What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2017 NFL Season

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Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams, right, catches a pass as Cleveland Browns strong safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun looks on during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • From 0-4 to 1st place: Chargers make wild 2-month turnaround-The Los Angeles Chargers started 0-4 in their relocation season, and what little national attention they received was focused on the hostile portions of the crowds in their compact new home stadium.

    Two months later, a whole lot more people are cheering for the Chargers.

    After a 19-10 victory over Cleveland, Los Angeles is tied for first place in the AFC West with six victories in eight games. The transformation grows more intriguing with each passing week around these Bolts (6-6), who have surged into playoff contention with a month to spare in a season that already appeared lost in early October.

    “These guys have been fighting like hell to climb out of this hole we dug ourselves in,” coach Anthony Lynn said Monday. “It’s just good to see we’re playing some good football at the right time, and some (NFC rivals) have come back to us, and now we have a hell of an opportunity here.”

    Los Angeles heads into a visit from Washington (5-7) on Sunday with three consecutive victories and a wealth of confidence. Just about everything is clicking for the Chargers, who have outscored their last three opponents by a combined 101-40.

    The Chargers’ remaining schedule is set up rather splendidly for a playoff run, if they can make it.

    Along with games against the Redskins and Jets (5-7), the division race can be decided in head-to-head matchups with both Kansas City and Oakland, who sit tied with LA atop the AFC West at 6-6. Lynn won’t allow anyone to look past Washington, but the Chargers realize what they’ve done for themselves in the big picture.

    “We’re in a good place right now, but we’re not in a great place, and that’s why we have to continue to keep working,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “I feel like everything is in our hands right now. We are starting to see the light a little bit, but by losing those four games at the start of the season, we dug ourselves a pretty big hole. It’s crazy, because at any moment, the Chiefs or anybody can turn it around. So that’s why you can’t let up. We went 0-4, and we’ve been turning it around, so who’s to say the Chiefs or the Raiders can’t do the same thing these last four games?”

    Gordon realizes the Chargers could have mentally checked out when they went winless in Lynn’s first four games, including three losses by two points or fewer.

    The season could have fallen apart again when they lost back-to-back games around their bye week, including a weird, heartbreaking overtime defeat in Jacksonville on Nov. 12.

    Instead, the Chargers haven’t lost since.

    “We have talent,” Lynn said. “I think you can have talent and still fall apart. But we have talent, and these guys chose to stay together. I think that’s made the difference.”

    During their three-game winning streak, the Chargers have racked up 400 yards of offense in three consecutive games for the first time since the first half of the 2015 season. Los Angeles played nearly two full games in this streak without even punting, from late in the first win over Buffalo until the fourth quarter against Cleveland.

    Coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense has been quietly outstanding all season, holding all 11 opponents under 27 points and getting 35 sacks. Los Angeles has 10 interceptions in the last four games, with Adrian Phillips’ fourth-quarter pick sealing the win over Cleveland after Joey Bosa ended the previous drive by strip-sacking DeShone Kizer.

    The Chargers realize a loss to the Redskins could endanger everything they’ve built over the last two months, but they see no reason to doubt the focus they’ve built since that 0-4 start.

    “I don’t think we can take anything for granted,” Lynn said. “I think these guys know that, especially after the way we started. That’s some of the lessons that you learn when you start out like that. You can’t afford to take anything for granted or look ahead to anybody.”

 

  • Dominant defense keeps on coming through for Vikings-The Minnesota Vikings had just taken the lead with a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter at Atlanta, a still-uncomfortable five-point edge on a Falcons team with a potent offense and a loud home-field advantage.

    Once again, the game was left in good hands with a defense that has made squelching quality opponents a season-long habit.

    The Vikings got the ball back in 101 seconds.

    “This group of guys, we don’t really care who we play or when we play or where we play,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said.

    “We just all play together, and we all come out with a chip on our shoulder. We fight, regardless, no matter what’s happening, whether we’re down or up.”

    Following the go-ahead score by the Vikings, the Falcons started with a short run by Tevin Coleman.

    Quarterback and 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan was pressured up the middle by Linval Joseph and threw incomplete over the middle at the feet of Coleman.

    Then on third-and-7, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen got a jump off the ball that was so quick he might have been offside.

    With no penalty flag thrown on the play, Griffen pushed the pocket toward Ryan while Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison made it collapse on the other side. Wisely stepping forward into a clearing, Ryan took off running.

    In a zone coverage on wide receiver Justin Hardy as he crossed the field, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr passed Hardy off to safety Harrison Smith and pivoted toward Ryan.

    With Kendricks closing in behind Barr in case of a change in direction, Ryan tried to stutter-step his way past the fourth-year standout. Barr lowered his body as he came close, executing a perfect form tackle with both arms to drop Ryan hard on the turf for a 1-yard gain.

    The Falcons had to punt from their 27.

    “When we needed a stop, we stopped ’em,” said cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who took the lead in limiting Julio Jones to two receptions for 24 yards on six targets after the two-time All-Pro racked up 253 yards and two touchdowns the previous week.

    The Vikings (10-2), who lead the league with a third-down conversion yield of slightly more than 27 percent, allowed the high-flying Falcons to convert only one of 10 third downs in the 14-9 victory on Sunday.

    The Falcons were 27 for 41 in those situations over their previous three games, in which they totaled 95 points.

    “They’re disciplined. They play sound defense,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. “They’re going to be where they need to be.”

    The Vikings proved to be so impenetrable that, on fourth-and-4 at the 27-yard line with 5:04 remaining, Falcons coach Dan Quinn elected for another field goal rather than try to extend the drive for a go-ahead touchdown. Matt Bryant’s attempt sailed wide left, giving possession back to the Vikings that they didn’t relinquish.

    Now the Vikings, whose offense also leads the NFL in third-down conversions at nearly 46 percent, have forged a tie for first place in the NFC with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The other division leaders, the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, are one game behind, but the Vikings have tiebreakers over both of them with earlier victories.

    The dream scenario of home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl has become closer to reality.

    “No thoughts,” coach Mike Zimmer said, when asked about the race for the top seed for the NFC playoffs. “We’ve got four games left. My only thoughts are about the Carolina Panthers and trying to get a win this week.”

 

  • 49ers look to build momentum after Garoppolo’s solid start– For coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, this season has been about rebuilding for the future. But the process has suddenly been accelerated by the arrival of their new starting quarterback.

    Jimmy Garoppolo starred in the team’s first road win of the year, a 15-14 victory at Chicago. He completed 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards, throwing for the most yardage ever by a San Francisco QB in his first start, and led a 14-play drive that set up a winning field goal with four seconds remaining.

    “(We) went in not really sure how it would be, but I think it went a lot better than expected,” Shanahan said Monday.

    It appears the 49ers (2-10) finally have a long-term answer for the game’s most important position after winning just seven regular season games combined over the previous two seasons.

    Garoppolo took over the starting job from rookie C.J. Beathard, who exited a loss Nov. 26 to Seattle late in the fourth quarter with hip and knee injuries. That allowed Shanahan to make the expected switch to Tom Brady’s former backup, giving Garoppolo 33 days since being acquired from New England to learn Shanahan’s offense before becoming the starter.

    The results were about as promising as could be expected. Garoppolo converted 10 of 18 third downs, marking the first time San Francisco reached double-digit conversions since 2007.

    Garoppolo was acquired before the trade deadline for a second-round draft pick. Since then, there’s been a renewed energy in the team’s headquarters, Shanahan said, with players feeling optimistic about their new quarterback.

    “I don’t think it’s hard for people to see just the talent he has as a thrower. I know players can see that, I think fans can see that too,” Shanahan said. “. We all went in pretty open minded and I think the guys were real excited for him to have some success and also excited for themselves — because it’s fun when guys play well, especially at the quarterback position.”

    The 49ers next travel to play the banged-up Houston Texans, who dropped to 4-8 with a 24-13 loss Sunday at Tennessee.

    The mandate for Shanahan’s team this week will be cleaning up its offensive execution on the red zone. San Francisco outgained the Bears 388-147, yet went 0 for 5 in the red zone before escaping with the one-point victory. The game could have been significantly more comfortable if the offense cashed in touchdowns instead of settling for five field goals by Robbie Gould.

    “The tighter it gets, the more exact you have to be. Everything gets harder, the windows get smaller,” Shanahan said. “. But the most disappointing thing with the red zone was the penalties when we should have scored, I believe.”

    The 49ers were penalized eight times for 53 yards, including three that thwarted a pair of scoring opportunities in the first half.

    Right tackle Trent Brown’s holding penalty negated a run by Carlos Hyde down to the Chicago 3 on the first drive, leading to a field goal.

    Just before halftime, consecutive false starts from tight end George Kittle and receiver Marquise Goodwin led to Gould’s third field goal of the half.

    Shanahan said he expects Garoppolo’s grasp of the offense will strengthen as he gets more practice time as the starter.

    “The more he keeps doing it, which he’s going to do it here for five weeks in a row, I think he’ll absorb more and he’ll be able to be more decisive and just mindful when he’s in that pocket how far he has to go and make the plays he does,” Shanahan said.

Middle

  • Fake punts becoming regular occurrences for tricky Jaguars-The Jacksonville Jaguars do a few things really well. They lead the NFL in rushing, defense and sacks.

    They also might be the best at faking punts.

    The Jaguars (8-4) have turned three fakes into touchdowns this season, including one to bolster a stalled opening drive in a 30-10 victory against Indianapolis on Sunday. That kind of success surely will be something Seattle (8-4) will have to prepare for heading into Sunday’s game at EverBank Field.

    Doug Marrone acknowledged Monday that he has become much more comfortable in his second stint as a head coach and is willing to take more risks.

    “When I first started coaching, probably a little bit conservative,” Marrone said. “I was not that way when I was an assistant coach. I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s run a double-reverse pass.’

    “When I became a head coach, then it was like, ‘OK, listen, let’s make sure we keep this game out there for the players and let’s not change the momentum or anything of that nature. I just think the more I’m doing it … like anything else, I expect them to be able to make a play. The only difference is you only have one down to do it. There’s not a next down for those plays.”

    The tricky Jaguars have been perfect so far.

    Against the Colts, punter Brad Nortman took the snap on a fourth-and-7 play in the first quarter and found tight end James O’Shaughnessy wide open over the middle for a 29-yard gain. The Jaguars scored five plays later, with Blake Bortles connecting with Marqise Lee for a 4-yard score.

    “It was one of those things we have been working on for two weeks and we finally called it,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “It was at the perfect time. It gave us a spark and kept things going.”

    Corey Grant converted two other fake punts earlier this season, one against Baltimore in London in September and another against the Los Angeles Chargers last month. Both came in victories.

    Grant, the up-man in punt formations, took a direct snap on a fourth-and-7 play against the Chargers, juked one defender, made another miss and then zigzagged his way for a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Jacksonville won 20-17 in overtime.

    In Week 3, Grant punctuated a 44-7 win against the Ravens with a fake punt on the final play of the third quarter. Grant took a direct snap and ran 58 yards before getting tackled inside the 10-yard line. Leonard Fournette scored on the next play.

    Marrone and players credit veteran special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis for finding opponents’ vulnerabilities each week and not being afraid to exploit them.

    “Joe D is one of those guys who has stuff up his sleeve and is going to call it,” Lewis said. “We understand that. He is going to be aggressive, and we have to do our job as a special teams unit to make sure we convert.”

    Having the league’s top defense surely puts Marrone’s mind at ease, too.

    If the Jaguars fail to convert, they still feel confident the defense will hold.

    “It’s a combination of just the risk factor: When you want to take it, when you don’t,” Marrone said. “I know one thing you don’t want to do: You don’t want to force something that’s not there. That’s in any aspect, whether it be offense, defense or special teams.”

Downs

  • Reeling Giants fire coach McAdoo, GM Reese after 10th loss– Believing the team was spiraling out of control, the New York Giants went out of character by making two major in-season moves, firing coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese.

    With the team reeling at 2-10 in a season where most felt it was capable of challenging for a Super Bowl, co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch reached the decision Monday morning. It came less than a day after the Giants lost in Oakland, with quarterback Eli Manning benched and the offensively inept team performing poorly again.

    “We agreed that wholesale changes to this organization needed to be made to get us back to the team we expect it to be,” Mara said at a hastily called news conference. “We also agreed it was pointless to wait any longer to make these changes.”

    Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as interim coach for the final four games. He coached the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11.

    Mara did not know whether Manning will return as the starter this weekend against Dallas, saying the decision will be made by Spagnuolo.

    In a radio interview on WFAN, Manning said he told Spagnuolo that he wants to start the last four games.

    “I want to be out there and help us go win these four games,” Manning said. “I hope I’m out there on Sunday playing against the Cowboys.”

    Mara said neither McAdoo nor Reese was surprised by the decision, saying they were both professionals. He said his meeting with Reese was more emotional because the two had worked together since 1994.

    “I don’t think there was any one final straw,” Mara said. “I just think that where we are as a franchise right now, you know, we’re 2-10. We’ve kind of been spiraling out of control. I just felt like we needed a complete overhaul. I don’t think there was any one event or one final act to precipitate that.”

    Many felt the benching earlier last week of the well-liked Manning, the face of the franchise and a two-time Super Bowl MVP, was the deciding factor.

    McAdoo also would have been subjected to howls from fans with three of the final four games at home, starting this weekend.

    The moves come less than a year after the 40-year-old McAdoo ended a four-year Giants playoff drought in his first season, going 11-6. That record was aided in large part by Reese’s outstanding work in the free agent market that rebuilt the defense.

    While the 2016 season ended in a loss to Green Bay in the wild-card game, this year was supposed to be better. Much better.

    The offense was bolstered by signing free agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall and drafting tight end Evan Engram in the first round. The defense was back with the major exception of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

    A fifth Super Bowl was in everyone’s sights if the offensive line could improve.

    It fizzled from the start. The Giants lost their first five games. The line was inept. The defense underperformed, then the injury bug decimated the roster.

    “This has been the perfect storm this season,” Mara said. “Everything that could have gone wrong this season has gone wrong.”

    Assistant general manager Kevin Abrams will take over on an interim basis for Reese, who became GM in 2007 and had two Super Bowl wins on his resume. But the Giants missed the playoffs four times in the past five years, and his failure to address those offensive line problems this past offseason played a major role in a horrible season.

    Mara said Abrams and Spagnuolo will be offered the chance to continue in their interim jobs. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi will be a consultant in hiring a new GM, whom Mara wants in place before a coach.

    Mara has candidates in mind for general manager and said it’s possible a new GM could be in place before the season ends.

    The moves came less than a week after McAdoo made one of the biggest mistakes of his short tenure, mishandling the decision to bench Manning. Mara was forced to address the matter the following day and said he wished the decision had been handled better.

    McAdoo had a 13-16 record, and his firing is the first midseason head coaching move by the Giants since Bill Arnsparger was replaced seven games into the 1976 season by John McVay. The 2-10 mark is the Giants’ worst since they were 2-10 in 1976, and their worst since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978.

    With the losses, word started to emerge that McAdoo was losing the team. His one-game suspensions of popular cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins heightened the problem.

    Mara and Tisch came to McAdoo’s defense after an embarrassing loss to the then-winless 49ers on Nov. 12, saying his job was safe until the end of the season.

    “To be honest with you, it became more and more apparent that we were going to have to do something at the end of the season, so we talked after the game and again this morning about why prolong it any longer?” Mara said Monday. “Why not just get it done now?”

    The Giants hired McAdoo away from Green Bay in 2014 to serve as Tom Coughlin’s offensive coordinator. He was elevated to head coach on Jan. 14, 2016, less than two weeks after Coughlin was forced out after missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

    McAdoo’s first season was exceptional. His second was a fiasco.

    “Our team is not good enough,” Mara said.

 

  • Chiefs’ losing only part of embarrassing midseason swoon-The sorry state of the Kansas City Chiefs could easily be boiled down to the last few minutes of Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets, when their defense collapsed, their poise evaporated and any semblance of discipline went right out the door.

    Or right into the stands.

    That’s where cornerback Marcus Peters chucked an official’s flag after his angst reached a boiling point in the 38-31 defeat, the Chiefs’ sixth in seven games.Peters further humiliated himself by taking off to the locker room — assuming he’d been kicked out of the game — then running back to the field without wearing socks when he realized he had not been ejected.

    Yes, a team that started 5-0 and harbored Super Bowl aspirations is now 6-6 and tied for the lead in the AFC West. And they have plenty of reasons to be embarrassed these days.

    “What I think is when things aren’t going well, you’re trying to find ways to make it better, and at times frustration sets in,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during a conference call Monday. “That’s not when good things happen. It’s important you control yourself.

    “You’re dealing with young guys. They’re high-strung, man. They’re competitive,” Reid added, “so there’s a fine line there and you got to handle yourself the right way.”

    Make no mistake: There are a multitude of on-field problems for Kansas City right now.

    The offense finally showed some spark Sunday after an ugly stretch of games, only to come up short when it needed a touchdown to force overtime.

    A defense that had been reasonably good collapsed against a mediocre opponent, allowing nearly 500 yards. And even special teams were a problem with Harrison Butker missing his first field-goal attempt in weeks.

    “It’s certainly not where we thought we’d be after a 5-0 start,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “but that’s the NFL. No one is giving you anything. You have to go out and get it every week.”

    They haven’t been doing that for months.

    “We’re searching for sure. Everyone has a hand in it,” Smith said. “We’re a little bit anxious. We know we can play better. We know we’re capable of better. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”

    It would help if the Chiefs stopped stumbling over themselves.

    The Chiefs committed a series of penalties in the closing minutes Sunday that gave the Jets every opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown. And that was indicative of a troubling lack of discipline that has begun to engulf a franchise that once prided itself on mental toughness.

    The Chiefs were similarly undisciplined under Reid’s predecessors, Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel, but one of the first things he did upon his arrival is straighten things up.

    Players tucked in their jerseys in practice, staff members were required to wear team-issue clothing and Reid even halted practice to lambast reporters leaning against the fence surrounding their practice field.

    The discipline showed in the way a two-win team quickly turned into a playoff team.

    But that same discipline has been lacking the past couple of years. It’s evident in small things, such as the way the Chiefs scatter across their sideline during the national anthem, to more important things, such as the raft of penalties that have hurt them during their skid.

    They’re the third-most penalized team in the NFL, trailing only Seattle and Miami, and are tied for the league lead in unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

    “Listen, I’m always going to take that responsibility,” Reid said, when asked pointedly about the Chiefs’ discipline problem. “I know I have a good locker room, so you can put that one on me.”

    You can put a good chunk of it on Peters, too. He’s been flagged a league-leading three times for unsportsmanlike conduct this season, and the star cornerback with the checkered past has been dinged for the most penalty yards per game of any player in the league.

    Asked whether Reid will punish Peters for his flag toss, he replied: “I’m evaluating all that as I go. Wherever I sit with that, obviously I’ll talk to the person first.”

    Still, did Reid think that his young cornerback embarrassed the franchise?

    “I think that was the wrong thing to do,” he replied, “if that’s what you’re asking. So yes.”

     

  • So you’re saying there’s a chance? Skins in trouble at 5-7-Informed that one calculation gives his Washington Redskins a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, cornerback Bashaud Breeland opted to take a rose-colored view of the situation.

    “So we still have something we can play for,” Breeland said after an abbreviated practice Monday. “It’s not all the way out of our grasp.”

    Well, yes, that’s one way to look at it.

    A more realistic way is this: At 5-7 heading into next Sunday’s trip to the Los Angeles Chargers , and with five losses in their past seven games, the Redskins have reached the portion of their season that is about ruing what set this one awry and assessing where to go from here to get better for the next one.

    “Initially, we plan — and our goal is — to make it to the playoffs and show up in the Super Bowl. That’s what you want to do, ideally. That’s the plan, that’s the goal, and we all had that in mind. But then there’s the speed bumps that come into play,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “The picture is not going to be perfect all the time. We put ourselves in this spot.”

    The ever-growing list of injuries certainly did not help matters, of course, but that is what happens in the NFL, to team upon team, year after year.

    Still, facing a largely winnable stretch to close out the season, the Redskins did not even give themselves a chance, looking anything but competent or competitive in their most recent game, a 38-14 loss at the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys last Thursday night.

    There were turnovers on offense and special teams, plus a continuation of a recent trend of poor defensive showings.

    And now, only four teams in the entire 16-club NFC have a worse record than the Redskins.

    “Without a doubt, everybody’s disappointed. There’s no question,” coach Jay Gruden said Monday. “You know, we didn’t play very well against Dallas. That’s disappointing. … We have the fourth quarter of our season left, and I have a bunch of guys out here that are going to compete and they’re going to play hard, no matter what the situation is.

    “There’s a reason why they’re here. It’s because I know they’re great competitors. They’re going to work hard, and they’re going to get themselves ready to play.”

    That was what Breeland contended, too, no matter how bleak things are for a club that is nearly assured of missing out on the postseason for the third time in Gruden’s four seasons as a head coach.

    The lack of success stretches back much further, of course: Even if Washington goes 4-0 the rest of the way — which is not exactly a major accomplishment against a slate comprised of the Chargers (6-6), Cardinals (5-7), Broncos (3-9) and Giants (2-10; who fired GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo on Monday) — it is guaranteed to fall short of 10 victories.

    That is a modest win total that the Redskins have managed to reach only three times, and never exceeded, over the past quarter-century.

    But don’t tell Breeland the season is done.

    “I don’t feel like it’s over,” he said. “Anything’s possible. You can’t put it past us. I feel like we’ve still got a chance.”

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