AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

He’s back.  QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY will start Sunday night against the Rams.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The Chicago Bears are on track to have their starting quarterback back in the lineup for Week 14.

 

Mitchell Trubisky (right shoulder) put in a full practice Thursday for a second consecutive day and is set to start Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

 

Trubisky hasn’t played since Week 11 and the Bears went 1-1 in his absence with backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

 

The second-year pro’s return comes at a good time given a prime-time showdown with the Bears (8-4) hosting the Rams (11-1) at Soldier Field.

 

Trubisky also gets an exploitable matchup given the Rams enter Week 14 ranked 17th against the pass, allowing 248.9 yards per game.

 

 

DETROIT

Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com is trying to figure out where the Lions are with MATTHEW STAFFORD – which actually is something we shouldn’t be doing 10 seasons in.

 

The question has come up often this season, posed to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, to other players and even to Matthew Stafford himself.

 

What has been going on with the franchise quarterback this year? Why has he played at a level that hasn’t been commensurate with what he has done in the past? And what, as he finishes his 10th season in Detroit — another season without a winning record, a division title or, likely, a playoff berth — does it all mean for the present and the future of Stafford with the Lions?

 

The immediate present is that Stafford is going nowhere, at least not for the 2019 season. The contract extension he signed, which would incur almost a $30 million cap hit if the team were to trade him this offseason, is too limiting. He’ll have at least next season, perhaps with a new offensive coordinator, to show that this season was an aberration instead of a regression.

 

But is he a quarterback with whom the Lions can win?

 

“Certainly, [he] is a leader of our team from a standpoint of his work ethic, his toughness, his energy, the way he pushes, the way that he drives to go out and compete every single day,” Patricia said. “As a coach, you want players that are going to go out there and try to work hard to get better, and that’s what he does every single day. So again, he’s the guy that leads our team, leads our offense. And he’s put in some really tough situations, and he sticks them out and pushes through and just does a great job of continually going after it.

 

“For us, that’s what we’re banking on, and that’s what he gives us, and we’re pushing forward with that.”

 

For 10 years, the Lions have banked on it, from taking Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 to giving him a then-NFL record $135 million contract before the start of the 2017 season to keep him with the Lions, in theory, through at least 2022.

 

He’s also one of the few quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era who has played 10 years with one team. That is somewhat even more surprising because of the relative lack of success he has had in that time period. Yet Detroit has stuck with Stafford no matter what.

 

In the Super Bowl era, only 44 quarterbacks including Stafford have played 10 seasons with one team — some didn’t do so consecutively — and started at least one game in each of those seasons. Some quarterbacks, such as Brett Favre, went to other teams as well. Of those 44, only nine had losing records — something Stafford will have even if the Lions win their four remaining games — in their tenures with the team. Stafford, with a 64-73 record, has the fourth-worst win percentage among quarterbacks who have played 10 seasons for one team. Only Archie Manning (35-91-3 with New Orleans), Mike Livingston (31-44-1 with Kansas City) and Steve Bartkowski (56-69 with Atlanta) have done worse.

 

None of those quarterbacks lasted more than 11 seasons with his club.

 

Of the 44, only nine either never made the Pro Bowl or appeared just once, including Stafford (and former Lions quarterback Greg Landry). Just seven — Manning, Livingston, Landry, Brian Sipe, Jim Hart, Steve Grogan and Stafford — have never won a playoff game. Stafford and Grogan are the 10-year guys with the most playoff losses without a win, with three.

 

In this pass-happy era of the NFL, nine active quarterbacks have been with their teams for 10 seasons or more. Stafford is the only one with a win percentage under .500 and the only one not to win a playoff game. Actually, all of the other active quarterbacks have a minimum of four playoff wins — Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers — and they are the only other quarterbacks with under-.500 playoff records with 10 years with their teams. Other than Stafford and Joe Flacco, all have been to at least four Pro Bowls as well.

 

Stafford’s career statistics are undeniably good: 37,835 yards, 234 touchdowns and 129 interceptions, and he is one of a handful of players to have thrown for 5,000 yards in a season. His career is a tough one to judge, too. He came in taking over the first 0-16 team in NFL history, so his first two years in Detroit were awful. The Lions had a combined 3-10 record that, if it were stricken from his ledger, Stafford would still be under .500 in his career but at a more palatable 61-63.

 

Stafford is also on his third head coach, third offensive coordinator and second general manager. Some, such as Jim Caldwell, have made better progress with Stafford than others. None, though, seemingly has made the most of the talent he has, with the closest coming in 2016 and 2017 with Caldwell, Cooter and an offense that took chances downfield while trying to control clock.

 

This season hasn’t been kind. Stafford is on pace for his fewest yards since 2010, a career high in sacks and his most interceptions since 2013, when he was in an offense that took more chances and went deep far more often under Scott Linehan.

 

It all leads to the same question in a tough season: Is Stafford a quarterback you can win big with? That’s the answer Lions management needs to figure out over the next season-plus.

 

If he is, they need to work on supporting that. If he isn’t, the Lions need to start putting together an exit strategy — either via trade or by drafting his potential replacement — for the long-term future of the franchise.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Standard operating procedure is that when a head coach is fired, he puts his old locker room in the rear view mirror, never to return.  Not so in Green Bay in 2018.  Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:

 

Don’t expect to hear much in the near future from Mike McCarthy after he was fired by the Green Bay Packers with four games left in his 13th season as head coach.

 

He told ESPN.com that he planned to “lay low and try to finish this professional chapter on the high road,” and a source close to McCarthy said he was pondering whether to pursue a head-coaching job this offseason or take the year off and remain in Green Bay, where his family has deep roots.

 

But before he got out of town for a weekend breather, he was afforded the opportunity to return to Lambeau Field not once, but twice since he was let go on Sunday.

 

Team president Mark Murphy, with the blessing of general manager Brian Gutekunst, vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball and interim coach Joe Philbin, let McCarthy come back Tuesday to speak with his coaching staff and again Wednesday to address the players — something he didn’t get to do on Sunday after the decision was made.

 

“We all saw him as a staff, which was great,” Philbin said Thursday. “Then we talked, and he wanted an opportunity to speak with the team. I was 100 percent, fully supportive of [it], and he did a fantastic job talking to the team. Not just about football and winning football games, but his passion. His passion for the game, his love for the players was clearly evident. I’m sure it was emotional for him and everybody in the room. It was awesome. I thought he did a great job.”

 

Players gave McCarthy a standing ovation in the meeting on Wednesday. Linebacker Clay Matthews called it “warranted and deserved.”

 

“I was happy to see him,” Matthews said. “Obviously, first things first, you understand that this is a business and not many people get that opportunity. And the player, as well. We’re in the same boat. For him to invest the past 13 years in this team, has given his heart and soul to us, to have that kind of closure, it was great of the organization — Joe, Gutey, Mark and everybody that allowed him to come in and say his piece. I know we really enjoyed it. I’m sure he did from a closure standpoint. Obviously, we gave him the respect he deserved and sent him off with some final words.”

 

Defensive tackle Kenny Clark said McCarthy “just let us know and tell us how much he cared about us and the job and just the Packers and Green Bay in general. It was really cool just to get to see him and talk to him one last time before he left.”

 

Philbin said he has talked multiple times with McCarthy since the change was made Sunday night.

 

“That’s the Green Bay Packer way, right?” Philbin said. “This is a first-class organization all the way around. I think it’s been that way for 100 seasons, I would guess. I’m not that old, but I’m guessing it’s been like that for a long time. We do things the right way around here. Mark and Russ and Brian were all totally supportive, they think that was the right thing to do, as did I. Hopefully it will help.”

 

McCarthy’s address to the team came on Wednesday morning. McCarthy’s wife, Jessica, is a Green Bay area native and together they have five children, four of whom are school-age. The Pittsburgh native has said over the years that he will always consider Green Bay to be his home now.

 

“He spoke to the team yesterday and that was good,” Murphy said on WTMJ radio. “I think Mike wanted some closure with the players and some of the other coaches to be able to thank them and say goodbye to them as well.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com on the upcoming QB DAK PRESCOTT contract negotiations:

 

Less than three weeks ago, with the Dallas Cowboys coming off a pair of solid road wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, team owner Jerry Jones put a price tag on how he valued quarterback Dak Prescott. Not only was Jones promising to sign him to a long-term extension, he boasted he wouldn’t trade him for two first-round picks.

 

“He’s our future,” Jones said.

 

That was before the past two weeks, which saw Dallas seize control of the NFC East and beat the NFL’s best team, the New Orleans Saints, in a signature 2018 win. If Jones loved Prescott when the Cowboys were just trying to climb out of mediocrity, how much does he love him now, with the team finally rolling again and looking to hit its full stride in the next month? More to the point, what must Jones pay in that promised extension?

 

In an effort to get a handle on that Prescott extension, Yahoo Sports polled a handful of opposing team executives and agents with experience negotiating quarterback deals. For added value, the sources were also asked to project the future of three other big Dallas deals on the horizon, including the immediate priorities of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and wideout Amari Cooper, and the further-out priority of running back Ezekiel Elliott. The responses were varied, but the overall notion was not. Essentially, Dallas is looking at a monster payout, potentially adding as much as $65 million or more in annual salary this offseason via extensions for Prescott, Lawrence and Cooper. A number that will bloat with an Elliott extension that isn’t expected by anyone to hit the books until 2020 at the earliest (and maybe as late as 2021). Factoring in that deal, it’s possible Dallas could be paying the foursome of Prescott, Elliott, Lawrence and Cooper as much as $80 million to $85 million combined per season as early as 2020.

 

Maybe the only surprise in the assessments? Prescott’s salary balloon (think: $25 million per season … or considerably more). With that in mind, here was the brass-tacks thought process on each player’s negotiation.

 

There will be a thousand ways to slice up this one, but everyone agrees on one thing: Prescott hired CAA last offseason to make certain he’s going to land near the top of the NFL’s quarterback heap when he signs his extension. CAA has previously signed record-setting quarterback deals with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford, New York Giants’ Eli Manning and Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers. Prescott signed with CAA because of this history of QB deals. That signals what he’s going to be pushing for in this extension.

 

We’ll see if Prescott can live up to that worth. But there’s a lot of debate about what the measuring stick is for him. Looking for NFL quarterback comparisons, his numbers and win percentages heading to the end of his third year as a starter compare favorably to the recent years of Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, who is also represented by CAA. Smith’s numbers are key, having been established last offseason, when he signed a four-year $94 million extension. The deal included $55 million guaranteed at signing and an annual average salary of $23.5 million. Smith’s deal also had $71 million in total guarantees, including those for injury – a wrinkle that became relevant last month when Smith suffered a potential career-ending broken leg.

 

Interestingly, a handful of agents and team executives believe the Smith contract will likely be seen as far too cheap by CAA when it comes to “new money” figures. Particularly if Prescott continues the upward trend that began with the trade for Cooper five games ago.

 

“That [Smith contract] is conservative, honestly,” one AFC executive said. “Especially with the agents knowing that your owner said he wouldn’t trade the quarterback for two [first-round picks], the age of [Dak] and the salary-cap growth driving numbers.”

 

Considering the cap’s growth and Prescott likely signing his extension this offseason at the age of 25, the AFC executive pegged Prescott’s next deal as being more in line with “at least” $25 million to $26 million per year and maybe as high as $27 million per year in new money. That sounds crazy, but the thinking has a lot to do with Jones opening his mouth about Dak’s worth on the trade market. Jones essentially called Prescott a franchise player when he put the “two first-round picks” tag on him – and arguably considers him even more valuable than a franchise-tagged player, since he said that he wouldn’t take two firsts.

 

What this means at the bargaining table is that if Prescott is a franchise player and his current contract runs through 2019, the franchise tag estimations in 2020 and ’21 come into play. We don’t know what those figures will be, but using past data, a conservative estimate for the 2020 franchise tag will be $26 million to $27 million. Considering all the money pumping into quarterback deals, let’s call it an even $27 million. That would mean tagging Prescott a second time in 2021 would cost Dallas $32.4 million. That’s roughly $60 million for two seasons in guaranteed money at signing as a simple baseline. The last quarterback deal CAA did where guarantees at signing fell at $60 million was Matthew Stafford, whose salary averages $27 million per season.

 

Before Cowboys fans flip out, it’s worth noting the “new” money would kick in after 2019. So for practical purposes, you could look at the guarantees and Dak’s 2019 salary – which will be around $2 million due to NFL performance adjustments – and essentially equate it to paying Prescott $60 million to $65 million from 2019-2021 … an average of $21 million to $22 million per season before jumping up over $27 million per season for the remainder of the deal.

 

That may seem like a lot of money for Prescott. But it’s the price of doing business when the team owner essentially called him a franchise player.

 

 

WASHINGTON

It’s been three weeks since QB ALEX SMITH shattered his leg and his health situation sounds somewhat dire.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith unfortunately has more to deal with outside of his season-ending leg injury.

 

Smith is in the hospital battling an infection related to the surgery he underwent to repair a broken fibula and tibia, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via sources informed of the situation.

 

Rapoport emphasized it is premature to speculate over Smith’s playing career, adding the infection is being addressed with care by the doctors.

 

The Redskins later issued a statement on Twitter: “On behalf of Alex Smith, we appreciate all of the concerns and prayers over the injury he incurred on November 18th against the Houston Texans. Although this is a serious injury, Alex and his family remain strong. We would ask that everyone please honor the Smith family’s request for privacy at this time.”

 

“I think the statement says it all. I was asked by Alex, his wife, his dad, his mom, not to really go into any detail on this process,” coach Jay Gruden said when asked during a press conference Thursday. “[They] asked to respect their privacy. That’s what I’m going to do. I think when the time is right Alex will address the media and we’ll go from there.”

 

This from Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Thursday brought word that Washington quarterback Alex Smith‘s recovery from a broken tibia and fibula is being impacted by an infection in his leg and the team relayed Smith’s request for privacy while he continues his recovery.

 

As a result of that request, head coach Jay Gruden and others from the team declined to discuss any specifics about Smith’s condition. A group of teammates did visit with Smith earlier this week, though, and they spoke generally about the quarterback’s toughness.

 

Cornerback Josh Norman referred to Smith’s “warrior type of mentality” and tight end Vernon Davis, who also played with Smith in their 49ers days, echoed that sentiment.

 

“Alex is the most resilient man I’ve ever met,” Davis said, via the Washington Post.

 

The reports on Thursday included concerns about Smith’s future as a player, but that didn’t come up as his teammates expressed their thoughts and concerns for his overall health.

 

What a great word “resilient” is.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Interesting thoughts from Coach Sean Payton on the intersection of analytics and gut football.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Saints coach Sean Payton is a believer in analytics, and has adopted the aggressive stance on fourth downs that analytics experts have been saying coaches should adopt for years. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fourth-down decisions he’d like to have back.

 

Payton said on PFT Live that he regrets the Saints’ failed fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line against the Cowboys last week, even though the analytics said it was the right call.

 

“I do think that’s where analytics have changed in a positive way,” Payton said. “I think we’re more educated.”

 

So why does Payton wish he could have that fourth-and-goal decision back? Because each game is different, and in that Cowboys game, he knew points would be at a premium and went into the game thinking a field goal would be a positive result for any drive.

 

“I kick myself for two or three different situations in that game, not handling them the right way,” Payton said. “We have an opportunity to score, it’s fourth-and-1, I know our fourth down numbers are good, I felt like we had a good plan, and yet, in that game? Kick the field goal.”

 

Payton also said he doesn’t always want to use his best goal line plays early in a game because he might need them for later. And he said one reason he doesn’t go for two more often is that he doesn’t want to show opposing defenses his best goal line plays and would rather save them for when they might score a touchdown.

 

“The numbers are important,” he said. “But how do we feel like, with our play inventory, at that point in the game? So if I’m inside the 5-yard line, and I’ve got a section of two-point plays, and let’s say I love two of these. I love them. Certainly if I love this play I want to score six with it. So if I love this play for two, I might wait until the second half.”

 

Payton made a point of crediting the Cowboys and not shortchanging the way Dallas played, but he also believes he could have given his team a better chance to win. Perhaps even by going against what the chart on his clipboard told him to do.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

RICHARD SHERMAN sees safety in his future.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

– San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman just turned 30 in March, but he has already begun having thoughts and conversations about how the rest of his career might play out.

 

During his weekly media session Thursday, Sherman offered the number he has in mind as a retirement age and suggested that a position change from corner to free safety could happen before he reaches that number.

 

“I think 35 is probably my cutoff,” Sherman said. “They’d have a hard time getting me out of the bed at 35 to go play, so I think I’ve got about four or five more [seasons] in me. At some point, everybody makes the transition to safety and if you’re smart enough to play that game and I’ll probably do that in a couple of years or whenever the team needs.”

 

A potential move to safety might be a couple of years away, but Sherman said he has already begun looking into what a move might entail and what might appeal to him about it.

 

As part of that research, Sherman, who has two years left on his contract with the 49ers, said he had spoken to former All-Pro defensive back Charles Woodson about the position switch. Woodson spent his first 14 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers as a Pro Bowl cornerback before moving to free safety in 2012.

 

Woodson, who now works as an NFL analyst for ESPN, played his last four NFL seasons at safety, a stint that included a Pro Bowl berth in 2015 and nine interceptions over his final two years. Other top cornerbacks, such as Rod Woodson and Aeneas Williams, have made similar late-career position changes.

 

Sherman acknowledged Thursday that he can see the appeal in such a move, noting that he could get more action at safety than he does at corner.

 

“At corner, I’ve had games where I haven’t got a look, thrown at, and at safety you can see exactly where the ball goes and you can make an impact,” Sherman said. “You can get in on every tackle just about because you’re in the center of everything, kind of like the Mike [linebacker]. But it’s something I’m definitely going to consider later in my career and hopefully I’ll be just as good there.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

It sounds like RB TODD GURLEY won’t be all that excited about sitting out a Week 17 game this year.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Rams running back Todd Gurley finished second in rushing yards in the NFL last season and he probably would have won the title if he’d played in Week 17.

 

Gurley wound up 22 yards behind Kareem Hunt and said at the time that he was fine with sitting out because of the “bigger picture.” On Thursday, Gurley admitted that those feelings didn’t represent the whole truth about his feelings.

 

“Yeah, I was lying, I really did care about the title,” Gurley said, via the Los Angeles Times. “That would be a pretty cool thing to get. I tell people that all the time: It’s like you play for team goals but who wouldn’t want to be the NFL sack leader? Who wouldn’t want to be the NFL passing or rushing leader?”

 

The nice thing for Gurley is that he’s got another shot at leading the league this year and he’s playing for a team that’s hitting its goals so far this season. Gurley enters Week 14 with a 25-yard lead over Ezekiel Elliott and the Rams are closing in on a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

The Chiefs have signed WR KELVIN BENJAMIN who was cut this week by the Bills.  One of the NFL’s best attacks signs a player one of the league’s worst attacks could not use.  Interesting.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Ken Whisenhunt is not going to return to his alma mater.  Mike DiGianova in the LA Times:

 

Ken Whisenhunt withdrew his name from consideration for the Georgia Tech head coaching job Thursday and will remain with the Chargers as offensive coordinator, according to a person familiar with his decision but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

 

Whisenhunt, 56, played for the Yellow Jackets in the early 1980s and was a teammate of current Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury.

 

Though he did not travel to Atlanta this week to formally interview for the job, Whisenhunt spoke to school officials about the position and appeared to be in the running as of early Thursday afternoon, when he held his weekly press briefing at the Chargers’ Costa Mesa training facility.

 

“It’s a tremendous honor to be considered for that position at a school that I played for and have very strong feelings for, and the process is still ongoing,” Whisenhunt said. “But right now my focus is still on our team.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

With three wins under QB LAMAR JACKSON, will the Ravens be returning to JOE FLACCO?  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

At some point soon, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is going to have to make a tough decision.

 

Joe Flacco is getting closer to a return. Harbaugh said on Wednesday that Flacco wouldn’t go through a full practice, but he will be limited. He’s able to do more this week as he returns from a hip injury.

 

Perhaps Flacco won’t be ready to return this week, but it’s going to happen soon. And then Harbaugh will have to decide whether to put Flacco back in the lineup or continue on with Lamar Jackson. Harbaugh has been coy about what will happen when Flacco is healthy.

 

It’s not an easy call.

 

The case for sticking with Lamar Jackson

When Flacco went down with a hip injury, the Ravens were 4-5. That’s not all Flacco’s fault, but his 84.2 passer rating wasn’t inspiring. Among quarterbacks with at least 190 attempts this season, the only ones with a worse rating are Blake Bortles, who was benched, and rookies Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Flacco has posted a passer rating better than 90 just once since 2010, back in 2014.

 

The Ravens had to turn to first-round pick Jackson after the bye, and they have won three in a row. They beat the Bengals, Raiders and Falcons, three flailing teams, but they are back in the AFC North race regardless. Jackson has been dynamic with his legs, with 265 rushing yards in three starts. It’s not a typical NFL offense, but it has been effective. Whether Jackson running as much as he has is sustainable long term, it’s a nightmare for defensive coordinators in the short term. There’s still an element of uniqueness to the Ravens’ offense with Jackson that will make them a tough team to prepare for the rest of the season.

 

Most coaches wouldn’t want to make a big change during a winning streak, especially since Jackson is a first-round pick and the future. He’s not just some fill-in who got hot.

 

The case for going back to Joe Flacco

The decision, when Flacco is healthy enough to push the issue, likely comes down to whether the Ravens want a normal passing offense or keep riding their read option-based attack with Jackson.

 

Jackson has thrown for 150, 178 and 125 yards in his three starts. In a pass-first league, it’s challenging to win without a dynamic passing game. Jackson isn’t incapable of passing the ball, but he still needs more development in that regard.

 

With Flacco, the Ravens would have a more recognizable NFL passing game. He brings stability too; Flacco has been the Ravens’ starting quarterback since 2008. Maybe there’s also some feelings of loyalty from Harbaugh. Flacco helped him win a Super Bowl, of course. Sticking with Jackson means going with a rookie with three starts and no 200-yard passing games over a quarterback with more than 38,000 passing yards, 200 passing touchdowns and, yes, a Super Bowl ring.

 

Whatever Harbaugh does, it better work. If it doesn’t, he’ll be criticized, either for making a big change after the Ravens’ success with Jackson or buying into the small sample size of rookie Jackson’s success against bad teams.

 

Either way, it’s a decision that will shape the Ravens’ season as they push for the playoffs.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

CB JALEN RAMSEY washes his hands of anything to do with Jacksonville’s blowout loss on Thursday night.  Mike Organ of The Tennessean:

 

Often outspoken Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey didn’t point blame at anyone in particular for Thursday night’s loss to the Titans, but he made it clear who wasn’t to be blamed – him.

 

The Jaguars’ defense was a sieve throughout the 30-9 loss, giving up 426 total yards.

 

But most of those yards came on the ground, including a franchise-record 238 rushing by Titans running back Derrick Henry. That’s why Ramsey said he should be absolved from being fingered for the loss.

 

On several of Henry’s biggest runs, by the time Henry reached Ramsey in the secondary he had built up too much speed to be caught.

 

“I mean, I had limited opportunities; they ran the ball,” said the former Brentwood Academy star. “They ran the ball down our throat 100 percent of the game. Personally, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to make a game-changing play. I do what I can do and that’s all I can do, to be honest.”

 

Henry’s highlight came when he broke loose down the left sideline in the second quarter for an NFL-record-tying 99-yard touchdown run.

 

“It was a helluva run,” Ramsey said. “It swung momentum for their whole team, obviously.”

 

The Titans (7-6) finished with a season-high 264 rushing yards. That was 100 more than their previous high of 164 yards against San Diego in Week 7.

 

Ramsey finished with five solo tackles, including one for a loss.

 

When it was pointed out to Ramsey that Henry had struggled at times this season and even been a nonfactor in some games he said: “He did a lot tonight. That’s all that matters.”

 

The loss eliminated Jacksonville (4-9) from the playoffs, but Ramsey said he would continue to play hard. As for his teammates?

 

“Ummm, ask everybody else,” he said.

 

 

TENNESSEE

Austin Knoblach of NFL.com on the greatness that was RB DERRICK HENRY (50 points sitting on the DB’s Fantasy bench in a playoff game by the way) on Thursday night:

 

Derrick Henry pounded out one of the most incredible touchdown runs in NFL history during the Tennessee Titans’ 30-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.

 

The running back scored on a 99-yard touchdown carry during the second quarter, dishing out three defender-shedding stiff-arms while trudging his way to what was arguably the most incredible touchdown of the season.

 

In the process, he joined Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett as the only players in NFL history with a 99-yard touchdown run, per NFL Research. He also has three 70-plus yard rushing touchdowns since 2017, the most in the league over that span. In one run, he surpassed his previous 2018 single-game high of 58 yards rushing.

 

As incredible as the touchdown run was, it’s the third 90-yard touchdown run in 10 days. Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller scored on a 97-yarder against the Titans in Week 12 and Washington Redskins standout Adrian Peterson had a 90-yard TD run on Monday against the Eagles.

 

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Henry’s big run was just a spectacular piece of what was a magnificent night for the third-year rusher. Henry finished with an Oilers/Titans franchise-record 238 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries (14.0 average per carry). The four TDs tied a franchise record, according to NFL Research.

 

Henry also is the first player to rush for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns on 20 or fewer carries in the Super Bowl era.

 

The record-tying touchdown almost didn’t happen. Quarterback Marcus Mariota told reporters he actually checked into the play at the line after deciding not to go with his primary option — a QB sneak.

 

“I would say very impressive,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said when asked to assess Henry’s performance. “We knew we had to run the football and Derrick ran hard and the O-line did a great job, the coaches had them prepared.

 

“In this league you can’t block them all, you can’t block every guy. So you got to make one guy miss or run them over or stiff-arm them or do something. And that’s what Derrick did. There were times where guys weren’t blocking, he got on the edge, stiff-armed a few guys. [He] was really able to break away. And I think we’re going to have to continue to get that in order to get our offense going.”

 

Henry had few carries in the final quarter and a half of the game. He said he told Vrabel to sub him out late for Dion Lewis.

 

“We’ve all got to eat,” Henry told FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews after the game. “I wanted to see him get a touchdown. I got four. I care about my teammates. I want to see them get a touchdown. We work so hard throughout the week, so it’s that relationship that we have. You want to see everybody eat. … Records come and go.”

 

Henry had rushed for 234 yards total in his last six games.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

WR JOSH GORDON says he is on the straight and narrow thanks to QB TOM BRADY.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

After a tumultuous time with the Cleveland Browns, which included multiple suspensions, wide receiver Josh Gordon has allowed his talent and production on the field with the New England Patriots to do the talking for him.

 

What also doesn’t hurt Gordon’s turnaround is his relationship and connection with quarterback Tom Brady, whose locker is next to Gordon’s.

 

“It’s good to be able to be in such close proximity to learn from him,” Gordon said Thursday, via Mike Reis of ESPN. “I look up to the guy. He’s done everything right, so I just enjoy the time being around him.”

 

Since joining the Patriots via trade on Sept. 17, Gordon has appeared in nine game, all starts, and has 34 catches for 605 yards and three touchdowns, including being on the receiving end of Brady’s 500th career touchdown pass. His 605 receiving yards rank second on the team behind running back James White’s 659 yards.

 

Gordon’s production in New England, which includes an eye-popping average of 17.8 yards per catch, combined with the ability to stay out of the media storm has more than rewarded the Patriots’ faith in him. And the fifth-round pick the Patriots shipped to Cleveland in exchange for Gordon is looking like a steal.

 

With Gordon in the lineup, the Patriots (9-3) are once again cruising to another AFC East division title to give Gordon an opportunity to play in the postseason.

 

And when it comes to how he’s been able to get his career back on track, Gordon credits the leadership in the Patriots’ locker room, which includes Brady, of course.

 

“I came in with the idea he was a hard-working guy, and he’s done nothing but shown that continuously and consistently,” Gordon said. “He’s a family man, he loves his family, FaceTiming with his kids, which is something I can relate to with my family, my kids. He enjoys the game and everything that comes with it.”