News, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the 11th Sunday of the 2018 NFL season …
1. The Steelers needed a halftime jolt during yesterday’s slog against 2017 nemesis Jacksonville, and it was QB Ben Roethlisberger who gave them one. Roethlisberger isn’t always the stand-on-the-table type of player, but for whatever reason, the Pittsburgh quarterback saw the need for it on Sunday.
“I don’t think it was a movie scene in there or anything, but Ben was fired up at halftime,” left tackle Alejandro Villanueva told me. “He pulled us out of a bad situation, he’s our leader. And you saw that in the Bengals game, during the two-minute drive as well. [The Jaguars] are really good, their record may not be where they wanted it, but they beat us twice last year.”
In the game’s final five minutes, Roethlisberger lead them back, turning a 16–6 deficit into a 20–16 lead—and Villanueva said he suspects that even the one big mistake that Roethlisberger made in that stretch was by design. Roethlisberger was picked by D.J. Hayden with 22 seconds left, seemingly ending the comeback attempt, but his left tackle thinks he was trying to call attention to the contact in the end zone—“Sometimes a quarterback will throw the ball at a blatant call … Ben was very confident that was there.” Sure enough, Hayden was called for a face mask, and Roethlisberger scored the game-winning points two snaps later.
2. The Bills are coming off their bye and getting their quarterback back, and if nothing else, Sean McDermott and his staff have a young, reworked roster playing as hard as any in the league. The head coach has found little ways to reinforce the message through bumps; for example, he discussed the path the Red Sox took to the World Series title in a team meeting earlier this month, to remind them of the value in resilience. In particular, he pulled out the Sox’ devastating 18-inning loss to the Dodgers in Game 3, and how they bounced back hours later to win Game 4, then won Game 5 the day after that.
“It looked like everything was falling apart on them,” McDermott told me. “They used it to really catapult themselves into a stronger team, and they ended up winning it all two days later. Those moments are the ones that you’ve gotta build strength from. And they’re tough, no one wants to lose, but when you’re doing it the right way you’ve gotta use adversity as your ally.”
Sure enough, the Bills heard that one, and bounced back from a 41–9 loss to Chicago with a 41-10 win over the Jets.
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3. Lions RB Kerryon Johnson has just about no chance of playing on Thanksgiving after suffering what was termed to me as a knee sprain. But it’s minor enough to where Detroit could have him against the Rams on Dec. 2, which has to be considered a win for the team, after the way things looked. Johnson, by the way, has 641 yards rushing on the season a 5.4-yards per clip, and is the only Lion with over 200 yards on the ground.
4. It may be a lost season in Denver with a potential coaching change on the horizon, but John Elway and Co. have some hope in a 2018 draft class that key the team’s upset of the Chargers on Sunday. Running backs Philip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 102 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries; receiver Courtland Sutton had three catches for 78 yards, including a 30-yarder that set up the game-winning field goal in the final minute; Bradley Chubb had a sack, two tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and seven tackles; linebacker Josey Jewell had five tackles; and corner Isaac Yiadom and receiver DaeSean Hamilton have provided valuable depth. There’s a lot to work with here.
5. The Bucs announced that Jameis Winston will start in Week 12, which means two things. One, they’ll have more information ahead of making a decision on him this winter. Two, they’re willing to take a $20.9 million risk on him—that’s the price of his 2019 option, which the team will be on the hook for if he’s injured and can’t pass a physical in March.
6. We’ve talked a lot about the way Colts GM Chris Ballard has drafted the last two years in our last two MMQBs, but it certainly worth mentioning here they’ve found players in other ways too. And I’ve got two examples of guys who’ve surprised them on defense. One is Jabaal Sheard, a mid-level free-agent pick up who’s leading all Colts defensive linemen in playing 79% of the team’s defensive snaps. Another is Clayton Geathers, a holdover mid-round pick from the Ryan Grigson Era who’s hit his stride at safety opposite Malik Hooker.
And while we’re here, one other quick note from Indy: The Colts should have word tonight on the severity of Ryan Kelly’s knee injury early tonight.
7. The Titans don’t believe that Marcus Mariota’s stinger is related to the nerve issue that was affecting his grip, but to be sure, Mariota will have a specialist check it out. And Tennessee will have a better idea after that on his status going into its prep for next Monday’s game in Houston.
8. Speaking of quarterbacks, Jets rookie Sam Darnold’s foot sprain has his status up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. For what it’s worth, the team is resolved to not push him out there if he’s not 100%—or at least what passes for 100% this time of year.
9. As for the Chiefs-Rams tonight, keep an eye on young Rams receiver Josh Reynolds—the 2017 fourth-round pick has a big opportunity with Cooper Kupp out for the season. I’ve put his name down here before because the coaches believe they have something in him. We’ll see how he does on the big stage.
10. On the other side, Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (foot) is going to try to play, but the team won’t make a final call until they get him to the Coliseum and work him out. His history of foot issues, of course, is reason for caution.