FLM ALL 32: Team-by-team notes
Baltimore Ravens: New running back Ty Montgomery had such a whirlwind week that he wasn’t even sure what state he was in when media flooded the Ravens’ locker room on Wednesday. Montgomery, who fumbled the kickoff preceding a potential game-tying or game-winning possession with the Packers on Sunday, returned to Green Bay facing threats against his family. On Tuesday he learned he was traded to Baltimore for a seventh-round draft pick. “This whole part of the country kind of throws me for a loop. I don’t know if I’m in Virginia or what,” Montgomery said. Now it’s up to the Ravens to help him get his footing in an offense lacking explosive plays, including only one 20-yard run — a 22-yard scramble by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson — this season. “He’s one of those guys who can do a variety of things,” quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Cincinnati Bengals: Head coach Marvin Lewis didn’t mince words about a preliminary self-scout of the team entering its bye week. Lewis excused players until early next week but said there is a lot of work to be done upon their return. “The opportunity for us to evaluate comes at a good time, and to have the guys understand their responsibilities. (The bye week) will be a good time for that,” Lewis said. “I’m very disappointed in the way we’ve played the past two weeks.” At 5-3, the Bengals return from their open week to host the New Orleans Saints in Week 10. Even with extra time to prepare, that could be a rugged way to return for a defense that has allowed 500 yards in consecutive games for the first time in team history.
Cleveland Browns: Swagger was underlined in boldface type on general manager John Dorsey’s final scouting report of No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield. Not only was his sparkplug energy evident on the field, but in face-to-face interviews with representatives in the Browns’ organization, Mayfield came through as an undisputed charismatic leader and face of the franchise. With head coach Hue Jackson fired Monday and a new offensive staff climbing the ladder to replace Todd Haley, Mayfield was asked Wednesday if he can be the player to lead the Browns from their nearly two-decades long malaise. “Bring it on,” Mayfield said. “With all the distractions, we will see what kind of men we have in this room — not what kind of team that we have but what kind of men can handle a distraction the right way — can come together and focus on doing their job and doing it at a high level against a great team (the Kansas City Chiefs) on Sunday.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Playing with a broken finger can present major challenges for a quarterback, and Ben Roethlisberger will attempt to do just that at Baltimore on Sunday. Cold weather would complicate matters, but the midweek forecast in Maryland called for mid-50s and dry weather at gametime. Roethisberger could wear a glove on his left hand to protect the broken index finger but was mostly effective in the second half last week. “I’m not anticipating it being an issue for him in play or in-game,” head coach Mike Tomlin said.
Chicago Bears: Since failing on six of their first 10 possessions in the red zone, the Bears are 12 of 15 inside the opponent’s 20 in the past four games. Head coach Matt Nagy dedicates a portion of Friday practice to working on plays he’s prone to call in the red zone, and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is now finding the red zone to be his comfort zone. “That’s something we’ve just gotten a lot better at with our mentality, our focus. Then we realize once we get down there, the really good offenses in this league, they take advantage of that and they finish with touchdowns and not settling for field goals,” Trubisky said Wednesday. “So I think it’s a result of just focus and execution and making the transition from great practices and transitioning it over to the game.”
Detroit Lions: Trading leading receiver Golden Tate was not part of the plan for 2018, but when they were offered a third-round pick for a veteran with an expiring contract, general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia were reminded of the big-picture pledge that trumped all in New England. The former Patriots’ employees unloaded Tate knowing they could fill his spot on the current roster with Kenny Golloday — albeit without a certainty Tate’s production could be filled right away. “The biggest point for me that I want to make sure people understand is this also shows a lot of confidence in the people in that room. There’s great players in that room and there’s a lot of them,” Patricia said. “There’s a lot of guys who have an opportunity to make plays and go out there and play at a high level. And we’re all good with that from that standpoint.”
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers didn’t hold back when the Packers and new general manager Brian Gutekunst released wide receiver Jordy Nelson and made additional moves that didn’t bring in immediate help. With two regulars, running back Ty Montgomery and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix shipped out of Green Bay on Tuesday, Rodgers was again asked about taking the field this week knowing the team subtracted talent. “You have to trust what Brian and his staff are doing,” Rodgers said. “I think there’s been good communication with those guys about what we need and what’s in the best interest of the team with Mike (McCarthy), but I’m not privy to those conversations. The conversations I’m concerned about are the ones in the locker room and how our locker room’s doing. We’ve got to make it work. That’s the way it goes in this league. It’s a tough business from a friendship standpoint. You lose guys every single year.”
Minnesota Vikings: As the Vikings prepare for the Lions, rookie running back Kerryon Johnson is jumping off the film for Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer. “I think they’re more committed to running the football, number one. He has been running the ball extremely effective,” he said of Johnson. “I’m not sure it’s changed the run game all that much. There is a lot of similar runs they’ve had in the past but they’re much more effective at it. He is good. Very good. Runs hard, speed to the perimeter, catches the ball well, has been good in protection. He is a good back.”
Houston Texans: Demaryius Thomas practiced Wednesday for the first time since being acquired from the Denver Broncos. Ironically, his first game with the Texans will be Sunday against the Broncos in Denver. After passing his Wednesday morning physical, Thomas turned his focus on learning the Houston offense as rapidly as possible. “My main thing is when I am in or when I get a chance, just know what I’m doing,” Thomas said. “Don’t go out and have mistakes to possibly hurt our team. Just getting into my playbook, doing everything the way that I’m supposed to correctly, trying to help us out to get a W.” Thomas caught 665 passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns in 8 1/2 seasons with the Broncos before being dealt to Houston on Tuesday.
Indianapolis Colts: Receiver Dontrelle Inman made six catches in last Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders and will have a chance to carve out a role. The 29-year-old Inman didn’t go to training camp with any team this summer and signed with the Colts on Oct. 16. “I was just waiting for the best opportunity for me, me and my family, and here it is,” Inman told the Indianapolis Star. “If you believe in who you are, believe in the people that surround you and support you, good things will happen.” A key factor leading to the signing of Inman was first-year Colts head coach Frank Reich, who was with the then-San Diego Chargers from 2013-15, the last two seasons as offensive coordinator. Inman played first three NFL seasons with the Chargers in 2014-16.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville has a bye this week after four consecutive losses. Due to concern with Blake Bortles’ tender left shoulder, the club signed quarterback Landry Jones on Wednesday. Though the injury to Bortles’ non-throwing shoulder isn’t considered severe, the Jaguars wanted to add a third quarterback just in case he experiences a setback. Jones spent five seasons as a reserve with the Pittsburgh Steelers and passed for 1,310 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in 19 career games. Second-year pro Cody Kessler is the backup to Bortles, who has started 69 consecutive contests. The Jaguars meet the Indianapolis Colts following their bye.
Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota has regained feeling in the fingers of his throwing hand and is leaning toward not wearing a glove when the Titans face the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. Mariota has been bothered by numbness and loss of feeling since injuring his elbow against the Miami Dolphins in the opening week of the season. He hasn’t made excuses, despite the obvious issues with gripping the football, and he has just three touchdown passes against five interceptions as the Titans repeatedly have struggled in the red zone. “I think it’s execution,” Mariota said. “Making plays really, we haven’t been very good down there. Yes, I give credit to the defenses that we’ve played. They’ve found ways to hold us out of the end zone. For what it’s worth, that’s what it is. We have to find ways to improve and get better.”
Atlanta Falcons: It might be tough sledding on the ground against the Washington Redskins for an Atlanta team that has lost two starting offensive linemen for the season in right guard Brandon Fusco (ankle) and left guard Andy Levitre (triceps) and remains without its top running back in Devonta Freeman (groin). Washington ranks second in the NFL in rushing defense (80.1 yards per game) while the Falcons are just 30th in rushing offense (83.3). “So just because they’re good at (defending) the run, doesn’t mean we can’t try,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “We’re going to run the ball, knowing that’s an important part of what we do as well. They just happen to be one of the very best at defending it. That doesn’t mean that we don’t go down that road.”
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton is being mentioned as an MVP candidate after throwing 13 touchdown passes against four interceptions while guiding the team to a 5-2 start. Newton, who was the NFL MVP in 2015, is completing a career-high 66.4 percent of his throws. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn’t ready to say his star quarterback is back in his 2015 form — a season in which Carolina reached the Super Bowl. “The proof will be in the pudding when we get to the end of the year,” Rivera said. “We’ll see. He is playing well, and I think we are playing well as a unit.”
New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees is the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yardage (72,435) but he has never won the MVP award during his stellar career. Brees finished second three times (2006, 2009, 2011) and is back in the conversation this season due to his stellar campaign and the Saints’ 6-1 start. This Sunday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Rams could play a part in how the MVP race plays out as unbeaten Los Angeles has two candidates in running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff. Brees is completing a stunning 77.4 percent of his throws for 1,990 yards and 14 touchdowns against only one interception.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The benching of quarterback Jameis Winston (10 interceptions in four games) is making the seat hotter for third-year coach Dirk Koetter. A big reason why Koetter ascended to the head-coaching position was his work with Winston as the offensive coordinator. Veteran right tackle Demar Dotson is among the players that can see the big picture with the team sitting at 3-4. “It’s his third year. He’s got to prove that he should continue to coach,” Dotson told reporters. “I love Dirk … but if we don’t win for Dirk, he’ll probably be without a job.” Ryan Fitzpatrick is back as the starting quarterback and the Bucs are hoping he can produce more “FitzMagic” like he did when he began the campaign by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to record three straight 400-yard passing games.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills are averaging just 10.9 points per game — that’s less than a third of what Kansas City averages — and their scoring prospects are dim with a number of players, including quarterback Josh Allen, sidelined by injury. But head coach Sean McDermott told reporters Wednesday that he’s encouraged, despite the team’s 2-6 record. “I’ve been a part of … once in Philadelphia, once in Carolina, I’ve been a part of this before. You know, there’s challenging moments, especially early. It’s always a challenge,” he said. “… I know we’re getting it turned in the right direction, and I have a vision for this football team. … I know it’s frustrating for our fan base. But I know we’re doing things that are right that are going to lead us to that [success] down the road.”
Miami Dolphins: Brock Osweiler will start Sunday against the Jets as Ryan Tannehill continues to recover from a shoulder injury. And he told reporters Wednesday that he intends to show head coach Adam Gase that he should stay the starter, even when Tannehill is cleared to play. “I think your mentality in this league is when you get your opportunity to play, you never give that guy his job back,” said Osweiler, who is 1-2 as a starter this season. He added: “Every single week is the biggest game out there because this sport is so special and you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity. So when you do get the opportunity, shoot, I play every single play like it’s my last,” said Osweiler, who has six touchdowns, three interceptions and 895 passing yards this season. “I put laser focus on every single play, and I’m playing as hard as I possibly can so hopefully I never have to go back to the bench.”
New England Patriots: The Patriots meet Green Bay on Sunday night, and they have the Packers’ No. 12 clearly in their sights. “Um, where do I start?” linebackers coach Brian Flores said Wednesday before practice, discussing how the Patriots will prepare for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “You know, great command of the offense. This is as big a challenge that we’ve had since I’ve been here, which is a long time now. He’s an incredible leader, tough. You see him get carted off in the Chicago game, come back and bring them back from 20 points down. You know, they are never out of the game with him leading the charge. It’s an incredible challenge for us. We’re going to have our hands full for sure. It’s not just Aaron Rodgers, you know, their entire group: the O-Line, backs and tight ends, you know, everybody makes plays on this offense. … We’re going to have to be at the top of our game. ”
New York Jets: Former Jets wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who signed with the Bills on Tuesday, told reporters Wednesday he didn’t think the Jets used him as much as they should have. The Jets released Pryor on Oct. 20, citing a groin tear, but he said he was going to miss only a game. “Let’s shut that one down how I was [going to be] out for five or six games,” he said. “I was going to miss a game, and then I got cut. So I guess, I don’t know if I wasn’t a part of their plan, or whatever it was.” He said he brought value to the Jets and will to any team. “I can ball,” he said. “I can ball, bro. I’m not being cocky. I just know how I study, how I work, and how I practice. I compete at a high level. I expect high things from myself.”
Dallas Cowboys: Veteran linebacker Sean Lee, in a wide-ranging Q&A with the Star-Telegram, said he doesn’t think Cowboys are out of the race to win the NFC East, despite being 3-4 and trailing both the Redskins and Eagles. “It is close. We still have a lot of season left. We have to start winning those close games. If we want to win the NFC East we have to win close games in the division … make more plays down the stretch to really help us. Everything is ahead of us with the conference being tight. Two or three games were really close and we didn’t win. If we can win those games we’re in a great position right now so let’s find a way to win those games.”
New York Giants: The Giants are 1-7, but safety Landon Collins said he’s happy to be part of the team and glad the rumors he was about to be traded didn’t turn out to be true. “Honestly it’s always been my dream to be one of those guys like LT (Lawrence Taylor), Michael Strahan, those guys that finish their years on one team,” Collins said on ESPN Radio in New York on Tuesday. “It’s a dream of mine to do that. If I can, it’s a blessing in my eyes.” He said he was surprised his name had come up in trade talk, and he was nervous whenever his phone buzzed on Tuesday. “I looked at my phone,” Collins said, “and thought, ‘Oh God.'” According to SNY, many teams inquired about a trade for Collins but couldn’t meet the Giants’ demand for a pair of draft picks.
Philadelphia Eagles: It’s Halloween, but Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood sounded like a kid excited about a new toy on Christmas morning when he spoke on a national radio show Wednesday morning about newly acquired wide receiver Golden Tate. “I believe he’s going to help out our offense tremendously,” Smallwood said on Taz & The Moose. “I know he’s a competitor. We played him in Detroit, and what he’s been doing for years, we know he’s a dominant receiver. He just brings another piece to this offense. I think we’re going to get explosive plays out of him. It’s just great to have him. I can’t wait to compete with him.”
Washington Redskins: Head coach Jay Gruden isn’t exactly hiding his game plan. It consists of Adrian Peterson … and Adrian Peterson. “Well, I think his production has been such that we’ve continued to run the ball,” Gruden said about Peterson, 33. “When you have success running the football, you’re not just going to stop running it, you are going to keep running it, especially with a guy that is hot like he is right now.” Peterson can owe some of his success to the offensive line and the run blockers, Gruden said. “Our offensive line, tight ends, receivers are doing an excellent job blocking for him and we’re getting some big hits, staying on track for the most part. We’ve added some RPO type things, which we’ve ended up handing off a lot of them. I don’t foresee any major changes to our game plan. He’s going to be a major part of it.” On the season, Peterson has rushed for 587 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and has four touchdowns.
Denver Broncos: With Demaryius Thomas suddenly on the opposite sideline for Sunday’s game, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. isn’t worried about handling the new Houston Texans wideout. Asked who has the advantage between the two, Harris replied, “Me.” Why? “Because I’m that good,” Harris said. Harris also said he’s excited about the possible season debut of safety Su’a Cravens, who is on track to be activated from injured reserve for Sunday’s game. “He’s a playmaker,” Harris said of Cravens. “To get a guy who is a big body like him — he’s a great blitzer, he can play the run, and also he’s a big-bodied guy who can also guard the tight end … he’s going to be huge.”
Kansas City Chiefs: With the Chiefs visiting this week, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield told reporters Wednesday that Patrick Mahomes probably should have been Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick in 2017 based “on talent” over actual pick Myles Garrett. Asked about those comments, Mahomes said he’d have loved to have gone first overall but always hoped to end up in Kansas City. “I mean, I’m glad I’m here,” he said. “For sure. You want to be the number one draft pick. You want to be that guy. I think they got a good guy in Myles Garrett. He’s pretty talented I would say from watching film. It’s awesome for him to say that, but I know now that we are both happy with the situations we’re in.”
Los Angeles Chargers: Sunday’s game at Seattle will mark Philip Rivers’ 200th consecutive regular-season start, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. Rivers told reporters on Wednesday that he once had his sights set on Brett Favre’s record streak of 297, but added with a laugh, “I’m not gonna get there.” Still, he said it’s “pretty cool” to hit 200 in a row. “Obviously the two Mannings and Favre have started more than 200 in a row,” he said. “And I just feel thankful. I think there’s a small element of toughness involved, but then again, shoot, lots of prayers for me from many people on Sundays.” Rivers needs 10 more regular-season starts to pass Peyton Manning (208) and 12 more to pass Eli Manning (210) on the list.
Oakland Raiders: With 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (throwing wrist) banged up and questionable for Thursday night’s game, the Raiders could be facing second-year undrafted QB Nick Mullens, who never has appeared in an NFL game. Head coach Jon Gruden told reporters Wednesday “you never underestimate anybody in this league” and added that who plays quarterback is less important than Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. ” You have to prepare for this running game and everything that comes off of it,” Gruden said. “If you can’t stop the running game against Shanahan, you got no chance, because they have as good of move-the-pocket system and play-action system as there is in the league.”
Arizona Cardinals: Despite a slow start in his first game as offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich finally got the offense going as the Cardinals rallied for 15 fourth-quarter points Sunday and an 18-15 victory over the 49ers. Leftwich told reporters he wasn’t worried about the early struggles. “Oh, no, there was no second-guessing,” he said. “Every time you call one (play), you think that’s the one. And when it’s not, the key is for the guys to keep fighting. Our guys just kept fighting.” Arizona now hits its bye week, giving Leftwich a bit more time to settle into his role after he had 10 days to prepare for his first game as interim coordinator. “It gives me some time to tweak things here and there, to see it my way,” he said.
Los Angeles Rams: A day after the Rams traded third- and fifth-round picks for Dante Fowler Jr., Sean McVay and the Rams’ coaches intended to get the pass rusher plenty of mental reps with an eye on having him contribute on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. “We feel like he’s gonna help us, specifically from a rush perspective,” McVay said. “Got him in here, and we’ll see how quickly he can get up to speed, if he’s going to be able to contribute and help us this weekend. But we’re excited to get Dante here.” Fowler is used to a rotational, pass-rush specific role, having started just one of 39 games in his career with the Jaguars. He has two sacks through seven games after totaling eight last season.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are limping into their Thursday night battle with the Bay Area rival Oakland Raiders, as linebacker Reuben Foster (hamstring) and safeties Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and Antone Exum Jr. (concussion) have been ruled out. Six others are questionable, including starting quarterback C.J. Beathard (throwing wrist), running backs Matt Breida (ankle) and Raheem Mostert (ankle), wideout Pierre Garcon (shoulder, knee), center Weston Richburg (knee) and cornerback Richard Sherman (calf, heel). If Beathard can’t go, second-year undrafted man Nick Mullens would make his NFL debut and start at quarterback, with Tom Savage serving as the backup.
Seattle Seahawks: Though the Seahawks released wide receiver Brandon Marshall on Tuesday, coach Pete Carroll said the move had more to do with Seattle’s roster needs than the 34-year-old’s ability to play in his 13th NFL season. “He was a great pro for us,” Carroll said. “He did such good stuff. Helped guys on both sides of the football with all his experience and all that. He’s in terrific shape for this stage of his career. He can still play. It just happened that we looked at the roster. … There’s just not enough throws to get it to him, but he can play.” Carroll didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing Marshall back at a later date.
–Field Level Media