By TOM CANAVAN, FRED GOODALL, JOSH DUBOW, TERESA M. WALKER, KYLE HIGHTOWER, TIM BOOTH
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 1, 2018
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.; TAMPA; SANTA CLARA, CALIF.; NASHVILLE; OXBOROUGH, MASS;. SEATTLE -- BEARS AT GIANTS New York Giants defensive co-ordinator James Bettcher had no intention of designing two game plans, even though Chicago Bears starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has a shoulder injury.
Bettcher is getting the Giants (3-8) ready to face the Bears' offence, and it doesn't matter whether Trubisky is back at the helm on Sunday at MetLife Stadium or veteran backup Chase Daniel is running the show again for Chicago (8-3).
The NFC North-leading Bears extended their winning streak to five games on Thanksgiving with Daniel leading Chicago to a 23-16 win over the Lions in his first start since 2014.
"They are both good quarterbacks," Giants linebacker and defensive captain Alec Ogletree said.
"They haven't changed much of their offence for either one. They play a little different game, but for the most part, they do the same stuff. We are preparing for either one. You never know who is going to play. So if Chase Daniel plays, we will be ready for him, and if Trubisky plays, we will be prepared as well."
Trubisky was limited at practice on Wednesday and Thursday, so it is looking less likely he will play Sunday.
Bettcher said his approach every week is to see what the defence needs to do to give the team its best chance. It includes having some tweaks built in for the opposing quarterbacks.
"You certainly have some things that you like versus each of those two quarterbacks," Bettcher said.
Offensive co-ordinators do the same thing when the status of their starting quarterback is uncertain.
They make separate sheets outlining the plays and throws each quarterback likes, although the game plan is relatively the same.
If Daniel gets the call again, he will have had a week practising with the offence. He did not get that coming off a short week of preparation for the Lions and still completed 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said the team would do what is best for Trubisky. If he plays, it will be because he is ready to go.
PANTHERS AT BUCCANEERS Cam Newton and Jameis Winston know there's no surefire way for a quarterback to lead a team out of a funk.
What works in one situation may not necessarily be the answer in another.
Newton's second-place Carolina Panthers (6-5) have lost three straight games after a 6-2 start, moving closer to the bottom of the NFC South than the top.
Winston's getting another chance to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) out of the division cellar after spending a month on the bench because of his propensity for making costly mistakes.
"In the NFL, part of winning is not losing, not beating yourself," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, reflecting on Winston delivering his best performance of the season to help Tampa Bay stop a four-game skid last week.
"You have to just keep it simple," said Winston, who lost his starting job after turning the ball over 11 times in 14 quarters.
The fourth-year pro said the difference during last week's 27-9 rout of San Francisco was his decisiveness with the football.
"I'm thinking about one play at a time, one completion at a time, one game at a time," Winston said.
"It's easier to keep it simple when you're decisive, making quick decisions and getting the ball out of your hands."
The Panthers haven't won since beating the Bucs 42-28 at home on Nov. 4. Kicking woes factored in narrow losses the past two weeks to Detroit and Seattle, however, and Newton said he's focused on the next opportunity to get back on track.
Win or lose, he has learned you give yourself 24 hours to get over the excitement or disappointment.
"You can either celebrate or sulk and sob," the Carolina quarterback said. "After that 24 hours is up, let it go. That has been so helpful for me in my growth as a man."
For Winston, Sunday's game against the Panthers represents the next test in what amounts to an audition to determine if he's Tampa Bay's quarterback of the future.
CHIEFS AT RAIDERS Jon Gruden knows he sometimes went over the top in his praise of quarterbacks in his old job as an analyst at ESPN.
It seemed like any time a quarterback went to "Gruden's QB Camp" or was picked in the draft, Gruden was always full of compliments. The praise for Kansas City's second-year star Patrick Mahomes is on an even different level.
"His overall skill set is sickening. It really is," Gruden said. "He's double-jointed. He can throw the ball from any platform possible. Running to his left, fading backward. He can get out of trouble. I compliment everybody, I've been accused of that, but this guy has off-the-chart arm talent. Skill level is unbelievable.
"He has a playing style that reminds me of [Brett] Favre. He's a young Favre. I think that's why Andy Reid went and got him. He won't quit on any play. He makes a lot of plays when there's nothing there. I don't have time to talk about him anymore."
Gruden now must devise a plan to slow Mahomes when his Oakland Raiders (2-9) host the Chiefs (9-2) on Sunday in what appears to be a major mismatch.
Led by Mahomes's 37 touchdown passes - the third most ever through 11 games - the Chiefs have been a nearly unstoppable force on offence. Coach Reid's squad ranks second in the NFL with 404 points and is on pace to become the first team since at least 1960 to average more than 7.0 yards per play.
But everything hasn't been perfect for Mahomes, who committed five turnovers in Kansas City's most recent game, a 54-51 loss to the Rams on Nov. 19.
"Every experience, bad or good, you have to learn from," Mahomes said. "You take the positives. We had a lot of successful plays and successful things happen in that game, but you have to find ways to win them in the end." JETS AT TITANS The Tennessee Titans' margin for error is gone, and earning a second straight playoff berth will require finishing this season with a winning flourish.
The Titans (5-6) blew hopes of the franchise's first AFC South title in a decade by losing two straight inside the division to cap a stretch of five losses in seven games. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard says the Titans' backs are against the wall now.
"We got a chance to change and make up for what we've been doing these past couple weeks and [we're] not worried about what we should've done," Woodyard said.
Coming off a 34-17 loss in Houston on Monday night, the Titans will try to make their stand at home playing four of their final five games starting on Sunday with the New York Jets (3-8). The Titans have won 13 of their past 16 at Nissan Stadium, and linebacker Brian Orakpo says they understand the challenge they face.
A year ago, the Titans went 2-3 in December to miss out on the AFC South title but grab the second wild-card spot. Orakpo says they need to be realistic, ignore all the scenarios and see the Jets as the first step toward winning out.
"We have to give ourselves a chance, 10-6 looks pretty good to me," Orakpo said. "And we have to make sure that's a reality and not just some talk."
Losers of five straight, the Jets are hoping they can get Sam Darnold back at quarterback after missing the past two games with an injured foot, including a 27-13 loss to the Patriots last week. The rookie remains optimistic about the Jets' goals for a season in which coach Todd Bowles's future is on the clock.
"Just finishing strong, sticking together, doing what we can to win these last five, and who knows," Darnold said. "We'll go from there." VIKINGS AT PATRIOTS The month of December has been a special time for the New England Patriots during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.
Since the pair arrived in 2000, the Patriots are 64-13 during the final month of the regular season.
Brady has been the starter for all but six of those victories - four during his rookie season in 2000, and two in 2008 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
Still, the 41-year-old quarterback's 58 December wins are the most in NFL history. His .843 winning percentage is second-best among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. Roger Staubach (17-3, .850) is first.
Patriots special-teams captain Matt Slater is one of the few players left on New England's roster with enough tenure to appreciate that run and the emphasis Belichick puts on this portion of the season.
Just for good measure, Brady is 75-18 in regularseason games played on or after Thanksgiving.
Three of their final five games are at home, beginning with Sunday's matchup with Minnesota.
But even after the Patriots (8-3) earned their latest post-Turkey Day win last week over the Jets, Slater said the message coming from Belichick and Brady is far from a state of being content.
"I don't think we've played our best football yet," Slater said. "I think it was a step in the right direction."
That's not good news for a Vikings team that is in position to make the playoffs, but is also a few losses away from peering in from the outside.
Minnesota (6-4-1) has lost four straight regularseason meetings with New England, although the teams haven't met since 2014. The Vikings have won twice at New England, but their last victory was in 2000 in Belichick's first year.
Running back Dalvin Cook said the Vikings are trying to concentrate on themselves and not the Patriots' mystique.
"We're going to get caught up in us playing good football, and that's what we've got to focus on," he said.
49ERS AT SEAHAWKS The decision to part with Richard Sherman - along with several other impact veterans - was supposed to be part of the cumulative reason the Seattle Seahawks would finally take a step back. This was going to be the rebuild season, even if no one with the Seahawks ever wanted to use that word.
Sherman will see his former team up close on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers face the Seahawks. He will find a Seattle team that's not backsliding. Instead, Seattle (6-5) has won two straight and has a direct path to an NFC playoff berth in a season no one really expected the Seahawks to be in the conversation at the beginning of December.
The players who stepped in for the likes of Sherman and other veterans who departed after last season have brought a youthful exuberance. That has created a fun environment in Seattle only amplified by the Seahawks' success.
"This game is too crazy to not have fun, and it's definitely a point of emphasis for me, just for the guys that came in and were stepping into a lot of key positions, to not worry about who they were replacing or who you were coming behind," Seattle star linebacker Bobby Wagner said, "but just to have the fun you've been having all your life and everything else will figure out itself."
Fun has come around sparingly in San Francisco this season. The 49ers (2-9) were supposed to be in Seattle's position of competing for a playoff spot. But injuries - namely the loss of QB Jimmy Garoppolo - derailed those hopes early in the season. They looked great in thumping Oakland on Nov. 1, only to turn around and drop their next two against the weak Giants and Buccaneers.
"I do think we're going through this for a reason. I do think it can make us better," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "A lot of guys have gotten to play a lot that normally wouldn't be able to play, and I hope that helps us find some things out about people this year and helps us build this team better next year."
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman
Photos by The Associated Press, USA TODAY Sports and Getty Images