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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 7 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- RB Rodgers making most of opportunity with Buccaneers– Jacquizz Rodgers never doubted he was capable of playing a lead role in an NFL offense.Even when the diminutive running back found himself out of work and wondering if he’d get another opportunity to prove himself seven weeks ago.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers called on Sept. 13, two days after their season opener, and the sixth-year pro is making the most of a reunion with coach Dirk Koetter.
Thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries to two-time Pro Bowl selection Doug Martin and versatile backup Charles Sims, Rodgers has responded with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances that have keyed a two-game winning streak that’s got the Bucs (3-3) back to .500 after a 1-3 start.
Tampa Bay rushed for 249 yards, the fourth-most in franchise history, during Sunday’s 34-17 victory over San Francisco.
Two weeks after carrying 30 times for a then career-best 101 yards at Carolina, the 5-foot-6, 215-pound blend of power and quickness gained 154 yards on 26 attempts to help the Bucs rally from an early 14-0 deficit against the 49ers.
“Jacquizz is just a really solid player and a really solid guy,” said Koetter, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for three of the four seasons Rodgers played with the Falcons before signing with the Chicago Bears in 2015.
“He’s never had a chance to be a feature guy. He’s just behind really good guys,” Koetter said. “He’s been behind Michael Turner for a while (and) behind Steven Jackson (in Atlanta). We have good backs here, so he’s … just getting a chance.”
Martin, second in the NFL in rushing last season behind Adrian Peterson, has been sidelined since Week 2 with a sore hamstring. Sims was placed on injured reserve after hurting a knee two weeks ago.
Rodgers was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and started five of 63 games he appeared in over four seasons with Atlanta. He played five games with the Bears, carrying the ball 14 times for 41 yards, before being placed on injured reserve with a broken arm last season.
“He’s durable, he’s nifty, he can break tackles,” Koetter said.
“The good thing, I am familiar with the offense,” Rodgers, released by the Bears on Sept. 3, added, “so it helped make my transition a lot easier.”
Before making his first start for the Bucs, Rodgers had never carried more than 18 times in a NFL game. Koetter noted, though, that he was a featured back in college at Oregon State and was productive as a backup during their time together with the Falcons.
“I didn’t know the guy was as good as he is, as explosive as he is,” offensive tackle Demar Dotson said.
“He’s a baller and we were very fortunate to get him,” receiver Mike Evans said.
Rodgers became the first back in the NFL with consecutive games with at least 25 carries since DeMarco Murray did it three straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.
Martin was the last to do it for the Bucs, carrying 29 times against Minnesota and 25 against Oakland the following game as a rookie in 2012.
“Our O-line has been playing great, and the receivers have been doing great as well with downfield blocking. We’re just playing complementary football,” Evans said. “He’s similar to Doug in many ways. They’re both smaller, bigger backs that can break you down. He’s been doing that.”
- Jay Ajayi has Dolphins back in the running for a playoff berth– Faster than you can say Jay Ajayi — or maybe it’s “Jay Ajayi?!” — the Miami Dolphins have turned their season around. Thanks to their running back, they’re back in the running for a playoff berth.Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were a field goal away from being the NFL’s only winless team. But they begin their bye week at 3-4 following back-to-back wins and consecutive 200-yard rushing performances by Ajayi, who doubled his career rushing total and matched an NFL record shared by two Hall of Famers.
The Dolphins remain long shots to halt the reign of New England (6-1) in the AFC East. But they’re in the mix for a wild-card berth that would end an eight-year playoff drought.
“When you come into the locker room the last two weeks, it’s just a better feeling,” guard Jermon Bushrod said Monday. “I chase that feeling. I want to be in the locker room hugging and joking around with the guys after the game, instead of sitting there sulking.
“Nobody wants to be talked about in a bad manner. We’re tired of it.”
Ajayi changed the conversation by rushing for 204 yards against Pittsburgh and 214 on Sunday against Buffalo. His bruising, tackle-breaking style has transformed the Dolphins into a run-first, ball-control team that dominated the line of scrimmage the past two weeks on both offense and defense.
“It’s just being physical,” defensive end Mario Williams said. “We’re definitely trying to change the culture here, and it starts with that.”
It starts with Ajayi, and that’s a surprise. After being taken 149th in the 2015 draft, he had just 80 carries in his first 21 games on the Dolphins roster. In the past two weeks he has 54 carries while becoming only the fourth player to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games, joining O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. He leads the league with 6.3 yards per carry.
“I didn’t know he had it in him,” tackle Branden Albert said. “I knew he ran hard, but I didn’t know he ran this hard.”
Ajayi has benefited from the blocking of an offensive line that was in flux because of injuries and illness until Week 6. Now Ajayi is consistently passing the line of scrimmage before he encounters contact.
The successful ground game has reduced pressure on Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked only once in the past two games while posting his highest passer ratings of the year.
“We’re not trying to toot our horns, and I know things were looking ugly for us in certain games,” Albert said. “But we didn’t have all our guns. Now we’ve got everybody healthy.”
Playing to his team’s strength, first-year coach Adam Gase has been willing to keep the ball on the ground, even though he was hired because of his success with the pass.
“Adam gets a rash from calling too many run plays,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said with a smile.
Gase said calling for handoffs is a no-brainer because Ajayi keeps getting first downs even when the opposition knows what’s coming. But recent success won’t help in games to come, beginning Nov. 6 against the New York Jets.
“When we get to the Jets, we’re going to have to prove it all over again, because they’re not going to care what we did last week,” Gase said. “They’re going to say, ‘Run it, because we’re going to stop you.’ We have to establish everything all over again.”
The schedule improves the chances the Dolphins can sustain their momentum. Ajayi said he felt fine Monday, but after two bruising wins, Gase said this week’s bye comes at a good time for the young running back and the rest of the team.
The Dolphins conclude an NFL record 44-day homestand when they host the Jets (2-5). The next game against a team with a winning record isn’t until Christmas Eve, with the next eight opponents a combined 15-26-1.
“We just want to keep this rolling,” Ajayi said. “It feels really good to win. You see how it is when you get those losses pile up. Now we’re starting to catch a rhythm, and we want to keep it going.”
- Broncos back to winning ways with Kubiak back on sideline– Gary Kubiak’s return resonated more in Denver than Brock Osweiler’s.The Broncos coach put his team through the ultimate reset after taking a week off on doctor’s orders when he suffered a complex migraine Oct. 9. And it showed Monday night when the Broncos overpowered the Texans in the trenches .
“The thing that’s exciting is I think we played some complete football,” Kubiak said Tuesday. “Obviously we still made a lot of mistakes and nothing is perfect.”
He rattled off a list of things that had “been a nemesis for us,” such as winning the line of scrimmage, maintaining that dominant defense for four quarters and having red zone success on both sides of the ball.
“We still had some penalties, but we did overcome penalties better,” Kubiak said. “I think the consistency of what took place, hopefully we can grow from that.”
The Broncos ran for nearly 200 yards and limited Osweiler to 131 yards in the air in their 27-9 victory that ended a two-game losing streak.
They’re hoping Houston is a harbinger, too.
They figure if they can keep running like this, they’ll finally force opponents to send help to the line of scrimmage, setting up more opportunities like Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas had as the game went along.
“Emmanuel and D.T. always make big plays when they get opportunities,” Kubiak said. “It’s going to be important. If we can run the ball, then we can give them a chance to go against some single coverage.”
C.J. Anderson rumbled for 107 yards and a TD in his first 100-yard game before Halloween in his four-year career and Devontae Booker ran for 83 yards and scored his first touchdown after Kubiak said the rookie had earned a bigger role.
“Me and Book, if we can keep this 1-2 punch thing going and help our defense out, we can definitely go as far as we want to,” Anderson said.
Denver’s defense has played well all year but they’ve had a habit of dawdling. After allowing 34 points on the opponents’ first or second series, they held the Texans to three-and-outs on their first two drives.
Osweiler kept getting rid of the ball like it were a game of hot potato and avoided the big hits that most QBs endure against Von Miller & Co. But by getting rid of the ball so quickly, he was only able to stretch the field horizontally and not vertically.
Moreover, the Texans used 310-pound tackle Kendall Lamm as an extra blocker on one-fifth of their snaps, which meant cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. had single coverage much of the game.
“You run two-man routes against me and Aqib, that’s not really what you want to try to do the whole game,” Harris said. “We knew if it was Brock and we take away his first option, he gets kind of jittery.”
Harris said he thinks Osweiler saw him jump a route and was about to pick him off and that’s why the ball slipped out of the quarterback’s hands for a fumble that Harris scooped up in the second half.
- Seattle, Arizona players not sure how to react after 6-6 tie– The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals didn’t really know how to react after a 6-6 tie.”Two hundred games, including playoffs,” the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald said. “I have never played in a game as crazy as this one.”
It was the first tie in the Seahawks’ history. The Cardinals hadn’t had one since 1986, two years before they moved to Arizona.
Both kickers missed chip shots that would have won Sunday night’s game in overtime, Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro from 24 yards, then Seattle’s Steven Hauschka from 27 yards.
“I really don’t know how to feel,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “I’ve never been in a tie game before. It’s certainly not something we’re happy about.”
Neither were the Cardinals.
“It just stinks to walk out of here with the feeling that we have,” Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said, “and the feeling that they have.”
It was the first tie in the NFL since Cincinnati and Carolina finished 37-37 in 2014 and the first tie without a touchdown scored since 1976.
The Cardinals still haven’t beaten Seattle in Arizona in coach Bruce Arians’ four seasons in the desert.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a football game like that,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said.
Here are some things to consider from that strange Sunday night encounter.
LEAP OF FAITH: Wagner pulled off an amazingly athletic play when he blocked Catanzaro’s 39-yard field goal try in the first half.
Wagner hurdled the Arizona long snapper Aaron Brewer to get to the kicker.
“It’s something we’ve seen on film,” Wagner said. “He’s (Brewer) really low and I felt like I could jump over him, so I tried and it was a success.”
Arians was livid about the lack of a penalty on the play because he thinks Wagner touched Brewer.
“It sure looked like it to me,” Arians said, “but it was not ruled that way, same way. I’m sure I’ll talk to the league and we’ll get some kind of explanation that is (baloney) like normal.”
BLOWN CHANCES: The Cardinals dominated the game statistically but couldn’t capitalize.
They outgained the Seahawks 443-257, had 23 first downs to Seattle’s 11 and won time of possession 46:21 to 28:39.
In addition to the missed field goal, the Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-1 in the first half and failed.
“I wanted our guys to have the chance to do something, and we didn’t get it done,” Arians said. “We didn’t block the right side of the line. I’ve been known to go for it quite a few times.”
In the final seconds of the first half, the Cardinals moved within field goal distance, but the clock ran out after Palmer was sacked. Arizona would have had a timeout had Arians not been charged with one when he challenged Wagner’s block, which was not reviewable.
Speedy J.J. Nelson couldn’t outrun the defense on a 40-yard pass play in overtime. David Johnson ran from the 5-yard line to the 1. His foot knocked over the pylon but it was ruled the ball didn’t cross the goal line. The play was not reviewed, and two plays later, Catanzaro missed the short kick.
WILSON NOT RUNNING: One of the stranger statistics to this game: Palmer outrushed Russell Wilson. Palmer carried once for eight yards, and Wilson carried once for minus-2 yards.
Wilson has had problems with his ankle and knee but refuses to say that’s still bothering him.
“I feel fine,” Wilson said. “You guys keep asking me. I feel great. There’s times where some games I run, scramble and make a play. Sometimes I don’t, and that’s whether I’m healthy or not.”
SEAHAWKS OFFENSE: The Seattle offense was stuffed by the Arizona defense throughout regulation. Until overtime, the only time the Seahawks got past midfield was when Tanner McEvoy blocked Ryan Quigley’s punt to set up the field goal that tied it 3-3.
“We just couldn’t get in sync at all,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
KICKER CONSOLATION: The coaches had different reactions to the misses by their kickers.
“He has been making kicks for us for years,” Carroll said. “I love him and he’s our guy.”
Arians said he had simple advice for Catanzaro.
“Make it. He’s a professional,” Arians said. “This ain’t high school. You get paid to make it.”
- Skidding Ravens hope to heal, improve offense during bye– The Baltimore Ravens entered their bye week with a four-game losing streak, a broad injury list and the fleeting hope that it’s not too late to salvage the season.Baltimore’s 3-0 start has been offset by its longest skid since coach John Harbaugh took the job in 2008. The Ravens (3-4) staggered through October without a victory, losing to Oakland and Washington at home before falling to the Giants and Jets on successive weekends in New Jersey.
The low point came Sunday in a 24-16 loss to the Jets, who entered with a 1-5 record. Baltimore gained only 42 yards in the second half — minus-6 on the ground — and failed to score after halftime.
Performing without five former Pro Bowl players — all sidelined by injury — the Ravens frittered away a 10-point lead for the second week in a row.
If ever a team needed a week off, it’s Baltimore.
“We have a chance to hopefully put the finishing touches on a number of these (injury) recoveries and hopefully be as close to or at full strength when we get back,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Then we go to work.”
The Ravens watched film Monday and are scheduled to practice Tuesday and Wednesday before taking the rest of the week off. When they return, they’ll turn their focus toward an AFC North matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6.
By then, Harbaugh hopes to have many of his best players back on the field. Harbaugh won’t use injuries as an excuse, but the absence of linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil (foot) and C.J. Mosley (thigh), wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle) and guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) makes winning difficult.
With Yanda and rookie Ronnie Stanley missing from the offensive line, the running game was non-existent and quarterback Joe Flacco often threw under duress. Flacco was intercepted twice, sacked once and hit four times.
“Well, it’s always way better to be healthy and have your best players on the field,” Harbaugh acknowledged, adding, “but we’ve got to play with the guys we’ve got.”
In an effort to get more points on the board, Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman two weeks ago and promoted quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg to the position. The transition has done nothing to improve the running game, which finished with six yards on 12 carries against the Jets.
The Ravens can’t win if they can’t run the ball, and Harbaugh knows it.
“These next two days, we’ve got some ideas that we’ve been kind of been working out,” the coach said. “This will be an opportunity to try some things. We’re not going to have some big, monstrous change in what we’re doing. We believe in the things that we’re doing. We just want to do them better; game plan them better, scheme them better, block them better, all those sorts of things.”
Despite the four-game slide, the Ravens remain on the heels of Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
“We’re one game out of first in the division and we’re playing the team that’s first in the division, which is our arch rival,” Harbaugh said. “So, what more could you ask for than that?
- Poor quarterback play, shoddy run D doom 49ers once again– The move from Blaine Gabbert to Colin Kaepernick has done little to spark San Francisco’s struggling offense. There seems to be nothing can be done to fix the porous run defense.Kaepernick threw for just 143 yards and turned the ball over twice in a second straight subpar start and the 49ers got gashed again on the ground in a 34-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that sent San Francisco to its sixth straight loss.
“I have to be better,” Kaepernick said. “I think we threw for about 100 yards. That’s not going to win in the NFL. We have to be able to do better on that and ultimately, we have to string this together as a team and play well as a team for 60 minutes to get wins.”
After getting the 49ers (1-6) off to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with a sharp first drive and a 17-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Draughn on San Francisco’s fourth possession, Kaepernick managed to do little against the Tampa Bay defense the rest of the way.
He completed just 16 of 34 passes — his second straight game with a completion percentage under 50 percent — and had most of his success with his legs instead of his arm, running for 84 yards on nine carries.
After allowing an NFL-worst 4.5 yards per play in five games with Gabbertas starter, the Niners are averaging 4.5 yards per play with Kaepernick as well.
“It’s a combination of the protection, the drops, and not putting the ball where it needed to be,” coach Chip Kelly sad. “It wasn’t just one thing.”
On defense, it’s been an inability to stop the run ever since shutting down Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams in a 28-0 win in the season opener.
Since then, the Niners have allowed six straight backs to top the 100-yard mark with Jacquizz Rodgers the latest to join that club with 156 yards on 24 carries Sunday. Rookie Peyton Barber added 84 more, including a 44-yard touchdown run , as San Francisco gave up 249 yards on the ground for the game.
That follows last week’s 313 yards rushing allowed to Buffalo as San Francisco has allowed its most yards ever in back-to-back games in a single season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Niners are on pace to give up the most yards rushing in the NFL since the 1981 New England Patriots.
“Of course I am frustrated with it,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “You play this game to win. When we give up points the way that we do, the way we give up yards, it is just unacceptable. It is frustrating.”
The Niners now head into the bye on their longest losing streak in eight years. Despite the struggles, first-year coach Chip Kelly said he has no plans to shake up his coaching staff during the week off.
“What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to find the solution,” Kelly said. “I think if you continue to try to just get mad and get angry and all those other things, it’s not going to help you. What you need to do is you need to find a solution to identify what exactly the specific thing that’s gone wrong and how do we fix that. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
- Not a great weekend for special teams, Dan Quinn’s gut– Oakland punter Marquette King’s quick thinking and fast feet helped the Raiders start out 4-0 on the road for the first time since 2000. It was a rare gem on a weekend when the NFL’s special teams didn’t live up to the moniker.Dan Quinn’s gut betrayed him in another Atlanta loss, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has gone from tossing interceptions to throwing darts at his coach, owner and GM.
King’s was among the best calls in the NFL’s Week 7 that featured Tony Dungy calling for Jeff Fisher to give No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff a chance to kick-start his career already.
“Put him in now,” the Hall of Famer and NBC analyst said after watching Case Keenum throw three fourth-quarter interceptions in the Rams’ 17-10 loss to the Giants in London. “It’s obvious Case Keenum cannot take this team to the playoffs.”
Fisher doesn’t want to hear it.
“Jared’s going to play when we feel Jared’s ready,” Fisher said.
To which Dungy said, “I believe they’ve got to get him ready.”
FADING FALCONS: When the Falcons won at Denver two weeks ago, Quinn said there was no comparison between this year’s team and last year’s. In 2015, the Falcons won their first five but finished 8-8. “We are mentally tougher” this time around, he said.
Quinn showed too much faith in them in overtime Sunday.
The Falcons (4-3) lost their second straight game when Quinn went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 45-yard line and Devonta Freeman was stuffed by linebacker Denzel Perryman . That set up Josh Lambo’s 42-yard winning field goal in the Chargers’ 33-30 win.
“It was just instincts,” Perryman said. “On fourth-and-1, it was a no-brainer that they were going to run the ball.”
Another no-brainer? Burying the Chargers deep with a punt right there.
“It was a gut feeling that I went with and it didn’t work,” Quinn said. “We can second-guess it. That’s easy to do but it was more of a mindset. I have such belief in the guys to go and get that half a yard that we needed.”
In Quinn’s defense, special teams had a tough time Sunday, starting with Jets rookie punter Lachlan Edwards letting the ball slip through his hands on New York’s first possession, handing Baltimore a quick 2-yard touchdown.
The Raiders were leading the Jaguars by 10 with 3:35 left when King went in to punt on fourth-and-24. It looked like he was going to get smothered by the Jaguars when the snap skittered along the grass and he scooped it up. King, however, tucked the ball and darted 27 yards down the right sideline for the clinching first down.
“We feel like we’re a good football team that’s learning how to win games and recognizing there’s still a lot of things we need to work on,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said.
His athletic punter isn’t on his fix-it list.
DREARY IN THE DESERT: Hours after 43-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri sent his 43rd consecutive field goal attempt through the goal posts for Indianapolis, the Seahawks and Cardinals stumbled to a 6-6 tie. Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro clanked a 24-yard would-be winner off the left upright, and Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka hooked a 27-yarder with 7 seconds left in OT.
“I make that kick 999,999 times out of a million,” Catanzaro said.
Catanzaro’s miss came on third-and-6 after the Cardinals took a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty when they couldn’t punch it in from inside the 1. Hauschka missed wide left on second-and-goal from the 10 with the clock ticking down.
Sometimes bad luck oversteps good decisions.
PRATFALL IN PITTSBURGH: The Steelers opted to try a 54-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 with about nine minutes left when trailing New England 27-16. Chris Boswell pushed it right and the Steelers never got close again.
“He made a similar kick a year ago in that same spot on the field when we tried him out. And the weather conditions were worse than they are tonight,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We were down there, we had an opportunity to make it a one-score game. I took that chance.”
And the Steelers came away empty-handed for the second time after a takeaway in Patriots territory.
THROWING DARTS: Fitzpatrick still believes in himself, even if the Jets’ decision makers don’t. Just five days after being benched, the veteran quarterback came on in relief of an injured Geno Smith and helped lead the Jets on three scoring drives in a 24-16 comeback victory over the Ravens.
“The biggest thing in this game, in order to last, is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick said. “Because when the owner stops believing in you, the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself.”
Yes, he added, he means he feels nobody believes in him anymore, not owner Woody Johnson, not GM Mike Maccagnan, not coach Todd Bowles.
“Yeah, when you get put on the bench,” he said, “I think that’s the reason why.”
But with Smith now out with a knee injury, it looks like Fitz will be back behind center.