What Have We Learned From Week 15 of the 2015 NFL Season

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San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle signs autographs after their win against the Miami Dolphins during the second half in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 15 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

                                                                                   Ups

  • Chargers win for fans in possible final game in San Diego– Philip Rivers and the rest of the San Diego Chargers knew it would be emotional when they played what could be the final NFL game in San Diego.Maybe not this emotional.Not long after the Chargers beat the Miami Dolphins 30-14 in a matchup of last-place teams on Sunday, Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Eric Weddle and even coach Mike McCoy came back out to greet several thousand fans who don’t want their team moving to Los Angeles.

    Floyd fought back tears, because he’s retiring at season’s end.

    Rivers, who will remain with the Chargers whether they stay in San Diego or move to Los Angeles, got a bit choked up talking about the franchise’s history.

    “It was a special day, if it is the last one,” said Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead and watched as the mighty mite ran for another score. “I told the guys before the game, they’ve been playing football in this town before any of us were born, and there’s people who’re going to be at that game today that were coming to games before we were born. But we get to close it out, if it is the end. Hopefully the fans that have seen it over the years and the players that played in there can be proud today that we at least ended it the right way.”

    Afterward, Rivers worked his way around the stadium signing autographs. He took off his shoes, signed them and gave them away.

    Rivers even signed two signs critical of team Chairman Dean Spanos, reading: “Spanos loves money and I love San Diego” and “Don’t be the Grinch who stole the Bolts from San Diego.”

    Spanos, who has been pushing since February to beat St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke to Los Angeles, refused comment as he left the locker room with his two sons, who now run the team. Spanos wants to tap L.A.’s perceived riches.

    Woodhead caught touchdown passes of 20, 9 and 9 yards and scored on a 2-yard run.

    Here are some things that stood out as the Chargers (4-10) beat the Dolphins (5-9):

    SURREAL SCENE: After the game, Jackson Browne’s “Stay” and even “Auld Lang Syne” played on the sound system. Rivers, Floyd, Weddle and McCoy signed autographs and greeted fans.

    Once security and police cleared the remaining fans, Weddle, whose contract expires after the season, went to the Chargers logo at midfield and stretched out on his back.

    “I felt that’s the least we could do,” Rivers said. “It’s more than just us that this affects, obviously, if it is the last time.

    “You want them to at least end it with a memory that was unique. At least just a token that, we thank you. If this is the last one, I’ll always be sick that we didn’t win a championship while we were here.”

    THE CONTROVERSY: Spanos, who has been pushing since February to be positioned to beat St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke to Los Angeles, refused comment as he left the locker room with his two sons, who now run the team. Spanos wants to tap L.A.’s perceived riches. NFL owners could vote on relocation next month. The Chargers and archrival Oakland Raiders want to build a stadium in Carson, while Kroenke wants to build one in Inglewood.

    Spanos was the target of several signs. One read, “Does 54 years mean nothing Dean? NFL?” The sign was off by one year; the Chargers have been here 55 years.

    FAREWELL TO FLOYD: In the fourth quarter, the Chargers played a video tribute to Floyd, who’s retiring after 12 seasons in San Diego. He fought back tears after greeting fans following his final home game. Rivers tried to get Floyd a TD pass, but was intercepted at the 1 by Brent Grimes.

    With 37 seconds left, McCoy called timeout so Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and Floyd could leave the game to applause.

    He did the same thing for Weddle.

    Those fans who stuck around to the end cheered at the final gun.

  • James White emerging as another option for Pats– Second-year running back James White has quickly become an option for Tom Brady in the New England Patriots’ passing game.”The role that he’s filled, it’s been pretty unbelievable what he’s accomplished,” Brady said on his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. ” … He’s very … he’s just solid.”With Shane Vereen gone to the New York Giants via free agency, Dion Lewis emerged as the Patriots back who balances the passing game out of the backfield.

    Lewis, who missed the past two seasons with knee injuries, had 36 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns when he went down, again for the season, with another knee injury on Nov. 8.

    The Patriots got additional help in the backfield when veteran running back Steven Jackson announced via his Twitter account Monday that he is joining the Patriots.

    Coach Bill Belichick saw the growth in White as a player during training camp and preseason. He also saw a young player eager for his chance, but also learning while he wasn’t getting that chance.

    White has 21 catches in the past three games. He took a screen pass 30 yards for a touchdown, one of his seven catches in Sunday’s 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. He also had a 70-yard catch and run wiped out by a penalty.

    “He’s really played well all year,” Belichick said Monday. “When we had more depth in the backfield than we have right now he didn’t get as many opportunities as he had more recently, but as he’s gotten more opportunities he’s really taken advantage of them and shown what he can do.

    “He’s a tough guy to handle with the ball in his hands. He’s very smart. He does an excellent job with assignments and adjustments, blitz pickup and all those things. He’s really done a good job for us.”

    White said he is feeling more comfortable in the offense.

    “The more you get out there, the more confident you can play, so I’m just trying to play with confidence every week and do whatever I can to help the team.”

    White has run the ball only 17 times (for 47 yards and two touchdowns), but has caught 33 passes for 319 yards and three scores.

    “You go out there during practice and you just try to work on it during practice and then execute out there in the game,” White said. “That’s what I try to do and if I get the ball in my hands, I just try to make a play for my team and keep the ball secure.”

    Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been pleased with White’s progress.

    “James has really come on and been a dependable guy for us,” McDaniels said Monday.

    “His work ethic since we drafted him last year and his maturity, his intelligence, his ability to retain information from one week to the next has always given him an opportunity to know what to do and then now he’s had those opportunities in game situations to go out there and then perform on the field.

    “So he was working hard even when he wasn’t playing a lot and that has definitely benefited him and our team as well since Dion’s injury, but he goes in there, he knows what to do, he competes at a very high level, he’s in the right spot.

    “I think everyone trusts James to do his job well on every play and when he has had his opportunities, he’s really made the most of them, to his credit.”

  • Falcons snap their 6 game losing streak– First-year head coach Dan Quinn said he has learned a lot about himself and the team during the Atlanta Falcons’ six-game losing streak.Now that his focus has turned to Carolina — the NFL’s only unbeaten team — Quinn hopes the Falcons have a second straight good week of preparation.At 7-7, Atlanta is still a longshot to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.

    “As far as I know, if you’re got a shot, you’ve got a shot,” Quinn said Monday. “We’ve got an awesome challenge ahead this week and it’s one we’re absolutely jacked for.”

    Sunday’s 23-17 win at Jacksonville could’ve been a lot easier if not for several missed opportunities.

    Defensively, Desmond Trufant and Grady Jarrett whiffed on easy chances to recover a fumble. Kemal Ishmael’s 84-yard interception return was stopped short of a touchdown when Justin Durant failed to block quarterback Blake Bortles.

    The offense held the ball for about 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, but had to settle for two field goals by Shayne Graham.

    The Falcons must convert their chances against the Panthers (14-0). Carolina beat them 38-0 two weeks ago in Charlotte, marking the first time that everything fell apart with Quinn in charge of a game.

    “Very disappointed in that outcome,” Quinn said. “Very.”

    Leading into the last Carolina game, Quinn thought practice and preparation met the standards he sets each week, but that was hardly the case with Atlanta trailing by three touchdowns at the end of the first quarter.

    It will be important for the Falcons to keep their cool, too, considering that Ishmael, linebacker O’Brien Schofield and receiver Roddy White were each whistled for unnecessary roughness. White and star wideout Julio Jones have both expressed frustration with cornerback Josh Norman’s talking throughout the game.

    “For sure we’re going back to that,” Quinn said. “It happened on our watch that we didn’t play well. We want to establish our toughness between the whistles, but having poise is not having anything happen after the whistle.”

    Last week was the season’s low point, but the six-game losing streak also gave Quinn a chance to reflect on how is team had started the season 5-0 before losing seven of eight.

  • Teddy Bridgewater got the Vikings on the brink of a Playoff Spot-Teddy Bridgewater took the shotgun snap for Minnesota from the 15-yard line and saw Chicago cornerback Tracy Porter in man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage on Stefon Diggs.This was second down, midway through the first quarter of a then-scoreless game, so Bridgewater could’ve played it safe. Adrian Peterson was out wide in that formation, open for what ought to have been at least a short completion in the flat.

    Bridgewater ignored that option and locked in on Diggs, whose fade route into the corner of the end zone required a difficult throw that the second-year quarterback made look easy. The ball floated just right, over the receiver’s left shoulder where it was out of Porter’s reach.

    Touchdown, Vikings, and the Bears were behind the remainder of the game.

    “He decided that he’d try to hit the big one. I think that play probably shows as much about his confidence level right now,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

    Describing Bridgewater as coming of age wouldn’t quite be accurate, since he’s barely 23 with only 26 career starts. The timing of this groove he’s in, though, couldn’t be better with the Vikings (9-5) tantalizingly close to a spot in the playoffs.

    “He just maybe feels a lot more comfortable with the things we’re doing now,” Zimmer said. “I think we’re starting to settle into who we are.”

    That identity, as long as Peterson is in the backfield, won’t stray from a ground-based approach. Whether it’s been a better mix of calls by offensive coordinator Norv Turner, stronger protection from the line in front of him or sharper, smarter throws by Bridgewater, though, the passing attack has been buzzing for two weeks.

    The Vikings lost 23-20 at Arizona on Dec. 10, but Bridgewater set a career high with 335 yards through the air, including the tying touchdown pass with less than 5 minutes left. His fumble during a sack in field-goal range with 5 seconds remaining was the only glaring mistake, but the play was slow-developing with receivers running left to right and no safe options with that amount of time.

    Then on Sunday, Bridgewater threw for a career-most four touchdowns against a Bears defense that ranks third in the NFL in yards passing allowed. He ran for one, too, and completed 17 of 20 attempts on his way to a career-best 154.4 passer rating. That’s 3.9 points short of the best possible number.

    Bridgewater, typically reluctant to analyze his play, rank his performances or boast about any accomplishments, acknowledged the game “probably was” his best as a pro. Yes, he’s still near the bottom of the league lists for touchdowns and yards and many of the main statistical categories for quarterbacks, but the Vikings will take his 15-11 record and the way he has rallied from some of his worst plays and games.

    The Vikings have been thriving on screen plays, quick outs and comebacks and crossing patterns that have allowed Diggs, wide receiver Jarius Wright and running back Jerick McKinnon to use their speed and turn short catches into long gains. Mix in some play-action passes that feed off Peterson’s inside running, and there’s plenty of diversity in a scheme that can be predictable and containable when Peterson can’t find room.

    “It’s hard for a defense to handle all of those things,” Bridgewater said.

    If the Vikings beat the New York Giants on Sunday night, they’ll be in the playoffs. But they could clinch before they even arrive at the stadium.

    The only scenario in which they would miss out is a three-way tie with Atlanta and Seattle at 9-7 for the two wild-card spots. So if the Falcons (7-7) lose one of their last two or the Seahawks (9-5) win one of their last two, the Vikings will be in the postseason for just the second time since 2009 even if they lose out.

    To make any kind of a move in the playoffs, of course, they’ll need more of this from Bridgewater.

    “I’m comfortable with whatever situation we’re put in,” he said. “As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”

Downs

  • At 5-9 with 2 games left, Dolphins are worse than mediocre– Mediocrity, the Miami Dolphins’ hallmark in recent years, suddenly seems beyond their reach.The Dolphins are staggering to the finish line with another dismal December and are now assured of their first losing season since 2012. They’re 5-9 with games remaining at home against two teams thinking playoffs, Indianapolis and New England.Lose both, and the Dolphins will have their worst record since 2007, when they went 1-15. Regardless, this year is a step back from the past two seasons, when Miami went 8-8.

    Movement in the wrong direction gained momentum with Sunday’s 30-14 loss to the last-place San Diego Chargers. The Dolphins entered the game already eliminated from the playoff race and played like it, trailing 23-0 at halftime.

    “I don’t fault the effort,” interim coach Dan Campbell said Monday. “They fought all the way through. Mentally the focus was not there. That’s what lacked.”

    Focus isn’t the only issue. Center Mike Pouncey (left foot), linebacker Koa Misi (back) and linebacker Chris McCain (knee) left Sunday’s game with injuries that could be season-ending, and left tackle Branden Albert (right knee) also went to the sideline.

    With Pouncey and Albert out, the offensive line found it difficult to protect Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked three times and had his right hand bandaged afterward.

    Third-year pro Dallas Thomas might be the most experienced blocker in a patchwork line against the Colts.

    “Hey, it’ll be interesting,” Campbell said. “If that’s who we’ve got, that’s who we’ve got, and we’ll make a go of it.”

    Tannehill has taken a beating this season, but if he’s eager for it to be over, he isn’t saying. Instead, he sees the remaining games as a chance to create momentum toward 2016.

    “I’m still out there to play to win,” Tannehill said. “You only get 16 regular-season games a year, and you want to take advantage of every single one. You want to build off the things we’ve done well, and correct the things we haven’t done well. We know it’s our last two games, but I think we need to find a way to play well and build off of that for next year.”

    Eight rookies saw significant duty against the Chargers. When Campbell was asked about any bright spots in the loss, the first player he mentioned was fifth-round pick Tony Lippett, who saw extensive action at cornerback.

    Campbell also praised first-round pick DeVante Parker, who had four receptions for a season-high 87 yards.

    “He’s taking his game to another level,” Campbell said. “He’s beginning to play with a lot of confidence, and you can tell the defenders over him are feeling that. As the game went on, they started playing a little more off him.”

    The rookie players will be back next season, but the rookie coach probably won’t. Campbell’s promotion when Joe Philbin was fired inspired Miami’s best stretch of the year, with consecutive lopsided victories before the team went into a tailspin.

    The Dolphins are 4-7 since Campbell took over and have lost five of the past six games. Even so, their interim coach continues to win praise from his players.

    “At this point playoffs are obviously out of the question,” running back Jay Ajayi said, “so we’re all playing for love of the game and our teammates. I’m going to put my heart on my sleeve for coach Campbell, because he has been great through this whole situation.”

  • Inconsistent Jaguars now focused on fixing 3rd-down issues– The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new area of emphasis:Third down.After failing to convert a third down for the second time in coach Gus Bradley’s three seasons and giving up four lengthy ones late in a 23-17 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, the Jaguars (5-9) plan to work on that aspect of the game this week in practice.

    It might be too little, too late.

    Jacksonville has lost three of its last four games and now has little chance of winning the AFC South. Bradley’s team has been consistently inconsistent all season, with offensive problems one week, defensive ones the next and special teams issues sprinkled throughout. And after working to curb costly turnovers, defensive lapses, red-zone woes and missed extra points, now third down is the biggest concern.

    On both sides of the ball.

    “Yeah, we’ll practice third down and have a little more emphasis on third down,” Bradley said Monday as his team began preparing to play at New Orleans (5-8).

    The Jags finished 0 for 8 on third down against the Falcons, and failed on their one fourth-down attempt.

    “We couldn’t get a groove all game,” receiver Allen Hurns said. “I think we did a bad job on third down, not converting and leaving the defense out on the field by having a couple three-and-outs.”

    It was the first time since the 2014 season finale that Jacksonville failed to convert a third down. The offense missed on 11 attempts against Houston last December.

    It also was the second consecutive week the Jaguars struggled in that area. They were 2 for 9 on third down against Indianapolis last week, a percentage that got overlooked in the 51-16 victory.

    The Jags weren’t much better on the defensive side of the ball against Atlanta. The Falcons converted 6 of 9 in the second half, moving the chains on third-and-7, third-and-9, third-and-5 and third-and-13 in the fourth quarter.

    “We didn’t get off the field on third down, especially with some third-and-longer situations,” Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “If we want to be a great defense, we have to get off of the field in those types of situations. To have those guys make those plays and extend those drives, that’s not good for anybody. It takes time away from the offense and the opportunities they’ll have.”

    The Falcons held the ball for nearly 18 minutes in the second half, including a 6-minute, 44-second drive in the fourth quarter in a three-point game.

    “Yeah, you don’t want to be on the field for that long,” defensive end Jared Odrick said. “In terms of scheme of the game, you want to get off of the field. You don’t think about being frustrated about being on the field. You don’t think about that. … We really just want to step up and put the offense in a position to win the game. That’s our mindset.”

    It didn’t happen Sunday and now the Jags have little chance of winning the muddled AFC South.

    Jacksonville needs to beat New Orleans and Houston and have Tennessee win its remaining games against the Texans and the Colts.

    In the meantime, the Jags would settle for third-down improvements.

  • Giants, Ravens, Broncos make questionable calls in Week 15– Not ushering Odell Beckham Jr. off the field for continually attacking Carolina cornerback Josh Norman wasn’t the only questionable call in the NFL’s wacky Week 15.There was the confusing punt return for a touchdown that was negated in Pittsburgh because Denver’s O-line trotted onto the field too soon and Baltimore’s befuddling fake punt that Kansas City sniffed out and snuffed.The blunders in Pittsburgh and Baltimore helped keep the AFC playoff race a jumble.

    Here’s a fascinating scenario: Even if the Broncos beat the Bengals next Monday night, there’s a possibility Denver could go into the season finale with a shot at the No. 1 seed or missing the playoffs altogether.

    “That’s a crazy spectrum of possibilities,” Denver tight end Owen Daniels said. “But we’re ready for the challenge.”

    The Giants saw their playoff hopes take another hit, but not before OBJ took several swings at Norman in a heated matchup that quickly got out of control and only got worse.

    The NFL on Monday suspended Beckham for next weekend’s visit to Minnesota for his conduct against Carolina, when he drew three personal foul penalties. The league cited “multiple violations of safety-related playing rules,” including a diving helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman while blocking.

    The league was left to weigh in on OBJ after neither referee Terry McAulay nor Giants coach Tom Coughlin removed the wide receiver from the game despite repeated penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.

    Other than Beckham launching himself head-first for a violent helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman, he also delivered an open-handed smack to his facemask in the Giants’ 38-35 loss to the unbeaten Panthers.

    The two stars turned Cam Newton’s five TD passes into a sideshow by tangling time and again, pushing, shoving and swinging at each other.

    Norman called Beckham immature and said he should have been ejected.

    “The guy ran 15 yards down the field — a dead-on collision,” Norman said. “The play was all the way on the left side. He came back and was hunting; and it was malicious in every way.”

    He added that “players like that don’t deserve to be in the game.”

    Beckham refused to discuss his run-ins with Norman, skirting the questions by saying the loss was unfortunate.

    Coughlin said he seriously considered taking his star receiver out of the game to calm him down.

    He never did, and neither did the referee.

    In Pittsburgh, the Broncos blew a 17-point lead in a 34-27 loss to the Steelers in which they surrendered the game’s final 24 points. Needing a big play to squelch Pittsburgh’s mounting momentum, Jordan Norwood played possum on a short punt before scooping up the loose ball that Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas had touched but not picked up himself.

    Norwood raced 71 yards for a TD that would have put the Broncos ahead 34-20 with a minute left in the third quarter.

    It wasn’t just Pittsburgh’s players who thought the ball was dead, however.

    So did Denver’s.

    The Broncos’ offensive linemen trotted onto the field from the opposite sideline just as Norwood was making his way downfield past the stunned Steelers, many of whom were standing around or trotting off the field altogether.

    The Broncos were whistled for an illegal substitution, negating the touchdown and bringing the ball all the way back to their 28. They went three-and-out and Pittsburgh completed its comeback.

    “We had some of our offensive lineman, who thought the play was over, and started to jog. They were about 40 or 50 yards behind the ball,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “They started to jog on the field … They (the Steelers) also had guys running on the field, which is evident. Then I’ve been told that he was out of bounds anyway.”

    Broncos safety David Bruton, who played 75 snaps after breaking his right fibula in a collision with cornerback Aqib Talib, bore the brunt of Steelers center Cody Wallace’s flagrant foul hit to the helmet two plays after he hurt his leg.

    Bruton said he hopes the league punishes Wallace as it did Beckham.

    “Everybody’s make a big deal of Odell’s deal but nothing on him, and I’m pretty sure my head was down, the play was over, whistle was blown,” Bruton said. “… He left his feet trying to take me out. So, I just know if we have to play them again, it’s not going to go well. We’re definitely going to make sure that he’s going to feel it.”

    While the Steelers strengthened their hold on a wild-card berth with the win, the Broncos’ lead in the AFC West was trimmed to a single game over the Chiefs, winners of eight straight and the beneficiary of Baltimore’s big first-quarter gamble.

    The injury-ravaged Ravens are out of the running and they unapologetically took a risk against a team in the thick of the playoff race.

    With the Ravens trailing 14-7 in the first quarter, punter Sam Koch lined up near his own end zone and ran up the middle, gaining 7 yards when he needed 9. That gave KC the ball at the Baltimore 24 and three plays later, Jeremy Maclin caught a 13-yard touchdown pass.

    “Anybody wants to criticize for going for it and being aggressive, have at it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m not apologizing.”

 

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