With his ninth 10-catch performance of 2019, Michael Thomas broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record with a game to spare. Record-breaker 144 was an overturned touchdown. 145 finished the job two plays later, giving Thomas his ninth score as the cherry on top of his 10th 100-yard game. That brings Thomas one shy of Michael Irvin and Calvin Johnson’s shared record, who both cleared the century mark 11 times in their career years.
That’s not the only history Thomas will be chasing as the Saints try to earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed against the bombed-out Panthers. Thomas’ 1,688 yards are already 10th all time. With 100 more, he can vault to fifth. With 150, he can reach fourth. Second would require 184. First, 277. Thomas went 10/101/1 vs. the Panthers a month ago. That game was in the Superdome. This one will be another outdoor affair.
Thomas’ season hasn’t featured quite the raw power of Megatron’s 2012 or Julio Jones’ 2015. Of the 46 1,500-yard receiving campaigns in NFL history, Thomas’ 11.64 yards per catch is the lowest. His 82.4 catch percentage is by far the highest. Thomas is frequently catching wide-open layups as opposed to dominating DBs in 1-on-1 situations or melting corners down the sideline.
Not that Thomas doesn’t dominate in 1-on-1 situations. A fierce fighter and route tactician, there is a reason Thomas is the man of his times and setting these records. Appreciate this efficiency while it lasts, as a new era will be ushered in before we know it. And don’t even bother trying to guard Mike. He’s already open.
Five Week 16 Storylines
Saquon Barkley finally welcomes himself back to the season. Barkley knocked the rust off in Week 15. Sunday, he removed the oxygen and made new metal, melting the Redskins for 189 yards on 22 carries (8.59 YPC). It was the second most rushing yards by any player this season. It’s been too late for the majority of Barkley’s fantasy drafters, but he’s been the player everyone expected the past two weeks, piling up 422 yards from scrimmage while finding the end zone four times. Barkley presents a daunting Week 17 challenge for the short-handed Eagles in a game Philadelphia must win to lock down the NFC East. The buy-low window slammed shut in dynasty, soon-to-be 23-year-old Barkley will enter 2020 as the top hold in multi-year leagues.
Daniel Jones has five-touchdown day on road. Barkley’s partner in crime wasn’t too bad himself, reaching four scores for the third time in his past six starts. The No. 6 overall pick enters the finale four touchdowns shy of equaling Baker Mayfield’s rookie record even though he will end up making only 12 starts. Jones will enter his sophomore campaign confronting typical second-year questions. Can he cut down on his turnovers? Can he increase his efficiency? The ones that do become franchise quarterbacks. The ones that don’t fail to get a second contract with the team that drafted them. Considering the skepticism that surrounded Jones’ selection, it’s a major positive he’s headed into the offseason on a high note.
Chris Carson suffers season-ending hip injury. One of the NFL’s most physical runners, Carson met a violent demise against the Cardinals, going down near the end of the first half. Carson had previously yet to miss a game in 2019 despite his weekly invitation to contact. He joins Rashaad Penny (ACL) on the shelf with the playoffs on the horizon, while ever-brittle C.J. Prosise (broken arm) was also lost for the year against the Cardinals. Despite his 1,230-yard campaign on the ground, Carson is headed into an offseason of uncertainty. His fumbling woes nearly got him benched several times, while 23-year-old former first-rounder Penny was looking increasingly dangerous before going down. Penny’s knee ailment likely means Carson will open 2020 as the starter, but things could be fluid in the Seahawks’ backfield.
Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf combine for one catch against Cardinals. Lockett’s latest failure was even more shocking in the context of Carson’s injury. Even with their ground game stalled, the Seahawks couldn’t get Lockett the ball against one of the league’s worst secondaries. Lockett has reached 50 yards just once during his six-game tailspin. What exactly is going on here? Slowed by illness and a shin injury in the second half of the season, Lockett was having trouble separating against Patrick Peterson in the desert, but that still does not explain one grab on eight targets. OC Brian Schottenheimer has not been up to the challenge of scheming the ball to his top weapons. With Carson joining Penny and Prosise on the shelf, that needs to change now if the ‘Hawks are to avoid going one-and-done in the playoffs.
Kyler Murray’s rookie season likely ends with hamstring injury. The Cardinals sprung the upset, but Murray had to watch from the sideline. It was the second time this season the No. 1 overall pick’s hamstring acted up, but the first time it cost him snaps. It closes the book on a promising but highly uneven rookie campaign, one that saw the Cardinals frequently change their air emphasis. Some weeks, it was the deep ball. Many more, it was horizontal passing. Murray also never quite settled in as a runner, essentially functioning as a deluxe Ryan Tannehill instead of a Lamar Jackson or Cam Newton. The takeaways: The kid can really sling it, and his instant acceleration translated to the big leagues. Murray is also a good decision maker, turning the ball over much less frequently than most rookie quarterbacks. The Cardinals need to settle on a passing identity and juice their receiver corps, but Murray remains an elite young prospect heading into his first full offseason.
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Five More Week 16 Storylines
Miles Sanders continues late-season breakout. With his 156 yards from scrimmage in a must-win game against the Cowboys, Sanders enters another must-win tilt in Week 17 with 328 yards and three scores over the past two weeks. Sanders’ best play has come after he left an opening for Boston Scott to run through in Week 14 against the Giants. Sanders has since closed it with a vivid display of his three-down skill-set. Still more of an athlete than refined NFL runner, Sanders will have plenty to work on this offseason, but he has laid the foundation both the Eagles and fantasy players were expecting when Sanders came off the board with the No. 53 overall pick. The 22-year-old is an elite dynasty hold heading into 2020.
Zach Ertz latest Eagles pass catcher to get hurt. As Sanders was running wild, Ertz was struggling to breathe. The Eagles’ No. 1 pass catcher took a massive ribs shot in the first quarter and spent extensive time in the locker room before returning near the end of the first half. Coming off a monster six-game run, Ertz had to settle for 4/28/0 as the Eagles outlasted the Cowboys in a would-be division championship game war of attrition. “Would-be” because, as important as Sunday’s victory was, the Eagles must now venture on the road to face a Giants squad that nearly beat them at home two weeks ago. With Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s health uncertain, Ertz will be needed more than ever as the Eagles try to nail down another NFC East title.
Christian McCaffrey breaks own single-season RB receptions record. Like Michael Thomas, McCaffrey simply would not be denied on his way into the record books, catching 15 passes from the Panthers’ No. 3 quarterback Will Grier. He turned the grabs into a modest 119 yards, functioning as an extension of the running game in a contest where D.J. Moore was limited to one catch before landing in the concussion protocol. McCaffrey played just one series before resting last Week 17, but the Panthers are unlikely to go down that road again against the Saints. That’s because McCaffrey needs just 67 yards through the air to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as only the third back in NFL history to reach both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Were things to get really crazy — 216 yards crazy — CMC could even break Chris Johnson’s yards from scrimmage record.
Mark Ingram suffers calf injury with playoffs on the horizon. When Lamar Jackson pulled it on a read option on the first play of the fourth quarter, Ingram went down in an untouched heap, immediately grabbing at his left leg. That suggested the worst: Torn Achilles. Ingram then managed to spring to his feet before limping off the field. Initial testing revealed no structural damage, but a Monday MRI will have the final say. With the No. 1 seed assured, Ingram probably would have been sitting out Week 17 even if he were healthy. As it is, the Ravens could be compelled to rest Gus Edwards at this point if Ingram’s status is not looking assured for the Divisional Round. Ingram’s regular season ends 18 yards on the right side of 1,000. He has reached 1K three of the past four years after failing to do so the first five seasons of his career.
Dwayne Haskins carted off the field in final rookie start. If Murray was promising, Haskins was Rosening. Dealt a 2018 Cardinals-level of cards, Haskins folded under the pressure, struggling for big plays and lacking efficiency. He did save his best for last, completing 72 percent of his passes over his final two starts while posting a 4:0 TD:INT total. It’s a better stretch than Rosen ever managed. It is set to be an offseason of change for the Redskins, but they are highly unlikely to pull a Cardinals and use a first-round pick on a quarterback for the second time in as many years. Haskins will get a chance to progress in 2020. As was the case this season, his supporting cast will probably end up making it impossible.
1. Will the last receiver to publicly excoriate Freddie Kitchens turn the lights off?
2. Who will overturn the fines Tom Coughlin levied on his grandchildren for closing the door too loudly while he watched the game?
3. The Seahawks …………… why?
Stats of the Week
Julio Jones needs 84 yards in Week 17 to reach 1,400 for the sixth consecutive season. That would match Jerry Rice for the most total 1,400-yard campaigns in NFL history.
Via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank: Miles Sanders is just the eighth rookie running back in NFL history with 750 rushing yards and 500 receiving. He joins Gale Sayers, Marshall Faulk, Charley Taylor, Abner Haynes, Saquon Barkley, Edgerrin James and Billy Sims.
Zero. Healthy scratch LeSean McCoy’s number of snaps. Shady probably would have been cut by now if not for the Chiefs’ injury issues at running back.
Tweet of the Week, from Michael Salfino: Nice job by Trubisky escaping the sack to turn it into a worse sack.
Chargers Sadness Quote of the Week, from Melvin Gordon: "I caught myself trying to pump up the crowd today after I scored. Realized it was all black jerseys. I was like ‘Man, it’s not a home game.’”
Heavy-Handed Metaphor of the Week: The Cowboys’ team plane being “not viable.”
Revenge Is Best Served … Something Award: Le’Veon Bell showing up to yesterday’s game wearing yellow then taking an 11-yard loss on a run.