What Have We Learned From Week 14 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Tyreek Hill, Damien Williams, Tavon Young

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) carries the ball as running back Damien Williams (26) blocks Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young (25) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 14 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill shows he is more than just speed-KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tyreek Hill walked off the field holding his wrist Sunday and Kansas City Chiefs fans held their collective breath, only to exhale when their star wide receiver checked back into the game.

    They held it again when Hill hobbled to the sideline with a foot injury.

    But in a back-and-forth game with significant playoff ramifications, there was no way Hill was going to stay there.

    He limped back into the game in time to catch Patrick Mahomes’ 40-yard heave on fourth-and-long to keep the Chiefs alive, then caught three more passes in overtime — all for first downs — to set the Chiefs up for the eventual winning field goal against Baltimore.

    “He’s a fighter,” Mahomes said afterward. “He was hobbled, but you’ve seen this whole season that it’s not just speed now. It’s his route-running, and he knows how to get himself open without speed.”

    Oh, the speed is still there. Even after the pain in his foot briefly sent him to the sideline, Hill was still the fastest player on the field the moment he stepped back on it.

    But in addition to his toughness, he also showed how well-rounded he’s become this season.

    The deep throw from Mahomes was in some ways a wing-and-a-prayer, the kind of ball you throw when you run out of better options. Hill acted like a center fielder as he came back to the ball, tracking it all the way into his hands while a pair of Ravens tried to break it up.

    “He’s still fast as all get-out,” Mahomes said, “but just being able to get himself open whenever he is a little bit more limited in that situation, it’s a special thing.”

    Hill finished the game with eight catches for 139 yards, his fifth 100-yard receiving game this season. He now has 1,258 yards to match Tony Gonzalez for the fourth-best single season in franchise history, and he needs just 134 yards to pass Derrick Alexander for the record.

    That could come as early as Thursday night, when the Chiefs (11-2) try to clinch the AFC West and a first-round playoff bye against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium.

    “This kid never complains about anything and he practices hard every day,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He was banged up a little bit (against Baltimore) and he worked his way through it, came back and made some big plays for us. You love his attitude. He’s another one that is unique.”

    His attitude may have been the biggest question surrounding Hill coming out of college.

    He was kicked off the team at Oklahoma State after pleading guilty to domestic assault of his then-pregnant girlfriend. He wound up finishing his college career at West Alabama, and went through counseling and other requirements that convinced the Chiefs to give him a chance.

    Hill has rewarded them for it, becoming not only one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, but doing so with a positive attitude that has endeared him to many skeptical fans.

    “Just making plays for the team,” he said with a shrug.

    Hill also shrugged off any notion that he would have remained out of the game against Baltimore, and he left no doubt that he would be ready for the Chargers. The wrist injury was minor, and the foot was something he was able to play through, and there wasn’t a whole lot more to say.

    “I was always taught, no matter the circumstances, these are my brothers,” he said, “and they would do the same thing for me.”

 

  • Ingram making his mark on Saints history-NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mark Ingram insists his march into Saints history was never fueled by criticism that he was a bust during his underwhelming first few NFL seasons.

    That doesn’t mean the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner with Alabama, and 2011 first-round draft choice by New Orleans, was able to tune out such slights entirely.

    “I know people wanted me out, calling me a bust, this and that. I heard all that stuff my first few years, but I never really paid attention to the naysayers,” Ingram said Monday after tying Deuce McAlister for the most rushing touchdowns in Saints history with 49.

    “I always do it for the people who love me, for the people who care about me, for the people who believe in me,” added Ingram, whose father, Mark Sr., was an NFL receiver. “I have a great support system. I have a good mind, good head on my shoulders and I’ve always had that belief in myself that I could be a great player in this league.”

    Ingram’s record-tying touchdown embodied the determination that carried him beyond the lean early years. He dragged Buccaneers safety Andrew Adams several yards before bowling into the end zone, giving New Orleans a more comfortable 11-point, fourth-quarter lead in its NFC South-clinching, 28-14 comeback victory in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

    “I was hungry to make the play,” Ingram said, crediting leading receiver Michael Thomas for a key block. “It was a big play in the game, and it was just a lot of emotions in that game having to come back, very gritty. So, very passionate and I was happy to be able to make that play for the team.”

    Ingram said he also was pleased to join McAllister — whom he admires and considers a mentor — in the record books with a memorable run.

    “That was a good run to be able to tie Deuce,” Ingram said. “He had such a great career here and set the standard for running backs coming through New Orleans. He’s always been supportive of me and I appreciate him, so just to be able to have a run in that fashion to tie such a great record in this franchise, it’s good.”

    McAllister retired after the 2008 season, but remained in the New Orleans area and close to the Saints, working as a team ambassador and eventually becoming a radio analyst.

    Ingram said McAllister always has been “encouraging” and “supportive,” describing how McAllister sometimes attends running back video sessions and shares his thoughts. “Or if he sees something in a game, he might send me a message.”

    “It has just been a good relationship over the years and I appreciate him,” Ingram continued. “I’m thankful for his mentorship and he’s been a good asset to my career.”

    While Ingram showed promise as a rookie, he missed six games with injuries and was a bit of an afterthought on a record-setting offense that featured quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marcus Colston, and running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

    Ingram rushed for 602 yards and five TDs in 16 games in 2012, then managed just 386 yards and one TD in 11 games for what was a playoff team in 2013.

    The overwhelming majority of his pro production has come since 2014, when he rushed for 964 yards and nine TDs in 13 games and was named to his first of two Pro Bowls. He has surpassed 1,000 yards each of the previous two seasons and had a career-high 12 TDs last season, despite splitting carries with Alvin Kamara.

    A four-game suspension, tied to a positive test for a banned substance, likely will prevent him from hitting 1,000 yards this season — his final campaign under contract. But he has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and has rushed for 519 yards and five TDs in nine games.

    “He’s run with confidence,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “His health has been outstanding really the last year and a half, two years. I thought the (touchdown) run (Sunday) was impressive and he’s been real consistent. That’s pretty good company when you look at what Deuce accomplished.”

    Meanwhile, Ingram has established himself as a team-first, locker-room leader, most notably for how he’s gone out of his way to hasten Kamara’s development and celebrate his success, becoming close friends with the young running back in the process.

    “If I’m bringing younger players along, making them better, teaching them and helping them and encouraging them, it makes the team better, and it makes the competition stronger, which makes me better,” Ingram said.

    Ingram said if any younger players approach him for help, “I’m going to tell them what I think, what I see, what I would do. And try and encourage them and help them anyway I can just because that’s just like what a good person would do in my eyes. I would never shun somebody just because I feel threatened. I’m going to compete. I’m going to work my butt off. I have confidence in my abilities no matter what.”

 

  • Praise for Jerry Jones? Cooper trade really did boost Dallas-ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jerry Jones is getting praised for a football move.

    There might not be a better way to explain the impact of the oft-criticized owner and general manager’s bold trade for Dallas, sending a 2019 first-round pick to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper with the Cowboys fading fast in the NFC East race.

    Cooper leads the NFL in yards receiving since joining the Cowboys, who have won five straight games to get to the brink of the division title and a home wild-card game.

    With Cooper, Dak Prescott looks more like the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year rather than a struggling quarterback. And Jones’ name is coming up in broadcast booths, and as an off-the-wall choice for performer of the week in the NFL.

    In other words, the primary object of ire for fans fed up with nearly a quarter-century without a trip to the Super Bowl, or even an NFC championship game, is being viewed as someone who saved Dallas’ season.

    The Cowboys (8-5) can wrap up the NFC East with a win at Indianapolis (7-6) on Sunday.

    “I think a big part of doing things with the desire to excel is to show them,” Jones said after Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the winner in overtime of a 29-23 victory against Philadelphia that gave the Cowboys a two-game division lead with three to go. Dallas has the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep of the defending Super Bowl champs.

    “I think that’s a major motivation factor — to show them. I think the way sports and football, it just gives you a chance when people say, ‘I don’t like that move, that’s not smart.’ I like this stuff. As a matter of fact, I make my worst grades when I’m being praised.”

    There were plenty of second-guessers when Jones made the move at 3-5, with conventional wisdom saying the Cowboys had problems beyond a missing playmaker at receiver in the first season without franchise TD catch leader Dez Bryant, dumped in a cost-cutting move.

    Prescott was on that list of issues, mired in a 25-game stretch of mediocrity and numbers sharply lower than those from his sensational rookie season, when Dallas set a franchise record with an 11-game winning streak and had an NFC-best 13 victories.

    And while Prescott had two interceptions and a lost fumble to help the Eagles stay in a game the Cowboys were dominating, the display he put on with Cooper in the last half of the fourth quarter and overtime was remarkable.

    Touchdown throws of 28 and 75 yards in the fourth quarter were followed by a 15-yarder on the first possession of overtime , with Cooper grabbing a pass tipped by Philadelphia’s Rasul Douglas and cruising in from the 7.

    “I knew he was good,” Prescott said. “I knew he was going to get separation and get open and make great catches. But when you just see the run after catch and breaking tackles, and being that great of a player, I’m just thankful we got that trade.”

    Star running back Ezekiel Elliott is a beneficiary of Cooper’s presence as well. The running lanes have been wider, and check-downs against defenses preoccupied with the former Alabama standout have been more frequent. Elliott had a career-high 12 catches against the Eagles.

    “I didn’t know we were going to get all that, honestly,'” said Elliott, who retook the NFL rushing lead with 1,262 yards. “But when I finally saw him in person, when I saw him catch the ball, I saw him run around and run after the catch, that’s when I really realized he’s truly special.”

    The Cooper acquisition is bringing back good — and bad — memories for Jones.

    The good? An offseason trade for now-Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley in 1992, before Dallas became the first team to win three Super Bowls in four years. And the free-agent signing of Deion Sanders in 1995, before the last of those titles.

    The bad? A pair of trades for receivers during the current Super Bowl drought. Joey Galloway was particularly costly because Jones gave up two first-round picks for not much in return. Roy Williams was a midseason trade similar to Cooper a decade ago.

    It took Williams 21 games to get what Cooper has in six — an NFL-best 696 yards since Week 9. Cooper has six touchdowns. The other Dallas receivers have seven combined.

    “He is making big plays,” Jones said. “He is altering the defense. There is no question about it. He makes everybody better on both sides of the ball. But you got to make the big plays. You can see he is a difference-maker.”

    Jones has the pats on the back to prove it.

 

Middle

  • NFL salary cap will increase to up to $191 million per team-NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL salary cap will increase by roughly 6 percent in 2019 to a threshold of up to $191.1 million per team, the league announced Tuesday.

    The 2018 cap is $177.2 million. Next season’s cap will be “in the range of $187.0 million to $191.1 million,” the league tweeted.

    The salary cap has increased by roughly $10 million per season since 2013, when it was $123 million. “Another sign of the NFL’s continued success and growth,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy tweeted in the announcement.

    Player salaries are tied to league revenue under the collective bargaining agreement, and continued revenue growth could be a sticking point in negotiations over a new CBA. Players receive less than 50 percent of league revenue under the 10-year labor deal signed in 2011.

 

Downs

  • Vikings fire OC DeFilippo after another flat performance-MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings, still seeking to salvage a season that started with Super Bowl designs, made a last-ditch move to capture a mid-December spark by firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

    Coach Mike Zimmer made what he called an “extremely difficult decision” on Tuesday morning, following a 21-7 defeat at Seattle on Monday night . DeFilippo’s first season on the job ended after just 13 games, amid a sharp decline in production by the offense over the past six weeks.

    “I went round and round and round and round about it because I feel like, ‘I hired him. It’s my job to try to help him to continue to get better,'” Zimmer said. “I obviously didn’t do a good enough job there. I’ve always felt like if you hire a guy, you should stick with him and try to help him and help him mature as a coach.”

    The Vikings (6-6-1) have been held to under 300 total yards in four of their past five games. They’ve scored an average of 12.8 points in those four games. Thanks to the struggles of several of their NFC competitors, though, they’re still in control of the second wild-card spot with three games to go.

    “I don’t want the season to be wasted. Now, maybe it will. Maybe it won’t,” Zimmer said. “But these three games, to me, are very, very critical.”

    Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski was made interim offensive coordinator, taking over the play-calling duty. Stefanski has been an assistant with the Vikings since 2006, surviving two head coaching changes . Having coached quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends under Zimmer, Stefanski has a firm grasp of the scheme and the personnel.

    “We’ve got a lot of smart guys in that room, and I’ll try to help him best I can,” Zimmer said.

    DeFilippo’s work with new quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t materialize into consistent success, but Zimmer said his reasoning for dismissing DeFilippo transcended Cousins and his so-so first year with the Vikings.

    “This really wasn’t about one guy. This was about a lot of us holding up our end of the bargain. It was a collective thing,” Zimmer said on a conference call with reporters. He added: “We had to shake things up and try to get better.”

    Stefanski will be the fourth play-caller in five years under Zimmer, whose first offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, resigned halfway through the 2016 season. Pat Shurmur thrived in the role last year, behind a career-best season for fill-in quarterback Case Keenum and a 13-3 record that propelled the Vikings to the NFC championship game.

    Shurmur, however, was hired as head coach of the New York Giants. He wanted to bring Stefanski with him, but Zimmer blocked that move out of a desire to keep him on his own staff.

    The 40-year-old DeFilippo came from Philadelphia, lauded for his work as quarterbacks coach with Carson Wentz and then Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. He had previously served one season as an offensive coordinator, in 2015 with Cleveland.

    The Vikings, who committed a guaranteed $84 million to Cousins on an unprecedented three-year contract, piled up the passing yards over the first eight games. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were dominating opposing teams, and the Vikings topped 400 total yards four times.

    Lately, they’ve been unable to generate nearly enough points to stay in the NFC North race with Chicago (9-4). Zimmer publicly questioned DeFilippo’s decision-making more than once over the past month, stressing his interest in more of a run-pass balance and chiding him at one point for essentially trying to trick too many teams rather than relying on the offense’s strengths.

    The Vikings didn’t cross midfield on Monday night until late in the third quarter. They actually had a prime opportunity to pull out a victory down the stretch, after a 48-yard pass by Cousins to Diggs set them up in the red zone. They had first-and-goal from the 4, but Cousins threw two incompletions, missing an open Thielen on fourth down and misfiring to tight end Kyle Rudolph instead.

    “I think the added piece of the disappointment is when your defense is playing so well,” Cousins said after the Vikings went scoreless against the Seahawks until a garbage-time touchdown with 1:10 left in the game.

    He added: “If our offense would bring it the way that we brought it in the earlier weeks of the season, we could be pretty dangerous. Unfortunately, we haven’t put the whole complementary football together enough this season to really be the team that I think we know we’re capable of, and that will be the challenge these last three weeks.”

 

  • Patriots, 49ers have brain lock in Week 14-The San Francisco 49ers aren’t accustomed to lining up in victory formation. So, it should come as little surprise that third string quarterback Nick Mullens took a knee too quickly on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Broncos with 5 seconds left.

    Trailing 20-14, Denver had one last, long shot at a 61-yard touchdown on a hook-and-ladder prayer, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the NFL since … well, about three hours earlier when the Dolphins stunned the Patriots 34-33 with the longest play from scrimmage to win a game with no time remaining in the fourth quarter since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

    Alas, the Broncos couldn’t match the “Miami Miracle ” with their own magic as Devontae Booker allowed Tim Patrick’s throw-back to bounce past him and out of bounds at the San Francisco 39.

    That took Mullens off the hook.

    “It was a good rookie mistake,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That was good because he’ll learn it forever and it won’t happen again and it didn’t cost us the game.”

    Not again?

    “I shouldn’t have done it in the first place,” Mullens said. “Are you kidding me?”

    The Patriots made a couple of uncharacteristic blunders in their meltdown in Miami on Sunday.

    New England squandered a scoring chance at the end of the first half. With 14 seconds left and no timeouts, Tom Brady took the snap on third-and-goal at the Miami 2, and when he was sacked by Robert Quinn the clock ran out, leaving the Patriots with a 27-21 lead.

    “Situational football,” said NBC analyst Tony Dungy. “The Patriots are the best in football at that. But Bill Belichick called the play at the end of the half, figuring his quarterback, Tom Brady, is going to make a good decision, and Tom didn’t throw the ball away. Cost them three points.”

    The Patriots had bigger brain lock in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, sending lumbering tight end Rob Gronkowski onto the field to defend the “Hail Mary” pass as the Dolphins lined up at their 31 with 7 seconds left, trailing 33-28.

    New England coach Bill Belichick said the reason Gronkowski was at safety instead of Devin McCourty, one of New England’s best defensive players: “It would be his ability to play the deep, long throw.”

    Ryan Tannehill, though, is no Aaron Rodgers.

    “I think it was a little too far to get to the end zone,” Belichick acknowledged Monday, “but certainly a deep pass in that situation is a possibility. I wouldn’t rule that out.”

    Instead, Tannehill threw a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills, who lateraled to DeVante Parker, who quickly lateraled to speedy running back Kenyon Drake at midfield.

    Despite a history of back, knee and shoulder issues, Gronkowski remains one of the game’s premier tight ends.

    A good defender, he is not.

    He took a bad angle and stumbled as he tried to cut off Drake, who beat both Gronkowski and defensive back J.C. Jackson into the end zone to keep alive the wild-card chances of the Dolphins (7-6).

    “They’ve got Gronkowski in for a jump ball that’s not going to happen,” Dungy said. “It’s 70 yards away. We just are not used to seeing that from the Patriots.”

    At Levi Stadium where the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, Shanahan beat the team his father led to two Super Bowl championships — and which chose Vance Joseph over him 23 months ago.

    Joseph was widely thought to have stepped into the best situation when he took over a 9-7 team that was a year removed from a Super Bowl parade last year, famously saying it wasn’t a rebuild but a reboot.

    Joseph’s 11-18 record is slightly better than Shanahan’s 9-20 mark, which is the worst of the league’s six second-year head coaches. However, Shanahan has franchise quarterback Jimmy Garappolo on IR.

    The other members of the 2017 coaching class are: Sean McVay, whose Rams are 22-8; Anthony Lynn, whose Chargers are 19-10, Doug Marrone, whose Jaguars are 16-16; and Sean McDermott, whose Bills are 13-16 but, like Shanahan, has his franchise QB.

    Joseph has Case Keenum, who’s gone from fantastic fill-in last year in Minnesota to journeyman in Denver.

    Joseph criticized his quarterback on Monday , saying Keenum is playing too cautiously and not taking shots down the field for fear of throwing an interception.

    “He’s got to make more plays,” Joseph said, “and sometimes taking some chances allow you to make more plays.”

    Should the Broncos (6-7) post back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1971-72, both Joseph’s and Keenum’s jobs could be in jeopardy.

    Other notable calls in Week 14 included:

    —Referee Brad Allen’s crew in Seattle picked up the flag after Bobby Wagner put his hands on teammates’ shoulders in his line-leaping block of a Vikings field goal attempt in the game-turning play Monday night. Seattle led 6-0 at the time and went on to win 21-7.

    —The Panthers didn’t target Christian McCaffrey in three tries from the 3 in the waning minutes of their 26-20 loss at Cleveland even though McCaffrey had topped 100 yards from scrimmage and scored twice Sunday, giving him a dozen touchdowns in his last seven games.

    —And the Eagles-Cowboys classic was marred by an iffy offensive interference flag on Philadelphia tight end Dallas Goedert for a swim move he put on Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, nullifying his 75-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

    NBC analyst Rodney Harrison called it the worst call of the weekend: “There’s no way that was an offensive pass interference,” Harrison said, “and that’s coming from a defensive guy.”

 

  • Panthers’ Rivera clinging to slim playoff hopes, Saints next-CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ron Rivera is clinging to the slim hope the Panthers can rebound from a five-game losing streak, beat the Saints twice in three weeks and earn a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs.

    The coach understands the chances of all of that happening are remote at best.

    “There’s a chance — five percent,” Rivera said Tuesday. “That’s what they are giving us, so that’s what we will take. … All you need is a chance.”

    Actually, Carolina’s playoff hopes are a little better than that after the Vikings lost to the Seahawks on Monday night. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes NFL teams’ chances of reaching the postseason, the Panthers have a nine percent chance to reach the playoffs.

    Rivera relayed the team’s chances to his players on Tuesday as a sort of dangling carrot.

    “That would be a great story wouldn’t it?” Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said. “If we won this game and then won two more and made it in?”

    When asked if he really thinks that can happen, Peppers smiled and said, “of course it can happen. We expect it to happen, actually.”

    One look at the standings and the task doesn’t seem all that daunting considering the Panthers (6-7) are just a half-game behind the Vikings (6-6-1) in the race for the second wild card spot, tied with the Eagles and Redskins. The Panthers hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Eagles, but not the Redskins.

    That doesn’t factor in the Panthers haven’t won a game since Oct. 28, and will close the season with three games against division foes — including two against the division champion Saints, the first of which is Monday night at home.

    Rivera said his plan is to stick with Cam Newton at quarterback despite a lingering right shoulder problem that has limited the former league MVP’s ability to throw downfield on a consistent basis and might have contributed to some throws sailing high. On three different occasions this season the Panthers have turned to backup Taylor Heinicke on Hail Mary attempts because of Newton’s lack of arm strength.

    Rivera said this season bears a resemblance to 2014 when the Panthers were 3-8-1 and managed to win their final four games to capture the NFC South and then beat the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.

    But Carolina has shown no sign of another potential turnaround up until this point. Rather, the Panthers seem to collapse time and time again when they have a chance to break through and regain control of their own playoff destiny.

    Carolina was 6-2 and battling for first place in the NFC South when it to went Pittsburgh in early November and got dismantled 52-21 in a nationally televised Thursday night game. The Panthers went on to lose their next four games against the Seahawks and three of the league’s lower-end teams — the Lions, Buccaneers and Browns — leading to speculation about Rivera’s future.

    All four of those losses were all by seven points or less.

    “We just keep finding ways to lose,” Newton said Sunday.

    Rivera felt there was a lot of good” that happened in the Browns’ loss, but that the Panthers missed chances in the red zone on offense and had four costly bad plays on defense. He sees those problems as fixable.

    The biggest game remaining for the Panthers will be the next one against the Saints, a team they lost to three times last season and bumped them out of playoff contention.

    If the Panthers can somehow get past Sean Payton’s crew, they will host the fading Falcons on Dec. 23 and play the Saints in a rematch on Jan. 30 — a game in which New Orleans might rest some its starters if it has already solidified one of the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs.

    “It’s a big emphasis around here that we still have a chance to make the playoffs,” said wide receiver D.J. Moore.

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