What Have We Learned From Week 10 of the 2016 NFL Season

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Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. The Cowboys won 35-30. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 10 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Prescott over Romo for now; how far can Cowboys with rookie?–  The issue is no longer whether Dak Prescott will start ahead of a healthy Tony Romo for Dallas.Now the question is how far the Cowboys can go with a rookie quarterback after they tied a franchise record with their eighth straight win and a few hours later ended up with the NFL’s best record when New England lost to Seattle.

    Prescott’s performance in the fourth quarter of a wild 35-30 win at Pittsburgh stole any of the surprise there might have been with owner and general manager Jerry Jones declaring afterward that Romo would be the backup Sunday at home against Baltimore (5-4).

    It will be a few days shy of a year since the last time the 36-year-old Romo was active for a game. And it has been 10 years since Romo, who broke a bone in his back in a preseason game, wasn’t the Dallas starter.

    The team’s longest same-season winning streak since Roger Staubach took Dallas to the Super Bowl 39 years ago makes the decision easy.

    “It’s just going with the obvious,” Jones said. “I get asked about it every time I open my mouth. It’s not hard. It’s not hard at all. Tony would make the same decision.”

    Prescott directed two 75-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys (8-1) trailing the Steelers by a point each time. While fellow standout rookie Ezekiel Elliott finished both with touchdown runs , Prescott made several big throws.

    On the winning drive that started with 42 seconds left after the Steelers went ahead, Prescott completed a 13-yarder to Jason Witten one play before another completion to the tight end ended with a facemask penalty that put the Cowboys in field-goal range before Elliott’s winning run with 9 seconds remaining.

    Dallas trailed most of the game in part because of a lost fumble by Prescott early.

    “That’s one of the most important parts of that position is to be able to handle the adversity of it,” coach Jason Garrett said. “From series to series, from quarter to quarter, half to half and throughout the ballgame, you’ve just got to keep banging away.”

    Elliott’s numbers are getting more attention because he’s the NFL rushing leader (1,005 yards) and has a shot at Eric Dickerson’s rookie record (1,808 yards in 1983). But Prescott is completing 67 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.

    The 23-year-old from Mississippi State — a fourth-round pick after the Cowboys couldn’t pull of a trade for Paxton Lynch, who went to Denver in the first round — has road wins over a pair of Super Bowl champions in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.

    And Prescott essentially outdueled Roethlisberger, who threw for 408 yards and executed a fake-spike touchdown pass to put the Steelers ahead in the final minute.

    “You see what a veteran quarterback can do,” Jones said. “But you also see what Dak can do. That was a pretty nice little template to look at right there.”

    A month ago, the Cowboys figured to have a touchy subject looming. Not now, says Jones.

    “There is no fragileness about this, with the team or the coaches,” Jones said. “Dak is earning his way. Tony has earned his way. Both of them can play quarterback well enough to win games.”

    And the Cowboys have upgraded the backup job, with Romo replacing Mark Sanchez.

 

  • Seattle ignores excuses and comes up with victory vs Pats-Playing across the country on a short week and facing one of the top teams in the NFL coming off a bye, the Seattle Seahawks had every reasonable excuse available.

    And yet, what could have been an expected setback instead became one of Seattle’s most impressive regular season wins under coach Pete Carroll.

    “We’ve had our struggles, but fortunately enough we’ve been on the positive side of it,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said after the game. “So, as we continue to get healthy and continue to execute and get better at that, I think we’ll continue to improve and hopefully continue to win.

    Seattle’s 31-24 victory over New England will be remembered for the final sequence — one that was eerily similar to when the teams met in the Super Bowl two years ago, except this time it was the Patriots who threw a failed pass from the 1-yard line. At Super Bowl XLIX, Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by Malcom Butler, giving New England its fourth championship. On Sunday, Tom Brady’s lob fell incomplete after an end-zone collision between Rob Gronkowski and safety Kam Chancellor, sending the Seahawks home with an unlikely victory.

    It won’t be considered one of Seattle’s most important victories under Carroll — there were too many games earlier in his tenure, before the Seahawks were established as regular contenders, that created the base for what’s become a four-year run as one of the top teams in the NFC.

    But considering the circumstances, it ranks among the most impressive. Seattle was playing just six days after outlasting Buffalo on Monday night , traveling across the country on Friday for a Sunday night game against a rested Patriots squad that hadn’t played since winning at Buffalo on Oct. 30.

    It was a scenario set for Seattle to fail. Instead, the Seahawks thrived.

    “The mentality in believing that you’re going to get it done, remaining confident, finding the confidence that it takes to execute well, comes from experience and really good leadership,” Carroll said. “The guys, they were in it to win the thing all the way to the last inch and found a way.”

    The victory was encouraging, and so was the re-emergence of Seattle’s offense following a sluggish first half of the season. Baldwin created headaches for defensive backs, especially near the end zone, where he caught three touchdowns for the first time since Week 14 of last season. Wilson looked as healthy as he has all season, throwing for 348 yards, and showing the elusiveness and ability to extend plays with his legs that’s been absent since suffering ankle and knee injuries in the first three weeks of the season.

    But the most important change was a rushing attack that entered the week 30th in the NFL, averaging just 75 yards per game. Led by rookie C.J. Prosise, the Seahawks ran for 96 yards as a team. It’s not a significant total, but it was Seattle’s most yards on the ground since Week 3.

    Prosise provided a missing spark, along with a solid night by Seattle’s maligned offensive line. The third-round pick, slowed early in the season by a broken bone in his hand, rushed for 66 yards on 17 carries and caught all seven targets for 87 yards.

    “C.J. hit stuff really well. He took advantage of a leap forward from our guys up front,” Carroll said. “It was the most aggressive that we’ve been, the most confident coming off the ball. It was just the best outing that we’ve had. I think it all fit together.”

 

  • Ravens control fate in division and want to keep it that way– It’s been four years since the Baltimore Ravens stood alone atop the AFC North in November.The objective now is to stay there.

    After overcoming a variety of injuries, a four-game losing streak and an offense that runs hot and cold, the Ravens (5-4) have worked their way into first place with seven weeks left in the season.

    Though an imposing schedule looms ahead — beginning with a trip to Dallas (8-1) on Sunday — Baltimore currently doesn’t have to rely on any outside help to get into the postseason as AFC North champs.

    “Whether it’s in a game or whether it’s in a season, you want to get the lead,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “When you get the lead, you want to keep the lead. When you keep the lead, you want to expand the lead.”

    After facing Dallas, the Ravens have two games left against division foe Cincinnati; visits to New England and Pittsburgh and a home matchup against improving Miami.

    Baltimore faces the prospect of playing down the stretch without rookie guard Alex Lewis, who sustained a high ankle sprain on Thursday night against Cleveland and is expected to be out for at least six weeks.

    “Hopefully we can get him back,” Harbaugh said.

    Baltimore went winless in October before defeating Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the span of five days. After using a strong second-half performance to dispatch the winless Browns 28-7 , the Ravens were given some time off to heal.

    “They should be refreshed and ready to go” on Tuesday, Harbaugh said.

    Although Baltimore has already matched its win total from 2015, that was never really a goal. The Ravens are striving to earn a playoff berth, and for that to happen they have to play better.

    “Obviously there have been stretches where it certainly didn’t look like we were making any progress, but more of that showed up in the past two weeks,” Harbaugh said. “We need to continue to improve in every single area. The offense is something most people are looking at from a statistical standpoint, how we’ve done. That’s probably had the farthest way to go.”

    Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes against the Browns but was also picked off twice. He has nine interceptions and nine TD passes and a lackluster 78.3 quarterback rating.

    Part of the problem is that he’s been working behind a makeshift offensive line that has been without five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshall Yanda (shoulder) in three of the last four games. Regardless, Flacco must cut down on the turnovers if the Ravens are to win.

    “He’s got to clean some things up, certainly,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s looking back. You’ve got to look forward. We need to move the ball, we need to make first downs. But we also need to do it in a way where we protect the football. That’s always going to be the challenge for a quarterback.”

    One reason why the Cowboys are flying high is that their quarterback,rookie Dak Prescott , has 14 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He’s working behind a solid offensive line and is backed by NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott.

    “He’s made a lot of great decisions, very few interceptions,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve supported him with protection and a great run game. He’s got some pretty good targets out there to throw to. He’s the guy that’s making it all go because he’s the quarterback. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re going to try to slow him down a little bit.”

 

  • Streaking Dolphins stay in southern California for Rams game– The Miami Dolphins were in unfamiliar territory Monday. And that’s on two fronts.Miami remained in southern California after defeating the San Diego Chargers on Sunday 31-24 for their initial road win of the season. The Dolphins will practice in north San Diego County in preparation for this week’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

    The Dolphins (5-4) are also nestled above .500 for the first time in rookie coach Adam Gase’s short tenure. A four-game winning streak has compensated for a 1-4 start, and, just maybe, surging Miami can make the postseason.

    “I’ve never, ever been one to really talk about (that) in my career,” Gase said. “I’ve always been worried about the week we are involved in.

    “I think if you do things right enough times, you get opportunities to keep playing. So that is how I look at it. More times than not, when you talk about it, that is when it doesn’t happen.”

    Gase did speak on Branden Albert. The left tackle exited Sunday’s game after dislocating his left wrist, but returned while wearing a brace.

    “We’re still going through a little bit of our medical process to figure out what exactly is going to happen as far as the exact diagnosis, and if we are going to be able to get him back this week,” Gase said. “We got to go through some stuff still. It is swollen right now, so we just have to see how the week progresses.”

    Albert didn’t seem compromised playing with the injury. But Gase said Albert is seeing a hand specialist and his status isn’t clear.

    “We have to go through all those little steps just to make sure that we handle everything the right way,” Gase said. “So if he can go, it’s for the entire . the rest of the season.”

    Miami is in the playoff conversation thanks to the improved play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Jay Ajayi’s emergence, and a secondary that forced four turnovers Sunday.

    Gase sensed his team had turned a corner about a month ago. In the run-up to beating the Steelers 30-15 on Oct. 16, Gase saw his squad in a new light.

    “That Pittsburgh week I felt something different,” Gase said. “I felt like the defense was really playing well, but we were struggling obviously, but that week felt different. There was some confidence there, especially at the end of the week, that we were going to play well.”

    That was the push-off point for a four-game run that has the Dolphins two games shy of the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (7-2).

    “(Gase) just stayed consistent with the message to do it right and focus on the details,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “I think it’s really, really been a trust in the system. Focus on the details and try to treat every week as a new week.”

    Added Gase: “I’ve seen a lot of veteran players take control of our team. I’ve seen some guys that maybe we did not think were going to be huge contributors taking leadership-type roles and all of a sudden they are vaulted into a position where they are making plays. It’s been great to see guys step forward and make plays and lead.”

    Will it all lead to the playoffs?

    “I think that is way too far ahead to think about right now,” safety Isa Abdul-Quddus said. “We’re still in middle of season … we need to focus on the Rams and to get that win.”

 

Downs

  • Steelers closing ranks as losing streak hits 4– Ramon Foster knows the drill, even if it’s one the Pittsburgh Steelers have been largely able to avoid most of the last four-plus decades.When a team that began September with realistic Super Bowl expectations finds itself listing as Thanksgiving nears like the Steelers (4-5) are following a late defensive meltdown cost them against Dallas on Sunday, drama — either real or imagined — is sure to follow.

    It’s why Foster found himself at his locker on Monday answering questions about everything from the team’s confidence in coach Mike Tomlin to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s grousing about accountability.

    “When you have that type of hype and you don’t live up to it in the middle of the season, you kind of lose a lot people,” Foster said. “I’m OK with that. We’ll be fine.”

    Eventually perhaps, but not at the moment. While Foster remains resolute that there’s time for Pittsburgh to get it together — starting with a trip on Sunday to winless Cleveland (0-10) — he understands the angst. The Steelers were supposed to challenge Denver and New England for AFC supremacy. Instead they’re under .500 and behind underwhelming Baltimore in the blah AFC North.

    “The thing we can’t do is bury ourselves,” Foster said. “At this point it seems everybody is against us.”

    Yet Foster stressed the Steelers are not against themselves. Asked if he’s aware of a sense of growing dissatisfaction from the outside about Tomlin, Foster just shrugged his shoulders.

    “It’s easy to do that,” Foster said. “You go for the head. If (anything) goes wrong, it rolls from the top down.”

    Foster thinks the blame is better resting elsewhere, namely on the 53 men who are in the middle of a four-game slide that’s removed all of the good vibes surrounding a 4-1 start. He has little issue with Tomlin’s decision to attempt four 2-point conversions, even if all of them failed.

    “I’d do it again though,” Foster said. “We practice it. Who’s to say, maybe it’ll work for us in the Super Bowl?”

    Foster punctuated the response with a smile. Considering the state of the division, the Steelers are hardly out of it. Yet they hardly look like a team capable of making any sort of postseason noise should they even manage to make it.

    They did at times against the Cowboys, taking an early nine-point lead and twice scoring touchdowns to go in front in the fourth quarter. If either of those touchdowns hold up — Le’Veon Bell’s lunging 1-yard dive or Roethlisberger’s fake spike that turned into a 15-yard lob to Antonio Brown — Pittsburgh is back above .500 after knocking off the hottest team in the NFL.

    It’s a razor thin margin between narratives and it doesn’t take someone who’s been around like Foster to figure it out. It’s why rookie safety Sean Davis couldn’t stop replaying the 15-yard facemask penalty on Cowboys tight end Jason Witten that set the stage for Ezekiel Elliott’s clinching 32-yard sprint with 9 seconds to go.

    “Yeah, it ate me up a little bit last night,” Davis said. “But it’s over. Can’t do anything about it right now. You shouldn’t see any more facemask penalties for me for a very long time.”

    That’s Davis trying to hold himself accountable, an issue Roethlisberger hinted at in frustration in the middle of a quiet Pittsburgh locker room Sunday afternoon. Roethlisberger called his team “undisciplined and not accountable” but declined to get into specifics, simply calling it a feeling.

    Foster described Roethlisberger’s message as simply “take on your own battles first,” meaning handle your business before worrying about someone else’s. Of course the tenor changes completely if Dallas doesn’t score last.

    “That’s the NFL,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “There’s no moral victories. It’s pass/fail. We understand that coming in … we know the type of team that we have. We know the potential we have.”

    They’re running out of time to show it. Four of Pittsburgh’s next five games are on the road and even the luckless Browns hardly seem like a pushover for a team that hasn’t won away from Heinz Field since Week 1.

    “At this point we’d be very idiotic to think Cleveland is not going to play us as hard as they can,” Foster said. “They’re 0-8 or 0-9 and we’re freaking 0-4 in our last four games. They’re going to be chomping at the bit.”

 

  • Bears’ WR Jeffery suspended 4 games for PED violation– Star receiver Alshon Jeffery was suspended Monday for four games without pay for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the latest staggering blow for the reeling Chicago Bears.Jeffery posted on Twitter that he took a supplement for inflammation containing a substance banned by the league.

    “I take full responsibility and I’m deeply upset with myself for not doing the proper research on this supplement,” he wrote. “I want to apologize to my family, the Bears organization, my teammates, and Bears fans. I will work hard to earn back the respect and trust of the Bears nation and look forward to being back on the field.”

    His suspension was another dose of bad news for a team that lost several players to injuries in an embarrassing 36-10 loss at Tampa Bay that left the Bears with a 2-7 record. Now, they will have to get by without arguably their best player, starting with Sunday’s game at the New York Giants.

    “Obviously we’re very disappointed,” coach John Fox said. “I think he’s fairly embarrassed about it, but we’ll support him and welcome him when he gets back after serving his suspension.”

    As if Jeffery’s punishment wasn’t enough, it looks like the Bears will be without star right guard Kyle Long. The NFL Network reported Monday that he will miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.

    Jeffery will be eligible to be activated on Dec. 12 and play against Green Bay six days later. He leads the team with 630 yards receiving and is second with 40 catches.

    “It (stinks) not having your top weapon on offense,” tight end Zach Miller said. “We have to figure out ways to be better, to do better collectively. But I don’t think you really replace Alshon Jeffery that easily. We’ll have to do it as a group.”

    Jeffery is playing for the $14.6 million franchise tag after he and the Bears were unable to agree to a long-term contract in the offseason. He was limited to nine games because of injuries a year ago, and now has a PED suspension hanging over him with his contract set to expire again.

    Fox said players found out during meetings on Monday.

    “All teammates, I think, at the end of the day, they’re supportive,” Fox said. “But I know Alshon’s embarrassed by it and I’m sure disappointed would be a good word for the rest of us.”

    Fox mentioned a “silver lining” with receiver Marquess Wilson potentially returning soon from a foot injury. He has been on the physically unable to perform list since training camp. But his comeback would be small consolation, particularly given the rash of injuries the Bears suffered against the Buccaneers.

    Long, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman, left the field on a cart with a right ankle injury. Fox indicated after the game that it might be a high ankle sprain, though he said Monday a “full determination” on the injury had not been made. Ted Larsen figures to take his place in the lineup, though Eric Kush is a possibility.

    Fox had no update on running back Jordan Howard (ankle or Achilles tendon), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) or defensive lineman Will Sutton (ankle). Right tackle Bobby Massie also suffered a concussion.

    The loss to Tampa Bay also raised more questions about the direction of the franchise and wiped out any good vibes the Bears had after they knocked off NFC North leader Minnesota two weeks earlier.

    Jay Cutler threw two interceptions and fumbled twice after leading the Bears to a victory over the Vikings in his return from a sprained right thumb. It all added up to a big reality check for a team that was as confident as any with two wins halfway through the season could be.

    The Bears thought they might turn the corner with key players coming back from injuries. Instead, they crashed.

    “I still feel like we’re not out of it,” Miller said.

    Mathematically, they’re not.

    The Bears trail Detroit and Minnesota by three games and Green Bay by two in the division. The Vikings are struggling in a big way with four straight losses. So are the Packers, who have dropped three in a row.

    But with Jeffery’s suspension, the Bears will have to get by without one of their biggest playmakers.

    “I guess the best word I could use would be unfortunate,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “Because I look forward to seeing 17 (Jeffery) out there going up deep and catching balls and making plays. It’s unfortunate and I’m going to miss him.”

 

  • Minnesota Vikings cut struggling kicker Blair Walsh– Blair Walsh’s five seasons in Minnesota were filled with big-time makes and big-time misses.With the skidding Vikings desperate to save their season, they simply couldn’t wait for Walsh to pull himself out of another rut. Minnesota cut Walsh on Tuesday, two days after he missed his league-leading fourth extra point in a 26-20 loss to Washington.

    Walsh was 12 of 16 on field goals and 15 of 19 on extra points in nine games this season. For a team that started 5-0 but has gone 0-4 since and is constructed to play close games, Walsh’s inconsistency could no longer be tolerated.

    After he missed an extra point, had a field goal blocked and misplaced a kickoff in a loss to Detroit two weeks ago, the Vikings brought in six kickers for a tryout. They ultimately decided to give Walsh one more chance, but his miss just before halftime against the Redskins sealed his fate. Walsh was in the first year of a four-year, $13 million extension he signed last season , undoubtedly one reason why the Vikings stayed as patient as they could with him.

    The Vikings reached agreement on a contract with Kai Forbath to take Walsh’s place, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not been made. USA Today first reported the move to Forbath, who made 34 of 35 extra points and 10 of 15 field goals last season while kicking for Washington and New Orleans.

    With Forbath, punter/holder Jeff Locke and long snapper Kevin McDermott, all three of Minnesota’s specialists will be UCLA products. The 29-year-old Forbath is 69 for 82 for 84.1 percent in his NFL career on field goals and 124 for 127 for 97.6 percent on extra points.

    Walsh was an erratic kicker at Georgia when Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer started to scout him. The coach said Walsh had the best performance at the combine he had ever seen from a kicker leading up to the draft in 2012, and the Vikings selected him in the sixth round before releasing reliable veteran Ryan Longwell. After working on some tweaks to his approach with Priefer, Walsh set a Vikings rookie record with 141 points and established an all-time NFL mark by going 10 for 10 from 50 yards or longer.

    Walsh bounced back to make an NFL-high 34 field goals last season, but he missed four extra points and shanked a 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of Minnesota’s 10-9 loss in the playoffs to Seattle. Despite Walsh’s public expressions of confidence in his ability since then, even after his rough game against the Lions, he clearly hasn’t recovered yet mentally from the crushing miss against the Seahawks that left him sobbing in front of his cubicle in the locker room afterward.

    One of the few roles in sports without any gray area between success and failure, where sending the ball through the uprights is the only responsibility and the only outcome worth judging, being a kicker in the NFL can be a pressure cooker. At least in his interaction with reporters, Walsh has been more guarded and on edge than any other season with the Vikings.

    For the Vikings, the setbacks to a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations haven’t stopped. Neither have their aggressive attempts to stay on track, even if the move away from Walsh might’ve come a little late. Walsh will still count more than $1 million against the team’s salary cap in each of the next two years.

    They parted with two high draft picks, including their first-rounder in 2017, to bring in Sam Bradford after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was lost to a massive injury. They took a flier on injury-waylaid former No. 1 overall draft pick Jake Long, who lasted four games before tearing an Achilles tendon and needing season-ending surgery. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned two weeks ago amid philosophical differences about the scheme with Zimmer, even expressing belief in subsequent interviews that his removal from the strategical process could help the team get going.

 

 

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