Team Notes Week 12 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
The day after head coach Bruce Arians shouldered the blame for a busted fourth-and-1 call that contributed to the Cardinals' 31-21 loss to the Houston Texans, he reversed course.
"I take all that s--- back I said yesterday," Arians said during his Monday afternoon press conference. "That was a damn good call and we busted an assignment at the point of attack. That was an easy pick up."
Arians said offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin had designed up a "hell of a play," but the blocking assignments weren't executed properly by the interior of Arizona's offensive line.
"He blocked the wrong damn guy," Arians said.
He added: "They did not whoop us up there, we just turned them loose. I take everything I say back."
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss recounted it, with Arizona facing a fourth-and-1 from its own 35 and trailing 24-21 with 6:33 left in the game at NRG Stadium on Sunday, Arians ordered a handoff to running back Adrian Peterson. He was stopped for a one-yard loss and the Texans took over possession on downs. They scored on their first play of the ensuing drive to go up by 10 with the deciding score.
"It's very simple: I cost our team the game," Arians said after Sunday's game. "Trust is a funny thing sometimes when you can't get it to fit. You deserve to lose, especially when you make the decision I made and the play I called.
"So, there's your headline; you can write it."
Arians said he trusted Peterson to get the first down and "felt really good about" calling a run play in that situation instead of a quarterback sneak or punting it.
Arians said Monday that he considered a quarterback sneak but avoided the play because he had never seen quarterback Blaine Gabbert run one.
"A lot of quarterbacks can, a lot can't," Arians said. "Same blocking on the quarterback sneak as the play we handed it off. So I'd give it to Adrian right there."
Speaking of quarterbacks, Carson Palmer's cast has been removed from his surgically-repaired broken left arm. Drew Stanton was healthy enough to dress as the team's backup despite nursing a sprained right knee.
And Gabbert is coming off a career-high three touchdown performance in his first action and start of the year.
So what are the Cardinals prepared to do at quarterback moving forward this season?
Palmer, who turns 38 on Dec. 27, is presently on injured reserve but can be activated off that list and return for the team's final two games of the regular season. He's also under contract for the 2018 season, but there are no guarantees he will decide to return until he's had time to think more about his future.
Stanton, 33, is 7-4 as a starter in Arizona when replacing the injured Palmer and played well in all three of his starts this season before getting hurt by a low hit from the Seahawks' Sheldon Richardson in Week 10 during a 22-16 loss. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after joining the Cardinals in 2013.
Gabbert, 28, signed a one-year deal with the team in May and was inactive for each of Arizona's first nine games until getting pressed into starting duties Sunday in Houston against the Texans.
"I thought Blaine played his ass off," Arians said after Gabbert completed 22 of 34 passes for 257 yards and the three touchdowns.
Gabbert, however, also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, which helped flip the game in the Texans' favor and led to a 31-21 Houston victory, sending the Cardinals to their second straight loss for the first time in 2017. It dropped them to 4-6, which basically means they have to win each of their remaining six games to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
So does Arians stick with Gabbert this Sunday against the quarterback's original team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, or does he turn back to Stanton if Stanton's knee is stable enough to let him start?
"Drew is going to be healthier; he's still not as healthy as he was before," Arians said, "but we'll stick with Blaine and watch Drew get healthy and then make a decision as we move forward. But we'll stick with the way it is right now."
As for Palmer and whether the Cardinals plan to ultimately activate him, Arians wasn't sure what will happen.
He does know this: He's already seen enough of Gabbert to know Gabbert can play quarterback in the NFL and be a starter -- whether it's for the Cardinals or someone else.
"I think I've known that all along," Arians said. "I don't think I have to find anything else out."
Doesn't he need to see Gabbert in more game action to fully determine Gabbert's future if it's going to include Arizona or not? Until recently, all the work Gabbert was getting in practices was with the scout team.
"What I saw is exactly what I thought I'd see," Arians said, "and I just think it'll get better the more he throws to Larry Fitzgerald -- he's rarely ever thrown to Larry and those starting guys. So if he gets a little more timing with them, I think he'll just get better.
Gabbert will get his second-straight start for the Cardinals on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arians said. Stanton's injured right knee has improved but "he's still not as healthy as he was before," Arians said. "We'll stick with Blaine and watch Drew get healthy and then make a decision as we go forward, but we'll stick with the way it is right now."
So Arians was also pleased with what he saw from Gabbert, who made his first NFL start since October 2016 with San Francisco.
As Weinfuss suggested, fantasy owners who picked up Gabbert this week should be celebrating. Those three touchdowns were a career high, even if the two late interceptions drew away from his scores. ...
For what it's worth, Gabbert had a rhythm going with rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, who caught two touchdown passes. The two had been working together while on the scout team in practices, and the rapport showed.
"We tried to simulate some of our offense, going against our No. 1 defense," Seals-Jones said. "It was great just having that chemistry, and then we got out there and it was just like being out here (in practice)."
Arians likes to say he thinks rookies should be ready by Thanksgiving. Seals-Jones arrived right on time. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Cardinals are moving on from running back Andre Ellington.
Ellington, who was inactive on Sunday, was released Monday (and subsequently claimed off waivers by the Texans). Houston released quarterback Josh Johnson to open a roster spot for Ellington.
Once a promising playmaker, Ellington has largely been phased out of the Cardinals' offense. Peterson is the starter in Arizona's backfield, Kerwynn Williams is behind Peterson on the depth chart and D.J. Foster has been getting more playing time of late. Ellington will go on waivers and be available to any team that wants to pick him up for the $275,000 he's still owed for the rest of the season. ...
Peterson is averaging less than two yards per carry over his past two games, gaining just 53 yards on 35 attempts. ...
Fitzgerald would not discuss the one-year contract extension he signed Friday with the club following the Cardinals' 31-21 loss on the road Sunday to the Texans.
Asked for the first time publicly if the extension meant he definitely will play in 2018, Fitzgerald would only say: "I'm only focused on (next week's game against) Jacksonville."
Asked if that meant he hasn't yet fully made a decision about playing in 2018, Fitzgerald again dodged the question.
"That means I'm focused on the next game," he said. "We're in the midst of the season. It's a team game. It's not about any one individual, what they're doing or not doing. That's where I'm going to keep the focus."
Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Texans, in the process passing tight end Tony Gonzalez (15,127) for fifth place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list. He is now 51 yards shy of moving past Isaac Bruce (15,208) for fourth all-time. ...
Arians was disappointed for a second straight week with his receivers not named Fitzgerald, pointing out a rash of dropped passes once again and threatening changes next week when the team meets visiting Jacksonville.
"We'll be looking at some different receivers next week," he vowed, adding when asked specifically what he didn't like. "You'd have to ask them because the balls hit them right in the face and then they drop them. Like I said, it's time to look somewhere else."
One receiver who could start getting more playing time is rookie Chad Williams, the team's third-round pick who has been mostly inactive this season on game days.
"He's going to get his shot," Arians said. ...
John Brown is dealing with a toe injury Arians said. Brown did not practice Wednesday and indications are he could miss time beyond this week. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses, but it's probably no coincidence the team is promoting receiver Carlton Agudosi to the 53-man roster.
Agudosi drew praise over the offseason for his work in practice with the Cardinals, who signed him as an undrafted free agent despite mediocre numbers while at Rutgers. He had four catches for 52 yards in the preseason.
And finally. ... If you're waiting for Palmer or David Johnson to come off the injured reserve list, you can stop. According to the team's official website, Arians told reporters on Wednesday that none of the guys on IR have made expected progress in their respective rehabs, so as of today, no one is expected to return this season.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Christian Kirk
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure noted, when the Falcons needed a big play to put themselves in position to secure a win, they turned to their marquee players to get it done.
Reigning MVP Matt Ryan's deep pass to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones down the right sideline with 7 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in regulation symbolized just why the Falcons still are a serious threat in the NFC. Ryan perfectly placed the ball where only Jones could get it, and Jones corralled the ball with ease, brushing off the coverage by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane.
The 29-yard play not only set up a Matt Bryant field goal that helped give the Falcons breathing room, it also served as a message to the rest of the league that this high-octane offense that made it all the way to last season's Super Bowl still can have its moments.
"We had a lot of man-to-man coverage on third down tonight, and a really good call at the time by [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian]," Ryan explained. "We had a good concept going on the left. We knew if we had one-on-one, we had an opportunity to throw it down the field to Julio. I tried to hold the safety in the center of the field to keep him in that spot. So it was really just Julio and the corner on an island, and Julio made a great play."
Sure, the Falcons had to hold on in the final minutes as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks surged, and had to hold their breath until Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal missed as time expired. But a 34-31 win boosted Atlanta's record to 6-4 and marked a second consecutive victory, following up last week's home triumph over Dallas.
More importantly, the Falcons now have the same record as the Seahawks, Cowboys and Detroit Lions and own the tiebreakers over all three.
The Falcons are 5-1 in NFC play and now have a little momentum with a slew of NFC South games around the corner, starting with Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay. It's the first of three consecutive home games, even more reason why the Falcons can generate a little steam toward a postseason run.
Ryan, who had 195 passing yards, had his NFL-record streak of 200-yard passing games end at 64. It didn't matter because Ryan made winning plays, including a third-down scramble that kept alive a scoring drive and set up his 25-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo off play-action.
The Falcons didn't run the ball much, rushing for 89 yards on 30 carries with Devonta Freeman out with a concussion. But there were some key runs, particularly one late by backup Terron Ward that showed the "grit" head coach Dan Quinn expects from his team.
Also worth noting, the win gave the Falcons a much-needed confidence boost.
"We're getting our swagger," Jones said.
For Jones, the ability to stack wins for the first time since a 3-0 start gives the Falcons a reminder that their way of doing things still works.
"It takes a real man to trust the process. When you work your butt off and things don't go the right way, you tend to blame this person or that person, or you start changing things," Jones said of a team that's had to adapt to new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco in the offseason.
"You've got to stick to what you do. ... And obviously it's paying off now."
The Seahawks were determined to defend Jones and that left things open for Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy to do some damage early. Sanu drew a pass interference call on cornerback Jeremy Lane to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Tevin Coleman on the opening drive. It was just the third time this season the Falcons scored on their opening drive and first time since the third game of the season against the Lions.
After cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Wilson, Ryan tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Sanu. It became the first time this season the Falcons scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game.
Coleman and Ward were stuffed for most of the game, but came up with some tough yards in the fourth quarter. Ward had the above-mentioned 17-yard run and Coleman nearly scored from three yards out to ice the game. He was ruled stopped at the half-yard line and Bryant followed with a 19-yard field goal to make it a two-score game with under four minutes to play.
Early, the Falcons kept running toss sweeps, but Seattle's defense slipped the cut blocks and pummeled the ball carriers.
Coleman, who was making his fourth NFL start, was held to nine yards on 10 carries in the first half. Ward had two carries for one yard. It was only the 10th time in 35 NFL games that Coleman carried the ball 10 or more times in a game. In the end, Coleman rushed 20 times for 43 yards. Ward rushed six times for 31 yards.
For the record, Freeman remains in the concussion protocol.
Although he feels ready to play, he still has to go through the entire process before being cleared. The Falcons will let it play all the way out, day to day, with this being Freeman's second concussion since August and third since November of 2015.
I'll obviously be following his progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
A few final notes. ... Although Ryan's 200-plus passing yards streak ended at a NFL-record 64 games, he extended his passing touchdown streak to 28 games -- which leads the NFL. He now has recorded 79 multi-touchdown games during his career.
Sanu finished the game with three receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown -- his third touchdown grab in the last four games (fourth on the season); Jones had five catches for 71 yards.
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 21 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer David Ginsburg put it, "With three shutouts, an NFL-leading 16 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles in 10 games, the Ravens are playing the kind of defense that wins championships."
Indeed, as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley added, "The way the Baltimore Ravens' defense and special teams were playing, they needed just one play from their struggling offense to help save their season and stay in the AFC playoff race.
"The Ravens just didn't know it would come in the form of one of the most incredible catches in team history. ..."
Mike Wallace showed why he's been saying all season that he "needs the rock" with a one-handed, 21-yard touchdown grab in Sunday's 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Pushing through press coverage, Wallace went up for the ball, but his right arm got caught tangled with cornerback Damarious Randall. So he just caught the ball by cradling the third-down pass in his left arm as he fell into the end zone.
"I can't talk to my coaches and tell them, 'They've got to give me the ball and do this and do that,' and then I don't make a play," Wallace said. "I'm like, by any means. I've been doing that for a long time, just making plays. My team needed it and I'm happy I was able to do it."
Wallace's touchdown put the Ravens ahead 13-0, which was an insurmountable lead given how Baltimore's defense and special teams were playing.
Wallace punctuated the Ravens' first win at Lambeau Field with a Lambeau leap. It represented the highlight of the year for the NFL's worst passing attack.
Hensley went on to suggest that type of won't-be-denied play has been missing from an offense that has consistently struggled to get into the end zone. There have been too many times this season when a Ravens receiver hasn't attacked the ball or has let a pass bounce off his hands.
This wasn't one of those.
The Ravens, evened their record at 5-5. They are in prime position for a wild-card berth with six weeks remaining.
The Ravens forced five turnovers and delivered six sacks. Their special teams delivered two long returns both of which jump-started scoring drives.
Joe Flacco insisted during the bye week that the offense had to be more aggressive. "We need to go after it," Flacco said last week.
Deep passes have been the barometer of Baltimore's success this season. In the five losses, Flacco has yet to complete a pass on a throw of 20 yards or longer downfield. In the five wins, he has connected on six of them, including the strike to Wallace.
Flacco's decision-making has rightfully been criticized. But his fearlessness has been impressive.
He was picked off in the second quarter when he made a bad throw to a covered Danny Woodhead at the Packers' 2-yard line. One quarter later -- after the Ravens completed their sixth first half without an offensive touchdown this season -- Flacco again threw a pass to a receiver who wasn't open, but Wallace made his miraculous catch.
The Ravens need more plays similar to Wallace's if they want to make a serious run.
On Sunday, against an overmatched Brett Hundley, one big play from the offense was enough.
The Ravens allowed only 219 yards and forced five turnovers. Green Bay managed 75 yards rushing in 25 attempts, and 19 of those yards came from the quarterback.
Flacco has 11 interceptions and eight touchdown passes as part of an offense that came to Green Bay ranked 30th in the NFL. Baltimore isn't going hit the 40-point barrier too often, but with the defense it has, just a couple TDs should be enough. ...
Meanwhile, when left tackle Ronnie Stanley was ruled inactive against the Packers because of a concussion, the Ravens did not have one starter from last year's offensive line on the field. As a result, Flacco was under pressure for much of the game and was sacked three times.
"A lot of different things happened, obviously our offensive line was in big-time flux when Ronnie couldn't go," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It created a major problem against this team because their defensive line is one of the best in the league."
James Hurst took over Stanley's spot moving from left guard to tackle and struggled to help contain the Packers' aggressive pass rush. Luke Bowanko, who was acquired from the Jaguars prior to the season for depth at center, was forced into action at left guard.
The Ravens hope to get Stanley back Monday against the Texans. That will help stabilize the line. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Also according to Hensley, Breshad Perriman's disappointing career continued to spiral downward Sunday, when the Ravens benched the 2015 first-round pick who has become a liability for the passing game.
"He's probably a little ticked off. I hope he is," Harbaugh said after Sunday's game. "I want him to be ticked off. I want him to come out there and show it in the way he practices. He'll do it."
Perriman has seven catches, three drops and no touchdowns in eight games this season.
After Sunday's game, Harbaugh said he expected Perriman to return and be a downfield threat for the Ravens. But, when asked if Perriman would play again this season, Harbaugh indicated he wouldn't guarantee who would be active for Monday night's game against the Texans.
With Perriman not suited up Sunday, backup wide receivers Michael Campanaro and Chris Moore made an impact on special teams with big returns but neither had a pass thrown in his direction. ...
Woodhead was activated Saturday for the game at Green Bay. He was removed from the reserve/injured list and returned to practice two weeks ago. Woodhead was injured in the first quarter of the regular-season opener against the Bengals. He had five receptions for 21 yards against the Packers.
Terrance West was a healthy scratch against the Packers. West has not played since Week 5 against Oakland when he suffered a calf injury. West opened the season as the starter, but Alex Collins has run well in his place.
Collins had 49 yards on 20 carries and got his first career touchdown. He also caught four passes for 22 yards.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, the Ravens' offense isn't moving the ball well enough to trust any of these guys, but you can hang your hat on Collins' volume and the potential increase in Woodhead's workload going forward. ...
Wallace caught four passes for 56 yards, including the one-handed touchdown reception. ... Jeremy Maclin's five targets and 34 yards were disappointing after it looked like he was heating up before the bye week. NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Malcin wore a non-contact jersey during portions of practice last week. Perhaps better health after an extra day off will lead to some improvement.
I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak pointed out, a week ago, the few remaining fans at New Era Field were cheering when Buffalo Bills first-year coach Sean McDermott decided to insert rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman into the final minutes of a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints in which Tyrod Taylor threw for only 56 yards.
On Sunday, the sizable contingent of Bills fans at the StubHub Center cheered just as loudly when Taylor replaced Peterman to mercifully end the fifth-round pick's starting debut in which he threw five interceptions in the first half of a 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The same crowd had been chanting, "We want Tyrod!" in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
Giving Peterman a shot appealed to McDermott and the fans who supported his decision to bench Taylor last week, but reality came quickly and harshly. The quarterback switch was clearly a disaster and has put an already-faltering team in free-fall.
Like most quarterbacks selected on the third day of the NFL draft, Peterman proved he was not ready -- especially when handed the reins to the offense of a 5-4 team trying to hold onto its playoff position in a road venue more than 2,500 miles from home.
Taylor has his faults and is not the Bills' long-term answer at quarterback, but he was best suited to handle the gauntlet of the Bills' schedule that included Sunday's game against the Chargers, a road trip to play the Kansas City Chiefs and a home contest against the New England Patriots.
Nonetheless, as Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow reported, McDermott said on Monday he wasn't going to be rushed into naming a starting quarterback a day after his decision to go with Peterman backfired.
McDermott went on to advise reporters he was still evaluating whether to give Peterman another start or return to Taylor for Buffalo's game at Kansas City this weekend.
"I own the decision and as I said yesterday, I don't regret the decision. I do regret the result, and there's other hands also in the result," he said. "You go back and you learn from it. I learn from it as a head coach and I expect all to learn from and we grow and we move forward."
The evaluation lasted until Wednesday. And what McDermott apparently learned going forward is he should start Taylor.
"It's the right thing for our team," McDermott said in announcing the veteran's return to the starting lineup.
McDermott shook his head "No" when asked if he had any regrets about starting Peterman.
"I felt like it was the right decision, and right now the best decision for us is to focus on the Kansas City Chiefs," McDermott said.
Peterman completed 6 of 14 attempts for 66 yards over seven first-half possessions and became the first quarterback since 1970 to throw at least five interceptions in the first half of a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He did oversee one touchdown drive, which had him hand the ball off twice to running back LeSean McCoy for a 37-yard gain followed by a 27-yard touchdown run up the left sideline.
Otherwise, Peterman threw interceptions on four of Buffalo's first five drives, and then another one to close the half. The turnovers accounted for the Chargers scoring 24 points, including Korey Toomer returning one 59 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring.
The Chargers' pass rush rattled Peterman into throwing at least two interceptions. The first one, however, wasn't entirely the quarterback's fault. His pass hit off the hands off fullback Patrick DiMarco and deflected into Toomer's hands.
"I did not play very well," Peterman acknowledged after the game. "As things start to happen, I have to let them go. I have to put more on myself."
It should be noted, as the Sports Xchange did, that beyond Peterman, the Bills defense was horrendous for a third straight game. They can't stop anybody, as evidenced by the 135 points they have allowed in losses to the Jets, Saints and Chargers. That's a new three-game futility record for the franchise.
Since Week 5, the Bills are allowing 32.7 points per game which is worst in the NFL; 407.3 yards which is 31st; 269.7 passing yards which is 29th; 137.7 rushing yards which is 30th; 44.7 percent third-down conversions which is 29th. For those wondering, no, that's not good. ...
Also worth noting. ... In updating injuries, McDermott said tests showed starting receiver Kelvin Benjamin did not sustain any ligament damage to his right knee after being hurt while making a 20-yard catch on Buffalo's opening drive. ESPN's Adam Schefter advised his Twitter followers on Monday that Benjamin "could miss a little time" but Schefter added this is "not considered long-term injury."
McDermott told reporters only that Benjamin remains day to day and that he would not practice Wednesday.
The coach replied "we'll see" when asked if Benjamin can suit up against the Chiefs.
I'll be following up on Benjamin via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
The Bills ran the ball a little better with 173 yards, but that came against a run defense that is the worst in the league, so there were no silver linings there, not that there could be any when you lose by 30 points.
McCoy rushed for 114 yards, his 13th 100-yard game as a Bill which ties him for fifth-most in franchise history.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, "It's encouraging for McCoy after he had struggled to produce the last two weeks. He's got a great schedule down the stretch including a game against the Chiefs in Week 12. ..."
Travaris Cadet made his Bills debut and rushed for 17 yards and caught six passes for 39 yards.
Rookie receiver Zay Jones caught four passes for a career-high 68 yards. ...
Receiver Jordan Matthews and running back mike Tolbert were inactive due to a knee injury. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on their status as well.
QBs: Matt Barkley, Josh Allen
RBs: Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed, a re-energized Cam Newton, a suddenly improving running game and the league's No. 1-ranked defense have the Carolina Panthers thinking about a return to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under head coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers enter the bye weekend having won three straight, leaving them at 7-3 and a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
Newton said before the team's 45-21 blowout win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night that it was starting to feel like a special season. The big win left the Panthers even more confident.
"We just want to keep it going," said Newton, who was NFC offensive player of the week after throwing for 254 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 95 yards on five carries. "It's not saying we've hit our pinnacle yet, and there's nothing saying we can't get better. That's the thing we've just got to be optimistic about."
There is plenty of reason to be upbeat, beginning with the defense.
Carolina's veteran-laden group has been the backbone of the team this season, allowing a league-low 278 yards per game while holding four opponents without an offensive touchdown. If the Panthers can ever get some takeaways -- they have just nine -- they can become a dominant unit.
With veterans Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson up front, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis at linebacker, and Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman in the secondary, Carolina has plenty of experience to make a deep run in the postseason if those older players stay healthy.
The offense has been a work in progress most of the season as the team looked to "evolve" as a unit. That's starting to happen.
The Panthers will need to replace rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was lost for the season to an ankle injury against the Dolphins. But the return of tight end Greg Olsen from injured reserve should be huge. Olsen was the only NFL tight end with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons before a broken foot in Week 2 sidelined him for eight games. If all goes well, Olsen said he plans to play against the Jets next Sunday.
Olsen has missed the last eight games with a broken foot, but said Monday he felt good.
"I don't know if I was breaking any records out there, but it was a good start," Olsen said. "Just getting your rhythm down, your cutting in and out of breaks."
Olsen is one of Newton's favorite targets in the passing game. He led Carolina in receptions the last two seasons and is the only tight end in NFL history to put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He also is considered a valuable blocker in the run game and is in on almost every offensive snap.
"I would love to pick back up where I left off and play every snap and catch 10 balls -- that would be great," Olsen said. "Maybe that happens. I'll try. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's going to happen. There are going to be things I can do by being out there with helping other guys get open and little things like that."
Rivera said he is "curious" to see how Olsen, who was practicing without issue on Wednesday, will integrate back into the offense.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula wasn't ready to choose a replacement for Samuel, saying the Panthers will fill the role "by committee." That means Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin could all see increased playing time, particularly Shepard, who was signed to play in the slot, where Samuel played. The team may look to bring back Damiere Byrd from injured reserve in December.
The Panthers have relied heavily on rookie running back Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. He is sixth in the NFL in receptions with 57.
But perhaps the most promising aspect ahead for the Panthers is their resurgent running game.
Among the league's worst during the first half of the season, the Panthers ran for 201 yards against the Falcons and followed that with 294 yards against the Dolphins, led by Jonathan Stewart's 110 yards. Stewart's first 100-yard rushing game since last December came one week after he fumbled twice in the first half against the Falcons and saw a decreased role the rest of the game.
"A lot of people said some things about him and Jonathan just wanted to make sure everybody understood," Rivera said. "He is not dumb. He is a big part of what we do and he is a part of the reasons why we had success. He is going to continue to work hard and he will be productive for us, as will the other backs"
The Panthers seem to be on a collision course with the Saints (7-2).
The Saints clobbered the Panthers at home earlier this season, but Carolina will get a second crack at them in New Orleans on Dec. 3 that could determine the NFC South title. With the way things are churning right now, the Panthers have to feel good about their chances of winning a fourth division title since 2013 -- or at the very least making it in as a wild card.
One positive? Of the six remaining games for Carolina, half are at home. The Panthers also have one game remaining against each of the other three NFC South teams along with Minnesota and Green Bay -- both teams that might be vying for playoff spots or playoff positioning.
But the Panthers have reached a point where they seem confident that they're in a good spot.
"I feel as if we're still scratching the surface with our potential and things we can do as a whole with this offense," Newton said. ...
Meanwhile, center Ryan Kalil has said he wants to be back in action for Sunday's game against the Jets. He has been bothered by a neck ailment since September.
Kalil came back briefly for one game but ended back on the sideline and a timetable for his return has been difficult to decipher.
"It feels the best it has felt the whole season," Kalil said.
But Rivera understandably took a more cautious tone, though he said seeing Kalil in a regular practice situation was a big step Monday.
"It was encouraging to see him out there," Rivera said.
We'll see if Kalil can make it back into the mix as the week progresses.
In addition, Newton was listed as limited during Wednesday's practice with a right thumb injury. Rivera told reporters it’s just sore and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that Newton actually took all the practice reps despite the limited designation. I'll follow via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Kyle Allen, Cam Newton, Will Grier
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Greg Dortch, Brandon Zylstra
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As the Sports Xchange noted, the Bears seem to be perfecting the art of losing close games, so Monday they took measures to change this.
After Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Lions, the Bears cut embattled kicker Connor Barth and signed former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos. A missed 46-yard field goal by Barth kept Bears from pushing Sunday's game to overtime.
"It wasn't going great," head coach John Fox said about Barth. "It just wasn't yesterday's kick. We haven't been in the red area a lot. It feels a little harder than normal. Before yesterday he was like, I don't know, we were down there maybe 16 times, so those four misses, five yesterday, you feel it. He sensed it and he understands. It's never easy making those changes."
It wasn't an isolated miss. Barth was 11-for-16 this season, and four of the misses came in the range of 40-49 yards. His long this season was a 54-yarder in the opener, and he made a 40-yarder against Baltimore in overtime for the win.
Considering the Bears have lost five times by eight points or less and are now 3-7, the kicking can make a huge difference for a team trying to get over the hump.
Santos kicked for the Chiefs from 2014 through early this season, but was out with a groin injury and then was cut with an injury settlement.
"I'm familiar with him because of four years when I was in Denver, he was at Kansas City," Fox said.
A groin injury caused the Chiefs to put Santos on injured reserve and he was later cut after just three field goals in three tries this season. Harrison Butker established himself as a solid replacement with Santos out, so the Brazilian native was available. The Bears brought Santos in for a tryout last week.
Santos in four seasons with the Chiefs was 89-for-105. He was 125-for-130 on extra points.
"He's been pretty accurate," Fox said. "He gets pretty good lift on the ball. I think his leg strength he's developed. He has good hang time on his kickoffs.
"Getting him healthy from that (groin injury) I think was key for him and us. We were fortunate that he was available. That's why we signed him."
At the rate the Bears are losing players, they may need more than another kicker to stay in games. Linebacker Leonard Floyd left the field on a cart Sunday with a knee injury. The news wasn't as bad as originally thought in his case. Fox said Floyd did not tear his ACL.
"To our knowledge at this point, right now, he did not," Fox said. "But that's as of right now."
It's still possible Floyd could wind up on injured reserve.
Without Floyd, the Bears could be left using Isaiah Irving in a rotation with Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho. Or they could move Jones from inside to outside, particularly if inside linebacker Danny Trevathan returns from a calf injury. Jones played outside linebacker when he first game into the league in 2014.
Meanwhile, Tarik Cohen became a factor again this past Sunday.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, the rookie running back had disappeared from the Chicago Bears' game plan in recent weeks, but Cohen was heavily involved on offense in Chicago's loss to Detroit.
Cohen carried the ball nine times for 44 yards, including an acrobatic 15-yard touchdown that tied the game late, and caught four of six targets in the passing game.
Cohen's resurgence wasn't enough to propel the Bears to victory, but Chicago's offense looked better than it had in weeks -- partly because the coaching staff committed to Cohen.
Indeed, in keeping Cohen off the field in the closing drive, the Bears invited more controversy even in a game when they found plenty of ways to use their rookie running back. Cohen said afterward he is not well-versed in the two-minute drill.
"It's just more so about me learning more things in the offense, so that in a hurry-up situation I can be in a slot or go to the X-receiver," Cohen said.
Cohen said he doesn't know the two-minute drill in the wide positions, although he does know what to do at running back. He just isn't the ideal running back in hurry-up because Benny Cunningham is a better blocker and can also catch passes.
In addition, one could Cohen got too much work considering how well Jordan Howard was running. Howard had just 15 carries and could easily win the rushing title if the Bears focused their attention on it. He racked up 125 rushing yards and found the end zone against the Lions on Sunday.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Howard hadn't scored for three straight games so it was a welcome sight for fantasy owners.
Going forward, Franciscovich added that Howard has a tough matchup against the Eagles this week while Cohen's usage remains too volatile to trust. ...
Mitchell Trubisky's latest late-game effort has Bears players talking about him with more and more respect.
He led a game-tying touchdown drive, then later put them in position to tie again before Barth's missed field goal.
In general, the quarterback was up-and-down on Sunday.
The positives: Trubisky scrambled for 19 yards on fourth-and-13 with 28 seconds left to play to keep Chicago's hopes alive. On the next play, Trubisky connected with Dontrelle Inman for 15 yards to put the Bears in field goal range. Trubisky also had a touchdown pass to tight end Adam Shaheen, and on several occasions versus the Lions, Trubisky stood tall in the pocket in the face of pressure and found his targets downfield.
The negatives: Trubisky fumbled a snap that Detroit recovered and returned for a touchdown. The second overall pick also threw a low, incomplete pass to Cunningham, who was wide open at the front of the end zone. The first-year quarterback also was off the mark on several other throws and ran into a sack on the game's final drive.
According to Dickerson, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains got creative. Besides Cohen, the Bears made it a priority to get Shaheen involved. The rookie tight end had a career-high in receptions and caught a touchdown pass. Loggains also kept the Lions off balance with quarterback keepers and misdirection in the backfield.
Shaheen played 72 percent of the plays and caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a score.
Inman led the wide receivers in targets with five and playing time, going out for 84 percent of the plays. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, now that he's been with the team for a few weeks, Inman has a role locked-in.
And finally. ... Tight end Dion Sims (illness) has missed two games in a row after sitting out Sunday's loss and his status is uncertain for this week. Last Thursday, Fox said Sims had taken a step back or was "weaker" after coming to Halas Hall on Wednesday. The Bears aren't discussing the nature of Sims' illness, but he was able to work on a limited basis Wednesday. Inman (groin) was also limited.
Receiver Josh Bellamy (concussion) left Sunday's game and was placed in the NFL concussion protocol. His status will be updated later in the week. Losing Bellamy would be a big blow to special teams, particularly punt coverage. Also, Bellamy has been utilized more the last two weeks as a receiver.
More to come on both when Late-Breaking Updates crank up early Thursday.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte Jr.
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As the Sports Xchange framed it, "Somehow, Bengals have a pulse in playoff race. ..."
That's right, the Bengals are alive in what's become a muddled AFC playoff race.
Yes, the Bengals who began the season 0-3. The Bengals who fired their offensive coordinator after two games and have struggled to protect Andy Dalton and establish a running game behind a patchwork offensive line. The Bengals who are among the worst in the NFL in opponent's third-down conversion.
Those Bengals find themselves one game out of the second AFC wild-card spot.
"We've got to keep playing," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "I showed them that a year ago, we were in a situation where someone was going to get hot and break out of things. Last year it was Green Bay. They ran the table and this year it's going to be somebody else."
Cincinnati's 20-17 win on Sunday at Denver wasn't a thing of beauty. Far from it. But, the Bengals managed to burn the Broncos' third-ranked defense with a pair of long touchdown passes from Dalton to A.J. Green and Alex Erickson. The Bengals' defense then held on, helping them overcome an error-laden first quarter.
Of course, the fact the Bengals (4-6) are in this position is as much a testament to a largely average AFC as anything else. But, with three straight home games coming up against the winless Browns, Steelers, and Bears, anything is possible.
"Marvin has said that there is a team that is in the position that we're in right now that gets hot every year," said Dalton. "We're doing everything we can to make it us."
Dalton has made the best of his situation. His offensive line has struggled for most of the season and there's been no running game to speak of. Add to that, tight end Tyler Eifert's season-ending injury, and the Bengals quarterback deserves credit for managing to pass for more than 2,100 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 90.7 rating despite being sacked 27 times in 10 games.
The offensive line lost a key component in tackle Jake Fisher for the season due to a heart condition, but that unit didn't play horribly on Sunday.
"We have to clean some things up in the running game," Lewis said. "We ought to have more opportunities. We've got to keep doing it together all the time. We've all got work to do."
The schedule isn't exactly favorable down the stretch with games against the Vikings, Steelers, and Lions among the final six. But, there also are matchups with the Browns, Bears, and Ravens left, and four of the Bengals' final six games are at home.
The Bengals host winless Cleveland (0-10) on Sunday. Pittsburgh (8-2) then visits for a Monday night game, followed by a visit from Chicago (3-7).
"There are a lot of teams in the situation we were in starting today and teams are going to get hot and get going," Lewis said. "We play some of them and they play each other. So, we have an opportunity if we just handle our business.
Dalton won't display these game stats on his mantle, but the QB had a solid day against a decent Broncos defense. Dalton passed for only 154 yards, but had three touchdowns. Dalton was sacked twice, but handled the Broncos' pressure well and did not throw an interception.
Green totaled nine targets against the Broncos, his highest single-game total since Week 5. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Green now has touchdowns in three of his last four games, with the lone outlier being the game against Jacksonville in which he was thrown out for fighting.
Erickson, who caught the above-mentioned 29-yard touchdown on Sunday, finished two catches he had for 42 yards. Both receptions were on third down. "The touchdown, but two third-down conversions," Lewis said. "Each opportunity that Alex gets, he does a nice job."
Erickson has nine catches for 142 yards this season while excelling on special teams.
Joe Mixon rushed for 49 yards on Sunday on 20 attempts, an average of 2.5 yards for a Bengals running game that has struggled throughout the season. "As a runner, you can't be frustrated," Lewis said. "You can't let the last play, positively, negatively affect the next one. You have to make the most of it. They can't have a notion in their mind where the ball is going to fit."
Cincinnati averaged 1.9 yards per carry on the day. Mixon had the longest run of the day, gaining eight yards. The second longest run? A designed eight-yard zone read by quarterback Dalton.
In general, the offense was bad in Denver, but the Bengals' special teams play was even worse. Randy Bullock missed a PAT and the Bengals had a punt blocked. It was not a good day overall for punter Kevin Huber. The only bright spot was a blocked field goal by KeiVarae Russell.
For what it's worth, the Bengals are sticking with Bullock "this week," which isn’t really a vote of confidence. Instead, Cincinnati, which has seen its kickers repeatedly miss kicks the past two seasons, has let Bullock know he has no wiggle room.
As Profootballtalk.com pointed out, Mike Nugent missed six field goals and six extra points in 13 games for the Bengals last season before they moved on from him. Bullock then missed a game-winning field goal last season after he replaced Nugent.
“It does affect our patience level,” Lewis said. ...
Rookie John Ross continues to be missing in action and was a healthy scratch against the Broncos. Tight end Tyler Kroft has stepped up this season in place of Eifert, but it's hard to count on him as a solid fantasy player with the Bengals' offense so inconsistent. Kroft also injured his hand during the game and returned wearing a soft cast under his gloves, which may have led to a dropped pass.
He was limited Wednesday as was receiver Brandon LaFell (knee).
I'll follow up on their status via Late-Breaking Updates in coming days.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, A.J. Green, John Ross
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon framed it, "DeShone Kizer was a glum fellow as he strode to the podium following the Cleveland Browns' 10th loss in 10 games this season, a 19-7 drubbing by the Jacksonville Jaguars. ..."
"It hurts," Kizer said.
Because Kizer struggled badly in this loss, personally accounting for four turnovers -- one that gave the Jaguars a defensive touchdown, another that set up a touchdown.
"I am trying to do whatever I can to string together some games and continue to prove my development to my teammates and to continue to earn the respect of them," Kizer said. "This is the first game that I have come off of the field feeling as if I didn't prove that I have developed yet."
But as the Sports Xchange suggested, life as a rookie quarterback in Cleveland means taking one step forward and two steps backward. Kizer's obvious goal is to eliminate the backward steps in the final six games of the season.
Kizer had no turnovers in a 33-16 loss to the Vikings on Oct 29 and one, on a fourth-down pass on the final offensive play in a 38-24 loss to the Lions on Nov. 12.
Kizer regressed in a 19-7 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles. He fumbled one other time, but recovered. Magnifying his mistakes was the fact he turned the ball over three times in the Browns' final three possessions in the fourth quarter. The Browns trailed only 10-7 when the flood started.
Kizer did come back with a nice 27-yard throw to Duke Johnson for a touchdown, but the Browns had nine possessions (and one kneel down to end the half) after they cut the deficit to 10-7. They gained a total of 124 yards and had eight first downs on those nine possessions -- and 36 of those yards came when the game was out of reach and less than a minute remained.
Head coach Hue Jackson knew the questions about possibly benching Kizer would start flying, so he squelched them before they started. Jackson said Kizer will start against the Bengals next Sunday in Cincinnati. He went on to say Kizer will be the starter the remainder of the season.
"He'll shake it off," Jackson said on Monday. "He saw the corrections he has to make. I think where that comes from, there were some balls he missed, the ball's thrown over a guy's head and one ended up an interception.
"He knows that's not a big-time quarterback play and that's not who he wants to be. We have to fix those things."
Jackson says he owes Kizer the opportunity to keep starting, but he also owes it to the Browns' front office. The Browns, 0-10, are in line for the first pick in the draft the second straight year. They have to decide whether to use it on a quarterback.
"It's a bad feeling knowing that it's a question, but yeah, I think that knowing where you are going into next week at least allows you to have some sort of peace of mind going into the following week," Kizer said.
Kizer, picked 52nd overall in 2017, has thrown five touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
And as McManamon pointed out, there are plenty of contributing factors to Kizer struggling, including the obvious in Week 11: The Browns played the league's top-ranked scoring defense and the group is also tops in sacks. The Jaguars have a dominant, nasty, relentless defense.
Jackson said the Browns are a young team prone to inconsistency. He's right about that, and Kizer is one of the youngest players in the league.
And Jackson reiterated that his team needs to be "almost perfect" to win a game, which is a statement on his roster.
"That means no turnovers," Jackson said. "Fundamentally we have to do everything right to have a chance."
In consecutive weeks since the bye, the Browns had chances. But they lost to Detroit when they scored 24 because the defense didn't play well. Against Jacksonville, the defense played well but they lost because the offense scored seven.
Whatever the case, Kizer is Jackson's man -- at least this season.
"Let's let him play," Jackson said. "Let's let him play this thing out. As long as he is healthy, let's keep putting him out there. I want to walk away from this season knowing exactly what DeShone Kizer is top to bottom. I think he deserves that.
"I know this is tough on him."
Tougher, no doubt, than Kizer ever imagined. ...
Other notes of interest. ... One of the bright spots for the Browns in their 10th straight loss was the return of wide receiver Corey Coleman. Coleman caught six passes for 80 yards in his first game back after missing seven with a broken hand.
"I was just trying to make plays to give our team the best chance to win," Coleman said. "Going into it, we knew we were playing a pretty good defense. We just have to make plays and we knew we were going to fight a battle."
Wide receiver Josh Gordon was officially reinstated today from reserve/suspended. He has a roster exemption that expires Dec. 4, and he can't be activated until Nov. 27.
The first game Gordon is eligible will be Dec. 3 in Los Angeles against the Chargers. That makes Gordon able to play the final five games of the season.
The Browns knew the best way to take the heat off the Jaguars pass rush was to run the ball. They had difficulty and handed the ball to running backs Isaiah Crowell (11) and Johnson (two) a total of 13 times. The Browns got little push up front. The longest run of the day was a 10-yard dash by Kizer. When the run doesn't work immediately, the Browns usually give up on it. That's what happened Sunday.
Although he scored the touchdown, Johnson had only has six total touches -- the two carries (for 10 yards) and four catches (56 yards and his touchdown). It was his lowest output since having no carries and two catches in the season opener against the Steelers.
Worth noting. ... Crowell was limited Wednesday by a sore shoulder. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update, but he played through the same issue last week.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson, Kareem Hunt
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown, David Njoku
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
According to the Sports Xchange, "The Dallas Cowboys have fallen and they can't get up. ..."
Playing without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott for the second of six consecutive weeks and other injured starters in left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys needed someone to make a play to give them a chance against the Philadelphia Eagles, who are arguably the best team in the NFL with a 9-1 record and a runaway lead in the NFC East.
But they have no play-makers.
This is where the Cowboys are following the 37-9 blowout loss.
It was the second consecutive blowout loss after three consecutive victories and has made any ideas of them holding on and staying in playoff contention until Elliott returns Dec. 24 wishful thinking at best.
"Yes. Yes, I am," owner Jerry Jones said while also admitting he was trying to be positive. "I like our team and I like our I can see that certainly we'd like to not have some of these injuries, but everybody's dealing with them and working through them. Now the problem is between injuries and potentially not having players for other reasons, you've got to hang in there and get a win when maybe the personnel doesn't look like you can do it, and you've got to stay eligible to get in that playoff. We're not doing that right now."
The Cowboys have had 23 possessions the past two games and scored just one touchdown. Sunday was the first time they have failed to score a touchdown in a game since 2015.
The Cowboys (5-5) have lost their past two games by a combined score of 64-16, including Week 10's 27-7 setback to the Atlanta Falcons. The past two games have come without Smith and Lee as well as Elliott, which again proves their inability to compete without their best weapon, their best lineman and their best linebacker.
"Obviously we haven't been good enough," head coach Jason Garrett said of the offensive woes. "We haven't been able to be consistent running the football, consistent throwing the football, I don't think our pass protection has been as good as it needs to be. We just haven't been able to attack the defenses different ways like we're capable of doing and like we have been doing at different points this year. It's not good enough. We're going to continue to work to put our players in the best position possible to make first downs, drive the ball and score points.
"Guys get hurt. Guys get out of the lineup for different reasons. You just have to keep moving on and we haven't done a good enough job of that at this point over the last couple of weeks."
With the Thanksgiving Day battle against the Los Angeles Chargers up next, it's likely the Cowboys will be without that trio again (Elliott won't return until Dec. 24) and could be staring at a three-game losing streak for the first time since going 4-12 in 2015.
More to the point, Garrett wondered aloud to the team in the postgame locker room about the possibly of winning out or losing out with six games to go in the season.
The former doesn't look possible.
"Coach Garrett couldn't put it in better words in giving our options all the way down from 11-5 to 5-11," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "It's up to us to figure out what we want to do.
Prescott had the worst game of his career. He was 18-of-31 passing for 145 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. He had a career-low 30.4 passer rating.
But it didn't fall solely on Prescott.
Two of the picks were on Prescott for forcing the ball. One pick was off Terrance Williams' hands. Prescott was bad. But he didn't get any help. Dez Bryant also had a dropped pass. The Cowboys have no playmakers on the outside.
The entire offense seemed at a loss for words as to why they can't finish drives.
"I don't know because we drove the ball decent," right guard Zack Martin said. "What we're usually pretty good at is third and short, and we weren't able to convert in the second half and really put our defense in a bad situation."
Said tight end Jason Witten: "We know we need to score touchdowns to win in this league, especially against a team as good as they are. It just snowballed on us. In the first half we were able to move the ball some, but couldn't get it in there. That affected us later in the second half. ..."
Also of interest. ... Alfred Morris had 17 carries for 91 yards. The Cowboys had 27 carries for 112 yards as a team. But in the end, it wasn't good enough. It wasn't impactful enough. It didn't help the Cowboys convert third downs or get in the end zone. The only positive? Morris' volume in a lopsided loss was encouraging to fantasy owners. ...
One last note here. ... Kicker Dan Bailey is holding out hope he can return to game action Thursday against the Chargers after missing four games with a groin injury. He started kicking again last week and went through a fairly involved pregame routine Sunday. If he doesn't return against the Chargers, he believes he will be ready Nov. 30 against Washington.
Bailey is officially listed as questionable along with Smith and LB Anthony Hitchens. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, all three have a good shot at playing.
Mike Nugent will be standing by if Bailey can't go; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in advance of kickoff.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Ventell Bryant
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold framed it, "They have benched a quarterback, have one of the league's least efficient offenses and just hours after the Denver Broncos' sixth consecutive loss, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy lost his job. ..."
Broncos coach Vance Joseph informed McCoy on Monday morning that he was being relieved of his duties and that quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will be promoted to offensive coordinator. The move comes after the Broncos fell to 3-7 Sunday with a 20-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Bill is an experienced coordinator and play caller in this league, and I'm confident he will help get our offense back on track," Joseph said in a statement. "I have a responsibility to do what's best for our football team. Although this wasn't an easy decision, we needed to make this change. We have to play a more efficient brand of football offensively as we begin the final stretch of our season.
"Mike is an outstanding coach and a great person. He had a lot of opportunities this offseason, and he chose us. I have the utmost respect for Mike and wish him all the best in the future."
Klint Kubiak, one of Gary Kubiak's sons, will be the team's quarterbacks coach. Klint Kubiak has been an offensive assistant who has worked with the quarterbacks for the past two seasons.
The Broncos are 18th in the league in total offense at 329.8 yards per game, but are 24th in scoring (18.3 points per game) and 30th in touchdown efficiency. The Broncos have scored just 19 touchdowns -- only five teams have scored fewer -- and two of those were by the defense. The 17 offensive touchdowns ties Denver with Cleveland for second-worst in the league (Baltimore has 16).
Sunday's loss was the seventh time in the last eight games the Broncos failed to score at least 20 points. And in the game when they reached 23 points, they lost by 28 (51-23 to the Philadelphia Eagles).
Legwold reminded readers the Broncos have already benched quarterback Trevor Siemian after a three-interception night in the Broncos' Oct. 30 loss in Kansas City. They are now 0-3 in Brock Osweiler's starts since he replaced Siemian. Osweiler has completed just 53 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions in those games.
Not surprisingly, the change of coordinator will come with a change at quarterback.
Paxton Lynch will start at quarterback Sunday against the Oakland Raiders
As Legwold first reported, Lynch and Osweiler were informed of the decision Tuesday before Joseph made it official Wednesday morning.
Lynch, who injured his right shoulder Aug. 26 in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, has not played since. He was the Broncos' No. 2 quarterback, behind Osweiler this past Sunday, and it was the first time he had been in uniform this season.
Lynch, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in 2016, will get his third career start. Lynch lost back-to-back training camp battles with Siemian for the starting job and had not practiced until earlier this month because of his shoulder injury.
Joseph said Monday he wanted to meet with Musgrave and the rest of the offensive staff to see "who's the best guy for our football team."
He said at the time that all three quarterbacks could be considered.
Lynch's two starts in 2016 included an Oct. 9 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and a Dec. 4 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars -- games Siemian missed with shoulder and foot injuries, respectively. It's likely that the Broncos will cocoon Lynch in a run-heavy game plan, much like his past start in Jacksonville.
In that 20-10 Broncos win, Lynch was 12-of-24 for 104 yards without a touchdown or interception. He was sacked twice and the Broncos ran the ball 28 times.
Asked Monday if it was a lot to ask of Lynch to change offensive coordinators and then start less than a week later, Joseph was quick to say he believed Lynch could be prepared.
"That's on myself ... if he does play for us, it's got to be a system that fits Paxton," Joseph said. "He's practiced the last two weeks. It won't be soccer; it's football for him. What he's practiced the last couple weeks, it may be called a little different, it may be called more, a lot of the same stuff, but it's just football so he'll be fine."
The Broncos have been far more efficient in a run-first mode this season, but during the losing streak they have trailed so often -- every minute of four of the losses -- the Broncos have spent much of their time with three wide receivers in the formation in most down and distances.
It hasn't worked, as the Broncos are 27th in the league in completion percentage (58.8 percent), and tied for 25th in the league in yards per pass attempt at 5.5. Their 17 touchdowns also tie them for the second-lowest total in the league.
The Broncos have been also been one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league as well.
Siemian and Osweiler have thrown a combined 14 interceptions -- only the Cleveland Browns have more -- and the Broncos are one of eight teams to have allowed at least 30 sacks.
According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, McCoy was recently instructed to simplify things, but he continued to rely heavily on "11 personnel," the NFL's vernacular for one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.
He did that despite an offensive line struggling with pass rushers and beset by injuries.
Plus, the Broncos don't have a slot receiver that scares defenses, and their tight end group is one of the worst in the league.
Legwold noted that in the current six-game losing streak, nine of the team's 10 interceptions have come in plays out of a three-wide receiver set, including Osweiler's interception Sunday on a play that started at the Bengals' 4-yard line with the Broncos in a three-wide receiver set and an empty backfield.
Musgrave is a former offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers. Musgrave spent two seasons with the Broncos during his playing career and was a teammate of Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway.
Musgrave was the Raiders' offensive coordinator the previous two seasons. McCoy consistently credited Musgrave with hiring him for his first job in coaching, when Musgrave was the Panthers' offensive coordinator and hired McCoy as an offensive assistant in 2000. ...
One last QB-related note. ... Mike Klis of 9News.com is reporting that Siemian will back up Lynch this week. ...
Meanwhile, Legwold pointed out the changea at coordinator and quarterback were the latest of many changes -- albeit all of them smaller in scale.
The Broncos benched rookie punt returner Isaiah McKenzie early in the week, the same Joseph had steadfastly declared in training camp was the unquestioned player for the job. But five bobbles and two lost fumbles later, including one in the first quarter of the 41-16 loss to the New England Patriots last week, and McKenzie was inactive against the Bengals.
The Broncos cut tight end A.J. Derby. Derby has an injured shoulder, but he led the position group in catches and was tied for the team lead with two touchdown catches. On Sunday, tight end Virgil Green dropped two passes against the Bengals, so call all of that a work in progress.
Put all of these changes in the context of this: On Friday night Elway dropped the verbal hammer when he said the team had gotten "a little bit soft" since the Week 5 bye. Elway said it not once but twice, just to reaffirm, it seems, it was not an accident.
Those words did not sit well with Broncos players.
"I'm out there on the field, I know my guys are out there in the field. None of us are soft. We go out there and bust our ass," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "We work hard. We're not just getting pushed over, pushed around. We're out there doing our thing.
"For him to call us soft, it just rubbed us the wrong way. But I mean, he could say what he wants to say."
Joseph said he was "initially offended," but then revisited his thoughts.
"In some aspects, he's right. When you've lost that many games in a row, you have to do things in a tougher manner. If you're not winning, that's an issue in football," Joseph said. "Football is a physical, tough sport. So when you're not winning, that word comes up. Again, I stepped back and thought about what he said. In some aspects, he's right."
Outside linebacker Von Miller agreed.
"I was kind of taken back by it, which you should be," Miller said. "If you have any type of emotion about you, if you play soft, your reaction should be, 'What? I'm not soft.'
"But if you take a look back at it, the truth is that's what we've been putting out there. That's the type of team that we've developed into. That's what we got. It's the truth. He's telling the truth."
Added cornerback Chris Harris Jr.: "Everybody in this organization is accountable for how we are playing right now."
Elway said Friday night that the Broncos' players just had to learn to dig themselves out of the current troubles.
The shovel is out. But the trouble continues. ...
It'll be interesting to see what Musgrave does with the rushing attack given Elway's comments. Nothing says "soft" like an inability -- and more so an unwillingness -- to run the football.
The ground game plodded along for the most part against the Bengals, as Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles and C.J. Anderson combined for 88 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries a 2.9-yard average. But Anderson was the victim of a perfect tackle from Vontaze Burfict, leading to a lost fumble that set up a game-clinching touchdown and continuing the Broncos' ample turnover woes.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Booker played 47 snaps compared to Anderson's 28, but Anderson managed to get into the end zone. Booker totaled 98 yards while Anderson notched 56. "It's a frustrating situation," Franciscovich added, "but it's also one we have seen developing for weeks. Booker will be the PPR and upside play (this) week when the Broncos play the Raiders. ..."
Demaryius Thomas scored for the third consecutive game after going 13 straight games without a touchdown. Thomas is on pace for 1,013 yards, which would give him his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Emmanuel Sanders was used on a pair of punt returns when the Broncos were looking for a spark, but lost a total of two yards on his attempts. Sanders also finished with just 15 yards on two receptions. He was targeted eight times.
NFL.com's Matt Harmon points out that Thomas has target totals of nine, 12, eight and nine over his last four games while catching at least five passes in each. Sanders' volume has been mostly consistent in Osweiler's three starts, averaging eight targets per game. His production has been wildly inconsistent, however.
Sanders has a 137-yard eruption against the Patriots sandwiched between a pair of games with three combined catches for 45 yards.
Jordan Taylor was the primary punt returner in place of McKenzie. He took fair catches on two punts and returned another for 15 yards.
Tight end Austin Traylor made his NFL regular-season debut and caught four passes for 36 yards. Traylor spent the season on the practice squad.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
Head coach Jim Caldwell had no intention of sending Matt Prater out for any 50-yard field-goal attempts in the swirling winds and cold temperatures at Soldier Field Sunday, but when the Detroit Lions were stuck in a fourth-and-18 at the Bears 34 with the game tied at 27 late in the fourth quarter, he had no choice.
Caldwell said he looked down the sideline at Prater, and when Prater nodded his head in approval, he sent the NFL's most clutch kicker out for the game-winning 52-yard try.
Prater had just enough leg -- he said he hit the ball as well he could -- to send his kick a few feet over the crossbar with 1:35 left to give the Lions a 27-24 victory, their third straight heading into this week's NFC North showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.
"We usually set a line in pregame and say, 'OK, if you get to this point we can kick a field goal from here. If it's beyond that, we can't,'" Caldwell said. "And really our line was not there, where we kicked it. It was quite a few yards forward of that. But I looked down at the end and he kind of gave me that nod like, 'I got it.' I said, 'OK, let's go.' And he did a nice job."
Prater has been a rock since the Lions signed him as a free agent early in the 2014 season, making 86 percent of his field-goal tries (95 of 110) and 21 kicks of 50 yards or more.
As a Lion, he's made all 10 of his game-winning or game-tying field-goal tries in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"It's just the mental part where I have a lot of confidence in Mule and Sam," Prater said, referring to long snapper Don Muhlbach and punter Sam Martin. "Without them, we couldn't be successful at all. Obviously, Mule and Sam do such a good job that it makes it easier for me. I wouldn't say it's a clutch thing, it's just more of a confidence, I think. We kind of gel and work well together as a group or unit."
The Lions signed Prater to a three-year extension last month, keeping him off the free-agent market next spring, and Caldwell said he's the type of weapon most coaches dream of having because of his ability to extend the scoring zone.
"He's dynamic," Caldwell said. "He's certainly one of those guys that's extremely dependable. He's clutch in every way. He's been that way for us since he's been here. To kick the length of field goals that he kicks at the end of ball games kind of in a pressure cooker, unheard of. There's been a lot of great ones in this league, and he's done some pretty unusual things. ..."
By coming from behind to complete the victory over the Bears, the Lions completed their NFC North road slate with a 3-0 record. That's the first time in franchise history the Lions have won every divisional road game. Only once before had the Lions gone through the division without a loss on the road, back in 1961, when Detroit was 5-0-1.
But more important for the Lions is this: Detroit's win over Chicago sets up a huge Thanksgiving game against the division-leading Minnesota Vikings. If the Lions win on Thursday, they would cut the Vikings' division lead to one game and hold the tiebreaker over Minnesota.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein suggests, to beat the Vikings, the Lions will probably have to play well from the start of the game, too, something Detroit has not done in wins over the Browns and Bears the past two weeks.
The Lions' biggest concern coming out of Sunday's win is the same one it was last week: Their run defense.
The Lions allowed 222 yards rushing Sunday and have now given up 423 yards on the ground over the last two weeks. They've struggled to stop the zone-read game of athletic quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and DeShone Kizer, and face the league's eighth-ranked rushing offense on Thursday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... After a slow start, Matthew Stafford finished 21 of 31 passing for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He threw both of his scoring passes in the second quarter, 28 yards to Marvin Jones and 2 yards to Ameer Abdullah, but he also lost a fumble on a sack and had Bears defenders drop three would-be interceptions.
Jones scored on a nice double-move and finished the day with 85 yards receiving on four catches, and TJ Jones and Golden Tate had big conversions on third-and-long. Stafford took three sacks and a handful of other unnecessary hits due to some faulty protection, but overall the Lions had success through the air.
Eric Ebron tied a season-high in targets with seven. He has a combined 58 yards in those two contests. Golden Tate's four targets were the lowest he's seen since Week 2.
The Lions had another down day rushing the ball with just 65 yards on 24 carries, an average of just 2.7 yards a tote. Abdullah had one 11-yard run and 10 other carries for 11 total yards. Theo Riddick had a better rushing day than Abdullah, but with just 35 yards on nine carries he wasn't exactly burning up yards.
The Lions have some serious shortcomings up front in the running game, something fantasy owners have come to expect and now realize they must deal with. Things won't get any easier for Abdullah, who at last has found the end zone in each of the last three games, and Riddick going up against the Vikings tomorrow.
One last note here. ... The Lions claimed DE Dwight Freeney off waivers from the Seahawks.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
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 21 November 2017
Brett Hundley called his four-turnover day against the Baltimore Ravens a "big-time learning game."
The Packers are hoping he puts those lessons to good use, beginning with this weekend's trip to Pittsburgh.
Hundley threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on Sunday, and Green Bay fell 23-0 to Baltimore in its first shutout loss in 11 years. He was sacked six times and completed 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards for a passer rating of 43.6.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, the Packers' drive chart was an eyesore: Interception, interception, fumble (by rookie running back Devante Mays on his first NFL carry), punt, punt. And that was just in the first half. The second half was almost as rotten: Turnover on downs, punt, turnover on downs, punt, sack-fumble by Hundley, turnover on downs, interception.
"I've got to take care of the ball," Hundley said. "I can't say I've never won a game with four, five turnovers but odds are stacked high against you. If we take care of the ball this game, hopefully it would be a different story, but I've got to take care of the ball as the quarterback of this team. It shoots us in the foot when you throw two interceptions on the first two drives, and then the fumble, the fumble sack, and then the interception at the end there. That is hard to overcome as an offense, and as a quarterback I've got to better in that aspect of leading this offense."
It was the Packers' first five-turnover game since Week 5 of 2007 against the Bears.
Nonetheless, head coach Mike McCarthy said he remains confident in Hundley, a 2015 fifth-round pick who has been Aaron Rodgers' primary backup since last season.
"I'll just say it again: I believe in Brett Hundley," McCarthy said Monday morning, repeating a phrase he has used on a weekly basis since Rodgers broke his right collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota. "I believe in Brett Hundley as a quarterback, and I believe he will improve. And that's where we are."
Since a 4-1 start behind Rodgers, the Packers have dropped four of five to fall to .500 at 5-5. Eight teams are ahead of them in the playoff picture in the NFC, and they are two-touchdown underdogs entering Sunday night's game against the 8-2 Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Packers thought Hundley might have turned a corner with two clutch fourth-quarter throws during a 23-16 victory at Chicago on Nov. 12, a 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams and a 42-yard third-down strike to Adams as the Packers tried to run out the clock.
But whatever progress he showed in that game was undone with a series of poor decisions against the Ravens. For the season, Hundley is now 96 of 158 (60.8 percent) for 940 yards with two touchdowns, seven interceptions and 17 sacks with a 63.2 rating.
"I can't expect to be perfect," Hundley said. "But at the end of the day, I can expect to be better than this. And I will be going forward."
The Packers moved the ball effectively on the opening drive against Baltimore, only to see the possession end without points when veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith came off his man to bait Hundley into an interception on a throw for a seemingly wide-open Randall Cobb in the end zone. On the ensuing series, Hundley threw another interception, heaving a downfield pass while under duress that safety Eric Weddle easily brought in.
Later, Hundley lost a fumble on a sack and threw one last interception that led to the Ravens' clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"I've just got to be better, no matter if that's running or just making something happen out there," Hundley said. ...
It should be noted the Packers actually won the yardage battle. The name of the game, however, is points. And the Packers aren't scoring enough to win games or satisfy fantasy owners.
Zero points certainly won't cut it for anybody. ...
The Packers (5-5) have a few more winnable games in the coming weeks before Rodgers would be eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 15, although Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh doesn't seem like one of them. More performances like this one, however, and there would be no reason for Rodgers to come back this season just to play out the string for a non-playoff team.
Other notes of interest. ... McCarthy had intended to use Mays more extensively than his three carries for minus-1 yard, but he benched him after his second-quarter fumble -- the Packers' third turnover in as many possessions to start the game. Mays' next carry came with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game, and backup tackle Jason Spriggs recovered it. Mays stayed in the game and carried on the next play for a 1-yard gain.
"With Jamaal Williams, I was concerned as far as his number of touches," McCarthy said. "I had a number in mind, but Devante Mays, I also had a number in mind for him and after the fumble I lost confidence in him. I have to get [over] that. I can't do that in the game."
Williams, who grinded out tough yards a week earlier against the Bears after Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery (ribs) were injured, carried 18 times for 57 yards against the Ravens.
The Packers may have to use the same backfield combination this week at Pittsburgh. Montgomery did not practice all last week and Jones' diagnosis was a 3-6 week injury, although he seemed convinced it would be on the short end of that timeline.
"My rehab's going well," said Jones, who is the Packers' leading rusher this season. "My knee's feeling good. So I've just got to stay with that, and I'm hoping sooner than later."
Jones has problems beyond that, however.
He is facing three charges and possible NFL discipline after an arrest Oct. 1 during a traffic stop, according to Wisconsin Circuit Court records: Operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in his system, speeding (24 mph over the posted speed limit of 55) and operating a vehicle without a valid license.
Jones' arrest occurred a week before his breakout game at Dallas on Oct. 8. He entered a plea of not guilty last Wednesday. ...
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson continued to struggle without Rodgers. Nelson caught just two passes for 24 yards against Baltimore, and has only eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns in the last four games. And when Hundley targeted Nelson, his passer rating was just 15.8.
Fortunately, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, the Hundley to Adams connection remains strong. Adams has 10, five, 10, eight and 10 targets in the games since Hundley stepped in for Rodgers. ...
For the record, Montgomery, defensive tackle Kenny Clark (ankle) and linebacker Clay Matthews (groin) will rehab Wednesday, while cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) is expected to practice.
I'll be following up on Montgomery via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Tra Carson, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
Head coach Bill O'Brien said Monday that he doesn't expect D'Onta Foreman to play again this season, the latest blow to a Texans team riddled with injuries.
Foreman sustained what the team called a left ankle injury on Sunday after scoring his second fourth-quarter touchdown in a 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals which ended a three-game skid.
O'Brien insisted on Monday that he didn't have a lot of details on the running back's injury but added that: "It probably doesn't look great (for him) to be able to play."
On Wednesday, however, that clarity came as Foreman was placed on injured reserve.
The rookie joined defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and quarterback Deshaun Watson on injured reserve.
Foreman, who won the Doak Walker Award last season at Texas as the top collegiate running back, has seen limited playing time this season. His best game came on Sunday when he ran for a career-high 65 yards with his first two touchdowns.
"D'Onta was starting to really play well," O'Brien said. "He's a big guy, a real tough, physical runner, good out of the backfield, in the passing game. Was really starting to understand our offense so it's ... tough for him. But he's a young player, he'll be back."
His injury comes after the Texans (4-6) got their offense going for the first time since Watson was injured on Nov. 2. Houston had scored 30 or more points in a franchise-record five straight games before Watson sustained a season-ending knee injury.
Tom Savage was only able to lead the offense to two touchdowns combined in two losses in the first two games after Watson was hurt.
Savage shook off two early turnovers on Sunday to throw for a career-best two touchdowns and help the Texans end their losing streak and stay in playoff contention.
"He was not discouraged at all," O'Brien said. "He was great on the sideline and came back and I thought he played a really good, tough football game."
Savage said the key to his success on Sunday was forgetting the problems he had in the past two games and early against the Cardinals and remaining convinced that he could do better than he had shown so far.
"You're not going to get anywhere by sulking or holding your head down," he said. "As a quarterback, your team needs you out there to be the leader, so I am going to just go out there and keep slinging it and play confident. That's really all I can do. I am confident in myself. I know I can do it."
O'Brien said Savage was aided on Sunday by other members of the offense playing better. He pointed to Houston running for 134 yards and singled out receivers Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington for playing great against the Cardinals.
"A lot of guys around him played well. ... I think that helped Tom," O'Brien said. "Guys around him playing well and then he had confidence once he started hitting some throws. So I think Tom did a good job."
Of course, Savage's success was also helped by the continued great play of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He ranks third in the NFL with 879 yards receiving and his nine touchdown receptions lead the league.
In Sunday's victory, Savage continued to lean on Hopkins, who had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown going against the Cardinals' top cornerback, Patrick Peterson. Hopkins was targeted a team-high nine times and leads the league with nine touchdown catches this season.
After the game, Savage called Hopkins "the best receiver in the league."
"[Hopkins is] our go-to guy," O'Brien said. "That's obvious, and I thought a couple of those catches that were not catches were close. People really focus on him."
The Texans will look to build on Sunday's success as they prepare for a visit to Baltimore next Monday night.
O'Brien said they might need to sign a running back to fill in for Foreman, but that he expects to have Alfred Blue back after he missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.
Blue has played sparingly this season as Houston relied on Lamar Miller and Foreman. But he has a history of filling in for injured players and has 1,689 yards rushing in four seasons with the team.
The Texans also have running back Jordan Todman on the active roster, but he's only been used on special teams as a returner.
In addition, they also claimed the former Cardinals running back Andre Ellington off of waivers a day after Arizona dropped him from the roster. ...
Meanwhile, at 4-6, the Texans have an uphill climb to make the playoffs -- there are five other 4-6 teams and two 5-5 teams competing for an AFC wild-card spot -- but Savage said he hopes this was a step in the right direction.
"I think we are finally hopefully going to get on a little rhythm here and let this thing snowball a little bit," Savage said. "It was good to show everyone we can do that. ..."
Also worth noting. ... The Texans' defense showed improvement, as two of Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert's touchdown passes came on short fields in the second quarter: one drive that started at the Houston 15 after Savage was strip-sacked, and another, two drives later, that started at the Houston 17 after Savage's lone interception.
The unit -- which entered the game ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed per game -- held the Cardinals to 48 yards on 18 carries. ...
Also of interest. ... Texans wide receiver Will Fuller's status is still being figured out for Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Fuller is recovering from a cracked rib and was sidelined Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Fuller did not practice on Wednesday.
"That'll be touch and go," O'Brien said when asked about his availability. "I'm not sure."
Hopkins was not seen on the field to open practice Wednesday, but that's not unusual. Still, I'll follow up on Hopkins and Fuller via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Meanwhile, Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson is in the NFL concussion protocol after suffering a head injury Sunday and leaving the game.
"Kevin, I would say is in the protocol," O'Brien said. "We'll know better about that as the week goes on."
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
The Colts are four games back in the AFC South and two behind in the wild-card race. Only three teams have fewer wins, and star quarterback Andrew Luck is out for the season.
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot reported, while the natural inclination outside the locker room is to start looking ahead to a potentially busy offseason, the Colts are focused on a strong finish.
"We've got a slate of three division games, which are always important. It's going to be a good run," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said Monday. "You get late in the season, it's kind of when teams start to show who they really are. Hopefully we'll be able to show that we're better than what we've shown so far."
Indianapolis (3-7), which was off last weekend, has some recent history when it comes to late rallies.
After losing its first 13 games in 2011, Indy won twice in five days before dropping the finale on its way to the No. 1 draft pick.
Two years ago, Indy won its last two games to avoid a losing season, taking the finale with two quarterbacks signed off the street in Week 17.
Last year, the Colts won two of their last three to finish 8-8, but fell one win short of the playoffs.
Head coach Chuck Pagano thinks his team is poised for another strong conclusion. He points to a defense that has strung together three straight solid games and an offense that has put together some positive results over the last month.
"You look at us defensively the last three weeks, we've played as good of defense as we've played since we've been here," he said.
What the Colts have lacked is a knockout punch. Had they protected second-half leads against Arizona, Tennessee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, they might be in position for a surprise playoff run.
But Pagano won't play the what-if game.
"The record is what the record is. We've got to finish, period," he said. "We've played good football. We need to finish. When you look at it all, we've had opportunities. We've had leads going in at the end of ballgames and we haven't finished. We've got to find a way to finish."
The Colts could get some help for Sunday's game against Tennessee (6-4). Linebacker John Simon is expected to play after missing the last three games with a neck injury, and safety Clayton Geathers could make his season debut.
Geathers went on the physically unable to perform list before the season opener because of a neck injury. Geathers, who finished last season on injured reserve, is eager to see what he can do.
"Whenever I get that first hit, it's going to be emotional," he said. "You don't know until you get that first one out of the way."
Pagano also expects to have quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the lineup after he took most of the snaps at Monday's practice while still in the concussion protocol.
Brissett was injured after getting hit in the head during a Week 10 loss to Pittsburgh. Brissett was first checked on the sideline and then was allowed to return to the game.
Afterward, Brissett re-entered the protocol because of concussion-like symptoms. League officials have said the Colts went through the proper steps on the sideline examination.
Brissett is 3-6 since replacing Scott Tolzien as the starter.
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells pointed out, despite taking most of the season to learn his new team's offense, Brissett has thrown for 2,172 yards and nine touchdowns. He's the first Colts player to have four touchdown passes of at least 60 yards in a season since Johnny Unitas did it in 1966.
Brissett has an 86.7 passer rating. That's the good news. He has also has been sacked a league-leading 35 times. Part of that is on inconsistent offensive line play. But part of that is also on Brissett for being indecisive with some of his throws and hanging on to the football too long.
Quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer, asked about the hits Brissett has absorbed this season, replied: "He realizes some of those hits are because of him not being decisive enough. And that's something he's working to get better at.""
No matter who hits for the field for the Colts, they will be looking for a strong finish -- against the Titans and for the rest of the season.
After Sunday's home game with Tennessee, the Colts will be on the road for three of their next five games. Indianapolis will play at Jacksonville Dec. 3, Buffalo Dec. 10 and Baltimore Dec. 23. The team's remaining two home games are Dec. 14 vs. Denver and Dec. 31 vs. Houston. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Frank Gore continues to play well. In what may be his last season with the team, Gore has rushed for a team-best 509 yards on 144 carries and has a pair of touchdowns. Rookie Marlon Mack has displayed some dash plays as he became the Colts' primary backup due to the season-ending elbow injury suffered by Robert Turbin.
Mack has run for 219 yards on 59 carries and two touchdowns. Brissett has added 154 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, the Colts have rushed for 959 yards and are averaging 3.5 yards per carry. ...
Receivers coach Sanjay Lal says wide receiver Donte Moncrief needs to be consistent.
"Hot and cold (this season), to be honest. Shows flashes. He knows it, I know it. We continually strive to get him playing at a high level consistently," Lal said.
"I'll say this: Donte tries. He's one of the most attentive in the meetings. He watches film. He wants to be good. It's just a process that he has to rely on his physical gifts more than he does. Sometimes he overthinks what's happening out there on the field before it does happen, in terms of coverages, what's the (defensive back) going to do."
What about Chester Rogers, who had a big Week 10?
As Wells noted, Rogers was the Colts' best receiver not named T.Y. Hilton during training camp. But then Rogers suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss most of the preseason and the first five games of the regular season. Rogers, who caught his first career touchdown against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, has moved ahead of Kamar Aiken as the No. 3 receiver and will keep the pressure on Moncrief to be the No. 2 as long as he can stay healthy.
"He's got to be able to do it over a long period of time and stay available and start stacking week after week after week after week," Pagano said. "Knock on wood -- stay healthy, stay out there, stay competing and play at a high level just like that. That's got to be constant now. That can't be here and then here."
Tight end Erik Swoope, who has been out since training camp with a knee injury, returned to practice Monday and has a good chance to be activated for the Tennessee game. ... Tight end Darrell Daniels is day to day with an injured hamstring. ...
I'll follow up on their status -- as well as that of Brissett, who was practicing fully Wednesday -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin
TEs: Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Cleveland Browns 19-7 on Sunday to take a one-game lead in the AFC South. And while it was a jubilant locker room, ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco notes that head coach Doug Marrone and several players all said the same thing: Winning ugly is great, but it's not sustainable.
The second half of the season is when teams are supposed to gather momentum for the playoff push, but dumb mistakes and injuries to key players on the offensive line have had the Jaguars (7-3) stuck in survival mode the past two games. They won both games -- which is something multiple players have said wouldn't have happened last season -- but they know they have to start playing better.
"I talked to them afterwards, [and I told them] I think we've got to clean some things up to be able to push forward, to start going in that direction," Marrone said. "I told the players, 'I hate to be Debbie Downer, but we've got to clean some things up if we want to move forward in the direction that we want to move in.'"
That would be winning the AFC South and making the playoffs for the first time since 2007 -- and doing some damage once they get there. For now, though, the Jaguars will take ugly victories because it obviously beats the alternative.
On offense, quarterback Blake Bortles threw the ball pretty well against the Browns, considering the chilly conditions -- and the fact that he didn't have No. 2 receiver Allen Hurns -- but he lost a fumble, which has been an issue throughout his career. The offense had 284 yards, but 206 of them came in the first half. The unit sputtered in the second half when the run game couldn't get going. The offensive line struggled to create much room, and the Jaguars felt the loss of Hurns in the pass game.
Special teams were a mess in the first half, too. The Jaguars gave up a 53-yard return on the opening kickoff, committed an illegal-formation penalty on a punt, got a 21-yard punt from Brad Nortman and had an offside penalty on Donald Payne that wiped out an onside kick that Josh Lambo had recovered.
That's not all. Jaydon Mickens also dropped a punt (which he recovered), and Lambo missed a 41-yard field goal after he had gone 8-for-8 since signing with the team on Oct. 17.
Those kinds of mistakes on special teams didn't hurt the Jaguars against the Browns, but they will against better competition -- and in the playoffs, when every mistake is magnified.
Getting healthy at key spots will help, especially on the offensive line. Right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee) missed his second consecutive game. Left guard Patrick Omameh (quad) left the victory over the Los Angeles Chargers early and didn't play against the Browns. Bortles was harassed in the pocket all day and was sacked twice.
Running back Leonard Fournette played after he was listed as questionable with a right-ankle injury. While he did rush for 111 yards, he didn't look as good on Sunday as he did during the season's first six games.
Fournette was listed as questionable to play. He tweaked his ankle last Sunday against the Chargers, was limited during practices on both Wednesday and Thursday, and then held out on Friday.
After the game, Fournette acknowledged for the first time that he's probably going to have to play through his nagging ankle injury for the remainder of the season and his workload will likely continue to be limited during the week before game days.
Fournette initially sprained his right ankle during a Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at EverBank Field and it forced him to miss the following week's game at Indianapolis.
"The best way for me to get it healed is to rest and I don't have that much time," Fournette said. "I just have to keep working on getting my ankle back -- that's all. I think (Marrone) and running backs coach (Tyrone Wheatley) have a great plan throughout the week to keep me fresh. That's about it."
Fournette said he played with the same injury at LSU, but that was his left ankle, so he thinks he'll be fine.
Next up for Fournette is a Cardinals defense that allowed three total scores to the Texans running backs in Week 11.
Meanwhile, it wasn't 200 yards, but rookie receiver Dede Westbrook had an okay day in his NFL debut.
The good: Westbrook caught three passes for 35 yards on six targets and did get robbed of another catch because of a replay review.
The bad: He fumbled after one catch but, luckily for the Jaguars, the ball bounced out of bounds, and the offense maintained possession.
Overall, though, the experience was everything Westbrook had hoped it would be. He had been anticipating the moment for the past two months while he was recovering from core muscle surgery. One minor thing, though.
"The only thing is it was just really, really cold and me being as skinny as I am that takes a toll," Westbrook said. "But other than that [the experience was what he hoped]."
Marrone said he would have to review the tape to see just how well Westbrook played, but he was pleased with the way Westbrook handled the moment.
"The one thing that I'm happy with is that it's not too big," Marrone said. "Westbrook came in there and made a big play down the sideline. He had the opportunity to make another play, but I'm happy with seeing that type of confidence."
Westbrook obviously would have liked to have had more catches -- remember he said he expected a 200-yard game -- but he was happy with how the day turned out.
"Of course it's always great coming into the locker room after the win," he said.
Of course, Westbrook's debut shouldn't overshadow the fact that Marqise Lee has target totals of 12, 11 and nine over his last three games. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Lee has been a real volume hog of late and even if he's not the most efficient player, is seeing the type of workload that makes him an every-week flex consideration.
Westbrook finished third behind Lee and Keelan Cole in playing time (44 percent) and saw six targets. Those share will diminish when Hurns returns. It's now clear, however, when the veteran will be back.
Hurns and kicker Josh Lambo (right hip) were not expected to practice Wednesday.
I'll have more on their status when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker, Nick Foles
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee, CJ Board
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Seth DeValve, Josh Oliver, Ben Koyack, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, on the Kansas City Chiefs' first drive of Sunday's game, quarterback Alex Smith rolled to his left and had a passing lane to tight end Travis Kelce down that side of the field.
Smith's throw, though, never came close to its intended target and in hindsight should have been viewed as a sign this wasn't going to be his day.
Sure enough, Smith failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season and the Chiefs were held to three measly field goals in their 12-9 overtime loss to the New York Giants.
"Does he have a couple of throws he would like to have back? Yes, I think he would," coach Andy Reid said. "[But] it's not just Alex as you look at that. We all have a piece of that thing."
Smith entered the game as the NFL's highest-rated passer. He didn't play as well as he did early in the season, when the Chiefs were winning and Smith was being mentioned as an MVP candidate. The Kelce throw was a difficult one as he was throwing across his body and battling a gusty wind.
But he missed on some other throws as well. Even his longest pass of the game, a 38-yarder to Tyreek Hill, could have been a touchdown had he led the receiver, who was ahead of the coverage.
The pass instead was underthrown. Hill had to stop and make a spectacular catch for the Chiefs to get the completion.
"I had a couple I felt like I really wish I had back, all for different reasons," Smith said. "Whether you see something that's not there or certainly just an accuracy issue and a bad ball, different things, certainly a handful.
"When you lose, those get magnified. Those hurt even more when you go watch them. You just wonder, what if?"
Smith had his first multi-interception game of the season. He threw two, one on a shovel pass intended for Kelce that after the game he said he could have made a better choice on.
Overall, it wasn't the stuff of an MVP candidate. Smith completed 27 of 40 passes but for just 230 yards. His yards per attempt was 5.85, his lowest of the season.
Combined with the two interceptions, Smith had his lowest passer rating of the season, 61.5. It was only his third game of the season under 100.
That it happened against the Giants, who entered the game ranked in the bottom 10 of every significant defensive statistical category and allowed 82 points over their previous two games, made it even worse. Just one better throw, perhaps on the first drive to Kelce or the deep ball to Hill, might have flipped the defeat into a victory.
In fact, unless the ball went to Kelce or Hill, the Chiefs couldn't move the ball through the air. The Chiefs whiffed on three trips inside the red zone, a touchdown on any of which wins the game. Failing to get a touchdown from Kelce against the worst team in the league defending the end zone against tight ends is an unpardonable sin.
"I think it's disappointing in the sense that our defense held them to nine points [in regulation] and in this league that should be good enough to win," Smith said. "They're a good defense, though. They're extremely talented, about as talented as they come. ... Just because they played certain ways versus other opponents doesn't necessarily correlate to how they're going to play you and how they're going to match up."
Still, as Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, this is the same Chiefs team that trounced the Patriots in New England, and beat the potent Philadelphia Eagles at Arrowhead Stadium.
Smith is the same quarterback, even if neither has been playing like it the past six weeks.
"We know that's not our style of football," Kelce said. "We just have to come together. Don't let this pull us apart. Alex said to circle the wagons. Get everybody together."
Getting some guys back on the field would help, too.
The Chiefs' defense was missing pass rushers Dee Ford and Tamba Hali and run-stuffing defensive lineman Allen Bailey to injuries.
Smith was down two of his top three wide receivers with Chris Conley out for the season and Albert Wilson missing another game with a hamstring injury.
Rarely does a team come off a bye with so many missing pieces.
"I'll tell you we've got young guys out there that are learning and getting better as they go on, and we're still able to do things with them out there," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on a conference call Monday. "But again, it's new for them and you know -- I still feel very positive about it."
There are other reasons for the Chiefs (6-4) to remain positive.
They weren't hurt by the loss to the Giants, at least in terms of the standings. The Raiders were blown out by the Patriots at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, and the Broncos were beaten at home by the Bengals. The Chargers won, but they're still tied with Oakland two games back of the Chiefs.
The schedule doesn't get any tougher for Kansas City, either.
It starts with the freefalling Bills visiting Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, continues with a trip back to the Meadowlands to face the Jets, and includes the Dolphins along with the three AFC West games.
In other words, the Chiefs have ample opportunity to get their mojo back.
"We're off by one tick on a play and unfortunately that's cost us," Reid said. "We have to get out of that. We have to all pull together. We have to pull that rope in the tug-of-war in the right direction here. We do that we're going to be OK. But you have to dance the same dance.
"If you have a mistake here and there," he said, "bad things happen. ..."
The Chiefs rushed for a solid 134 yards on the ground and Kareem Hunt averaged a decent 4 yards per carry. But penalties wiped out 27 rushing yards from Hunt and another 12-yard reception that killed any momentum the Chiefs hoped to build. Hunt had just four rushes in the first half, even as the Chiefs struggled to control the clock and move the ball through the air on a windy day.
The good news? Hunt next gets to face a Bills defense that has been dominated by opposing running backs of late. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "If he can't put together a good fantasy day in that game, then it's time to panic. ..."
Receiver Albert Wilson missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury. Wilson initially sustained a sprained knee in Week 5 against the Houston Texans, and the two injuries have limited him since then. His availability for Buffalo remains in doubt.
And finally. ... The Chiefs signed CB Darrelle Revis. More on that in coming days.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
Mondays with head coach Anthony Lynn include his keen reviews of the Los Angeles Chargers' previous game.
But not on this Monday.
"We just don't have the time," Lynn said. "We leave Wednesday morning for Dallas, so we were on to the Cowboys last night."
The Chargers were watching the team with a star on its helmet after a heavenly performance against the Buffalo Bills just hours before. Los Angeles mauled the Bills, 54-24, thanks in part to the defense forcing six turnovers.
"They created turnovers and the offense, for the most part, took advantage of those turnovers and got into a little bit of a flow," Lynn said.
The Chargers, who face the Cowboys on Thursday, scored on seven straight drives on Sunday after missing an early field goal. Before the Bills game, the offense had scored on consecutive possessions just five times all season and only once since Week 5.
"I felt a little bit that we were letting our defense down," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Here they are holding (opponents) to under 24 points almost every week and we're winning three games."
That number stands at four with the Chargers turning in their most complete performance of the season. It came on a day in which all the other AFC West teams lost, catapulting the Chargers to within two games of the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs.
"We definitely need to make a run right here," defensive end Joey Bosa said. "I think the short week rolling into Dallas will actually be good for us."
Good thing the coaches didn't dwell too long on the Bills.
"We don't have time for that," Lynn said, and with that, he quickly left the podium. ...
But make no mistake: The offense finally played to its potential in Sunday's win.
And, as ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, the emergence of Keenan Allen was at the center of the Chargers' resurgent effort. The Cal product finished with 12 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 13 targets, as Rivers consistently looked for Allen throughout the game.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was Allen's first career game with at least 150 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns, and he became the first Charger since Vince Jackson in 2011 to accomplish that feat (172 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns).
"Once the ball gets to me early and I get it in my hands, I'm already in my zone," Allen said. "I'm already talking to Philip saying, 'Hey we can get them on this, we can get them on that.' I just try to get into the best position after that.'"
Lynn said Allen is down from 218 pounds during training camp to 207 now, and he is fully healthy after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee at the start of the 2016 season.
"That was the matchup," Lynn said about Allen's big game. "We liked the matchup on the field with Keenan Allen and their corner. Keenan had a hell of a game."
Top-pick Mike Williams played more than 40 snaps, his most extensive work since returning from a back injury. "I think he has shown why he was the No. 7 pick in the draft," Lynn said. "He did some physical things really well. He has gotten better and better every week."
Williams, who has been limited by a sore knee in practice this week, had five catches for 38 yards. He is officially listed as questionable for Thursdays game along with fellow wideout Travis Benjamin (abdomen). I'll obviously follow up on their status through resolution in the 90 mintues leading up to kickoff (watch the Late-Breaking News section of the site for that info). ...
Entering Sunday's contest, the Chargers were No. 29 in the NFL in third-down efficiency at 33.9 percent, but against the Bills, they finished 7 of 14 (50 percent) on third down.
One of the reasons for that success is that the Chargers did a better job on first down. They still ran the ball eight out of 12 times on first down but averaged 6 yards per play when doing so.
Because the defense forced six turnovers, the Chargers had better field position, with an average starting drive of their own 44-yard line.
"We had a better flow to us," Rivers said about the offense. "We all played a little better. I don't know that there's a magic formula that we used today. The defense played great, and we didn't turn it over. We didn't kill ourselves with any silly penalties."
For what it's worth. ... Rivers admitted he was in "uncharted territory" when he self-reported concussion-like symptoms leading to Sunday's game. "Anything with the neck down I tend to be pretty reckless with," he said. "But the head is something I don't want to mess with."
Rivers said he thought of his "wife and eight babies" and decided to put his hand up. All ended up well, and Rivers is glad he made that first step. Rivers started his 186th straight regular-season game, the NFL's second-longest streak among quarterbacks, eclipsed only by Eli Manning (209).
Rivers threw for two touchdowns and they came without a turnover as he didn't force any passes or hold on to the ball too long. Rivers' protection was keen, and that came with two backup tackles supplying the help on the edge. It was a solid game here.
Melvin Gordon ran with a more physical presence as he lowered his shoulder on occasion to pick up an extra yard or two after contact. He added a rushing touchdown in gaining 80 yards on 20 carries. Austin Ekeler continues to show he warrants touches and he produced a 6.7-yard average on six carries, with a touchdown. The line opened holes against a tired defense that was on the field way too long.
Gordon passed Gary Anderson for 10th all-time on the Chargers rushing list. ... As a team, the Chargers rushed for 146 yards on 35 carries for an average of 4.2 yards per carry. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, "There just might be room for two fantasy running backs in the Chargers' backfield and that situation will cap Gordon's ceiling down the stretch."
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, Dontrelle Inman
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez noted, Todd Gurley was finding holes, Sammy Watkins was getting involved and the play-action game was working beautifully. The Los Angeles Rams' resurgent offense began its biggest game of the season by humming along amid the noise at a raucous U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Rams had outscored their past three opponents by a combined 93 points, and their opening drive seemed to signal the start of another scoring onslaught.
It wound up being an outlier.
A Vikings defense that ranked within the top five in yards and points allowed stifled the Rams' offense for the 56 minutes that remained in Sunday's highly anticipated matchup. The Rams gained 179 yards, picked up 10 first downs and scored zero points after their opening drive, the backdrop in a deflating 24-7 loss that dropped their record to 7-3.
"A lot of teams kind of do well in that first drive," Gurley said. "It kind of messes with you because you think you're going to do good the rest of the game. Obviously, we didn't."
And because they didn't, the Rams played with a razor-thin margin for error; slim enough that two injuries to their cornerbacks and two mistakes by their rookie receiver did them in.
At the four-minute mark of the second quarter, Cooper Kupp caught a short pass from Jared Goff on a slant route but fumbled at the Vikings' 1-yard line, giving the Rams their first turnover in a span of four weeks. On third-and-10 at the Vikings' 49 early in the third quarter, Goff made an accurate deep throw down the middle of the field to Kupp, his favorite third-down target, but Kupp dropped it.
"There are plays that I want back," Kupp said. "There are plays I wish I would've made."
The dagger came five plays after Kupp's fourth drop of the season.
Coming off back-to-back games of 300-plus yards, three or more touchdowns and zero interceptions, Goff went 23-of-37 for 225 yards, but he was hit five times and was hurried constantly. Gurley, the NFC's leader in scrimmage yards heading in, picked up only 25 yards after the opening drive.
In addition, Goff went just 1-of-7 on attempts of 15-plus yards Sunday, a career-low (with a minimum of five attempts). According to ESPN Stats and Information, Goff has completed 26.7 percent of such passes for 8.0 yards per attempt in the Rams' losses this season, compared to 56.5 percent and 17.4 yards per attempt in wins.
The Rams entered the game averaging an NFL-best 118 yards in the third quarter, but managed only 27 on Sunday. They went 3-for-11 on third down, held the ball for a season-low 22:38 and were limited to a mere 45 rushing yards.
Fast start aside, the NFL's highest-scoring team was suffocated in its biggest game of the season.
"We didn't do enough things to win the football game, and it starts with me," first-year coach Sean McVay said, blaming himself for not putting his offense in better situations. "We talk about it every single week, how you've got to be ready to go because it is a very humbling league. We definitely got humbled today by a very good team."
Meanwhile, the Rams, relatively healthy throughout the course of their upstart season, will now be without their most productive receiver for at least the next two games.
Robert Woods sprained his left shoulder late in Sunday's loss and McVay said Monday that he is "probably going to be out a couple weeks."
The Rams hope it's no more than that, but McVay called the two-week timeline an "optimistic approach." McVay added "there was a chance" Woods' shoulder injury could've required surgery and jeopardized his season, "but I think we got good, positive news back on that."
Woods leads the Rams in targets (70), receptions (47) and receiving yards (703), and is tied with Watkins for the team lead among receivers in touchdowns (four).
McVay called it "a big loss."
"Clearly from a production standpoint the last couple of weeks, you're losing a significant player," McVay said of Woods, who has compiled 16 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games. "But I think what he represents, week in and week out, just by the way that he goes about his business, as well. He contributes; he plays like a complete receiver -- underneath, intermediate, down the field. That's a significant loss for us. But there are guys that we do have confidence to step up and fill that void."
The Rams will have to make up for Woods' absence "by committee," McVay said.
Watkins and Kupp will probably draw more targets, but the likes of Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds and Mike Thomas could factor in, as well.
Someone else who will probably be a lot more involved is Tavon Austin, the fifth-year Rams receiver who has been used mainly as a backfield decoy and had only two offensive snaps on Sunday.
Austin's role will now be "a combination" of being a threat out of the backfield and lining up as a traditional receiver, McVay said. Lance Dunbar, a change-of-pace running back, could theoretically replicate what Austin was doing out of the backfield. But Dunbar has been serving as Gurley's backup while Malcolm Brown rehabs from an MCL injury.
The Rams rank second in the NFL with an average of 30.3 points per game, but they have also benefited from having all of their offensive starters healthy for each of their first 10 games.
That will now change.
"When guys get injured, that calls for the next man up," McVay said. "And that's what you see around the league. We have been fortunate in that manner, that we haven't had a lot of guys miss games that have been in those starting roles. But it looks like that's going to end up occurring. ..."
Also worth noting. ... It didn't help on Sunday that the Rams lost starting cornerback Kayvon Webster to concussion protocol and then backup Nickell Robey-Coleman went down with a thigh injury forcing Blake Countess and Dominique Hatfield into duty. The results were about as expected with the Vikings going right at the two young reserves.
If Webster and Robey-Coleman are out for an extended time, that's a problem.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
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 21 November 2017
As the Associated Press suggested, double-negative answers to quarterback questions are rarely a good sign, and that's all Adam Gase could offer Monday.
Jay Cutler's availability for Sunday's game at New England is uncertain because he remains in the NFL's concussion protocol as of Wednesday, but if healthy, he's still the starter.
"There's no reason for me to say he's not," Gase said.
A tepid endorsement is understandable, giving the direction of the Dolphins (4-6), who have lost four games in a row. Cutler threw three interceptions in Sunday's home loss against Tampa Bay before he left at halftime because of his injury.
Cutler, with his 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and 82.7 passer rating (28th in NFL), hasn't yet provided much of a spark to an offense that's 31st in scoring (15.7 points per game).
Matt Moore threw for 282 yards and a score in the second half. But Moore's claim for No. 1 consideration was undercut when he started for an injured Cutler three weeks ago at Baltimore and Miami lost 40-0.
The QB issue might be moot this week. Gase said he had no idea whether Cutler is likely to receive medical clearance.
Whoever starts against the Patriots, the Dolphins will be the weekend's biggest underdogs as they try to end a streak of eight consecutive losses at New England by a combined score of 255-109.
"We can't worry about who we're playing," Gase said. "We've got to worry about getting ourselves better."
The Dolphins faced the Bucs without linebacker Rey Maualuga, waived Saturday hours after his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge. Undrafted rookie Chase Allen started for Maualuga and didn't have a tackle.
"Right now we're playing the guys that are available," Gase said.
The Dolphins had five turnovers and are a minus-9 in turnover differential this season, tied for third worst in the NFL. They also committed 17 penalties, one shy of the franchise record.
"We had a ridiculous amount of lost yardage," Gase said.
One bit of good news: The Dolphins no longer rank last in scoring. They climbed ahead of winless Cleveland into 31st place at 15.7 points per game.
But with two games looming against the Patriots in a 16-day span, and December games at Buffalo and at Kansas City, the path to .500 -- much less the playoffs -- appears daunting.
"It'll be a test, for sure," Moore said. "There is no magic potion. You need to come to work, get better, learn the scheme, execute the scheme and move forward, and that's it. That's the only thing we can do. I've got faith that these guys will do that."
With six games left, the Dolphins have already matched last year's regular-season loss total, and they're on the verge of their longest losing streak since 2011.
If the season can be salvaged, Sunday's game would be a good place to start.
But the truth is the Dolphins likely won't be playing in January. And according to ESPN.com's James Walker, that means the time is now for them to find out which players will stick around. Miami must get its younger players more involved on both sides of the football to get them experience. There are some tough roster decisions looming for the Dolphins.
It'll be interesting to see how it plays out going forward.
I will be, of course, following up on Cutler's progress closely via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
In the meantime, if Moore plays we all know who his primary target is: Receiver Kenny Stills caught seven passes for a career-best 180 yards -- matching the seventh-most by a receiver in Miami history. He also hauled in the 61-yard touchdown pass from Moore late in the fourth quarter to get the Dolphins even.
Stills' previous career best was 162 yards at Pittsburgh on Nov. 30, 2014.
Moore and Stills also shared a strong connection last season in Moore's starts. Better still, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Stills played 92 percent of the plays in Week 11 and is always on the field.
Stills now has 40 receptions for 588 yards (14.7 yards per reception) and five touchdowns.
Regardless of the QB, Jarvis Landry continues to enjoy considerable volume. Week 11 was his eighth game this season with double-digit targets. Scoring his sixth touchdown this season, Landry has now eclipsed his previous career-high. ...
After the trade of Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi, Miami's running game has produced a string of long runs. The Dolphins had their third consecutive game with a rush of 44 yards or more. On Sunday, starting tailback Damien Williams produced a 69-yard run, which tied for Miami's longest run of the season. Kenyan Drake (seven carries, four yards) didn't have a good day against Tampa Bay. Drake only had one reception for 10 yards meaning he had 14 yards from scrimmage on eight touches.
In the two previous games, Drake had runs of 44 and 69 yards. Miami's running game overall wasn't consistent, but the team is hitting a few home runs.
Which is a problem for fantasy owners trying to determine which guy to roll with on any given Sunday. ...
Miami had 17 penalties for 123 yards in Sunday's 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay. One, a pass interference against tight end Anthony Fasano, negated a touchdown (Miami settled for a field goal). Another, a holding call against guard Jermon Bushrod, negated a 48-yard completion.
Bushrod and left tackle Laremy Tunsil were flagged three times apiece.
"It's correctable," Gase said of the penalties. "It was disappointing it increased when we made the (quarterback) switch at halftime. For whatever reason, we got a little out of sorts as far as what's going on with the cadence."
Miami is second in the league in penalties with 84 and fourth in penalty yards with 635.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Mark Walton, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird
WRs: Preston Williams, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted this week, if Case Keenum wasn't thrust into the starting quarterback role because injury issues kept the other starters sidelined, would he still have to prove that he has done enough to keep his job on a week-to-week basis?
If that storyline about a backup holding the seat warm for the guy who could be the franchise quarterback weren't the scenario, would we even be talking about the Vikings' quarterback situation?
In the Vikings' 24-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams, Keenum threw for 280 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen, and didn't turn the ball over. This came a week after he had a career-best four-touchdown day on the road in Washington.
Here's the bottom line: Minnesota is winning games with Keenum as its starting quarterback, and he's a catalyst more than he's someone along for the ride.
So, Cronin added, "Let's put the 'Who's going to start next week?' narrative to rest. At least until he does something that warrants a switch. Because right now, it'd be tough to seriously consider a move, despite the longer-term challenge this quarterback situation poses."
The Vikings realize this.
"It's going to be hard to yank him out of there right now," head coach Mike Zimmer said when asked how Keenum's play affects his plan with Teddy Bridgewater. "He's playing good. I still have really high hopes for Teddy. You know a lot of things happen throughout the course of this season, so we'll just see how it goes."
Although he confirmed Keenum will start this week, Zimmer doesn't sound like he's close to naming him the outright starter. But judging by the performances Keenum has turned in on a weekly basis, the quarterback doesn't need that title.
In fact, when asked if his play warrants being named the starter for the rest of the season, Keenum offered up this insight.
"If it's not broke, don't fix it," Keenum said. "It's [Zimmer's] decision. I'm here to play. However he wants to do [it], I'm here. I want to be the best player for this team. I'm going to keep doing what I do every week and keep answering the same questions and keep getting ready to play."
Keenum has gotten into a rhythm since his emergency Week 2 start, with his mobility at the centerpiece of what has been working.
The quarterback entered Week 11 with the highest QBR against the blitz (94) and made the Rams pay for sending in extra defenders. Los Angeles blitzed a season-high 20 times Sunday, and Keenum was 15-of-20 for 191 yards, including his touchdown to Thielen, when facing the blitz, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
He has shined in these situations, particularly in Minnesota, completing 70.1 percent of his passes against the blitz and holding a 5-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home.
Even before that fourth-quarter touchdown pass which all but sealed the game, Keenum combined his mobility with his ability to escape to set up the Vikings' first scoring drive.
At the end of the first quarter, Keenum's Houdini-like evasion of the pass rush resulted in him nearly eaten alive by Connor Barwin before launching a pass, which landed in Thielen's hands, while he was being mauled by Michael Brockers.
"That one was crazy," the quarterback said.
"It was a good ending," Zimmer added.
He's not the only one who's in a rhythm. His teammates have learned that Keenum's ability to evade pressure can keep drives alive.
"He's able to scramble and give us more time to get open," Thielen said. "For us, it's just learning how he scrambles and what he's looking for and just getting open."
The Vikings begin a stretch of three road games on Thanksgiving when they head to Detroit for a division showdown with the Lions.
Keenum proved Sunday that he should get the opportunity to extend his win record as a starter as far as it will go.
Assuming that's how it plays out, Thielen owners won't complain.
Heck, they might not complain regardless of the QB
As Cronin put it, "Thielen continues to prove he's one of the best wide receivers in the NFL."
He showed off sick double moves, had incredible back-to-back catches in the third quarter and capped off a huge day with the above-mentioned 65-yard touchdown reception, which tied the longest touchdown pass Keenum has thrown in his career. Thielen is the first Vikings receiver since Randy Moss to have 900 yards receiving in the first 10 games of the season. Moss achieved that feat in the 2000 and 2003 seasons.
Thielen now has a receiving touchdown in three straight games after having none in his first seven games of the season.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, "Oddly, Stefon Diggs was only on the field for 67 percent of the team's plays and drew just six targets."
One possible explanation? Keenum didn't work downfield much at all. He averaged just 6.4 intended air yards on his pass attempts, the second-lowest among Week 11 quarterbacks.
Also worth noting. ... Latavius Murray showed off his effectiveness inside the red zone for a second straight week, scoring twice against the Rams from 8 and 1 yards out, respectively. Murray entered Week 11 with two rushing touchdowns on the season and is the first Vikings player with two rushing touchdowns in a game since Adrian Peterson did it against the Giants in the 2015 season.
The Vikings put up 171 rushing yards on the Rams' stout defensive line, with 95 coming from Murray.
Jerick McKinnon led the Vikings backfield in touches, but not in fantasy points. McKinnon racked up 60 total yards against the Rams.
Minnesota still has a problem with consistency in its kicking game. Kai Forbath was 1-for-3 on field goals against the Rams, missing from distances of 48 and 39 yards. Ahead of Sunday, extra points, not field goals, were a problem for Forbath. The kicker was 22-of-23 on field goals entering Week 11, per ESPN Stats and Information.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
The New England Patriots trained all week in the high altitude at the Air Force Academy, which was an experience they said wouldn't mean as much if they didn't finish with a victory over the Oakland Raiders.
They took care of that rather quickly Sunday with a 33-8 win at Estadio Azteca, where chants of "Brady! Brady! Brady!" filled the smoggy air.
The Patriots thumped the Raiders in a complete three-phase effort that reflects their place as one of the league's best, while positioning themselves for a deep playoff run by playing their best football in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, at 40 years old, quarterback Tom Brady continues to make a strong case for MVP honors.
Brady earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his work in Denver and was even better in Mexico City against the overmatched Raiders. Brady completed 30 of 37 throws, including his first 12 of the afternoon, for 339 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 131.9 rating, once again dominating a Jack Del Rio defense.
Along the way, Brady wowed the Mexico crowd, which began chanting his name after the Raiders were stopped on third down on their initial drive. The anticipation of seeing Brady, who has now won an NFL game in three different countries (U.S., England, Mexico), created a rare environment that had a Super Bowl-type feel.
Brady rang up his 82nd career game, but according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, if there was one moment that best captured how the Patriots are rolling as a complete team, it came late in the second quarter as the Raiders were threatening to score a touchdown.
Bill Belichick's best teams have always had a knack for taking advantage of opponents' miscues, and that's what happened when Raiders receiver Seth Roberts inexplicably held the ball out in front of him after making a catch at the 3-yard line. Linebacker Marquis Flowers, a core special-teams player who has a niche role on defense by playing in passing situations, took off like a jet on the Air Force Academy runway and blasted it free.
The Patriots recovered at their 7, and instead of running out the clock to halftime with a 14-0 lead and 33 seconds on the clock, attacked and set up Stephen Gostkowski's franchise-record 62-yard field goal at the halftime gun. Gostkowski was congratulated by seemingly every player on the team in a sequence that showed how the offense, defense and special teams are in championship sync.
So the Patriots, with passports in hand, head home after a week away with an 8-2 record and a great opportunity ahead of them.
They host the sputtering Miami Dolphins this Sunday, then face the faltering Buffalo Bills on the road after that, before a Monday night visit to meet the Dolphins again.
Then comes a Dec. 17 road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are also 8-2 and currently the Patriots' top competition in the AFC.
There's a long way to go to get to that point, and Belichick preaches a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but it's hard not to peek ahead and think that could be one of the most highly anticipated regular-season games in recent memory. ...
There are a number of things that make Patriots hard to beat, not the least of which is the power to unleash a different weapon weekly.
One day it's Rob Gronkowski, the big-bodied, touchdown-scoring tight end; the next it's Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and the roster's gaggle of interchangeable and versatile runners. On Sunday, Brandin Cooks emerged to play his finest game of the year.
The former Saints wideout, acquired in an offseason trade, torched the lost-at-sea Raiders for 149 yards off six catches, headlined by his lightning-quick, 64-yard touchdown grab in Mexico City.
"Nobody works harder than Brandin," Belichick said. "He has the speed an acceleration to create mismatches and does everything well, from slants, outs and deep passes. He's been a good player for us."
As Reiss noted, Oakland's secondary is a mess, but that doesn't diminish what Cooks accomplished on the scoring bomb from Brady, who lofted the ball into the arms of the pass-catcher as he tore past defenders alone toward the Mexican pay dirt to bury the Raiders for good.
"It's hard to catch him from behind," Brady said of Cooks, who showed off his blazing speed on the play. "With the thin air, you just have to let it go and hopefully you'll connect deep. It was a great play-calling by [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and it worked on the fade. The defense bit it and Cooks was all alone, so I just needed to put the ball in there."
Cooks hasn't been quiet this season -- he leads the club in yardage and yards per catch -- but he isn't the only game in town. Brady meticulously spreads the ball to a rash of backs, possession men and deeper targets depending on the opponent.
Cooks catching fire, though, makes this passing game almost entirely unstoppable. ...
Not surprisingly, the ground game was a clear secondary focus against Oakland, but still productive to the tune of 20 attempts for 89 yards. Lewis led the way once again with 10 carries for 60 yards, including a key 20-yard run very late in the second quarter that jump-started a drive to a long field goal as time expired in the half.
New England was fortunate that Burkhead's opening-drive fumble in the red zone was recovered by tight end Dwayne Allen.
Burkhead spent some time on the sideline after the fumble, but he got back into the game before it ended and finished with nine touches and a 33 percent snap share.
With 18 targets between Cooks and Danny Amendola, it was clear the Patriots wanted to attack the Raiders weak secondary with the wide receivers. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, the running backs still earned a combined 11 targets. The odd man was once again James White with no catches and a single target. Burkhead has officially overtaken him as the passing down back.
That said, nobody is as far out of the backfield rotation as Mike Gillislee, who was a healthy scratch for the second straight week.
Of course, Gillislee being out of the mix adds a bit of clarity to a normally-muddled backfield -- a unit that should make some hay against a struggling Miami defense this week. ...
Also. ... Chris Hogan has now missed two-plus games to a shoulder injury that came prior to the Week 9 bye. Hogan, who was last seen in the locker room wearing a sling, remained in New England last week while the team trained in Colorado Springs.
Receiver/special teams whiz Matthew Slater (hamstring) was not in Mexico City for the game against Oakland, returning to New England last week after reinjuring the hamstring issue that dates back to training camp in the Week 10 win in Denver.
Hogan was not on the field Wednesday. In addition, Brady (Achilles) and Gronkowski (illness) were also not seen participating at practice Wednesday. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport is advising his Twitter followers that Brady's issue is minor and nothing to worry about. Amendola (knee) and Martellus Bennett (shoulder) were limited.
I'll have more on all involved as the week progress; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Gostkowski surely will miss the thin air of Mexico City. The AFC Special Teams Player of the Week booted four field goals, including the abovem-mentioned 62-yarder and a 51-yarder. ...
One last note. ... The Patriots have one more injured reserve spot from which a player can return to the roster in 2017, and second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell is one of the top candidates.
Mitchell landed on injured reserve Sept. 7, the night of the season opener, because of a knee issue. According to Reiss, Mitchell is scheduled to be evaluated this week and is "getting better, for sure," according to someone close to him and familiar with his progress. Whether that progress results in him being the player designated to return from IR will ultimately be up to the team.
In 14 games during the 2016 season, Mitchell had 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Ben Watson, Eric Tomlinson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett suggested, if this winds up being a special season for the New Orleans Saints, they will point back to Sunday's win over the Washington Redskins for years.
Just like 2009 all over again.
The Saints (8-2) had no business winning their eighth straight game Sunday after trailing by 15 points with less than three minutes remaining -- just like those '09 Super Bowl Saints had no business coming back from a 10-point deficit at Washington in the fourth quarter. Fittingly, the hero of that game -- receiver Robert Meachem -- served as the honorary captain on Sunday.
"I would say, when you have wins like this, it's the No. 1 thing you'll miss when you're finished playing or you're finished coaching -- the excitement of getting one that maybe you didn't think you were going to get," said coach Sean Payton, who said the comparison to that 2009 game was "fair" -- and even mentioned the same to his team in the postgame locker room -- though he said, "We'll see" if this year's version has the same DNA.
In the same breath, though, Payton didn't let the Saints off the hook for the miscues that led them to trailing 31-16 in the first place.
"There's a lot of things we've got to get cleaned up. There's no 'Victory Monday' tomorrow. We'll be in early tomorrow ... and that's just how it's gonna be," Payton said.
It was far from the Saints' prettiest or cleanest victory. But sure enough, two quick touchdowns, three defensive stops and a field goal in overtime led them to a 34-31 victory and kept them flying as the hottest team in the NFL (even on their worst day).
It was the first time in Saints history that they had ever come back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Saints' dynamic run game played a huge part -- with Mark Ingram running the ball twice in overtime for 20 and 31 yards to set up the game-winning field goal and Alvin Kamara running in the game-tying 2-point conversion in the final minutes of regulation behind a great block by tight end Josh Hill.
But Drew Brees also had his finest moment of the year, completing 11 of 11 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns on the Saints' two quick touchdown drives at the end of regulation.
As fantasy owners know too well, the Saints haven't asked Brees to be Superman during their win streak because the defense and run game have been so good, but he sure played the role when needed on Sunday. Tight end Coby Fleener also came up huge, among others, on those drives. And Kamara's bobbling 18-yard TD catch went from a possible disaster to a thrilling moment.
"Just finding different ways to win," Brees said. "We haven't encountered a game like this in a while, and it was great to watch the team rally, come together. These are wins that you build on and develop confidence ... and you realize we can win anywhere, anytime.
"A game like this, we're gonna grow and become stronger from and gain more confidence from versus last week [a 47-10 rout at Buffalo]."
The Saints' defense, meanwhile, came up huge on the final three stops after a rough day with four key starters missing (safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker A.J. Klein were inactive; cornerback Marshon Lattimore left in the first quarter with an ankle injury; defensive end Alex Okafor left late in the fourth quarter with an unspecified leg injury).
They gave up two wide-open TD passes in the second half and a 26-yard pass on a gutsy fourth-and-6 call by the Redskins in the second quarter, among other miscues.
But in the end, they came up with a huge third-and-1 run stuff when the Redskins almost ran out the clock near the end of regulation; then they forced an intentional grounding penalty and a sack in the final minute of regulation to knock the Redskins out of field goal range; then they forced a three-and-out when Washington got the ball first in overtime.
Special teams got in the mix, too. Tommylee Lewis had a 24-yard punt return on a fourth-quarter field goal drive and a 14-yard punt return in overtime -- in his first two punt returns of the season. And kicker Wil Lutz made all four of his field goal attempts, including the game-winning 28-yarder in overtime.
"Enough guys did enough good things. I'm proud of how they hung in there," said Payton, whose message about the 2009 team hit home with the 50 players on this current 53-man roster who weren't around to experience it.
"That's one of the things that defines a winning team," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "Every win wasn't pretty, but they got those close wins."
The Saints will now face one of their most challenging matchups (on paper, at least) throughout this two-month run -- a trip to Los Angeles to face the 7-3 Rams next Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kamara became the second rookie in Saints history to score a touchdown in four consecutive games. He matched the record set by former WR Donte Stallworth (2002). Kamara finished with 116 yards of total offense. He also ran for the two-point conversion that tied the score late in the fourth quarter.
Ingram needed just 11 carries to rack up his season-high 134 rushing yards and a score. On Wednesday, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. ...
As the Sports Xchange notes, tight end Coby Fleener is often the odd man out in the Saints' three-man rotation at the position because Michael Hoomanawanui and Hill are better blockers. Fleener saw little action for most of Sunday's game, but he was a key contributor during the comeback.
He caught all five passes on which he was targeted and totaled 91 yards. Fleener's first four catches came on the first touchdown drive of the comeback and his fifth catch set up the tying touchdown.
But as always, Michael Thomas was a steady force in the volume department. He's hit double-digit targets in four of his last five games. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, the lack of touchdowns is the only troubling part of his fantasy story in 2017. Thomas hasn't found the end zone since Week 4 against the Dolphins and has just two scores on the year.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Drew Brees
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Austin Carr, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
For a change, the New York Giants weren't besieged by questions about quitting, lack of effort and the job future of second-year coach Ben McAdoo.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan suggested, winning has a way of changing things and the Giants (2-8) got the chance to briefly enjoy success in the wake of a 12-9 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
They were back at work Monday, having only 72 hours to prepare for a Thanksgiving game in Washington against the Redskins (4-6), who are coming off a 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Running back Orleans Darkwa felt a positive vibe among the players after winning a game that few expected they would.
"At the end of the day, it's just one win," Darkwa said. "We want to make sure we can stack these wins together and make the best situation possible for this team."
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who had one of the Giants' three interceptions on Sunday, didn't get a chance to talk much with teammates early in the day because he was receiving treatment for an ankle injury.
His take on the game was the Giants finally started doing things right on the field, particularly their technique. There were not as many missed tackles as there had been in the two previous blowout losses to the Rams and 49ers.
"It's just horrible technique or just really, really bad execution and not doing something right, which could be interpreted as not having great effort," said Harrison, whose pick set up a short touchdown run by Darkwa.
"But it was never a question of that. I know those guys, especially the ones who have been getting the brunt of all of that, so they just really focused in and honed in on the game plan and executed it, which is why you guys saw what you saw yesterday."
The Giants could get some fresh players on Thursday.
Cornerback Eli Apple did not play on Sunday because he missed the latter part of the week after his mother had brain surgery. He was with the team on Monday.
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard missed the game with an illness that was believed to be a concussion. But McAdoo said Shepard is not in the concussion protocol.
Whatever the case, Shepard wasn't spotted during the portion of practice open to the media Tuesday and McAdoo confirmed that Shepard didn't work at all Monday or Tuesday, two days before the Giants face the Redskins.
McAdoo said, via multiple reporters, that Shepard is again "not feeling well" and that the team will look at all possibilities when it comes to finding a way for the wideout to feel better.
Shepard is officially listed as questionable for Thursday night's game. Darkwa, who came out of Sunday's win with a sore hamstring, was removed from the final injury report on Wednesday.
Another concern after the game was right guard D.J. Fluker. He injured a toe and McAdoo said he would not have been able to practice Monday. If he can't go on Thursday, it might give veteran John Greco a chance to play. He was signed last week. The other option would be Jon Halapio, who played a little Sunday after Fluker was hurt.
"We have a lot of guys who are banged up and we are going to have to fight through some things," McAdoo said.
At the end of the game, Eli Manning's statistics weren't much to write home about; he finished 19 of 35 for 205 yards and no touchdowns, but he did a nice job of spreading the ball around to 10 different targets to keep the Chiefs off balance.
The most important thing is that Manning did his part in helping the team move the chains, plus he didn't commit any costly errors as he had earlier in the year.
Manning, who is usually not a rah-rah guy, gave an emotional pre-game speech to the team before it ended a three-game losing streak and won for the first time at home this season.
Darkwa said Manning talks a lot to the team, but there was a difference in his voice.
"Eli is the heartbeat of our team," Darkwa said. "I think pregame, he gave a fiery speech that got everybody riled up and to have a guy like that, that has been through so much, that's got those two Super Bowl rings, we follow him."
For the Giants, fresh off a winning effort in what was perhaps their closest complete game of the season, Thursday night's game at Washington is one to which they're looking forward.
The game not only represents a division contest, but for the Giants, it's a chance to build off Sunday's win against a Washington team that has lost four of its last six games since coming back from their bye week and a team who lost running back Chris Thompson and receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. to season-ending injuries.
Meanwhile, McAdoo had a strong first year (11-5 and ended a five-year playoff drought), but this season has been an unmitigated disaster filled with suspensions and drama. However, if he can salvage something late in the season, it will make the decision difficult for a traditionally loyal and patient ownership group.
It may be a long shot and there is significantly more to be done in order for McAdoo to have a realistic case to return, but he has a chance. And Sunday helped. Thursday could help too. ...
Worth noting. ... The Giants' running game continues to churn along, finishing with an average of 3.5 yards per carry this week. Darkwa and Shane Vereen had the two big runs of the week, 14 and 12 yards respectively, while Darkwa scored the unit's lone rushing touchdown.
Also. ... As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, the catch Rodger Lewis made from his backside late in overtime essentially won the game for the Giants. It was a spectacular play and grab. And even if Lewis didn't haul in the pass, he put himself in position to warrant a pass interference call against the Chiefs defender. A flag was thrown on the play. Lewis finished with three catches on four targets and was the hero in the rare victory.
His top skill is making plays downfield. When given that opportunity, he's proving he can make plays and be a useful player for the Giants moving forward.
On the other hand, rookie tight end Evan Engram didn't have his best game, finishing with one catch for nine yards on six targets. It might have been different if not for a ticky-tack offensive pass interference call that negated a big play late in the game. Still, this was far from Engram's best game. He was a non-factor most of the afternoon.
Aldrick Rosas kicked the game-winning field goal, but it was from 25 yards. If he had missed that he probably wouldn't be on the team today. But among the reasons the Giants needed overtime was Rosas' missed extra point attempt earlier in the contest. He has now missed a kick in five straight games. That's just not good enough. ...
For the record, I'll have more on Shepard and the rest of the team's walking wounded when Late-Breaking Updates crank up early Thursday.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Golden Tate, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
The New York Jets have already won more games than most expected.
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. suggested, "That's good news to some -- and bad news to others. ..."
At 4-6, Todd Bowles' bunch has been one of the NFL's early season surprises. Sure, the Jets have lost four of their past five and blew a chance at heading into their bye-week break with a .500 record.
But this was a team that cleared its roster of several high-priced veterans with big contracts and entered training camp with few stars, particularly on offense.
The "tank" was on, many assumed, to land a top quarterback in next year's NFL draft. "Then," as Waszak explained, "a funny thing happened: Somehow, this rag-tag group of veterans, castoffs, youngsters and no-names pulled off a few wins and sacked the narrative that had been raging beyond the walls of the team's facility."
"I mean, we thought we'd be better than this, despite all of the outside talk," defensive end Leonard Williams said.
"We're not happy that we're 4-6 just because people thought we were going to have zero wins. We still knew who we were and still wanted to achieve greatness this year."
But now the Jets are in the middle of the pack -- some might say no-man's land -- when it comes to the playoff picture, as well as draft positioning.
New York currently would have the No. 11 pick, likely out of position for one of the top college quarterbacks expected to be selected.
So, the winning now might be fun, but it has also become a midseason dilemma: Could more victories just simply end up hurting the team's future in the long run?
"We've lost some close games and we've won some close games," general manager Mike Maccagnan said. "We feel good about where we're at. We feel we have a vision for where we want this team to be. We feel like we're making progress in that direction."
That's the overwhelming big-picture message for the franchise.
Bowles is still likely coaching for his job and needs the Jets to remain competitive as they play out the final six games. But what he has accomplished as the overseer of a complete culture change can't be overlooked.
He has preached team unity since the offseason, and the motivational messages and odes to franchise history printed all over the walls of the Jets' facility are physical examples of that.
But while the Jets have played much better than expected this year, that success has hidden some of their deficiencies. Because the Jets aren't a winless mess, it's easy to think they're playing better than they actually are.
The performance of the guys up front is a prime example.
The Jets are averaging just 101.6 rushing yards per game -- 20th in NFL. They're averaging 4.0 yards per carry -- 18th in the NFL. They've run for less than 60 yards in four of 10 games.
That's not good, but where New York really struggles is in pass protection.
The Jets rank 23rd, per ProFootballFocus, in pass blocking efficiency. They've allowed 62 quarterback hits (6th most) and 32 sacks (second most).
The Jets better hope there's a quick fix.
If not, they're in trouble. Especially with the team facing one elite pass rusher after another the rest of the way.
As the Newark Star-Ledger noted, up first will be the Panthers and ageless wonder Julius Peppers (7.5 sacks). Then it's the Chiefs and Justin Houston (7.5 sacks), followed by the Broncos and Von Miller (8 sacks). The Jets will play the Saints and Cameron Jordan (7 sacks) in New Orleans, and host the Chargers and Joey Bosa (9.5 sacks).
The only team the Jets play without an elite pass rusher? The division-leading Patriots (7-2) in Week 17.
Despite the poor protection, Josh McCown is having a career year at age 38.
McCown has completed 69 percent of his passes (third in the league) for 2,242 yards with 14 touchdown passes (a career high) and eight interceptions. He might also exceed his career high for wins in a season (six in 2004 with the Cardinals).
But, like his team, he's been bad in the fourth quarter (three touchdowns, four interceptions and sacked 12 times) and has a ceiling for his level of play and we've likely reached it.
McCown has been a leader on the offense, and he should be considering he gets a $125,000 bonus for each start he makes.
Receiver Robby Anderson has emerged as a productive downfield threat, scoring in four straight games, with an outside chance at eclipsing 1,000 yards (he currently has 568). Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has proved to be a reliable security blanket for McCown, but Jermaine Kearse has faded after a hot start.
As for the rushing attack, when fully healthy, the Jets like to use all three of their running backs Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and rookie Elijah McGuire.
As the Sports Xchange noted, Powell has definitely been the best of the bunch (420 yards, 4.5 yards per carry), but we should talk about the unit as a singular entity. The backs have combined for 920 yards and five touchdowns, which is about the equivalent of one Le'Veon Bell (886 yards and five TDs). However, the running game definitely ebbs more than it flows, and even their long runs come with a caveat, as Powell's 75-yard score in a win over the Jaguars came when he got up after falling and the defense stopped, thinking the play was dead.
Oh, and the stat that probably says the most about the Jets' run game: McCown leads the team with three rushing touchdowns.
Worth noting. ... Forte was held out prior to the bye due to swelling in his surgically-repaired knee. His status this week is unclear, although the veteran was not practicing Wednesday. I'll be following up as needed via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Javorius Allen, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Bilal Powell
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Bellamy, Tim White, Braxton Berrios
TEs: Chris Herndon, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, it was sometime late in the third quarter when a moment of truth arrived for Derek Carr and his Oakland Raiders, who were getting their hats handed to them while having their lunch money taken by the New England Patriots.
The Patriots also had stolen the Raiders' crowd at mammoth Estadio Azteca on Sunday.
"I stood in that huddle, down 30, with my guys, everyone hurting, everyone mad, and we looked at each other," Carr said after the Raiders lost 33-8 to fall to 4-6 on the season.
"Nothing changes for us. We are who we are, and we're not going to turn on each other, we're not going to turn on anything about what we do. Obviously, we know that our culture, and everything that we do, works because we've seen it work. Mailing it in and those type of things, that will never happen. Not as long as I'm here."
Carr, who signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension with Oakland last summer, perhaps had one eye on the schedule.
Entering the season, the Raiders had the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL, with the other three also residing in the AFC West. But here is where it gets relatively soft. The key word being "relatively," of course.
Consider: The Raiders are in dire need of some home cooking, as they have not played in Oakland since their thrilling 31-30 defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 19. Games in Buffalo and Miami preceded a bye before this "home" game in Mexico City.
The next two games are in Oakland, against the Denver Broncos, who are 3-7, and the New York Giants, who are 2-8. Of course, the Broncos already beat the Raiders, 16-10, on Oct. 1, when Carr suffered broken bones in his back. And the Giants just upset the Chiefs.
Plus, the Raiders are only one game out of the second AFC wild-card spot.
Win these next two games, at home, and the Raiders remain in the thick of things and could potentially make a serious run.
Of course, it's also possible the Raiders have already checked out on an extremely disappointing and underachieving season after going 12-4 last year.
The offense has not sustained the firepower it showed in 2016, and the defense has been wracked by injuries and ineffectiveness.
Against the Patriots, the Raiders looked like anything but a contender, as they were purported to be this offseason.
Carr was 28 of 49 for 237 yards, a 9-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper and an interception that bounced off the shoulder pads of Johnny Holton. Cooper and Michael Crabtree (6 catches, 51 yards) had first-half drops that killed momentum.
Carr, who averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt, had time to throw, but couldn't find open receivers and often missed his mark.
Also, as the Sports Xchange suggested, it looked as if the Raiders could get some things done had they not fallen so far behind in the late second and early third quarters. Marshawn Lynch had 61 yards on nine carries in the first half and only two rushes for six yards in the second. It was the most yards in the first half for Lynch since gaining 68 against the Chiefs in 2014.
A 25-yard run was his longest rush of the season. The Raiders averaged 5.2 yards per carry (21 carries, 109 yards).
Jared Cook had his eighth reception this season of 20 yards or more, fourth in the NFL at his position. Crabtree has caught a pass in 120 consecutive games in which he has played.
Cooper caught just three passes and was out-targeted by Seth Roberts. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, it was Cooper's fifth game this season with under 30 receiving yards.
Also of considerable interest. ... The Raiders announced Tuesday they're firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and replacing him with assistant head coach John Pagano.
"After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator," Del Rio said in a statement. "I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken's passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward."
The move is not a surprising one, considering the Raiders' defensive play this season. Oakland ranks 26th in total defense, giving up 367 yards per game. They're the only team in the league that has yet to intercept a pass. They're tied for dead last in the league with the New York Giants with just 14 sacks on the year, despite having reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack coming off the edges. They've given up 30 or more points in four of their last six contests.
Pagano will look to change all those numbers this weekend when the Raiders take on a Broncos' team that doesn't just have a new offensive coordinator (in former Oakland coordinator Bill Musgrave), but also a sophomore quarterback, Paxton Lynch, making his first start of the season.
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis, Dwayne Harris, Keelan Doss
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, Alshon Jeffery used to be the top receiver in Chicago. Jay Ajayi was the main running back in Miami. LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last season in New England.
Now the trio are just part of the offense instead of the focal point.
The Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) have the best record in the NFL thanks to a group of players who put team goals ahead of personal goals.
"Winning is contagious and the guys feed off that, and it doesn't really matter who makes the play," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "The bottom line is to win the game. The guys want to win and it doesn't matter who is hot in the game. They have bought in 100 percent and they prepare that way, and they're all making plays and all contributing."
None of Philadelphia's receivers has a 100-yard game this season, and the only 100-yard rushing performance came from Blount in Week 4.
They don't care about the numbers.
Four offensive players scored TDs in a 37-9 rout at Dallas on Sunday night, including Kenjon Barner. He's the fourth running back behind Ajayi, Blount and rookie Corey Clement, who is tied with Jeffery and Zach Ertz for most TDs on the team with six.
"Everybody has their role," said Clement, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin. "We're not selfish out there. To have four guys in the rotation, it means a lot because defenses really can't keep up with the style of running that we have."
Ajayi has 168 yards rushing on only 15 carries in two games since the Eagles acquired him from the Dolphins. He averaged 20 rushes per game in Miami but was getting only 3.4 yards per carry. He's thriving behind Philadelphia's offensive line.
"It's definitely not what I'm used to, but at the same time it's exciting to see all of us make plays," Ajayi said. "For me whenever the number is called, just make your plays count and take advantage of your opportunities. We all have our certain plays in the game plan. It comes down to making big plays when you can. I've been fortunate enough to get good blocking and hit the holes when I see them."
Jeffery had gaudy stats with the Bears in 2013-14 and got paid to be that guy in Philly. But Carson Wentz has spread the ball to several capable receivers, including Ertz, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and Trey Burton.
"Anybody every week can step up and just be that guy, and the way we can just be flexible and spread the ball around is what makes us hard to defend," Wentz said.
Of course, Wentz threw a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions as the Eagles outscored the Dallas Cowboys 30-0 in the second half.
Wentz now has 25 touchdowns to five interceptions this season. It was his sixth-straight game with multiple touchdown passes, the longest streak in the NFL this season. His 25 passing TDs are the third most by a first- or second-year quarterback all-time over a team's first 10 games, behind only Dan Marino and Kurt Warner.
He leads the NFL in touchdowns and entered the week third in quarterback rating. The Eagles are at the top of the league in points per game (32). They have scored 30-plus points in four straight, their longest such streak since 1953 -- a high level of play in imperfect conditions.
Meanwhile, there is at least one issue to deal with in advance of this week's game against Chicago.
The Eagles found themselves without a kicker Sunday when Jake Elliott suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff trying to make a tackle on Cowboys returner Ryan Switzer.
The concussion wasn't diagnosed until later in the first quarter after Elliott, who had made 15 of his last 16 field-goal attempts, including five of six from 50-plus yards, missed a 34-yarder.
Backup linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill handled the kickoff chores after Elliott got hurt, and did a good job. He had a touchback and another kickoff that reached the goal line.
The Eagles didn't have Grugier-Hill try any extra points. They went for two after their four second-half touchdowns, converting three of them.
Elliott is going through the Eagles' concussion protocol, and while Pederson said that "everything is looking good with him" playing Sunday, that's not certain yet.
Elliott signed with the Eagles in September after Caleb Sturgis injured his hip in the Eagles' season opener against Washington. The Eagles put Sturgis on injured reserve.
He is healthy now and could be activated for Sunday's game. But that would mean the Eagles would have two kickers on their 53-man roster. And they don't really want to do that.
"You're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature, and we're not there yet," head coach Doug Pederson said. "So we're going to continue these discussions in the next couple of days. ..."
I'll be following this situation closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
In a related note. ... Pederson also didn't rule out the possibility of continuing to go for two.
They were successful on 3-of-4 attempts Sunday against the Cowboys, and are 9-of-12 on conversions under Pederson.
"Yeah, I have," Pederson said when asked if he'd consider staying that aggressive. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3-for-4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Blount took the lion's share of snaps at running back Sunday. He played 30 snaps and rushed for 57 yards on a team-high 13 carries. Clement played 19 snaps and rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on six carries. Ajayi, who still is learning the offense, played 13 snaps. He rushed for 91 yards on seven carries. One of his runs was a 71-yarder that set up a third-quarter touchdown. Six of Blount's 13 carries and 37 of his 57 rushing yards came in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had taken a comfortable lead.
"Jay was basically the guy in Miami," Pederson said of Ajayi, who was acquired by the Eagles for a conditional fourth-round pick at the trade deadline. "He was getting 20 carries a game. The conversation that you initially have with him is, 'Listen, you're in a system now where we do have a rotation.'
"When you're winning, there isn't a lot of selfishness. Guys want to contribute any way possible to the success of the team."
While it's not ideal for fantasy owners, at least all of them have been productive. As always, the logical choice is letting volume be your guide. In this case, Ajayi, Blount and Clement are getting enough work to get something done but not enough to be considered "safe" plays. Roll them out accordingly. ...
One last note here. ... Ertz, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury, had his least productive game of the season. Ertz, who leads the team in receptions, had just two catches for eight yards.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, DeSean Jackson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
After 9 1/2 games of an offense that was supposed to light up scoreboards instead operate in frustrating fits and starts, Ben Roethlisberger decided he had seen enough. So in the locker room last Thursday against Tennessee, with the Steelers nursing a nine-point lead that didn't feel like much of one, Roethlisberger let it rip.
The line. The wide receivers. The backs. Even himself. Roethlisberger spared no one during an impassioned speech that let it be known just getting by was no longer acceptable.
"He really jumped people's (butts)," center Maurkice Pouncey said Monday. "And not even just talking about everybody on the team but talking about himself as well. It meant a lot to everybody in there."
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves noted, what followed were two quarters of brilliance. The Steelers had the ball five times in the second half. They scored on four of them, including three straight that ended with Roethlisberger touchdown passes. The quarterback who facetiously wondered if he still "had it" after getting bludgeoned by Jacksonville a month ago went 20 of 23 for 185 yards and three scores after halftime in a clinical 40-17 dissection of the Titans.
It was vintage Roethlisberger. And just like that, all the self-inflicted drama that has plagued the Steelers this year disappeared.
"It kind of felt pretty easy," right guard David DeCastro said.
Looked pretty easy, too. While DeCastro stressed the first-place Steelers (8-2) never panicked while trudging through the first two-plus months of the season relying heavily on their defense in the decidedly meh AFC North, to have all that confidence translate into points provided the kind of boost Pittsburgh hopes to carry into December and beyond.
"We all knew it was there," DeCastro said. "It's nice to be able to prove it. None of us doubted it, but to put it on tape and put it out there, someone told me we were one of five teams that hadn't scored 30 points in the season until last game. It's nice to do it."
Now, to do it again, a prospect that took a bit of a hit Monday when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert was suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy. Gilbert will not appeal the suspension, meaning he is barred from the team's facility until Dec. 18, a day after the Steelers host New England in a showdown that could decide home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
"I apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Steelers family," Gilbert said in a statement . "Regretfully, I inadvertently took a banned substance. I promise to come back in great shape and will be ready to play when my suspension is over."
General manager Kevin Colbert said the team was "disappointed" after Gilbert became the third different Steeler to be disciplined for off-the-field infractions. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant was suspended for four games in 2015 and missed the entire 2016 season and running back Le'Veon Bell sat one game in 2015 and three more in 2016 for running afoul of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Gilbert has missed five games this season due to a lingering hamstring issue. Chris Hubbard likely will fill in on Sunday when Pittsburgh hosts Green Bay (5-5). Pittsburgh's offense has been more productive this season when Gilbert is available. The Steelers are 5-0 when Gilbert plays, averaging 25.2 points. They are 3-2 when he does not, with their scoring average dropping to 20 points.
Even with Gilbert unavailable Pittsburgh figures to be heavy favorites the next three weeks before the Patriots visit Heinz Field. A fourth straight playoff berth all but assured barring an epic collapse, Gilbert will be back in plenty of time to get ready for a postseason push.
The Steelers would prefer the AFC playoffs run through Heinz Field. The path to home-field advantage just became a bit more difficult. ...
Meanwhile, Antonio Brown had a huge game Thursday night and he reached a milestone on his way to 10 catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
Brown's eighth catch of the night was the 700th of his career and he reached that mark in fewer games than any other player in NFL history. It was Brown's 111th game and the previous record belonged to Marvin Harrison, who did it in 114 games and wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It wouldn't surprise anyone if Brown, who is closing in on becoming the first player with five straight 100-catch seasons, joins Harrison there, although his teammates are so used to his exploits that a night like Thursday is taken in stride.
"It's insane," DeCastro said. "I mean, it's kind of sad we're numb to it now. I'm like, 'Oh, there's A.B., catching the ball with his helmet in his hand.' Like, 'Oh, all right, good job, [Roethlisberger].' Like I don't know what to do anymore. What else can he do? I feel bad I'm not more excited about it. Three touchdowns. It was so low key. I was just like, 'Oh.'"
There have been some low key performances by the Steelers offense this season and they've resulted in hand wringing about whether the unit will live up to preseason expectations. They looked the part on Thursday night, though, and Brown was right in the middle of the fun.
And yes. ... Brown was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday in the wake of his performance. ...
In a related note. ... Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 15 touchdown passes in each of his 14 NFL seasons, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning for most 15-touchdown seasons to start a career.
The Steelers didn't really try to run the ball. Bell had just 12 carries for 46 yards. There wasn't a lot of running room, but that was to be expected against a Dick LeBeau-coached defense. He takes away the run and tries to force the quarterback to beat him.
The good news for the Steelers on Thursday night was Roethlisberger and the passing game made him pay.
Fortunately, Bell did significant damage as a receiver. In addition, he had what would have been a touchdown called back on replay, followed by a Jesse James receiving score.
Bottom line? As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, "Bell remains the most elite fantasy football running back in the game and gets a great matchup against Green Bay (this) week. ..."
JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn't as big a factor as he has been, but the rookie drew eight targets, trailing only Brown and Bell on the night, and was on the field for 86 percent of the team's plays.
But head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Tuesday that Smith-Schuster has "small" hamstring injury and will be monitored during week. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, Donte Moncrief, James Washington
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry, Xavier Grimble
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow noted, figuring out the compensation to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from New England was only part of the equation for the San Francisco 49ers.
The way Garoppolo plays down the stretch once he finally takes over as the starting quarterback for the 49ers will determine how much money he will get paid to be the franchise quarterback in San Francisco.
The Niners paid a big price to acquire Garoppolo when they dealt a 2018 second-round pick to the Patriots on Oct. 31 for a quarterback who has made only two NFL starts and will be paid more like a proven commodity because he's eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
"We brought him here because we want him to be the quarterback of the future," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "That's up to Jimmy and how it works out here, and we're going to work our best to get him ready. We're going to look at every opportunity to find that guy, and this opportunity came up, and Jimmy is a guy that we believe can be that guy. So, when that opportunity came up, and it's a guy that you believe in from what you've seen on tape and what you've heard of people that know him, that's something that's too good of an opportunity to pass up on. So, we didn't hesitate."
By trading for Garoppolo now rather than trying to sign him as a free agent in March, the 49ers (1-9) can get a chance to see him in action to help determine his value.
But they won't do that against the Seahawks this week.
Even though Garoppolo used the week off to get extra time with Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to get up to speed on an entirely new offense, the 49ers announced on Wednesday afternoon that C.J. Beathard will start again this week.
The issue, as ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, is changing to Garoppolo was a tougher call now than it was before Beathard went out and had his best game in a win against the Giants prior to the bye.
General manager John Lynch foreshadowed this one early this week.
"We're both believers that this will play itself out," Lynch said of he and Shanahan. "You guys obviously know what we think of Jimmy in terms of why we brought him here. But we also think highly of C.J., enough to trade up to the third round to get him."
Ultimately, it still seems like Garoppolo will get a look at some point. And there was an argument to be made that getting him a start at home before hitting the road the following two weeks would be a good idea. In addition, Beathard has an injured right thumb that could have been a factor.
But the Niners just aren't there yet. ...
Also of interest. ... The 49ers rank lower in the NFL in rushing yards (21st) than passing yards (16th), but that doesn't make the run game a bigger failure. The Shanahan offense revolves around the pass, and when it has struggled, which it has most of the season, then the run game has struggled as well. As the Sports Xchange suggested, Carlos Hyde, 11th in the league in rushing with 592 yards, isn't having a half-bad season.
And finally. ... Garrett Celek caught four of six targets for 67 yards and one touchdown against the Giants two weeks ago. As ESPN.com put it, "The key word there? Giants."
Celek played a significant role in the passing game only because starter George Kittle was out with a leg injury. Kittle very well could return this week (so could Trent Taylor, who missed Week 10 with injured ribs). Shanahan is hopeful that will be the case. Especially with Seattle on tap following the week off, Celek isn't even worth adding in leagues that start two tight ends.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor
TEs: George Kittle, Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson noted, Mike Davis was two quarters into an impressive debut with the Seahawks when he suffered a groin strain that ended his night early.
After gaining 59 yards on eight touches -- 41 coming on a pair of screen passes that each aided field-goal drives -- Davis watched the rest of Seattle's 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons from the sideline. He had a towel over his head and an ice pack wrapped around his upper right thigh.
Head coach Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle on Tuesday that the extent of the strain won't be known until Davis gets an MRI later in the day, but he conceded that it's probably severe enough to sideline him this week.
"It's unlikely that he could jump right back in," Carroll said.
Carroll also said right guard Oday Aboushi is out this week after dislocating his shoulder in the fourth quarter vs. Atlanta. While he won't be available for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle could have left guard Luke Joeckel back. He's missed the last five games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Joeckel has yet to start practicing, but Carroll sounded hopeful he could be back in the starting lineup Sunday.
"There's a really good chance," Carroll said. "Luke wants to play. That's important and he's ready to go. That could likely happen."
Rookie second-round pick Ethan Pocic has been filling in at left guard and has played well enough to merit strong consideration to remain in the starting lineup whenever Joeckel returns. Offensive line coach Tom Cable said last week that would likely be at right guard, so Aboushi's injury may be coinciding with what was an inevitable shift in the starting lineup.
If Joeckel doesn't make it back this week, Mark Glowinski would likely play right guard. He started the first two games of the season there before he was benched in favor of Aboushi.
Carroll had no update on rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who left Monday night's game after two plays because of a concussion.
Asked if there's any update on strong safety Kam Chancellor, who is reportedly expected to miss the rest of the season due to a neck injury, Carroll said the team will likely have one early this week.
Davis started for Seattle on Monday night ahead of Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, who was inactive as a healthy scratch. Carroll said the Seahawks wanted to ease Lacy back in as he was returning from a strained groin that had sidelined him in Week 10. He carried three times for two yards while J.D. McKissic gained 30 yards on seven attempts.
Carroll said if Davis can't go this week, "Thomas jumps right back in and here we go again with Thomas. Eddie got a good week and we didn't want to overdo it. He just barely made it back with his groin, so now we'll see."
Davis said postgame that he'll be "rehabbing like crazy" to make it back in time to face the 49ers, the team that drafted him in 2015 and cut him over the offseason. He made it clear that he's extra motivated to do so.
"Man, if I had a broken leg, to play against San Fran, I would still try to play," Davis said.
But his injury means the revolving door that has been Seattle's backfield will likely take another turn this week.
Rookie Chris Carson began the season as the starter but is on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in Week 4. Lacy and Rawls shared carries during the next three weeks before the Seahawks decided to give Lacy a shot to take over, but he got hurt in his first game as the starter. Third-down back C.J. Prosise then suffered another ankle sprain that landed him on IR last week, opening up a spot for Davis to be promoted from the practice squad.
"He looked good in the game," Carroll said of Davis. "He was aggressive and decisive and can catch the football and did some really good things and unfortunately here goes another soft tissue thing out of nowhere. He's been practicing his buns off for months here with us and looked great and in great shape.
"He's probably in better shape than anybody that we have, so for that to happen, it's just unfortunate."
Fantasy owners would agree. ...
Meanwhile, as the Sports Xchange suggests, Russell Wilson was spectacular at times, but a poor interception and a fumble while being sacked led directly to 14 points for Atlanta. Wilson also made two poor decisions on the final drive to throw short over the middle of the field without timeouts to stop the clock, allowing needed time to elapse before a lengthy tying field-goal try.
Paul Richardson was back in the No. 2 receiver role Monday night, out-snapping Tyler Lockett 61 to 47. Lacy got six snaps in his return from a groin injury that sidelined him in Week 10. J.D. McKissic (50 snaps) took over when Davis was hurt in the third quarter.
Lockett was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he returned five kickoffs for 197 yards -- averaging almost 40 yards a return -- including a 57-yard return early in the game.
The third-year pro out of Kansas State also added four catches for 37 yards. ...
Meanwhile, Jimmy Graham continues to tear it up.
Graham caught seven of 11 targets for 58 yards and a touchdown in Monday night's loss to the Falcons. He also hauled in a successful two-point conversion.
Graham opened the scoring for Seattle with a four-yard touchdown during the first quarter. That score not only gave Graham a seventh touchdown in the last six games, but also a new season-high mark since joining the Seahawks.
As CBSSports.com suggested, even though he's topped 65 yards just once through 10 outings this season, Graham's torrid touchdown pace is reminiscent of his days in New Orleans, when he first surfaced as a fantasy star.
And finally. ... In a surprising move, the Seahawks have waived defensive end Dwight Freeney, the team announced Tuesday. Freeney had three sacks in his first four games with the team. No corresponding roster move was announced.
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: Luke Willson, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
Doctors would not clear quarterback Jameis Winston to begin throwing after an evaluation of his shoulder injury Monday and he could miss one or two more weeks.
The Bucs have gone 2-0 under backup Ryan Fitzpatrick since Winston was shut down to give the sprained AC joint in his right shoulder a chance to completely heal. The Bucs have said they plan to be very careful with his injury and don't want him to return until he is completely healthy.
"The medical staff evaluated Jameis sometime earlier today and they determined that he's not ready to resume throwing yet, so Jameis will be out this week and re-evaluated next Monday," head coach Dirk Koetter said.
Fitzpatrick, who struggled in his debut as the starter two weeks ago in a 15-10 win over the New York Jets, played better against Miami Sunday. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 30-20 win over the Dolphins Sunday.
"My confidence is the same, but I'm sure other people's has grown," Koetter said. "Ryan has done exactly what I thought he would do, but I can understand why other people who haven't seen him practice would not necessarily expect that. He's playing how I thought he would play."
What was the biggest difference between Fitzpatrick's performance against the Dolphins?
"Ryan made really good decisions," Koetter said. "We didn't turn the ball over. We say every week in our meetings, if we don't turn it over, we got a great chance to win. Not only did we not turn it over, we were a plus-five. So it starts with that. And he throws 60 percent completion, but then you factor out a couple of drops.
"I think he had four throwaways and no matter how much of a veteran quarterback you are, throwing the ball away when the play is not there it's still to this day one of the hardest things to get a quarterback to do. Ryan did a good job with that. He also scrambled. One time he scrambled and got a first down running it. In that very last drive, that one to Chris Godwin right in front of our sideline, I mean he scrambled maybe before he really needed to, but still that was a nice play to get that drive going."
The Bucs play at Atlanta and at Green Bay the next two weeks in their quest to get back to .500 at 6-6. ...
Meanwhile, the case of Winston and a female Uber driver in Arizona took more twists Sunday, with Winston getting some level of corroboration, and his unnamed accuser retaining a familiar, high-profile attorney. Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby released a statement in defense of Winston, saying he was in the back seat with the Bucs quarterback during the Uber ride in March 2016 and "nothing inappropriate" happened.
The NFL is investigating an allegation Winston groped the driver during a 2 a.m. ride in Scottsdale, Ariz. While strongly denying the accusation, Winston had not identified any of the passengers during the ride.
Darby, 23, who won a national championship with Winston at Florida State in 2013, said that no inappropriate contact took place, but did not identify the third passenger.
"I am confident that nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver," Darby said. "The accusations are just not true."
As the Sports Xchange notes, this is not the first time Darby has been a witness for Winston during allegations of a sexual nature. Darby and another FSU teammate, Chris Casher, witnessed the sexual encounter that led to Erica Kinsman of Zephyrhills accusing Winston of rape in 2012.
A Florida State hearing panel found Winston not responsible for "conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person" and "acts that invade privacy of another person."
Winston was never charged in the case, but reached a settlement in a civil suit with Kinsman.
Her attorney in that case, John Clune, was retained by Winston's new accuser Sunday, and he reiterated his client's belief that Winston alone was with her in the car.
Go ahead and assume this one will remain on the radar for some time. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Doug Martin continues to struggle to run the ball consistently, getting 38 yards on 19 carries. Only once in the NFL this season has a back had that many carries and averaged 2.0 yards or fewer; Adrian Peterson had 21 carries for 29 yards against Seattle.
Tight end O.J. Howard caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, his fourth of the season. He'd been limited to just three catches the past three weeks, almost appearing as an afterthought rather than a first-round draft pick. Wide receiver Mike Evans had five catches for 92 yards after missing last week with a suspension. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson had two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Evans hit double-digit targets for the fifth time this season in his first game back from a one-game suspension. Harmon added that Evans has been strictly a floor play this season, as he's yet to cross 100 yards on the day and has scored just four times.
Also according to Harmon, Cameron Brate was back to his more usual playing time, going out for 25 passing plays after seeing just 16 last week against the Jets. He drew just three targets and caught a single pass. ...
Patrick Murray has been so consistent since taking over as the Bucs' kicker that he had no doubt when called upon to make a go-ahead field goal with four seconds left in Sunday's win. Fitzpatrick completed three passes for 55 yards in the final three minutes, and Murray made good on his 35-yard kick to break a 20-all tie.
"I take every kick the same, doesn't matter the situation of the game," Murray said. "Going out on that field after Fitz and the offense drove down there and they did a terrific job, I knew I was going to make it. I knew it was going to go right down the middle; I just had a feeling and it was right."
Murray is now 10-for-12 on field goals this season -- he was 3-for-4 Sunday with a 42-yard miss -- and a perfect 8-for-8 on extra points.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, T.J. Logan, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, 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 21 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, the locker room was united in its message after a rough 40-17 loss to the Steelers: This isn't all on Marcus Mariota.
Yes, Mariota needs to shoulder a good portion of the blame for his lackluster performance. But an honest look at the game would bring the conclusion that Mariota wasn't the only Titan who turned in a mistake-laden performance.
"He could have used some help on the other [interceptions], especially from some young guys. Some lessons learned for some young players," head coach Mike Mularkey said, referring primarily to rookie receiver Corey Davis. "In this league, you always have to come back toward the ball. Defenders are always closing."
Mularkey was referring to Mariota's second interception. Davis ran a dig route, but he was a bit slow coming out of his break. The route wasn't smooth and he didn't come back for the football. Mariota clearly had Davis targeted as his top option, stared him down and threw the ball late to him when the rookie took longer than expected to complete his route.
"They played a coverage that would allow me to go that direction," Mariota said. "It just happens. He's a young guy."
Davis said he should've fought back for the ball, knowing the defender was on his hip.
What you need to know in the NFL
On Mariota's third interception, he targeted Davis, who could not get a lot of separation from his defender. The defender got a hand on the pass and knocked it in the air for another Steeler to pick it off. It was another play where Davis could've been more aggressive attacking the ball.
Davis is a rookie receiver with a lot of potential. He was drafted No. 5 overall for a reason. He showed that with a brilliant first-quarter toe-drag catch that led to the Titans' first touchdown, but he has also shown examples of shaky route-running and failure to come back to the ball. Those things are expected of a rookie, but the Titans planned for him to be their No. 1 receiving option, and he's not quite there yet.
Mariota targeted Davis seven times and he turned in three catches for 27 yards. The week before, Davis was targeted 10 times, which led to four catches for 48 yards and a crucial fumble that became a touchback after he lost the ball reaching for the pylon.
"I just think he needs some experience," Mularkey said. "Most rookies have offseasons and training camps and preseason games, and all those to give them some experience. His is live fire. Live fire, 'Thursday Night Football' for your fourth [full] game.
A portion of this falls on the Titans, who put some pressure on Davis to be a big part of their offensive revival when they returned from their Week 8 bye. Davis was also returning from a six-week absence due to a hamstring injury. It's hard to blame them for getting their hopes high given Davis' talent, but it's not completely unexpected that they've got this result.
"I'm still trying to find my way," Davis said.
There's no doubt that Davis' 2017 bouts with injuries has played a role in his up-and-down play. Davis missed much of the offseason program while recovering from ankle surgery. He also missed all of the preseason and most of training camp with a hamstring injury. He reinjured that hamstring in Week 2 and missed five games. Now he's playing catch up on everything he missed on the field.
"He's going to be all right. He's going to learn from it," veteran receiver Rishard Matthews said. "I tell Corey, 'You've got to have a short memory.'"
Wolfe stressed that the Titans aren't down on Davis, and they shouldn't be; it's just a realization that the learning process is in full force while they wish he was close to a finished product. That will come.
And Mariota will improve.
Mariota, who threw 26 touchdown passes to just nine interceptions a year ago, already has 10 picks in nine games (he missed the Miami game with a hamstring injury) this season, thanks to the four picks in Pittsburgh.
Mularkey admitted there are things Mariota could have done better Thursday night.
"Probably, when you turn the ball over four times, whether it's you throwing it or not throwing it, things he could've done a lot better. Yeah, there's some things he could've done better," Mularkey said.
Meanwhile, the loss in Pittsburgh last week combined with Jacksonville's win at Cleveland put Tennessee in second in the AFC South. But the Titans host the Jaguars in the season finale in a game that could be for the division title or a wild card, either of which would end the franchise's eight-year playoff drought.
Tennessee has five games before Jacksonville (7-3) comes to town on Dec. 31, starting Sunday with the first of two straight division dates.
The Titans visit the Colts (3-7) looking for their first win at Lucas Oil Stadium. They have lost nine straight in Indianapolis, a skid that started Dec. 28, 2008, in the Colts' first season inside their new home.
Then the Titans host Houston (4-6) on Dec. 3 before back-to-back road games at Arizona (4-6) and San Francisco (1-9). ...
Other notes of interest. ... DeMarco Murray had 52 reps in Pittsburgh to Derrick Henry's 16, which Wolfe found puzzling given the latter was more productive on the ground. Tennessee's backfield has been hard to figure out with Murray being limited by injuries and Henry unable to grab the starting role. It hasn't helped that the offensive line has played poorly.
Murray has 443 rushing yards on 117 carries for a 3.8 yards per carry average. He also has 28 receptions for 192 yards. Henry has 441 rushing yards on 101 carries, averaging 4.4 yards. He has just six catches for 45 yards.
Wolfe believes the Titans' best route would be to return to a tandem backfield, with Henry and his success on outside zone runs, becoming a much bigger part of the run game. Murray's advantage over Henry and his biggest contributions to this team have been as a receiving back. Wolfe suggests it might be helpful to see more of them in their best roles.
Matthews scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Mariota and had 113 yards on five catches. While Delanie Walker hit nine targets for the fourth time this season. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Walker has yet to score a touchdown this season and straight dropped what would have been an easy score in the end zone against the Steelers. "Eventually," Harmon added, "natural progression will set in and he'll find the paint. ..."
And finally. ... Receiver Harry Douglas, who is on injured reserve with a knee issue, practiced Monday. The Titans now have three weeks to decide whether to activate Douglas. The 10-year veteran said he felt like a kid in a candy store being back at practice.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 21 November 2017
Chris Thompson broke his right fibula late in the third quarter against the Saints and was carted off the field.
Thompson, the Redskins' most dynamic player this season, suffered the injury at the end of a third-down run by quarterback Kirk Cousins. Thompson was engaged in a block, and his right leg bent back after he got caught in an awkward position under Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
The Redskins turned what should have been a feel-good day, one where its offense was aggressive and strong, into a loss that will haunt them.
An air cast was placed on his right leg before he was helped off the field and loaded onto the cart. Teammates gathered around him and offered words of encouragement as he was lifted up.
Cousins also took a heavy hit on the play and received brief treatment from trainers while Washington executed a successful fake punt on fourth-and-1 on its own 15. Cousins came back on the field and led the Redskins on a touchdown drive, hitting Ryan Grant on a 40-yard scoring pass for a 24-13 lead.
The lead didn't last, however, as the Saints rallied to tie the game at 31-31 in regulation thanks to Alvin Kamara's 18-yard touchdown reception and two-point conversion rush with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining, then won 34-31 in overtime when Wil Lutz kicked a 28-yard field goal.
"That hurts me more than anything, that we lost for Chris," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. "I told him we'll bring this back home for him. I didn't keep my word. If anything bothers me, that bothers me the most. We have one of our best guys go down and we didn't get the W for him. That's tough. That's tough."
Thompson tweeted about his injury after the game, writing: "This hurts."
Thompson entered the game leading Washington in rushing (277 yards) and receiving (494) and had scored four touchdowns. He also has improved dramatically in protection the past two years.
"He's one of the most important players on our offense, especially when you get the ball back and need him for pass protection routes coming out of the backfield there at the end," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "We obviously have to make do with the guys we have, and we will."
The Redskins already lost running back Rob Kelley for the season with an ankle injury. They now have two running backs on the active roster: rookie Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall, signed earlier in the week off the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad.
The Redskins have suffered a number of injuries this season, but ESPN.com's John Keim contends that Thompson's could arguably be the biggest because of his productivity and the fact that he'll be difficult to replace. Marshall offers quickness and played some receiver in college, but Thompson's ability to pass-protect has made him invaluable.
"To have him go down is a huge, huge setback for us," tight end Vernon Davis said. "Chris Thompson is one of the best in the league when it comes to running the ball, catching and making plays. To lose him is tough. It's hard to replace a guy like that with his talent and his ability to do what he does. It's a tough situation to be in."
Offensive tackle Morgan Moses echoed this sentiment.
"It's hard to replace a guy like that," Moses said. "You might not be able to replace a guy like that, what he brings to the offense, what he brings to the locker room. ... But we can't [dwell] on it."
Meanwhile, receiver Terrelle Pryor's disappointing 2017 got even more disappointing.
Pryor had arthroscopic ankle surgery Monday. There's no word on how long he'll be out.
That's the latest setback for Pryor in a season in which he signed a one-year contract with the hopes that he could prove himself and score big in free agency next year. After breaking out with a 1,000-yard season in Cleveland in 2016, Pryor has just 240 receiving yards in Washington this year.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, Pryor has been phased out of the offense in favor of Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and Grant anyway, so his absence won't be a big loss for Washington.
Faced with a short week and a growing list of injuries, Washington cleared three roster spots Tuesday.
Head coach Jay Gruden told reporters they were placing Thompson, Pryor and offensive lineman Spencer Long on injured reserve.
As for reinforcements, they've signed running back LeShun Daniels off the practice squad, along with linebacker Pete Robertson and nose tackle A.J. Francis. They've also signed center Demetrius Rhaney, who spent parts of four seasons with the Rams, and was released by the Jaguars earlier this year. ...
Thompson's injury leaves Perine, Byron Marshall, a multi-faceted running back who was signed off Philadelphia's practice squad just last week and Daniels.
Perine has a golden opportunity. He showed some encouraging signs against Minnesota in Week 10, but had a breakthrough game Sunday against the Saints with a career-high 117 yards on 32 carries. He also scored touchdown).
Perine is the obvious fantasy play here, but I'll be taking a closer look at the entire backfield when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
Worth noting. ... As the Sports Xchange suggests, Sunday was a brilliant day for Cousins -- maybe his best of the season. It just wasn't enough in a losing effort.
Cousins (22-for-32, 322 yards, three touchdowns) made tough throws under duress time and again, especially on two second-half touchdown drives that put the Redskins ahead 31-16. Wide receiver Josh Doctson had his best game as a pro (four catches, 81 yards) and Crowder (seven catches, 72 yards) had his best game of the season. Thompson caught a touchdown pass before breaking his leg.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Crowder continues to see strong volume. He has target totals of 13, 11 and eight over his last three games. Crowder has crossed the 70-yard threshold in each of those contests and is the only Washington wide receiver with any consistent value.
That said, Cousins continues to show considerable trust in Doctson, especially in contested situations. ...
A few final notes. ... With the short week, Jordan Reed (hamstring) has been ruled out for the contest.
Thursday’s game marks the fourth straight game that Reed has missed as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury suffered in the first half of the Redskins’ Week 8 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
As he remains sidelined, the Redskins have mostly relied on Davis at the tight end position with both Niles Paul and Jeremy Sprinkle contributing as well.
Additionally, Trent Williams (knee), guard Brandon Scherff (knee), Perine (finger) and Grant (calf) are questionable for the game.
Expect Perine to play, but you'll need to verify his status in the 90 minutes leading up to kickoff. Again, watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood, Shaun Wilson, Derrius Guice, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Jehu Chesson, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, Jordan Reed