What Have We Learned From Week 13 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Philip Rivers

Photographers surround Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) as he leaves the field after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-30 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.


  • Chargers have confidence going into final quarter of season-COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — With their comeback win at Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Chargers have established themselves as a contender in the AFC going into the final quarter of the season.

    The Chargers’ 33-30 win over the Steelers put them firmly in control as they chase their first postseason berth since 2013. Los Angeles (9-3) has a two-game lead over Baltimore for the first wild-card spot and has a three-game cushion over the rest of the field.

    Coach Anthony Lynn, though, wasn’t ready to say his team made a statement.

    “I don’t know if you can say it was a statement win,” he said Monday. “It’s always exciting when you come back after a win, especially when you do it in that fashion.”

    The Chargers ended the Steelers’ 175-game unbeaten streak with at least a 16-point lead at home and it was the largest blown lead at home in franchise history.

    It also marked Los Angeles’ third win that went down to the last minute. They stopped Tennessee from making a two-point conversion in a 20-19 win in London on Oct. 21 and then needed a goal-line stand two weeks later in Seattle to earn a 25-17 victory.

    “I think it is a big win for us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We haven’t had one like this on the road against this kind of opponent, then add the fact that it was come-from-behind. I think winning the game would’ve been a lot, but it really just gets us one more win.”

    The rally was familiar territory for Rivers, who threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is his seventh comeback victory when trailing by 16 or more points, which ties him with Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.

    The Chargers are 18-6 since losing their first four games last season. They host Cincinnati on Sunday before a key rematch four days later against Kansas City. Los Angeles trails the Chiefs by a game in the AFC West. The Chargers close the season with a Dec. 22 home game against Baltimore and at Denver on Dec. 30.

    Lynn likes that he has a team with a lot of confidence when they need it at this time in the season. While most coaches would go apoplectic in the locker room down by 16 in a prime-time game, the second-year coach focused on adjustments.

    “What I saw was a bunch of men who didn’t want to let the next man down in the locker room. That’s way more powerful than anything a coach can say,” Lynn said. “With this group you don’t have to throw tables and knock over water coolers and all that to get them going, they knew. I could see in their eyes they were ready to play.”

    The Chargers still have some concerns this week. Running back Melvin Gordon could miss his second straight game due to an MCL sprain in his right knee. Rookie Justin Jackson had 63 yards and a touchdown during the second half and could split carries with Austin Ekeler.

    Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is also expected to interview for Georgia Tech’s head coach opening this week. Lynn said there is a backup plan in place if Whisenhunt gets hired and doesn’t finish out the NFL season, but wouldn’t elaborate.

    “We haven’t talked much about it. I know there is a lot of interest,” Lynn said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s his job to turn down. He’s a heck of a football coach, it’s his alma mater, there’s some loyalty there.”

    The Chargers made a roster move Monday by releasing offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who had been with the team for four years and started 43 games. Barksdale started the opener against Kansas City before suffering a knee injury and missing the next five games. He then played in the next four but was declared out for the game at Pittsburgh for a non-injury-related reason.

    To fill Barksdale’s spot on the roster, the Charges promoted wide receiver Dylan Cantrell from the practice squad. Cantrell was selected in the sixth round in last April’s draft.


  • Seahawks 3-game streak is fueling a push to playoff berth-RENTON, Wash. (AP) — After four straight weeks of playing tight, one-score games decided in the fourth quarter, Pete Carroll enjoyed spending a Monday reviewing a rare comfortable victory.

    “It was a little different than the games we’ve been playing in,” Carroll said. “It was nice to see us get out ahead and hang onto it and work with the lead and play in that fashion.”

    Seattle’s blowout win over San Francisco on Sunday only strengthened what is becoming another late playoff push by the Seahawks, and after a day in which they got results that helped in trying to get back to the playoffs after missing last season. Seattle is currently in command of one of the wild-card spots in the NFC and its hopes were strengthened by Carolina and Minnesota suffering losses. Seattle holds the tiebreaker over Carolina and can have that in place over Minnesota with a win at home next Monday night against the Vikings.

    The only teams Seattle (7-5) could end up in wild-card contention with that it won’t face head-to-head are Washington and Philadelphia. But if the Seahawks continue winning, it won’t matter. They’ll be in the postseason.

    “These are must-win games for us. Every week, we approach it like that,” Seattle left tackle Duane Brown said after the win. “We approach every week like a playoff game and that’s the kind of intensity guys came out with from kickoff on.”

    Seattle’s current roll is reviving memories of 2015, when it was 4-5 after nine games. But this time, success is coming a different way. That season, the Seahawks leaned on the passing arm of quarterback Russell Wilson as he threw for 24 touchdowns and just one interception over the final seven games as Seattle went 6-1 down the stretch and made the postseason. Wilson averaged 272 yards passing and 31 pass attempts per game during that stretch.

    So far, it’s been balance and efficiency that’s defined Seattle’s offensive performance during its current three-game win streak, although his overall numbers aren’t that dissimilar. Wilson has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions during the stretch, averaging about 250 yards passing. But there’s been no fall-off with Seattle’s run game of late, meaning Wilson isn’t being forced to carry the offense.

    In Sunday’s 43-16 win over San Francisco, Wilson attempted just six passes in the first half. He threw for touchdowns on three of them. Seattle will take that kind of efficiency — even with reduced numbers — all the time.

    “I think that the development of the pass protection has been really obvious and Russ has taken advantage of that,” Carroll said, noting Wilson’s movement on a 52-yard TD pass to Tyler Lockett on Sunday. “That’s why he’s been able to be more effective getting the second looks and sliding up in the pocket and hitting Tyler on the big play was a perfect example of that. Really good protection, he gets to move to give one more beat to get Tyler a chance to get behind him and deliver the throw. I just think it’s connected with what’s going on up front, but his overall command of what we’re trying to get done communication-wise has really helped the other guys play well.”

    Seattle did come out of the win over the 49ers with one major injury concern after guard D.J. Fluker suffered a hamstring strain. Carroll said Fluker had a “grade 1” strain and would likely miss a couple of weeks. When Fluker was unable play last month against the Rams, it was Jordan Simmons who stepped in to start.

    “He seems to be moving in the right direction to be a really, really viable option for us,” Carroll said of Simmons. “He doesn’t get that much practice time, so when he does get the practice time like he did in the Rams week, he did a very good job with it. So, we’re going to count on him playing and see how that goes.”


  • Texans defense looks to improve after 9th straight win-HOUSTON (AP) — With the defense forcing a season-high four turnovers, the Houston Texans extended their winning streak to nine games with a win over the Browns.

    But as good as the unit has been, the Texans believe they can get much better down the stretch with the first test coming on Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

    “We can tackle better,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think we can communicate better. I think there’s a lot of things that we can improve on in all three phases, but I think they’re playing hard. They’re playing with really good effort.”

    That effort was highlighted on Sunday when rookie safety Justin Reid chased down Antonio Callaway after a long catch and forced a fumble just before he crossed the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

    It was just the latest big play for the third-round pick, who helped Houston to a 23-21 victory over Washington on Nov. 18 by returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown.

    “He’s really improved every week,” O’Brien said. “He really works hard to improve. He’s a very smart guy, works very hard in practice, instinctive player, good speed, good size. He’s come a long way. He really understands the importance of practice and he tries to get better every day.”

    Reid’s emergence illustrates the fact that Houston’s defense has succeeded this year because it has received important contributions from several players. While the return of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and the solid play of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has led the unit, the Texans have also seen plenty of other players step up to make big plays as they’ve piled up win after win.

    On Sunday, Andre Hal had one of three interceptions of Baker Mayfield. It was the first interception of the year for Hal, who missed the first six games of the season recovering from cancer after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in May.

    Zach Cunningham made another big play for the defense when the second-year player grabbed his first career interception and returned it for a touchdown against the Browns.

    “You’re always looking to try to figure out, as you get ready for the next team, what does this individual player need to improve on,” O’Brien said. “What does this unit need to improve on? What does the team need to improve on? What do I need to improve on? I think that’s been a big theme for us and our players are doing a good job of taking that to heart.”

    The Texans are also careful not to get too caught up in the streak. They know that if they don’t focus on their next opponent that things could go wrong quickly.

    “I don’t even think about it anymore,” 13-year veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of the winning streak. “It’s almost boring to talk about because … it doesn’t really mean anything. We have to go out and play the next game whether we’re on a win streak or we lost the week before. So, it’s all good for everything other than the people in this locker room because if we buy into it too much that’s when we get smacked in the face.”

    Houston is allowing the third-fewest points in the NFL (19.6), ranks 10th in yards allowed (341.5) and its rush defense ranks fifth by allowing just 91.3 yards rushing a game.

    This week the group will face a team that is averaging more than 27 points and 377 yards a game. Indianapolis scored 34 points in an overtime loss to Houston in Week 4 where Luck threw for a season-high 464 yards with four touchdowns.

    “He can make every throw,” defensive back Kareem Jackson said. “He can definitely buy time for guys to get open so … with him you know a play is never over. So we’ve definitely got to be (solid) in coverage and play to the whistle.”


  • Week 13 chock full of bad calls and bad looks for the NFL-Just when the NFL was enjoying a ratings rebound and an explosion of offensive firepower that has fans giddy over their favorite and/or fantasy teams, the league reverted to its bumbling ways in Week 13.

    It began with a prime-time officiating fiasco by its most experienced crew.

    The poor performance by referee Walt Anderson’s crew Thursday night sullied an otherwise classic Saints-Cowboys showdown that reminded everyone defense can be sexy, too.

    Jaylon Smith’s helmet-to-helmet hit on Alvin Kamara was the most egregious non-call, one that Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira called “a clear example of leading with the crown of the helmet.”

    Just feet away from the illegal hit were field judge Terry Brown and line judge Byron Boston, both of whom kept their yellow flags tucked safely away as New Orleans coach Sean Payton went ballistic.

    Just under the six-minute mark came the most crucial bad call.

    With the Cowboys facing third-and-5 from the 50-yard line, Saints cornerback P.J. Williams tackled Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley a full yard shy of the first-down marker, but the officials said to move the chains.

    Out of challenges, Payton was helpless to get the call reviewed, and because it was outside of 2 minutes and not a scoring play, the league’s hands were tied, too.

    Payton had his own inexplicable blunder after the teams traded takeaways in the final minutes.

    After Dallas got the ball back at the Saints 16 with 2:08 left, Ezekiel Elliott ran for 2 yards and Payton burned his last timeout three seconds before the 2-minute warning.

    Had he waited, the Cowboys likely would have run twice, forcing the Saints to call their final timeout and running more time off the clock. A field goal would have left the Saints down six with about 45 seconds for Drew Brees to try to pull off some last-minute magic.

    But the timeout at 2:03 meant the Cowboys could throw on second down knowing the clock would stop regardless once the play was over. A pass interference call gave them a first down and they ran out the clock.

    The next day brought more bad news for the league when TMZ released surveillance video of Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in an altercation that ultimately led to the star running back’s release from the Kansas City Chiefs and landed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list.

    On Sunday, Hunt told ESPN that the league had never interviewed him about the matter, which prompted the NFL to release a statement defending itself .

    Hunt was cut the same day Washington Redskins executive Doug Williams apologized for calling linebacker Reuben Foster’s domestic violence arrest “small potatoes” compared to crimes committed by people in power.

    The Redskins took plenty of heat after claiming Foster off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers, who released him Tuesday, three days after he was arrested and charged with domestic violence in Tampa, Florida.

    Sunday’s games brought another slew of gaffes.

    Most notable was the Los Angeles Chargers getting away with a blatant false start on a touchdown for the second time this season.

    In October, Chargers right tackle Russell Okung wasn’t whistled for an obvious false start on a touchdown play against Cleveland, and shortly afterward, the NFL fired down judge Hugo Cruz for inadequate performance.

    On Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the Chargers did it again , only this time it was right tackle Sam Tevi who clearly jumped early on Philip River’s 46-yard touchdown throw to Travis Benjamin.

    “We’ve seen it before and it led to a dismissal. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen again,” said Pereira, noting “that was a miss that was on the same level as the one” in October.

    Those seven points made all the difference in the Chargers’ 33-30win over the Steelers, who fell to 174-1-1 when holding a 16-point lead at home.

    “There was no explanation other than they missed it,” coach Mike Tomlin said afterward.

    Tomlin cut off further questions about the officiating lest he open himself up to a fine from the league office. “I’ve sent enough money to New York,” he said.

    The game ended in bizarre fashion as the Steelers jumped offsides three consecutive times, first on a missed field goal, then on a blocked attempt and finally on the game winner.

    Pereira and fellow former NFL head of officials Dean Blandino said on Fox Sports that the crew could have awarded the Chargers the points even without the ball going through the uprights because of an obscure league rule prohibiting teams from repeatedly committing deliberate fouls to prevent a score.

    Blandino said he would have invoked the rule.

    “I think the rule book is clear. You give a warning and then after the warning, you award the score,” Blandino said.

    Not all the bad calls were made by the men in stripes.

    The New York Giants coaching staff, for example, must be regretting sending receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out on their “hands” team.

    After the Bears kicked a field goal with 1:13 left to pull to 27-20, they went for an onside kick, which they recovered thanks to Beckham’s business decision not to get into the scrum for the recovery .

    “I could dive in there and still not get the ball, so it was a very tough call,” an irritated OBJ said after the Giants pulled out the win in overtime on a day when he became the first player since 1924 to record multiple games with a TD pass and a TD catch in a single season.

    “Nobody should even question me on my effort and my heart,” Beckham insisted. “That’s the last thing you can do. You can question me as a person, as a man, whatever you want to do. But my heart and my effort can never be questioned. Ever.”

    Except when he doesn’t go for the football on the onside kick to seal the win.


  • Hunt video just latest case of NFL’s inconsistent discipline-The NFL is still out of its league when it comes to disciplining players for troubles off the field.

    Kareem Hunt is the latest example of the NFL’s delayed and inconsistent approach toward serious matters despite league efforts to improve following its mishandling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case in 2014.

    From Greg Hardy to Mychal Kendricks to Reuben Foster, the NFL has taken different approaches on a case-by-case basis when players misbehave. That has drawn a backlash from critics who see such action as erratic and, at times, pandering to public perception.

    Hunt, the former Kansas City running back, was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list Friday after TMZ released a video showing him pushing and kicking a woman during a February scuffle at a Cleveland hotel. The video’s jolt across the sports world accelerated a case that had been, in effect, put on the backburner for both the club and the league, with Hunt losing his job the same day — a steep fall for an elite playmaker for one of the most explosive offenses in football.

    The Chiefs said Hunt had lied to them about the scuffle, an assertion Hunt acknowledged in an interview with ESPN on Sunday. But authorities never charged Hunt with a crime and the league’s internal investigation — under guidance implemented after the lengthy legal saga involving the former Ravens running back Rice — stalled when NFL officials couldn’t get in touch with the woman.

    Hunt said he never saw the video until it was released publicly. And he said the league never asked to speak with him directly.

    NFL officials say they tried several times to get video of the confrontation but couldn’t because the hotel said its corporate policy only allowed footage to be given to law enforcement. And Cleveland police say they didn’t pursue the video because it wasn’t a felony case.

    Now, the NFL says it will make “further attempts to speak to the complainants involved in the incident,” and have “further conversations with all parties involved.”

    Just as it did during the Rice case in 2014, the NFL is changing its reaction amid jarring video, prompting new public outcry.

    But the league also must conform to the collective bargaining agreement, which gives players certain protections through their union. Still, the agreement grants Commissioner Roger Goodell ultimate authority to issue punishment. That has been a major point of contention for the NFL Players Association and is shaping up to be a major sticking point once the broader agreement expires in 2021.

    NFL and NFLPA officials did not respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.

    Hunt cleared waivers on Monday and could sign with another team. He can’t play while he’s on the exempt list, but it’s up to Goodell and league officials to decide when to take him off when — or if — they see fit.

    Foster was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins last week after the San Francisco 49ers released the linebacker following a domestic violence arrest. Washington faced immediate criticism as the latest example of an organization looking past off-field troubles toward potential on-field production.

    In September, linebacker Mychal Kendricks pleaded guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy and was released by the Cleveland Browns. He was quickly signed by the Seattle Seahawks, then suspended for eight games by the NFL for his role in an insider trading scheme. Kendricks faces up to 25 years in prison with sentencing scheduled for next month.

    Still, Kendricks was officially reinstated by the NFL on Monday and has been with Seattle the past two weeks. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says team officials “don’t have any hesitation” about playing Kendricks against Minnesota next Monday night.

    Hardy was convicted in July 2014 of assaulting and threatening a woman who contended the 6-foot-4, 275-pound player threw her in a bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her.

    He appealed the ruling and was allowed to play the first game of the season before the Carolina Panthers placed him on the exempt list. Hardy didn’t play the rest of the season but signed an incentive-laden, $13.1 million deal with the Cowboys and played 12 games in 2015 after serving a four-game suspension.

    He’s been out of the league the last three years, focusing on a mixed martial arts career with the UFC.


  • Quinn scrambling to find fixes to stop Falcons’ 4-game skid-FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — A four-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Falcons out of the playoff picture, leaving coach Dan Quinn with what he described as the biggest challenge of his four seasons with the team.

    Falcons owner Arthur Blank reaffirmed his support for Quinn following Sunday’s 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

    The Falcons (4-8) already have matched the most losses in any of Quinn’s first three seasons as they prepare to visit Green Bay on Sunday. Jobs could be on the line for players and assistant coaches in the final four games, but Quinn said that’s nothing new.

    “What I can say the focus right now is how hard we can grind to get our football over this last quarter exactly right,” Quinn said, referring to the final four games. “Then, postseason we will look at everything together from personnel, players, coaches, everything just like we do all the time. That starts with me first.”

    Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian is under pressure to find fixes for an offense that has failed to reach 20 points in the four straight losses. Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel’s unit ranks near the bottom against the run and pass.

    Quinn’s 2015 team finished 8-8, one year before Atlanta made a surprising run to the Super Bowl and then returned to the playoff last season.

    Quinn said he has challenged his team to improve its turnover ratio and stagnant running game. He also said he’s looking for better effort from players.

    “What I’d like to see is strong, relentless effort, both on and off the field,” he said. “What do I mean when I say off the field? That’s staying even tighter, connected, preparation, mindset heading into the game. All of those things I’d like to see tick up.”

    Blank was at the Falcons’ practice facility and in the locker room on Monday. On Sunday, after attending Quinn’s postgame news conference, Blank said “I haven’t lost any faith” in the coach and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

    Quinn said he appreciates Blank’s support “during this time of year, especially.”

    “I know there are 32 teams … and I’m aware not everyone has that type of support,” Quinn said Monday. “So I appreciate having a boss like that. I know what he stands for and I love having that connection. It’s very important.”

    Quinn’s 2015 team suffered a six-game losing streak before winning two of its last three to finish .500 and establish momentum for the Super Bowl run in 2016.

    This year’s team has lost seven players, including some prominent leaders, to the injured reserve. The list includes running back Devonta Freeman, starting offensive guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. Linebacker Deion Jones returned Sunday and led the team with 15 tackles and a sack after missing 10 games with a foot injury.

    Quinn has not used injuries as an excuse for the losing streak. The four straight losses, and especially the sudden decline in scoring , are signs the drain on the team’s talent pool finally is too much to overcome.

    Matt Ryan’s 131 yards passing on Sunday set a career low for a full game.

    Ryan said the team’s effort was good but lack of execution was the problem.

    “We need to play well,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing is to play well, and we haven’t done that.”

    Quinn said the missing players “have had a significant impact” in the Falcons’ “style and attitude.”

    “We’re always bummed when we don’t have those players here,” he said. “That is part of it, we recognize, in the game. Some years you have more than others. This happens to be one of the years we have more.”


  • Green Bay Packers fire head coach Mike McCarthy-GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers have fired coach Mike McCarthy and made offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the interim head coach.

    The move announced by team president Mark Murphy came after a stunning 20-17 loss on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, dropping Green Bay to 4-7-1.

    Murphy, in a statement, said the 2018 season “has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately.”

    Murphy said the process of hiring the next head coach would begin immediately.

    McCarthy was in his 13th season as coach. The Packers won the Super Bowl under McCarthy in the 2010 season. He finishes with a record of 125-77-2.

    “Mike has been a terrific head coach and leader of the Packers for 13 seasons, during which time we experienced a great deal of success on and off the field,” Murphy said.

    But this is a third straight year in which Green Bay has had extended struggles.

    In 2016, the Packers started 4-6, then won eight straight games to get to the NFC title game, losing to the Atlanta Falcons. Green Bay finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2017, when Aaron Rodgers missed extensive time with a broken collarbone.

    McCarthy shook up his coaching staff, including bringing Philbin back as offensive coordinator and hiring Mike Pettine to replace Dom Capers as defensive coordinator. Different problems emerged.

    This year, Rodgers hurt his left knee in the season opener, though he is feeling better now. Receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison have missed time with injuries. The same issues kept popping up for the offense, most glaringly, empty third downs and a lack of explosive plays.

    Rodgers was asked after the game — but before McCarthy’s firing was announced — how much blame offensive players should get if the Packers made a coaching change after the season.

    “Yeah, a lot probably. We haven’t played very well,” Rodgers said. “We all take part in the disappointments and the failures that we’ve had this season. We’ve had a number of opportunities. It’s not like we’re getting blown out in a bunch of games. We’re in games.”

    Cobb’s return on Sunday didn’t help, with the Packers just 3 of 14 on third downs.

    “I hate to repeat myself, but it’s applicable. … We’re not executing the right way,” Rodgers said.

    “It’s poor throws, not on the same page with receivers, wrong depth, protection,” he added. “We all have a part in that and we’ve all picked our time to mess up a third down.”

    The opening play of the fourth quarter was a perfect example of Green Bay’s offensive struggles. Rodgers found Cobb for a 36-yard completion on third-and-11, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty on right tackle Jason Spriggs.

    Rodgers said his focus was getting his teammates to “play with that pride” and focus on the next four games.

    “Yeah, I mean I’m not even thinking about that right now,” Rodgers said when asked if he would have any role after the season with general manager Brian Gutekunst or Murphy about what direction they should go with the coaching staff.

    The offensive players, Rodgers said, bear blame for whatever happens in the future.

    “Yeah, a lot probably,” he said. “We haven’t played very well.”


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