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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 9 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- The lion still roars: QB Newton stepping up running game-Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula knew exactly what Cam Newton was going to do as soon as he broke the pocket and started running toward the end zone.
From there, it was just a matter of Shula holding his breath.
Newton completed a 9-yard touchdown run on Sunday with a highlight reel leap into the end zone, stretching the ball across the goal line and essentially dunking on cornerback Desmond Trufant. The quarterback landed safely on his surgically repaired right shoulder and got up to wildly celebrate Carolina’s go-ahead touchdown in a game they would eventually win 20-17 to improve to 6-3.
“Every now and again, is it a little precarious? Yes,” Shula said of Newton running the ball. “It’s like living on the edge.”
Despite talk from coach Ron Rivera this past summer about limiting Newton’s carries to prevent wear and tear on his quarterback’s body, the 2015 league MVP has taken it upon himself to breathe some life into a stagnant running game.
Newton has led the team in rushing four straight games, including Sunday when he gained 86 yards on nine carries. He’s averaged 10 carries per game over that span, the vast majority on scrambles rather than designed runs.
“I’m just trying to win football games at a fast and rapid pace,” Newton said after the win Sunday.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming when Newton responded to Rivera’s remarks about limiting his running in July by saying, “Are you really going to expect a lion not to roar?”
The lion is roaring again.
Newton is on pace to run for more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
When asked if the Panthers still want to limit Newton’s hits, Shula replied, “Sure, but if he runs the ball and slides is that a hit? Or are you exposing him? I guess my point is it’s a fine line that we walk.”
It’s a line the Panthers have been walking since Newton came into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2012.
On one hand the Panthers don’t want to risk getting their $102.5 million quarterback hurt on an unnecessary run. On the other, they have a unique weapon in the physically imposing 6-foot-5, 245-pounder that is difficult to defend. Newton has piled up 3,907 yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground —the most by a quarterback in NFL history — in 6 ½ seasons.
Both Shula and Rivera take solace in the notion that Newton is — his diving touchdown notwithstanding — getting smarter when he runs.
He’s finally learned a proper baseball slide. And he’s doing a better job of getting out of bounds and avoiding contract when multiple defenders surround him. That was never more evident than Sunday when he culminated a 34-yard run with a slide in the open field as tacklers converged.
He did the same thing on a couple of shorter runs.
“You can see it by the way he gets down prior to hits, and running out of bounds or sliding,” Rivera said of Newton playing smarter. “He was a little bit on the exciting side when he leaped to get the touchdown. That was a little too much, but I’m not going to stop him.”
The Panthers have also come to realize that the natural high Newton gets from making a big play with his feet often translates into him and his offensive teammates playing better.
“He played very emotionally on Sunday, which I think really spills over to the team,” Rivera said. “I think guys picked up on his energy and I think that is terrific. That is when he is at his best, when he plays emotionally.”
Added Shula: “If you ask him, he would probably want to run it more. I don’t want to ask him that question because I think I know the answer. But it is part of his game, and if you take that away I think you are taking a piece of him and his game away. So it’s a delicate balance.”
- Efficient Bortles stating case to be Jags’ long-term starter-Don’t rule out Blake Bortles being Jacksonville’s starting quarterback beyond this season.
Bortles has been surprisingly and consistently efficient through the halfway point and is one of the reasons the Jaguars (5-3) have matched their best start in a decade.
He’s been even better that what coach Doug Marrone and top executive Tom Coughlin expected when they built the team to pound the ball on the ground, take advantage of play-action passes and avoid shootouts with stout defense.
Bortles has completed a career-best 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,657 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He delivered one of the best performances of his four years Sunday against Cincinnati. He threw for 259 yards and a touchdown, scrambled for another 20 yards and played turnover-free, sack-free football for the third time this season and the fourth time in 53 games.
He has growing support in the locker room and in the front office.
“Blake’s been balling,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do and then some.”
And he’s doing it without several key players.
Top receiver Allen Robinson (knee) was lost for the season in the opener. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette missed the past two games, one because of a sprained ankle and the other because he violated a team rule. Center Brandon Linder missed three games because of an undisclosed illness. Rookie receiver Dede Westbrook has yet to play following core muscle surgery.
Bortles continues to get the offense in the correct plays, and more importantly, he’s avoiding game-changing mistakes.
“I feel good,” Bortles said following a 23-7 victory against the Bengals. “We are a running team first. There is no secret about that. I think everybody knows it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to throw the ball.
“We run the ball because that is what we are the most effective at. That’s how we can control the game and control the clock, keep the other offense off the field, so that’s what we do and we are good at it.
“When there are times that we need to throw the ball, we are good at that, too.”
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict might even acknowledge that now.
The outspoken defender made headlines this week by saying, “I’m not sure Blake can beat us. We want to put it in his hands and have him beat us, if he can.”
Bortles responded on the field , helping the Jaguars win consecutive games for the first time in 13 months and win at EverBank Field for the first time since last December. He took a shot at Burfict and receiver A.J. Green, who retaliated and punched trash-talking cornerback Jalen Ramsey late in the first half.
“I thought we did a good job playing as hard as we possibly can between the whistles and beating the (heck) out of them,” Bortles said.
Bortles wants to run up the score as well.
Jacksonville had the ball at the Cincinnati 1-yard line with 35 seconds remaining, and Bortles started lobbying to run a play to score. Coach Doug Marrone overruled him, telling him to take a knee.
“At the time and the moment, playing against those guys, I wanted to score again,” Bortles said.
Bortles might really score after the season. The Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract, meaning they could keep him on the roster for $19 million in 2018. It wouldn’t be the craziest idea, especially considering Jacksonville is built to win now.
Bortles knows the offense, and if he continues to take care of the ball and beat teams with his arm, the Jaguars might decide to stick with him.
“I feel good going into each week,” he said. “I feel comfortable. There is obviously different things that happen on Sunday and you just have to figure it out and make corrections on and overcome.”
- Drew Stanton keeping things light in Cardinals huddle-Drew Stanton is facing a major challenge Thursday night when he leads the Arizona Cardinals against the Seattle Seahawks.
But he will still make sure the mood in the huddle is as light as can be, even if it is a key division game against a rival in prime time.
“Some people can misconstrue the laid-back sense of humor as a smart-ass,” Stanton said. “We make it hard enough on ourselves. We take everything so serious, and it should be serious. But at the same time, we need to go out and have fun. You only do that by being able to relax and play to your potential. There’s a time and place for all of that. It’s all in jest and it’s all lighthearted.”
That seems to suit his teammates just fine. Some say the comments and jokes don’t mean Stanton isn’t taken seriously as a player.
“The biggest smart-ass I know. You’ve got to love that about him,” offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said. “He’s a veteran. He commands the huddle.”
Coach Bruce Arians doesn’t seem to mind Stanton’s ways, either. Stanton has been the backup quarterback since 2014, and is now starting with Carson Palmer on injured reserve.
“When Drew steps in the huddle there is total confidence in the other 10 guys. They know he knows this offense inside and out,” Arians said. “If I have a question, I’ll ask Drew, because he knows what we all do.”
Stanton brings a 7-3 career record as the Cardinals’ starter into Thursday night. One of those three losses came against the Seahawks in Seattle in 2014, and Stanton threw two interceptions in relief of Palmer in a 36-6 loss to the Seahawks at home in 2015.
The Seahawks (5-3) specialize in forcing turnovers. Their defense has recovered five fumbles, picked off eight passes and scored three defensive touchdowns this season.
“They’re still as good as ever,” Stanton said. “I don’t know how they can continue to pay all of these guys and have them come back each and every year. They’ve got a good formula and a good cap guy, apparently.”
Stanton has thrown an interception in each of the two games he’s played this season, though the Cardinals (4-4) are coming off a 20-10 win at San Francisco on Sunday that has them back in the thick of the NFC West race.
In his first start in more than a year, Stanton went 15 of 30 for 201 yards and two touchdowns at San Francisco. He also kept a scoring drive alive by converting a third-and-1 with a read-option run, managing the game while workhorse running back Adrian Peterson plowed through the 49ers for 159 yards on 37 carries.
“You can’t hesitate at all. You have to make split-second decisions and obviously the interception, I overthought it,” Stanton said. “There’s so many nuances that go into every single play. There’s three or four plays, you either make that play or you don’t, and that’s going to decide the game but you just don’t know when those are going to show up.”
- With losing streak over, relieved Colts are all smiles– Frank Gore looked and sounded like a relieved man Monday.
The veteran running back walked into the Indianapolis Colts locker room with a smile as he laughed and joked with teammates. He wasn’t the only one.
After spending almost one full month chasing their third victory of the season, the Colts finally got another chance to savor the spoils of victory.
“The dice rolled our way,” Gore said.
It was a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that pervaded the airwaves and was brought up in discussions around town in recent weeks.
Fans and reporters repeatedly noted Indy’s first two wins were against the NFL’s only winless teams, Cleveland and San Francisco, and increasingly wondered aloud whether the Colts (3-6) could even win another game in 2017.
While players and coaches tried to stay positive, the frustration mounted with each successive chapter.
After blowing a 10-point, third-quarter lead in a loss at Tennessee, Indy was shut out at home by Jacksonville. The following week, Cincinnati scored a late defensive touchdown to rally for a win.
The news got even worse last week.
On Thursday, general manager Chris Ballard announced star quarterback Andrew Luck would miss the rest of the season to continue his recovery from shoulder surgery.
And on Saturday, as the team headed to Houston in hopes of avoiding its first four-game losing streak since 2011, team officials announced two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis wouldn’t make the trip because of a non-injury related matter.
Coach Chuck Pagano has, so far, not shed any light on what happened. In fact, Pagano wouldn’t even say Monday if Davis would play this weekend against Pittsburgh (6-2) and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.
Somehow, amid all this, the Colts dug down and started making the kinds of plays that eluded them almost the entire season.
T.Y. Hilton caught a 45-yard TD pass in the first quarter and completed an 80-yard TD pass play in the third quarter by alertly jumping up when he was untouched and running into the end zone — still untouched. A replay review confirmed what Hilton suspected.
“I knew he didn’t touch me and Jack (Doyle) just told me ‘Go, go, go,'” Hilton said.
Indy still needed a 53-yard field goal from 44-year-old Adam Vinatieri and a goal-line stand in the final 18 seconds by the NFL’s worst scoring defense to barely hold on for a 20-14 victory.
It was the perfect combination — for one day.
Pagano was so elated he considered giving the players an extra day off this week, the reward for perhaps their most complete effort of the season. But Pagano claimed the players declined and instead watched the film.
“It was the longest 12 seconds ever, but guys scratched and clawed to get the job done,” safety Darius Butler said before explaining what it was like to relive those previous three at the team complex. “It was good, especially knowing how it was going to end.”
Now the question becomes whether Sunday’s win will have any kind of lasting impact?
The Steelers have won four straight in the series and have outscored the Colts 124-51 in three games against Pagano-led teams. That includes a 28-7 victory last season when Scott Tolzien replaced the injured Luck as the starter. Luck will miss his third straight matchup with the Steelers.
Following a bye week, the Colts return home to face Tennessee before heading to Jacksonville. Win both and they could find themselves back in the AFC South title hunt — and they believe they can.
“A win like that can really change the way things are going,” center Ryan Kelly said.
But they also know it’s going to take more than a few good plays and one nice win to turn things around.
They need a lot more victory Mondays.
“It’s good to see guys smile — hadn’t smiled in a long time,” Pagano said. “This was a time for us to turn the corner, finally, and close out a game and they got the job done. It’s always a better Monday when you win.”
- McAdoo insists Giants didn’t quit in loss to Rams-Coach Ben McAdoo insists the New York Giants didn’t quit in their ugly, one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
While the Giants’ performance in the 51-17 thrashing was ugly and unacceptable, McAdoo hesitated to say Monday that his team played hard to the end. The second-year coach said he didn’t see his players loafing or giving up on plays, signs he says would show a team that quit.The second-year coach also said two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will remain the starting quarterback, and that players and coaches will be held accountable for the poor play.
“Every position needs to be held accountable and every position needs to be held to a high standard,” McAdoo said. “Same thing with the coaches, and obviously when you lose in the fashion we did yesterday, it is not good enough, anywhere, coaching or playing.”
Less than a year after leading New York to the playoffs with an 11-5 regular-season record, McAdoo is clearly under fire after losing seven of the first eight games in what many expected to be another playoff season. His team is not only losing, but he has suspended cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins in the past month for violating team rules. It’s a sign of internal problems.
There have been calls for the 40-year-old McAdoo to see what rookie quarterback Davis Webb can do. The third-round pick has not been active for a game this year.
McAdoo said after Sunday’s game that he would consider using some young players, and no position was being excluded. However, he said Manning would get the start this weekend when the Giants travel to San Francisco to face the winless 49ers.
Manning didn’t have his best game Sunday. He lost a fumble on an early sack, missed two open receivers for what could have been touchdowns in the first half, and was intercepted late in the second quarter, setting up another Rams score.
When told that McAdoo was considering changes, Manning said he wanted to play.
“”I am glad he said that,” McAdoo said. “He’s a pro football player, that is what he should be saying. Eli is our quarterback. That doesn’t mean at some point we won’t throw another guy in there to get a look at him.”
The Giants played a horrible game in all three phases in losing their fourth straight at home. They missed tackles, had three turnovers, saw a punt blocked, and gave up six plays of 35 yards or more in their most one-sided loss (34 points) since a 38-0 loss at Carolina in 2013.
It was the most one-sided at home since Nov. 15, 1998 (37-3 to Green Bay). The previous largest deficit in MetLife Stadium was 30 points (40-10) to Indianapolis on Nov. 3, 2014.
The worst play was giving up a 52-yard touchdown on a third-and-33 yard screen pass to Robert Woods in the second quarter. Second-year cornerback Eli Apple seemed not to be interested in making a tackle.
“There are pre-snap (things), we could have aligned better,” McAdoo said of the play. “Post-snap, we could have attacked better. Our pursuit and our angles to the ball could have been better, and as far as Eli goes, he needs to attack and tackle right there. But it’s more than just one guy.”
McAdoo would not say whether Jenkins would be returned to the roster this week. He was suspended indefinitely last Tuesday for missing a Monday workout after the bye and not telling the coaches that he would be absent.
When asked if he would talk to Jenkins on Tuesday, McAdoo said: “When I get a minute.”
- Packers lose 3rd straight, seek answers without Rodgers– Aaron Rodgers is the great equalizer for the Green Bay Packers, a once-in-a-generation type of talent who can help mask mistakes and turn busted plays into big gains.
Without him, miscues are magnified and the margin of error shrinks considerably for the Packers.
It happened again Monday night when Green Bay fell 30-17 to the Detroit Lions for its third straight loss, a streak that started when Rodgers hurt his collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
“We’re a better team than what we’re putting on film, regardless of whether (Rodgers) is in there or not,” receiver Davante Adams said. “We’ve still got … enough talent in here where we can win these types of games.”
The Packers were coming off a bye, exuding optimism that an extra week of rest and preparation could help turn things around. Coming into the game, coach Mike McCarthy in part stressed the need to get the ball more to his playmaking receivers.
They did just that, though most of the opportunities came on short passes.
Adams had seven catches for 53 yards with a long of 9. Jordy Nelson finished with four catches for 35 yards. He was blanketed by Lions cornerback Darius Slay on a couple deep shots in the third quarter while the game was still competitive.
Randall Cobb had five catches for 58 yards, including a 46-yard gain on a catch-and-run that set up Hundley’s 1-yard quarterback sneak that made it 20-10 with 9:52 left.
Hundley was 26 of 36 for 245 yards, though he rarely took deep shots, especially in the first half. He nearly connected on one long throw to Adams, who had a step on the cornerback down the sideline, but the ball bounced off fingertips.
“This game they were giving us the underneath stuff,” Hundley said. “You have to take what’s given.”
McCarthy stood by Hundley, who is most effective out of the pocket and when he can use his legs.
The Packers had other problems, too, rushing for 78 yards on 17 carries. They were just 2 of 9 on third downs.
“Brett Hundley played better tonight and I have great faith in Brett Hundley. Brett Hundley’s not our issue,” McCarthy said.
The defense got burned on third downs by Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who was 26 of 33 for 361 yards and two scores to Marvin Jones. The Lions were 8 of 13 on third-down conversions.
The Lions’ opening score was set up by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Mike Daniels, after the defensive lineman appeared to head-butt Detroit center Travis Swanson. The flag negated an incompletion on third-and-15 that would have forced the Lions to punt from their own 25.
Stafford connected with Jones for the touchdown pass five plays later.
“I really take that on myself. If we stop them there, then we get a short field … I let the emotions get the best of me,” Daniels said.
With Rodgers in uniform, the Packers have a better chance to punch back on the scoreboard. The defense can take more chances and still know that Rodgers can win a shootout.
They need to figure out quickly how to win without him.
“We come out winning Super Bowls around here. If we keep playing like this, it’s not going to be pretty,” cornerback Davon House said. “We’re 4-4, with how many games left? Eight games left. We’ve got to pull together — somehow, some way.”
- Seahawks with no time to lament growing list of issues-Maybe it’s best the Seattle Seahawks don’t have time to dwell on what went wrong.
By the time Monday afternoon rolled around, the Seahawks were trying to put the mistakes of Sunday’s 17-14 loss to Washington behind them, knowing they had barely 72 hours to prepare for Thursday’s divisional game at Arizona.
But it was hard to ignore such a sloppy performance by the Seahawks that featured 16 penalties, two turnovers, three missed field goals and Washington scoring with less than a minute remaining to walk out of Seattle with an unlikely victory.
“We’ve got some real serious stuff we’ve got to get better at,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Carroll was not in the best of moods Monday, with the continued penalty problems at the top of the list. But he also was irritated by Blair Walsh’s three missed field goals, quarterback Russell Wilson sometimes escaping the pocket too early, and his defense surrendering two big plays on Washington’s final drive.
The Seahawks have shown flaws throughout the first half of the season, but Sunday was the first time so many of them had surfaced in the same game.
“We have so much to improve and I am surprised somewhat that we’re not further along in these areas that I’m talking about right now,” Carroll said. “These are things that we really can control and we have a chance to be good.”
The 16 penalties were the second-most in franchise history and the most by any team in the NFL this season. Carroll was particularly miffed that 10 of the penalties came against the offense and all of them left Seattle facing long-yardage situations. All five offensive linemen were flagged at least once.
Seattle has never been the cleanest team with penalties, but the Seahawks already have games of 16 and 15 penalties this season, the most in Carroll’s tenure.
“It’s a group thing when you have a bunch like this, but it comes down to individual choices and making good decisions and doing things right,” Carroll said. “So we’re going to jump all over it with another emphasis.”
There was also concern about Walsh’s confidence moving forward after an awful kicking game. Walsh missed wide left from 39, 44 and 49 yards all in the first half and left Seattle facing a 7-2 deficit at halftime.
Walsh had been 12 of 13 on the season going into Sunday’s game, and Carroll said the Seahawks would not be making a change.
“He’s been great. He’s been kicking like crazy and we are expecting him to get right back to that,” Carroll said.
Then there was the final drive when Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins hit two long passes that led to the winning touchdown. Seattle remained aggressive with its defensive calls after being criticized in the past for playing too soft in late-game situations.
This time, the aggressiveness got the better of them. Rather than playing zone, the Seahawks had their cornerbacks in the face of the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. So when Brian Quick and Josh Doctson got separation from Justin Coleman and Shaquill Griffin there was no other defenders there to help. Quick’s 31-yard catch was the precursor to Doctson’s 38-yard reception to the 1-yard line — beating Griffin — that set up Rob Kelley’s winning TD run with 59 seconds left.
“I feel like the mistake that I made, I almost got relaxed on that play. Looking for (the ball), I couldn’t find it and that’s the mistake that I made,” Griffin said. “That’s something I’ve got to move on from too. He made a hell of a catch. That was a hell of a throw and it sucks to see a ball game go away like that.”