Giants coach Shurmur: ‘I’m fond of toughness and resiliency’

Giants coach Shurmur: ‘I’m fond of toughness and resiliency’

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys spent their day off on Monday making their annual visits to local children’s hospitals in Dallas and Fort Worth. They spread out among the facilities to share their holiday good wishes with youngsters, but players said they got as much in return. Said linebacker Jaylon Smith: “It means a lot whenever you get a chance to go out in the community with this platform that we are on. We get so caught up in this world of football when in reality there are a lot of people going through some real life stuff. So to be able to spread some holiday cheer and put smiles on people’s faces is amazing. Just getting a chance to go into the rooms and see the joy on their face. We are called America’s team for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is the impact we have on children. It’s a wonderful opportunity and privilege to be a Cowboy.”

New York Giants: Head coach Pat Shurmur was happy to get the overtime win against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears on Sunday, and he was even happier with the resolve his team showed, he told reporters. “The takeaway is, and I told the team this — I’ll keep the swear words out of it — some people are fond of talented people, some people are fond of smart people, I’m fond of tough, resilient people,” Shurmur said. “When you’re trying to flip culture, when you’re trying to build something, you’ve got to really dig in on that. There was some toughness and some resiliency. It would have been easy to cave when they came back, an 8-3 team, came back and tied us up, they had a little bit of juice, a little bit of mojo, but our guys found a way to put points on the board and then stop them at the end. I’m fond of toughness and resiliency, and our team showed that.”

Philadelphia Eagles: Host Washington Redskins on Monday night.

Washington Redskins: Visit the Philadephia Eagles on Monday night.

–Field Level Media

Packers president Murphy to hire next coach, GM involved

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy says he will hire the franchise's next head coach after firing Mike McCarthy following a stunning loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.

General manager Brian Gutekunst will also be heavily involved, along with a committee, though Murphy will make the decision.

Murphy

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy says he will hire the franchise’s next head coach after firing Mike McCarthy following a stunning loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.

General manager Brian Gutekunst will also be heavily involved, along with a committee, though Murphy will make the decision.

Murphy says that while quarterback Aaron Rodgers is free to provide input, the two-time NFL MVP will not be part of the process. He says that Rodgers was not part of the decision to fire McCarthy.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is the interim coach. Murphy says Philbin as a candidate and Murphy wants to evaluate the veteran assistant and former Dolphins head coach over the next four weeks.

Gutekunst says the decision was about “changing course more than anything,” and that it was time to make a change.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 92 Words

Barkley 46 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards as rookie

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — There seems to be no limit to Saquon Barkley's upside.

Just when it seems the New York Giants' rookie running back has shown just about everything he can do on the football field, the second pick overall in the NFL draft finds another way to impress people.

Take

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — There seems to be no limit to Saquon Barkley’s upside.

Just when it seems the New York Giants’ rookie running back has shown just about everything he can do on the football field, the second pick overall in the NFL draft finds another way to impress people.

Take a look at Sunday’s’ 30-27 overtime win over the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears.

While Barkley failed to score for only the fourth time 12 games, he rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries and helped set up 13 points.

His 22-yard run on a third-and-23 draw play set up a team-record 57-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas on the final play of the half. The play that had everyone talking was his 17-yard catch and run that ended with his hurdle over former Penn State teammate Adrian Amos. It led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr .

Finally, there was his 29-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the overtime. Rosas capped the drive with a 44-yard field goal that provided the winning margin when the Giants’ defense stopped Chicago on the final series.

“I said it early and I really believe it, he’s got a generational spirit in terms of how he competes, and I have not been — WE have not been — disappointed in (any) way,” coach Pat Shurmur said of Barkley on Monday. “He’s extremely talented running the ball, catching the ball, he blocks well, we’re doing what we can to give him the football so he has an impact on the game, and I think he has.”

Barkley’s statistics are impressive.

His 954 yards rushing are third in the NFL behind Todd Gurley (1,175) of the Rams and Ezekiel Elliott (1,150) of the Cowboys. He has exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage in 11 of 12 games and his 100-yard game rushing Sunday was his third in a row and fifth of the season.

Catching three passes for 21 yards also gave Barkley 74 catches, tying tight end Jeremy Shockey (2002) for the second-highest total by a Giants rookie. Beckham holds the franchise rookie record with 91 in 2014.

Barkley has downplayed his statistics all season, but he knows the significance of running for 1,000 yards. He would need 46 yards Sunday against Washington to hit the mark.

“It would be special because obviously one, it’s the NFL, and two, when you get 1,000 yards, it’s not just yourself getting 1,000 yards, it’s your team getting 1,000 yards. It’s the offense and especially the offensive line,” Barkley said.

The biggest adjustment Barkley has had to make this season is dealing with losing. New York was 1-7. It has now won three of four since its bye week, including Sunday’s game in which it blew a 10-point lead in the final 1:13 of the fourth quarter.

However, the Giants found a way to win in overtime.

“It just put everything in perspective from all the hard work that we’ve been putting in all season to go out there and beat a really good team and who was playing lights out up to that game or even in that game, they played really well, too,” Barkley said. “Definitely gives you confidence, and even though the season hasn’t been going how we want it to go.

Barkley now has 1,556 yards from scrimmage, so he needs 444 yards to become the third rookie in league history to reach 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Eric Dickerson set the record of 2,212 in 1983, while Edgerrin James had 2,139 in 1981.

Barkley said it’s hard to describe some of the things he does on the field. The jump over Amos was on instinct.

“Some things you can’t explain and I give a lot of credit to God in a situation like that, my genetics, my mom and dad,” the 21-year-old Barkley said. “But a lot of that is also hard work, training my body to when you’re put in those positions to be able to make those cuts and make those moves.”

NOTES: Giants starting LB Tae Davis had a walking boot on his left foot (ankle). … WR Sterling Shepard (ribs) said an MRI showed tissue damage. He expects to play Sunday. … Shurmur had his doubts either TE Evan Engram (hamstring) or LB Lorenzo Carter (hip) would return this week. … Rookie Kyle Lauletta was the backup Sunday and veteran Alex Tanney was inactive. Shurmur said that probably will be the same order this week. … Lauletta had been inactive for the first 11 games. Shurmur reiterated Manning is his starter.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 690 Words

Steelers blame themselves, not officials, for losing skid

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The excuses aren't hard to find if the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the mood to look for them.

The false start that wasn't called on a play that ended with a Los Angeles Chargers touchdown . The apparent block in the back that helped spring Chargers punt returner Desmond King

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The excuses aren’t hard to find if the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the mood to look for them.

The false start that wasn’t called on a play that ended with a Los Angeles Chargers touchdown . The apparent block in the back that helped spring Chargers punt returner Desmond King for the game-tying score.

The weird floater by Ben Roethlisberger on a pass that slipped out of his hand and landed into the awaiting arms of Los Angeles rookie safety Derwin James.

Yet the Steelers understand it’s pointless and expensive to complain, one of the reasons coach Mike Tomlin opted not to vent — publicly anyway — after his team let a 16-point lead slip away in a 33-30 loss to the Chargers on Sunday night that reduced Pittsburgh’s once comfortable cushion in the AFC North to mere percentage points over second-place Baltimore heading into the final month of the season.

“I am going to keep my mouth shut,” Tomlin said after his team dropped its second straight to fall to 7-4-1, just ahead of the Ravens at 7-5. “I am going to do that because I send enough money (in fines to NFL headquarters) in New York.”

Tomlin understands the calls the officials do or don’t make are out of his hands. His team’s ability to avoid losing with a 16-point advantage at home — something the Steelers had been able to do 174 out of the previous 175 times it happened in franchise history — is another matter entirely. One that is far more troubling than a handful of questionable decisions by referee Bill Vinovich’s crew.

“We didn’t establish rhythm in the beginning of the second half,” Tomlin said. “We had a couple drives killed by penalties, holding penalties, it’s catastrophic.”

Pittsburgh took the second-half kickoff and moved into Los Angeles territory only to see a 22-yard gain by James Conner wiped out when officials flagged left guard Ramon Foster for holding. The Steelers punted three plays later.

Pittsburgh’s second possession of the third quarter appeared to be picking up steam when left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was called for holding. The drive stalled and Jordan Berry punted yet again.

King fielded it at the Chargers 27, slipped past a couple of tacklers — including Pittsburgh’s Brian Allen, who may have been helped to the ground thanks to a shove on the back of his right shoulder by Los Angeles gunner Rayshawn Jenkins — and raced down the right sideline for a touchdown that helped tie the game at 23.

The Chargers didn’t need any assistance, however, in taking control in the fourth quarter. Philip Rivers led Los Angeles on scoring drives of 79 and 64 yards on the Chargers’ final two drives, facing just two third downs in the process.

The Steelers did not get called for a defensive penalty on either of the drives. Instead, Los Angeles simply did whatever it wanted against a defense that couldn’t seem to get in the right position.

“You can’t say anything about our offense, our offense scored 30 points,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “As a defense, we’re not getting the job done. I don’t look for anybody else to say that the officials did this or anything else, we didn’t get the job done as a defense.”

And now Pittsburgh faces a daunting stretch if it wants to lock up a fifth straight playoff berth. The Steelers visit hapless Oakland next Sunday, a meeting that looks like a mismatch. Yet the Raiders have always been trouble for Pittsburgh, particularly on the road.

The Steelers haven’t won in Oakland since 1995. They fell to the Raiders at the Coliseum in 2012 and 2013 to teams that finished 4-12 both seasons.

In 2006 Pittsburgh headed west as the reigning Super Bowl champions and somehow lost to a squad that went 2-14.

After that it’s a visit by the New England Patriots then a visit to New Orleans two days before Christmas before wrapping up the regular season at Heinz Field against Cincinnati.

A shot at earning one of the two seeds — a position the Steelers were in the mix for after a six-game winning streak had them at 7-2-1 — appears gone. At this point, holding off the resurgent Ravens is no given.

“We can’t seem to win it at home right now,” Foster said. “So maybe we’ll be great playoff road warriors.”

NOTES: WR Ryan Switzer is in the concussion protocol after taking an illegal hit from Los Angeles linebacker Jatavis Brown in the fourth quarter. … RB James Conner is dealing with a left leg contusion.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 704 Words

McCarthy’s connections to Browns could lead to coaching job

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy's candidacy to become Cleveland's next coach has gotten more legitimate.

McCarthy was fired Sunday by the Green Bay Packers, who dumped their Super-Bowl wining coach amid a disappointing season and growing rift with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

McCarthy was already being mentioned as a possibility for the

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy’s candidacy to become Cleveland’s next coach has gotten more legitimate.

McCarthy was fired Sunday by the Green Bay Packers, who dumped their Super-Bowl wining coach amid a disappointing season and growing rift with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

McCarthy was already being mentioned as a possibility for the Browns, who dismissed Hue Jackson last month and will wait until after the season before hiring his full-time replacement.

The Browns know McCarthy well. He worked in Green Bay with Cleveland general manager John Dorsey as well as Browns executives Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith.

Browns center JC Tretter praised McCarthy on Monday, calling him “an awesome leader and an awesome coach.” Tretter spent four seasons in Green Bay with McCarthy, who went 125-77-2 with the Packers and won the championship in the 2010 season.

Tretter said McCarthy would be a good fit in Cleveland and an ideal coach for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 109 Words

Dominant much of the year, the Bears’ defense displays flaws

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — There are signs the Chicago Bears' defense is leaking, and it couldn't come at a worse time.

Whether it was stopping the run in the second half or giving up big plays in the passing game, the defense wasn't as dominant as in other games during Sunday's 30-27

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — There are signs the Chicago Bears’ defense is leaking, and it couldn’t come at a worse time.

Whether it was stopping the run in the second half or giving up big plays in the passing game, the defense wasn’t as dominant as in other games during Sunday’s 30-27 loss in overtime to the New York Giants.

Coach Matt Nagy thinks of it as an anomaly, but it’s an issue the Bears must fix fast with the powerful Los Angeles Rams coming to Chicago on Sunday night.

“No, it’s not a concern,” Nagy said Monday at Halas Hall. “We have a lot of confidence. Our guys have tons of belief in our system; I’m talking defensively, too. They have tons of belief in our system.”

The system and players put the Bears (8-4) in the top five among defenses much of the season, but in Sunday’s second half the Giants averaged 4.5 yards a run. Saquon Barkley finished with 125 yards, the most the Bears have given up to a running back this season.

“I thought for the most part overall we did a good job shutting down the run, except for a couple big plays,” Nagy said. “And those ‘except for a couple big plays’ can get you.”

The most important play might have been Barkley’s 22-yard run to set up a field goal before halftime, swinging momentum.

“Well, he is a good runner and you know he made some nice moves, he ran all over the field,” Nagy said. “I felt like our guys know. Our guys are going to go back and watch the tape and say, ‘Man we could have been better there. We could have made some tackles and at least cut it to a 7- or 8-yard gain, right, not a 22-yard gain.'”

The Bears’ defense also struggled in the second half to stop Detroit’s rushing attack in the previous game, allowing 15 carries and 85 yards in a 23-16 victory.

“Just a little leakage,” Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said following Sunday’s loss. “Nothing we can’t fix. Just a little leakage.

“We’ve just got to make the plays when they come our way. We knew what type of offense we were facing, we’ve just got to make our plays. Our defense is way better than the way we were. We know it.”

The Bears have more to worry about than their run defense going up against the Rams. Their chief concern the past few weeks has been the injured throwing shoulder of starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Nagy said after Sunday’s loss that Trubisky remains day to day, and has improved since he started throwing Friday in practice. He wouldn’t commit Trubisky’s return this week after two missed games.

“I can’t say that for sure,” Nagy said. “I hope he, is but I feel like the last several days, as I told you (Sunday) was, he’s getting better and he’s feeling better.

“And so I think it’s only fair for today, tomorrow and the next couple of days to go by that we just keep seeing him throw and see how he feels, and then he tells us.”

Nagy was encouraged by one improvement on offense: a better rushing attack. After going over 100 yards only once in the previous four games, the Bears ran for 118 yards against the Giants, including 76 by Jordan Howard.

However, Howard had only three second-half carries.

“Well, the second half, they had a little plan for him,” Nagy said. And so, I would’ve loved to be able to call more runs, but they did a pretty good job getting into our backfield and stopping the run.

“And then before you know it, we got behind and in overtime we started off with a run and had a nice little run there for six or seven yards. But it’s hard when it’s second-and-14 after a run call on first-and-10.”

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 601 Words

Chargers release former starting RT Barksdale

Chargers release former starting RT Barksdale

The Los Angeles Chargers released right

Chargers release former starting RT Barksdale

The Los Angeles Chargers released right tackle Joe Barksdale on Monday, after he missed Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers due to personal reasons.

“I just want to take a moment to say thank you to the Chargers organization and all of the true die hard Charger Fans,” Barksdale wrote on Twitter. “Since 2015 this team has been my home and my teammates my family. I will truly miss everyone, but look forward to what the future has in store for me.”

Barksdale, who turns 31 on New Year’s Day, was in the third year of a four-year, $22.2 million free agent contract.

After starting 42 games for the Chargers from 2015-17, he hurt his knee in Week 1 this season and lost the starting job to Sam Tevi, a 2017 sixth-round pick. Despite losing the job, Barksdale continued to get offensive snaps at times, including 84 in Weeks 11 and 12 while rotating with Tevi.

Barksdale was downgraded to out for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh on Friday’s injury report, as head coach Anthony Lynn said he was dealing with a personal issue. In February, Barksdale opened up to the Los Angeles Times about his battles with severe depression.

The move will keep Tevi, who has allowed 5.5 sacks and committed four penalties this season, as the full-time starter moving forward. Tevi appeared to get away with a false start on the Chargers’ first touchdown Sunday night, a key missed call that had several Steelers fuming.

Los Angeles filled Barksdale’s roster spot by promoting wideout Dylan Cantrell from the practice squad.

A sixth-round rookie out of Texas Tech, Cantrell missed the entire preseason with an injury and has been on the practice squad all season.

–Field Level Media

Read More 224 Words

Chiefs bring back former RB West

Chiefs bring back former RB West

Chiefs bring back former RB West

The Kansas City Chiefs signed former running back Charcandrick West on Monday.

The team worked out West — who played for K.C. from 2014 until his release in August — and C.J. Anderson on Monday. Although multiple outlets reported Anderson had a good workout and could be an option down the line, the Chiefs opted for West due to his familiarity with the playbook and experience on special teams.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

West, 27, had 1,551 total yards and 12 total touchdowns on 341 touches from 2015-17, including 848 yards and five scores while he made nine starts during the 2015 season. He signed with the Jets after being released by the Chiefs during training camp but did not make New York’s 53-man roster.

Anderson, 27, appeared in nine games for the Carolina Panthers earlier this season before he was released three weeks ago. After signing a one-year, $1.75 million contract with Carolina prior to the season, Anderson had 104 yards and no touchdowns on 24 carries in a diminished role behind Christian McCaffrey. He also had one reception, a 24-yard TD.

The Chiefs got a good look at Anderson the previous five years when he played for one of their AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos. In 58 games (36 starts) for Denver, Anderson ran 717 times for 3,155 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 103 catches for 859 yards and four scores.

Kansas City needed another contributor in the backfield after the sudden release of Kareem Hunt.

Hunt, 23, was cut after a video emerged Friday showing him pushing and kicking a woman in a February incident. He was the team’s leading rusher this season with 824 yards and seven touchdowns on 181 attempts. Last year, Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards on 272 carries, and he ran for eight touchdowns.

In his absence Sunday, the Chiefs’ leading ball-carrier was quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who gained 52 yards on nine attempts. Starter Spencer Ware had 14 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown in Kansas City’s 40-33 road win over the Oakland Raiders.

–Field Level Media

Read More 277 Words

Report: Chiefs bringing back former RB West

Report: Chiefs bringing back former RB West

Report: Chiefs bringing back former RB West

The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to sign former running back Charcandrick West, according to multiple reports on Monday.

The team worked out West — who played for K.C. from 2014 until his release in August — and C.J. Anderson on Monday. Multiple outlets reported Anderson had a good workout and could be an option down the line, but the Chiefs opted for West due to his familiarity with the playbook and experience on special teams.

West, 27, had 1,551 total yards and 12 total touchdowns on 341 touches from 2015-17, including 848 yards and five scores while he made nine starts during the 2015 season. He signed with the Jets after being released by the Chiefs during training camp but did not make New York’s 53-man roster.

Anderson, 27, appeared in nine games for the Carolina Panthers earlier this season before he was released three weeks ago. After signing a one-year, $1.75 million contract with Carolina prior to the season, Anderson had 104 yards and no touchdowns on 24 carries in a diminished role behind Christian McCaffrey. He also had one reception, a 24-yard TD.

The Chiefs got a good look at Anderson the previous five years when he played for one of their AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos. In 58 games (36 starts) for Denver, Anderson ran 717 times for 3,155 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 103 catches for 859 yards and four scores.

Kansas City needed another contributor in the backfield after the sudden release of Kareem Hunt.

Hunt, 23, was cut after a video emerged Friday showing him pushing and kicking a woman in a February incident. He was the team’s leading rusher this season with 824 yards and seven touchdowns on 181 attempts. Last year, Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards on 272 carries, and he ran for eight touchdowns.

In his absence Sunday, the Chiefs’ leading ball-carrier was quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who gained 52 yards on nine attempts. Starter Spencer Ware had 14 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown in Kansas City’s 40-33 road win over the Oakland Raiders.

–Field Level Media

Read More 277 Words

Broncos won’t put CB Harris on IR

Broncos won't put CB Harris on IR

The Denver Broncos won't put cornerback

Broncos won’t put CB Harris on IR

The Denver Broncos won’t put cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on injured reserve, head coach Vance Joseph announced Monday, a day after Harris suffered a small break in his right leg.

“It’s great news for Chris,” Joseph said of the diagnosis, which multiple reports said was a broken fibula. “He has time to hopefully recover and heal up, and hopefully we’re still playing.”

With four weeks left in the regular season, the Broncos are 6-6 and one game back of the Baltimore Ravens for the final AFC wild-card spot, although the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of a Week 3 win over Denver. The Broncos’ final regular-season game is Dec. 30, and any potential playoff game would be the first weekend in January.

Harris told reporters after Sunday’s game he thinks he can return in about a month.

“He needs rest and rehab, and we’ll see how it falls in a couple weeks,” Joseph said of Harris’ timeline.

With Harris staying on the active roster, Joseph said the team won’t add another cornerback for depth. Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock — who missed Sunday’s game with a rib injury — will be the starters, with third-round rookie Isaac Yiadom next in line and Brendan Langley, recently promoted from the practice squad, as depth. Joseph said he is hopeful Brock will be ready to return this week.

Denver could also choose to play safety Justin Simmons as the third cornerback as he did on Sunday, when he moved to the slot and covered Tyler Boyd after Harris went down.

“It says a lot, for a guy to not to work nickel all week and to move there in the first quarter of the game and play 50 snaps there at a high level right away,” Joseph said Monday of Simmons’ play. “That also speaks to his physical traits, to match (wide receiver Tyler) Boyd, who was their best guy outside of A.J. Green. … He won more than he lost. That’s special.”

Meanwhile, defensive end Derek Wolfe (torn rib cartilage) and linebacker Josey Jewell (mild high-ankle sprain) are both day-to-day and could play this week, Joseph announced.

Jewell, a fourth-round rookie, has started five straight games with Brandon Marshall battling a knee injury, though Joseph said he expects Marshall to return on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

Read More 330 Words

Cardinals place Kirk, Iupati on IR

Cardinals place Kirk, Iupati on IR

The Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals place Kirk, Iupati on IR

The Arizona Cardinals have placed rookie receiver Christian Kirk and offensive lineman Mike Iupati on injured reserve, head coach Steve Wilks announced Monday.

Both were injured Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Kirk suffered a broken foot, and Iupati has an MCL injury.

Kirk, 22, caught three passes for 54 yards in the 20-17 win in Green Bay. A second-round pick from Texas A&M, he had 43 receptions for 590 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He also was a primary punt returner for Arizona (3-9) and returned 21 punts for 164 yards.

Iupati, 31, was carted off the field in the third quarter Sunday with a left knee injury. The team is awaiting MRI results to determine the severity of the injury. He was replaced by rookie guard Colby Gossett.

The veteran Iupati, in his fourth season with the Cardinals and ninth overall, played in 10 games this season, missing two with a back injury. He becomes the fifth Arizona offensive lineman on IR, joining John Wetzel, Jeremy Vujnovich, Justin Pugh and A.Q. Shipley.

–Field Level Media

Read More 120 Words

Film Study: Gauging Rodgers’ culpability in Packers’ demise

Film Study: Gauging Rodgers' culpability in Packers' demise

Mike McCarthy's

Film Study: Gauging Rodgers’ culpability in Packers’ demise

Mike McCarthy’s time was going to end sooner or later, even if the Green Bay Packers had won Sunday.

A struggling offense with Brett Hundley is one thing, but there aren’t many excuses for missing the playoffs with Aaron Rodgers playing (if not totally healthy) all season, especially considering Green Bay’s defense has been respectable.

You could argue the Packers should have fired McCarthy even a few years ago, especially as Rodgers kept voicing concerns with the offense through subtle jabs, which grew gradually louder this season.

Criticisms of McCarthy’s scheme have been almost entirely warranted. While most dominant offenses rely on creative formations, motion and intertwined route concepts to scheme targets open, the Packers prefer isolation routes that work independently of each other, requiring receivers to separate on their own. The approach has benefits — like providing more options without “wasting” receivers on decoy or clear-out routes — but it’s simpler and therefore less stressful for opposing defenses. If receivers don’t beat man coverage, it short-circuits.

But despite his noted stubbornness, McCarthy quietly changed gears some this year. He steadily incorporated more motion, stacks and bunches, and intertwined releases to spring targets open. That included a number of plays that won through design Sunday against the Cardinals, like a pick route for Jimmy Graham to convert third-and-3 and several three-level stretch (or “flood”) concepts — many off play-action bootlegs — that defeated Arizona’s perimeter zones. These tactics haven’t become the offense’s core, but they’ve been blended in smoothly.

Perhaps the change was spurred by an unproven receiving corps, with McCarthy not trusting wideouts to win on their own. Maybe he simply tried something new once the Packers’ season grew rickety. Whatever the impetus, McCarthy’s approach and designs evolved in a refreshing way.

After it didn’t translate to results, part of the blame must be pinned on Rodgers.

Great as he is, Rodgers is remarkably unorthodox. His mechanics take multi-week vacations, but his accuracy rarely wavers. He’s exceedingly careful with the ball, yet attempts many throws few others would dare. He routinely breaks down plays that work as designed, only to scramble and conjure a better one from thin air.

The latter tendency — which we know as vintage Rodgers — has long caused stretches of maddening inconsistency. During the team’s 4-6 start to 2016, Rodgers played largely without timing or discipline, simply holding the ball and pursuing big plays off-schedule.

While not that extreme this season, every game includes a few plays that work as designed — including McCarthy’s new concepts — but Rodgers doesn’t turn it loose. Likewise, he’s often passed up sure third-down conversions underneath while seeking home runs downfield.

Sandlot-style plays are in Rodgers’ blood — no other team has its left tackle lose intentionally inside so its QB can roll out and huck a prayer 72 yards — and he delivered some Sunday: the 13-yard touchdown to Davante Adams; a 19-yard bullet to Adams, setting up the game-tying TD. But he often the ball late in the down to no avail, breaking down plays just to break them down (Arizona’s blitzes encouraged this).

Worse, Rodgers’ ball placement was downright erratic, a suddenly recurring issue. After whiffing several easy throws in recent weeks, he regularly fired low and left against Arizona, a common miss for a right-handed quarterback. That normally isn’t an issue for Rodgers, but his wrist flicks produced several incompletions or awkward grabs that limited yards after catch.

Four alone came on the final drive, including two incompletions on out routes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling; a low out to Adams, keeping him inbounds and wasting 12 seconds; and a low slant behind Randall Cobb that cost at least 7 extra yards. With better ball placement, any of those could have been the difference for Mason Crosby, whose game-tying 49- yard attempt sailed wide right.

It’s not popular to criticize the two-time MVP, and the Packers’ poor season is certainly not Rodgers’ fault. There are many other issues — inexperienced receivers, O-line injuries, Graham’s inconsistency, etc. — and Rodgers’ baseline remains tremendously high. But that doesn’t free him from blame, as he’s simply left too many throws on the field.

The good news is Rodgers — like almost no other QB — has shown before he can suddenly flip a switch and play disciplined and on-schedule. He did this during the famed “run the table” stretch in 2016, recommitting to executing designs as planned and setting defenses ablaze. That approach makes Rodgers practically invincible, because he can distribute like Tom Brady and Drew Brees while keeping his ad-lib abilities in his back pocket when needed.

Whether or not Green Bay hires an offensive head coach, Rodgers’ next play designer will be tasked with keeping the QB mostly on-schedule. If the route concepts are crafty and spring receivers open, that could happen naturally. If Rodgers needs time to trust the designs, there could be serious hiccups. Either way, the game’s most unique quarterback will play in a new offense for the first time since becoming a starter.

Many have wondered what Rodgers could do in a more schematically innovative attack. (This includes Brady, who told ESPN that Rodgers would “throw for 7,000 yards every year” in the Patriots’ system.) With McCarthy gone, we should find out.

-Von Miller and Khalil Mack tossin’ dudes

There’s nothing quite like seeing a 250-pounder send a 320-pound behemoth flying.

Miller (250 pounds) and Mack (252) do so remarkably often, and each delivered a doozy with a long-arm stab move on Sunday.

Mack’s went viral, perhaps because it came against the second-highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, 320-pound Giants left tackle Nate Solder. After taking a wide approach like preparing to speed rush, Mack extended his left (inside) hand to Solder’s right (inside) shoulder, stabbing at the breastplate. Mack’s fully extended arm kept Solder from reaching his torso, and his grip locked onto the breastplate despite Solder’s chop at his arms.

After hesitating a moment, Mack expertly converted speed to power, dipping to align his entire body — from his left heel through his left hand — at a 45-degree angle and shoot up through Solder. Caught on one foot, Solder stood no chance, and Mack tossed him in a heap into Eli Manning’s legs, disrupting a third-and-4 throw for a near interception.

Miller’s game is built more on speed than Mack’s, but he converts it into power just as viciously, as 318-pound Bengals right tackle Bobby Hart — coincidentally, a former Giant — learned the hard way Sunday. Miller started with a mirror image long-arm to Mack’s, but landed it differently.

With Hart quick-setting (jumping out at Miller rather than giving ground), Miller stabbed his right (inside) hand at Hart’s left (inside) chest. Rather than locking on and loading up like Mack, Miller unleashed his full force on initial contact like a punch, halting Hart’s momentum cold and jolting him off his feet onto his backside. Hart’s head actually kicked back from the impact, so much so that the refs incorrectly called Miller for a hands-to-the-face penalty. How else could a man giving up 70 pounds discard his opponent so violently?

Neither player earned a sack on the aforementioned plays — which tells you how fickle that stat can be — but the display of technique was textbook in both cases, illustrating perfect leverage and hand placement. Just another example of why these two are the NFL’s best edge rushers.

-Lockett lightning strikes again

If you commit to a run-heavy offense in today’s NFL, you absolutely must use that tendency to produce explosive passes.

Brian Schottenheimer’s attack fits the bill, as the Seahawks are tied for fourth in the NFL with 12 pass plays of 40-plus yards this season despite throwing less than any other team.

It certainly helps having one of the league’s preeminent deep threats, Tyler Lockett. A threat to score at any time, Lockett delivered an early 13-point lead Sunday with a 52-yard touchdown on a play designed specifically for the 49ers’ defense, the same style of Cover-3 scheme the Seahawks have used under Pete Carroll.

From a bunch set in the right slot, Schottenheimer sent two vertical routes up the right sideline and seam — drawing center-field safety Jaquiski Tartt’s attention — while Lockett ran a deep-over route to the left. Schottenheimer occupied the deep cornerback to that side (Ahkello Witherspoon) by exploiting San Francisco’s Cover-3 rules, sending Doug Baldwin’s square-in far enough vertically to make Witherspoon mirror and follow Baldwin’s break inside.

With Tartt and Witherspoon removed, linebacker Malcolm Smith had to track Lockett. Given his athletic disadvantages, Smith did an outstanding job, recognizing the route early, pivoting and sprinting to maintain tight coverage on a slightly underthrown ball. But few linebackers can turn to find the ball deep down the field, especially when chasing a speedster, and Lockett’s crafty push-off created just enough late separation for the score.

That was Lockett’s only catch Sunday, but he drew a 43-yard pass-interference penalty late in the third quarter on a similar play, this one a throwback concept. Again, Lockett ran from the right slot to deep left, this time off play-action with Russell Wilson doing a half-bootleg right. It’s not shown on the TV copy, but Lockett nodded right — to fake a corner route — before breaking left, creating deception because Wilson’s roll right usually indicates a throw right. The route made center-field safety Antone Exum hesitate, and he panicked as he recovered, hitting Lockett way before the ball arrived.

A nearly identical play — the same half-roll right, throwback design with the same route, but out of shotgun rather than under center — sprung Lockett for an easy 52-yard score in Week 1 in Denver. His 39-yard TD against the Rams in Week 4 featured similar elements, with another half-roll and Lockett running a post.

Schottenheimer has used myriad formations and window dressing to dial up these deep shots, capitalizing on run-heavy tendencies. Many feature presnap motion or a personnel package (like using sixth O-lineman George Fant) to indicate run, getting linebackers and safeties to bite harder on fakes and abandon their coverage assignments. Lockett’s downfield ability makes him a perfect fit for such designs.

Nobody is on Tyreek Hill’s level, but Lockett can do everything Hill can in the 90th percentile. Lockett has great-to-elite movement traits of all types: long speed, lateral agility, short-area speed (acceleration) and body control (deceleration). He’s dangerous outside but perhaps even scarier in the slot, working against linebackers and safeties. He’s also a weapon on misdirection near the line of scrimmage, electric as a returner (84-yard kickoff return on Sunday) and surprisingly effective on contested throws despite his size.

And like Hill, everything builds off Lockett’s speed. When not beating defenses over the top, he wins on crossers — which Schottenheimer uses a ton off play-action — by getting behind zone linebackers or running away from man coverage. Given the cushions he faces and his sudden deceleration, he’s a menace on curls and comebacks, like the 12-yard TD against the Panthers last week. Of course, Lockett’s also extremely slippery once plays break down, a perfect fit with Wilson, as the pair showed on the ad-libbed 43-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal in Carolina.

Coming off two quiet seasons interrupted by a serious injury, Lockett has already set personal bests with 714 receiving yards and nine touchdowns this year. He’s been remarkably efficient, catching 78.6 percent of his targets while averaging 16.2 yards per catch and scoring on 20.5 percent of his receptions, all easily career highs.

That scoring rate isn’t sustainable, but the 26-year-old is already outplaying the three-year, $30.75 million extension he signed in August, which put him under contract through 2021. That deal will look even better as the wide receiver market continues to swell.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Read More 1906 Words

Bears’ Nagy not talking Hunt

Bears' Nagy not talking Hunt

Chicago

Bears’ Nagy not talking Hunt

Chicago Bears: Hired after a year as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Nagy was questioned Monday about the team’s potential interest in former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Nagy said only he wasn’t “going to get into that” scenario. Chicago is hoping after two games without Mitchell Trubisky, that the quarterback is ready to return for Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. “I hope he is, but I can’t say that for sure,” Nagy said.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford said the Lions are not being hampered by inexperience at skill positions but must show the ability to make plays in the red zone. “We’ve got to be more consistent down there and make the plays,” Stafford said, adding that any conversation on personnel should “wait for another date. … “We had some chances on offense. I was proud of our guys fighting,” Stafford said.

Green Bay Packers: Team president Mark Murphy said the Packers decided to make the first in-season coaching change in franchise history based largely on the dud from Green Bay on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. “I really think if we’d gotten a key win or two there things would have been different. Quite honestly, the performance Sunday made it clear to me the coaching change was needed,” Murphy said. Murphy stressed that “Aaron Rodgers had nothing to do with the decision,” to fire McCarthy, but a divide between QB and coach was widely reported and Rodgers didn’t outwardly support retaining McCarthy.

Minnesota Vikings: Even with a trip to Seattle for ‘Monday Night Football’ on deck, a loss to the Patriots didn’t dissuade quarterback Kirk Cousins’ belief that the Vikings will be a playoff team. He’s still thinking about spending his first postseason with the franchise with a dome-field advantage. “I’d love a home playoff game, but if we can get in, anything can happen,” Cousins said. “That’s really where my focus is.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 272 Words

Packers, Murphy launch search for McCarthy replacement

Packers, Murphy launch search for McCarthy replacement

Team

Packers, Murphy launch search for McCarthy replacement

Team president Mark Murphy met with players with the Green Bay Packers on Monday to encourage them to make the most of what’s left of a lost season.

“I think everybody associated with the organization is disappointed,” Murphy said. “Knowing we were going to make the change, it was better to do it know rather than make it in the offseason.”

The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday after a disheartening loss to the Arizona Cardinals that Murphy said was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to McCarthy’s fate as head coach.

“To come out at home, in this particular situation, against a team we felt we should beat, it wasn’t up to our standard. It wasn’t acceptable,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said Monday afternoon. “Yesterday was just one of those moments where we said, ‘We’re looking forward to where we’re going.'”

McCarthy was 125-77-2 in 13 seasons with the Packers, including 11-16-1 the past two seasons. Gutekunst is in his first season as general manager. He replaced Ted Thompson at the end of the 2017 regular season.

While Murphy will run the coaching search, he said Gutekunst will be “actively involved” and he will not hire “a coach Brian’s not comfortable with.”

Reports on the severe and growing divide between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and McCarthy percolated in the offseason and appeared with greater frequency in the past two weeks. Murphy said Rodgers will be “free to add input,” but Murphy and Gutekunst both emphasized the quarterback will not be involved in the process of hiring the next head coach.

“They had a great run together, won an awful lot of games together, including the Super Bowl,” Murphy said. “This is not about one player. This is about what’s best for this organization.”

Gutekunst said the Rodgers-McCarthy relationship and the factor in played in the decision to fire McCarthy was “overblown.”

Murphy said there were many advantages to making a coaching change in December, including a trial run with interim head coach Joe Philbin.

“It gives us the opportunity to see Joe as a head coach for four games, see how he performs for four games and see how coaches and others respond,” Murphy said.

Murphy said one side benefit to making the first in-season coaching change in franchise history was to give McCarthy a head start on his own future.

“He’s going to be a strong candidate,” Murphy said of other teams considering McCarthy. “This allows him to focus on the next opportunity for him.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 373 Words

Cowboys doubt C Frederick will play in 2018

Cowboys doubt C Frederick will play in 2018

Although Dallas center Travis

Cowboys doubt C Frederick will play in 2018

Although Dallas center Travis Frederick expects to make a full recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome, the Cowboys don’t think that will happen in time for him to play this season.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan that it’s doubtful the four-time Pro Bowl selection will return to action in 2018.

Joe Looney has started every game at center this season in Frederick’s absence.

Frederick was diagnosed with the condition in late August and placed on injured reserve in early October.

Frederick, 27, has been with the Cowboys since they drafted him in the first round out of Wisconsin in 2013. He started all 80 regular season games and three playoff games in his first five seasons.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack a network of nerves around the brain and spinal cord, according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Last month, Frederick revealed that he had regained sensation in his hands, but not his feet. He said he had “no doubt” about making a complete recovery.

–Field Level Media

Read More 124 Words

Smith (stinger) ready to rejoin streaking Cowboys

Smith (stinger) ready to rejoin streaking Cowboys

After missing two games with a stinger,

Smith (stinger) ready to rejoin streaking Cowboys

After missing two games with a stinger, Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith said he expects to play Sunday against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

“I feel great,” Smith told reporters Monday during the team’s visit to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t played since suffering the injury late in the Cowboys’ Nov. 18 win at Atlanta.

He had hoped to be cleared before last Thursday’s victory against New Orleans and said he was frustrated when that didn’t happen.

“It just wasn’t ready yet and that’s how the evaluation went,” Smith said. “It’s a normal stinger, it’s just more sensitive than it usually is. We’re just taking precaution. For me, it was more frustrating than anything. I trust our team doctors.”

Cameron Fleming has started in place of Smith the past two weeks.

–Field Level Media

Read More 89 Words

Ravens in driver’s seat to end 3-year playoff drought

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens are still fighting to end a three-year playoff drought even though they are riding their longest winning streak of the season.

The Ravens hold a one-game lead for the sixth and final postseason spot in the AFC. Baltimore (7-5) also is within a half-game of

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens are still fighting to end a three-year playoff drought even though they are riding their longest winning streak of the season.

The Ravens hold a one-game lead for the sixth and final postseason spot in the AFC. Baltimore (7-5) also is within a half-game of the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North after the Ravens’ 26-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

It was their third in a row behind rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. He has emerged as a playmaker since taking over for Joe Flacco, who is battling a hip injury.

Baltimore faces its toughest test of the season this week when the Ravens take on the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs.

Flacco still has to be cleared by doctors to potentially play in that game. In the meantime, Jackson has shown that he can effectively lead the Ravens offense.

“He’s getting better,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said or Jackson during the coach’s Monday news conference. “Football is like that, especially with that position. You do it practice and that’s one thing, but there’s nothing like the game. The game is where you learn the lessons kind of the hard way.

“He made a few mistakes that are well-documented. He’ll learn from it just like the week before.”

The Ravens have run for more than 200 yards in each of the last three games. The emergence of Gus Edwards, an undrafted rookie from Rutgers, has coincided with that success. He had two consecutive 100-yard performances before finishing with 82 yards on 21 carries against the Falcons.

Edwards has taken over the starting job for Alex Collins, who was placed on IR with an injured foot.

The Ravens have been able to dominate time of possession with the revamped running attack, keeping opposing offenses off the field. That strategy will be especially vital this week against Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has thrown for 3,923 yards with a staggering 41 touchdowns.

“I feel like we’re controlling the clock, keeping our defense off the field, keeping them fresh, and taking the air out of their pass rush,” offensive lineman Marshal Yanda said “That’s a big deal.”

The running game has also helped the Ravens defenders stay fresh late in the game. Baltimore has converted a pair turnovers into touchdowns the last two weeks and is ranked No. 1 for overall defense.

“We really don’t care what people say outside,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We have a standard as a Ravens defense, whether we’re home, away or at a neutral site, on how we want to play football, and that’s always been being physical at the point of attack, stopping the run and getting after the quarterback on third down.”

The Ravens have bounced back from a three-game losing streak heading into their bye. That skid prompted questions about the future of Harbaugh with the franchise.

Now, Baltimore can control its destiny to end the playoff drought and quiet the critics.

Harbaugh is proud of the way his players responded to the adversity.

“I think we have a lot of leaders and guys that have been through a lot,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys have been through a lot of challenges and that’s usually the best way of learning how to deal with adversity. I think they have done a good job.”

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 507 Words

Cardinals beat Pack but lose receiver Kirk, lineman Iupati

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals' satisfaction from their stunning victory over the Packers in Green Bay has been tempered by news that rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk and starting left guard Mike Iupati are out for the season with injuries.

Kirk, who was developing into a dynamic force on offense, has

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals’ satisfaction from their stunning victory over the Packers in Green Bay has been tempered by news that rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk and starting left guard Mike Iupati are out for the season with injuries.

Kirk, who was developing into a dynamic force on offense, has a broken foot. Iupati, who has battled injuries throughout his time with Arizona, has a knee injury.

Kirk, a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, is second to Larry Fitzgerald with 43 receptions and leads the team with 590 yards receiving. He caught three passes for 54 yards and had a 23-yard gain on a fly sweep before being injured in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-17 win.

Iupati started 10 games this season and missed two due to injury.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 85 Words

Broncos won’t place star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on IR

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos coach Vance Joseph says star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is week to week with a fractured lower right fibula and won't be placed on injured reserve.

"He needs rest and rehab and we'll see how it falls in a couple of weeks," Joseph said.

So, the Broncos (6-6)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos coach Vance Joseph says star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is week to week with a fractured lower right fibula and won’t be placed on injured reserve.

“He needs rest and rehab and we’ll see how it falls in a couple of weeks,” Joseph said.

So, the Broncos (6-6) won’t be adding another cornerback to the roster as they prepare for their next game, at San Francisco (2-10).

Harris, one of the league’s elite outside cornerbacks and the top slot cornerback over the last several seasons, was injured in Denver’s 24-10 win Sunday at Cincinnati.

Joseph said defensive end Derek Wolfe is day to day with “a small tear in the rib cartilage” and rookie linebacker Josey Jewell is day to day with a mild high ankle sprain.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

___

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Read More 95 Words

Jets’ Darnold getting timing right, could start vs. Bills

NEW YORK (AP) — Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold will be monitored in practice this week before the team determines whether he will start against the Buffalo Bills.

Coach Todd Bowles says during a conference call Monday that Darnold took "a great number" of snaps during practice last week and was healthy enough

NEW YORK (AP) — Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold will be monitored in practice this week before the team determines whether he will start against the Buffalo Bills.

Coach Todd Bowles says during a conference call Monday that Darnold took “a great number” of snaps during practice last week and was healthy enough to play against Tennessee on Sunday. But, Bowles and the Jets chose to start Josh McCown because the rookie would have some rust after missing two games.

Darnold strained his right foot against Miami on Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since.

Bowles says Darnold needs some more practices to get his timing right. He adds that when he thinks the rookie is ready, he’ll play.

The Jets are 0-3 with McCown as the starter, with the 39-year-old QB throwing one TD pass and four interceptions.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 89 Words

Coach Gase’s improbable Dolphins hang on in playoff race

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Only one NFL team has been outgained by nearly 1,200 yards and is still in the playoff picture — the underwhelming, overachieving Miami Dolphins.

They're 6-6 and part of the crowded AFC wild-card race despite statistics that would sink most teams. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Only one NFL team has been outgained by nearly 1,200 yards and is still in the playoff picture — the underwhelming, overachieving Miami Dolphins.

They’re 6-6 and part of the crowded AFC wild-card race despite statistics that would sink most teams. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in offense and 29th in defense, 29th in third-down conversions and 28th in red zone scoring.

So how have they managed a lofty .500 record?

“Turnover margin,” coach Adam Gase said Monday. “The amount of turnovers our defense is getting is what we need, and then we don’t turn it over a whole bunch.”

He’s right. The Dolphins are tied for seventh in turnover differential at plus-eight, and third in takeaways with 25. The impact on the scoreboard has been “insane,” Gase said.

Turnover differential was the difference Sunday, when Miami was outgained by Buffalo 415 yards to 175 but won the turnovers battle, 3-1, and the game, 21-17.

It also helped that the Bills’ Charles Clay dropped a fourth-down pass at the goal line in the final minute.

“It’s better to be lucky than good,” Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso said.

Luck might play a small role in explaining the Dolphins’ knack for outperforming the stats. It dates back to Gase’s first season in 2016, when they were outgained by 798 yards but went 10-6. That’s their only playoff team in the past decade.

Someone reminded Gase his team has been outgained this year by 1,168 yards.

“Great,” Gase responded, meaning the opposite of great. His team is on pace to surpass the franchise record disparity of 1,321 in 1967, the Dolphins’ second season.

This year only Cincinnati (5-7) and Arizona (3-9) have larger yardage deficits. To which the Dolphins say: So what.

“It’s all about us putting the ball in the end zone and having the most points at the end of the game,” running back Kenyan Drake said.

Oddsmakers aren’t impressed by that approach: Miami is a touchdown underdog at home Sunday against AFC East leader New England (9-3) .

Gase believes the Dolphins actually should be 8-4. They blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads in losses at Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

As it is, Miami is tied with three other teams in the AFC, one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the sixth seed and final wild-card spot in the AFC.

“Obviously, in order to stay in the hunt, we’ve got to win,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “And we know that.”

For a change, the Dolphins begin the week with no significant new injuries. Ryan Tannehill, playing in his second game since returning from a shoulder injury, shook off several jarring hits to throw three touchdown passes against Buffalo.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Gase said.

The Dolphins have endured so many injuries that Gase said it’s a different team from the one that lost to New England 38-7 in Week 4.

The obvious goal this week will be to keep the score closer, and if the Dolphins do that, don’t discount their chances. In one-score games Gase is 6-1 this year, and 19-6 in his three seasons with the Dolphins.

In other games he’s 3-17. Sometimes relying on turnovers isn’t enough.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

___

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine.

Read More 484 Words