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A successful season for Jacksonville Jaguars means no doubts about Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) have lost 20 games in a row, the second-longest losing streak in NFL history.

The head coach was caught behaving inappropriately with a woman that wasn’t his wife in a bar in a pair of viral videos.

The revamped defense is on pace to be marginally better than it was last season, when it allowed the most points and yards in franchise history.

The one bright spot, though, is rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has progressed steadily in the season’s first five weeks and given the franchise hope that better days are ahead.

In truth, that’s really the key to how to the Jaguars’ 2021 season should be measured. Not in wins or losses – and it doesn’t look like there are going to be many victories – but rather on the progress Lawrence makes.

If Lawrence walks off the field after the regular-season finale against Indianapolis and there is no doubt he’s going to be a true franchise quarterback, then it’s a success.

If there are misgivings … then not so much.

So far, though, it’s trending toward the former.

“I see so much growth from him,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “I see so much in leadership. I see so much in his decision-making, his accuracy, his trust. The best quarterbacks should coordinate a defense, so the best quarterbacks should be able to go coordinate the defense, and I see that happening. I see his knowledge of defense with [QBs coach/passing game coordinator Brian] Schottenheimer doing a really good job with his progress.

“He’s very comfortable, and I’m going to add this: He’s an absolute warrior. I mean he is a competitive maniac.”

There just weren’t going to be a lot of victories this season for Jacksonville. This wasn’t going to be one of those worst-to-first seasons that have happened at least once in 18 of the past 20 seasons. The Jaguars were 1-15 last season, added 10 new starters, and are one of the youngest teams in the league. Four, five or six victories was realistic, especially with a rookie quarterback — no matter how talented he is.

So the 2021 campaign had to be about Lawrence, and the early returns are positive.

Lawrence got off to rocky start in the first three weeks: 54.2% completions, 669 yards, 9 turnovers (2 fumbles), and 5 touchdown passes. The past two weeks, however: 70.2% completions, 477 yards, 1 interception, 1 TD pass, and 2 rushing TDs. Not coincidentally, the Jaguars’ best chances to win have come in the past two weeks.

Lawrence’s improved play is because of two reason: cutting down turnovers and being more patient. The latter was something Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell stressed in the first three weeks. They wanted Lawrence to take more of the underneath throws, especially when the defense was playing two deep safeties, instead of looking for the big play all the time and forcing the ball down the field.

“I think that’s where I’m getting better: Playing smart, don’t force it,” Lawrence said. “If they want to just bail out of there and take your shots away, then we can find stuff underneath.

“… I’m playing a lot smarter ball. I think I’ve been more accurate. Work the pocket better, situational football has been a lot better. The past two games have been my best as far as decisions go and just completion percentage, accuracy, all those things. I think those are my two best games, so that says a lot, that I feel like I’m getting better every week.”

That’s the feeling inside the locker room too. Linebacker Damien Wilson said Lawrence’s improvement from Week 1 is noticeable, but he expected to see that, based on what he saw from Lawrence in training camp.

Wilson, who played the past two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, also paid Lawrence a pretty big compliment: He’s starting to get a Patrick Mahomes vibe from the former Clemson standout.

“He really has been jumping off the tape as of late,” Wilson said. “I kind of knew it would be a matter of experience. The more games he gets under his belt, the better he is going to get.

“I remember our Super Bowl run [after the 2019 season] we were down by three scores against the Titans, and it was the third quarter, and we came back and won that game. Actually, we were down in every playoff game we ever had that year and we came back and won them all, Super Bowl included. You just feel like you are never out of a game [with Mahomes]; and with Trevor, you start to get that sense a little bit.”

Clearly, Lawrence has a long way to go before he has the chance to get to Mahomes’ level, but Lawrence isn’t thinking about that or Super Bowls or Pro Bowls or MVPs. Or even if he is where he wants to be in his progress or what he wants to look like as a quarterback when the season ends.

He just wants to start winning some games.

“Something that I’ve always tried to do, especially since college, since I can remember, is just get better every week,” Lawrence said. “It’s a long season [and] you can’t go back and change anything. I’ve had some bad plays this year, but I can’t go back and change those.

“And just realizing, you learn every week. And as long as I keep getting better, I really feel like at the end of the year, we’re going to be we’re going to be: in a good situation. And we’re going to take advantage of a lot of the situations that are going to come to us from me playing well.”

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Follow live: Chiefs in search of 12th straight win over Broncos




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Buccaneers’ Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski move into 2nd all-time in regular-season TD connections



ATLANTA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski hooked up for their 89th and 90th touchdowns in a 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, moving them into second all-time for most regular-season touchdowns by a pair of players.

Also, wide receiver Chris Godwin set a franchise record with 15 catches, the most by any player in a game this season, as the Bucs improved to 9-3.

Brady and Gronkowski sit behind only Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who have 112 regular-season touchdowns, while Godwin moved ahead of running backs James Wilder (Sept. 15, 1985) and Earnest Graham (Oct. 21, 2007), who each had 13 catches in a game.

“Having Gronk back for the last few weeks is huge in our offense, those two guys controlling the inside of the field,” coach Bruce Arians said of the pair, adding that this was especially problematic when the Falcons (or any team) have played man defense.

Gronkowski’s first touchdown, in the second quarter, came on a catch-and-run on a crossing route working against safety Jaylinn Hawkins for a 27-yard TD. Then Brady called an audible in the third quarter and slipped the ball past safety Erik Harris to Gronkowski on a fade route — a play they spent nine years perfecting when they were with the New England Patriots and won three Super Bowls together — for an 11-yard score.

“That second touchdown definitely brought us back to the heyday — the fade,” Gronkowski said.” I wasn’t supposed to have a fade but he saw and just reminds me of the heyday for us.”

With their 90th regular-season TD connection, Brady and Gronkowski moved into sole possession of second place all-time, passing Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.

Gronkowski now has 20 career games with multiple receiving touchdowns, one away from Gates for the most by a tight end.

“I think when you play that long together — I mean, like Gronk said the other day, Tom knows what he’s thinking before he does,” Arians said. “And it’s obvious out there a couple of times Tom’s thrown a couple balls and even Gronk wasn’t quite ready because he knew where he was going. It’s great chemistry they have.”

“He kind of makes it easy on any quarterback,” said Brady, who improved to 10-0 all-time against the Falcons. “He’s just so big, so quick, great hands. Just does an amazing job. A great catch-and-run that he had and then I threw the fade for a touchdown, which was really cool — he makes those pretty easy, too. I obviously love being out there with him.

“It was good to see him make those plays. He was out for quite a while this year, you know? Just seeing him back, playing great, really enjoying it — it’s really fun for me. That’s the best part.”

Will the two continue playing long enough to break Manning and Harrison’s record?

“I hope we do. I look for him down there — he is a really big target most of the game,” Brady said. “I think what makes him so amazing is to do what he does in the run game and block defensive ends. Some of the biggest and strongest guys in the world. To run routes and catch balls and be so athletic. Along with the endurance he has, it is just really amazing.”

As far as Godwin goes, he was on the receiving end of five of Brady’s 13 pass attempts on the opening drive — the most attempts on a single drive in his career and the most by a quarterback since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, as the Bucs wanted to go up-tempo from the jump.

“That was a lot of passes, man,” Godwin joked. “I think we should do that some more.”

Part of this was because the Falcons loaded the box to try and stop running back Leonard Fournette, who was coming off a four-touchdown performance last week against the Indianapolis Colts. They also felt very good about Brady’s protection, forcing the Falcons into some blitzes that created some one-on-ones. Brady praised Godwin’s work ethic and called him “an unbelievable player.”

“That’s dope, to be able to set a record, especially when you have a guy like Mike [Evans] who’s been dominant here for so long,” said Godwin, who had 143 receiving yards on the day. “I think the biggest thing is getting a [win].

“I really had no idea until we were like walking off the field. I thought I was probably at like 10 or so. I think some of those little like quick-hitters you kind of forget about — getting bounced around and you’re like a little pinball.”

“He has the ability to play outside also, but he is lethal inside,” Arians said of Godwin, who made the move into the slot from the outside when Arians came to Tampa in 2019. “Obviously, the way he blocks is huge and gives you so much in between the numbers.”

Gronkowski has been most impressed by what Godwin does when the ball doesn’t go in his direction. His downfield blocking helped seal off Fournette’s game-winning, 28-yard touchdown last week.

“Chris is a beast. An unbelievable player,” Gronkowski said. “What’s so special about him is yeah, he makes some catches, but he always in the dirt in the run game too, to help out the running backs, to spring whoever has the ball for some extra yards. I’m not surprised. That’s CG for you. I think he deserves a veteran’s day off this week. Those 15 touches — just how many times you get hit when you catch it 15 times.”

When asked if Godwin could be even considered a ‘veteran’ given that he’s still in just his fifth year and has not signed a second contract (he’s currently playing under the franchise tag) Gronkowski said, “He’s kind of like a vet rookie, I guess. Like a veteran but on his first contract, I guess. We’ll consider him a vet because he’s that good of a player.”

Godwin laughed.

“I think if Gronk says it, I think he might have a little bit of pull for me. So I’m gonna have to talk to him a little more about that.”

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NFL Week 13 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks



Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season began with the Cowboys getting back on track Thursday night against the Saints.

And it kept rolling on Sunday with big wins for NFC powerhouses Tampa Bay and Arizona. The Bucs’ offense excelled behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes and the Cardinals enjoyed getting quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins back. Arizona got to double-digit wins and maintained the top spot in the conference.

But the biggest news of the early window was the Lions’ first win of the season, which came on a TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of the game.

Elsewhere, the Colts’ defense was impressive, shutting out the Texans and making a move in the AFC South. The Chargers piled on points against the Bengals and forced Joe Burrow into a pair of interceptions. The Eagles looked good in a 15-point win over the Jets without Jalen Hurts, and the Dolphins took care of business against the Giants to get their fifth straight win.

In the late window, the Rams crushed the Jaguars who appear to be inching closer to the No. 1 pick in the draft. Washington narrowly defeated the Raiders.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about each team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:


What to know: After four straight wins, Washington is a team worth watching over the final five weeks thanks to another fourth-quarter comeback drive by quarterback Taylor Heinicke. He’s adept at overcoming his own mistakes (he threw a fourth-quarter pick Sunday) to lead game-winning drives. During this streak, Washington has defeated Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay and won twice on the road. It has won with a defense playing far above its early-season performances. It did that again Sunday, holding the Raiders under their season averages in points, total yards and yards per play. This despite missing defensive back Landon Collins and defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat because of injuries. They’re down to their fourth center and were missing running back J.D. McKissic. Washington plays physical and with confidence. — John Keim

Can they catch Dallas? It will be tough, but Washington plays the Cowboys twice in the next three weeks, starting next Sunday at home. The WFT is two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, so it’s not out of the question it can make the division race a lot more interesting than anyone thought a month ago. Heck, even two weeks ago. It helps that its final five games are against divisional opponents. A 3-2 record is doable, but can Washington continue to win with a major emphasis on ball control? It’s keyed the four-game streak, but Washington will need more consistency — and chunk plays — from the pass game. — Keim

Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.6, up from 6.3. They keep overcoming injuries and even their own mistakes to find ways to win. They are a tough-minded, physical team.

Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio won the chess match within the game against his former quarterback in Derek Carr. Barely. It took a 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds to play so it wasn’t really checkmate. But it didn’t have to be. Del Rio, who was with the Raiders from 2015-17 and has the highest winning percentage of any Raiders coach since Hall of Famer Tom Flores resigned after the 1987 season, kept Carr uncomfortable and cautious through the first three quarters. Long enough to keep big plays to a minimum and keep Washington in control and in position for the win. — Paul Gutierrez

What happened to that aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach Carr and the Raiders offense showed in Dallas on Thanksgiving? Indeed. Carr is, by nature, a patient quarterback, one that infuriates fans who recall his more swashbuckling days under Del Rio in 2016. But when he’s not taking deep shots — and firing high to open receivers — in a game for the taking it stings. Simply put, he had to get comfortable against a defensive coordinator who knows him well and it took too long. Carr averaged 10.1 yards per attempt in the second half after averaging 4.5 yards per attempts in the first half. And the Raiders, with the lackluster 17-15 loss, are 6-6 and sliding in the AFC West. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 7.5. The up again, down again vibe of the Raiders is infuriating and, as they say, you are what your record says you are.

Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Rams stopped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Jaguars, but it wasn’t exactly the type of victory that immediately returns the star-laden roster to the Super Bowl conversation. Consistency in all three phases remains a pressing matter, even as quarterback Matthew Stafford reestablished a connection with Cooper Kupp and continued to build a rapport with Odell Beckham Jr. The defense produced two turnovers and special teams remained less than special. With the win, the Rams proved, once again, they could beat up on a floundering team, but questions remain about whether they can take down the top talent. — Lindsey Thiry

Are the Rams ready for the Cardinals? Outside of an impressive Week 3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams have struggled to perform against the NFC’s top teams this season. After dominating the Cardinals the past four years, winning seven straight, the Rams fell 37-20 to quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a Week 4 rout. The Rams will get another chance against the division leaders on Monday Night Football in Week 14, with an opportunity to prove they still deserve to be among teams capable of a Super Bowl run. — Thiry

Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, up from 7. The Rams earn an ever-so-slight uptick as they decisively avoided letting a three-game skid turn into four. The offense showed signs of growth without Robert Woods and with the new pieces of Beckham and even Ben Skowronek, while the defense took advantage of turnover opportunities and played with an aggression that had been recently missing.

Next game: at Cardinals (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: There are still five games remaining, but the Jaguars appear headed for the top overall again. Detroit won (1-10-1) and has shown signs of improvement. Houston is also 2-11, but the Texans have already beaten the Jaguars once (they play again in Jacksonville on Dec. 19). The Jaguars’ offense continues to flounder — there are no fixes available until the offseason — and injuries are beginning to mount. This roster doesn’t have enough playmakers. There have been five instances when a team had the first overall pick in back-to-back drafts. The latest was Cleveland in 2017-18, picks that netted the Browns Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield. — Mike DiRocco

When will the Jaguars win a game against an NFC opponent? That’s going to have to wait until 2022. The Jaguars have lost 15 in a row to NFC teams, dating back to a season-opening victory over the New York Giants in 2018. The Jaguars play the NFC East next season (Dallas and New York at home and at Washington and Philadelphia). — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, down from 1.5. The Jaguars are so limited offensively that asking for more than 10 points (when the game isn’t in garbage time) feels outrageous, and the defense pretty much has to play a perfect game every week just to have a chance to win.

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Lions first-year coach Dan Campbell was finally able to celebrate after Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown with a last-second 11-yard TD pass to snap Detroit’s 15-game winless streak. Detroit hadn’t won in the regular season or preseason in nearly a full calendar year, dating back to Dec. 6, 2020, against the Bears. The Lions held their largest lead of the season at the half, 20-6. The Vikings took a four-point lead with 1:50 left but the Lions fought back with the 75-yard TD drive despite missing running back D’Andre Swift, who was out with a shoulder injury. After the game, Campbell dedicated a game ball to the Oxford, Michigan, community, where a shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday claimed the lives of four students. The Lions honored the victims with a moment of silence ahead of kickoff, while also wearing T-shirts and helmet decals as a tribute. — Eric Woodyard

Can the Lions build off this dramatic win? Yes. It’s easier to build off an actual win than a moral victory, and the Lions had plenty of the latter this season. Detroit played hard and kept teams close, even tying the Steelers, but against a Vikings team fighting to stay playoff-relevant, they took the next step and found a way to win. — Woodyard

Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2. Yes, the Lions got their first win, but it’s also not the time to throw a parade in the Motor City. This team still has a ton of holes, but they played their best game of the season on Sunday. The win was much needed.

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: This loss was inexcusable, yet felt inevitable. Minnesota did everything it could to let the previously winless Lions hang around and walk off with a touchdown on the final play of the game. There is nothing to be proud of here for the Vikings, who regained the lead with 1:50 remaining only to lose it 14 plays later when Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for the winning TD. Minnesota did everything it could to lose this game: poor offensive playcalling and execution, penalties and a strange defensive game plan that let Goff off the hook from the very start. Receiver Justin Jefferson was terrific, as usual, and had Minnesota gotten him involved far earlier than the end of the second quarter, this game might have gone differently. The Vikings brought their D-plus game to Detroit and thought it would be enough to beat a bad team. — Courtney Cronin

Are the Vikings close to making changes to the coaching staff/front office? Have Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf seen enough to want to change the direction of this franchise? Minnesota got embarrassed by a team with a 0-10-1 record and that led 20-6 at halftime. The Wilfs saw passes sail well short of the sticks on second- and third-and-long all day, and two questionable 2-point conversion playcalls that failed. They saw the Lions win a game after finishing 2-for-11 on third down. They saw ill-fated game plans on offense and defense. Now the question is whether Minnesota’s owners will make changes to their coaching staff and/or front office, and if they do, will those come in December or the offseason? — Cronin

Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. Minnesota has a short week with Pittsburgh coming to town Thursday night. Another loss would drop the Vikings to 5-8, put them further behind in the race for the No. 7 seed and be the nail in the coffin on the season.

Next game: vs. Steelers (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Bucs deviated from their run-first approach this season, with quarterback Tom Brady attempting 51 passes. The result was four passing touchdowns (two to tight end Rob Gronkowski), and wide receiver Chris Godwin setting a single-game franchise record with 15 catches — the most in an NFL game this year. Brady’s first two scores came on a pair of 3-yard passes to running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Cam Brate. Without safeties Jordan Whitehead (calf) and Mike Edwards (suspended), the Bucs gave up some big plays early, like a missed tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson on a pitch that was taken 39 yards — the longest run play given up by the Bucs all season. It set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis. But the defense notched five sacks, with Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea getting two apiece. — Jenna Laine

How does Sunday’s win impact the Bucs’ playoff positioning? With Sunday’s win, the Bucs extended their lead to four games in the NFC South and moved into a tie for second place in the NFC seeding with the Green Bay Packers, who were on a bye week (although the Packers would win the tiebreaker because they have a better conference record). Only the top two seeds are guaranteed home-field advantage until the conference finals, with only the top seed getting a first-round bye. The Bucs could benefit from playing at home considering their scoring differential between home (21.6) and road games (minus-2.33) this year. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, up from 8. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis‘ and Sean Murphy-Bunting‘s return to health, along with the Bucs’ five-sack performance, evokes more confidence in the defense, even though it gave up a couple of big plays by Patterson, Kyle Pitts and Mike Davis.

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)



Tom Brady throws two of his four touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski as the Buccaneers take down the Falcons.


What to know: One of the biggest inconsistencies this season for the Falcons has been the lack of a run game. Any progress one week would be stifled the next. But now, with the season hitting the homestretch, Atlanta seems to have discovered more consistency on the ground. A lot of that has to do with Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 78 yards on 13 carries, becoming the team’s main back. Mike Davis, who at one point was expected to be the No. 1 back, has found a secondary role and had three rushes for 29 yards and the Falcons’ lone offensive touchdown. When Atlanta ran well against Jacksonville, that was one thing. That the Falcons could do it against Tampa Bay, which entered the day as the league’s best run defense, signals some progress on the ground. This was the first time Atlanta rushed for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games since Weeks 2 and 3 last year — something to build on as the Falcons try to fight for a playoff spot. — Michael Rothstein

What can the Falcons do to limit the pressure on Matt Ryan? At face value, the overall season numbers don’t look bad (26 sacks) — but Matt Ryan has been sacked 10 times in the past three weeks, including a season-worst five Sunday. The majority of those came from the interior of the offensive line, where Atlanta struggled to handle Vita Vea (two sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (two sacks). Atlanta knows it has some issues on the offensive line despite having three first-round picks and two third-round picks as starters — hence the rotation at center between Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman. After working well against the Jaguars, Dalman had two botched snaps Sunday, including one essentially at the goal line in the first half that helped stall a drive and led to a field goal. But this is a team that has given up at least one sack in every game but one this season (Week 5 against the Jets) and has struggled to protect Ryan, who took 41 sacks in 2020, 48 in 2019 and 42 in 2018. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.6, no change from 3.6. No change because what was expected to happen — a Falcons team that played decent but didn’t have enough to win — is exactly what occurred.

Next game: at Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Sometimes a team with the fewest mistakes wins the game; other times it’s a team with a lot of mistakes who recovers from them best. That’s what happened Sunday. Up 24-6, the Los Angeles Chargers turned it over on three straight drives for the first time since 2019. Running back Austin Ekeler had his first career game with multiple fumbles. Quarterback Justin Herbert was sacked four times and threw a pick. Linebacker Joey Bosa went out with a head injury. Somehow, the Chargers still won the game. — Shelley Smith

How did they do it? Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell played a big role, recovering a rare Joe Mixon fumble and returning it 61 yards for a touchdown to turn a 2-point game into a two-possession game. — Smith

Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 5.5. Somehow they came into this stadium, made every mistake imaginable and won, which may have huge playoff implications.

Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: Cincinnati squandered the opportunity to build some serious momentum in its playoff push in a loss to the Chargers. Earlier in the week, Bengals coach Zac Taylor acknowledged Sunday was a chance to win three straight games, an opportunity that has slipped out of their grasp twice this season. An injury-depleted roster came close to digging out of a 24-point hole, but Cincinnati couldn’t cobble together the three-game win streak it wanted. — Ben Baby

Are the Bengals going to be healthy enough to secure the playoff berth? Before Sunday, Cincinnati was one of the healthiest teams in the league. But starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and linebacker Logan Wilson were both knocked out of the game with injuries. Quarterback Joe Burrow also injured his right pinkie. Burrow aside, those are key positions that will have big implications. But Cincinnati cannot afford Burrow going down or being hampered the rest of the way. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.7. Cincinnati’s injury problems are more concerning than the loss that dampens the Bengals’ playoff hopes.

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: Kyler Murray is back. The Cardinals quarterback returned Sunday against the Bears after missing three games with a high left ankle sprain and looked like the Murray of old. There were a few odds and ends that the Cardinals need to clean up in their comfortable win in Chicago, but Sunday was the best they’ve looked after a bye in Kliff Kingsbury’s three seasons in Arizona. — Josh Weinfuss

What will stand between the Cardinals and the No. 1 overall seed? Not much. Coming out of the bye with a big win over the Bears shows this team — and coaching staff — has taken significant strides from the past two seasons. That will bode well, and likely prevent a meltdown down the stretch, as Murray looked like the Murray of old in his return. Arizona’s remaining schedule is favorable, with games against the Rams next week and the Cowboys in the penultimate game of the season the most daunting. Besides that, Arizona is playing like a team in line for the NFC’s top seed, which comes with home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. — Weinfuss

Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.8, up from 8.5. An improvement was warranted because of the win, but there were some small issues — perhaps rust — coming off the bye that Arizona needs to clean up before getting into the thick of the homestretch.

Next game: vs. Rams (Monday, Dec. 13, 8:15 p.m. ET)



James Conner snares a ball with his left hand and gets into the end zone to finish off a 23-yard touchdown.


What to know: A rough day by Bears quarterback Andy Dalton kept getting worse — thanks in part to him, his receivers and the Cardinals’ defense. Dalton threw four interceptions in Sunday’s loss, tying his career high. One was for sure Dalton’s fault, two went off the hands of his receivers and another was on an incredible play at the line of scrimmage by Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen. Dalton’s picks led to 23 Arizona points in total, including 14 in the first quarter, which gave the Bears — losers of six of their past seven games — too large of a deficit to overcome. — Josh Weinfuss

How many games could the Bears win to finish the season? Chicago could win three more games down the stretch, with two games against the Vikings, plus one each against the Packers, Giants and Seahawks, still remaining on the schedule. If the Bears could finish that stretch 3-2, they would end the season at 7-10. Would that be good enough for embattled head coach Matt Nagy to keep his job? — Weinfuss

NFL Nation’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, no change from last week. The Bears didn’t play terrible. But they did run into a Cardinals team that might be the best in the NFL, and challenged it for most of the game. — Weinfuss

Next game: at Packers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: Quarterback Gardner Minshew’s performance is going to create quite a stir in Philadelphia. He matched Donovan McNabb for highest first-half completion rate (93.3%) by an Eagles QB since 1991 and led the offense to scores on its first seven possessions. Minshew maneuvered well within the pocket and was in command. With a bye coming up, there will be two weeks worth of debate over whether he has earned another start. The expectation is Jalen Hurts will reclaim his job once his sprained left ankle has healed up. But that won’t keep the sports-talk phone lines from burning up. — Tim McManus

With playmakers like Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders coming alive, are the Eagles back in the playoff hunt? Goedert set a career high with 105 receiving yards and had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, while Sanders finished with 144 total yards. That’s certainly encouraging, though it’s fair to wonder how much Goedert’s career day was tied to the play of Minshew. And Sanders appeared to reinjure an ankle down the stretch. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Eagles’ playoff chances rose from 25% to 30% with the win. With one of the easiest closing schedules in the NFL, they’ll be in the mix the rest of the way. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.7, up from 4.1. It was the Jets, so let’s not get carried away. But the Eagles should win more than they lose the rest of the way regardless of the quarterback.

Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson conquered his first-half demons, leading touchdown drives on the Jets’ first three possessions. The Jets lost the game, and Wilson did have a fourth-quarter interception on an overthrow, but perspective is important. Wilson, the key to the franchise’s future, took a couple of baby steps. For a change, he wasn’t skittish in the first quarter. There also were no lingering effects from his recent knee injury, which bothered him last week. Operating a conservative passing attack, Wilson (22-for-37, 226 yards) threw for two short touchdowns and ran for another. Why was this so important? Before Sunday, Wilson had the NFL’s lowest first-quarter QBR (0.7) since 2000. He played well enough to beat the Eagles, but his defense was trash, as usual. — Rich Cimini

Was the Jets’ defense surprised by Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew? It sure looked like it. The Jets looked utterly unprepared for Minshew, an 11th-hour injury replacement, and the Eagles’ passing attack. The Jets prepared for the dangerously mobile Jalen Hurts, who was scratched due to a lingering ankle injury. To say they failed to adjust would be an understatement, as the Eagles scored on their first seven possessions. Minshew (20-for-25, 242 yards, two TDs) was nearly flawless. Everybody knows the Jets, ranked 32nd in total defense, are talent deficient, but there was no excuse for this. This was a failure by the coaching staff, which expected one thing and got another. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 4. With nine losses, the Jets clinched their sixth consecutive losing season, a drought that has covered three different head coaches. When does it stop?

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: It wasn’t pretty and the Colts sputtered at times, but they did what they were supposed to do to beat the lowly Texans. The Colts moved back to above .500 and they’ve finally reached their bye week with a relatively healthy team for the final month of the season. They’ll have two weeks to prepare for the most pivotal stretch of their season with back-to-back games against New England and Arizona, teams that are likely headed to the playoffs, awaiting them on the other side of the bye. The Colts will likely need to win three of their final four games to make the playoffs. The problem: Three of those four opponents went into Sunday with a winning record. The Colts have beaten only one team (Buffalo) with a winning record this season. — Mike Wells

Can Jonathan Taylor reach 2,000 yards rushing? Not likely. Taylor has 1,348 rushing yards with four games remaining in the regular season. That means he’ll need to average 163 yards over the final four games to become just the seventh running back to reach that milestone. Taylor has topped 163 yards rushing in a game twice in 13 games this season. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, no change from last week. Nothing changed for the Colts from last week against Tampa because the Texans aren’t a good team and Indianapolis was supposed to beat them.

Next game: vs. Patriots (Saturday, Dec. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET)



Carson Wentz hands the ball off to Jonathan Taylor, who finds a hole and takes it in for his second short-yardage touchdown vs. the Texans.


What to know: Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills have struggled, but the Texans also haven’t put them in a position to succeed. After playing well in Houston’s first two games before he injured his left hamstring, Taylor has been ineffective since he returned from injured reserve. And while he has been unable to protect the football, he also has had to play with poor protection and without impact playmakers beyond wide receiver Brandin Cooks. It has been clear all season that the Texans lack the talent to compete with the best in the NFL, but Sunday showed once again that they are not just a quarterback away from winning in the NFL. — Sarah Barshop

Is it time to stay with Mills? Last week, coach David Culley said Mills would play only “if something happens to Tyrod [Taylor].” Taylor was evaluated in the medical tent during the third quarter but was cleared to play, and the team said it was Culley’s decision to play Mills instead. Culley has said all season that when healthy, Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win. While Mills has also struggled, there is a better chance that he is in Houston’s plans for the future. If that is the case, it would make sense to get another look at Mills before the Texans make a decision about the quarterback position for next season. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.6, down from 0.8. The confidence rating has gone upward only once since the Texans opened the season with a win — and a blowout loss to the Colts this week drives the number down even further.

Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Until the Dolphins develop a more consistent run game, expect this kind of stat line from Tua Tagovailoa — a lot of attempts and a lot of short, quick passes. The second-year quarterback completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns — that’s 8.1 yards per completion. He completed 5 of 12 passes beyond 10 yards but connected on 21 of 24 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Tagovailoa’s numbers would have looked a little prettier were it not for a handful of drops by Dolphins receivers. And you can’t argue with the results. He put up big numbers in Week 5 and Week 6 — both losses — so as long as this system continues to work, don’t expect it to change. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Can the Dolphins win out? When Miami stopped its losing streak in Week 9, the goal was to get to .500 by the time it traveled to New Orleans in Week 16. But with the Saints and Tennessee Titans looking increasingly vulnerable, and the Patriots gunning for a No. 1 seed (and possibly resting starters in Week 18), it is suddenly conceivable that the Dolphins’ winning streak lasts through the end of the regular season. They are getting healthier and peaking at the right time. If they didn’t lose seven of their first eight games, we would be calling them the hottest team in the NFL. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8. Miami will have some explaining to do if it somehow loses to the Jets in Week 15; this defense is too good and its offense has been far more efficient as of late.

Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: It doesn’t matter who is the quarterback or offensive coordinator. The Giants’ offense is hard to watch. It’s borderline incompetent. From the offensive line’s struggles to the missed throws by quarterback Mike Glennon, who was playing for an injured Daniel Jones, to key drops and communication issues. All ugly. A unit that came in averaging 18.4 points per game could have played for days before hitting that number in Miami. The Giants (4-8) finished with nine points and 250 total yards. — Jordan Raanan

What now with the playoffs not even a realistic dream scenario? It’s time to start thinking about the future. It’s not really if, but when, they get a new general manager in the building. And what about the quarterback and coach? The Giants want to see more from Jones. But it’s not clear when he will return from his neck injury, and even if he does, what can he do behind this offense line and with the skill positions depleted? Even running back Saquon Barkley has something to prove. He looks like a shell of his former self. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, down from 4. The Giants are a poor man’s version of the Dolphins. That isn’t necessarily good.

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: This was a 27-17 win over the Saints the Cowboys needed to get back on track. Style points did not matter. The Cowboys did not have their head coach. They did not have five other coaches and two players. They lost two straight and three of four entering the contest and still responded. Mike McCarthy, who was watching from Texas, called it “an adversity win.” It wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys improved to 8-4 and extended their lead in the NFC East and kept up the possibility of earning home-field advantage and one of the top three spots in the playoffs. — Todd Archer

Are the Cowboys back? It’s difficult to say because the Saints have now lost five straight games. But this can build confidence in the Cowboys’ ability to handle adversity. This season, the Cowboys have won games without Dak Prescott (Oct. 31 vs. Minnesota) and McCarthy. They are getting players back from injury (Randy Gregory, Neville Gallimore) and have players getting up to speed (DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper) off injuries or the COVID-19 list. They also have young players carrying the load (Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb). With five weeks left in the regular season, the Cowboys have put themselves in position to make a run. They have to get hot now if they want to be a team with a legit chance to go far. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, up from 7.9. It wasn’t a work of art — they couldn’t run the ball well and it seemed Prescott forced some plays — but it’s a win. And that’s all that mattered on Thursday night.

Next game: at Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: For a minute, it looked like Taysom Hill’s legs might inject some life into the Saints’ flailing offense. But then the wheels came off when he had to play catchup, with three of his four interceptions coming in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Saints (5-7) will find new life if stars like Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk return against the Jets on the road in Week 14. But it might be too late now that they’ve lost five straight in a season for the first time under Sean Payton. — Mike Triplett

Will the Saints stick with Taysom Hill at quarterback? Yes, as long as his foot and finger injuries are OK. Hill’s performance can’t be sugarcoated. He was off target on some passes even before he started “pressing” and throwing those late INTs. But he also ran for 101 yards — and he does offer some needed juice if he can start throwing with more accuracy. “I thought he played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts. We didn’t help him any in the first half,” Payton said. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.1, down from 4.5. A smaller dip this time since the Saints should be healthier and more competitive next week. But their playoff chances have plummeted from 83% to 20% since Week 8, according to ESPN’s FPI.

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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