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Team Notes Week 5 2018
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 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported, rookie quarterback Josh Rosen did everything he needed to bring Arizona back for a come-from-behind win in his first NFL start but it wasn't enough.
Rosen orchestrated his final drive efficiently, but a Phil Dawson missed field goal from 45 yards ended up costing the Cardinals, who fell 20-17 as Seattle kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yarder as time expired.
Rosen finished with 180 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions on 15-of-27 passing.
Rosen's first career touchdown pass came at an ideal time: In the fourth quarter with Arizona down seven.
Rosen had what seemed like all day in the pocket, waiting patiently for the routes to develop. He found second-year receiver Williams for a 22-yard touchdown, putting the ball low, only where Williams, with coverage draped all over him, could get it. That tied the game at 17, giving Rosen a chance for a comeback win in his first career start.
Rosen showed off his poise and maturity behind center while displaying an arm that made him what many pundits considered the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2018 draft class.
He didn't take long to call audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage, lining up the offensive linemen how we needed them. Rosen's best pass of the first half didn't count.
He hit wide receiver Chad Williams with a perfectly thrown ball that went over and past two Seattle defensive backs for what was initially called a 27-yard touchdown. But a review showed William was out of bounds and the play was reversed. Other times in the first half Rosen didn't get much help from his receivers, who had at least three drops in the first two quarters, including one each by J.J. Nelson and Christian Kirk that could've each led to touchdowns.
Rosen finished the first half with 50 yards on 6-of-13 passing and Arizona led 10-7.
Rosen's first snaps gave him his "welcome to the NFL moments."
He was hit by Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner on his fourth snap, which was his second pass attempt, and then sacked by defensive tackle Jarran Reed and linebacker Barkevious Mingo on the next play. But generally speaking, the Cardinals' offense looked better against the Seahawks and much of that had to do with Rosen.
It also didn't hurt that David Johnson was fed the ball often.
After three straight games in which he failed to surpass 16 touches, Johnson had 22 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 41 yards against Seattle.
"I definitely got into a rhythm," Johnson said. "That's how I like to play as well. I like to start out and get into a rhythm as the game goes, see what the defense is doing, see what they are giving me as far as holes, running and seeing what our guys are doing upfront."
Johnson's third touchdown of the season came as he lunged over the goal line from one yard out in the second quarter. His longest run was a 21-yard jaunt, and he had a 30-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter that set up a touchdown.
"Phenomenal player," head coach Steve Wilks said. "Just makes things happen once he gets the ball in his hands. Just have to continue to move forward in that direction and really try to get our playmakers the ball."
Despite some highlights, Johnson's mind kept going back to a pair of errors. He fumbled in the first quarter, and felt like he made the wrong decision on a late third-and-6, where a first down would have given the Cardinals a great shot at the victory.
Johnson wanted to get a first down on the play, but if not, at least put the ball on the left hash for Dawson. Instead, he was stopped for no gain and made Dawson kick from closer to the right hash.
"I just ran the wrong way," Johnson said. "I was supposed to stay to the left, and we ran it to the left, and I made a wrong read."
The decision to run the ball on third-and-6 drew the ire of some Cardinals fans, but wide receiver Christian Kirk liked the idea of getting the ball to Johnson.
"We've got one of the best running backs in the league back there," Kirk said. "Putting it in David's hands, that's the best decision at that point."
Johnson didn't have a reception until the fourth quarter but caught three in quick succession as Rosen seemed to look for him more. It is a chemistry that figures to be pivotal for the future.
Johnson set season highs in both rushing and receiving in the contest, but for players that have been around him for a while, it's nothing new.
"You don't score 34 touchdowns in 34 games for no reason," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's just that kind of a playmaker. ..."
Let's hope Sunday's game was the first in a series where Johnson gets the workload necessary to demonstrate that. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Dawson missed two of his three field goal attempts against the Seahawks, including a 45-yarder with 1:55 remaining in the fourth quarter that would have given the Cardinals a 20-17 lead.
"It was a terrible kick," Dawson said. "No excuses. I didn't do my job well today. It was just a good old-fashioned miss."
Dawson missed a 50-yarder on the last play of the first half that would have given the Cardinals a 13-7 advantage. Dawson did not blame the lack of usage earlier in the season for the hiccups.
"Like I said, no excuses," Dawson said. "I go out there whenever I'm told to go out there, and it's my job to put the ball through the posts. Twice today, I didn't do that."
The Cardinals ran the ball on third-and-6 prior to Dawson's miss, and Wilks said he would make the same decision again. ...
"They warm up pregame so we were right there, exactly where we felt he was comfortable, and didn't execute," Wilks said. "We had two costly ones right there and that was the difference today. ..."
Wilks said right tackle Andre Smith (elbow) is expected to return this week for the game against the 49ers, and if he does, he will move back into the starting lineup. John Wetzel has been starting in Smith's place.
Fitzgerald, however, is day-to-day with his lingering hamstring injury. Fitzgerald downplayed the issue -- "Everybody is dealing with something," he said -- and Wilks sounded confident Fitzgerald will play against the 49ers. Fitzgerald has been listed as questionable the last two games, but has played.
"Larry is going to be ready to play," Wilks said. "That's just his personality. We're going to be smart, take care of Larry and give him the treatment that he needs. He's a veteran, he's played a while, so I'm not so concerned with his performance in the game. If we can get him ready before the game, that's encouraging."
And finally. ... Mike Glennon backed up Rosen in the game. Sam Bradford was inactive, which saved the Cardinals $312,500 in a per-game roster bonus.
"My decision, nothing detailed," Wilks said. "I just felt again, making the best decision for the team. I wanted to make sure Mike was up if anything happened. So that was it."
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, D.J. Foster
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Michael Crabtree, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
There's no denying the Falcons' defense isn't nearly the same without Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot), Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) or all-purpose free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles). At the same time, cornerback Desmond Trufant refused to use that as a crutch to explain why the 1-3 Falcons surrendered 80 points in two consecutive home losses, including Sunday's 37-36 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Just got to keep going, keep pushing," Trufant said. "Really can't just make no excuses. Just have to be detailed. Small things turn into big things when it's in the game.
"The first quarter of the season is over. Didn't go anywhere how we wanted it to, but still got a lot of football left."
Indeed, the Falcons have 12 games remaining, so sitting in last place in the NFC South right now doesn't necessarily mean the season is a complete wash. However, surrendering 30.5 points per game isn't the ideal formula for winning football, even if you have an explosive offense capable of putting up 30-plus points every week.
One would think a team that had Matt Ryan throw for 793 yards and eight touchdowns the past two weeks and rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley score five of his six total touchdowns -- the most for a rookie through four games in NFL history -- would hold a decisive edge over its opponent. Instead, the Falcons became the first team since the 1966 New York Giants to lose consecutive games while scoring 36 or more points.
In other words, the defense has been rather offensive.
But that's fine with fantasy owners, who both appreciate the generosity to opposing offenses and the need it creates for Atlanta's offense to keep up with the scoring.
And the Falcons on that side of the ball has responded -- most notably, Ridley.
As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure notes, everyone knew how much talent Ridley had coming out of Alabama. The start of his rookie season simply verified just how dynamic he truly can be.
Ridley, the 26th overall pick, became the first rookie in NFL history to have six touchdown receptions in his first four games after his two-touchdown effort against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4. Ridley leads the NFL with his six touchdown catches, one ahead of the Bengals' A.J. Green.
Ridley is on pace for 24 touchdown receptions over the 16-game season, which would set an NFL record. Hall of Famer Randy Moss holds the mark with 23 in 2007. Moss also owns the rookie record with 17 in 1998.
OK, maybe it's way too early to talk about shattering NFL records, but Ridley certainly should establish a new Falcons rookie high. Tight end Junior Miller owns it with nine touchdown receptions in 1980. Julio Jones has the team mark for a rookie wide receiver with eight in 2011.
The Falcons' overall record for touchdown receptions in a season is 15, set by Andre Rison in 1993. It was Rison's fifth season in the league.
What makes Ridley's start that much more impressive are his red-zone statistics. He has five receptions on five targets with four touchdowns.
Although Ridley's sharp route running has helped establish separation from defenders, it certainly helps to have arguably the most dangerous threat in the NFL opposite him in Jones, the five-time Pro Bowler. Although Jones leads the NFL with 502 yards on 29 receptions, he has yet to score a touchdown. And Ridley has been the beneficiary.
"He's done an excellent job for us coming in, and the reason he's gotten those looks is because we got a pretty good guy on the other side," Ryan said of Ridley. "And Julio creates matchup problems for the defense and requires so much coverage that other guys get really good opportunities. Calvin has taken advantage of those opportunities and done a really nice job."
Ridley is third on the Falcons with 15 receptions, behind Jones and Mohamed Sanu (16). Ridley's 264 receiving yards are second behind Jones, but his 17.6 yards per reception leads the team and is tied for ninth best in the league.
Can Ridley keep up his torrid pace?
Probably so, if defenses continue to focus on Jones and leave Ridley one-on-one, with his speed and ability to establish separation.
The next two opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have surrendered 13 and 12 passing touchdowns, respectively, to rank at the bottom of the league. ...
By the way. ... There are some interesting numbers floating around out there about Jones, who has 29 catches for an NFL-high 502 yards this season. His average of 17.3 yards per catch is his highest since he was a rookie, and his 502 yards put him on pace for 2,008 yards for a 16-game season, which would be an NFL record.
But as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggested, there's one problem: Jones still hasn't scored. Jones has zero touchdown passes this season, which would seem shocking except that he had only three touchdowns last season. Last year Jones finished second in the NFL with 1,444 receiving yards, but he had just three receiving touchdowns, which tied for 71st in the NFL.
It's probably more a fluke than anything else that Jones hasn't been able to find the end zone this season, but the Falcons would like to see him score a touchdown. Perhaps in addition to gaining 2,000 yards. ...
Also of interest this week. ... The Falcons are hopeful to get a bit of positive news on the injury front this week.
Head coach Dan Quinn said he is "hopeful" to get running back Devonta Freeman back this week as the team prepares to play the Steelers on Sunday. Freeman suffered a knee injury in the Falcons' season-opening road loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"The guys we're hopeful to get back are Devonta - and I think we've got a real shot with [Derrick] Shelby and we'll take a look at those two," Quinn said Monday. "Because of the work Devonta did in practice last week, we're very hopeful."
Freeman began practicing last week in a limited fashion and Quinn reiterated on Wednesday that the veteran running back would return to work Wednesday. If so, he'll be able to give a boost to a unit that's averaging 34.6 points per game in the last three games.
I'll be following up on Freeman daily; watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Players and coaches were naturally all smiles after Sunday's impressive win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
But when Joe Flacco stepped to the podium, he was a bit agitated. The veteran quarterback felt like the Ravens offense could have been even better Sunday night, and that the final score should have been more lopsided than the 26-14 result.
"Yeah, I'm frustrated," Flacco said to open his press conference. "I really am."
Flacco was upset that the Ravens let some early opportunities slip from their grasp, which allowed the Steelers to stay in the game and led to a nerve-wracking second half. The Ravens missed opportunities to put up a couple more first-half touchdowns, and the self-inflicted wounds were still gnawing at Flacco after the game.
"I thought there were a couple of drives there at the end of the half where we just shot ourselves in the foot," he said. "We went into halftime and it wasn't a big deal because we were basically still at zero-zero, but I really just felt like we could have had 28, 30, 35 points out there at halftime."
The Ravens opened the game with an eight-play touchdown drive that John Brown capped off with a 33-yard snag. Baltimore then converted a defensive takeaway into a touchdown, and the score was quickly 14-0 before the midway point of the first quarter.
But then the mistakes started.
Flacco just missed wide receiver Michael Crabtree for what would have likely been a long touchdown when Crabtree got wide open on a double move. On Baltimore's next series, the Ravens made their biggest miscue when running back Alex Collins fumbled at the 1-yard line on first-and-goal.
The turnover wiped away what would have likely been a touchdown drive and ended Baltimore's streak of scoring touchdowns on 13-straight red-zone possessions. A false start later in the second quarter knocked the Ravens out of field-goal range.
Instead of having a three-score lead, the Ravens left open the door for Pittsburgh, who tied the game at 14-14 before the half.
"It just felt like we left stuff out there, for sure," Flacco said. "With these guys and the way these guys have been throughout my time here, especially over the course of the last couple years, you just don't want to leave points out there because you know what they're capable of doing."
The Ravens ended up not needing a huge cushion because the defense stepped up in a big way.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported, in six second-half series against the Steelers, the Ravens' defense produced: punt (three-and-out), punt, punt (another three-and-out), punt, an interception and a turnover on downs. Baltimore limited Roethlisberger to 8-of-17 passing for 50 yards in the second half.
"Yeah, you don't expect that," Flacco said. "You know every time Ben drops back and the weapons they have, the capability they have to make plays and get the momentum in their favor. The fact they were able to rally at halftime and come out and play the way they did in the second half was why we won the game for sure."
The unit shut out the Steelers in the second half, while the Ravens tacked on four field goals.
As Flacco lamented the mistakes the offense made, he also knew that he was nitpicking. The offense had a strong overall showing, as he completed 28-of-42 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens showed a good display of creativity and big-play ability, and Flacco seemed to laugh at himself as he voiced frustrations after such a significant victory.
"Don't get my frustration confused with not feeling awesome about coming in here and getting a win, for sure," he said with a smile. "I feel great. ..."
Fantasy owners with Brown on their rosters feel equally great after the free-agent addition caught three passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
But the impact that Brown had as a whole was even bigger than the stat line.
Brown caught a 33-yard touchdown to cap the Ravens' first offensive drive of the game, instantly putting the Ravens ahead. Lined up in the slot, Brown split a pair of Steelers defenders and was too fast for cornerback Joe Haden. Brown made a perfect catch just along the edge of the end zone.
He also had a 71-yard catch and run near the start of the second quarter, which should have set up another touchdown. On that play, Brown was left one-on-one against Steelers rookie safety Terrell Edmunds, who also was left in the dust.
Asked about the impact that Brown's big plays have on the Ravens offense, Flacco said "they do a lot."
"They give you confidence, they get you going," Flacco said. "They take out the aspect of going long and hard and having to get a lot of third downs to score touchdowns. When you can get chunks like that and get first downs on first and second down, it just makes your offense a lot more efficient. ..."
So given the team's passing success, is Flacco a viable weekly fantasy starter?
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, that's probably not the case.
Clay went on to explain that even though the Ravens are off to a fast start, it hasn't led to a ton of fantasy production from Flacco. He sits 14th at the position in fantasy points and has one top-10 fantasy week to show for the Ravens' 3-1 start (seventh in Week 1). That said, Clay conceded that Flacco does have some streaming appeal. Keep an eye on his matchups during bye weeks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams reminded readers, head coach John Harbaugh has benched his running backs for fumbling in the past. Ray Rice's fumbling cost him playing time as a rookie in 2008, and Javorius Allen was sent to the bench his rookie season of 2015 for not securing the football.
But Harbaugh gave Collins a vote of confidence Monday, a day after the running back lost a fumble at the 1-yard line.
"Alex is a trustworthy guy," Harbaugh said. "I fully expect him to clean that up real quick."
Collins' two lost fumbles this season is tied for second-most in the NFL behind Kirk Cousins' three. Jets receiver Robby Anderson and Saints receiver Michael Thomas are the other non-quarterbacks with two lost fumbles this season.
Collins lost two fumbles in the first three games of last season but didn't lose any more the rest of the season. He lost one in 2016 with Seattle.
"Fumbling is always troublesome," Harbaugh said. "You can't have it. It's not worth it. He'll focus on that. One thing I know about Alex is he'll make it his job one to hold onto the football. He knows that's the expectation. ..."
Ravens tight ends had a big night, finishing with 10 catches for 99 yards. Maxx Williams led the way for the group by catching all five of his targets for 51 yards. Rookie Hayden Hurst was close to playing Sunday night and has a good chance of playing against the Browns. Harbaugh said team is looking for Hurst to have full participation in practice after being limited all last week.
Hurst was limited in Wednesday's practice -- as was Collins, who turned up with a knee issue; I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Wide receiver Tim White and running back De'Lance Turner came through too by contributing their first career offensive touches. White's 14-yard reception was particularly crucial, as it came on a third-and-ten with cornerbacks firmly covering him. The impressive grab extended the drive that led to Tucker's go-ahead field goal. ...
And finally. ... For the second straight week, kicker Justin Tucker was money.
Tucker hit on field goals of 47, 49, 28 and 31 yards after halftime. Now he has a streak of 17 straight at Heinz Field, and the most accurate field-goal kicker of all time stretched his lead over Dan Bailey to almost two full percentage points. Tucker, number one, has made 90.2 percent of his kicks. Bailey, number two, is at 88.3 percent. "That seems like a wow to me," NBCSports.com' Peter King wrote.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, Gus Edwards
WRs: Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak pointed out, Josh Allen's hurdle of the Minnesota Vikings in a gigantic upset win last week was so athletically impressive that it inspired a team-embraced Twitter hashtag, #JoshAllenJumpingOverThings.
"Inevitably," Rodak added, "all that goes up must come down."
The Buffalo Bills' rookie quarterback came crashing back down to earth in a shutout loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers in which Allen turned the ball over three times and needed some garbage-time completions to climb his passer rating for the game to a still-ugly 36.3.
Allen's lowest moment came late in the second quarter when the game was still within reach. The Bills trailed the Packers 13-0 but had advanced to the Green Bay 20-yard line with help from a 34-yard completion from Allen to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin -- his only catch on six targets Sunday.
On third-and-5 with 56 seconds left in the first half, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine sent a seven-man pressure against the Bills' six-man protection. Two Green Bay defenders broke through the offensive line unblocked, immediately putting Allen on the run to his right.
Instead of running out of bounds or throwing it away to set up a field-goal attempt, Allen heaved a pass from about the 34-yard line to the end zone, where it was intercepted by Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander before wide receiver Zay Jones had a chance to reach it.
"He knows better," head coach Sean McDermott said of Allen's decision. "Obviously, he has to learn from that."
Allen was intercepted again in the third quarter on a third-and-17 pass to Benjamin in which Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix collided with Benjamin as the throw arrived. Clinton-Dix came down with the ball while Benjamin's mouth guard flew and he laid motionless on the ground for several moments.
"I can't lead him into a split safety," Allen said. "That's my fault."
Allen's final turnover came on a 2-yard scramble late in the fourth quarter in which Allen's knee appeared to be down but a fumble was upheld upon a Bills challenge.
Overall, Allen finished 16-of-33 passing for 151 yards. He was sacked seven times, the most against Buffalo since it gave up seven to the New York Jets in a Thursday night loss last November.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Allen was sacked or put under duress on 19 of his 43 drop backs Sunday. He finished 1-of-10 passing for 2 yards and an interception on those plays.
Allen is now 5-of-27 passing (19 percent) with no touchdowns and two interceptions when pressured this season.
Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy returned Sunday, but it didn't make a bit of difference for the Bills.
As Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski noted, we're now four games -- a quarter of the way -- through the 2018 season, and McCoy has 85 rushing yards.
Yes, he missed one of those games because of injury, but as Skurski suggested, that doesn't lessen the concern about what's happened in the other three.
McCoy had 24 yards on just five carries against the Packers, the first time the Bills have been shut out since Dec. 28, 2008.
"That's not what I'm used to, but it's like the way the games have been going since I've been out there," McCoy said. "Last week, we kind of had more control offensively, but today we were up and down. We just didn't get it done, simple as that."
Once again, the Bills fell behind big early, trailing 16-0 at halftime. That limited the rushing opportunities in the second half, but McCoy isn't doing much with the chances he is getting. His average yards per carry so far this season is 4.0 - matching his career low from last year.
"I don't know," McCoy said when asked why the offense isn't getting him the ball more. "We were down, I guess, so trying to throw the ball. I'm not sure. I don't know. I know the plan was to get me the ball. We'll figure it out. We'll get it together."
McCoy missed the Bills' Week 3 win against Minnesota because of a rib injury. The Bills wasted little time getting him involved early, completing a 7-yard pass on the game's first play. McCoy then ran for 2 yards on the next play, but Chris Ivory got stuffed on third-and-1 and the offense went three-and-out. The next offensive possession also went three-and-out on three consecutive incompletions, and the next time the Bills got the ball back, they were trailing.
McDermott said McCoy's usage was not related to his injury. McCoy added three catches for 13 yards, and has just 29 touches in his three games played.
"Not at all, but I can't worry about that," he said when it was pointed out that's not a number he's used to. "All I've got to do is control what I can control. There are plays I'm not making when I am getting the ball, so just got to focus on that."
According to Skurski, McCoy left the locker room with his left hand heavily wrapped, although the team did not have an injury update after the game. ...
As mentioned above, Benjamin took a huge hit that left him motionless on the field as Packers athletic trainers initially rushed out because the play happened near the Green Bay sideline. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, then went to the locker room for evaluation of a head injury. He was back on the field in the fourth quarter.
Benjamin finished with just one catch for 34 yards. Through four games, he has just seven receptions for 92 yards and one interception. ...
Another week, another incomplete deep ball to Robert Foster. ... To be fair, the undrafted rookie receiver out of Alabama didn't have much of a chance to make a play on the ball in the first half, which Allen overthrew by 5 yards into double coverage. Still, it remains a puzzle as to what the Bills see in Foster, who failed to record a catch on two targets Sunday and has just two receptions for 30 yards in four games.
For the second consecutive week, tight end Logan Thomas was inactive. That's another sign he's fallen down the depth chart at the position. Thomas being inactive meant the Bills felt good about the physical condition of Charles Clay and Jason Croom, both of whom were questionable on the final injury report. Clay is dealing with hip and shoulder issues, while Croom suffered a knee injury during practice.
Clay finished with four catches for a team-leading 40 yards, while Croom had one catch for 13 yards.
"At this point all we can do is continue to work and get better from here," Clay said. "This one is over. There's nothing we can do about it now."
Running back Marcus Murphy missed the game with a rib injury.
According to McDermott, Micah Hyde (groin) is week-to-week. Murphy (ribs) should be fine moving forward. McCoy and Benjamin are both okay, McDermott added. ...
Kicker Stephen Hauschka had a streak of 113 games with at least a point stopped. Hauschka appeared in one play - the kickoff to start the second half.
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
RBs: Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
The Panthers would love to get the version of Curtis Samuel back that used his world-class speed to make several splash plays throughout the preseason.
Now Samuel's return could be fast approaching - the operative word being "fast."
"I was just so excited when I first stepped back on the field," Samuel said Monday after practicing for the first time since the preseason. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity I have to play this great game.
"I wanted to go out there and run. I hadn't run in a long time. It felt good running fast. I feel a little faster - I ain't going to lie."
Samuel's excitement was palpable as he returned to practice from what head coach Ron Rivera termed a "health scare," a medical situation that had sidelined Samuel since the Panthers began preparations for the regular season opener nearly a month ago.
"It was great to see Curtis out there. He looked like he was having a lot of fun," Rivera said. "For him to able to be out there now was pretty exciting. I'm happy to have him out there.
"We just went along with what the doctors were telling us. We were told on Thursday that they were going allow Curtis to start practicing again."
Samuel didn't want to elaborate on what has been listed as a "medical illness" on the team's official injury reports.
"I'm not really going to go back into it. I just knew something wasn't right, so I had to go check with the doctors. That's really about it," Samuel said. "It definitely was frightening for something like that to happen. ... But I was more worried about the offseason and all the work I put in and looking forward to the first game of the season, and then not being able to play really hurt me. That's really what I was focused on, honestly."
The Panthers' first practice after their bye also featured a pair of players who hadn't practiced since playing in the season opener three weeks ago. The first injury report for Sunday's game against the Giants will be released Wednesday, but Rivera confirmed that right guard Trai Turner (concussion) and wide receiver Damiere Byrd (knee) practiced Monday.
"Trai was out there practicing, and he took all his reps and looked good," Rivera said, adding he believes Turner had fully cleared the concussion protocol. "And we'll get Damiere back as well. Adding two speed players to what we do as far as an offense could be a very good thing for us this week."
Rivera said the team would continue to monitor Samuel's conditioning and will look forward to his return as soon as possible - possibly Sunday. The second-year pro was a preseason standout, tying for the NFL lead with four receptions of 20-plus yards. His 160 receiving yards in the preseason ranked seventh in the league.
"For sure I can continue to do what I was doing before I left," said Samuel, who hasn't played in a regular season game since exiting with a severe ankle injury in Week 10 of his rookie year. "I've been in this type of situation before, having to get it going. I'm not going to say I'm used to it, but I know how to adjust to adversity.
"It's just time for me now that I'm back on the field to go out there and make things happen. ..."
As ESPN's Mike Clay noted this week, tight end has been ravaged by injuries this season, so if you're one of the many who are desperate at the position, consider Ian Thomas, especially in leagues that start two at the position.
Thomas has been quiet since Greg Olsen's injury, but has been on the field for 67 of the team's 72 pass plays during his two starts. Some goal-line work and a small uptick from his four targets per game during the span could push him into the TE1 discussion during bye weeks. ...
In a related note. ... Rivera told reporters that on Wednesday that Olsen resumed running routes and catching passes as he worked off to the side during practice. Olsen re-fractured his right foot during the season-opener. ...
Meanwhile, as Charlotte Observer staffer Jourdan Rodrigue noted, Carolina's offensive line may have gotten run through the injury wringer in the past several weeks, but slowly, the good news is starting to stack up.
All-Pro right guard Trai Turner, who has been in the concussion protocol, was back practicing fully with teammates on Monday.
"I believe so," said Rivera, when asked directly whether Turner's participation meant he had been cleared. "He was out there practicing today, took all of his reps and looked good. So I do believe he did."
Turner missed the past two games after reporting concussion-like symptoms after the Panthers' Week 1 victory over Dallas.
Backup center Tyler Larsen filled in for Turner in Weeks 2 and 3.
Carolina's offensive line is still missing its starting left and right tackles, but has performed admirably in their absence. The Panthers have given up six sacks in three weeks and graded the road for a career 184-yard rushing game for running back Christian McCaffrey in Week 3.
Turner's concussion was his second in two years.
QBs: Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, Will Grier
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Ray-Ray McCloud, Brandon Zylstra
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Emily Kaplan noted, the Bears' first three games were defined by Khalil Mack and their defense. In fact, it appeared that if Chicago was going to have any success this season, it would be thanks to a havoc-wreaking defense.
But Sunday's 48-10 win over the Buccaneers marked a coming-out party for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears now head into their bye week at 3-1, cautiously optimistic their offense can be just as dynamic.
"Hopefully this is something I can look back on and say, 'This is where it all started,'" Trubisky said.
Trubisky inherited the starting role in Week 5 of last season, and since then has put up pedestrian numbers -- even after coach Matt Nagy was hired in January with the intention of jump-starting Trubisky's career. But on Sunday, Trubisky was spectacular. He put up career highs in yards (354) and touchdown passes (six). Prior to Sunday, Trubisky had thrown multiple touchdowns in a game just once -- two in a Week 2 win over Seattle this season.
Against Tampa Bay, Trubisky threw touchdowns to five different receivers. The game was also a showcase for Tarik Cohen. The shifty do-everything back has the potential to be a featured part of the offense, and flexed that for the first time this season with 53 rushing and 121 receiving yards (averaging 17.3 yards per reception).
The game plan was devised for success, including matchups that gave Trubisky designed reads and open throwing windows. The offense wasn't simplified -- nor did it feature too many different wrinkles than in Weeks 1-3. The difference in Week 4? Trubisky threw the ball with better timing, and appeared much quicker with his eyes. Every play just seemed to click. The Bears averaged 10 yards per play on first down and second down.
"It's real special to see," Mack said. "[Trubisky] was airing it out. Those guys on the receiving end were catching everything."
The only play that stood out as unique was the fifth touchdown, when backup Chase Daniel lined up in the shotgun next to Trubisky for a two-quarterback look. Trubisky flipped the ball to receiver Taylor Gabriel, in motion, who ran it into the end zone. Nagy said the play was called "Willy Wonka." Even still, Nagy gushed that the team "had a lot leftover on that call sheet, even with the production that we had."
Trubisky and Nagy credited a good week of practice; Nagy said Friday's red zone session "might have been the best practice that we had since we've been together."
Of course, it helps that Trubisky's offensive line played a sound game. The Tampa Bay defense that Chicago shredded was not a vaunted bunch (the Buccaneers entered the game ranked 31st in the league, allowing 433.3 yards per game). The Buccaneers also didn't get after Trubisky's sore spot: pressure. In the first half, when Trubisky did most of his damage with five touchdowns, Tampa Bay dialed zero blitzes and pressured him only three times.
Caveats aside, confidence was oozing from the Chicago locker room.
"I have been here a while and I have never been a part of a win like this," veteran offensive lineman Kyle Long said. "It feels really good to sit here with a smile on my face. For the last five, six years I've been saying, 'We're getting better, we're getting better, we're young. We're going to get there.' And you could see it. But now you guys get to see what I'm seeing. It feels good. The secret is out."
Trubisky remained level-headed after the win, never straying from his talking points, which included crediting his teammates and reiterating it is never his intention to break records (Trubisky was the first Bears quarterback to throw for five touchdowns since Johnny Lujack in 1949).
"It's very humbling because you know the history of the Bears and how many great players have come through this organization," he said, of seeing the achievement highlighted on the video board. "So for me, just trying to create your own legacy, and then try to make a path."
He then went on to praise his teammates again.
The Bears enter their bye week on a high, though tight end Trey Burton -- a free-agent acquisition who last played with the Philadelphia Eagles -- cautioned against the team's getting ahead of itself.
"It's the worst possible time to have a bye week," Burton said. "Two years ago in Philly, we were 3-1 going into the bye, beating teams up and lost seven out of nine off the bye week. We have a lot of veteran guys who understand the importance of starting fast when we come back. I wish we didn't have a bye week right now."
Fantasy owners might feel the same. And the good feelings go beyond Trubisky.
On their five touchdown drives in the first two quarters against Tampa Bay, the Bears needed only one third-down play and scored in a rapid 2:40, 3:34, 2:34, 1:46 and 3:12.
"Everything coach [Matt] Nagy was calling was working, and we just kept it rolling," Trubisky said. "It was the O-line. They gave me time. They were moving guys. We got the run game going, and I was just back there, and I was seeing it well, just staying calm in the pocket, and guys were getting open. It was an awesome game plan. We just did what we did in practice this week, and it just carried over."
The 48 points were the most the Bears have tallied in a game in which they did not score a touchdown on defense or special teams since Nov. 25, 1962 when they crushed the Colts 57-0 in Baltimore.
"They were running good routes," Nagy said. "We were making good throws, had the protection. It's amazing what can happen when you just go out there and you just kind of cut it loose, and you don't think too much. And that's everybody; that's not just the players but the coaches too."
Though overshadowed by the offense, the Bears defense continued its dominance in shutting down the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense.
The Buccaneers entered Sunday's contest averaging a league-best 473.3 total yards and 400.7 passing yards while scoring 34.0 points per game. But Tampa Bay mustered only 311 total yards, 251 passing yards and 10 points against the Bears.
The defense generated three takeaways and four sacks and now leads the NFL with 18 sacks and eight forced fumbles. The unit's eight interceptions in four games equal the number of picks they accumulated in each of the previous three seasons.
The defense was once again led by Mack, who produced a strip/sack for the fourth time in as many games. He's the first NFL player to accomplish that feat since the Colts' Robert Mathis in 2005. In addition, Mack hit the arm of quarterback Jameis Winston, causing a wobbly throw that was intercepted by outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.
It'll be interesting to see if the Bears can keep the momentum up coming off the bye in Week 6. ...
Looking ahead. ... For those wondering if we can start both Jordan Howard and Cohen in the same lineup, ESPN's Mike Clay contends you can -- although it's close.
Clay explained, entering the season, Howard was a popular RB2 and Cohen a fringe flex, so it's not shocking that both could have value, especially if Trubisky plays as well as he did in Week 4. Cohen exploded for 20 touches and 174 yards after a slow start to the season. Howard was limited to 11 touches (a lot of which came in garbage time). Howard still out-snapped Cohen (30-29) for the fourth consecutive game and, despite his early-season struggles, is a lock to maintain a big early-down and goal-line role. ...
One last note here. ... Nagy told reporters on Monday that LB Sam Acho tore his pec and is out for the season.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte Jr.
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Riley Ridley, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
A.J. Green's diving 13-yard touchdown catch with 7 seconds left gave Cincinnati a 37-36 victory Sunday in Atlanta and left the Bengals (3-1) tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North after a challenging opening month.
They played three of their first four on the road, and won two of them with a last-minute play. A fumble return for a touchdown got them a 34-23 win in Indianapolis, the type of play they've lacked the past two seasons as they missed out on the playoffs.
On Sunday in Atlanta, they had plenty of big plays under the most intense pressure.
Andy Dalton converted a third down and a pair of fourth-down plays during the winning drive, then finished it off with a perfect throw to a sliding Green in the corner of the end zone. It was only the second time in franchise history that Cincinnati got a winning touchdown pass with less than 10 seconds left.
"I think in the NFL, your great players have got to play great, and right now we're getting that," head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday.
"Our other guys are growing up around them because they want to be 'look at me, too.' So I think we're gaining some of that."
Dalton and Green are reviving an offense that finished last in the league last season and was overhauled by coordinator Bill Lazor, putting more of an emphasis on throwing the ball downfield. Green had a career-high three touchdown catches during a 34-23 win over the Ravens in Cincinnati's only home game.
Dalton was nearly perfect in the first half against the Falcons, going 14 of 16 for 211 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 158.3 - the best possible. He finished 29 of 41 for 337 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
On the last 12 plays of the winning drive, Dalton either scrambled or threw. Players found the 16-play drive significant, given how they'd been unable to do anything like it recently.
"Whether or not it is just a win, it felt different," running back Giovani Bernard said.
The Bengals will have to replace tight end Tyler Eifert for their home game Sunday against Miami (3-1), which is coming off a 38-7 loss to New England. Eifert dislocated and broke his right ankle while being tackled early in the second half, his latest season-scuttling injury.
"It's rough, especially over the years how he's dealt with some things and people try to say he's not tough and stuff, but it's real things that are happening to him," tight end Tyler Kroft said Monday. "It's not little things keeping him out. That's what's a shame."
Eifert stayed in Cincinnati with an incentive-laden one-year deal, extending a career that's been sidetracked by major back, shoulder, elbow and ankle injuries. He's played six games the past two seasons.
"When you lose a great player, a lot is going to change, so we have to figure that out," Lazor said.
The Bengals will try to fill the gap with Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. ...
But the news, more generally speaking, is great.
After the first quarter of the season the Bengals' offense is on a torrid pace for their most points in history with 504 and Dalton is right with them on a projection of a franchise-record 44 touchdown passes and 4,788 passing yards. Sunday's game marked the 22nd game-winning drive of Dalton's career. According to Elias that's the second best in the NFL since Dalton arrived in 2011, tied with Matt Ryan, eight behind Matthew Stafford and one ahead of Eli Manning.
The Bengals have rolled up 126 points in the first four games, only three behind the 1985 Bengals and five ahead of the 4-0 Bengals of 2015. Their 1,506 yards trail the pace-setting 2015 Bengals (1,688), but Green (1,118) and Tyler Boyd (1,396) on pace to become their first pair of 1,000-yard receivers since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2006 and 2007.
Meanwhile, head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday that he isn't sure if Joe Mixon (knee) will return for Week 5 against Miami, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com reports.
Mixon was ruled out Friday for Sunday's eventual 37-36 win over the Falcons, but he did take part in an on-field workout prior to the game. With Bernard (undisclosed) coming out of the contest a bit banged up, the Bengals could be more inclined to bring Mixon back for Week 5. His Sept. 15 arthroscopic procedure came with an estimate recovery timeline of 2-to-4 weeks.
The good news? Mixon practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and is on track to play against the Dolphins, although the second-year man told reporters he hasn't been officially cleared for action.
Lewis on Wednesday went the meteorological route when asked about Mixon's outlook.
"Bright sunny day out there. The sun is up," Lewis said.
The pitfalls of having just two active backs surfaced. When Bernard went down with an injury he says won't keep him out. When rookie running back Mark Walton need a blow, they turned to kick returner-wide receiver Alex Erickson and he had a carry for eight yards. ...
I'll have more on Mixon, Bernard (knee) and John Ross (groin) (Bernard and Ross did not practice Wednesday) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Finally. ... Green was raving about Boyd's career-high 11 catches for 100 yards, including two fourth-down conversions.
Boyd, who is on pace for nearly 1,400 yards, was the MVP of Sunday. Six of his 11 catches went for first downs. Three in the last drive.
"Tough. He's a tough guy. I've seen him grow," Green said.
Boyd got dinged and came back at least twice Sunday, once after the first conversion. Tapping his thigh he said, "Blue collar." One was an out and the other a slant. Both called plays.
"They were man-to-man both times," Boyd said. "I was looking at the DB's eyes seeing how he was going to play it."
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Damion Willis, John Ross, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, Auden Tate, A.J. Green, Pharoh Cooper
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
According to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, until they get out of their own way, the Browns will doom themselves to more frustration and painful losses.
But it looks like they have the pieces to make fantasy owners happy in the process.
The Browns blew a 14-point, second-half lead and an eight-point lead with less than a minute left before losing in overtime on Sunday.
"It's all the little things," quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
Mayfield meant it colloquially, talking about the things people don't always notice. But these "little things" like fundamentals and precision are important things when it comes to winning and losing.
Mayfield had a mixed bag of a game, nearly throwing for 300 yards but also taking four turnovers on his stat sheet. Though not every one of them were his fault, he will have to avoid that kind of game if the Browns are to get over this hill that has too long seemed too high to climb.
Everyone with the Browns knows it, everyone understands it.
The Browns simply have to make it happen, Mayfield included. As he said, he's the quarterback of the team.
In order, his turnovers happened this way:
The first came in the first quarter on the Browns' second possession. He threw outside to rookie Antonio Callaway, and the ball tipped off his hands and to cornerback Gareon Conley, who scored the game's first touchdown.
"We got to go back and get the ball," head coach Hue Jackson said of Callaway, who slipped on the grass as he cut.
"The grass is so short for the baseball field, you have to be so fundamental in your routes," Mayfield said. "You have to be really over toes when you're breaking. You can't cut off the wrong foot. There's just not a lot of surface for those guys to dig into."
Mayfield's second came in the third quarter with the Browns up 28-14. They had the ball at their 11 and called a pass. Maurice Hurst hit Mayfield as he started to throw, and the ball was recovered by the Raiders. They followed with a third-down touchdown.
"The right guard had some leakage," Jackson said, referring to Kevin Zeitler.
"They had good coverage," Mayfield said. "Was gonna check it down outside, and they just made a play."
The third was the one that seemed to cause the most pain. It came with the Browns up 28-24 early in the fourth quarter.
The Browns had confusion with motion, and the timing on the snap was off.
"The center might have snapped that a little quick," Jackson said.
"Miscommunication," Mayfield said. "That's on me to get everybody on the same page."
"They have to work that out," Jackson said. "That can't happen."
It also set up a touchdown.
The final one came when the game was tied in the final minute of regulation. With 14 seconds left, Mayfield tried to throw downfield to Callaway, but Jarvis Landry also was in the same area and the ball wound up in coverage. Reggie Nelson intercepted.
"Obviously that was a bad throw," Jackson said, adding Mayfield can learn from that throw.
Mayfield seemed almost to say that he was willing to take that chance that late in the game. But he did concede a shorter completion might have helped, too. With a timeout, the Browns could have tried a long field goal to win, though they would have needed 15 yards for a 53-yard try.
"We'll see. I probably could've checked it down," Mayfield said. "I had people open; it just so happened we wanted a route, a little double move, and it didn't work out."
To say the turnovers cost the Browns would not be fair to Mayfield. The Browns had four plays of 40 yards -- two on Mayfield passes and two on touchdown runs by Nick Chubb. The offense scored more points than it has in a game since 2007, and Mayfield provided some exciting plays and excellent throws.
But they dropped at least six passes -- Landry kicked himself for a third-down drop in the fourth quarter -- and the defense never rose up to shut down the Raiders when it needed to, especially on the Raiders' game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute.
"We gave that game away," running back Carlos Hyde said.
He's right. They did. And in a quarterback-driven league, a team will have a hard time winning when its quarterback has four turnovers on his ledger, whether they're entirely his fault or not.
McManamon summed up: "Growing pains are understandable, but this is a team that needs to accelerate through those quickly."
Of course, the Browns had plenty of drops on Sunday. On Monday, Jackson refused to give them an excuse based on the speed with which Mayfield throws the ball.
"That had nothing to do with it," Jackson told reporters on Monday. "Those guys have caught balls in games before so no. That had nothing to do with it. We did not play as crisp early. We dropped some balls. That was very uncharacteristic by us. We have to make those plays."
They didn't make those plays on Sunday.
"We had nine drops yesterday," Jackson said. "We had nine drops. Nine. That is not winning football."
David Njoku and Callaway were among those guilty of the drops. In fact, Callaway dropped several passes and had an offensive pass interference penalty while playing 70 percent of the snaps against the Raiders in last Sunday's loss. Jackson suggested that Callaway might benefit from playing less in the future.
"Maybe not playing as many plays as he plays in a game will help him get to step back, take a look, take a blow, come back and do it again," Jackson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I like him. Obviously, he needs to start faster in games."
Callaway pleaded not guilty to marijuana possession last week. After he was arrested in training camp, Jackson said he played Callaway a lot in the next preseason game as a punishment.
Callaway had three catches for 54 yards and has 10 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown in his first four NFL games. Rod Streater and Damion Ratley could see more playing time if the Browns do limit Callaway's time on the field. ...
ON a more positive note. ... Chubb carried the ball three times for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
ESPN's NFL account tweeted that Chubb is the only player to rush for 100 or more yards and score two touchdowns on three or fewer carries.
Chubb hasn't been able to get on the field much his rookie season so far. There's more to playing running back than just running and a coaching staff has to trust a back in pass protection. Chubb might not be there yet.
He earned some more opportunities as a change of pace on Sunday. Jackson said the Browns need to figure out a way to get the former Georgia standout more carries moving forward behind Hyde and Duke Johnson.
"He has to get some. Hyde is playing well, but this guy is scoring touchdowns from long ways away. I was impressed. I watched those two touchdowns on tape today, they were even better than they were on the field," Jackson said. ...
On the injury front this week, Landry (knee) and Callaway (knee) were on not practicing (instead spending their time on exercise bikes); I'll be following via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
The Browns will be without cornerback Terrance Mitchell for significant time after he underwent surgery Monday morning to repair a broken wrist. "That's a tough loss because I truly believe that he was playing well," Jackson said. "I think he was one of the guys who created turnovers in our secondary."
The good news, Jackson said, is there's a chance Mitchell will return at some point this season. Mitchell, who signed with the team in free agency this past spring, had an interception and two forced fumbles in four starts.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson, Kareem Hunt
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, Damion Ratley, Taywan Taylor, Derrick Willies
TEs: David Njoku, Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As DallasCowboys.com's David Helman framed it: "As many beautiful completions as Dak Prescott threw on Sunday, it was funny how much attention centered on a throwaway.
"That's the difference between winning and losing in the NFL. ..."
Facing a crucial 2nd-and-3, down one point with two minutes to play, Prescott was stripped by Lions defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand. For what felt like an eternity, the loose ball bobbled on the AT and T Stadium turf - right up until Prescott scooped it up, hauled toward the sideline and threw it out of bounds.
"The whole thing was riding on it, and he had presence of mind to get it, field it properly and get back up and do something with it," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "I will always remember that play."
That sounds a bit strange, given that it was one of 10 incompletions on a day when Prescott completed 63 percent of his passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns - his first 200-yard performance since last December and just his third in the last 12 games.
But in a league like this, where four of the eight early games were decided in the game's final seconds, Prescott's presence of mind meant everything.
"I didn't feel any pressure," Prescott said. "To me, it was just 'Pick it up, turn around and you might just get a freebie of someone wide open down the field."
Of course, he didn't get a completion, but his quick thinking kept alive the drive that won the game. Thanks to a career day from Ezekiel Elliott, who racked up an absurd 240 all-purpose yards, this Cowboys offense looked a lot like the juggernaut from 2016, with Prescott making just enough plays through the air to complement Elliott's obvious ability.
Fittingly, it was a throw from Prescott to Elliott that put Dallas in position for the game-winning field goal. Before the ball was even snapped from his own 41-yard line, Prescott saw his All-Pro running back matched up against a linebacker and knew exactly what to do, dropping a dime to Elliott on a wheel route for a 34-yard gain.
"I'm willing to take that matchup any day of the week," Prescott said. "We got a nice spread out and got that matchup, which was a chance we wanted to take, and Zeke did a great job getting open and getting us down the field."
It was the type of throw that's been lacking from the Cowboys' arsenal in the early going of the season, and it literally made the difference in a nail-biter finish.
"Dak dropped it right in the bucket to him," said Zack Martin.
These heroics weren't limited to the fourth quarter, though. Prescott made clutch throws throughout the afternoon, whether it was the 37-yard deep shot to Michael Gallup, or the huge 19-yard gainer to Cole Beasley when the Cowboys were driving early in the fourth.
Prescott didn't even credit any "new wrinkles," which he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan hinted at during the week. He said it simply came down to playing better.
"Sometimes I just tell y'all things, but I don't necessarily think we had new wrinkles, we just executed a lot better," he said.
Cool as ever, Prescott insisted that having a nice day at the office did not serve as a confidence-booster, saying that he doesn't allow his bad days to throw him off track.
But for an offense with so many new pieces, this surely had to have an effect on the overall psyche of the group. The Cowboys rolled up 414 yards of offense against the Lions, which is a full 137 yards more than they were averaging coming into the game. They also converted 42 percent of their third downs, which is almost twice as good as their abysmal average of 23.5 percent.
Prescott found Geoff Swaim for his first career touchdown, and both Gallup and Allen Hurns were as involved as they've been all season.
But Elliott was the clear-cut star.
"I have never seen him play better than he played today," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
For the first time this season, Elliott had more than 20 carries, finishing with 25. For the second straight game, Elliott ran for more than 100 yards, with 152. He also got that touchdown catch he lost last week with a 38-yard score on a screen pass in the second quarter and finished with 88 receiving yards on four catches.
He became the first player with more than 200 total yards from scrimmage this season, going for more than 200 yards in a game for the third time his career.
In the second quarter, before his touchdown catch, Elliott hurt his right ankle and left for a couple of plays. He got his ankle taped in between series and was able to chew up yards. Twice in the second half he came out to rest his ankle, but he returned to pick up a crucial third down on the Cowboys' first scoring drive of the fourth quarter.
"He's such a complete back," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He plays with such a look in his eye ad such a spirit that's contagious throughout your football team. You want to give that guy the ball because usually good things happen."
That said, Elliott is dealing with an ankle injury and bursitis in his knee. Garrett said the Cowboys are "optimistic he'll practice and play this week."
Elliott, who played 53 out of 69 snaps on Sunday (and who has played in 220 of 247 offensive snaps this season), worked fully on Wednesday while Beasley (ankle) was limited. I'll continue following up on that via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ....
Williams missed the first game of his career Sunday. The Cowboys made Williams inactive, and he did not attend the game. Garrett said Williams was "working through some off-field stuff."
Williams also missed practice Friday, a non-injury-related absence.
Williams, the Cowboys' most expensive wideout with a $4.75 million salary cap number, has three targets and two catches for 18 yards this season.
He played in all of a possible 83 games in his career before Sunday but has played only 39 snaps this season with most of his play time limited to running downs.
Williams faces discipline from the league for a May incident when he was arrested for public intoxication after crashing his Lamborghini into a light pole and fleeing the scene.
With Williams out, Brice Butler was active against the Lions. ...
Getting back to Swaim. ... The veteran tight end has racked up 11 targets during his past three games. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Jason Witten's replacement has run a route on 73 percent of the Cowboys' pass plays and is handling a solid 12 percent target share through Week 4. After a slow start, Swaim now sits 20th at the position in fantasy points.
Given all that, Clay views Swaim as a TE2 option who could sneak into the TE1 discussion if the Cowboys offense takes a step forward. ...
Kicker Brett Maher was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after clinching the victory over the Lions with a 38-yard field goal to end the game. Maher kicked four field goals (long of 43 yards) and made two extra-point attempts to provide the bulk of the Cowboys' scoring. ...
Kicker Brett Maher was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after clinching the victory over the Detroit Lions with a 38-yard field goal to end the game. Maher kicked four field goals (long of 43 yards) and made two extra-point attempts to provide the bulk of the Cowboys' scoring.
The Cowboys beat the Lions without the help of linebacker Sean Lee and it looks like the will be in the same boat when they try to beat the Texans this weekend. Lee hurt his hamstring against the Seahawks in Week 3 and was ruled out well ahead of kickoff in Week 4. During an appearance on 103.5 The Fan Tuesday, Jones all but ruled him out for this week as well.
"It would surprise me to see Sean back this week," Jones said.
First-round pick Leighton Vander Esch saw a jump in playing time with Lee out of the lineup and made six tackles against Detroit. The Cowboys will play Jacksonville and Washington before hitting their bye in Week Eight. ...
Defensive tackle David Irving will be eligible to practice for the first time this season on Wednesday now that his four-game suspension is over. The Cowboys will have a roster exemption this week but if they want him to play Sunday against Houston, then he would need to be added to the 53-man roster by Saturday and the team would have to release a player.
Irving has been working out at The Star for the last week and was in meetings last week. ...
And finally. ... Dez Bryant tweeted his preference is to re-sign with the Cowboys, but "if not, I'll be ready to play somewhere else."
Jones closed that door soon after the team released him April 13 to save $8 million against the salary cap. Even with their wideouts posting less than impressive numbers this season - 44 catches for 443 yards and two touchdowns in four games - and absent a downfield threat, the Cowboys are not interested in a deal for Bryant.
Bryant, who hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014, has had chances to sign with the Ravens and the Browns. Baltimore offered a multiyear deal and Cleveland a one-year deal.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, the first time Broncos running back Royce Freeman touched the ball Monday night, he cruised for an 18-yard gain.
The fifth time he touched the ball, he evaded seven or so would-be tacklers, dragging the last one -- Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens -- into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown run.
Yet those long runs, in a 27-23 loss to the Chiefs, offered another glimpse at the Broncos' aggravating, maddening and now repetitive knack for not doing what they do best:
The Broncos ran the ball to keep the game close Monday, then they ran it to build a 10-point lead in the second half. But when they had a chance to put the game away, they elected to leave behind what had worked.
With a three-point lead and 6 minutes, 26 seconds left in the contest, the Broncos pitched aside the power formations. They lined up in a three-wide set with a failed run out of an open formation on first down, then had a pass for no gain and a sack on the next two plays. What followed was a balky punt from Marquette King, and just like that, all the good work was undone.
"They played good defense there, a three-and-out, we had an OK punt, it wasn't a great punt, we gave them the ball with half the field," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. "They made some plays."
The Chiefs worked themselves out of a second-and-30 situation, looked to have run a play for a first down after the play clock had run out and capped an eight-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to take the lead.
As Legwold suggested, the Broncos need only look in the mirror after this loss.
"There's a few, especially those type of plays [including a late overthrow of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas] that I'll lose sleep over," said quarterback Case Keenum. "Thinking about it, lying awake at night in bed. It's tough one. It stings."
The Chiefs have led the way in the season's early going, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes entering Monday night's game with 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Kansas City averaged a league-leading 39.3 points per game over the first three weeks.
And to run the ball is almost to resist the temptation of today's pass-happy NFL. Yet it was the best move for the Broncos.
First, they're good at it. The Broncos entered the evening averaging 144.7 yards rushing per game. Secondly, if the Broncos had the ball, the Chiefs didn't.
And there was no better reason to run the ball than that against the Chiefs. In the first three games, nobody had been able to try it against the Chiefs.
The validation that the Broncos had it right until it went wrong was that they finished with 159 yards rushing on their 22 attempts -- a robust 7.2 yards per carry average. But they ran the ball just three times on the two possessions in the fourth quarter that could have sealed the game.
"We ran the ball well," Keenum said. "It seemed like we started off so many series, you know, just pounding the rock, second-and-1, first-and-10, even with some loaded boxes; our offensive line played well
Kansas City scored 49 first-quarter points in its first three games combined. That is a number so freakishly outside the league's average that no other team has reached 40 first-quarter points through four games (Cincinnati and Baltimore each have 38 first-quarter points after Week 4).
Legwold conceded that running the ball and play defense might not mesh with the league's current environment, but when the Broncos committed to it on Monday, they were mostly rewarded. Freeman right, Phillip Lindsay left, with an Emmanuel Sanders run here and Devontae Booker there.
When Lindsay plowed in from the 1-yard line with 2:05 to play in the third quarter, it gave the Broncos a 20-13 lead. The Broncos ran out of power formations with two backs and two tight ends.
And they ran out of their three-wide sets. Freeman consistently powered through arm tackles, and Lindsay found creases. The lead went to 23-13 with a 46-yard field goal from Brandon McManus with 12:47 to play.
The Broncos have preached the value of "balance," of doing the things necessary to win games against the league's power brokers, which the Broncos haven't done since Peyton Manning was at quarterback.
But they lost their balance in the fourth quarter and, then, the game along with it.
"I told the guys to keep fighting," Joseph said. "We came out with a great mindset, we had a great week of prep and the guys played good football ... we'll win games like this moving forward. But I love our team's grit ... we gave up some plays late and that hurt us."
Freeman and Lindsay combined for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Freeman tied Giants running back Saquon Barkley for the most rushing touchdowns this season among rookie running backs. Freeman also joined good company in Broncos history. Only Terrell Davis and Jon Keyworth rushed for as many touchdowns through four weeks during their rookie seasons as Freeman.
Fullback Andy Janovich also made his presence felt, as he again made a series of key blocks and also caught a 32-yard pass on a wheel route to set up a Denver field goal.
One last note here. ... Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called plays from upstairs Monday night, moving to the coaches' box from the sideline. Musgrave called plays from the sideline the first three games.
Musgrave still communicated the plays directly to Keenum while quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan handled the between-series adjustments and plan from the sideline.
The Broncos entered the game ranked 14th in total offense, including 19th in passing, after the results from the other games in Week 4.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, River Cracraft, Juwann Winfree, Tim Patrick
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein reported, receiver Golden Tate walked over to the sideline after his first touchdown with head coach Matt Patricia in his ear.
Tate had just celebrated with swagger, high-stepping as he broke one tackle and made another defender miss.
It had given the Lions an early lead in an eventual 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was the start of a massive day by the Lions receiver. But in that moment, Patricia wanted to do some coaching. Essentially, Patricia told Tate to not showboat.
But as Rothstein suggested, after a game like Sunday's that a tough ask. Tate caught eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, celebrating before the end zone on each.
"We want to play as a very disciplined group and that's what everyone expects us [to do] and I got to lead by example," Tate said. "I'm a leader on this team and I can't show that to the younger guys and they think it's OK. I got to fix it.
"At the end of the day, I am having fun, but I have to put the team first because if I bobble that ball and it goes out the back of the end zone or something happens, I get hit and that ball goes out of bounds and we don't score, then I feel like a douchebag."
But what Tate did Sunday -- how he played, the emotion he showed -- is what the Lions need. It's what has made him the flashy receiver Detroit has leaned on the past four years, where he's become a safety blanket for Matthew Stafford and the leader among receivers in yards after the catch.
In Tate, the Lions have something special. But beyond the playmaking, the forced missed tackles and the yards after catch is a consistency Detroit has sorely need.
Every year, he least 90 catches. Every year but one, he's had 1,000 yards or more. And now, in the final year of his contract, he is on pace for the best season of his career. Through a quarter of the season, Tate has 28 catches for 389 yards -- putting him on pace for 112 catches and 1,556 yards. That would obliterate his previous career-bests of 99 catches and 1,331 yards set in 2014.
"He's a playmaker. That's what he is. That's what he's always been," running back Kerryon Johnson said. "That's what he will always be. You never know when it's going to happen, but you know it's going to happen whenever he touches the ball.
"So all we got to do is get it in his hands, which we did, and he produced."
He was a big reason the Lions were in the game Sunday at all -- Stafford finding him again and again throughout the game, catching every one of his targets. But on Sunday, despite all he did, the Lions' defense -- a concern since the beginning of the season -- failed Detroit again, sending the Lions to 1-3 and in a must-win game next weekend against Green Bay.
Tate insists, despite what he did -- despite what Detroit's offense did -- the Lions could have done more there to win.
"The perspective we look at when we lose games is that there is still something else we could have done," Tate said. "There's more we could have done. We had, we put up 24, so we scored three touchdowns and a field goal. That's four possessions. We had more than four possessions in that game, right?
"Those other possessions that we didn't score, we could do something better. I'm not sure what the stats were on three-and-out or third down, but that's something we could have done better. That's something I focus on and my group can focus on is there's more out there that could be had."
And with the Lions looking as they are -- a potent offense and a struggling defense -- Detroit might need it to happen if it wants to turn around its season. ...
Of some interest. ... Stafford completed all nine of his passes in the second half for 151 yards - an average of 16.78 yards per pass. The Lions averaged 2.2 yards per carry on their five runs in the second half. ...
Other notes of interest. .. Johnson showed something new to go with his quickness and speed. He ran over a Cowboys' defender inside the five-yard line on his eight-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. As DetroitLions.com's Mike O'Hara notes, that's a nice blend of skills - speed, elusiveness and power.
But he's still sharing.
For the season, Johnson has played in 104 of Detroit's 274 snaps on offense (38 percent). He has 38 carries for 216 yards (5.7 average) and a touchdown in four games. He's also caught 11 passes for 53 yards.
LeGarrette Blount has played in 70 snaps (26 percent) with 35 carries for 95 yards (2.7 average) without a score.
Theo Riddick has played in 42 percent of the snaps - a lot of those in passing situations - with five carries and 27 yards (5.4 average). He's caught 21 passes for 118 yards.
"I think we have a lot of really good running backs and I think we try to use them appropriately," Patricia said of the situation. "I think Kerryon played a significant amount of the game. He played 20 snaps of 55, that's a good amount. Plus, we have two other running backs, plus we have two-minute drives and other two-minute personnel packages and things like that. There was quite a bit of reps in there for Kerryon."
Johnson said that he's fine with any work that comes his way and needs to "make them count" for more than they did in Dallas. ...
Given all that, it was a bit surprising to learn the Lions worked out a group of running backs today which included Charles Sims, Terrance West and Fitzgerald Toussaint. I'll be watching for more on the running back rotation in coming g das. ...
For what it's worth, Blount (illness) didn't practice on Wednesday; I'll follow up on his status as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Worth noting. ... The Lions have allowed at least 169 rushing yards in three of their four games this season. Opponents are averaging 157.8 yards per game on the ground. That ranks last in the NFL, by more than 16 yards per game over the next worst rushing defense in Arizona (141.2). It continues to be difficult to win games allowing opponents that much control on the ground.
In a related item. ... According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, safety Quandre Diggs suffered a broken hand in Sunday's loss.
It's unclear how much time he'll miss, but it's obviously not a good thing for a defense which doesn't need more injury news. And important piece of their plan moving forward, they signed the former sixth-round pick to a three-year, $20.4 million extension this offseason.
Diggs played 43 of the Lions 69 defensive snaps, and with rookie Tracy Walker getting more work in his absence.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage, David Fales
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Whatever issues his quarterback has with his offensive game plans, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made sure he didn't escalate the tension by airing his own frustrations on Monday.
On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers reacted to the team's 22-0 victory over the Buffalo Bills by saying that the offense was "terrible" and calling the 423-yard effort "as bad as we've played on offense with that many yards in a long time."
"That's just not acceptable offense for us," Rodgers added. "Four hundred and twenty-three yards looks pretty good in comparison to some of the games we've put forward the first three weeks, but it should have been about 45 points and 600 yards."
And when asked what was wrong with the offense, Rodgers said, "We need to find ways to get our playmakers in position to get some more opportunities," referring to wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham.
Asked how the team could get Adams more involved, Rodgers said, "It's by the plan. Find ways to get him in No. 1 spots."
Typically, Rodgers and McCarthy meet at least twice during the week to discuss the game plan -- something Rodgers said has continued.
"Yeah, I mean, coach puts the plan together, I tell him what calls I like, and we go," Rodgers said.
McCarthy, in his 13th year as head coach and offensive play-caller, is in charge of the game plan.
All that led to McCarthy spending much of Monday answering a host of questions about Rodgers' comments.
McCarthy was measured and seemed to be intent on not making matters worse.
"I'm not going to referee words here," McCarthy said at one point. "I understand the topic at hand, but we're about improvement. That's the focus."
Asked specifically about his relationship with Rodgers, McCarthy said, "I have good relationships, proper relationships, with all of our players. Aaron and I, we have gone through a lot of years together, so I feel good about our relationship."
As for their communication McCarthy said that "Aaron and I talk on a daily basis. Whether your opinion of how things are communicated within our structure, your opinion is heard and respected.
"But, at the end of the day, I feel very good, very confident about our operation. I think it's important to always move forward at all times. I worry more about the good times than the stress points."
Asked directly if he was disappointed that Rodgers had publicly questioned the offensive plan, McCarthy said, "I'm not going to. ... I think we all recognize and realize that this is football. I'm not going to get into tone and things like that. (Rodgers is a) very passionate man. Very passionate, very competitive.
"Hey, I'm no different, too. I've called a lot of games in this league and I've gone through a lot of game plans and still represent the team as a head coach. But when I closed my door last night and watched the game, I felt like we left a lot out there (on offense)."
At 2-1-1 through four games, the Packers trail the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, who are off to a 3-1 start.
Chicago's only loss is a 24-23 defeat to the Packers in the season opener, when Rodgers came back from a first-half left knee injury to rally Green Bay from a 20-0 deficit.
Rodgers' knee injury has been an issue ever since, although he appeared more mobile against Buffalo than he has been since the injury. Rodgers completed 22 of 40 passes for 298 yards with one touchdown, one interception, two sacks and a lost fumble (76.9 passer rating) against the Bills. He missed a handful of throws he usually makes and was victimized by five drops by receivers.
The offense's up-and-down day stood in stark contrast to the defense, which registered its first shutout since Oct. 31, 2010, and allowed just 145 yards.
"We were championship defensive level and non-playoff team offensive level," Rodgers said after the game. "That was not great by any stretch of the imagination."
The Packers have two games left before their Week 7 bye with a trip to Detroit this week followed by an Oct. 15 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on "Monday Night Football."
"I'm not totally hung up on numbers and statistics. I think it's important to look inside those," McCarthy said.
"There's times where you do put up big numbers but frankly you didn't play as well as you'd like fundamentally. I know one thing: If you stay after the fundamentals and you keep the play style consistent, you're going to win a lot of games. And that's what we're after. ..."
Worth noting, Rodgers practiced twice last week, including Thursday's full-pads session, marking the first time since his Week 1 knee injury that he took part in anything other than the Saturday workout that typically lasts about an hour. McCarthy said Rodgers' injury has not had a significant impact on his game planning and play calling.
Rodgers also admitted his knee was not actually feeling all that much better, and he may be resigned to the fact that it won't measurably improve until he can take a week off over the bye. But the Packers have two more games they need to win before then, prior to beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, which includes two West Coast trips.
The production of the Packers' running backs - 183 total yards from scrimmage for the trio of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery - is a huge positive the offense no doubt can build upon. Hitting receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 38 yards down the sideline in the fourth quarter, allowing the rookie to atone for not coming back to the ball on a throw earlier that almost became a pick-six, was meaningful as well.
But four games in, with the addition of Graham and the return of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin that Rodgers was so excited about, he's looking for more. He knows the Packers are going to need it. Out of him, out of everybody, and the message had to be delivered now. ...
In just his second game of the season, Jones jumped to the top of the running back playing time chart -- but just barely. Jones played only 38 percent of the snaps, but still had 82 yards from scrimmage on just 12 touches. Williams had 27 yards on 11 touches and Montgomery had 74 yards on 11 touches. ...
The Packers added receiver Randall Cobb to their injury report Thursday. He did not play Sunday because of his hamstring injury.
"As much as I would've wanted to, I couldn't be out there running at full speed," Cobb said Monday, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN. "So it's no reason to take that risk."
Cobb has a better chance to play this week against Detroit.
"It's feeling better," Cobb said. "I made strides the past couple days and hopefully I can continue to make those strides."
Adams played all 76 offensive snaps Sunday, while Geronimo Allison played 56 before leaving the game following a blow to the head. Valdes-Scantling received 54 snaps and J'Mon Moore 11 with Cobb inactive.
Cobb has made 17 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown this season.
Allison is week to week with a concussion.
McCarthy told repoters on Wednesday that Cobb (hamstring) was scheduled to work in the rehab group and he confirmed Allison is still in the concussion protocol. So there's a chance the Packers will be down two starting receivers at Detroit. McCarthy said Marquez Valdes-Scantling and the other rookie receivers will "have a role" and he has "great confidence" in them.
Rodgers was also held out of Wednesday's practice along with Graham (knee). Adams (calf) was limited.
I'll obviously be following up on all the walking wounded here via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but one last note on the wideouts here:
Cobb's absence opened the door for Valdes-Scantling to run 33 of a possible 42 pass routes. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Valdes-Scantling, who manned the slot, was limited to three targets, but only Adams ran more routes (42). Assuming Cobb remains out in Week 5, Valdes-Scantling will be a risky but intriguing deep sleeper with Adams facing shadow coverage from Lions CB Darius Slay.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Robert Tonyan
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, during the Texans' first offensive series in Sunday's victory against the Colts, they were showing looks that hadn't been seen much in their first three games, all losses.
On that drive, the Texans had rookie receiver Keke Coutee, who was making his NFL debut, in motion on four of the first five plays. The other play they ran was an option that got a first down.
It was that creativity in misdirection that helped quarterback Deshaun Watson succeed in his rookie season, a credit to Houston's coaching staff, which came up with different ways to take advantage of Watson's unique skills.
The Texans have been working on implementing Coutee since before he injured his hamstring in training camp, hoping to build upon the misdirection they were so successful with a year ago. Coutee said he was used similarly at Texas Tech. By using Coutee in this way, Watson said, it gives "the defense another a thing to look at. ... It just opened up the whole offense."
Through three games the Texans had shown less of that. Head coach Bill O'Brien said that is partly because Coutee had been out with a hamstring injury, but also "has a lot to do with where Deshaun was relative to how he felt about everything, relative to health and all that.
"I think these are things that we can do, that we like to do, that we did more of today. Some of them worked and some of them don't. They're pretty well-designed plays, but there's a lot of risk involved in those plays. But that's part of the deal with Deshaun. When you have a quarterback like him, you have got to be creative and that's what we're trying to do."
The Texans put Coutee in motion much more in the first quarter than they did later in the game. That likely was at least in part because receiver Will Fuller left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and Houston had to depend more on Coutee outside. Coutee led the team with 15 targets and finished with 11 catches for 109 yards in his first NFL game.
On Monday, O'Brien said he thought the Texans had been creative in their first three games and it showed in the way Watson and the Houston offense had been able to move the ball. After four games, the Texans have the 11th ranked passing offense in the league, averaging 291 yards per game. However, those numbers are slightly skewed because the Texans were trailing in all of their first three games and went to a pass-heavy attack.
Still, O'Brien said when putting together game plans and calling plays, he has been mindful of the fact that Watson had ACL surgery less than a year ago.
"I think anytime a guy's coming back off a knee injury, you have got to do a good job of understanding where that guy's at," O'Brien said. "So I wouldn't say 'affecting anything' is the way to put it, it's more, 'What's right for this player?' It's always about the player and the team. So what is the best thing for this player relative to the team? And that's what we try to do."
Regardless of why O'Brien decided to adjust the offense's approach in Week 4, it's the best the offense has consistently looked this season. Houston is still 1-3 and has an uphill battle to contend for a playoff spot this season, but the Texans will certainly be in a better spot to do so if they can continue to take advantage of the skills of Coutee and Watson.
"We try to get better each and every week," Watson said. "So, who is the team that is improving the fastest? Right now, we just have to improve each and every week and try to be 1-0. This week we did a great job of being on the same page. There are still some things that we can correct. But we did enough to get the win."
Worth noting. ... Coutee's NFL debut got off to a rough start.
Early in the game, after the rookie receiver dropped a pass from Watson, he said he felt like his day was doomed before it really began.
"I had that early drop and that was just a sign of me just getting ready to go and just not looking the ball in," Coutee said. "I was stuck on it for a little while, but I got it out of my mind [and] continued to make plays."
Still, Coutee's 11 catches were the most by a receiver making his NFL debut since 1970. According to the Texans, Sid Banks is the only other player to record more when he had 13 receptions in his first game in 1964.
"He's a playmaker," Watson said. "He's a guy that can come in here and help this offense [and] be electric."
O'Brien said he thinks Fuller could have played in the second half, but "he wasn't going to be able to run all of the routes we needed him to run.
"Fuller wanted to be in there, but I made that decision," O'Brien said.
Fuller, who missed the preseason and Week 1 with a hamstring injury, has caught a touchdown pass in all seven games he has played in with Watson; he has caught 10 touchdowns in that span.
The Texans don't have much depth at receiver, especially if Fuller misses more time. Houston put its No. 3 receiver Bruce Ellington on injured reserve last week with a hamstring injury.
On Sunday, Watson's throws focused on Coutee (15 targets) and DeAndre Hopkins (12 targets), but other than Fuller (five targets before he left the game), Watson doesn't have many other receiving options to throw. Receiver Sammie Coates, who was inactive for the Texans' previous two games with a hamstring injury, caught his lone target against the Colts.
O'Brien said the team will have to "see how it goes this week" with Fuller.
"We just have to manage it and see where it's at," O'Brien said. "In a game like that, if I thought that he really could have gone doing the things we needed to, I would have played him, obviously. He's a great player. I just didn't think he could do all the things we needed him to do, so that's why we decided to sit him in the second half."
Regardless of whether Fuller is back on the field on Sunday night against Dallas in Week 5, Watson will still likely look for Coutee often after the way he played in his first NFL game.
"[My skill set] opens up a lot of people," Coutee said. "If they want to double Hop [Hopkins], they can go to Will [Fuller]. If they want to double Will, they can go to Hop. We have a lot of great guys that do a lot of great things with the ball in their hands."
Meanwhile, Hopkins is the absolute truth. He's playing with a handful of banged up items on his person. Yet, he goes for ten receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown in a must-win situation. After the game, though, what bothered him more than anything? That he couldn't hang to the throw from Watson in overtime that would've won it.
Worth noting. ... Watson, who had his rookie season prematurely ended by a torn ACL, has endured 17 sacks in four games this season. That puts him on pace to take 68 sacks this season, 14 more than the Texans allowed in 2017.
Watson has taken 43 hits this season, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, putting Watson on pace for 172 hits this season.
"He's a very tough guy," O'Brien said, via Wilson. "You know, some of it can be concerning, but it's some of the design of the plays. That's what we do. He's got good physical strength. There's certain things that we do not want him to take a hit on. There's other things that we do that he loves to do, and we like to call them, and that's part of the way he plays.
"I think he's really smart about it for the most part when you look at how he deals with those plays. He gets his pads down or he ducks out of bounds. He's a very, very smart runner. So that's something we try to build around."
The Texans benched Julien Davenport, who had eight penalties in the first three games, last week and inserted Kendall Lamm at right tackle in hopes of improving their offensive line.
As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams notes, Houston will have its hands full this week with the Cowboys, who have 14 sacks, including a league-leading 5.5 by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. ...
A few final notes here. ... The Texans were without running back Lamar Miller for the fourth quarter and overtime. O'Brien said his starting running back got "a little banged up" against the Colts but should be OK going forward.
CB Aaron Colvin will be sidelined indefinitely with a "severe" ankle injury. ...
I'll have more on Fuller, Hopkins and Miller via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
There was only one topic of discussion after Sunday's loss to the Texans.
Why did head coach Frank Reich opt to go for it on fourth down from his own 43-yard line with 24 seconds left in overtime -- and why throw the ball?
That decision led to an Andrew Luck incompletion on fourth-and-4 that set the table for Houston's game-winning field goal in Sunday's 37-34 thriller over the Colts.
"I felt that we had a good drive there at the end and then just came up short," Reich said after the game. "I'll just address it now: I'm not playing to tie. I'll do that 10 times out of 10. That's just the way it's got to roll."
For what it's worth, Luck agreed -- strongly -- with his coach's aggressive play-calling.
"Love it," the QB said. "Everybody in that locker room liked that -- no, LOVED that. Loved that. We can get behind that."
As NFL.com's Marc Sessler reminded readers, Reich was part of an Eagles coaching contingent last season that drew wide acclaim for using analytics to dial up against-the-grain, daring decisions imbued with high-risk, high-reward stakes. Plenty of purists can nitpick Reich's thinking, but the Colts aren't apologizing.
"Yeah, I think that's who we're going to be as a team -- be aggressive," Luck said. "That's what we want our players [to do], that's a mindset we have with our players. It's the only way to win in this league, I think."
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Wells advised readers it's officially time to stop questioning Luck. And more importantly, it's time to stop questioning the quarterback's surgically repaired right shoulder.
Wells went on to explain Luck proved that Sunday afternoon, silencing any naysayers worried about his ability to throw the ball with any zip and distance. He reset the clock to his pre-injury days by throwing for a career-high 464 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 loss to the Texans.
"Y'all putting too much on him," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "He's all right."
Luck's performance would have been the headline -- not Reich's decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime -- had the Colts found the way to come from behind to beat the Texans. It also came after Luck and Reich spent last week answering questions about the quarterback's shoulder after he was taken out of the game for a Hail Mary on the final play in the Week 3 loss to the Eagles.
Throwing for a career high in yards along with breaking the franchise record in attempts (62) and tying the franchise in completions (40) doesn't suggest Luck is a quarterback who is having issues throwing the ball. He's thrown for 319 or more yards in two of the first four games this season. Therefore, Luck's shoulder and durability are nowhere near the top of the Colts' list of concerns.
"At times this was the best I've felt in a long, long time," Luck said. "I don't want to compare to what's happened in the past, but there [were] times out there where we were doing some really good stuff. We have to find a way when we start off with a great drive, building on [it]."
That's Luck for you. He refuses to let the focus be on him. For him, it's about the entire roster all the way down to the final practice player. The only time Luck talked about himself was when he took the blame for the bad throw to receiver Chester Rogers on the failed fourth down attempt in overtime.
Luck put up Sunday's numbers without his starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right tackle Joe Haeg, favorite tight end target Jack Doyle and then had to complete the comeback after Hilton left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
Missing his top tackles had Luck throwing on the move, making quick throws and even making throws while getting hit, as he faced constant duress from Houston's pass-rushing duo of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
"It was a long game -- 60 dropbacks is a lot," Luck said. "I think what we did the first drive of the game -- great. Can't ask for a better drive. Then sort of the comedy of errors that everybody was a part of I think dictated that we had to drop back a bunch, and that's not what you want to do against this team. Three elite rushers. There are no slouches on that defense.
"I am particularly proud of our offensive line and our guys for hanging in there. It's easy to tuck your tail between your legs and sit down and tell the coach we can't pass it. We've got to have eight-man protection. They didn't. They got back right up every time and fought until the bitter end."
All Luck did to offset the loss of those players was do what he did early in his career when he looked like one of the future stars in the NFL: Spread the ball around.
Eight different players had at least 17 yards receiving and Luck's passing yards would have been higher if not for some drops. Rogers and rookie running back Nyheim Hines tied for the team high in targets with 11 and rookie Zach Pascal went from being a kick returner to having 10 targets and a touchdown. That's vintage Luck for you, a quarterback capable of making the most out of what he has at his disposal.
The Colts will need more of that from Luck -- likely in less pass attempts -- because it doesn't look like he'll have Hilton against New England because of a hamstring injury. Doyle is still out with the hip injury, too.
But like Hilton said, Luck is "all right."
And as Wells summed up, "Sunday was further proof of that. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Robert Turbin returned to the team Monday feeling good and "ready to roll."
"We don't know what's going to happen just yet, but whatever I'm asked to do, I'm ready to do," Turbin said, via George Bremer of CNHI Sports Indiana.
Turbin served a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy.
The Colts have a number of injuries at other positions, complicating the roster decision, but they rushed for only 41 yards on 17 carries against the Texans. Eleven of those yards came on three attempts by Luck.
Turbin has served as the team's third-down back the past two seasons, but will he need more than three days before seeing game action?
"I've been in places before where if something like that happened it'd be in a limited role," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "A very specific role that you feel like that player could fill and get five or 10 plays and take a little bit of the load. Or it could be something that guy does specifically really well, and you know he does really well so, hey, let's at least use him for that."
In what's certainly a related item. ... The Colts added running back Jeremy McNichols to their active roster ahead of last Sunday's loss to the Texans, but he won't be with the team for Thursday night's game in New England. The Colts announced on Tuesday that they have placed McNichols on waivers. They did not add another player to the active roster, opening the door to Turbin being available.
McNichols ran twice for four yards against Houston as the Colts played without projected starter Marlon Mack for the third time in the first four weeks. Mack was listed as a limited participant in Monday's practice, although that was an estimation as the team did not hold an actual practice session.
While the Colts didn't sign someone to the active roster, they did add former Bills and Saints running back Jonathan Williams to their practice squad. Williams was cut in New Orleans last week when they added Dwayne Washington from their practice squad. ...
Kicker Adam Vinatieri passed Hall of Famer Morten Andersen for the most field goals in NFL history late in the first half of Sunday's game.
Vinatieri made a 42-yard field goal with two seconds left in the first half to give him 566 for his career. He needed 38 fewer field goal attempts than Andersen to break the record. Vinatieri, a surefire future Hall of Fame selection, has made 303 field goals during his 13 years with the Colts and 263 during his first 10 years with the New England Patriots.
Vinatieri should also pass Andersen for the NFL's all-time points lead (2,544) at some point later this season, barring some kind of injury. Vinatieri went into Sunday's action with 2,511 career points. Vinatieri, who is in his 23rd season and will turn 46 in December, has said he will not put a timetable on how much longer he plays beyond this season. ...
For now, we'll assume he's playing this week -- even though the Colts turned in their second estimated practice report of the week on Tuesday and it featured Vinatieri, who has a groin injury.
Safety Clayton Geathers was also added to a long list of players not participating due to injury concerns. Reich said that the decision to just hold a walkthrough on Tuesday was related to the number of banged-up players they have on a short week.
"Originally we thinking about going to practice, but given the short week and the amount of plays [with] the overtime, [it's] most important to take care of the guys physically and just really get focused in mentally on what we're gonna do. So looking forward to getting on the road, and a good test ahead of us," Reich said, via the team's website.
Hilton, Doyle and linebacker Darius Leonard headline the list of eight Colts who were listed as out for the second day in a row. They'll hand out final injury designations for Thursday's game against the Patriots on Wednesday.
Hilton suffered a chest injury in the first half of Sunday's game against the Texans, but was eventually able to return to the field. He then suffered the above-mentioned hamstring injury that prevented him from returning once again, however, and Reich indicated after the game that Hilton's odds of playing Thursday, on a short week, were "probably not good."
Doyle, meanwhile, continues to deal with a hip injury suffered Week 2 against the Redskins. The Pro Bowl tight end has missed consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Again, it doesn't look good for either this week. It's also unclear if Mack will be ready for this one although Vinatieri seems likely to go. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Finally. ... The Colts on Wednesday elevated tight end Erik Swoope to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and waived tight end Mo Alie-Cox.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Devin Funchess
TEs: Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Hale Hentges
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
The Jaguars took a step backward in Week 3 with a loss to the Titans, but they rebounded without much of a sweat in Week 4.
Jacksonville jumped out to an 18-0 lead and cruised to a 31-12 win over the Jets that leaves their record at 3-1 after the first quarter of the season.
The Jaguars' control of the game was never in doubt even after the Jets started putting points on the board because Donte Moncrief scored on a long pass and T.J. Yeldon put the game away with a garbage time score.
The Jets only managed 178 yards on the day and sacked Sam Darnold three times while the rookie was completing 17-of-34 passes against an overwhelming defense. Bortles was 29-of-38 for 388 yards and two touchdowns and an interception as the Jags offense again showed it can move the ball when Leonard Fournette checks out with an injury.
Which brings us to this week.
The Jaguars are preparing to play without Fournette again, maybe even for a longer stretch than before.
The second-year running back was officially ruled out for this week on Wednesday after head coach Doug Marrone told reporters on Monday he's unsure when the team will be able to determine how much time Fournette will miss.
"I really don't know," Marrone said. "Believe me, if I knew exactly what the deal was and I could tell you -- three [games], six, 10, IR, whatever -- I would. I just don't know. Those injuries are tough. We talked about it by position. We talked about it by player. We've talked about it every other way. "I thought he was looking good. ... You guys see him working [in practice], but it's different when you're playing a game. The game's different."
According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, Marrone was asked if short-term IR was a consideration, but he said he mentioned that as a way to illustrate that he was unable to be definitive about how long Fournette will be out. If the team were to place Fournette on short-term IR, he could not practice for at least six weeks from the date he was placed on IR and could not return to the active roster for at least eight weeks.
Fournette had an MRI on Sunday following the Jaguars' victory and Marrone said the injury does not appear to be more serious than it was when he first hurt his right hamstring late in the first half of the season opener.
Marrone said Fournette feels a "catch" in the hamstring when he tries to accelerate to top speed.
"There's a thing that's just pulling at it," Marrone said. "It's legit. There is something there, and we've just got to do everything we can to get that out. That whatever thing is that feels like it catches. That's all I know.
"I don't know all the doctor talk about it. I'm just trying to give you the layman's talk. It's just, 'Hey, I just got this little thing. It feels like it catches. It doesn't enable me to open up.'"
Fournette ran 11 times for 30 yards and caught one pass for 5 yards before going to the bench late in the first half against the Jets. The team originally said he was questionable to return, but he went back onto the field for the Jaguars' final drive. The team ruled him out for the second half.
Fournette missed the Jaguars' games against New England and Tennessee, and based on what Marrone said Monday it's unlikely Fournette plays on Sunday in Kansas City. The Jaguars (3-1) play at Dallas the following week before playing host to Houston and then traveling to London for the team's annual home game in Wembley Stadium.
The Jaguars have their bye the following week, so DiRocco believes it's not out of the question that Fournette could be held out until their Week 10 game at Indianapolis on Nov. 11.
Yeldon started Weeks 2 and 3 in Fournette's place, leading the team through four games with 205 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries. Third-team running back Corey Grant has rushed for 32 yards on 12 carries, and Brandon Wilds - who was inactive on Sunday - rushed for nine yards on four carries in two games after being signed from the practice squad the day before a Week 2 victory over New England.
Marrone was asked if the Jaguars might consider signing another running back.
"We'll talk about it," Marrone said. "We have Brandon with it. He's up on the roster, so it's not like we have to make a roster move or anything. ..."
In a related note. ... The Jaguars worked out former Giants RB Orleans Darkwa and former Browns RB Matt Dayes on Tuesday. ...
Are you struggling to figure out who the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver is? You're not alone.
As Jaguars.com's John Oehser wrote this week, "I've said since last offseason I doubted the Jaguars had a 'true No. 1 receiver.' I also have said I think they might have two or three really good players who could lead the Jaguars in receiving in a given week and catch five-to-seven touchdowns for 700-to-800 yards. I think Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief all look like those sorts of receivers. ..."
So far, Oehser is right.
Against the Jets, Cole -- widely viewed as the No. 1 -- caught 2-of-3 passes for 15 yards while Westbrook caught 9-of-13 targets for 130 yards and Moncrief finished with five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Bottom line? This receiving corps is prime best-ball fodder. ...
In addition to Fournette, cornerback D.J. Hayden (toe) was also ruled out Wednesday. Byeond thatm, the Jaguars have good news with Yeldon, who was slated to practice Wednesday despite a lingering ankle injury. The Jaguars, however, don't expect tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle injury), center Brandon Linder (knee, back) and guard Andrew Norwell (knee) to practice.
And finally. ... Marrone expressed surprise that his decision to attempt a two-point conversion leading 31-12 with :25 remaining Sunday has drawn attention nationally and in the New York area. While some have speculated the move was made because Marrone interviewed and did not get the Jets' coaching position in January 2015,
Marrone said that was not the case. He said the decision was made "way before" to attempt the two-point conversion because a touchdown would put the Jaguars ahead by 19 points, and the Jaguars' "two-point chart" says to go for two when ahead by that margin.
"When we scored, it was just natural for me to go for two," Marrone said. "People who know me know how much I respect the game. I have a ton of respect for [Jets Head] Coach [Todd] Bowles, and [Jets General Manager] Mike Maccagnan is one of my good friends. Whatever happened in the past is the past; it had nothing to do with the people or the game itself that's on the field. So, for me that's exactly what happened - right, wrong or indifferent. I would never do anything like that. I just wouldn't because I respect the game too much. It has nothing to do with any of the other crap."
Marrone added, "If I had to do it all over and I knew this was going to happen. ... Yeah, I wish someone would have said something. Because the one thing I don't want to do is get my character attacked, which has happened in the past and it happens again."
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker, Nick Foles
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Chris Conley, D.J. Chark, CJ Board
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Seth DeValve, Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy, Ben Koyack
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta framed it, "Patrick Mahomes was hitting all the right notes, even when he had to throw with his left hand.
"Is there anything the Kansas City quarterback can't do these days?"
Mahomes made one of the most memorable plays of the game on a left-handed heave late in the fourth quarter that helped the Chiefs to a 27-23 comeback victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
"I thought, 'Is he a magician or something?'" said running back Kareem Hunt, whose team improved to 4-0. "He's doing things you really don't see often. He's a great player. I'm glad he's on my team."
Mahomes' left-handed toss occurred with about 3:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and was all the buzz on social media. As he scrambled to his left on third-and-5 at the Kansas City 45, Mahomes switched the ball to his other hand so pass rusher Von Miller couldn't strip it from him. Then, Mahomes lofted a perfect strike to receiver Tyreek Hill for a 6-yard gain and the first down.
"He actually throws better than me and I'm left handed," Hill quipped. "It was a good throw. It was a good toss. Pat, I don't even know what to say, man. Pat just does a great job of looking down the field, trusting us to stay alive and stuff like that."
He's seen better from Mahomes, though.
"He threw the ball like 85 yards in practice," Hill said. "That probably surprised me. I've never seen a quarterback throw the ball that far."
Mahomes said he sometimes throws left-handed when the QBs engage in competitions during practice. But that's about the extent of his ambidextrous ways.
"I did it a couple of times in college but it was to throw it away," said Mahomes, who finished 28 of 45 for 304 yards and one TD, along with running in another. "I never had thrown it to a receiver. So it was a cool deal, got the first down and got the win."
He even surprised Miller, who had no idea Mahomes threw it with his opposite hand.
"I just felt like he was getting ready to throw it, so I was just trying to get down there and clip the ankles," Miller explained. "But I didn't know he threw it with his left hand. He's a great quarterback."
It seems like Mahomes is constantly topping what he did before.
"I saw it when it came out of his hand, and I went, 'Oh wow,'" fullback Anthony Sherman said. "At this point, we should just trust him and know he won't put us in a bad situation. He'll find a way to get the ball to an open receiver."
That was readily apparent soon after his dazzling left-handed throw. Trailing 23-20, Mahomes was called for intentional grounding, which was followed by a holding penalty on the offensive line. All of a sudden, the Chiefs faced second-and-30 at the 31.
No problem for Mahomes. He threw a 23-yard completion to Demarcus Robinson and then a 35-yard strike to Demetrius Harris.
See, no worries.
A few plays later Hunt took it in for a 4-yard score to put the Chiefs on top. The defense took it from there to preserve the win.
"When you step back, you go, 'Whoa, that was pretty good,'" head coach Andy Reid said. "But really you're just trying to figure out the next play that he can scramble around and make plays on."
This is how much Mahomes' scrambling ability influences a game: He physically drained Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
"I had to go inside and get two IVs," Harris said. "I was just done. Just playing those extra times. He made us scramble in coverage the whole game. We couldn't sack this man. He's a hell of a player. He's a hell of a quarterback."
Meanwhile, even though Mahomes threw only one touchdown pass Monday night, he remains on pace to break the single-season record for passing touchdowns.
Mahomes now has an NFL-high 14 touchdown passes through four games. That puts him on pace to throw 56 touchdown passes this season. Peyton Manning's NFL record is 55 touchdown passes in a season, set in 2013.
The Chiefs relied more on Hunt on Monday night against the Broncos, giving him a season-high 19 carries. Hunt gained 121 yards and a touchdown, and Mahomes himself scored his first career rushing touchdown. So the Chiefs were scoring more on the ground than through the air on Monday night.
But they know they have a special quarterback, one who might be in store for a record-breaking season.
According to NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman, Mahomes' night can't be summed up in numbers or metrics, but this stat from the ESPN broadcast comes pretty damn close.
The Chiefs quarterback threw for 192 yards outside of the pocket on Monday night, the most by any quarterback in the past decade.
Bergman went on to suggest the Brett Favre comparisons are easy to make, especially when Mahomes is completing passes ambidextrously and launching rifles off balance at obtuse angles like the former Packers legend. But it's hard not to make them.
The only difference? Mahomes doesn't turn the ball over.
Through four games, he has a 14:0 TD-to-INT ratio. Mahomes is pacing the MVP race ahead of Jared Goff and Khalil Mack -- and the gap's not small. ...
Also of interest. ... For most of Monday evening, the Chiefs' offense was hamstrung by a hamstring.
Sammy Watkins exited the game with a bum hammy in the first quarter, leaving Mahomes with one fewer weapon to work with. Heading into Monday, Watkins had played the most snaps of any Chiefs wide receiver, averaging 51.3 snaps per game; he played just 12 against Denver. In his stead, Harris, Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson saw more snaps, but couldn't replace his production or spread out Denver's defense until late in the second half.
According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Watkins was able to do some jogging last night as they evaluated whether he could return. The fact that Watson was on the practice field Wednesday was a good sign.
Given his outsized use in K.C.'s offense, Watkins' health will be something to monitor this week; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...
That said, the main beneficiary of Watkins' absence was Hunt, who, until Mahomes went all Favre on Denver in the fourth quarter, was solely responsible for keeping the Chiefs in this one. The reigning rushing champion is oft overlooked in the star-studded juggernaut that is Kansas City's offense, but not on Monday.
Hunt averaged 6.4 yards on the ground and racked up 175 total yards on 22 touches, one of which was the game-winning score in the red zone.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams, LeSean McCoy
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Gehrig Dieter, Tyreek Hill
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Philip Rivers says the offense gets juice when Melvin Gordon churns out tough yards.
Gordon believes his Chargers are never out of it because Rivers can sling it around the yard.
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, on Sunday, Rivers and Gordon both leaned on each other in leading the Chargers to a 29-27, come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the StubHub Center.
Rivers finished 25-of-39 for 250 passing yards, with three touchdowns and interception that 49ers defensive back Antone Exum returned for a 32-yard touchdown to start the game.
Gordon totaled 104 rushing yards on 15 carries, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the first time since October of last year against the New England Patriots (132 rushing yards).
The two combined to give the Chargers a lethal, 1-2 punch on offense in a game in which the Chargers were not at their best.
"It was just a gritty win," Rivers said. "It wasn't the best day, but at the same time, we showed some of the traits that we always talk about having -- toughness, togetherness and the fight."
Rivers upped his record to 4-0 against San Francisco, with 1,213 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in those games. Rivers (51,504) also passed Hall of Famer John Elway (51,475) for eighth in career passing yards in NFL history.
The win also gives Rivers 25 come-from-behind victories when trailing in the fourth quarter.
Like Rivers said, the game was not pretty. However, the victory pushed the Chargers to 2-2 in the first quarter of the season, with winnable games remaining at home next week against the Oakland Raiders, on the road against the Cleveland Browns and hosting the Tennessee Titans in London before the Bolts' bye week.
Even though the Chargers trailed by as many as 14 points early on, Gordon said he still believed.
"Every time we're down, I never blink -- I never doubt anything," Gordon said. "As long as we've got No. 17 back there, we've always got a shot to win the game.
"He's been doing it forever. When you've got a guy that's been around the league, seen everything and done everything, he gives you that confidence that, 'I know you're going to make it happen.'"
After throwing an interception for a score, a punt and a missed field goal on his team's first three drives, Rivers led the Chargers on five straight scoring drives to help them take a 26-17 lead in the third quarter.
The Chargers continue to struggle with slow starts. Since Anthony Lynn took over as head coach last season, the Chargers have failed to score a touchdown on the opening possession of games.
"Until we do it, then we don't have it figured out," Rivers said. "But I don't know if there's any magic play call, or magic formula for that. We've just got to execute better early."
From there, the Chargers relied on the hard-charging running style of Gordon to close out the game. Gordon finished with 49 of his 104 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
"[Mike] Pouncey told me that, 'Hey, when you run like that I feel that energy, and I want to block harder,'" Gordon said. "He told me that in the huddle. So when you hear our O-line say that, it's time to go get it because you can make a difference. ..."
Worth noting. ... Gordon and Austin Ekeler each caught touchdowns, the first time the Chargers have had two running backs catch touchdowns since Jessie Hester and Darren Sproles did it on Nov. 22, 2010, against Denver.
Also of interest. ... The nearest defender to Antonio Gates on his five-yard touchdown reception was 13.62 yards away, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That's the second-most separation at time of reception on a touchdown pass this season, behind Dolphins' WR Jakeem Grant's touchdown catch on a trick play pass from Albert Wilson against the Raiders (15.03 yards). ...
The Chargers' kicking problems continued with two more missed extra points by Caleb Sturgis.
Los Angeles has missed eight PATs since the start of last season, which is the most in the league. Los Angeles has missed 10 extra points since the kick was moved back in 2015 and is one of eight teams in the league to have missed 10 or more.
Lynn said in regards to Sturgis, the Chargers will evaluate the entire operation, including snapper Mike Windt and holder Drew Kaser. Lynn said "We'll see," when asked if the Chargers will bring in kickers for tryouts this week.
"We've had a lot of kickers come through here," Lynn said. "That's been the common theme around here. But the other guys have been here the entire time, so we have to look at the entire process."
I'll be watching for more on that and on wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who missed the past two games due to a foot injury. He did not play during the second half. He had a catch for 2 yards before leaving, but at this point it's not clear when he'll be ready to return. ...
Rookie Kyzir White started the team's first three games at linebacker before missing Sunday's win over the 49ers with a knee injury.
Head coach Anthony Lynn said on Monday that White will miss at least one more game. Per multiple reporters, the rookie had surgery to clean up the knee on Monday and Lynn said he hopes to have him back in action without a long stay on the shelf.
White played at least 61 percent of the defensive snaps the first three weeks and also saw action on special teams. The fourth-round pick had 17 tackles and an interception.
Kyle Emanuel and Jatavis Brown saw more playing time at linebacker with White out of the lineup. The Chargers will host the Raiders in Week 5.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Melvin Gordon, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Geremy Davis
TEs: Virgil Green, Sean Culkin, Hunter Henry
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As NBCSports.com's Peter King wrote: "The Rams rule. Since Sean McVay arrived last season, Los Angeles is 15-5 and average 30.9 points per game. They're the best team in football, the only 4-0 team as October dawns, and except for the Chiefs, it's not very close.
Indeed, Kurt Warner, Mike Martz and the Greatest Show on Turf never put up as many yards passing in a single game as Jared Goff and Sean McVay did last Thursday night.
The St. Louis Rams had one of the greatest offenses in NFL history around the turn of the century. Fifteen years later, their West Coast descendants look ready to make their own mark on the league.
After Goff passed for 465 yards and five touchdowns in Los Angeles' 38-31 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams are 4-0 for the first time since 2001. That's also the last season in which the Rams made the Super Bowl, and the final unofficial season of the Greatest Show on Turf - the high-octane offense masterminded by Martz and put into action by Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and their slew of talented teammates.
Warner was watching when Goff went 26 for 33 and shattered his previous career highs for yards passing and TD passes with a dynamic performance against the Vikings. He spread the ball to three receivers who had 100-yard games, while do-everything running back Todd Gurley had 73 yards receiving, 83 yards rushing and a TD catch.
Goff was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts against th Vikings.
"Time to get out the record books," Warner tweeted, adding that the Rams and Goff are "looking to SMASH some of those GSOT numbers! Keep it up boys - it's time!"
No wonder Warner was impressed: Goff's performance was the third-biggest in Rams history and the most prolific since 1982, surpassing any game by Warner, Marc Bulger or Jim Everett.
"Those are quite flattering words," McVay said Friday of Warner's tweet, which included a hashtag hailing the "Greatest Show on Turf II."
"It's a reflection of the way our players are playing, but ultimately the truest measurement of performance is that consistency, and we've got to consistently do it," McVay added. "We've done it for one quarter of the season so far where we've played at a pretty high level. Now the challenge is, can we continue it on when we get back for Week 5?"
While Goff has made obvious strides in confidence and decision-making from his strong sophomore season, his effort isn't the only upgrade on an offense that already made a stunning transformation back in McVay's first year.
The Rams are averaging 468.5 yards per game through the first quarter of the season, second-most in the league and 107 yards per game more than they put up last season, when they were the NFL's highest-scoring team.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, whose steady blocking and leadership are lesser-noticed keys to the offense's success, credits the Rams' smooth start to collaboration in practice and film study.
"I have been honestly floored from a perspective of just how humble and how hungry this offense has been about conceptual football," Whitworth said. "It's not really about whether they are going to get catches or touches, or whether Todd is going to get the ball so many times. ... It's about understanding exactly how to attack a team, understanding what their defense does. It's not just guys trying to figure out how to block their guy. It's understanding why their guy plays this way in this system. It takes you to a level where you are almost out there playing as a coach."
Goff, McVay and the Rams are far from satisfied, however. McVay only sees progress toward a destination that's still many months away.
"To come away clean when you're 4-0 after this is a really important thing," McVay said. "The guys have done a great job of creating explosive plays, whether it's through the run game (or) through the pass game. I think we've been extremely efficient the past couple of weeks, but you talk about putting together complete games, being better situationally. As many great things as we did last night, we were 1 for 6 on third down. I really, realistically think that I've got to do a better job."
McVay has a long weekend to spend looking for ways to improve his formidable offense. The workaholic coach plans to spend time with his parents and girlfriend, but he also plans to watch a little football while he starts to prepare for the Rams' upcoming three consecutive road games.
"I like watching football," McVay said. "I can at least feel like I'm sitting there as a fan, instead of being a total basket case like I am when we play. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Asked if she expects more passing-game involvement from Gerald Everett going forward, ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry wrote: "No. And that's not an indictment of Everett's ability, but more so the playmakers he is surrounded by -- and the fact that Everett missed significant time during training camp when much of the foundation for the offense was laid."
Thiry went on to advise readers to look for Everett to be targeted a couple of times per game, but for most of the passing game to continue to run through receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Gurley. ...
The Rams are waiving kicker Sam Ficken and signing Cairo Santos, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports. The job is temporary until Greg Zuerlein is ready to return, and the veteran kicker appears close to returning.
Zuerlein went 4-for-5 on his field-goal attempts and made all three PATs in the season opener before injuring his groin in pregame warmups in Week 2. Ficken, 25, kicked for the Rams the past two games but made only one of three field-goal attempts and all 10 of his extra points. Ficken had never kicked in a regular-season game until replacing Zuerlein last season after Zuerlein went on injured reserve.
Ficken made two of three field goals and four of five extra points in two regular-season games before making both field-goal attempts and an extra point in the postseason.
Zuerlein went 4-for-5 on his field-goal attempts in the season opener and made all three PATs.
In 51 games with the Chiefs and two with the Bears, Santos has made 127 of 132 extra points and 90-of-107 field goals. ...
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, McVay said outside linebacker Dominique Easley had knee surgery Monday and was likely headed to injury reserve. Easley has battled knee problems since college, and this was his fourth surgery. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and spent most of training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
The Rams moved him from defensive tackle to a stand-up position in hopes of reducing the stress on his knees. It wasn't sufficient, apparently. He started the first three games, but missed last week's win over the Vikings. The former first-round pick of the Patriots missed five games in each of his first two seasons before joining the Rams in 2016.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster
TEs: Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine suggested, the standings Monday offered small consolation for the first-place Dolphins.
They hardly felt or looked like the best team in the AFC East after a 38-7 loss at New England. The drubbing left the Dolphins with a deceptive 3-1 record, injuries issues and room for recrimination.
"That's why today is always the toughest," said head coach Adam Gase, who has dealt with the day-after blues before. "Everyone is brutally honest. You're going to have conflict; you're going to have some back and forth. Today is an emotional day.
"It's a bad feeling when you get drummed in a division rival's stadium. It's not something you like to experience, and you're mad you can't do anything about it now."
Instead, the Dolphins began looking ahead to another road game Sunday against Cincinnati (3-1) while wondering who will be available to play. Center Daniel Kilgore (left arm) and cornerback Bobby McCain (knee) joined an already long injury list with potentially serious ailments, and tackle Ja'Wuan James was also banged up.
The rout will test the team's culture, which Gase found wanting during a six-win season in 2017. There were signs of strife Sunday when defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had an angry outburst on the sideline after coming out of the game.
Gase defended defensive line coach Kris Kocurek's rotation pattern.
"There's a reason we're subbing the way we're subbing against that team," Gase said. "It's not a secret why we're doing it. Whatever Kris wants the d-linemen to do, that's what we're doing."
The Dolphins have cause to be testy, with their fast start now looking like a mirage. They've been outscored this season 90-82, and outgained by 435 yards. The offense ranks third-worst in the NFL, and the secondary's a mess, with even top cornerback Xavien Howard getting burned Sunday for two touchdowns.
Gase struggled to explain how his team could play so badly after winning its first three games. He said the opponents were more physical, which hadn't happened previously, and that wasn't the lone issue. One familiar problem was penalties - 10 for 89 yards.
"Nothing went right," Gase said. "Nothing we did was good."
Receiver Albert Wilson offered an assessment that was candid but mystifying, given the high stakes against the division's perennial powerhouse: "We didn't have any energy going in."
Miami's defensive front four looked especially listless, allowing Patriots rookie Sony Michel to run for 112 yards and his first career touchdown.
"It was a lot of shooting yourself in the foot - misalignments, missed tackles, self-inflicted wounds," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "And maybe some physicality as well."
Because the Patriots' defensive line also dominated, the Dolphins couldn't run the ball, and Ryan Tannehill had little time to throw. He was able to target Danny Amendola only three times and Jakeem Grant twice even though both "were open the whole game," Gase said.
Absent was the creative play-calling of earlier games that led to chunk yardage.
"When you're not getting first downs, you're not moving the football, you're not getting the defense on their heels a little bit, it's tough to get those play calls in," Tannehill said.
This year's offensive line was expected to be the best Tannehill has played behind, but three of the five starters are now hurt, with guard Josh Sitton earlier sidelined for the season.
That leaves Tannehill in a precarious position, much like Miami's lead in the AFC East.
Indeed, as ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggests, the scariest part of Sunday's loss is their biggest issue might not be fixable.
"We really didn't anticipate getting out-physicaled like the way we did," Gase said. "We just couldn't get anything going. We were getting pushed back, a lot of pressure on [Tannehill] even though they weren't pressuring with blitzes. ... Just too much penetration."
Wolfe went on to explain this Dolphins team was still trying to find who they truly were at after three games. The fourth game and first loss shouldn't derail their season, but we'll soon see if they let it.
Everybody loses, but this one in particular feels deflating. There was an unsettled feeling in the Dolphins locker room after the game, with a few players getting testy and defensive.
It felt like they were embarrassed. Their coming-out party was a dud.
"We got to remember how this moment feels," running back Frank Gore said. "We got to remember how it feels to get beat like this and respond."
In a league where the postgame talk is about forgetting the last game, win or loss, Gore is on to something. The Dolphins must remember the way they feel after being embarrassed Sunday.
"Probably will take a while to sink in, honestly," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "It's a tough pill to swallow. ... It was a lot of shooting yourself in the foot."
According to the Miami Herald, the Dolphins' lack of a reliable identity is most easily seen in its stunningly casual commitment to a running game. Or, put another way:
Whatever happened to Kenyan Drake?
He's the 24-year-old running back who entered this season averaging 5 yards per carry in his young career. The guy they liked enough that Jay Ajayi was expendable. The guy who led all Dolphins in fantasy drafts, so much was expected of him.
As Herald columnist Greg Cote notes, "Drake has disappeared. I keep expecting to see flyers tacked on street corners beseeching his whereabouts."
Drake was in for fewer snaps than Gore on Sunday, and had only three carries for three yards. Drake's totals the past two games: eight carries, six yards.
"There were some runs called in there that ended up getting flipped out to one of the receivers," Gase tried to explain. "We have to get into a better rhythm. I've got to do a better job of making sure we're giving the backs more touches and just be more consistent."
Cote's response: "Start here: Make Drake your starting back, your featured back. Make that unequivocal, and stick with it.
"Gore is starting, in homage to and respect for his 112-game starting streak. Enough. Drake deserves to start, and to average 20 carries a game. ..."
Fantasy owners wouldn't argue. ...
On the injury front this week, DeVante Parker (quad) was limited in Wednesday's practice. He missed last Sunday's game with the same injury and between the quad and a broken finger, Parker has appeared in just one game this season. ...
One last note here. ... The Dolphins fear Kilgore tore his triceps, Barry Jackson of the Herald reports. The timetable is uncertain for Kilgore, but a torn triceps obviously is a significant injury.
Kilgore played only 16 of 49 offensive snaps before leaving with his injury in Sunday's loss to the Patriots. Travis Swanson replaced him. Kilgore started all 16 games for the 49ers last season.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird
WRs: DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Kirk Cousins had his second 400-yard passing game in three weeks for the Minnesota Vikings. Once again it didn't translate to a victory.
Cousins was 36 of 50 for 422 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. A lot of yards and nothing to show for it is becoming a familiar theme for Cousins, who threw for 425 yards in a Week 2 tie at Green Bay.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, it is the fifth time in his seven-year career he has thrown for 422 yards or more and the game has ended in a loss or tie, according to SportRadar. It happened to him twice in 2016, with a tie against Cincinnati in London and a loss at Dallas.
Prior to Cousins' unlikely double, the only two times it had happened in the same season since 2000 was Cam Newton with Carolina in 2011 and Tennessee's Billy Volek in 2004.
"The stats don't tell the whole story," said Cousins, who is 0-3-2 in 400-yard games. "We never were able to get a large lead and be able to run the ball to protect it. The game plan necessitated a lot of drop backs and six-man protections, which you don't want to be in against Aaron Donald."
Cousins completed passes to nine players, with Adam Thielen (8 receptions, 135 yards) and Stephon Diggs (11 receptions, 123 yards) having big games.
"The offense played well. I thought Kirk played good and Diggs played well," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "All the guys made plays tonight, so that was good."
The Vikings scored on their first three drives and four of six in the first half, but the Rams scored touchdowns on four of their five possessions. After Dan Wile's second straight punt of the first half, Jared Goff threw his fourth touchdown pass of the first half to give the Rams a 28-17 lead with 1:26 remaining in the second quarter. That put the Vikings in a position where they were chasing scores and never caught up.
"I don't think it does affect anything until the end of the game," Cousins said when asked if the game plan changed when they fell behind. "You stay within your stuff. Plays are designed to have answers. Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) stayed aggressive. When the game gets down at the end you have to take chances."
Minnesota had a chance to send it into overtime when it got the ball back with 2:20 remaining. The Vikings drove to their own 48 but Cousins fumbled when he was sacked by John Franklin-Myers and Ndamukong Suh recovered it at the 44.
On the fumble, Cousins said he was trying to find Thielen on a shallow crossing route and didn't see the pressure by Franklin-Myers.
Cousins has thrown for a team-record 1,387 yards in the first four games, but an area where the Vikings need to focus going into a pivotal Oct. 7 game at Philadelphia will be trying to get the running game back on track. Running backs Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Roc Thomas combined for just 26 yards on 13 carries against the Rams.
Even though the Vikings are 1-2-1, they were able to be competitive against the Rams after a disappointing 27-6 loss to Buffalo last Sunday. Diggs said he hopes that carries through the rest of the season.
"We've got to correct some things to get better in certain areas, but as far as fighting and coming together and playing as a unit, we did everything we could," Diggs said. ...
Also of interest. ... In assessing when we can expect Cook to return to a feature back role, ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin expressed the belief that's going to depend upon when Cook is fully healthy.
The Vikings had him limited against the Rams so he wouldn't re-injure his hamstring, but Cook managed only 2.0 yards per rush in 10 carries in the first half. "Where did the explosive rusher go, the one who dragged defenders as he fought to rack up each yard after contact and made the Vikings dynamic out of the backfield?
Cook getting back to his old ways is predicated on whether he can stay healthy for longer stretches of time. Once the hamstring injury is fully behind him, Cronin expects Cook to return to his old ways.
He's not here yet. Cook said Monday that the hamstring has not fully healed at this point.
"This thing is still healing up," Cook told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. "I want to be 100 percent as bad as everybody else wants me to 100 percent. But I'm just not there yet. I just got to keep chipping away. But I'm going to be ready when the time comes, though."
The Vikings rank last in the league with 252 rushing yards through their first four games and a healthy Cook would be a big part of improving those results. It seems the wait is going to continue at least a little while longer, however.
Stay tuned. ... I'll be following up on Cook, who didn't practice Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update all week long.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Josh Doctson, Stefon Diggs, Chad Beebe, Olabisi Johnson
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted this week, wide receiver Josh Gordon played 18 snaps in his debut and made a notable contribution, Julian Edelman returned to the team Monday after serving a four-game suspension and a 38-7 blowout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday has decisively altered the New England Patriots' outlook.
A changing of the guard in the AFC East, as some predicted entering Sunday?
Not so fast.
The Patriots, who were looking to avoid losing three games in a row for the first time since 2002, whacked the previously undefeated Dolphins to reassert their dominance and serve a reminder that the division still runs through New England.
The Patriots are now 82-23 against AFC East teams in the regular season since 2001, which is the best intradivision record of any team in the NFL. And since the NFL realigned divisions in 2002, the Patriots have won 14 division titles, most in the league over that span.
Sunday was a chance for the Dolphins to show they were ready to knock the Patriots from that perch, but instead, the Patriots (2-2) were inspired by a revived defense that never relented. That unit was the story of the game -- completely flipping the script from back-to-back losses against Jacksonville and Detroit -- and it gave the still-evolving offense more margin for error early.
Meanwhile, the Tom Brady-led offense seemed to get a spark from the inclusion of Gordon (2 catches, 32 yards), with receiver Phillip Dorsett's second-quarter flip touchdown a highlight, running back James White (2 TDs) delivering his usual steady game and rookie running back Sony Michel (25 carries, 112 yards, TD) finding his groove behind an offensive line that recommitted itself as run-blockers.
Gordon's inclusion into the attack is a major storyline, and he addressed reporters for the first time Sunday since the Patriots acquired him in a trade from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 17.
"I have no doubt I can take advantage of this opportunity," said Gordon, who fielded three questions from reporters. "I'm extremely grateful to be put in this scenario, and I think the only thing that's right for me to do is take full advantage of it.
"I'm loving it. I'm enjoying it. The guys here are great. It's a real home environment, and I feel as comfortable as ever here."
Brady noted the spark that Gordon provided the Patriots.
"He's putting a lot of work a lot of time trying to understand where to line up and what to do. He came up with some big plays today, kind of got us going in certain areas," he said. "So it was great to have him out there."
Edelman's return leading into Thursday night's home game against the Indianapolis Colts should be another big boost, helping to create an added comfort level for Brady, who has made some uncharacteristic mistakes (3 interceptions) through the first quarter of the season. In the locker room after the game, Dorsett wore one of Edelman's signature T-shirts, saying it wasn't a coincidence as teammates are excited to welcome him back.
Added Brady: "It'll be great to have him. We haven't seen him in four weeks but I know he'll be ready. And it's a short week [with a Thursday game], so I'm sure he'll be in here ready to go. Everyone loves Jules and loves having him back."
There is one big potential concern for the Patriots, however.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski left Sunday's game in the third quarter with an ankle injury and didn't return, spending the remainder of the contest in the locker room. It's possible that Gronkowski wouldn't have returned anyway, given the Patriots had full control of the game, but the fact that he wasn't on the sideline - and didn't hold his usual post-game news conference -- was notable, although Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Gronkowski is considered "day to day" as a result of the injury.
For the past two weeks, Gronkowski has faced consistent double coverage, forcing others to step up and make plays. The offense struggled.
Still, Gronkowski leads the Patriots with 233 yards in four games this season and his 17 receptions are second on the team. He also has one touchdown catch.
In addition, things started to click against the Dolphins, so now the question is whether the Patriots have to reboot once again should Gronkowski's ankle injury affect his availability.
Edelman didn't do any talking with reporters on Monday, which was the first day he was eligible to return, but it was easy to see he was already hard at work. A large white bucket of tennis balls used to practice hand-eye coordination was next to his chair, and the sliding doors to his locker were opened wide for the first time in a month.
The Patriots didn't hold a practice Monday, just meetings, and Edelman's return was naturally noted by teammates.
"You know, he hasn't changed a bit," said Brady, who is one of Edelman's closest friends. "Four weeks off, he looks good."
The Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, which means Edelman could be thrust back into the mix quickly alongside fellow receivers Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and Gordon.
"Everyone's excited to have him back, and any time you add great players, it's going to help what we're doing," Brady said. "We all welcome him back. He's excited, ready to go, and hopefully he can go out and play great.
"He gets open so quick, I think that's the thing about Julian, his explosiveness in the routes, in and out of breaks. It's very comforting for a quarterback to see a guy get open really early in a route. ... We've played so much football together, I really have no doubt where he's going to be at, what he's capable of. He's been a great player for our team."
Edelman arrived at Gillette Stadium shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday. Head coach Bill Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI that he talked with Edelman in the morning and "we'll see how it works out" in terms of whether he plays in Thursday's game.
"This obviously isn't going to be a big week of practice or a great opportunity to practice [with a Thursday game]. So we'll have to do our best to evaluate things and make a decision obviously prior to game time," Belichick said on WEEI.
"The timing and execution of it; when you're by yourself as Julian has been, we've had other players in this situation before for a number of weeks -- four weeks in this case -- you can run around the track and do all the sit-ups you want, but it's different when you have 21 other guys on the field playing football.
"The timing, the awareness, the space, and the players that are in that space, is something you only can get used to by doing it. That's a process any player would need to go through. Julian knows that. I'm sure he'll work hard and do the best he can and we'll see where we're at."
I'll have more on Edelman, Gronkowski and Gordon (the latter two who were listed as questionable on the official injury report Wednesday afternoon) via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff. ...
For the record. ... Gordon was targeted twice by Brady and caught both passes for 32 yards as part of the best offensive outing of the young season for New England. Brady said it was great to have Gordon out there and added that the wideout "kind of got us going in certain areas" during the home win.
Gordon said "it's been awesome to have [Brady's] support" and predicted that more good things will come as they continue to flesh out their partnership.
"I have no doubt I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity," Gordon said in his postgame media session. "I'm more than blessed. I'm extremely grateful to be put in this scenario. I think the only thing right for me to do is take full advantage of it. I'm loving it, I'm enjoying it, the guys here are great, it's a real home environment and I feel as comfortable as ever here. It's awesome."
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett suggests, Alvin Kamara might finally get a breather when backfield mate Mark Ingram returns from his four-game suspension next week.
But the New Orleans Saints sure are fortunate that he lived up to his leading-man role when they kept needing him in September.
Kamara's 49-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 6 seconds remaining finally sent the New York Giants fans flooding for the exits as the Saints held on for a sometimes-sloppy 33-18 victory on Sunday.
It was the third touchdown run of the day for Kamara, who carried the ball a career-high 19 times for a career-high 134 yards. Kamara also caught five passes for 47 yards.
Kamara was already leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage heading into Sunday's game with 430. And he now has gained at least 99 yards from scrimmage in all four games this season.
The Saints, however, are still seeking that perfect game after barely surviving an ugly 21-18 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 and outlasting the Atlanta Falcons in a 43-37 overtime track meet in Week 3.
But that should make them feel all the better about sitting here at 3-1 with their best still (likely) to come over the next three months.
And they'll have every reason to get up for Week 5, at home on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins. Not only will Ingram return, but quarterback Drew Brees is poised to become the leading passer in NFL history in front of the home crowd and the national prime-time audience.
Brees needs 201 yards to break Peyton Manning's NFL record for career passing yards.
Brees didn't have his best day in New York on Sunday -- not by a long shot. He finished 18 of 32 for 217 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. And the Saints were 0-for-4 in their first four trips into the red zone before Kamara started crossing the goal line.
Brees was off target on a handful of throws, but dropped passes also plagued New Orleans' offense -- in addition to the Giants' stingy pass defense.
Michael Thomas caught all four of his targets for 47 yards, but that performance was a bit of a disappointment after he had at least 10 catches and/or one touchdown in each of the first three games.
The Saints' bad hands almost cost them even more on special teams, where return men Brandon Tate and Ted Ginn both fumbled kick returns, but luckily recovered them. Ginn recovered his on his own 3-yard line while the Saints were clinging to an eight-point lead in the final minutes. Luckily the offense got hot, starting with a 21-yard pass from Brees to tight end Josh Hill and ending with Kamara's TD run.
This was also arguably the best day for the Saints' defense yet this season, led by a pair of sacks by linebacker Demario Davis and a forced fumble by embattled cornerback P.J. Williams.
Last but not least, it was a huge day for Saints kicker Wil Lutz, who nailed all four of his field goal attempts. And a successful fake punt (a pass from do-everything QB/special teamer Taysom Hill to cornerback Justin Hardee) helped ignite the Saints' offense when it was stuck in the mud early.
It all bodes well heading into Monday night's game. ...
Also worth noting. ... Brees will try to say all the right things this week about staying focused and not thinking about the record. But the glare of that spotlight will be pretty blinding now that the veteran quarterback stands just 201 yards away from becoming the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader. Peyton Manning holds the record of 71,940 yards, with Brett Favre in second place at 71,838.
When asked if he wants to be the one who catches the record-breaking pass, Thomas said, "Man, it would be a blessing, definitely, to make that play for him. If my number's called, I'm definitely gonna make it."
Brees' historic night won't be the only emotional lift for the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday. Players have long insisted Ingram is the "heart and soul" of their locker room -- as well as an All-Pro running back who should add yet another dimension to an offense that has been very good already this season.
"Free Mark!" exclaimed Kamara, who has done awfully well as the Saints' leading man so far this season, leading the NFL with 611 yards from scrimmage through the first four weeks. "I talked to him before the game. He'll probably be at the airport when we land. It feels good to know he served his four and he's going to be back.
"It's about to be ugly."
Brees said he's "very excited, very excited" as well.
"Not just his productivity and the type of player he is, but he's one of the most well-liked, well-respected guys in the locker room. And I know it's been killing him to be away," Brees said. "So really excited to get him back, get his personality back, get his work ethic.
"Just get Marky Mark back, man, it's gonna be great."
According to NBCSports.com's Peter King, when the Saints' charter from Newark landed at the New Orleans airport at 12:01 am, they had a guest waiting: Ingram.
Ingram hugged head coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, and while most of the players and staff headed to their cars, the last two Saints in the airport were Ingram and Kamara.
Kamara and Ingram will be job-sharing over the next three months (longer, if the Saints make the postseason) and they're good friends.
Payton said the team will have to Ingram into the mix now that his four-game suspension is over.
"We'll figure out the balance," Payton told Luke Johnson of NOLA.com. "It'll be good for us offensively to have [Ingram] back."
Ingram and Kamara had much success as a tandem last year. They finished the year with over 3,000 yards of offense between them while also scoring 25 touchdowns.
As for the division of workload in 2017, in 18 games (including the playoffs), Ingram played 80 more snaps and carried the ball 108 more times than Kamara. Kamara played a much larger role in passing situations and was the more efficient player, but Ingram is still one of the game's better rushers.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, it's fair to expect Kamara's role to be reduced, but it should be larger than what he saw as a rookie. Kamara is best viewed as a top-five running back and Ingram as a mid-to-back-end RB2 moving forward. ...
All that said, I'll be following up on plans for the backfield rotation now that Ingram is back throughout the week; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
One last note here. ... The Saints released Tate on Tuesday. The team did not have a corresponding move but needs a spot to activate Ingram from the suspended list.
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Javorius Allen, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan wrote, "At the quarter mark of their season, this much is obvious: The New York Giants are a franchise headed to nowhere."
Raanan went on to note the team has changed coaches (multiple times in the past few years), have a new general manager and boast plenty of shiny, explosive weapons.
It all means nothing at this point. All the changes have done nothing to alter the perception or their fate. In fact, it has only been further validated.
Raanan continued, "The Giants (1-3) are meandering in the wilderness of insignificant teams after their latest loss, a 32-18 setback at MetLife Stadium to the New Orleans Saints. Barring a miraculous turnaround, they seem destined to miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years with a flawed roster, stumbling offense and aging quarterback. Not exactly an encouraging trifecta."
All fair points. And from a fantasy perspective, it hasn't been great either.
Eli Manning is 37. He had his third unimpressive game out of four this season. It's really just an extension of the previous two seasons, when the Giants have been unable to produce any sort of consistent offense. Manning went 31-of-41 for 255 yards and a touchdown. A good chunk of that came in the final minutes when the game was effectively over. Manning has four touchdown passes in four games. That's not good enough in today's NFL.
Manning isn't helped by a porous offensive line or an inconsistent run game. They can all share in the blame for this mess. It has reached the point where even Giants fans seem fed up with the offense and, more aptly, the direction of the franchise. Boos rained down after a third-and-long Manning checkdown in the third quarter. They resurfaced at times in the fourth.
After four weeks, the Giants are already in last place in the NFC East. Right back where they ended last year.
The Giants are 0-1 in the division and 0-2 in the conference. More importantly, they are a team with too many holes to see them turning it around anytime soon.
It all started so promisingly for the Giants on Sunday, too. They marched 75 yards on their opening drive for a touchdown. Then they went into a coma, totaling 22 yards the remainder of the first half against a defense that had struggled so mightily the first three weeks of the season. The Saints were allowing 34.3 points per game after their first three games.
The Giants managed 16, at home, in ideal conditions on Sunday afternoon. It was the third time in four games this season that the Giants didn't score 20 points.
Their short-handed defense scratched and clawed to keep the high-octane Saints in check. James Bettcher's crew kept the Giants in the game much like it's done in every game this season. Yet it's the offense, with all these shiny pieces, that let down the Giants.
Not even star wide receiver Odell Beckham (seven catches for 60 yards) and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, running back Saquon Barkley (10 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown), could save this bunch with Manning as its quarterback. This was the 37th straight game the Giants failed to score 30 points. The last time they topped 30 was two coaches again, when Tom Coughlin was still in charge.
Raanan summed up: "It's time for the Giants to take a long, hard look in the mirror. They have to figure out where this franchise is headed, who will be their quarterback and what is a realistic timeline for them to be relevant again. Because right now, they're not."
So how do they fix it?
According to Raanan, the real question is what kind of changes are viable and realistic, and what is head coach Pat Shurmur willing and able to do in order to try to fix this mess of an offense? Offense is, after all, supposed to be his area of expertise, and he vehemently rejected the idea of there being any massive changes on the horizon.
"No," he said sternly on Sunday. "We need to get better. What does that mean, massive changes? We need to get better."
The Giants already benched Ereck Flowers and replaced him at right tackle with Chad Wheeler. That has been met with moderate success. They have Jon Greco at center in place of starter Jon Halapio, who was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
The big move isn't there to be made for this Giants team. They can't change quarterbacks now, even if Manning is underperforming. What do they have behind him at this point? A career journeyman in Alex Tanney as the backup with one game of NFL experience and a rookie in Kyle Lauletta.
Lauletta's not ready. Neither Lauletta nor Tanney appear capable of saving this season.
So what can the Giants do heading into a matchup against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday?
First on Raanan's list: Run more.
The Giants drafted Barkley second overall. Shurmur had Barkley carry the ball five times in the first half on Sunday. This with the Saints sitting back in a zone defense to protect against the deep pass.
The Cover 2 defense with two safeties deep once again did in the Giants. One solution is to that is to run the ball. Fewer defenders in the box means more chances for the offense to be successful.
Shurmur called eight runs (one being an end-around to Beckham) and 17 passes during a close first half. Some of that surely had to do with New Orleans' stout run defense and porous secondary. Still, this is becoming a trend.
"No, I think there were times we tried to run the ball," Shurmur said when asked if Barkley could've gotten more work. "I don't regret it; he needs to touch the ball. Certainly by the looks of things [on the stat sheet], him touching the ball more would be good."
The Giants are 28th in the NFL averaging 20.5 rushing attempts per game. They're not stressing opposing defenses in that area. The threat of the run is minimal, and it's adversely affecting their play-action pass game. Manning has the seventh-most play-action dropbacks, but the 19th-most yards with just 292 yards and no touchdowns.
They could also feed Beckham.
The star wideout's targets have gone 15, 9, 10, 11. The nine and 11 in Weeks 2 and 4 were skewed by late catches when the game was all but out of reach. They were close to meaningless.
The Giants' offense not surprisingly has been most successful in Weeks 1 and 3 when they targeted Beckham early and often. Maybe that needs to be a top priority -- throw the ball to their top playmaker, sometimes even if he's covered.
Teams are double and triple-teaming him on a regular basis. So what?
"It's one play away still, I have been getting double- and triple-teamed for the past five years, nothing has changed," Beckham said. "Safeties over the top, linebackers dropping. Like I said, it's really about all the pieces coming together."
Beckham has a propensity to make plays or even draw penalties. Getting him the ball is almost always a good option. When Manning targeted him downfield in the opener, the Jaguars were flagged twice for costly pass interference penalties.
More opportunities for Beckham likely means more big plays for the Giants.
Whatever the case, increased focus on the two players of most interest to fantasy owners would be a fantastic starting point. ...
It also can't hurt to keep Sterling Shepard in the mix; he's more than capable of contributing as he demonstrated by catching all 10 of his targets for 77 yards and one touchdown against the Saints.
Also of interest. ... Shurmur said on Wednesday that cornerback Eli Apple (groin) and defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle) are both expected to practice. Shurmur also said Shepard had a cyst removed from his back, should be OK in a "day or two."
Shurmur said RB Jonathan Stewart has an 8-week foot injury. There is "potential to bring him back" from injured reserve.
QBs: Eli Manning, Daniel Jones, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Bennie Fowler
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
The Jets fell to 1-3 in Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon as the Jaguars jumped out to an 18-0 lead and pushed their advantage to 31-12 before the final whistle sounded in the fourth quarter.
That 18-0 lead came as the Jets offense ran just a handful of plays in the first half of the game and then got stopped for a safety to open the third quarter. The defense struggled with short passes all day and the Jaguars turned two of them into long touchdowns that helped pad Blake Bortles' stats on the afternoon.
According to Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith wrote, "The listlessness seemed to extend to the coaching staff as the Jets punted down 12 with five minutes left to play and settled for field goals on a couple of drives earlier in the second half when the game was closer."
After the game, Bowles defended the field goal choices as the Jets being in a position where they needed to just put points on the board. There was little else he could defend about the effort, however, and said that the team will be heading back to the "drawing board" in all phases after what the coach called a "step back."
The backward steps are piling up for the Jets and an inability to stop them isn't going to help Bowles' case for staying on the job much longer.
Indeed, ESPN.com's Rich Cimini put a finer point on it, writing: "When you're bad, you're bad. Right now, the Jets resemble a team destined for 4-12."
The season is getting away from the Jets, who have dropped three straight for the fifth time since 2016.
Someday, the Jets would like to be like the Jaguars, whose rebuilding efforts flowered last season with a run to the AFC Championship Game. They aren't there. They're not a playoff-caliber team, but that doesn't excuse performances like this.
What went wrong on offense? Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa paused nearly 15 seconds before answering. His silence was telling.
"I think we expected one thing and got another," he said. "I don't call the plays. I don't know."
Enunwa said he wasn't being critical of the play calling, but it was clear to everyone that something was amiss on offense.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates turned into his pass-happy predecessor, John Morton, calling deep passes on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 on consecutive plays in the second quarter. In the third quarter, on third-and-1, he called another pass out of an empty backfield, eliminating the threat of the run.
This prompted Cimini to note, "Hello? They have a rookie quarterback; how about protecting Sam Darnold with a running game?"
The season is four games old, and the Jets still don't have an identity on offense. Sometimes they're aggressive, sometimes they're too cautious. The running game is a rumor. To Darnold's credit, he played turnover-free ball against Jacksonville's opportunistic defense. Since their 31-point third quarter in Week 1, the Jets have managed only 41 points in the past 13 quarters.
"It kind of makes (the Detroit game) seem like a fluke," Enunwa said. "We don't believe it was, but I'm sure everybody else does."
At the quarter mark of the season, Darnold has completed 57.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 868 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. While the USC product was held to 167 yards against perhaps the NFL's top defense, he challenged the Jaguars vertically and he had a few near misses.
"It's something we talked about. We know we need to take more chunks shots down the field and get some big plays or try to get some big plays," Bowles said. "Or at least back some people up and that was encouraging, we just have to connect on them."
But nobody is going to claim it's been good. And the only thing worse than the offense was the defense, which turned Bortles into a magician -- 29-for-38, 388 yards and two touchdowns. They must have employed their Baker Mayfield game plan, which is to say they had no game plan -- or at least that's the way it looked. The Jaguars scored on their first four possessions, effectively burying the Jets.
Between Mayfield and Bortles, the Jets allowed 589 passing yards -- in only six-plus quarters.
Linebacker Josh Martin made his first appearance of the regular season in Sunday's game against the Jaguars and it may wind up being his only appearance of the year.
The Jets are placing Martin on injured reserve, according to multiple reports. In his season debut Sunday, he suffered his second concussion in five weeks. Bowles said "it's definitely alarming. I mean, he was out about a month the first time, then he came right back and another one happened. It has to be alarming."
Martin, 26, was arguably their top special teams player. He was slated to start at outside linebacker before he got hurt. You have to wonder about his long-term future in football. Martin, a Columbia grad, said last week he doesn't want to do anything that would jeopardize his quality of life after football.
One last note here. ... An NFL spokesman told New York Daily News staffer Manish Mehta on Wednesday that receiver Robby Anderson will not be suspended for his two arrests in past year. Case closed.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Trevor Siemian
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Bilal Powell
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Josh Bellamy, Demaryius Thomas, Tim White, Greg Dortch, Braxton Berrios
TEs: Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown, Chris Herndon
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
It took four games and almost 10 years, but Jon Gruden has his first victory since his return to the NFL as Oakland Raiders coach.
The Raiders' 45-42 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday was Gruden's first win since Nov. 30, 2008, when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It is Gruden's first win with the Raiders since Oakland beat the New York Jets in a playoff game on Jan. 12, 2002.
As such, Gruden has tied Vince Lombardi in career coaching wins with 96 victories.
Rookie kicker Matt McCrane's 29-yard field goal with 1 minute, 46 seconds to play in the extra period improved the Raiders' record to 1-3 and dropped the Browns to 1-2-1. McCrane joined the team this week after an injury to Mike Nugent, whom Oakland had signed after Eddie Pineiro suffered an injury in training camp.
The Raiders, who had been outscored by a combined 64-17 in the second half in the first three games of the season and 37-3 in the fourth quarter, rallied late against the Browns, who held a 42-34 lead.
Oakland forced overtime by driving 53 yards in six plays and 56 seconds, Derek Carr hitting tight end Jared Cook for his second TD of the day with 34 seconds to play. Carr then connected with Jordy Nelson for the 2-point conversion on a fade to the left corner of the end zone, beating former Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie on the play.
Marshawn Lynch gave an impassioned speech to the offensive line in the first half and he finished with 130 yards rushing on 20 carries. It was his highest rushing total since he went for 140 yards for the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 9, 2014, against the New York Giants.
Carr was picked off twice, giving him a league-leading seven interceptions, but he also had four TD passes to Nelson, Amari Cooper and Cook. Carr passed for 437 yards in completing 35 of 58 attempts.
Perhaps most rewarding for Gruden and the Raiders was beating former coach Hue Jackson, who had an 8-8 record for Oakland in 2011 but was fired by incoming general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Gruden and Jackson were on the same coaching staff at the University of the Pacific in 1989.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez notes the fears that Gruden and Lynch could not co-exist are dissipating with every Beast Mode moment.
That's especially true after Lynch's hard-charging performance in on Sunday, a game in which Lynch rushed for 130 yards, his highest output since going for 140 yards for the Seattle Seahawks against the New York Giants on Nov. 9, 2014.
"If that's not a Hall of Fame back, I don't know what is, honestly," Gruden said Monday in his weekly media conference. "I mean, what he did yesterday, what he's done since he's been here, it's incredible. He wants the ball more, and more, and more.
"We've got a good back over there, Doug Martin, who's ready to roll. And Doug can't get on the field. This guy (Lynch) does not want to come off the field. He picked up six or seven blitzes yesterday, too, that no one's talking about. But some of the runs? Good night."
Lynch forced 11 missed tackled by the Browns, per Pro Football Focus, and leads the NFL with 22 missed tackles. He is third in the NFL with 3.74 yards after contact per attempt among running backs with 40 or more touches.
His 300 rushing yards on the season are fourth-most in the NFL, though he no doubt leads in the unofficial category of most violent runs after he had a potential 75-yard TD run taken away by an early whistle when his legs were still churning.
Lynch seemed to run angrier than usual after being ruled down in the second quarter.
"Why would you have a quick whistle, with Lynch?" Gruden asked. "I don't understand how you can blow a whistle like you did yesterday. But some of the runs he's making, some of the finishes that he's putting on tape, it's unbelievable. I don't see many guys run like this."
Lynch is doing this at age 32, in his second year back from a one-year retirement in 2016.
Gruden said he has no concerns with Lynch's workload, despite his age and how hard he runs, seemingly looking to punish would-be tacklers with aplomb.
"Not until he tells me," Gruden said. "I just keep patting him on the back, 'Hey, get ready to go.' I check on him periodically, and when he can't go, we go to Doug Martin. Jemal Singleton, our running back coach, has done a great job making sure that Marshawn is in the game when he feels like he can be in a game. And when it's time to go to Jalen Richard, in some unique situations, we go to Jalen.
"And hopefully, in the coming weeks, we'll be able to get some two-halfback sets going, like we used to around here."
Worth noting. ... Carr surpassed the 400-yard barrier for the third time in his career and registered his 14th career fourth quarter/overtime game-winning drive.
Cooper and Cook both surpassed the 100-yard barrier, marking the first time two Raiders have done so in the same contest since Oct. 19, 2017, when the Raiders defeated the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football.
The Raiders had two 100-yard receivers, one 100-yard rusher and one 400-yard passer for the first time in franchise history since the 1970 AFL merger.
The Raiders recorded two 100-yard receivers and one 100-yard rusher for the first time since Week 4 of the 1997 season, when Napoleon Kaufman rushed for 126 yards, Tim Brown tallied 153 yards and James Jett notched 148 yards.
The Raiders have had a 100-yard receiver in each contest through the first four weeks, marking the first time the franchise has done so since 2005. Cook ranks ninth among all receivers and continues to lead the league among tight ends with 370 yards. He is the only tight end this season to have surpassed 350 yards.
Up next for Gruden, Lynch and the Raiders is a trip to Southern California for a Week 5 tilt with the Chargers.
A few final notes here. ... Raiders punt returner Dwayne Harris was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after returning five kicks for an average of 19.5 yards against the Browns. Most of his yardage came off a 49-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to help set up a field goal in the overtime victory. ...
The Raiders are placing veteran right tackle Donald Penn on injured reserve because of a groin injury he suffered Sunday. Sources NFL Network's MJ Acosta the move will allow the team to bring him back later this season.
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon, Nathan Peterman, Cody Kessler
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Doug Martin
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant, Dwayne Harris
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, Carson Wentz spent his afternoon under siege.
The Titans' pass rush was coming over the walls from every direction, harassing Wentz from the front side, the blind side and right up the gut. The inability to protect the franchise quarterback, who is coming off a multi-ligament knee injury, is a big reason why the Eagles' 17-3 advantage evaporated, leading to an eventual 26-23 loss in overtime.
The defense needs to wear some of this as well. Letdowns in the secondary, which was operating without Rodney McLeod (knee) for the first time, led to some big plays in key moments. The Titans converted on fourth down three times in overtime, setting up Marcus Mariota's touchdown throw to Corey Davis to end it. But that unit has carried the Eagles over the first quarter of the season while the offense tries to round into form, and it appeared gassed at the end.
Wentz was sacked four times and absorbed 11 hits as the Eagles dropped to 2-2.
"It's part of the game," Wentz said, when asked if he's getting hit too much. "I'll watch the film. There's times where I hold onto the ball too long, there's miscommunication, some protections that we can get called right."
The Eagles' offensive line is regarded as one of the best in the league and created plenty of push on Philly's lone overtime possession, but on this day was unable to solve what defensive coordinator Dean Pees was throwing at them for the most part, especially when he dialed up the blitz.
Wentz was blitzed on 34 percent of his dropbacks (compared to 25 percent last week against Indianapolis), per ESPN Stats and Information. Three of his sacks came against extra pressure. It was just the second time he's taken three sacks against the blitz in his young career, the other being Week 7 against Washington last season.
"They blitzed quite a bit," said right tackle Lane Johnson">Lane Johnson. "I think they did a good job with their defensive front, they have good interior guys, good D-ends, great pressure. We have to do a better job with protecting the quarterback, and just try to grow from it."
The good news for Wentz and the Eagles' offense is that Alshon Jeffery returned to the lineup. He gutted through a virus that sidelined him for two days of practice this week, interrupting his comeback from rotator cuff surgery, and posted eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Along with tight end Zach Ertz (10 catches, 112 yards), Wentz now has two security blankets that he can lean on in critical moments.
But he needs time in the pocket first, and he was not allotted nearly enough of it Sunday.
In order to regain the heights reached in 2017, and more importantly, to avoid another serious injury to the QB, the leaks up front need to get fixed and quick. Next up is a desperate Minnesota Vikings team that will be looking to re-establish their defensive dominance at Philly's expense.
Still, there's reason for optimism.
The band, as head coach Doug Pederson said recently, is slowly getting back together. The Eagles' offense was missing running backs Corey Clement (quad) and Darren Sproles (hamstring) on Sunday, but they should be on the field before long. With Jeffery and Jay Ajayi (back fracture) both welcomed back into the fray Sunday, the offense that the Eagles originally envisioned is getting closer to becoming a reality.
That's good news for Wentz, who is coming off a serious multi-ligament knee injury. He has an obvious rapport with Ertz -- those two connected for 10 catches for 112 yards -- and rekindled his connection with the recently re-signed Jordan Matthews, hitting him for a 56-yard touchdown Sunday.
Now he has Jeffery back, which should mean good things for the 2-2 Eagles moving forward. They'll need it with a desperate Minnesota Vikings team on deck.
For what it's worth, Pederson took a measured approach following Sunday's overtime loss in Tennessee, noting the Eagles need to play with a greater "sense of urgency" moving forward.
"For us to play like champions, first of all, we have to understand that we are champions, and ... you're expected to play a certain way," Pederson said. "When you don't live up to that expectation, we need to just zero down on it and figure out why. The sense of urgency from players and coaches needs to heighten just a little bit. It's not a panic mode, but it's a heightened awareness of who we are as a football team, where we want to get to and we have to eliminate these penalties because they're coming at the wrong time and turnovers are coming at the wrong time."
As the Wentz gets more reps, NFL.com's Kevin Patra expects the Eagles' offense to soar higher as we move toward Thanksgiving.
The bigger issue is on defense, where Philadelphia has been torched this season. When the pass rush can't get home, the Eagles secondary has been picked apart. Pederson didn't discount the idea of making changes to his personnel, but won't make any drastic moves at this point.
In a muddy NFC East, the 2-2 start isn't a death sentence for Philly, but Pederson knows his team needs to kick it in high gear. ...
For the record, Sproles and Clement weren't on the field for Wednesday's practice. Neither was Jeffery (chest) although local reports indicate his issue isn't serious. Whatever the case, I'll continue to follow up via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Running back Le'Veon Bell told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler on Monday that he is playing football in 2018 and does not expect to be traded.
In fact, he still has hope the team will re-sign him to a long-term contract once his franchise tag is up. Bell is staying away from the team to preserve his body, but a source said Bell is expected to report Week 7, the Steelers' bye week.
Such a timeline would mean Bell would miss the Steelers' games against the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals but return in time to face the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 28 in Pittsburgh.
Bell, who is still sitting out while refusing to sign his franchise tender, said he's in prime physical condition and could play football "tomorrow" if he needed. He added he'll be "fully committed" to playing his best for Pittsburgh upon his return.
"It sucks having to sit out football," Bell told Fowler by telephone from South Florida on Monday. "I want to play. I want to win games and the playoffs.
"But I've gotta take this stand. Knowing my worth and knowing I can tear a ligament or get surgery at any time, I knew I couldn't play 16 games with 400 or more touches."
The Steelers rank last in the NFL in rushing yards per game since having a big day on the ground in Week 1. Their 19 Rush yards on Sunday were their fewest in a game since 1970.
The Steelers are exploring trade options for Bell, though Bell believes he can stay with the team. The Steelers told Bell during franchise tag negotiations that they would transition tag him in 2019, which would set the stage for Bell to negotiate with other teams while Pittsburgh holds his rights.
Bell's plan to report later this month would not dissuade the Steelers from making a trade that made sense, league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Bell said he doesn't see a "logical team giving up (a high pick and a player) potentially for someone who could play six games with no guarantee of a long-term deal."
Bell still wants to retire as a Steeler, despite a hectic last month. He said he believes the team will re-negotiate with him, either in the offseason or if they were to rescind the tag, which he doesn't expect.
"I could be naïve or hopeful, but at the end of the day I feel like that's what's going to happen," Bell said about re-signing with the team. "I don't think they really want me gone. That could be me being prideful. But I'm still holding out hope."
The primary reason he's sitting: Bell's $70-million offer from Pittsburgh over the summer contained $17 million in guarantees. That wasn't enough when Todd Gurley and David Johnson received at least twice that in guarantees.
Bell called the Steelers' $70 million "monopoly money."
Bell said he knows he's taken a public relations hit, and he understands why teammates were not happy with him. But he hopes they can respect his business and plans to talk with players in the locker room upon his arrival.
"It's costing me some fans," Bell said of his decision to sit out. "A lot of people call me selfish but I'm really not. I'm doing it for guys behind me or guys who don't understand what's going on in the business of football. The 22 years I've been playing football, I've always brought value. I don't think the Steelers valued me as much."
Sources told ESPN's Dan Graziano the Steelers would take the position that Bell's transition tag number would only be $11.3 million, which is 120 percent of the salary he'd actually make if he were there for 11 weeks as opposed to the full 17.
Bell and his agent could argue they are entitled to more, and appeal it to an arbitrator, but the Steelers would likely take the position that the "2018 salary" wording in the CBA means $9.41 million if he's on the roster for 11 weeks, as opposed to the full franchise number of $14,544.
Bell weighed all options, including what it would take to offset the $855,000 per week he's forfeiting during missed games on the tag. But Bell believes the risk of playing a full season was too great, and he was prepared to miss games as soon as the team franchise tagged him for the second straight year in March.
Bell believes the Jets, 49ers, Colts, Browns and Eagles would be among teams interested in his services on the free agent market. He'd want to go to a team that values his skill set and winning.
"I know the guaranteed money will be there (in March)," Bell said. "If a team wanted to, they could definitely do what they needed to do to make me happy and satisfied."
Bell said he's been training vigorously in South Florida.
"With football, you need some practice to get your timing own with Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line," Bell said. "Right now, I feel strong, explosive, fast. I think the biggest thing for me now is my mental is a lot stronger. I'm a lot stronger than I was."
For what it's worth, head coach Mike Tomlin has heard about the reports that Bell is preparing to come back soon.
But he hasn't heard it from the man himself.
According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomlin said he "really has no update" about Bell's reported intention to come back during the bye week.
"It's the best approach for us to stay focused on guys here and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Tomlin said on Tuesday. "It's best to stay that way."
There are plenty of hurdles big and small to be cleared between now and then, but as Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt suggests, what can't be argued is how much they miss him on the field.
As Fowler noted shortly after their loss to the Ravens, no matter how much the Steelers have tried to separate themselves from Bell, his absence was deeply felt Sunday night.
The Steelers needed an equalizer to settle down the offense when things went awry in the second half of the 26-14 loss. What they got was a near 5-1 ratio of pass to run in their most physical rivalry.
Several Steelers pointed to the Ravens' quick 14-0 lead as a reason to abandon the run.
"The run game, as long as we're efficient, we're getting yards here or there," guard Ramon Foster said. "You get behind the chains a little bit and you have to throw it. That's not an issue to be frantic about. We're a team that always finds a way."
Foster is saying the right things, but getting "yards here or there" doesn't sound like the tone-setting offense the Steelers line wants to be.
Bell was usually good enough to keep the running game respectable in the face of deficits.
New offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner pounded James Conner for 135 yards on 31 carries in Week 1, but since then Conner has 32 rushes for 97 yards, 36 of which came on two late-game rushes Week 3 in Tampa Bay.
This isn't said to disparage Conner, who's a fine player, but to highlight the drop that was bound to hit without a top-10 star.
Tomlin made clear weeks ago he's done with the Bell questions, but he's open to another -- why didn't the Steelers push the pace on the ground?
"That's a good question," Tomlin said. "We weren't able to find enough traction tonight. We didn't run it a lot; and I'd imagine the more we run, the more traction we'll find. But again, as the game unfolded, they were controlling it by possession and winning possession downs, and we weren't. So it tends to look like that, when the game is being controlled in that way."
Roethlisberger was blunt about his struggles against the Ravens.
"I'm not on the same page with anybody right now," the quarterback said when asked whether he's on the same page with star receiver Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger finished with 274 yards on 27-of-47 passing with one touchdown and an interception, but 50 of those yards came in the second half as the Ravens pulled away.
The Steelers were 2-of-12 on third downs. Roethlisberger targeted Brown (5 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) on four of those attempts in the second half, but the duo couldn't connect. The low moment came with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter, when Roethlisberger, throwing off his back foot, tossed into double coverage for an interception.
"I'm not playing well enough," he said. "I need to play better. Today was just a bad day at the office. I promise I'll be back to play better."
Roethlisberger's 1,140 yards through Pittsburgh's first three games were the most of his career to start a season. But with a struggling running game, Roethlisberger's arm must carry the offense. ...
Fourth receiver Ryan Switzer had a team-high seven catches against Baltimore.
Impressive though those targets were, ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out that Switzer was limited to 19 snaps (18 pass routes). Switzer ran behind JuJu Smith-Schuster (47 routes), Brown (46) and rookie James Washington (37).
Given that, Clay believes Switzer should be rostered only in very deep leagues. ...
Brown was brief with reporters on his way out of the locker room, noting the Steelers must find a way to stay on the field. The offense held the ball for 2 minutes, 40 seconds in the fourth quarter.
"We gotta make it happen," Brown said.
Roethlisberger pointed the blame directly at himself for that, repeating at least four times that he had to be better.
"I let the guys down," he said.
The job now will be trying to figure out how to pick them back up until Bell returns in Week 8.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner framed it, "The injuries mounted. The costly drop led to a game-changing interception. The opposing defense hit him and then hit him again. ..."
If Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers felt like a painful case of déjà vu for quarterback C.J. Beathard, it was understandable. And the result was all too familiar, also, as the Niners came up just short in a 29-27 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Making his first start in the Niners' post-Jimmy Garoppolo world, Beathard took a beating reminiscent of the ones that were so prevalent during his five-start stint as a rookie in 2017. In all but one of those games, Beathard and the Niners emerged on the other side with plenty of bumps, bruises and defeats.
In many of those losses, Beathard and the Niners were simply unable to keep up when adversity struck. Even though the Niners lost again Sunday, this one felt a bit different.
Beathard, who teammates and coaches consistently describe using the word "toughness," never flinched in the face of what seemed like unrelenting adversity.
To wit, by the time the first half was over, the Niners had blown a 14-point lead and watched as starting left tackle Joe Staley and receiver Dante Pettis departed with knee injuries.
As the Chargers ran off 20 straight points to take a nine-point lead in the third quarter, Beathard and the Niners refused to go away. That was true even after Beathard's red zone pass for tight end Garrett Celek bounced off Celek's hands and into the waiting arms of Chargers defensive back Trevor Williams, who returned it 82 yards.
And still, the Niners leaned into Beathard's toughness. Despite taking seven hits in the pocket and a handful more when scrambling, he finished 23-of-37 for 298 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 82.9.
After a first half of methodical drives with few shots taken down the field, Beathard found tight end George Kittle for an 82-yard touchdown that trimmed the deficit to two.
Following a defensive stop, Beathard led another drive for a field goal that gave the Niners a 27-26 lead with 12:39 to go. It was only fitting that Beathard twice escaped pressure and put his body on the line to keep that drive going, even departing after having the wind knocked out of him on a big hit from Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward Jr. as he tried in vain to pick up a first down on third-and-5 at the Chargers' 19.
Given one final shot to lead a game-winning drive, Chargers safety Derwin James hit Beathard as he attempted to throw with the ball bouncing into the arms of defensive end Isaac Rochell.
With that, the Niners' spirited comeback attempt fell short. To be sure, it was a disappointing result. It was also one to build on with Beathard at the helm
"I thought he played well," Shanahan said of his QB. "(The interception) was unfortunate. Wish we would have solved that and got rid of it. He gave us a chance to win today. Played very tough. Made some big plays, especially in some of the situations with guys going in and out. He handled a little adversity well, and a lot of chaos with some of the injuries. I was proud of how he played."
Other notes of interest. ... Among all 49ers, Kittle earned Pro Football Focus' top grade on offense at 85.1. According to PFF's Joe Deeney, Kittle's 90.0 overall grade through the first four weeks of the season is the best among all NFL tight ends and his 2.87 receiving yards per route run rank second behind O.J. Howard (2.88).
Kittle's 125 yards on 34 receiving snaps to go along with his 82-yard touchdown also earned him a spot on PFF's "Team of the Week" for the second straight week. His 3.68 yards per route run average leads all tight ends with at least 15 receiving snaps.
Can fantasy owners trust in his production going forward?
As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out this week, during the 15 games he was active as a rookie, Kittle was on the field for 58 percent of the team's snaps, ran a route on 57 percent of the team's pass plays and handled an 11 percent target share. This season, he's at 79 percent of the snaps, 68 percent of the pass plays and 22 percent of the targets. Kittle has already posted three top-six fantasy weeks, including last week.
Given all that, Clay considers Kittle a midrange TE1 moving forward. ...
Receiver Kendrick Bourne found the end zone for his second-career score and currently leads the 49ers in touchdowns through four weeks (2). He caught 3-of-4 targets for 37 yards. ...
Matt Breida ran the ball nine times for 39 yards and added three catches for 32 yards. It will be important to monitor Breida during the week to see how he came out of this game. He's likely to be limited in practice again as it was evident that he wasn't 100 percent after being limited in practice all last week by a knee injury. ...
Staley suffered his injury with about nine minutes to go in the second quarter. On the third-down play, Beathard took a big hit that drove him into the back of Staley's leg. Staley stayed down and received medical attention before he was able to walk to the sideline.
Just before halftime, Staley made his way to the locker room as veteran tackle Garry Gilliam replaced him on the starting offensive line.
That injury came after Pettis sustained an injury while returning a punt just two minutes into the game. Pettis caught a punt at San Francisco's 17, and as he worked back, he was tackled by Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown. Pettis came down awkwardly on the knee and needed assistance from the Niners' staff to get to the sideline.
Pettis will miss this week and then be week-to-week moving from there.
Receiver Victor Bolden Jr. is eligible to return from four-game suspension this week. Shanahan said team will get a sense of the status of its many injured players before the Niners make a decision on Bolden. San Francisco gets one-week roster exemption, so not a huge rush to decide.
But without the services of Pettis this week and lingering hamstring/quad issues for Marquise Goodwin, Bolden could be in position to step on to active roster if neither are able to go.
Goodwin (quad) was not practicing Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman
WRs: Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Jalen Hurd, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James
TEs: George Kittle, Kaden Smith, Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Mike Davis arrived at the stadium on Sunday not knowing if he'd have much of a role in Seattle's offense. After all, the Seahawks running back had just three carries through three games while starter Chris Carson and rookie Rashaad Penny received the bulk of the playing time and carries, and Davis was inactive for Seattle's Week 1 loss at Denver.
But with Carson questionable for the game due to a hip injury, Davis showed up for work on Sunday prepared to do whatever was asked of him, just as he does every week regardless of his place on the depth chart. And when it was determined that Carson would not play, Davis stepped into the starting role and thrived given the opportunity to carry the load, rushing 21 times for a career-high 101 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
"Mike Davis ran like crazy," head coach Pete Carroll said. "He gave us a great effort when Chris couldn't go… He played a great football game. I mean, he played a great football game. He was so competitive and so elusive and so tough, and they're hawking the football and he would not give it up. He played a great football game. He found out when we were here at the stadium that he would get a start.
"Mike just came through beautifully. Our guys really believe in this guy. It's because of all of the work he has done since he has been here. He has been so tough and so aggressive and so competitive, he's just right at the heart of the kind of guy we like having on our club. So for him to come through in a big way was great."
Davis downplayed his big game, repeatedly giving credit to the line that helped the Seahawks rush for 171 yards on 34 carries, good for a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.
"I can't stress it enough, the guys up front are doing a great job," said Davis, Seattle's second 100-yard rusher in as many games. "We're relying on those guys, they're relaying on whoever the back is behind them. It just lets you know that whoever goes in, they're doing their job."
Carroll too was impressed by what he saw from the offensive line of Duane Brown, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi, who also helped Penny have his best game, gaining 49 yards on nine carries.
"These guys up front did a terrific job today," Carroll said. "There have been some teams that have had a hard time running on (Arizona), and to put up 170 is awesome. That's right where we want to get to. We can play off of that, we can fit off of that, we can put our team together off of that. It's the closing of the circle that we talk about-special teams, defense and then running the football. I'm really fired up for where we are in the last two weeks."
Quarterback Russell Wilson, who was sacked twice for the second game in a row after taking 12 sacks in the first two games, also noticed the standout performance of the line both in how they protected him and particularly in run blocking.
"You've got to give credit to the offensive line," Wilson said. "They're blocking their tails off and they're physical as can be, and just to see those guys doing what they do best is cool."
And despite coming into the game uncertain of his role, Davis said nothing really changed for him when he found out he would start in place of Carson.
"It's no biggie," he said. "I come in every game like I'm going to be the starter, I practice every week like I'm going to be a starter, so it isn't a surprise to me when that time comes. I always prepare like that chance is going to come."
Davis' teammates had no doubts that he would come through given the chance, because even though he hasn't seen a lot of playing time this season, they've seen the work he has put in in practice, dating back to when he was on the practice squad last year through becoming the starter late in the season.
"That's Mike Davis," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "That's what he does day-in and day-out, every day. We're not surprised. We've seen him be a beast for the past (two) years, and when he gets his opportunity, he shows everybody else what he can do."
Added Wilson, who helped Davis score his first touchdown with a physical block 20 yards down field, "Mike Davis stepped up in a huge, huge way. He was the star of the game, just making so many plays. He's an explosive player, he works the right way, he's a professional, he comes in ready. He's just always learning, always ready to make plays. He has done that so many times, so that was huge for us."
But what about the rookie first-round draft pick, Penny?
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson suggested, if it was a bit of a surprise when the Seahawks made Carson inactive, it was another surprise when they made Davis their lead back instead of Penny.
Carroll said the team felt it would be better to go with the veteran Davis in the No. 1 role against Arizona rather than "putting Rashaad out there without any warning at all."
Hard to argue with the results.
Said Carroll: "Mike just came through beautifully. Our guys really believe in this guy because of all of the work that he has done since he's been here."
Penny finished with 49 yards on nine attempts. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Will Dissly will have surgery this week after injuring his patellar tendon. Carroll compared it to Jimmy Graham's knee injury in 2015. Dissly will miss the rest of the season.
The rookie made eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
The Seahawks will have to add at least one tight end this week now that Nick Vannett is the only healthy one on their roster. They have Marcus Lucas and Darrell Daniels on their practice squad. Ed Dickson is expected to be ready to play when he's eligible to come off the Non-Football Injury list in two weeks.
Said Carroll: "Will Dissly, we're going to miss him. He's a good football player and everything we've ever said about Will. He was just getting started. He was a factor, so Nick has to step up and do
On a more positive note, the Seahawks are expecting a handful of players back this week, including Carson, defensive end Dion Jordan, and guard Ethan Pocic. Running back C.J. Prosise should also be closer to 100 percent this week after playing sparingly on Sunday while dealing with an abdomen injury.
"I know we had a couple of losses, but we have four guys coming back in and Doug Baldwin improving," Carroll said. "We've solidified the depth at the running back spot, you can see it, so we have some real positive things to look forward to."
Carroll said Baldwin came out of the game healthy after missing the previous two games with an MCL sprain, and should be able to play more in this week's game than he did Sunday.
"He felt great about it, came out of the game great," Carroll said. "We'll take care of him again this week as he builds some background of being back in the fold, but I expect him to play a ton this week."
And finally, safety Earl Thomas fractured his left tibia, said Monday. It's the same bone Thomas broke in 2016.
Thomas hasn't decided whether to have surgery, but Carroll ruled out Thomas for the rest of the season.
Thomas made three interceptions and five pass breakups in what is expected to be his final season in Seattle.
Carroll said he didn't see the middle-finger gesture that Thomas gave towards the Seahawks' sideline as he was being carted off the field Sunday. He defended Thomas, saying: "In the heat of the moment, with all of the emotional part of this and the injury and the pain and the discomfort, all of that -- shoot, give the guy a break. ..."
And finally this week. ... Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was indefinitely suspended by the NFL on Tuesday following a review into his September guilty plea to insider trading charges, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo first reported.
Kendricks signed with the Seahawks in early September after he was cut by the Browns in August after Kendricks and co-defendant Damilare Sonoiki, were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of securities fraud, per U.S. Attorney William McSwain. Kendricks pleaded guilty to the charges on Sept. 6.
He faces up to 25 years in prison when he's sentenced in December.
Kendricks appeared in three games, including two starts, for Seattle and registered two sacks and 13 tackles.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Gary Jennings Jr., Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
Head coach Dirk Koetter erased all doubt surrounding his quarterback situation Monday by naming Jameis Winston the starter for the Bucs' Week 6 game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan Fitzpatrick started against the Chicago Bears on Sunday but was pulled after the first half. Koetter hadn't planned to make an in-game switch, but the Bucs were down by five touchdowns at halftime, and he felt it was important to get Winston some in-game reps after being away for three weeks due to suspension.
"In no way is this on Fitz that we lost like we did yesterday. Fitz didn't play as well as he's been playing, but this was a 100 percent team deal," Koetter said, adding that when he initially saw the Bucs' schedule, he'd planned to give Fitzpatrick four starts and turn things over to Winston after this week's bye week unless Fitzpatrick was playing "lights out," which would have meant playing him longer.
Neither quarterback played "lights out" Sunday in their 48-10 loss to the Bears. Fitzpatrick completed 9 of 18 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Winston was able to move the ball a bit better, getting 12 first downs compared with Fitzpatrick's four in the first half. Winston went 16-of-20 for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. They were each sacked twice.
"We brought Fitz here two years ago to be a mentor for Jameis and to be a guy that could fill in if Jameis was out for injury. Both times we've asked Fitz to fill in -- for a three-game stretch a year ago he led us to 2-1 [and] a four-game stretch this year, he led us to 2-2 this year -- job well-done, excellent. I think any team in the league would take that," Koetter said.
"Fitz's combination of experience, talent and leadership is valued at a very high level here. But at the same time, Jameis Winston is the guy that's gonna be here way longer than I am so he needs to be out there playing, and he will be, unless he gets hurt at Atlanta."
So despite becoming the first quarterback in league history to throw for over 400 yards in three straight games, Fitzpatrick will again be in a secondary role when the Buccaneers face the Falcons.
According to Jenna Laine of ESPN.com, Fitzpatrick didn't love the idea of being told he is ceding his starting job to Winston, but also knew what the proposition was entering the season.
"What I said to my dad after how Week 1 went, and Week 2 and Week 3, was basically… 'I'm either gonna win the NFL MVP this year or I'll be back at the bench at some point.' That's just the reality of the situation," Fitzpatrick said. "I wish I could still be out there but that's the way that it goes and I'll accept my role."
As Profootballtalk.com's Curtis Crabtree notes, Fitzpatrick has generally outplayed Winston at every opportunity since joining the Buccaneers last season. Winston has thrown for over 400 yards just once in his career while Fitzpatrick has done it three times this season already. But Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 and the Buccaneers still hope he can become the franchise quarterback they envisioned when selecting him four years ago.
That doesn't make it any easier for Fitzpatrick to swallow.
"It's not necessarily something I wanted to hear, just in terms of getting that taste back, that feeling of being out there and having fun, enjoying myself, kind of creating some momentum at the beginning of the season with the guys," Fitzpatrick said. "But Jameis is back and he's the guy. He's the face of the franchise. He's gonna do a great job. But it's not like it's a happy day for me. I enjoy being out there."
Other notes of interest heading into the bye week. ... Despite Ronald Jones making his NFL debut, the Bucs were only able to net 60 yards on the ground. That has a lot to do with playing from behind but it's been a struggle all season.
While the Bucs' passing yards have been off the charts through four games of the season, there has been little balance in the offensive attack.
The offensive line said last week that establishing the run was important but against a stifling Chicago front seven, the odds were already stacked against them. Going into the game, Chicago owned the second-ranked rushing defense, allowing just 65.3 yards per game.
True to form, they held both Jones and Peyton Barber to under 30 yards apiece.
It was good to get Jones involved and he can hopefully keep building knowing that Chicago may be the toughest challenge he'll face this season. ...
Tight end O.J. Howard sprained his MCL and is expected to miss two to four weeks, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Howard injured his left knee late in the first half of Sunday's loss.
Howard is third on the team with 222 receiving yards through four games this season. His 11 receptions rank fifth on the team. He also has one touchdown reception.
He was drafted 19th overall in 2017 and had 26 receptions for 432 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season. The injury will open the door for Cameron Brate to re-establish himself as a red-zone weapon with Winston back under center.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Scott Miller, Bobo Wilson
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport noted, the passing game that many of us hoped for surfaced on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Marcus Mariota completed 30 of his 43 pass attempts for 344 yards and two touchdowns to push Tennessee (3-1) to a 26-23 win against the Eagles (2-2) in overtime.
Mariota was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Corey Davis, the Titans' 2017 No. 5 overall pick, and Mariota terrorized the Eagles secondary. The duo connected on nine completions for 161 yards, one of which was the game-winning touchdown. It was Davis' first regular-season touchdown as a pro and one of the best moments in his young career.
"I would say No. 1 for sure," Davis said of where the play ranks for him. "When the ball was in the air, all I was thinking was go get it and make a play."
The crowd went crazy when Davis made the touchdown catch in front of 69,013 fans at Nissan Stadium. And after the game, head coach Mike Vrabel complimented Davis for using his length and strength to attack the football.
Mariota entered the Week 4 matchup with questions surrounding his passing ability because of a pinched nerve in his throwing hand. He was at his best, though, in the Titans' statement of a win against the defending Super Bowl champions.
The bulk of Mariota's targets went to Davis, who was elevated into the lead receiver role during training camp. He and Mariota have worked relentlessly on getting their timing down, and the results showed in the Titans' third consecutive victory.
"Every week we get after it. Me and Marcus, we always make sure we put in extra work to do the things that we need to do to go into the game with confidence. It's always a process. There is always room for improvement. That's what I expect for myself, to catch every ball and make plays," Davis said.
"I've been watching as far as those guys in practice, they are throwing routes. They are working on things like their chemistry," safety Kevin Byard said.
Added Mariota: "I love that guy. He brings heart every single day to work. I think he's got some incredible talent. We've got to find ways to get him the ball and allow him to use that talent."
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur showed from the start he wanted to match Davis up against Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills throughout the game, and it worked out well. Mariota's first pass attempt was to Davis on a deep arrow route off play-action, but it fell just out of the receiver's reach.
LaFleur dialed up a play to go right back at Mills, this time it was 28 yards down the sideline on a third-and-3. Davis' longest catch came in the fourth quarter when Mariota unleashed a beauty of a throw to him on a post route. The ball came out before Davis made his break and the speedy wideout pulled away from Mills to run it down for a 51-yard gain.
The way Mariota was able to lead Davis and let him run under that pass showed how far they've come in getting their timing in sync.
After being down 17-3, the Titans scored 23 points in the second half, including overtime while Philadelphia only scored six. Davis drew a pass interference call by executing a double-move against Mills on another third down later in the game to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Mariota.
"We saw the offense grow up on the spot," Logan Ryan said. "The quarterback has been questioned. The receiver group has been questioned, and they stepped up. We felt like our receivers were better than their corners, and it showed."
LaFleur offered a glimpse of how he can showcase Mariota as a playmaker with his scheme. Now the Titans need Davis to build on this game.
Byard is convinced there is more to come from the second-year wideout.
"I know that is going to get his confidence rolling and he's going to be the dominant receiver we know he can be. ..."
Whatever the case, Sunday's dramatic overtime win is the latest example of how Mariota and the Titans are giving new head coach Mike Vrabel a lot of stress four games into his first season.
"I got my heart pills coming. I have a big prescription," Vrabel said after the thriller.
Some of the stress was self-inflicted when Vrabel decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 for the Eagles' 32 with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in overtime and the Titans trailing by a field goal. Vrabel called timeout and sent the offense back onto the field instead of sending kicker Ryan Succop in to attempt a game-tying 50-yard field goal. It was a gutsy call, but one the Titans as a team agreed had to be made.
"We were comfortable with the decision no matter how it went down," Titans cornerback Logan Ryan said. "I don't know the point of having a tie in the NFL. I don't know who feels good about it. It probably feels like a loss."
LaFleur called the perfect play against the Eagles' aggressive defense resulting in a first down. Mariota lofted the ball to Dion Lewis out of the backfield for a 17-yard gain as the crowd at Nissan Stadium erupted.
"It's a play we worked on since OTAs," Lewis said. "I knew when we called it we would be fine. I told the guys, 'This is why we play the game! Get excited!' This is why we are here."
Said Taylor Lewan: "We were all thinking let's go for it, but the reality is I am the left tackle and Mike is the coach. Once we went for it on that fourth down, I fully expected us to win."
A few final notes. ... Mariota is the only quarterback in franchise history to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime, having now accomplished the feat twice. On Nov. 8, 2015, he completed a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime at New Orleans. The only other overtime touchdown in franchise history was Vince Young's 39-yard touchdown run at the Houston Texans on Dec. 10, 2006.
Davis and Lewis' nine receptions each were the most by a Titans player since Rishard Matthews had nine catches against the Houston Texans on Jan. 1, 2017. The last time two Titans players had nine or more receptions in a game was when Delanie Walker (10) and Kendall Wright (nine) accomplished the feat against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 14, 2013.
Lewis set a new career high for the regular season with those nine receptions (66 yards), eclipsing his previous high of eight catches at Dallas on Oct. 11, 2015. His nine catches against the Eagles also tied the nine grabs he had to set a playoff career high against Tennessee on Jan. 13, 2018. Two of Lewis' receptions against Philadelphia converted third downs-first an 11-yard catch in the fourth quarter and the next for 17 yards to convert on fourth-and-two on the game-winning drive in overtime.
Wide receiver Taywan Taylor set new career highs with seven receptions and 77 receiving yards. His big day included a 19-yard catch on fourth-and-15 during the game-winning drive in overtime.
Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe caught two passes for 27 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was his first touchdown of 2018 and his third career touchdown reception.
Derrick Henry rushed eight times for 24 yards and caught two passes for seven yards against the Eagles.
And finally. ... NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Titans S Kenny Vaccaro will miss "2-4 weeks" with a dislocated elbow.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen, Dalyn Dawkins
WRs: Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, A.J. Brown, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 October 2018
As ESPN.com's Joh Keim framed it, "He looks like a younger running back. He keeps passing old ones. ..."
Adrian Peterson showed once more in the team's Week 3 win over the Packer that life exists in those 33-year-old legs, enough to provide reminders of his past while postponing rumors of his demise.
Take his 41-yard run against Green Bay. He needed a jump cut in the backfield to avoid quick pressure. Then he found a hole to his right. Then another jump cut and a bounce to the outside. Then a footrace for a long gain. It's what he once did best, and it's why he finished with 120 rushing yards, his ninth career 100-yard game against the Packers.
After three games, Peterson ranked fifth in the NFL with 236 rushing yards and has three rushing touchdowns, one behind the leaders. In his two-score game against Green Bay, Peterson took over sole possession of seventh place on the all-time rushing touchdown list, with 102. He's now two touchdowns behind Redskins Hall of Famer John Riggins on that list and four behind Jim Brown. With nine more touchdowns, Peterson would also surpass Walter Payton. Peterson has had five seasons with at least 12 rushing touchdowns, but he hasn't hit that plateau since 2012.
There's more: He's 228 yards away from passing Tony Dorsett for ninth place on the all-time rushing list. Sunday's success came a week after an 11-carry, 20-yard performance in which the blocking was more of an issue than Peterson's age. Of those carries in Week 2 against Indianapolis, four lost yards. On Sunday, only one of his 19 carries lost yards.
"I don't care about his other touchdowns; I care about the three he had here," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He's a great player, he's a pro and we're happy to have him. He fell into our lap at a critical time. We needed a player, and he was there for us. He is everything as advertised."
Running backs coach Randy Jordan started a conversation about Peterson the same way he did a previous one: praising his football intelligence.
"One of the things that is really underrated is his football IQ," Jordan said. "He's a highly intelligent football player. I can't say enough how he's really shown these young guys ... how to be a pro. He doesn't say boo. He doesn't say a lot. He loves to compete."
The Redskins ran better against the Packers in part because the Green Bay line did not slant and move the same way the Colts' front did, which caused confusion in assignments. Even when there were issues, Peterson would gain 2 or 3 yards. Twelve of his 19 carries gained 3 yards or less. But, in a nod to his heyday, he had four runs of 10 yards or longer.
"It's effortless for him," tight end Vernon Davis said.
Not bad for a 33-year-old who drew questions about what he could still accomplish.
"I can't change people's perspective and how they feel. People are still saying, 'Hey, guys can't do it over 30,'" Peterson said. "The only thing I try to do is be an example to let people know that, 'Hey, you can. You can break through the box.' It's all about your mentality and taking care of your body and having that faith. ... That's the message that I want to continue to display throughout the season."
Message received. The key for Peterson will be the same as with every other running back: Doing it over 16 games. But based on how he trains and the shape he's in, Keim advised readers that Peterson does not appear to be someone who will get worn down.
That would mean he'll keep climbing all-time lists.
Of course, there's some narrative for Peterson heading into Monday night's game against the Saints.
After much research last offseason, Peterson came to an easy conclusion: New Orleans would be a good spot to play.
The reasons were many, starting with quarterback Drew Brees and a defense Peterson believed would be improved. What he didn't foresee: The Saints drafting running back Alvin Kamara. And when Kamara started to practice, it became clear to Peterson life in New Orleans might not go the way he anticipated. Kamara's arrival altered his future.
Peterson's debut with New Orleans coincided with a season-opening game against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. He carried the ball six times for 18 yards on that Monday night, which also led to an infamous shot: Peterson walking behind Saints coach Sean Payton on the sidelines, shouting at him; Payton turned and said something back.
Peterson said it at the time and reiterated it now: He was yelling at Payton to run the ball more.
"I'm a passionate player. That's all I said; we need to run the ball down their throats. Pretty simple," Peterson said. "People took it and ran with it, 'Oh my gosh, a feud!' Me and Sean Payton don't have an issue. He understood. He understood the look I was giving to him, but I don't hold grudges, man. I can get into a fight with somebody today and if he's on the same page and he's cool with me tomorrow, then we're cool. That's the mentality I've always had."
Peterson played four games with the Saints before they traded him to Arizona. He carried the ball only 27 times for 81 yards, serving as one of three backs in a rotation. After Peterson left, Kamara's role increased. He averaged 3.75 carries per game with Peterson on the roster and 8.75 after Peterson was traded.
It's safe to say the Saints are fine with the outcome. The Redskins aren't complaining at this point, either.
And to be fair, fantasy owners who snared Peterson have to be pleased as well. ...
Meanwhile, the Redskins come of the bye rested and ready for action. ... "I relaxed. I didn't want to travel," receiver Paul Richardson said in explaining his reasoning for staying near the team's facility. "I wanted to relax and catch up on some rest. I wanted to be around here, be around the facility. I spent my bye week real close."
Chris Thompson also spent his week off relaxing his body, but he kept his mind sharp by working on one of his non-football-related activities.
"I played Tomb Raider all week," Thompson said. "My goal was to beat the Tomb Raider this week, 'cause there's a lot more games coming out that I'm excited for. You know, 'cause you all know that's something I do with my off time."
Because of their Week 4 bye, the Redskins will have to play 13 regular season games in a row and attempt to push through the stretch for a playoff run.
Gruden was asked by reporters on Monday if he has any experience with early season bye weeks.
"I don't remember yesterday hardly, so no I don't remember," Gruden said. "It is early. It's just the schedule-makers. We have to deal with it. It came at a good time for some guys and probably not a good time for other guys. That's probably the way it would be Week 8, 7 or 6 if we had it."
One last note here. ... Peterson (ankle) did not practice Monday or Wednesday, instead heading to a side field to work with trainers. He's expected to be ready for the Saints, but I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update throughout the week.
QBs: Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Bryce Love, Wendell Smallwood, Shaun Wilson, Derrius Guice
WRs: Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Terry McLaurin, Brian Quick, Jehu Chesson, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims, Robert Davis
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Matt Flanagan