FLM All 32: Team-by-team NFL notes
Buffalo Bills: Troy Aikman was 1-11 as a starter in 1989. Peyton Manning was 3-13 in 1998. Their first seasons were disastrous, but both won multiple Super Bowls. Aikman is in the Hall of Fame, and Manning will join him there soon. No one is ready to fit Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen for a Super Bowl ring or a gold jacket yet, but coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday he is delighted by what he has seen from Allen, who enters Sunday’s game at New England with a 4-5 record and significant progress made this season. “I went back and watched the Miami game a few days ago and he looks like a different player than he did from two or three games ago, which is important and good for him,” McDermott said. “The way the game is slowing down for him is encouraging.” McDermott is eager to see how he performs against the Patriots. “Josh has another opportunity to grow and develop. Now it’s on the road against a very good football team. … He’s really in my mind determined to improve every week.”
Miami Dolphins: The Jacksonville Jaguars — this weekend’s opponent for the Dolphins — were a Super Bowl favorite heading into the 2018 season but have disappointed. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill said their 4-10 record means nothing to him. He said the defense, especially, impresses him, and despite the team record, the Jaguars are sixth in the NFL in total defense. “They’re a talented team,” he said. “I think it starts with the personnel. They have good players from their front to the linebackers and the secondary. All the way through, they’re really a solid team. (They’re) kind of a lot like we saw last week. They’ve stacked up good players at every position. They play fast. They keep things fairly simple. They play what they play, and I think they do a good job of studying what teams do to attack them and really try to lock those things down. You have to give a lot of credit to the way they’re playing right now. They’ve played well pretty much all season, through the ups and the downs of their season.”
New England Patriots: Bills coach Sean McDermott said he’s preparing to face vintage Tom Brady on Sunday when the Bills play the Patriots. To him, the Tom Brady of 2018, at age 41, is as good as he’s ever been. Or maybe better. “To me, he looks even better than in years past. I know the numbers may not support that, but I think his game is strong,” McDermott said. “He doesn’t turn the ball over. I think he’s as good as ever.” He added: “The way he’s allocating the ball to different receivers, how he’s getting them in and out of plays, the no-huddle offense, strategically. I think all of that showcases his ability, not only with his arm physically, but also his mental capability.”
New York Jets: For two teams with seemingly nothing to play for, Sunday’s game against Green Bay is important to the Jets — especially to Sam Darnold. The rookie quarterback continues to mature at the helm of the 4-10 Jets, and he said he has learned from Aaron Rodgers, whom he’ll see up close on Sunday. “During the offseason I look at Aaron all the time, just personally to watch some of the cool throws he’s able to make,” Darnold said this week. “He’s really the most talented person I’ve ever seen the way he’s able to get rid of the ball and throw the football.” He said now that he’s an NFL quarterback, he appreciates Rodgers’ talents even more. “It’s fun as a quarterback knowing how hard the position is, knowing how hard it is to play, it’s really cool to be able to watch someone really make it look so easy.”
Baltimore Ravens: Coach John Harbaugh called kicker Justin Tucker’s omission from the Pro Bowl “a big-time head-scratcher.” Tucker is 28-for-30 on field goals this year — his only two misses were blocked — but he was left off the AFC roster in favor of the Jets’ Jason Myers. Harbaugh said he was “very surprised” by the voting. So was Tucker. “I feel like I hit the ball really consistently well this year,” said the eight-year veteran, who was selected to the annual showcase in 2013 and 2016. “It’s something that I aim to continue to do,” he added. “But what are you going to do? I mean, the only thing you can do is just keep trying to be the best football player you can be.” Tucker is, in fact, the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history with a career mark of 90.6 percent. He missed an extra point for the first time in his career in Week 7, preventing the Ravens from taking the Saints to over time.
Cincinnati Bengals: Second-year running back Joe Mixon is just 5 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season and is on pace to become the first Bengal to lead the AFC in rushing since Rudi Johnson in 2005. “I’m 5 away. I haven’t gotten there yet,” Mixon said. “Hopefully …I can get a 5-yard carry, and then I’ll be there. I’ll take that all the way.” He has topped 100 yards in back-to-back games against the Chargers and Raiders heading into Sunday’s game at Cleveland. In the first meeting against the Browns in Week 12, Mixon rushed for 89 yards on 14 attempts and set season highs with seven catches for 66 yards. His chief competition for the AFC rushing title is Denver’s Phillip Lindsay, just 4 yards behind him with 991.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns have won four of their last five, including a 35-20 victory at Cincinnati in Week 12. They look to complete the sweep of their in-state foes on Sunday in Cleveland. “It’s an AFC North rivalry,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “Especially how things went up there last (time), we definitely want to let them know that it wasn’t just a fluke. This is what it’s going to be.” The Browns (6-7-1) technically have a mathematical shot at the playoffs — which would require, among other things, a tie between the Colts and Titans in Week 17 — but the team has more realistic goals in mind in the season’s last two games. “Having a winning record, that’s something we can control,” Peppers said. “If (the playoffs) happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it gives us good stepping stools to go into next year.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Facing a New Orleans defense that ranks No. 1 against the run this Sunday, the Steelers could use more of the empty-backfield, five-receiver sets they showed in last week’s win over the Patriots. “It gives us a lot of weapons,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “It creates some mismatch opportunities, and then it’s just about finding the right mismatch or the right opportunity that is available to us.” Roethlisberger completed 7 of 8 passes on a 92-yard touchdown drive using the set, which featured Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers. The downside is not having a tight end and losing some pass protection. “The guys up front are going to have their hands full with the pass rush and the noise,” Roethlisberger said.
Houston Texans: The winner of 10 of the last 11 games, Houston is focused on continuing its momentum through the regular season and then making a playoff run. Last weekend’s 29-22 victory over the New York Jets wasn’t a thing of beauty but star defensive end J.J. Watt isn’t much for appearances. “It really doesn’t matter how you win, you just have to win,” Watt said. “After this week’s game — we’ve kind of heard it all year, ‘This. That. They didn’t’ — we won. I don’t care. I don’t care how we win, I just want to win. I really don’t care. I don’t care if people think it’s pretty, I don’t care if they like it, if they don’t like it, I just want to win. I really do not care how we win.”
Indianapolis Colts: Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leads the NFL with 146 tackles and was distressed over not making the Pro Bowl. The second-round pick from South Carolina State said his goal is to get 40 tackles in Sunday’s contest against the New York Giants. Being informed that would be almost impossible — the NFL record is 24 — Leonard didn’t back off. “Impossible? There is nothing impossible,” Leonard told reporters about the 40 tackles. “If you play a lot of snaps you’ve just got to get on every play possible.” Asked to rate his anger on a 1-to-10 scale when he learned of the snub, Leonard raised the ante. “Twenty,” Leonard shot back. “Just knowing that I put everything on film and still not enough. So I’ve just got to keep improving.”
Jacksonville Jaguars: Switching from Blake Bortles to Cody Kessler at quarterback hasn’t led to an improvement on offense. Instead, things have been even more bleak; Jacksonville has scored just one offensive touchdown in Kessler’s three starts. “The biggest thing this week is for us to score: put up points,” Kessler said. “That is something we haven’t been able to do and that falls on me. That is something we have to do these next (two) weeks, obviously starting this week.” Kessler said pride is his main motivation for the last two games as his future with the team being unclear. “Every year in the NFL, teams are going to change — not the same guys will be here next year, no matter where you are at in the NFL.”
Tennessee Titans: Running back Derrick Henry is on a roll with 408 yards over the past two games — he broke Earl Campbell’s franchise record of 405 — and it turned out he received a push former Titans star Eddie George. The two Heisman Trophy winners had a conversation in which George minced no words. “I was very honest,” George told reporters. “I said, look, it’s not about you hitting the home run. We know you can hit the home run. It’s what you can do consistently between the tackles, and it comes down to one fundamental thing. It comes down to you imposing your will on defenders. You are too big not to use that as your strength. You have to force guys to tackle you. Make one cut and go.” Said Henry: “He told me I wasn’t playing to my potential, and I could play better. That’s the stuff I needed to hear. It gave me a different outlook moving forward.”
Denver Broncos: Just a few months ago, running back Phillip Lindsay was wearing No. 2 in practice and sitting sixth on the Broncos’ running back depth chart, just hoping to make the roster via special teams. On Tuesday, he became the first offensive undrafted rookie in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl. “At one point, I was just trying to make the team,” Lindsay told reporters Wednesday. “I was hoping to do some (gunner) reps, some kick return and hopefully catch some balls at punt return. When they gave me the news that I was going to the Pro Bowl, it was just a real emotional moment.” Lindsay is 9 rushing yards away from 1,000 on the season, and he ranks second among all qualified rushers in yards per carry (5.4).
Kansas City Chiefs: Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz missed his first practice of the season on Wednesday, a bit of a surprise after his knee injury had not been previously reported. Coach Andy Reid said Schwartz hurt the knee last Thursday during a loss to the Chargers and called him “day-to-day.” Schwartz didn’t miss a snap in the game, keeping alive his streak of well over 7,000 consecutive snaps, so there doesn’t appear to be major concern about his status at the moment. Wideout Sammy Watkins (foot) and cornerback Kendall Fuller (hand) also missed practice, while running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) was limited. Reid said earlier this week that Fuller could play Sunday despite having surgery on what was reported as a fractured wrist. The team’s injury report refers to it as a thumb issue.
Los Angeles Chargers: Lamar Jackson’s legs have been more efficient than his arm through five starts, but the Chargers aren’t sleeping on the throwing ability of the Baltimore Ravens quarterback ahead of their Saturday matchup. “I know he’s beating people with his legs right now, and he has no choice as to (how) they choose to use him with his legs,” Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn said. “But I watched him in college, and he threw for over 9,000 yards in college. The young man can throw the football, and he can develop into a pocket passer in this league.” Chargers safety Adrian Phillips compared the challenge of containing Jackson to facing the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, which L.A. has done twice this season. “They’re equally dangerous,” Phillips said. “Mahomes can throw it a mile. Lamar can throw it like crazy, too, but he can blink and he’s running 70 yards.”
Oakland Raiders: After having a total of 12 Pro Bowl selections over the past two seasons, the Raiders were one of three teams (joining the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) not to have a player selected this year. Three Raiders — tight end Jared Cook, center Rodney Hudson and left guard Kelechi Osemele — were named alternates, giving the team a good chance of having one added as an injury replacement. Cook ranks second among AFC tight ends in receptions (63) and receiving yards (848), but the Indianapolis Colts’ Eric Ebron (59 catches for 662 yards) won out for the second spot in the conference behind the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce thanks to his 12 touchdowns. Hudson and Osemele each made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.
Dallas Cowboys: Without much fanfare, wide receiver Terrance Williams, defensive lineman Datone Jones and center Travis Frederick saw their seasons end Wednesday when the Cowboys activated defensive back C.J. Goodwin to return from injured reserve. The Cowboys activated wide receiver Noah Brown from IR earlier this year, and each team is limited to bringing back two players each season. Frederick, who has missed the entire year with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve condition, already knew he wouldn’t come off the list. Williams last played in Week 3 and was placed on IR on Oct. 6 with a lingering foot injury. Jones, who has battled a hamstring injury, went on injured reserve on Sept. 25. Goodwin had been on the list since breaking his forearm in Week 7.
New York Giants: Last week, the Tennessee Titans had the number of rookie running Saquon Barkley, holding him to 31 yards on 14 carries for a season-low 2.21 yards per carry. This week, it will be the Indianapolis Colts (7-7), who are fighting for a playoff berth, looking to put the brakes on Barkley, who has 1,809 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns on the season. The heavy rain and gusty winds at MetLife Stadium hampered the Giants’ passing game last week, leading the Titans to expect the run, and that wasn’t lost on Colts head coach Frank Reich, whose team shut out the Dallas Cowboys last week. This Sunday, the Giants will be playing in the enclosed Lucas Oil Stadium. “We can always open the roof and hope that it rains,” Reich quipped, adding: “The defense has been playing well, so I think we’re going to play our game.”
Philadelphia Eagles: Defensive back Malcolm Jenkins turns 31 on Thursday, and he said the vegan lifestyle he follows has helped him to hold off Father Time. He hasn’t missed a game since 2013. Jenkins told ESPN.com that he converted to vegan last year after watching the documentary “What the Health?” about the effects of eating animal products. “I wanted to see how I was going to feel,” said Jenkins, who tested out the lifestyle beginning in July 2017. “I set it up to fail, quite frankly, because I’m going to do it during training camp, I’m going to go cold turkey — no meat, no dairy. I was like, ‘There was no way I’m going to have enough energy or protein to keep up.’ In all actuality, I felt great, lost a few pounds, speeds were great, my strength was up, my recovery was really good. So I said, if that’s the case, I’ve got to stick with it.”
Washington Redskins: The team placed safety Montae Nicholson on the reserve non-football injury list Wednesday, a day after he was arrested and charged with assault and battery and being drunk in public. By being placed on the list, the second-year player will be required to miss six weeks, ending his season. TMZ Sports released a video that shows a man identified as Nicholson punching a man on the street near Redskins Park. A 24-year-old woman with him, Sydney Maggiore, also was arrested and charged with malicious wounding and assault and battery. They were arrested outside World of Beer in Ashburn, Va. The report from police in Loudoun County, Va., stated “an investigation determined the male suspect assaulted the male victim, and the female suspect struck the female victim with a bottle and also assaulted the male victim,” ESPN reported.
Chicago Bears: With a chance at the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, Bears coach Matt Nagy said he has no plans to rest quarterback Mitchell Trubisky of any of his other starters in Sunday’s game at San Francisco. “That’s not even in the world of consideration for us,” Nagy said Wednesday. “We’re trying to win. There’s too many other things that can happen and the fact of the matter is, realistically speaking, is we can be a higher seed. If you have an opportunity to do that, they why wouldn’t you try for that?” The NFC North champions are 10-4 and one game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the second seed. If the teams finish tied, Chicago would earn the first-round bye because of its Week 14 win against the Rams at Soldier Field.
Detroit Lions: Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson was officially placed on injured reserve Wednesday, ending a promising debut campaign that included a pair of 100-yard games — the first by a Lions rusher since 2013. The second-rounder from Auburn suffered a left knee sprain in a Week 11 win against Carolina and finishes the season with 118 rushes for 641 yards and three touchdowns, plus 32 catches for 213 yards and a score. Johnson’s average of 5.43 yards per carry ranks third in the NFL among qualifying backs, just behind fellow rookie Philip Lindsay (5.45) of the Broncos and Green Bay’s Aaron Jones (5.47). Jones was also placed on IR this week.
Green Bay Packers: As the Packers prepare for the final road game of the season Sunday against the Jets, one New York player in particular has caught the attention of interim coach Joe Philbin: second-year strong safety Jamal Adams, who was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday. “Their safety really jumps off the tape,” Philbin said Wednesday of Adams, the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft. “No. 33 is excellent. He’s all over the place. They use him everywhere. They’ll turn him loose at times. We’re going to have to be ready to handle him.” The Packers’ offense may not be at full strength, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers nursing a groin injury, though the QB said Wednesday he plans to play.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings sacked Matthew Stafford a whopping 10 times in a Week 9 win against the Lions — and that was without the services of linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr missed that game and two others with a hamstring injury, but enters Sunday’s rematch at Detroit on a roll. “He’s played outstanding, really the last month or so, maybe a little longer,” said coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s always been a good player. I think he’s probably taking it to another level right now.” Barr bagged two sacks in last week’s blowout of against Miami and tallied one the week before at Seattle. “I feel we’ve been playing to my strengths the last few weeks,” Barr told the Pioneer Press. “It’s a positive for myself and for the team.” Barr is in the final year of his rookie contract and set to hit free agency in March.
Atlanta Falcons: Running back Devonta Freeman won’t return this season after having his campaign hindered by knee and groin injuries. Falcons coach Dan Quinn told radio station 92.9 The Game that he kept the option open unless Freeman recovered but it is now clear there is no need to do so with two games left and the team out of playoff contention. “He won’t make it back in the next couple of weeks,” Quinn said. “We were always keeping that option available with him to return, depending on how we finished and where we’d go. But now that we have a sense that he wouldn’t make it back in the next few days to get the practice reps needed to play, he won’t make it back.” Freeman carried the ball just 14 times for 68 yards in two games.
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke will make his first career start against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday with Cam Newton (shoulder) declared out of the contest. Heinicke passed for 132 touchdowns at Old Dominion but was not selected in the 2015 draft and bounced around until landing with the Panthers. He has thrown four passes this season for the Panthers, and one last season for the Houston Texans. “I know he’s excited for the opportunity, and we’re excited to see what he can do,” center Ryan Kalil told reporters. “I haven’t had a lot of experience playing with him, and most of the reps I’ve taken with him have been in practice. But from what I’ve seen this year, I think he’s very talented. He’s a very sharp, detailed kid.”
New Orleans Saints: Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since going on injured reserve in mid-October. The participation begins the 21-day window in which Ginn can be activated but New Orleans likely won’t need that much time to make a decision with the postseason looming. Failing to activate Ginn would mean he would remain on IR for the rest of the campaign. The 12-year veteran has 12 receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns in four games. The Saints have received a huge season from Michael Thomas (109 receptions) but only one other wide receiver — Tre’Quan Smith with 24 — has more receptions than Ginn.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Receiver Mike Evans wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl but is the first alternate should any of the four chosen NFC wideouts decide to pull out of the contest. Evans, who has 74 receptions for a career-high 1,328 yards and five touchdowns, said he wasn’t surprised with being passed over. “I’m not disappointed,” Evans told reporters. “I kind of knew the eight (receivers) midway through the season and it’s hard to change that. You’ve got to do something spectacular to get in that conversation. But all the guys that made it were deserving. There were probably a couple snubs out there but it’s just an all-star game.” Evans has topped 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals’ opposing quarterback this week, Los Angeles Rams third-year pro Jared Goff, knows all too well about the rookie struggles Josh Rosen is going through on a team that hasn’t given him much support. “Every experience — positive, negative and in between — will be valuable for you in the future,” Goff said of his rough rookie year. “That’s something that I tried to take away when I was going through a similar situation. And just understand that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Rosen remains upbeat despite many down moments in his first year. “I think mistakes are valuable,” he said. “You want to minimize them, but more importantly, you don’t want to make them twice. I’ve made plenty of them this year, and hopefully I’m for the most part not making the same mistakes twice, just finding new ones to make.”
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams held only a walkthrough on Wednesday, but running back Todd Gurley would not have participated had it been a regular session. That said, head coach Sean McVay still expects the NFL’s touchdown leader to play Sunday against the Cardinals. “I think he’s making good progress,” McVay said. “It’s still earlier in the week, but I think he’s feeling good. Came in, was feeling better today. So that’s good news.” Reserve back Justin Davis (shoulder) also was a nonparticipant Wednesday, providing extra incentive to get recently signed veteran C.J. Anderson incorporated. “Very sharp, cerebral player,” McVay said of Anderson. “It’s going to be good to be able to get him in here, get him up to speed as quickly as possible.”
San Francisco 49ers: Head coach Kyle Shanahan sees a little bit of his own schematic approach in this week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears — not in their offense, but in Vic Fangio’s defense. “Vic’s just unique in that everything is tied together,” Shanahan said. “Whatever you think you have on him, it could be good, but they have a counter off of it. It’s very, very similar to our offense. There’s a scheme you’ve got to run to stop a certain play. Whatever scheme you do to stop that play, you opened up another play. That’s really how their defense is. … So, you’ve just got to keep playing the game within the game.” Fangio, of course, was the 49ers defensive coordinator from 2011-14. The Bears are 1-2 against the Niners since Fangio moved to Chicago.
Seattle Seahawks: Every team is banged up late in the season, but the Seahawks have a particularly lengthy injury report, with 10 players missing Wednesday’s practice — including sack leaders Frank Clark (12) and Jarran Reed (8.5) — and four more limited. Head coach Pete Carroll said safety Bradley McDougald will be away from the team rehabbing during the week and “possibly” has a chance to play Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. On the plus side, linebacker K.J. Wright was back practicing for the first time since Week 10 and has a good shot to play. “Really excited about him getting the chance to get back out there, of course,” Carroll said, “and he looks so good on the field. He’s a monster out there.”
–Field Level Media