What Have We Learned from Week 16 of the 2017 NFL Season

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Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) celebrates during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 16 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Garoppolo leads 49ers to historic in-season turnaround-Jimmy Garoppolo has already helped the San Francisco 49ers make a bit of history for the NFL’s best in-season turnaround.

    No team that ever started a season as poorly as the 49ers did with nine straight losses has ended it as well as it is going in San Francisco with Garoppolo having led the team to four straight wins.

    The 49ers (5-10) already have the best record of any team that started a 16-game season with a 0-9 record and they can double the previous best win total held by many teams by winning the season finale Sunday at the division champion Los Angeles Rams (11-4).

    “We think we’re playing better. But, by no means have we arrived,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday. “We’ve got a long way to go, we better keep getting better.”

    The midseason arrival of Garoppolo in a trade from New England has been just the spark the 49ers needed. He has won all four of his starts for San Francisco and his 1,250 yards passing are the most by any player in his first four starts for a franchise.

    That play has lifted the entire team and the expectations surrounding the 49ers. Running back Carlos Hyde even talked about a possible Super Bowl run in 2018 now that Jimmy G is in place.

    “I definitely would want to rein that in,” Shanahan said. “I haven’t spoken to Carlos yet. Just from what I know of Carlos, I have a pretty good feeling that he was halfway joking.

    “But, I haven’t seen him yet. But, definitely that’s not something that we want, because I don’t believe that’s the way you should think. You can’t control what’s going on next year. You only can worry about right now.”

    Ending the season on a streak such as this and falling short of the playoffs is rare. The 49ers could become the 41st team in the past 23 seasons to win their final five games but only the 2005 Miami Dolphins missed the postseason in that group.

    Whether there’s a big carry-over effect remains to be seen. Nearly half of those teams — 19 of 40 — missed the playoffs the following year whether it was because of quarterback injuries that doomed teams such as Green Bay this season, New England in 2008 or Washington in 2013, or natural regression that impacted other teams, finishing strong is no guarantee of future success.

    “It depends on the people you have and how they show up ready to go,” Shanahan said. “If you end the season on a real positive note and you’ve got a group of guys that like reading their own press clippings and feeling good about themselves so they can relax, then that type of stuff will hurt you.

    “If you have guys who aren’t fazed by whether people say good things or bad things about you, it doesn’t matter. You just work as hard as you can and do as good as you can every single day, then I think we’ll be all right. We feel good about where things are ending right now.”

    The mood is far different than it was when the season started. The 49ers struggled mightily early in the season, including a record five straight losses by three points or fewer.

    But sticking together through that process has paid dividends now, according to Shanahan.

    “It was hard when we went through it, but the fact that we were able to get through it and still find a way to get some wins here recently, I think it made our team stronger,” he said.

    “When you go through some really hard things with each other and you make it through there, I feel you get stronger from that stuff. I think our team has gotten tighter through it, they’ve gotten stronger, and that’s led to us starting to win a few games and having more confidence. I believe our team feels that they are tough enough mentally to get through anything.”

 

  • Surging Ravens look for 1 more win to end playoff drought-Playing their best football at just the right time, the Baltimore Ravens need only to beat Cincinnati at home on Sunday to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.

    Baltimore has won five of six, the lone flaw in that stretch a 39-38 defeat against AFC North champion Pittsburgh on the road.

    So, the Ravens (9-6) will enter the finale against the Bengals (6-9) riding a wave of momentum that started with a 23-0 rout in Green Bay on Nov. 19 and extended through last Saturday’s 23-16 win over Indianapolis.

    “It’s very important and I’m very happy with it,” coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. “That’s the idea.”

    The NFL moved the Bengals-Ravens game and several others from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. to lessen the possibility of matchups becoming meaningless as the day wears on. Though Harbaugh understands the reasoning, that doesn’t mean he likes it.

    “I don’t think the NFL did us any favors by moving it back, but they don’t care about us,” the coach said, referring to the notion that ticket-holders who had New Year’s Eve plans now must choose between football and dinner reservations.

    “That’s kind of tough for the fans. I’m sure they have New Year Eve’s plans,” Harbaugh said. “I hope our fans are OK with it. I hope they’re into it, I hope people get there. The people that have plans, I hope they give their tickets to somebody else so they get there. I want the place to be packed and loud.”

    Despite their recent surge, the Ravens have been performing before thousands of empty seats at each home game.

    In a letter to season-ticket holders, team president Dick Cass acknowledged that the decision by some players to take a knee during the national anthem before a Sept. 24 game in London was a factor.

    “We have had significant numbers of no-shows in the past when our play on the field has not met the high standard we and you have set for the Ravens,” Cass wrote.

    “But this year has been different. The numbers are higher, and it is noticeable. There are a number of reasons for the no-shows, but surely the one-time protest in London has been a factor.”

    Those who show up this Sunday afternoon will be watching a game the Ravens must win to clinch a No. 5 seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup in Kansas City.

    “I think that we are really coming into our own,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re playing the style and game that we envisioned at the beginning of the season. We are a team with momentum, and we just have to get one more.”

    The Ravens are 16-7 at home in December since Harbaugh took over in 2008, winning the past five games by a combined score of 152-85. Baltimore intends to bolster those numbers against the struggling Bengals, who snapped a three-game skid by defeating Detroit at home Sunday.

    “We know what’s ahead of us, and we know what’s at stake,” Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said. “We’re excited about the opportunity. It is always good when your future is in your own hands. We just have to go out and get this one last win, and we are in the dance.”

    Baltimore will be without special teams standout and backup cornerback Jaylen Hill, who tore his ACL and MCL against the Colts.

    “A non-contact injury, and just unfortunate for him,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a tough young man and was really working hard on special teams, developing as a defensive back.”

    Harbaugh said it’s possible that cornerback Robertson Daniel will be activated from the practice squad.

    Also, the Ravens hope to have back receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed Saturday’s game with a knee injury.

 

  • Seahawks show resolve in keeping their playoff hopes alive-All the built-in excuses were there for the Seattle Seahawks if they fell short.

    Too many injuries.

    Too much inconsistency.

    Those factors still may end up being the story of Seattle’s season if it’s unable to find a way into the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

    But the chances at the postseason were extended into Week 17 by winning at Dallas on Sunday. And while it wasn’t pretty, the 21-12 win over the Cowboys may be one of the more gratifying wins of Pete Carroll’s tenure after the Seahawks lost two straight, including a 35-point whipping by the Rams a week earlier.

    If there was a question about Seattle’s resolve, it seemed to be answered in Dallas.

    “I thought it couldn’t have been more obvious,” Carroll said during his weekly radio show on KIRO-AM on Tuesday. “They were really disappointed in what had shown the last couple of weeks.”

    Seattle (9-6) still needs help to find its way into the playoffs. The Seahawks must beat or tie Arizona at home on Sunday and have Atlanta lose at home to Carolina for Seattle to squeak into the playoffs. Atlanta has the tiebreaker over Seattle because of a head-to-head victory in November.

    Even if Seattle doesn’t end up getting the help it needs, the win in Dallas at least made Week 17 relevant and continued a streak during Carroll’s tenure of every home game since 2010 having some significance.

    Whether it was early or late in the season, the Seahawks have never played a game at CenturyLink Field since 2010 that did not carry some weight to it.

    Even the first year when Seattle went 7-9, the Week 17 home finale decided the division title.

    Or the 2011 season when Seattle still had playoff hopes before losing 19-17 to eventual NFC champion San Francisco at home in Week 16.

    Or all the years since when Seattle made the postseason but even those late home games carried significance for seeding or home-field advantage.

    A loss to Dallas would have made the Week 17 finale against Arizona an odd and unfamiliar situation for Seattle.

    “This team is not going to lie down easily. We could have easily taken the loss against the Rams, come back, pouted and moaned all throughout the week,” linebacker K.J. Wright said after the win. “But we are a group of guys that love to play ball and we know that we are a talented football team.”

    The win over the Cowboys highlighted the importance of Wright and fellow linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wright missed the loss against the Rams because of a concussion while Wagner was limited by a hamstring injury.

    Wagner wasn’t back to full health but was moving better against the Cowboys and teaming with Wright allowed Seattle to be solid against Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas’ run game.

    Elliott finished with 97 yards rushing and the Cowboys had 128 yards rushing as a team, but those were vast improvements over the previous two weeks when the Jaguars and Rams ran wild against Seattle.

    With Seattle missing so many key pieces on defense, the importance of Wright and Wagner hasn’t been lost on Carroll.

    “Now more than ever because of the other guys that aren’t around, those guys are more significant because their presence and their leadership and their consistency is just something we can bank on even more and they’re better now than they’ve ever been,” Carroll said on Tuesday.

    VISIT WITH EARL

    Carroll said he spoke with safety Earl Thomas about his decision to visit the Cowboys locker room after the victory and his comment made to Dallas coach Jason Garrett, “If they kick me to the curb, come get me.” Carroll said Thomas was concerned with the impression it left with Seattle’s fans.

    “He didn’t think he did anything wrong at all. He didn’t know,” Carroll said. “He was just having fun, and he was excited about the game and maybe rub it in a little bit and have a good time with it. He just said something into the future and it comes across, when you read it, it comes across bad. But if he had another chance he wouldn’t say that.”

Middle

  • NFL won’t have Sunday night game on New Year’s Eve-The NFL has announced there will be no Sunday night game on New Year’s Eve to ensure matchups with playoff implications that impact each other are played at the same time on the final week of the season.

    The league said Sunday night all Week 17 games will begin at either 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. EST. The league moved Cincinnati-Baltimore, Buffalo-Miami, Jacksonville-Tennessee, Carolina-Atlanta and New Orleans-Tampa Bay to the latter time slot.

    Every division except the NFC South has already been clinched. Both wild cards in the AFC are up for grabs between Baltimore, Tennessee, the Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo, while Atlanta and Seattle are competing for the final NFC wild card.

Downs

  • Derek Carr struggles in Oakland’s latest loss-Derek Carr got paid a lot of money to make plays he couldn’t against the Philadelphia Eagles on a national stage.

    Hurried and harassed for much of Monday night, Carr made poor decisions, ill-advised throws and struggled in tough, windy conditions. With the game on the line, his second interception led to a go-ahead field goal in Oakland’s 19-10 loss.

    It wasn’t all his fault, of course. A banged-up offensive line missing Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn didn’t give him much time, wide receiver Michael Crabtree was invisible and both running backs lost fumbles.

    “Football is a team game. There’s no ‘our side played well.’ We win or lose as a team,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “Both quarterbacks had a hard time throwing it. I don’t think either passing game lit it up.”

    Carr was 15 of 29 for 140 yards with one touchdown and two picks. Philadelphia’s Nick Foles was 19 of 38 for 163 yards, one TD and one interception.

    “I will always continue to look at myself first and try and fix what I can fix and try and help those I can along the way,” Carr said.

    For Carr, it has been a disappointing season.

    The Raiders began the year with Super Bowl aspirations after going 12-4 in 2016. But they’ve been inconsistent all season and Carr has regressed following a breakout year.

    “You have to work hard when it gets tough,” Carr said. “When things get tough, a lot of people point fingers. I’ve tried my best every single time to stand up here, be a man and just take it. That’s who I am, that’s how I was raised and I’ll always be that way.

    “So when it gets hard, I fight. Nothing is going to change. Hopefully the results change. But I’m going to keep fighting. I’ve been 0-10, I’ve been in sucky situations, I’ve been through hard times in life more so than football. We’re going to come out of it. I’m gonna work my tail off to correct it.”

    Carr led the Raiders to seven comeback wins last season and threw for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns with only six interceptions before breaking a leg in the next-to-last game of the year.

    He was rewarded with a $125 million, five-year contract in the offseason that briefly made him the NFL’s highest-paid player. But his performance hasn’t matched his pay check.

    Carr has 21 TD passes and 12 picks, matching his totals from his rookie season in 2014.

    “We can look at the good times we had a year ago and the hard times we had this year and lay out the plan and ask what was different,” Carr said.

 

  • Another touchdown reversal has NFL facing more scrutiny-With yet another touchdown reversal by officiating chief Al Riveron, the only thing that’s “clear and obvious” anymore is the owners’ decision to grant full replay authority to NFL headquarters has only added to the league’s cluster of headaches.

    To the player protests, president’s put-downs, receded ratings and sidelined superstars add the unrelenting second-guessing the league has invited with its frame-by-frame micromanagement of the on-field officiating in 2017.

    After Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins lost two TDs and Bears tight end Zach Miller another this season, the latest example came Sunday when Kelvin Benjamin’s 4-yard TD catch just before halftime against New England was overturned on review.

    Initially, Benjamin was ruled to have gotten both feet down while in possession of the ball. After looking at replays, officials ruled that he was juggling the ball when his first foot hit the turf.

    “It was clear and obvious that he did not have control of the ball until he brought it all the way down into his chest,” referee Craig Wrolstad said in a pool report after the game.

    It didn’t appear to be so egregious a call as to merit the league’s reversal, however, and the decision was met with widespread criticism.

    Bills coach Sean McDermott, whose team settled for a field goal and a 13-13 halftime tie before fading after halftime, was perplexed by the league’s decision.

    “I am at a loss for how a play like that can get overturned,” he said.

    Former NFL officiating VP Mike Pereira was, too.

    “Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it,” he posted on Twitter .

    Pereira suggested the league needs to change the rule book.

    “Now that another touchdown has been taken away without clear and obvious evidence, it is time to move on to the catch rule. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense. Start with the Jesse James play. That should be a catch and a touchdown, not an incomplete pass,” Pereira tweeted.

    James’ TD to beat New England was erased last week in a move that could have a major impact on the playoffs.

    The dour faces in the CBS studio belied the festive holiday decorations as the Benjamin TD reversal dominated the Christmas Eve discussion.

    “What else do you want these wide receivers to do?” asked analyst Nate Burleson. “I don’t care what they said … he caught that ball and dragged his feet. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. What do you want him to do? Do you want him to put it inside his jersey and take it home with him?”

    Bill Cowher and James Brown opined on how unrealistic it is to expect a spinning football to stick to the receivers’ gloves and freeze in a split second.

    “The control element keeps coming up tie after time because when you go frame by frame it’s going to look like it’s moving and it doesn’t mean you’ve lost control,” Cowher suggested.

    “Movement does not mean loss of control,” Brown agreed.

    “The fact that we are sitting here arguing about it tells you what? If it wasn’t clear cut then it should not have been overturned,” added Boomer Esiason. “It was ruled a touchdown. The fact that we’re sitting here debating it means it should not be overturned. It has to be clearly an error and that is not clearly an error.”

    Other notable calls and debatable decisions in Week 16 included:

    —The Packers drew the ire of several teams for placing quarterback Aaron Rodgers back on injured reserve with a playoff berth out of reach. He returned from a broken collarbone to play in Week 15. It didn’t appear he had a new injury before going back on IR.

    —The Denver Broncos activated rookie receiver/returner Isaiah McKenzie for the first time since his sixth fumble led to a safety and his second benching. He cost them a chance at points just before halftime at Washington when he caught a pass from Brock Osweiler but instead of stepping out of bounds spun back to the middle of the field and was tackled at the 20-yard line as the clock ran out.

    McKenzie, active because Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer were hurt, didn’t realize the Broncos had no more timeouts.

    “Well, he should be aware,” coach Vance Joseph said. “He was told, and that stuff we work on all the time. That’s no excuse at all that he wouldn’t know that. He was told we had no timeouts. It was an outside throw or nothing. We had three points. That’s something he has to know. Unacceptable.”

    Former Broncos lineman Ryan Harris said on CBS4 in Denver that the blame should fall on the coach.

    “Isaiah McKenzie should not be playing in the game,” Harris said. “I played with the Steelers and even coach Mike Tomlin benched Antonio Brown, now the best receiver in the game, because he was making mistakes like this.”

 

  • Lions’ Caldwell focused on Packers, not his future with team- Beginning what could be his last week as head coach of the Detroit Lions, Jim Caldwell was his usual deflective self.

    He shrugged off questions about his future, but at the same time, admitted that his team too often wasn’t good enough to get the job done.

    The Lions (8-7) lost 26-17 Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals, eliminating them from playoff contention, and raising questions about Caldwell’s future with the team.

    As he began preparations for Sunday’s season finale against the Green Bay Packers, Caldwell insisted Monday that he’d had no talks about his future with GM Bob Quinn since the loss to the Bengals.

    “In regards to that, nothing has changed,” Caldwell said, adding, “I wouldn’t tell you if I did, but we don’t discuss what we disclose.”

    He at least seemed to recognize the reasoning for the questions.

    “It is what it is,” Caldwell said. “But everybody gets evaluated every year — players, coaches, schemes, everything. That’s part of the process.”

    Caldwell agreed to a multiyear contract extension in the fall that was guaranteed through 2018, so if the Lions opt to fire him, they would only be required to pay him for next season.

    Hired in 2014, Caldwell’s first Lions team went 11-5, earning a wild-card berth but losing in the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints. His teams have been mediocre at best ever since.

    In 2015, they were 7-9, and last season, went 9-7 to earn another wild-card berth, but lost the last three games of the season to squander the NFC North title and then were beaten by the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game.

    A loss to the Packers on Sunday and the Lions would be at .500 (24-24) the past three seasons under Caldwell.

    Caldwell wasn’t about to dispute the reality of the team’s record while he’s been head coach.

    “If you want to get an indication of where you are, the great thing about the National Football League is all you have to do is look at your record,” Caldwell said. “We’re just a little bit above average, and a little bit above average is not good enough. There are no bowl games in this league.

    “We’ve got to get better in every area. There’s not anything that we just absolutely excelled at across the board.”

    Caldwell’s players are standing behind their coach, willing to shoulder the blame for their failures.

    “I think he did a great job,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We have to go out there, make plays, score points and win games.”

    “It’s our job to get it fixed and we aren’t fixing it,” added safety Glover Quin. “We have to look at ourselves first.”

    At the same time, they know that a coach is measured by wins and losses, and lately, the Lions haven’t been measuring up in the standings.

    “We understand that’s the nature of this business,” Stafford said. “We also understand what he does behind closed doors.

    “I have a lot of respect for him.”

    As much as he won’t be able to avoid it, Caldwell would prefer the focus this week not be on his future.

    “I’m not concerned about how I feel,” Caldwell said. “It doesn’t matter. The fact is we’ve got a game left to play. It’s an opportunity for our guys to get better.

    “We have 16 opportunities and you can’t take them for granted.”

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