Team Notes week 8 2021

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Kliff Kingsbury felt disconnected when he came back to coach Sunday.

A positive Covid test forced Kingsbury to distance himself from the players and coaches for an entire week before getting cleared at the last minute to coach. Now, Kingsbury is Covid-free and can connect with his players again at practice.

But with an upcoming Thursday night matchup with the Packers, Kingsbury still isn't able to do everything he wants, not with practices basically glorified walkthroughs.

"Just executing the plays at the tempo you'd like to," Kingsbury said. "As a coach, you like to see things at full speed -- the timing and the spacing of it. But everyone is going to deal with it. The main thing is the player's health. Getting them recovered, rested, and ready to roll again -- in such a short amount of time."

Both teams will play two games in five days, leaving less time to discuss what happened on Sunday and prepare for Thursday.

"You have to move on quickly," Christian Kirk said. "The biggest thing is who can recover the fastest and be the most prepared. So, it's about making sure guys understand the scheme and know what we're trying to do -- because we won't have much practice."

"It's a race to game plan and it's a race to get healthy," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "A lot of mental work compared to having a normal week."

Less time for game planning and practice aside, it's understandable why the matchup is highly anticipated. The Cardinals' 7-0 record ties their best start in franchise history, a feat accomplished in 1974. The Packers improved to 6-1 after beating the Washington Football team on Sunday -- tying them with the Rams and Bucs for the second-best record in the NFC.

It's the best-combined win percentage for a Thursday game in October or later in the Super Bowl era (since 1966), according to ESPN Stats and Information.

On Monday, both teams received different types of news. The Cardinals activated linebacker Chandler Jones and defensive lineman Zach Allen from the Covid list. Meanwhile, the Packers placed All-Pro wideout Davante Adams on the Covid list amid a recent team breakout.

Adams will need two negative tests at least 24 hours apart to play Thursday, an unlikely event. Even if the receiver can't go, Kingsbury said the game plan wouldn't change.

"You hate it for him; he's a hard guy to replace," Kingsbury said. "But they're still a loaded team with one of the best quarterbacks ever (Aaron Rodgers). ..."

For the record, Kingsbury found out around 6:30 a.m. Sunday that he was cleared to coach against Houston. After testing positive on Oct. 15, Kingsbury needed two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to return. Kingsbury, who's vaccinated, was tested every day since his initial positive result.

He was asymptomatic throughout the week, a source told ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss.

Kingsbury spent the week preparing the game plan for Sunday, at that point still unsure if he'd be on the sideline, while working ahead. He didn't watch the Cardinals' win over the Browns last weekend on TV, opting to follow it on his phone while he prepped for the Texans. This past week, he spent time preparing for the Packers.

"I just felt like I needed to be doing something to help the team," Kingsbury said. "I couldn't just sit there like a fan."

When asked what went through his head when he found out he tested positive, Kingsbury said he didn't want to get into that. "But," he added, "it was a lot of curse words."

Given all the that, it's probably no surprise that Arizona didn't score in the first quarter for the first time this season and looked totally and utterly discombobulated. The Cardinals rectified that to score 17 points in the second on their way to another big win, even with Kyler Murray getting sacked four times.

Nothing Sunday seemed smooth and seamless like it did against Cleveland, but Arizona was able to still dominate the Texans to remain undefeated.

In the end, the Cardinals showed they could overcome a different type of adversity this week to still win and win. ...

How will a game like this affect the Cardinals on Thursday night against the Packers?

According to Weinfuss, it will depend on how sore Murray is all week. He was beat up all game, getting a few hits to the head as well as the four sacks.

There will be a lot of eyes on Thursday night's game, which is a critical NFC battle. This game could have home-field implications come the postseason. It's one thing to try to get motivated for a 1-5 team like the Texans. It's an entirely different animal to do that against Rodgers and the Packers.

If the Cardinals can get this game out of their heads as quickly as possible and Murray can recover, the Cardinals will be in good shape heading into Thursday night -- especially if Adams can't go. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer David Brandt framed it, "Murray's magic feet haven't been quite as useful the past few games."

The quarterback's ability to run and escape sacks in the pocket have produced awesome highlights in the past, but those are becoming few and far between. Defenders are starting to catch Murray and he took a bit of a pounding in the Texans game, going to the sideline medical tent twice.

While his feet haven't been quite as effective, his arm has been just fine. The MVP contender completed 20 of 28 passes for 261 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against the Texans.

The Cardinals unleashed their latest weapon Sunday, tight end Zach Ertz, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, who helped them overcome that slow start.

"It was good," Ertz said, per the team's official website. "It was fun to win a football game and be a part of this culture and team environment."

Ertz provided the cherry on top of the blowout win, catching a pass over the middle and jaunting to the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown that essentially iced the game midway through the third quarter.

It marked the longest TD reception of Ertz's career, topping a 35-yarder he had in 2014 with the Eagles, per NFL Research. The score also made Ertz the first player in NFL history to have a touchdown catch for two different teams in back-to-back games in a season. Ertz scored a TD in his final game with Philly before being traded to Arizona.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, it wasn't all rainbows and roses in Ertz's first game in Arizona. Murray and Ertz missed connecting on a TD earlier in the game, and the QB threw an interception targeting the tight end. Ertz blamed himself for the interception, part of the chemistry-building process.

Ertz finished his first game with his new club catching three of five targets for 66 yards and the score.

On the injury front. ... Murray did indeed appear on the Cardinals' first injury report of the week -- the report was estimated by both the Cardinals and Packers because neither team actually practiced -- with a right finger injury. But he was listed as a full participant Monday and Tuesday.

Kingsbury said Murray was fine, and said center Max Garcia, who was listed as a DNP with an Achilles injury, is day to day. If Garcia isn't available, the Cardinals would be down to third-string center Sean Harlow.

Also listed as DNP was wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring), who was held out Monday and Tuesday.

As CBSSports.com notes, Hopkins has missed some practice time this season on account of a rib injury and an illness, but the hamstring issue appears to be a new concern. The wideout seemingly wasn't affected by any injury in his first matchup with his former team this past weekend, as he corralled seven of his nine targets for 53 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence (calf), and defensive lineman J.J. Watt (shoulder) have also been held out. Those who would have been limited were tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring), linebacker Devon Kennard (shoulder), linebacker Isaiah Simmons (shoulder), and linebacker Tanner Vallejo (hand/wrist).

Watt was officially ruled out on Wednesday; Hopkins and Daniels are questionable.

Whatever the case, I'll be following up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Chase Edmonds
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Zach Ertz, Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

The Atlanta Falcons find themselves in an unusual place -- .500.

For the first time since Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Falcons have won as many games as they've lost.

A last-second, 30-28 victory over the Miami Dolphins was Atlanta's second straight win and pushed the team's record to 3-3.

"It's big," said rookie coach Arthur Smith, who then sounded very much like the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. "You've got to ... use that business analogy. We felt our foundation was strong. We knew there was things we have to clean up. You can't lose perspective. We haven't turned the profit yet."

The Falcons can reach some really rarified territory -- turn a profit, if you will -- when they host the struggling Carolina Panthers (3-4) next Sunday.

Atlanta hasn't had a winning record since the end of a 10-6 season in 2017, which also was the most recent time the Falcons made the playoffs.

That's the next step, Smith said, again sounding very much like his father.

"Right now, go on our earnings report," the coach said. "We need to turn the profit -- hopefully next week. That's the name of the game."

As long as they keep throwing effectively.

As Associated Pres sports writer Paul Newberry noted, Matt Ryan and the passing game have posted consecutive 300-yard games for the first time since Weeks 6 and 7 of the 2020 season.

Ryan carved up the Dolphins by completing 25 of 40 for 336 yards and two touchdowns.

While his performance was marred a bit by a couple of turnovers, Ryan has clearly gotten on a roll after a sluggish start to the season.

Kyle Pitts helped.

Actually, Pitts and the Dolphins helped.

Man-to-man defense. One player for Pitts to beat.

As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted, in college at Florida, it took him until his junior year to feel comfortable enough to believe he would win that matchup almost every time.

On Sunday, in his 163-yard personal domination of the Dolphins, he did just that.

Along the way, Pitts became the youngest tight end ever to have a 150-yard receiving game, beating Hall of Famer Mike Ditka by a year and seven days. He became the first rookie tight end to have back-to-back 100-yard games since Oakland's Raymond Chester in 1970.

And he's still learning and fitting into the offense.

Sunday, though, was the barometer of the true potential he possesses. Pitts was targeted eight times and caught seven passes. Ryan had no issue going deep to Pitts, either, whether it was the go-route on the winning drive or a one-handed grab he made while Dolphins safety Eric Rowe interfered with his right arm.

Instead, Pitts just stuck out his left hand, got a sense of the ball and pulled it in.

"I feel like the ball just fell in my hand," Pitts said. "I didn't know I caught it at first."

At this point, Pitts is on pace for a 1,335-yard season, which would be the best rookie season for a tight end in NFL history, annihilating Ditka's current mark of 1,076 yards. But it's more than that. Pitts is part of an evolution of tight ends, the latest in the shifting landscape of a position moving from traditional blocker and occasional pass-catcher to nightmare-inducing full-field matchup problem.

While Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller are the faces of the transition, Rothstein believes Pitts might be the perfect example of what it could end up being.

He's 21. Each week he's learning something new -- whether it's a small tweak in practice or, as Ryan said, refining how he practices and what he's seeing.

And fantasy managers are benefiting. ...

And now?

As Newberry suggests, the Falcons must seize on the momentum they've built in the past two games, especially playing at home against a team that seems to have as many problems as the Panthers. The schedule takes a much tougher turn after this week's game, with road games at New Orleans and first-place Dallas before a Thursday night contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against New England.

Other notes of interest. ... It's not all great for the Falcons.

Mike Davis was signed in free agency to be the team's top back, but Cordarrelle Patterson has seized the lead role. Davis had only four carries for 10 yards -- and no catches at all -- against the Dolphins. He seems to have become a back the Falcons use mainly in short-yardage situations.

Patterson, on the other hand, got the start and ran 14 times for 60 yards.

On a better note. ... Calvin Ridley caught four of 10 targets for 26 yards and a touchdown in his return.

Ridley and Ryan couldn't link up consistently, but the veteran wideout, coming off a one-game absence for personal reasons, was able to salvage his fantasy day to an extent with a five-yard scoring grab in the second quarter. As CBSSports.com notes, Ridley's target total was his fourth straight of the double-digit variety, further cementing him as a rock-solid fantasy option, particularly in PPR formats, on a week-to-week basis.

Russell Gage made a splashy return from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury, hauled in four of six targets for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Now apparently back to full health, Gage will look to continue serving as a dependable No. 2 option opposite Ridley with both of them benefiting from Pitts' rise.

Younghoe Koo booted three more field goals, including the game-winner from 36 yards. He's become about as automatic as a kicker can be, going 10 for 10 on field goals and 13 of 13 on extra points this season. Since arriving in Atlanta midway through the 2019 season, Koo has made 70 of 75 field goals -- an astonishing 93.3 percent.

On the injury front. ... CB A.J. Terrell was checked for a concussion and later left with a neck injury. CB Fabian Moreau left with a neck injury, as well. S Erik Harris also did not finish the game after sustaining a shoulder injury while attempting to tackle Tua Tagovailoa. Adding to the depth issues at cornerback, Avery Williams missed his second consecutive game with an ailing hamstring.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman, Qadree Ollison
WRs: Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Calvin Ridley
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

After the past two weeks, John Harbaugh's point about the nature of the NFL is well taken.

"A week ago, you're being crowned the best ever, and we're sitting there going, 'Whoa whoa, it's one week,'" the coach said Monday. "Now you want to say, 'What's wrong with the run game? What's wrong with the pass game? You guys are terrible.' And we're like, 'Whoa whoa, it's one week.'"

After playing perhaps their most complete game of the season in a 28-point win over the Chargers a week earlier, the Ravens were beaten by almost the same margin by Cincinnati on Sunday. The 41-17 loss dropped Baltimore into a first-place tie with the Bengals in the AFC North.

As much as they deserve credit for winning five games in a row despite constant injury problems, the Ravens have shown their share of flaws. It was probably unrealistic to expect them to pull away in the division without rectifying some of those deficiencies.

"We played our worst game of the season, worst game in a long time," Harbaugh said. "Bengals played very well. They were very prepared, played a great game."

Joe Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns, and Ja'Marr Chase had eight catches for 201 yards and a TD for Cincinnati. The rout was led by those two, but the Cincinnati defense was impressive as well.

The Ravens lost running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards before the season, and there have been other significant injuries as well. If you'd said they'd be 5-2 heading into their open date that would have probably seemed optimistic -- especially after they lost their opener at Las Vegas and had a home game against Kansas City up next.

Baltimore responded with those five straight wins, but the streak ended when Cincinnati -- a divisional opponent -- handled the Ravens with ease.

That's always cause for concern. ...

But the Ravens weren't without positives.

As Ryan Mink of the team's official website noted, Rashod Bateman's NFL career started with a delay, but he's making up for lost time.

Coming off a groin surgery that sidelined him for the entire preseason and first five regular-season games, it was unclear how much of an immediate contribution Bateman would provide.

The Ravens' rookie first-round pick posted three catches for 80 yards in his second NFL game, tying Marquise Brown for the most on the team.

In two games, Bateman is now up to seven grabs for 109 yards and every single one of his snags have gone for a first down. A week after he played more snaps than the Ravens intended, Bateman took even more snaps (46) and 63 percent of the offensive reps.

With Sammy Watkins sidelined by a hamstring injury, the rookie has instantly picked up the slack.

"I think he's just doing a good job generally for his second game," Harbaugh said. "I plan on him, as a head coach, on him getting better and better every single week."

Wide receivers Coach Tee Martin said it's rare that Bateman can play so seamlessly from different positions, both inside and outside.

That versatility, which many of the Ravens receivers have, should give Baltimore more flexibility once Watkins returns. Bateman can be used to create different mismatches.

That's going to be a plus for all involved. ...

The Ravens are off this coming weekend, then resume Nov. 7 against Minnesota -- their fourth home game in a row. After that, the schedule doesn't look too imposing with trips to Miami and Chicago.

One last note here. ... The Ravens designated defensive end Derek Wolfe for return from injured reserve, Wolfe, 31, has been on IR since Oct. 2 with a hip injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Miles Boykin
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow framed it, "The Bills are making a habit of kicking off their bye weeks with a thud.

"It's deja-oof all over again, with the AFC East-leading Bills entering their annual break smarting from yet another last-second heartbreaker. ..."

Of course, the lasting memory from their Week 6 Monday night in Nashville will be quarterback Josh Allen coming up just short on a fourth-down QB sneak, steps away from the end zone in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

That was the moment the Buffalo Bills ran out of opportunities and lost 34-31 to the Titans, falling to 4-2 heading into the bye week.

But as ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg explained last week, the Bills lost in Week 6 for reasons beyond just one play. The defense played its worst game of the season, giving up a season-high 34 points. The team committed penalties at inopportune times and couldn't take an early lead as it had so often earlier in the season.

Against the Titans, the Bills finished 2-for-5 on scoring touchdowns on trips to the red zone, settling for short field goals twice and then the end-of-game loss of downs. The timing of the red zone shortcomings was part of the problem; two of the Bills' first three drives ended with those short field goals. Instead of a potential 14-0 start, it was 6-0. A 76-yard run by Titans running back Derrick Henry quickly took away the lead.

"[We] try to make [an opposing] team one-dimensional. If you're up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, you like where you're going," head coach Sean McDermott said. "But we didn't. We were up 6-0. ... I thought we controlled the first quarter, for the most part, but to only be up 6-0 at that point was not where we wanted to be."

The Bills are second in the league in points per game (33.8), but their red zone offense is still holding them back -- especially against tougher opponents like the Titans. Buffalo leads the league in red zone drives (29). But only 55.2 percent of those drives have ended in touchdowns (26th in the NFL). The Bills have kicked three more red-zone field goals (12) than any other team.

So, what's going wrong this year? Can it be fixed?

Why aren't the Bills scoring a touchdown on 62 percent of red zone drives like last year?

According to Getzenberg, one of the big differences is Allen is being blitzed less.

Allen was blitzed on 36 percent of plays last year versus just 16 percent this year. In the red zone, his blitz rate has decreased from 37 percent to 22 percent, per ESPN Stats and Info. He had 12 passing touchdowns against the blitz in the red zone last year, but has only one so far this year. Defenses haven't needed to pressure him to create havoc. Instead, they are limiting the passing lanes.

"When you kind of have that feeling of being able to move the ball, and you kind of stall out there in the red zone, it's never a good feeling," Allen said. "We want to score points, that's our job. Score touchdowns."

The lack of blitzing has also meant Allen has a harder time rushing inside the red zone. Allen had six touchdowns on 18 designed rushes in the red zone last year. So far this year, he has one on 11 attempts.

"It's certainly an area we've got to improve. We're leaving potential points off the board," McDermott said. "Even though quite a few of our wins have been lopsided wins, they could have been even more lopsided, right? In last night's game, too ... maybe that's a difference in the game, maybe it's not, who knows. ... We got to do a better job in the red zone execution-wise, there's points to be had there."

Six of the seven teams that finished 2020 with the best red zone touchdown efficiency made the playoffs.

While what worked last year has not been as successful this season, there is still plenty of time to get it right. Allen could be better at finding open receivers, get the running backs more involved as receivers (only seven combined targets) and the offensive line could allow Allen more time to find weapons downfield.

"I got to be better for us in the red zone, so it's no secret, 2-of-5 against a team like this, it's not gonna win you a football game," Allen said. "If we go 3 of 5, we win that game. ... You can't give them those opportunities and not convert when you got to put six on the board."

Next up, the Bills host the Dolphins on Sunday. Buffalo has won six straight games against the Dolphins dating back to 2018. With a win in Week 8, the Bills would extend it to seven which would mark the longest win streak against Miami in franchise history.

That game also marks Allen's 50th career start in the NFL. According to NFL media research, he needs four pass/rush touchdowns to have the third-most by a player in first 50 starts since 1970. Patrick Mahomes currently ranks first with 135, followed by Dan Marino (118) and Deshaun Watson (112) -- Allen currently sits fourth with 109. ...

In case you missed it, tight end Dawson Knox suffered a fracture in his right hand against the Titans. "Don't know much more at this point, other than we'll just monitor it," McDermott said last week. "We'll see where it goes here."

Knox tweeted last Tuesday evening that he "will be back very soon."

Indeed, Knox is not expected to be out long-term after undergoing surgery on his broken hand, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Knox's timeline is about three weeks, according to Garafolo.

Tommy Sweeney, a seventh-round pick from the 2019 draft, is the next tight end on the roster. Sweeney caught the first touchdown pass of his career after Knox's exit.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Matt Breida, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Head coach Matt Rhule said he was looking for a "spark" when he pulled quarterback Sam Darnold in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Giants.

Darnold had thrown for just 111 yards with an interception at the time of the switch, with the Panthers trailing 15-3 in a game they'd lose 25-3.

But Rhule also said he trusts Darnold, and disagreed when asked if Sunday's move made it clear that Darnold wasn't the answer for the franchise.

"Nope. I wouldn't say that," Rhule said. "Obviously, it wasn't what we wanted. I've been on record; quarterbacks go through ups and downs and highs and lows. Look at (Giants quarterback) Daniel Jones tonight. He went through the same kind of game last week (four turnovers in a loss to the Rams), and he came out tonight and played great.

"Sam's got to take care of the football. Sam's got to throw on time. And if it's not there, find the check downs. We can't be driving with a chance to take the lead and throw interceptions. His sense of urgency this week, I expect to be heightened. I try to put that sense of urgency on our coaches, obviously it didn't show up. We have to coach better, and our players have to play better, and that starts with the quarterback."

As Panthers.com's Darin Gantt suggested, Rhule realized what he was doing when he pulled Darnold in New York, the site of Darnold's tumultuous three years with the Jets, and how it would set the stage for days or weeks of second-guessing and speculation about the Panthers' decision to trade for Darnold, and to pick up his 2022 option.

"The last thing I want to do is embarrass somebody," Rhule said of replacing Darnold with P.J. Walker. "Because I know this is going to be the story this week. But I believe sometimes, if you go back to the old days before all the pressure, quarterbacks would have to sit for a little bit. Sam will define who he is. This is up to him. But we wanted to get something going. ...

"Sam will be the quarterback. I just wanted to get something going today."

While he sounded a vote of confidence in Darnold, Rhule was also clear that his quarterback needed to play better. The system isn't built for Darnold to do it all himself, and without injured running back Christian McCaffrey and with an offensive line that got another shuffle Sunday, that stability isn't there.

In the three games with McCaffrey, Darnold committed two turnovers. In the four games without his star running back, Darnold has committed eight (seven interceptions and a fumble).

"He just needs a lot of help from a lot of guys right now that he's not getting," Rhule said. "But I see all the good moments too. I see the good things. We're going to keep coaching him. . . .

"Obviously, I want Sam to play better. But he's the guy."

Darnold himself didn't appear shaken, or any different than his normal postgame bearing. Then again, Darnold doesn't generally change much that way, win or lose.

He said he "internalized" the decision to replace him, and dismissed the importance of the setting.

"No. It's hard no matter where you are," he said. "As a competitor, you want to go out there and give 100 percent for your teammates and for the guys next to you."

Darnold agreed when asked if this was officially a "slump."

"I think that's a good word for it," Darnold said. "I think offensively speaking, we're unable to find a rhythm. We had a couple of good drives. . . . I've got to continue to do a better job of protecting the football. Because when we get down there, it's points, points we can't afford to give up."

He also insisted the offense could be successful without McCaffrey, regardless of the lack of evidence.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "Obviously Christian's a great player, but yeah, this offense is great. It's a really good system, and we've got to go and execute better and play better."

As Darnold knows, and as Rhule said, that begins with Darnold himself. ...

Can the Panthers (3-4) salvage this season after their fourth straight loss?

They've already lost three in a row to teams with losing records and they have a potential quarterback controversy. The schedule still is somewhat favorable the next couple of weeks with games against Atlanta and New England.

And they could get McCaffrey back in a few weeks, not to mention Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore next week.

But as ESPN.com's David Newton wrote, "This appears to be a team in disarray and the back end of the schedule could be overwhelming. ..."

Meanwhile, Darnold was 9-of-18 for 52 yards and the interception against standard pressure, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. He entered the game completing 61 percent on those plays, second worst among qualifying quarterbacks.

Sunday's game was Darnold's first game at MetLife Stadium after he spent the first three seasons of his NFL career with the New York Jets, who traded him to the Panthers this offseason.

Walker finished 3-of-14 for 33 yards and also had one run for 13 yards during his time in the game.

The Panthers, league sources tell Newton, were interested in Deshaun Watson before the quarterback's legal issues. He has 22 active lawsuits filed against him with allegations of sexual assault or sexually inappropriate behavior during massage sessions.

As of Wednesday morning, owner David Tepper and the Panthers were not expected to pursue Watson at this time. The QB has only waived his no-trade clause for the Dolphins.

Still, it was no surprise that Rhule fielded questions about Watson at his Monday press conference.

Rhule acknowledged the report about Watson while saying that "you guys know that wasn't from me." He said he had nothing else to add while noting that tampering rules prevent him from talking about players on other teams even if he wanted to comment.

"What our team doesn't need today is a distracted coach," Rhule said. ...

While frustration is running high in Carolina, the good news is the Panthers will get some help this week on defense with some players potentially returning against Atlanta. The bad news is they're still without McCaffrey for at least another week on offense, and this offensive line isn't getting any better -- barring a trade there. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed noted, there aren't many bright spots following a lopsided loss, but wide receiver D.J. Moore had six catches for 73 yards against the Giants. Moore was coming off a week when he had three drops, and there was one pass he potentially could have caught in the first quarter, although it was a little off the mark.

Moore has certainly been more effective than fellow wide receiver Robby Anderson, who was limited to fewer than 15 yards receiving for the second straight week.

Anderson has had four drops in the past two weeks. ...

Rhule vowed last week to recommit to the running game against the Giants, but Chuba Hubbard had just 28 yards on 12 carries. As a team the Panthers were held to 56 yards rushing.

"If you want to run the football, you have to stay on the field," Rhule said of his team going 2 for 15 on third downs. "We made an emphasis on running the football this week. It didn't show up."

On the injury front. ... Guard John Miller left Sunday's game with a foot injury and did not return. He was placed on injured reserve Carolina is hoping to get guard Pat Elflein back on the field this week, which could help. But the reality is outside of right tackle Taylor Moton, nobody has been very good on the offensive line.

The Panthers are hoping to get linebacker Shaq Thompson back from a foot injury, which would be a huge lift for the defense. Thompson is not only a team captain, but the defense's emotional leader. He has missed the last three games. Safety Juston Burris and recently acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore also could debut for the team this week against the Falcons.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Ameer Abdullah, Christian McCaffrey
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Shi Smith, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Alex Erickson
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Head coach Matt Nagy became the latest member of the organization to test positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

Nagy announced the positive result on Monday after the Bears returned home from Sunday's 38-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"This is something that for us, it's a reminder for all of us to be extremely cautious and to understand where we're at," Nagy said on a Zoom call. "We've seen it with other teams in the league and society in general, so we're working through that."

Nagy said there were no other positive tests on Monday and that he felt OK despite the diagnosis.

"I feel pretty good," Nagy said. "Again, you come in in the morning and it's something where every morning on Monday, you come in, you're following protocols, it's what we do.

"So when I got the call this morning from our head trainer, Andre Tucker, you try to be prepared. So as of now, no. We're still working through some of the team. But that's a good sign for sure. We need to make sure that we do everything we're supposed to do here in regards to the protocols."

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will run the team meetings during Nagy's absence.

All NFL coaches must be vaccinated, and Nagy will require two negative tests 24 hours apart before he is allowed to return.

The Bears currently have four players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, with offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson and linebacker Caleb Johnson being the latest to go on the list Sunday.

The others on the list are tight end Jimmy Graham and outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who is second on the team with 5.5 sacks.

Veteran running back Damien Williams was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list before the Bucs game.

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson notes, the Bears got thoroughly outclassed by the Buccaneers, who took whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Even by Bears' standards, the effort on Sunday was embarrassing. Dickerson added: "At least the Bears kept the score somewhat close in the Cleveland debacle several weeks ago. The Bucs game was over in the first quarter as Tampa scored three quick touchdowns to lead 21-0. The score ballooned to 35-3 at halftime. Blowout city.

"At 3-4, the Bears have some serious soul-searching to do after this nightmarish performance. ..."

Perhaps the bigger issue: Can Justin Fields recover from this latest debacle?

The Bucs hammered Fields, who lost multiple fumbles on strip-sacks. The rookie also threw a terrible interception in the first half (three picks in the game), and never seemed comfortable in the pocket. Fields bounced back immediately after the Browns game (nine sacks), but Sunday was his worst NFL experience to-date.

Fields is still building confidence, but Week 7 was a major step backwards.

The Bears -- and Fields -- cannot afford any more of these.

Beyond that, Fields has been sacked 22 times, the most of any quarterback in the NFL this season, even though he's 30th in the NFL with just 131 pass attempts. Fields gets sacked 14.4 percent of the time he tries to pass; no other QB in the NFL is even at 10 percent.

A variety of factors contribute to Fields taking so many sacks. The rookie still has plenty of work to do at recognizing the pass rush and getting rid of the ball quickly, and he tries to make plays with his legs too often. The Bears' offensive line is not playing well, and the Bears' play calling leaves plenty to be desired -- although it's fair to say they're playing to their strength.

To that point: The Bears were the only team averaging more yards rushing per game than passing through Sunday. And they ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring at 14.4 points on average.

In fact, the Bears have scored 11 touchdowns this season, tied with Houston for 30th in the league. That includes an interception return by linebacker Roquan Smith.

Given the circumstances heading into this week, Sunday's home game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday will be another challenge. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Rookie running back Khalil Herbert had another solid outing, with a season-high 100 yards on 18 carries facing the NFL's stingiest run defense. That gave him 272 yards the past three games with David Montgomery (sprained knee) sidelined, and 279 on the season. ...

On the flip side of that. ... After being targeted four times and catching just two passes for 16 yards, Allen Robinson has 23 receptions for 250 yards. That's well off his pace last season, when he finished with a career-high 102 catches for 1,250 yards. Robinson has been dealing with an ankle injury.

Not much was working for the Bears against Tampa Bay. But Cairo Santos made his lone field-goal attempt, hitting a 28-yarder to give him 35 consecutive regular-season conversions and extend his club record.

On the injury front. ... Robinson continues to work on a limited basis due to the ankle injury he's played through the last two games.

The Bears announced no injuries during the game, though they did place LB Caleb Johnson and RT Elijah Wilkinson on the COVID-19 list on Sunday. I'll have more on Robinson, Nagy, Graham and the entire COVID situation via Late-Breaking update in coming days.

Pro Bowl pass-rusher Khalil Mack is not expected to play this week, according to NFL Network, as the team will allow his ailing foot to rest. Giving him three weeks while on injured reserve to heal and rehab is being discussed. It's a significant blow to the Chicago defense.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Nick Foles
RBs: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Damien Williams, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons put it, "After lingering at the bottom of the AFC North for the last few years, the Bengals have now put the rest of the league on notice."

With Sunday's 41-17 victory over Baltimore, Cincinnati is 5-2 and 2-0 record against its divisional opponents -- with both wins coming on the road. The Bengals beat the Steelers 24-10 in Pittsburgh back in Week Three.

"This is their moment," head coach Zac Taylor said after Cincinnati snapped a five-game losing streak against the Ravens. "Everything we've talked about, we've earned. We're starting to earn respect, but we still have a long way to go. Just winning one road game against a divisional opponent, that's what you have to do if you want to compete in this league. We have a long way to go, but I'm really proud of the collective team effort."

The team has higher aspirations, but quarterback Joe Burrow acknowledged the Bengals' performance said something about the 2021 team.

"I think it was a big statement, 2-0 in the division for the first time that I can remember," Burrow said in his postgame press conference. "You know, the most exciting thing was the last two or the last three drives where you know, they knew, we were going to run the ball, and the O-line really took it to them. That was exciting to see. I know those guys were fired up about that, so that's how you should finish the game -- start out throwing the ball, get out on top, and then the O-line finishes it off."

Burrow added that the Bengals have "tough resilient guys that don't back down under pressure."

"That team puts the most pressure on you of any team that I've played in the league, and we really responded today," Burrow said. "We got guys on the outside that are tough, physical guys that are tough to cover, and the O-line played great today when they had to. Third downs were a big emphasis for us, and I think, I don't know what the stats for us are, but I feel pretty good about all of our third downs in the second half."

Burrow finished the game 23-for-38 passing with 416 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Ja'Marr Chase had 201 of those yards and a TD, which came on an 82-yard catch and run in the third quarter.

Overall, Cincinnati had 520 yards of offense.

And Burrow was right about the team's third-down numbers, as the Bengals were 3-of-3 in the category in the third quarter.

Burrow also got good protection from his offensive line and was sacked just once. The second-year quarterback keeps affirming the team's decision to make him the top overall draft pick in 2020. He has at least two touchdown passes in all seven games this season and 17 in total puts him among the league leaders.

"Obviously, last year wasn't very fun," said Burrow, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 11 as the team limped to a 4-11-1 finish in 2020. "(Sunday) was a lot of fun. Now it just really comes from preparation during the week and getting a lot of extra reps with the guys, and our guys on the outside making plays.

"There wasn't a ton for me to do today apart from trying to protect the ball. It was putting balls in positions where our guys could go make plays."

And make plays they did -- with an average gain of 8.3 yards per play.

Running back Joe Mixon broke away for a 21-yard touchdown run, and Samaje Perine had a 46-yard rush for a score. Tight end C.J. Uzomah had 91 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore. Burrow and Chase keep building on a chemistry that started when the two were teammates on LSU's 2019 national championship squad.

For the record, Chase, through seven games, has generated 754 receiving yards.

That's the most by any player in that same period of time. Ranking second is Harlon Hill, who had 685 receiving yards through seven games in 1954.

Chase also has become the fifth rookie since the AFL-NFL merger to have multiple games with at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown. The others were Randy Moss, who did it three times in 1998, and Ken Burrow (1971), Torrey Smith (2011), and Justin Jefferson (2020), who did it twice each.

Also, with 201 receiving yards in Baltimore on Sunday, Chase became the second-youngest player in league history to have 200 or more receiving yards in a single game. Only Mike Evans, who did it in 2014, was younger than Chase.

Chase is on his way to becoming one of the best receivers in the game. He arguably already is. Chase ranks second only to Cooper Kupp in receiving yards.

Finally, on Wednesday, Chase was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Chase is the third rookie to nab a Player of the Week accolade this season, but the first on the offensive side of the ball.

If you're nitpicking, Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacy notes that veteran WR Tyler Boyd has taken a back seat since Tee Higgins and then Chase came to town.

On Sunday he was targeted seven times and had just four catches for 39 yards.

Next up, Cincinnati will visit the 1-6 New York Jets before another divisional game against the Cleveland Browns. If the Bengals win that Week 9 contest at home, they will sweep their first round of AFC North games for the first time since 2015, the last time the Bengals reached the postseason.

Before the season started, Cincinnati talked about reaching the playoffs, something that seemed improbable following a combined 6-25 record the previous two years. But after seven games, that chatter no longer sounds like wishful thinking.

"You know, the goal wasn't to go 5-2," Burrow said. "We have bigger aspirations."

On the injury front. ... Running back Chris Evans (hamstring) and center Trey Hopkins (knee) did not practice Wednesday, while defensive end Trey Hendrickson (shoulder) was limited.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Mike Thomas, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

One game on the sideline was too much for Baker Mayfield. The Browns’ starting quarterback has no plans to repeat it.

Mayfield will practice Wednesday to test his injured left shoulder, and if all goes well, he intends to play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I think similar to last week, see what I can do and take it day by day,” Mayfield said following the team’s pre-practice walk-through.

He was asked if it’s possible he’ll play on Halloween against the Browns’ dreaded rival.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Mayfield had to sit out last Thursday’s victory — snapping his streak of 53 consecutive starts — over the Denver Broncos with a torn labrum and broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder. He said after getting the rest “there was a noticeable difference in range of motion and strength.”

If his shoulder doesn’t respond the way he hopes, Mayfield said he won’t jeopardize his health or the Browns’ chances.

“If it’s a situation where I would hurt the team if I was out there playing, I’m not going to do it,” he said.

Barring him injuring the shoulder worse, Mayfield’s certain he can continue to play the remainder of this season.

“I’m completely confident in that,” he said. “If you go out there, you’re scared, you’re timid, that’s how you really get hurt seriously, so I can’t do that. So like I said, trying to get the strength back and be able to go as close to 100 percent as possible, and if that’s not the case, then we trust the guys we have out there.”

The 26-year-old initially injured his shoulder while attempting to make a tackle on Sept. 19 against Houston and then made it worse when he got tripped up by J.J. Watt and bent his arm back during a fall on Oct. 17 in a loss to Arizona, fracturing his humerus bone.

Mayfield was on track to play last week, but swelling in his shoulder affected his mobility. Backup Case Keenum made his first start since 2019 and guided the Browns (4-3) to a 17-14 win.

Going forward, Mayfield said it will be paramount for him to protect himself when he runs.

“And slide when I need to,” he said.

Mayfield said it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll need offseason surgery for the complete tear in his labrum.

Along with Mayfield, the Browns were missing several other key players last week. Star running back Nick Chubb and starting right tackle Jack Conklin also sat out.

Mayfield said the view from the bench had some perks.

“It’s not tough when you’re winning,” he said. “It’s pretty fun to watch these guys play and play for each other. I think the way those guys fought, it was a good team win. That’s what it’s about.

“It’s finding ways to win no matter what it is, especially on a short week with limited guys. Just plug and play guys and just to watch them succeed.”

Meanwhile, Chubb, who has missed the last two games with a calf injury, was back on the field Monday. It's not clear if he'll be ready to return this week, but he's eager to do so.

Tight end David Njoku (knee) was held out Monday but returned to work Wednesday.

Jarvis Landry (knee) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin) did not practice Wednesday.

Stefanski noted that Landry's knee issue is not related to the MCL injury that sidelined the wideout for four games earlier in the year.

I'll obviously have (a lot) more on Mayfield, Chubb, Landry and the rest of the injured Browns via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, D'Ernest Johnson was one of many Browns called into action due to a lengthy injury report last Thursday night. It certainly helped that Johnson picked up right where Chubb and Kareem Hunt left off.

Johnson became the third Browns running back to have 100-plus scrimmage yards in a game this season, joining Chubb and Hunt. The Browns are the only team to have three running backs with 100-plus scrimmage yards in a game in 2021, and Johnson's 146 rushing yards are the most by a Browns running back in their first start since 1970.

"We got a team win. I could single out a bunch of guys, but D'Ernest to me is a warrior and a great teammate," Stefanski said after the game. "What he has fought through in his career and then to go have a night like that and to end it how he did on that this down, I thought was just outstanding."

The strong rushing attack was a factor in the passing game as well.

In his first start since Week 17 of the 2019 season, Keenum completed 10 of 13 play-action pass attempts for 129 yards and one touchdown.

"Case played well," said Stefanski, who spent 2017 with Keenum in Minnesota and was instrumental in the Browns signing him as a free agent. "He made good decisions. He spread the ball around. He took care of the football."

Stefanski wanted Keenum to "spread the rock around," and he connected with 10 different receivers.

He doesn't have Mayfield's big arm, and Keenum won't evade defenders with spins or his speed. But he managed the game effectively while giving Stefanski and his teammates even more confidence he can do it again.

The Browns signed Keenum to a three-year, $18 million contract before last season for just this kind of performance. They needed protection in the event Mayfield got hurt or struggled as well as someone to help develop the young QB.

"Case has been there before," said Landry, who gave the Browns an emotional lift after missing four games with a knee injury. "He's a guy that has been to the NFC Championship game. He's been there.

"So the way that he's prepared throughout this whole entire time for the past two years has been something that you don't blink when he gets in there. You know that he still has the ability to lead us to a win."

We'll know soon enough if Keenum will get a chance to do that against Pittsburgh on Halloween.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja'Marcus Bradley, Rashard Higgins, Anthony Schwartz
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon reminded readers, Dak Prescott promised not to miss any time after straining his right calf on the touchdown pass in overtime that gave the Dallas Cowboys their first win at New England since 1987.

The star quarterback believes he can deliver on that vow because the team is going into its open week. Even with the break, recent history with his teammates suggests Prescott's view is optimistic.

Receiver Michael Gallup hasn't played since the opener because of a calf strain -- although he's been designated to return this week. Four-time All-Pro Zack Martin missed the final five games last year after playing through one. He was injured in practice and aggravated the strain 10 days later, in the second game since the injury.

Prescott needed help getting to the locker room after the dramatic 35-29 win over the Patriots and wore a walking boot to the postgame meeting with reporters. Coach Mike McCarthy said an MRI confirmed the strain Monday, and he is optimistic about Prescott playing at Minnesota on Oct. 31.

"I've got a lot of confidence in myself and the medical team, and as I said I feel good," Prescott said after the game. "This (the boot) is a precaution. Didn't hurt as bad obviously when you score and win the game."

The injury is in the same lower leg that needed two surgeries after Prescott's season-ending compound fracture of his right ankle in Week 5 last year. Prescott said he didn't know if that was any more reason for concern.

This week, sources tell NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero that Prescott would participate in a light practice Monday when the team returned from its bye. The soonest he would practice is Wednesday, and the team will monitor him closely to make sure he's moving like himself and not putting himself at risk of a relatively minor issue turning into something more.

It's the same long-term thinking the Cowboys used back in training camp, when Prescott missed substantial time because of a muscle strain in his throwing shoulder. The plan all along was to ramp him up gradually, and Prescott was ready for the opener.

Prescott spent most of the bye week in town and rehabbing at the team's facility. Under the watchful eyes of director of rehabilitation Britt Brown and head athletic trainer Jim Maurer, Prescott has mostly worked out in the pool. He's been able to do all of his footwork drills and running while in the pool, rarely on solid ground. That's all to make sure he doesn't aggravate the calf injury.

Prescott wasn't wearing a protective boot at the team's facility on Monday and team owner Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan Tuesday that the team feels positive about where Prescott is right now.

"Based on what you saw yesterday, that was very encouraging," Jones said. "But those things have to be monitored. We have a solid week, which is great to monitor that. ... But still, I feel very good about where Dak is right now."

McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday that Prescott has improved every day and he will go through individual drills before the medical staff assesses where he is heading into team drills. McCarthy said Cooper Rush will get snaps with No. 1 offense, which happens in a normal week.

I'll obviously be following his progress closely in coming days as well as that of Gallup as he enters the 21-day window to return from his calf injury; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Beyond the current injury situation. ... Prescott has emerged as an early MVP frontrunner, completing a career-high 73.1 percent of his passes for 1,813 yards and 16 touchdowns in six games for the Cowboys, who have won five in a row since the season-opening loss at Tampa Bay.

And if there were any lingering questions about whether the Cowboys (5-1) have one of the best offenses in the NFL, there aren't now.

They were playing the same way, but had a losing record when Prescott got hurt last year. The difference for the NFC East leaders, who have five straight victories, is an opportunistic defense that's second in the league with 14 takeaways.

"We know we're for real," said Prescott, the first Dallas quarterback with at least three TD passes in four consecutive games. "I don't think we're out here trying to send a message to anybody, more so than we're showing it to ourselves."

Meanwhile, the passing game was even more impressive than the opener, when Prescott threw for 403 yards in a last-second loss to Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. Prescott was 36 of 51 as the Cowboys overcame an inefficient first half when three trips inside the 20 resulted in just three points. Prescott threw an interception in the end zone on the first one.

He finished the game with 445 yards passing, the most the Patriots have allowed under coach Bill Belichick, playoffs included.

The Cowboys also had the most total yards against New England in the Belichick era with 567.

CeeDee Lamb had career highs of nine catches for 149 yards. His second touchdown was the 35-yarder to win it in overtime. Prescott showed patience with season highs of seven completions for 50 yards to running back Ezekiel Elliott. Tight end Dalton Schultz had another big game (five catches, 79 cards).

And Dallas doesn't win if Cedrick Wilson doesn't make a leaping 13-yard grab on fourth-and-4 late in regulation.

Penalties and game management continue to be problems. Dallas came out of Sunday with the second-most penalties in the NFL (48) for the fourth-most yards (404) after getting 12 for 115. The Cowboys had 76 penalty yards at halftime, which is why they trailed 14-10 after dominating most of the first half.

McCarthy lost an ill-advised challenge early when there wasn't clear evidence Elliott got the ball past the first-down line on a fourth-and-1 run. He needlessly gave the Patriots 20 seconds at the end of regulation by using a puzzling timeout with 24 seconds remaining when the tying kick should have been the final play.

The Cowboys already have a three-game lead in the division.

The visit to the Vikings on Halloween night is a return to the scene of the best win for McCarthy in a difficult first season, when the Cowboys finished 6-10. ...

One last note here. ... Elliott has 521 rushing yards and Tony Pollard has 366 rushing yards. The Cowboys have 11 games remaining.

That puts Elliott on pace for 1,476 rushing yards. The only season he has had more rushing yards in a season was in his rookie year when he led the league with 1,631. He also had the most rushing yards in the league in 2018 when he went for 1,434. Pollard, who is in his third season, has never rushed for more than 455 yards in a single season.

The last time two running backs on the same team each rushed for over 1,000 yards was 2009 when Carolina's Jonathan Stewart went for 1,133 and DeAngelo Williams finished with 1,117, though quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram accomplished the feat with the 2019 Ravens.

Only five other running back teammates in NFL history have both topped 1,000 rushing yards in the same season: Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris with the 1972 Dolphins, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier with the 1976 Steelers, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner with the 1985 Browns, Warrick Dunn and Michael Vick with the 2006 Falcons and Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward with the 2008 Giants.

Browns teammates Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were on pace for 1,000 yards each until calf injuries for both players.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon, Blake Jarwin

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold suggested this week, "While the Denver Broncos search for answers to their current four-game losing streak, they might want to look under the couch cushions for a spare touchdown or two as well."

Legwold went on to explain the high hopes for an offensive resurgence that permeated their training camp have not materialized as Halloween approaches.

At 3-4, the Broncos are averaging 20 points per game. That's in roughly the same frustrating neighborhood they've lived in each of the previous five seasons when they averaged 20.2, 17.6, 20.6, 18.1 and 20.8 points per game. Each of those seasons ended without a meaningful game in January.

After last Thursday's 17-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos find themselves 24th in the league in scoring and 18th in total offense. And perhaps one of the most glaring numbers is the dismal 31.8 percent success rate on third down -- now 31st in the league and ahead of only Jacksonville.

Against the Browns, the Broncos ran only eight plays in the first quarter. They had just two first downs in the first half.

"In the first half, we just could not get anything going," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "The quickest way to get out of that in the first half or anytime you are in that is to convert some third downs and give yourself a new set of downs, to get a running game going, to get a first- and second-down passing game going. We did neither."

Legwold went on to understate, "Twenty points per game won't end the team's playoff drought."

The good news?

Some help could be on the way.

Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who hasn't played since he suffered an ankle injury in the season opener, is closing in on a return.

Jeudy was medically cleared to return in Cleveland, but he'll make his return this weekend instead.

"He wanted to play," Fangio said. "We didn't think it was prudent to play him with no practice."

With Jeudy, receiver KJ Hamler (knee) and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (hamstring) all on injured reserve, much of the Broncos' speed has been on the shelf. As a result, defensive coaches in the league say they can cheat at the line of scrimmage because they fear fewer big-play attempts from the Broncos.

"Jerry, he will bring a different type of energy to this offense with his big-play ability and his ability to separate from defenders," Teddy Bridgewater said. "He is decisive with his routes."

With more traffic near the line of scrimmage, running the ball has been difficult. But the Broncos have struggled to win the line of scrimmage even when defenses have presented a lighter box with six or seven defenders between the tackles instead of eight.

"We just have to stay on the field," said running back Melvin Gordon III. "We have to convert on the third downs. It is tough when you are getting behind, but we have to figure out a way to be able to run the ball, because when we run the ball effectively, we open up everything."

The team designated Okwuegbunam to return from injured reserve.

Playing from behind for virtually every minute during the four-game losing streak has seen offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur move away from a near 50-50 split between Bridgewater in the shotgun or under center. The Broncos have not led at any point in any of the past three losses and led for just 3 minutes, 57 seconds during the loss to Baltimore. In the blowout loss to the Steelers, Bridgewater was in the shotgun on 45 more snaps than under center. Over the past two seasons, the Broncos' have surrendered far more sacks with the quarterback in the shotgun, run with less efficiency and had more turnovers.

Asked after Thursday's loss if he would consider any changes in offensive play calling, Fangio quickly said, "No."

"We can make it go, we can make it happen," Gordon said. "But it is different when you get behind the chain, you are down, and you are just put in sticky situations -- that is how it has been for us the last couple of weeks, considering us getting down and having slow starts."

The end result is clear

The Broncos have been routed by the Ravens, pummeled in Pittsburgh, embarrassed by the Raiders and bullied by a Browns team missing most of its playmakers.

Despite pointing his thumb at himself for this mess, Fangio, who is 15-24 as Denver's head coach, said he's not fretting over his job.

"I'm not worried about my coaching status," Fangio said. "What I'm worried about is this team and doing anything and everything we can to get our guys coached up to play better. And that's my only focus."

Going up against a generous Washington defense -- a unit that's given up an NFL-high 210 points this season. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton noted, injuries have rendered Bridgewater ineffective, as has Shurmur putting him in the shotgun so much this month.

According to Legwold, when Bridgewater is under center more, as in nearly 50 percent of the time, the Broncos have had more big plays and moved the ball more effectively.

He was in the shotgun just eight snaps more than under center in the three wins but starting with the loss to the Ravens, he's been in the shotgun far more, as he had 45 more snaps in the shotgun than under center in the Week 5 loss to the Steelers. There's no reason a quarterback can't be under center when down by one score, especially when he's proven to be more effective on those plays. ...

According to NFL.com, we should praise Courtland Sutton more than we have to this point.

Sutton finished with five catches for 68 yards and didn't reach the end zone, but he existed as a frequent mismatch no matter the defender covering him. His best grab -- and Bridgewater's best pass of the night in Cleveland -- produced a 31-yard gain via a one-handed catch down the sideline.

Denver's offense remains stuck in the mud, but if there's one player capable of lifting it out of the sludge, it's Sutton.

Bridgewater just needs the time to find him open and figure out how to better deliver the ball. ...

And finally. ... The Broncos have made another move to add depth to their linebacking corps.

Denver has agreed to a trade with the Rams to acquire inside linebacker Kenny Young and a 2024 seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2024 sixth-round pick, the team announced Monday.

Young, a 2018 fourth-round pick, started all seven of the Rams' games at inside linebacker to begin the season. He recorded 46 tackles, six tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, two sacks and a forced fumble in the early part of 2021. The fourth-year player has appeared in 53 games during his career and started 19 contests. In 2019, he was traded from the Ravens to the Rams as part of the trade that sent cornerback Marcus Peters to Baltimore.

General Manager George Paton and the Broncos previously traded for outside linebacker Stephen Weatherly on Saturday.

The Broncos have been hit hardest by injuries at the linebacking position, where they have seven players on injured reserve. Against the Browns on Thursday, all four of the team's intended starters -- Miller and Bradley Chubb at outside linebacker and Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson at inside linebacker -- were unavailable to play in the second half.

Jewell and Johnson have both been ruled out for the season with pectoral injuries, while Chubb was placed on IR after Week 2. He is expected to return at some point this season. Miller suffered an ankle sprain against the Browns, and his status for Week 8 remains uncertain.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, K.J. Hamler
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Hogg pointed out, there were a lot of positives for head coach Dan Campbell to take out of Sunday's 28-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

After all, the winless Lions, who hadn't played a single offensive snap with the lead in their first six games, led 10-0 before Matthew Stafford got on the field and 19-17 going into the fourth quarter.

"I'm frustrated to be 0-7 like anyone would be, like our players are, but I know there's more to get from this team," Campbell said. "That gives me motivation and driven anger to get things right and help these guys as much as I can."

Knowing the Lions' young, banged-up secondary wasn't going to be able to stop Stafford, Campbell went deep into his bag of tricks to give Jared Goff as many opportunities to put up points. After Goff threw a 2-yard screen pass that D'Andre Swift turned into a 63-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game, Campbell called for an onside kick.

The Lions recovered, but only gained 3 yards on the next three plays. Punter Jack Fox came onto the field, but threw a 17-yard pass to safety Bryan Price for a first down. The drive turned into a field goal and a 10-0 lead before Stafford got onto the field.

"We've had some slow starts in the last couple weeks, and we knew we needed to change that this week, especially getting the ball first," Lions guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai said.

It didn't last -- the Lions never got back into the end zone -- but Detroit's young defense kept the team in the game until the final moments.

"We're competing and giving ourselves a chance to win these games," Campbell said. "We know that, and we know we're improving every week. I see all these kids getting better and better, and that's encouraging. They are going to pay massive dividends sooner rather than later."

Next up, a Halloween home game against the Philadelphia Eagles (2-5). The Eagles have been outscored 179-127 while losing five of their past six.

Other notes of interest. ... Like his name would indicate, Swift is on the move with the Lions.

He had a big game against the Rams -- 48 yards rushing and 96 receiving for 144 in total yards from scrimmage.

As noted above, he ran 63 yards with a screen pass for the Lions only TD of the game. He was pulling away from the Rams' defenders when he crossed the goal line.

There could be a bigger role ahead for Swift. Assistant head coach and running backs coach Duce Staley has been high on Swift's ability.

"He's getting better, and he's improving every week," Campbell said. "We'll find runs that suit him best and let him go a little bit. I also think we can expand things in the passing game.

"He's just growing exponentially. He's gaining a lot of confidence in himself. Duce is doing a hell of a job with him."

93.3 -- Swift has been good for 93.3 yards from scrimmage per game. He's averaging 9.3 yards per reception, despite catching most passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, and he leads the team with five touchdowns. The only thing he's missing is big plays in the running game -- his longest carry is 16 yards.

Big plays -- or lack thereof -- are also an issue for Goff, who Goff can't get the ball down the field. His struggles leave the offense having to grind out drives with no margin for error.

He threw for 268 yards against his former team, but 187 of those came after the catch.

When his receivers are consistently catching the ball within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, defenses know they don't have to respect the deep ball.

Goff threw two interceptions in the final five minutes in Los Angeles and now has 10 turnovers in seven games.

On an offense with almost no quick-strike ability, he can't afford to give away possessions.

The Lions' one-two punch of running backs Swift and Jamaal Williams added a third member. Wide receiver Kalif Raymond had six catches for 115 yards. That complemented what the running backs produced (Williams ran for 57 yards).

T.J. Hockenson caught 6-of-9 targets for 48 yards. Although not fantastic, Hockenson has clearly picked up the pace after a three-game stretch (from Weeks 3-5) where he often drew extra coverage and caught just eight passes total. Hockenson was back to his productive ways against Cincinnati in Week 6 with eight catches for 74 yards and another solid effort against the Rams adds to that.

Amon-Ra St. Brown was held without a target or touch in Los Angeles. After turning 23 targets into 18 catches over the previous three games, St. Brown's role evaporated in this one.

The good news?

It can't get worse and we've seen it better. It will likely be better this week. ...

On the injury front. ... CB A.J. Parker -- another undrafted rookie getting significant playing time in the Detroit secondary -- injured a shoulder.

"We don't know for sure yet, but my gut says he's going to be out for a while," Campbell said. ...

And finally. ... Should the Lions implement more trick plays going forward?

According to ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard, "Yes."

Entering SoFi Stadium as heavy underdogs, the Lions pulled out all the tricks with a pair of fake punts, which they were able to convert to extend drives, along with the above-mentioned surprise onside-kick recovery. Campbell said he would evaluate everything after the Week 6 loss to Cincinnati, and they made some changes against the Rams. Obviously, these trick plays won't work all the time, but they should definitely consider implementing such plays from time to time.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as this team is struggling to get its first win.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, D'Andre Swift
WRs: Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Brock Wright

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

The Green Bay Packers have demonstrated all season they can win games when they're not even close to full strength.

Now they're about to face a challenge unlike anything they've encountered all year.

The Packers (6-1) will put their six-game winning streak at stake Thursday night at the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals (7-0). And they could be making that trip without 2020 All-Pro receiver Davante Adams or defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Green Bay placed Adams on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday afternoon not long after coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that Barry had tested positive.

Adams also tested positive for COVID-19, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Adams hasn't been forced to follow protocols for unvaccinated players, an indication that he is vaccinated.

If Adams is indeed vaccinated and is asymptomatic, he would need two negative PCR tests 24 hours apart to play against the Cardinals.

Also, after not traveling on the team flight Wednesday, Adams would need to pass that second test and travel to Arizona on Thursday before the game to play.

In even more bad news for the Packers passing game, another wide receiver -- Allen Lazard -- was placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday and is out for Thursday as Lazard is unvaccinated and was a COVID-19 close contact, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. That close contact was likely Adams.

Lazard is a big target (6-5, 227 pounds) who just posted his best game of the season (5-60-1) against the Washington Football Team on Sunday.

It's Adams, however, whose absence would be far more concerning for the Packers.

"There's a little bit of a shock factor, for sure, when it's Davante but we dealt with it last year," Rodgers said of Adams' placement on the COVID list. "We're maybe slightly more healthy than some of the other teams as far as not having as many cases, but there have been cases here and we've dealt with 'em. But when I heard (Adams' No.) 17, I was hoping that it was going to be one of those false positives for sure."

Without Adams or Lazard, the Packers would have to rely more heavily on receivers Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers and Equanimeous St. Brown, as well as tight end Robert Tonyan.

The Packers also got a receiver back from the COVID-19 list on Tuesday. They activated Malik Taylor from the list.

According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, the Packers are hopeful that receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling could return this week from a hamstring that has kept him out the past four weeks.

LaFleur also said the team has entered enhanced mitigation protocols that call for daily testing of all personnel and for masks to be worn at the facility. The Packers held all meetings virtually the day after their 24-10 win over the Washington Football Team, and LaFleur said there are "potentially some other issues with the [coaching staff]."

At that time, he said there was not a significant concern that it would impact players.

Less than two hours later, Adams was placed on the list.

"Any time that you have any cases, you're always a little bit concerned about that," LaFleur said. "But the majority of our guys are vaccinated, so there's a little bit different protocol with that. I don't think in terms of being at close contact with any of our players, I don't think that's a real concern of ours right now. But we're still waiting to hear back from the league before we get clearance on anything."

Adams leads the Packers in catches (52) and receiving yards (744). He is tied for second in the NFL in catches and alone in third in yards among all receivers.

LaFleur said the defensive play calling will be a "collective effort with everybody involved and having an input." Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who was promoted to passing game coordinator this season, likely will take the lead, assuming he is available to coach. He was a defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills (2001-05) and Tennessee Titans (2011-13) whom LaFleur considered for that job in Green Bay before he hired Barry.

All NFL coaches must be vaccinated, and Barry, like Adams, will require two negative tests 24 hours apart before he could return.

The Packers are scheduled to depart for Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Packers (6-1) are facing their toughest test of the season in the Cardinals (7-0) and their dynamic quarterback, Kyler Murray.

Green Bay ranks seventh in total defense and in fewest points allowed after its win over Washington.

Barry's defense finally fixed some of its red zone issues on Sunday, as well. The Packers had allowed touchdowns on 15 straight red zone drives entering Sunday -- the first team in at least 40 years that didn't get a single red zone stop in its first six games of a season -- but came up with four straight red zone stops against Washington, including a stuff on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

I'll obviously be following up on Adams (and Valdes-Scantling) in advance of kickoff; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest. ...

Also of interest. ... The Packers rushed for just 57 yards, though they didn't attempt to establish much of a rushing attack and focused on throwing against a Washington secondary missing injured CB William Jackson III.

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for only nine carries. Dillon had two fumbles, though the Packers recovered one of them.

Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times and faced more pressure than usual against a Washington defensive line featuring four former first-round picks.

At the end of his post-game press conference, Rodgers made an impromptu, post-hoc amendment to the team's official injury report.

He had a back issue on Sunday morning, which required immediate treatment on Sunday morning to allow him to play.

"I do have to give a big shout out to [Packers Coordinator of Rehabilitation] Nate Weir and [Packers Chiropractor] Mike Zoelle," Rodgers said. "I woke up this morning and my back was killing me, it was all locked up. And I came in here early, and I'm thankful for those guys taking care of me in order to go out and play today."

So what happened?

"My back was a little stiff Saturday," Rodgers said. "Maybe you guys know this or don't know this, but there's an antiquated procedural thing in our league where the most important night of sleep we stay at a hotel. And I don't want to blame it on the hotel, it's a nice hotel. But my bed at the house that I sleep in every other night of my time here in Green Bay would probably be a little bit of a better option, I think. And that's just my opinion."

Most teams mandate a hotel stay the night before a home game. It keeps players who may be tempted to not actually sleep from going out, possibly all night long.

And finally. ... Beyond the COVID issues, the Packers had a walkthrough on Tuesday, which left them to estimate practice participation levels for their players for the second straight day.

Their estimates remained the same as they were on Monday. Edge rusher Preston Smith (oblique), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder, back), defensive lineman Kenny Clark (ankle), and defensive lineman Dean Lowry (ankle) were all listed as limited participants.

Smith and King did not play in Sunday's win over Washington. Clark played 60 snaps and Lowry had a half-sack while playing 42 snaps.

Tackle Dennis Kelly (back) was the only player listed as out of practice. Long snapper Hunter Bradley (hand), tight end Josiah Deguara (finger), and cornerback Rasul Douglas (shoulder) were listed as full participants.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari (ACL) will not be activated in time to play against the Cardinals.

Bakhtiari is practicing, but LaFleur indicated that he will not be activated in time for Thursday night. There is some optimism that Bakhtiari will be available when the Packers play the Chiefs in Week 9. Bakhtiari was Pro Football Focus' top-graded pass blocker in 2020, and will provide a meaningful boost to an offense that is already operating at a high level.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Randall Cobb, Equanimeous St. Brown, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Robert Tonyan

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Tyrod Taylor will return to practice this week, six weeks after injuring his hamstring.

Head coach David Culley told reporters on Wednesday that Taylor will be designated to return from IR and begin his 21-day practice window on Wednesday. But because there’s no guarantee Taylor will be ready to play, rookie Davis Mills will continue to take first-team reps in practice.

“Davis needs the reps because if Tyrod can’t go, he will be the quarterback,” Culley said, via Aaron Wilson of Sports Radio 790. “If we knew Tyrod was healthy to play this week, then he would get those reps.”

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, Taylor can't get back soon enough.

ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop put a finer point on it: "The Texans aren't just losing, they are not really even competing in games."

Houston has been outscored 102-8 in its past three road games and hasn't scored a touchdown on the road since Week 2.

The Texans have scored 39 total points in the five games Taylor has missed. They scored 58 in the two games he started.

Mills has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions and, in five starts, is averaging 189 passing yards.

The Texans are averaging just 13.9 points a game this season which ranks 31st in the NFL.

Taylor injured his hamstring during a second-quarter, 15-yard touchdown run in the loss to the Browns. He finished the first half but couldn't go in the second half.

He's finally close to being 100 percent again.

Before he was hurt, Taylor had completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 416 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Just to make sure that when he's running around back there that there's nothing hampering him from being the kind of player that he is, using his legs," Culley said of what they are looking for in practice, "and if there's nothing there, then we feel good about going and playing with him."

It has all gone downhill for Houston since it won its season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and at 1-6 the team now sits in last place in the AFC South. Really all that remains this season is seeing if the young talent on this team will be able to contribute in meaningful ways moving forward.

Despite the terrible start, Culley, who is in his first season as a head coach after decades as an NFL assistant, remains optimistic that things will improve.

"It does not weigh on me, because I've been there," he said. "I know that if you stay the course and you get the things corrected that need to be corrected, it will get turned around, and I believe that."

That won't be easy going up against a Rams defense that continues to play well with an array of disruptive playmakers doing just that -- disrupting -- at all three levels. Even if Taylor is able to return to the lineup for the Texans this week, it's hard to imagine Houston challenging the Rams' defense.

I'll be following up on Taylor's progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Brandin Cooks caught 5-of-7 targets for 21 yards against the Cardinals. Despite leading the team in targets, Cooks' day was capped by another poor overall offensive showing.

David Johnson carried the ball seven times for 25 yards and caught 5-of-6 targets for 27 yards against his former team. As the receiving component in a three-man committee at halfback in Houston, Johnson has climbed to the top of that group. Mark Ingram rushed six times for nine yards and caught all three of his targets for 18 yards. It was the third time this season Ingram has been held to single-digit carries (it was six carries in each instance). Phillip Lindsay carried the ball twice for eight yards. He's the least-used of the team's three-man rotation at running back.

There's no reason to believe Houston's offense can support three fantasy-viable running backs.

On the injury front. ... Culley said Sunday that LB Christian Kirksey may have fractured his thumb and said Monday that he was still being evaluated. ...

And finally. ... The biggest story in Houston has nothing to do with what the Texans are doing on the field.

It's whether the Texans trade Deshaun Watson before the Nov. 2 deadline?

Watson, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, is willing to consider multiple options for a new team as the trade deadline looms, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler this week.

But the Houston Chronicle began reporting Tuesday night that the Dolphins and Texans have agreed on trade terms for Watson. The Dolphins, however, want his legal issues resolved before consummating a deal. The Chronicle suggests Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants clarity from commissioner Roger Goodell on length of a potential suspension.

For now, speaking at the NFL Owners Meeting on Tuesday, Goodell said the league doesn't yet have all the information from law enforcement investigations and would need more than it has in order to put Watson on commissioner's exempt list.

The Panthers and Broncos have been mentioned as potential suitors Watson, but Carolina seemed to bow out on Wednesday and Denver hasn't made a major move at this point, according to Fowler.

The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET.

Watson, 26, initially requested a trade from the Texans this past January, but his NFL future is uncertain. The three-time Pro Bowler is facing allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior in 22 active lawsuits and has been inactive for Houston's first seven games this season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Royce Freeman, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Davion Davis, Danny Amendola
TEs: Jordan Akins, Brevin Jordan, Pharaoh Brown, Jeff Driskel

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot noted, Carson Wentz needed a fresh start. The Colts gave him a chance.

Now, as the midway point of the season nears, Wentz is rounding into form, winning games and starting to play with the efficiency and effectiveness scouts always envisioned.

"I think we ran the ball fairly well, and then Carson made some plays down the field," head coach Frank Reich said after Sunday's rain-drenched 30-18 victory in San Francisco. "Obviously, we had the big one to (Michael) Pittman, and then I think we had three pass interference (calls) on deep balls. That's the advantage, when you get with a quarterback who trusts his receivers."

Clearly, Wentz has found a comfort zone after missing most of training camp because of left foot surgery, missing several more days of practice after going on the reserve/COVID-19 list before the opener, and then spraining both ankles in a Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

He played the following week at Tennessee but struggled to move around in the loss and wound up protecting himself with multiple throwaways.

Since then, though, Wentz's health and performances have improved dramatically.

He's thrown for two touchdowns and no interceptions each of the past four weeks, tying Peyton Manning's franchise record for most consecutive games with multiple TD passes without an interception. And Wentz nearly matched the franchise record with a fourth straight single-game passer rating of 115.0 or higher -- something only Manning, the late John Unitas and Andrew Luck previously did.

Wentz was 17 of 26 with 150 yards, a rating of 106.2 and one TD run in the rain.

But Wentz doesn't care about stats or critiques because he's too focused proving he's back to being a confident, complete player.

"We came out and told coach, 'Hey, shots are there, we're going to throw it,'" Wentz said. "We've got the guys, we've got the playmakers, specifically Pittman. We said 'Let's still be aggressive and not let the weather completely change who we are.' Be smart. Pick and choose our opportunities, but I really appreciate coach trusting us to call those plays."

He also appears to have a great deal of trust in second-year receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who has 32 receptions for 479 yards with two TDs and two 100-yard games over the past six weeks. He's already surpassed last year's single-season totals for yards and scoring catches with 11 games left.

And when he's not making catches, he's drawing penalties.

Sunday night, it started in the first quarter, when it didn't matter that Pittman had a San Francisco 49ers defensive back draped on him, as he drew a pass interference penalty and hauled in a 57-yard reception from Wentz.

Pittman finished with four catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, despite the wet and windy playing conditions that were more suited for running the ball.

"He's a big-play guy," Reich said. "He just has a mentality. We talk about it a lot, this mentality he has, the toughness, the playmaking, how hard he works, how hard he competes. You want to throw him the ball. Carson has developed a ton of confidence in him. I mean, just throwing it up to him."

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells contends, the questions about who would be the Colts' No. 1 receiver, especially with T.Y. Hilton on the tail end of his career, can stop. They don't need to be asked anymore. Pittman is that guy, the same guy scouts drooled over as he consistently won his one-on-one battles and rarely dropped a pass while starring at USC.

"Pitt has a mentality that he wants to be a bully, and that's what you need in a receiver," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "... He has that mentality that no guy can stop him, and if you want to get in front of him, he's going to put you on your butt."

Reich added, "Pitt is so stinking competitive, he's got such a beast mentality, that he can dominate versus anybody."

That's a good thing. Because beyond Pittman, the receiving corps isn't doing much.

With Hilton and Parris Campbell both injured again, Indy's other receivers have struggled to produce consistently. Indy needs a stronger supporting cast to keep the momentum going.

Indy has won three of four and needs to protect its home field this weekend against Tennessee to get back into AFC South contention. Getting Hilton back would help, and if the defense can hold Derrick Henry in check, the Colts might hit .500 for the first time this season. ...

On the injury front. ... While 2020 All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson returned after missing three games with a sprained ankle, Hilton (quad), right tackle Braden Smith (foot/thumb), defensive end Kemoko Turay (groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) missed the game. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had an interception after appearing to hurt his left calf during pregame warmups, and was a major asset after starting safety Julian Blackmon suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in practice last week.

The only new name on the injury list was backup cornerback BoPete Keyes (hamstring).

I'll have more on Hilton, who did not practice Wednesday, and Jonathan Taylor, who was limited by sore ribs, in Wednesday's practice, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Also of interest. ... Taylor lost a fumble on the Colts' first offensive play of the game, which came with the San Francisco 49ers already holding a 6-0 advantage.

But instead of letting that fumble unravel the remainder of the game -- which was, effectively, the entire game -- Taylor displayed some impressive mental toughness.

"We knew we were going to have adversity," Taylor said. "You don't know what way shape or form it's going to come in, or if it's going to be you facing the adversity specifically or not. I know we all carry everything as a team. Then it just falls on you, how can I handle this adversity because my team is going to look at me and say, this guy, is he in a shell now, is he in his own head or is he going to be able to bounce back and be able to continue to play basically the whole game -- I mean, it was the first snap. That was just my mindset on making sure that I'm not in some kind of trance and I can still focus for my team."

After Taylor's fumble, Wentz walked over to him and said: "Hey, you're still the best guy on this field. You're going to get the ball over and over and create big plays."

Taylor certainly proved his quarterback right, finishing with 107 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown. Through seven games, Taylor has 579 yards on 105 carries (5.5 yards/attempt) with five touchdowns; he also has 18 receptions for 213 yards with a touchdown, too. He's averaging 6.4 yards per touch -- nearly one yard more than he had as a rookie (5.5).

He's rushed for more than 100 yards three times, posted a 100-yard receiving game and scored six TDs in the last four games. ...

In a semi-related note. ... Nelson drew two penalties after returning from a sprained ankle, Wentz fumbled a snap, and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher still isn't in form after returning from a torn Achilles tendon. When this unit really starts clicking, Indy's offense should take off.

Finally. ... Mo Alie-Cox caught his team-high fourth touchdown of the season on Sunday, and through seven games he's already doubled his career touchdown total. Alie-Cox has 13 receptions for 177 yards; over his last four games, he has 10 catches for 145 yards, and all four of his touchdowns have come in that span.

The 28-year-old tight end has become one of Wentz's favorite targets in opposing territory, and their chemistry is continuing to trend upward as we near the midpoint of the 2021 season.

"He has confidence in me and it's just very reassuring as a receiver that you know your quarterback has faith in you to go and make plays and he's just going to keep looking for you," Alie-Cox said last week. "I think that relationship is just going to keep getting stronger as we get more games in."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Deon Jackson
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Parris Campbell
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Last week was "time off" well spent.

That's Meyer described the Jaguars' 2021 bye week, which ended Monday as the team began practicing in advance of this week's road trip to Seattle.

And for Jaguars coaches, the off week wasn't an off week at all.

The week was spent self-scouting, analyzing how to improve moving forward.

"We did about as deep a dive as I can remember," Meyer said Monday as the Jaguars (1-5) began preparing to play the Seahawks (2-4) at Lumen Field in Seattle, Wash., Sunday.

While players were off Thursday through Sunday, Meyer said coaches stayed to examine the first six weeks of the 2021 season -- which began with five consecutive losses and ended with a 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins in a Week 6 game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England.

Meyer called the self-scout "priceless."

"There were some very tangible things that came to light that we need to get fixed," he said. "There are certain areas we're just not very good at, and that we struggled in. A lot of it was self-inflicted errors that we have to get fixed."

Meyer, coaching in the NFL for the first time after 17 seasons as a college head coach, said one issue in trying to fix struggling areas involves limited NFL roster size.

"How do you get those reps without having reps, if that makes sense?" Meyer said. "You've got some players who are 30 years old, and with the heat down here, how do you get those practice reps so that they don't make mistakes and not blow the players out?

"That's the biggest issue we've got to get fixed and be more efficient in practice. I actually met with our leaders about that, how we can't have mistakes in practice. I know that sounds simple, but you have to really lock in -- especially the younger players."

Meyer called the results interesting, and said he learned from watching NFL games Sunday "just how fragile every snap is, just how fragile teams are."

"The parity of the league is incredible," he said.

Meyer also said the self-scout process told coaches the team's commitment to sports performance is working, citing the comparatively few soft-tissue injuries to players thus far this season.

Also on the injury front. ... Wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. went on injured reserve when he fractured his ankle in Week 4 against the Bengals and he won't be coming off the list this year.

It looked like a bad injury when he was carted off the field and Meyer told reporters on Monday that Chark will miss the rest of the season as a result of the injury.

Chark had seven catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns this season. He had 140 catches for 1,888 yards and 13 touchdowns during his first three NFL seasons.

"An offense without elite speed on the outside. ... It's the first time I've had to deal with it," Meyer said. "Yeah, that hurts us." Meyer said while wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr. are playing well, the one thing the Jaguars don't have offensively is "that home-run hitter. We're one speed guy short."

Meyer also praised wide receiver/returner Jamal Agnew for his development in this area in recent weeks, calling the fifth-year veteran "our best separator."

Agnew, who transitioned from defensive back to receiver last season with the Detroit Lions before signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March, caught a career-high five passes for 78 yards against Miami.

"He had a couple where he pulled away," Meyer said.

With Chark injured, Shenault has been moved to Chark's spot at the 'X' receiver spot, leaving the slot open for Agnew.

Over the last two games alone, Agnew has played 84 snaps (42 snaps per game). He has never seen a role with as much volume on offense as the one he is faced with now, but he has also never played better.

As for Shenault, SI.com's John Shipley explained that what makes 'X' so different from the slot in any offense is clear.

Shenault is now being sent on deep routes more frequently and is seeing far many more isolation chances against cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage than he ever saw from the slot. He has had to fight cornerbacks to get open more frequently than he did from the slot, a byproduct of playing on the line of scrimmage compared to in the slot and without a cornerback getting their hands on him early.

That has led to extra challenges for Shenault, especially when it comes to separating.

While the tape suggests that Shenault has struggled at times with the transition, receivers coach Sanjay Lal is confident in Shenault's trajectory and his willingness to attack the role.

"So extra film study, extra studying on the playbook, all that, he's so willing and he wants to -- he wants to move around even more," Lal said. "Every day he says well let me do this, let me do this. So we're taking it in steps but he's completely willing."

If there is one positive to point to when it comes to Shenault's recent play, though, it is his performance in high-pressure situations. Shenault caught three of the most important passes for the Jaguars against the Dolphins, converting two fourth-downs on scoring drives and gaining 12 yards on the second-to-last offensive play of the game while the Jaguars faced 3rd-and-20.

Shenault has had his bumps at X, but Lal has also seen him make clutch catches that proved to be difference-makers in a win -- things he hopes to see become a pattern with his young receiver.

"You can say many plays won us that game but those were game winners. And then the last two catches to get us into field goal range, he caught both of them," Lal said.

Meanwhile, there's never a good time to suffer a serious injury, but this is a particularly bad one for Chark. His contract is up at the end of this season and he may have to settle for a smaller deal to prove he remains productive after the injury. ...

Also of interest. ... Lawrence has taken every single snap at quarterback for the Jaguars this season, one of three rookie quarterbacks who has started every game to this point. And through 391 snaps, Lawrence has already shown growth, maturation, and development beyond what many rookie quarterbacks experience over an entire season.

Aside from Lawrence's ability to beat defenses on the move, he has also given the Jaguars a dual-threat at the quarterback position.

He has scored two touchdowns on the ground and is recording 4.65 per carry, giving the Jaguars an added element to their offense that they haven't had in years. Lawrence has become comfortable with running option plays and the Jaguars have mostly found success with isolating Lawrence with slower defenders in space.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Devine Ozigbo, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Laquon Treadwell, Tavon Austin, D.J. Chark, Jamal Agnew
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, Dan Arnold

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, the Chiefs were a preseason favorite to return to the Super Bowl for a third straight season.

However, seven games into the season, they're 3-4, sitting tied for last in the AFC West, 11th in the conference.

If the season ended today (it doesn't), the Chiefs would be at home for the postseason, owning the No. 16 overall pick.

Sunday's 27-3 blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans highlighted K.C.'s flaws. The defense couldn't get off the field for the entire first half, and the offense pressed, leading to more turnovers from Patrick Mahomes.

"It's been kind of rainbows and flowers and awesome for these last few years, but whenever you want to build something substantial and you want to build something great, you're going to go through parts like this," Mahomes said, per the Associated Press. "It's going to take us getting better every single day."

The loss marked the largest defeat of the Mahomes era; Kansas City's 22-point loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV previously took the cake. The Chiefs' three points scored are also the fewest in the Mahomes era (10 points fewer than the previous regular-season low, Week 5, 2019 versus Indianapolis).

The QB threw another INT and lost a fumble in the blowout. Kansas City (3-4) now has one more turnover already this season (17) than the 16 giveaways in all of 2020. Mahomes has 11, including nine interceptions, for the most the 2018 NFL MVP has had in a single season, counting the playoffs. That ties him with Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence for most in the NFL.

Mahomes had only nine turnovers in 17 games in 2019 and 10 in 18 games in 2020. He also has been picked off at least once in six straight games.

Mahomes noted that sometimes he's pressing too much when the Chiefs get behind early.

"It's kind of been one thing here and there each and every week," Mahomes said. "It's not like a whole overarching one thing, and today it was probably me. I just pressed a little bit too early in the game and then we got down we were in the mode where (we had to go) no-huddle, which you don't want to be in in the NFL."

With a defense that no one expects to get stops, Mahomes looks like a player who believes he must spin magic every play instead of playing within the framework of the offense.

"We got to eliminate the turnovers and the penalties," head coach Andy Reid said. "Again, these are things that. ... Haven't been common to us. I'm seeing things that I haven't seen before. And we just got to fix it. And the players, they know that."

On the plus side, Mahomes was cleared after taking a wicked shot in the fourth quarter that forced him out of the game early.

Needing a winning streak to save the season before we've even hit Thanksgiving, the Chiefs host the New York Giants (2-5) on Monday night, before games against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Derek Carr and the Raiders (who scored 71 points in two games against the Chiefs last season) and Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, who entered the week leading the league in scoring.

Reid's team needs to fix the issues quickly, or 3-4 could become 4-7 in a hurry. ...

In the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Titans Mahomes suffered a scary hit and was removed from the game.

After remaining on his back for a while, Mahomes was helped up and assisted to the sideline with his teammates supporting most of his weight. He then entered the blue medical tent for a brief period before exiting and finishing the game on the sideline.

When he spoke to the media after the game, Reid announced that Mahomes cleared the obligatory concussion protocol tests. Reid also added that it was his decision to hold Mahomes out for the remainder of the contest. Considering the nature of the play and the scary aftermath, early indications are that the Chiefs dodged a bullet. Mahomes spoke on the injury, too.

"I feel fine now," Mahomes said. "You all saw the hit. I took my time getting up, but I felt fine. I did everything I needed to do to be here."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Josh Gordon, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

It's been less than two weeks since the Raiders endured the sudden shock of losing Jon Gruden as coach. ... And they've played their best football since.

You'd think Las Vegas, which improved to 5-2 and jumped into first place in the AFC West with the 33-22 win over the visiting Eagles on Sunday, would want to keep playing rather than enjoy the upcoming bye week.

But ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez believes the bye comes at a perfect time. Because if the Raiders have been playing on pure emotion and adrenaline the last two weeks, they need a break. And if it's scheme, the bye allows interim coach Rich Bisaccia to get even more in tune with new offensive play caller Greg Olson and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Especially with a winnable game at the Giants after the bye.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez notes that no player on the roster was more personally affected by Gruden's email scandal and sudden resignation than quarterback Derek Carr.

Because beyond their friendship, Carr had been having his best statistical years with Gruden running things.

So Carr compartmentalized.

And he took to writing himself a final reminder at the end of his notes to himself the last two Saturday nights.

Just have fun!

"And I underlined it," Carr said, moving his hand for effect.

"Sometimes you forget that, among a lot of the questions, a lot of the things going on, it's still a game. You've got to remind yourself, 'Have fun when you hit the field.' The last two weeks, I've just tried to remind myself of that."

Against the Eagles on Sunday, perhaps no one had more fun than Carr.

He completed 31 of 34 passes (his completion percentage of 91.2 is the second-highest in NFL history with a minimum of 30 attempts) for 323 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that bounced off Jalen Richard's hand inside the Eagles' 5-yard line.

Carr is the fourth player in NFL history to complete 90-plus percent of his passes and throw for 300-plus yards in the same game, joining Raiders teammate Marcus Mariota, future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and Craig Morton.

He led the Raiders offense to 30 straight unanswered points after the Eagles took a 7-0 lead. He reasserted his stranglehold as the face of the franchise with Gruden gone.

And he did it all sans a pair of Pro Bowlers, as tight end Darren Waller was inactive after injuring an ankle late in practice on Friday and running back Josh Jacobs was lost for the second half with a chest injury.

"I just feel like there's not a throw that he can't make, whether it's downfield [or] checking the ball down when he needs to," said running back Kenyan Drake, who spelled Jacobs to rush for 69 yards with a 4-yard TD while catching three passes for 10 yards. Drake was one of nine different Raiders players to catch a pass.

"When you have a quarterback that's cerebral in terms of dissecting the defense -- understanding pre-snap looks, getting us to the exact play, whether we need to get to a pass, we need to get to a run -- it just makes the game flow so much easier. It's almost like having a coach out there on the field. I enjoy playing with him because he has the ability to just be the guy that you can just rely on ... he's just going to get the job done."

Gutierrez went on to note that Olson was more of a QB coach and buffer between QB and coach with Gruden at the helm.

But in his new role as offensive play caller, Olson has excelled the last two weeks, keeping the Eagles as off-balance as he did the Denver Broncos last week.

The relationship Olson had with Carr before -- he was the OC and play caller during Carr's rookie season of 2014 -- is simply showing itself, said Bisaccia.

"I'd say he's pretty close to the next level if you're going to go 31-for-34 and you just said he went [91.2 percent]," Bisaccia said of Carr. "Again, he's in constant [communication] with Greg, and he's so accurate. He can literally go through an entire Wednesday and Thursday practice and there's possible two or three incompletions ... he's got tremendous accuracy. He's got tremendous command of the offense. He knows where everyone is supposed to be. He's the first one in the building and he's the last one to leave.

"His preparation, I've been around a lot of good quarterbacks, but his preparation is second to none. I think he plays like he prepares."

The fear, then, is this: Carr admitted he really hasn't had a chance to "process everything" in the wake of Gruden's departure, so might the bye give Carr too much time to, well, think, and marinate in it?

"I need some time, you know?" Carr said with a hearty exhale.

"It was literally, Oh, shoot, oh, uh. Next game. It was kind of weird like that. Again, it wasn't like we were 0-6 and you saw something coming. It was just a surprise. So, I think, with the injuries, with everything our team has been through, this bye week couldn't come at a better time."

And as Carr said, the Raiders talked their two-game winning streak and first-place standing in the AFC West into existence.

Kinda.

"We have to be 5-2 at the bye," Carr recounted as the message. "Let's get some rest, get healthy and then let's go on a run."

And have some fun along the way.

"Winning is what makes it fun," Carr told Gutierrez. "But I think the guys are making plays and the expression, the swagger that our guys are showing, is coming out, and it's fun. ..."

Meanwhile, as noted above, Jacobs left the game with a chest injury but checked out fine and should not miss any time. ... Waller missed the game after spraining his ankle in practice on Friday. He will remain in town to rehab during the bye week but is not expected to miss another game.

And finally. ... Veteran wide receiver Willie Snead's brief stint with the Raiders has come to an end.

The Raiders cut Snead at his request, agent Drew Rosenhaus told Adam Schefter of ESPN.

It's not surprising Snead wanted to leave, as he's caught only three passes despite playing in all seven games for the Raiders this season.

Snead played three seasons with the Saints and three with the Ravens before signing with the Raiders this year. His best season was his rookie year, when he caught 69 passes for 984 yards in New Orleans.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber, Jalen Richard
WRs: Hunter Renfrow, DeSean Jackson, Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones, Dillon Stoner
TEs: Foster Moreau, Daniel Helm, Nick Bowers, Derek Carrier, Matt Bushman, Darren Waller

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy suggested, Justin Herbert is having a sophomore surge instead of a slump.

The Chargers quarterback continues to add to his accolades after a record-setting first season when he was The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert and the Chargers are off to a 4-2 start and tied for the AFC West lead on their bye week.

Operating under a new offense installed by first-year coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Herbert has directed the Chargers to three fourth-quarter comebacks, all against teams that made the playoffs last season.

Herbert's 98.8 passer rating is third in the AFC, only trailing Buffalo's Josh Allen and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.

Despite a 34-6 loss at Baltimore last week, the Chargers' fast start has made Herbert a potential pick for NFL MVP honors.

With two-thirds of the season yet to be played, Lombardi is only concentrating on making sure Herbert remains focused on the immediate tasks at hand.

"Obviously, we're happy with the way that he's playing, but we talk all of the time about not getting caught up into that stuff. The more that you can tune out that noise, the better," Lombardi said. "Am I surprised at how well he's playing? No. We watched last year's film when we got here, and it was impressive how well he played."

Herbert set rookie QB records last season for most passing touchdowns. He also has 11 300-yard games in 21 starts, the most by a player his first two years in the league.

Through the first six weeks of the season, he is fourth in the league with 161 completions, sixth in yards (1,771) and tied for sixth with 14 touchdowns.

Drew Brees, who is very familiar with the system Herbert is running because it has a lot of carryover from his days in New Orleans, has been impressed with the way Herbert has been able to quickly take to the offense.

"I felt like he located the ball well. What I mean by that was he threw balls when guys were really covered, and yet he located it on a back shoulder or high and away or, you know. Just in places where his guy could get it and the other guy couldn't. And that's when you start, that's when you feel like you're playing next level," Brees said.

Staley's faith in Herbert has been evident on fourth downs. Herbert was 5 for 5 when the Chargers went for it the first five weeks before missing on all three attempts against the Ravens. On Oct. 10 against Cleveland, Los Angeles went on fourth down twice and converted on a third-quarter scoring drive when it trailed by two touchdowns.

Reedy went on to point out that Herbert isn't the only one thriving in the new offense.

Mike Williams leads the AFC with six receiving touchdowns, and is third in receptions (33) and yards (498). Keenan Allen is third in the conference with 39 catches.

Running back Austin Ekeler is fifth in the conference with 598 yards from scrimmage, while tight ends Jared Cook and Donald Parham have combined for four touchdowns.

"It's always about the next week, no matter how the game goes. It's always about moving on to the next one," Herbert said. "The running backs have done a great job at pass protection, the linemen have handled all the blitzes and fronts that teams have played against us. The receivers have made plays, and the tight ends, too."

Even though Herbert said he felt like the game hasn't slowed down yet, the experience of each game has been valuable. After having four turnovers in the first two games, Herbert has only one in the past four.

Herbert and the Chargers have also been patient with taking what the defense gives them. Los Angeles' 13 scoring drives of 10 plays or more are tied for second in the league.

Staley and the coaching staff have spent most of the week self-scouting. Many thought that the first six games could be the team's toughest stretch of the season with four teams that made the postseason last year.

Starting this Sunday at home against New England, Los Angeles doesn't face a team currently over .500 until Cincinnati on Dec. 5.

Remember, last year, the Patriots went to L.A. and dismantled the Chargers and Herbert, 45-0. As the Patriots prepare to return to SoFi Stadium to face the Chargers and Herbert again, New England coach Bill Belichick has high praise for Herbert.

"He's really good," Belichick told reporters on Monday. "I thought he was outstanding [in college]. He just really had everything you're looking for. He's very athletic. Good arm. A lot of poise. Played well in Oregon. Just a number of big plays. All the passes. All the throws, but extended plays, scrambles, could run the read-zone and all that.

"He's as good a quarterback as I've seen come out here in quite a while, especially as it fits the pro game. I don't think you're going to find too many better than him. This guy is really an impressive player. I thought he was really good when we played them last year, and, luckily, we had a pretty good day, but I'm not counting on that again. I have a ton of respect for him.

"I think he's going to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league for a long time to come."

One last note here. ... Kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed his extra-point attempt in the team's most recent loss to the Ravens. It marked his fifth miss in the last four games.

The week before that, Vizcaino missed a crucial game-tying point against the Browns late in the fourth quarter, which would have been costly had Herbert not engineered the game-winning drive.

On Tuesday, the Chargers waived Vizcaino and signed veteran free-agent kicker Dustin Hopkins.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed, Maurice Ffrench
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson, Tre' McKitty

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Matthew Stafford has known since the NFL schedule was released more than five months ago that a matchup against the Detroit Lions, his former team of 12 seasons, loomed. However, the Los Angeles Rams quarterback said it wasn't something he focused much attention on.

However, on Sunday, after the Rams defeated the Lions 28-17, Stafford expressed relief that he could finally put the reunion behind him.

"Am I happy it's over with? Yeah," said Stafford, who requested a trade from Lions ownership after last season. "Got a lot of great friends, got a lot of people I care about that are on that team or from that city and just glad to have this one over with. Can put the storylines away and just go out and play football the rest of the year and just enjoy it."

By the way, the win wasn't easy.

The rams were trailing 10-0 midway through the first quarter before Stafford even got to touch the ball.

Stafford and the Rams (6-1) then went about demonstrating just how well they can handle unexpected circumstances while keeping their season on an upward trajectory.

Stafford called the Lions' special teams-fueled early surge "as strange of an opening part of a game as I've been a part of. But I thought we were even-keeled. I think that started from our head coach all the way down. Everybody did a great job in weathering the storm and knowing that if we went out there and executed what we were supposed to do, we were going to be in a good place."

The Rams' confidence is grounded in four consecutive winning seasons and compounded by their improvements this year since Stafford replaced Jared Goff behind center.

Between that institutional sturdiness and Stafford's uniform excellence, Los Angeles clearly believes it will be a contender no matter what it encounters in the remaining 10 games of the regular season and beyond.

After holding off the lively but winless Lions for a 28-19 victory, the Rams banked the lessons from a weird afternoon and pledged to use them to get better.

"(There was) a lot of adversity we had to overcome," head coach Sean McVay said. "I thought the guys weathered the storm."

Stafford made sure the Rams did plenty of good things while surging back into the lead and then holding on. The quarterback passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and his offense converted nine of its 13 third down attempts.

Los Angeles also didn't commit a turnover, while the defense intercepted two of Goff's passes, both in the fourth quarter.

More change arrives this week after the Rams traded linebacker Kenny Young to Denver on Monday. Los Angeles abruptly jettisoned its second-leading tackler and a key defensive playmaker in a move driven by the minor salary cap flexibility it created, McVay said.

"It all came together really quickly," McVay said. "Sometimes you have to make decisions like that that aren't always the easiest, but you feel like with the big picture in mind are the best thing for us. That's what we had to do. ... It gives you the ability to explore possibilities if we feel like it upgrades the roster."

Filling Young's cleats could be difficult for the Rams, who don't have another inside linebacker with extensive experience. Rookie Ernest Jones will be asked to step up, and Troy Reeder will take on more responsibilities.

The best news this week?

A trip to Houston (1-6) is coming on Sunday for the third stop in what looked like a soft month of the Rams' schedule before the superb recent play by Tennessee, the following week's opponent.

Other notes of interest. ... The Rams' passing offense is again one of the NFL's best after being confoundingly mediocre for the previous two seasons.

Only Tom Brady and Derek Carr have thrown for more yards this season than Stafford's 2,172, and he has a higher completion percentage than both. Only Brady has more TD throws than Stafford's 19.

The Rams' offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks, and Stafford's passer rating (116.7) is higher than every healthy quarterback except Kyler Murray (116.8).

Cooper Kupp caught 10-of-13 targets for 156 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions.

With double-digit targets in all seven games this season (81 total targets), Kupp now has 56 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns. That's 115 yards per game with four outings of 100 yards or more. Per NFL Research, Kupp is the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 800-plus receiving yards and nine-plus TD catches in his team's first seven games of a season.

Robert Woods caught 6-of-6 targets for 70 yards. He added a two-point conversion late in the game.

While he's clearly playing second-fiddle to Kupp this season, Woods has hardly been bereft of opportunity. He has 35 catches on 50 targets for 423 yards and three touchdowns on the year. He's only been targeted fewer than six times twice this season.

Tyler Higbee hauled in 5-of-8 targets for 46 yards. It was Higbee's most prolific yardage day since Week 1 and came on the most targets he's received all season.

That said, Higbee, like the rest of the receiving components for the Rams, including Van Jefferson (who did catch a touchdown in this) and DeSean Jackson, are going to be somewhat limited by Kupp's volume.

Darrell Henderson Jr. carried the ball 15 times for 45 yards. He added three catches (on six targets) for another 19 yards.

Despite a hugely favorable matchup against the Lions, it was Henderson's least-productive outing this season.

Still, with an even more favorable matchup coming, Henderson is in position to rebound. ...

Sony Michel carried the ball twice for four yards. Playing despite a questionable designation due to a shoulder injury, Michel was not targeted in the passing game. ...

On the injury front. ... Cornerback Robert Rochell sat out late with a knee injury, and safety Jordan Fuller also injured his knee. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth finished the game with an injured knee, while defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day strained his pectoral muscle and linebacker Terrell Lewis has a rib injury.

All five players are unlikely to practice Wednesday, but McVay is hopeful all will play Sunday.

And finally. ... Cam Akers tore his Achilles in July, knocking him out for the season. Despite an injury that previously spelled doom for some players' careers, the Rams are still holding out hope that the second-year player could return for this year's postseason run.

McVay told Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic that the club believes Akers could return for a playoff run.

"You don't want to be presumptuous, but if we are able to make the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to play after (the regular season), the expectation is that Cam would be available to play," McVay said. "He's on track to do that. He was running at 80 percent body weight at 10 miles per hour pretty effortlessly, and from the cameras that I saw last week that are kind of right behind his feet on the treadmill, unless you saw the scar you wouldn't notice any sort of hitch in his giddy-up on that. He's attacking the rehab the right way.

"He's doing great. I think the plan is, if we're able to play past the regular season, we'll get Cam back this year and he'll be playing in the playoffs."

Akers led the Rams with 145 carries for 625 yards with two touchdowns as a rookie, and added 11 catches for 123 yards and another score in 13 games played. The team planned for Akers to be the workhorse in 2021. The young RB fits McVay's preferred running scheme to perfection, with speed to get to the edge and tackle-breaking ability. Unfortunately, the Achilles' injury wiped out that plan.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Buddy Howell, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Odell Beckham, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, J.J. Koski, Robert Woods, Landen Akers
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

The Dolphins' purported interest in Deshaun Watson took center stage this past week in the buildup to the NFL's Nov. 2 trade deadline. Tua Tagovailoa did all he could Sunday to adjust that spotlight.

It just wasn't enough for a win.

The Dolphins lost 30-28 to the Falcons on another last-second field goal, despite a big performance from their starting quarterback. It came amid reports that Tagovailoa could soon be losing that job to the Texans' Watson, and that Tagovailoa himself might be shipped out.

"I hear it. I do hear it. I just don't listen to it. So that's that," Tagovailoa said of the trade chatter.

Head coach Brian Flores said he had a conversation with Tagovailoa this week to reiterate that he's the team's QB and that he needed to stay focused. Tagovailoa did his part, as his 13th career start was easily one of his best. The second-year southpaw completed 32-of-40 passes (80 percent) for 291 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.

Tagovailoa had previously yet to throw three TDs in a game. His final one in Week 7 gave Miami a 28-27 lead with 2:33 remaining.

"That's what you're looking for in a quarterback," Flores said. "He put us in position to win, that's all you can ask for."

Atlanta responded with a game-winning FG drive while running out the clock, handing the Dolphins (1-6) their sixth straight defeat. They've dropped two in a row and three overall on kicks at the buzzer.

"I don't think there's a secret recipe to win," Tagovailoa said afterward. "It's just, the margin for error is slim."

Meanwhile, Flores showed a talent for understatement on Monday when he said that "it's been an unusual kind of year and a half" for Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins took Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft despite a serious hip injury that ended his final season at Alabama, moved him into the starting lineup despite getting good work from Ryan Fitzpatrick, pulled him in favor of Fitzpatrick during close games later in the year, and then saw him go down with injured ribs in the second game of this season.

And now the Watson situation.

Nonetheless, Flores pointed to Sunday's loss as a sign Tua is improving as a player.

"I think he's getting better every time he steps on the field," Flores said told Daniel Oyefusi of the Miami Herald. "I think he's pushing the ball down the field more, he's making better decisions. I think he's making quicker decisions. I think he's doing a lot of things. Look, it's a small sample size, but every time he steps out there, I see progress. I saw it yesterday for sure. I think he showed some grit and some growth, dealing with some adversity, dealing with a couple interceptions and then coming back and giving us an opportunity to win the game at the end. He's a young player.

"Everyone develops at a little bit different pace, but I think he's doing a lot of good things."

There's no sign that Flores' feeling about Tagovailoa's progress will stand in the way of a trade for Watson, which may mean that future improvements take place in a different uniform than the one that Tagovailoa's worn during a fairly tumultuous start to his professional life.

Indeed, the Houston Chronicle reports Dolphins and Texans have agreed on trade terms for Watson, but the Dolphins want his legal issues resolved before consummating the deal. The Chronicle suggests Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants clarity from commissioner Roger Goodell on the length of any potential suspension.

With the trade deadline set for 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 2, we'll see if it doesn't get more tumultuous soon enough. ...

Of course, as ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques notes, not even Watson, who played like an MVP candidate last season, can save Miami's season but if he is cleared to play in 2022 (suspension or not), general manager Chris Grier and Flores will likely stick around to see the experiment through for at least another season.

Of course, Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits for alleged sexual assault and inappropriate conduct and is under a grand jury investigation -- so it's unclear what his future holds until an indictment is either leveled or off the table.

Remember, the Dolphins thought they'd be a playoff team this year after winning 10 games last season.

Now, barring that trade, Flores and Grier might be the odds-on favorites as first to lose their jobs this season. Remember, this week's opponent, the Bills are coming off a bye and will be fully rested. The Dolphins will be looking to avoid losing seven consecutive games to the Bills for the first time in the rivalry's 56-season history.

Average score of the past six Buffalo-Miami games: Bills 39, Dolphins 19.

Desperation is about to set in for the Dolphins, which might set off one of the most polarizing moves in NFL history. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Running back Malcolm Brown and defensive back Jason McCourty are headed to injured reserve, Flores told reporters Monday.

Brown sustained a quad injury early in Miami's 30-28 loss to the Falcons and was subsequently ruled out. McCourty's exit followed shortly thereafter following a foot injury.

McCourty, 34, may end up needing surgery, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The longtime DB is currently seeking an additional option but he will likely be dealing with the injury long-term. He has appeared in all seven games (four starts) this season and contributed 21 tackles and two passes defensed.

The extent of Brown's injury is still be determined but the 28-year-old will be required to miss a minimum of three games, leaving Salvon Ahmed as Myles Gaskin's only active backup. Brown, who spent his first six seasons with the Rams, has logged 33 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown in seven games played (three starts).

Both veterans joined Miami during the offseason as part of several moves the team made to shore up the roster. Currently sitting at 1-6, the Dolphins' season has fallen well below expectations after the club finished the 2020 campaign 10-6, their best record since 2016.

In a bit of positive news on the injury front, linebacker Jerome Baker is believed to have avoided a major injury after exit early with a knee injury on Sunday, Rapoport reported.

Meanwhile, DeVante Parker missed a third-straight game with hamstring and shoulder injuries. It seems the hamstring is the bigger issue.

Parker was able to work on a limited basis last week and he did so again Wednesday to open this week, so he might be close to a return.

According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds, receiver Will Fuller (hand) is not expected to come off injured reserve this week.

I'll have more as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Finally. ... The Dolphins announced on Tuesday that they've signed Duke Johnson to the practice squad.

Johnson most recently had a tryout with the Panthers back in September. He also had a brief stint on Jacksonville's practice squad to start the season.

The running back spent a pair of seasons with the Texans from 2019-2020. He rushed for 235 yards and a touchdown last year while making 28 receptions for 249 yards with a touchdown in 11 games.

Miami needed another running back with Brown being placed on injured reserve.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Jaylen Waddle, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford, DeVante Parker, Will Fuller
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell pointed out this week, the NFL season has already featured 22 games with a winning score in either the final minute of regulation or in overtime, the highest six-week total in history.

The Vikings, for all their problems and setbacks, have been able to play right along with the rest of the clutch teams in the league.

They entered their bye week after two straight white-knuckle victories that essentially saved their bid to return to the playoffs, thanks largely to the mettle displayed by quarterback Kirk Cousins during those make-or-break hurry-up drives.

"I think it's really come a long way," head coach Mike Zimmer said, alluding to the overtime win at New Orleans in the first round of the 2019 playoffs as a turning point for Cousins and his ability to command a late-game possession. "He's done this continually now. I think that breeds a lot of confidence in him in some of the 2-minute drills."

Campbell went on to notes that in his 10th year in the NFL, Cousins has largely been excluded from the conversations about the game's most dangerous high-pressure-situation passers, but it's never too late for improvement. The repetitions have clearly had a positive effect.

According to Sportradar data, Cousins has a league-high 71 pass attempts, not counting clock-stopping spikes, in either the final 2 minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime since the start of the 2020 season. The next closest in the league is Ryan Tannehill (53). Only Derek Carr (four) has more touchdown passes in those situations than Cousins (three).

"In the NFL, so many games come down to the final possession. There's a back and forth all game, but you kind of know that if you're hanging around or they're hanging around, it probably will come down to the final drive or the final kick," Cousins said. "It's just the way this league tends to work."

As Cousins and the Vikings prepared to take the field at Carolina in Week 6, they watched Jacksonville beat Miami on a final-play field goal on a TV inside the stadium tunnel. That visual reminder of the NFL's tendency to produce tight games made Cousins think the Vikings were probably bound for another one themselves that afternoon.

About 3 1/2 hours later, Cousins proved himself right by passing to K.J. Osborn for the winning touchdown in overtime.

The previous week against Detroit, after the offense stalled in the second half and a calamitous 2 1/2-minute stretch of a missed field goal and an own-territory fumble let the Lions take a 17-16 lead with 37 seconds left, Cousins completed three passes for 46 yards to get the Vikings in range for Greg Joseph's 54-yard field goal.

Against the Panthers, he had gone 4 for 4 with a 16-yard run to set up a 47-yard kick that Joseph missed with 1 second left that would have eliminated the need for his overtime success.

Joseph missed a final-play 37-yarder on Sept. 19 at Arizona, after Cousins and the Vikings drove 58 yards at a less-frantic pace in 2:09 to set up the potential winner in a 34-33 loss. In the season opener at Cincinnati, Cousins went 6 for 7 for 60 yards with no timeouts to reach the 35 for Joseph's game-tying field goal on the final play of regulation, before the Vikings lost in overtime.

"We have a bunch of fighters, bunch of guys that aren't stressed out. They're just going out there. It's just laser-focused, and there's not a lot of talk. We're just staying in the huddle and waiting for that play to start to just get going," wide receiver Adam Thielen said.

According to Campbell, Cousins has long been driven by method over improvisation. He'd be hard-pressed to succeed in these clutch situations without the line protection holding up, Justin Jefferson, Thielen and Osborn continuing to run superb routes and new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak making the right calls.

Cousins and Thielen reminded each other after the game last week of the importance of practice, recalling Kubiak's insistence during training camp that the Vikings rehearse their hurry-up offense.

"Every day you were like, 'Ugh, we've got to do this walkthrough.' It was a 2-minute walkthrough, and it was just the guys that weren't involved in all the special teams, and we did it every single day -- over and over and over and over and over," Thielen said. "Looking back, I think that definitely helped us, moving it forward into the season, to have confidence in what we're doing."

The Vikings (3-3), who are clearly still competitive but seemingly caught by their contract situations between rebuilding and contending, face a stiff schedule after their break.

They play Dallas (5-1), Baltimore (5-1), the Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) and Green Bay (5-1) over the next four weeks.

"Could we be better? Yeah. Could we be worse? Yeah. We are where we are, but I like the resiliency of this team. They fight," Zimmer said. "We still have to get where we get to the point where we get a team down and we put them away."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Dalvin Cook
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower noted, the Patriots experienced their share of near misses in opening the season with four consecutive losses at Gillette Stadium.

On Sunday there wasn't much they didn't do well in routing the Jets 54-13 to post their first home victory of 2021.

The offense moved the ball at will, scoring on all five of its possessions in the first half and all six times it reached the red zone. It also was a season-best 7 of 12 (58 percent) on third downs.

The defense was just as active, forcing three turnovers, including one that set up a touchdown.

"Players were ready to go," head coach Bill Belichick said. "It was just some good, solid plays."

Despite still not playing behind a fully healthy offensive line, rookie quarterback Mac Jones had his first career 300-yard passing game, completing 24 of 36 throws with two touchdowns. His team leading 47-13 in the fourth quarter, it earned him his first early exit of the season.

Jones said it was the kind of complementary football they've been trying to produce.

"That's what we want to do and I think we got a little flavor of if we do everything right throughout the week and practice well and do our job in the game, it kind of translates over," Jones said. "We're not satisfied at all by any means."

Receiver Kendrick Bourne, who tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on a trick play for New England's first score and hauled in a 46-year reception, said it was "a game we needed to show us what we're capable of."

Coming next. ... The Patriots are on the road for the next two weeks, beginning Sunday with a trip to face a Los Angeles Chargers team coming off a bye week.

Given the opponent, it's worth noting when Belichick detailed what tight end Hunter Henry has contributed to the Patriots this season, he could have started with the obvious: Catching a touchdown pass in each of the past four games, playing 72 percent of the offensive snaps, and totaling 24 receptions for 264 yards.

His previous high was a three-game stretch as a rookie in 2016 with the Chargers. The last Patriots tight end to have a four-game streak with a TD reception was Rob Gronkowski in 2013.

But as is often the case with Belichick, he pointed out something that most probably wouldn't notice.

How about Henry's adjustment as a blocker on the opening kickoff of Sunday's blowout win against the New York Jets?

The team was expecting the kick in a different direction, and Henry instinctively flipped his assignment and came a long way across the field to help spring a 31-yard return.

"It's little things like that that Hunter does; they're little things that become big things," Belichick said.

Henry, of course, knows the Chargers (4-2) well after spending the first five years of his career with them from 2016 to 2020. He has been in New England since signing a three-year, $37.5 million free-agent contract in March, but the positive impression he has made on Belichick and his teammates has developed quickly.

"Hunter has been really good in a lot of ways. He's a smart player," Belichick said Monday. "He's helped us in a lot of ways: running game, passing game, kickoff returns. He's a good, smart, tough, dependable player."

Belichick cited another example of Henry's impact, even though it doesn't show up on the stat sheet, when he noted how Henry drew coverage to free up fellow tight end Jonnu Smith for a big gain Sunday.

The 6-5, 250-pound Henry has struck up a rapport with Jones, his neighbor and someone who seems to be more and more comfortable looking in his direction in the red zone.

It was the same thing Henry, 26, did last season with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

"He just instinctively does the right thing. He does a lot of the subtle things really, really well," Belichick said. "He's a guy that has really stepped up and gives us a lot of production at that position."

Meanwhile, New England's biggest concern going forward is injury related, with safety Devin McCourty (abdomen), Smith (shoulder) and right guard Shaq Mason (abdomen) joining a growing list of players that have been sidelined in recent weeks.

I'll have more on Smith via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

In the event Smith isn't ready to go next Sunday on the road against the Chargers, it would likely thrust 2019 third-round pick Devin Asiasi into the No. 2 TE role for the first time this season. He's been a healthy scratch all year. The team also has veteran Matt LaCosse on the practice squad. ...

After injuries and illness left the Patriots with just one starter available on the offensive line each of the previous two games, they hoped they were turning a corner Sunday with the return of Isaiah Wynn (COVID-19 list), Mike Onwenu (COVID-19 list) and Mason to the lineup. Instead, Mason left in the fourth quarter after aggravating his injury.

It could require more shuffling this week for a group that had one of its best outings of the season.

Jones was hit just four times by the Jets and sacked only once. New England also rushed for a season-high 148 yards. ...

Running backs coach Ivan Fears told reporters on Tuesday that J.J Taylor did more during the week at practice to be active in Week 7 over Rhamondre Stevenson, who was a surprise scratch in the 90 minutes leading up to Sunday's kickoff.

As FantasyPros notes, it appears that there will be a competition between Stevenson and Taylor for the RB2 role in the Patriots' offense, with the better performer during practice throughout the week getting the start. We will have to monitor the practice reports throughout the week to determine if it is trending towards Stevenson getting the start in week 8 to become a low end flex option against a Chargers defense allowing the most rushing yards in the league currently to opposing teams.

Starter Damien Harris rushed 14 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns while catching both of his targets for seven yards against the Jets. Harris remains the Patriots' primary rushing option heading into a Week 8 road tilt with the Chargers.

And finally. ... The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn reports the Patriots "wouldn't need much convincing" to trade receiver N'Keal Harry.

As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, Harry showed up on the highlight reel with an acrobatic catch against the Jets last Sunday, but that was his only catch of the game, and it came deep into garbage time. With Harry buried on the depth chart, it seems like a trade would be best for both sides.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, James White
WRs: Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, N'Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reported, once it became clear Monday night that the Saints were running the "All Alvin Kamara Offense," the Seahawks tried to throw the kitchen sink at the star running back.

"Dang, y'all are doubling me? Come on, let me get some space," Kamara said at one point late in Monday night's 13-10 win.

The Seahawks tried to take out Kamara. They failed.

The star running back generated a season-high 179 scrimmage yards -- 20 carries for 51 rush yards; 10 receptions for 128 yards, 1 receiving TD. It marked Kamara's fourth consecutive game with 100-plus scrimmage yards. His 134.8 scrimmage YPG since Week 3 is second-most in the NFL.

"A.K. is one of the most dominant players in this league," quarterback Jameis Winston said, via Luke Johnson of the Times-Picayune. "It's always exciting when you put the ball in his hands and watch the things he does."

It's a good thing for Winston that Kamara is a field-tilting force because the QB didn't have many other options. Outside of Kamara's 10 catches on 11 targets, Winston completed just nine other passes on 24 attempts for 94 yards.

Kamara also became the sixth RB in the Super Bowl era to have at least five career games with 10 or more receptions.

"Jameis was smart enough to keep dumping it to him," Saints head coach Sean Payton said.

Even when Seattle tried to double Kamara, it wasn't always effective. And perhaps the biggest play of the game came on a third-and-10 from the Seattle 41-yard line with 5:26 left. Payton called a handoff.

"The idea was maybe to get seven yards to get into field goal range," Payton said. "That honestly was what I was thinking."

Instead, Kamara got 12 yards, a first down, and the Saints churned more time off the clock to kick the eventual game-winning drive.

Kamara also reached a milestone on Monday night, breaching the 3,000-plus yard rushing and 3,000-plus yard receiving plateaus in his 66th career game. It's the fewest games needed to hit the milestone, the previous was 49ers great Roger Craig (70 games).

In addition, Kamara became the first running back with eight or more receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in the first half of a game since Brian Westbrook achieved the feat in Week 13 of the 2004 season against the Green Bay Packers.

Also, all 11 of Kamara's pass targets came on attempts of fewer than 10 air yards. He caught all eight of his targets when aligned in the backfield.

On Wednesday, Kamara was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

It's great fun to watch Kamara dominate opponents, leaving defenders grasping helplessly at air. But it's not a sustainable offense if the Saints have designs on playing into January. With the trade deadline a week away, the Saints need to add a weapon or two.

Otherwise, Winston and Co. will continue to struggle to move the ball regardless of Kamara's magic. In fact, we could see that next Sunday, as the Saints (4-2) now have a short week to fly back across the country and prepare for a much tougher opponent that will require more playmakers when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, Winston had an underwhelming performance, completing 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards with one TD and no turnovers, while also scrambling eight times for 40 yards.

New Orleans' wide receivers caught just four passes on 15 targets.

According to Triplett, some of that was Winston's fault -- especially on some short throws that were off the mark. But the Saints' lack of proven talent at the wide receiver and tight end positions did him no favors as his teammates dropped potential deep catches or failed to get open throughout the night. That has been New Orleans' biggest deficiency all season, and it was never more blatant than Monday night.

The Saints were missing injured receivers Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris, as well as QB/playmaker Taysom Hill. They did get receiver Tre'Quan Smith back for the first time all season, but he and Winston struggled to get on the same page -- which led to a sideline shouting incident that Winston explained was "just communication; we had to be on the same page."

Meanwhile, the Saints designated kicker Wil Lutz to return from injured reserve last week. But after Lutz wasn't activated for Monday's game, he's now going to be sidelined for the rest of 2021.

Lutz announced via social media on Tuesday morning that he suffered a setback during his rehab from core muscle surgery and will not play this season.

"2021 has been filled with adversity, personally, but with adversity comes an exciting challenge," Lutz posted on Twitter. "Unfortunately I had a setback during the rehab process that has forced me to shift my focus to being 100 percent healthy for the long term and shut it down for the season. I want nothing more than to be out there with my teammates helping us win games, and I look forward to doing that when healthy! Thank you to the best fan base in the country for the support and well wishes, we'll be back stronger than ever."

Lutz has been New Orleans' kicker since 2016, making 87 percent of his career field goals and 97 percent of his extra points. The Saints have used three kickers this season. Aldrick Rosas was cut after making just one of his three field goals and Cody Parkey went on IR after one game.

Brian Johnson took over the role on Monday night and hit a pair of field goals and an extra point. He hit the game-winning 33-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter.

Left guard Andrus Peat left Monday night's win with an injury and the initial belief is that it is going to keep him out of action for an extended period of time.

The team said Peat had a shoulder injury during the game, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that it is now believed to be a torn pectoral. If an MRI confirms that is the case, Peat will likely miss the rest of the season.

Peat has started every game for the Saints this season and he's made 79 starts since joining the team as a 2015 first-round pick.

Calvin Throckmorton took over for Peat on Monday night. He made three starts at right guard earlier this season and will likely make his first start on the left side against the Buccaneers in Week 8.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Kenny Stills, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas
TEs: Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin, Adam Trautman

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

The New York Giants clung to a 5-3 lead against the spiraling Carolina Panthers deep into the third quarter Sunday, searching for a big play to spark a rally.

As they did all afternoon, the team turned to Daniel Jones.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reported, the quarterback made an Odell Beckham-esque leaping one-handed grab on a trick-play throw from wideout Dante Pettis for a 16-yard gain. The catch brought life to the Giants, who finished the drive with a more traditional Jones-to-Pettis TD that helped cushion what would become a 25-3 blowout win over the Panthers.

The spectacular catch underscored Jones' massive role in the win. When the Giants needed a key run, they called Jones' number. When they needed a pass to move the chains, they called his number. And when they needed a catch to wake up a restless crowd, Jones delivered.

"Daniel's a competitor," defensive back Logan Ryan said after the win. "I think he shows that he puts his body on the line to do whatever it takes running. I just heard QB1, RB1 and Wide Receiver 1 today. He put it on the line today and whatever it took to get those first downs, to grind it out. Offense turned it on and put the game out of reach and sealed it how you should. It was a good complementary team win."

The Giants were missing a host of offensive talent: Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard all sat out due to injury.

In response, New York asked Jones to do more, and the QB delivered.

Using Jones' athleticism, the Giants consistently and smartly moved the pocket against a ferocious Panthers defensive front. Rolling the pocket allowed Jones to cut the field in half and use his legs to run when necessary.

"I thought (offensive coordinator) Jason (Garrett) and his staff did a really good job early in the week of identifying how we want to play this game, what does that team do well, how do we have to go ahead and play to our strengths and not let them use their strengths to expose something of ours," head coach Joe Judge said. "We did some things that we knew would not show up in a lot of games that we had. That was a focus of ours throughout the game planning. Obviously, Daniel's athleticism shows up in that. Quarterback runs showed up throughout the game. Thought he did a good job -- some were outside, some were inside, some of the roll passes where we give him a run-pass option. Did a good job throwing the ball accurately on the move today."

Jones finished 23-of-33 passing for 203 yards with a TD and no turnovers. He added eight rushes for 28 yards and one catch for 16 yards.

Daniel's a competitor," safety Logan Ryan said after Sunday's game. "I think he shows that he puts his body on the line to do whatever it takes running. I just heard QB1, RB1 and Wide Receiver 1 today. He put it on the line today and whatever it took to get those first downs, to grind it out."

Jones is 153 of 241 for 1,727 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He is hitting 63.5 percent of his passes and his running ability gives the offense an added dimension.

""Everybody on the team believes in D.J., whether it's guys who have played a lot of snaps or guys who have played zero snaps," receiver Darius Slayton said Monday. "Everybody out there believe in 8 and knows they are going to get catchable, accurate passes to catch."

And if someone else throws the ball, well maybe Jones will be there to make a one-handed catch.

Meanwhile, it's fair to ask if Giants' defense is back?

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, this was by far the New York defense's best and most complete effort this season. The unit allowed 173 yards, three points and produced six sacks. And for the first time this season, they looked like the unit that finished in the top half of the league last season. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the highest-paid player on the roster, played like it for the second consecutive week. Williams and fellow defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence dominated the game on the interior, combining for 1.5 sacks and six total tackles.

That is what the Giants needed. The next test to see if this was a real resurgence comes in a Monday night matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the under-performing Chiefs (3-4) at Kansas City and then a home game with the Raiders (5-2) on Nov. 7 before a bye week.

Las Vegas has next weekend off and will be fresh. Going into the break with a three-game winning streak would rekindle some hope for the Giants ...

On the injury front. ... Safety/punt returner Jabrill Peppers sustained ankle and knee injuries. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter sprained an ankle.

The Giants announced on Tuesday that Peppers was going on injured reserve.

As noted above, they join a list that includes Golladay (knee), Shepard (hamstring), Toney (ankle), Barkley (ankle) and defensive tackle Danny Shelton (pectoral), who were all inactive. Judge said all his injured are on different time tables.

The extra day off might help some be ready for Monday night.

Barkley's ankle injury will likely keep him out of New York's Week 8 contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Barkley has a "outside chance" of taking part in that Monday night matchup. It's more likely that the star running back will return from his sprained ankle for the Giants' Week 9 game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 7, Rapoport added.

That said, Barkley and three wide receivers -- Golladay, Shepard, and Toney -- were all on the field for a Tuesday practice. The Giants won’t issue an injury report until Thursday, so there won’t be any official word about their participation level until that report is released.

Judge said at his Wednesday press conference that he won’t rule any players out on Wednesday or Thursday, so it looks like all four will have a few days to convince the team that they are ready to return to action.

I'll obviously have more on Barkley, Golladay, Shepard and Toney via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

If Saquon sits out Week 8, he'll have missed 17 of his last 22 potential games due to injury. Devontae Booker and Elijhaa Penny continued to carry the load with Barkley out. ...

Pettis was elevated off the practice squad on Oct. 17 for a game against the Rams. When Toney was injured early, Pettis was targeted 11 times and had five catches for 48 yards. He caught all five of the passes thrown his way for 39 yards and a TD on Sunday. He also threw a 16-yard pass to Jones on a flea flicker. ...

Graham Gano was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, tallying successes from 49, 53 and 44 yards. Gano, who had a perfect day overall, adding two made point-after attempts, was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. ...

As trade deadline looms, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports multiple teams are expressing interest in Evan Engram. He's been the subject of trade rumors in the past, but the Giants haven't moved him. We'll see if this time is different. ...

And finally. ... Going into Sunday's game, the NFL rumor mill had Judge sitting on the hot seat after the team started off with a 1-5 record for the second straight year.

But owner John Mara is still in his corner, Ian O'Connor of the New York Post reports.

Mara wore a rare look of satisfaction as he headed to the locker room. Asked if his belief in Judge is still as strong as it was the day he hired him, Mara said, "It is. Obviously, we've struggled this year, but he has not lost the locker room, and I've seen that happen over the years. I think the players still believe in him. We've just got to get our guys healthy again"

Mara cited Judge's leadership, the way he's "commanded the team," and the way he "sees the big picture."

Judge has talked about fielding a physical, blue-collar team that matches the ethos of the region. That team showed up Sunday and imposed its will on the Panthers.

Asked what Mara's stated belief means to him, Judge said, "It's important to have the support of ownership because, ultimately, it's their team. I'm representing their family, their product. ... This isn't Joe Judge's team. This is the New York Giants; that's the Mara and Tisch families. Whatever we do as a team has to match up to what they value and what they want to see.

"They've been very supportive. They communicate very openly, they talk about what's going on and what we need to do. We're not an excuse-making organization. We're very, very candid in terms of where we are as a coaching staff, roster, and what we have to do better going forward."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mike Glennon, Daniel Jones
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Dante Pettis
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

The New York Jets were fired up coming off their bye-week break, eager to get back on the field and put their woes of the first five games behind them.

Then they had their biggest dud in decades.

The Jets' 54-13 loss at New England on Sunday was as ugly as the final score looked. It was the fourth-most points allowed by New York, and the most since a 55-21 defeat at New England on Oct. 29, 1978. And to add injury to insult, rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was lost for at least two weeks with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Other than that, all's well, right?

The Jets are 1-5 and in danger of watching their season slip away -- and it's not even November yet. But head coach Robert Saleh remains ever the optimist, insisting the bigger-picture view looks a lot better than what everyone is seeing at the moment.

"I'm really just focused on trying to get these guys to play their absolute best so we can show the entire Jets nation why I truly believe we're going to win championships," Saleh said. "I know it's hard to see right now, but I know the direction we're going in. I know where it's going to get."

Well, the road to where Saleh insists the Jets will go won't include Wilson on the field for at least the next few games.

Saleh announced that Mike White, who hadn't taken a regular-season snap in the NFL before Sunday, will start Sunday against the Bengals.

The Jets also traded for 36-year-old Joe Flacco, sending a conditional sixth-round pick to Philadelphia to acquire the veteran quarterback. New York also has 35-year-old Josh Johnson on its practice squad.

According to New York Post staffer Brian Costello, Flacco will not practice until Friday but he is taking part in the meetings virtually. Johnson will almost certainly be promoted to the active roster to serve as White's backup this weekend.

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. notes, White will be tasked with trying to jumpstart an offense that has been stuck in neutral since Week 1.

New York ranks at or near the bottom in almost every offensive category and the Jets still have failed to score in the first quarter of any game, but Saleh saw some positives against the Patriots.

"We just didn't capitalize and finish in positions that we had a chance to," he said. "Defensively, we did not answer the bell and I think to a man, coach and player, we can all agree with that. Again, it's continue harping on the small details that separate winning and losing."

The Patriots sliced right through the Jets' defense, which allowed New England to gain 551 yards -- the third straight game New York has now given up 430 yards or more.

Some of that can be attributed to the offense having too many short drives and forcing the defense into being on the field more than it should. But the Jets' defensive performance Sunday was just plain brutal, with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich saying there was "embarrassment, anger and everything imaginable" when he looked up at the scoreboard.

"We just absolutely did not play to the level we're capable of," Ulbrich said. "I promise that won't happen again."

So it can only get better from here, right?

Not so fast. ... The Jets next face a surging Cincinnati squad that's 5-2 and tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North. Then, they have a Thursday night road game at Indianapolis on a quick turnaround. AFC East-leading Buffalo comes to town after that.

"So," Waszak summed up, "things could quickly get a lot more rotten in the Big Apple. ..."

Meanwhile, Saleh had the decks stacked against him entering the season with a young roster and a largely inexperienced staff in a clear rebuild. Injuries to key players have hurt them in a big way early on, but coming out of a bye and getting absolutely thrashed by an AFC East rival is, as Saleh acknowledged, embarrassing.

Still, Jets owner and chairman Woody Johnson, apparently not shaken by his team's 1-5 start and historic loss to the Patriots, expressed "unwavering, steadfast confidence" Tuesday in general manager Joe Douglas and Saleh.

"I've been around for, this is going on 22 years, with my little absence that I had recently, and this is a good group," Johnson told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Manhattan. "We will get it right. Last week, you know, [was] frustrating, but now we turn the page and we're off to the Bengals."

Johnson, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2020, returned to the team in January, shortly after it had hired Saleh, formerly the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator.

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini suggested, it was an unusually early vote of confidence, but Johnson, 74, took the time to explain why he has so much faith in Saleh and Douglas, who was hired in June 2019.

"Just talking to the leadership -- Joe, Robert, and seeing how their plans are put together," Johnson said. "How they're deep thinkers, they want to do things like establish a culture and they're getting the right players in the right positions.

"It's just a very young team with a young quarterback," he continued. "He's 22 years old, he just turned 22. So he's seeing things for the first time like a lot of the quarterbacks now, a lot of the young quarterbacks. It's going to take him a little bit of time, but I have a lot of confidence in Zach, too."

In Johnson's 17 seasons of ownership, not counting his four seasons overseas, the Jets have made the playoffs six times.

Those appearances came from 2001 to 2010. The team's 10-year drought is the longest active streak in the league.

For what it's worth, Cimini also advised his readers this season is all about Wilson's development, and now he will miss out on much-needed game experience. The No. 2 overall pick has a ton of talent, but he's extremely raw. He needs game reps. He didn't commit any turnovers against the Patriots (he played only three series), but it was yet another jittery start.

Elsewhere on the injury front. ... Tevin Coleman (hamstring) was not practicing Wednesday after missing last week's game with the same injury, which he suffered in last Friday's practice.

I'll have more on his status as developments warrant via Late-Breaking Update. ...

Rookie linebacker Jamien Sherwood will be out for the rest of the season after he tore an Achilles tendon. Sherwood started four of the five games in which he played, and was calling defensive signals with C.J. Mosley sidelined with a hamstring injury. ... There's hope both Mosley and Jarrad Davis (ankle) can return this week. ... LB Blake Cashman was having an MRI on his groin. ... LB Quincy Williams is in the concussion protocol.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Austin Walter, Lamical Perine, Michael Carter
WRs: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, Keelan Cole
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco, Tyler Kroft

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

It took seven games for Nick Sirianni to have to publicly support Jalen Hurts.

The Eagles are off to their worst start since 1999 at 2-5 and there's plenty of blame to spread around. Of course, the rookie coach, the second-year QB and first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon get most of it.

According to Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi, Sirianni has no plans to bench Hurts following another inconsistent performance in a 33-22 loss at Las Vegas. Hurts finished with solid numbers -- 18 of 34 for 236 yards and two touchdowns passing and 61 yards rushing -- but he was 8 of 16 for 135 yards until the Eagles trailed 33-7.

Hurts has led Philadelphia's offense to 18 TDs in seven games with seven coming after the outcome was decided and the Eagles trailing by at least 19 points. Hurts continues to have accuracy issues. He makes impressive plays, but too often they've occurred when it's too late.

The Eagles will have a new backup this week after veteran Joe Flacco was traded to the New York Jets for a conditional sixth-round pick next year. Gardner Minshew, who was 7-13 in 20 starts in Jacksonville, steps into the No. 2 spot.

"Obviously, I really like Gardner and I think he's a good backup, but I got a ton of faith in Jalen and he will be our starting quarterback," Sirianni said Monday.

Sirianni plans to talk with Gannon following stinging criticism about the defensive scheme from six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus notes, the Eagles were passive defensively Sunday, as they have been for much of the season. With the safeties playing deep and the pass rush unable to generate consistent pressure, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 91.2 percent of his throws, the second-highest rate in a game in NFL history (minimum 30 attempts), per ESPN Stats and Information.

Cox, as he did a couple of weeks back, again seemed to take issue with the way he is being utilized by Gannon. The 10-year veteran has made a very good living crashing into the backfield and wreaking havoc, but he's now being asked to ride out double-teams and read and react more often in this scheme.

"Honestly, it's not what I'm ... It's not what it's been. Obviously, you just have to play what is being called," Cox said. "When you're so used to playing so aggressive the last however many years I've been playing, it just changed, so you can't be as aggressive.

"You're frustrated and you get tired of 6,700 pounds just laying on you and you want to do something about it. Obviously being the player that I am, you can only take so much and I'm going to do something about it, I'm going to be aggressive."

"I'm an aggressive player and that's how I made my living, playing in the backfield and splitting double teams," Cox said after the loss. "I'm not used to double teams staying on me 2, 3 yards down the field."

He also admitted to confronting the coaches on the sideline.

"I didn't agree with what was called on the defense so I kind of let my frustration go, and that's part of the game," he said.

Sirianni downplayed it.

"Everyone has frustration after you lose. We'll talk about everything, we'll go through it," Sirianni said.

Sirianni acknowledged the defense needs to "challenge more," saying it "always starts with us as coaches, being able to put them in positions to make plays."

Remember, the Eagles had extra time to prepare coming off a Thursday night game and said they used that time to self-scout and make alterations on both sides of the ball.

The offensive approach was different, with Philadelphia leaning on the ground game and Hurts lining up under center more often, but the results -- seven points through the first three quarters and 15 more when the game was out of hand -- remained lackluster.

The loss was troubling enough that it compelled safety Rodney McLeod to address the team afterward.

He was "really challenging guys and asking guys, 'Are you committed to making this run? And if you are, come Wednesday ready to work.'"

"Time is running out," McLeod added. "We have to make a stand and we have to make a push."

Hurts insisted this team is not at a crossroads.

"I've said it -- I'm really tired of saying it -- but I believe," Hurts said. "You've got to be patient with it, continue to work, keep your faith, keep grinding, head down, go to work. It will turn over."

Will the Eagles shift into full-out sellers mode before the Nov. 2 trade deadline?

As McManus noted, tight end Zach Ertz has already been deal, Flacco went this week and at this point, all illusions about the Eagles (2-5) making a run at the postseason have vanished. There's reason to expect the Eagles will be burning up the phone lines over the next week.

There are winnable games coming up, starting Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but the Eagles look awfully shaky at the moment.

Also of interest. ... The Eagles ran the ball well on the opening drive that ended with a TD. Miles Sanders had 30 yards on six carries, but injured his ankle on the next series.

It didn't look good when Sanders was carted to the training room in the second quarter, but Sanders avoided a major injury.

Sirianni said Monday the running back is unlikely to play this week, but the team isn't ruling Sanders out yet.

"Miles will probably be down," Sirianni said, via Reuben Frank of NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com. "We're week-to-week with him, so it's a stretch for him to be up this week, but we're not ruling anything out yet."

Sanders did not practice Wednesday; I'll follow up as need be via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

The Eagles used Boston Scott and rookie Kenny Gainwell after Sanders' departure Sunday.

The team also likely activates Jordan Howard from the practice squad for this week's game against the Lions.

"We have Jordan on the practice squad as well," Sirianni said. "We feel really good about him."

Gainwell carried five times for 20 yards and caught 4-of-8 targets for an additional 41 yards.

He didn't get as many carries as Scott, but he continue to serve as the primary receiving back.

Gainwell will likely remain the first option and primary receiving back, but expect a fairly equal share for Scott.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Matt Canada keeps insisting he's got the best job in America. According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, the first-year Steelers offensive coordinator has quickly learned it might also be among the most scrutinized, at least in his chosen profession.

All Canada's been asked to do in his first go-round as an NFL play-caller is fix a running game that's spent the past few years ranked among the league's worst, figure out how to mesh with a future Hall of Fame quarterback used to having plenty of say in the weekly game plan and do it all while hoping a completely overhauled offensive line learns quickly enough to make it all go.

The early results are mixed.

Rookie running back Najee Harris looks every bit as good as advertised, at least when given room to do his thing.

Ben Roethlisberger spent the first four weeks fending off questions about whether his 18th season was one too many, but has responded by showing flashes of his vintage self during a two-game winning streak that has the Steelers sitting at 3-3 heading into their bye week.

The line remains very much a work in progress, though it has shown signs of cohesion of late. The number of times Roethlisberger is being hit each week is going down. The number of yards Harris is gaining on the ground is going up. Pittsburgh has topped 100 yards rushing in each of its past two games, something it hadn't done since last October.

"We're just closer to being better," Canada said. "I think we're not where we want to be. With the bye week right now, we're doing a lot of work, looking at ourselves. Some things aren't good enough at all, some things are close."

Maybe very close.

Right tackle Zach Banner's return from the torn ACL in his right knee suffered in the 2020 season opener is imminent. His re-immersion into the lineup would allow Chuks Okorafor to move back to left tackle and send rookie Dan Moore Jr. to the bench, giving the line more size and experience in front of Roethlisberger.

While Canada is quick to praise the work of Moore -- who was thrust into a starting role along with rookie center Kendrick Green -- he also added the team will "play the best tackles" whenever Banner is available.

Whoever is out there will be tasked with cleaning up some of the mistakes that have short-circuited drives. The Steelers have been flagged for 10 false starts, tied for the second most in the league, and four times for offensive pass interference as wide receivers get too eager to block on the quick throws that are a staple of Canada's offense.

"We've got to be more consistent," Canada said. "It felt like we moved the ball well last week (against Seattle), but we can't have the self-inflicted issues."

Mostly because the offense's margin for error isn't what it was during last year's 11-0 start.

The defense that led the NFL in sacks and turnovers forced in 2020 has looked far more ordinary in 2021.

Meanwhile, the first six games were a mixed bag.

Pittsburgh has steadied itself following a 1-3 start, but the next 11 games following the bye will render the ultimate judgment on if the Steelers and Roethlisberger made the right decision by trying to squeeze at least one more season out of a partnership that's produced a pair of Super Bowls and a long run as one of the AFC's elite.

Whatever Canada comes up with on a weekly basis will be a vital part of the process. He's starting to get a feel for what his unit can and can't do and what he should and shouldn't do.

And unlike his (mostly) successful run as an offensive coordinator in the college ranks, he understands style points don't really matter. It's one of the reasons he's making a concerted effort to not get caught up in whether he's putting his own unique stamp on the Steelers.

"Our identity is we want to win every week," he said. "That's what we want our identity to be."

We'll see if they can continue to establish that identity against the Browns this week. ...

As noted above, Harris comes off the bye looking build on a strong six-game showing to start to start the season.

With 102 carries for 388 yards and 34 catches (on 46 targets) for an additional 244 yards, Harris heads into the remainder of the season with a robust role, over 100 scrimmage yards per week and four touchdowns (two rushing and two receiving).

Meanwhile, Diontae Johnson, with 34 catches (on 50 targets) for 376 yards and three touchdowns, remains at the top of the team's receiving pecking order. With double-digit targets in every game he's played this season but one, Johnson clearly has Roethlisberger's attention.

Chase Claypool has 22 catches (on 42 targets) for 358 yards with just one TD in five games (he missed one due to injury). The overall totals haven't met pre-season expectations. But his Week 3 (five catches on nine targets for 96 yards) and Week 5 (five catches on six targets for 130 yards and a touchdown) efforts demonstrate what he's capable of delivering any given week.

Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth comes off the bye looking to build on the momentum he's gained through the team's first six games. With 18 catches (on 20 targets) for 158 yards with a touchdown, Freiermuth has carved out a contributing role as a rookie. Was his seven-catch (on seven targets), 58-yard outing in Week 5 the start of something bigger?

We'll see.

It's worth noting that Eric Ebron's playing time and role in the passing game have both shrunk this year and he said Monday that he "can't answer" why that's happened, although the arrival of Friermuth seems like one obvious reason. He said it was a question for coaches, including Canada, and that he's just going to keep doing his job.

"It's hard," Ebron told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's not my life. I want to be a professional. I'm an adult. I've got two kids and I've got a wife, people that I lean on and talk to. It's not only about my image anymore and how I portray myself. It's the way I think about the people around me. My job is to come here and do what I'm asked to do, and I've been doing that to the best of my ability and I think it shows."

Ebron has seven catches for 47 yards and one carry for a one-yard touchdown while playing 47 percent of the offensive so far this season.

His role seems unlikely to expand as long as Freiermuth is in the lineup and, with his contract set to expire, the end of the season is likely to be the end of his time in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are getting a potential boost to their run game.

Pittsburgh announced that the team has activated second-year running back Anthony McFarland Jr. off of injured reserve on Wednesday. McFarland was designated to return on Oct. 6, so his window for activation was about to run out.

McFarland went on IR with a torn MCL at the start of the regular season. He had 113 yards on 33 carries for Pittsburgh as a rookie last year, also making six receptions for 54 yards.

“I think he was doing some really good stuff before he got hurt,” Roethlisberger said on Wednesday, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “People that have been out here have seen a guy that has got a little burst, a guy that maybe can add a little something extra to this offense. ...”

On the injury front. ... Claypool (hamstring) was limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll have developments as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Former NFL quarterback Carson Palmer suggested Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was a "wild card" in USC's search for a new head coach and that he'd be a candidate if he were interested in leaving the Steelers.

Tomlin made it very clear on Tuesday that he has no interest in leaving the Steelers. Tomlin was asked about the possibility of taking a college coaching job at the end of his press conference and he said that "there's not a booster with a big enough blank check" for him to leave what he called one of the top jobs in all of sports.

"I don't have time for that speculation," Tomlin said. "That's a joke to me. I've got one of the best jobs in all of professional sport, why would I have any interest in coaching college football? That'll be the last time I address it. And not only today, but moving forward. Never say never, but never."

Tomlin followed that up by wondering if anyone is asking Sean Payton or Andy Reid about their interest in leaving the NFL for the college ranks and then all but dropped the microphone to bring the press conference to an end.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Cody White, Ray-Ray McCloud, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Eric Ebron

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Although the San Francisco 49ers are expecting rookie quarterback Trey Lance to return to practice on Wednesday, veteran Jimmy Garoppolo will remain the starter Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

After Sunday night's 30-18 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed some uncertainty about who his quarterback would be against Chicago, citing the need to get health updates on Lance and, especially, Garoppolo before a decision could be made.

In the less than 24 hours that followed, Shanahan got enough information to declare Monday afternoon that Garoppolo will remain the starter with the hope that Lance can do enough in practice this week to play situationally against the Bears.

"In terms of deciding who is going at quarterback, that has to do with Jimmy's health," Shanahan said. "Jimmy, I wanted to see how his calf was. It's good today and so he'll be starting and hopefully Trey will get back into practice and have a good enough week to where he can dress and if he ends up dressing then there's always a good chance he'll get some plays in there."

Although Garoppolo apparently came out of the game OK, he said afterward that he could feel the previously bruised and strained right calf as the matchup wore on, though he noted that it didn't hinder him.

"It held up," Garoppolo said. "Definitely felt it at times. But it sort of is what it is."

Still, Garoppolo had what Shanahan called Monday "his worst game" of the season against the Colts, going 16-of-27 for 181 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble.

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, with the Niners in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the drumbeat for Lance to get his opportunity has grown louder, at least among fans. But Shanahan was more definitive Monday when discussing his quarterback situation, making it clear that he didn't view the Indianapolis game as a referendum on Garoppolo's status as the starter.

"We didn't go into that game thinking that Jimmy was one bad game away from losing his job or anything like that," Shanahan said. "I definitely thought he could have played better but that was not a game where 'Hey, if Jimmy has one bad game, he's losing his job.' We know Trey is the future here and we're trying to do what's best for him and for our team."

For now, that means getting Lance's sprained left knee back to full health.

Lance suffered that injury in his first and only NFL start, an Oct. 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. That start only happened because of the calf injury Garoppolo suffered the week before.

Lance went 15-of-29 for 192 yards with an interception against the Cardinals and rushed 16 times for 89 yards. All of those rushes took a toll, though, as Shanahan announced the day after that game that Lance would miss a week or two with the knee sprain.

Lance was a pregame inactive against the Colts with Nate Sudfeld serving as Garoppolo's backup. This week, Shanahan expects Lance to return to practice on Wednesday, which at least opens the door for him to return to the backup role behind Garoppolo.

"Trey hasn't practiced in two weeks since his knee injury, so when he does come back, which is hopefully Wednesday, he's probably going to be limited as it is," Shanahan said. "I haven't decided that yet, we'll have to see where he is. Odds are, when it comes to the game plan and stuff and what we're doing, you're not going to just start rotating quarterbacks because it's not an open competition right now."

Shanahan is starting to come under some heat as the Niners struggle in his fifth season. San Francisco has had one winning season since Shanahan arrived, going to the Super Bowl in 2019.

He had excuses early: a depleted roster when he arrived, and injuries in 2018 and 2020. This year was supposed to be different. Shanahan understands the current criticism.

"We're sitting here at 2-4, we've lost four games in a row that I believe all four we were capable of winning, which is where you want to start," he said. "You want to have a chance to win every game you're in. ... We have to find a way to win some of these close games that we've found a way to lose."

Clearly, the 49ers realize their season is slipping away quickly, and they're running out of chances to get it back on track before it's too late. It's one thing to lose one-possession games to contenders like Green Bay and Arizona. It's another to lay an egg at home in prime time against a Colts team that entered Sunday night 2-4.

Yes, the relentless rain made it difficult, but Wagoner notes the Colts had the same disadvantage and didn't make as many mistakes.

San Francisco travels to Chicago this week for a game that's far from a gimme before a two-game stretch against the Cardinals and the Rams.

Given their record, the Niners' margin for error is getting thin and the calls for Lance (when he returns from a sprained left knee) are only going to grow louder with every loss. ...

Other notes of interest. .. There were positives.

Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell ran for 107 yards on 18 carries, joining Derrick Henry as the only players with a 100-yard game against Indianapolis in the past four regular seasons. Mitchell has two 100-yard games already this season, becoming the first Niners rookie with multiple 100-yard rushing games since Billy Kilmer did it three times in 1961.

Deebo Samuel had receptions (on 11 targets) for 100 yards and a touchdown.

Samuel did not record a rushing attempt for the first time since Week 1, and he also lost a fumble in the heavy rain at Levi's Stadium. That's where the bad news ends, as the dynamic wideout posted his third 100-yard game with a score through six contests this year.

As CBSSports.com suggested, the 49ers offense looked lost for extended periods Sunday, but Samuel is proving to be an asset that can produce regardless of the situation surrounding him.

The third-year wideout is about as must-start as they come for next week's tilt against the Bears.

Brandon Aiyuk might be the opposite of that.

The second-year wideout has been an afterthought all season after his 60 catches for 748 yards as a rookie in 2020. He was targeted once Sunday on a 6-yard reception, had a 3-yard run and barely avoided disaster when he kicked the ball backward into his own end zone after muffing a punt. The play was properly ruled a touchback. Aiyuk has just nine catches for 96 yards this season.

On the injury front beyond Lance, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday. ... Samuel (calf) was not practicing Wednesday with a previously unreported injury. Shanahan told reporters he's optimistic Samuel will play this week against the Bears.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Also. ... Safety Jaquiski Tartt (knee) will miss a few weeks. ... DE Dee Ford, LB Aziz Al-Shaair are both in concussion protocol. ... CB Moseley left the game with a back injury but should be fine. ... Shanahan hopes LT Trent Williams can return after missing a game with an ankle injury.

The 49ers expect George Kittle to be back next week, Shanahan said. Kittle is currently on injured reserve with a calf injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon, Trenton Cannon, JaMycal Hasty, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, Deebo Samuel
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, Charlie Woerner

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, Pete Carroll isn't making a change at quarterback after Geno Smith's second uneven performance in as many starts as Russell Wilson's injury replacement.

Carroll said as much on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show Tuesday morning when asked if Smith is still the Seahawks' starter for this week's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Sure," he said a day after the Seahawks fell to 2-5 with a 13-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. "Yeah, he is. And we're counting on him to just keep getting better and us to play better around him."

Carroll said Smith has been "solid" and called it a "phenomenal accomplishment" to protect the ball as well as he has in the two-plus games he's played since Wilson injured his finger in the second half of Seattle's loss 26-17 to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5. But he made it clear that the ninth-year veteran needs to do a better job of avoiding unnecessary sacks.

"He's managing the game well," Carroll said. "I would like him to get the football out, be more open to throw the ball away. We talked about it in the locker room after the game. Sometimes those situations happen so fast, and to make that declaration to give up on the play is something that takes experience. That experience for Geno right now, it's not quite settled in the way he needs to be satisfied with, 'I've got to throw the ball away, we've got to punt the football.' And there's nothing wrong with that. We took two or three sacks last night that we shouldn't have taken."

As John Boyle of the team's official website noted, while everyone has faith in Smith to get the job done—and he has done plenty of things well in relief of Wilson—there's no replacing a Hall of Fame talent at the game's most important position, especially not late in close games.

"He's a special, special guy," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "Whenever you give him the ball back with some time left on the clock something's going to happen. I know what he's capable of doing, but I also know that Geno's capable of executing and I have faith in him."

Or as Carroll noted, his 12-season run with the Seahawks probably looks a lot different—or doesn't last 12 years—without Wilson at quarterback. And that's nothing against Carroll's coaching ability. After all, if you find any coach whose career lasts a decade or longer, you'll also find a coach who worked with a great quarterback. But it is a good reminder of how much different the Seahawks' season might look right now if Wilson hadn't missed the past two-plus games.

"Let's say it this way—I've been here a long time, and if we didn't have Russell, I probably wouldn't have been here a long time," Carroll conceded.

Wilson has to miss at least one more game before he's eligible to come off injured reserve. With the Seahawks on their bye after the Jacksonville game, the earliest Wilson could return is in Week 10 at the Green Bay Packers.

The only other quarterback on their 53-man roster is Jacob Eason, a second-year player they claimed off waivers last week. Seattle has two quarterbacks on its practice squad in Jake Luton and Danny Etling. Luton, also a second-year player, made three starts as a rookie. Neither Eason nor Etling have started an NFL game.

Smith completed 12 of 22 passes for 167 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions Monday night. He was sacked five times, with two coming on consecutive plays during the Seahawks' final drive. Another sack on third down earlier in the fourth quarter pushed them back 11 yards, leading to a 53-yard field-goal try that Jason Myers missed.

Since taking over for Wilson, Smith has completed 45 of 71 attempts for 507 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. That came late against the Rams, when Tyler Lockett fell down before Smith's throw arrived. Smith lost a fumble in overtime of Seattle's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week after helping the Seahawks rally from a 14-0 halftime deficit.

Monday night's loss was the Seahawks' third straight. In all three, they've had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final three minutes of regulation or overtime and failed to do so.

They're now five games back of the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West standings, and they're three games under .500 for the first time since 2011.

"We have to keep battling because it's so close," Carroll said. "We have to just keep clawing and scratching and we've got to keep building the game around Geno and making sure that he can function at a high level."

Of course, the Seahawks are without their franchise quarterback, but Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth reminded readers that Shane Waldron was supposed to bring ingenuity and creativity to Seattle's offensive schemes. So far, they've seemed rather pedestrian and that was before Wilson was injured.

Take away Week 1 against Indianapolis and the flare Waldron was supposed to bring from his time in Los Angeles has seemed fleeting. The Seahawks have topped 350 yards only once in the past four games and the 219 total yards against the Saints was the lowest for Seattle since a late December 2017 win at Dallas when it had just 136 total yards.

Now, if there is such a thing as a must win for a 2-5 team, it comes this Sunday when Seattle hosts Jacksonville.

A loss and the season might as well implode. A win at least gives the Seahawks a modicum of momentum going into their bye week and the chance that Wilson's return could be on the horizon.

For the record. ... The previous time Seattle opened the season with three straight home losses was 29 years ago. In 1992, Seattle lost its first five at home before beating Denver in overtime in Week 13.

Other notes of interest. ... It became very clear the Saints were going to focus on stopping the run first and set aside their worries about Smith's potential through the air as a secondary concern.

Seattle repeatedly plowed Alex Collins into a wall of defenders and essentially refused to do anything but define insanity, receiving similar results on most of their rushing attempts. Even on run-pass options that appeared to favor the pass before the snap, the Seahawks didn't give it a thought, instead electing to continue slamming backs into the teeth of New Orleans' defense.

The worst example of all of this came after the Seahawks forced a turnover and gave their offense a short field, then ran it on first and second down, and failed to complete a pass on third down, gaining exactly zero yards on three plays before settling for Myers' lone made field goal from 50 yards out. ...

Myers was automatic during the 2020 season and eventually had a franchise record of 37 straight made field goals. That streak was snapped in Week 3 against Minnesota and over the past five games Myers has been average at best. Myers is 5 for 9 over those five games, including two misses on Monday night.

Myers missed from 53 yards toward the open end of the stadium which is a more difficult direction to kick. But his 44-yard miss in the first half in the opposite direction was a more costly miss in the grand scheme of how the game played out. ...

The Seahawks' backfield has been marred by injuries recently, and Collins was a game-time decision himself despite having the extra day of rest due to Monday Night Football. Perhaps the veteran back wasn't at 100 percent, considering how poorly he performed in a lackluster offensive effort from Seattle. While this performance doesn't inspire confidence, Collins is likely to receive another start -- assuming improved health -- in a favorable matchup against the Jaguars in Week 8 while Chris Carson (neck) remains on IR.

That said, he may not get the lion's share of carries like he has been given the recent return of Rashaad Penny (six carries Monday).

After DK Metcalf won a one-on-one against Marshon Lattimore for an 84-yard touchdown, he caught just one more pass on the night. Tyler Lockett caught just two passes for 12 yards. ...

On the injury front. .. Carroll said defensive back Marquise Blair fractured his kneecap Monday night and will "have to get that cleaned up." Blair had been splitting nickelback duties with Ugo Amadi, who figures to take over that role. Carroll said he's counting on defensive end Darrell Taylor (neck) and left guard Damien Lewis (shoulder) to play against Jacksonville after both were inactive Monday night.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Chris Carson
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

Tom Brady had one memento he wanted back from a fan in the stands and one he wanted to give his biggest little fan after his latest historic performance.

Both of the Brady admirers left Raymond James Stadium happy and sporting swag on the day Brady led Tampa Bay's 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears and became the first player in NFL history to throw for 600 touchdowns.

Mike Evans grabbed touchdown No. 600 with six seconds remaining in the first quarter and promptly dropped the ball to flex. He quickly chased down the ball, but not to hand it back to Brady.

Instead, he gave it to a fan in the end zone seats, then briefly celebrated with his quarterback before both jogged back to the Bucs' sideline.

Evans, who would catch two more touchdown throws from Brady in the game Sunday, was caught off-guard once he returned to the sideline and realized what he'd done.

"I gave the football away!" he told coach Bruce Arians, a look of dismay rushing across his face as he sat on the Buccaneers bench.

Arians joked after the game that he told Evans he was going to have to offer the fan two jerseys to get Brady's ball back.

"And he said, 'Does he really want that ball?" Arians recounted. "And I said, 'I'm getting he wants that ball.'"

Good bet.

"It's really cool. I got it in the bag over there," Brady said after the game. "Mike gave it away and said: 'Man, I'm sorry.' I said, that's all right, I'm sure they'll figure out a way to get it back."

A team official retrieved the football from the fan in exchange for another game ball and other goodies.

"I don't actually keep too many things. In that circumstance, I just felt like that might be a good one to keep," Brady said.

Told that the fan gladly returned the memento, explaining he couldn't possibly say no to Brady, the quarterback replied, "That's pretty cool. He's going to get something nice in return, so we'll get him a helmet or a couple of jerseys or some other stuff. So, it was really cool of him to do that."

On Monday night, Peyton and Eli Manning had Brady as their guest on their ESPN2 "Monday Night Football" telecast to banter back and forth with the seven-time champ.

Peyton Manning teased Brady about Evans' regretful giveaway of the historic football, asking him if he got it back. Yes, Brady said.

"Is the ball in Canton or have you made it into an NFT?" Manning cracked.

Brady isn't just the all-time leader in touchdown throws. He also is the season leader with 21 TD tosses to go with just three interceptions in seven games, so far.

At age 44, he's off to one of the best starts of his storied career, and at 6-1 the Buccaneers are off to the best seven-game start in franchise history.

Going back to last season, when the Bucs won their last four regular-season games and all four playoff games, Tampa Bay has won 14 of its last 15 games.

The only blemish in that stretch was a 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 26 in which Brady threw for 432 yards.

Of course it's not all Brady.

Sure, he threw four touchdown passes -- three of them to Evans -- to hit the milestone (he also now has five multi-TD games this season). But Leonard Fournette tacked on a fifth TD on the ground, while the Bucs' defense sacked rookie quarterback Justin Fields four times and intercepted him three times to defeat the Chicago Bears.

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine suggested, the only gripe, if there is one, is that the Bucs put up 35 in the first half and only managed to score three in the second, and Bruce Arians has been adamant about not taking their foot off the gas.

Laine went on to suggest it's fair to wonder if anyone will beat the Bucs again this season.

Tampa Bay may not have any cornerbacks left by season's end, as Dee Delaney left the game with an ankle injury and Jamel Dean left the game twice with an injury - but the Bucs' schedule is very favorable from here on out, with the New Orleans Saints giving them possibly their biggest scare next week on the road.

But after that, they have a bye, Washington, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Saints, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Panthers.

So if they get by the Saints, Buffalo (4-2) would likely be their biggest hurdle. ...

On the injury front. ... Tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered broken ribs during a Week 3 loss to the Rams. He has missed four games.

Will he be back for Sunday's showdown at New Orleans?

"I would hope that Gronk could be ready to go," Arians told reporters on Monday.

And Gronkowski was spotted Wednesday during the portion open to the media.

The four-time All-Pro was off to a fast start in 2021, catching two scores in each of the first two games. Gronk was a team co-leader in touchdowns until Evans' three-TD outburst this past weekend.

He's not the only prominent Bucs player on the mend. Linebacker Lavonte David, who's missed the past two games with an ankle sprain, and cornerback Richard Sherman, who missed the last one, returned to practice. Wide receiver Scott Miller, who's on IR with a turf toe injury, ran on the side. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Dee Delaney, both of whom exited Week 7 early, participated as well.

Conversely, wide receiver Antonio Brown was in attendance but using crutches. Brown has been out since suffering an ankle injury in Week 6.

Arians told reporters that Brown has an ankle sprain near his heel, and when asked if the veteran receiver could be back after the bye for Week 10, the coach said they don’t know and it could be more or a long-term issue. That would be a major development.

I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, Scott Miller, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport reported it, "Kansas City Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill crept towards the line of scrimmage as Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill went through his cadence at Nissan Stadium on Sunday. It was clear what the Chiefs' defense was looking to do.

"Kansas City (3-4) wanted to initially show Tannehill a two-safety look, perhaps to bribe him into checking to a running play which would play right into the hands of Thornhill dropping into the box at the last minute. Tannehill instead stuck with the play that was delivered to him by offensive coordinator Todd Downing, a play-action pass to wide receiver A.J. Brown. ..."

Davenport went on to explain the Chiefs' defense was focused on stopping league-leading running back Derrick Henry in the 27-3 loss, which generated single coverage for Brown on the outside. Brown was easily able to get inside position while running a route across the middle and haul in the pass, leading to a 10-yard gain.

"Got one-on-one matchups there when that happened, and our guys made plays," Tannehill said. "If teams are going to try to take away Derrick by stacking in the box, then you have to be able to win on the outside."

The play served as a launching point for the Titans' offense, which exploded for 27 points in the first half. Brown finished the half with six receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown -- much different from last week against the Buffalo Bills when he didn't have a catch in the first half.

"I was just trying to make a play each and every time the ball came to me," Brown said.

Getting off to a fast start was something the offense as a whole felt was necessary because it was going against a potent Chiefs offense. The 27-0 lead, however, was the largest deficit the Chiefs have faced since 2016, when they trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-0 at halftime.

Henry entered Sunday's contest riding a five-game streak in which he rushed for 100 or more yards. He finished with 86 yards on 29 carries, so in theory, the Chiefs' defense slowed him down. But it opened things up for the passing game.

Head coach Mike Vrabel added, "They defended the run well, but we were able to hit some plays down the field. We talked about beating match coverage, and guys did that."

Tannehill completed his final 10 passes last week against the Bills and completed his first 11 Sunday, giving him 21 consecutive completions before a pass to wide receiver Julio Jones fell incomplete in the second quarter.

The stacked boxes that Kansas City utilized to slow Henry down made it imperative for the Titans' receivers to take advantage of the single coverage they faced as a result.

That's exactly what Brown did, to the tune of eight receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown.

The best play of the day came when Tannehill and Brown connected for a 46-yard pitch-and-catch. Tannehill threw a perfect pass, dropping it right over Brown's shoulder so he could haul it in after jostling for position as he ran down the sideline.

Tannehill finished the day 21-of-27 passing for 270 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed twice for six yards and another score.

As Davenport pointed out, Tannehill and Brown have heated up over the past couple of weeks. Brown has reeled in 15 of the 18 passes that Tannehill has thrown his way. The 15 receptions have yielded 224 yards and a touchdown.

Sunday marked Brown's best game this season. But Brown isn't satisfied.

"It means nothing," Brown said. "I tell myself I haven't done anything. I've got to keep getting better, got to keep working. I'm on to the next."

Next up is a road trip to face a hot Indianapolis Colts (3-4) team that has won three of four games since the Titans (5-2) beat them 25-16 in Week 3. A win Sunday would give the Titans a three-game lead in the AFC South over the second-placed Colts.

Davenport reminded readers the Colts have struggled to stop Henry, who has rushed for more than 100 yards against them in four straight games, so for Brown, who has yet to post a 100-yard receiving performance in the five times he's played the Colts, this could be his breakout if the Colts try to mimic what the Chiefs did.

The following week the Titans will visit Los Angeles for a prime-time game, and the Rams (6-1) currently are the team with the best record remaining on Tennessee's schedule.

On the injury front. ... Much like last week, Jones (hamstring) was did not practice Wednesday.

I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Left guard Rodger Saffold returned after hurting his thigh. Left tackle Kendall Lamm, starting with Taylor Lewan out because of a concussion, hurt an ankle and didn't return. Right guard Nate Davis also left the game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Jeremy McNichols, D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, Khari Blasingame, Darrynton Evans, Derrick Henry
WRs: Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Dez Fitzpatrick, Racey McMath, Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Cameron Batson
TEs: Geoff Swaim, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 26 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno noted, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't walking through that door any time soon, which means Washington will continue to roll with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback with the season slipping away.

Head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that Fitzpatrick would have an MRI on his injured right hip in a couple of weeks, which would then allow the team to set a course for the 38-year-old's return.

Rivera has never given a timeframe for Fitzpatrick to be back, though reports indicated it was a six-to-eight week injury, which would have had him playing sooner rather than later.

Instead, Heinicke turned in another inconsistent performance in a 24-10 loss on the road against the Green Bay Packers and is expected to make his eighth career NFL start Sunday at the Denver Broncos. Rivera believes Heinicke's "inexperience is showing," which is the opposite of Fitzpatrick in his 17th pro season.

"When he plays to his personality, to me, you can see the positive: You see his ability to move the team. You see his ability to make plays," Rivera said of Heinicke. "When you see him play cautious, I think he has a tendency to make mistakes. He's prone to those things."

Heinicke was 25 of 37 for 268 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also fumbled on a QB sneak on fourth-and-goal, and his knee was down just before the goal line on what he thought was a rushing TD and celebrated with a Lambeau leap.

"I don't want to get into specifics, but I felt like I was in both times," Heinicke said. "I don't want to get fined up here, so I'm not going to get into specifics about that."

Rivera asked the league for an explanation, but the fact is Washington is 2-5 and on the verge of playing for next year. He won't go that far yet.

"I know the expectations were high coming into this year, and the truth of the matter is we haven't lived up to those," Rivera said.

"We still have 10 games left to play, obviously, and anything can happen if you take them one at a time. What I'm hoping for and looking for is for us to start playing consistent football, better football."

Fortunately, Washington has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin, which is a boost no matter who's the QB this season and next. McLaurin had seven catches for 122 yards and a TD against Green Bay and provides a stable option in the passing game every week,

In addition, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has made the most of his promotion in Logan Thomas' absence. He had six more catches in the Packers game and should be part of Washington's offense even after Thomas returns.

Speaking of that. ... Rivera said Thomas, who missed the past three games with a hamstring injury, is getting "closer and closer" to returning.

Thomas is eligible to be activated off injured reserve, but could be given the bye week to recover and target the Nov. 14 game against Tampa Bay.

Right guard Brandon Scherff (knee), WR Curtis Samuel (groin) and WR Dyami Brown were also out.

Scherff, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury and did not practice at all in the weeks leading up to those games, returned to the practice field Wednesday.

McLaurin was not on the field to welcome Scherff back, however. He’s been playing through a hamstring injury and also missed practice last Wednesday. This week, an ankle injury is the issue.

Samuel and Brown remained out for Washington. Their status will be determined later this week, but it's a good bet they could both miss the Broncos game -- although Brown is believed to have sustained no major structural damage.

Running back Antonio Gibson continues to play through a shin injury that includes a stress fracture. He was limited Wednesday along with Seals-Jones (quad). Cam Sims (hamstring) was also limited.

I'll obviously be following up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, Washington better win Sunday at Denver to avoid falling to 2-6. The Broncos are 3-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, in Washington's final game before its bye week.

"This is a game that is, I think, very important going into the bye," Rivera said. "It could really set the tone and tempo for us going into it and something we can build on as we come out of the bye."

Back to the quarterback situation. ... Rivera reiterated on 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday that the team didn't want to mortgage their future to move up the draft board for a rookie that they couldn't support with a strong core of offensive players. Rivera said he feels that the team has made progress on that front, but acknowledged that you're "not paying attention" if you aren't always looking for the quarterback who can take the offense where they want it to go.

"Constantly," Rivera said. "That's something you always talk about. Until you get one, you're always going to be looking."

Rivera said he gets weekly updates on college prospects and that there are some the team likes along with some players already in the league. He was asked about Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and couldn't answer specifically due to tampering rules, but said generally that "we're not in position where we're playing for the now."

The answers may be different come the offseason because Washington needs to find a lasting solution at the most important position on the offense.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, DeAndre Carter, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes