the challenge will change a bit. It's easier to sell a team on being close after a narrow defeat than after a 30-point drubbing.
And to be sure, this was a drubbing.
How will they bounce back from this one and who will step up to ensure that games like Sunday's don't become the norm rather than the exception?
"I'm glad I'm in this locker room and I'm glad I'm here during this time because it gives me an opportunity to go around the locker room and make sure that nobody hangs their head because we lost," receiver Marquise Goodwin said. "Me being in my fifth year and dealing with some adversity, I've been in positions where I felt like a lot of people was against me and overcame that. I still lived every day, I still worked out every day as hard as I could.
"We can do that here."
We'll see about that. ... In the meantime, we know they're capable of scoring points, something they done every week but one. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The 49ers will take a 4.9-yard average from Carlos Hyde and a touchdown run by Beathard most games. If only they'd had the opportunity to run more than just 22 times. That's what happens when you're down two touchdowns before some viewers have flipped over from the earlier game they'd been enjoying.
But after dealing with a hip injury earlier in the season, Hyde looks fully healthy again.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Hyde faces the Eagles this week in Philadelphia and he should still be in line for a similar workload of about 20 or so touches. But the overall offensive struggles of the 49ers are holding Hyde back from being anything more than an RB2 on a weekly basis. ...
Pierre Garcon had five catches in Sunday's loss to Dallas, the third of which was the 600th of his NFL career. With 602 career catches, Garcon now ranks seventh among active pass-catchers.
Tight end Cole Hikutini recorded his first NFL reception with a five-yard catch in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The rookie participated in 33 snaps in the game 21 on offense and 12 on special teams.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
Despite a 4-2 record and a 24-7 win over the New York Giants on Sunday, the Seahawks are still struggling to find a groove offensively.
As the Sports Xchange notes, it can come in spurts when Seattle can seemingly move the football at will. Other times, first downs feel like a significant accomplishment.
A first-quarter series against the Giants was a microcosm of Seattle's offense so far this season.
After taking over at their own 10-yard line, the Seahawks marched down field to the red zone. The 16-play, 89-yard drive would eventually result in zero points scored for Seattle. The Seahawks faced just one third down on the drive before moving inside the Giants' 10-yard line. Seattle ran nine plays from inside the 10-yard line without finding a way to get the ball in the end zone. Two defensive penalties gave Seattle the extra chances to score. Thomas Rawls was stopped at the 1-yard line. Fullback Tre Madden lost a yard on a pass from Russell Wilson. Tight end Jimmy Graham dropped a sure touchdown on fourth down.
"We didn't get it knocked in the end zone and we should have," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We had a chance in the throwing game, Russ didn't quite get the ball as quickly out in the flat (to Madden) as we wanted to and might have had a chance to knock it in there. We had another chance and Jimmy could have had the ball there, possibly, and we could have run the ball in too. We just didn't hit it right. (Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) used a bunch of stuff, we tried a bunch of different things and we just couldn't knock it in the end zone at that time."
Wilson passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants on Sunday. He was also sacked just once. However, Wilson overthrew Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett on a pair of would-be touchdowns. Graham dropped two passes, including the above-mention toss in the end zone and Rawls dropped a screen pass that could have set up a field-goal try.
The rushing attack continues to sputter as well.
Seattle running backs have just one rushing touchdown this year, a 30-yard scamper by J.D. McKissic against the Indianapolis Colts. Rawls, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise are all averaging 3.0 yards per carry or less through six games. Seattle has gained 100 yards on the ground just three times in six games.
"I think we're moving. We need to keep going," Carroll said. "I still think we're mixing it and kind of finding our way and working at it.
"I think we're still developing. I still feel like we're finding it, which I'm fine and comfortable about. I've got no problem with it. We'll see what happens."
While Seattle's defense is back on top of the league in points per game allowed, the offense is the unit that has to get things moving in the right direction. The Seahawks scored 24 points against the Giants over the final 35 minutes of the game. They've gained over 400 yards of total offense three times in their last four games and are now up to 14th in points per game with 22.3 points per game.
They just need to find a way to shallow out the crater when the offense hits its inevitable skids. ...
The good news?
The Seahawks kept pace in the NFC West with the Rams, who maintained a half-game lead in the division with their win over Arizona in London. With Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer going down with a broken arm Sunday, it looks like Los Angeles is the only team that poses much of a threat to Seattle's hopes of repeating as division champs.
But the offense truly needs to hit stride. ...
That said, ESPN.com's Brady Henderson points out Seahawks are in the midst of a favorable stretch in their schedule. They return home this week to face a Houston Texans team that is without defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, which will give Seattle's offensive line a break -- although given the rate at which Houston's offense is scoring points, the Seahawks might be hard-pressed to keep up.
Seattle hosts the Washington Redskins the following week, then travels to Arizona for a Thursday night game against the Cardinals. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Baldwin expressed regret about shoving offensive line coach Tom Cable in a heated sideline moment on Sunday.
The incident came during the second quarter, with Seattle trailing 7-0. Carroll said he told Cable to talk to Seattle's offense on the sideline after it came off the field, but Baldwin wanted Wilson to be the one doing the talking.
The CBS broadcast showed a replay of Baldwin trying to push Cable aside with one hand while yelling toward Wilson as several other offensive players huddled around them.
Baldwin took responsibility for the incident and said he apologized to Cable. The two appeared to be talking amicably at the end of the first half, with Cable putting his arm around Baldwin as the two walked off the field together.
"I lost my cool. It's 100 percent my fault," Baldwin said. "At that moment, I was really frustrated with the offense as a whole. Not the coaching staff -- the players. Again, it goes back to our X's and O's. We had the play calls. We just didn't execute. Whether it was passing the ball, blocking, catching, jumping offsides, false starting, whatever it may be, we weren't executing as players, and to me there is nothing a coach can say. We have to take accountability for that."
Carroll answered in the affirmative when asked if he wished the situation would have been handled differently, but he called it "no big deal."
Baldwin said he wished he would have gotten his point across in a different way, but he made it clear that he wasn't going after Cable.
"Y'all know I love Cable to death," he said. "Me and Cable have one of the best relationships from coach to player. That was 100 percent my fault. I already apologized to him. He knows how I am. It's just at that moment, the players needed to realize it's the players -- it's not the coaches. ..."
Rawls started at running back, but he and Lacy again finished with a similar workload. Lacy played quite a bit after Rawls lost a fumble in the second quarter, which led to a Giants touchdown when they took over with a short field.
Neither really distinguished himself. Lacy gained 34 yards on 11 carries, and Rawls ran 11 times or 36 yards.
Prosise played just two snaps against the Giants before aggravating an ankle injury that forced him to miss the previous two games. Carroll thought it possible Prosise would be able to practice this week but was unsure if he'd be able to play against the Texans.
Lockett briefly left the game after having the wind knocked out of him on a collision in the end zone. He returned to the game and is thought to be fine.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season is slipping away quickly, and they have no one to blame but themselves after falling 30-27 to the Buffalo Bills for their third straight loss.
The Buccaneers played well enough in the second half to win. But they're now 2-4, sinking deeper into the cellar of the NFC South, and the Carolina Panthers come to town next week. Then the Bucs are back on the road to take on the New Orleans Saints, who just moved into first place in the NFC South.
"I feel like we are the only ones that can get ourselves out because we can't keep [losing]," coach Dirk Koetter said. "It hurts. It hurts a lot, but no one is coming to save us. We dug in. We've got to dig out."
Quarterback Jameis Winston said, "I don't want to be in this position. I'm very shocked, but we've got to fix it."
There was a barrage of self-inflicted mistakes all game on both sides of the ball. The defense struggled to contain Bills dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who threw for 268 yards and had 53 yards on the ground, and running back LeSean McCoy, who had 122 yards from scrimmage. The defense also couldn't get off the field on third down and missed tackles.
The two most devastating mistakes of all? A blown coverage on a 44-yard deep pass to Deonte Thompson with 3:14 to go, with Robert McClain getting an unnecessary roughness call trying to save the touchdown. Then Adam Humphries lost a fumble after the Bills tied the game 27-27 with 2:28 to go.
"It's something I've done a hundred times in practice and games and unfortunately, the defender made a good play on it and I've got to take care of it," Humphries said. "It's something we preach every week: You can't have turnovers. It's unfortunate that it had to happen on that last drive there, where I think momentum was [going] our way."
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, it didn't matter that Winston, hobbled by a sprained AC joint this week, threw three touchdowns in the second half, including two to rookie tight end O.J. Howard. Howard caught a 7-yard strike and a 33-yarder to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Winston then made a terrific throw to wide receiver Mike Evans, who slid across the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard grab to give the Bucs a 27-20 lead.
The Buccaneers just couldn't get out of their own way. This wasn't a decimation like their loss in Arizona last week. This game was totally within their reach, even with a sluggish first half on offense.
"We stop ourselves on every single drive. Every day. We've got to fix that," said Winston, who threw for 300 yards for the ninth time in his career. "We fight. I know we've got it in us. We just have to find a way to do it in four quarters. Four quarters. That's what this game is. Not just two, not just three. Four."
The mistakes were glaring. There was a face mask penalty on right tackle Demar Dotson. Winston underthrew tight end Cameron Brate in the end zone. Winston lost the football on a strip sack by defensive end Ryan Davis. Then there was the 53-yard pass to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter that was negated by a holding call on Donovan Smith.
"You can't really point to one play," Koetter said. "I told the players there were probably eight to 12 plays in the game that could have changed the game had they gone the other way."
The Bucs' struggles on third down continued, and it's shocking considering they were the league's best third-down defense last year, allowing a 34.4 percent conversion rate. This year, they are 29th, allowing their opponents to convert at a 46.2 percent rate heading into Week 7. Nothing is more deflating for a defense than giving up first downs on third-and-long, as the Bucs did on Taylor's 32-yard pass to tight end Nick O'Leary on third-and-14 at the end of the third quarter.
"We consider third down like a turnover, man, getting off the field," linebacker Lavonte David said. "We haven't been doing that lately. We're not helping ourselves, giving our offense as many opportunities with the ball -- we haven't been doing that defensively. It's something we have to fix."
For what it's worth, Koetter was pleased with the performance of Winston after the signal caller missed much of practice last week.
Winston, who worked on a limited basis to open the week on Wednesday, passed for 384 yards (and the three touchdowns) against the NFL's No. 2 pass defense.
"Jameis really played pretty well," Koetter said. "The fact that Jameis wasn't able to throw on Wednesday and Thursday and come out and play like he did (with) the number of explosive (and) his numbers in the second half (is impressive)."
And it really was.
But Doug Martin found it tough to run the football Sunday, rushing 20 times for 49 yards against a stingy Buffalo defense. But he added 31 receiving yards and NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich contends 80 yards from scrimmage isn't horrible (while conceding a touchdown would have been nice).
Whatever the case, Martin the clear-cut primary back and has been ever since he returned from his suspension.
So Franciscovich advised readers to "Chalk this one up as a decent performance in an unfavorable matchup and bank the eight fantasy points."
Martin will have another tough matchup against the Panthers this week before his schedule opens up with games against the Saints, Jets, Dolphins and Falcons in November. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Evans is on pace for 152 yards this season, which is 23 fewer than what he had last season. While 150-plus targets is nothing to sneeze at, the small drop-off in overall volume is why Evans' ceiling is depressed from what we saw last season when he led all wide receivers in standard fantasy points.
Evans has yet to cross the century mark in yards in any game this season.
On a more positive note, Howard had a breakout game with six catches for 98 yards and the above-mentioned two touchdowns, including a 33-yarder. Howard entered the game having caught five passes all season.
And finally. ... The Bucs placed defensive end Noah Spence on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims
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 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggested immediately after the game, the Titans probably lose against just about any other NFL team with their performance Sunday, but they were facing the league's worst team, the Cleveland Browns, and found a way to survive with a 12-9 overtime victory.
Wolfe added it was a flat performance by a team coming off a Monday night victory over the Colts. The offense looked stagnant and unable to gather much consistency. The Browns were missing their top two defensive backs due to injury, but the Titans' passing attack made them look like the second coming of Seattle's Legion of Boom.
It's rare for a win to leave more questions than answers, but this one did. Maybe the upcoming bye week will provide time to answer them.
"When you win in the NFL, it's good," head coach Mike Mularkey said. "I wish we were better. I think everybody does. But we needed that win."
Marcus Mariota took a step back from his great Week 6 performance and looked like a quarterback still limited by his hamstring. He missed Walker twice on near-touchdowns, and he didn't have his usual effectiveness in the red zone. He led the offense to four Ryan Succop field goals and finished 21-of-34 for 203 yards. The Titans had just 80 rushing yards, averaging 2.5 yards per carry.
"It just comes down to red zone," Mariota said. "When we get down to the red zone, we can't keep kicking field goals. We gotta score touchdowns." The Titans went 0-2 in the red zone.
In the wake of this one, there are many issues to work out, but this team is still in position to win the division and get better down the stretch.
The potential is there, but better execution and game planning are needed for them to be a true contender.
As Wolfe suggests, the introspection will have to begin at the coaching level. After seven weeks of struggling in the first half of games, it's worth wondering if there should be a change to how they plan the first 15 plays.
There's a lot of talk about the Titans establishing their bread-and-butter plays, and they need to.
So was Sunday's performance closer to the Titans' ceiling or floor? Have we seen Tennessee's best football already?
"It's a hit or miss," receiver Rishard Matthews said. "I feel like we have at certain times [Sunday], obviously, we didn't and I think we all feel that way."
Tennessee does have to use this week to figure out how to get the run game going, get Mariota and the receiving corps on the same page, and put points on the board early.
According to Wolfe, getting Mariota comfortable may be most important. Too often it feels like he's not reaching his maximum output consistently. That's on Mariota and the coaching staff.
"We've got to be efficient and we've got to score points," Mariota said. "As the season rolls on, we start playing playoff teams and we have to find a way to score points. I'm glad we have a week to figure it out."
Red-zone woes have been what Mariota and Mularkey pointed to as the biggest problem. The Titans are converting just 46.7-percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns, tied for 24th in the NFL. Last season, Tennessee was first at 72 percent. Some regression was expected, but this is a problem.
The positives are that this team should be relatively healthy coming out of the bye week, they are in great position at 4-3 leading the mediocre AFC South, and the potential of this team is still apparent and exciting.
Mularkey has rewarded his Titans for two straight wins by giving them an entire week off for their bye.
Well, most of the players. The coach has made it mandatory for any injured Titan to stick around the facilities and continue treatment and rehabilitation.
And there are a handful of Titans needing to rest and recover.
Corey Davis and Johnathan Cyprien, two starters who have been out with hamstring injuries since the first two weeks of the season, are expected to return shortly after the bye. The week off will give the Titans, and specifically Mariota, Murray and Delanie Walker, a chance to recover.
Walker appears to have avoided a season-ending injury Sunday after his right ankle got caught up underneath him as a Browns defender attempted to take him down after an overtime catch. And Mularkey said Monday he expects Davis to practice next Monday, working toward a potential return to game action against Baltimore on Nov. 5 after the team's bye week.
"We've seen him run routes," Mularkey said, via Paul Kuharsky of paulkuharsky.com. "He can make a big difference for us."
Walker led the Titans with seven catches for 63 yards. He has been the only Titans receiving option who has consistently drawn double coverage from defenses and still leads the team in receptions.
Murray suffered a minor shoulder injury.
One last note here. ... All the attention going into the game was on Murray's hamstring and how they would use him and Derrick Henry. Neither had great games for fantasy purposes, but Henry was a huge dud, with 24 total yards on 15 touches. Murray had just 76 yards combined on 21 touches.
Following the off week, the Titans have three games in two weeks against AFC North teams, beginning with the above-mentioned home date with the Ravens.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Michael Campanaro, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 24 October 2017
As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, the promise of what could be started in the offseason, with training videos posted of one-handed catches and workout sessions that featured his athleticism. It continued into the summer when Washington Redskins wideout Terrelle Pryor connected often in practice with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
And that led to a narrative that has yet to be played out, that Pryor would become a solid playmaker for Washington. Instead, on Monday night, the one-time quarterback was benched and played one snap in the first half. Pryor finished with a season-low 30 snaps, catching two passes for 14 yards.
Keim went on to note that Josh Doctson, playing the X receiver spot held by Pryor until Monday, finished with three catches for 39 yards. Earlier in the week, head coach Jay Gruden had said -- once more -- that he'd like to get Doctson more snaps. That's a common statement made each week, but this time it became more of a reality.
"I don't know," Pryor said when asked why he didn't start. "Josh is great. He's a talented player. We have talented receivers. I know coach Jay wanted to get Josh involved more. ... We believe in coach, believe in how he coaches us and whatever he says goes. I don't have any questions. You're not going to see any animosity or see me angry or whatever."
At this time last season, Pryor was en route to a 1,007-yard season with Cleveland. Then, in the offseason, word spread that he anticipated an annual salary of more than $10 million per season -- and possibly up to $14 million.
But he was not viewed this way by the rest of the NFL, and he grabbed Washington's one-year deal worth $6 million.
When the Redskins signed him, they viewed him as a talented but raw receiver. That was a sentiment viewed by others in the NFL, most of whom did not see Pryor as a No. 1 receiver. That description hasn't changed, and it manifests itself in the consistency of routes, among other areas. Cousins relies on precision from his receivers; it's why he connected well with Pierre Garcon, for example.
But the Redskins also always viewed Doctson as the guy who ultimately should be their No. 1 receiver. He was the guy, in practice, who made eye-opening plays. Injuries slowed his development -- quite a bit last season and a little bit this summer.
The bottom line is this: After having two wideouts produce 1,000-yard seasons last season, they don't have any on pace for 600. Their strength is the tight ends (Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis) and running back (Chris Thompson). Monday, that threesome combined for 17 catches and 157 yards. Four receivers finished with 10 catches for 100 yards.
With Pryor, Gruden said after the game, they simply wanted to start Doctson. They start Jamison Crowder at the Z receiver spot and, in three-receiver sets, they used Ryan Grant -- until inserting Pryor more in the second half in different packages. The coaches like Grant a lot; he's not as talented but consistent and more help in the run game. They don't want to lessen Crowder's time, either.
"We wanted to get Josh in there early," Gruden said.
There's still 10 games to be played, but at this point, but Keim believes it would be difficult to see a big improvement with Pryor in the passing game. Before spring workouts began, he spent time in Florida with Cousins and some of the other receivers. They both talked about how his quarterback days would help, giving him a sense of what Cousins wanted on a play.
Instead, Pryor's season has been plagued with inconsistencies, be it missed passes on some routes, drops on others. Gruden focused on wanting to get Doctson more time, but if Pryor was heading in the direction he wanted, then he'd have played more than one snap in the first half.
He's caught 18 passes for 223 yards this season.
"It's a work in progress," Cousins said. "I don't want to write a narrative until we have a full sample size of the season. There's a lot of football left. There's no reason he can't have a very strong 10 games and really finish strong this season."
Pryor clung to that fact as well. He has no choice.
"It's just the chemistry of the offense," he said. "It's a spread-the-ball-around offense. Like I said, it's early. There are a lot of guys around the league starting fresh with new quarterbacks that isn't killing the game, either. We have 10 games left. We'll see what happens. ..."
Meanwhile, the Redskins entered the Philadelphia game with injuries to key players, including top cornerback Josh Norman. They left with a disappointing defeat and a crippling rash of injuries to the offensive line.
"I'll have to make some changes (during practice)," Gruden said. "I don't have any linemen left."
Pro-Bowl left tackle Trent Williams came into the Eagles game playing on a bad right knee that will require surgery -- either soon or, at best, after the season. He sat the final 11 snaps on Monday as the line fell apart around him.
Right tackle Morgan Moses went down three separate times with sprains to both ankles. Center Spencer Long, who had knee surgery in August, is hurt again (knee injury plus quadriceps tendinitis) and so is Pro-Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff (Grade 2 MCL sprain, left knee). Moses has the best chance to play Sunday against the Cowboys.
Depth was a big advantage for the Redskins coming into the season. But even that is gone with reserve tackle Ty Nsekhe, who filled in so well for Williams during a four-game suspension last year, likely out another two weeks after surgery to repair a core muscle.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Washington has nine offensive linemen on the roster and two more on the practice squad. But Williams is struggling to fight through his injury and could miss the game against Dallas. The teams are tied for second in the division, but they are 2.5 games behind the Eagles.
"I'm not sure if I'm hurting the team by trying to be out there, or doing myself any justice or doing my team any justice," Williams said.
Rookie Chase Roullier, a fifth-round draft pick from Wyoming, would start for Long. Without Nsekhe available, T.J. Clemmings - cut by the Vikings at the end of training camp - would be the primary tackle if Williams is out. Guard Tyler Catalina (concussion) could return to practice this week, but has yet to be cleared.
The Redskins have two offensive linemen on the 10-man practice squad - guard Alex Balducci and rookie tackle Andreas Knappe. They might need them.
The Xchange added, it's only Week 8, but Gruden is already keeping an eye on his banged-up roster. The Redskins will have only a walk-through on Wednesday and limit full practices to Thursday and Friday during a short week. Washington already had its bye in Week 5 so there's no more rest coming. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kirk Cousins again faced pressure all game long as he did in Week 1 against the Eagles. They sacked him four times in both games. But Cousins again hung tough and limited his turnovers this time. He completed 30 of 40 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and a passer rating of 110.7.
Cousins added to his record for 300-yard passing games when he hit for 303. Cousins has done it 22 times, including one postseason start.
Chris Thompson set a career high in receiving yards (366) when he had 26 yards on five catches.
Jordan Reed is feeling better after battling a chest contusion and sore big toe early in the regular season and during training camp. He caught a season-high eight passes at Philadelphia for 64 yards and two touchdowns, which ties his career high in that category.
Vernon Davis caught four passes for 67 yards. His 31-yard reception in the first quarter gave him three straight weeks with a catch of 30 yards or more. Davis last did that for the San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 11-13 in 2009.
Robert Kelley returned from injury but had just 16 yards on seven carries. Cousins scrambled for 18 yards and Chris managed 38 on 15 carries. Those meager 75 yards were still better than Week 1 against Philadelphia (54), but not enough to keep the Eagles defense off balance.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Brian Quick
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle