What Have We Learned From Week 14 of the 2015 NFL Season

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Jordan Reed

Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (86) breaks a tackle by Chicago Bears defensive back Chris Prosinski (31) as he carries the ball to the 1-yard line during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) and outside linebacker Jonathan Anderson (58) follow on the play. (Joe Lewnard/Daily Herald via AP)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 14 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • After 1st road win, Redskins now seek 1st winning streak– It took one fluky play, a late missed field-goal attempt by the opponent, and some other fortunate circumstances. All that really matters to Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden is that his team finally won on the road.Now, as they try to stay atop the NFC East, the Redskins need to do something else that’s been elusive this season: pick up two victories in a row.

    “This league is crazy the way it works out. We have yet to put back-to-back wins together this year and I think that’ll be a focal point — how we rebound from a victory,” Gruden said Monday at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia. “I’ve said that before six times, and it hasn’t worked out very well.”

    So far, each of Washington’s six wins this season was followed by a loss. Indeed, over Gruden’s two years as an NFL head coach, the Redskins have won consecutive games just once, in October 2014 — Weeks 7-8 of last season.

    They will try to change that next Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills in a matchup between 6-7 teams.

    “We’re going to have to just continue to stay on top of our game, as far as the mental and physical approach to it,” Gruden said.

    On Sunday, as a visitor, Washington held on to edge Chicago 24-21 in a game that featured a wild play with a fortunate outcome for the Redskins. Kirk Cousins lobbed an ill-advised pass toward traffic. The football bounced away from tight end Jordan Reed and was bobbled by running back Matt Jones before he eventually corralled it.

    Jones casually let go of the ball thinking he’d been tackled, turning it into a fumble that he then pulled back in before any member of the Bears grabbed it.

    Later, with 100 seconds remaining, Bears kicker Robbie Gould pushed a 50-yard field goal wide right.

    Coming in, Washington had been 0-5 on the road, part of a league-high nine-game losing streak away from home dating to last season.

    Nose tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton referred to the road win as “a demon that we conquered.”

    “Now we have another demon we have to conquer (and) that’s putting two good games together,” he added.

  • Jaguars breaks the Colts streak vs. their AFC South foes with a 50 Burger– It’s been a record-setting month for the Jacksonville Jaguars.One week after quarterback Blake Bortles and receiver Allen Robinson broke franchise marks, the Jaguars (5-8) set a team record by scoring 51 points against division rival Indianapolis.

    Now, if Jacksonville can win out and get a little help down the stretch, it really would be a December to remember. The Jaguars host reeling Atlanta (6-7) on Sunday. The Falcons have lost six in a row and seven of eight.

    “It feels good to be in this position,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “But what really matters is what we do from here on out.”

    The Jaguars are a game back in the muddled AFC South. They trail Houston and Indianapolis with three games remaining and could catch one of them — the Colts host the Texans this week — with a victory against Atlanta.

    No one should count out Jacksonville, which has scored more points (90) than any team in the NFL over the last two weeks. The Jaguars managed 13 touchdowns and a field goal in games against Tennessee (42-39 loss) and Indianapolis (51-16 win). The offensive surge might not be enough to get the Jags into the postseason, but it’s surely a strong sign that the team is headed in the right direction

    “We showed it in spurts all season, but the main thing was that we weren’t consistent,” receiver Allen Hurns said. “Now I think we’re getting to that point where we are starting to be consistent.”

    There’s little, if any, doubt that Bortles, Robinson, Hurns — all in their second seasons — and rookie T.J. Yeldon have given the Jaguars a solid core of offensive players to build around. Throw in two-time Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, who has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games, and rookie receiver Rashad Greene, and Jacksonville may have more offensive talent under the age of 30 than any team in the league.

    Bortles has thrown for 3,524 yards, with 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, in his second season. He has shattered David Garrard’s previous team record for TD passes in a season, 23 set in 2010, and needs just 586 yards in the final three games to break Mark Brunell’s franchise mark (4,110 in 1996) for passing yards in a season.

    Bortles joined Dan Marino and Kurt Warner as the only first or second-year players to throw 30 or more TD passes through 13 games in a season. Marino had 36 through 13 games in 1984. Warner had 34 at the same point in 1999. Bortles and Marino are the only ones to accomplish the feat before the age of 24.

    Bortles has been at his best lately, with 10 touchdown passes in the last three weeks. Half of those have gone to Robinson, who has a franchise-record 12 TD catches this season.

    And Robinson’s emergence has created more one-on-one matchups for Hurns and Thomas, and opened up holes in the running game.

    “We’re not quite sure when we go into each game who’s going to be targeted the most, how it plays out, but it’s nice to have different weapons, difference skill sets with the guys on the perimeter and then the run game that we can go to,” coach Gus Bradley said.

    The Jaguars played their most complete game against the Colts, scoring on offense, defense and special teams for the first time since 2011. Seven different players scored touchdowns, with Andre Branch, Rashad Greene, Hurns, Robinson, Thomas, Denard Robinson and Bortles all finding the end zone.

    It was just the 10th time since 1980 that seven or more players from the same team scored in the same game, according to STATS, LLC.

  • Thanks to Wilson, Seattle overcoming offensive injuries– As the Seattle Seahawks continue their roll toward the postseason in part because of record-setting play for Russell Wilson, they keep running into roadblocks.First was the abdominal surgery that put Marshawn Lynch on the bench. Then the knee injury to Jimmy Graham that ended his first season with Seattle prematurely.

    And most recently, the broken ankle and ligament damage suffered on Sunday in Seattle’s 35-6 win over Baltimore by rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who had proven more than capable as Lynch’s replacement.

    In a way, all those obstacles have made what Wilson and the Seahawks have accomplished over the past four weeks even more impressive.

    Wilson has put together one of the finest four-week stretches of quarterbacking at least in Seattle history, putting together a string of performances that are tough to match and propelled the Seahawks back into the discussion among the favorites in the NFC even if their playoff path is almost certain to be as a wild-card team.

    But now the question will be can the Seahawks keep this stretch of exceptional offensive play going forward with yet another significant loss on offense.

    “Our commitment is going to stay the same because we have a balance that we really play with. We have a philosophy and an approach that doesn’t need to be changed right now,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday.

    “If we were having issues and troubles then maybe something would happen. The whole idea of being a balanced attack is when you need it you can go to it and if we need to throw the football more we will. If we need to run the football more we will.”

    Wilson’s past four games have been remarkable. According to STATS, Wilson is the first quarterback going back to 1960 to have four straight games with a passer rating of 138.5 or higher. He’s thrown for 1,171 yards, completed 75.4 percent of his throws, thrown 16 touchdowns and had zero interceptions.

    And he’s done most of it without needing to run for safety and scrambling from the pass rush. Seattle’s offensive line has been equal to its quarterback and allowed Wilson to throw on time and without stress.

    “When everything starts functioning right it can just go,” Carroll said. “There’s been a lot of years where we’ve had really good finishes and score a lot of points and put up a lot of numbers and this is like that.”

    Because of the uncertainty regarding when Lynch will return, the Seahawks signed Bryce Brown on Monday to add depth at running back. It will be DuJuan Harris and Brown likely carrying the load on first and second downs and Fred Jackson continuing his role as the third-down back going forward until Lynch is back.

    After making a brief appearance at the team’s headquarters last week, Carroll said Lynch will be doing his rehab offsite until he’s ready to start practicing again. But there continues to be no estimate on when that’ll be.

    “He went through a big surgery. He’s got a lot to get through. He’s got to get past that, whatever impact that has had and then he’s got to get back into football shape and get going,” Carroll said.

    Having a successful run game is crucial because the performance of Wilson has been based around the balance of what Rawls provided.

    That will be the question going forward until Lynch returns whether that balance can remain with journeymen running backs filling in. Harris finished with 18 carries on Sunday, but averaged just 2.3 yards per attempt.

    Rawls was on pace for another 100-yard game until he was injured.

 Downs

  • Falcons in 6-game skid with ugly loss in Carolina– Dan Quinn isn’t buying into the popular belief that close losses hurt more than runaway defeats.Not after Sunday’s 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

    The latest entry in the Atlanta Falcons’ six-game losing streak brought new levels of pain and frustration for Quinn, the first-year coach.

    The Falcons had lost five straight games by an average of 4.2 games before being embarrassed by the undefeated Panthers.

    Quinn said Monday the lopsided loss felt “way worse.”

    “No doubt, we’ve been in a bunch of close games that went back and forth,” he said. “This was the first time that we got our tails kicked in.”

    The Falcons (6-7) are in danger of being eliminated from playoff contention as they prepare for a third straight road game at Jacksonville. The Jaguars (5-8) are competing for the AFC South lead.

    Falling below .500 was especially humbling for the Falcons, who were 6-1.

    Perhaps most troubling in Sunday’s loss were the first signs of a lack of discipline and effort on the field.

    Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, obviously upset, had to be pulled away from and defensive line coach Bryan Cox. Cornerback Robert Alford stopped running when beaten by Ted Ginn Jr. on a 74-yard touchdown catch. Also, offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder was pulled following a personal foul penalty.

    Quinn said he met with Hageman, Cox and Alford.

    He called the confrontation between Hageman and Cox “two emotional guys’ disagreement.”

    “That was one that I handled in-house with both of them,” Quinn said. He said they are “both top-notch guys” and Cox was “obviously looking out for him.”

    Added Quinn: “At no point is that going to be part of our football. I talked to both of them about it.”

    Quinn said Alford “certainly did” stop running on Ginn’s long touchdown catch.

    “(Alford) thought he stepped out,” Quinn said. “We are all about finishing and so that one was difficult for him and for us.”

    Quinn, who noted Alford saved the Falcons’ win over Washington on Oct. 11 with an interception, said he had not lost confidence in the cornerback.

    “I have all the faith and belief in him,” Quinn said. “The fact he didn’t play like he was capable of on that particular play and a couple others, that was a conversation we actually had for sure.”

    Alford also dropped an interception in the game.

    Quinn said he replaced Schraeder with Jake Long following a penalty but said the move wasn’t permanent.

    Quinn said among the developments against Carolina that “jacked me up and ticked me off” were getting beat on both lines of scrimmage and failing to have balance on offense.

    Running back Devonta Freeman had a 22-yard gain on his second carry but finished with only 40 yards on 12 carries.

    The Falcons’ offense became one-dimensional after the Panthers took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.

    “I know what we’re capable of playing like and when we don’t, man it digs at you hard,” Quinn said, adding he could not wait to work on improvements in Wednesday’s practice.

    “I’m as motivated to get our football right as I’ve ever been my entire life,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back out here with this team.”

  • Bills falls flat on offense in Philly– As efficiently as quarterback Tyrod Taylor has performed this season, coach Rex Ryan expects even more from the Buffalo Bills first-time starter.Delivering consistently in the clutch would be the next step for Taylor to continue establishing himself as the Bills long-term solution.

    “You’ll never be considered a great quarterback until you bring your team back and win in those situations,” Ryan said. “So yeah, I would say that’s the next stage.”

    Ryan delivered his critique Monday, a day after a 23-20 loss at Philadelphia all but ended Buffalo’s playoff chances. The Bills (6-7) can be eliminated — and extend the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 16 seasons — on Sunday, when they travel to play Washington (6-7).

    What stood out against Philadelphia is how the Taylor-led offense stalled twice in the final four minutes.

    Hampered by a pair of penalties, Buffalo combined for minus-2 yards net offense on its final two possessions, failing to put the Bills in a position to attempt a game-tying field goal.

    The first drive ended with the Bills punting from their own 16. The second ended with Taylor overthrowing receiver Robert Woods up the right sideline and being intercepted by Ed Reynolds.

    It was the first time Taylor was picked off in seven games, and after he had established the franchise record with 222 consecutive attempts without an interception.

    Taylor finished 19 of 36 for 268 yards with a touchdown.

    What troubled Ryan was that this isn’t the first time Buffalo’s offense has come up short with the game on the line for Taylor.

    Two of those wins have come with Buffalo either trailing or tied in the fourth quarter.

    Taylor put together touchdown drives on consecutive second-half possessions in a 14-13 win at Tennessee in Week 5. In a 30-21 win over Houston two weeks ago, Taylor broke open a game that was tied at 21 with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay with 1:53 remaining.

    On the downside, the Bills have also lost five times — including once with EJ Manuel starting — when failing to score on their final possession in games they trailed by 8 points or less.

    “Yeah, you’d love to be able to see that on a consistent basis,” Ryan said.

    Not all of the blame rests on Taylor’s shoulders. Against Philadelphia, the Bills offensive line struggled in protection, which led to a rash of holding penalties.

    And yet, it’s incumbent on Taylor to continue developing in his bid to establish himself as a capable NFL starter after spending the previous four seasons as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. The Bills signed Taylor to a three-year contract in free agency last spring, though the quarterback has the option to void the final year of his deal now that he’s played a majority of Buffalo’s snaps this season.

    The Bills have been at their best this season when Taylor’s not required to win the game with his arm.

    They’re 6-0 when Taylor throws 29 or fewer attempts. Buffalo is also 6-1 when Taylor doesn’t throw an interception or lose a fumble.

    Taylor said he’s not looking beyond Buffalo’s next game.

    “I think I’ve shown some good things and definitely learned some things that I could correct,” Taylor said, following the loss. “It’s not about me right now. It’s more to continue whatever I can to go out on Sundays and help the team win.”

  • Titans on the road to 2 time No.1 pick in the NFL Draft– The Tennessee Titans can take some measure of comfort from possibly their ugliest performance this season. It put them back in position to draft No. 1 overall in 2016.If they play the final three games like they did losing to the New York Jets, that spot should be pretty safe.

    Unfortunately, the Titans still have their toughest road game left, as they visit the New England Patriots (11-2) on Sunday in a game that has been dredging up painful memories of a 59-0 loss there in 2009.

    So interim coach Mike Mularkey said Monday the Titans (3-10) have two choices after being routed 30-8 by the Jets.

    “We can have a little pity party, or we can rally together …,” Mularkey said. “And don’t worry about pointing fingers. If there’s anybody, just look at yourself and make sure you doing everything you’re supposed to be doing before you look around.”

    The Titans missed a chance at consecutive victories for the first time since the end of the 2013 season in a loss when they were dominated from start to finish. The final margin could have been so much worse if not for the defense holding the Jets to three field goals and another attempt that was missed.

    Tennessee set the tone with cornerback Perrish Cox dropping a would-be interception on the fifth play for the defense. Tight end Delanie Walker followed with his first dropped pass this season on the first drive for the offense. Walker said they just didn’t come ready to play.

    “You can see us taking some plays off,” Walker said. “If that was finishing in the run game or not making the catches, you can say that’s loafing and not focusing.”

    The Titans’ lone highlight came when rookie Marcus Mariota caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from running back Antonio Andrews late in the third quarter. That made Mariota the first player in a season to run, pass and catch a TD of 40 yards or longer since Walter Payton in 1983.

    Mariota also was sacked five times — the most since the Titans promoted Mularkey to interim head coach Nov. 3 with the mission of protecting the Heisman Trophy winner selected No. 2 overall in April. Mularkey counted 12 missed tackles by the secondary alone.

    The lowlight came late in the first half.

    The Titans’ headsets went down, leaving defenders looking to the sideline for a play call. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick noticed and got a quick snap, tossing an easy pass to an uncovered Brandon Marshall for a 69-yard TD.

    Cox said they didn’t know the ball was snapped. Mularkey said the Jets went straight to the line without huddling, snapping the ball just as he was trying to alert the side judge their headsets went out for a timeout. Mularkey praised defensive lineman Jurrell Casey for his effort trying to chase down Marshall.

    “They caught us with it, caught us uncovered,” Mularkey said.

    Mularkey has just three games left this season to make his case to keep this job past the finale Jan. 3 at Indianapolis. He didn’t single out any specific player Monday, instead making it clear the effort given in the Jets’ loss is not what the Titans want.

    “It’s not acceptable; these will be the consequences if it happens,” Mularkey said. “But I’m talking to the team, and I want them all listening, not just one guy.”

  • Chargers go 3 straight division games without scoring a TD– The San Diego Chargers are struggling to score, a surprising development — even in this terrible season — with Philip Rivers at quarterback.The Chargers botched a scoring chance in the final seconds Sunday and lost 10-3 at Kansas City. It was the third time in as many games against AFC West rivals that the Chargers (3-10) failed to score a touchdown.

    They reached double digits in losses for the first time since going 4-12 in 2003.

    “It’s minor breakdowns at some point,” tight end Antonio Gates said Monday. “It’s just being on one page collectively. Sometimes that minor breakdown kind of ruins the play. But when we do it right, I’m telling you, man, we’re tough to stop.”

    The Chargers got the ball at their own 11 with 5 minutes left and quickly moved into Chiefs territory, converting fourth down three times. But after Rivers was called for delay of game at the Chiefs 1 with 5 seconds left, he threw high and out of the end zone.

    There was still 2 seconds left, and another incomplete pass that would have ended the game was blown dead for a false start. So with the ball pushed back to the 11-yard line, Rivers scrambled to his right and again threw to the end zone, where his pass to Danny Woodhead skipped incomplete.

    “That has been the story of our season, losing close games,” said Rivers, who played through the flu. “That was like a couple of our other losses we have lost this year. It was tough. We had our chance to win the game. We just couldn’t find a way to end it.”

    The delay penalty came after a Chiefs timeout.

    “That was an unfortunate situation,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “We were trying to make a change at the line of scrimmage and didn’t get it off so that’s on us as a football team. We didn’t get it done. … It was a mistake.”

    Running back Melvin Gordon, the team’s first-round draft pick, wasn’t even in during the final sequence. He still hasn’t scored a touchdown.

    “We’re trying to do whatever we can to run it as efficiently as we can,” McCoy said. “Obviously we haven’t done it, get him into the end zone this year.”

    And now the Chargers might be ending their 55-season run in San Diego because chairman Dean Spanos wants to move to an industrial suburb of Los Angeles to make more money.

    Sunday’s game against Miami could be the Chargers’ finale at aging Qualcomm Stadium.

    Safety Eric Weddle is in the final year of his contract and the team was adamant about not giving him an extension, so he likely will be playing his last home game as a Charger, as well.

    “I don’t really know about the organization, the future and all that,” said Weddle, who has always interacted with fans. “I’m just going to give my all and enjoy every second of it.

    “It’s tough on the city, the fans. For us as players, we don’t have a clue what is really going on. It’s unfortunate. It’s a great city, great fans. Wish we were better and could put a better product out there for them. We are what we are, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to give it our all for them one last time, if it is our last game.”

 

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