NFL

Pending issues still loom Seahawks after loss

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Pending issues still loom Seahawks after loss

By Julian Rogers

The 2–3 Seattle Seahawks have some decisions to make. With the emergence of undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls, combined with the ongoing health troubles of stalwart running back Marshawn Lynch, change is in the air. But running back is not the only change occurring.

Time to change

The Seahawks, who now lag behind NFC West division leader the Arizona Cardinals by two games, are at the point where they need to look themselves in the mirror. Sunday’s crushing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals revealed a new reality for the 12s. Namely:

  • Rawls is the real deal.
  • The Legion of Boom goes quiet on the road.
  • The Jimmy Graham experience is more filler than killer.

The Rawls era

While it may seem blasphemous to 12s to declare Lynch to no longer be the lead pony, the results speak for themselves. Over the past 12 quarters Rawls has put together an impressive, if short, resume: 323 rushing yards on 56 carries (5.76 YPC), including one vintage Beast-like (69-yard) touchdown — with more speed.

While Pete Carroll has indicated his ongoing expectation that Lynch will return soon, the emergence of Rawls means the Seahawks need not rush him back. Nor do they need to build the offense around him. Could we finally be seeing a running back-by-committee approach in Seattle? It might be a mistake.

It used to make sense to want to feature another back or two to give some relief to Lynch. Now, in light of Rawls’ performance, it might not make sense to be taking the ball out of Rawls’ hands. How do you bench your best running back?

Blasphemy? Answer this: Who else has been as consistently productive on offense as the undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan? How good would a Seahawks rushing attack look with a young running back that can average more than five YPC occasionally spelled by Beast Mode?

That’s a change the Seahawks should embrace.

Ruh-roh

The Seahawks’ defense had the Bengals game in the bag. Despite being on the road, once linebacker Bobby Wagner collected his scoop-and-score fumble recovery, the Seahawks were firmly in command, leading 24 to 7. They remained firmly in command as the fourth quarter opened with the same score. And then the wheels fell off the LOB’s go kart.

What ensued can be described as a near-epic collapse. Not Super Bowl XLIX bad, nor as bad as the Green Bay Packers’ implosion against the Seahawks in last season’s NFC Championship game, but significant in both scope and improbability. The Legion of Boom gave away a three-score lead, with a little help from Seattle’s front seven.

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert notched a career-making effort against the LOB, with a 90-yard, eight reception and two touchdown afternoon. When he wasn’t scoring touchdowns, Eifert snared impact catches against a variety of Seahawks defenders. His partner, quarterback Andy Dalton, continued his ascension into the NFL’s top quarterbacks discussion by dominating the Seahawks with 30 completions for 331 yards.

For comparison, the Seahawks had not allowed as many as 331 passing yards to a quarterback since Oct. 28, 2012 (Detroit Lions). The blue birds did not allow a single 300-yard passing game all last season. Except for the Super Bowl. Ahem.

Whither Jimmy?

Five games in, it’s safe to say the Seahawks are still struggling with how to best deploy their newest offensive toy, tight end Jimmy Graham. Given a slow start to the Graham era in Seattle, it looked, for a moment, like the Seahawks had found ways to get proper use out of the 6’ 7”, 260-lb. receiver, when he collected a season-high seven receptions in week three against the Chicago Bears. Graham has a mere seven receptions in the two games since.

Sunday’s output of three receptions for 30 yards is the kind of production they can get from <insert name of any journeyman tight end here>. This is unquestionably not the kind of impact a team trades away a Pro Bowl center for. The Seahawks would be wise to stop wishing for Graham to become a reliable factor in the run game. It’s time to use his size, catch radius and ability to separate from linebackers and defensive backs alike  —  and find ways to get him the ball in space.

The Seahawks have managed to get glimpses of Graham’s greatness on occasion. It’s time to get more creative, if the Seahawks want to have a chance at catching the division-leading Arizona Cardinals before season’s end.

Time to rearrange

For the Seahawks, it is time to change. The good news for Seattle is they have time to change. The season is a mere five weeks old. The dim view reveals that the Seahawks have returned to a previously troublesome state of affairs, that being a team that cannot win on the road. Their two home wins have only come against two winless (at the time) teams.

Clearly, this is not working. The 2015 Seahawks squad is a far cry from the 2014 and 2013 Super Bowl teams. Some mid-season creativity is called for. It starts with leveraging the good (Rawls) and finding ways to shore up the surprisingly leaky defense. It’s also time to make full and better use of Graham. That means accepting that Graham is a tight end in name only. Graham can still be a match-up problem for defenses if he is used as what he is: a large wide receiver.

These three factors indicate a team in transition. Torches may need to be passed — soon. The Seahawks have a good development emerging in the offensive backfield and need to leverage it. They need to further right the ship in their defensive backfield, which is a surprising development, given the talent. The Graham factor is a self-inflicted wound.

Can the Seahawks change enough in time to save their season? The undefeated Carolina Panthers, Seattle’s next opponent, will be happy to tell us.

NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

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NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

Perhaps you are still recovering emotionally from the NFL weekend. Both road teams winning, controversial calls or rather controversial no-calls, and only two teams remain as the Super Bowl 53 stage is set. 

But there was a certain someone not named Tom Brady that stole the show late Sunday evening, and his name is Tony Romo. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and now CBS broadcaster was an abolsute gem to listen to throughout the game solely by the fact that he called the play, actually several, before it even happened…

Whether it’s a high football I.Q. or a complete guess, fans, professional athletes, and other commentators are taking notice. Some are even reaching out to Romo for information regarding their futures:

And with CBS airing the Super Bowl, one can expect Romo to be on the call.

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Who do you take: rookie, MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes or arguably the G.O.A.T of the NFL, Tom Brady? Will the New England Patriots reign of terror on the AFC finally come to an end this Sunday in the AFC Championship game? Get your popcorn ready and claim your spot on the couch soon, because this will be a good one between the visiting Patriots at the Chiefs.

Only time will tell… Rob Parker of Fox Sports 1 joins the Brian Noe Show to discuss the upcoming AFC Championship matchup between the Patriots and the Chiefs. 

“I would be very surprised because the Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championship games on the road,” says Parker. “They do not perform when they have go on the road and get it done…”

Kickoff time set for 3:40 PM (PT) at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

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Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

Rule No. 1 during a kick return: do not let the kicker tackle you. 

Destroyed, lit up, leveled, you name it. Atlanta Falcons kick-off specialist/punter Matt Bosher absolutely crushed Carolina Panthers running back and special teams player Kenjon Barner on a kick-off. 

Very rare, but when it happens, it is all too sweet. At least for the kicker. For the returner, it is embarrassing. Just read for yourself:

In his fifth year of his NFL career, Barner (former Oregon Ducks running back) finds himself back with the team that originally drafted him in Carolina. On Sunday, despite getting brutally tackled by Bosher, he had a nice game recording four punts for 109 yards and his longest of 37 yards. Unfortunately for Barner, that doesn't matter to the internet.

The Panthers (6-9) continue their downfall with their seventh loss in a row, this time to the Atlanta Falcons (6-9), 24-10 in Carolina. 

 

San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

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San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers' disappointing season, upended by the knee injury to budding star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, certainly has revealed areas of need that must be addressed in order for this team to ever contend in the NFC West division. 

Defensive end is not on that list because of the presence of two former Oregon Ducks. The previous regime in charge before John Lynch became the franchise's general manager in 2017 drafted well in that area when it selected Arik Armstead with the 17th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and followed up the next year by taking DeForest Buckner with the seventh pick of the first round. 

Their careers have contrasted since they helped lead the Ducks to the national championship game during the 2014 season. Buckner has blossomed quicker in the NFL while Armstead, held back by injuries, is just now starting to realize his potential. 

During their growth as professional players and transitioning from college kids to professional adults, they have always been able to lean on each other. Both arrived at Oregon in 2012 and since have not been teammates only once, in 2015. Their hope now is that they can continue to grow together and help lead the 49ers (4-10) back to respectability and achieve similar success to what they accomplished at Oregon where together they experienced only five losses in three seasons. 

“We’ve been playing together for seven years," Armstead said. "It’s been great. It’s a unique situation to be playing with somebody for so long and kind of grow together and always be there through the ups and downs. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”

--- Buckner emerges 

The 49ers' locker room at Levi's Stadium following Sunday's 26-23 overtime win over Seattle - just two weeks after losing 43-16 at CenturyLink Field - didn't feel like that of a losing team. In part, that was because everyone in that locker room knew how much that win meant to former Seahawks' superstar cornerback Richard Sherman. Also, the win snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Seahawks dating back to 2013. 

“We took it personally," Buckner said. "They flat-out embarrassed us two weeks ago."

Buckner, from Hawaii, had 11 tackles and two sacks in the game to reach 11 sacks for the season. Armstead, from Sacramento, Calif., added five tackles. He has three sacks on the year. For sure, Buckner is putting up the sexier numbers and was rewarded by being named as a Pro Bowl alternate. But Armstead's contributions can't be discounted. He is a strong run stuffer opposite Buckner and according to San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is starting to emerge as a pass rusher. 

"He does have that type of ability, so I think that's what people hope for," Shanahan told reporters last week. "But, that's not just something that you do. That takes a while, and it takes guys some time playing in this league, playing different positions, to really find their groove. I do see that chance for Arik."

First, Armstead must continue to remain healthy. He has been hindered by injuries off and on since landing at Oregon. After appearing in all 16 games as a rookie, Armstead missed eight his second year and 10 last season. This year has had played in all 14 games. 

"I don't want to jinx myself," Armstead said. "We have two more games. I'm just blessed to be healthy out there."

--- Adjusting to change

Last season San Francisco switched from the 3-4 defense, which the franchise ran when it selected Buckner and Armstead, to the 4-3 defense when Shanahan took over and hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The change didn't impact Armstead and Buckner much given that each is well equipped to play either defense given their considerable athleticism especially given their size.

Both are the prototypical, large, two-gap, 3-4 defensive ends at 6-7, 300 pounds for Buckner and 6-7, 292 for Armstead. However, each is more athletic than your average man of that size. While most 4-3 defensive ends are smaller, it cannot be forgotten that hall of famer Reggie White racked up 198 sacks at 6-5, 291 and Carolina's Julius Peppers will likely make the hall of fame with 158 career sacks at 6-7, 295. Comparing Buckner and Armstead to the likes of the late White and Peppers is, of course, premature. However, both Buckner and Armstead certainly fit into the same breed of defensive end. Large. Strong. Athletic. 

Buckner has certainly shown flashes of being a potential future All-Pro with 20 sacks in three seasons thanks to 11 this year. 

“Getting to double digits, I knew I was capable of it and to see my hard work get paid off, it’s definitely gratifying," he said. "I knew I could do it and I worked my tail off in the offseason to get there."

Saleh said Buckner last year had many pressures and QB knockdowns that could have been sacks with fine-tuning of his technique when disengaging from blockers and closing on quarterbacks. 

"We talked about him needing to find that extra half of step," Saleh told reporters this week. "He's really taken it to heart and he's found that step."

Sometimes, Saleh said, it takes a while for young defensive linemen to find their way. Armstead is no different. 

"Arik is probably having his best year," Saleh said. "It just takes time."

--- Remaining 49ers

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Armstead's rookie contract and Shanahan said they hope to resign him long-term. That's also the plan with Buckner. Armstead said he certainly wants to remain with the 49ers. 

"I love it here," he said. "I've been here my whole career. They drafted me and gave me an opportunity. I want to be here and help win games."

Armstead entered the NFL at age 21 and said he has grown a lot in four years. 

"Most, probably as a person," he said. "I'm 25. Getting kind of old. But maturing as a person. I'm out on my own now. I'm a professional. I've had a good experience."

Armstead has been very active doing charity work in his hometown of Sacramento, which he said is very important to him. 

"I feel like I've been blessed in my life with so many things and it's my responsibility to give back in any way that I came," he said. "A lot of my efforts are directed to people in Sacramento where I'm from and trying to impact my city in a positive way."

The Oregon duo of Buckner and Armstead is respected by teammates. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones said the two are often inseparable.

"You see one you see the other," he said. "They are the twin towers." 

Jones said teammates don't give the former Ducks too much grief for being bosom Ducks. 

"Both are phenomenal people off the field," Jones said. "On the field, they are just the same. I've learned so much from them."

Their NFL careers are in full swing and their futures appear to be strong. How long they remain teammates will be played out on the business end of the NFL pool. One thing for sure is that both have benefited from entering this world together as former Ducks tied at the hip and supporting each other. 

“It’s encouragement and helping each other," Armstead said. "Teaching each other things we’ve learned and passing it along. Having good communication out there from playing together so long. Definitely encouraging each other is the main thing.”

The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

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The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

First, let’s start with the AFC

Who is in:

There are only two teams that have clinched a playoff berth: the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) and the San Diego Chargers (11-3). The two teams had an epic battle under the Thursday Night Football lights that ended with a winning two-point conversion by the Chargers to win 29-28 over the Chiefs. Interestingly enough, these two teams are both in the AFC West division, have split the series between the two, but the Chiefs are the division leader while the Chargers lead the Wildcard race.

Division Leaders:

- AFC South: Houston Texas (10-4)

- AFC East: New England Patriots (9-5)

- AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

Notable games:

- New England loses on the road to Pittsburgh 17-10.

- Houston defeats the New York Jets, but clinching the division is still on hold with another Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans victory.

In the hunt:

- Don’t count out the Baltimore Ravens just yet. After taking it to the Chiefs last week, the Ravens (8-6) bounced back today with a 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens lie one game behind the Steelers, who beat the Patriots today.

- The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) are 7-1 in the last eight games. After shutting out the visiting Dallas Cowboys today 23-0, next up for the Colts are the Giants and then at Tennessee.   

- The Tennessee Titans (8-6), also in the same division as the Colts, shut out the Giants 17-0 and are battling in a tight race for second and a potential Wildcard spot with the Colts. The two face up in the last week of the regular season.

- Miami (7-7) coming off a loss to the Vikings and Cleveland (6-7-1) are also still in the hunt.

 

Now, for the NFC

Who is in:

Three teams have clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs: the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears. 

Division Leaders:

- NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-2)

- NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

- NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-4)

- The only remaining division yet to be clinched is the NFC East, which the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) currently lead but were shut out by the Colts today. Riding their coattails are the Eagles (7-7), coming off a big win Sunday night, and the Washington Redskins (7-7) who won on a game-winning field goal 16-13 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. This division will come down to the wire. 

Notable games:

- The Seattle Seahawks (8-6) dropped to the San Francisco 49ers (4-10) in the Bay Area in what “should have” been a win to clinch a playoff spot is now on hold with Kansas City coming into Seattle next Sunday. 

- The Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) picked up a big win over the Miami Dolphins to remain in the Wildcard race.

- The Eagles (7-7) defeated the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

In the hunt:

- Washington got its prayers answered with a win over Jacksonville to remain in playoff contention at 7-7, also with a Dallas Cowboys loss. The NFC East is anyone’s division at this point.

- The Carolina Panthers (6-7) need to get back on track but face the Saints next on Monday Night Football.

 

 

Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

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Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

The Dallas COwboys ran out of, or rather into, Luck. Andrew Luck that is. 

When all was going in the right direction for "America's Team", today was a turn of the tides. The Cowboys (now 8-6) were riding a five-game win streak and in a good spot on top of the NFC East after beating division rival Philadelphia last Sunday now hit the road into Colts territory. But it did not look like the same Dallas team, on both sides of the ball, got off the plane. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was limited to 87 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. While counterpart quarterback Dak Prescott did throw for 206 yards, but had one interception and zero touchdowns on the day.

For the first time since 2003, the Cowboys were shutout in a 23-0 loss to the Colts (8-6).

Perhaps this recap should be more about Andrew Luck and the Colts offense because not only has this Cowboys defense been stellar the past two weeks, but Andrew Luck or rather this Colts offensive line got it done today making way for the ground game to put up 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Next up the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive hosting the New York Giants (5-9) on Sunday.

Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

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Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

It it not a scret that Marcus Mariota is a team player. It is a quality in his human nature, and it showed yet again this morning.

On a brisk day in New York against the Giants, the Tennessee Titans quarterback lined up as wide receiver in a wildcat formation, in perfect position for what was heading his way. As running back Derrick Henry made his run to Mariota's side, Mariota lead Henry with a monster block, sacrificing his own body for Henry to spring free. What his coaches may call ill-advised since Mariota has been dealing with some injuries, fans and teammates loved the effort.

Also just for reference, Mariota is 6' 4", 222 pounds. Alec Ogletree is 6' 2", 235 pounds.

The Titans are sitting in third of the AFC South at 7-6 and need this win over the New York Giants (5-8) to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

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Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

Was there a patch of ice on the Oakland Raiders field Sunday afternoon precisely at 4:48 PM (PT) on the 40-yard-line? We're only kidding, it was a sunny 57 degree day in Oakland, however, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell slipped on what would have been a game-tying field goal. Whoops.

The Oakland Raiders get their third win of the season with a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers drop their third game in a row and have a tough schedule coming up: host New England and at New Orleans before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals to finish the regular season. Other than a tough schedule ahead, Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger left this game early after taking a big hit but checked back into the game in the fourth quarter. 

Keep an eye out for this AFC North division featuring the Steelers at 7-5-1, Baltimore (7-6) who barely lost today at Kansas City, and the surging Cleveland Browns (it's been awhile since I've said that) at 5-7-1 who defeated Carolina today.

 

Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

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Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

When you think of a chess match in terms of NFL teams, Kansas City vs. Baltimore did not disappoint. Rookie quarterback vs. rookie quarterback.

Patrick Mahomes is breaking all the rules. Throwing late back across the field, holding the ball to losely in his hands while he is scrambling, no-look passes, but still proving he is scrapy and can build drives late in the fourth quarter when his team needs him most. 

Late in the fourth quarter, Mahomes and the Chiefs had a 4th & 9, down 24-17. Trying to build as much time as possible, Mahomes scrambled right and blades of grass before hitting the sideline white chalk, heaves a huge throw down the middle of the field right on target to speedy (and very much injured) Tyreek Hill, who battled through a leg injury late in this game. This set up a game-tying 24-24 touchdown with under a minute to go. 

Despite the Chiefs' defensive line coming up HUGE with a strip sack on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to set up a game-wining field goal that was missed right, overtime was more of Mahomes Time. 

Mahomes lead a 75-yard opening field-goal drive to go up 27-24 in overtime. In the end, it was more of the defense that stepped up for Mahomes and the Chiefs hanging onto the lead and clinching a playoff berth.

Next up the Chiefs (11-2) host the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) on Thursday Night Football.