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Team Notes week 16 2022
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
First, Kyler Murray went down. Then Colt McCoy.
The quarterback depth chart is getting thinner.
According to Kevin Parrish Jr. of the team's official website, a day after McCoy entered the concussion protocol after getting hurt during the Cardinals' 24-15 loss to the Broncos in Denver, coach Kliff Kingsbury said the team would "err on the side of caution" whether they would use McCoy going forward.
On Wednesday, he took that a step further by ruling McCoy out for this week's game.
That means third-stringer Trace McSorley will be the starter Christmas night on national TV against the Buccaneers, with David Blough -- just signed last week -- as his backup.
Preparing them each for playing time no one expected seven days ago is the goal now.
"The biggest thing is for them not having those reps during the week," Kingsbury said. "You want to give them stuff they feel comfortable with; we have two different scripts we go into: one is with their plays and one with the starters' plays that they highlight throughout the week.
"We try to tailor it to what they like and feel comfortable with when they go in. It's never easy for guys in that spot to hit it on the run and try to execute, but it's part of the job."
Kingsbury acknowledged during a radio appearance on the "Wolf and Luke" show on Arizona Sports that McCoy briefly blacked out following the injury, which came when McCoy was trying to run for a first down on third-and-1, eschewing a handoff to running back James Conner to try and earn the yard himself.
After replacing McCoy, McSorley led Arizona to a field goal to give Arizona a 9-3 lead, but the Broncos scored the next 21 points.
"When I first got in it was just operate the offense," McSorley said. "Move the ball, get us in position where we can get a field goal. That was my mindset going into it. First thing was hoping Colt was OK."
McSorley finished 7 of 15 for 95 yards and two interceptions, the first of which Justin Simmons returned to the Cardinals 10. Denver scored two plays later to make it 24-9. McSorley led Arizona on a 78-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Kingsbury believes McSorley will play better and can if he avoids negative plays.
"The few times he's got in, it's been without any reps (in practice)," Kingsbury said. "If he can get some reps throughout the week if he ends up starting, I think it will help.
"He just has to stay away from the turnovers and first- and second-down sacks. If we can stay on the schedule against this Tampa Bay front, that will help our chances."
The Cardinals have had injuries at several other positions, including wide receiver and offensive line, all season. That's how they entered Sunday as the team with the second-most players used, behind just the Tennessee Titans.
Having a revolving door at quarterback does not help.
"It's difficult, I guess, but that's the game," Conner said. "There have been moving pieces everywhere on our team. QB, receivers, even running back for a time, when I was hurt. You can say it's difficult but that's the easy way out. That's the game of football. You have to step up."
The Cardinals (4-10) were eliminated from the playoffs and are one step closer to a top-five pick, their first since 2019, when they drafted Murray No. 1 overall. Sunday's loss to the Broncos was all but a blueprint highlighting the areas Arizona needs to address.
Based on Sunday's loss, what are Arizona's biggest needs in the 2023 NFL draft? There are a handful of positions that Arizona could upgrade with the draft but, most notably, the Cardinals need help on the offensive line, cornerback and a playmaker, most likely a wide receiver. ...
Also of interest. ... Conner recorded 16 rushes for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos. He added three receptions on five targets for 28 yards.
Conner accounted for 16 of Arizona's 17 carries by running backs, though he was largely held in check. He did manage to break free for a 14-yard run early in the third quarter and also tallied a 16-yard reception midway to account for his longest gains of the day.
Conner also punched in a late touchdown from one yard away -- his seventh score of the season.
As CBSSports.com suggests, Conner may find it difficult to find running room without Murray under center, but the veteran halfback is healthy and has seen at least 15 rushing attempts in four of his last five games. ...
In a semi-related note. ... ESPN's Field Yates reports the Cardinals hosted former Rams and Jaguars RB Darrell Henderson Jr on a free agent visit Tuesday. ...
Finally. ... Matt Prater booted three field goals, including from 50- and 55-yards in the place he once called home. ...
You can access complete stats for the Cardinals Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Dobbs, Clayton Tune, Kyler Murray
RBs: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Emari Demercado
WRs: Marquise Brown, Zach Pascal, Rondale Moore, Michael Wilson, Greg Dortch
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to Tori McElhaney of the team's official website, before Desmond Ridder ever took his first snap for the Falcons in Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Saints, Arthur Smith wanted to make one thing clear to the young quarterback.
On Saturday, Smith told Ridder this game -- regardless of its outcome or Ridder's performance in it -- is a step in his journey, not the final destination.
"I told Desmond yesterday whether he threw for 400 yards or he threw for 100 it wasn't going to define his career," Smith said. "There's a lot to learn from. The thing is that I saw him operate, procedure-wise, he had a lot of command. The next step is we have to continue to find solutions and make more plays."
Ridder finished his first NFL game 13-of-26 through the air. His 50 percent completion rate kept him three yards shy of surpassing 100 passing yards on the day. He was sacked four times.
In terms of production, there is much to improve. That much is obvious.
In what has become a theme for this 2022 Falcons team, the run game outpaced the pass game creating a lopsided offensive attack. Tyler Allgeier should have been the story of the game, what with his first 100-plus rushing yard day. But inefficiencies in the pass game and a slow defensive start kept eyes focused elsewhere.
When thinking back on the game immediately following its end, Ridder broke down the game through his vantage point. When asked what grade he would give himself, Ridder said a C-minus or a D.
Ridder -- like most rookie quarterbacks in their first starts -- came out a little too hot and amped. He tried to connect on a few deep passes early, only to miss the mark. That was the first thing Ridder said he hopes to improve upon. It's what immediately stuck out to him as something he will go back to.
He tried to be too perfect early, he said, and Smith added he could feel Ridder pressing. The quarterback said it wasn't until after the Falcons first drives that he settled in.
"In that first drive you have the emotions, you have everything going," Ridder said. "You get out there and you want to be perfect and go down on the first drive, 75 yards and score a touchdown. Obviously, that's not how it went."
No. It wasn't.
Instead the Falcons went three-and-out, and they didn't find much offensive success in the first half at all, not scoring their first touchdown until the start of the second half. By that point, the Falcons had gotten the run game going, which Ridder and Smith said took the pressure off the pass game at times.
"(Allgeier) is not a speed guy but when you hand the ball off you expect that he's going to make that one guys miss. It's going to take more than one guy to tackle him and bring him down," Ridder said. "That's almost a security for (me) to kind of hand the ball off and just know that he's going to get positive yards."
That security blanket -- along with some key defensive stops -- did allow the Falcons to stay in the game, but ultimately not pull it out.
It's important to note, though, that this start for Ridder was as much about evaluating where he's at as well as what he can do as it was anything else.
So, what did the Falcons learn about Ridder?
For starters, Smith said he learned that Ridder is "not afraid of the moment."
"He came out amped up but as he settled in he corrected that," Smith said. "That's a step in the right direction."
Something Smith really stuck on postgame was Ridder's command of the huddle. The Falcons -- as a team -- were only penalized three times through all four quarters. Not a single one of those three penalties were procedural on the part of the offense, nor were they pre-snap penalties. That's a testament to Ridder according to Smith, and players in the locker room, too.
When it comes to how the Falcons move forward with him it's about refining him, not changing him. The intangibles are there. The rest of his game -- particularly accuracy in the pass game -- just needs to catch up.
In terms of problems to have, there are worse ones.
"He's not scared of the moment, "Smith reiterated. "He was poised. And it wasn't perfect in a lot of ways, we'll look at the tape, but I like what he's made up of."
Next up, the Falcons will have a short week of practice before playing at Baltimore on Saturday. The Ravens (9-5) are only one game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North. As one of three NFC South teams tied for second at 5-9, the Falcons remain one game behind Tampa Bay (6-8), despite three consecutive losses. ...
Worth noting. ... Allgeier had a career-high 139 rushing yards and one touchdown. Though Cordarrelle Patterson remains the starter and provides added value as a return specialist and receiver out of the backfield, ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein and Associated Press sports writer Charles Odum both contend Allgeier is looking more like a potential back of the future after averaging 8.2 yards per carry.
For perspective, William Andrews, who ran for 167 yards against New Orleans in his 1979 debut, is the only player to rush for more yards as a rookie for Atlanta. ...
A late fumble in this game aside, rookie receiver Drake London continues to emerge as Atlanta's top receiver. He had seven catches for 70 yards, giving him 13 catches for 165 yards in his last two games.
Smith stressed Monday he remains confident in London, the team's first-round draft pick this year.
No other wide receiver had a catch against the Saints. Each of Atlanta's six other receptions came from tight end MyCole Pruitt (two) and running backs. ...
On the injury front. ... Rookie running back Caleb Huntley, who is fourth on the team with 366 rushing yards, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the loss; he was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. Another rookie, Avery Williams, could have more carries behind Allgeier and Patterson the remainder of the season.
You can access complete stats for the Falcons Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Ogbonnaya
WRs: Drake London, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, when quarterback Lamar Jackson resumes his contract talks with the Ravens this offseason, Saturday's 13-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns could help his cause in negotiations.
The struggling Ravens offense hit rock bottom with Jackson sidelined with a knee injury and backup Tyler Huntley unable to make plays in the passing game. Baltimore scored its fewest points in a regular-season game in 14 years and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2018 (before Jackson became the starting quarterback).
The realistic return date for Jackson is Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. It remains to be seen whether increased scoring will return with him.
Since Jackson's injury -- which occurred in the first quarter of Baltimore's 10-9 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 13 -- the Ravens have totaled two touchdowns in three games.
The last time the Ravens recorded a touchdown pass was Nov. 27, when Jackson hit tight end Josh Oliver in Jacksonville. Without Jackson, Baltimore has been held to 16 points or fewer in three straight games for the first time since 2000.
But Hensley was quick to point out it wasn't like Jackson was tearing up the league like he was during his 2019 NFL MVP season.
Over his last nine games, Jackson threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. There were still issues with scoring in the red zone and stretching the field in the passing game. There's also the question about whether Jackson will be limited while dealing with this knee injury.
Asked if Jackson's return will fix the passing game, head coach John Harbaugh said, "We'll see (about) all that. We have a quarterback sitting here [Huntley]. This guy knows what he's doing. He's very much capable of doing all the things that we need to do in the passing game. It's not that; it's everything else. We have to improve on all those things."
As Hensley laid them out, here are issues that are out of Jackson's control when he gets back:
"We are frustrated for sure," said Dobbins, who ran for 125 yards on 13 carries. "It is on us, though. It is not on any of the coaches. We are not making the plays. We are not scoring touchdowns, and somebody has to score them. I take ownership in that, too, because I am not scoring the long ones whenever they are there. I have to do that. It is on me. I have to do that, and I have to be a sparkplug."
The Ravens (9-5) dropped to second place in the AFC North after their loss at the Browns and the Bengals' win in Tampa Bay. It marks the first time all season that Baltimore isn't atop the division or at least own a share of first place.
With the postseason quickly approaching, the Ravens need Jackson, along with their confidence on offense, to return as soon as possible. Baltimore's final three games are home against the Falcons and Steelers before finishing the regular season at the Bengals.
That said, Jackson remained out of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those absences don't provide much confidence that he'll be able to play against the Falcons this Saturday.
Huntley will remain the starter if Jackson is indeed unable to play.
Dobbins also didn't practice, but the team says it was a rest day.
Adding to the worries, the Ravens have placed wide receiver Devin Duvernay on injured reserve, and brought back veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins, claiming him off waivers after he was released by the Green Bay Packers Monday.
Duvernay suffered a foot injury early in Tuesday's practice and limped off the field. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Duvernay suffered a broken bone in his foot. He faces a recovery time of about two months. He should make a full recovery for 2023.
Duvernay caught 37 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns this season. He also rushed 12 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. Duvernay also serves as the Ravens' kickoff and punt returner, a role that earned him a place in the Pro Bowl last season.
After a hot start to the year with three touchdowns in his first three games, Duvernay hasn't posted more than 50 receiving yards since Week 6. Still, he's been a key piece in the Ravens' offense, and started 13 of 14 games. With Duvernay out, the Ravens may need Watkins to immediately step into a significant role
Watkins, 29, caught 27 passes for 394 yards and one touchdown last season in Baltimore. Injuries limited him to just 13 games, as they have been an issue for the former first-round pick throughout his career.
Watkins signed with the Packers this offseason and played in nine games (three starts), making 13 catches for 206 yards. The emergence of rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, along with leading receiver Allen Lazard and veteran Randall Cobb, meant little action for Watkins and ultimately his release.
The Ravens are looking to improve a passing attack that has struggled in recent weeks. Watkins has familiarity with the Ravens' offense and could be called upon to make some critical plays down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs.
I'll have more on Jackson, Dobbins and the receiving corps via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Mark Andrews led all Ravens with just 31 receiving yards. Demarcus Robinson had six catches but they went for just 29 yards. Huntley is a rhythm passer and the Ravens surely wanted to negate the Browns' pass rush and let their quarterback get into a rhythm. But the lack of anything down the field is putting too much stress on the entire operation. ...
Justin Tucker made a 53-yard field goal, the 355th of his career, in the second quarter to move ahead of Matt Stover for the most in club history. But on the final play of the half, with a chance to tie it at 6, Tucker hooked a 48-yard try.
Then, early in the fourth, Tucker's 48-yard attempt was blocked by Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott. It was the first time he missed two kicks in four years, and the 33-year-old felt the need after the game to hold himself accountable.
"As someone who feels like I am a leader in this locker room, I think that is the example that needs to be set," he said. "Any time any one of us feels like we fall short, we do acknowledge it."
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey appreciated Tucker's words, but didn't think they were necessary.
"Everybody in the locker room was like, 'Don't ever say that again,'" Humphrey said. "He has won us too many games. He's the best for a reason. There's never a time when Justin Tucker loses us a game. He's great.
"That is the last person I think anyone is worried about at all. ..."
One last item here. ... Cornerback Marcus Peters had to leave Saturday's loss to the Browns with a calf injury and did not return. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Peters suffered a calf strain and is likely to miss time. But he should return sooner than later.
You can access complete stats for the Ravens Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
RBs: Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg recounted, on the second play of the Buffalo Bills' game-winning drive against the Miami Dolphins, the offense moved backward thanks to a sack on quarterback Josh Allen.
Facing second-and-18 at their own 13-yard line, the Bills needed to make some big plays or be forced to give the ball back to the Dolphins with limited time remaining but likely in good field position with the score tied. Instead, Allen connected with wide receiver Gabe Davis on a 15-yard pass, and the Bills' offense navigated downfield, taking all of the remaining 5 minutes, 56 seconds off the clock on a 15-play, 65-yard drive.
Helped by a defensive pass interference call on third down in Miami territory, the game came down to a 25-yard field goal attempt, which Tyler Bass booted through the uprights after Bills players helped dust off a spot in the snow for him.
The kick clinched a 32-29 win over the Dolphins and, for a Bills team with title aspirations, a fourth straight season with a playoff appearance. It also gave Buffalo its third straight campaign with 11-plus wins, the second-longest streak in franchise history (four straight from 1990 to 1993). The celebrations commenced with Bass and several players sliding in the snow to celebrate.
"It took everything we had to pull this one out tonight," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "It just makes it special. ... You know, like I said, humbling. Really, that's how I feel about it. Humbled to be a part of it in this great town that doesn't get as much credit as it deserves, honestly. And the fans, I mean, this place is unique. So, just awesome. Awesome."
Trailing by eight points early in the fourth quarter, the Bills tied the score on their second-to-last drive, thanks in large part to a 44-yard run by Allen on a quarterback draw that put Buffalo inside the Dolphins' 20. Allen's long run was the highlight of the Bills' revitalized rushing attack in the fourth quarter.
They ran for 99 yards in the final 15 minutes after rushing for 51 yards in the first three quarters combined.
Allen, who Wednesday was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, finished with a team-best 77 yards on 10 carries and also threw four touchdowns passes, all of which went to running backs and tight ends, including a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Dawson Knox on the game-tying drive. Allen then dove for the 2-point conversion that followed.
The Bills remain atop the AFC with an 11-3 record, with games against the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots remaining.
But the sights are now set on hosting many more games in Orchard Park.
"That's the No. 1 thing Coach McDermott preaches, is playoff-caliber; can't win the Super Bowl unless you make the playoffs," Allen said. "So that's goal No. 1 down. Goal No. 2 now is to clinch the division. That's how we'll take it. We'll take it one game at a time. Be ready for next week."
According to Getzenberg, the big question going forward is can the tight ends and running backs be involved in the passing attack consistently?
All four of the Bills' receiving touchdowns went to a running back or a tight end, which marked a career high for Allen. Knox was involved in the passing game in a way he hasn't been all season, finishing as the team's leading receiver with 98 yards.
Getting Knox -- along with running backs Nyheim Hines and James Cook -- involved in the passing game should open the door to more opportunities for those players and benefit the offense moving forward.
As Allen said, "That's what makes an offense scary and dangerous, when you know at any point any of these guys can catch the ball and make a play."
As noted above, they'll get their next opportunity to build on that against the Bears in Chicago this Saturday. ...
On the injury front. ... Allen has not missed time with the right elbow injury he suffered back in the Week 9 loss to the Jets.
But on Tuesday, he was listed as a limited participant in practice due to the elbow issue for the first time in several weeks.
Allen threw 40 times in Saturday's victory over Miami, completing 25 passes for 304 yards with the aforementioned four touchdowns and 10 carries, taking some punishing hits along the way.
The Bills last listed Allen as limited in practice the day before Buffalo played the Lions on Thanksgiving.
Center Mitch Morse (concussion), defensive end Boogie Basham (calf), safety Jordan Poyer (knee/rest), and guard Rodger Saffold (knee/rest) did not practice on Tuesday.
Linebacker Matt Milano (knee), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (shoulder), and guard Ryan Bates (ankle) were limited.
Cornerback Cam Lewis (forearm) and defensive end A.J. Epenesa (elbow) were full.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
You can access complete stats for the Bills Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Allen, Kyle Allen
RBs: James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Reggie Gilliam
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Trent Sherfield, Khalil Shakir, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed reminded readers, the Carolina Panthers have boasted the last few weeks about finding an identity on offense by playing smash-mouth football.
That identity was stolen on Sunday by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The run-happy Panthers, who racked up 223 yards on the ground in a 30-24 win at Seattle last week, were held to 21 yards rushing on 16 carries on Sunday -- the fifth-lowest total in franchise history -- in a 24-16 loss to the Steelers.
D'Onta Foreman, who has carried the load in the running game, was limited to 9 yards on 10 carries.
Worth noting: Their 46 offensive snaps were the fewest for Carolina's offense since Week 6 (44) against the Rams.
Chuba Hubbard played 63 percent of the snaps, his most since Week 6 of the 2021 season. Foreman only had 14 snaps, his fewest since Week 6 at Los Angeles.
With no running game to lean on, Carolina's play-action passing game was nullified and Sam Darnold only found the end zone once while being sacked four times.
The No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft made some nice throws at times, including going 6 of 7 for 92 yards on Carolina's lone touchdown drive, which culminated in a 5-yard toss to wide receiver D.J. Moore.
But the positive plays were few and far between.
The Panthers converted 4 of 11 third downs and settled for three field goals in the second half.
"On the offensive side of the ball, we couldn't create any momentum," Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks said. "Didn't establish the run game at all. We've got to do a much better job in our protection and giving Sam an opportunity to be able to go through his progressions to get down the field."
When the Steelers opened the second half with a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that took 11:43 off the clock, the Panthers were down 21-7 -- a tough spot for a run-first team.
Given their roster construction and instability at quarterback, the Panthers aren't equipped to put up points in a hurry by passing.
Darnold was a clean 14-of-23 passing for 225 yards with a touchdown, for a 108.1 passer rating and his third straight game without a turnover. Early in the game, he was impeccable, completing six of his first seven passes for 93 yards and a score (a perfect 158.3 rating at that point).
"I think with the way we are able to run the ball, any teams that are able to run the ball, you see more one-high coverage," Darnold said. "So that's when our chances come to be able to take shots up top. We have to be able to hit them. That's another thing that we have to do is be able to hit those shots when they come."
The Panthers didn't have as many shots late, as the Steelers had an extreme time of possession advantage (36:11-23:49), and took the air out of the game with a nearly 12-minute drive to start the third quarter. It also didn't help that the Panthers had just 21 rushing yards (their fewest in a decade) on only 16 attempts (at least 30 fewer than they had in recent wins over the Falcons, Broncos and Seahawks).
Wilks said Monday that Darnold will remain the starting QB on Saturday against the Lions.
P.J. Walker is the other option at quarterback.
When the Panthers went to formations using an extra offensive lineman, the Steelers countered by bringing in DeMarvin Leal as an additional defensive lineman. They also brought a safety into the box, daring Carolina to beat them through the air.
"They did a good job of stopping our run game and getting pressure," Darnold said.
Darnold expects teams will follow the Steelers' plan to stop the run, but he insists Carolina can make adjustments.
"We are a better team than what we showed today," Darnold said. "Obviously, we have a short week, we have a game on Saturday. We have to watch the tape tomorrow, and then we'll be watching some film of the guys we got. It was a tough one today and a lot to learn from but at the same time we have a short week, so we have to flush it quick."
Whatever the case, the loss assured the Panthers won't have a winning season for the fifth straight year -- but they still will win the NFC South and a playoff berth if they beat Detroit, Tampa Bay and New Orleans the final three weeks.
This week's opponent, Detroit, which has gone from 1-6 to 7-7, may be the toughest challenge.
Carolina already has beaten Tampa Bay 21-3 and New Orleans 22-14, so there will be positive feelings going into those games even though they're on the road.
Should Carolina win out and finish 8-9, it would own the tiebreaker with a division-best 5-1 record.
But winning three games in a row after Sunday's embarrassment in front of a home crowd dominated by Steelers fans won't be easy unless Carolina fixes its issues.
Wilks, to his credit, compared the loss to the 42-21 setback to Cincinnati in Week 9, reminding us that Carolina bounced back with a 25-15 victory against Atlanta the next week.
"We have to hit the reset button," Wilks said. "Don't allow it to get in the way, you know. We have been down this road before. ... So we have to find a way as coaches and the men in the locker room to make plays, and we have to do a much better job of putting them in position to make plays.
"There is nothing we can do about this game. This is behind us. ..."
Worth noting. ... Eddy Pineiro, last week's NFC special teams player of the week, followed up by going 3 for 3 on field goal attempts Sunday, including a 52-yarder. He has now made 14 straight field goals and 10 of 11 extra points since a disastrous outing in a 37-34 overtime loss the Falcons in which he missed two kicks -- one field goal and one extra point -- that would have won the game. Pineiro is having a career year in Carolina, converting 93.3 percent of his field goals since taking over for the injured Zane Gonzalez. That's third best in the league.
On the injury front. ... Starting cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Jaycee Horn both made an appearance on the Panthers injury report on Tuesday.
Henderson was a full participant in practice after injuring his ankle in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers. Henderson only played four snaps before departing, but his participation level suggests there's not much concern about his fitness for this week's matchup with the Lions.
Horn played every defensive snap against Pittsburgh, but he was a limited participant due to a shoulder issue on Tuesday.
Right tackle Taylor Moton was the only Panthers player who didn't practice. He took a rest day.
Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (hamstring), tight end Ian Thomas (thigh), and safety Myles Hartsfield (ankle) were limited participants.
And finally. ... Kick returner Andre Roberts was designated for return from injured reserve on Tuesday. He can be activated at any point in the final three weeks, so he could be in the lineup against the Lions this weekend.
Roberts injured his knee in the season opener and has not played in the last 13 games. He returned one punt for 10 yards and two kickoffs for 35 yards in that game.
While he's made a modest contribution to the Panthers, Roberts is a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro as a returner and having him in the lineup would give the Panthers a chance of making a big play in the kicking game before the season is over. ...
You can access complete stats for the Panthers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Jonathan Mingo, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Giovanni Ricci
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, Justin Fields wore Michael Vick's brand of cleats during his formative years as a football player. For a kid growing up in Atlanta and rooting for the hometown Falcons, some of Fields' earliest memories of the NFL were watching Vick carve up defenses with his arm and his legs while changing the perception of the quarterback position.
Sixteen years removed from Vick becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Fields ran his way into elite company.
With 95 rushing yards in the Bears' 25-20 loss to the Eagles on Sunday, Fields joined Vick (2006) and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson (2019, 2020) as the only NFL quarterbacks to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a single season.
Fields achieved that feat in 12 games.
Fields' most recent achievement came weeks after he recorded six straight games with a rushing touchdown, the longest streak by a QB since 1950, and became the first quarterback to notch three rushing touchdowns of 50-plus yards in a season.
Despite the Bears' losing streak stretching to seven, Fields continues to be nothing but electric. He's given teammates, coaches, fans and fantasy managers something to invest in weekly.
With each jaw-dropping run and his ability to keep plays alive, Fields has injected hope into a team with its eyes on the future.
"Justin impresses the world," Bears wide receiver Byron Pringle said. "That's no question about Justin. You never know what you're going to get. I grew up watching Michael Vick, and he can move just like him. You never know. Justin can throw it, he can run it, he can beat you. He's strong. He's a strong individual when he's running the ball."
Cronin went on to suggest that every week it feels as though Fields one-ups himself.
While the play didn't result in a touchdown because he stepped out of bounds at the Eagles' 9-yard line, the Bears quarterback recorded a 39-yard run on a second-and-27 scramble that was so mystifying with the way he wrangled his way out of linebacker Haason Reddick's grasp.
"That's pretty impressive when you can rush like that, and a lot of those coming from ad-lib and whatnot," tight end Cole Kmet said. "The way he's able to run through arm tackles and all those things down the field is pretty cool. When you've got a guy like that, he's always fighting, and you know you've got a chance."
What Fields has accomplished 25 games into his career is remarkable, but setting a rushing record was never the main goal for the Bears quarterback.
"I really wasn't even this good of a rusher in college," Fields said. "I didn't run this much in college. This rushing thing just kind of picked up this year."
Indeed, as Cronin reminded readers, between his three seasons at Georgia and Ohio State, Fields ran for a total of 1,133 yards and 19 touchdowns. Entering the 2021 NFL draft, Fields was lauded for his dual-threat capabilities but was considered more of a pocket passer who could extend plays or use his legs to win when needed.
At times this season, the Bears have felt like a one-man offense with Fields leading the way, particularly from Week 7 to Week 11, when Fields was averaging nearly 14 rushing attempts per game. After an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in Atlanta, the Bears aimed to dial back the number of designed runs they drew up for Fields.
While he processed the achievement postgame Sunday, Fields said he doesn't plan to rush for 1,000 yards every season.
With the priority placed on quarterbacks being able to win from the pocket, Fields is trying to improve that aspect of his game.
The necessity of scrambling has resulted in 553 of Fields' 1,000 rushing yards, with the other 447 being the byproduct of designed runs. That's due in large part to the pressure Fields faces. Entering Week 15, Fields had been pressured on a league-high 42 percent of his dropbacks.
"I'm going to improvise, try to do whatever I can to put as much points on the board as possible," Fields said.
He's done that. Fields is the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in a season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
While Chicago's ultimate goal will be to find more balance offensively, there's no denying the energy Fields injects into this team.
"He can get from zero to 60 really fast, so I think that's what makes him a little bit different," head coach Matt Eberflus said. "Some guys are shifty. I think he's more of a power cutter when you look at him, and he can really put the gas on pretty fast."
And while he's not set on doing this again next year, the fact is, he's on pace to break the single-season quarterback rushing record set by Jackson in 2019 (1,206).
"I'm already deep in it this year, so might as well try to go get that record," Fields said. "I think I need, what, 206 [yards]? So, three games left? That's about 70 yards a game? We'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, the Bears were tough against the top team in the NFC. Fields threw two touchdowns passes in addition to the 95 rushing yards.
Now, as they prepare to host the Bills on Saturday, the question is whether they can overcome another onslaught of injuries?
Chicago entered Week 15 without wideouts Chase Claypool (knee) and N'Keal Harry (back). The receiving team took another hit when Equanimeous St. Brown left the first quarter with a concussion. One play after St. Brown's injury, right guard Teven Jenkins sustained a neck injury and was taken off the field on a stretcher.
On Monday, Eberflus said that Jenkins got out of the hospital later in the day and was seeing specialists to gain more information about his next steps. Eberflus said that there was "encouraging" news about Jenkins' outlook, but added that the team doesn't yet know if he'll be able to return to the field this season.
Linebacker Jack Sanborn injured an ankle in the third quarter and never returned, while Jaylon Johnson was sidelined late with a rib injury.
St. Brown did not practice Tuesday while Claypool was limited.
The Bears are in survival mode with three games to play amid a seven-game losing streak and hope the rash of injuries doesn't get any worse.
On a more positive note. ... The backfield is set to get a little deeper this week.
Eberflus said on Monday that the team expects to have running back Khalil Herbert back from a hip injury when they face the Bills on Christmas Eve.
Herbert has missed the last four games, which leaves him eligible to return for both practice and game action.
"He is cleared, ready to go," Eberflus said, via Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's got all his jumps, his speed, he's been cutting, he's been moving -- he looks great. We're excited about his return."
Herbert ran 108 times for 643 yards and four touchdowns in the first 10 games of the season. As noted above, Fields sits at 1,000 rushing yards and David Montgomery has 694 yards for a Bears offense that leads the league in rushing attempts, yards, and yards per attempt this season.
Herbert will add to that.
I'll have more on his progress and that of the injured wideouts via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
You can access complete stats for the Bears Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Justin Fields, Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, D'Onta Foreman, Travis Homer
WRs: D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tyler Scott, Velus Jones Jr., Trent Taylor
TEs: Cole Kmet, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Geoff Hobson of the team's official website noted, against the winningest quarterback in NFL history Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, Joe Burrow upped his December-January winning streak to nine games when he watched his defense come up with even yet another way for the Bengals to remain one of the hottest teams in the NFL heading into the playoffs.
In a six-game winning streak that has taken the Bengals to 10-4 and a one game lead in the AFC North, Burrow has quarterbacked the Bengals through shootouts with the Steelers and Chiefs, slugfests with the Titans and Browns and a rout of the Panthers.
Now he can add one of their biggest road rallies in history against Tom Brady fueled by a defensive and special teams masterpiece to the resume they're building for the AFC's top seed with a 34-23 victory that saw them erase a 17-0 deficit in a stunning 11 minutes.
"I thought the game was almost over the way we were running around," said slot receiver Tyler Boyd. "I looked up and it was still (the third quarter)."
They still need to win the last three and for Kansas City to lose one to claim home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs and head coach Zac Taylor reminded them of all that when it was over.
"We're in the right direction. We're not done yet," said wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, whose 60 yards led the most balanced of stat sheets. "Like Zac said, we don't have a shirt and hat at the end of this game, so we still have room to go and improve, so it's just a matter of time."
They won despite generating their fewest yards of the season (238). Burrow threw for 200 yards, one off his season low, but he was at his best with an efficient 104.6 passer rating.
The Bengals scored on drives of 13, 31, 13 and 39 yards after halftime. He threw TD passes to his Big Three -- Chase, Tee Higgins and Boyd -- and also to tight end Mitchell Wilcox, the first of his career.
His four touchdown passes give him 31 on the season, making him the first Bengals quarterback to have back-to-back 30-plus TD seasons.
"When we don't start fast, it's not going our way, that's when Joe is at his best," said Boyd after he caught the one that put them ahead for good. "That's when he dials in and brings that inner dog in him. That's when he's in rare form. That's how Joe plays. Calm, collected and poised. He goes onto the next because he knows what we're capable of doing on the next possession."
Remember, Boyd was playing despite a dislocated finger he sustained last weekend.
"It didn't hurt as much as I thought," said Boyd, who found out on five catches for 35 yards.
Burrow has now accounted for 21 TDs -- 19 passing, two rushing -- while only throwing five interceptions in eight road starts this season. He improved to 4-0 with 14 TDs -- 11 passing, three rushing -- against the NFC South.
Next up, another road trip. This time to New England to take on the Patriots.
Worth noting. ... Baltimore lost to Cleveland on Saturday, allowing the Bengals to gain some cushion. Granted, the division title could still come down to the Week 18 showdown between the teams, but the Bengals are now in much better position after Sunday's victory. ...
Can Cincinnati overcome its defensive injuries down the stretch?
As ESPN.com's Ben Baby suggested, it's going to be tough for Cincinnati to top Buffalo and Baltimore without key starters. Cincinnati was already without DE Trey Hendrickson (wrist) and CB Mike Hilton (knee) before it lost DE Sam Hubbard (calf) on Sunday.
Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt also left the game, with a left shoulder injury. The Bengals' depth will be tested if those players are out for an extended amount of time.
There was some good news, however, on Tuesday.
Hendrickson, Taylor-Britt and tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) returned to the field for the Bengals' walk-through practice.
Hurst has been dealing with a calf injury and has missed the last two games. He's caught 48 passes for 400 yards with a pair of TDs for Cincinnati this year.
Higgins (hamstring), Hilton (knee) and cornerback Jalen Davis (thumb) were also limited.
Offensive tackle La’el Collins and defensive tackle D.J. Readers both received rest days.
I'll follow up as needed on all involved via Late-Breaking Updates. ...
One last note here. ... Running back Joe Mixon couldn't get anywhere as the Bengals run game stalled again. Mixon averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in rushing for 21 yards. His backup, Samaje Perine, was only a bit better, picking up 24 yards on seven carries. ...
You can access complete stats for the Bengals Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Jake Browning
RBs: Joe Mixon, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Andrei Iosivas, Trenton Irwin, Kwamie Lassiter II, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, Deshaun Watson, who threw a touchdown Saturday in the 13-3 victory over Baltimore, called his first start in Cleveland as the Browns' new starting quarterback "special."
"From the time we came out pregame," Watson said, "you could feel the energy in the air."
On a chilly and eventually snowy night in Cleveland, FirstEnergy Stadium was far from full, and the Browns struggled offensively for much of the game. Still, Watson's 3-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones proved to be the difference, as the Browns (6-8) kept their remote playoff hopes alive.
"It was fun. It was great," Watson said. "It was a great, fun game on the lake, especially in the fourth quarter when [the snow] started coming down and swirling around. ... It was fun to be out there. My first home game was a victory and it was special. Many more to come."
Watson played his third game with the Browns since returning from an 11-game suspension. Watson went 700 days without playing a game. In addition to the suspension, he sat out the 2021 season with the Houston Texans after demanding a trade. Cleveland traded for Watson in March.
The Browns have scored only two offensive touchdowns in three games with Watson at quarterback.
But Watson played his sharpest game so far with the Browns on Saturday, completing 18 of 26 passes for 161 yards without a turnover.
"He was seeing [the field] very clearly," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I thought he was very poised and making good decisions. There are always plays that I know he can be better, I can be better, we can design better plays and all of those type of things, but I know I continue to see a guy who is just getting better and better."
Following his first win at home, Watson agreed with that assessment.
"Football is coming back each and every week," he said. "I don't need to come in and try to do anything special. If we just come in and I just do my job as a quarterback, then everything is going to come in place."
Still, as Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers noted, barring unforeseen and illogical developments, the Browns aren't going to the playoffs. The Browns will be officially eliminated from the AFC North race with just one more Cincinnati or Baltimore victory.
And virtually every wild-card hopeful for the last two playoff spots -- including the Dolphins, Patriots, Chargers and Jets -- have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cleveland, not to mention the better overall records.
Regardless, Withers contends his team's effort on Saturday was a positive sign for Stefanski, whose future was beginning to look bleak.
Stefanski's third season has been especially challenging.
And while he adeptly navigated the Browns through the Watson situation, his questionable play-calling and curious in-game decisions led to speculation that Stefanski might not be back next season.
But if owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam had any concerns about whether Stefanski had lost his locker room, they were eased with a performance against the Ravens that showed the Browns remain all in for their coach and his staff.
This is the time of year when teams with no postseason hopes throw in the towel. The Browns are clinging to theirs.
Last week, Myles Garrett expressed confidence his teammates would keep scrapping in both a "spoiler" role and until they're mathematically eliminated.
"It was never in doubt, the fight and the guys we had in this locker room," Garrett said after the win Saturday. "I wasn't worried about the heart they would bring to that field because I see it every single day. I know how much this means to them.
"I know our record is not where we want it to be, but we still have those guys who will play 100 percent and give everything towards the game they love."
Beyond that, Watson has shown steady improvement in his three games since being reinstated. The Stefanski-Watson partnership is at the core of Cleveland's success moving forward, and as long as it's healthy and growing, the Browns can dodge another turbulent offseason.
It's highly possible that Cleveland's coaching staff will undergo some change in the offseason. Both defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer have been under scrutiny for weeks because their respective units have underachieved.
Stefanski, who took the Browns to the postseason in 2020 before going 8-9 last season, seems on solid ground.
With upcoming games against New Orleans (5-9), Washington (7-6-1) and Pittsburgh (6-8), Cleveland can finish with a flourish.
This weekend, the Browns have a frost-bitten home finale on Christmas Eve against the Saints, who are still in the NFC playoff hunt and better bundle up, with temperatures expected to be in the low teens at kickoff. ...
On the injury front. ... The Browns didn't have a few key players on the field to start the week.
Running back Nick Chubb (foot), defensive end Myles Garrett (illness), and safety John Johnson (thigh) didn't participate in Tuesday's practice.
Chubb spoke to the media earlier on Tuesday, which is usually a positive indication for a player's availability.
But Chubb did not practice again Wednesday, raising the level of concern.
Stefanski said Chubb suffered the foot injury during the win over the Ravens. Via Anthony Poisal of the team's website, Stefanski also said, "I hope so" when asked if Chubb will play against the Saints on Saturday.
Chubb is currently third in the league in rushing with 1,242 yards and is tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns. He's also caught 20 passes for 172 yards.
The star running back carried the ball 21 times for 99 yards in Saturday's win.
Despite a tough matchup, Chubb found himself in a positive game environment and put together a solid performance. He had only two rushes of more than 10 yards but still managed a solid 4.7 yards per carry to top 80 rushing yards for just the second time in his last six games.
While the performance was positive, of Chubb's six 100-yard rushing performances, only one has come since Week 10.
In addition, receiver Amari Cooper (core muscle) and offensive tackle Jack Conklin (likely rest) were working off to the side during Wednesday's session.
I'll have more on his status via Late Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Rookie kicker Cade York's season is drifting further off target.
The fourth-round draft pick missed two more field-goal tries, making him 22 of 30 overall and 9 of 15 at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the conditions are among the league's toughest.
Baltimore's Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in league history, also missed a field goal and had one blocked.
York did make two kicks in a game where every point was critical, but his inaccuracy is a major concern.
Finally. ... The Browns are getting healthier along their offensive line.
Cleveland has designated center Ethan Pocic to return from injured reserve, the team announced on Tuesday.
Pocic went down with a knee injury during Cleveland's Week 11 loss to the Bills in Detroit. He started the first 10 games of the season for the club.
Pocic was not slated to be the Browns' starting center entering training camp. But Nick Harris suffered a torn ACL in Cleveland's first exhibition matchup against the Jaguars back in August.
The Browns now have 21 days to activate Pocic to the 53-man roster. ...
You can access complete stats for the Browns Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Dorian Thompson-Robinson
RBs: Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell, Michael Woods II, Anthony Schwartz, Jakeem Grant
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As the team's official website put it, "No matter how hard they try, the Dallas Cowboys just can't seem to put together a complete game. ..."
And this time they paid for it, as the team couldn't overcome its sloppy play to salvage another victory, instead falling in overtime to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 40-34.
Two weeks ago, three quarters of frustrating football was erased by an avalanche of points in the fourth quarter against the struggling Indianapolis Colts. Then last Sunday, a winning drive in the final minutes expunged the misery felt over the first 56 minutes of their game vs. the lowly Houston Texans.
The Cowboys could seemingly do no wrong in the first half, jumping out to a 14-point lead as Dak Prescott completed 15 of 16 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns while the running game churned out 4.3 yards per carry for a total of 91 rushing yards. Needless to say, all was going well.
Midway through the third quarter, though, the Cowboys just completely lost their rhythm, and before they knew it, had blown a multi-touchdown lead in the second half for the second time this season. They also did so in the fourth quarter in a loss at Green Bay back on Nov. 13.
And similar to that result against the Packers, the Cowboys could never quite shake off their doldrums, losing in spectacular fashion.
Statistically, Prescott's overall day was good, as he completed 76.7 percent of his passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns for a 107.1 passer rating. But his two interceptions proved costly.
Dallas also finished with 154 yards rushing and dominated the time of possession, 35:26 to 27:42.
But Jacksonville racked up 503 yards of offense with quarterback Trevor Lawrence throwing four touchdowns and totaling 318 passing yards for a 109.0 rating.
Even though the Cowboys lost a game they should have won at Jacksonville, they backed into the playoffs when the New York Giants beat Washington.
Virtually locked into the fifth seed in the NFC with three games remaining, Prescott and company face an intriguing finish of trying to build momentum for the postseason in games that are unlikely to have much consequence otherwise for them.
As Associated Press sports writer Schulyer Dixon suggested, there's little question of the need for the Cowboys (10-4) to beat NFL-leading -- and NFC East rival -- Philadelphia (13-1) on Saturday. Their psyche could use the boost.
It's also unlikely that either the Giants or Commanders will pass the Cowboys in the division standings, so the final two games of the regular season at Tennessee and Washington figure to raise questions of resting starters and other players batting injuries.
There are plenty of the latter after linebacker Leighton Vander Esch left the Jacksonville game with a neck injury, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong was sidelined by a knee injury.
The Cowboys are already without two starting cornerbacks the rest of the season in Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, and one of the replacements, Kelvin Joseph, gave up the long touchdown that sparked the Jacksonville rally.
Prescott's two interceptions followed, including the one Rayshawn Jenkins returned 52 yards for the winning touchdown in OT.
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer notes, Prescott has promised he would fix his problem with interceptions.
He did not.
Prescott now has nine interceptions in his past six games and 11 in his nine games played this season. His 10 interceptions since Week 8 are the most in the NFL.
He had 10 interceptions last year on 596 passes.
No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb had his third 100-yard game in the past six, but the Cowboys showed they could use recent free-agent pickup T.Y. Hilton, who was inactive against the Jaguars but probably will be ready against the Eagles.
While Noah Brown scored twice for the first time in his career against Jacksonville, the game-ending interception return came on a throw that caromed off his arm.
Michael Gallup had just one reception for 2 yards and James Washington doesn't have a catch in two games since making his Dallas debut. Washington missed most of the season after breaking a foot in training camp.
Tyron Smith was solid in his season debut at right tackle. The eight-time Pro Bowler hasn't played there since he was a rookie in 2011. After Smith tore a hamstring in training camp, rookie Tyler Smith took over at left tackle. The Cowboys decided they don't want to move their first-round pick.
So are the Cowboys ready for Philadelphia?
They aren't playing their best entering a huge NFC matchup. They will have revenge on their mind, having lost 26-17 at Philadelphia in October.
Prescott did not play that game because of a broken thumb and the Eagles could be without Jalen Hurts, who has a sprained shoulder. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Ezekiel Elliott rushed 16 times for 58 yards and a touchdown, adding two receptions for 13 yards on two targets against the Jaguars. Tony Pollard rushed 19 times for 75 yards, adding four receptions for 31 yards on five targets.
As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, Pollard totaled 35 more yards than Elliott, but Elliott also scored the only rushing TD on the day with a nice 10-yard run.
Even if Elliott is 1B in the Cowboys backfield, he appears locked into that role.
He could be a big part of the Cowboys game plan against the Eagles, assuming the Cowboys pound the rock against Philadelphia's vulnerable run defense. ...
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan that tests showed Vander Esch suffered a shoulder stinger rather than an injury to his neck. Vander Esch has dealt with neck problems in the past and Jones called it a positive to learn that he avoided another one.
Jones said that Vander Esch may miss time, but that the team does not expect him to miss the rest of the season. ...
Finally. ... After weeks of hyping the possible signing of receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is acknowledging that the show will continue to go on in Dallas without OBJ.
Appearing on 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday, Jones expressed pessimism that Beckham will be added to the team during the 2022 season.
"That time is moving on down the road relative to playing in the playoffs, so every day diminishes our chances of going forward," Jones said. ...
You can access complete stats for the Cowboys Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton noted, the Broncos have found success again -- with backup quarterback Brett Rypien steering the offense.
Next step, try to get back on the winning track with Russell Wilson running the show.
Although Wilson passed the league's concussion protocols, he was a spectator (a precautionary move) as the Rypien-led Broncos rallied for a 24-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Rypien finished with pedestrian numbers -- 197 yards passing, one touchdown, one interception -- but helped the Broncos (4-10) snap a five-game skid in front of a sparse crowd that included an announced 18,423 no-shows.
Head coach Nathaniel Hackett has already proclaimed Wilson as the starter when the team travels to Los Angeles to face the Rams on Sunday. The coach reiterated that on Wednesday, when he told reporters that Wilson would be "full go" this week.
Wilson sustained a concussion on a head-first dive into several defenders at the goal line following a scramble against Kansas City on Dec. 11.
This will be another nationally televised game, too, for a team that has struggled this season in front of a national audience.
"It doesn't matter if it's on national television or if it's not," said Hackett, whose team recorded its first victory since Oct. 30 in London against Jacksonville. "It's about us being able to execute, going out there and doing some good things."
They found ways to execute against the Cardinals (4-10) -- in the second half, anyway.
After a stagnant Broncos offense surrendered six first-half sacks -- including three by pass rusher J.J. Watt -- the Broncos switched tactics after halftime. They utilized assorted quick passes in an effort to neutralize Watt and his defensive colleagues. Denver surrendered one sack in the second half.
What also worked was this: Turning to 32-year-old running back Latavius Murray, who rushed for 130 of Denver's 168 yards behind a banged-up offensive line. Marlon Mack contributed on the ground, too, scoring a go-ahead TD in the third quarter as the Broncos reeled off 21 straight points to take control.
Murray's 130 rushing yards represented the fourth-highest single game total of his career and his best performance since he posted 150 yards in the final game of the 2021 season. Murray is the first Bronco to post a 100-yard rushing game this season.
Murray and Mack combined to rush for 168 total yards and earn their first two-score win of the season.
"You can't get bored with 3-yard runs, 2-yard runs," said Murray, who received a game ball for his performance, which included a 10-yard touchdown. "It's easy to get discouraged. You have to trust it. It's a mentality. You have to believe in it and those big ones will come. That was a big part of it, too. We trusted the run game and that opened up the rest of the offense. ..."
On the injury front. ... After missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, wide receiver Courtland Sutton could return this week to play against the Rams, Hackett said Monday.
"We are definitely hoping for Courtland [to return this week]," Hackett said. "It's a hamstring, so we want to be smart with it. We've been dealing with these quite a bit this year, so we don't want anything to get aggravated, but he's been working really hard. Our training staff has done a great job to make him potentially available for this week."
Sutton, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday, leads the Broncos with 52 receptions and 688 receiving yards this season.
Wideout Kendall Hinton also missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury; his status for this week's game is unclear. Hinton did not practice Wednesday.
Hackett also noted that offensive lineman Tom Compton will be day to day after exiting Sunday's game with a back injury. Compton played his first snaps of the season against the Cardinals after guard/center Quinn Meinerz left the game with an eye injury.
Center Luke Wattenberg took over for Compton after he left the game and played in 54 percent of Denver's offensive snaps.
"[Compton's] going to be day to day right now," Hackett said. "He's day to day. We want to make sure he's all good."
I'll have more on Sutton and Hinton via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
A few final notes. ... Brandon McManus connected from 52 yards, but was wide right from 38. On his Twitter account after the game, he summed up his feelings on missing the short kick and concluded his post with "terrible. ..."
And last. ... ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold notes that decisions still need to be made about coach Hackett's future, but he at least avoided the crushing December home loss some previous Broncos coaches on the hot seat have not.
Vance Joseph lost an ugly season finale in 2018, Vic Fangio watched his offense fail him in a home loss to the Bengals in his last season and even Mike Shanahan had a homely loss to the Bills in his last home game as Broncos coach in 2008.
Broncos owner/CEO Greg Penner has said effort will matter when the ownership makes the call and with Sunday's win and the effort against the Chiefs last week, the undermanned Broncos are still giving Hackett a chance.
You can access complete stats for the Broncos Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Johnson, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
Make it three in a row for the surging Detroit Lions.
The Lions went on the road after consecutive home wins over Jacksonville and Minnesota and kept their playoff chances on schedule with a terrific 20-17 come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
After being contained on offense for most of the game, quarterback Jared Goff found tight end Brock Wright on a 4th and 1 play where Wright outraced the Jets' defense to the end zone with just 1:49 left in the game.
The game pitted Detroit's high-powered offense (ranked fourth in total offense) against a stout Jets' defense (third in total defense), and while the offense made the biggest play of the game late, the Lions' defense and special teams made their mark in what ended up being a knock-down, drag-out kind of contest.
Goff had a pretty pedestrian day overall against a really good Jets passing defense, but he made the biggest play of the game in the end.
He completed 23 of his 38 passes for 252 yards with the Wright touchdown and no interceptions for an 88.9 passer rating.
But there are some under-the-radar positives here.
In the last two games, Goff has dropped back to pass 77 times. The offensive line has not given up a single sack.
The Lions entered Sunday ranked No. 1 in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, scoring a touchdown 75 percent of the time on the season. They were 0-for-3 against the Jets, which included being stopped on 4th and goal at the 1-yard-line.
It snapped a streak of 19 straight touchdowns in goal-to-go situations for the Lions leading up to Sunday.
Whatever the case, the Lions have put themselves in the playoff hunt in the NFC with six wins in their last seven after starting the year 1-6. Big credit to them. The Lions need to continue to handle their own business and keep winning football games, but they could use a little help along the way too.
Next up, the Lions need to find a way to stop Carolina starter Sam Darnold, who has gone 2-1 since returning to the starting lineup. He's averaging 13.1 yards per completion and has thrown three TDs without an interception -- just the type of quarterback who can hurt Detroit's struggling secondary.
If the Lions beat Carolina Sunday and Seattle loses at Kansas City and Washington loses at San Francisco, Detroit would move into the No. 7 spot in the playoffs with two games remaining. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kalif Raymond caught five passes for 53 yards -- about an average day for him -- but his 47-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter gave the Lions a lift after a slow start. It was the first score on a return in his seven-year NFL career
On Wednesday, Raymond was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. ...
Jamaal Williams was huge for the Lions early in the season, scoring 14 touchdowns in the first 12 games.
Against Minnesota and the Jets, though, he carried 29 times for 70 yards, an average of just 2.4 yards per carry, and didn't score.
Goff's 51-yard touchdown pass to Wright was the second-longest go-ahead touchdown scored in the final two minutes of regulation in a game in the past 20 seasons, per ESPN Stats and Information.
The Lions sustained one key injury Sunday in the worst possible spot: the secondary. Starting safety DeShon Elliott was still undergoing tests on his shoulder Monday, and the team doesn't have an obvious replacement. Veteran C.J. Moore finished the game, but he's a special teams ace more than a regular safety. Converted cornerback Ifeatu Meilonwu has only played six defensive snaps this season.
You can access complete stats for the Lions Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones, Antoine Green, Jameson Williams
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
With the five-game midseason losing streak well behind them and with two straight wins to lift their spirits, Aaron Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur said after Monday night's 24-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field that a sense of belief has begun to grow.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, a team that was all but out of it after falling to 4-8 in late November suddenly looks like one that could actually win its last five games and sneak into the playoffs.
"Well, it's three now," Rodgers said Monday. "We've got two. Got two in the bag. I don't know. Look, before the Bears week, we knew we had a bye afterwards, and those of us who sometimes peek ahead knew that we had to win five and then have a lot of things go our way. So, we've won two and just about everything we needed to happen has gone our way. Just about, right? So, things are looking up."
According to Demovsky, ESPN Analytics gives the Packers a 12.2 percent chance to make the playoffs. A loss on Monday night would have reduced that to almost nil (0.8 percent).
It's one thing to beat two teams that now have a combined record of 7-21; the Bears are 3-11, and the Rams 4-10. But the Packers' final three opponents are a combined 26-16, beginning with Sunday's game at the Miami Dolphins (8-6). However, the Dolphins have lost three straight, the Minnesota Vikings' defense has been porous and who knows if the Detroit Lions are for real.
"I mean, they're all good football teams," Rodgers said. "Miami's playing for the playoffs. Minnesota's obviously division winners and coming off a big win. Detroit's won, what, six out of seven; they're playing really well. So it's going to be three difficult games. Two of them are at home against dome teams. It'll be January for those two. We've notoriously been pretty good in those games over the years.
"So this one [versus the Dolphins] is really important because it's on the road. They obviously have a really high-powered offense. They've been a little up and down the last few weeks. Maybe we're catching them at a good time. We'll see."
Rodgers refrained from making one of his proclamations like "run the table" or "R-E-L-A-X," but he uttered a soft-spoken belief that the Packers can win out.
"I do, yeah, I do, I do," Rodgers repeated. "Now we're going to play three better football teams, but I do. Definitely."
Perhaps this is what drives Rodgers' belief: He finally had Romeo Doubs (five catches for 55 yards) and Christian Watson (four catches for 46 yards) healthy and on the field together.
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon were the backbone of a balanced offensive performance by the Packers. Prior to Dillon leaving in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion, the two running backs helped propel the Packers to 138 total rushing yards against a disciplined LA defense that's allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards (101.9 yards per game) to opposing teams this season.
Jones and Dillon combined for three touchdowns and 197 total yards from scrimmage.
"They basically played a lot of two-shell," said Rodgers, who finished 22-of-30 for 229 yards, one TD and one interception for a 92.2 passer rating. "If we've got to (throw with the) quick game and run the football to win, we'll do that."
The Pack's defense sacked Baker Mayfield five times, including two by Preston Smith, and Rasul Douglas picked off the QB once. And kickoff returner Keisean Nixon has become a weapon with his third 50-plus yard return in the past three outings.
"That was step one," Douglas said of beating the Rams. "First, today, we came in and said, 'Let's dominate, and let's get a win.' Now, we're moving on to step two, and that's Miami."
And they're moving from a 15-degree night in Green Bay to the sun of South Florida.
"It's going to have to be a really good effort to go out there and win," Rodgers said. "It'll be a nice weather change. Nobody's going to be bummed that it'll be 40 or 50 above what it is, at least, maybe 50 or 60 above what it is right now. We'll be looking forward to getting back home to some cold weather, and hopefully, we'll be 7-8."
And that's as far as LaFleur was willing to discuss. He wanted no part of any talk about winning out.
"Well, I don't even want to talk like that, to be honest with you," the coach said. "I think you've got to keep the focus on what's right in front of you. Certainly, if you look at the totality of it, all three teams are really good football teams. So I don't want to get too far in front of ourselves and just want to be the best we can be each and every day, each and every game, and that starts with Miami. ..."
Meanwhile, LaFleur delivered good news about Dillon's condition on Tuesday.
The coach said that Dillon passed tests on Monday night and again on Tuesday, so he has been cleared to work with the team as they prepare for Saturday's road game against the Dolphins.
Dillon has 154 carries for 660 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
I'll have more on his status going forward via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Finally. ... Keisean Nixon continues to spark the return game.
The Packers' returning dynamo had a 52-yard kickoff return -- his fourth straight game with a return of 30-plus, a franchise first since 2010 (Sam Shields) -- plus punt returns of 19 and 17 yards as the Packers played with favorable field position all night.
He also had a 49-yard kickoff return called back due to a holding penalty, and the Rams began the second half by executing a pooch kickoff that came down at the 25-yard line to keep the ball out of Nixon's hands.
"In all my 18 years, I've never once until tonight seen an opposing team's kicker kick away from one of our returners on purpose," Rodgers said. "That's fun. That's pretty incredible.
"He's been a big difference maker for us."
You can access complete stats for the Packers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Emanuel Wilson
WRs: Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, Samori Toure, Dontayvion Wicks, Grant DuBose, Malik Heath
TEs: Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis, Ben Sims
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
The Houston Texans haven't been embarrassing in their past two games as they were the previous two.
Still, the improvement hasn't equaled a win as the Texans (1-12-1) are mired in a nine-game skid, their longest since dropping the final 14 games of the 2013 season.
Houston lost 30-24 in overtime to Kansas City Sunday, a week after a 27-23 defeat by the Cowboys.
Those close losses came after lopsided defeats to Miami and Cleveland with Kyle Allen at quarterback after Davis Mills was benched.
"There are some positives to build on," head coach Lovie Smith said. "That's what I expect the guys to do. I expect them to show up and fight like that throughout. Eventually, you've got to get over the hump."
On Sunday the Chiefs (11-3) got the ball first in overtime but were forced to punt after Patrick Mahomes was sacked by Blake Cashman on third down. Mills fumbled on a scramble on Houston's first play, and it was recovered by Kansas City's Willie Gay on the Texans 26.
Jerick McKinnon then dashed untouched into the end zone on the next play to give Kansas City the win and leave Houston without one since beating the Jaguars Oct. 9.
"It's tough," said rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano, who had a TD reception Sunday. "It feels like no matter how hard we try, the football gods are against us. But we're just going to keep coming to work and come back next week hungry."
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken notes, the Texans moved their offense well by using a two-quarterback system of Mills and Jeff Driskel for a second straight week. Mills plays a more traditional role in the system and Driskel runs a wildcat-style offense on his snaps.
Mills had 124 yards passing with two touchdowns against the Chiefs. Driskel had just two throws for 8 yards, but the wrinkle seemed to help keep Kansas City's defense off-balance.
Though Mills and Driskel working together has helped improve Houston's offense, the turnover by Mills in overtime sealed another loss.
He'll have to take better care of the ball for the Texans to end their skid.
Worth noting. ... The Texans led the Chiefs 21-16 going into the fourth quarter, the seventh time this season they were either tied or had a lead to start the final quarter. But they've managed to win only one of those games, which is why they're heading toward the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
It was a respectable effort considering they were without their leading rusher in Dameon Pierce and their two top receivers, Nico Collins and Brandin Cooks.
Still, not being able to finish games has plagued the Texans all season.
Smith said he talks often with his players about being able to make the big play when the game is on the line, and he hopes they'll be able to do that in these last three games.
"At this level moral victories aren't really a thing," Driskel said. "We go into every game, expecting to win, thinking we're going to win the game ... and we just got to figure out a way to do that."
The Texans will try to end this dreadful season on a positive note as they return to AFC South play for the remainder of the season. They visit Tennessee on Saturday before hosting Jacksonville on New Year's Day and ending the season at Indianapolis Jan. 8. ...
A few final items. ... Running back Royce Freeman had 11 carries for 51 yards Sunday in his first game of the season. He was promoted from the practice squad Saturday after Pierce, who led the team with 939 yards rushing, was placed on injured reserve.
Cooks missed a third straight game with a calf injury but could return Sunday. Collins, who did not practice Wednesday, was out for a second game with a foot injury Sunday.
I'll have more on their status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
You can access complete stats for the Texans Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: C.J. Stroud, Davis Mills, Case Keenum
RBs: Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson, Noah Brown
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Teagan Quitoriano, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor is feared to have a high ankle sprain and seems "likely" to miss the remaining three games of the season, a team source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
That went from likely to certain on Tuesday, when the Colts placed Taylor on injured reserve due to ankle injury.
The Colts have not made any final decisions on Taylor's fate, but considering his injury to the same right ankle earlier this season, it might be in Taylor's best interest to sit the rest of the way.
Taylor left the Colts' game against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday during the first series and did not return.
Taylor has struggled with ankle soreness throughout the season, missing three games over a span of weeks in October and November.
He had been slowly improving and seemed to have benefited from the Colts' bye in Week 14.
Now Taylor's frustrating season has concluded with a career-low 861 rushing yards through 11 games. He also has a career-low 4.5 yards per carry. Taylor was consistently impacted by the Colts' well-documented offensive struggles, including quarterback performance and offensive-line play.
The Colts were left to finish Saturday's game with a running back duo of Deon Jackson and Zack Moss. They combined for 37 carries, averaging 3.7 yards. Veteran Jordan Wilkins was promoted to the active roster when Taylor went on IR.
The Colts host the Los Angeles Chargers on "Monday Night Football" on Dec. 26, followed by games at the New York Giants and against the Houston Texans.
And when they hit the field, they'll be turning to their third starting quarterback of the season.
Nick Foles will start against the Chargers, interim head coach Jeff Saturday announced on Wednesday.
Foles takes over for Matt Ryan, who is benched for the second time this season.
The first time Ryan was benched, rookie Sam Ehlinger took over, the Colts lost the two games Ehlinger started, and head coach Frank Reich was fired. When Saturday was installed as interim head coach, he immediately put Ryan back in the starting lineup.
But now Saturday has decided to go to Foles, the veteran who has a Pro Bowl season and a Super Bowl MVP on his resume but has mostly been a backup since that Super Bowl MVP-winning performance for the Eagles five years ago. Foles has only played in one game this year, and only for the final two snaps of a 24-0 loss to the Jaguars.
The Colts are reeling after suffering the greatest collapse in NFL history, losing 39-36 to the Vikings after leading 33-0 at halftime. It’s possible that game will go down as the last start of Ryan’s career.
For what it's worth, Saturday contends his team didn't play too conservatively after taking that big halftime lead and has no regrets about trying a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches that came up short rather than attempting a long field goal to extend their lead late in regulation.
Regardless, the overtime loss that capped the NFL's largest comeback in league history only added one more embarrassing chapter to a season most Colts fans would rather forget.
"I wouldn't change any of it," Saturday said of his decisions. "It is what it is, you've got to get it. The game is over if we get it. I'll never back down from that call, I can assure you. I loved where we were. I felt that was how we were going to close the game out and unfortunately, we didn't."
Whatever the case, the Colts (4-9-1) find themselves on the edge of becoming the third AFC team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs while entering another uncertain offseason after a host of midseason changes.
After losing four straight since winning his head coaching debut at Las Vegas in early November, fans are clamoring for more changes and Saturday's clock management and play-calling have been heavily scrutinized.
And yet, Saturday still wants the job, and his players still want him in the locker room.
"He's an awesome coach, filling in, doing the best he can," Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly said. "I thought the challenges he put out there were awesome, and he's got our back 100 percent. I love the guy."
Since Saturday replaced the fired Reich, Indy has blown fourth-quarter leads against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh at home, gave up the second-most fourth-quarter points in an NFL game (33) at Dallas and now has blown a 33-point halftime lead at Minnesota.
One last things. ... Is playcalling a big part of the Colts' offensive issues?
ESPN.com's Stephen Holder notes there were some curious playcalling decisions by the Colts in this game. When Indianapolis lost Taylor on the opening series, you'd think it might impact their play selection.
But the Colts still called 37 combined runs for backups Jackson and Moss. It made sense when the Colts were up big, leading 33-0 at one point. But their lack of production in the running game combined with the Vikings' terrible pass defense begs the question of whether the Colts got too conservative. ...
You can access complete stats for the Colts Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Anthony Richardson, Gardner Minshew, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Zack Moss, Deon Jackson, Jonathan Taylor, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce, Josh Downs, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long suggests, no matter what happens in the AFC South over the next three weeks, there's little doubt the Jacksonville Jaguars are poised to be factors in the division -- and maybe the conference -- for years to come.
They have the coach. They have the quarterback. They have the chemistry. They have young talent that's figuring out how to handle adversity and win close games -- vital traits in a league in which games are often decided by one play or one possession.
The Jaguars (6-8) won for the fourth time in six games Sunday, the latest victory being one of the more memorable comebacks in franchise history.
Trevor Lawrence threw a career-high four touchdowns passes, three of them to Zay Jones, and Rayshawn Jenkins returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give Jacksonville a 40-34 win over the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville rallied from a 17-point deficit and overcame three turnovers to end an NFL-record, 20-game skid against NFC teams.
It's the fifth notable losing streak broken this season for a team that had won a league-low four games combined over the past two years.
"It feels good to kind of prove ourselves," veteran guard Tyler Shatley said. "That's big time for us."
Added receiver Christian Kirk: "We're here to flip the script. This new regime. ... We're all here for one common goal and to make this thing the way we want to make it."
Winning the AFC South would be a huge next step in Jacksonville's turnaround. The Jaguars play at the New York Jets (7-7) on Thursday night before finishing with division games against Houston (1-12-1) and tumbling Tennessee (7-7).
Win all three and they would return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Regardless of how it plays out, head coach Doug Pederson has the foundation -- Lawrence, most notably, has 14 TD passes and one interception in his past six games -- for this to be the early stages of something more sustainable than the one-year flash Jacksonville experienced five years ago.
"It's just having that confidence and knowing that we can do it," Shatley said. "That's how it was in '17. You get a couple of wins and you're like, 'All right, we are a good team.' We truly believe that this year and it's starting to show."
The Jaguars improved to 6-1 this season when scoring 24 or more points. They are 0-7 when scoring fewer than 24.
Lawrence has been the key to getting those wins. He has accounted for 20 touchdowns and committed just four turnovers in the seven games in which Jacksonville scored at least 24 points.
One area of concern?
Jacksonville turned the ball over three times, including once early and once late. Fortunately for the Jaguars, Dallas only scored 10 points off the trio of takeaways.
Travis Etienne Jr. fumbled when he ran into guard Brandon Scherff's backside during the team's opening possession. Lawrence had the other two: an interception that ended his streak of consecutive passes without a pick at 204 and a fumble near the end of regulation. He rebounded nicely from both.
Starting left tackle Cam Robinson will miss the rest of the season after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. Walker Little, a second-round draft pick in 2021, will replace him moving forward.
Elsewhere on the injury report, first overall pick Travon Walker will miss another game for the Jaguars.
Walker has been ruled out for Thursday night’s road game against the Jets because of the ankle injury that sidelined him against the Cowboys last Sunday. Walker was listed as a limited practice participant on Monday and Tuesday, but was out of practice entirely on Wednesday.
Lawrence was limited again with a toe injury and he is listed as questionable.
Lawrence has played through the toe issue for the last few weeks, so there’s little reason to think he’s at risk of missing the game.
Safety Andrew Wingard (shoulder), linebacker Chad Muma (ankle), right guard Brandon Scherff (abdomen), and right tackle Jawaan Taylor (hamstring) are also listed as questionable. Robinson (knee) and defensive end Foley Fatukasi (ankle) have been ruled out.
I'll have more on Lawrence and the offense via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff. ...
You can access complete stats for the Jaguars Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, JaMycal Hasty, D'Ernest Johnson, Snoop Conner
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Jamal Agnew, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, each year when the Chiefs begin training camp, they set out their list of goals.
Patrick Mahomes said it always begins with the same item -- to win the AFC West.
The Chiefs (11-3) had to go to overtime Sunday against a one-win opponent, but they can cross that one off the list for the seventh straight season. Jerick McKinnon's 26-yard touchdown run gave the Chiefs a 30-24 win over the Houston Texans and eliminated their last remaining rival for the division title, the Los Angeles Chargers.
"We accomplished our first goal," said Mahomes. "Our next goal is to try to establish home-field advantage. It's not in our hands, but we can do our best to be ready in case we get that opportunity and then to win the Super Bowl.
"We have a lot to learn from this game, but we have to continue to get better as a team so, when going into the playoffs, we're ready to go to try to make a run."
AFC West championship hats and red T-shirts that read, "Conquered the West," were passed out in the Chiefs' locker room after the game. They have worn similar apparel for seven straight years now.
The seven consecutive division titles is tied with the Los Angeles Rams (1973-79) for the second-longest streak in NFL history. The New England Patriots won the AFC East title 11 straight seasons from 2009 to 2019.
Kansas City also holds the longest active division-title run in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau data.
Tight end Travis Kelce, defensive tackle Chris Jones and long-snapper James Winchester are the only Chiefs to play for all seven division-title teams. This was title No. 6 for Mahomes, but the Chiefs have plenty of players who are newer to the team and perhaps appreciated it even more, including McKinnon, who is in his second season in Kansas City.
"Some guys go the whole career and never win a division, never make the playoffs," said McKinnon, who also scored on a 20-yard pass reception in the second quarter. "So when you have the opportunity to be in this moment, you've got to enjoy it. You've got to cherish it because everybody doesn't get the opportunity."
The Chiefs are chasing the Buffalo Bills (11-3) for the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed.
The top seed gets the conference's only first-round bye and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. The Chiefs haven't played a road playoff game since Mahomes became their starting quarterback in 2018. The Bills hold the tiebreaker over the Chiefs because of a 24-20 victory in Kansas City in Week 6.
The Chiefs play the Seahawks on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. ...
For what it's worth, Andy Reid insisted that the Chiefs were "fired up" after their win over the Texans on Sunday.
Plenty of other people were left scratching their heads.
The Chiefs trailed the only one-win team in the NFL at halftime, eventually went to overtime and needed to force a fumble there to set up the winning touchdown in the 30-24 escape. And while it clinched a seventh consecutive AFC West title for the Chiefs, it left some wondering whether they can do any damage when the playoffs roll around.
"I mentioned it to the team, you can't in today's world -- the NFL -- you can't go by the record. Everything is so close, the parity, and you're off by like a fingertip catch or maybe a penalty or a turnover. It's just one thing," Reid said. "It has never been where there have been so many close games as there are now that have been determined by one score.
"The tape tells you the story," he added. "You put on the tape. We knew it was going to be a battle. We felt that going in. Like I said, a well-coached team with good players. It was important that we kept going through four quarters."
Still, as Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta suggests, it begs the question: Do the Chiefs play down to the level of the opposition? And can they continue to do that and hope to jump the Bills over the final three weeks for the No. 1 seed and the lone first-round playoff bye?
"Obviously we know we have a lot to work on, to clean up at least with the turnovers and the penalties," Mahomes said, "but you have to celebrate. We still won the AFC West, and you have to enjoy that. I told the guys to do that. Enjoy it for a plane ride home tonight. We've got a short week this next week, so enjoy it and we'll get right back to it. ..."
For what it's worth. ... Mahomes completed his final 20 passes against the Texans, finishing 36 of 41 for 336 yards with two touchdown throws, a touchdown run and no interceptions.
He now has 4,496 yards passing, putting him on pace to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 5,477 yards set during his 2013 MVP season with the Broncos -- and in 16 games, too. ...
McKinnon has become one of the best playmakers for Kansas City. The backup running back had seven catches for 112 yards and two scores against the Broncos, then had eight catches for 70 yards and a score to go with the winning touchdown run in overtime against the Texans.
As for concerns?
Harrison Butker missed a 51-yard field goal that would have won the game in regulation for Kansas City -- no chip-shot but well within his range. After going 25 of 28 on field goals last season, the big-legged Butker is just 16 of 21 this season. He's also missed three point-after attempts.
In addition, Skretta notes that mental mistakes have been a problem. The Chiefs were penalized 10 times for 102 yards against Houston, and they fumbled three times while losing two. That's nine straight games with at least one turnover for Kansas City.
"You've got to work your fundamentals and techniques," Reid said, "and you've got to trust them when you're out there."
On the injury front. ... The Chiefs came out of the game without any new injuries, but they do have some issues.
Several players didn't practice Tuesday due to either illness or injury as the team hit the field for the first time this week, including a player who missed Friday's practice with an illness. Reid revealed that there is some sort of sickness going through the defensive line room in Kansas City ahead of their upcoming game.
"The D-Line room -- Michael Danna, Chris Jones and then Khalen Saunders are all sick," Reid said. "Jody Fortson, has an elbow. His elbow is subluxed. He won't practice today either. He'll struggle to make it to the game as we go forward. Tough kid, but he got banged up there pretty good. Other than that everyone will be out there and rolling."
It doesn't seem like these illnesses will keep any of the players out from Week 16, but it's worth monitoring as the practice week progresses.
As for Fortson's injury, it seems like he'll miss at least Week 16, but it sounds like the dislocation was significant and that he could miss more time.
The Chiefs could simply place Fortson on injured reserve and allow him extra time to heal.
They'll need to make a roster spot this week for the expected return of receiver Mecole Hardman. Fortson could be that corresponding transaction.
"There's a good chance," Reid said of Hardman's pending activation to the 53-man roster. "He'll practice with the guys today. We'll see if we can't get him in there a little bit."
In addition, Reid said Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) is close to returning from injured reserve, but it doesn't seem like this will be the week. Tight end Blake Bell (hip), however, could return. Reid said "there's a chance" Bell could be available in wake of Fortson's elbow injury.
Stay tuned. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
You can access complete stats for the Chiefs Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Justyn Ross, Justin Watson, Richie James
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Mark Davis traipsed across the Las Vegas Raiders' plush locker room in Allegiant Stadium late Sunday afternoon with a dazed look on his face after the latest chapter in the wild and woolly history of the franchise he owns had unfolded.
"It's a new house of thrills," Davis told Gutierrez with a grin. "Have you ever seen an ending like that before?"
The Raiders and their fans will forget the Tuck Rule Game and ignore the Immaculate Reception. But they'll smile at the Sea of Hands and embrace the Holy Roller. And after this one, they'll reimagine the Heidi Game.
Because what Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones pulled off -- a 48-yard walk-off fumble return after he snatched an ill-fated cross-field lateral to give the Raiders a 30-24 victory -- was something entirely different.
"I don't know what they're going to call this one," head coach Josh McDaniels said, "but it will probably have a nickname here shortly."
The Error-maculate Interception? How else to describe Jakobi Meyers' inexplicable attempt to keep hope alive for the Patriots, rather than simply go down and play for overtime?
Whatever the case, the Patriots decided playing for overtime wasn't enough. They avoided OT, but not in the way they intended.
The game-winning play, a day later, seems just as unreal as when it happened.
That play was a highly ill-advised lateral that Jones turned into the walk-off score.
A play that was discussed from ocean to ocean Sunday night well into Monday morning, and McDaniels said he received his share of text messages.
"I have friends and family that obviously thought that was just about what it was -- crazy," McDaniels said. "We didn't do a whole lot other than take advantage of something that was presented to us in that last situation. I don't want to take too much credit for that. We were trying to hopefully go to overtime."
The play helped the Raiders finally hold on to a double-digit halftime lead. Until Sunday, they were 0-4 in such situations, the first team since at least 1930 to blow that kind of advantage that many times.
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Anderson put it, a team that has found creative ways to lose finally found a unique way to win, with a massive assist from the other side.
This wasn't the first time the Raiders have been involved in a play that has the entire NFL and its fans talking.
Friday is the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. Las Vegas plays at the Pittsburgh Steelers the following day, so the Raiders will be reminded of a play that the franchise still insists shouldn't have counted because of the rules at the time, though the replays are inconclusive.
Also in the Raiders' history, as alluded to above, are the Sea of Hands game that ended the Miami Dolphins' bid for a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance and the Holy Roller against the San Diego Chargers in 1978 that led to a rules change.
Plus, of course, there was the Tuck Rule game that cost the Raiders a potential trip to the 2002 Super Bowl and helped launch the Patriots' dynasty.
And now the wacky lateral that gives the Raiders (6-8) some hope of making the playoffs. However, it's still a long shot.
McDaniels said trying to keep up with the playoff scenarios was "confusing" and pointless because much of it was beyond the team's control.
"The one thing that we know we have to do in order to keep going is win," he said. ...
Is a run to the playoffs actually feasible?
The Raiders will likely have to run the table against the Steelers, 49ers and Chiefs.
Las Vegas is only one game out of the seventh and final postseason spot, but there are six other teams with either six or seven wins. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Raiders banged-up offensive line is a mess. When the Patriots knew Las Vegas had to pass, they unloaded on quarterback Derek Carr, who was sacked three times in the second half. It's uncertain whether that group will get any healthier, which makes the closing stretch against the Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs even more difficult.
Davante Adams was held to 28 receiving yards against the Patriots, his third fewest this season. Much of that is because New England does what it almost always does and took away the offense's best playmaker. But Adams is going to have to be much more involved in the offense if the Raiders are to finish the season strong.
Mack Hollins caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Another reception was a 12-yarder on fourth-and-10 from the Raiders 19 in the final two minutes that kept alive what turned out to be the game-tying drive. He also got down the field on a punt to down the ball at the 2. And when the Raiders wanted some insurance on the last play against a deep pass, they put Hollins in at safety.
Darren Waller, who was activated Saturday off injured reserve, caught a 25-yard TD pass. It was Waller's first game since injuring a hamstring on Oct. 10 at Kansas City. Waller moved into second place among Raiders tight ends with 3,304 yards receiving, behind Todd Christensen (5,872).
"I made the most of the opportunities I had," Waller said. "I ran efficient routes. The Patriots did a good job of disguising, so reading the coverage at the snap was a bit of a challenge. I feel like I did pretty well for the most part."
You can access complete stats for the Raiders Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer, Aidan O'Connell
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Tre Tucker, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Austin Hooper, Michael Mayer, Jesper Horsted
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry, inside a celebratory Chargers postgame locker room, music blared, the energy was palpable and wide receiver Mike Williams offered a fitting description of the scene.
"Turnt," Williams said, smiling.
"I'd have to agree with him," quarterback Justin Herbert said with a grin.
Moments earlier, Herbert led a six-play, 52-yard drive with 44 seconds remaining that resulted in kicker Cameron Dicker drilling a 43-yard field goal to lift the Chargers to a 17-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
"He's got ice in his veins," Los Angeles edge rusher Khalil Mack said of Dicker, who has converted two game-winning field goals for the Bolts this season.
The triumph, coupled with the Las Vegas Raiders defeating the New England Patriots, enabled the Chargers to jump from outside the AFC playoff picture to the No. 6 seed.
"It's a great opportunity for us to keep playing football," Herbert said. "If we just attack it week by week, we'll see what happens."
With three games remaining, including an upcoming matchup against the Indianapolis Colts (4-9) on Monday Night Football, the Chargers (8-6) are in control of their playoff future as they attempt to earn their first postseason berth since 2018 and first under second-year coach Brandon Staley.
"Just keep fighting," said Williams, who caught passes for 16 and 35 yards on the winning drive.
Sunday's game encapsulated the Chargers' roller-coaster season, which has included everything from a preseason billing as an AFC West and even Super Bowl favorite to placing star edge rusher Joey Bosa and cornerback J.C. Jackson on injured reserve and playing only two complete games with Williams and fellow wideout Keenan Allen.
"We're a connected team," Staley said. "Because we're connected, it's allowed us to endure all that's happened this season, because that is the only explanation. There's no other way to explain it. Otherwise, we would be 3-9 or worse."
Herbert, 24, finished Sunday's outing 28-of-42 passing for 313 yards with two interceptions and became the only player in NFL history to have 4,000 passing yards in each of his first three seasons. It also was his 22nd career game with 300 passing yards, which is five more than any other player before turning 25 years old in NFL history.
"He had his best when his best was required," Staley said. "You saw all the things that make him special there. His resilience, his poise, his playmaking."
It's worth noting, Herbert has been at his best while on the move.
According to Next Gen Stats, Herbert leads the league in completions (76), yards (818) and touchdowns (eight) when throwing on the run. During Sunday's game-winning drive, he scrambled right and hit Williams for a 35-yard pass that had a completion probability of only 22.6 percent.
Three plays later, Dicker hit the game winner.
According to Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy, the Chargers are the only team in the league who has not scored a touchdown in the third quarter in their past nine games. During that stretch they have been outscored 37-9 with five three-and-outs and three turnovers in 23 offensive drives.
They'll want to work on that in advance of their trip to Indianapolis for their second appearance on "Monday Night Football" this season.
The Chargers have lost their past three Monday night games on the road, with the most recent victory coming in the 2012 opener against the Raiders. The Colts are reeling from their 39-36 overtime loss in Minnesota after the Vikings completed the biggest comeback in NFL history and rallied from a 33-point deficit.
Other notes of interest. ... Austin Ekeler led all running back with 49 snaps and finished the game with 70 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. Joshua Kelley played 25 offensive snaps and ran in his second touchdown of the season.
Kelley is averaging 3.95 yards per carry over the past three games and has solidified his role as Ekeler's backup. Meanwhile, rookie Isaiah Spiller has not played a snap on offense or special teams in two of the past three games.
Both Allen and Williams led all wide receivers in snaps with 63, as the pair combined for 153 receiving yards. Josh Palmer followed them with 46 snaps and caught all five of his targets for 49 yards, while DeAndre Carter played 16 offensive snaps.
Gerald Everett played the most snaps among tight ends with 44. Tre' McKitty played the second-most with 23, while Donald Parham, Jr., played 22 snaps in his first game action since mid-October.
On the injury front. ... Staley said tests on Ekeler's shoulder came back negative.
As NBCSportsEdge.com suggested, whatever tests were conducted on Ekeler's shoulder, the fact that they came back negative for anything significant is good. Ekeler briefly exited Sunday's game against the Titans, but returned to the field and finished with 12 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown while also catching two passes for 12 yards.
I'll obviously be watch for more and report back via Late-Breaking Update, but Ekeler should be good to go against the Colts and can be treated as a top-12 back. ...
One last note here. ... Jackson was arrested Monday in connection with a "nonviolent family issue," authorities said.
The Chargers said in a statement Monday they "are aware of media reports this afternoon pertaining to J.C. Jackson. We will continue to gather information on the matter and will refrain from further comment at this time."
Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Chargers in March after the New England Patriots did not place the franchise tag on him. He played four seasons with the Patriots and had 25 interceptions, which was the most in the NFL from 2018-21.
Jackson, who is in his fifth season in the league, suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee in an Oct. 23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He played in only five games after having ankle surgery during the preseason.
You can access complete stats for the Chargers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis
TEs: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stone Smartt
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, the Los Angeles Rams were eliminated from playoff contention with Monday night's 24-12 loss to the Green Bay Packers, in the midst of what Rams coach Sean McVay called "a very humbling season."
Following the game, McVay was asked whether he could have imagined Los Angeles' 4-10 record the season after winning Super Bowl LVI.
"I think it's hard to say that you could," McVay said. "You certainly can't, but this is the reality that we're in, and this is where we're at. ... My job is to focus on [finishing] up the season with the right competitive spirit, with the mindset and mentality that's reflective of who those guys are in the locker room and who those coaches are. And that's what we'll do.
"But there's been a lot of things that I've kind of thought about that I think you can make sense of why you've gotten here, but it still doesn't make it any easier. And it's a very humbling season, for sure."
The Rams' elimination came in Week 15, marking the second earliest that a defending Super Bowl champion has been eliminated in the past 30 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. They are the ninth such team to miss the playoffs in that span.
The Rams' 10 losses tie the 1999 Denver Broncos for the most ever by a team coming off a Super Bowl victory.
"This has been a real struggle in a lot of instances," McVay said. "A lot of adversity that we've gone through. But I think what we've seen from our guys is they're going to continue to battle. They're going to finish up these last three games the right way, with the right mindset and mentality, and we'll compete to the best of our ability. And that's all I know how to do, and I trust that that's exactly what we'll do collectively as a group."
On Monday, the Rams were held to 12 points or fewer for the fifth time this season. Los Angeles was held to 12 or fewer points five times in the previous three seasons combined, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Running back Cam Akers said that even though the Rams can't make the postseason, the team can play spoiler for its remaining three contests.
"Obviously, not what we wanted it to be, but got to keep going," Akers said. "We got three more games and. ... We can piss in other people's cornflakes. If we can, we want to do that. So, just want to play these last three games like that."
This week, they'll have a short week of preparation for an extremely winnable home game on Christmas against the Denver Broncos, who share their 4-10 record. And because the Lions own their first-round draft pick, the Rams have no motivation to take it easy in these meaningless games.
They also don't have the depth to rest anybody.
"We don't have the luxury of being able to pick and choose who plays and who doesn't, just based on the availability of the bodies we have," McVay said. "If guys are healthy and able to go, then we're going to continue to do everything we can to go out there and pour everything into these guys and compete to the best of their ability and let the chips fall as they may."
The Rams have legitimate hopes of winning on Christmas, but they will also be looking ahead to a New Year's Day showdown with the Chargers. The Rams really don't want to lose to their playoff-contending tenants, even in a game that's meaningless to the Rams. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As bad as it's been from an NFL perspective, it might even worse from a fantasy perspective.
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham notes, the Rams had another comically inept offensive game in Green Bay, managing just 156 total yards, with only two drives surpassing 50 yards. Los Angeles now has the NFL's worst offense by yards per game. Baker Mayfield passed for a modest 111 yards, and Akers the team's leading receiver with just 35 yards.
In fact, Akers had the only strong game from the offense, rushing for 65 yards with a season-best 19-yard carry even though McVay abandoned the run early. If nothing else, Akers is finally flashing the talent that made him a second-round draft pick three years ago, and he could boost his stock if the Rams again try to move on from him in the offseason.
Mayfield, meanwhile, looked skittish behind the Rams' offensive line, which is a completely logical response to playing with this group of third-stringers and fourth-stringers next to right tackle Rob Havenstein, who appeared to have a terrible game himself in Green Bay.
The excitement of Mayfield's debut victory over the Raiders evaporated, but another week of practice and the friendly confines of SoFi Stadium should help him.
On the injury front. ... Starting center Brian Allen and wide receiver Ben Skowronek are out for the season after straining a calf muscle Monday night against the Packers.
McVay announced Tuesday that both will end the season on injured reserve.
"Both of those guys got their calves pretty good," McVay told Stu Jackson of the team website.
Left tackle Joe Noteboom tore an Achilles in Week 6, ending his season, and left guard David Edwards' season ended with a second concussion this season. Edwards played only four games. Allen played seven games, including the two snaps he played Monday night. He underwent a knee procedure in Week 2, costing him five games, and a left thumb injury kept him out in Weeks 11 and 12. He also has had swelling in his knee.
Coleman Shelton, who started at right guard Monday night before moving to center to replace Allen, will remain the Rams' starting center the rest of the season. Shelton and right tackle Rob Havenstein are the Rams' only healthy offensive linemen out of the five who started the season opener.
The Rams' receiving corps already has lost Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, with Skowronek helping make up for their absence. He ends his second season with 39 receptions for 376 yards.
"That's a tough loss for Ben, because he's done a good job of getting a lot of opportunities to grow and mature as a receiver, and really a complete player on this team," McVay said. "That'll be tough to miss those last three games for him."
You can access complete stats for the Rams Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson, Demarcus Robinson, Ben Skowronek, Cooper Kupp
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long, Davis Allen
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
The Miami Dolphins have lost three games in a row, and in a results-driven business, that is the cold fact of the matter.
But ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques contends that Saturday night's 32-29 loss to the Buffalo Bills felt different from their previous two. The Dolphins left frigid western New York with reasons for optimism as they prepare for a Christmas Day home game against the Green Bay Packers -- even if they don't see it that way.
"We not into moral victories, at all," wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who caught three passes for 114 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown, said. "We're gonna learn from it. The Bills did a good job and won the game, but we'll learn from it and go back to the drawing board. We've got three more games to go out there and compete."
As Associated Press sports writer Alanis Thames noted, the Dolphins will be favored when they host Green Bay on Christmas Day. They will close the season on the road against New England, who they beat in Week 1, then at home against the New York Jets, who they lost to in Week 5.
But in Week 15, in below-freezing temperatures, the Dolphins' offense woke up from its winter hibernation to the tune of 405 total yards against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
After looking out of sync the previous two weeks, Miami appeared to recapture some of the rhythm that, at one point, catapulted it to the top of the AFC standings. There are still things that need cleaning up -- untimely penalties and third-down defense come to mind -- but there's no shame in losing to the Bills in December at Highmark Stadium on a last-second field goal.
Head coach Mike McDaniel said he won't allow there to be.
"On the positive side, I think that is night and day from the football we've played since the bye," he said. "So had we played like that for the whole season, we'd be feeling a lot different because it wouldn't be the third loss in a row ... We've got a game next week, and that's really all you can control. Right now, I think it would be weak-minded of any player or coach on the Miami Dolphins to have less confidence from this game going into next week -- that would just mean that they're sick of being vulnerable.
"And if I have any say in that, that will not be the case."
Louis-Jacques went on to note the Dolphins' playoff hopes, while obviously not as concrete as they were three weeks ago, are far from disintegrated. They're still in a position where they don't need to rely on any other team; win out, and they're in.
Even simpler, if they beat the Patriots and the Jets, they will make the playoffs even if their losing streak extends to four games against the Packers.
That's not as big of a stretch as it seemed entering Week 15.
Tua Tagovailoa played his worst two games of the season against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13 and Los Angeles Chargers in Week 14, setting season lows in off-target percentage and completion percentage over expectation. But he was more efficient against the Bills, as Miami's offense made four trips into the red zone Saturday night -- four more than it made in its previous two games.
Tagovailoa said he doesn't particularly care about his personal performance because "a loss is a loss, regardless of how I played."
Shortly before exiting his news conference Saturday, Tagovailoa said the Dolphins are in this business to win.
And while he and Waddle have a point, that tolerance for moral victories is low this time of the year, the Dolphins appear to be closer to winning than they seemed over the previous two weeks.
One of the major reasons is Miami ran the ball surprisingly well against a Bills defense that doesn't give up much on the ground.
The Dolphins rushed for 188 yards on 7.5 yards per carry and put up 405 yards of offense against Buffalo in blustery conditions. Miami cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time since Week 10 and did it in the first quarter, as Raheem Mostert became the first Dolphins player to rush for 100 yards in the first quarter of a game in at least the past 30 seasons.
With Jeff Wilson Jr. (hip) inactive, Mostert finished with 136 yards rushing on 17 carries as Miami's lead back. He averaged 8 yards per carry and had a 67-yard rush in the first half that set up a field goal. It was Mostert's best rushing output of the season, and best since Week 5.
But late in the game, McDaniel went away from what was working on the ground and questionably opted to pass on several third-and-short situations, and the Dolphins did not convert.
Miami finished the game 5 of 14 on third down.
McDaniel said Miami strayed away from the run game down the stretch to "stay ahead" of Buffalo's defense.
"I think when they adjust, we had to give them a reason to play single safety," he said. "I think they played four snaps of man the first time we played them. So you have a choice -- you can either play scared or you can try to continue doing what your offense is built to do. And if they're blitzing five-man pressures to stop the run, it's going to get ugly. ..."
On the injury front. ... McDaniel said Wilson was close to playing in Week 15 against the Bills. Waddle left with a forearm injury but returned; I'll follow up on that via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
I'll follow up on both via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
You can access complete stats for the Dolphins Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Devon Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Chris Brooks, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson, Braxton Berrios, Erik Ezukanma
TEs: Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell framed it, "The doubts about Kirk Cousins have chased him his whole career, like a relentless pass rusher bearing down on him as he's preparing to throw.
"The pile of comeback victories he's had this year just keeps outgrowing that pessimism about his ability to elevate the Minnesota Vikings to win the toughest games. ..."
"His poise, his demeanor, his accuracy -- when we needed it the most," coach Kevin O'Connell said after Minnesota made the largest comeback in NFL history to beat Indianapolis 39-36 on Saturday.
As a fourth-round draft pick who finally became a full-time starter in his fourth NFL season with Washington and didn't get a team to commit a big contract until signing with Minnesota for his seventh year in the league, Cousins entered 2022 with a 59-59-2 regular-season record and just one win in three playoff games. His 11-18 mark in prime-time games hasn't helped the perception.
Cousins hasn't proven slippery or creative enough to consistently beat pocket pressure when the protection in front of him breaks down. His firm grasp of the finer details of the position and dutiful adherence to the script has at times kept him from letting it loose by settling for safe throws.
But the arrival of O'Connell this year -- both personality and playbook -- has clearly helped bring out the best in Cousins, not to mention the continued ascendance of star wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
O'Connell raved about the way Cousins scanned through the progression to find third and fourth options open and deliver the ball on time and on target in the clutch against the Colts.
The 2-point conversion pass to T.J. Hockenson that tied the game with 2:15 left was one of those. The 21-yard connection to Adam Thielen that got the Vikings to the edge of field-goal range on the eventual winning overtime drive was another.
"Regardless of the plays that are called, that guy keeps playing at a high level. He was a huge part of us winning this game," O'Connell said.
The Vikings (11-3) have won 10 games by eight points or fewer.
They trailed Indianapolis by 33, Buffalo by 17, Detroit by 14 and Washington by 10 and were behind by 10-plus points in the fourth quarter in all four of those.
Cousins, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, leads the NFL this year in passing yards (1,305) in the fourth quarter and overtime and is fifth among regulars in passer rating during that span. Not that he's been able to find much depth of satisfaction, with so many tight games and the Vikings still trying to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC after clinching their division.
"I'm kind of wired, 'What's next? What's next?' It's hard for me to enjoy the process," Cousins said. "I want to enjoy the product."
The Vikings play their last of nine regular-season home games this Saturday against the New York Giants, who are currently in control of a wild-card spot and the No. 6 seed in the NFC. ...
One other Cousins-related note here. ... The QB took seven sacks, partly a product of the 54 pass attempts, but the protection against a dangerous front was leakier than the Vikings would like to live with.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert notes that Jefferson has absorbed three illegal hits this month, including two in Saturday's historic comeback, and the team is growing increasingly suspicious about it.
O'Connell has brought it up, unprompted, twice in the past three days.
Speaking Monday to reporters, O'Connell said sarcastically that Jefferson had "surprisingly" taken several shots from Colts players. He added: "Clearly there is an emphasis on the teams we're playing. Some of those hits, they don't just seem to be by accident at times."
Jefferson twice needed medical attention in the fourth quarter Saturday. The first instance came after Colts safety Rodney Thomas hit him when he still had protection as a defenseless player, and resulted in what O'Connell called a rib/chest contusion. The second was a hit to the head by Colts cornerback Stephon Gilmore, requiring Jefferson to leave the game for a concussion check.
In Week 13, New York Jets safety Jordan Whitehead also hit Jefferson in the head and neck area. There have been several other hits in recent weeks that the Vikings protested but ultimately were not flagged. Jefferson visited the Vikings' practice facility Sunday for treatment, but O'Connell expressed confidence that he'll be available for their Christmas Eve matchup against the New York Giants.
"I think we've got to protect him a little bit better," O'Connell said Saturday. "Great to get the flags, but. ... He's too important to our league. Seems like a weekly occurrence at this point."
Jefferson has played more snaps (881) and run more routes (573) this season than any other receiver in the NFL. He leads the league in receptions (111) and yardage (1,623) through 14 games.
Jefferson had a bruised chest from a hard hit, but O'Connell said on Monday he "came out strong" from the game.
Elsewhere on the injury front. ... Cornerback Cameron Dantzler didn't play because of an illness, but should be on track to return with a full week of practice.
The biggest concern is center Garrett Bradbury, who's missed the past two games with a lower back injury. O'Connell didn't sound optimistic about his immediate status. ...
Beyond that, wide receiver K.J. Osborn helped produce one of the most important plays of the comeback, a 63-yard reception on a skinny post route he broke wide open from the slot to reach the 4-yard line with the Vikings trailing 33-0 in the middle section of the third quarter.
Osborn caught a touchdown pass three plays later and finished with 10 receptions for 157 yards, both career highs.
Conversely, Jalen Reagor continues to struggle.
The former Eagles had a 51-yard punt return that was erased by a facemask penalty on teammate Kris Boyd, but the seven snaps he took at wide receiver were rough. Both interceptions Cousins threw were intended for Reagor on a play immediately after Jefferson left for injury, and Reagor appeared to be out of sync with the quarterback on each route.
He also took a 5-yard loss on a jet sweep in the third quarter, and his motion toward the handoff was disjointed.
You can access complete stats for the Vikings Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, Myles Gaskin, Cam Akers, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell, N'Keal Harry
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss reported, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers stood in a stunned locker room following the team's 30-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, making no excuses for his role in the shocking play that ended the game with no time left.
Meyers' careless lateral was caught by Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones and returned 48 yards for a touchdown as Jones steamrollered quarterback Mac Jones -- the last line of defense -- en route to the end zone.
"Just trying to do too much, trying to be a hero, I guess," Meyers said. "I thought I saw Mac open. I didn't see Chandler Jones at the time. I thought [Mac] was open and tried to get it to him, and let him try to make a play with it. But the score was tied, so I should have went down."
Why the Patriots were lateraling at all was a surprise, as players said that wasn't what was supposed to happen.
The Patriots had the ball at their 45-yard line with three seconds left and the score tied at 24. Meyers said the instructions in the huddle were straight-forward: "Just run the ball, go down."
That would have sent the game to overtime.
But when running back Rhamondre Stevenson picked up 23 yards on a draw play, he lateraled back to Meyers at around the Raiders' 40-yard line. That was the catalyst for Meyers' own mistake, a lateral more than 10 yards behind him.
"It's not his fault," Meyers said of Stevenson. "He gave me the ball because he trusted me. I have to be smarter with it."
Stevenson took accountability, saying: "The coaches gave us a play just to kind of run the time out, just get down. I feel like I should have did just that. The play call is just a draw play and nothing more, nothing less than that. I'm supposed to know the situation, I'm supposed to know how much time is on the clock. Critical situations. I failed to do that today."
When Chandler Jones gathered in the lateral, he had just one player to beat -- Mac Jones. The Patriots quarterback felt he cost the Patriots the game by not making the tackle.
"I got to tackle the guy. It's on me and it's my fault. If I tackle him, we play for overtime. Not good enough by me," he said.
Head coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots made a "mistake" on the play and that a Hail Mary wasn't an option because he didn't think they could reach the end zone.
"We've talked about situational football. We talk about it every week. Obviously, we have to do a better job," he said.
The Patriots had endured similar heartbreak in Week 14 of the 2018 season, losing to the Dolphins on a lateral play on special teams at the end of regulation.
Specific to a defensive touchdown, Sunday marked just the second go-ahead defensive touchdown on the final play of regulation in NFL history. The other was by the Patriots' defense in Week 2 of the 1960 season -- a 52-yard fumble return by defensive back Chuck Shonta against the New York Titans (who eventually became the Jets). That was the first win in Patriots history.
Beyond all that, New England's season-long issues on third down showed up again.
The offense was 2 for 13 for the game. Jones also regressed against a Raiders defense that came in ranked 24th in points allowed and 29th defending the pass.
Jones finished 13 of 31 for 112 yards.
Is there any hope for the passing offense -- this season and beyond?
During one stretch in the game, beginning in the second quarter, Jones was 5-of-16 for 18 yards, while averaging minus-1.8 air yards per completion. As Reiss suggested, it's hard to imagine the Patriots being able to compete with such results this season, sparking major questions about what coach Belichick might do to fix it.
But it goes beyond just the passing attack.
As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower notes, the Patriots had only one touchdown on 11 drives and seemed unsure of themselves offensively throughout. The same goal line series that featured the timeout that took a Meyers' TD off the board was capped with having a TD by Jones on a quarterback sneak erased by Jonnu Smith's false start.
Now back in eighth place in the conference standings, the Patriots have very little margin for error the rest of the way. It starts with a home matchup against Cincinnati (10-4) on Christmas Eve. That's followed by hosting Miami (8-6) on New Year's Day and finishing with a trip to division-leading Buffalo (11-3) on Jan. 8.
On the injury front. ... Running back Damien Harris (thigh) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (concussion) were both inactive, along with tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot), who was placed on injured reserve. Center David Andrews was helped off the field midway through the fourth quarter but was able to return and finish the game.
Harris, Parker, Meyers (concussion) and Stevenson (ankle) were all limited in Tuesday's walkthrough.
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
You can access complete stats for the Patriots Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Mac Jones, Matt Corral
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Kayshon Boutte, Demario Douglas, Matt Slater, Tyquan Thornton
TEs: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
While the New Orleans Saints' mathematical playoff hopes might be more the stuff of fantasy than reality, they're evidently not giving up.
According to Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel, their 21-18 victory over Atlanta on Sunday demonstrated that.
"It's not always pretty. It's not always easy," Saints quarterback Andy Dalton said after they held on for the win, thanks in part to an Atlanta turnover as the Falcons approached field-goal range inside the final three minutes.
"The good thing is we had an opportunity to win it and we took care of business and we did that."
Now the Saints have to try to win two in a row -- something they have yet to do this season.
"Our mindset and our goal is to finish the season the right way and win the next three," Dalton said.
After Tampa Bay (6-8) lost to Cincinnati on Sunday, New Orleans (5-9) was in a three-way tie with Atlanta and Carolina for second -- and last -- place in the anemic NFC South. But because the Buccaneers have beaten the Saints twice, New Orleans will have to make up two games on Tampa Bay in the final three weeks of the regular season.
The Saints' visit to Cleveland on Saturday will be the first of two road games in consecutive weeks before their regular-season finale back home. The Saints will visit Philadelphia in Week 17.
The Saints, who seldom play in cold weather, will have to contend not only with the Browns but also playing outdoors on the shores of Lake Erie in what are forecast to be freezing temperatures.
"It's going to be cold and windy for both teams and so we're not going to make too big a deal about it," head coach Dennis Allen Said. "The focus really has to be on the team we're playing and not really about the elements."
From a fantasy perspective, it might be a little easier to trust the team's key skill players.
But after Sunday's win, there's reason for optimism.
Alvin Kamara posted 21 carries for 91 yards and caught both of his targets for 13 yards in this one.
As CBSSports.com reported, Kamara looked like his old self coming off the Saints' Week 14 bye.
The 27-year-old accumulated more than 100 total yards for the first time in his last six games, as he posted his third-most touches of the season.
With Mark Ingram (knee) set to miss the remainder of the season on IR, Kamara easily paced New Orleans in rushing attempts ahead of swiss-army-knife Taysom Hill (seven) and new No. 2 back David Johnson.
Johnson, playing in his second game for the Saints, gained just 12 yards on four carries and lost a fumble inside the Atlanta 20-yard line.
While Kamara was kept out of the end zone for the sixth straight game, this significant uptick in usage is an encouraging sign for his production moving heading into Week 16's matchup against Cleveland's porous rush defense, which has allowed 5.0 yards per carry this season.
Beyond that, Chris Olave remains a viable play, but tight end Juwan Johnson and undrafted rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed also earning our attention.
Johnson, an undrafted rookie of Oregon in 2020 who was converted from a receiver to tight end in 2021, caught both of Dalton's touchdown passes on Sunday. That gives Johnson a team-leading seven TD catches.
"He attacks every day," Allen said. "He understands that we're fortunate to be able to do what we do for a living and I don't think he takes that for granted."
Johnson is "a playmaker and one of those guys we're obviously trying to get the ball in his hands," Hill said.
Shaheed's 68-yard touchdown reception on a deep pass from Hill against Atlanta was Shaheed's third scoring play this season. All of his TDs have gone for 44 yards or more.
"It's hard to find guys that can run like him," Hill said.
While there did not appear to be significant injuries during the game for New Orleans, Olave was listed as a nonparticipant on the Tuesday's injury report estimate with a hamstring issue.
Olave was on the field for 49 percent of New Orleans' offensive snaps on Sunday, making three catches for 53 yards. He leads the Saints with 63 catches and 940 receiving yards. He's scored three touchdowns.
In addition, the Saints added Jarvis Landry to their Wednesday injury report with an ankle issue. Landry did not practice with an ankle injury.
Guard Cesar Ruiz (foot), running back Dwayne Washington (illness), and linebacker Pete Werner (hamstring) also would not have practiced.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen), who hasn't played since Week Five was listed as limited. Safety Marcus Maye (shoulder), tight end Adam Trautman (ankle), safety P.J. Williams (knee), and offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (rest) were also limited.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed in advance of Sunday's game.
You can access complete stats for the Saints Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Jake Haener
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller, Alvin Kamara
WRs: Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Tre'Quan Smith
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham, Taysom Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
After weeks of concern the New York Giants were letting the season slip away after a 6-1 start, their dreams of making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 are very much alive.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan noted, la somewhat unexpected 20-12 prime-time victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday night has put first-year head coach Brian Daboll's overachievers on the cusp of the postseason.
The Giants (8-5-1) can clinch a playoff berth and give themselves and their fans an early Christmas present with a win over the NFC North champion Vikings (11-3) in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Beating the Vikings would only be one-third of the equation to make the playoffs. There are three overall scenarios involving four teams for the Giants to get a ticket to the postseason.
The first part of each scenario is the Giants need a win. They then would get in with:
The possibility has made all the recent hand-wringing, worry and distress brought on by a 1-4-1 run over the past six games seem pretty silly.
Of course, things might look darker in a week if the Giants lose and everyone else wins. The truth is, if the Giants lose their final three regular-season games, they're going to need help to get the postseason.
On the train ride back from Washington, Daboll met with his captains, trainers, sports science group, coaching staffs and coordinators to get ready for a short week.
That's his focus, as it has been all season. Control what is in front of you.
"Every time you win a game, that's part of the joy of being a coach -- seeing the players in the locker room with a smile on their face, seeing the coaches," Daboll said Monday. "We all know everybody in this business puts a lot of time, effort and energy into trying to get the outcome that we hope for. And when you do, it's good to be happy about it. Our guys were excited."
There's no time for that now. The game plan for the Vikings will be made over the next 24 hours and practice will start Tuesday.
"That's what you got to be," Daboll said after the win. "I just don't believe in riding roller coasters in this league."
One thing Daboll is willing to ride is quarterback Daniel Jones.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted this week, it's been a learning process for Jones. Everything from how to use his legs, protect the football, execute when it counts the most and even win football games at the NFL level.
He feels he's finally figured it out with the Giants having already assured they won't have a sixth straight losing season. This is the first year the Giants have even had a winning record -- at any point -- since he was drafted sixth overall in the 2019 NFL draft.
Jones believes he has learned how to win.
"I think I have gotten a better idea of what wins in the NFL," Jones said Tuesday, just 48 hours removed from the biggest victory of his career. "A lot of times it's not what you would think. I think it has a lot to do with taking care of the ball and staying in good situations for the offense and executing on critical downs and scoring in the red zone.
"I think I've improved a lot since my rookie year."
Jones' rookie season had its flashes (such as the winning touchdown run in his NFL debut and a five-touchdown performance later in the season against Washington) under former Giants coach Pat Shurmur. But there were also serious struggles taking care of the football.
Jones had 11 fumbles lost in 13 games as a rookie. He also had 12 passes intercepted. Jones threw double-digit interceptions in each of his first three professional seasons.
He has thrown the fewest (4) of any quarterback who has started more than 10 games this year under Daboll and his staff. Jones, 25, also has lost just three fumbles.
"That's good," Daboll said.
To what does he attribute the sudden drastic shift?
"Give credit to him," Daboll said. "He's got to take care of the ball in the pocket, and he's got to be the one to make good decisions when he's under pressure. I think [quarterbacks coach] Shea [Tierney] has done a really great job with him in the quarterback room. We try to do things that accentuate his strengths. I think he can throw it on all three levels, but there's a way to play each game against each opponent based on what they have defensively, how their rush is, what their corners look like.
"He's done a good job of operating and executing our offense."
It has led to an all-around more successful quarterback. Jones is 12th in QBR at 57.1 this season. He was 22nd last year at 47.5.
Jones doesn't just see the difference. He feels different as well.
Jones believes he has made massive leaps in some of those key areas, particularly his ball security.
"Yeah, I've improved in some of those decision-making situations," he said. "Protecting the ball is a big part of the game at this position. So, I'll try to keep doing that as well as I can.
"A lot of credit to our group. Guys, when you protect the ball, that is a group thing. Got to be on the same page, a lot trust in the receivers being in the right spots. They've done a good job with that. Good job by the coaches also. Yeah, it means a lot."
It couldn't come at a better time for Jones. The Giants are on the verge of ending a five-year playoff drought. They turned down the fifth-year option in Jones' rookie contract earlier this year. He's set to become a free agent after this season.
Jones had gone just 12-25 during his first three years as a starter. With three years of experience as a starter, the wins have started to come in his contract year.
And now, New York has three games left in the regular season.
It starts with the Vikings. A home game against Indianapolis (4-9-1) is scheduled for New Year's Day before a finale at Philadelphia against the NFC-leading Eagles (13-1). It's a game in which the Eagles might rest starters if they have nothing at stake.
On the injury front. ... Daboll said the Giants seemed to come out of the game in good shape. Tight end Nick Vannett injured his shoulder, but it might not be serious. The coach had no update on when cornerback Adoree Jackson (knee) and safety Xavier McKinney (broken hand) will be ready to return from extended absences.
And finally. ... Daboll is willing to do anything for a win -- including shaving part of his trademark beard.
"Well, look, I try to change things up when things aren't going well," Daboll said on Monday. "That includes looking like this, which trust me, my wife and daughters, they're not very happy about that.
"But I try to do anything for a win. So, it was almost a mustache. I gained about -- I don't know how many pounds -- the last couple weeks. So, I kept a little bit of the goatee on there [to] cover up some of the other parts. There's a lot of parts."
Now he has no choice but to keep the goatee.
His quarterback won't let him change it, either.
After Daboll's postgame press conference on Sunday night, he crossed paths with Jones. They shared a hug, and Daboll lauded his quarterback for his effort.
That's when Jones told his coach: "Now you got to keep the goatee!"
Jones repeated it for good measure. Maybe just in case Daboll was contemplating shaving it all off or doing something even more drastic.
Anyway, there is absolutely no way someone as superstitious as a football coach would think of making that kind of change after his Giants won for just the second time in six games.
"Absolutely," Daboll said about keeping the new look. "Unfortunately for everybody else.
"Not really sure [the facial hair] really makes the difference but change it up. There's a lot of skin underneath that beard, but so be it."
You can access complete stats for the Giants Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Eric Gray, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
The New York Jets are entrusting their fading playoff hopes to Zach Wilson, who will be the starting quarterback Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Head coach Robert Saleh, who announced the decision Tuesday, made it sound like he didn't have much of a choice.
Mike White, who fractured ribs nine days ago and sat out Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, wasn't cleared by doctors, according to Saleh.
Wilson, who returned from a three-game benching to face Detroit, was up and down in that game. He displayed the arm strength that made the Jets draft him second overall in 2021, passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns, but he missed several open receivers and threw a costly third-quarter interception. His off-target percentage (35.3) was a season high, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
Overall, Wilson is 5-3 as the starter. In a wild quarterback year, the Jets also have started Joe Flacco (1-2) and White (1-2).
When he benched Wilson on Nov. 23, Saleh said his intent was to get Wilson back in the lineup before the end of the season -- but not like this.
White changed the plan by playing well and galvanizing the team, and there's a good chance he would've remained the starter for as long as the Jets stayed in contention. Then he got drilled in the ribs by Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano on Dec. 11, resulting in at least two fractures.
Worth noting, Saleh defended Wilson on Monday.
"The frustrating thing is that this kid is going to be a good quarterback, but the NFL and this new instant-coffee world that we're in just doesn't want to give people time," Saleh said. "So, we look at him and he's just nitpicked with a fine-tooth comb."
Saleh praised Wilson despite the uneven performance, saying he took "a big step" and "showed at least some maturation" by overcoming a poor third quarter.
"I'm really pumped for him because, in his past, when he hit a speed bump in a game, he kind of derails," Saleh said. "But I thought he did a really good job of getting back on the rails and swinging back up in the fourth quarter to lead a touchdown drive."
Of course, it was also Saleh who benched Wilson, handing the job to White, who moved the offense more effectively.
Meanwhile, the Jets are 7-7 and on a three-game skid, with their once-promising postseason hopes now teetering on the brink of vanishing. And they have a quick turnaround against the surging Jaguars (6-8).
Other notes of interest. ... The offensive line continues to struggle. As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. notes, the unit has been rocked by injuries and inconsistency. They're not providing much time or protection for the QB the last few weeks, and the running game couldn't get going Sunday.
"I can give you the empathetic woe-is-me card, but nobody cares," Saleh said. "We've got to be better."
After three terrific games to start his NFL career, undrafted rookie running back Zonovan Knight was held to 23 yards on 13 carries. Saleh said he's questionable for Thursday with an ailing ankle, but "his arrow is pointing up."
In fact, Knight was officially listed as questionable on Wednesday. Beyond that, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (calf) will also be a game-time decision.
Both remained limited on Wednesday.
The only change to the Jets' practice report from Monday to Tuesday was receiver Corey Davis (concussion) being cleared to return to a full practice. He did the same again Wednesday and that was enough to get him off the injury report altogether.
Cornerback Brandin Echols (quad), receiver Denzel Mims (concussion) and receiver Jeff Smith (knee) have been ruled out along with White.
I'll follow up on all the injured Jets via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game. ...
A few final notes here. ... Garrett Wilson has 67 catches this season, breaking Wayne Chrebet's franchise record for rookies (66) set in 1995.
Veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah had his best game with the Jets, catching his first two touchdown passes of the season.
You can access complete stats for the Jets Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Randall Cobb, Jason Brownlee, Xavier Gipson, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, Kenny Yeboah
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
Head coach Nick Sirianni confirmed Tuesday that quarterback Jalen Hurts has a sprained right shoulder, but he isn't ruling him out for Saturday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Sirianni called Hurts one of the "toughest" players he knows and "heals fast" so he isn't going to put a timetable on the injury to his throwing shoulder.
The coach acknowledged that they will keep Hurts' safety in mind but said the Eagles will prepare for both Hurts and Gardner Minshew to play in Saturday's game at Dallas.
Hurts' injury occurred at the end of the third quarter Sunday in the Eagles' victory over the Chicago Bears when he was driven into the ground by defensive lineman Trevis Gipson following a 3-yard run. Hurts stayed on the ground for a few moments following the hit but continued playing and finished the game. He threw for 315 yards with two interceptions and ran for 61 yards and three scores in the 25-20 victory.
For what it's worth, Hurts did not seem to be in any pain when he talked to the media after the game and brushed off questions about being slow to get up from some tackles.
"Feel good, listening to my Anita Baker, gave me some sweets on the plane ride home, watch the tape, learn from it and move forward," he said. "It wasn't the first time I've been slow, won't be the last. I didn't play a really physical game."
Hurts ran the ball a team-high 17 times Sunday. The Bears registered 13 quarterback hits on him, the third-highest total in Week 15, per ESPN Stats and Information research. His 184 QB contacts on the season are the third-most, behind only Justin Fields of the Bears (202) and Daniel Jones of the New York Giants (186).
Hurts told reporters on Tuesday that there is "definitely a chance" that he'll be well enough to play against Dallas, but that he's going to go through the full practice week before any determination is made about his status. Taking that time will also allow Hurts to be sure that he won't be playing at less than full strength because that could hurt the team's chances of winning.
"Ultimately, I want to do what's best for the team," Hurts said, via Ed Kracz of SI.com. "It's a thing where you take it one day at a time. I think the best thing for me is being ready to play and being of best health and that's a day-by-day thing."
The 13-1 Eagles need just one more win to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
There's a good chance Minshew will be the one under center against the Cowboys as the Eagles try to wrap up the division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Hurts has had a breakout season, accounting for 35 total touchdowns (22 passing, 13 rushing) to tie Randall Cunningham's franchise record while passing for 3,472 yards and rushing for 747 yards in 14 games. He has had just five passes intercepted and is completing 67.3 percent of his attempts.
Philadelphia's sensational season means the Eagles can play it safe and rest Hurts so he is ready for the playoffs. Hurts had been an MVP front-runner on most betting sites, but he plummeted to 7-1 on Monday, per FanDuel SportsBook. Also per FanDuel, the Cowboys are now a 6-point favorite to beat the Eagles.
After Dallas, the Eagles close the season with home games against New Orleans and the New York Giants.
Should they earn the No. 1 seed in the conference, the Eagles could play up to two home games at Lincoln Financial Field in the playoffs. ...
A reminder: Minshew stepped in last season when Hurts suffered an ankle injury and missed a game against the New York Jets.
Minshew was 20 of 25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-18 victory over the Jets. According to Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston, the Eagles have tried to keep Minshew sharp this season by running the second team in drills against the first-team offense and leading 7-on-7 drills at the end of each practice.
"I'll always forever refer to that as the Gardner Minshew drill," Sirianni said recently. "We've seen Gardner play. We all know how Gardner is."
Although Sirianni would not say Tuesday morning whether Hurts would participate in the practice session, the team's injury report estimated Hurts as a non-participant. He also wasn't seen on the field for the start of Wednesday's session.
In addition, Minshew was out Tuesday to attend Mike Leach's funeral service. That left third-string quarterback Ian Book to run the team's walk-through.
Sirianni said the Eagles will have two game plans in place.
"We're going to have to plan for both guys to play," Sirianni said. "There will naturally be some difference. There's going to be things that Gardner likes that Jalen might not like as much and vice versa."
Meanwhile, tight end Dallas Goedert has been activated off injured reserve, making it possible that he'll face the Cowboys Saturday.
Goedert was placed on IR on Nov. 16 with a shoulder injury, but the feeling all along was that he would return at some point this season.
At the time of his injury, he was second on the team in receiving yards (544) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns with three.
Philadelphia has used a combination of Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra and Noah Togiai at tight end in Goedert's absence, but combined they have a little over 200 receiving yards.
Stay tuned. I'll obviously have more on Hurts and Goedert via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Sunday was a game full of rare mistakes from some of the most effective players on the team. Hurts, who entered with only three interceptions all season, threw two interceptions in a game for the first time since the Eagles lost in the playoffs last season to Tampa Bay. Miles Sanders fumbled for the first time this season.
The turnovers kept the game closer than it needed to be for the Eagles.
But the biggest mistake probably belonged to Sirianni, who admitted after the game what the rest of us already knew: He didn't use Sanders enough.
Sanders, entered the weekend 15 yards behind Saquon Barkley for the NFC rushing lead, didn't get his first touch in the Eagles-Bears game Sunday until 6:41 left in the second quarter. By then the Eagles had run 15 offensive plays.
According to NBCSports.com's Reuben Frank, it was the first time this year Sanders didn't have a carry in the first quarter.
He ran just three times in the first half for 12 yards and finished the game with just 11 carries for 42 yards. The only times he had fewer carries this year were in blowout wins against the Steelers and Titans when the backups finished the game. The Eagles ran 71 plays and 55 involved Hurts either running or throwing.
"We've got to get him the ball more," Sirianni said after the game. "We've got to do a little bit more called runs. That's on me. That's on me. Me and Shane (Steichen) will get that done. Just a couple more called runs and get him in a groove."
Sanders ranks 5th in the NFL with 1,110 rushing yards, 5th with 11 rushing touchdowns and 2nd among running backs with a 5.2 rushing average.
He's on pace to become the first Eagle ever with 1,000 rushing yards, 10 or more touchdowns and a 5.0 average.
On his WIP radio show Tuesday morning, Sirianni emphasized that the Bears -- although they entered the game ranked 27th in rush defense -- sold out against the run Sunday, which opened things up for the passing game.
A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith became the first Eagles wide receiver duo ever to combine for 300 yards.
"I know what they're ranked in the run (defense) game, but if a team wants to say, 'I'm going all in and you're going to have to throw to beat us,' we're lucky that we're able to be balanced and be able to adjust to say, 'OK, you're going to do that, we're going to do this.' And A.J. had 181 yards and DeVonta had 126.
"We knew we could hurt them on the outside. We threw the crap out of it because we knew we had an advantage."
Brown had nine catches for a career-high 181 yards, while Smith had five catches for 126 yards. Brown has 1,201 yards receiving this season. His previous career high was 1,075 yards in 2020 for Tennessee. Smith has five receptions of 30-plus yards in the last three games, including two receptions of 40-plus yards.
You can access complete stats for the Eagles Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
Pittsburgh will celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Immaculate Reception" when the Las Vegas Raiders (6-8) visit on Christmas Eve.
The loser will effectively be eliminated from postseason contention.
The Steelers expect to have Kenny Pickett back in the starting lineup against the Raiders.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he anticipates the rookie QB starting in Week 16 after missing last week's game.
"As far as Kenny Pickett, I think the concussion component of where he is is behind us," Tomlin said. "I think he has to check a box procedurally but, if we were to practice today, he would be a full participant."
Pickett suffered a concussion early in the Steelers' Week 14 loss to Baltimore.
Mitchell Trubisky handled the starting duties in Week 15, completing 17-of-22 passes for 179 yards and adding a touchdown sneak. But the Steelers will return the reins to their first-round rookie as they look to close the season on a positive note to build toward 2023.
Pickett will face a Raiders pass defense struggling to slow opponents, allowing 300-plus yards in 12 of 14 games.
But the weather in Pittsburgh could be a factor.
"We'll acknowledge that the weather could be a significant component," Tomlin said. "Such is life in the national football league and in Pittsburgh."
Conditions are currently projected to be around 8 degrees Saturday night, with wind gusts between 10 and 20 mph, per The Weather Channel.
Tomlin didn't sound concerned about the New Jersey native, who played collegiately at Pitt and is seemingly accustomed in the frozen conditions.
"He's probably better equipped to answer that than I, but that's an example that we often cite when we analyze people in draft prep," Tomlin said when asked about Pickett's experience playing in the cold. Diontae Johnson played at Toledo. He's from Tampa but (played at Toledo) -- that Wednesday night MACtion has probably got him a little prepared.
"So with all the offensive guys, usually there's a discussion of some kind and draft analysis of that exposure or what that might look like or if it might be an issue for them. Often times not a significant decision-maker but a variable, certainly."
But, Tomlin admitted, the weather could be a challenge and affect the team's game plan.
"We'll acknowledge that the weather could be significant on Saturday night and could play out in terms of how these two teams come together," he said. "That's life in the National Football League, and that's specifically life in Pittsburgh, and so we won't run from that. We'll run to that.
"We gotta be an all-weather group. I think everybody that lives here and plays here understands and embraces that. ..."
In addition to Pickett, who was indeed listed as a full participant on Tuesday's estimated practice report, tight end Pat Freiermuth (foot), Najee Harris (hip) and Johnson (toe) were listed as limited.
I'll follow up on all involved as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Trubisky is no longer the quarterback of the present in Pittsburgh, let alone the future. Yet he rebounded nicely after tossing three interceptions last week against Baltimore.
Trubisky, 28, entered Sunday's game searching to balance being productively aggressive and overly aggressive. In finding George Pickens for a 38-yard connection and Johnson for several big completions, including an 18-yard gain, Trubisky moved the ball with intermediate chunk plays without costing the offense points.
"I feel like he did a good job controlling the ball and making the right reads," Johnson said. "Whenever we ran the ball, they did good up front blocking. Everybody did their job as one. ..."
According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, the diplomatic approach to splitting carries between Harris and Jaylen Warren has been a positive.
Harris rebounded from a quiet week in a loss to the Ravens to gain 86 yards on 24 carries and score a touchdown -- one in which he violently shoved the last Panthers defender between him and the end zone to score the first points of the day. Warren also got into the end zone, scoring his first career touchdown in the second quarter.
Warren's 2-yard score was a textbook example of the straight-ahead fury that's become the undrafted rookie free agent's trademark.
"We wanted to make it as simple as possible," Harris said. "We believed in our line. We know how good they are, so we felt confident in us taking control of the clock by running the ball and helping out Mitch or whoever was in the game. ...
Finally. ... Does the late-season offensive improvement give Matt Canada job security?
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor notes, a popular scapegoat for the Steelers' early offensive struggles, Canada has quietly overseen a solid improvement from his unit since the bye week. Against the Panthers, the Steelers' historic 21-play drive ate up nearly the entire third quarter and gave the Steelers a two-score lead. And after a quiet week against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers' run game put up 157 yards and the offense totaled 326 yards.
The biggest hole in the game plan remains Pickens' inconsistent involvement, but overall, the offense has found a rhythm after a slow start -- and perhaps that could keep Canada as the Steelers' OC for a third season.
You can access complete stats for the Steelers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, Calvin Austin III, Diontae Johnson
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
With only three days off to try to get back to full strength, San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy didn't do much of anything.
In the team's Week 15 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Purdy suffered a painful rib and oblique injury, which had his status for last Thursday night's clash with the Seahawks in doubt.
According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, at each of the Niners' three practices this week, Purdy was simply a vessel transferring the ball to the running backs by way of handoffs. He didn't throw a pass until Thursday morning at the team's walk-through in the ballroom of the Bellevue (Washington) Marriott hotel.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan had already departed for Lumen Field by then, but his confidence in his rookie quarterback has grown so much in the past couple of weeks that he didn't need to worry. Shanahan kept an eye on Purdy in limited warmup reps, then started him against the Seahawks with little clue if he would need veteran Josh Johnson to take over.
"He's definitely the most poised rookie I've ever had," Shanahan said. "He's been like that since he's gotten here. ... Even him being unsure of whether he'd be able to go or not, I think that was uneasy for him because he didn't know what to expect until he got in the game. Under the circumstances, we didn't have any other options or choice. [We were] going to see how long he could last and ready to go with Josh. But he got comfortable and got better as the game went. It was pretty unbelievable."
Purdy's meteoric rise up San Francisco's depth chart has been surpassed only by his ability to continue checking boxes.
Purdy proved capable of filling in for injured starter Jimmy Garoppolo on short notice against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.
He showed he could handle a start and produce against the Bucs. On Thursday, an injured Purdy walked into one of the most difficult environments in the NFL on a short week and helped carve up the Seahawks as the 49ers clinched the NFC West with a 21-13 win.
Wagoner went on to note that Purdy will face many more challenges in the weeks to come, and it's way too soon to make sweeping declarations about his long-term future as the 49ers' quarterback. For now, we know this: Purdy hasn't flinched at any test brought his way and passed each of them with flying colors.
"I couldn't even tell he was hurting," defensive end Nick Bosa said. "I've seen other quarterbacks around the league who have had similar things with the ribs, and I've dealt with it before. It's brutal. So for him to not show any pain in his face and just his mannerisms and everything, it says a lot about who he is."
Purdy finished 17-of-26 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 117.0. He again didn't throw any interceptions, though he was fortunate that Seattle safety Quandre Diggs dropped one just before the half.
In two starts, Purdy has completed 70 percent of his attempts with four touchdown passes.
Only two other quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers and Garoppolo -- have hit those marks in their first two career starts since 1950.
The one upside to playing on a short week is that it's always followed by extra time off. The Niners had a 10-day window to work through before hosting the Washington Commanders on Saturday, which allowed Purdy some much-needed time to heal.
And if he can't throw again, at least Shanahan knows he can count on Purdy to fight through the pain and deliver, again.
"[We] were just going to see how long it lasted," Shanahan said. "It lasted all game."
Just like Purdy's early success: Nobody knows how long it's going to last, but the 49ers are going to ride with him as long as they can. ...
Now that they've clinched the division, how will the Niners handle their final three games?
The 49ers can't drop below the No. 3 seed in the NFC, but they can still realistically rise to No. 2. As long as that two spot is in play, don't expect the Niners to take their foot off the gas, in part because they need to get Purdy as many snaps as possible before the postseason. ...
What about Purdy's future?
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow reminded readers, the Niners traded three first-round picks to take Trey Lance third overall in 2021 to be the franchise quarterback of the future. But after spending most of his rookie season as a backup and going down with a season-ending injury in Week 2 this year, Lance's future is uncertain.
Purdy is playing at a high level early in his career and could lock down the starting role with a successful playoff run.
On the injury front. ... Via multiple reporters, Shanahan said at his Tuesday press conference that Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey would be among the players limited in the session.
Purdy is obviously still dealing with the aforementioned oblique injury. McCaffrey has been listed with a knee injury that has limited him in practice sessions over the last couple of weeks. But he hasn't missed any playing time with the issue.
At this point, receiver Deebo Samuel is still week-to-week. Because the 49ers have already clinched their division and there isn't much of a chance for the team to get the NFC's No. 1 seed, San Francisco doesn't really have to rush Samuel back into action.
Shanahan generally doesn't seem to want to rest players, but those who are already injured present different choices.
"I think this week, maybe there would be a chance if we were that desperate," Shanahan said of Samuel. "So, I'm not even looking into it this week. We'll see how he is next Monday and make that same decision."
Garoppolo, defensive tackle Kevin Givens, and defensive lineman Kerry Hyder also won't practice on Tuesday. Safety Tarvarius Moore, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and defensive lineman Arik Armstead will be limited. Cornerback Ambry Thomas won't practice or will be limited with his ankle injury.
I'll follow up on Purdy and McCaffrey via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... Special teams weren't on point in Seattle. Robbie Gould missed a 43-yard field goal that could have sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. The Niners also allowed two 31-yard kick returns by Godwin Igwebuike.
You can access complete stats for the 49ers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson framed it, "If the Seahawks are going to turn their recent slide around in time to make the playoffs, they'll likely have to do it without Tyler Lockett. ..."
Seattle's leading receiver broke a bone in his index finger late in the team's 21-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday night.
Lockett underwent surgery on his hand Monday, head coach Pete Carroll announced. Lockett could return as soon as Week 17.
Carroll called the surgery "perfect."
"We feel very good about him coming back quickly," Carroll told Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. "There's a chance [he could miss only one game], yes. ... That sounds crazy, miraculous, but they secured it in a way that they know he can already start moving his hand and stuff like that. So we'll see what happens."
The Seahawks also lost nose tackle Bryan Mone to what Carroll called a "significant" ACL injury.
Lockett was hurt on Seattle's last drive, Carroll said. He finished with seven catches for 68 yards, snapping his franchise-record streak of six consecutive games with a receiving touchdown. He leads the Seahawks with 964 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns, while his 78 catches are one behind DK Metcalf.
Lockett, 30, has missed only two games in eight NFL seasons, one because of a broken leg late in 2016 and the other due to COVID-19 last year.
"I can't fathom playing without Tyler," Carroll said. "I got a chance to hang with him, just to try to express what it's like to be working with a guy like this for so long. He's such an incredible player. He's not in tremendous pain. He's got a broken hand. You feel sorry for him, but he's such a magnificent football player and a member of the team and member of the community and our area and our fans ... that we're gonna miss the heck out of him for whatever he misses."
Lockett is in his first season as an offensive captain.
"It sucks," said safety Quandre Diggs, one of Lockett's closest friends on the Seahawks. "Especially a guy like that gives it his all. The things that he does for the organization, that he does for this team, he's one of the vocal leaders, he's a captain for a reason. He's done it for a long time. He's somebody that I have a hell of a lot of respect for. I'll be there for him, of course."
Lockett's absence will push veteran Marquise Goodwin from the No. 3 to the No. 2 role behind Metcalf. Carroll said second-year receiver D'Wayne Eskridge is close to returning from the broken hand that landed him on injured reserve. He's eligible to return this week.
In addition, former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell was added to the 53-man roster for the remainder of the season on Tuesday. He's officially off the Seahawks practice squad. ...
With a Saturday game coming up, the Seahawks kicked off their practice week a day early, and they took the field Tuesday with six players sidelined by injury, and one, outside linebacker Darrell Taylor, out due to illness.
Held out of Tuesday's practice were running back DeeJay Dallas (ankle), tight end Noah Fant (knee), running back Kenneth Walker III (ankle), safety Ryan Neal (knee), nose tackle Al Woods (Achilles) and Lockett.
Linebacker Jordyn Brooks was a full participant and is "determined to play" this week, Carroll said.
I'll have more on Lockett and the anticipated receiving rotation as it becomes clearer in coming days. ...
Meanwhile. ... The 49ers' win clinched the NFC West and gave the Seahawks their fourth loss in five games following a 6-3 start. They're currently one spot out of the NFC playoff standings, behind the Washington Commanders (7-5-1) and New York Giants (7-5-1) in wild-card seeding.
Even with an extended break, their challenge this week isn't any easier traveling to Kansas City Saturday to face the AFC West-leading Chiefs. It's not a must-win for Seattle, but an upset of the Chiefs would go a long way to solidifying playoff hopes for the Seahawks. ...
You can access complete stats for the Seahawks Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young, Jake Bobo
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall suggested, there's no surefire fix for what's ailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Tom Brady-led offense is struggling to score points, the defense hasn't been playing up to its usual standards and mistakes on special teams have also contributed to the Bucs (6-8) not being able to take command of the NFC South.
"In football, all you can do is fight. You can fight, you can play smarter, and we have to keep fighting," head coach Todd Bowles said in the wake of a 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that dropped Tampa Bay two games below .500 -- but not out of first place in the division.
"We understand what we're doing is not good enough by far," Bowles added. "It's not even close to good enough, and we have three games left to try to save our season."
The path to a third straight playoff berth is not complicated.
Hold off Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans to repeat as division champions, and the Bucs not only will be in, but will host a first-round matchup.
At 5-9 and already assured of finishing the regular season with losing records, the Panthers, Falcons and Saints trail Tampa Bay by one game with three to play.
The Bucs' stretch run begins at Arizona on Christmas night. They close with games against Carolina at home and Atlanta on the road.
As noted above, while Brady continues to rank among the league leaders in passing, scoring touchdowns continues to be an issue.
Brady threw for two scores in building a 17-0 second-quarter lead against the Bengals, however he wasn't able to get the Bucs back in the end zone again until less than a minute remained Sunday. By that time, Cincinnati had scored 34 in a row to build a 17-point advantage of its own.
After spending much of the season doing a good job of taking care of the football, Brady's fortune has changed. The seven-time Super Bowl champion has turned the ball over seven times in the past three games, including four interceptions. He was intercepted twice and also lost two fumbles -- all in the second half -- against the Bengals.
"It's a team game. We're not placing blame on one side of the ball or the other," Bowles said. "We're in this thing together and we're going to fight. We just can't turn the ball over. And when we do, we have to make stops."
Despite Sunday's collapse, the offense did some good things in building a 14-point halftime lead against the Bengals, who were outgained 261 yards to 83 in the first two quarters.
In fact, as Brianna Dix of the team's official website noted, up until the two-minute warning prior to halftime, the Buccaneers had 13 first downs while the Bengals mustered just 14 offensive plays.
Similarly, Tampa Bay had 20 plays in opposing territory and the Bengals had one in Bucs' territory. The Bucs made changes offensively and relied on pre-snap motion and play-action in the first half, culminating in a Russell Gage Jr. touchdown on a shallow crosser and a Chris Godwin score off a screen.
Mike Evans became the offensive catalyst, amassing 83 yards in the first half -- the same total number of yards the Bengals' produced in that span.
"It shows us how good we can be. ... If you're consistent," Bowles said.
They'll be looking to duplicate that level success -- except for a full 60 minutes -- in Arizona. ...
On the injury front. ... All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain. Bowles said he may be getting closer to returning. Safeties Antoine Winfield Jr (ankle) and Mike Edwards (hamstring) returned to the lineup Sunday, though neither finished the game.
One last note here. ... A botched fake punt play helped Cincinnati get back into the game early in the third quarter, with the Bengals taking over on downs at the Bucs 16 after punt protector Giovani Bernard appeared to be caught off-guard by a snap he failed to handle on fourth-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 26.
"Miscommunication, that's all it was on my part," Bernard said. "I take complete fault for that. It was complete fault -- my fault, that's it. It's on me, all me, something I did wrong. It was all on me. No. 25 out there, that's me. I was the one who did it. It was just me. I messed up. I messed up. Thank you, guys."
Bowles was asked if Bernard had tried to call the play off before the snap.
"There was no call-off. There was just a mistake," Bowles said, declining to elaborate. "We talked about it in the meeting, we corrected it, and we moved on from there."
The Bengals turned the gaffe into a field goal that trimmed Cincinnati's deficit to 17-6.
You can access complete stats for the Buccaneers Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Sean Tucker, Chase Edmonds, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
The Tennessee Titans are facing their biggest challenge of Mike Vrabel's five seasons as head coach.
A year ago, Vrabel guided the Titans through using an NFL -record 91 players with two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry missing the final nine games to the AFC's No. 1 seed and a 12-5 record. That earned Vrabel the AP NFL Coach of the Year award.
This season, they've used 80 different players, and their grip on the AFC South is slipping way.
The Titans (7-7) have lost four straight in their longest skid since the end of the 2015 season with the latest a 17-14 road loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Their four-game lead in search of a third straight division title is down to one with three games remaining, and the regular-season finale at Jacksonville (6-8) very well could decide whether Tennessee makes the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
And now the Titans get to do it on a short week in hosting Houston (1-12-1) on Saturday.
Asked Monday how they keep the faith amidst the growing injury woes and execution issues, Vrabel said they have to be professionals.
"We have to come to work," Vrabel said. "We all have a job to do. We have to excel at it. We have to do our job better. And we have to continue to find ways to not hurt ourselves in all three phases."
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker pointed out, it helped that the defense snapped a four-game drought without forcing a turnover with two interceptions and held Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert without a touchdown pass for only the third time in his career.
The Titans looked like the defense that held eight straight opponents to 20 points or fewer despite a rotating cast of defenders.
Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, who had one interception in the third quarter, wasn't thinking playoffs after the loss.
"It don't look like we're a team right now that's going to beat anybody, so we've got to find a way to get back to work and beat Houston," Byard said. "That's all we can really do at this point."
Ryan Tannehill missed a series during Sunday's loss to the Chargers with an ankle injury. But he was able to come back and finish the game with his ankle heavily taped.
On Monday, Vrabel didn't say specifically whether or not Tannehill will be able to play against Houston.
"He'll work extremely hard to get back and find a way to make the game, like he always has," Vrabel said in his Monday press conference, adding that he'd never question Tannehill's toughness or willingness to do what it takes to play.
Tannehill finished Sunday's game 15-of-22 passing for 165 yards with an interception. He also had a 1-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left on a QB sneak.
If Tannehill is healthy, he'll play, Vrabel said. Though he did note the progress rookie quarterback Malik Willis has made throughout the season.
"I think Malik has put a lot of work into the show team and trying to play the game and command the huddle and do all the things we've talked about -- how he needs to try to develop during the week when there aren't a lot of reps," Vrabel said. "And he did that. … We're always trying to coach him and I think he's learned from those opportunities. And I think he was ready to go in the game and try to help us yesterday."
Willis was 3-of-4 for 20 yards and rushed for 8 yards in his limited action.
Worth noting, the reporting on Tannehill early Wednesday wasn't positive and the Titans added to it by signing veteran quarterback Josh Dobbs off of the Lions practice squad.
I'll have more on Tannehill and Treylon Burks, who has missed the last two games with a concussion, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Burks was listed as full on Tuesday's practice estimate while Tannehill was a nonparticipant. ...
Remember: The Titans beat Houston 17-10 earlier this season, rushing for 314 yards as a team during the contest.
That might be the approach again this weekend. But there are issues there as well.
As Walker noted, too often the Titans rotate Henry off the field on third down. The two-time NFL rushing champ is having a career season as a receiver in both catches (30) and yards (379), and he was on the sideline for one of the third-and-2s the Titans failed to convert with short passes.
Vrabel said he's responsible for every call that goes in. That would include a pass on third-and-9 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter from the Chargers 24 when Tannehill missed an open receiver to his right before being sacked for a 9-yard loss.
That forced Randy Bullock to attempt a 51-yard field goal.
Henry finished with 104 yards rushing and led them with 59 yards receiving.
Even a run for no gain would've left the Titans with a shorter field-goal attempt. Vrabel also said he thought of going for two after Tannehill scored with 48 seconds left before kicking the extra point.
The Titans finally get their first back-to-back home games -- six days apart. They host Houston on Saturday, then play their second Thursday night game this season on Dec. 29 in hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
Worth noting. ... Henry has 202 carries for 1,254 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns in 11 games against the Texans in his career.
You can access complete stats for the Titans Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis, Will Levis
RBs: Derrick Henry, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore, Kyle Philips
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco
Washington CommandersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 20 December 2022
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the Commanders will stick with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback -- for now.
But head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that he'll consider making a change to Carson Wentz if they don't "get back on track."
Heinicke has started the past eight games after Wentz suffered a broken right ring finger Oct. 13. Washington has gone 5-2-1 with Heinicke starting, but the offense has struggled. Wentz was active Sunday for the first time since his injury.
After Sunday night's 20-12 loss to the New York Giants, the Commanders (7-6-1) dropped to the seventh and final playoff spot with an upcoming road trip at the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) on Saturday. Washington leads the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions by half a game, so it's likely the Commanders will have to win two games to clinch a playoff spot.
"The biggest thing is sticking with Taylor and with what we're trying to establish," Rivera said. "[But] it is something, to be quite frank, that I do have to think about at some point. But if we can play the way we've played and do the things we've done, then we'll stick where we are."
Washington's offense has not fared well most of the season after scoring a combined 55 points the first two games.
Under Heinicke, Washington ranks 13th in total yards, but 25th in scoring, 25th in the red zone and 27th on third down. Washington's offense has scored more than 23 points only once in the past 12 weeks and has scored 19 or fewer in four of the past seven games. The Commanders have relied on their run game and defense to go from 1-4 to their current mark.
On Sunday, Heinicke completed seven of 13 passes for 55 yards in the first half. He lost a fumble on a blindside hit by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux inside the 5-yard line. Thibodeaux recovered and scored.
Rivera said he did not consider switching quarterbacks at halftime.
In the second half, Heinicke completed 10 of 16 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. He also fumbled at the New York 5-yard line late in the game when he failed to secure the ball on a scramble.
"I thought he responded very well," Rivera said of Heinicke's second half. "We continued to move the ball up and down the field. We have to be aware of our ball security."
Both quarterbacks have thrown 10 touchdown passes; Wentz had six passes intercepted over his six starts, Heinicke has had five. But Heinicke's mobility and ability to elude the rush remain attractive, especially when facing San Francisco, one of the NFL's best pass-rush units.
Rivera made it clear he still believes in Heinicke, telling him so in a postgame meeting in his office.
"My conversation was, 'Hey, look, we had some really good moments during this game, we did some really good things but we've got to build on it and we've got to finish in the red zone,'" Rivera said.
Washington traded for Wentz this past offseason, sending two picks to the Indianapolis Colts and absorbing his $28 million cap hit. The Commanders will end up having surrendered two third-round picks for Wentz. He does not have any guaranteed money remaining on his contract, so the team could cut him after the season with no cap penalty.
Heinicke will be a free agent after the season. ...
Not much is easy for Washington now after falling to 7-6-1, with games at San Francisco and home against Cleveland and Dallas left. The Commanders remain in a playoff position but will need to fend off the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, both 7-7, for the final NFC wild-card spot.
"We're in a very precarious situation right now," Rivera said. "We have a half-game lead over a couple of teams, and the key, though, is we got to focus in and take care of them one at a time."
Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, the running game is still clicking along.
Rookie Brian Robinson Jr. ran for 89 yards, and Washington finished with 159 against the Giants, which is usually part of a winning recipe.
Robinson does not think he is back in peak form more than three months after getting shot twice in the right leg during an attempted robbery.
"I'm still making strides," he said. "I don't know when I'll be 100 percent. I'm sure I'll let everybody know when I feel like myself again."
On the injury front. ... Antonio Gibson (foot) was limited in Tuesday's practice.
As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, the Commanders did not actually practice, as most teams did not. Gibson has been listed with this foot ailment for a few weeks, and outside of a Thursday downgrade a few weeks ago, he seems to have passed every test needed to keep playing.
Expect that to continue, but I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
Chase Young could make his season debut more than 13 months after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles is a question mark after landing in concussion protocol last week.
You can access complete stats for the Commanders Week 15 game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Sam Howell, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Jonathan Williams, Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Dax Milne, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates