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  • Jets' McCown bids sad farewell to 2017 season
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown will need surgery on his fractured left hand, head coach Todd Bowles announced on Monday.

    • Broncos linebacker Shane Ray hit McCown on his non-throwing hand with his helmet as he brought McCown to the ground near the end of the third quarter of Sunday's 23-0 Jets loss, their sixth loss in eight games.

      McCown received a second opinion on Monday, confirming that surgery was necessary.

      Playing for his 10th team in his 15th NFL season, the 38-year-old had career highs in completions (267), yards (2,926) and touchdowns (23 -- 18 passing, five rushing) and tied his career high with 13 starts, which he hadn't done since 2004 with the Cardinals. He took every offensive snap for the Jets this season before Sunday.

      "It's been the best because of the guys, not (the) numbers," McCown said tearfully after the game about his season, adding that he knew "something wasn't right" immediately after the hit. "It's been the best because of the group of men in the locker room. ... I'm thankful they let me be a part of this team."

      The Jets signed McCown to a one-year, $6 million deal in March, and he made an extra $125,000 for each game he started, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week just last week after throwing for 331 yards with three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) in a 38-31 win over the Chiefs.

      "Well, it's big for him and it's big for us because he's been leading us all year offensively, for him to go down this late in the season," Bowles said about the injury. "But it's next-man-up mentality. ... But you feel sorry for Josh. He's having a very good year."

      Bowles later called McCown one of his "most favorite players" that he's worked with in his 18 years as an NFL coach during his weekly spot on ESPN Radio. He also said during his conference call with reporters that he and McCown will be "forever connected."

      "For him to go into this season and play so well ... that's pretty tough to watch," Bowles added on The Michael Kay Show. "I know how much it meant to him."

      Bowles also said that he talked to McCown on Monday, but they didn't discuss whether he'll continue playing.

      The next man up for the Jets is Bryce Petty, the third-year man out of Baylor, who has three touchdown passes and seven interceptions in seven career games (four starts). Christian Hackenberg, a 2016 second-round pick out of Penn State who has never seen regular-season action and was inactive for all but one game this season, will serve as Petty's backup.

      Bowles said Petty has the full support of the locker room.

      Said the coach: "We've stuck together all season and I don't see that changing."

      --Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is eligible to return this week from his four-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but head coach Todd Bowles wouldn't commit to reinstating the veteran just yet.

      "He can technically be invited back this week," Bowles said. "These are things we still have to discuss, though."

      Kerley has 22 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown in eight games this season. He was also the team's primary punt returner at the time of his suspension and has 16 returns for 85 yards. But he had a crucial fumble on a return in the fourth quarter against the Falcons in the pouring rain.

      Said Bowles about Kerley's possible return: "I'll let you guys know on Wednesday."

      Kerley was reinstated Monday, but the Jets have a roster exemption for him that expires next Monday (Dec. 18).

      NOTES: QB Josh McCown was named one of eight finalists for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award on Monday. The award, which is named after the founding owner of the Steelers, will be given at NFL Honors in Minneapolis the night before Super Bowl LII. The winner, which will be determined by a vote of current players, will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL to the charity of his choice. The other finalists are: Vernon Davis of the Redskins, Antonio Gates of the Chargers, Luke Kuechly of the Panthers, Haloti Ngata of the Lions, Alex Smith of the Chiefs, Joe Staley of the 49ers and Joe Thomas of the Browns. Colts running back Frank Gore won last year. ... RB Elijah McGuire left Sunday's game with an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return. His status will be updated on Wednesday, according to head coach Todd Bowles. ... LS Thomas Hennessy injured his head making a tackle on a punt return in Sunday's game and did not return. He is in concussion protocol. TE Eric Tomlinson served as the long snapper in his absence and will continue to do so should Hennessy miss more time.

  • Texans coach O'Brien passionate about Savage situation
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    HOUSTON -- In an impassioned and detailed breakdown of the events surrounding Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage suffering a scary concussion and briefly going back into the game Sunday, head coach Bill O'Brien was emphatic Monday about one thing.

    • O'Brien said he never would have allowed Savage to resume playing if he had viewed the viral, disturbing video shown during the game broadcast of Savage lying on the ground in the end zone with his arms and hands twitching after absorbing a crushing blow from San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.

      O'Brien extended that opinion of not placing Savage into potential danger to head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan.

      "At no point in time, is there anything more important to me than the safety of our players," O'Brien said. "I love our players and I care about them and I cannot stand when players get injured. With benefit of seeing the video that people are seeing, I would've never put him back in the game, but I don't see that.

      "I'm not passing the buck. Anybody that's been on the sideline of a football game knows that, from a coaching standpoint, you really can't see things like that, especially when the ball's in certain areas of the field."

      The NFL and NFL Players Association have launched a joint investigation into if the concussion protocol was handled correctly. There's no timetable for when the investigation would conclude.

      During a conference call Monday, NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said the league and the players' union will work together to "conduct a thorough review of the incident focused on whether the protocol was properly followed, but we're also continuing looking at the protocol to look for ways to improve and strengthen it."

      The NFL concussion protocol and the league's response to head injuries are under major scrutiny again in the wake of Savage's injury.

      The way the protocol works involves a team effort between spotters in the press box, independent neurologist consultants and team medical personnel.

      Savage went to the sideline under the medical tent after the Dumervil hit, was quickly cleared and then went back in the game for one series. A trainer noticed something wasn't right with Savage, had him checked again and he was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

      What can be done to upgrade the system to prevent future breakdowns like this one? Well, video isn't allowed on the sideline for coaches. Coaches just have access to tablets for electronic playbooks.

      There has been injury video available on the sidelines for medical personnel, including team and those unaffiliated since January of 2012, according to the NFL.

      Two certified athletic trainers are assigned to a stadium booth with access to multiple views of video and replay. They monitor the game and communicate with team medical staff by radio to make sure that a concussion evaluation is conducted on the sideline.

      Both spotters file a report of all activity after each game for review by the NFL chief medical officer and NFLPA medical director.

      "Obviously, this was more than a standard head injury evaluation," said Dr. Erin Manning, a neurologist for the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "What makes it hard for the physician is they're doing that evaluation on the sideline fairly quickly. You're doing it based on what the player is reporting and if you find anything. Sometimes, it's limited information, sometimes people don't start showing symptoms until long after they've had a head injury."

      That was the case with Savage, whose symptoms didn't kick in until after the roughly five-minute period between when he went back into the game after being hit by Dumervil.

      "The way the system is set up is unfortunate because people can have delayed symptoms and there will be people going back in who have symptoms later and can have delayed systems," Manning said. "In a way, the system works because they realized something was wrong and took Tom Savage out. That part did work."

      There was a major disconnect between Savage taking the scary hit and being allowed to go back in the game that triggered an outcry in social media and broadcasting with incorrect speculation that the former Pitt standout had experienced a seizure and was coughing up blood.

      "The audience feels like if they can see it at home, why can't the people on the sideline see it?" Manning said. "It's hard when you're standing on the sideline and you can't see everything on the field. That's why they put in the spotters to try to eliminate some of that.

      "Even then, the spotter isn't necessarily seeing it. One answer might be to have one person designated on the sideline who can see that video and say, 'This looked really bad.'"

      What did the arm movement mean?

      "There's some abnormal movement, but calling it a seizure is an overreaction," Manning said. "Part of the reason is people have misconceptions of what a seizure looks like."

      After Savage got hit when the offensive line was overwhelmed by a heavy blitz package, he went to the sideline and got checked out inside a medical tent and was quickly cleared and went back into the game for a three-and-out series during which he threw two incompletions.

      Savage was ruled out after being rechecked inside the locker room after initially resisting leaving the game. He seemed fine afterward.

      "The medical people on the sideline, they come to me and say, 'We're going to check Tom for a concussion,'" O'Brien said. "They take him into the tent, they check him, maybe two, three minutes. They say Tom can play, he's good to go. So, I make the determination, talk to Tom, 'Hey, here's the plays we're going to go with,' and we put Tom back out there. After that next series, they came back over to me, 'We're going to check him again.' I said, 'Thanks, OK, great.' I said to Kap at that point, our trainer, 'Look, I think we need to check him again.'

      "It wasn't anything I particularly saw on the field, just said, 'Look, that was a quick check. Let's continue to check him and make sure Tom Savage is OK.' They were not satisfied with his answers to the questions they were asking him, and they pulled him from the game."

      --Standing in front of his locker following another setback, Texans Pro-Bowl outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney didn't hold back his disappointment and frustration.

      The Texans were beaten, 26-16, by a San Francisco 49ers team that had won just two games entering Sunday.

      "I'm very upset," Clowney said. "Man, we're 4-9. I'm upset about that. We're a lot better than what our record says we are."

      The Texans allowed 416 yards of total offense and 20 first downs. They yielded 102 rushing yards, including 78 to Carlos Hyde with one touchdown.

      "I'm tired of losing," Clowney said. "Yeah, it hurt."

      The Texans' latest loss unfolded as 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 20 of 33 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

      "He's good, he nice," Clowney said. "He made some nice passes, some accurate passes, got the ball out of his hand fast. He's doing his thing."

      The Texans have now lost six of their past seven games. Clowney attributed the decline to key injuries, not head coach Bill O'Brien.

      "Bill O'Brien is a good coach, man," Clowney said. "You've gotta look around the locker room. We ain't got everybody."

      Clowney briefly left the game with a leg injury, but walked it off on the sideline and went back in the game.

      "I knew I was going to come back," he said. "I just had to let it calm down."

      --Dealing with the aftermath of his third concussion of the year and being placed on injured reserve for the second time this season, Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz still hopes to resume his NFL career.

      Fiedorowicz is evaluating his medical options and the Texans are taking their time while he continues to recuperate and haven't made any decisions on his status. Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said he expects Fiedorowicz back next season.

      Following an ESPN report suggesting Fiedorowicz could be forced to retire, Fiedorowicz's agent told The Chronicle, Fiedorowicz wants to play and will take his time.

      League sources not authorized to speak publicly said that the Texans are concerned about Fiedorowicz's short-term and long-term health because of his history of concussions, but added no decisions have been made or imminent.

      --Texans linebacker Brian Cushing made an emotional return Sunday and was effective at an unfamiliar position.

      Although Cushing recorded five tackles and a half-sack and was a team captain in his first game back after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy, he didn't get everything he wanted.

      "I've had time off, but it comes back kind of quick," he said. "It's one of those things you remember pretty fast once you get out there and you knock it out pretty quick."

      --Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn continues to struggle mightily.

      The former Lou Groza award winner from UCLA missed an extra point wide left and had a 52-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright.

      He has four missed kicks in the past two games, including a pair of missed field goals in a loss last week to the Tennessee Titans.

      Fairbairn has connected on 18 of 23 field goals and 30 of 33 extra points in his second NFL season.

      NOTES: LB Dylan Cole got crushed on a sideline crack-back block that drew a penalty, but said he merely got the wind knocked out of him. ... WR Will Fuller V returned after missing the past three games with cracked ribs and made an immediate impact. Fuller finished three catches for 26 yards on five targets. He had a pair of first downs on catches in the first quarter.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus - Entering the game after Tom Savage suffered a concussion, backup T.J. Yates threw two touchdown passes. DeAndre Hopkins caught 11 passes.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C - The Texans rushed for a season-low 53 yards last week. They improved to 90 yards this game.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - The Texans allowed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to complete 20 of 33 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D - The Texans allowed 102 rushing yards overall as a team, including one touchdown run from Carlos Hyde.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D - Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a field goal and an extra point. The return game was non-existent.

      --COACHING: F - Play-calling could have been better and the Texans lacked intensity as they fell to the now 3-10 49ers.

  • With McCown injured, it's Petty's turn for Jets
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J.-- Let's start today with a joke: The New York Jets still aren't eliminated from postseason contention.

    • Well, actually that's not a joke, it's a fact. It just sounds funny when you consider how poorly the Jets played Sunday in Denver.

      Josh McCown is out for the season with a broken left hand, head coach Todd Bowles announced Monday, and it's time for the Jets to say goodbye to the 38-year-old quarterback.

      Everyone involved knew his time with the Jets would be short, and McCown's tearful press conference after Sunday's 23-0 loss felt more like a retirement announcement anyway.

      And if that's the case, Jets fans should tell McCown to fare thee well after he gave them some unexpected moments of jubilation this season. As crazy as this sounds after the Jets were shut out for the first time since Oct. 5, 2014, a case could have been made just last week for McCown to be an AFC Pro Bowler.

      He was also their leader, as Bowles articulated on Monday.

      "From the time he walked in the door, just always doing the right thing, saying the right things and helping everybody on the team, not just offensively, but defensively, as well," Bowles said about McCown. "Not to mention the fact that he made some plays out there on the field that have helped us out."

      Alas, McCown's time has been cut short. As has the Jets' opportunity for a playoff run after failing to hold leads in three straight games against the Patriots, Dolphins and Falcons, and with their inability to even beat bad teams on the road, where they are now 1-5.

      But here's the good news for the Jets after their bleakest Sunday of the season: They actually have a second chance to tank.

      Even with McCown healthy, winning any of their final three games would have been difficult. The Jets (5-8) play in New Orleans this week, with the Saints (9-4) coming off a nine-day break. Then they will play host to the Chargers (7-6), who have won four in a row and seven out of nine, before closing out with the Patriots (10-2) in New England, possibly with home field in the AFC playoffs still on the line.

      New starter Bryce Petty has completed 52 percent of his passes in his career with two touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Asking Petty or Christian Hackenberg (who may make his NFL debut before the season is over) to beat Drew Brees, Philip Rivers or Tom Brady is laughable. So, 5-11 is a very real possibility for the Jets.

      Now, the Browns (0-13) and Giants (2-11) are the only teams guaranteed to have worse records than the Jets. Of the six other teams with less than five wins, only the Broncos would be in the quarterback market in the draft. The 49ers (3-10) seem to have their guy in Jimmy Garoppolo. The Colts (3-10) will be getting Andrew Luck back next season, same with the Texans (4-9) and Deshaun Watson. Mitchell Trubisky seems to be getting better every game for the Bears (4-9) and the Bucs (4-9) will ride with Jameis Winston in 2018, the last year of his rookie deal.

      Cleveland and the Giants will likely be in play for USC's Sam Darnold or UCLA's Josh Rosen, but if the Jets keep moving up the draft order, would it be possible for them to swing a trade into the top two like the Bears did earlier this year to get Trubisky?

      With the Giants, the answer would be a resounding no. The last thing the Giants want is a quarterback they could have drafted become a star for a different team in the same stadium.

      With the Browns, the answer is maybe. It would be extremely expensive, but it's possible the Jets could make a massive draft-day deal with them to get their man, especially because Cleveland's strategy in recent years has been to stockpile as many draft picks as it can. Of course, that might change with John Dorsey being the new general manager.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The Jets had one first down from a pass play. That's the lowest total in an NFL game since 2010, when the Steelers didn't have any, but still beat the Titans, 19-11, behind the immortal QB duo of Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon, who were playing in place of a suspended Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday, Josh McCown had 46 yards passing (his lowest total since 2013) after two straight 300-yard games at home, and turned the ball over twice. Bryce Petty was 2 of 9 for 14 yards in relief.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Since the passing game wasn't working, the Jets ran the ball 23 times despite trailing by more than two scores for 52 minutes of the game. But they had only 59 yards, led by Bilal Powell's 35 yards on 13 carries. Adding injury to insult was rookie Elijah McGuire, who hurt his ankle in the first half and did not return. The Jets had 100 total yards, which was their second lowest output in franchise history. In Joe Namath's last game, on Dec. 12, 1976, the Jets had 72 yards ... but at least they scored in a 42-3 loss to the Bengals.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D -- If they were playing against good offense, the numbers wouldn't have been terrible, but this was Trevor Siemian, who only regained his starting spot because Paxton Lynch got injured and Brock Osweiler is somehow even worse than he is. Siemian was 19 of 31 for 200 yards and a touchdown. During the Broncos' eight-game losing streak, their quarterbacks threw 14 interceptions, including nine for Siemian. But the Jets couldn't get one on Sunday, and they have now failed to force a turnover the last three games. One tiny bright spot was that Muhammad Wilkerson got his first full sack since Week 9 against Buffalo. Demaryius Thomas torched the Jets (mostly Morris Claiborne) for 93 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Jets held C.J. Anderson to 48 yards on 22 carries and backup Devontae Booker to 22 yards on nine carries, and the Broncos' longest run of the game was Siemian's 9-yard scramble. But fullback Andy Janovich plunged in from a yard out for the Broncos' second touchdown.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Punter Lachlan Edwards averaged nearly 46 yards on his eight punts, but the coverage was terrible, as Jordan Taylor had five returns for 62 yards, including a 24-yarder that led to a touchdown. JoJo Natson had a 27-yard kickoff return, and Chandler Catanzaro didn't attempt a field goal or an extra point for the first time in his four-year career.

      --COACHING: F -- All year, Todd Bowles has received credit for his team's fight, often against superior opponents, and often at home. Well, it's time for him to take a knock for having his team lay down against inferior opponents on the road. The Jets are 1-5 away from home, with the only win against the winless Browns by three points. They have lost to the Dolphins (5-7), Bucs (4-9) and Broncos (4-9) on the road, and while the first two were at least close, Sunday was a laugher against a team that had lost eight in a row.

  • Chargers dominate Redskins; head to Kansas City
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The right side of .500 looks just fine for the Los Angeles Chargers. It took a four-game winning streak to reach 7-6 and if the players want to enjoy it, have at it.

    • "They like to have fun and the only time they do it is when they make a play," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "If they're taking pictures in the end zone after touchdowns and after turnovers, I'm pretty cool with that."

      The Chargers remain hot, smoking the Washington Redskins, 30-13, on Sunday. It was the Chargers' seventh win in nine games as they continued to climb out of their 0-4 hole.

      On Monday, the Chargers gathered to start their biggest week in years. They head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in Saturday's showdown for first-place in the AFC West.

      "They are a good football team," Lynn said. "They are leading the division for a reason."

      The Chiefs have the same record as the Chargers, but they won in Los Angeles in September. That was when the Chargers were a wobbly operation, looking nothing like the bunch that has steamrolled rivals with consistency of late.

      On Sunday, the Redskins, decimated by injuries, were no match for the Chargers and that was evident early on. While the Rams and Eagles were playing a thrilling game across town, this was a snooze fest as the Chargers dominated at every level.

      "As long as we are winning we are doing something right," wide receiver Tyrell Williams said after his 132-yard game that included a 75-yard scoring pass from Philip Rivers.

      The win also helped the Chargers in the AFC wild-card mix with the Tennessee Titans falling to the Arizona Cardinals.

      It seems whenever the Chargers flip cards of late, they come up aces. But there's still work to be done.

      "We haven't accomplished anything really at all," left tackle Russell Okung said.

      But they are closer to doing something special as they prepare for the Chiefs.

      --Cornerback Desmond King, a fifth-round pick, continues to produce. He collected his fourth sack in six games as the Chargers continue to exploit pass protections not accounting for King's blitzes.

      "He's got a knack for getting around blocks and getting to the quarterback," head coach Anthony Lynn said.

      --The Chargers held their breath briefly when left tackle Russell Okung exited with a knee injury. He deemed himself fit and returned. "I'd be out there if I was 20 percent (fit)," he said.

      --Los Angeles put its stamp on the game early thanks to its explosive offense. Their 354 first-half yards were the most in an opening two quarters since at least 1991.

      NOTES: RB Andre Williams (wrist) will miss the rest of the season after getting hurt on Sunday. He was also a contributor on special teams. ... RB Branden Oliver will see his role increase with the injury to Andre Williams (wrist). ... LT Russell Okung (knee) exited Sunday's game, but he returned and seems to be OK.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: A - Philip Rivers mimicked a typical L.A. crowd and left early. While he stuck around, his day was abbreviated as he carved up Washington for two touchdowns and 319 yards in three quarters before slapping on a ball cap. Tyrell Williams gave the quiet crowd a buzz when he raced 75 yards for a scoring catch. The protection was good on a day in which seven receivers had catches, with two get more than 100 yards (Keenan Allen, Williams).

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A - When getting nearly 175 rushing yards, this deserves a good mark. Then again, the way Rivers was flinging around the ball, getting yards on the ground didn't seem that important. Many of these came with the Chargers draining the clock, but it's always good to see Melvin Gordon find the end zone. Austin Ekeler had some good runs; he should have gone down before the half for a field-goal attempt. The rookie learned that lesson on what was a pretty good day on the ground.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - The pass defense continues to make strides and that's particularly true with Desmond King. He had another sack and the pass defense again didn't allow a receiver to gain 100 yards for the 13th straight game. Kyle Emanuel had a pick off Trevor Williams' deflection as Kirk Cousins just did break the 150-yard passing mark. Pass rush was a tad tame, but hard to argue with the results.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: F - When looking for reasons why the Chargers saved their season, the run defense has to be mentioned. The Redskins managed but 65 yards and we know much of that was because they were in catch-up mode for nearly the entire game. But Corey Liuget was active in the middle and the linebackers are showing more fundamentals in their tackling.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Travis Coons continues to rattle in field goals, getting three more on Sunday in his second game with the Chargers. Punter Drew Kaser got off a 63-yard punt. Chris McCain was able to deflect an extra point. Travis Benjamin had a 47-yard punt return. There were contributions from various areas of special teams and that hasn't been said too many times this season.

      --COACHING: A - Anthony Lynn continues to reap the rewards of letting Philip Rivers win games instead of a so-so running attack. Rivers is on a sizzling streak and Lynn gets credit for not trying to over-think it and getting out of his way. Lynn did leave some points on the field in the first half, which is always a no-no. Maybe his smartest move in a football game that didn't have many critical moments was getting Rivers out of the game early in favor of backup Kellen Clemens. Wise move.

  • Mystery of Raiders' offense continues
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Where has Derek Carr gone?

    • The same quarterback who was a Most Valuable Player candidate a year ago is coming off one of his worst games for the Oakland Raiders, a 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

      The loss crippled the Raiders' playoff hopes. They could have been in the driver's seat in the AFC West race with a win, but instead fell to 6-7 and are seeded No. 9 in the AFC with three games to play.

      Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, asked about Carr's play Monday, said he essentially wanted to see the entire team play with more verve.

      "I think that there have been many examples throughout the season where we have not played boldly to go make the plays," Del Rio said. "I would really like to see that ... if you go halfway, it's not good enough anyway. So I'd love to just see us just let it rip, OK, and go play.

      "Talked about hair on fire, talked about the kind of effort and energy, playing fast, that's what I believe in -- and I'd love to see it more often."

      Carr fell to 0-4 in Arrowhead Stadium, where he has produced five touchdowns in 52 possessions, with four of those scores coming late in one-sided games. His career passer rating in Kansas City is 62.1.

      In his weekly YouTube video on his website Monday, Carr promised his fans he'd keep up the good fight.

      "We're one game out, we have a split with Kansas City, we have to beat Dallas this week, that's the most important thing," Carr said. "We know we have good players. We know we have a lot of talent. But we haven't put it together so far.

      "We've got to go out and execute at a high level and it's ridiculous that we haven't been able to."

      --Tight end Jared Cook provided one of the Raiders' few highlights with a 29-yard touchdown reception in the second half, but wasn't in a celebrating mood afterward.

      "Not good enough. No first-half points. Barely any second-half points," Cook said. "We (the offense) didn't pull our weight. The defense made a good job holding a team like that to three-and-outs, making them settle for field goals, keeping them out of the end zone. The offense just didn't pull its weight today."

      Now the Raiders must accept it and move on.

      "We made our bed," Cook said. "Now we've got to lie in it."

      --The loss marked the fourth time in 2017 where the Raiders were basically non-competitive and beaten decisively in a game away from home.

      The Raiders also lost 27-10 at Washington, 34-14 at Buffalo and 33-8 in New England (a game in Mexico City that was technically a home game).

      "I wish I had the answer because it would have been something we could have nipped after the first couple of drives," Carr said. "I will look at myself as I always do and see what I can do better and help my teammates along the way."

      --Center Rodney Hudson, a former Chiefs player who has been the Raiders' most consistent offensive lineman this season, was at a loss to explain why his team came out so flat.

      "I've got to watch the tape. No clue," Hudson said. "We got off to a slow start for whatever reason."

      Hudson did not feel the Raiders will give any less effort over the last three games with the playoffs looking less likely.

      "Every time you get an opportunity to play in this league, you want to play hard," Hudson said. "I know we've got a bunch of guys that feel that way."

      NOTES: DL Mario Edwards Jr. left Sunday's game with an ankle injury and did not return. ... TE Clive Walford left with a concussion and did not return. ... QB Derek Carr threw his 99th career touchdown pass in the second half Sunday, on a pass that went to Jared Cook. ... DE Khalil Mack had a sack in his fourth straight game and leads the Raiders with 8.5. ... DE Denico Autry had his first start of the season. He batted down two passes and has seven for the season.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: F -- By the time Derek Carr got going, it was too late. He had thrown for just 40 yards by the time the Raiders trailed 26-0, and much of the 198 net yards passing was in garbage time. He did make a nice fourth-down throw to Jared Cook for a 29-yard touchdown pass that was reminiscent of what Carr can do when he's playing well. Other than that play, Carr had no completion of more than 11 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Don't be deceived by the 6.4 average yards per carry. Marshawn Lynch had 49 of his 61 yards rushing on two attempts. Nice, but not exactly the steady drumbeat of first downs the Raiders needed to possess the ball and have some control over the game. DeAndre Washington had 9 yards on four carries. The Raiders had only 11 rushing plays in the game.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C -- Alex Smith was sacked four times -- two times by Bruce Irvin in the first half -- and he finished 20 of 34 for 268 yards. The Raiders did well to hold the Chiefs to 26 points by forcing field-goal attempts four times. S Karl Joseph had the first interception of the season by a Raiders defensive back. There was some shoddy tackling in the secondary, with Joseph an offender.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus -- The Chiefs' ailing rushing game got well against the Raiders, as Kareem Hunt broke loose for 116 yards on 25 carries. Kansas City finished with 165 yards, averaged 5.0 yards per attempt and had two rushing touchdowns -- a 1-yard run by Hunt and 13 yards by Charcandrick West. The Chiefs were able to keep possession for 36:40 with the help of their running game.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Marquette King punted seven times for a 40.9 average and put one ball at the 14-yard line, but didn't swing field position in a positive way for the Raiders. Jalen Richard managed to catch the only punt he fielded and the Chiefs made sure Cordarrelle Patterson never fielded a kickoff.

      --COACHING: F - For the fourth time away from home this year the Raiders didn't look remotely competitive. Whether it was execution or predictability, a porous Kansas City defense played as if it knew what was coming from the Raiders offense. The Raiders were completely outplayed and out-coached when the Raiders had everything to play for and a playoff berth in sight.

  • Jaguars finally get O-line back together
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For the first time since Week 4, the Jaguars' offensive line was intact. Tackles Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell, guards Patrick Omameh and A.J. Cann along with center Brandon Linder finally started a game together.

    • That group opened the season with four consecutive starts and got the Jaguars ground game off to a strong start with 595 yards.

      They were then able to overcome the loss of Linder for the next three weeks as the Jaguars ran for 588 yards in those three contests. But then the injuries started to mount.

      Over the next five games, Robinson was the only starter to answer the bell for each of those five games. The other four players missed a combined eight games with the rushing game suffering because of the changes.

      In the last five games, the Jaguars only managed 122 yards a contest. So with the starting five back in the lineup for Sunday's game against the Seahawks, the Jaguars were pleased with the 157 yards on the ground, including a team-best 101-yard effort by Leonard Fournette.

      It marked just the second time since Week 6 that Fournette had hit the 100-yard mark. And as far as Fournette's health? He's doing what he can to help the offense move the ball and score points.

      "Me, I'm alright," he said. "Running-wise, I'm doing what I need to do to keep my ankle healthy and stuff, making the right reads and helping the O-line out."

      None of Fournette's 24 runs were bigger than his final carry. The Jaguars took over with 2:17 left in the game when Seattle couldn't convert a fourth-and-9 from its own 43. Fournette was held to minus-1 yard on the first two plays, leaving a third-and-11 situation. That's when Fournette turned the corner around left end and plowed ahead for a 13-yard gain and a first down with 54 seconds left in the game. From there the Jaguars were able to take a pair of kneel-downs, though not without some added excitement as there were five penalties and two ejections in those final two plays.

      Fournette was asked if the Jaguars drafted him fourth overall last spring for his final run.

      "Most definitely," he said laughing. "It was funny because Blake (Bortles) was like, 'We need this.' In the back of my mind, I was like, 'I can't let nothing stop me.' I got the first down and that was it."

      --Three really good plays and three pretty bad plays. That sums up the work of the Jaguars secondary that came into Sunday's game against the Seahawks with the NFL's lowest average of passing yards allowed per game (167.1). First the bad plays. It only took three completions for Seattle to surpass the Jaguars' average of 167.1. Russell Wilson teamed with three receivers for big gains - Tyler Lockett (74 yards), Paul Richardson (61) and Doug Baldwin (43). That trio accounted for 178 yards on those three catches, with Lockett and Richardson grabs going for touchdowns.

      Now the good plays. That would be the three interceptions, two by cornerback A.J. Bouye and one by the other corner, Jalen Ramsey. Those three picks got Wilson and Co. off the field and prevented any more long scoring tosses. And other than the three long completions, the secondary actually played fairly well, holding Wilson to a 50 percent completion average on 14-of-28 passing, good for just 93 yards and only one score.

      "They were super game-changing," Ramsey said about the three picks. "I think we scored off of AJ's, maybe both (yes, touchdown and a field goal). Game changing because it stopped their momentum and gave us momentum."

      Added Bouye, "It feels great to get a win against a playoff-caliber team that's won a Super Bowl. I was just in a zone. My dad told me all week that I always play good against Russell and that he feels that I'm about to get a good game. I'm glad I was able to help the team."

      The secondary won't be celebrating a lot however, due to the three long completions and the total of 271 yards allowed through the air. While they had trouble containing the three wide receivers, the secondary did a much better job on the Seahawks' talented tight end Jimmy Graham who was tied for the team lead with nine touchdowns. Graham failed to make a catch in the game and was targeted just twice, one of which Bouye made one of his interceptions.

      "It was great going out there matching blow for blow with one of the best teams in the league," said safety Barry Church, who got beat on Lockett's 74-yard touchdown reception. "We've just got to cut down on the mental errors because that cost us big plays."


      --PASSING OFFENSE: A - Back-to-back games of a 100-plus rating for Blake Bortles was just the second such occurrence in his four years with the Jaguars. His 123.7 rating was only the third best this season, but this may have been Bortles' best game. His pinpoint passing led to a 67 percent completion success, also third highest this season. Bortles seemed to be at his best when throwing the long pass, an area he's struggled with in the past. It was also the fourth time this year that Bortles was interception- and sack-free, a feat he had accomplished just once in his first three seasons. Receiver Dede Westbrook continued to shine with a season-best 81 yards on five receptions and his first NFL score.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - Leonard Fournette ran for 101 yards on 24 carries for a 4.2 average per attempt, the first time since Week 6 that he's averaged better than four yards a crack. Fournette has been hampered with an ankle issue the last several weeks but he ran with authority against the Seahawks and it didn't appear to be an issue. It was just the second time since Week 6 that Fournette had topped the century mark. His success undoubtedly helped the passing game as Bortles consistently found receivers on crossing patterns over the middle. Chris Ivory broke out of his mini-slump -- 13 net yards on 12 carries in the last four games -- to rush for 48 yards on six tries (8.0 average, the best mark by a Jaguars running back this season.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C - The NFL's best defense against the pass looked like anything but that as the Seattle's Russell Wilson shredded the Jaguars secondary for 271 yards, over 100 yards more than its league-leading average of 167.1 per game. Wilson's ability to connect for the big gainers was effective. He had completions of 43, 61 and 74 yards to account for 178 of his 271 total. Otherwise, the secondary limited Wilson to 14-of-28 throws for just 93 yards and intercepted him three times. But the long completions kept the Seahawks in the game, especially in the fourth quarter when Wilson completed four throws in six attempts for 149 yards. But the most significant stat was Wilson's three interceptions that killed Seahawks scoring drives.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus - Mike Davis was listed as the Seahawks fourth-string running back, but looked like a starter with his 66 yards in 15 carries (4.4 average) including a 21-yard pickup. Third-stringer J.D. McKissic helped out with 15 yards in three carries, and then there was quarterback Russell Wilson. He gained 50 yards on five scrambles though the Jaguars did a good job on him in the second half by holding him to 8 yards on one carry. The Seahawks' 5.9 average per attempt was a season-best by a Jaguars' opponent.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Hard to take issue with any of the special teams. The kickoff coverage unit allowed six kickoffs to be returned for a 16.8 average, a very acceptable number. The ever-dangerous Tyler Lockett was limited to 5 return yards on three punts. The Jaguars punt return average was spiked with a 72-yard return by Jaydon Mickens with the only negative point coming when Mickens was tackled at the 1-yard line. Josh Lambo continued his strong kicking by converting on field goals from 38, 51 and 32 yards. He's missed just one kick in 16 attempts since joining the Jaguars in Week 7. He's now had three games in which he's kicked three field goals.

      --COACHING: A-minus - It was hailed as the biggest Jaguars game in nearly a decade. Certainly, it was the most significant as it came against a quality team, one that had beaten Philadelphia (only NFL team with 11 wins in its first 12 games this season) the week before, and was the Jaguars ninth win of the season, guaranteeing them their first winning season since the 2007 season (11-5). Despite the big buildup for the game, head coach Doug Marrone kept the Jaguars focused on the task ahead which was to keep Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson from leading the Seahawks to a win via his scrambling. The Jaguars had a good balance of 31 passes and 24 runs and kept the ball away from Wilson by controlling it for over 33 minutes.

  • Jaguars QB Bortles silencing the doubters
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE -- With the Jacksonville Jaguars gaining more and more attention, the first thing people talk about is the success the Jaguars have had due to their defense.

    • And why not?

      The Jaguars have allowed 202 points, the fewest in the NFL, and their defense ranks No. 2 for total yards allowed. They lead the NFL in sacks, takeaways and most points scored off turnovers.

      And while the defense continues to garner the most attention, it's hard to overlook what quarterback Blake Bortles is doing for the offense. Bortles is the much-maligned quarterback who has been subjected to harsh media criticism and fan wrath over the years.

      But that talk has subsided after Bortles has turned in impressive efforts week after week. Sunday's performance against Seattle certainly qualifies for such a list. Some Jaguars regulars who watch and cover the team on a regular basis are calling his performance against the Seahawks his best all-around game ever as a Jaguars player.

      That's a big claim as Bortles has had games where he's passed for 381 yards, where he's thrown five touchdown passes, where he finished with a passer rating of 134.5. All of his numbers in Sunday's game against the Seahawks fell short of the aforementioned figures as he passed for 268 yards, had two touchdown passes and finished with a rating of 123.7.

      But it's the throws that Bortles made. The 75-yard bomb to Keelan Cole was such that Cole never broke stride. Same with the numerous throws that Bortles made to Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook on crossing routes over the middle.

      Bortles is playing at an extremely high level. He's playing in a manner that gives the Jaguars a chance to make a run, maybe a deep run in the playoffs. Head coach Doug Marrone is among his main supporters.

      "He has done a nice job," Marrone said of his quarterback. "It is all out there to see. Everyone always watches the quarterback. What is interesting for me, we were watching the tape. We were in the staff meeting. I told them, 'You know what my favorite play was? When he was in the pocket, he stepped up and he turned his shoulder and stepped up with the football and protected the football stepping up.'

      "Now that might be the (offensive) line coach in me doing that, but that to me is when you are starting to say, 'All the work we are doing -- the little things, the technique, the foot work and things of that nature, it is all looking very comfortable.' It is a comfortable movement for him. He knows, like we always say, now he has go out and do it again. He understands that and he has done a great job with those challenges."

      Sunday's game was the fourth time this year that Bortles has not thrown an interception, nor was he sacked. That goes a long way in helping any quarterback post some impressive numbers. While some were calling it Bortles' best individual performance ever, he wasn't ready to go there. ... yet.

      "I don't know. I have to watch (the tape)," he said. "I felt as though I put our offense in a chance to score points. Obviously, not turning the ball over is a big part of that. As long as we can do that, we'll go back and grade it.

      "There will be plays that were bad that we have to get corrected, but there were a lot of plays made out there by the wide receivers, running backs and the offensive line that were pretty awesome."

      NOTES: G Patrick Omameh returned to the starting lineup after missing the last 3 1/2 games due to a quadriceps injury. ... K Josh Lambo has converted on 16 of 17 field goals for the Jaguars since joining the team in Week 7. If Lambo makes eight more field goals without a miss, he would establish a franchise single-season record for accuracy (96 percent, based on minimum of 25 kicks). ... LB Telvin Smith missed his second straight game as he remained in the league's concussion protocol. Smith practiced in full Wednesday and Thursday last week, but then was out of Friday's practice. ... RB Chris Ivory's 34-yard run against Seattle was his longest run of the season, bettering the 19-yarder he had against Pittsburgh. ... WR Keelan Cole's 75-yard TD reception was the longest Jaguars pass play of the season. The previous long had been Cole's 52-yard catch-and-run in the first game against Indianapolis. ... DT Malik Jackson got his seventh sack of the season and has now posted a single-season career-high. That betters his previous best of 6.5 last year. ... DE Yannick Ngakoue recorded another sack, increasing his season total to 11.0. That's one shy of the previous team record of 12 set by Tony Brackens in 1999, but broken earlier this year by Calais Campbell who has 12.5. ... CB A.J. Bouye had two more interceptions on Sunday and now leads the team with a career-high six this season. His six interceptions are tied for the second-most in a season in franchise history and are tied for the most in the NFL this season.

  • RB Riddick provides spark for Lions' offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions won't find a permanent fix for their league-worst rushing attack until the offseason, but they are at least willing to try a new approach down the stretch.

    • Theo Riddick made his second straight start at running back in Sunday's 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he accounted for 93 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

      Riddick was a bigger factor catching passes (six for 64 yards) than he was rushing (10 carries, 29 yards), but he scored both of his touchdowns on the ground despite the Lions de-emphasizing the running game.

      Playing against the league's worst pass rush, and leading most of the game, the Lions attempted 44 passes on their 62 offensive plays.

      "He did some nice things," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said of Riddick. "Certainly, did some nice things in the pass game, had a really nice run for a touchdown there. It was impressive."

      Caldwell declined to name a starting running back after the game, insisting, "We don't talk about No. 1s, No. 2s, that's you guys' business. We just, we have a three-man rotation with three guys that we have up. All three guys play."

      Previously, the Lions had named Ameer Abdullah their starting running back, though Riddick had begun to eat into Abdullah's playing time before Abdullah suffered a neck injury in a Thanksgiving loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

      Abdullah did not play the last two weeks, though multiple reports indicated he was cleared to return against the Bucs.

      Caldwell insisted that Abdullah was "still nursing an injury," but indicated it's "a possibility" that he could return to the lineup this week.

      Tion Green and Zach Zenner played as Riddick's backups the last two weeks.

      "I don't get into all those different scenarios and if and what if," Caldwell said. "I go by what the doctors say, and where he is, and if we feel good about that. We kind of go from there."

      --The Lions have a difficult decision pending this offseason with Eric Ebron.

      Ebron has been a disappointment since the Lions made him the 10th pick of the 2014 draft, but the enigmatic tight end has strung together a couple of nice games in recent weeks.

      For now, Ebron is under contract for the 2018 season at $8.25 million, but the Lions can get out of that deal (so long as he stays healthy) before the start of the new league year. Ebron's play has not yet been commensurate with that salary, but he's also just 24 years old and the Lions are projected to have upwards of $50 million in cap room for 2018.

      On Sunday, Ebron set career highs with 10 catches and 94 yards receiving, and was heavily involved in the passing game. He also lost a first-quarter fumble.

      "Get involved early, stay involved and good things happen," Ebron said. "That's what they did, that's what they allowed me to do."

      Though Ebron struggled earlier this season with drops and has long been a magnet for fan criticism, he said Sunday that he doesn't take any personal satisfaction in providing his doubters wrong.

      "I'll never make this fan base happy, which is cool with me," Ebron told the Detroit Free Press. "I'll continue to go out there and do what I do and go from there."

      --Quarterback Matthew Stafford was kicking himself after Sunday's game over two interceptions he threw late in the first half.

      "Just two bad decisions," Stafford said. "I just got too aggressive."

      Despite the turnovers, Stafford played well overall and showed no ill effects from the right-hand injury that limited him in practice last week. Stafford, playing with tape on his right pinky and ring fingers, completed his first 12 pass attempts and finished 36 of 44 for 381 yards.

      After the game, Stafford praised his offensive line for keeping him out of harm's way - the Lions did not allow a sack - while coaches and teammates praised his toughness.

      "Tough guy who heals quickly," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's a great leader and did a tremendous job out there for us under some tough circumstances."

      NOTES: OL Corey Robinson started at right tackle Sunday in place of Rick Wagner (ankle), making the eighth different starting combination the Lions have used this year. Robinson, who spent time on injured reserve earlier this year because of a foot injury, is better suited for tackle than guard, where he started last week. ... CB Teez Tabor played a career-high 39 snaps Sunday as the Lions used their second-round pick regularly in their new nickel package. Quandre Diggs, formerly the Lions' nickel corner, moved to safety to replace Tavon Wilson, Tabor played as an outside cornerback, and Nevin Lawson played in the slot in most nickel packages vs. Tampa Bay. ... S Miles Killebrew has fallen out of favor among defensive coaches and barely played Sunday (just three snaps). Killebrew, a fourth-round pick last season, was considered the Lions' No. 3 safety coming into the season.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus - Matthew Stafford wasn't slowed one bit by the hand injury that limited him in practice last week. Stafford completed his first 12 passes of the game and finished 36 of 44 for 381 yards. Stafford did throw two careless interceptions in the second quarter, and TE Eric Ebron had a reception stripped out of his hand for a fumble in the first quarter, but the Lions didn't give up a sack for the first time this year. Stafford audibled into his biggest pass play of the day, a 38-yard strike to Marvin Jones Jr., and Ebron set career highs with 10 catches for 94 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D - The Lions finally stopped trying to force a running game that doesn't work and took to the air early against Tampa Bay. Theo Riddick started in place of Ameer Abdullah, who was a healthy scratch, and ran for two touchdowns, but 18 of his 29 yards (on 10 carries) came on one attempt. Both Tion Green and Zach Zenner got stuffed on third-and-short, though Travis Swanson missed a block on Green's run. Give left tackle Taylor Decker and tight end Michael Roberts credit for opening the hole on Riddick's 18-yard touchdown run.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B - The Lions forced five turnovers on Sunday, with four of them coming in the pass game. Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs intercepted Jameis Winston passes, Diggs forced an O.J. Howard fumble with a big hit after a catch down the middle, and rookie Jarrad Davis had a sack-fumble on Winston with a good linebacker blitz. The Lions still aren't generating enough pass rush with their front four, but Ziggy Ansah did haul Winston down on the final play of the game to preserve the victory. The Bucs had just one pass play over 20 yards.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus - The Lions allowed more than 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game Sunday, with most of Tampa Bay's production (28 carries, 133 yards) coming in the second half. Glover Quin made a great play to stop Doug Martin and force a fumble on a third-and-1 play with the Bucs in field-goal range just before halftime. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught the Lions napping on an end around, and Martin scored on a 1-yard run, but linebackers Jarrad Davis (nine tackles) and Tahir Whitehead (eight) both had solid days overall.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Matt Prater came back from a rough outing last week against the Ravens to drill his only field-goal attempt Sunday, a 46-yarder with 20 seconds left and the game on the line. Prater's heroics aside, the Lions had another mediocre day from their special teams. Sam Martin had two touchbacks and netted just 33.4 yards on five punts, while T.J. Jones was ineffective in the return game. Jamal Agnew (knee) will be a welcome return addition to the lineup next week.

      --COACHING: B - Jim Caldwell catches plenty of grief for his in-game management, but he was on point Sunday (and that's not just having 11 men on the field every play). The Lions managed the time at the end of both halves, though Stafford finished a second-quarter drive with an interception. Caldwell also challenged a would-be penalty by Diggs, arguing that Howard actually caught the pass on the field when he fumbled. Initially, officials ruled the play incomplete and penalized Diggs for a hit to a defenseless receiver. Given the circumstances Sunday - with the Lions coming off consecutive losses and plenty of speculation swirling about Caldwell's future as coach - it was important for the Lions to get a victory.

  • Chiefs CB Peters back from suspension
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters sat out Sunday's game against Oakland with a one-game suspension handed down by head coach Andy Reid.

    • Peters earned the penalty for a series of incidents during and after last week's loss to the New York Jets, including an on-the-field meltdown and alleged altercation with a coach on the team's bus following the game.

      Reid declined Monday to confirm the incident on the bus or discuss any specifics of Peter's suspension.

      "I don't get into all that," Reid said. "I just kind of stated what I stated. I'm not getting into all that. He's back in and we're ready to roll."

      Peters returned from the suspension on Monday, and Reid said he plans for Peters to start Saturday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.

      "The suspension's over, and now he's back in and ready to roll," Reid said. "That's the way I'm going to handle it, I know that's the way he'll handle it. Whatever wrong took place, he paid that price and now he's back and I expect nothing but the best from him."

      The Chiefs secondary delivered an exemplary performance Sunday despite the absence of Peters. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell started in his place at left corner and picked up an interception and four tackles along with breaking up three passes. But Reid gave credit to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for changes in the defensive line for the team's standout performance against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

      "I think it was probably more the changes, and they were subtle little things, but just moving people around a little bit on the front," Reid said. "He had a nice little scheme there going. It wasn't as much on the back end as it was on the front end there, but it sure looked good."

      Reid indicated he expects the club to welcome Peters back this week.

      "I know he loves to play the game, that's what I know," Reid said. "He's a big part of this team so he'll be back in and ready to go."

      --Quarterback Alex Smith had a relatively quiet afternoon in Sunday's 26-15 win over Oakland, but his 268 passing yards give him 3,507 yards through the air this season, setting a career high.

      That total eclipses the 3,502 yards Smith posted last season. He also ranks tied for fifth in the league with 23 touchdown passes, which equals his career best.

      But head coach Andy Reid isn't ready to rank this as Smith's best season quite yet.

      "I think he's done a nice job, yeah," Reid said. "We're not to the end yet, I don't know exactly how to evaluate that right now. I probably would do him wrong doing that. I know he's playing good football and we've still got games left."

      The Chiefs entered the 2017 season with Super Bowl aspirations, so Reid wants to see how his team finishes its season before handing out his report card.

      "That's the neat thing about football," Reid said, "you don't get that full grade until you're done with the season, but he's sure done a nice job up this point."

      --The Chiefs' offense on Sunday turned in its second strong outing since Reid turned over play-calling to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. The head coach praised his protege for handling the job with aplomb thus far.

      "I think he's doing a super job there, a real good job," Reid said. "He and the quarterback are on the same page and it's good energy."

      Smith agreed with Reid's assessment. He said Nagy and Reid along with assistant head coach Brad Childress continue putting together creative game plans.

      "I think those guys do such a great job, the whole offensive staff collaborating always, those guys are always talking, brainstorming," Smith said. "I think they all have a hand in it."

      Smith acknowledge one small benefit with Nagy calling the plays. When Reid calls plays, Nagy relays the signal to Smith via the headset in his helmet. With Nagy calling the plays, Smith gets a few extra seconds to analyze the defense pre-snap.

      "So without the relay, sometimes it can get in quicker, but that's a small thing, you're talking a couple seconds," Smith said.

      Reid sees plenty of benefits to Nagy calling the plays and expects to continue for now.

      "It allows me to see some things, work other areas but I think he's doing a nice job," Reid said.

  • Reid credits complete effort for Chiefs' win
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It took a long 40 days and 40 nights between victories for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sunday's dominating 26-15 triumph over the Oakland Raiders arguably ranks as the team's most complete game since Week 3 for head coach Andy Reid's squad.

    • "I thought they did a good job really in all three phases," Reid said. "That was important, something we hadn't done in a few weeks. We're tough when that takes place."

      The Chiefs opened the season as the toast of the NFL with a five-game winning streak featuring an upset over New England and shootout wins against Philadelphia and Houston.

      But the red-hot offense masked problems on the defensive side of the football. The Chiefs dropped six of their next seven games with the offense and defense alternatively turning in blame-worthy performances.

      But entering the fourth quarter of the season with the AFC West title on the line, Reid's team appeared to find its swagger Sunday. That's especially true for a defense that received the lion's share of blame for the team's latest struggles.

      "Defensively, I thought our defensive line, our secondary played really well," Reid said. "The secondary I thought flew around and did some nice things back there. We had a couple of picks and that was important. Turnovers are also important there."

      The win over Oakland puts the Chiefs atop the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers. Both teams sit 7-6 on the season, but the Chiefs own a win over the Chargers on the road. The winner of Saturday's night's game between the Chiefs and Chargers in Kansas City can take a commanding lead in the division with two games to play.

      Reid always stresses the importance of December games, especially divisional games at home.

      "We always say if you're in the last quarter of the season or so and you're within shooting distance here, you get to the month of December and you're in the mix, then every game becomes very important," Reid said.

      The key against the Chargers and building toward a potential playoff drive, however, rests upon the team's defense continuing to turn out efforts like Sunday's dismantling of the Raiders.

      "I thought we flew around, I thought we rallied to the ball well and then I thought we tackled well," Reid said. "We've had spurts of that over that last few weeks, but it hasn't been as consistent as really anybody wanted, including the players. I thought they did a real nice job with that."

      NOTES: S Steven Terrell landed on injured reserve Monday afternoon, bringing an end to his season. The team did not immediately specify a reason for the move. Terrell played Sunday despite a finger injury, and intercepted a pass on the team's final defensive snap. He did not show any obvious signs of injury and spoke to reporters after the game. The team promoted rookie S Leon McQuay to take his place. ... S Eric Murray did not play against Oakland, missing his second straight game with a high-ankle sprain. It remains unclear if Murray can return for this Saturday's game. ... C Mitch Morse did not play against Oakland after aggravating a left foot sprain that kept him out of the lineup for five games earlier this season. His availability this week remains in doubt. ... CB Marcus Peters returned to the team following a one-game suspension handed down by head coach Andy Reid. The club expects Peters to start at left cornerback against the Chargers. ... DE Allen Bailey played 49 percent of the team's defensive snaps after being limited in practice during the week with a sprained knee. ... LB Tamba Hali played a season-high 30 snaps against Oakland. The team rested the veteran pass rusher much of the week after moving practices to the club's indoor training facility, which includes artificial turf. The team prefers to limit Hali's time on artificial surfaces to reduce wear and tear on his knee. ... DT Bennie Logan played just nine defensive snaps Sunday. He practiced in full during the week despite the club listing him on the injury report with a knee issue.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Quarterback Alex Smith saw drops and penalties turn a stellar outing into a pedestrian effort. Tight ends Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris both dropped certain touchdown passes on balls that hit their hands. A Kelce touchdown came off the board due to a penalty on right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Add three touchdowns to Smith's line of 20-of-34 passing for 268 yards with an interception and a 26-0 Chiefs lead after three quarters becomes a 38-0 rout. Three receivers topped 70 yards receiving for the game, and the passing game did what it needed to do with a defensive delivering a shutdown performance.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- The Chiefs finally got rookie running back Kareem Hunt started early and he never stopped, breaking out of his five-game slump and picking up 116 yards and a touchdown with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. Backup Charcandrick West chipped in 25 more yards and a touchdown on three carries as the Chiefs tallied 165 yards rushing on the Raiders' defense. Hunt came close to breaking a couple of runs for big gains, and that was the only blemish on an otherwise solid effort in the run game for the backfield and the offensive line.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A -- Raiders quarterback Derek Carr picked up some garbage statistics late, but the Chiefs defense won the game by holding Derek Carr to 11 of 23 passing for 69 yards and an interception through the first three quarters. Defensive lineman Chris Jones led an aggressive push to collapse the pocket up the middle, and linebacker Justin Houston delivered the edge pass rush to put the heat on Carr. The secondary played aggressively even with All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters out with a one-game suspension. The Chiefs collected three sacks and five quarterback hits while breaking up nine passes, arguably the unit's best performance of the year.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Raiders averaged a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry, but the big first-half deficit forced them to abandon the run game early. Marshawn Lynch rushed just seven times for 61 yards and a touchdown. This was far from the defense's best effort against the run, but the group did what the team needed on a day when the pass defense carried the team.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Kicker Harrison Butker started a new streak after seeing his club-record 23 field goals in a row come to an end last week. Butker was perfect on four attempts, including a 53-yard kick that got the team going on its first drive. The Raiders gained zero return yards thanks to seven touchbacks from Butker and two fair catches on Dustin Colquitt's punts. The Chiefs' return game remains stuck in neutral without any big plays. The only real blemish came on a Colquitt punt that was partially blocked.

      --COACHING: A -- Head coach Andy Reid called his shot, proclaiming last week his team needed to generate more pressure against the quarterback and tighten up its defense on the back end. The Chiefs did exactly that against the Raiders, making Carr uncomfortable most of the afternoon and tenaciously attacking receivers down field. Reid's decision to hand off play-calling to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy continues paying dividends. The Chiefs delivered their first complete effort in all three phases of the game against the Raiders, and Reid deserves the lion's share of the credit.

  • After tough loss, Rams look ahead to Seahawks
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams were kicking themselves after essentially giving a game they had control over to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, denying themselves a chance to open a two-game lead over the Seahawks and move into a tie for the top seed in the NFC playoff.

    • The fact it was a series of self-inflicted wounds that led to the Rams coughing up a second-half lead was painfully frustrating, but they have no time to dwell on it as the Seahawks loom ahead and a chance to take firm control of the division race.

      "It's your divisional opponent, so it's going to be a lot of fun heading up to their place," wide receiver Cooper Kupp said. "You have a lot of respect for them and the way they play the game. We're excited about that. We're excited to go prepare this week. Seven days from now we've got to be ready to go again."

      The Rams will be shorthanded as starting cornerback Kayvon Webster went down for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. And, the status of fellow starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson is not yet known because he is in concussion protocol.

      The Rams hope to get starting wide receiver Robert Woods and outside linebacker Connor Barwin back after both missed the last three and two games, respectively. But their availability won't be decided until later this week.

      Between injury and rebounding emotionally, the Rams need to put behind them the ramifications of Sunday's loss and get focused on the Seahawks in a hurry.

      "This game's over with. Yeah, we lost, but it is what it is, they played better than us and they were able to get the win," said linebacker Alec Ogletree. "Like I said, a division game next week in Seattle, that game is always tough. Like I said, we just got to get ready for that one now."

      --Starting cornerback Kayvon Webster was lost for the season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury Sunday, a huge blow for a team that might not have fellow starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson next week due to a concussion.

      Said Rams head coach Sean McVay: "Guys will need to step up. We've got some depth at the corner spot - you look at Troy Hill and Kevin Peterson had to step in. Blake Countess can do a little bit of both, but those are things that after we kind of have some finality in terms of what we're going to do we'll get a chance to gather ourselves as a staff tomorrow and have a little bit better direction moving forward."

      Among his possible replacements is Nickell Robey-Coleman, the Rams slot cornerback.

      "Kayvon is my guy. Kayvon and I go all the way back to high school," Robey-Coleman said. "It means a lot to me that he's hurt right now. I pray (for) nothing but the best for him, his recovery and his family."

      --Quarterback Jared Goff committed a critical error in the fourth quarter when, with the Rams up by one on first down from their own 35, he was strip-sacked and fumbled the ball to the Eagles, who eventually cashed in with a field goal to take the lead.

      Goff held onto the ball a bit too long, especially with a backup at right tackle coming into the game just two plays before, and needs to be a little more aware of getting the ball off quicker.

      "I probably just held onto it a little bit too long," he said. "Stepped in the pocket there and Chris Long came around and made a great play. Probably get rid of it a little earlier there and one thing that you can learn from for sure."

      His head coach, Sean McVay, blamed himself for not recognizing the situation better and perhaps running the ball.

      "I think when you look at that play right there, it was a great rush by Chris Long - certainly not a great play selection by me," he said. "I've got to do a better job of putting our offense in better situations, be smart, have a little bit of situational awareness there and that was a mistake on my part."

      Goff, though, was not having any of that.

      "He told me the same thing," Goff said. "He shouldn't do that. He's been doing a great job all year calling plays. Once the play comes in, it's my job to execute it and unfortunately we didn't."

      NOTES: RB Todd Gurley rushed 13 times for a team-leading 96 yards and caught three passes for 39 yards. Gurley totaled 16 touches for 135 yards from scrimmage. Gurley had two rushing touchdowns. He has 10 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns for a total of 13 touchdowns this season. With his performance, Gurley eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He has 236 rushes for 1,035 rushing yards this season. ... WR Cooper Kupp had a 64-yard reception, his longest of the season and the second-longest reception for the Rams of the season. Kupp finished that same drive with a 6-yard touchdown. Kupp now has four touchdowns. Kupp has 10 20-plus-yard receptions this season and has set a new Rams record for most receptions by a rookie in a season with 56. ... CB Kayvon Webster intercepted Eagles QB Carson Wentz on their opening drive. But he was lost for the season later in the game with an Achilles tendon injury. ... OLB Robert Quinn sacked Carson Wentz to move to 6.5 sacks this season. It takes him to 60.5 sacks for his career. ... P Johnny Hekker punted five times for 282 yards on Sunday. He placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 64 yards.



      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus - Jared Goff passed for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing, but it just felt like it should have been so much more. And, Goff fumbled at a critical time in the fourth quarter with the Rams up by one to hand the ball off to the Eagles in field-goal position to take a lead they'd never relinquish.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - This should be an A based on the 7.4 yards-per-carry of Todd Gurley, good for 96 yards on 13 attempts, but it isn't because the Rams got too far away from the run game too often. Gurley was rolling, and in a game where the Rams defense was having a difficult time getting the Eagles off the field, a better commitment to the run would have benefited the Rams.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C - The Rams gave up 316 yards and four touchdowns to the Eagles -- primarily Carson Wentz -- and that is simply not good enough in a game in which the margin for error was nil. The Rams did a poor job getting the Eagles off the field in critical moments - mostly through the air - and it ended up leading to their demise.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C - The Eagles powerful run game amassed 139 yards on 32 carries for a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. Ideally, you want that number below four yards per carry in order to better guard against manageable third-down distances. The Rams did not do that often enough on Sunday and it cost them.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - The Rams, as usual, were dynamite on special teams and that includes a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown to put the Rams ahead of the Eagles in the third quarter.

      --COACHING: C - Sean McVay had his team in position to win, but his lack of commitment to the run game reared its ugly head at times and it may have cost the Rams a fumble -- and the lead -- in the fourth quarter. The Eagles put a ton of pressure on opponents, and it's easy to fall victim to that by thinking bigger than you normally would and abandoning the run as a result. That's on McVay.

  • Broncos get back to basics in victory
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' equation for success had not changed: Avoid egregious errors on offense and special teams, get an early lead and play pressure defense that forces the opponent into mistakes.

    • In 2015, it worked to give them a world championship. In 2016, even with Peyton Manning retired, it was still enough to push them to a winning season.

      But in 2017, the Broncos lost touch with it, enduring their longest losing streak in 50 years. Their quarterbacks couldn't protect the football effectively, and they couldn't play the type of football for which they were built.

      Sunday against the Jets, with their season all but over, they rediscovered it.

      "Before we could stop the losing streak, we had to stop beating ourselves," Broncos general manager John Elway told KDSP-AM 760 in Denver on Monday afternoon.

      That's what the Broncos did in a 23-0 win that snapped an eight-game losing streak.

      When Trevor Siemian took chances, he looked downfield and gave his big targets, Demaryius Thomas and Cody Latimer, chances to win jump balls. When obvious opportunities weren't there, he threw the ball away.

      When the special teams were on the field, they didn't try to make the spectacular play, with fumble-prone punt returner Isaiah McKenzie having been benched for the steadier Jordan Taylor.

      Instead, Taylor fielded the ball, took his opening and averaged 12 yards per return.

      The result? A no-turnover game, a by-the-numbers approach, and a game that saw every Jets possession begin no closer to the Broncos' goal line than the New York 25-yard line. With that sort of buffer zone, the defense attacked, thrived and got its first shutout in 12 years.

      "You don't really ever go into a game saying, 'I'm not going to turn it over. I'm not going to get strip-sacked.' You just say, 'I'm going to have a good, smart process about everything,'" Siemian said.

      But at the same time, Siemian knew he had to attack with a different mindset.

      "There's going to be times in the game you're smart, but you're aggressive at the same time," he said. "There's been a couple of times this year where I've been stupid and aggressive, which you can't be. You just want to have a good process."

      Because he finally did, the Broncos ended a losing streak they never saw coming.

      "It's been a long time," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. "To give guys T-shirts for playing well and just to watch the joy in the locker room is fun."

      --As is the case for the team as a whole, the 2017 season has not been what inside linebacker Brandon Marshall hoped it would be.

      Marshall has remained relatively healthy, and so far has avoided the injuries and pain that's stalked him in the previous three seasons.

      But he hasn't made many big plays, befitting a defense that leads the league in total yardage allowed but frequently hasn't been able to find the big, game-changing play that could have altered the complexion of the season.

      That changed for Marshall on Sunday. During the Broncos' first defensive series, he burst into the backfield and brought down Jets running back Elijah McGuire for a 3-yard loss, one of three tackles for losses he had in the game.

      Two plays later, he stripped Jets quarterback Josh McCown of the football, setting up an Adam Gotsis recovery that led to a touchdown pass two plays later.

      "I did some self-study this week to see how I could improve my game," Marshall said. "I felt like I just haven't been as aggressive this year in coverage and in the run game. So I just decided that I would shoot my shot more. I would take more chances, more calculated risks. It obviously paid off."

      It isn't enough to save the season, but it could be enough to keep more of the team together than some would have expected throughout the week.

      "We don't want the whole team to get blown up. No one wants that," Marshall said. "It was headed that way, and it could still head that way if we don't win. I think we just need to keep winning so people can keep their jobs."

      --The Broncos' ground game was not spectacular on Sunday, but it did see frequent work against the Jets' stout front seven, as C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and fullback Andy Janovich combined for 71 yards and a third-quarter Janovich touchdown on 32 carries.

      The Broncos' 35 overall runs -- including three carries by quarterback Trevor Siemian -- gave them more runs than pass plays in a game for the first time since Week 4. They are 4-0 this season when they run more often than they throw.

      "I thought (offensive coordinator) Bill (Musgrave) called the game to help us minimize mistakes, he helped call a game to help us keep drives alive and to keep the third downs manageable," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said of his new offensive coordinator, who was promoted to replace the dismissed Mike McCoy three weeks earlier. "It was fun to see."

      Twenty-two of the carries were by C.J. Anderson, which represented his heaviest workload since Week 2.

      "I'm a little sore today," Anderson said Monday. "I took some shots (from the Jets) and I delivered some shots, so that's on me.

      "I watched the tape, and I can play with better pad level. I'm a little sore today, but I'll be ready to go Thursday, that's for sure."

      NOTES: QB Trevor Siemian had his first start without an interception since Week 4, completing 19 of 31 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown Sunday. Siemian's 90.8 passer rating was his first of above 75.0 in his last five starts. ... RG Ron Leary missed a second consecutive game because of a back issue. He has not practiced in the last two weeks. According to a report from KUSA-Ch. 9, the Broncos are expected to place him on injured reserve. Connor McGovern would continue starting in his place. ... NT Domata Peko sat out a second straight game because of a sprained MCL that he suffered against the Raiders two weeks ago. The Broncos are expected to remain cautious with Peko, but hope he could play against the Colts. ... S Justin Simmons suffered a "mild" high-ankle sprain on the first series of the game and did not return. Simmons came into Week 14 fresh off the first pick-six of his career, a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown in the loss to Miami. He is considered "day-to-day," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. ... QB Paxton Lynch missed a second consecutive game Sunday because of a high-ankle sprain suffered against the Raiders on Nov. 26. ... S Jamal Carter suffered a shoulder bruise against the Colts on Sunday. He is expected to play against the Colts.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: B - Trevor Siemian played within himself against the Jets. He didn't force throws into coverage, he allowed his receivers the chance to adjust to passes in flight, and when no one was open, he rolled out and threw it away. The result was an efficient, if unspectacular game that was a perfect complement to the Broncos' defense and was the kind of game the Broncos had been looking for. It was only the Broncos' second game this season without an interception.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Breakaway runs weren't there for the Broncos on Sunday, but the offense showed persistence on the ground, and it paid off with a 1-yard scoring plunge by Andy Janovich in the third quarter. Denver's willingness to stick with the run also allowed it to win the time-of-possession battle while shortening the game and limiting the risk for its turnover-prone offense.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A-plus - Statistically speaking, it was perhaps the most dominant performance in the NFL this year. Denver's defense held the Jets to just 41 net passing yards -- a piddling 1.64 yards per pass play -- and allowed just one first down through the air. Denver's pass rush was effective at preventing Josh McCown and Bryce Petty from having any time to throw.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus - Denver's defense overcame the loss of Domata Peko and Derek Wolfe to stifle the Jets, limiting them to just 59 yards and 2.6 yards per attempt. Just one of the Jets' 23 attempts went for more than 10 yards, and Broncos defenders tackled Jets ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage six times, including three by Brandon Marshall and two by Von Miller.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Jordan Taylor replaced Isaiah McKenzie on punt returns and was as efficient and error-free as the Broncos hoped he would be, averaging 12.4 yards on his five returns without a fumble. Brandon McManus sent all six of his kickoffs to the end zone, but missed a 29-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter. Curiously, all seven of his missed field-goal attempts this season have come at home; he is 12-of-19 in Denver, but 9-of-9 on the road. Overall, it was unspectacular, but it was error-free.

      --COACHING: B-plus - This was the kind of game plan the Broncos needed. The offense played within itself, sticking with the ground game, taking judicious shots downfield and setting up Trevor Siemian to throw it away when an open target was not available. They played to their strengths in a way they had not been able to since September, and it made all the difference.

  • Packers were determined not to lose to Browns
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers were hell bent on making sure they were not the first team to lose to winless Cleveland.

    • To avoid that fate, Green Bay needed to be close to perfect in the fourth quarter and overtime.

      "Every single drive mattered. Every single play mattered, and we had that attitude," tackle David Bakhtiari said. "No matter the situation, no matter the down and distance, we had to execute and we had to put points on the board and we had to give ourselves a chance.

      "It was all three phases of the game. It was tough pushing all the way and going to overtime, but in the end it was a big character win. Back to back character wins. Very important. The biggest thing at the end of the day is coming out 7-6."

      --Packers safety Josh Jones has had an up-and-down rookie season. But he made one of the biggest plays of the game when he intercepted Cleveland rookie quarterback DaShone Kizer in overtime.

      Kizer, who was being chased by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on the play, inexplicably threw the ball up for grabs. Jones jumped into a pile of five Packers and emerged with the interception. Six plays later, Brett Hundley hit Davante Adams with the game-winning touchdown.

      "When the ball was in the air, I'm like, 'First career pick. If I catch it, I'll seal the game. We'll get the ball. We're going to score and win the game,'" Jones said. "So that's what I was thinking.

      "My eyes were huge. The only thing I was thinking about was, 'Don't drop it. Don't let it slip out.'"

      --Cornerback Davon House tried fighting through a shoulder injury Sunday. In the fourth quarter, though, House left with a back injury and didn't return.

      "It was a significant injury," head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "So, he will be challenged to be ready this week."

  • Rodgers might be back for Packers this week
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Back in 2010, Aaron Rodgers returned after missing the majority of two full games late in the season with a concussion, then led the Green Bay Packers to six straight wins and an eventual Super Bowl title.

    • In 2013, Rodgers came back after missing nearly eight full games with a broken left collarbone and led the Packers to the NFC North title.

      The Packers are hoping for more magic in 2017. Whether that's a possibility comes down to a CT scan.

      Rodgers underwent a bone density exam and CT scan Monday on his broken right collarbone. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy expects the results no later than Tuesday, and if everything checks out, Rodgers could be back in the lineup Sunday against Carolina.

      "It is now in the evaluation stage," McCarthy said. "Dr. (Pat) McKenzie is reviewing it. There's a number of medical opinions that will be involved and a decision, so at this time I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That's where it stands."

      Rodgers suffered the broken collarbone on Oct. 15 in Minnesota after being hit by Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Rodgers underwent surgery on Oct. 19 that required several plates and screws. He was placed on injured reserve the following day.

      Rodgers' recovery has seemingly gone without a hitch.

      Rodgers was throwing balls as far as 50 yards in Pittsburgh on Nov. 26, and he returned to practice on Dec. 2. In the past week, there have been no setbacks whatsoever.

      "Frankly, obviously, we'd like to make a decision as soon as possible," McCarthy said. "Obviously, the offensive staff's in the process of putting together a game plan, but at the end of the day, the organization is focused on doing what's in the best interest of Aaron Rodgers."

      Green Bay defeated Cleveland 27-21 in overtime Sunday and remained in the playoff hunt. Afterward, many of Rodgers' teammates sounded extremely optimistic that the two-time MVP quarterback would be back under center in Carolina.

      "Well if he comes back, like I've been saying, arguably the best quarterback in the league, back to your team, everyone is going to get better," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Not only him being out there, but also the shot in the arm as we talk about him coming back.

      "Watching him in practice and what he's been able to do these past couple weeks, getting more and more reps in practice and throwing on the pads, I think it's a good sign. I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but we sure hope he's ready, and if he is, we're going to expect the Aaron of old."

      Added left tackle David Bakhtiari: "It's going to be fun having him back."

      There would have been no point in bringing Rodgers back had Green Bay (7-6) lost to Cleveland (0-13) Sunday. Instead, the Packers rallied from a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit and notched their third overtime win of the year.

      Green Bay remained in a tie for eighth place in the NFC, but is just one game behind Seattle and Atlanta (both 8-5) for the final wild-card spot.

      "We've got a chance," Bakhtiari said. "We know what the magic number is. We still have everything in front of us, so when (Rodgers) comes back ... we're in playoff football. We've already talked about that, and these games matter. It's go time."

      It's "go time" largely because No. 2 quarterback Brett Hundley was terrific at crunch time.

      On Green Bay's final four possessions, Hundley led the Packers on three touchdown drives. Hundley went 21 of 25 for 147 yards on those drives and threw a touchdown pass to Davante Adams that tied the game, and another to Adams that won the contest.

      "I just think that those clutch situations, when it calls for somebody to step up and make a play, that's what kind of brings out the best in him," Adams said of Hundley. "You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in the huddle. He commands the huddle really well in those situations. For the young guys, it's really impressive to see that."

      Hundley finished the day 35 of 46 for 265 yards, three touchdown passes, no interceptions and had a 111.2 passer rating. In addition, Hundley stepped through several sacks and ran for 31 yards on seven carries.

      "He got to run, manage a wide-open offense and that was the first time we really cut it loose like that," McCarthy said of Hundley. "But he plays his best football when the game is on the line. You can't teach that. He's a winner."

      If Rodgers does return -- and Hundley heads back to the bench -- it's hard to argue with his body of work.

      NFL brass will tell you they are thrilled when their backup quarterback can go .500. After posting back-to-back overtime wins against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, Hundley improved to 3-4 as a starter (.429).

      "My No. 1 thought going into it was keep our hopes alive to make the playoffs and we're still in it," Hundley said. "At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens. I'm just here. When my number's called upon, I'll be ready. But in the meantime, that was my No. 1 goal and we're still in it. Yeah, so, let's keep rolling."

      Interestingly, Hundley was horrendous at Lambeau Field where he went 1-3. Hundley didn't throw a touchdown pass at home, threw five interceptions and had a 57.0 passer rating.

      Hundley was a different player on the road, though, where he went 2-1. Hundley threw seven touchdown passes, had no interceptions, completed 72.7 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 117.3.

      "Brett is just a grinder," Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. "He doesn't get down on himself, and he's had a lot thrown at him in this situation.

      "He stayed steady throughout the whole thing and it shows why he was successful at UCLA and why he'll be successful in this league. He stays level-headed."

      That has kept the Packers in the playoff hunt -- and kept the door ajar for Rodgers to return.

      "This team has a lot of fight, I'll tell you that," Hundley said. "We're not out of this thing. We have a lot of fight in us. These two last games, we fought back. When we needed to execute, we executed. When our backs were against the wall, we came out swinging. We've done it for the last two weeks -- came up short (against) the Steelers. This team has a lot of fight and it's not over yet."


      --PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Brett Hundley went 35 of 46 for 265 yards against Cleveland (76.1 percent). Hundley threw three touchdown passes, no interceptions and had a 111.2 passer rating.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Green Bay managed just 85 rushing yards and 31 of those came from Hundley.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Cleveland's DeShone Kizer had a passer rating of 99.4, his highest of the year. But the Packers also intercepted Kizer twice, including once in overtime.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Isaiah Crowell ripped off 121 rushing yards and the Browns had 136 rushing yards as a team.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Packers wide receiver Trevor Davis saved Green Bay's season -- at least for the time being -- with a 65-yard punt return in the final minutes that set up the game-tying touchdown.

      --COACHING: C -- Green Bay's Mike McCarthy made several outstanding calls down the stretch. But many are wondering how the Packers were ever in a nail-biter with the hapless Browns to begin with.

  • After snow game, Colts have short week
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- It will be a short week for the Indianapolis Colts as they prepare for Thursday night's nationally televised home game against the Denver Broncos.

    • The Colts have lost four in a row and seven of their last eight games. They also are a tired football team after their game with Buffalo Sunday that was played in blizzard-like weather conditions.

      "It's hard to get ready in a short week; depends on how old you are," head coach Chuck Pagano admitted after Monday's abbreviated walk-through practice.

      "Sunday to Sunday is hard much less Sunday to Thursday. It's a challenge. But we don't have any control over that."

      The overtime loss to the Bills took a lot out of Pagano's players, both physically and mentally.

      "That game took a lot out of players. It was like running in quicksand or on a beach,'" the coach said, referring to the heavy snow that covered the playing field. "Guys are tired after running through seven to nine inches of snow."

      With only three games remaining in the regular season and Indianapolis now officially out of the post-season hunt, the spotlight will now be on the future of Pagano and his coaching staff.

      But the veteran coach isn't going to let those questions interfere with the planning for the Denver game.

      "What do you think? It's all perspective. I'm on this side of the dirt. We're not guaranteed anything. We're all on one-day contracts," Pagano said. "We get today. We're gonna get after it. You know what you got into. Shelf life (for NFL head coaches is) not long."

      Despite the tough season, the Colts head coach has retained his sense of humor.

      "Can't worry about it. I'm good," he said. "I'm the grandfather of the AFC South (among head coaches)."

      --Running back Frank Gore has 762 yards rushing through 13 games this season. Gore needs to average 80 yards over the final three games to reach 1,000 for the season. He also needs 275 yards to pass LaDainian Tomlinson for No. 4 all-time (91.6 per game).

      --Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has 811 receiving yards this season. Hilton needs to average 63 receiving yards over last three games for his fifth straight 1,000-yard season.

      --With a 3-10 record, the Colts are in position for the third overall pick in next spring's NFL Draft.

      --Head coach Chuck Pagano shouldered the blame for kicker Adam Vinatieri missing a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds in snowy Buffalo Sunday.

      "I screwed that up," Pagano said after the game. "The goal was to get on the right hash, and we didn't accomplish that. That's not on Vinny, that's on me."

      NOTES: WR Donte Moncrief (ankle/foot) did not practice Monday and is listed as week-to-week. His availability for Thursday night's home game with Denver remains undecided. ... CB Rashaan Melvin (hand) had limited work in Monday's walk-through practice. He wore a large wrap/bandage on his injured hand. Melvin will probably be a game-time decision Thursday night. ... TE Darrell Daniels (hamstring) did not practice Monday and is not expected to play against the Broncos Thursday night. ... C Ryan Kelly (concussion) practiced Monday, but is scheduled to meet with a neurologist on Wednesday. Kelly practiced last week. He was not cleared to play against the Bills. ... DT Hassan Ridgeway (shoulder) saw limited work in Monday's walk-through practice. He remains listed as week-to-week. Ridgeway is not expected to play against the Broncos Thursday night. He may be a game-time decision, however.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus - QB Jacoby Brissett struggled in the blizzard-like conditions in Buffalo. He wound up completing 11-of-22 passes for 69 yards. Five different Indianapolis players caught at least two passes. Brissett was sacked once and did not throw an interception. He ended the day with a 72.0 passer rating.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A - RB Frank Gore was outstanding. Probably the best game that he has had since coming to Indianapolis. Gore wound up with a career-best 36 carries for a team-high 130 yards. His rushing total was the most for a Colts player since Donald Brown had 161 vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2011. His 36 carries tied for the third most in franchise history behind Lydell Mitchell's 40 in 1974 vs. the Jets and Edgerrin James' 38 vs. Seattle in 2000. Indianapolis wound up with 163 yards rushing as a team.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C-plus - The Colts defense did an OK job against two Buffalo quarterbacks. As a team, the Bills completed 7-of-16 passes for 92 yards. Starter Nate Peterman left the game in the second half with a concussion and did not return. Backup Joe Webb had his most success in the overtime period, connecting with WR Deonte Thompson on a 34-yard pass that set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D - Bills RB LeSean McCoy was a beast in the snow, running over and around Indianapolis defenders. McCoy wound up with a whopping 156 yards on 32 carries and scored the game-winner with a 21-yard sprint with 1:33 remaining in overtime. He put on a show against the Colts, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on a snow-covered playing surface. The Bills had 277 yards on 51 total rushing attempts in the game.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - K Adam Vinatieri battled rugged conditions with heavy snow and strong winds that made kicking difficult. He missed field-goal attempts from 33 and 43 yards out, the last attempt coming in the final seconds of regulation. He did, however, punch through a somewhat miraculous extra point kick from 43 yards out that appeared to be going wide. It hooked back through the goal posts. Rookie P Rigoberto Sanchez, who attended college in Hawaii and had no experience playing in snowy conditions, averaged 35.6 yards on seven punts and had two kicks downed inside the Bills' 20-yard line.

      --COACHING: C-minus - Clock management and use of timeouts hurt Chuck Pagano in the Buffalo game. An ill-timed timeout, when the Bills were out of timeouts, allowed the home team enough time to go down and score the first touchdown of the game. And not being able to get K Adam Vinatieri in position to make a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation came back to haunt his team. But give Pagano and his coaching staff credit for getting Indianapolis in position to win the game with a late touchdown drive and subsequent decision to go for the win with a two-point conversion. The two-point play worked to perfection but a questionable offensive pass interference penalty on the attempt wiped out the play and set up Vinatieri's long PAT attempt that just hooked inside the uprights.

  • Spagnuolo proud of Giants' effort in defeat
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants might not have won the game against the Dallas Cowboys, but interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo believes that the character shown by the players after experiencing one of the most difficult and emotionally charged two weeks in the franchise's history was admirable.

    • It came after head coach Ben McAdoo was fired and Spagnuolo replaced him.

      "I'm really proud of the men in that locker room. I told them that," Spagnuolo said after the Giants, who held the Cowboys to a 10-10 tie through three quarters only to let the dam break open in the fourth quarter en route to a 30-10 loss.

      "After all we went through this week, I thought the way we came out and the way we played for three and a half quarters was something we could be proud of."

      That's certainly not much consolation to a Giants fan base that is currently witnessing what could be the team's worst record in franchise history should the Giants not win another game this year.

      But Spagnuolo and quarterback Eli Manning both believe it's something the team can hang its hat on.

      "I think the team has done a great job of staying together," Manning said. "It'd be easy to complain, and to bark at each other and say it's not fair and that one side's not doing their part, but we haven't fallen into that trap.

      "We have some high-character guys on this team that are working hard every week, doing their absolute best to compete, and I appreciate that. I appreciate the effort, work, enthusiasm to go win a football game."

      Spagnuolo agreed. While he no doubt realizes that the Giants don't have the firepower to compete, that the effort has been there is something that he hopes people will appreciate.

      "I thought the adversity revealed a lot of good things in our football team," Spagnuolo said. "I do believe that unity strengthens, and I saw unity and that's a sign of a stronger football team in my mind. I would hope that they would continue to do that going forward and then just focus on the next game."

      --Giants cornerback Eli Apple has had one bumpy sophomore season.

      To be fair, part of it is due to the uncertainty that existed earlier in the year about the health of his mother Annie, who eventually underwent successful brain surgery. But for the 22-year-old Apple, a good part of the reason for his rocky second season is self-inflicted.

      Earlier this year, he was benched for the team's first three series after reportedly getting into a shouting match with an assistant coach. More recently, the New York Post reported that Apple nearly twice walked out of the Giants team facility after two of his plays were broadcast to teammates during former head coach Ben McAdoo's "brutally honest" team meeting in which he put on display examples of players who weren't giving full effort 100 percent of the time.

      Apple was also fined by McAdoo for returning to the team late after the bye week, with McAdoo rejecting Apple's reason as being the poor weather conditions in the New York area that resulted in scores of flights being cancelled.

      Apple, the Giants' first-round pick last year, hasn't seen the field in four games. The first two were allegedly due to his lack of practice time because of his mother's surgery; the last two were allegedly due to a mysterious back and hip injury that Apple disputed in a tweet.

      And speaking of tweets, Apple broke the NFL's social media policy by tweeting during Sunday's Giants-Cowboys game, an infraction that could result in a fine for the cornerback.

      If all that isn't bad enough, at least one of Apple's tweets seemed to take joy in running back Rod Smith, who played with Apple at Ohio State, recording an 81-yard touchdown reception in the win over the Giants.

      A second tweet by Apple posted shortly after the loss read, "Gotta smile in times of adversity."

      Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said he was aware of Apple's tweeting and that he had a conversation with the second-year cornerback.

      "I told him I was disappointed," Spagnuolo said. "We'll decide exactly what we'll do with it, but it was disappointing. He apologized, and we'll move on."

      Spagnuolo admitted that some of Apple's issues this year are a result of frustration because of injuries that have caused him to struggle. But Spagnuolo also said that Apple needs to get his act together and move past the adversity that has seemingly led to destructive behavior by the cornerback.

      "I talked with Eli before the game when we deactivated him. He sat in my office and I said, 'Look, we need to get you going. Everybody wants you here helping us out, but this wasn't the week to do it,'" Spagnuolo said.

      "He didn't get enough reps during the week. He did get some on Friday. I just didn't think it was enough to have him ready to do the things we were going to do in the defensive game plan and he understood that and the goal there as we shook hands and hugged was, 'Let's get you up and running next week.'"

      Spagnuolo said he hasn't necessarily lost hope in Apple, but added that the young defender needs to be more accountable to his teammates.

      "He's got to step up, show his teammates, his coaches that he's ready. I believe he wants to and is going to do that. We just need to see him do it," the coach said. "I'm hopeful and optimistic we can get him going. I'm disappointed in the tweeting thing, but hopefully we can get over these hurdles."


      --PASSING OFFENSE: D - Eli Manning was returned to the starting lineup, but unfortunately, it's the same old song for the Giants' passing offense. Manning rarely had a clean pocket and at times was asked to roll out to extend a play. It also didn't help that his receivers dropped three big passes that would have gone for first downs; that is, when they were getting open to begin with. A bright spot in the passing game was the contribution of tight end Rhett Ellison, who caught four out of five targets for 20 yards and a touchdown, with each reception being of the solid variety.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C - The Giants are really missing offensive lineman D.J. Fluker in the rushing offense, but they'll have to soldier on without him as he's on injured reserve. Orleans Darkwa, who had been so promising weeks ago, has fallen into a bit of a rut, but rookie Wayne Gallman has been an intriguing development. Gallman seems to be the only one of the Giants' running backs who has a legitimate chance at running outside the tackles, which will come in handy in the future. Gallman, by the way, had a team high 12 carries for 59 rushing yards this week, a healthy 4.9 average.

      --PASS DEFENSE: F - When a team doesn't have speed in its back seven or a consistent pass rush, that's a recipe for disaster. All three of the Cowboys' touchdown passes went for at least 20 yards, with two of them going for over 50 yards. That's simply unacceptable.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D - Teams have quickly learned that if they want to run against the Giants, it's best to attack the edges, where defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are both so banged up that neither has shown any shred of being the stout run defenders they were in the past. Add in the fact that the linebackers struggle to get off blocks, and you have a rinse and repeat cycle explaining why last year's top-five run defense has fallen to the bottom of the barrel.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: F - This unit continues to play uninspiring ball. Returner Khalif Raymond managed minus-3 yards on punt returns thanks to zero blocking down field. The next time the Giants' punt team gunners beat their blocking this season will be the first, the kickoff return game continues to struggle, and the punting team is still giving up too many big returns.

      --COACHING: D - Overall, the Giants showed fight and hung in despite a very emotionally trying week, but some carryover on decisions such as not giving the offensive tackles more help in pass blocking or the insistence on blitzing despite not having the speed players to execute man-to-man coverage are big reasons why the Giants once again came up on the short end of the stick.

  • Bears' Miller present after multiple leg surgeries
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There have not been many positives in the second half of the Chicago Bears' season, but one came Sunday and another followed a day later.

    • After beating the Cincinnati Bengals 33-7, the Bears returned to Halas Hall and then received a visit from tight end Zach Miller, who suffered a dislocated left knee Oct. 29 and nearly lost his leg.

      Miller didn't mince words when talking about how close he came to losing his left leg.

      "That was very real, a couple wrong turns away from actually happening," Miller said. "I had a ton of care, a lot of people helping me out throughout that entire process. But we were a couple minutes away from having that be real."

      In another injury-plagued season when players have been besieged with reports of the possible firing of head coach John Fox and criticism of general manager Ryan Pace, a feel-good moment was welcomed. Miller provided it.

      Miller had emergency surgery in New Orleans to repair a popliteal artery behind the knee to restore blood flow. The 33-year-old Miller is not under contract after this season, but is not yet ready to announce his retirement.

      I've been a football player my whole life," Miller said. "I would love to play football. We'll cross that road when it's time."

      Just being able to make it into Halas Hall on crutches Monday seemed almost miraculous for Miller, after his ordeal. He said the knee is structurally sound and his main ligaments are intact.

      "I remember, before I got into the emergency surgery, the last thing I was telling the doctors was, 'Please, save my leg!'" Miller said. "Because I knew that something wasn't quite right just in the way my leg was feeling and the way it was filling up.

      "I knew we had issues. That was kind of in the back of my mind. I didn't want that to happen."

      The blood flow issue has been completely corrected.

      "As far as the knee goes, I'll get another couple scans just to figure things out," Miller said. "But as of right now it's a pretty positive outlook."

      Miller injured the leg making a touchdown catch, but replay ruled he failed to maintain it through the process of the catch. Later, team president George McCaskey brought a game ball to Miller from the catch.

      "Forever be a touchdown for me," Miller said.

      There is precedent for players returning from such an injury. Oakland's Pharaoh Brown had such an injury in college.

      "I've had a number of people reach out to me who have had an injury similar to this or worse doing everyday things, whether it be recreational activity, hanging out, swimming," Miller said. "This type of thing is actually more prevalent than you may think, but I've had people reach out to me.

      "It could happen any day, unfortunate that it does. But that's the game I play and the life I've chosen to lead."

      Miller is done for the season, but just having him around was an inspiration.

      "When you get knocked down, you see people's real character and how they respond," Fox said. "He's handled it like a champ. And I think most everybody that knew him or knows him, he acted like you'd expect Zach to act. It's very impressive."

      --After seeing his offense blasted repeatedly by media and fans over the past week, Fox was elated with Sunday's production. The Bears had their season highs in points (33) and yardage (482).

      Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky appreciated the aggressiveness of the game plan, as well. In recent weeks, the Bears had stuck mostly to throws within 5 to 10 yards of the line.

      "I think we try to be aggressive all the time," Fox said. "I think the coaches had a good plan and our players executed it as well as we have all season. We haven't had that point total all season, so the result was good."

      NOTES: S Adrian Amos (hamstring) did not play in Sunday's win over Cincinnati and his status for the game Saturday with Detroit will be updated later in the week. ... S Chris Prosinski started for the second straight game. ... NT Eddie Goldman (hip) missed Sunday's game with an injury suffered the previous week and his status will be updated later in the week. ... LB Pernell McPhee (shoulder) missed Sunday's game with an injury suffered against San Francisco Dec. 3. He is day-to-day.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: A -- It was Mitchell Trubisky's finest effort and he now has 37 completions in his last 47 passes. His 112.4 passer rating was far more impressive than the 117.2 he had last week when he could only get the ball out for 102 yards. A 7.4-yard average per pass attempt is solid. Not only did the pass blocking hold up, but Trubisky actually had time to get the ball to eight receivers, and seven had at least two receptions. Kendall Wright set Bears receiver highs for the season of 10 catches and 107 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Bears ran the 1-2 punch at Cincinnati, with Jordan Howard going for 147 yards and Tarik Cohen 80. In the past, penalties bogged down the running attack. They couldn't avoid penalties again against the Bengals, but overcame them. One sticking point in the past was an inability of the offensive line to cope with injuries during games. But they got through this one without another line injury. The 38:09 of possession time was exactly what they needed to keep the defense off the field, and the line blocking was especially effective with double teams on the inside power plays.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A -- Eddie Jackson's fumble forced and third interception of the year proved key points, but cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara refused to let A.J. Green make a big impact downfield. His longest pass reception was 20 yards and he had six for 64 yards. The Bears even drummed up a bit of a pass rush from all the spare parts they were playing due to injuries. A passer rating of 61.5 by Cincinnati quarterbacks and eight passes defended on the day say it all.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Allowing a 21-yard run early and 5.6 yards an attempt to Giovani Bernard reflected a difficult start. But with reserves making up four of their front seven spots it was understandable. Danny Trevathan's 10 tackles and Nick Kwiatkoski's ability to fill the correct gaps were critical. The Bengals couldn't pull off a big running play later in the game and had only 13 rushing attempts.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- A missed extra point by Mike Nugent wasn't exactly the way to return home. Punter Patrick O'Donnell did have two inside the 20, and the special teams helped the Bears enjoy an average starting point of their own 31 compared to the Bengals' starting at their own 23.

      --COACHING: A -- Frequently teams in the Bears situation float through December road games. John Fox and the staff had them back and fighting after a demoralizing defeat against San Francisco, despite losing their best offensive lineman for the year, not having their top three outside pass rushers, their nose tackle, a safety and a defensive end. The game plan on offense showed imagination and willingness to use all the receivers. They spread the field, got the defense moving one way and attacked with yards after the catch in the opposite direction, then occasionally threw downfield.

  • Giants still keep rookie QB Webb under wraps
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the 2017 season lost, the New York Giants have started to look at some of their younger talent, such as rookie running back Wayne Gallman, the team leader Sunday in carries and rushing yardage.

    • But one youngster whose status remains in limbo is quarterback Davis Webb, the Giants' third-round pick this year who has been patiently waiting for his role to increase to where if a game got out of hand, he might get some meaningful game snaps in relief of Eli Manning.

      Surprisingly, the Giants' coaching staff hasn't changed Webb's role and it doesn't sound like they will any time soon.

      "Probably no differently this particular week," said interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo when asked how the team planned to handle Webb's role this week. "I'll talk with the coaches (Tuesday)."

      Spagnuolo did offer praise to the young gunslinger, calling him "one of the most hardworking young men in this building" and praising him for the work he's done with quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti.

      "There are things that they're doing together throughout the course of the week," Spagnuolo said. "You're always trying to get your guys ready, but Frank has got him thinking like he could be the next quarterback in the game.

      "He's prepped him and gets him out there before games and they go through an extensive, I think, 40-minute throwing progression workout. There's tapes that Davis puts together for the offense, I believe, for the quarterbacks during the week that's keeping him in the mold. So, there's a lot of that ongoing preparation as we speak."

      With all that going on, why then isn't Webb further along in his development to where he could at least come in for a few late-game snaps in relief of Manning, whom by the way Spagnuolo declared will be the starting quarterback Sunday when the Giants host the Eagles?

      "I'm not sure what would be gained other than if something happened to the starting quarterback he goes in," Spagnuolo said.

      "There is tremendous preparation for this young man to be a quarterback in the NFL. This is what I'll talk to (offensive coordinator) Mike (Sullivan) and Frank about. Is it that much more of an advantage to have him standing on the sideline as the second than there is having him standing on the sideline as a deactivated player?"

      When told that the advantage of moving Webb up the depth chart would mean more practice reps with the offense instead of the scout team, Spagnuolo quipped, "That's a pretty good example. So, there you go. A defensive coach trying to figure out how to get the second quarterback ready, but I'll talk with Mike and Frank about that."

      Spagnuolo also sounded unsure about potentially having both Geno Smith and Webb active Sunday in addition to Manning.

      "It's a thought. You have to think about why you would be doing that because, look, it's hard sometimes to find enough guys in the 46 for the positions to have all the backups. So, that would be a tough one."

      But Spagnuolo, when asked if the team had enough information on Webb to have already formed a conclusion, said, "No, I can't say that right now. Again, you're asking questions I have not had the discussions with the offensive coaches about that. But, that's a fair question. In other words, are we not moving him up because we don't think he's ready."

      With the Giants likely to have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which would put them in a great spot to get their next franchise quarterback, Spagnuolo, who at times seemed a bit flustered by the questioning, denied that the Giants are trying to keep Webb's progress under wraps as a strategic move related to their potential draft plans.

      "I don't think that's the case, but you got to give me some time to put my arms around it," he said. "I can't promise that that's going to be a public thing. I mean, we're going to function as an NFL football team. We're going to try to make sure the opponent doesn't have any extra info, so I hope you can appreciate that."

      NOTES: WR Darius Powe suffered a broken ankle in his regular-season NFL debut and will undergo season-ending surgery. He has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. ... DT Khyri Thornton has been waived. Thornton had been signed by the Giants on Nov. 29 as a free agent, but was not active for them. ... TE Matt LaCosse, who initially made the 53-man roster before being waived and then signed to the Giants practice squad, was signed by the Broncos to be on their 53-man roster. ... LB Trevor Bates had his practice-squad contract terminated. ... S Landon Collins, who aggravated his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys, is still "gimpy" per interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Collins has expressed a desire to play Sunday against the Eagles, but Spagnuolo said it is too soon to know for sure if the safety will be available. ... OL Justin Pugh will get a second opinion on his ailing back Wednesday according to interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Pugh has missed the last four straight games and five of his last six with his back ailment. ... DE Romeo Okwara is eligible to return to the team this coming week. Okwara, who had been on injured reserve after suffering a sprained MCL, was recently designated as one of two players the Giants can bring back from the injured reserve list.

  • Despite loss, Ravens in good position for playoffs
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are still in a solid position to earn a berth in the postseason despite another disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    • Baltimore (7-6) is vying with Buffalo (7-6) and the Los Angeles Chargers for the sixth wild-card spot in the AFC. The Ravens, though, will advance if they win their final three games by virtue of several tiebreakers. Baltimore also has a favorable schedule with games against the Cleveland Browns (0-13), Indianapolis Colts (3-10) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-8).

      The Ravens squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in the 39-38 loss to the Steelers on Sunday night. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the team is already planning for the next game against Cleveland.

      "We're looking forward to the opportunity to win the next game and what that entails," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "We're in it. We've earned our way to be in it. We're right there for a wild-card berth. There's three games left and we have to make it happen for ourselves. We're excited about that."

      Baltimore has not made the playoffs since 2014.

      The Ravens were beginning to look like a dangerous team over a recent three-game winning streak. However, the secondary was exposed against the Steelers, who amassed 545 total yards.

      "This one is going to hurt, but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out, there's a good chance we'll be in," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

      Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 44 of 66 for 506 yards with two touchdowns. Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards, and repeatedly beat cornerback Brandon Carr.

      After feasting on backup quarterbacks for much of the season, the Ravens got a taste of how the top-tier players can perform against them. The Steelers also clinched the AFC North crown against Baltimore for the second straight year with late-game heroics.

      This time, Chris Boswell hit the winning 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left in the game.

      "These are tough games," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was 20 of 35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.

      "Definitely a similar feeling to (last year)," he said. "It is what it is. It's another one. We have three left now. I think we have pretty short memories around here, and I think we do a good job of that and we better do it quickly."

      The key for the Ravens is to quickly regroup and prepare for winless Cleveland in Week 14. Baltimore needs another three-game winning streak to earn a playoff spot.

      "This is going to sting for a while, especially for the guys on defense because we care so much and we hold ourselves to a high standard," safety Eric Weddle said. "Look, we have three games, two of them at home. If we win, we're going to go to the playoffs with a three-game winning streak and winning six out of seven. Hopefully this will build our character and make us better in the long run."

      --Ravens running back Alex Collins has emerged as the team's top playmaker on offense. He also might have put himself in position for a big payday in the offseason.

      Collins finished with 120 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown Sunday night against the Steelers. He has shown he can be an every-down, big-play running back. It's a remarkable performance for a player who was signed off the practice squad in September.

      "The offensive line does a great job every game, every practice," Collins said. "They're going out and busting their tails for us running backs."

      Collins is prepared to carry the load over the final three games.

      "We're just going to move forward and focus on Cleveland," Collins said. "We have another away game on the road and we have to get ready for those guys. We're going to be on our A game and finish the season out strong."

      --Ravens rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey stepped into the starting role for the injured Jimmy Smith and had a solid performance.

      Roethlisberger had a huge day against Baltimore, but not at the expense of Humphrey. The first-round pick from Alabama was targeted 12 times and allowed six receptions for 37 yards.

      Receiver Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards, but most of the big plays came against cornerback Brandon Carr. Brown managed just two receptions for 7 yards against Humphrey.

      Late in the first half, Roethlisberger avoided Humphrey's side of the field. Humphrey has shown he could be a mainstay in the secondary.

      "We gave up a few big plays, but Ben is a great quarterback," Humphrey said. "I feel like we left a lot of plays out there on the field. It seemed like they were doing the same thing over and over again, and we just happened to be in the wrong calls at the wrong times. Sometimes we made a couple bad decisions. I made a couple -- let the ball get into the flat. I was out-fought a few times."

      NOTERS: WR Jeremy Maclin was able to play Sunday against Pittsburgh after missing practice Thursday because of a back injury. ... WR Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, was a healthy scratch for the third time in four weeks. Chris Moore, a fourth-round (107th overall) in 2016, has leapfrogged Perriman on the depth chart. ... LB Za'Darius Smith (shoulder) was inactive Sunday against Pittsburgh.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was 20 of 35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. However, he killed a potential scoring drive with an interception in the first quarter and fumbled on the game's final possession. Receiver Jeremy Maclin was targeted 11 times, and came up with three receptions. Mike Wallace caught three passes for 72 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Alex Collins has emerged as top playmaker and finished with 120 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. Inexplicably, the Ravens got away from him in the final quarter when he had worn down Pittsburgh's defense.

      --PASS DEFENSE: F -- This unit was exposed and must take most of the responsibility for the loss. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a huge day against Baltimore's secondary, going 44 of 66 for 506 yards with two touchdowns. Receiver Antonio Brown had 11 receptions for 213 yards. Cornerback Brandon Carr was repeatedly beaten on the outside.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens held the Steelers to 59 yards on the ground. Le'Veon Bell entered the game as the league's top rusher, but managed just 48 yards on 13 carries. Bell still finished with a pair of scores. Tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams were solid.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Justin Tucker made a 47-yard field goal. Sam Koch had three punts for 125 yards. Coverage was solid and there were few costly penalties.

      --COACHING: D -- The Ravens overcame an early 14-point deficit, but still faltered in the final quarter. The secondary was exposed and there was questionable play-calling for the offense in the final quarter. Baltimore once again was forced to watch the Steelers celebrate an AFC North title at Heinz Field for the second straight year.

  • Blowout losses have Redskins reeling
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The goal for the Washington Redskins was to finish the season strong, even if the playoffs were a remote possibility.

    • That is not happening. A second consecutive blowout loss on Sunday left the Redskins reeling with three games to play.

      "It's a tough pill to swallow, but we have to swallow it and we have to move on to Arizona, try to put our best foot forward and give these guys something to sink their teeth into from a preparation standpoint," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said.

      "From a coaching standpoint, we've got to do a better job of getting these guys ready early in games and make sure they're better prepared where they can have a plan and play fast and hard."

      Washington was sluggish in a 20-10 Thanksgiving Day win over the New York Giants. That was understandable given their numerous injuries and it was a short week.

      But blowout losses to the Dallas Cowboys (38-14) and, on Sunday, to the Los Angeles Chargers (30-13) have left a sour taste in everyone's mouth.

      After the Chargers game, safety D.J. Swearinger again said his team wasn't ready to play and didn't practice well during the week. Cornerback Josh Norman expressed frustration about his role.

      Gruden demurred when asked about Swearinger's comments, but took full blame after the game for Washington's ugly performance against Los Angeles.

      "The only thing that matters is winning and winning the next game, so that's what we're going to focus on," Gruden said. "It has been a little bit of a challenge with all the new guys coming in and out -- offensive line, running backs, offensively, and then defensively, the linebacker situation, safeties and defensive linemen.

      "It's something that a lot of teams go through this time of year and it's something we're going to have to go through, and we're going to have to fight through it."

      --Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said he briefly thought about going for a two-point conversion after Bashaud Breeland's 96-yard interception return late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 30-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

      Gruden took heat from fans and media for simply kicking the extra point when he at least could have made it a two-score game and gone for an onside kick with 2:36 to play and three timeouts plus the two-minute warning.

      "I just didn't think it was a realistic chain of events that would've had to occur, to be honest with you, " Gruden said. "You know, with the situation that we had offensively with Trent Williams out and we were down to one back, Ryan Grant was banged up with his ankle, down to three receivers, Josh (Doctson) was a little bit banged up.

      "I just wanted to make sure I got out of that game with enough healthy bodies and didn't want to risk anymore."

      Washington has been decimated by injuries on the offensive line since October. But the situation at inside linebacker grows grimmer by the week. Mason Foster (shoulder) and Will Compton (Lisfranc sprain) are already on injured reserve.

      And now Zach Brown, the NFL's leading tackler, could miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. He was already struggling with a sore Achilles tendon and had to be carted off the field in the second half of the loss to the Chargers. Brown underwent an MRI on Monday, but results were not immediately available.

      "We'll find out here shortly," Gruden said. "We just have to wait and see with him limping around here, Zach (Vigil) and (Martrell) Spaight will have to get some more, Josh Harvey-Clemons will have to step up his game there, too, if Zach can't go. Let's just add another one to the mix of questionable guys."

      NOTES: QB Kirk Cousins' 45 consecutive starts are the second longest in Redskins history. ... CB Bashaud Breeland's 96-yard interceptions return Sunday against the Chargers was the first of 90 yards or more by a Redskins player since 2010. ... TE Vernon Davis caught career touchdown pass No. 59 on Sunday against the Chargers. Davis is one away from tying for seventh-most all-time by a tight end. That touchdown catch also pushed Davis into sole possession of 10th place in NFL history for most catches by a tight end (542). ... WR Ryan Grant (ankle) is day-to-day after sustaining the injury in Sunday's game against the Chargers. ... LB Chris Carter sustained a fractured fibula in Sunday's game against the Chargers and will need surgery. Carter's season is over.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: D - Among the worst games of the season for quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing offense. Maybe the worst in his three years as a starter. Cousins (15-for-27, 151 yards, one touchdown, one interception) sailed some throws under pressure, but the weapons just aren't there to make plays down field. He was only sacked twice by Los Angeles' strong pass rush. Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson caught just three passes each and tight end Vernon Davis again was a non-factor with two catches.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D - There's almost nothing left here. When Samaje Perine went in and out of the game with a stomach ailment, where could the Redskins turn? Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley have been on IR for weeks. Mack Brown, who had been with the team two years and impressed, was cut in October because a rash of injuries hit, not because of performance. He quickly landed with Minnesota. Perine had 17 carries for 45 yards. The Redskins were reduced to handing off to LeShun Daniels (two carries, 12 yards), an undrafted rookie free agent who just signed with Washington on Nov. 14. Falling behind 23-6 at halftime didn't help.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - The Redskins were torched by Philip Rivers (18-for-31, 319 yards, two touchdowns) and Co. Keenan Allen (six catches, 111 yards) and Tyrell Williams (four catches, 132 yards) had big days. Tight end Hunter Henry (four catches, 50 yards) had a touchdown. The secondary, including Josh Norman, has cracked in recent weeks.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D - The Chargers used multiple backs to do the job, totaling 174 yards on 35 carries. They averaged five yards per carry. Melvin Gordon had a rushing touchdown. Rivers was sacked twice, but otherwise his offensive line held up against the Redskins' thin defensive front and provided more than enough balance.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C - Kickoff returner Byron Marshall popped a hamstring while fielding a kick in the end zone. That about summed up the day. Bashaud Breeland actually did a nice job filling in with 88 return yards on four tries. Otherwise, it was a rough day for punter Tress Way (37.3 net punting average). Kicker Nick Rose didn't attempt a field goal and two of his three kickoffs went for touchbacks, but he missed an extra point in the second quarter.

      --COACHING: D - Yes, there are excuses. The Redskins have been crushed by injuries for weeks. The weapons on offense have been whittled away and they never did have the depth on defense to withstand losing players. But that's no excuse for getting blown out two weeks in a row at Dallas (38-14) and Los Angeles (30-13). Jay Gruden has two years left on his contract, but his seat will start to get warm if the Redskins just pack it in with games left against Arizona (6-7), Denver (4-9) and the New York Giants (2-11).

  • NFL notebook: Eagles' Wentz (ACL) out for season
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the season and playoffs, coach Doug Pederson announced Monday.

    • The 24-year-old Wentz, who was expected to be an NFL MVP candidate this season, underwent an MRI exam on Monday morning after suffering the knee injury in Sunday's 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

      It usually takes a player six to nine months to recover from the required surgery.

      Wentz was injured as he took a big hit on a third-quarter touchdown run that was called back because of a penalty. He came up limping after absorbing multiple hits on the run but stayed in the game and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery four plays later to give the Eagles the lead.

      --Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien told reporters he "never would have allowed (Tom Savage) back in the game" had he seen the video of the quarterback's hands appearing to shake involuntarily.

      O'Brien also said he asked Houston's medical staff to examine Savage a second time after they initially cleared him to return to Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers at NRG Stadium. Savage sustained a concussion in the second quarter and was slow to his feet after he was drilled by 49ers defensive end Elvis Dumervil.

      Savage entered the sideline medical evaluation tent following the drive and returned to the field when the Texans regained possession. However, at the 2:32 mark of the second quarter, backup T.J. Yates replaced Savage behind center, with the latter seen on the sideline lobbying to return to the field yet again.

      "I figured he got hit, didn't know he got hit, very difficult from where I'm standing to even see he got it. There's no video on the sideline," O'Brien said Monday. "With benefit of the video, I never would have allowed the player back in the game and I don't think (trainer) Geoff Kaplan would have let Tom back in the game."

      --New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown will miss the remainder of the season with a fractured left hand, the team announced.

      McCown sustained the injury after being knocked to the ground by outside linebacker Shane Ray during the third quarter of Sunday's 23-0 loss to the Denver Broncos, ending what had been his best season of his 15-year NFL career.

      McCown was selected as the AFC Offensive Player of the Week last week and took every snap this season prior to his injury. He set career highs in completions (267), passing yards (2,926) and touchdowns (18) and also matched a personal best with 13 starts, set originally in 2004.

      --New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan is expected to play in Monday's game against the host Miami Dolphins following a four-game absence due to a shoulder injury, multiple outlets reported.

      Hogan, who officially is listed as questionable, traveled with the team on Sunday. The 29-year-old has been sidelined since New England's 21-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 29.

      The expected return of Hogan would help aid in the Patriots' loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will serve a one-game suspension on Monday for his hit to the back of the head of Buffalo rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White on Dec. 3.

      --The NFL and Verizon announced a multi-year deal that will allow games to be streamed on Verizon mobile and digital platforms.

      Sports Business Daily reported that Verizon will pay the NFL close to $500 million a year -- about twice the annual price of the largest U.S. wireless carrier's previous four-year deal with the league worth $250 million annually. Sources told ESPN that Verizon will pay approximately $2.5 billion in a five-year deal with the NFL that lasts through 2022.

      The partnership begins in January 2018, allowing the postseason games and Super Bowl LII available to streaming through Verizon, which previously live-streamed NFL games only to subscribers, over the NFL Mobile app and only on smartphones. Now fans can stream games on the Verizon media properties on any device, whether their mobile carrier is Verizon or not.

  • Bucs QB Winston strongly denies rift with Koetter
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    TAMPA -- This has been a tough year for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter. Winston missed three games with a shoulder injury and was banged up in four others.

    • Koetter's team started the year with enormous expectations, but are now 4-9 and his future with the team is in doubt.

      Against this backdrop came an allegation that Winston and Koetter are not seeing eye to eye on some things, which came as a surprise to both of them.

      Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported before the game that the relationship between Winston and Koetter is "not in a good place."

      Rapoport said the tension began with Winston feeling Koetter had not supported him properly when he attempted to play through a shoulder injury. He also is supposedly frustrated with the predictability of the offense and the Bucs' inability to score points despite the rich talent on offense.

      After the game, Winston was even more adamant in his denial.

      "Listen, me and coach Koetter have a great relationship, first and foremost," Winston said. "And he has the same goal when we go on that football field and that's to win the football game. So, it doesn't matter what anybody else can possibly say. Obviously, there's a lot of stuff that can come out when we're not doing as expected. But that's false, OK? Coach Koetter coaches his tale off and he definitely supports me. So whatever anybody else has to say outside of that ... that's water up under a bridge, man. That's shocking.

      "A, it's a distraction and a lot of distractions come up when we don't perform like we need to perform. First and foremost, I'm a strong believer in coaches coach and players play. If you look at today's game, I didn't play. I had three turnovers, OK? And a predicable call or any call, you can't predict that when you have three turnovers. You can't make that up."

      Koetter has been in Winston's corner from the start, even dismissing his 53 turnovers in 42 games by reminding everyone he is only 23 years old.

      Koetter appeared stunned by the report Sunday.

      "That's obviously news to me," Koetter said. "I think Jameis and I have an extremely consistent relationship for the last few years and I don't think anything is different about it, but that's just my opinion.

      "I know the truth about our relationship, but my big concern is our football team."

      When asked if he could've done more to support Winston when he was playing with a hurt shoulder, going 0-4 in the process, Koetter summoned his dry wit.

      "I could've whipped out my medicine bag and done quick shoulder surgery and fixed him up," he said. "But I wasn't able to do that."

      Winston says the rumors of a schism developing between him and Koetter are simply the result of losing.

      "I've been with coach Koetter since I got in this league and he has not wronged me since I stepped foot in those doors," Winston said. "I believe in what we have as this organization. We got the talent. Some unfortunate things happened. That's life. That's football.

      "Some people can blame it on this, some people can blame it on that. At the end of the day, we got to win. And as long as your winning, nobody is sitting here asking me questions about me or my head coach."

      --The Bucs' unlikely comeback to erase a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter was capped by the most unlikely of targets. Tampa Bay tied the game when quarterback Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard pass to 305-pound Leonard Wester, a backup lineman who lined up eligible as a "jumbo" tight end.

      "We ran that play on the series before, and Coach said, 'They didn't even cover you, so next time, we're going to look for you,'" said Wester, who had played just six offensive snaps all season before similar spot duty Sunday.

      Wester had reported eligible on the previous drive when the Bucs threw a 2-yard touchdown to O.J. Howard. When they got to the 2 again, needing a touchdown to tie, Wester blocked his defensive end for a split second and then released to the end zone, catching a wide-open pass for a touchdown.

      "Last time I caught a pass? I've never actually caught a pass," said Wester, who made the roster last year as an undrafted rookie from tiny Missouri Western. "The last time I touched the ball was eighth grade, when I played quarterback. It means a lot more in a win, but I'm thankful for the opportunity."

      --Linebacker Lavonte David forced and recovered a fumble from Lions tight end Eric Ebron. His five fumble recoveries this season are a Bucs record, and his five forced fumbles are the most in any season since Stylez White in 2007.

      David is tied with Houston's J.J. Watt for the most fumble recoveries in the NFL since 2011 and needs one more fumble recovery to match Ronde Barber (12) for the Bucs' career record. He still needs eight forced fumbles to catch Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice, who have the team record with 25 each.

      --It took seven minutes for officials to decide on the call in a first-quarter play where tight end O.J. Howard caught a 21-yard pass and was hit squarely by Detroit's Quandre Diggs, knocking the ball loose.

      The initial call had Diggs flagged for unnecessary roughness, but Detroit challenged the call and officials found that because Howard completed the catch, he wasn't a defenseless receiver, so there was no penalty. Instead of the Bucs having the ball inside the Detroit 25 with a chance to take the lead, the Lions took over. That started a run of five turnovers in six possessions for the Bucs.

      NOTES: DT Gerald McCoy had to leave Sunday's game with a biceps injury and did not return. He was undergoing a MRI Monday and results were not available. McCoy tore both biceps his first two years in the league. ... TE O.J. Howard's 2-yard touchdown was his fifth this season, matching Tim Wright (2013) for the most ever by a Bucs rookie tight end. Only two other tight ends (Giants Evan Engram this year, Chargers Hunter Henry in 2016) have had five touchdowns as rookies in the last four years. ... WR Chris Godwin had a strong game, catching a team-best five passes for 68 yards and leading the team with two special-teams tackles. ... RB Doug Martin was benched for RB Peyton Barber in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Lions following his second-quarter fumble. ... LB Lavonte David had another strong performance Sunday with 13 tackles, the fifth caused fumble of the season and a fumble recovery.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: D - QB Jameis Winston passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. That's 53 turnovers in his career. The Bucs' pass protection was a little better but not good enough.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - RB Doug Martin got the start and rushed for only 26 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was benched after his second-quarter fumble in favor of Peyton Barber, who rushed 12 times for 58 yards.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - The Bucs did not record a sack of Matthew Stafford despite 44 passing attempts. In fact, they barely hit him. The Bucs can't rush the passer, but despite this, they managed interceptions by CBs Brent Grimes and Robert McClain.

      --RUSH DEFNSE: C - RB Theo Riddick rushed 10 times for 29 yards and two touchdowns. Not overly impressive. But he broke four tackles on the way to the end zone.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C - P Bryan Anger did his thing with a 44-yard average, but no kicks inside the 20. Tampa Bay made three extra points and did an OK job of kick coverage. Nothing special or bad.

      --COACHING: D - Head coach Dirk Koetter is running out of time to make an argument he should return as the team's head coach. Three NFC South games remain and Tampa Bay is currently winless in the division.

  • Vikings beat up on offensive line
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings lost ground to Philadelphia in the race for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but the bigger concern is the health of their offensive line heading into a Week 15 home game against the Bengals.

    • By the end of Sunday's 31-24 loss at Carolina, right guard Joe Berger was the only starting lineman manning his normal position. By no coincidence, Case Keenum was sacked a season-high six times, while the sixth-ranked running game disappeared.

      "Some guys got beat (physically) that don't normally get beat," head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. "And we had some mental errors. We might have been late pushing out to a guy or something like that. That's mostly what it was."

      Right tackle Mike Remmers (lower back) missed his fifth straight game. Center Pat Elflein (shoulder) missed his first. To compensate, the Vikings started Rashod Hill at right tackle, while moving left guard Nick Easton to center and backup Jeremiah Sirles to left guard.

      But then left tackle Riley Reiff sprained his left ankle in the third quarter and did not return. That forced Hill to move from right to left tackle, Sirles to move from left guard to right tackle, and rookie Danny Isadora to step in at left guard.

      Reiff's injury is the biggest concern. Zimmer rarely discusses injuries, but said the injury was much less serious than first believed. He also said the ankle is not broken.

      As for any other details as to who may or may not play, Zimmer snapped, "Today is Monday. I'm not going to talk about injuries. We're not going to go there. There is no sense in starting already. I'll know more Wednesday when they practice."

      Meanwhile, Zimmer confirmed that Keenum will be his starting quarterback again on Sunday. Keenum had three turnovers, but only one was his fault.

      The Vikings need the injuries up front to heal in time for them to finish strong against the Bengals, Packers (and probably Aaron Rodgers) in Green Bay and the Bears at home.

      Asked if he didn't play Remmers or Elflein because he wants them healthy for the playoffs, Zimmer said, "Come on. Come on. You didn't seriously ask me that, did you? If guys can play, they're playing. That's just how it'll be. We're not in the playoffs and we need to go out and play."

      At 10-3, the Vikings hold the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind the Eagles (11-2). But Philadelphia has lost quarterback Carson Wentz for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

      There are several playoff scenarios, but the best is the following, which comes from leading the Packers and Lions by three games with three to play: If the Vikings win on Sunday, they will clinch their second NFC North title in the past three years.

      "We feel like we can still control our situation," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "But we're not good enough to just roll the ball out there on offense. We can't make uncharacteristic mistakes and be successful."

      Having a healthy offensive line certainly would help as well.

      --The Vikings are the latest team to be asked what they think about the NFL's unpopular definition of what constitutes a catch.

      Near the end of the first half, receiver Adam Thielen was awarded a touchdown that would have given the Vikings a 17-14 lead. He caught the ball in the back of the end zone and landed just in bounds.

      But ...

      When the score was automatically reviewed, it was ruled an incompletion because the ball moved when Thielen landed. It never touched the ground, but that didn't matter.

      Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he was given an explanation on the reversal.

      "No," he said.

      Then he couldn't resist elaborating.

      "I just think the whole thing is messed up," he said. "I've been doing this for 30 years and I know what a catch looks like. So, the ball moved a little bit, yeah. But, he caught the ball."

      NOTES: RT Mike Remmers missed his fifth straight game. He missed three games because of a concussion and the past two because of a lower back injury. ... C Pat Elflein missed the first game of his rookie season because of a shoulder injury. He had started every one of the first 12 games. ... LB Emmanuel Lamur was on crutches with a protective boot on his right foot after Sunday's game. ... WR Adam Thielen is becoming richer by the catch. With six catches on Sunday, he now has 80 on the season. He has incentives for reaching 70 ($500,000), 80 (another $250,000) and 90 (another $250,000) this season.


      --PASSING OFFENSE: D -- A beat-up offensive line had its worst outing of the season as Case Keenum was sacked a season-high six times. One of the sacks included a strip that was recovered by Carolina. Keenum also had a badly underthrown deep ball that was intercepted on the game's first possession. Receiver Stefon Diggs also had a ball go off his hands for another interception. A 52-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen made things interesting in the fourth quarter, but the passing game was too sloppy and ineffective for too much of the game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped a deep ball, and Thielen bobbled a ball in the end zone, causing the ruling of a touchdown to be reversed.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Jerick McKinnon broke a 17-yard run, but other than that, the rushing offense was pretty much limited to Keenum running for his life while turning some sacks into gains. Latavius Murray had his least productive outing since Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending injury in Week 4. Murray had only 14 yards on nine carries. He lost yardage on three of his nine carries.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B -- Cam Newton completed only 13 of 25 passes for 137 yards and a 64.9 passer rating. But he did make a powerful, off-balance, cross-field throw for an 18-yard touchdown to Devin Funchess. Strong safety Andrew Sendejo intercepted a pass late in the game. That led to a tying field goal.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: F -- On its third snap of the game, Carolina's offense beat the Vikings straight up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart. Late in the game, Newton beat the Vikings straight up the middle with a 62-yard run to the Vikings' 8-yard line. That set up the winning touchdown. Stewart had three rushing touchdowns. The Vikings hadn't allowed a team to rush for more than 115 yards this season. The Panthers had two carries that went for 122 yards. Carolina finished with 216 yards on 36 carries (6.0 yards per attempt).

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Punter Ryan Quigley had a punt downed at the 2-yard line for the second straight week. That led to a three-and-out, which was followed by a 29-yard punt return to the Carolina 30-yard line. But after the offense lost 6 yards, Kai Forbath yanked a 54-yard field goal attempt way left.

      --COACHING: C -- Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur may have gotten too greedy early on the game's first possession with a deep ball on second-and-14. But Keenum had earned his trust with how he's played most of this season. Defensively, the two long runs were grossly uncharacteristic of Mike Zimmer's defense. Special teams played well, but clearly someone overestimated Forbath's range when he was sent out to attempt the 54-yarder. He obviously wasn't comfortable at that distance and over-kicked the ball badly.

  • Cardinals lose LT Veldheer for season
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals will be without left tackle Jared Veldheer for the final three weeks of the season, head coach Bruce Arians announced on Monday, after it was learned the veteran suffered a fractured ankle during Sunday's 12-7 victory over the Titans.

    • Veldheer will be placed on Injured Reserve, necessitating at least one roster move, Arians said.

      Two moves might need to be made, however, as Arians said starting right guard Earl Watford suffered a high-ankle sprain against Tennessee, likely sidelining him for at least two weeks.

      Rookie Will Holden will replace Veldheer at left tackle for this Sunday's game in Washington against the Redskins, Arians said. Second-year pro Evan Boehm, who began the season as the team's starting right guard, will fill in for Watford this week.

      Veldheer was questionable for the Titans' game because of an elbow injury, but according to Arians, the arm didn't bother Veldheer very much. The ankle injury occurred during the fourth quarter and Veldheer initially just thought it was a bad sprain, but X-Rays revealed otherwise.

      --Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was blunt when he was asked what the past four or five seasons would have been like had head coach Bruce Arians not moved him predominantly to the slot as more of a possession receiver and pass blocker.

      "I'd probably be sitting in your chair right now asking the questions," the 34-year-old said after moving into third place and ahead of close friend Randy Moss on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list with 15,311. "I think as a player you are sometimes naive to the things that you lose and don't always look at yourself the way other people see you.

      "I think that's one of the negatives about being a professional athlete. Coach had a bigger picture and I just needed to understand that. Talking to Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne definitely eased my concerns and helped me adjust to the move. When you do something for 10-plus years and you're All-Pro, you do it at a high level and you're one of the best in the business, it's tough to make that adjustment.

      "It's the best thing that happened to me. Coach, he breathed life into my career. It was going the wrong way."

      Fitzgerald has strung together his best three consecutive years the past three seasons, catching a career-high 109 passes in 2015 for 1,215 yards, an NFL-leading 107 receptions for 1,023 yards last season and 87 more for 922 yards this year.

      --The Cardinals are expected to activate long snapper Aaron Brewer (wrist) from injured reserve, but it's possible he will be the only player to return from the list this season. It was expected that quarterback Carson Palmer (arm) and running back David Johnson (wrist) would be their top two choices, but not now.

      "I don't foresee any guys coming back for sure," general manager Steve Keim said. "There's no clear-cut option that can tell me with conviction that I think that there's somebody that's going to be able to come off injured reserve."

      Keim was asked about Johnson and whether it made sense to bring him back this late in the season considering his high value to the team moving forward.

      "No, he gets paid to play football," Keim said. "If he's healthy and the doctors clear him, I would expect that he should play. But at the same time, if there's any gray area or there's any concerns at all, I don't think there's a reason you'd want to risk it. I know that's a fine line, but that's the trust you have to have in your medical staff."

      --Head coach Bruce Arians now has 48 wins, including the playoffs, since joining the Cardinals in 2013. With a victory next Sunday at Washington, he will tie Ken Whisenhunt for the most victories (49) by a Cardinals coach in franchise history.

      --Rookie receiver Chad Williams on his 33-yard reverse that helped set up the go-ahead field goal in a win over the Titans: "(Bruce Arians) is confident in me and I'm going to make a play. I felt good. I knew when he called it, we'd have it. We practiced it all week. It was a pretty good play from the jump, the way it's designed and the way it fakes the run and has a jet sweep handoff. It was pretty good and I was excited about it."

      --The Cardinals' 261 yards of total offense in their 12-7 win over Tennessee was their second-fewest this season. They only gained less during a 33-0 rout at the hands of the Rams in London in Week 7.

      --Arizona intercepted Marcus Mariota twice on Sunday -- the 22nd time the team has had multiple interceptions in a game since the start of the 2013 season. The Cardinals' record in those games is 21-1.

      --QB Blaine Gabbert has been up and down, but he continues to show enough to make the Cardinals interested in bringing him back on a potential new contract after this season. Gabbert will have to play well down the stretch for that to likely happen, however. Gabbert's biggest knock has been his accuracy issues, which has been a problem throughout his seven-year pro career. As it relates to that point, this comment from general manager Steve Keim was telling: "You can improve it a little bit, more so from the mechanics standpoint, when you start talking about footwork and body position and those types of things," he said, speaking of accuracy issues in general. "I do think, though, that natural accuracy, there's an innate part of it. You either have it or you don't. Now can you polish it and become a little bit better? I don't think there's any question. But guys that I've studied over the years that are naturally accurate have always been accurate through their high school, their college careers.

      "And then the guys, quite frankly, who have had some issues with ball placement and touch and those sort of things, have always had those issues. It's a never-ending process. The problem is supply and demand. There's just not enough of them out there that have the natural accuracy and do all the things that you're looking for. So that'll be something we focus on after the season moving forward and again, it's part of the growth of being an evaluator, too."

      How interested are the Cardinals in bringing Gabbert back?

      "I don't think there's any question that we'd like to have Blaine back. He's done a good job," Keim said. "No again, based on what he's done so far, it's up to him on how much he can improve and what's the ceiling for Blaine Gabbert. But everything he's done since he's been here from a work ethic standpoint, the intangibles, the commitment to film study and his practice habits have all been excellent."


      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus - Blaine Gabbert managed the game effectively, playing turnover-free football, and that was enough to get the job done thanks to a stout defensive effort and four field goals from the kicker. The pass blocking up front was awful, as Gabbert got sacked eight times for 53 yards. Some of those were on Gabbert for holding onto the ball too long. Only one receiver, Larry Fitzgerald (five catches, 44 yards) caught more than two passes.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - In this area, the offensive line wasn't so bad. Kerwynn Williams, playing with sore ribs for a second straight week, ran for 73 yards on 20 carries. Rookie wide receiver Chad Williams gave the offense some life during the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard end around.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - While the Cardinals didn't get after Marcus Mariota the way the Titans got after Gabbert, this unit was still extremely effective, sacking Mariota three times and intercepting him twice. The second pick, by linebacker Josh Bynes, allowed Phil Dawson to extend Arizona's lead to 12-7 with 3:45 to play. Chandler Jones got a sack, his NFL-leading 14th of the season.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Cardinals haven't allowed an opposing 100-yard rusher at home for the past two seasons. On Sunday, they shut down the Titans' feared two-pronged attack of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to a combined 54 rushing yards. Mariota didn't hurt them with his legs, either, as he ran just twice for 11 yards.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Other than a missed 40-yard field goal by Dawson early in the fourth quarter, which was huge at the time, special teams actually had themselves a pretty decent day. Dawson made four field goals - the third time he's done that this season. Punter Andy Lee, who got a ton of activity in the first half, only had one poor punt out of six. The coverage and return teams played better than normal.

      --COACHING: B - Bruce Arians won his challenge call early in the second half during a disputed first down by the Titans, which got his team the ball back and resulted in a field goal. He also dialed up a nice reverse for Chad Williams, which paid off. Defensively, coordinator James Bettcher had his players in the right positions to make plays when they needed to and his group didn't let him down.

  • Sack leader Jones of Cardinals bemoans his misses
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, December 11, 2017

    TEMPE, Ariz. -- Chandler Jones took over the NFL lead in sacks on Sunday when he bagged his 14th of the season in the Arizona Cardinals' 12-7 victory over the Titans.

    • When he looks back at all the near sacks he probably should have made, the outside linebacker knows he could be challenging Michael Strahan's NFL single-season record of 22.5.

      If he just would have held on a little longer or managed to pull the quarterback all the way down, Jones knows he could easily have registered anywhere from 18 to 20 sacks by now, which would have made the record very attainable with three games left to play in the regular season.

      "How many sacks do I think I should have? I don't want to talk about it," Jones said, clearly frustrated about failing to finish on at least a half-dozen sack opportunities.

      But does he have a chance at Strahan's record, set in 2001 with the Giants, who visit in another week?

      "Yeah, I think so," head coach Bruce Arians said. "The way he's playing, multiple-sack games are just becoming a normal thing for him. He just needs to get them to the ground but yeah, I think he's got a shot."

      With three more sacks to reach 17, Jones would set the Cardinals' single-season record, currently held by Simeon Rice, who finished with 16.5 in 1999. Curtis Greer is second with 18 (1983) and Bertrand Berry is third with 14.52 (2004).

      It almost pains Jones to know he could be there by now and that much closer to Strahan's mark.

      "How many times have I slipped off the quarterback? I mean, fourth quarter, just slipped right off the quarterback?" he said. "I think I get too excited. My eyes get big and he just ducks off of me. I think I have to work on that.

      "Once I get free, I have to break down and lower my center of gravity."

      Jones, who in the offseason signed a five-year extension worth $82.5 million, clearly is earning his paycheck. Not only do his 14 sacks lead the NFL this season, but so does his 24 tackles for loss and 27 quarterback hits.

      Since being acquired by the Cardinals in a trade with the Patriots, Jones leads the NFL in sacks (25) and tackles for loss (39).

      "Chandler Jones continues to play exceptionally," general manager Steve Keim said Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "To me, it says a lot about Chandler. A team that had won five games, he was just rewarded with a big contract, and to see the fact that he's not only grown and gotten better, he's gotten more physical in the run game. And his ability to create pressure just gets better and better.

      "He's been a dominant force all year and I'm extremely pleased to have him here."

      NOTES: K Phil Dawson made four field goals in a game for the third time this season. However, his eight missed field goals this season tied a single-season career high. He last missed eight kicks in 2006 with the Browns, when he made 21 of 29. He is 22-for-30 in 2017. ... CB Tramon Williams added his second interception of the season on Sunday vs. the Titans and now has 32 in his career, the sixth-most among active players. Williams, signed late to start opposite Patrick Peterson, is here on a one-year deal. It won't be a shocker if the Cardinals offer him a new contract before he hits free agency. "We're in constant communications with agents and negotiations for contract extensions," general manager Steve Keim said. "As a matter of fact, I'll work on some of that stuff this week. But the thing about Tramon is he is really a true pro. His veteran leadership has really paid off. He's a guy that some may think that he's lost a step or he can't play as well on the perimeter -- maybe because he played a little more safety last year in Cleveland -- but his anticipation, his instincts and his ability to read route combinations is phenomenal and there's a reason why he has over 30 interceptions in the NFL."