Tony Romo was back on the Cowboys practice field Wednesday for the first time since suffering a compression fracture in his back in a preseason game in late August.
Romo wasn't wearing pads but went through some individual drills with Dak Prescott and Mark Sanchez.
Dallas hasn't given a specific timeline for a possible Romo return, but in his absence, Prescott and fellow rookie and NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott have spearheaded Dallas' 5-1 start and ascent to the top of the NFC East.
With the NFL's 2016 trade deadline on Nov. 1 rapidly appoaching, we're tracking all the deals here for your one-stop pleasure.
• The Patriots and Lions finalized a trade on Tuesday that will send linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a reported seventh-round selection from Detroit to New England.
Terms of the deal were not officially announced, though ESPN cites multiple sources that indicate the Lions will receive a sixth-round draft choice in 2017
Van Noy, a 2014 second-round selection out of BYU, started all seven games for the Lions this season, tallying 23 tackles and one pass defensed. Van Noy became a full-time starter this year after appearing in 23 games the previous two seasons.
Van Noy missed nine games in 2014 due to a sports hernia, and some time this offseason with a hip injury. With Detroit's linebacking corps riddled with injuries, the club signed Josh Bynes, who spent 29 games with the club the previous two seasons. In 11 starts last season, Bynes had 80 tackles, one forced fumble and five passes defensed.
• The Patriots continued their busy afternoon, sending tight end A.J. Derby to the Broncos in exchange for a 2017 draft choice.
The former sixth-round pick spent last season on injured reserve, but showed enough in preseason to earn a spot behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. In four games this season, the 6-foot-5 target has recorded no statistics.
"A.J. is a young tight end who can help us immediately," said Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway via the official website. "He has tremendous upside and will fit in well on our team."
After getting off to a 3-0 start, the Baltimore Ravens have dropped four straight.
What makes their losing streak particularly frustrating to coach John Harbaugh, is the team has looked good in practice.
“We’re practicing really well,” Harbaugh said. “We’re practicing exceptionally well. That’s why it’s so disappointing.”
So why aren’t the team’s strong practices transferring to game days?
“What’s happening at practice is not happening in games; it does reflect some immaturity, it reflects poor decision-making in game situations and we’ve got to get it fixed,” Harbaugh said. “It’s my responsibility to get that done.”
One reason for the immaturity might be a rash of injuries to veteran players, which has forced the Ravens to start a lot of youngsters in recent weeks.
Seven starters were inactive for their loss on Sunday to the New York Jets. It was a who’s who of important players, including both starting outside linebackers, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, star receiver Steve Smith and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, their 2016 first-round pick, has been out for the entire losing streak with a foot injury.
Pro Football Weekly asked Harbaugh how much missing that man-power hurt the Ravens in their loss to the struggling Jets.
"It’s not ideal, but that’s the way it works in our league,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the cards that we’ve been dealt.”
Young players are making key mistakes, like when inexperienced wide receiver Breshard Perriman, subbing for Smith, ran the wrong route, leading to an interception by Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.
The Ravens are now in their bye week, and it comes at the perfect time.
“You couldn’t ask for a better bye,” said Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace. “Hopefully we can come back and get Ronnie and Yanda back up front. Not even just them but Suggs and Steve. That’s four or five top guys that we have out. Hopefully we get those guys back. Not only are they great players, but they are great leaders for us. We need that leadership. We have a lot of young players who need those guys on the field. Not even to say anything, but just their presence makes you feel better.”
And the return of those seasoned veterans could help the Ravens get their killer instinct back. In their last two losses, to the New York Giants and Jets, they blew significant leads.
“Killer instinct is executing when you get ahead, putting people away and making plays, taking advantage of the fact that they’re down,” Harbaugh said. “Whatever killer instinct translates to, we certainly don’t have it right now.”
But on a positive note for the Ravens, at 3-4, they aren’t far out of first place in the AFC North.
“Pittsburgh is (4-3) and Cincinnati, I think, is even with us,” said Ravens QB Joe Flacco. “We haven’t played either of them yet and that’s why we have to keep our head on straight and get back into a good routine and just be confident that we have the team and that we are who we think we are and we have to stop playing like this. We have to get better. There are a lot of games left and we definitely have the ability to do what we want to do inside of our division and that’s what we have to look forward to.”
LAKE FOREST – No one understands his situation with the Bears better than Jay Cutler himself.
That may be obvious, but it’s worth the reminder when we in the media can pontificate about his future, and his own head coach can make the starting quarterback position foggy, but Cutler knows what’s going on.
Back from a thumb injury that kept him out the last five games, Cutler addressed the media Tuesday, opening with a smirk and a, “Missed you guys,” which he clarified was a joke.
Like we saw in 2013 when Josh McCown played well in his absence, or in 2014 when his offensive coordinator threw him under the bus and his head coach benched him, Cutler was matter-of-fact. He even used a famous Bill Belichick line to describe his reaction to John Fox making it seem like Hoyer could keep the job even when Cutler was healthy.
“It is what it is,” Cutler said. “Anytime you have a backup quarterback – and to Brian’s credit, he played well. I think as a team, we wish we would have won some more of those ball games. But Brian went in there and did a great job. My discussions with everybody that I have relationships with in here were positive, and whenever I was ready to go, I’d be ready to go. There was never any discussion regarding that with me.”
Cutler didn’t give the cliché answer to a question about having the support of Fox.
“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”
The 11-year veteran did, however, echo what Fox said about the timeline vis-a-vis any quarterback controversy.
“I didn’t really get into it. I didn’t want to. It didn’t concern me,” Cutler said. “I wasn’t ready to play. My thumb wasn’t healed. The doctors weren’t going to let me go. The training staff wasn’t going to let me go. It didn’t really bother me at that point.”
Cutler’s return will come on national television against the league’s best defense, and with 2017 and beyond unknown for the franchise’s longest-tenured player.
“I think those are conversations for the end of the year,” he said. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [Loggains] and [QB coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up, score more points. That’s all we’re really trying to do and that’s all my focus is.
“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”
After calling out Jets quarterback Geno Smith on Twitter on Sunday for appearing on the sideline following a right knee injury, Joe Namath had to eat his words following Smith being diagnosed with a torn right ACL.
"My bad Geno. In the dark ages we players had the say," Namath replied to Smith's indirect response on Twitter following the game. "I hope you heal and play as long as you choose! Joe".
Smith's Jets career could be finished, as the 2013 second-round pick is in the final year of his rookie contract. The 26-year-old took over for then-benched quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but was injured just eight passing attempts into Sunday's 24-16 victory over the Ravens — New York's first in more than a month.
Fitzpatrick has since regained his starting role, despite criticizing his bosses postgame for the apparent lack of faith for benching the veteran with a league-leading 11 interceptions. Coach Todd Bowles responded Monday, “If pissed off is going to stop the turnovers, I’m more than happy to have him play pissed off."
After starting every game during his rookie campaign, Smith returned the following season for 13 starts in 14 games. With the 2015 arrival of Fitzpatrick, who threw the most touchdowns in franchise history, Smith was ultimately relegated to backup duty. Younger options in 2015 fourth-rounder Bryce Petty and 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg waiting in the wings further cloud Smith's Jets' future.
Smith sent out a message to his followers on Twitter early Tuesday morning, thanking his fans for support.
"Thank you to all the fans, my family and friends for all the well wishes. I'll be back stronger, faster and smarter in no time," Smith tweeted.
Every Tuesday, Arthur Arkush shares his top nine waiver wire targets for fantasy football players. This will focus exclusively on players owned in less than 50 percent of all Yahoo! leagues.
A note of caution: just because a player is on this list, it doesn't mean readers should exhaust their claim priority and/or waiver budget. Those decisions should be based on individual roster makeup, injuries and other outside forces.
Have specific roster questions for your fantasy team? Tweet @ArthurArkush
Just missed the cut: Bills WR Marquise Goodwin, Browns QB Kevin Hogan, Lions RB Zach Zenner, Lions WR Anquan Boldin, Broncos QB Trevor Siemian, Buccaneers WR Russell Shepard
9. Bucs RB Peyton Barber: Remember that time when Tiki Barber said Eli was better than Peyton? That was so funny! How about Peyton Hillis' fantasy flash in the pan with the Browns? That was so fun! Oh yeah, Tampa's rookie runner, Peyton Barber, iced the Niners with a 44-yard scoring burst Sunday, after Jacquizz Rodgers did all the heavy lifting — not easy for a 5-foot-6 back. Barber, though, is 5-11, 225, with some explosion and likely more opportunities coming in a Doug Martin-less backfield.
8. Jets WR Quincy Enunwa: He's quietly on pace for 73 catches, 934 yards and five touchdowns, or rock-solid WR3 production. Jets brass might not trust Fitzpatrick, but he trusts Enunwa, who should continue to get favorable coverages alongside Brandon Marshall. Enunwa showed last week he can J-E-T on that scoring burst from 69 yards (insert Gronk joke) out.
7. Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson: Perhaps the NFL's fastest player is on the fast track to a starting spot in Arizona's vertical offense, with Jaron Brown out for the year, John Brown nicked-up and Michael Floyd as confounding as ever. Nelson looked uncoverable in overtime and Carson Palmer, despite his continued struggles, has an ascending deep threat even he can't overthrow.
6. Steelers TE Ladarius Green: Pittsburgh's biggest offseason acquisition is nearing his Steelers debut after practicing during the bye week for the first time this season. It comes at a key time with quick-healing Ben Roethlisberger also already back on the practice field, but most of his top weapons ailing. Green, if his surgically repaired ankle obliges, can be a big-play weapon in a big-strike offense for Big Ben. Shrewd owners should pounce this week while Pittsburgh rests.
5. Packers WR Davante Adams: He probably was never as good as the guy we expected to pick up Jordy Nelson's slack in Year Two, coming off a rookie season in which he saved his best for the biggest stages. Adams also was never as bad as the guy who wilted under that pressure as a sophomore, marred by big drops and assignment mistakes. He's still too inconsistent, but after surpassing his TD total from 2014-15, and coming off easily his best day as a pro, Adams certainly deserves another look versus a Falcons 'D' that looked like the Bears last week.
4. Washington RB Chris Thompson: Why would Washington go back to fumbling Matt Jones when Thompson adds not only dependability — he catches everything in sight and hasn't lost a fumble in three-plus seasons — but obvious juice to the offense? After 113 yards on 19 touches a week ago, and with Jones coughing it up for the second time in three weeks, this one an absolute killer in Detroit's end zone, the answer is Washington wouldn't (we don't think).
3. Colts TE Jack Doyle: Who was it that said last week Doyle can do work between the 20s in addition to the red zone, where last week he secured the Colts' biggest touchdown in their biggest win this season? Coming off career-highs in catches (9) and targets (10), Doyle has become a must-start option, even as Donte Moncrief gets closer to his return.
2. Packers RB Knile Davis: After the mini-bye, preceded by Green Bay running out of real running backs in its prime-time death-by-paper-cut passing exhibition vs. Chicago, Davis could be ready to roll. Roll is what most teams do against the Falcons. Last week we told you opportunity was abound for Ty Montgomery. This week, Knile on.
1. Broncos RB Devontae Booker: Do you read the Book, also known as this column, consistently? If so, you're sitting pretty because you claimed the fourth-round sparkplug weeks ago, before he erupted and, for the first time Monday night, out-snapped C.J. Anderson depite the starter having his best game in a month. Booker's chances will only increase after adding a pay dirt visit for the first time to his growing resume (4.8 yards per carry, 7.7 yards per catch, no lost fumbles since first NFL touch).
Giants kicker Josh Brown, who was placed on the NFL Commissioner's Exempt List last week, has been released, the club announced Tuesday.
John Mara, the team's president, released the following statement:
“We believed we did the right thing at every juncture in our relationship with Josh,” said team president John Mara. “Our beliefs, our judgments and our decisions were misguided. We accept that responsibility.
“We hope that Josh will continue to dedicate himself to rehabilitation, and to becoming a better person and father. We will continue to support him in his efforts to continue counseling, and we hope that Josh and his family can find peace and a positive resolution.
“We have great respect and feel strongly about our support for the good people who work tirelessly and unconditionally to aid the victims of domestic violence and who bring awareness to the issue. We have been partners with My Sisters’ Place (a domestic violence shelter and advocate based in Westchester, New York) for nearly 20 years. The leadership of that organization has provided invaluable insight as we have considered our decisions in this matter.We value and respect their opinion, and we look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.”
Just a few hours prior to his release, Brown released a statement in the aftermath of documents containing his admissions of abusing his now ex-wife were made public last week. Brown claimed he never struck his wife.
"I am sorry that my past has called into question the character or integrity of The New York Giants, Mr. Mara or any of those who have supported me along the way. I have taken measures to get help so that I may be the voice of change, not a statistic.
"It is important to share that I never struck my wife, and never would. Abuse takes many forms, and is not a gray area. Through the past several years I have worked to identify and rectify my own behaviors. The road to rehabilitation is a journey and a constant modification of a way of life.
"My journey will continue forever as a person determined to leave a positive legacy and I embrace the opportunities to show and speak about what has helped me to be that man. In the interim, I am cooperating with the Giants and the NFL. Thank you to everyone that has supported me, I will not let you down."
Brown did not make the trip for the club's win over Los Angeles in London last week due to police reports surrounding the case, including detailing some of his personal journal entries, were made public.
The NFL has since said it's investigation into Brown has been re-opened, and claimed it made several attempts both written and orally to obtain information surrounding the case from Kings County (Wash.) Police Dept. which, further blamed law enforcement's apparent refusal to provide information.
Brown was suspended for just one game after being charged with fourth degree assault, yet the revised league policy for personal conduct rolled out in 2014 mandates a suspension of six games without pay for "violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, other forms of family violence, or sexual assault, with consideration given to possible mitigating or aggravating circumstances."
Our Hub Arkush gave his detailed take on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Brown and more. You can read it here.
Arian Foster announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday evening, posting a statement on “Uninterrupted.”
“There comes a time in every athlete’s career when their ambition and their body are no longer on the same page,” Foster wrote. “I’ve reached that point.”
The 30-year-old signed with the Dolphins July coming off an Achilles injury and had 22 carries for 55 yards in four games. He battled hamstring and groin injuries this season, and has struggled to stay healthy ever since his outstanding three-year stretch with the Texans from 2010-12.
“Every athlete would love to go out as a Super Bowl MVP, riding off into the sunset with the crowd chanting their name,” Foster wrote. “Unfortunately, life has other plans and they’re usually opposite the imagination.”
An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, Foster broke out in 2010 with 1,616 rushing yards, 604 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. He had 1,841 total yards in 2011 to go along with 12 scores and then had 1,641 yards from scrimmage in 2012 with 17 touchdowns.
The injuries hit hard in 2013, when he was limited to eight games, but he returned in 2014 to rush for 1,246 yards and had 13 total touchdowns. The Achilles injury limited Foster to only four games last season.
“This is a beautifully violent game and the same reason I loved it is why I have to walk away,” Foster wrote. “That bittersweet taste will forever linger with me, but on my next journey, I get to carry those memories with me.”
Some days it must be all a defense can do not to walk into the locker room after a game and slap anyone on offense. That’s got to be especially true for both the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles defenses, even for the team who came away with the win.
While the Eagles won 21-10, neither team can feel good about offenses which squandered eight turnovers — four generated by each defense. At one point early on, the Vikings picked off rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and then Sam Bradford gave the ball right back, in the end zone no less.
It was that type of day for the offense, and largely dominant displays by both defenses.
Aside from fumbling and throwing interceptions, another shared attribute both offenses had was poor offensive line play.
Bad offensive line play can sink you against any defense, but it’s especially bad when you have it happen and are facing defenses like the Vikings and Eagles. For the Eagles, losing Lane Johnson to a 10-game suspension has visibly hurt the line, but for the Vikings this has been a long-standing issue dating back several years. Sure, injuries which have forced “over-the-hill-and-down-in-a-ditch” Jake Long into service have exacerbated it, but the line was a problem before that.
Somehow over the last few weeks they had patched over that, but against an Eagles defense which had suffered through two losses and was taking a beating from fans and analysts, it was too much. Add in that they were playing Sam Bradford, who they knew well from his time in Philadelphia, and it was ugly for the Vikings.
Bradford was under pressure for about 42 percent of his dropbacks (per Pro Football Focus), but blitzed on just 23 percent of his drop backs. While that’s a decent amount of blitzing, clearly the Eagles got pressure just fine with a regular four-man pass rush.
That pressure resulted in more than a few errant throws and certainly factored into the interception Bradford threw in the end zone.
Yes, he should have seen the safety lurking, but had he another second or two, he might have.
Things were just as rough for Carson Wentz, who turned the ball over twice, though it was less about pressure from the pass rush and more about defensive scheme and bad choices on his part.
On the first pick, there was some pressure coming inside, which may have forced Wentz to throw high. That being said, Wentz should have seen linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had good position on tight end Brett Celek. Tight coverage, a little pressure and a slightly off throw resulted in an interception for Wentz and almost a pick-six.
Later that same quarter, Wentz threw another ill-advised pass. On this play the Vikings did bring pressure, but delayed it briefly. Wentz did a very nice job stepping up into the pocket though, and appeared to have plenty of time to deliver the ball.
Which is why it’s a bit baffling that he threw it into triple coverage.
The only thing you can think — at least until we see the coaches tape later this week — is that Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was blocked by action on the line and receiver Nelson Agholor looked like he had good position on the other two defenders.
Wentz also lost a fumble on a botched exchange with Darren Sproles, as the ball squirted out as he tried to hand it off. It was one of those days a young quarterback wished he could have back, but also one of the sorts of days you have when you face a defense like the one the Vikings feature.
Jay Cutler has been medically cleared to return to action, John Fox confirmed Monday. Cutler has missed the last five games with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand.
The timing is fortuitous for the Bears, who have extra rest prior to next Monday night’s game against the Vikings at Soldier Field. Brian Hoyer, who started for Cutler, broke his arm in last Thursday’s loss to the Packers and underwent surgery.
“I think he’s been at the bit for a while," Fox said of Cutler. "I think anytime you can’t play as a competitor as a player, obviously that’s hard and I think he handled it great. He was very involved in the game-planning both with Dowell and Brian. Through this process he’s been very helpful and been a great teammate and member of the team.”
Prior to the injury, the second in his career to his thumb, Cutler had completed 60.9 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. Hoyer had completed 67 percent of his passes and threw it 200 times without an interception, creating somewhat of a QB controversy when Fox did not confirm Cutler’s role as the starter a few weeks ago.
On Monday, Fox clarified what he meant, saying, “At the end of the day, obviously Jay’s our starter. He was injured, not permitted to play medically. And now that he’s healed he’s back to being our starter. That’s really the facts and kind of what happened and where we’re at now.”
The injury to Cutler combined with Hoyer's efficiency at the position also brought into question Cutler's future with the franchise. His contract is a year-to-year situation after this season without any guaranteed money. Fox was asked about the national speculation about Cutler's long-term standing with the Bears.
"As a coach and a staff you're always trying to help your players through stuff like that, but one thing I've found in Jay in the time I've been here is that he's very tough-minded and resilient," he said. "Obviously he went through a stretch where it's tough not being able to play and watching somebody else play your position is never easy for any competitor at any position, so I think he's handled it great and I think he'll handle it great moving forward."
The Bears placed Hoyer on injured reserve Monday afternoon. Matt Barkley would be Cutler's backup, and Fox wouldn't rule out bringing in a third quarterback, likely someone for the practice squad.
As for the health of his three-time Pro Bowler at right guard, Fox said that Kyle Long is dealing with a strained triceps.
The Bears will practice Tuesday, take a day off Wednesday and then get into preparation for the Vikings on Thursday, when they will release their first injury report.
Roster moves: The Bears released running back Joique Bell, claimed tight end Daniel Brown off waivers from the Ravens and promoted offensive lineman Cornelius Edison from the practice squad. They also added offensive tackle Arturo Uzdavinis to the practice squad.
The Browns claimed former Packers quarterback Joe Callahan off waivers from the Saints while their situation behind center becomes clearer, the club confirmed Monday.
The Browns also claimed offensive lineman Gabe Ikard off waivers from Buffalo. Defensive back Darius Hillary and fullback Malcolm Johnson were waived to make room for both players.
Third-rounder Cody Kessler has started for the Browns since Sept. 25 due to a barrage of injuries first striking then-starter Robert Griffin III and backup Josh McCown.Yet, with Kessler in the concussion protocol after Sunday's 31-17 loss versus Cincinnati, it's unclear who will start for the league's last remaining winless team at this point.
Browns coach Hue Jackson told the media Monday he'll know more on Wednesday whether McCown will be cleared from his broken collarbone, via Mary Kay Cabot.
Rookie Kevin Hogan took over for Kessler in the second quarter, finishing 12-of-24 for 100 yards and two interceptions. Hogan became the sixth quarterback to throw a pass for the Browns this season, joining Griffin III, McCown, Kessler, Charlie Whitehurst and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.
Per Elias Sports Bureau, the Browns are the first team since 1987 to have six different players throw at least one pass during a team's first seven games.
In other Browns news, Jackson put to bed any speculation on a potential trade market for nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. The NFL's trade deadline is Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. EST.
Thomas is one of the league's top tackles, and while his current seven-year, $80 million contract isn't set to expire until after the 2018 season, various reports have floated suggesting Thomas could fetch a first- or second-round pick for compensation in a trade scenario.
"We are not going to trade Joe Thomas,'' Jackson said.
It appears Ryan Fitzpatrick will regain the Jets' starting quarterback spot.
Fitzpatrick was benched last week in favor of Geno Smith, but the former 2013 second-round pick reportedly suffered a torn ACL just eight passing attempts into Sunday's game, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports Monday.
Fitzpatrick entered in relief and finished 9-of-14 with 120 yards and a touchdown to help lead the Jets (2-5) to their first victory in more than a month, 24-16 over the Ravens.
Smith reappeared on the team's sideline in the third quarter, catching some flack from Joe Namath on Twitter.
"If you've got a right knee injury keeping you out of the game why are you standing on the sideline the entire 2nd half? How bad can it be?" Namath commented on the quarterback's injury.
Smith indirectly responded to Namath following the game, "Somebody tell Joe that the doctors have the final say on whether you can or cannot get back into the game...... and also that I love him!"
Smith's awkward Jets career could be coming to a close on the heels of the latest injury, as he's in a contract year with younger options in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg waiting in the wings.
Fitzpatrick has certainly put himself in a precarious spot as well.
Following Sunday's win, Fitzpatrick blasted the coaching staff and front office for their apparent lack of faith in the veteran just a season after he threw the most touchdowns in franchise history. Leading up to Sunday, Fitzpatrick had tossed five touchdowns to 11 interceptions, leading one of the league's worst offenses.
“The biggest thing in this game in order to last, is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick said via the New York Daily News postgame.“Because when the owner stops believing in you and the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself. That’s something that I’ve had to deal with before. That’s something I’m dealing with now.”
Fitzpatrick's long offseason contract impasse with Jets management ended with what's essentially a one-year, $12 million contract.
The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
Going into the 2016 college football season, the quarterback names we heard as potential premium-round draft prospects were Deshaun Watson from Clemson, Chad Kelly from Ole Miss and Brad Kaaya from Miami.
After the first couple of games, Notre Dame third-year sophomore DeShone Kizer jumped to the top of the list.
Based on his play in the first half of the season, a new name has emerged in the last few weeks and that is Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina.
Trubisky is a fourth-year junior and while he has had some starts in the past, this is his first year as a full-time starter.
Coming out of high school, Trubisky was rated as a three-star prospect, but still received offers from some top schools. Ohio State, Michigan State and Alabama were among the schools offering Trubisky.
Trubisky has excellent size (listed at 6-3, 225 pounds), is very athletic and has a very strong arm. While he plays in a fairly simple spread offense, you see him make all the throws that an NFL quarterback makes.
Through seven games he has competed 203-of-285 throws for a 71.2 percent completion rate and 2,378 yards. He has also thrown for 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions. His breakout game was against Pitt in Week Four when he led North Carolina to a come from behind victory, passing for 453 yards and five touchdowns.
Trubisky’s stats can be a bit deceptive, as they throw a number of bubble screens and quick passes designed for the receiver to gain yards after the catch. Still, he shows good accuracy and ball placement on the medium to long range throws. He easily can complete a throw 50-60 yards downfield.
Trubisky has an overhand delivery with a quick release and throws a tight ball with good velocity. While he makes some outstanding throws, he can get lazy with his footwork at times and throw off his back foot or when out of balance. When that happens, the ball can sale and his accuracy is off.
Trubisky generally shows good ability to read the field, has a minor progression to go through and makes good decisions. He seldom forces the ball. He also has the athleticism, quick feet and speed to avoid pass rushers and make and extend plays with his feet. It is very obvious on tape that he is in command on the field and has leadership skills.
Generally speaking, I am not in favor of first-year starters who are underclassmen entering the draft. More of these types fail than succeed once they reach the NFL. Another year in college would serve Trubisky well and get him more prepared to play in the NFL. That said, he is very talented and could very well be a first-round draft choice and perhaps even a top-15-type player. There are many NFL scouts who have a first-round grade on him right now. Come January, Mitch Trubisky has a big decision to make.
Roger Goodell should look in mirror for ratings drop
The Way We See It, it’s pretty obvious why the NFL’s television ratings were down 10 percent year over year through Week Six of the 2016 NFL season, yet as commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to the media following owners meetings in Houston last week, he indicated his bosses don’t really believe they’ve lost viewers and that tinkering in a few areas should fix the issue.
For starters, Commish, if your ratings have dropped 10 percent, and they have, you have absolutely lost viewers.
If what you were suggesting is some of your viewers have just taken a break for whatever reason and will be back soon, Nero wasn’t particularly worried about the fire as long as he had his fiddle either, and how did that work out for him?
We are not here to yell fire in a crowd or push the panic button. Even with its 10 percent drop in ratings, the NFL is still the best and most popular show on TV.
Also, there is no question that the clown show currently passing for a presidential campaign has distracted many of us from even our most favorite past times and entertainment, and speaking of past times, America's is enjoying its most compelling fall in ages with Baseball’s “America’s Team,” the Chicago Cubs, and the Cleveland Indians ending the two longest World Series droughts in the game.
But those are excuses and distractions that might explain a two- or three-point ratings drop, not a whopping 10 percent.
If Goodell wants to know why his game is bleeding – and he really should look hard before it becomes a hemorrhage and truly dangerous – all he needs to do is look in the mirror and be honest with himself and his bosses about all they are doing to tarnish the Golden Goose.
Another bungling of a domestic violence case
Let’s start with the Commissioner’s apparent complete disregard for women.
We won’t waste time or space here rehashing Goodell’s embarrassing and disastrous handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case two years ago.
Goodell acknowledged his own bungling of the case by changing the league's rules in his own players’ “Personal Conduct Code,” making domestic violence an automatic six-game suspension for any player involved.
New York Giants placekicker Josh Brown was arrested for violence against his now ex-wife in May 2015, and in spite of the standard six-game penalty Goodell himself established, he inexplicably suspended Brown for just one game.
And it gets much worse than that.
In documents released in Brown’s case by the King County, Washington Sherriff’s office late last week, it became clear NFL security had been contacted by Brown’s ex-wife, Molly last January at the Pro Bowl seeking protection from Brown and the league in fact moved her and their children to a different hotel room, keeping their new location secret from Brown.
Speaking to the BBC in London for the Giants-Rams game, Goodell said, “We take this issue very seriously. ... So we have some new information here, we’ll evaluate that in the context of our policy, and we’ll take it from there.”
Goodell also emphasized that the NFL asked repeatedly for the documents before they were made public this week and said the initial decision to suspend Brown for just one game at the start of the season was based on the facts they had at the time.
The problem is Goodell clearly didn’t need any documents from the Sherriff’s office to confirm there was a domestic abuse problem in the Brown household, so faced with a clear case of domestic violence, Goodell chose to first ignore it and then lie about it.
Gee, does that kind of behavior sound familiar to anybody these days?
Equally guilty in this instance is New York Giants President, CEO and co-owner John Mara, who openly admitted he was aware of the incident involving Brown and his family at the Pro Bowl and even said, “He certainly admitted to us that he abused his wife in the past.”
Yet Mara and the Giants chose to re-sign the then-free agent kicker to a two-year, $4 million contract in April.
Mara still tried to claim that the Giants not being aware of some of the documents released late last week was a factor, with the team releasing as statement saying, “In light of the news reports regarding the documents released by the State of Washington yesterday, we think it makes sense to review this newly disclosed information and to revisit this issue following our trip to London.”
Goodell and Mara can make whatever claims they like, but at the end of the day it’s pretty obvious they just didn’t care enough about domestic violence if in fact they care at all.
According to Nielsen Media Research, NFL ratings among female viewers had already dropped approximately eight percent between 2013 and 2015, and only a fool would believe the Brown case isn’t or won’t have an impact on these new and future ratings losses among women and husbands, fathers, and all decent human beings.
Political protests are fine, but taunting is a crime?
With 11 seconds left in the first half of Oakland’s 33-16 defeat of the Jaguars, Michael Crabtree caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr.
In celebration, he touched his right index finger to his collar at the top of his shoulder pads and then as he was mobbed by teammates he looked at someone in the stands and touched that index finger to his lips, apparently suggesting quiet and then appeared to touch the finger to the top of his shoulder pads again before he was obscured from the view of the TV cameras.
Crabtree was then flagged 15 yards for, according to officials, taunting with the throat slash gesture.
That I didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it does mean none of us watching on TV could really see it, and yet these are the kinds of things that Goodell does deem worthy of his attention.
A week earlier, Vernon Davis was fined $12,000 for simulating a jump shot after scoring a touchdown. These kinds of celebration fines are happening every week and the question is, why?
According to Goodell, “We do believe that our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level. So that’s important for us to hold that standard up. And it’s part of being a professional. So that’s one element of it.”
The hypocrisy of it all is astonishing. Goodell, and we assume the team owners he works for, believes that turning a blind eye to domestic abuse is fine, but players celebrating the incredible accomplishment of scoring a touchdown or making any kind of great play in an NFL game need to be policed and punished because of the danger it presents to our nation’s youth.
Now there is an even bigger question of inconsistency.
Of players protesting the national anthem and disrespecting its purpose, Goodell has said, “As I’ve said before, I truly respect our players wanting to speak out and change the community. We don’t live in a perfect society. We want them to use that voice. And they’re moving from protests to progress and trying to make things happen in the communities. And I admire that about our players, (being) willing to do that.”
So in the role he’s given himself as the ultimate arbiter of what is free speech for players and what isn’t, Goodell says political protests good, celebrations bad.
Retired Marine Colonel and long-time New York Giants fan Jeffrey A. Powers takes exception with that position in an open letter to Goodell.
In a portion of that letter Powers writes, “... You’ll fine players for large and small infractions but you lack the moral courage and respect for our nation and the fallen to put an immediate stop to this.
“Yes, I know, it’s their 1st Amendment right to behave in such a despicable manner. What would happen if they came out and disrespected you or the refs publicly? I observed a player getting a personal foul for twerking in the end zone after scoring. I guess that’s much worse than disrespecting the flag and our National Anthem.
“Hmmmmm, isn’t it his 1st Amendment right to express himself like an idiot in the end zone?"
Well, there’s at least one important fan turning off his TV, and we can’t really imagine he’s alone, can we?
The way we see it, Colonel Powers is a bit over the top in his disdain and dislike for the NFL’s anthem protestors. We do not believe it is their intent or desire to insult or disgrace our fallen heroes.
As the Colonel says, they are exercising their 1st amendment rights.
What we cannot possibly agree more with the Colonel on is his confusion as to where Goodell believes he has the right or integrity to appoint himself as the ultimate judge of which players’ 1st amendment rights he will allow them and which he will punish them for.
It's possible some folks are turning off the NFL over the anthem protests, but we don’t believe it’s a big number.
We also believe a much larger number of fans are turning off the NFL over Goodell’s desire to make it the “No Fun League,” his willingness to reward violence and some self expression while punishing other forms of self expression and most of all his un-defendable position that he and the owners he works for have the moral authority to determine the difference.
Gambling is a sin, unless the NFL owners benefit from it
Mark Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, announced this week he would be moving his club to Las Vegas now that the city and state of Nevada have approved $750 million of public funding (hotel taxes) to build a new stadium.
Unlike his late father, Hall Of Famer Al Davis, Mark does not intend to just move his club without the permission of his 31 fellow owners as his Dad did in moves from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland.
But word quickly leaked out of the meetings this past week that Davis will likely get the 23 votes he needs along with his own to make the move, because he allegedly has the support of both Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft who are not only among the league’s top power brokers, but are also two of the biggest investors in fantasy football.
According to the state of New York and a number of others, fantasy football is gambling and against the law.
Forgetting fantasy, betting on professional sports events is illegal in every state and city in the country, except Las Vegas.
The National Football League has invested a fortune in time and effort to block legalized sports betting in every way it can including repeatedly lobbying congress and currying every political favor it can to keep fans from betting on their games.
When the federal government undertook a massive effort to shut down and prosecute offshore betting businesses taking “action” on NFL games in 2004, in spite of the fact those businesses were completely legal in the country’s they operated in, the NFL did everything it could to support those efforts.
Now, because the NFL believes it may have exhausted its hopes of getting a new stadium in Oakland, and because each of his fellow owners will receive their equal share of a roughly $500 million relocation fee Davis will pay them to move, just as Stan Kroenke did when he deserted Rams fans in St. Louis who were prepared to build him a new stadium there, owners may be prepared to line their own pockets by rewarding the home of legalized sports betting with its own team at the expense of some of the game’s best fans in Oakland.
To his credit, Goodell did make clear his preference to find a way to keep the Raiders in Oakland if at all possible, but according to our sources he won’t be doing anything more to make that happen than paying it lip service.
The bottom line is that the NFL expects its fans to cherish it above all else, but when it comes time for the game to give something back, forget about it.
The league makes more than enough money that it should be building its own monuments to its 32 owners if they truly believe they are necessary to support healthy franchises, not selling out to the highest bidder no matter how unsavory they may be at the expense of its loyal fans.
There are other issues as well
If Goodell and his bosses are serious about keeping fans from finding other ways to spend their leisure time, they may want to realize what a sad joke "Thursday Night Football" is, some weeks available only on cable or satellite TV, and how unfair it is to the players.
A serious approach to the sad state of its officiating would be another way to cause fans to think twice about looking elsewhere for a good game to watch.
The quality of officiating has declined noticeably in recent years – apparently to everybody but Goodell – and is eminently repairable with efforts like full-time officials who are better trained, younger and better athletes able to keep up with the athletes they are monitoring, but the league can’t be bothered.
A serious effort to acknowledge the dangers of traumatic brain injuries, help its retired players and make the game safer for the current ones rather than the un-legislateable rules the league has introduced in recent years that have clearly done nothing but weakened the quality of officiating would be a big help too.
We can go on and on, but the evidence is overwhelming our concern is falling on deaf ears.
We couldn’t possibly love the NFL more, in part because it is our livelihoods, but in much larger part because it is the greatest game in the world and we hate the idea of seeing it destroyed by the greed and disregard for its customer base by the powers-that-be who own and control it.
The way we see it, the commissioner and the 32 owners he works for have a clear choice to make right now.
Acknowledge this drop in TV ratings for the clear warning signal it is, that there is real trouble on the horizon if they don’t stop ignoring the damage they are doing with their focus on profits rather than the health of their industry.
Or they can just keep racing down the path they’re on right now and wake up one day before we know it and realize they now own thoroughbred racing, professional boxing or some other now irrelevant but some time in the past sport of kings.
Every coach on every football team uses that term at some point, and what he's referring to is handing presents to the opposition.
There were 40 of them (counting a blocked punt at Arizona) in Sunday's 13 games. The ugliest display of butterfingers, sloppiness or bad luck came in Philadelphia, where two of the better teams in the early going, Minnesota and Philadelphia, combined for eight turnovers . Yep, the previously unbeaten Vikings, who had one giveaway all season, committed four. The Eagles had lost the ball twice in five games, and they also had four.
Good defense? At times. More often in this one, it was bad offense.
"I thought we played embarrassing really is the word, in at least two of the phases," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after a 21-10 defeat. "We turned the ball over offensively, we didn't block people, we dropped balls, we got the quarterback hit. We got third-and-2 inches and we can't convert; on third down or fourth down. We had three shots in the red zone in the first half, we throw an interception. We gave up a 98-yard kickoff return. We fumbled a punt.
"So if you're going to do those things, you have no chance to win."
Even though the Eagles gave the Vikings plenty of opportunities by losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions. And their rookie quarterback knew enough to term that a no-no.
"You're going to make mistakes, those things are going to happen," Carson Wentz said. "We have to clean some things up. I think we had four turnovers today. That's never good. You usually don't win too many games when you do that, but our defense played unbelievable and kept us in the ballgame."
That it did — helped greatly by some ineptitude by Minnesota's offense.
Even worse was what the Rams brought to London. English fans are getting more sophisticated about the American brand of football, so they should have recognized the crudity Case Keenum and the Rams showed.
Yes, the Giants finally found a pass rush, something they spent a whole lot of money for. That pressure forced some terrible blocking, leading to most of New York's four interceptions — two each by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins , who ran one back for a touchdown.
The Giants won 17-10, and L.A.'s self-inflicted wounds were the difference.
"It's a momentum changer," Collins said of pickoffs. "When you get an interception, it takes a lot out of the defense on the other side of the field, and takes a lot out of that offense because that's where the trust issues come in."
Fans can trust that when the weather gets ugly, as it will deeper into the season, turnovers could become even more common. It's nearly always a guarantee that teams leading the turnover differential (it's not a ratio if it involves plus and minus, broadcast folks) at the end of the schedule are also in the playoffs, often in the Super Bowl.
Remember that this was a relatively mild Sunday in October on which there were three games played indoors, too. Folks who like to see gifts and giveaways can look to, appropriately, the day before Christmas, with contests at Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Green Bay, and New England. Plus a night game two days earlier in Philadelphia, and late-afternoon or night contests in Pittsburgh and Kansas City on Christmas itself.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh certainly isn't thinking that far ahead. His team has dropped four straight, and the Ravens had three giveaways Sunday. They head into their bye with turnovers on their mind.
"The focus is going to be learning how to play winning football, it's as simple as that," Harbaugh said. "All the things that go into that — playing with discipline, intelligence, fundamentally sound football, and getting better at the things we need to get better at."
It starts with not being charitable.
Let's not write off the NFL just yet, no matter what the declining TV ratings say. Still, this was one long day of tedious, bad football that showcased various problems with the current state of the game.
All the ugliness concluded as Sunday turned to Monday on the East Coast with a "Can you believe that?!" 6-6 tie between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals after each team's kicker missed a gimme field goal attempt late in overtime. Even folks with an appreciation for stingy defense had to be face-palming at the way that one ended.
It all began about 15 hours earlier in London, where Case Keenum threw four interceptions — including one on a ridiculously amateurish miscommunication to thwart what could have been a game-tying drive late — in the Los Angeles Rams' 17-10 loss to the New York Giants.
In between, there were other duds that featured sloppy offense, tons of turnovers, plenty of punts and penalties, questionable coaching or various other instances of the sort of blah, take-it-or-leave-it, non-action that led Washington coach Jay Gruden to refer to his team's 20-17 loss against the Detroit Lions (which was 3-all at halftime) this way: "It was kind of a snoozer there, for a while."
Tell us about it, Jay.
Or as Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of his previously unbeaten team's performance in a 21-10 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game that included a combined half-dozen turnovers in the first half alone: "'Embarrassing,' really, is the word, in at least two of the phases."
Could have been talking about much of the league, really.
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season's seventh Sunday:
NO GOFF: Somehow, Rams coach Jeff Fisher sees fit to keep trotting Keenum out there and keep No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff on the bench. No matter how unprepared he might be, Goff couldn't possibly give the team less of a chance to win than Keenum did Sunday — could he? "Jared is going to play when we feel Jared is ready," Fisher said, adding: "We didn't lose this game because of quarterback play." You sure about that, Coach? And even if it's true, why not get Goff some experience?
DOUBLE 200: Miami Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi joined some exclusive company by running for 214 yards in a 28-25 victory over the Buffalo Bills, making him only the fourth player in NFL history to top 200 on the ground in consecutive games. The others? O.J. Simpson — yes, THAT O.J. Simpson — Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
LANDRY'S HIT: Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry leveled Bills S Aaron Williams by launching into him and putting a shoulder into his helmet. The shot sent Williams to the hospital with head and neck injuries. "Definitely a cheap hit," Bills CB Nickell Robey-Coleman said.
GREEN'S CATCH: What a catch! On an old-fashioned, close-your-eyes-and-chuck-it Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half, Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green — surrounded by defenders — juggled the ball before corralling it with one hand while landing on his back in the end zone for a 48-yard TD in a 31-17 victory over winless Cleveland.
AT 43, VINATIERI GETS 43: Indy's Adam Vinatieri, still kickin' at age 43, made two field goals in a 34-26 victory at Tennessee, giving him 43 successful attempts in a row, breaking the record set by former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt from 2002-04.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals stumbled to a 6-6 tie Sunday night in the desert, the fourth deadlock since the NFL instituted new overtime rules prior to the 2012-13 season.
The NFL's latest draw was better for a laugh than a thrill. Both kickers made field goals early in the OT, but then Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro bounced a 24-yard would-be winner off the left upright before Seattle's Stephen Hauschka missed a 27-yarder with 7 seconds left. That concluded a game that featured no touchdowns, no turnovers and 16 punts.
Here are the three other ties under the league's current OT format:
49ERS 24, RAMS 24 — NOV. 11, 2012
The first tie with the new rules would have been a tie under the old ones. The NFC West-leading 49ers could have won midway through the extra session, but David Akers missed wide left on a 41-yard field goal. Greg Zuerlein later appeared to make a 53-yarder for visiting St. Louis, but the Rams were called for delay of game. Zuerlein tried again from 58 yards but missed to the right with 2:42 left in OT. One 49ers punt and a stalled Rams drive later, and the league had its first tie in four years.
PACKERS 26, VIKINGS 26 — NOV. 24, 2013
This NFC North standstill was the first in which both teams scored in overtime. Second-string quarterback Matt Flynn helped the Packers rally from a 23-7 deficit in the fourth quarter, and Mason Crosby put the them ahead 26-23 with a 20-yard field goal 4 1/2 minutes into OT. The visiting Vikings rallied for a 12-play drive that ended with Blair Walsh's 35-yard field goal with 3:54 left. Green Bay punted twice and Minnesota once over the next three possessions, and then Minnesota ran one fruitless play with a second left to complete the tie.
BENGALS 37, PANTHERS 37 — OCT. 12, 2014
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton only missed on one pass in overtime — a sack-saving throwaway — and Cam Newton engineered a 12-play scoring drive in OT for visiting Carolina, but this one still ended in a tie. Mike Nugent made a 42-yard field goal for the Bengals about 7 1/2 minutes into OT, and then Newton helped set up Graham Gano's 36-yard field goal with 2:19 left on the clock. Dalton drove Cincinnati back down the field, but Nugent missed wide right on the final play of the game.
Here are Arthur Arkush's three quick takeaways from the Week Seven late-afternoon action:
1. There's plenty of spark left in Mike McCoy's Chargers, who have their first winning streak since Weeks 11-13 of the 2014 season after a thrilling comeback victory in overtime on the road in Atlanta. Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Tyrell Williams were all fantastic on offense.
But the biggest hero for the Chargers, whose four losses this season have come by a combined 14 points, is Denzel Perryman. He came up with a critical interception of Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter with Atlanta trying to make it a two-score game. Then, in overtime, it was Perryman stuffing Melvin Gordon on third down to get the ball in Rivers' hands to position Josh Lambo for the game-winning field goal.
Perryman has struggled with injuries a bit since being drafted in the second round a year ago, but he's one of several young Chargers who help form an exciting nucleus for the team. Joey Bosa had two more sacks, beating Jake Matthews and Ryan Schrader with effort and quickness, respectively. Jatavis Brown has played well in Manti Te'o's absence, much like Williams and Hunter Henry filling in offensively.
McCoy still has a tall mountain to climb to get back into AFC West contention, but this team is better than its record indicates, and has overcome a ton already. Remember, it's not solely about reaching the postseason. San Diego has a huge stadium vote coming in a couple of weeks, and the inspired play after they were all but buried two short weeks ago can only help.
2. Julio Jones (9-174-0) is a machine, and Atlanta has a reasonable qualm about a missed pass interference penalty on Jones on the final drive that came up short for a second straight week. But we just can't fully buy what Dan Quinn and Co. are selling until this team plays more defense, Quinn's supposed calling card. Vic Beasley has jolted the pass rush a bit, and Atlanta held the Bolts to 3.0 yards per carry, but they weren't able to put away the plucky Chargers in a bounce-back game at home.
Worse, as great as Ryan has been, he had a terrible interception to position San Diego for its game-tying drive. He still doesn't have enough places to look aside from Jones, whom he was targeting on the pick. And with Tevin Coleman exiting with a hamstring injury, Devonta Freeman might have to continue being superb — with a smaller margin for error and a less diversified backfield — if Coleman misses time.
A stiff test in Week Eight stands between the Falcons and a three-game losing streak when a well rested Packers club visits Atlanta. If the defense gives up 30 again to a Packers offense that might have started to figure things out versus the Bears, much of the good will Quinn has built up in a hot start will have been squandered.
3. Perhaps the greatness of Bill Belichick has spoiled us. But anyone expecting a road blowout of the Landry Jones-led Steelers likely found New England's 27-16 triumph rather unconvincing. We know, style points don't exist in the NFL. But a few trouble areas we're not used to seeing emerged for New England, namely spotty special teams and a lackluster pass rush.
Stephen Gostkowski now has three missed PATs dating back to last year's AFC Championship game. Julian Edelman fumbled a punt return in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh had a few solid kickoff returns while averaging 27.0 yards a pop.
It'll be interesting to see how Belichick, who places so much importance in the third phase, reacts this week. We have no idea what's up with Gostkowski, but this is unchartered waters for the Patriots.
As for the pass rush, even with Jamie Collins back from injury, not much to speak of (0 sacks, 1 QB hit). New England typically prays on inexperienced QBs but struggled to penetrate Pittsburgh's O-line and capitalize against Jones, whom the Pats picked off once but could've easily gotten on several other occasions.
Again, at 6-1 and atop the AFC, these are Patriots-level problems. But rest assured Belichick will be bent on corrections with these lagging areas ahead of a trip to Buffalo in Week Eight.
And just a quick thought on Pittsburgh: Is it possible the Steelers missed Cameron Heyward nearly as much as Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday? Landry Jones was serviceable, even at times missing his top four wideouts. But it's the second week in a row a power back has ran over the Steelers defense.
For that reason, we didn't like Mike Tomlin's decision to attempt a 53-yard field goal with his team down by 11 late. They hadn't shown an ability to stop LeGarrette Blount, so why not go for it in a game no one gave them a chance to win anyway? Tomlin will have several things to mull over during the bye week in addition to the health of Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, who was in and out of the lineup after injuring his hip.
Geno Smith's return to the starting lineup came to a premature end on Sunday, with the New York Jets quarterback exiting a 24-16 win over Baltimore with a right knee injury in the second quarter.
The start was Smith's first of the year, and he was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started the previous 22 games for New York before being bench after last week.
Smith injured his knee while taking a sack from Baltimore's Matthew Judon. He was taken to the locker room and later returned to the field in street clothes, and he'll have an MRI this week. Before the injury, Smith finished 4 of 8 for 95 yards and a touchdown.
"It's frustrating to get injured, no matter what point in the game it is," Smith said. "The key thing is we won the game today."
Fitzpatrick, who had thrown an NFL-leading 11 interceptions before he was benched, was an efficient 9 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown — and no interceptions. Running back Matt Forte provided much of the offense for New York, rushing for 100 yards and also finishing with four catches for 54 yards.
Also on Sunday, Cleveland's quarterback woes continued with Cody Kessler suffering a concussion. Kessler was hit hard while throwing a shovel pass on a scramble, and he was replaced by rookie Kevin Hogan. Kessler was 9 of 11 for 82 yards before his injury.
In Buffalo, LeSean McCoy's nagging left hamstring issue flared up, with the NFL's second-leading rusher being forced to leave the Bills game at Miami in the third quarter. It was decisive as Miami rallied to win with McCoy sidelined.
McCoy had been questionable after hurting himself in practice Wednesday, but he started and totaled 11 yards on eight carries before departing.
Bills safety Aaron Williams suffered a head and neck injury when Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a block in the second quarter. Landry hit Williams high, leading with his shoulder. Williams remained on his back for a couple of minutes before he slowly rose and was led to the locker room.
The penalty was declined because Buffalo instead accepted an unrelated penalty on the Dolphins.
Williams missed most of last season when he underwent neck surgery following an injury that threatened his career.
Washington cornerback Josh Norman was also forced to leave the Redskins game against Detroit, suffering a concussion and appearing to injure his left shoulder while defending a catch by the Lions' Marvin Jones.
Norman laid on the turn before walking off the field very slowly and being carted to the locker room.
In Philadelphia, Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks was carted off the field after suffering a right knee injury late while making a tackle in the first quarter. Brooks stayed down on the ground for a few minutes and appeared to be in pain while trainers worked on his leg. He was immediately ruled out.
The injury woes for Tennessee, which has already lost right guard Chance Warmack to injured reserve, continued with left guard Quinton Spain carted off with a right knee injury early in the second quarter.
Spain went down during an incomplete pass. Trainers and a doctor examined his right knee, then put him on a cart to take him to the locker room.
An undrafted free agent last year out of West Virginia, Spain worked his way into the starting spot at left guard late last season and kept that job this season. He was replaced Sunday by Brian Schwenke.
In a late game, Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman hurt his hamstring in the third quarter. Coleman, who splits carries with starter Devonta Freeman, ran eight times for 64 yards and a touchdown against San Diego before getting hurt.
For San Diego, defensive tackle Caraun Reid was carted off the field with a left knee injury.
Reid was injured midway through the first quarter when his teammate, linebacker Denzel Perryman, dived down and accidentally trapped Reid's left leg under the weight of his body. Both players were defending a catch by Atlanta tight end Levine Toilolo.
Reid, the No. 3 defensive tackle behind Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane, laid on the turf for several minutes before getting helped to the cart.
Here are Arthur Arkush's five quick takeaways from the Week Seven early slate:
1. The Vikings have overcome catastrophic injuries at quarterback and running back. Their inability to find answers along an offensive line that's lost its starting tackles for the season leads the list of reasons they're no longer undefeated after getting pummeled by Jim Schwartz's opportunistic Eagles 'D.' Worse, without answers, the line is likely to threaten Sam Bradford's ability to play 16 games and Minnesota's Super Bowl candidacy.
In Bradford's return to Philadelphia, he was terrible, accounting for two of five consecutive giveaways combined by the two teams in the first quarter, a first in the NFL in nearly 11 years. But Bradford (six sacks) never had a chance behind Minnesota's revolving OT door of T.J. Clemmings and Jake Long, who after signing just a week ago could be cut almost as fast after Sunday's performance.
Credit Schwartz for an aggressive game plan, wherein pressure came from all over the field to confuse a makeshift Vikings unit that wasn't strong even before Matt Kalil and Andre Smith went down for the season. More so than exposing Bradford, Schwartz might have created a blueprint to beat Minnesota, ironically the same formula the Vikings' defense toppled its first five opponents with — unrelenting pressure and battering of quarterbacks.
In fairness to the offensive line, Minnesota also wasn't winning this one with the special teams playing its worst game. A 98-yard kickoff return touchdown by Josh Huff and a Marcus Sherels fumbled punt led to 10 of Philadelphia's 21 points — the most Minnesota has surrendered since last November.
The Vikings have overcome a remarkable amount of adversity this season to get the benefit of the doubt they'll correct Sunday's awful post-bye performance. But short of another stunning trade to add OT help, it's hard to envision how they can fix their protection issues with the resources on hand.
2. Credit Schwartz and the Eagles' defense, after a pair of shaky showings followed their strong 3-0 start, for picking up Carson Wentz and the offense. With the Giants breaking their own slide and Washington unable to continue its surge on its own error-filled day, Philadelphia got a much-needed victory.
Wentz won't see a lot of defenses better than Minnesota's, so for his Eagles to escape with a win is huge in a division that figures to remain wide open for some time. Even during a bad day, Wentz showed poise after the brutal start to lead a touchdown drive and prevent his early missteps from avalanching.
3. Avalanche is an apt way of describing Washington's chain of self-inflicted wounds Sunday, but Kirk Cousins still nearly bailed out Matt Jones (two fumbles, including one into Detroit's end zone) and Dustin Hopkins (missed FG). Cousins delivered another strong outing, and would-be game-winning drive within two minutes, including several big-boy throws and a 19-yard touchdown on a zone-read keeper.
"Would-be," of course. is the key phrase, as Matthew Stafford added to his impressive career crunch-time resume with his 24th game-winning drive in his 100th game. Stafford used his arm and legs in the final minute to rally Detroit to its third consecutive victory since seemingly hitting rock-bottom in Chicago three weeks ago.
Both of these teams remain squarely in the postseason mix near the halfway point, but it's hard to believe in either, even with the quarterbacks playing well. Already without two of its top three defenders, and with Ziggy Ansah still clearly hampered by injury, Detroit lost corner Darius Slay to a hamstring. Detroit's secondary was already in shambles prior to its best player going down.
Washington and its own injury-decimated secondary lost Josh Norman to a concussion, in addition to losing franchise LT Trent Williams with what could be a serious knee injury.
4. If Schwartz wasn't the best defensive play-caller early Sunday, that honor goes to Steve Spagnuolo. Facing his former team, Spag's Giants made life miserable for Case Keenum (four interceptions), consistently confusing the Rams' quarterback and coaxing great contributions from his high-priced secondary.
Like the Eagles, the G-Men picked up a sputtering offense with tenacious 'D.' Landon Collins had a pair of picks, Janoris Jenkins continued supplying sticky coverage and New York took advantage of the Rams' offensive ineptitude to climb above .500 and remain viable in the crowded NFC East.
As for the Rams, well, Jeff Fisher's team dropped its third straight to fall exactly where he promised not to be at season's end — a game below .500. And after throwing the game-sealing interception in a third consecutive contest, Keenum has reached his ceiling: a quarterback just good enough to get the Rams beat.
Most of us realize Fisher is again at his perennially average ceiling, but he's Teflon Fisher so he'll probably be safe to make the trip home from London. That's a luxury other undeserving coaches haven't been afford by apparently less patient owners than Stan Kroenke, and we wonder if Kroenke won't soon interject when it comes to that rookie QB who's yet to get a chance, also known as Fisher's ace in the hole.
The coach continues to say the top pick isn't ready, but let's see if that changes over the bye week. After all, the Rams continuing to be a middling club isn't changing, so how can Kroenke not demand to start the future at quarterback now? A smart businessman, Kroenke knows continuing to sit the rookie as the season gets away from his team is bad for business. And if he doesn't, Rob Lowe reminded all of us on Twitter Sunday with this gem: "Note to @Rams front office: you now play in the entertainment capital of the world. We know bad performances well. Make changes NOW. #NFL."
Changes should come. Whether Fisher, now just the third coach in NFL history with 160 losses and five shy of Dan Reeves' all-time record, is among them can't be ruled out.
5. We need to finish by acknowledging two record-breaking individual performances Sunday, spurring the record-holder's clubs to huge victories. First, the beautiful symmetry of 43-year-old Adam Vinatieri converting a new NFL record 43rd consecutive three-pointer. Say what you will about specialists belonging in Canton, but saying anything other than Vinatieri should be a lock is silly at this point. Mr. Clutch has two Super Bowl game-winners and now the best stretch ever in the regular season. Indianapolis needed all Vinatieri's help it could get Sunday, too, in avoiding a second consecutive fourth quarter collapse to survive the Titans and get off the AFC South schneid.
Secondly, it was a fun run Arian Foster, but you've officially been replaced by Jay Ajayi. The second-year pile driver became just the fourth back ever to tally consecutive 200-yard rushing days, joining Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Jim Brown, and, of course, fellow dread-locked Dolphin Ricky Williams.
Ajayi went 29-214-1, and unlike the sieve San Francisco run 'D' a week ago, he did it against the rival Bills' previously stout group. Miami suddenly has a two-game winning streak against playoff hopefuls, and Adam Gase has his offensive centerpiece to take pressure off Ryan Tannehill.