AROUND THE NFL

A week ago, the field was set for the various championship games with Kansas City taking on New England in the AFC and Dallas and the Rams the clear choices in the NFC.  The rest of the season was all about teams positioning to get playoff berths where they would be destroyed by the four Uber teams.

 

But on this Monday, the Conventional Wisdom Landscape has changed.  The Rams were stunned at home by the Buccaneers, the Saints with Teddy Bridgewater still beat the mighty Cowboys, New England needed extra-legal means to quell upset minded Buffalo and Kansas City only prevailed over middle of the pack Detroit with a last-second TD.

 

Of course, Baltimore, the presumptive third wheel in the AFC, now no longer even leads its division after being subdued at home by rival Cleveland.  And the Vikings, impressive Week 1 winner, were held in check by the Bears.

 

This from NFL Research on the AFC South:

 

@NFLResearch

Every team in the AFC South is currently 2-2.

 

This is the first time since the 1970 merger that every team in a division has been 2-2 through Week 4.

 

– – –

 

After four weeks, let’s do our first If The Season Ended Today, starting with the NFC where unbelievably (from say a month ago), the 49ers are the top seed.  But a total of 12 other teams are 2-2 or better.

 

           Team                                       Record       Div         Conf

1          San Francisco         West       3-0                1             1-0       .

2          New Orleans           South       3-1                1             2-1

3          Green Bay              North       3-1                1             2-1

4          Dallas                      East         3-1                1             2-1      

5          Chicago                   WC          3-1                2             2-1      

6          Seattle                     WC          3-1                2             1-1      

7          LA Rams                                 3-1                3              2-1     

8          Detroit                                     2-1                3             1-0-1   

9          Tampa Bay                             2-2                2              2-2     

10        Philadelphia                             2-2                2             2-2      

11        NY Giants                               2-2                3             2-1      

12        Minnesota                               2-2                4             1-2

13        Carolina                                   2-2                   3          1-2

 

Good point by Peter King on two embattled fifth-year QBs in Week 4:

 

The 2015 1-2 draft twins, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, had stunning road wins. The careers of both are on the line in this last year before free agency. Winston put up 55 points and shocked the Rams. Mariota beat the Falcons by 14.

 

– – –

It’s official about the officials.  A new seven-year agreement has been reached.  The deal goes through 2026 and replaces the one due to expire next spring. 

 

Albert Breer with some details:

 

A revamped training program. After the 2012 deal, the NFL scaled back on how it trained officials, and in some cases those responsible for training the officials were also responsible for grading them—which made for an awkward dynamic. That won’t be the case this time around. A new VP for training and development will be hired, and the NFL will give that exec a staff of trainers to work with the individual officials, starting in 2020. This, of course, is the result of both sides agreeing that getting the best officials in place was important.

 

A new pipeline. That VP, as his title would indicate, will also be charged with identifying and readying young officials for the league, an initiative that was emphasized by NFL EVP for football operations Troy Vincent. Bringing along new officials has gotten more difficult without the training ground that NFL Europe once provided, and the hope is that this effort will address that issue.

 

Better compensation. Green wouldn’t get into specific numbers on the raises, but the officials voted through the compensation and benefits package offered by a count of 102-3. The officials get an aggregate from the league, which they divvy up, and it’s safe to say that’s significantly more than it was.

 

Full-time officials weren’t on the front-burner. The league has the ability to reinstitute a full-time officials’ program—they can hire 17 such officials at a rate commensurate to what those in other sports make—under the new CBA. Whether they will or not is an open question. The rules now are less restrictive regarding those officials having outside employment.

 

Gambling was a topic. Obviously, integrity is an important issue with everyone in pro sports, but particularly with those responsible for upholding the rules, and so the NFL updated some policies here for two reasons—one, there’ll be a team in Las Vegas next year; and two, legalized gambling is on the rise nationwide. One notable change is a loosening of rules on officials staying hotels in casinos, which is a pretty logical adjustment since it’s hard to find places to stay in Vegas that don’t have such facilities.

 

So this deal gets put to bed now, which is good news for all of us.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Here’s the update on the injury to QB MITCH TRUBISKY from Adam Schefter:

 

Initial MRI on Bears’ QB Mitchell Trubisky revealed he has a dislocated left shoulder, with a slight labrum tear, but does not need surgery and should he back “sooner rather than later”, per source. He will travel with team to London and is unlikely to play vs. Raiders.

 

Next man up is QB CHASE DANIEL.  This from Peter King:

 

Daniel, who turns 33 next week, was standing near coach Matt Nagy early in the first quarter, helping with personnel groups like he always does. In front of him, on a third down, Trubisky got sacked. He tried to get up, twice. He couldn’t. “I thought it might be a concussion,” Daniel said. Medics and Nagy checked on Trubisky, and Daniel figured he’d better start throwing.

 

“Chase, you’re in!” Nagy said to him seconds later.

 

Because it had been third down, Daniels started throwing with practice squad QB Tyler Bray as Trubisky came off. But he missed the penalty flag on Minnesota, giving the Bears a fresh set of downs.

 

“No! No!” a voice yelled. “We got the ball! You’re in NOW!”

 

The life of a backup. Huge division game between two 2-1 teams. No time to warm up.

 

“Mitch and I threw before the game, and not much time had passed, so I felt pretty good,” Daniel said. “It was fine. You’re excited, of course, and it happens all of a sudden. Matt was like, You know the offense. Just go out there and be you. He was super-positive the whole game.”

 

On the first series, on fourth-and-one from the Viking 43, Nagy called a sneak for Daniel, who liked the faith his coach had in him to get a yard. He got it. Daniel really liked it when Nagy, on a first down from the Viking 30, called a deep throw down the left side for Allen Robinson. Everyone in the quarterback room during the week thought it was a perfect call against the Minnesota defense, sure that Robinson could beat the coverage. He did. “I never repped it in practice,” Daniel said, “but I loved the call. We felt like it’d be a touchdown.” Robinson made it to the 5-yard line, and after a flag for a false start, Daniel led Tarik Cohen with a pass just over the line, and Cohen did the rest. The Bears were on their way, and Daniel (22 of 30, 195 yards one TD, no picks) was a huge reason.

 

“I’m about to turn 33,” Daniel said, “and I’ve been in it 11 years now. But I feel like I’m 25. And I love this offense. I feel the offense. This is my fifth or sixth year in it. I was in Kansas City, in Philadelphia, and it’s basically the same offense. Very quarterback-friendly. The quarterback’s a point guard out there. I’ve always felt I was an accurate passer, and not just dink-and-dunk. We took some shots out there today—that shot to Robinson on the first drive, and others.”

 

And now the reins of a very good team are Daniel’s. This is the first time in his life he’s been handed an NFL team for any length of time, and he’s in a weird spot. He and Trubisky have become good friends. Daniel helps him ID coverages and trends between series during games. And he knows Trubisky has had his struggles. But in Daniel’s position, none of that matters now. He’s playing till they take him off the field. “I think Matt feels comfortable calling a game with me,” Daniel said. “Any time you get a chance to play, at least for me, it’s a great opportunity, especially with this defense. I’m thinking, Be aggressive, but take care of the football. All the other stuff, I’m aware of all the talk going on around town, and how outsiders view us, but I don’t care about it. For now, all I care about is going to London [Bears versus Raiders on Sunday in London] and keep the main thing the main thing. Worry about winning a game before our bye.”

 

It will be the 5th career start for Daniel, who has thrown 184 passes in his career, including 30 vs. the Vikings on Sunday.

 

 

DETROIT

TE T.J. HOCKINSON will get to continue his outstanding rookie season, after a short break.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson suffered a scary looking injury during Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs when he was hit while trying to hurdle safety Tyrann Mathieu and wound up landing headfirst on the turf.

 

Hockenson stayed down and was attended to by medical personnel in the field during what head coach Matt Patricia called “not a good situation to walk out into” in the third quarter. He was eventually carted off and quickly ruled out with a concussion, although Patricia said he got Hockenson to smile on the field and that the tight end was with family after the game.

 

“He was in great spirits,” Patricia said, via the Detroit Free Press. “His mom and dad are here. It was good. We’ll just see how it goes.”

 

Hockenson joined tight end Logan Thomas in being taken down hard while trying to hurdle Mathieu, which led to a question for Patricia about his feelings for that maneuver.

 

“We got to be real careful when you do leap and you do go up in the air,” Patricia said. “There is an added risk that’s involved in the play, and a lot of time I think those guys, sometimes they take real calculated risks on those situations, sometimes it’s something that we’ve seen on tape maybe previously, or an opportunity that we think maybe a guy goes low. But that particular situation, we’re just trying to keep the players as safe as possible. I want to keep them safe.”

 

The Lions have a bye in Week Five, which will leave Hockenson with an extended window to be cleared through the concussion protocol before the team’s next game.

 

 

MINNESOTA

WR ADAM THIELEN isn’t happy with how things are going with Minnesota’s 2019 passing game.  Chad Graff in The Athletic:

 

Diggs and Thielen were nonfactors for most of the game because, well, they didn’t have a chance to be. By the middle of the third quarter, fullback CJ Ham had more targets than Diggs and Thielen combined.

 

Finally, it boiled over. The fourth quarter had started, the Vikings still hadn’t scored, and now Kirk Cousins was throwing a checkdown on third and a mile. On the sideline, Diggs started yelling. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was only a few feet away, but it wasn’t clear whether Diggs was directing his frustration at him or simply the general struggles of the day. He eventually stood alone on the sideline. Thielen, meanwhile, took a seat alone on the bench opposite Cousins and the offensive line. It provided a fitting portrait, two star receivers who once offered hope of how this offense could excel, now solitary figures in a second Vikings loss, the latest a 16-6 embarrassment to the Bears that leaves Minnesota at the bottom of the early NFC North standings.

 

There’s no longer a need to read the tea leaves of cryptic tweets to understand the reality of the situation. Frustration is mounting for a team with two elite wide receivers and a disappointing passing game.

 

“I think we’re just as frustrated as every fan in the state of Minnesota, every Minnesota Vikings fan,” Thielen said afterward. “We are more frustrated. We put everything we have into the offseason. We grind every single day, and then to put a performance like that — it’s so frustrating, it’s unbelievable.”

 

Diggs’ disappointment is less vocal. He exited the team’s cramped locker room in full pads as soon as reporters entered. Similarly, he was the first out of the room last week after he caught only three passes for 15 yards in a win over the Oakland Raiders. He hasn’t spoken publicly since mid-September, but has fueled questions over his feelings with ambiguous tweets, like one sent minutes after he wasn’t utilized much in the Raiders game reading, “God got a plan…”

 

But it doesn’t take a ton of reading between the lines to understand how the Vikings receivers feel. They have a head coach with a well-stated desire to run the ball more and a quarterback who routinely passes on giving them chances to make plays even though they’re two of the best wide receivers in the league at making contested catches.

 

Late in the fourth quarter, Cousins hit Diggs for three completions that padded his stats and helped Diggs finish with seven catches for 108 yards. Thielen had only two catches for 6 yards, the team’s eighth-leading receiver on the day.

 

“At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen said. “That’s when you have to be able to throw the ball. You have to be able to make plays. You have to be able to hit the deep balls. You have to do that.”

 

On Sunday, Diggs and Thielen dealt with missed throws and non-throws.

 

The game could have been much different, or at least started differently, had Cousins hit Thielen on what would have been a 47-yard touchdown. With a nifty route, Thielen beat Bears corner Kyle Fuller down the field on the team’s opening drive. Cousins lofted a pass to Thielen, but it landed a yard or two too long, just out of Thielen’s reach.

 

A better throw there and it’s 7-7 in the first quarter. Instead, the Vikings didn’t score until less than three minutes remained in the game.

 

“It’s a throw I want back,” Cousins said. “Yeah, you want to hit that one, for sure. … If (Thielen is) going to get less opportunities, then you want to hit the ones that he does get.”

 

In Cousins’ defense, the Vikings’ offensive line was overmatched against this talented Bears front, even while the Bears were without two of their top defensive players (Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith). Cousins was sacked six times, fumbled twice and was constantly under pressure.

 

But he had little answer as to why his top receivers weren’t getting the ball.

 

“Until I watch the film, it would be hard to tell you how many of them aren’t just, hey, their coverage is taking them away and progressing or the pass rush is affecting the ability to wait on them because they’re running the deeper developing routes that are longer developing and require more time,” Cousins said.

 

The receivers themselves didn’t seem to think they were covered the whole game. In clear frustration over a lack of targets, Diggs once threw his gloves on the ground after another drive stalled. And Thielen made clear how he felt when asked a leading question about not having much space against the Bears’ defense. “I didn’t feel that,” Thielen said.

 

There was no sideline blow-up this time akin to the last time the Vikings played the Bears, when Thielen and Cousins were caught on camera having a spirited talk. But there’s also little question that the star receivers aren’t thrilled with the way things are going, prompting a question for Cousins about how he can prevent things from boiling over.

 

“Just win,” Cousins said. “You know, if we win, move the ball, play well, whether that’s with those two getting the ball or by running the football, whatever it has to be. Whatever we gotta do to move the football, let’s do that, and I think that’s all that matters.”

 

On this day, though, the Vikings didn’t move the ball and so it did matter. They amassed just 222 total yards, and even that was aided by a 92-yard drive that ended with 2:58 remaining when the outcome already felt determined. They managed just 40 rushing yards. They couldn’t outscore even the Bears’ backup quarterback, Chase Daniel, who took over in the first quarter after Mitchell Trubisky was injured.

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

In a hopeless loss, rookie QB DWAYNE HASKINS made his debut.  Coach Jon Gruden was not willing to commit to anything beyond that after the game.  Matthew Paras of the Washington Post:

 

Sunday’s performance did nothing to quiet the speculation over Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s job status. The Redskins are searching for answers and look lost.

 

And despite turning to Haskins, Gruden did not commit to starting the Ohio State product next week against the New England Patriots. He told reporters he would evaluate the situation on Monday. Beyond Haskins and Keenum, Washington could also look to veteran Colt McCoy, who practiced this week for the first time since he suffered a setback with his leg injury in mid-August.

 

Pointed out Haskins was the future of the franchise — which would be a reason to play the 22-year-old for the rest of the season — Gruden said the rookie would have to earn that label first.

 

“I don’t care where you’re drafted, when you’re drafted, you need to earn that,” Gruden said. “He’s gotta come in here and perform when he’s asked to perform. If I feel like if he gives us the best chance to win against New England, I’ll put him in there. That’s the way it is at every position with everybody.

 

“You’re not just handed the keys because of where you were drafted.”

 

Gruden sounded frustrated after a humiliating loss and ongoing reports he might be fired. The Redskins have yet to announce such a move, but tensions are high. The 52-year-old didn’t expect his team to be 0-4, adding “nobody saw this coming.”

 

Gruden’s offense mustered just three points and 176 yards against the Giants, who ranked 31st in yards allowed prior to the game. Asked how he would explain the offensive inefficiencies, Gruden rattled off a list of players who weren’t in a Redskins uniform Sunday: Jordan Reed, Trent Williams, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff and Terry McLaurin (the latter two were scratched prior to the game with injuries). Again, the Redskins have been missing key playmakers, so much so that Gruden forgot to include Derrius Guice (knee) among those absent.

 

Then, Gruden honed in on another explanation.

 

“The guys who are playing are not executing as well as they should and I’m calling a crappy game,” Gruden said. “My playcalling isn’t good enough, execution isn’t up to par and we have a lot of pretty good players sitting home watching it.”

 

The Redskins began the game looking lifeless on both sides of the ball. Keenum missed wide-open throws and was intercepted on Washington’s first drive.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com on the postgame Buccaneers locker room which was missing GM Jason Licht.

 

Guys, I got Jason on the phone, this is a game ball for him!”

 

That was Bruce Arians last night, in a cramped visitors locker room—after his Bucs handled the conference-champion Rams, 55-40—in tribute to his GM, Jason Licht, who lost his father, Ron, unexpectedly on Saturday. Licht left L.A. after hearing the news, to be with family in Nebraska. After the win on Sunday, the team dialed him up on FaceTime so he could witness the jubilant scene two time zones away.

 

“It was a tough situation,” said Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, himself a Nebraska alum. “We came to a team meeting last night, Coach Arians broke the news to us before he started everything. For me, personally, it was heartbreaking because I know Jason’s dad. He’s a big Nebraska fan. When they first got down here, I was able to meet them. He was a real good guy, man. It was a very sad situation. Their family is in our prayers.”

 

Getting Licht the game ball, David continued, “was a really big moment.” And they made that moment count for Licht.

 

The Bucs defense wasn’t perfect—coordinator Todd Bowles has captained a pretty serious turnaround on that side through four games—but proved opportunistic in picking Jared Goff off three times, hitting him nine times, sacking him twice and holding the Rams to 28 rushing yards on 11 carries (13 of which came on a single Todd Gurley scoring run). And that, per the guys playing in the defense, is thanks to the coordinator’s basic but aggressive philosophy.

 

“[Bowles] knows what kind of players we got,” David said. “He knows he’s got a whole bunch of playmakers across the board. He’s just trying to free guys up and make plays. Build everybody’s confidence and let everybody play relaxed and with confidence. That’s his main thing. That’s the first thing he said—‘Nothing is gonna be too complex. Everything is gonna be simple. It’s gonna be all about us, it’s executing.’”

 

The offense, on the other hand, didn’t need many qualifiers. Winston finished with 385 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-41 passing, good for a 120.5 passer rating. Chris Godwin had 172 receiving yards, and Mike Evans 89, and Ronald Jones (19 carries, 70 yards) ran aggressively, if not super productively.

 

Tampa, of course, is still looking up at New Orleans in the NFC South. But given the injuries to Drew Brees and Cam Newton, crazier things have happened than an underdog football team capitalizing on circumstances. At the very least, the Bucs have a coach who believes they can do it.

 

“Different kind of swag, man,” David said of Arians. “Just going out there, challenging us, as players, as professionals, kind of letting us know—‘This is our team, this is how it will go as you let it go.’ We try to uphold that part and just basically get better week by week. By the end of the year and the playoff race, being able to get in, the big, bad, B.A. just came in and let us know right now— ‘It’s not a coach’s team. It’s a player’s team.’ You gotta take over.”

 

On Sunday, they did.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

A note:

 

@Vincemarotta

Cardinals defense, dating back to  Week 8 of last season, has ONE interception. That came in Week 17 of last year — David Amerson at Seattle.

– – –

Peter King with some numbers on WR LARRY FITZGERALD:

 

Chasing Jerry Rice is a long and lonely road. With five catches Sunday giving him 1,326 for his 16-year career, Larry Fitzgerald passed Tony Gonzalez into second place on the all-time receptions list. The top three in receptions in NFL history:

 

Jerry Rice                 1,549 in 20 seasons

Larry Fitzgerald        1,326 in 16 seasons

Tony Gonzalez        1,325 in 17 seasons

 

Rice was 42 in his last season, 2004. Fitzgerald is 36, and healthy. In his four seasons between age 32 and 35, Fitzgerald averaged 98.5 catches per year, and missed no games due to injury. Any way he’ll hang around long enough to challenge the Rice record Fitzgerald has long said is unassailable?

 

Fitzgerald told me: “That’s Jerry’s record. For me, it’s just not something that really … Two hundred more catches—what does that mean? I’m more into trying to help build this team into a championship team than the individual records. The thing about Jerry I covet is his three championships. But think about what he accomplished. Think about averaging 100 catches a year for 16 years, which is what you’d have to do to break his record. Think about having 1,000 receiving yards for 21 years to catch his yardage record. And 199 TDs. If you play 200 games, you’ve got to average a touchdown a game, 16 touchdowns a year. That doesn’t happen.”

 

II

 

Of all wide receivers currently on active rosters in the NFL, the closest to Larry Fitzgerald in career catches is 605 away.

 

Fitzgerald: 1,326

Julio Jones: 721

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Albert Breer:

 

The Broncos are now 8-24 in their last 32 games. That’s .250 over the equivalent of two full seasons. Not good.

 

The Broncos are 0-4, although the total margin of their losses is just 23 points.  After no sacks in the first 4 games, the Broncos defense recorded 5 on Sunday against the Jaguars.  Still no INTs for the Denver defense.

 

More bad news for the Broncos.  ESPN.com:

 

Bradley Chubb has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, an injury that is a “huge loss” for the winless Denver Broncos.

 

Broncos coach Vic Fangio confirmed that Chubb, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft, suffered the season-ending injury in Denver’s 26-24 loss Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

“It’s a huge loss,” Fangio said Monday. “He’s a tempo-setter, a great person, a great leader.”

 

Chubb left the game twice — first for a calf injury, then for the knee injury — before returning to the lineup to close out the contest.

 

“He played that last series pretty damn well,” Fangio said Monday. “[He] had some pretty good pass rushes … He was as surprised as anybody this morning when he woke up.”

 

Chubb spoke at his locker after the game and made no reference to his knee. The second-year linebacker has 20 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble this season for the Broncos (0-4).

 

 

THE RAIDERS

The NFL lets the helmet-to-helmet by the Patriots slide, but throws the book (as it should) at repeat offended LB VONTAZE BURFICT.

 

Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the rest of the 2019 season for his helmet-to-helmet hit Sunday on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle, the league announced.

 

Burfict was ejected in the second quarter of the Raiders’ 31-24 win. He was initially flagged for hitting Doyle in the head across the middle. But after the officials conferred, Burfict was thrown out.

 

The league said that Burfict will be not be paid during the suspension, which covers the postseason as well. The league cited his repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules in handing out the longest suspension ever for an on-field incident.

 

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote a letter to Burfict explaining the decision.

 

“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play,” the letter said. “Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided. For your actions, you were penalized and disqualified from the game. Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures. However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.”

 

Burfict’s agent, Lamont Smith, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that the veteran linebacker will appeal the suspension and that he expects the appeal to be heard this week. Smith also told Anderson that he believes “the 12-game suspension is excessive and the play that triggered the suspension was a football play.”

 

The 29-year-old Burfict received 13 suspensions and fines in seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Raiders as a free agent this offseason. Two of the suspensions were for illegal hits, totaling six games. He successfully appealed a five-game suspension in 2017 down to a three-game suspension.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Peter King:

 

I think I’m hearing the Chargers might get into the Jalen Ramsey sweepstakes, which is smart on many levels. The second team in L.A. will need some juice, and signing a top-three cornerback would help them moving into the new stadium next fall, even if Ramsey is Charger property only through the end of 2020. Still think the Chiefs and Ravens are involved too. Now we have to figure out if Ramsey will make it hot enough on Jacksonville for the Jaguars to trade him. Which I still think he could do.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

Peter King on QB GARDNER MINSHEW II:

 

I’ll just say that this is not your garden-variety backup. Someday, he’ll lead a team and get paid in the NFL.

 

This from Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com:

 

Going into Week 4, the Jaguars were …

 

• Starting their sixth-round rookie quarterback.

• Without their All-Pro corner, who’s asking for a trade.

• Facing the prospect of 1-3.

 

And as you’d have guessed, that sixth-round pick bailed them out again.

 

Gardner Minshew brought the Jags back from a 17-3 deficit, then made a couple big-time throws—one for 32 yards to Dede Westbrook, another for 17 yards to Chris Conley—to pilot Jacksonville’s game-winning drive. That eight-play, 60-yard march led to a 33-yard field goal from Josh Lambo as time expired to give the Jags a 26-24 win, lift them to 2-2, and send the spiraling Broncos to 0-4.

 

“He played a hell of a game,” tailback Leonard Fournette said of Minshew as the team waited through a flight delay on its way home Sunday evening. “He’s doing great things. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a rookie doing vet things. I love playing with him. Our guys are taking the time to help him and protect him. We gotta keep doing what we’re doing.”

 

The coaches have done their part, in working to create faster reads for Minshew to operate with, and moving the pocket to highlight his athleticism. The defense’s suffocating second-half effort was a huge piece against the Broncos, too.

 

But no one was more important on this day than Fournette, the former fourth overall pick who’s regaining his place as the team’s bell cow. He finished with 225 yards on 29 carries—he’s just the second Jaguar, joining Fred Taylor, to rush for more than 200 yards in a single game—and his 81-yard run at the end of the third quarter set up the go-ahead score.

 

“I don’t know, man, I’m trying to get my legs back under me,” Fournette said when I asked about that run. “A lot of reps in the last couple games. I’m just working my way to get my legs back under me.”

 

There was more to it than that. Unhappy with his injury-plagued 2018 season, and perhaps with the Jags’ decision to void his guarantees last fall, Fournette decided to cut weight this offseason. After playing at around 240 last year, he’s down to around 226, and the effect could be seen both in the explosion on the aforementioned big run and in his stamina in the fourth quarter.

 

On the strength of his career-best day, he’s now third in the league in rushing and averaging 5.6 yards per carry. That’s given the Jags’ offense its identity back, which has made things easier on Minshew. And Jacksonville, as a result, is tied for first in the AFC South with Houston.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The consensus is the Patriots did a dirty deed to knock QB JOSH ALLEN out of their first tough game of the season.  Vic Carucci of  the Buffalo News:

 

Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott didn’t take the safe route in discussing the helmet-to-helmet hit in a 16-10 loss Sunday against the New England Patriots that caused his quarterback, Josh Allen, to wind up in concussion protocol.

 

“There is no room in football for a hit like that,” McDermott told reporters. “It’s a shame to see a player like Josh or any player like that, go down with a hit like that. I asked (the officials) for an explanation and I thought (Jonathan Jones) should have been thrown out.”

 

The NFL disagreed. Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, said the hit the Patriots cornerback placed on Allen with 14:26 left in the fourth quarter “did not rise” to the NFL’s standard for disqualification. The quarterback was caught between two defenders.

 

Jones was penalized for unnecessary roughness, but Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins was flagged for holding, thus resulting in offsetting penalties and a replay of the down.

 

“Well, we looked at it and in this situation, we didn’t feel that that contact rose to the level of an ejection,” Riveron said by phone from the league’s officiating headquarters in New York. “The player (Jones) actually turns. Obviously, there is helmet contact, but we have standards for an ejection, and this did not rise to that standard; therefore, we did not eject him. There was a foul called and, obviously, the penalty stood, but we did not feel this contact rose to that level.”

 

Riveron said the penalty on Dawkins did not have anything to do with a potential ejection, adding that each penalty is judged separately.

 

“They threw a flag on it. Maybe they eject the guy. Maybe,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “But obviously, they’ll review that play and I’m pretty sure he may get fined for it. But we can’t really worry about how they’re going to treat our quarterback versus how they’re going to treat 12 (Patriots QB Tom Brady). We’ve just got to continue to play.”

 

Matt Barkley finished the game at quarterback for the Bills.

 

After being taken into the blue medical tent behind the Bills’ bench, Allen then jogged into the tunnel. After the game, he was seen walking around the locker room and talking with General Manager Brandon Beane, as well as several teammates.

 

Allen’s teammates were furious that Jones remained in the game.

 

“If one of us did that to [Brady], we wouldn’t have been in the game anymore,” safety Micah Hyde said. “There’s no way, no way we would have continued in that game. … Obviously, that’s our quarterback. We ride or die with him. … Josh didn’t slide, but at the end of the day, but even as a running back, you can’t go head to head.”

 

Jones said he was not attempting to injure Allen on the play.

 

“There’s never any intent to hurt anyone,” Jones told reporters. “We were running around playing football. Definitely have to check in on (Allen) and make sure he’s OK. There was no intent to hurt anybody. I haven’t seen it, I have to watch it on film. We were just running around playing football.

 

“I don’t think anybody ever tries to go helmet to helmet. Everyone is just flying around. You want to make plays and stops.”

 

As usual Al Riveron is seeing things that others don’t – or at least when the DB looks at it the “turn” comes from the force of the blow Jones delivered, not prior to the hit.

 

https://twitter.com/i/status/1178395008682139661

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The latest on QB SAM DARNOLD and his spleen – engorged by mono.  Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:

 

The winless New York Jets, desperate for a spark, face the distinct possibility of another week without quarterback Sam Darnold.

 

There had been hope for a return Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Darnold — diagnosed three weeks ago with mononucleosis — wasn’t fully cleared by doctors after another round of tests on Monday.

 

Darnold received partial clearance, meaning he can resume throwing and do non-contact work, but his availability for Sunday is “a question mark for us,” coach Adam Gase said.

 

It means the Jets (0-3), who have scored only one touchdown from scrimmage, may have to start former practice-squad quarterback Luke Falk for the second straight game.

 

Gase acknowledged Darnold’s test results were “not the clear-cut answer we were hoping for … There’s just a lot of gray area right now.”

 

Darnold deferred to Gase when asked if his spleen remains enlarged, and Gase wouldn’t give a direct answer.

 

This is a setback for the Jets. Coming off the bye, they had been hoping to rally around Darnold’s return in an attempt to re-boot their bitterly disappointing season.

 

Gase didn’t rule out Darnold for Sunday, but he didn’t sound optimistic.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

INTERNATIONAL UPDATE

From Peter King:

 

Notes from an hour spent with the NFL’s chief strategy and growth officer, Chris Halpin, on the verge of the league beginning its five-game 2019 international series with the Chicago-Oakland game Sunday at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London:

 

• The Tottenham stadium seats 65,000 and begins a 10-year deal with the NFL. The league is required to play a minimum of two games per year there. Across town, Jacksonville is the sort of “anchor tenant” of Wembley Stadium, with the Jags playing one game a year there (versus Houston on Nov. 3 this year), and the NFL playing a second game there. (The Wembley deal expires after the 2020 season.) The Tottenham stadium houses the Tottenham Hotspur Premier League team, with a natural-grass pitch laying over the field turf field the NFL team will use; the grass field will be removed from the stadium on the two weekends the NFL games are played—with Carolina-Tampa Bay Oct. 13 the other game this year. The Tottenham locker rooms will feature changing facilities for women, with the rise of women on coaching staffs.

 

• Halpin said the two games at Tottenham sold out in 45 minutes, and the demand for the tickets was 12 times availability. Of the 28 regular-season games played in London through this season, 27 have sold out.

 

• It’s very likely the NFL will play four more London games in 2020, and the league is talking to Mexico officials about playing in Azteca Stadium once in 2020. Nothing certain there.

 

• Carolina and Houston are the 30th and 31st franchises to play outside the United States in the 38 regular-season games played internationally. The lone holdout: Green Bay. “We are excited to get there [book Green Bay for an international game] at some point,” Halpin said. “The London fans—that’s an annual question in any fan forum: when the Packers will be there.” It’s a question of when, not if.

 

• My guess: Green Bay has to be a prime contender for a game in London in 2020. The NFL has had one built-in home team in England—Jacksonville, which has played one game a year there, willingly, since 2013. And over the last four seasons, including this year, the three transient teams on the way to new stadia (Rams, Raiders, Chargers) have played or will play in London six times. But because each of those three teams was eligible to play in London while in transition to a new stadium, and all are due to be in their new permanent homes in 2020, the NFL will need new teams to fill what is expected to be five international game slots in 2020. Jacksonville is one team. Which are the other nine? The Packers, as most teams, are loathe to give up a home game, and are so attractive on the road that Green Bay is the last home game teams want to lose if they play the Packers very occasionally. Next year’s non-division Packer hosts: Indy, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay. Those are four battles the league would have to fight—unless it can convince Green Bay to move one home game to London or Mexico City.

 

• “Teams have fully bought in to playing internationally,” Halpin said. “The next generation of players want to be global athletes.” But five teams—Jacksonville plus four more—still have to give up a home game to play outside the United States, and that’s a constant challenge for the NFL to find. It’s clear the owners like the money and the exposure in new markets that the international games bring. “Where do we go with the games, and the volume of games, going forward?” Halpin said. “That’s a point of discussion right now.”

 

• Halpin said “absolutely” the league could play a regular-season game much further away, such as China or Australia. “Doing a one-off game without marketing programs that drive into it and build off it is a stunt that is not worth it,” he said. But the NFL has an office in Shanghai, has a strong streaming presence there, and the league estimates there are about 10,000 Chinese flag-football players. There’s a 12-hour time difference between New York and Beijing. But if the league played a game at 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday in Shanghai, that game would start at 9:30 a.m. ET—the same time as several recent London games began.

 

• The league is also fact-finding on German sites and stadiums, and will hold its annual international combine in Germany this fall. The German pro football league placed a player with the Patriots this month: 250-pound fullback Jakob Johnson, who is from Stuttgart and played college football at Tennessee. Johnson started for the Patriots on Sunday in Buffalo.

 

• The NFL has kept a close eye on Azteca Stadium in Mexico City after the awful field conditions last year forced the Rams-Chiefs game to be moved from Mexico City to the L.A. Coliseum days before the game because of awful field conditions. Halpin said the hybrid grass/artificial turf field was torn up and replaced with a grass field. There’s been a regular slate of soccer games and no recent concerts and decent weather. Last year, there were too many events, a concert that scarred the field, and too much rain. Chiefs-Chargers on Monday, Nov. 18, ought to be a good spectacle. Mexico has some rabid NFL fans who were crushed to miss the Rams and Chiefs, with Mahomes mania in full bloom, last year. So here he is now.

 

• The NFL is seeing gains in its TV ratings in Europe and China. Halpin said the per-minute audience for the Red Zone channel in Great Britain has doubled since last year, from an average of 70,000 viewers to 140,000 on Sunday evening in England. And the approximate number for cumulative audience per week, including games, Red Zone and BBC highlight programs, is 1.4 million, meaning about 2 percent of the British population is watching some NFL each week.

 

Remember, the NFL is now pushing a 17-game schedule – and the sense is that 17th game will be a neutral game.  That’s 16 games to play with.  We could see something like this –

 

6 London

2 Mexico City

1 Australia

2 Asia (China/Japan)

1 Germany

1 true Hall of Fame Game in Canton on Thursday night of Browns bye week

3 Canada or neutral site US rivalry games