Newly arrived Baker Mayfield rallies Rams past Raiders
Mayfield, who was picked up off the waiver wire from the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday, completed 5 of 6 passes for 80 yards on the final drive. Los Angeles (4-9) went 98 yards in eight plays with the help of two Las Vegas penalties.
Mayfield replaced starter John Wolford on the Rams' second possession and completed 22 of 35 passes for 230 yards as they ended a six-game losing streak. Mayfield led a 75-yard scoring drive earlier in the fourth quarter that Cam Akers capped with a 1-yard touchdown run at the 3:19 mark, pulling Los Angeles within 16-10.
The Raiders (5-8) ended their last, desperate chance with Derek Carr's second interception of the game. Taylor Rapp picked him off near midfield with two seconds remaining.
Las Vegas led almost the entire game, scoring on its first three possessions and taking a 13-3 lead to halftime. When Daniel Carlson converted a 36-yard field goal with 12:20 left in the game, the Raiders owned a seemingly insurmountable 16-3 cushion.
NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs, who grinded out 99 yards on 27 carries, initiated scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run on the game's first drive. Carlson bombed a 52-yard field goal to make it 10-0 before Matt Gay hit from 55 with six seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Carlson's 31-yard field goal at the 9:40 mark of the second quarter gave the Raiders a two-score lead. They threatened to score again when they reached the Rams' 10 in the last minute of the half, but Carr forced a pass over the middle that Ernest Jones intercepted in the end zone.
Carr was 11 of 20 for 137 yards as Las Vegas saw its three-game winning streak end.
Report: Jets OT Max Mitchell has blood clots, done for season
Mitchell was placed on the non-football injury list Thursday. Coach Robert Saleh declined to explain the reason.
Mitchell has a hereditary blood-clotting condition, according to his father, and it isn't something expected to end his football career once he recovers from the current episode.
The Jets selected Mitchell out of Louisiana in the fourth round of April's draft. Due to injuries to Mekhi Becton and George Fant, Mitchell was pressed into action at right tackle, starting five of the six games he played as a rookie.
Mitchell also missed six games with a knee injury. He returned in Week 12 against the Chicago Bears in a reserve capacity and started in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.
In more positive news for the Jets, Fant returned from a knee injury to play against Minnesota after missing eight games. He projects to start at right tackle again with Mitchell unavailable. Fant was limited in practice Thursday (illness, knee).
Cardinals TE Zach Ertz had surgery to repair ACL, MCL
"We didn't think the ACL was involved early on," Ertz told reporters at a press conference where he accepted the Cardinals' Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
"And then it just was partially torn and it wouldn't have lasted long-term, so we had to get in and get both done. I'm glad it's behind me now."
Ertz said his goal is to be ready for Week 1 of the 2023 season but is only in the beginning stages of his rehab process.
Ertz, 32, was carted off the field Nov. 13 during a 27-17 win over the Los Angeles Rams. NFL Network reported at the time that he had suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The veteran tight end was in his first full season with the Cardinals after spending the bulk of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles traded him to Arizona before the deadline in 2021.
Ertz had 47 receptions for 406 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games, all starts, in 2022. In 10 NFL campaigns he has caught 682 passes for 7,247 yards and 45 touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler for three straight seasons in 2017-19.
Deshaun Watson on debut: 'Don't know when it's going to come back'
Watson completed 12 of 22 passes, was intercepted in the end zone and totaled 131 yards without a TD drive.
"I don't know when it's going to come back," Watson said Thursday. "I don't know if it was going to be last week, this week. My job is to just keep getting better and when it clicks, it clicks, and everyone will feel that."
Suspended for 11 games this season after sitting out all of 2021 as a member of the Texans, Watson's reputation, timing, mechanics, conditioning and confidence all need to be rebuilt, in his own estimation.
More than two dozen women accused Watson of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. The NFL investigation found Watson's behavior to be predatory and intentional, leading to the ban under the league's personal conduct policy. He was also fined $5 million.
With that backdrop and the implied pressure of a fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Browns, Cleveland improved to 5-7 in Houston and is still alive in the AFC playoff picture.
"The last week, it was a lot. The anticipation to be back on the field. The anticipation of going back to my former team. The anticipation, playing against former teammates and being in front of a crowd that used to cheer for me at the time," Watson said. "All that stuff was definitely, it was a lot. I'm human. So, I definitely have things running through my mind. I'm glad that's out the way, I'm glad we got the win. I'm just trying to look forward to this week. It's going to be a hostile environment in Cincinnati. It's going to be fun and we just got to go out there and just make sure we execute the game plan."
The teams in front of the Browns in the AFC North -- the Cincinnati Bengals (8-4) and Baltimore Ravens (8-4) -- are up next on the schedule.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski, also the offensive play-caller for the Browns, said there is a timing and connectivity element for Watson's teammates that will come with more reps.
"Deshaun, that is his first start so he got the first one out of the way, and I know he is looking forward to turning the page, really diving into Cincinnati, understanding this defense, putting together a plan and going out here and working on it this week," Stefanski said. "I think that really becomes our focus."
Giants RB Saquon Barkley (neck) lands on injury report
Barkley was not on the injury report Wednesday. It's unclear when he suffered the injury.
Barkley last appeared on the injury report Week 7, when he was listed with a shoulder injury. Barkley has not missed a game this season.
Barkley is fourth in the NFL with 1,055 rushing yards. He's averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns with 40 receptions for 241 yards.
Also Thursday, Giants offensive lineman Josh Ezeudu (neck), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee), OL Shane Lemieux (toe) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck) did not practice.
Cornerback Darnay Holmes (shoulder), wideout Richie James (knee), CB Nick McCloud (hamstring) and DL Henry Mondeaux (knee) joined Barkley as limited.
The Giants (7-4-1) trail the Eagles (11-1) by 3.5 games in the division. Sunday is the first of two games between the teams, who play in Week 18 in Philadelphia (Jan. 8).
Cardinals, Patriots hungry for a win to help playoff chases
The Cardinals (4-8) are among the NFL's biggest underachievers this season and sit three games behind the NFC's final playoff spot with five contests remaining.
Since only two NFC teams have fewer victories, another setback will all but eliminate Arizona and place fourth-year coach Kliff Kingsbury firmly on the hot seat.
However, standout safety Budda Baker doesn't want to have to wave the white flag before it becomes necessary.
"At the end of the day when it's time to work we work," Baker, who has a team-best 90 tackles, told reporters. "We've got five more opportunities. We have to take the best of those opportunities because (the NFL) stands for not for long. We've got five more opportunities to play some good football and that's the plan that we're going to do."
The Cardinals are coming off a bye. However, they have lost two straight games and six of their last eight, and they will need Murray to heat up if they are to make a dash for a playoff spot.
The fourth-year pro passed for fewer than 200 yards in each of his last two appearances -- he missed two November games due to a hamstring injury -- and has a career-worst 6.1 average yards per attempt.
He also has received career-most criticism due to his performance after receiving a five-year, $230.5 million extension in the offseason.
"You understand the position that you are in, what comes with it, what you have to face," Murray said. "I'm not really new to it. Something I've been dealing with, not my whole life but for the most part of my life having to deal with stuff like that. It doesn't affect me."
The Patriots (6-6) also have lost two straight games and are experiencing issues of their own.
New England also is on the outside of the playoff chase, sitting one game behind the New York Jets for the final AFC wild-card spot.
The atmosphere is certainly tense. During a Dec. 1 home loss to the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Mac Jones got heated on the sideline over the lack of deep pass plays being called.
Jones' play hasn't been as solid as his 2021 rookie campaign. He passed for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns last season; he has 1,963 yards and seven scoring throws in nine games this season.
He said the Patriots are close to getting their offensive act together.
"We've just got to eliminate those (bad plays) at this point," Jones said. "There are a few plays in every game -- a handful of plays that just aren't very good. Once we can fix those, then everything goes."
Earlier this week, New England coach Bill Belichick told WEEI that it's too difficult to make major changes to the offense at this point in the season.
That doesn't sound too promising, considering the Patriots sit 24th in total offense at 318.9 yards per game and are tied for 19th in scoring offense (20.8 points per game).
"If we can just do, consistently, what we're doing, I think we'll be all right," Belichick said. "We just haven't been able to have enough consistency. And that's hurt us. It's not one thing. One time it's one thing. Next time it's something else. We just have to play and coach more consistently."
The Patriots have won seven of the past eight meetings with the Cardinals.
Left tackle Trent Brown (illness) and right tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot) were among the New England players who missed practice on Thursday. Also sitting out were receiver Jakobi Meyers (concussion), running back Damien Harris (thigh) and cornerback Jalen Mills (groin).
Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) sat out Thursday. Other Cardinals to miss practice were cornerback Byron Murphy (back), left guard Rashaad Coward (chest) and receiver Rondale Moore (groin).
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette added to injury report
His status for Tampa's Week 14 game with the San Francisco 49ers is uncertain.
Fournette, 27, missed Week 12 with a hip pointer before returning Monday with 16 total touches in Tampa Bay's win over the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers are No. 1 in the NFL against the run, with 907 yards allowed and 3.4 yards per carry.
Fournette, in a co-op in the Bucs' backfield with rookie Rachaad White, has a team-high 511 rushing yards this season. He has 57 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
White emerged as a threat to Fournette's starting job during the 21-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks in London. Fournette scored a touchdown in the game, but after nearly missing the trip due to a passport issue, he was slowed by the hip injury.
White rushed 22 times for 105 yards.
Raiders at Rams: TNF Preview, Prop Picks, Prediction
They take that momentum to Los Angeles on Thursday night to face the Rams (3-9), who are tied for the fewest wins in the NFC.
The Rams tabled any hopes of a Super Bowl repeat long ago with quarterback Matthew Stafford on the shelf, along with wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald will also miss Thursday night's game.
The Raiders (5-7) can ill afford a letdown with a three-game stretch ahead against the Rams, Patriots and Steelers before closing the regular season with a pair of daunting home games against the 49ers and Chiefs.
Las Vegas is a 6.5-point favorite at BetMGM, where the line has moved from 5.5 points to open, with 73 percent of the spread bets and 79 percent of the money backing the Raiders.
The line is at 7.0 points at BetRivers and DraftKings. Las Vegas has drawn 67 percent of the bets and money at BetRivers and 68 and 76 percent, respectively, at DraftKings.
Raiders QB Derek Carr Over 1.5 Passing TDs (-125 at DraftKings): This has been the most popular player prop at the sportsbook. After an inconsistent start to the season, Carr has found his footing in McDaniels' offense. He has thrown for multiple touchdowns in five consecutive games and the Rams' pass rush is far less potent without Donald blowing up the interior.
Rams RB Cam Akers Over 44.5 Rushing Yards (-114 at BetRivers): The other two sportsbooks have a slightly higher total at 45.5 yards, and every yard might count in this one. After being sent home and put on the trade market, Akers is enjoying somewhat of a revival with an average of 13 carries over the past three games. It has been a forced function after the team cut Darrell Henderson. The Rams' injury-plagued offensive line is woeful, but Akers is coming off a strong game with 17 carries for 60 yards and a pair of scores against Seattle.
Raiders WR Davante Adams Over 89.5 Receiving Yards (-115 at BetMGM): The same yardage total is being offered at -125 at DraftKings, where Adams is also drawing 25 percent of the bets and 25 percent of the money to score the game's first touchdown. Adams has topped 125 receiving yards in four of his past five games while averaging 8.2 catches for 132.8 yards during that span.
Raiders: TE Darren Waller (hamstring) and WR Hunter Renfrow (oblique) are on IR, and DT Andrew Billings (fibula), ILB Jayon Brown (hand), TE Jesper Horsted (concussion) and CB Rock Ya-Sin are also out. CB Tyler Hall (back) and RB Josh Jacobs are listed as questionable but are expected to play after taking part in limited practice Wednesday.
Rams: Stafford (concussion), Kupp (ankle), Robinson (foot) and Donald (ankle) are out along with LBs Terrell Lewis (back) and Travin Howard (hip) and CB David Long Jr. (groin). With backup QB John Wolford (neck) also questionable, Baker Mayfield could be in line to start after joining the team Tuesday.
The Raiders are still holding a chip and a chair in the AFC wild card picture while the Rams are riding a six-game losing streak - an NFL record for a reigning champion. Las Vegas still has plenty of warts, but Los Angeles is riding out the string with bailing wire. --Raiders 27, Rams 19
Titans CB Caleb Farley (back) out for season
Farley, the team's first-round pick in 2021, had a microdisectomy on Thursday, ESPN reported. That procedure is performed when a herniated disk in the spine puts pressure on a nerve root.
He is expected to take part in offseason workouts.
Farley, 24, appeared in nine games (one start) this season, recording 10 tackles. He sustained the injury in a Week 10 win over the Denver Broncos and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 15.
Farley had two procedures performed on his back while in college at Virginia Tech, and his rookie season ended after three games due to a torn ACL.
House Committee: Daniel Snyder allowed toxic culture, NFL aided in cover-up
In a 79-page report released Thursday, the Committee detailed the decades-long toxic workplace culture of the Washington franchise, the NFL's response to the conduct and the league's burial of a 2020-21 probe of the Commanders' workplace led by attorney Beth Wilkinson.
The Committee's report also notes the NFL was complicit in Snyder's efforts against cooperating with the inquiry and was aware of the interference with the Wilkinson Investigation but failed to take action. It said the league's mishandling of the investigation reflected "a broader pattern of failing to take workplace misconduct seriously."
The report also detailed that Snyder "permitted and participated" in the franchise's toxic work culture and went to great lengths to obstruct the Committee's inquiry.
"Mr. Snyder was invited to testify at a public hearing but refused to appear and then sought to avoid service of a subpoena while abroad with his yacht," per the report. "Mr. Snyder ultimately sat for a private deposition but failed to provide full and complete testimony. Over the course of the deposition, he claimed more than 100 times that he could not recall the answers to the Committee's questions, including basic inquiries about his role as Team owner and multiple allegations of misconduct. Mr. Snyder also gave misleading testimony about his efforts to interfere with the Wilkinson Investigation."
The report also chastised the NFL for failing to prevent Snyder from interfering with its investigation and for failing to address his conduct.
"The NFL chose to bury Ms. Wilkinson's findings and whitewash the misconduct it uncovered," the committee's report said. "Rather than seek real accountability, the NFL aligned its legal interests with Mr. Snyder's, failed to curtail his abusive tactics, and buried the investigation's findings."
An NFL spokesman told ESPN that the league had not seen the report and would not comment.
Reports: Lions lean toward keeping Jared Goff in '23
According to reports, the Lions haven't bought into that theory and, in fact, are leaning the opposite direction -- toward keeping the 28-year-old Goff for at least the final two years of his contract.
Goff is owed a $5 million roster bonus in March but has a base salary of $20.65 million for 2023. Parting with Goff would cost the Lions more than $10 million.
With only one interception in his past 193 pass attempts covering six games, Goff is driving Detroit's second-half run. The Lions are favored against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2) on Sunday.
"Goff is playing at a very high level," coach Dan Campbell said last month. "He's certainly given us a chance to win these games. I can't say enough good things about him. Hhe's built a camaraderie with these receivers, he trusts them, they're all on the same page. That goes a long way."
Goff has the Lions (5-7) thinking playoffs this season in a rapid turnaround marked by a potent offense. Goff has 19 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 2022.
In his seventh NFL season, Goff has a 50-44-1 record as a starter. He has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 24,438 yards with 145 touchdowns and 70 interceptions.
The temptation to draft a quarterback of the future didn't lead general manager Brad Holmes to use the 2022 No. 2 overall pick on a passer. Instead, the Lions drafted defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
Holmes spent 17 years with the Rams' organization and was extremely familiar with Goff when he traded for him.
In the latest return from the Rams as part of the Matthew Stafford-Goff swap, the Lions will receive Los Angeles' first-round pick in the 2023 draft. That selection is likely to bring another top-five pick based on the current standings, and Holmes has two first- and two-second round picks to work with in April.
Report: Falcons rookie QB Desmond Ridder to start in Week 15
Per the report, Ridder will usurp Marcus Mariota and be under center for the Falcons at New Orleans in Week 15. The 23-year-old Ridder has yet to play a snap in the regular season. He was selected by the Falcons in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft out of Cincinnati.
A dual-threat quarterback, Ridder tossed a school-record 87 touchdown passes during his four seasons with the Bearcats. His 44 wins at Cincinnati are the third-most in college football history.
He guided the Bearcats to a 13-1 record in 2021, passing for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Ridder was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021.
The Falcons (5-8) lost four of their last five games to fall behind the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6).
Atlanta coach Arthur Smith told reporters that "every job is open" on Monday, one day after the Falcons dropped a 19-16 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mariota, 29, has completed just 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,219 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions while making all 13 starts this season. His 15 TDs rank 16th in the NFL. He is tied for fifth (most) in the NFL with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins with nine interceptions.
Mariota garnered criticism for missing open receivers in the loss to the Steelers. His interception on the Falcons' final drive sealed the victory for Pittsburgh.
The Falcons have struggled mightily in the passing game this season. Per STATS, the Falcons rank 27th in the NFL in "big pass plays" (25-plus-yard pass plays) and 31st in pass attempts this season.
Seahawks hope to avoid upset against Panthers
So, they certainly can't afford a slip-up against an inconsistent Carolina Panthers team in a matchup this Sunday in Seattle.
"To get a win is hard to get," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
The Seahawks (7-5) snapped a two-game skid by rallying past the Los Angeles Rams last week in a 27-23 win. In some ways, Seattle could be prone for a letdown.
Carolina (4-8), coming off an open week on its schedule, somehow isn't far from playoff position in the slumping NFC South, so the Panthers still have plenty to play for under interim coach Steve Wilks. They're only two games out of first place.
"The message is we still keep it one at a time," Wilks said. "We have to go do something we haven't done all year, which is win on the road. Seattle is playing well and they're pushing for the playoffs. If we want to be in that conversation, we have to create that playoff mentality."
For years, the Seahawks seemed to have Carolina's number behind the play of quarterback Russell Wilson. He's with the Denver Broncos now, and the Panthers pinned a loss on him in their most recent matchup.
Now they'll try to avenge some of the frustrations they've incurred against Seattle. The Seahawks have won eight of 10 matchups since 2010, including playoffs. Overall, Seattle leads the series 10-4, including postseason meetings.
The Seahawks have quarterback Geno Smith rising in popularity.
Running back Kenneth Walker III is hobbled, though, so that could become an issue. He didn't practice Wednesday.
"Geno is doing an excellent job just running the offense," Wilks said. "I know there are some questions about their running back position. Their offense, you see they're very efficient in the things they do."
Carolina running back D'Onta Foreman is likely to play after sustaining an injured left foot two weeks ago.
The Panthers made news this week by releasing Baker Mayfield, who had been the opening-day starter at quarterback. But with Sam Darnold and PJ Walker ahead of him, Mayfield asked to be let go and was granted his request.
"Baker has been nothing but a professional since he has been here," Wilks said. "... Just looking at the body of work the last couple of weeks, I feel that PJ has been productive when he has been in there."
Darnold will be the starter, and he might try to exploit some questionable areas in the Seattle secondary. Seahawks safety Josh Jones has gone on injured reserve with a hamstring injury sustained last week, meaning defensive back Johnathan Abram might be making his debut with the team Sunday.
Safety Ryan Neal has been dinged up as well.
Still, the Seahawks should feel good about the progress of cornerback Tariq Woolen. His six interceptions are the most by a Seattle rookie in franchise history and tied for the NFL lead this season.
Wilks said Carolina needs to show it can win on the road (0-5 this season, nine straight road losses dating back to November 2021), noting that doing so in front of a hostile environment in Seattle is a heightened challenge.
Brock Purdy hopes to steady 49ers against Tom Brady's Bucs
On one hand is Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL MVP and 15-time Pro Bowl selection.
On the other is Purdy, who will make his first career start on Sunday. At the moment, Purdy's claim to fame is that he was the 262nd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Brady threw two late touchdowns to help Tampa Bay rally from a 13-point deficit to post a 17-16 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday. The 45-year-old has thrown two scoring strikes in three straight games for the Buccaneers (6-6), who have won three of their last four contests to rest atop a generously mediocre NFC South.
As for the 49ers (8-4), they find themselves atop the NFC West after winning in five in a row. That fifth victory was costly, however, as the 22-year-old Purdy was ushered in to replace an injured Jimmy Garoppolo (broken foot) in San Francisco's 33-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
By all accounts, Purdy acquitted himself well on Sunday by completing 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Purdy had already become the first Mr. Irrelevant ever to complete a forward pass in the NFL back in Week 7 mop-up duty against Kansas City, and now he's the only one with a touchdown pass.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that the team isn't interested in making wholesale changes to its offensive approach with Purdy under center this weekend.
"We're trying not to make it a drastic change," Shanahan said. "I mean, they (Garoppolo and Purdy) have similar skill sets. We've got a lot of confidence in Brock. We've seen him in practice; the players have, we have, and that's why we were confident in him. But he hasn't played a ton of football, so there is some unknown out there, but we know he's got the ability to do it, we know he's got the mentality to do it."
Also, Purdy isn't out there by himself. And Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles is well aware of that fact.
"He's talented to begin with or he wouldn't be in this league," Bowles said. "But they have a lot of talented players around him and he's going up against a great defense every day in practice. He's not going to be nervous, he's going to play his game -- we just have to play ours.
"It's not about the quarterback, it's about all 11 guys on the offense."
49ers running back Christian McCaffrey rolled up 146 scrimmage yards (80 receiving, 66 rushing) last week against Miami. He is no stranger to the Buccaneers after his time with the NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers.
McCaffrey (knee irritation) joined versatile Deebo Samuel (quad), defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot) and offensive lineman Spencer Burford (ankle) as limited in Wednesday's practice. NFC Defensive Player of the Week Nick Bosa (hamstring), joined Garoppolo, defensive back Tarvarius Moore (knee), defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway (pectoral) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (veteran day) in sitting out the session.
With Bosa in tow, the 49ers lead the NFL in total defense (283.9 yards allowed per game), rush defense (75.6) and fewest points allowed (15.8).
"We know what they are -- the No. 1 defense in the league and they're going to challenge us, come up on us, and we're just ready to accept the challenge," Buccaneers rookie running back Rachaad White said. "... We know what they bring, and they've got a lot of good, great guys up front. They have four pass rushers plus more, they come off the bench, substitute, I mean, the backers are in the box and then back in.
"You know what they can do, they compete, high-effort team, and they're going to keep coming, so we've got to keep pressure."
Tampa Bay's defense is no slouch either. The Buccaneers rank eighth in the NFL in total defense (313.8), fifth in scoring defense (18.3) and fourth in sacks (38).
Tampa Bay safeties Mike Edwards (hamstring) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle/knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadriceps) and nose tackle Vita Vea (foot/shoulder) were limited in the session.
Cowboys hope to maintain momentum against reeling Texans
Eight-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyron Smith returned to practice Wednesday, opening his 21-day window to return after suffering a torn hamstring with an avulsion fracture before the start of the regular season.
"Anytime Tyron's on the field, it's a good day for the Dallas Cowboys," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. "It'll be great to have him back out there."
Smith could make his season debut Sunday when the Cowboys take on the Houston Texans in Arlington, Texas.
"He's out there striking guys," Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott said Wednesday of Smith's return. "Felt bad for those D-ends he was going against. ... Definitely good to have Tyron back out there."
When Smith returns, rookie Tyler Smith, who has been playing left tackle, will move to left guard, shoring up that spot in the Cowboys' offensive line.
The Cowboys (9-3) are looking to continue the momentum they've built since the return of quarterback Dak Prescott from a fractured right thumb that kept him out for five games.
Since Prescott's return, Dallas is 5-1 and averaging 37.2 points per game -- best in the league during that span. The Cowboys have averaged 411 yards per game during that stretch, behind only the Chiefs.
With Dallas' high-profile pursuit of Beckham dominating headlines recently, receiver James Washington's return has been overshadowed.
Washington was signed in the offseason after spending four years with the Steelers but suffered a foot fracture in training camp.
"I think clearly he's physically ready," McCarthy said Wednesday.
While the Cowboys' quarterback spot has been solidified with Prescott's return, the Texans' remains a bit in limbo.
Houston (1-10-1) is turning back to Davis Mills, after Kyle Allen replaced him for two starts without much success.
In losses to Miami and Cleveland, Allen completed 59 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions and a lost fumble.
"We don't give out lifetime jobs, we'll start with that. It's about performance each week," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "When Davis was the starter, sometimes you need a relief pitcher to come in, and that's what it was."
The Texans offense has been sluggish regardless of who the quarterback is, as Houston has scored more than 20 points in a game just once this season. Only Denver has scored fewer points.
Mills was 1-8-1 with a 78.1 passer rating in 10 starts before Allen replaced him.
"I think the second time around, you kind of appreciate the position you're in a little bit better," Smith said. "I know that's the case."
Mills could be without two of his top targets Sunday. Receivers Brandin Cooks (calf) and Nico Collins (foot) have both missed time in practice in the lead-up to the matchup with the Cowboys.
Cooks missed last week's loss to Cleveland while Collins had three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown in the 27-14 loss.
GM's firing underscores Titans' urgency vs. Jaguars
Owner Amy Adams Strunk canned general manager Jon Robinson, two days after watching wide receiver A.J. Brown, who Robinson traded in the offseason to Philadelphia, catch eight passes for 119 yards and two scores in the Eagles' 35-10 rout of Tennessee.
The Titans try to pick up the pieces from that outcome and organizational upheaval Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are hoping to mount a late challenge to Tennessee in the division.
Fifth-year coach Mike Vrabel, whom Robinson hired in January 2018 after Strunk fired then-coach Mike Mularkey, will team with vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden to handle player moves for the season's remainder.
"The message is the same as it's always been -- we're charged to win," Vrabel said Wednesday. "We're here to win championships. We all have a job to do and we're held to a high standard and we're evaluated each and every day on that job.
"And it's the same thing I told the football team and the players this morning."
The Titans (7-5) have lost their last two games after going 7-1 in their previous eight games to take command in one of the league's weakest divisions. They are the only team with a winning record in the AFC South.
As things presently stand, they would be the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs and in the first round would face Cincinnati, which knocked them out of the postseason back in January and defeated them in Week 12. With just one winning team left on Tennessee's schedule, there's an opportunity to improve its playoff positioning.
For that to happen, the Titans need to get Derrick Henry going. A two-time league rushing champ, Henry has been held under 100 yards in each of the last four weeks, including just 30 on 11 carries at Philadelphia.
"I pride myself on being a playmaker for this team and I feel like I haven't really done that these last two weeks," he said.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville (4-8) has one shot to maneuver into some sort of contention. It either wins this week or it will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year since advancing to the AFC finals in 2017, when it held a fourth-quarter lead before losing in New England.
The Jaguars are coming off one of their worst games of the year, allowing points on Detroit's first eight possessions last week in a 40-14 loss at Ford Field. The Lions carved up Jacksonville for 437 total yards and never punted, going 8-for-12 on third down.
"It was an ugly day for us, for sure," said Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who went 17-for-31 for 179 yards and a touchdown in defeat.
And Lawrence didn't go unscathed, leaving the game after his left leg was twisted during a sack. Lawrence didn't practice Wednesday with a sprained toe and there's a chance backup C.J. Beathard may have to play in his place this week.
"He's been in these situations before in his career so it's not unfamiliar territory to him," said Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson of Beathard.
Patrick Mahomes tries to continue Chiefs' dominance of Broncos
He lost his last head-to-head matchup, back in 2015, which flipped the narrative in the rivalry. Kansas City has won 13 straight games in the series, starting with that 29-13 win, and it will go for No. 14 when the Chiefs play in Denver on Sunday.
Kansas City (9-3) is coming off a loss in Cincinnati, which was a rematch of the AFC title game last year, but will find safe haven against the Broncos.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 14-0 in AFC West road games, and Mahomes has the advantage to win his 15th considering Denver's offensive struggles.
"I mean, that's the past. For us, it's the now. It's a West opponent. It's a great rivalry that's been going on for years," Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "I am very excited to be a part of it."
Denver (3-9) is last in the NFL at 13.8 points per game while the Chiefs average 29.2 per game, which leads the league.
The Broncos' defense has come up big this year but with little reward. The unit is second in the league in points allowed per game (17.0) and third in fewest yards allowed at 304.6 but the offense's inability to score has led to eight losses by single digits.
To make things tougher Denver will likely be without leading receiver Courtland Sutton on Sunday due to a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle) and guard Dalton Risner (shoulder/back) are among those who did not practice on Wednesday.
Kansas City is relatively healthy in comparison. While wideout Mecole Hardman (abdominal injury) isn't eligible to come off injured reserve for another week, receiver Kadarius Toney (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday as did linebacker Nock Bolton (groin).
Toney, acquired from the New York Giants earlier this season, hasn't played since Week 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mahomes has plenty of weapons to utilize without those two, especially tight end Travis Kelce, who leads the team in receiving yards (968) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (12).
More concerning is the foot injury Mahomes suffered against the Bengals last week. He came up limping on the last play of the game and is listed on the injury report but he doesn't seem concerned about it.
"It's felt good," said Mahomes of his foot. "You always deal with bruises and little things in the NFL season -- and so, luckily for me, it's just a bruise and something I can just kind of bounce back from. (I'll) be out there at practice and keep getting better like we're trying to do."
If the foot is an issue against the Broncos it might be a factor against their stout defense. Mahomes called Denver's defense "special" and knows what he has to do in order to neutralize the rush.
"I've got to do my best to get the ball out of my hand and let these guys make plays," he said.
Bengals, Joe Burrow scheming for first win vs. rival Browns
Burrow is 0-4 against Cleveland and the quarterback who defeated Patrick Mahomes again last weekend will try to change that ugly factoid when the Bengals host the Browns on Sunday.
Overall, the Bengals (8-4) have lost five straight and eight of the past nine to the Browns (5-7).
On Halloween, it was a one-sided win for host Cleveland. Jacoby Brissett was 17-of-22 passing for 278 yards and one touchdown and Nick Chubb rushed for 101 yards and two scores as the Browns rolled to a 32-13 victory and outgained Cincinnati 440-229.
Burrow completed 25 of 35 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. But he was sacked five times and also threw an interception. He has been sacked just five times in Cincinnati's four games since losing to the Browns.
The quarterback who guided the Bengals to last season's Super Bowl before losing to the Los Angeles Rams will see a new face this Sunday. It marks the first time he has matched up against Deshaun Watson.
Watson will be making his second start for the Browns after serving an 11-game suspension from the NFL due to alleged sexual misconduct involving more than two dozen massage therapists.
He was just 12 of 22 for 131 yards with a career-low 53.4 passer rating in last Sunday's 27-14 win over the Houston Texans. Cleveland didn't score an offensive touchdown during an outing in which Watson was clearly rusty.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said there is no way of knowing how long it will take for Watson to find his form.
"I don't know if I can put a timeframe on it," Stefanski said Wednesday. "He's working very hard. He's locked in on the game plan, working hard out at practice. There were things that come up in your first game back that you just have to correct."
Cleveland tight end David Njoku, who is hopeful of returning from a one-game absence due to knee injury, is eager to see Watson firsthand.
"He's progressing every day," said Njoku, who was limited in practice on Wednesday. "That's all we really ask for him is to progress every day. We're all excited for his progression."
The game against the Texans -- his former club -- was the first in 700 days for Watson. The three-time Pro Bowler passed for an NFL-high 4,823 yards with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2020, his final season with Houston.
Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader played three seasons (2017-19) with Watson and hopes there isn't a quick turnaround.
"Hopefully a couple more weeks," Reader said of Watson hitting his stride. "I'm always cheering for him. That's my brother. I went through a lot of battles with that guy, I know where he comes from, I know the cloth he's cut from, I just want to see him do well, but we are going to get after him on Sunday."
The Bengals have won four straight games and eight of their past 10 games after an 0-2 start. The Browns have won their past two games and are trying to make a late push for a playoff spot.
Cleveland placed linebacker Sione Takitaki (ACL) and receiver Anthony Schwartz (concussion) on injured reserve on Wednesday.
Three active Browns missed Wednesday's practice due to injuries -- cornerbacks Denzel Ward (ankle, illness) and A.J. Green (knee) and offensive tackle James Hudson (illness).
Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) has been deemed doubtful to play by coach Zac Taylor. Hurst was injured during the 27-24 win over Kansas City. Running back Joe Mixon (concussion) was a full participant after missing the past two games.
Vikings looking to lock up NFC North in Detroit
The Vikings (10-2) have already clinched a tie for the division title with the Lions (5-7), who sit in second place and are winners of four of their last five games.
"It would be everything to us," quarterback Kirk Cousins said of clinching Minnesota's first division championship since 2017. "It's a great opportunity, and you have to go earn it. You don't want to back into anything."
The Vikings have been the masters of the single-digit victory, with their last nine wins by eight points or less.
"They find ways to win, that's what they do," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "And those are the hard teams because they've done it against multiple opponents, different ways. Special teams, offense, defense, they're finding ways to win."
In their latest cliffhanger, the Vikings pulled out a 27-22 victory over the New York Jets. Minnesota staged a goal-line stand in the late going but still couldn't exhale until Camryn Bynum's interception at the 1-yard line with 10 seconds remaining.
Surprisingly, this will be the first time Minnesota has gone on the road this season to face a division opponent.
"Conference games, division games -- these players know each other well," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said. "They have competed against each other and regardless of the outcome of any previous game, I really don't think any of that matters."
In their first meeting against the Lions in Minneapolis on Sept. 25, K.J. Osborn caught a go-ahead, 28-yard touchdown pass from Cousins with 45 seconds remaining. The Vikings trailed 24-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson scored a receiving touchdown for the Lions that day, but he's now wearing a Vikings uniform after being moved at the trade deadline. Hockenson has made 30 receptions in five games since joining Minnesota.
"We've got to keep using his skill set and putting it to work," Cousins said.
The Lions' secondary has an even bigger challenge trying to contain Justin Jefferson, who has caught 88 passes for 1,277 yards and six touchdowns.
"We've got to have answers for him," Campbell said. "You've got to know where he is at all times because he'll hurt you."
The Lions have a long-standing reputation of hurting themselves with turnovers, penalties and late-game lapses. They were 1-6 after losing four games by four points or less. They've played much cleaner of late, highlighted by their 40-14 thumping of Jacksonville last weekend.
Detroit didn't have a turnover, committed just one penalty and scored touchdowns on all four trips to the red zone.
"We've done things a certain way now for a while and have gained confidence from it," Campbell said. "It's all about stay the course. No shortcuts, no detours, just stay the course with what we've been doing."
Jared Goff passed for 340 yards and two scores against the Jaguars. He's thrown eight touchdown passes, compared to one interception, over the past six games.
Top receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has been just as dangerous as Jefferson over the last four games, hauling in 37 receptions for 431 yards and three TDs.
Minnesota won't have cornerback Akayleb Evans, who has suffered two concussions in the past four weeks.
Offensive linemen Frank Ragnow (foot) and Taylor Decker (elbow) were among the Lions who didn't practice Wednesday.
Steelers stalking fifth straight win in Ravens rivalry
Baltimore has dropped four straight games against the Steelers but will look to reverse its fortunes against its AFC North rival when the teams clash on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The Ravens (8-4) are well on their way to clinching a playoff berth for the fourth time in the last five seasons, but they still have an opportunity to drastically improve their chances of making a deep run.
With five games left, Baltimore sits just one game behind both Buffalo and Kansas City in the AFC. If the playoffs started now, the Ravens would face Miami in the wild-card round, but they haven't lost sight of potentially rising to the top of the conference to secure a first-round bye.
However, accomplishing that just got a whole lot harder.
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson exited last Sunday's 10-9 victory over the Denver Broncos with a knee injury at the end of the first quarter, and chances are he won't be suiting up against the Steelers (5-7).
Jackson did not practice on Wednesday.
"I would say it's kind of week-to-week," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson's injury status. "As the week goes on, we'll see for this week. Probably less likely for this week, but it's not impossible. After that, it'll become more and more likely."
Tyler Huntley, who completed 27 of 32 passes for 187 yards and an interception against Denver, would draw the start under center if Jackson can't go.
"Both quarterbacks play a similar game," Harbaugh said. "(Huntley) can throw, he can run, he operates really well. ... He'll be excited to play and our guys will be fired up."
Regardless of who will be directing the offense, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin knows his team has to try and keep them in the pocket.
"Quarterback mobility is going to be an issue in this game, no matter who is playing. We had better be sharp in that area," Tomlin said. "We had better minimize that component of play."
Although the Steelers' playoff hopes are dwindling, they are determined to finish the season on a high note.
Pittsburgh had a strong showing last Sunday, beating Atlanta 19-16 for its third win in four games.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett continued to make strides in the right direction, playing turnover-free football for the fourth straight game while completing 16 of 28 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
"That's what you have to do in December. That's what you have to do as the road gets narrower," Tomlin said. "Anybody that's committed to winning here in December better develop an appetite for that.
"Hopefully we use those lessons learned as we move forward and continue to get better and grow, better define our division of labor, better understand our roles within this thing and more consistently engineer a formula that produces victory."
Running back Najee Harris might not be able to help with that formula come Sunday after missing Wednesday's practice with an oblique injury. Linebacker T.J. Watt (ribs) and receiver Diontae Johnson (hip) were limited.
In addition to Jackson, offensive lineman Patrick Mekari (toe) and cornerback Daryl Worley (hamstring) were held out of Baltimore's practice. Linebackers Patrick Queen (thigh) and Kristian Welch (concussion) were limited.