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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 9 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Raiders head into bye week as first-place team– Two years after starting the season with 10 straight losses, the Oakland Raiders head into their bye week in a far different place: first place.Fresh off a 30-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos that left them all alone in first in the AFC West, the Raiders now get the chance to rest up a bit before the stretch run of a season they hope will include playoff games for the first time since 2002.
After building a strong record with wins against some of the lesser regarded teams, the Raiders (7-2) stamped their arrival as legitimate contenders with a complete victory over the Broncos on a prime-time stage.
The offense controlled the line of scrimmage and ran for 218 yards, Derek Carr made key plays in the passing game, the defense shut down Denver’s run game and harassed Trevor Siemian all night and even the special teams got into the act with two punts downed at the 2, prompting celebratory dances from punter Marquette King .
“I think it was closest,” coach Jack Del Rio said Monday when asked whether his team put together a complete game. “I think all three phases certainly contributed in the game. They had really good moments, all three. We see a lot of things that can be better. That’s what we’re going to keep working at. I don’t know if you ever reach that perfect performance you’re striving for anyway but there are things we need to clean up, that we need to be better at.”
Seeking improvement after a big win is a far cry from where this franchise was as recently as 2014. Oakland started that season 0-10 — firing coach Dennis Allen after four games — and was often not even competitive in games during Carr’s rookie season.
But after showing progress by winning seven games last year in Del Rio’s first season, the Raiders are putting it all together in 2016 and look like one of the top teams in the AFC even if they see plenty of room for growth.
“We have so much we can do and we see that we can do it,” Carr said. “We can’t work on it all at once. We have to just build, but we’re trying.”
Carr has been a big reason for the rebuilding job. He has improved in each of his three seasons and has thrown for 2,505 yards with 17 TDs and only three interceptions so far this season.
But he has gotten plenty of help from an offensive line that mauled Denver’s heralded front to clear holes for Latavius Murray and the backs, big-play receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and a defense that has improved significantly in recent weeks after getting torched the first few.
That’s all part of the winning culture Del Rio is trying to instill.
“I’m pretty straight forward about it with the staff and with the players about what we’re looking for and what championship football looks like,” he said. “We’re just going to push for it. It takes time to develop and to grow. The good news is we’ve recognized where these areas are yet we’re winning. Being able to win and put that big smile on your face, go home and feel good about things, lay your head down at night but wake up in the morning knowing you have work to do and there are things that must improve.”
The Raiders hope to get a boost from the bye with players like right tackle Menelik Watson and cornerback Sean Smith able to heal up from injuries, other key veterans getting needed rest and some potential help on the front seven from two players who have been missing all year.
Linebacker Aldon Smith said last week he hopes to be able to return when his one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy ends Nov. 17.
Smith still must get reinstated by the league and Del Rio is not counting on anything at this point.
Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. seems like a better bet to return. He has been out since training camp with a hip injury but could be able to return to practice soon and provided needed help for both the pass rush and run defense.
“The unknown part, I just leave that over there in that category and we’re not going to wait for that,” Del Rio said. “What we’ve got to do is continue to grow, got to continue to do the things that helped us play better defensively the last several weeks and continue to be better.”
- Another tight victory pulls Lions closer to 1st place– In every game they’ve played this season, the Detroit Lions have been trailing or tied at some point in the final two minutes of regulation.Perhaps that’s why they approached last weekend’s predicament at Minnesota with so much poise.
Down three with 17 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Matthew Stafford completed a 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts. Then the Lions calmly rushed to the line, and Stafford was able to spike the ball, setting up Matt Prater’s 58-yard field goal that tied it. Detroit beat the Vikings 22-16 in overtime .
“I think you have to attribute it to the guys that we have on the field,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “They function pretty well in tight situations. It’s that old saying about, you don’t rise to the occasion but you sink to the level of your preparation, and our guys have prepared I think pretty well.”
The Lions (5-4) have had plenty of drama already this season, with every game decided by seven points or fewer. They needed field goals in the final two minutes to beat Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles — and Prater’s kick against Minnesota saved Sunday’s game. Detroit also beat Washington last month on a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.
Add it all up, and the Lions are a half-game out of first place in the NFC North as they head into their bye week. It’s a far cry from where Detroit was during its open date last season, which came after the Lions got off to a 1-7 start.
Detroit shook up its front office during its bye week last season, firing general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand. The Lions won six of their final eight games after that. It wasn’t enough to salvage the season, but the playoffs are in reach in 2016.
After falling behind 16-13 on Sunday when Minnesota scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left, the Lions took over at their own 25. Golden Tate caught an 8-yard pass and went out of bounds, then Stafford found Roberts in the middle of the field.
Detroit hustled to the line, being careful to line up properly and avoid a penalty. Stafford spiked the ball with 2 seconds left, and Prater’s kick was down the middle.
“That is perfect execution from everybody,” said Tate, who ended up scoring the winning touchdown in overtime. “That situation with 23 seconds and no timeouts, I won’t say we’re done, and mentally you know it is not over until it says zero on the clock.”
Caldwell said his players practice situations like that and have developed confidence.
“We go through every conceivable situation in the league,” he said. “If we see some that are a little precarious and a little tough … we’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m going to use that one for our mock this particular week.’ We take those real-life examples and utilize those to try to test our team. More often than not, we take a few timeouts off of it so we make them operate with no timeouts rather than giving them a crutch.”
If the season ended now, the Lions would be in the playoffs as a wild card. After their weekend off, they have a winnable home game against a last-place Jacksonville team, and their final three home games after that are against NFC North opponents.
Detroit has been in some difficult spots this season, but the Lions have turned enough of those late-game deficits into wins that they’ll have a lot to play for down the stretch.
- Forget about the Steelers; Ravens turn focus toward Browns– The Baltimore Ravens had very little time to enjoy a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, one that lifted them into first place in the AFC North.Coach John Harbaugh gathered the team for meetings and a practice session Monday, less than 24 hours after Baltimore ended a four-game losing streak by defeating its division rivals 21-14 .
Next up: a home game against winless Cleveland on Thursday night. Even though the Ravens waited more than a month to secure their fourth win, they knew there would be nothing to gain by lingering in the moment.
“Normally we come in after the game and watch the film, which is always fun after a victory,” linebacker Zachary Orr said. “We didn’t do that today. We had to move on to Cleveland. Hopefully, next week we get to look back on two wins.”
Harbaugh and his coaching staff began preparing for Cleveland at the same time they were poring over film of the Steelers.
“A lot of work was done last week, a lot of work was done last night and this morning,” Harbaugh said after the late afternoon practice session. “We moved right to Cleveland. We didn’t spend any time on Pittsburgh as far as reviewing it.”
It’s been a crazy year for the Ravens, whose 3-0 start included a 25-20 win at Cleveland on Sept. 18 in which they rallied from a 20-point deficit. Now, in spite of a four-game skid — the team’s longest since Harbaugh arrived in 2008 — Baltimore reached the midpoint of the season tied atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh, a half-game ahead of Cincinnati.
“Since 2012, we haven’t really been in a position to win the division this late in the season,” Harbaugh noted. “Really, in the end, that’s what matters.”
The Ravens received contributions from the offense, defense and special teams in taking down the Steelers. Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace collaborated on a 95-yard touchdown, the defense yielded only two first downs over the first 45 minutes, and a blocked punt produced the clinching score.
For the first time in a month, Baltimore put it all together.
“You look in a lot of different areas and see things that were hurting us in a lot of those (previous) games. We’ve cleaned a lot of that stuff up,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the beauty of football, especially in the NFL. It’s a long season and you have the opportunity to improve.”
A misstep against the Browns (0-9) would nullify that win over Pittsburgh in much the same fashion that the 0-4 stretch offset the 3-0 start.
“Veteran teams, good teams, they don’t take steps back,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They take the next step.”
Before the game against the Steelers, Suggs told his teammates, “This game has the potential to define you.” Afterward, he told them to forget about it.
“We’re going to enjoy this, but it’s going to be short-lived,” Suggs said. “We’ve definitely got to move on, and I’m going to do my part and make sure them guys understand that.”
Playing with three days rest has become commonplace for NFL teams, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
“The game planning is certainly a challenge, but you just do it. Both teams are on the same boat,” Harbaugh said. “The physical part of it is different, too. The recovery curve is shorter, so you adjust what you do.”
The players get it. Big defensive tackle Brandon Williams would have loved spending Monday at home or in a whirlpool, but that wasn’t an option.
“It’s the thing we do,” he said. “One game down, next one’s up. We’ve got to get our body right, come out Thursday and play our game.”
- Saddled with another loss, Packers seeking spark– The Green Bay Packers need a spark after another loss at Lambeau Field.The Indianapolis Colts jolted their confidence after a tone-setting 99-yard return for a touchdown by Jordan Todman on the opening kickoff. The Packers never quite looked like themselves until the frantic fourth quarter.
But an 18-point deficit with 9:35 left was too much to overcome in a 31-26 loss on Sunday to the Colts.
“Indianapolis jumped on us from the first play and we frankly never got it back,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers (4-4) need to find answers quickly ahead of what could be a season-defining, three-game road swing starting next week at Tennessee. A team considered to be one of the top contenders in the NFC has a .500 record at midseason.
“We’re 4-4. Played a lot of good football, that’s the fact of the matter. But you are what your record is,” McCarthy said.
He felt his team had a great week of practice leading into Sunday’s game. Todman’s return seemed to be a buzz-killer.
The offense overcame a slow start with two touchdowns with a 4-plus minute span of the fourth quarter. Randall Cobb’s 3-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Rodgers with 3:29 left got Green Bay within five.
The Colts came up with two third-down conversions on the ensuing drive to put the game away.
If only the Packers had more energy earlier in the game.
“You kind of felt it over the entire sideline. We didn’t have the same kind of enthusiasm and encouragement that we had the previous two weeks,” Rodgers said. “So we’ve got to look deep in the mirror there, because that’s just not acceptable.”
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had two interceptions in the first quarter, which the Packers turned into 10 points. Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for a 26-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first quarter to make it 14-10.
But Green Bay managed just 32 yards on nine plays on the next two series of the second quarter, with both drives ending in punts. The Colts ended the first half with an impressive 15-play, 91-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief for a 24-10 lead with 11 seconds left in the quarter.
“We got outplayed in the first half, big time,” veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “We just didn’t play well enough and that’s pretty much all I can say.”
- Inexperience, inconsistency cost Eagles; 3-0 start a memory– Carson Wentz is playing like a rookie and Doug Pederson is making decisions like a first-year coach.The combination of inexperience and inconsistency cost the Philadelphia Eagles another game, and they’re reeling at the midpoint of the season. They’ve lost four of the last five games, including a 28-23 loss to the Giants on Sunday.
That 3-0 start is a distant memory now.
“We’re obviously building something here, but, when you look at these games, that we’ve been in at the end, the encouraging thing is that we really should have won those games,” Pederson said Monday. “As we build this thing, we’re going to win these games down the stretch as we go.”
Wentz threw a pair of interceptions on Philadelphia’s first two drives against New York, putting the Eagles in a 14-0 hole. They also trailed 14-0 in the first quarter in losses to Detroit and Washington.
But Wentz rebounded nicely against the Giants the same way he did in the other losses only to fall short at the end.
The offense had the ball with an opportunity to drive for the winning score in each of the four losses, but Wentz couldn’t get it done.
He threw four straight incomplete passes from the Giants 17 in the final minute. Jordan Matthews was open in the end zone on fourth-and-10, but Wentz’s pass sailed over his outside shoulder.
“It was a good ball,” Matthews said afterward. “Carson put it outside, good placement. I’ve just got to locate it, find it and bring it in.”
Wentz also took the blame.
“You’ve got to be precise down there,” he said.
Their inability to finish games should be a learning experience. They also have to play better at the start.
“That same sense of urgency that you have to have at the end of the game, we have to come out with that,” Matthews said.
“We have to come out with that same drive, that same attention to detail and that gotta-have-it mentality, we’ve got to go make a play right now. It comes, and lots of times it comes when we’re down or late in games, and then it’s too late.”
Pederson’s playcalling has been questionable lately. He was conservative in an overtime loss at Dallas last week and too aggressive against New York. Pederson is calling plays for the first time in his career after serving as offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Kansas City.
He passed up field goals twice to go for fourth-and-2 at the Giants 23 and fourth-and-1 at the Giants 6 in the first half. The offense failed to convert both times, and the six points were the difference in the outcome.
“I still feel strong about those,” Pederson said. “I think the decision is to go for it. It shows confidence and belief in the guys. We were moving the ball.
“To me, it didn’t come down to those two plays. There were enough things that cost us this football game, but I still stick by what I did — how I chose to go for it in both of those situations.”
Overall, the Eagles had a first down at the Giants 22 or better on six different possessions and ended up with three field goals on those drives.
The Eagles host the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons (6-3) this week. They’re 3-0 at home, including lopsided wins over the Steelers and Vikings.
- Down and out: Winless Browns showing little sign of progress– Although his team has yet to win, Browns coach Hue Jackson usually spends a moment or two rattling off good things he extracts from a loss.There’s always a silver lining.
Not Monday. Not after a 35-10 shellacking by the Dallas Cowboys.
“There were no positives to take out of yesterday,” Jackson said Monday on a conference call. “Some we need to learn from but really no positives.”
The Browns (0-9) are beyond bad, and they appear to be getting worse.
They’ve matched the worst start in team history and will need a win over Baltimore on Thursday night to avoid being the first 0-10 club in Cleveland’s 66-year history.
The Browns have lost 12 in a row going back to last season, 19 of 20 and they are 3-27 in their past 30 games — an unimaginable stretch of sorry football.
If all that wasn’t tough enough, Jackson, whose young team has been hit hard by injuries in his first season with Cleveland, there’s little time to prepare for the Ravens.
No rest for the weary.
“I’ve never been 0-and-9 before, so you better believe it’s the toughest challenge I’ve ever had,” he said. “But I am excited about the challenge and I truly believe that we’ve got a tough road ahead of us, but we’re looking forward to it.
“I mean, this is the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, Thursday night in Baltimore. So we’ve got to get up and get these guys ready to play, and they will be.”
That didn’t seem to be the case on Sunday as the Cowboys (7-1) outmanned the Browns on both sides of the ball. Dallas put together one long touchdown drive after another, running up a 25-point lead after three quarters before pumping the brakes and coasting to their seventh straight win.
According to STATS, the Browns became the first team in 52 years to allow at least 25 points in its first nine games, a stat which underscores how poorly Cleveland’s defense has played under coordinator Ray Horton.
In a league where coordinators are routinely replaced during the season, it would seem Horton’s job would be in jeopardy. The Browns are ranked 31st in total defense and 31st in points allowed.
However, Jackson said he’s sticking with Horton, who is in his second stint running Cleveland’s defense. To Jackson, there are plenty of other reasons why the Browns are stumbling, and he dismissed a question asking if Horton was in trouble.
“No, and I say that with no question,” he said. “I don’t want to continue to get into those kinds of things, and that is probably the last question I will probably take on any of our staff members about their job because it is not about that at all in my opinion.”
It had to be troubling for Jackson not to be able to mention one good thing about Sunday’s game. After all, the Browns are nine games in, and while there were no illusions that this would be a long turnaround, the team seems be regressing.
“It is tough,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, there were no positives from yesterday, but there have been some positives so that has been the foundation. We take the positives that we can find and really build on those and make that something that we rally to.
“Our players are professionals, and they understand when they come in this building we come in here to work each and every day.”
Like Horton, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler is safe for now.
Jackson isn’t going to replace the third-round pick, who returned to the lineup after missing one game with a concussion.
Kessler had some decent moments against the Cowboys, but struggled to get the ball downfield and Jackson conveyed some dissatisfaction in his performance.
Kessler finished 19 of 27 for 203 yards, but he wasn’t able to sustain drives in the second half when Cleveland managed just 28 total yards.
“The biggest disappointment for me as the leader of our offense is we haven’t been able to win, haven’t found a way to score one more point than the other team to win a game,” Jackson said.
“There’s some things I’m sure individually players have done well, but as an offensive team, it’s the quarterback’s job to get the team to win. I haven’t done a good enough job of getting that done for our guys. Regardless of what stat lines are, until we get a win for this football team, (stats) are not going to matter.”
- Bumbling Jaguars now worst in NFL in turnover differential– Jacksonville’s turnover differential is a number better suited for the golf course.The Jaguars (2-6) are minus-12 on the season, the worst margin in the NFL and a big reason coach Gus Bradley’s team has lost three consecutive games and sits last in the AFC South.
Jacksonville found new ways to add to its turnover woes in a 19-14 loss at Kansas City on Sunday. Not only did the Jaguars lose a muffed punt for the third consecutive game, Chris Ivory fumbled crossing the goal line and two defenders collided to prevent what should have been an easy interception.
The errors were part of a four-turnover performance and the fourth consecutive game without a takeaway.
And they left Bradley scratching his head.
“We talk about it every day,” he said Monday. “We show clips every day. We show pictures every day. Maybe it’s too much.”
Ivory’s fourth-quarter fumble was the only questionable one of the bunch. Trailing 19-7, Ivory lost control as he stretched the ball across the goal line. It was ruled a fumble and a touchback, and replays didn’t provide any clear evidence to indicate Ivory had broken the plane before the ball slipped out of his hands.
“I have to be careful here with this,” Bradley said. “We get different views than they do. All I can tell you is that the view that we saw, we have an end-zone view (on the coaches’ tape) that gives you a different look at it. In our mind, when we looked at it, it looked like he crossed it before the ball came out. They don’t have that view at that time.”
The Jaguars might not have even needed that touchdown had it not been for all their other mistakes, especially the turnovers.
The other three were equally costly, leading to 13 points for the Chiefs:
—Bryan Walters muffed a punt in the first quarter, setting up Kansas City’s first touchdown. Walter’s special teams miscue was the third in as many games for Jacksonville. Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene muffed punts against Tennessee and Oakland, respectively. Bradley has no idea who will be his punt returner Sunday against division-leading Houston (5-3).
“I’d like to say open it up for a competition and let’s see,” Bradley said.
—Blake Bortles threw his 10th interception of the season in the second quarter, which put Kansas City in field-goal range and led to a 10-0 deficit. It was another poor decision and poor throw from the third-year pro who spent several days last week working with a mechanics coach . Bortles also overthrew Allen Robinson down the field for a would-be touchdown.
—T.J. Yeldon fumbled at the end of a 16-yard run in the third, and the Chiefs hit a 51-yards field goal that made it 13-7.
Throw in Jason Myers’ missed field goal and Allen Hurns’ dropped fourth-down pass near the goal line, and the Jaguars once again committed more self-inflicted problems than they could overcome.
Making matters worse, they’re not creating or even lucking into turnovers on defense or special teams. Although the drought is at four games, it should have ended in the first quarter at Kansas City.
On a first-and-15 play from the 42, Nick Foles overthrew Jeremy Maclin down the middle of the field. Jaguars cornerback Prince Amukamara was in position to catch it until he crashed into safety Tashaun Gipson. It didn’t cost the Jaguars because Kansas City ended up punting, but it also didn’t help the turnover differential.
“We’ve got to have those,” Bradley said. “You have a chance to go back there and make a play and you get one thrown up to you. I don’t know what to say on that one other than catch the ones thrown to you.”