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The Chargers took a five-game winning streak into Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, but they weren’t able to extend their run any further.
Kansas City took a 23-20 decision, leaving the Chargers to make a quick turnaround to start preparing for Thursday night’s game against the Broncos. They’ll be doing it with a defense that’s been thinned out by injuries.
Linebackers Manti Te’o and Jerry Attaochu and cornerback Jason Verrett were all inactive, defensive tackle Kwame Geathers is on season-ending injured reserve and linebacker Melvin Ingram is on injured reserve with the designation to return, leaving the team shorthanded from the start. Cornerback Brandon Flowers left with a concussion during the game and the team saw several other players shuffle in and out with less severe aches and pains over the course of the afternoon.
Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego reports Verrett is expected to be out again on Thursday and Flowers is going to have a hard time getting cleared so quickly, which would leave the Chargers quite vulnerable to the Denver passing attack.
“Next man up” is a popular and sensible response to the injuries that impact every team, but at some point you run out of next guys. The Chargers are closer to that point than they’d like to be at the moment.
When Washington, fresh from its second win of the season, heads to Dallas with the goal of hanging a second loss on the Cowboys, there’s a chance coach Jay Gruden won’t be confined to two possible quarterback options.
Griffin dislocated his ankle five weeks ago. Per Tandler, Griffin worked out on the field prior to Sunday, with drop-backs and full-speed bootlegs. (You know, the stuff Griffin did on the field during pregame workouts in the 2013 preseason, before he returned too soon from his torn ACL.) Griffin has not yet received medical clearance to play.
“You would like to have your decision made as soon as possible,” Gruden said of preparations for next Monday night. “Now, you throw Robert into the mix. Robert has a chance to practice on Wednesday and we have to see where he is. See where he is health-wise, and from there I will make a decision from watching the tape of what I’m going to do.”
Given Griffin’s struggles last year when he clearly wasn’t fully recovered following reconstructive knee surgery, some close to Griffin will be nudging him to wait until he’s clearly 100 percent. But Griffin surely will be hoping to play in his return to Texas — especially after last year’s homecoming didn’t go as well as his first one.
As a rookie, Griffin had a memorable Thanksgiving Day performance in Dallas, with four touchdown passes and 303 yards passing in a 38-31 victory over the Cowboys. Last year, he had two turnovers, no touchdowns, and a completion percentage under 50 percent in a 31-16 loss there.
If Griffin doesn’t get clearance, Gruden could decide to go with McCoy over Cousins. Which would make sense; McCoy led the team to a win on Sunday. Cousins, after some early success, has looked like anything but a viable starting quarterback for which Washington could get a first-round pick in trade.
The Patriots’ shaky offensive line has gotten some assistance from veterans in recent weeks.
How worried should the Bengals be after Sunday’s loss to the Colts?
The Browns running game never got going against Jacksonville.
Steelers opponents haven’t thrown many blitzes at the team’s offense.
Some Texans players believe that there are benefits from talking trash on the field.
The Colts defense starred in Sunday’s win.
Penalties were problematic for the Titans offensive line.
The Broncos defense showed killer instinct on Sunday night.
Third downs have been problematic for the Raiders this season.
Explaining offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s role with the Eagles.
If their offense is scuffling, the Falcons don’t have much chance of winning.
The Buccaneers need better play from their linebackers.
Said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, “We know we’re not special. The one thing we talked about all week is you never underestimate an opponent, [and] you damn sure don’t overestimate yourself. We haven’t done anything yet except get to 5-1. There’s a lot of football left.”
For all the time spent last week wondering if Jimmy Graham would play or not, it turned out to not matter.
Graham was able to return from a shoulder injury ahead of schedule, but didn’t do much. He was targeted twice, but didn’t catch a single pass in the Saints’ loss to the Lions.
According to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, Graham didn’t talk to reporters after the game while getting treatment. Coach Sean Payton would said that “there was a handful of plays tagged for” his Pro Bowl tight end.
But Payton also noted that he didn’t get many snaps in the red zone, which figured to be the easiest way to blend him back in.
“He was in the nickel, some of the third down, some of the red zone,” Payton said. “We kind of did the same thing a year ago [when Graham returned from a plantar fasciitis injury] against Buffalo. We kind of had a set plan in place for him, and the challenge is just making sure you’re ready if you’re not playing on a more frequent basis.”
Getting Graham back on the stat sheet will be crucial for the 2-4 Saints, as their division is still wide open, being led by the 3-3-1 Panthers.
Somebody has to win it and go to the playoffs, and getting Graham back on track seems as likely as the Panthers fixing their entire defense.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Panthers were a team defined by their defense.
But that side of the ball is dragging them down now.
Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review points out the sordid facts about a terrible defense, which has allowed at least 37 points in four of their last five games.
They’ve given up 195 points through seven games, after giving up just 241 all of last season.
“We can’t keep sitting around and waiting on things to happen,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “As a defense, we’ve got to go out and make things happen. Until we do that, this outcome is going to continue to be like this.”
Quarterbacks in particular are having a field day against their soft secondary,
The last five quarterbacks they’ve played (Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers) have completed 76.5 percent of their passes (124-of-162 for 1,390 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions), for a passer rating of 116.0.
That’s ridiculous, but somewhat predictable.
The Panthers had an odd cast of defensive backs last year, but they also had Greg Hardy getting 15.0 sacks to make the job of coverage easier. Without that pressure, players are being exposed (notably but not limited to safety Roman Harper and safety-turned-nickel corner Charles Godfrey).
Now, with Hardy awaiting trial on domestic violence charges and on the commissioner’s exempt list — and the money he’s soaking up unavailable to buy reinforcements — the Panthers aren’t stopping anybody.
A few weeks ago, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed off his spelling ability in order to tell panicky fans that they should relax when it comes to the team’s offense.
That advice has proven sound over the last few weeks and Sunday’s game against the Panthers was no exception. The Packers rolled to a 38-17 win that saw five different players score touchdowns and Rodgers throw just three incompletions while hooking up with nine different receivers over the course of the afternoon. After the game, Rodgers was asked how play like this compares to his 2011 MVP season and showed that his advice about a relaxed response to the offense’s performance isn’t just a reaction to the negative.
“I think we’re getting closer,” Rodgers said, via ESPN Wisconsin. “I’ve been through a lot of games, tough games, wins, losses, solid performances, poor performances. You’ve got to learn from everything. There were stretches in that  season where I was playing really, really well. And we’re kind of in a stretch right now where we’re playing pretty well.”
The Packers have scored 145 points over the last four weeks while winning each game, something that makes “pretty well” a rather understated description of their performance of late. Rodgers may not want to crow about it, but the offense is on a roll in Green Bay and there’s not much reason to think it will stop in New Orleans next weekend.
Colt McCoy is a winner. And so is Blake Bortles. Kyle Orton and Ryan Tannehill, too. And don’t forget Austin Davis, who made a loser of Russell Wilson. Drew Brees? Like Wilson, a loser. Philip Rivers is a loser, and so is Eli Manning. Cam Newton is a big loser.
That’s one way to look at yesterday’s NFL action. It’s an all too common way to look at the NFL. It’s a ridiculous way to look at the NFL.
There’s a tendency to say that a quarterback “won” a game or “lost” a game, and to diminish a great performance by a quarterback in a losing effort, or prop up a bad performance by a quarterback whose team won, by saying that all that matters is the scoreboard. That tendency should stop. Teams win and lose. Quarterbacks do not.
Colt McCoy played well yesterday in relief of Kirk Cousins as Washington beat Tennessee, but that doesn’t make McCoy a “winner.” It makes him a backup quarterback who did his job well. Blake Bortles played badly, with just 159 passing yards and three interceptions, but the rest of his team played well enough that Jacksonville beat Cleveland. We shouldn’t call Bortles a “winner” based on that performance.
There was a stat making the rounds earlier this season about how Russell Wilson was undefeated against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. And it’s true. It’s also largely irrelevant to a question of who’s the best quarterback among that group. The quarterback who wins the most is usually the quarterback with the best teammates. Wilson is a good quarterback, but he has a Super Bowl ring more because he played for a team with a great defense last year than because of his own abilities.
And if you think Wilson’s record against Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers makes him better than those four quarterbacks, I’d love to know what you thought about Wilson “losing” to Austin Davis yesterday.
Andrew Luck, one of the winning quarterbacks yesterday, said it well after his Colts beat the Bengals: “It’s the greatest team game in the world because you rely on different phases of the game,” Luck said. “I’m just like a fan — I might as well be a fan when our defense is out there. I don’t know what the calls are or anything, but they do a heck of a job and they certainly gave us a great lift today, and I’m glad they got that shutout.”
Luck played well, and the Colts’ defense played well, and Indianapolis won 27-0. But if Luck had played well, the Colts’ defense played badly, and Indianapolis lost 35-27, would that change how good a player Luck is? Of course not.
Tony Romo has taken plenty of heat when his team loses, and now he’s getting lots of credit because the Cowboys are winning, but the reality is Romo is the same quarterback he always was. The Cowboys’ offensive line is better than ever, DeMarco Murray is playing lights out and the Cowboys’ defense is much improved, and so the perennially .500 Cowboys are 6-1. Romo, who got too much blame when the Cowboys were 8-8, will get too much credit if the Cowboys keep winning.
For 55 minutes yesterday, Drew Brees played better against a good Lions defense than Matthew Stafford did against a bad Saints defense. Does the fact that the Saints’ lousy defense finally got exposed in the last five minutes, and Stafford’s Lions beat Brees’s Saints 24-23, make Brees a “loser” and Stafford a “winner”? Of course not.
The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but he is not the singular reason a team wins or loses. The quarterback is on the field for less than half of the game and is one of 11 players on his team when he is playing. Pretending he’s even half of the reason his team wins or loses is silly. A good quarterback might cost 10 percent of his team’s salary cap, so maybe a highly paid quarterback should get 10 percent of the credit when his team wins or 10 percent of the blame when his team loses. The bulk of the reason a team wins or loses is reflected in the 90 percent or more of the salary cap that the team spends on the other players on the roster.
A free safety isn’t judged by winning and losing, and neither is a guard or a linebacker or a tight end. A quarterback shouldn’t be judged by winning and losing, either. He should be judged by the quality of his own play. If that contributes to his team winning, great. If he plays great and his team loses anyway, he’s not a loser.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:
Hurry it up, refs. Few things are more aggravating while watching a game than waiting forever to hear the ref announce the result of a replay review. There was an absurdly long review in Dallas on Sunday to check the spot on a play that was initially ruled a first down but later overturned on replay. There’s just no good reason for the refs to delay the game any longer than the standard time it takes for a commercial break. Make the call and move the game along.
What ever happened to Michael Sam? Remember when Sam was supposed to be the dreaded “distraction” in Dallas? Now he’s totally disappeared. He’s just another anonymous guy on the practice squad, no different than any other practice squad player. I didn’t hear anyone mention him during the Giants-Cowboys game. I haven’t heard anyone mention him in weeks. It’s amazing how quickly something that’s supposed to be a big deal becomes ordinary.
DeMarco Murray could make history. The season Murray is having for the Cowboys is unbelievable. In Sunday’s win over the Giants he topped 100 yards, just as he’s done in every game this year, making him the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. Murray is on pace to finish this season with 2,087 yards, putting him within shouting distance of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in a season.
Ahmad Bradshaw could make history, too. No running back in NFL history has ever had 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. Even great pass-catching running backs like Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig never did it. But Bradshaw, who caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, has a real shot at it. The Colts’ passing game is excellent, and Bradshaw gets a lot of red zone targets, and I like his chances of scoring four more touchdowns in the next nine games, giving him the all-time receiving touchdown record for a running back.
Seattle’s far from done, but not in great shape either. At 3-3 after yesterday’s loss to the Rams, the Seahawks still have plenty of time to turn their season around. But this is two straight weeks in which Seattle has lost and looked bad doing it. It also hurts that the Seahawks are in a tough division (third place in the NFC West, behind both the Cardinals and the 49ers), and a conference in which the wild card race will be competitive (two good teams in the NFC North and two good teams in the NFC East). Seattle is certainly good enough to make the playoffs and to repeat as champions. But things need to get turned around soon.
One thing that can be said for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson is playing outstanding football: On Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 yards in the same game. Wilson is playing better football this year than he did last year. That’s clear to anyone who can see that assessing a quarterback is about more than just wins and losses.
The Bears have plenty of problems at the moment, as evidenced by their third straight home loss yesterday, this one to the Dolphins.
That loss made for a heated locker room, with wide receiver Brandon Marshall calling out the entire roster.
But Bears guard Kyle Long decided to take out his frustrations on a group of people who had nothing to do with the result, after getting booed as they came off the field at halftime trailing 14-0.
“I don’t know if upset is the word I would use,” Long said, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. “As somebody that is blood, sweat and tears in this locker room like the other guys, the coaches, the trainers, the staff and the equipment guys, to be getting booed at home when you’re walking off the field down two possessions is unacceptable — especially when there is not a lot of noise being made on third down [when Miami had the ball], period.”
The Seahawks had several special teams breakdowns against the Rams on Sunday, their offense was a non-factor until they were already down 18 points and their defense let the Rams go 80 yards in four minutes in the fourth quarter to slow down Seattle’s comeback attempt.
Despite all of that, safety Earl Thomas thinks something else is to blame for the team’s second straight loss. Thomas looked in the direction of the officials, who ruled that the Rams should retain possession after a late fumble by Rams running back Tre Mason on a play that the Seahawks felt was judged incorrectly. The ruling on the field was that the Rams recovered and NFL officiating head Dean Blandino explained that all angles were reviewed and there was no clear visual evidence of who came up with the ball.
“Player coming out of pile w/loose ball is not a clear recovery. Need video evidence of him gaining possession. Play was reviewed in NY,” Blandino wrote on Twitter.
Thomas saw something more nefarious at play, however, and said that the team is “battling the officials” in addition to the opposing team right now.
“Yeah. At least give us a shot. But you know what? I’m not surprised with the referees this season. If you really look at some plays, we’re playing more than our opponents. We’re playing the referees too. I don’t care what anybody is saying. Something is wrong. That needs to be brought up,” Thomas said, via the Seattle Times. “It’s kind of crazy how football is turning out now. You give a guy, just because he wears a white and black shirt, he has authority of the game. Man, they need to stay out of it — that’s my key — and let us dominate.”
If the Seahawks were truly dominating the Rams on Sunday, there wouldn’t have been a place for the officials to impact the outcome of the game. For the second straight week, though, the Seahawks struggled for stretches in all areas of the game and that explains the 28-26 loss a lot more easily than the ruling on a disputed fumble recovery or anything else.
Along with being caught on the tracks as the train of football history rolled over them, the 49ers left last night with another injured starter.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, center Daniel Kilgore suffered a fractured left leg, which will likely end his season.
“It was upper ankle,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Looks like it might be a break.”
Kilgore already had a cast on his leg after the game, and needed help getting on the team bus. He was scheduled to fly home with the team.
“It’s always tragic to lose a player,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “I don’t know exactly what it is right now. Hopefully, it’s not something that is season-ending.”
The injury forced them to scramble last night, but help could be on the way.
Third-round draft pick Marcus Martin just finished his first week of practice after a preseason knee injury, and with a bye week coming up, could be in the lineup when they return Nov. 2 against the Rams.
Because he’s so focused on the process, Peyton Manning’s Broncos teammates knew not to expect a big fuss last night when he broke the league’s all-time touchdown record.
But they also knew what it meant.
“You kind of just know you’re part of something big,” Broncos tight end and former Colts teammate Jacob Tamme said, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. “You know someday you’re going to reflect on it, think about it, but in the moment he wants to win games and we want to win games. But someday, yes, it’s going to be a good story.”
Even for defensive players, who were about to take the field again, it was hard to ignore.
“I wasn’t really paying attention, I don’t get to see him really, we’re looking at our sheets, talking about what we’re going to do on the next play, things like that,” linebacker Von Miller said. “But we were looking at our stuff, and all of a sudden it was like a concert, all the phones were up all over the stadium, you could feel it. We knew it was going to happen. And you had to watch.”
And those are the guys with ringside seats, so imagine what the fans in the stands felt.
Last week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he thought quarterback Tony Romo was playing the best football of his career and Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Giants gave the owner no reason to turn off his well-worn hyperbole switch.
Romo threw three touchdowns, including a strike to Terrance Williams that saw Romo scramble to avoid the rush before making a pinpoint throw, and completed 17-of-23 passes for 279 yards after taking a painkilling injection before the game to deal with rib and ankle problems. Romo didn’t throw an incompletion in the second half and Jones had more praise for the quarterback after the team’s sixth straight win.
“I’d have to say that may be [the] best game I’ve ever seen Tony Romo play,” Jones said, via ESPNDallas.com. “That was an outstanding game. He was pinpointing the ball, making the kind of plays and protecting the ball.”
If it was the best game of Romo’s career, a big chunk of the credit should go to wide receiver Dez Bryant for helping to make it possible. Bryant caught seven of Romo’s nine second half completions with five of them going for first downs and two setting the Cowboys up just outside the end zone for touchdowns that put the game firmly in Dallas’ pocket.
The commitment to and emergence of the running game this season has taken the pressure off of Romo to do everything for the Cowboys offense. That’s worked out to a balanced, efficient and versatile offensive attack, six straight wins and a more credible stream of hot air than we’ve been used to hearing from Jones in recent years.
Neither Pete Carroll nor Russell Wilson was willing to talk much about the departure of wide receiver Percy Harvin in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Rams, but one of the players that Harvin reportedly had problems with during his time in Seattle was more willing to speak his mind.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin admitted that he did have a physical altercation with Harvin earlier this year and suggested the other reports of backstage drama were correct, although he downplayed the significance of the moment as the byproduct of spending so much time together. Baldwin also said that he thought the timing of the trade threw the team off stride regarding their preparation for Sunday.
“Obviously the shock of the transaction and what took place there made for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. When something that drastic happens, right before we get on the bus [to go to the airport for the trip], there is going to be an emotional impact. I felt we handled it to the best of our ability, but I think it might have been a factor in some way,” Baldwin said, via ESPN.com. “There’s obviously a lot of things that went on this week that affected the team in numerous ways. As a competitor, you don’t want to admit those things. But as a human, it is human nature. It took us a little while to get on track. I’m just proud we responded the way we did and fought until the very end.”
The Seahawks outscored the Rams 20-7 in the second half, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the 18-point hole that St. Louis dug for them in the first half. While we can’t be sure, Seattle should avoid the emotional roller coaster this week as they prepare to face the Panthers and halt their losing streak at two games.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never shied away from fake punts and other such trickery, but punter Johnny Hekker was still surprised to hear that the coach wanted him to throw the ball from his own 18-yard line with just under three minutes to play in Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.
Hekker said his response was to ask if the coach was serious before heading onto the field to throw a pass to Benny Cunningham, who said he thought the team would have cut him if he didn’t reel in the pass. We’ll never have to find out because Cunningham did catch the ball and the Rams did hold on for the 28-26 victory. After the game, Fisher explained that he didn’t think his defense would have been able to stop Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who accounted for more than 400 yards of offense, before Seattle moved back into the lead.
“You guys saw the flow of the game, we were having a hard time stopping Russell,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There was too much time left on the clock right there, and I didn’t want to give the ball back to them. I thought it was our best chance to get a first down.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the team was prepared for Fisher to pull some stuff out of his hat, but that they didn’t think the fake would come in that situation. He called it a “very gutsy” call, which sounds about right for a decision that would have left Fisher to be hoisted up by his own mustache for handing the Seahawks a win if things had backfired.
As he said, though, Fisher thought his team would lose if they gave the Seahawks the ball with a conventional punt so he chose to go out fighting.
Though the winless Raiders showed some spark in Sunday’s game vs. Arizona, they couldn’t quite keep up with the NFC West-leading Cardinals, who secured a 24-13 victory in Oakland.
And as the Cardinals took care of business against the Raiders, injured Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett wrote a message visible to Oakland fans facing the Cards’ sldeline.
Via a photo posted on Twitter by Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website, Dockett wrote “WORST TEAM IN NFL 0-6” on a white dry-erase board.
In a devilish touch, the “0” had a smiley face in it.
After the game, Dockett, via his verified Twitter account, explained his message this way: “Raiders fans threw coins and ice at us, called us every name in the book. That’s what made me write the sign.”
In any event, the Cardinals got out with a win, improving their record to 5-1. The Raiders, on the other hand, are already approaching the doorstep of a 12th straight season without a postseason bid.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Oakland has picked up its play after an embarrassing Week Four defeat in London. Still, the Raiders opened seven-point underdogs for next Sunday’s game in Cleveland. They are assured of being underdogs in the bulk of their final 10 games of the season, with the Dec. 21 home matchup with Buffalo perhaps their best chance at being favored.