What Have We Learned From Week 14 of the 2016 NFL Season

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Lamar Miller, Edwin Jackson, Trent Cole

Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) runs with the ball as Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson (53) and linebacker Trent Cole defend during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 14 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Texans in control of AFC South with 3 games left– The Houston Texans are in control of the AFC South at the moment.But they know they can’t let up with Tennessee and Indianapolis still in the hunt with three regular-season games remaining.

    The Texans and the Titans are both 7-6, but Houston holds the tiebreaker with a perfect 4-0 mark in division play.

    The Texans completed a season sweep of the Colts for the first time in franchise history on Sunday to leave Indianapolis one game back.

    With everything on the line down the stretch, coach Bill O’Brien wants to make sure that his team is focused on just one thing this week.

    “Jacksonville,” he said. “That’s it. Jacksonville. Everything that we’re doing when they come into the meeting on Wednesday will be about the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

    O’Brien also knows that his team can’t take the Jaguars lightly despite their 2-11 record and eight-game skid.

    “Jacksonville is not easy. I don’t care what their record is,” O’Brien said. “I just got done watching a few hours of tape. They’ve got a lot of good players, guys that can run. It’s going to be a very tough game.”

    Two of Houston’s three remaining games are within the division, which could be a good thing for the Texans who look to win the AFC South for the second straight season.

    They’ve won nine straight in the AFC South, which is the second-longest division winning streak in the NFL. They’ll host the Bengals on Christmas Eve before wrapping up the season at Tennessee.

    “These divisional games are very difficult,” O’Brien said. “Give our players a lot of credit, they’ve played well in the division lately, but it needs to continue on Sunday.”

    Houston beat the Colts on Sunday with a big day by running back Lamar Miller and strong defensive play. Miller ran for 107 yards and a touchdown to reach 1,000 yards for the second time in his career and the defense forced three turnovers.

    But the game wasn’t without problems. The Texans came away with just one touchdown in five trips into the red zone, settling for field goals four other times.

    “There’s just some things as a team and as an offense that we need to do better, and everybody’s involved, it’s 11 guys and the coaching staff,” O’Brien said.

    “Whether it’s a scheme or the execution or whatever it is we’ve all got to do a better job. We’ve got to improve in that area if we really want to be where we want to end up being. We can’t be 1 for 5 in the red area. I think everybody understands that.”

    Perhaps the biggest bright spot of Sunday’s win was the play of Jadeveon Clowney , who returned after sitting out last week with wrist and elbow injuries.

    The top overall pick in the 2014 draft had a strip-sack of Andrew Luck late in the third quarter and helped cause an interception earlier in the quarter when Luck threw under heavy pressure from the defensive end.

    “He plays very hard. He’s been disruptive,” O’Brien said. “I know a lot of people talk about that that was the best game and the most important play — and it was a great play that he made on the strip-sack, but there were so many other plays that he made in the game that were good, too.”

    The Texans have finished 9-7 in each of O’Brien’s first two seasons and he believes that the experience of being in the playoff race in the past will help his team this season.

    He also wants his players to know that he’s there to help them improve each week.

    “My role is to make sure that these guys know that … we’re all in it together and we’re all working very hard for the same common goal,” he said.

    “We’re 4-0 in the division and we’ve got a great opportunity in front of us, so it’s my job to make sure … that I show up with energy every day and try to do as good a job as I can of pointing them in the right direction.”

 

  • Buccaneers rises to challenge during 5-game winning streak– Gerald McCoy summed up the mind-set of the suddenly stingy Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.”It’s our job to keep the other team from scoring,” the four-time Pro Bowl tackle said. “If they don’t score, they don’t win.”

    The streaking Bucs (8-5) have been as effective as anyone in shutting down opposing offenses during a five-game winning streak that has propelled the team into contention for its first playoff berth in nine years.

    Jameis Winston’s leadership and progress as a second-year quarterback has commanded most of the attention during the surge, however the play of the McCoy-led defense has been just as important.

    The Bucs have held their last five opponents under 21 points, the longest such stretch for the franchise since the last three games of 2009 and the first two of the following season.

    You have to go back to 2008 for the last time it happened within the same season.

    “They’re just playing with a lot of confidence,” coach Dirk Koetter said, reflecting on Sunday’s 16-11 victory over New Orleans , which was held without a touchdown for only the second time in the 11 seasons the quarterback/coach duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton has been together with the Saints, who lead the NFL in total offense.

    The Bucs intercepted Brees three times, giving them a league-leading 23 takeaways since Week 5, and forced New Orleans to settle for field goals on two drives inside the Bucs 5-yard line.

    Tampa Bay had the NFL’s worst turnover differential through a 1-3 start. The defense has worked its way up to a tie for 11th while helping the team win seven of nine to climb into position to challenge for its first division title and playoff berth since 2007.

    “It’s great to see,” Koetter said. “Some of these guys on defense have been beat up for a few years. It’s great to see these guys having the success they’re having, it really is.”

    McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, is in his seventh season and has yet to make the playoffs. He shrugged off a question about whether he feels Tampa Bay’s defense, which during the current winning streak has held every opponent under 350 yards, is underrated.

    “I don’t care, we’re winning. … We’re winning because we’re playing together, not turning the ball over and we’re taking the ball away,” McCoy said. “We’re winning because we’re playing as a team.”

    And because many of the moves general manager Jason Licht made to fix the defense during the offseason are beginning to pay off.

    The Bucs drafted cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round after signing veteran pass rusher Robert Ayers, Jr., cornerback Brent Grimes and linebacker Daryl Smith in free agency.

    Ayers had Tampa Bay’s lone sack against the Saints. Hargreaves and Grimes had two of the three interceptions off Brees.

    Winston noted that the defense has given some of the league’s best quarterbacks fits while allowing just over 12 points per game in wins over Seattle, San Diego and New Orleans the past three weeks.

    “Our defense has been playing amazing. It starts with our leaders … Clinton McDonald, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte (David) have taken it to a whole new level,” Winston said.

    “What they did to Philip Rivers last week, what they did to Drew this week, what they did to Russell Wilson the week before, we are playing good football,” Winston added. “But we’ve got to continue to get better.”

    The young team is confident it hasn’t peaked.

    The Bucs travel to Dallas (11-2) for a prime-time matchup Sunday night, then finish the regular season at New Orleans and home against Carolina.

    “It doesn’t matter what your record is. You can get hot at any time,” Hargreaves said. “We’re hot right now, and we’re going to try and keep that going.”

 

  • Bryce Petty not pretty, but mostly solid with ‘moxie’ in Jets win– Rough beginning, gritty finish — and a mostly solid performance.That was Bryce Petty’s second NFL start in a nutshell, a 23-17 overtime victory for the New York Jets on Sunday at San Francisco.

    “He had some moxie,” coach Todd Bowles said during a conference call Monday. “But he had some reads he’d like to have back and some things he could’ve done better, but as the game went on, he got a little more comfortable and started using his legs better.”

    Petty tossed an interception on his first pass that led to a 49ers touchdown one play later, but he wasn’t rattled.

    He finished 23 of 35 for 257 yards, and had four rushes for 19 yards. No run was bigger than his 2-point conversion run when he looked more like a tailback than a quarterback, shaking off linebacker Ahmad Brooks and spinning his body into the end zone to get the Jets within 17-14 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

    “He started competing and he got a little more relaxed and his competitive nature started to come out,” Bowles said during a conference call. “He forgot he was like a first-year starter and started playing more to himself, so that was encouraging.”

    Petty was elevated to starting quarterback for the final four games of the season by Bowles last week, pushing Ryan Fitzpatrick to the sideline. With New York out of the playoff hunt, the team decided to give Petty an extended look to see, perhaps, if he could be their quarterback heading into next season.

    A fourth-rounder last year out of Baylor, Petty showed the inconsistencies of a young and developing quarterback.

    “There were steps because he actually started and prepared and played a whole game without having to look over his shoulder or come in for an emergency,” Bowles said. “There’s a long way to go, but there were some steps early on.”

    Petty had some gunslinger-like throws down the field, including one late in the second quarter that threaded the needle so closely that it first appeared it was intercepted, but was actually caught one-handed by Quincy Enunwa.

    There was also the play that helped set up Bilal Powell’s winning touchdown run in overtime when Petty rolled to his left and, while facing pressure,launched a pass down the field to Robby Anderson, who leaped to make a 26-yard catch.

    “Shoot, I think you just play QB and you go off your instincts,” Petty said after the game.

    Petty also had a handful of moments when he held the ball a bit too long, resulting in several of the 49ers’ six sacks.

    With three games to go — all against AFC East opponents — the Jets would like to see a few things from Petty moving forward, including better command of the offense, as well as clock and game management and making the right reads.

    “Allow himself to play more for who he is as opposed to just being in the system and allowing some of his moxie to come out with some of the things he can do well, like move in the pocket and get his legs moving and get involved,” Bowles said. “You hope to see some of the corrections with the reads made in the coming weeks and making those types of throws and getting better from there.”

    After the game, Petty gave himself mixed reviews, but was just thankful for the victory.

    “The first half was probably about as ugly as I could play,” he said. “I came out a little more nervous than I thought I was going to be. I felt good all week, good practices all week, and then, for whatever reason, I just have to settle down. Hats off to the team for just sticking with me.”

    Petty has a short week to prepare for Miami, with a home game Saturday night. After dealing with some nerves against the 49ers, Petty hopes there will be fewer knots in his stomach against the Dolphins.

    “I hope that feeling starts to leave the more games that I get in there,” Petty said. “I don’t know, in a sense, I like being nervous, I love it. I feel like the day that I stop getting nervous for football is probably the day that I’m going to hang it up. I’m just so passionate about football, and it’s that feeling that football gives me that nothing else gives me.”

Downs

  • Rams fire coach Jeff Fisher after 42-14 loss to Falcons– Jeff Fisher’s tenure in Los Angeles didn’t last one full season.The Rams fired Fisher on Monday and elevated special teams coordinator John Fassel to interim coach. The Rams are 4-9 heading into Thursday night’s game at NFC West-leading Seattle.

    Fisher had been the team’s coach since 2012, and compiled a 31-45-1 record with the Rams. He oversaw the move from St. Louis to Los Angeles this past offseason.

    The lack of success on the field, capped by a 42-14 home rout by Atlanta on Sunday, spelled the end for Fisher, who is tied with Dan Reeves for most regular-season losses in NFL history with 165. Fisher has the lowest winning percentage (.512) among coaches with 130-plus losses.

    Los Angeles has scored a league-low 194 points this season.

    “Making a decision such as this, especially during the season, is one of the most difficult in sports,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

    “I have great respect for Jeff as a coach, person, father and friend. He has worked tirelessly despite some challenging circumstances. He played an integral role in helping this team make history in returning the NFL to Los Angeles, and we always will be grateful for his commitment and dedication to our organization.”

    Fisher, 58, went 147-126 as coach of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and helped that franchise in its relocation. He led the Titans to the 1999 AFC championship.

    Long respected in league circles for his work on the NFL’s competition committee, Fisher never found success — or a franchise quarterback — with the Rams, who went 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9 in his four full seasons.

    They traded up for the first selection in this year’s draft and took California’s Jared Goff, but he rode the bench for much of the season behind journeyman Case Keenum as Los Angeles jumped out to a 3-1 start. Fisher finally turned to Goff in Week 11 and the Rams have dropped all four of his starts.

    “Some of the performances the past few weeks have been a little bit more lopsided,” said Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president.

    “I think that’s what really tipped it. This is solely a performance-related issue. For the fans, for the players, for the coaches, for the organization we wanted to make sure games like (Sunday) didn’t happen again.”

    Kroenke said in his statement that “this is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans’ expectations. We all are focused on improving as an organization and building a team that makes Los Angeles proud. Our mission is to celebrate a Super Bowl title with our fans in Los Angeles. Today is the first step to bringing us closer to that goal.”

    Oddly, Kroenke gave Fisher a contract extension before the season, though it was not made public until recently.

    Now, that extension looks more like a bonus to Fisher for his role in aiding the organization’s move to California than being any part of a plan for the team’s future.

    Demoff would not commit on general manager Les Snead keeping his position, either.

    “Starting today we are going to have a complete review of the entire organization. We sat down with Les, and again this team is not where it needs to be,” he said.

    Fisher spoke to the team Monday before the firing was announced, and players reacted to his dismissal with a mix of guilt, frustration and anger.

    “We didn’t do enough for him,” Goff said. “Unfortunately, it falls on him, but us in the locker room blame ourselves and need to be better.”

    The Rams barely had time to process the news before beginning preparations to play the Seahawks on a short week under Fassel.

    Fassel, 42, joined the Rams after spending the past three years as special teams coordinator in Oakland. He also has worked for the Ravens.

    He is the son of Jim Fassel, who coached the Giants to the 2000 NFC title.

    Attendance has been something of an issue at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which has a listed capacity of 93,607. Only in their home opener did they approach that number, and they drew 82,495 on Sunday.

    That’s still a high number, but their performance against Atlanta isn’t likely to help sell more tickets for their remaining two home games.

    But Demoff said the timing of Fisher’s dismissal had nothing to do with appeasing the frustrated fan base.

    “The best marketing is winning,” Demoff said.

 

  • Browns slip again, fall to 0-13 as historic slide worsens– The Browns’ mascot can’t even stay on his clogs.This season of embarrassment has a new symbolic blooper.

    Early in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland’s “Brownie The Elf” attempted to retrieve a football that had bounced out of bounds following a punt when he slipped in the snowy conditions and fell to the ground, landing on his side. As the mascot , who resembles one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs, reached for the ball in vain, it was scooped up by a security officer on the sideline.

    The comical gaffe was caught by CBS’ cameras and instantly went viral on social media.

    And so it goes for the Browns (0-13).

    Robert Griffin III posted a 0.00 quarterback rating in the opening half of his first game in three months, and the Browns lost their 16th straight going back to last season, moving them within three losses of becoming only the second team in NFL history to go winless in a 16-game season.

    Unless they pull out a win next week in Buffalo, on Christmas Eve at home against San Diego or at Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, the Browns will join the 2008 Detroit Lions in infamy.

    When the game ended, Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey, who several weeks ago predicted the Browns would not go winless, held a sign painted by a fan that said: “All I Want For Christmas Is A Win.”

    Cleveland has dropped 23 of 24, 31 of 34 and Browns fans are staying away by the thousands as this season of rebuilding unravels to new depths.

    If there was one positive for the Browns, it’s that Griffin managed to make it through a complete game and will play next week. He completed 12 of 28 passes for 104 yards with one interception and 38.4 rating. He also scored on a 1-yard TD run.

    Browns coach Hue Jackson wants to use the final four games to decide whether Griffin can be an option next season, and he at least has a larger body of work to assess.

    “For him, just being out there and moving around again, calling the game and being involved in a game against a good football team, he showed that he belongs,” Jackson said.

    “He has to get better in some areas. I think we all know that. I am not running from that, but for the first time back out late in the season like this, I thought he held his own.”

 

  • Saints’ offense disappears, playoff hopes fade along with it– The mistake-prone New Orleans Saints can add a suddenly slumping offense to the list of reasons they will likely miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year.Drew Brees threw three interceptions for the second straight week in a 16-11 loss Sunday at Tampa Bay while receiving little help from his offensive teammates, leaving the Saints (5-8) grappling Monday with the frustration of another lost season. New Orleans, which has not been above .500 since 2013, trails the Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South by three games with three weeks left in the regular season.

    By the time the Saints kick off against Arizona in a late-afternoon game on Sunday, they could be eliminated from the NFC wild card picture. And a victory by either the Bucs or the Falcons on Sunday would end their division title hopes as well.

    The Saints face this disappointing scenario despite their formerly leaky defense holding Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston to no rushing or passing touchdowns for the first time in his college or professional career. New Orleans limited the Bucs to 270 yards without starting safety Kenny Vaccaro, who began serving a four-game suspension for using the banned substance Adderall.

    “It’s been the same story all season long,” said veteran safety Roman Harper, who started and played 51 snaps in place of Vaccaro. “When one unit plays well, we have another unit that does not. We haven’t been able to put a complete game together with all three units playing well. If we did that, we probably would have been pretty good.”

    For the last two weeks, the primary issue has been an offense that still ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards but has slowed dramatically.

    Brees has gone two straight games without a touchdown pass for only the second time in his 11 years with New Orleans. The Saints have scored one touchdown in that span, losing at home to Detroit 26-13 before managing three field goals and a safety against Tampa Bay.

    The Bucs limited the Saints to 46 rushing yards, their second lowest total of the season. Brees, sacked once and pressured several times, now leads the NFC in interceptions with 14.

    “We’re going to turn the ball over if we have to throw it an 80-percent clip,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “This game is not as complicated as we would like to make it sound. When you become one-dimensional, it’s tough to protect the quarterback, and when you’re relying on him to make all the plays and you don’t give him time, you’re going to struggle.”

    The errors came one after the other. With the Saints trailing 13-5 late in the second quarter, Brees overthrew open receiver Brandin Cooks on a deep pass in the end zone. After getting a first down inside the Tampa Bay 1 on the same drive, the Saints self-destructed just before halftime.

    A false start penalty on tackle Tony Hills — one of six for the offense on a day the Saints were penalized 13 times for 104 yards — moved the ball back to the 6. Running back Travaris Cadet dropped a pass with a clear path to the end zone. Brees tripped on guard Jahri Evans’ foot and was sacked, forcing the Saints to kick a field goal.

    In the third quarter, Cooks couldn’t hang on to a third-down pass in the end zone that would have been a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, New Orleans kicked another field goal to cut the deficit to 13-11.

    “It’s not one breakdown specifically,” coach Sean Payton said. “We’ve got to look how we as coaches can improve the efficiency, and that starts with maybe the overall amount (of information) that we’re giving them.”

    The special teams gaffe and defensive problems that plagued the Saints early in the year have given way to offensive inefficiency and massive frustration. New Orleans has outgained and outscored its opponents for the year with almost nothing to show for it.

    “We have to be real honest and look in the mirror,” Strief said. “We have to make changes to the problems that have plagued us.”

 

  • Chip Kelly: 49ers need to keep fighting amid losing streak-Chip Kelly is facing the unenviable task of getting his team ready for its next game to stop the worst losing streak in franchise history.Kelly’s 49ers have lost 12 straight , with the last two coming against teams with 18 losses combined while starting backup quarterbacks. Falling to the Matt Barkley-led Bears and Bryce Petty-led Jets has Kelly trying to pick up the pieces before traveling to Atlanta to play the Falcons (8-5) and MVP candidate Matt Ryan.

    “I think you just have to stand up and fight again,” Kelly said Monday.

    Despite the losing streak that’s given San Francisco the second-worst record in the NFL, Kelly said his players are still playing hard.

    “When you look at the tape, these guys play with great effort. They give you everything that they have,” Kelly said.

    The effort wasn’t enough Sunday against the Jets. The 49ers surrendered a 17-3 lead before losing 26-17 in overtime. The offense managed just two first downs and no points in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the Jets to wear down Kelly’s last-ranked defense.

    New York backup running back Bilal Powell, who scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime, ran for 145 yards on 29 carries, becoming the 10th 100-yard rusher San Francisco has allowed this season.

    The Jets had the time of possession advantage, 41:55 to 24:30, while the 49ers’ defense struggled to make tackles in the second half.

    Kelly attributed the issues on defense to his offense being unable to move the chains.

    “We didn’t stay on the field offensively,” Kelly said. “That’s the biggest thing, we need to convert, keep drives alive, and keep our defense off the field.”

    The 49ers for the day converted two of 12 third downs, where they rank 27th in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick threw for 17 yards on just four-of-11 completions after halftime, continuing an ongoing trend of second-half struggles for Kelly’s offense.

    It was a particularly dispiriting offensive effort after San Francisco jumped out a 14-0 lead, making Sunday the third time Kelly’s team blew a two-touchdown advantage at home this season.

    Kelly faced questions when the 49ers hired him last winter about his up-tempo offense and the effects it had on his defenses at his previous stops in Philadelphia and in college at Oregon. He said Monday the no-huddle offense is moving slower than it did previously.

    “If you look at us, most of the time we’re into single digits on the play clock,” said Kelly. “There’s a lot of times where we’re working it down, making sure we’re in the right play and the right protection. So, it’s not like we’re playing fast football right now. It’s just we’re not converting when we need to convert and that’s the biggest thing.”

    San Francisco also dealt with injuries to key players.

    The 49ers placed tight end Vance McDonald on injured reserve Monday after he sustained a shoulder injury in the first half. McDonald led the team with four touchdown receptions and was third with 24 catches for 391 yards.

    McDonald signed a five-year extension with San Francisco two days before playing the Jets. The 49ers’ remaining tight ends are Garrett Celek, Blake Bell and Je’Ron Hamm.

    Receiver Torrey Smith was lost in the second half with a concussion after jumping for a pass and slamming his head on the turf.

    Smith needed to be carted off to the locker room after lying motionless on the field. Kelly said Smith will begin the week in the concussion protocol. Smith Tweeted after the game, “Thanks for all the prayers!”

    Center Daniel Kilgore went down in the first half with a knee injury.

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