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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 10 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- With Thielen leading the way, Vikings offense is thriving–
Case Keenum scrambled to his left out of the pocket to evade the pass rush before setting his feet to throw and setting his sight on Adam Thielen, aiming to add to Minnesota’s healthy lead early in the third quarter at Washington.
The throw was right on target.
Thielen, once again, was in just the right place.
With a 49-yard gain, beating cornerback Josh Norman and safety Deshazor Everett, Thielen was tackled at the 12-yard line to set up the fifth touchdown of the game for the Vikings (7-2) in their 38-30 victory on Sunday. Thielen finished with 166 yards on eight receptions.
“He continues to find ways to get open and make catches and make catches even when he’s not open. There’s been a few times where he’s pretty well-covered and makes a catch. That type of guy I haven’t really been around, ever,” Keenum said.
“He plays all of the positions. He knows every position. He knows the whole offense. He gets guys, he helps guys, and he knows where to go.”
That’s not all. Three plays later, Jarius Wright caught a screen pass on third-and-5 from the 7-yard line that he took into the end zone.
Center Pat Elflein, right guard Joe Berger and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell formed the wall in front, but Thielen’s block on cornerback Kendall Fuller gave Wright the lane he needed to score.
“Adam does everything,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
With 793 receiving yards, Thielen is third in the NFL. He’s tied for fifth with 56 receptions.
“The guy is a gamer. When he gets the opportunities, he makes the most of them,” Zimmer said.
Starting, of course, with the $500 scholarship he was given in 2009 by Minnesota State University to play NCAA Division II football. Then came the rookie tryout camp in 2013 with the Vikings that he needed to latch on to the practice squad.
Then there was the opening on special teams that he used as a pathway to the active roster. Struggles last year by the first-round draft pick Treadwell gave Thielen more space with which to break out.
“I never really think about stats and things like that,” Thielen said. “As long as we win the game and I’m doing everything I can to help the team, that’s really all that matters.”
With Thielen and a healthy-again Stefon Diggs doing the most damage downfield, the Vikings offense is thriving, save for two interceptions that Keenum threw in the second half at Washington.
They’re ninth in the league in yards per game and 10th in points per game, the first time they’ve been in the top 10 in either category since 2009 when Brett Favre’s renaissance led a charge to the NFC championship game.
That was the most recent season the Vikings had a 1,000-yard receiver, too, with Thielen in prime position to end the league’s longest such absence of one.
The propensity of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to spread the ball around and Keenum’s ability to follow through on the plan, boosted in a big way by a more mobile and less leaky offensive line, has helped the Vikings put together one of the NFL’s most productive units despite the loss of rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game.
“That makes it tough for a defensive player, because they’ve got to bring it on every play and they don’t know where the ball’s going to go,” Thielen said. “And they can’t really relax on anybody on our offense.”
Zimmer on Monday again declined to declare Keenum the starter for the upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams, but he said he has decided, which hints at the status quo despite the presence of Teddy Bridgewater as the backup.
“I’ve got a plan,” Zimmer said, “and we’ll just see how it goes.”
- Titans looking to take their winning ways on the road–
The Tennessee Titans are about to find out if their act plays as well on the road as well as it has at home.
The Titans are off to their best start since 2008 at 6-3, yet four of those wins have come at home, where they are 8-1 dating back to last season. Away from Nashville, the Titans are just 2-2 with losses on the road at Houston and at Miami.
Now they have a short turnaround with a visit to Pittsburgh (7-2) on Thursday night. It’s the first of four road games over the next five weeks as Tennessee chases its first playoff berth since 2008.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday that recovery is the biggest challenge — not playing on the road — coming off a 24-20 win over Cincinnati.
“It’s a short week for both teams, both teams will be well prepared in the short time, we’ve done this before,” Mularkey said. “There’s no mindset, guys have just got to take care of their body when they’re not here to get ready for a short week.”
But beating Pittsburgh would be a somewhat of a statement win.
Only two of their victories this season have come against teams currently with winning records: 37-16 at Jacksonville in Week 2 and a 33-27 win over Seattle in Week 3.
The Titans have some momentum with a four-game winning streak, the franchise’s longest since winning five straight in 2009. The Titans, who led the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, have jumped from 31st in that category at their bye to 10th by converting on three chances inside the opponent’s 20 in each of their past two games.
Mularkey said the improvement has been due to not making mistakes.
“Proof is in the tape that when we get all guys operating and doing their job efficiently, we’re pretty effective, and not just in the red zone, I’m talking about putting drives together for scores,” Mularkey said. “It’s been very easy for us to teach off of game tape.”
The three TDs inside the Cincinnati 20 were very impressive — including the game-winner with 36 seconds left — considering the Bengals lead the NFL in red zone defense.
“We’ve just got to continue to build off of that,” Mariota said after the game. “Guys made a bunch of plays in there and when you’re able to do that, when you’re able to score in the red zone, it’s huge momentum and it builds confidence.”
That’s what the young Titans still need with a chance to make a statement before a national television audience Thursday night. The Steelers are atop the AFC North, and Tennessee can finish off a sweep of that division with a win that would be much more impressive than whatever they might do in a visit to Indianapolis or trips to Arizona on Dec. 10 or San Francisco on Dec. 17.
Mularkey is keeping the Titans focused on the task at hand with a flight to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
“If we let that become a distraction, it can be, yes,” Mularkey said. “This team’s pretty mature and pretty good about handling different situations, and this won’t be any different.”
- Falcons want win over Cowboys to be turning point in 2017– The Falcons weren’t content to savor the long-awaited complete game that was so elusive in the first half of this season.
Their emphasis was on making sure this isn’t the only time they show their 2016 Super Bowl season was no fluke.
Atlanta proved it could win without Devonta Freeman as it overwhelmed a Dallas team that looked lost without Ezekiel Elliott, 27-7, on Sunday.
The Falcons (5-4) can look ahead to next week’s visit to Seattle with renewed confidence after winning behind Matt Ryan’s two touchdown passes and Adrian Clayborn’s team-record six sacks.
It was an important boost for the Falcons, who had lost four of five and scored no more than 17 points in any of the losses.
“It wasn’t like we installed a new offense or something,” said tight end Austin Hooper. “We just executed. It feels good when you go out and execute.”
Along the way, the Falcons learned Tevin Coleman could handle the bulk of the carries when necessary. The bigger discovery was Clayborn as a pass-rusher capable of dominating a game.
“AC went crazy today,” said receiver Julio Jones, who had six catches for 57 yards.
Added Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen: “I didn’t know it was him at first.”
Atlanta outscored Dallas 17-0 in the second half while ending the Cowboys’ three-game winning streak.
“We’ve just got to continue to do that from here on out and have fun doing it,” Jones said. “We had a lot of fun today. It’s a good game for us to do it on, to have a complete game.”
Freeman suffered a concussion when hit by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens on Atlanta’s second play of the game. Still, the Falcons outrushed the Cowboys 132-107.
Dallas struggled while Elliott served the first-game of his six-game suspension for allegations of domestic abuse.
The Cowboys (5-4) set a season low with only 233 total yards. Dak Prescott was sacked eight times, a career high. He had been sacked 10 times in the Cowboys’ first eight games.
“When we got in those passing situations, we couldn’t slow them down,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “We didn’t protect well enough, and they put too much pressure on Dak.”
Alfred Morris started for Elliott and had 11 carries for 53 yards. Rod Smith, used on passing downs, had four catches for only 15 yards and added three carries for 14 yards.
Coleman ran for 83 yards, including a touchdown, providing a template for Atlanta’s offense if Freeman misses time with his second concussion of the year. Freeman also missed the last two weeks of the preseason while in the concussion protocol.
Here are some more things to know about the Falcons’ win over the Cowboys:
ROUGH DAY FOR GREEN
Clayborn took advantage of Cowboys fill-in left tackle Chaz Green, who started when Tyron Smith was held out with back and groin injuries. Clayborn began to torment Green when he recorded two sacks of Prescott on the Cowboys’ opening drive. The struggles continued through Clayborn’s sixth sack in the final quarter.
“A lot of my issues were self-inflicted,” Green said. “It just hurts because I feel like I let the team down.”
Clayborn’s six sacks broke the Falcons record of five set by Chuck Smith and unofficially shared by Claude Humphrey. Smith had five sacks against the Saints on Oct. 12, 1997. Humphrey, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had two five-sack games before sacks became an official statistic.
Clayborn’s sixth sack, early in the fourth quarter, also produced his second forced fumble of the game. He had a forced fumble and recovery late in the first half.
Clayborn said he has trained in Smith’s pass-rush camp. Asked what he thought Smith would say about his record being broken, Clayborn said, “I’m sure I have a text.”
The spotlight was on Morris as Elliott’s replacement, but Morris became a non-factor as the Falcons’ lead grew.
“We became too one-dimensional,” Morris said. “We got behind. I take full ownership of that. We’ll learn from this game.”
The Falcons converted 7 of 13 third downs and scored on three of four possessions inside the Dallas 20. Those were successes in areas of emphasis for coach Dan Quinn in recent weeks.
“We’ve still got work to do, but I was pleased to see some of that work come through today, especially offensively,” Quinn said
- Colin Kaepernick named GQ magazine’s citizen of the year–
Free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been named GQ’s magazine’s “Citizen of the Year” for his activism.
Kaepernick began kneeling instead of standing during the national anthem last season to protest racial inequality and police brutality. The demonstration sparked a wave of NFL protests by players during the anthem that repeatedly have been denounced by President Donald Trump. Kaepernick parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers in March and hasn’t been signed by another team.
Kaepernick says on Twitter he’s “honored” by the recognition.
The magazine ‘s story includes comments from several of Kaepernick’s supporters and confidants. Rapper J. Cole says Kaepernick “sacrificed his dream” to stand for something. Ninety-year-old singer and activist Harry Belafonte says seeing people like Kaepernick taking action is “the greatest reward” he could ask for.
- Loss to winless 49ers increases heat on Giants coach Bob McAdoo–
If Ben McAdoo faced questions about his job security as coach of the New York Giants heading into the week, just imagine what it will be like following a loss to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers.
A disappointing season in New York may have hit a new low as the Giants were thoroughly beaten 31-21 on Sunday by a team that hadn’t even held a lead at any point in a game the previous five weeks.
“We’re not a good team right now,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Not a good team right now. Hopefully we can go ahead and turn around to be competitive and compete. It’s sad that I’m sitting here talking about us competing in games instead of talking about winning but that’s the truth.”
It’s performances such as this that have raised questions about McAdoo’s future with the Giants (1-8), who came into the season with high expectations following a playoff berth last season.
McAdoo has been under fire after a report this past week from ESPN that quoted an anonymous player as saying the players have given up on the season and don’t view McAdoo as a leader.
The Giants have not fired a coach during the season since 1976 when Bill Arnsparger was let go after a 0-7 start and replaced by John McVay, who had more success as an executive who helped build the 49ers dynasty in the 1980s.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with anything,” McAdoo said of his job security. “We have to find a way to win a game. We have to address what happened out here on the field today, take a look at the tape and be honest with each other.”
There won’t be a lot of good to see on this tape.
The defense was gashed by big plays through the air and on the ground, the Giants were barely able to touch rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard after he had been sacked 14 times in three starts. Eli Manning celebrated a milestone start by failing to lead the Giants (1-8) to a score in the second half until a garbage time touchdown long after the game had been decided.
Even the special teams had issues with Aldrick Rosas setting up a San Francisco field goal by sending the opening kick out of bounds and then missing a 34-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half.
“We got schooled,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I did not see enough relentless play, attitude. You name it, I did not see it. Everything we should have done, I felt we did not do it.”
The Giants allowed Beathard to throw TD passes of 83 yards to Marquise Goodwin and 47 yards to Garrett Celek in the second quarter, and then gave up a 33-yard TD run by rookie Matt Breida in the fourth quarter.
Manning committed a key fumble with the Giants driving in the first half of his 208th consecutive start, tying brother Peyton for the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, trailing only Brett Favre’s 297.
Manning’s numbers looked good as he completed 28 of 37 passes for 273 yards and two TDs, but the offense generated only one first down on three drives in the second half when San Francisco expanded its lead from 17-13 to 31-13.
“We’re in this situation, we’re the reason we’re in it,” Manning said. “So we just have to keep working, compete every week and expect to win every week.”
- Dolphins need to find answers on defense to challenge in AFC–
Despite an embarrassing performance on Monday night, the Miami Dolphins remain in playoff contention in the mediocre AFC.
But if the Dolphins (4-5) hope to challenge for a postseason berth they’ll need to fix a struggling defense. Miami has allowed 37.3 points per game during its current three-game losing streak, which included a 45-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
Carolina piled up 458 yards of offense, the most in the franchise’s 23-year history.
“There is no way we should give up 350 yards with the players we have, let alone 550,” said Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch. “We just have to go back to work and it will be fixed for sure.”
It will need to be soon.
Things won’t get much easier for the Dolphins who still have to face Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots twice in the next four weeks.
“It was a frustrating night,” Branch said. “The coaches will figure out how to get it fixed.”
The Panthers gashed the Dolphins repeatedly on the ground, running for 294 yards and averaging 8.2 yards per carry — and that includes two kneel downs by backup quarterback Derek Anderson which brought the average down significantly. The pass defense wasn’t any better, allowing Cam Newton to throw for 254 yards and four touchdowns.
At one point the Panthers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions.
The Panthers had 30 first downs and were 11 of 14 on third down conversions.
“We didn’t get off the field when we needed to get off the field, especially on third downs,” Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said.
“We have to figure out where we’re having our issues, quickly, because it’s not going to get any easier with the teams we have coming up on the schedule,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said.
Some things we learned from Carolina’s dominating win over Miami:
THE DOLPHINS ARE NOT PRIME TIME: In three consecutive prime time games, the Dolphins went 0-3 with opponents outscoring them 112-48. Two starting quarterbacks in that stretch (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Carolina’s Cam Newton) had early nights because their teams were so far ahead.
DRAKE CAN MOVE: The Dolphins started Damien Williams at running back, but it was Kenyan Drake who had the better game. Drake displayed great burst on a 66-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-short carry and finished with a team-high 82 yards on seven carries. Williams had 19 yards on nine carries, which will make it interesting to see who gets the starts next week against Tampa Bay.
CONCERN FOR SAMUEL: Panthers coach Ron Rivera offered no update after the game on an ankle injury sustained by starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel after he dropped a pass in the end zone. The rookie was seen hobbling to the locker room with the help of trainers, careful not to put pressure on his leg.
Samuel had stepped into the Panthers’ starting lineup after Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo, giving the team more speed. If he can’t play, Russell Shepard would likely start.
The good thing for Samuel is the Panthers have a bye this week giving him an extra week to recover, but the injury didn’t look good. Meanwhile, Carolina will catch a break as tight end Greg Olsen is eligible to return from injured reserve and play against the Jets after the bye.
KUECHLY’S BIG PLAY: It’s impossible to explain how important Luke Kuechly is to Carolina’s defense.
Down 10-7 late in the first half, Gase decided to air it out. Kuechly’s interception gave the Panthers momentum to rattle off 21 consecutive points and take control for a 45-21 victory.
“That’s Captain America,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said.
Kuechly credited the rush from the defensive line and fellow linebacker Thomas Davis for getting into the flat so Cutler had to elevate the ball. He caught it while backpedaling in coverage.
“When you have guys on your team who do a good job of playing their responsibilities, sometimes you are just in the right spot at the right time to make a play,” Kuechly said.
Gase said he doesn’t regret going for points in that situation and said he has no plans on relinquishing the team’s play calling duties.
O-LINE STEPS UP: Carolina’s offensive line seems to be rounding into form. Not only did they not allow a sack for the second time in three games, but they paved the way for the team’s second straight 200-yard rushing game.
“The O-line is doing a heck of a job getting us started, and when you’ve got guys taking turns making plays, it really helps the flow of the offense,” said running back Christian McCaffrey, who scored two touchdowns.
Added Jonathan Stewart, who ran for 110 yards: “When you bully guys around, it gives the offensive line confidence. It gives us momentum.”
- Texans pondering what’s next after 3rd straight loss–
The Houston Texans were left searching for answers about how to turn things around after their third straight loss.
One thing they won’t do is switch quarterbacks, with coach Bill O’Brien saying Monday that Tom Savage will start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Savage threw for 221 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in his second start since rookie Deshaun Watson sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice. But he was also intercepted twice and lost two fumbles in a 33-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, raising questions whether the Texans should replace him with T.J. Yates this week.
O’Brien brushed off that possibility, insisting the problems on offense aren’t all Savage’s fault.
“It starts with coaching,” O’Brien said. “We’ve all got to coach better, starting with me, but it’s never about one guy; it’s never been about one guy. Football’s about 11 guys trying to do the right thing on every play.”
While O’Brien shifted the blame off of Savage, the quarterback disagreed with his coach.
“To be honest with you, it’s on the quarterback when (we) put up seven points,” he said. “It’s on me.”
Sunday was Savage’s third start this season. He started the opener before being benched at halftime for Watson after losing two fumbles. He’s performed much the same in the last two weeks, with the offense managing one touchdown each in losses to the Colts and Rams. It’s a stark change from when Watson was running the unit and the Texans set a franchise record by scoring more than 30 points in five straight games.
O’Brien isn’t concerned about Savage’s confidence and scoffed at the notion that he needs to encourage him this week.
“I’m not going to come into the quarterback room with two pom-poms and do handstands and try to pump him up and say: ‘You’re the best, you can do it,’ like the little engine that could,” O’Brien said. “That’s not what I do. I just try to coach him, try to get him to play better.”
To do that O’Brien said Savage needs to work on ball security and reads, and the rest of the players on offense must do more to help him.
The Texans got a big game from DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday: seven receptions for 111 yards. But Savage had trouble connecting with Houston’s other receivers and none of the rest of them finished with more than 40 yards receiving.
His job could be tougher this week with Will Fuller’s status in question after the receiver injured his ribs against the Rams.
“He’s slightly built, so I don’t know,” O’Brien said of the 6-foot, 185-pound Fuller. “We’ll have to see how that goes during the week.”
With Savage having trouble getting Houston’s offense going on Sunday, O’Brien inserted Braxton Miller at quarterback for a couple of wildcat-type plays. Miller, who starred at quarterback at Ohio State before moving to receiver, didn’t attempt a pass.
“Just trying to mix it up a little bit,” O’Brien said. “I just felt like it didn’t really help the rhythm of the offense. It wasn’t Braxton’s fault. It just didn’t really help what we were trying to do. It didn’t have the effect that I thought it was going to have.”
Sunday’s loss left the Texans (3-6) in third place in the AFC South, three games behind the Jaguars and Titans. They’ll have to find a cure for their offensive woes quickly if they hope to have any chance of reaching the postseason for the third straight year.
“Any time you lose — what three in a row? You’ve got to be worried,” cornerback Kareem Jackson said. “But at the same time, I know the type of guys we got in the locker room. We’re a resilient group. I feel like we can come out of anything. We’ve just got to stay together and continue to fight.”