What Have We Learned From Week 15 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Foster (16) runs toward the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

 

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 15 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Bills youth movement is beginning to make an impact-ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — First-round draft picks, quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, might be the Buffalo Bills’ most high-profile rookies making a notable impact this season.

    They’re not the only ones.

    Though eliminated from playoff contention, the Bills (5-9) are getting a promising glimpse into the future in seeing the initial signs of their commitment to rebuild through youth starting to pay off at numerous positions.

    It begins with Allen, who improved to 4-5 after his 42-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster in the fourth quarter rallied Buffalo to a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

    Then there’s Edmunds, drafted 16th overall and nine spots behind Allen, who has a team-leading 98 tackles and anchoring a defense which ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed.

    And the depth of youth now serving Buffalo extends to lower-round draft picks, such as defensive tackle Harrison Philips and guard Wyatt Teller, and even an undrafted rookie in Foster.

    “I don’t want to ever get comfortable, but it’s comforting to know that when you come back in the spring, we have a good feel for who Robert is,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday. “For all of them, it’s really two to three-week interview and we can see what we’ve got and then we can build on top of it if we need to.”

    The Bills got a long look at many youngsters against Detroit with six rookies playing at least 60 percent of the snaps. They included Keith Ford, who ended the game as Buffalo’s last healthy running back and finished with a team-best 46 yards rushing in his NFL debut.

    All totaled, 11 rookies saw playing time, including six undrafted free agents. The youth movement is expected to continue over the final two weeks of the season, with Buffalo preparing to play at AFC East-leading New England on Sunday.

    “Obviously, we haven’t won as many games as we wanted to win, but the fact remains that we’re trying to build this football team, I feel, the right way,” McDermott said. “That’s the type of culture that we’re trying to build in that you have to earn things here.”

    It’ll be up to the players to determine whether they deserve to stay beyond this season.

    Foster learned that the hard way in October when the Bills waived and then re-signed him to their practice squad. McDermott described the move as being a wake-up call for a young player who wasn’t providing enough effort during and after practice.

    Foster responded. In five games since returning to the active roster, Foster has combined for 19 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He’s become Buffalo’s first player to top 100 yards receiving three times in one season since Sammy Watkins in 2015.

    “Just continue to work the craft and be accountable to the team,” Foster said, referring to the chemistry he’s established with Allen.

    Foster made such a good impression, the Bills released veteran receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes two weeks ago to provide Foster and another newcomer, Isaiah McKenzie, more playing time. McKenzie, a second-year player, has 17 catches for 173 yards and also scored a touchdown rushing in five games since being acquired off waivers.

    On defense, undrafted rookie cornerback Levi Wallace, made his fifth consecutive start, while linebacker Corey Thompson, another undrafted rookie, played a career-high 20 snaps in place of injured starter Matt Milano.

    Wallace showed his inconsistencies. He was out of position in the end zone when Matthew Stafford hit a wide-open Andy Jones for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Wallace also had a potential interception ripped out of his hands by Lions receiver Kenny Golladay for a 24-yard reception during Detroit’s second touchdown drive.

    It’s all part of the learning process, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

    “The good thing is that he was in position to make the play,” Frazier said. “I’ve got to believe, over time, Levi is going to make more of those plays as he continues to gain strength and get more confidence in what he’s doing.”

 

  • Saints keep finding ways to grind out wins, stay atop NFC-CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — On a night when the high-powered offense was stuck in neutral, the New Orleans Saints still found a way to grind out a 12-9 win over Carolina behind their ever-improving defense.

    That could bode well for these Saints (12-2) as they prepare to make a run at the Super Bowl.

    For years, they’ve relied on star quarterback Drew Brees to score a lot of points, put up big yardage and win games for them. But suddenly the Saints have a defense that is not only keeping them close when the offense sputters, but might be one of the best in the NFL. New Orleans has not allowed more than 17 points in any of its last six games.

    “That’s what the great teams find a way to do,” said Brees, who was limited to 203 yards passing and intercepted once Monday night. “Despite what happens in the first three quarters or maybe the mistakes that were made prior to that, they just make the plays you need to make to win the game.”

    Brees likes that the Saints have found many different ways to win, even though not all of them have been pretty. The 12 points against the Panthers marked the fewest for New Orleans in a victory since 1998.

    For most of the season the Saints relied on an electrifying offense, scoring 40 points or more six times. But recently it is the defense that has stepped up to make big plays.

    “There’s a lot to be said for that — finding ways to win,” Brees said. “Battle-tested. These last two weeks, we’ve had to win in the fourth quarter, had to come back and win in the fourth quarter. On the road, divisional games, those are going to be hard-fought. Those are going to be tough and the great teams find a way. Our guys believe we’re all going to step up, we’re going to do this together, somebody’s going to make a play.”

    The Saints didn’t make a lot of plays Monday, but they made enough.

    There was Eli Apple’s interception of Cam Newton’s pass in the end zone with 10 seconds left before halftime. There was Von Bell’s strip of wide receiver D.J. Moore on an inside handoff and A.J. Klein’s recovery, which led to the go-ahead score. There were four players who sacked Newton — and none were named Cam Jordan. Alvin Kamara had a 50-yard kickoff return.

    The little plays all add up.

    “We are playing hard and playing for each other,” Apple said.

    Unlike some of the NFL’s other top teams — namely, the Rams and Chiefs — the Saints found a way to grind it out without their A game on offense this week.

    It didn’t matter that the offense failed to gain more than 30 yards on seven of its first eight drives. It didn’t matter because New Orleans could count on its defense.

    Jordan called it the best he’s ever played on.

    “I believe in us, game in and game out, first quarter to fourth quarter,” Jordan said. “If it comes down to a crucial play, I believe in us. If we need a turnover, I believe in us.”

    New Orleans has already wrapped up the NFC South title and can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory in either of its last two games, both at home, against Pittsburgh and Carolina.

    Looking for their second Super Bowl championship in a decade, the well-rounded Saints might just be the favorites heading into the postseason.

    “We were just trying to stack weeks because you know you want to play your best ball in December,” said Bell, who also had seven tackles and a sack. “That’s what people remember and going into this last stretch we wanted to finish strong.”

 

  • Surging Titans staying focused as they chase playoff berth-NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Another week, another team leapfrogged by the Tennessee Titans in their chase of the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot.

    But the Titans fully understand any scenario that has them returning to the postseason hinges on them continuing to win.

    “Playoffs came a month early for us, so that’s the mindset and mentality,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “Win and stay in. We’re just taking it week by week.”

    That approach has the Titans (8-6) on a three-game winning streak and coming off a 17-0 shutout of the New York Giants . It was the franchise’s first shutout since Dec. 25, 2000 and only its fourth ever on the road. Now the Titans are back home on a short week hosting the Washington Redskins (7-7) on Saturday, waiting to see if either Baltimore or Pittsburgh loses to set up a winner goes to the playoffs game Dec. 30 between Tennessee and the Colts.

    The Titans already are 3-0 against the NFC East and can finish off a sweep Saturday.

    “For us, we just worry about focusing and winning this game,” cornerback Adoree Jackson said. “At the end of the day we can’t really think about whatever division that is or the playoffs. It is all about just winning the game in front of you. One game at a time, one series and one snap at a time. We have to lock in. Having a short week it is going to be a lot about being prepared. Get our bodies ready to go. We have to be there, be ready and be sharp.”

    Coach Mike Vrabel has had plenty of practice getting the Titans ready on a short week in his debut season.

    This will be the fourth such game in seven weeks for the Titans who are 3-0 with wins over the Patriots, Jets and Jaguars. Vrabel said he’s following the same approach, giving the Titans the day off Monday and bringing them back to work at noon Tuesday to allow as much time to recuperate as possible.

    “Right now, it’s about taking care of our bodies and our health and getting everybody back that we can possibly get back on a week that’s one day shorter,” Vrabel said.

    The Titans will be without starting cornerback Logan Ryan, who announced Monday morning that he broke his left leg and will miss the rest of the season. Rookie linebacker Sharif Finch also hurt his left shoulder, and safety Kenny Vaccaro is in the concussion protocol. The Titans placed right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve last week for a total of eight players out for the season.

    Linebacker Brian Orakpo missed his first game since signing with Tennessee in 2015, snapping a streak of 61 straight starts because of an injured elbow.

    “We’ll kind of see how everybody is feeling and where we’re at,” Vrabel said.

    The Titans now have the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense giving up just 18.1 points per game with 254 total points allowed — just one behind the Ravens (253).

    They also have a run game once again with Derrick Henry putting together the best back-to-back rushing performances in franchise history with 408 yards combined, topping the 405 yards by Hall of Famer Earl Campbell in October 1980 against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. His two-game stretch also has Henry up to 11th in the NFL with 882 yards, and he’s tied for third in the league with his 11 TDs rushing.

    Henry said the Titans definitely are in a groove as an offense with everyone on the same page.

    “But we can’t get too ahead of ourselves, keep attacking them, and we’ve got the Redskins next,” Henry said.

 

Middle

  • Chargers lead Pro Bowl selections with 7 players

NEW YORK (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers placed seven players in the Pro Bowl, including safety Derwin James, one of six rookies across the league to make the game.

James, a first-round draft choice, will be joined on the AFC squad by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back Melvin Gordon, defensive end Melvin Ingram, center Mike Pouncey and special-teamer Adrian Phillips for the game, which will be played Jan. 27 in Orlando. James and Phillips are the only starters, though.

Rivers is a backup to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, one of 29 first-time Pro Bowlers. That, of course, includes all the rookies: James, Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Seahawks punter Michael Dickson, Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, Indianapolis guard Quenton Nelson and Cleveland cornerback Denzel Wads. Lindsay is an undrafted player.

New England’s Tom Brady is the other AFC quarterback, making it for the 14th time. Noticeably missing is the Colts’ Andrew Luck.

New Orleans, led by quarterback Drew Brees, Dallas and Chicago paced the NFC with five players each. Brees is the starter, backed up by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and the Rams’ Jared Goff.

Buffalo, Oakland and Tampa Bay had no Pro Bowl selections.

Pittsburgh and Kansas City each had six players chosen, including such first-timers as Steelers running back James Conner and Mahomes, both having breakthrough years.

Cleveland has a first overall draft choice in the game — not Baker Mayfield, but 2017 top pick Myles Garrett at defensive end.

“Football is a team game and you can’t do it on your own,” said Garrett, who leads the Browns with 12½ sacks. “I’m happy to be able to share this experience with Denzel because this honor is really a testament to our entire defense.”

Among the perennial AFC choices returning to the game are Houston DE J.J. Watt, Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown, Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda and safety Eric Weddle, Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins and Denver LB Von Miller.

“To get recognized by your peers, the coaches and the fans, it means a lot,” Weddle said. “It’s always special to put in the hard work and to try your best and then get recognized. The Pro Bowl is something I never take for granted, and I’m pretty stoked about it. Each year you just work hard and try to play your very best. To receive recognition for what you do on the field, even if it may not show up in other areas, is awesome.”

For the NFC, frequent repeaters include Atlanta WR Julio Jones and C Alex Mack, Dallas tackle Tyron Smith, inside LBs Luke Kuechly of Carolina and Bobby Wagner of Seattle, Arizona CB Patrick Peterson, Rams DT Aaron Donald and Bears LB Khalil Mack.

One of the newcomers, Chicago DT Akiem Hicks, sounded overwhelmed by the honor.

“I have played the game of football my entire life and this is the greatest accolade I’ve ever achieved,” he said.

There will be a brother combination at center for the AFC as Maurkice Pouncey of Pittsburgh is the starter ahead of Mike Pouncey.

The Jets, despite a 4-10 record, have three Pro Bowlers in safety Jamal Adams, kicker Jason Myers and return specialist Andre Roberts — all first-timers.

Pro Bowl coaching staffs will be from the losing teams in the AFC and NFC divisional playoffs with the best regular-season records. Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team receives $67,000, while each player on the losing squad earns $34,000.

 

  • Football dominates television viewing as holiday nears-NEW YORK (AP) — Professional football — the lifeblood of live television this time of year — illustrated its dominance in the ratings this past week.

    Four NFL games finished among the Nielsen company’s 20 most popular prime-time programs, with NBC’s Sunday night and Fox’s Thursday contests the top two. Both games featured Los Angeles teams.

    Add in three pre-game shows, and football accounted for seven of Nielsen’s entries.

    The games usually dwarf regular programming. For example, Fox drew 17.4 million to its Thursday night game. Its next most popular show, “Last Man Standing,” had 12 million fewer viewers.

    Similarly, the 18.1 million people who watched NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” were nearly 10 million more than “The Voice.” CBS’ lineup has a broader base of support and no pro football in prime-time, but it should be noted that its highest-rated show, “60 Minutes,” comes on after football on the East Coast.

    CBS won the week in prime time, averaging 7.2 million viewers. NBC had 6.2 million viewers, Fox had 5.1 million, ABC had 3.6 million, Univision had 1.4 million, ION Television had 1.3 million, the CW had 1.2 million and Telemundo had 1.1 million.

    ESPN was the week’s most popular cable network, averaging 2.4 million people in prime time. Fox News Channel had 2.04 million, Hallmark had 2.02 million, MSNBC had 1.91 million and USA had 1.31 million.

    ABC’s “World News Tonight” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 8.9 million viewers. NBC’s “Nightly News” was second with 8.6 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 6.4 million

    For the week of Dec. 10-16, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Philadelphia at L.A. Rams, NBC, 18.12 million; NFL Football: L.A. Chargers at Kansas City, Fox, 17.41 million; “60 Minutes,” CBS, 14.55 million; “NCIS,” CBS, 12.28 million; “NFL Pregame,” NBC, 11.66 million; NFL Football: Minnesota at Seattle, ESPN, 11.63 million; “NFL Pregame,” Fox, 10.34 million; “Football Night in America,” NBC, 9.22 million; “FBI,” CBS, 9.04 million; “The Voice” (Tuesday), NBC, 8.97 million.

 

Downs

  • Patriots have issues to address after 2 straight losses-FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots were able to downplay the significance of their defeat at Miami in Week 14 mostly because of the crazy final play it took for the Dolphins to grab the victory in the closing seconds.

    But after showing multiple shortcomings in its 17-10 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday , New England suddenly looks nothing like the dominant force it’s been at this point of the season in most years.

    The Patriots are still in position to earn their 10th consecutive AFC East title. But with two games left in the regular season, New England (9-5) enters Week 16 as the No. 3 seed in the AFC behind Kansas City and Houston.

    While much can still change before the postseason, it’s left the Patriots facing the possibility of having to open the playoffs in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009. The Patriots have never started the postseason on the road during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.

    New England finished 3-5 on the road this season after Sunday’s loss. The Patriots have also lost consecutive games in December for the first time since Weeks 15 and 16 of 2002. That was also the only season Brady has missed the postseason after starting at least two games.

    The good news for the Patriots is that they play their final two regular-season games at home, beginning with Sunday’s matchup with Buffalo (5-9) before closing their schedule on Dec. 30 against the New York Jets (4-10).

    Whether home or away, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman believes they have plenty of time to figure things out despite losing the past two games.

    “We’re definitely confident,” he said following Sunday’s loss. “We have a group of guys who work hard. We have a coaching staff that puts us in great situations and puts great plans together, we just gotta go out and really focus on the little things. It starts with snapping the ball and not having penalties. If we do that, we’ll get better.”

    What Edelman was eluding to was the season-high 14 penalties for 106 yards that New England was called for in Sunday’s loss, which included five false starts. The mishaps negated long gains by the offense and led to five consecutive punts after scoring its lone touchdown.

    The biggest mishaps occurred in the fourth quarter.

    Trailing 14-10 and facing third-and-8 on the Pittsburgh 13, Brady completed a pass to Rob Gronkowski to the Steelers 5. But the play was negated by a holding penalty on Marcus Cannon. Pushed back to the 15, Brady was forced from the pocket and threw an off-balance pass toward the sideline that was intercepted two plays later by Joe Haden.

    Then on its final possession, New England drove to the Pittsburgh 11 before a holding call on Shaq Mason pushed the team back to the 21. With no timeouts, Brady ended the game with three consecutive incompletions.

    “We just gotta play better football,” center David Andrews said Monday. “We can’t do things to hurt ourselves.”

    There are just as many concerns about the defense.

    The Patriots held Pittsburgh to 17 points, but they continued to have trouble stopping the run. Steelers rookie running back Jaylen Samuels had a season-high 142 yards on 19 carries. New England has allowed at least 104 yards rushing in each of its five losses this season.

    Coach Bill Belichick said the Steelers’ success was a result of their execution instead of anything Pittsburgh did schematically or fundamental deficiencies on his team’s part.

    “We always try to play with good fundamentals and technique, so that will never change,” Belichick said Monday.

    Still, it’s becoming a recurring theme and an area of concern for a defense that ended Sunday’s games ranked 17th in the NFL, allowing 116.2 yards per game on the ground.

    Safety Duron Harmon said their effort against the Steelers is a sign they must find a way to play better to get where they want to be in January.

    “We could’ve done some things better that could’ve helped them not score 17 points,” he said Sunday. “We gotta look at it this way, we’re a team there’s been times we gave up 42 points and our offense did enough for us to win. We gotta be able to do that.”

 

  • Blowout loss leaves Arizona’s Wilks on shakier ground-TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Another blowout loss has left Steve Wilks on even shakier ground as first-year coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

    The 40-14 defeat in Atlanta to a 4-9 Falcons team left the Cardinals at 3-11.

    They face the Los Angeles Rams, who beat the Cardinals 34-0 in Week 2, in their final home game. That’s followed by the season finale at Seattle.

    Prospects do not seem good. Arizona could well be headed to a 3-13 season, matching the Cardinals’ worst since the franchise moved from St. Louis 30 years ago.

    With a dissatisfied fan base and a team showing little or no improvement through the season, team President Michael Bidwill — who takes great pride in making the franchise relevant after years of losing — could decide that he can’t afford to give Wilks a second season to prove his worth.

    “I really don’t listen to the outside noise,” Wilks said Monday of speculation about his job status. “I wake up every morning blessed, and I come in here with my nose down and just grind away, trying to get these coaches and players all on the same page and looking to try to get a win. That’s my focus.”

    The only other time Arizona has lost 13 games came in 2000, when Vince Tobin was fired seven games into the season and replaced by Dave McGinnis.

    The Cardinals took an early 7-0 lead in Atlanta, then the Falcons scored 40 unanswered points. Wilks mercifully benched rookie quarterback Josh Rosen late in the game and backup Mike Glennon got the team in the end zone.

    But Wilks reiterated that Rosen would start the final two games, even though he’s under constant assault by defenses behind a makeshift offensive line that has lost four starters to injuries and wasn’t all that effective to begin with.

    “Yesterday, I felt the need to take him out based off where we were in the game,” Wilks said. “He didn’t like that. He was disappointed a little bit, wanted to stay in there. Sometimes with great players like that, you have to help them help themselves, but moving forward, we’re not going to take a defeated attitude and say that we’re going to put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season.”

    Like most of the rest of the team, Rosen hasn’t seemed to get much better at his job, although there are plenty of reasons beyond his control. Against the Falcons, Rosen completed 13 of 22 passes for 132 yards with two interceptions. For the season, Rosen has thrown 10 touchdown passes and been intercepted 14 times.

    “I always say have zero expectations in life so you’re never disappointed,” he said after the game. “I don’t know about humbling. I didn’t really have any expectations coming in. I just wanted to get better every day and play good football. I have good days. I have bad days. I’d like to be a little more consistent on the good days. This was a step back, and we’ll climb over the hurdle like we always do.”

    This Cardinals team has crashed into hurdles more often than cleared them.

    Arizona has eight losses of at least 10 points and four by at least 20. No other team in the NFL has that record of futility.

    The offense has statistically been the worst in the NFL, but the defense hasn’t been so great either. Atlanta, the worst rushing team in the league, ran for 215 yards against Arizona, the most allowed by the Cardinals this season.

    Wilks served one season as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers and his entire coaching career has been on that side of the ball.

    The bright spot: The Cardinals are tied with Oakland for worst record in the NFL and they lost to the Raiders.

    So lose in the final two games — the Cardinals opened as a 12 1/2-point underdog against the Rams (it was up to 14 on Monday) — and that No. 1 draft pick is all theirs.

 

  • Broncos’ Head Coach Joseph downplays chatter about his job security-ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Vance Joseph doesn’t want to fret over his future with the Broncos missing the playoffs again. Nor does he care to ponder his past following a report Monday that general manager John Elway considered bringing back Mike Shanahan this season before ultimately deciding against a coaching change.

    “I’ve spoken to John. That’s a private conversation, obviously. But, to be honest, that’s the least of my worries, an article,” Joseph said.

    Colorado Springs Gazette columnist Woody Paige cited anonymous sources in detailing Elway’s meeting last December with Shanahan, the franchise’s all-time winningest coach, and conversations the two men had about luring to Denver free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan had drafted in Washington.

    Joseph was ultimately retained after a 5-11 rookie campaign but he’s won just 11 of his 30 games overall and with the Broncos (6-8) missing the playoffs again, Joseph’s job security is subject to questions.

    “My concern is this football team , these coaches, and you know we have a big game on Monday night,” Joseph said. “That’s my only concern. What’s written, what’s being said, I can’t worry about that.”

    After retaining Joseph, Elway signed QB Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal with $25 million guaranteed last spring.

    Keenum, who was brilliant in helping the Vikings reach the NFC championship game last year, has been lackluster in Denver , throwing for 15 TD passes to go with a dozen interceptions and a career-high 32 sacks.

    He’s operating an offense missing its top two tight ends, top two receivers and three interior offensive linemen and which is coordinated by Bill Musgrave, who hasn’t been the same creative force he was in Oakland when Denver’s defenders used to admiringly call him the “Mad Scientist.”

    The Broncos were eliminated from the playoff race over the weekend after their 17-16 loss to the Browns, a defeat marked by a series of debatable decisions.

    They included a deep throw on first down by Keenum that was picked off just after the Broncos had lost their fourth and fifth cornerbacks, one to an ejection and another to injury.

    The turnover led to a Cleveland touchdown drive that proved the game-winner when Keenum made another bad decision: spiking the ball at the 50 with just under a minute left after converting a fourth-and-2 play on Denver’s desperation drive after stopping the Browns on fourth-and-1 at their own 10.

    That spike to stop the clock allowed the Browns to regroup and they subsequently showed two looks the Broncos hadn’t seen all night, forcing a pair of incompletions before Jabrill Peppers’ sack of Keenum ended it.

    “That fourth-down play, if you ask Billy (Musgrave), that wasn’t a great fourth-down call for Case,” Joseph said. “We can do better there for Case with a (blitz) coming.”

    The most-debated call, however, came with 4½ minutes left and the Broncos trailing 17-13.

    Joseph sent out his kicker rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 6.

    Joseph vehemently defended that move afterward and again Monday.

    He said it was a fourth-and-a-long-1, the Broncos had just been stuffed on two runs and he had faith his depleted defense would get a stop even though safeties Dymonte Thomas and Justin Simmons were forced into coverage with cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. (leg), Isaac Yiadom (head), Brendan Langley (head), Jamar Taylor (ejected for fighting) and Bradley Roby (lacerated lip) all out.

    Now, the Broncos are left trying to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1972, the year Joseph was born.

    They visit Oakland (3-11) on Christmas Eve and finish against the Chargers (11-3) at home.

    “These next two games are important for us to finish the right way,” said Joseph, who twice gave an impassioned defense of his coaching staff Monday.

    “It will be tough for me to find a better staff in this league,” Joseph said. “These coaches have coached a really, really young team and we’ve got young guys playing at a high level because of our coaches. And our players, each week they’ve battled. So, that’s my only focus and concern, not my future.”

    Despite the dive, Joseph hasn’t lost his locker room, according to several veterans, as evidenced by all their one-score games.

    “We all love coach,” nose tackle Domata Peko said. “We’ve all got his back.”

    Maybe not everyone.

    Outside linebacker Shane Ray said he wasn’t informed he’d be a healthy scratch until the day before the game, after he’d put in his full workload at practice all last week. He called that late notice “a little disrespectful,” and said if he’s not going to play against the Raiders, he’d appreciate a quicker heads-up.

    Neither he nor safety Su’a Cravens, another healthy scratch, took kindly to Joseph’s explanation after the game that he deactivated them because “we’re playing our best players, trying to win a game, simple as that.”

    “I’m not going to speak bad on the dude,” Cravens said. “He’s my coach. He’s my superior. I’m going to do whatever he says. But as far as him saying he’s got the best players out on the field, I disagree.”

 

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