As we turn toward Week 17 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
-- A rookie who has exploded in recent weeks.
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NFL: PI reversals up again after lull. With the 2019 regular season coming to a close, the NFL is getting closer to its offseason review of officiating. One of the issues about using replay review with pass interference will center around a perceived lack of consistency in reversals. The numbers throughout the season suggest an undulating standard that confused coaches and raised questions about whether the criticism of how replay review was being decided caused the league to soften its standard for reversing a call.
After Week 4, there had been 31 pass interference calls and seven reversals, for a reversal rate of 22.6 percent, including just four reversals in 25 challenges by teams (16 percent). Through the first eight weeks of the season, the reversal rate had dropped dramatically. Of 52 pass interference calls, just eight were reversed, for a reversal rate of 15.4 percent, and the rate of reversals on team challenges dropped to 11.4 percent (five reversals in 44 team challenges). That is around the time that league officials were essentially encouraging coaches not to challenge pass interference for all but the most egregious cases.
But in the final weeks of the season, the standard seems to have shifted, and reversals have jumped up again. Through Week 16, there have been 97 pass interference calls, with 21 reversals. The overall reversal rate is back up to 21.6 percent, boosted by the reversal rate in Weeks 9 through 16. In that span, there were 45 pass interference calls and 13 reversals. That is a reversal rate of 28.9 percent. Compare that to the reversal rate from Week 5 through Week 8: There were 21 pass interference calls and just one reversal, for a reversal rate of 5 percent. Expect the Competition Committee to ask what changed to account for such a dramatic increase in reversals in the second half of the season.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Reid sees Bieniemy doing big things as a head coach. As we finish another season, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is preparing once again for the playoffs -- but he is also, once again, preparing to lose another assistant to a head-coaching job elsewhere.
To be exact, 10 of Reid's former assistants have gone on to become head coaches over the years. Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier, Todd Bowles and Steve Spagnuolo all held top jobs in seasons past. Pat Shurmur, John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott, Doug Pederson, Ron Rivera and Matt Nagy were all head coaches in the league at the start of this season.
Get ready to add another name to the list: Reid believes he will lose offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after the season.
"He knows football like the back of his hand," Reid said of Bieniemy this week. "He is passionate about it and a great person. I'm a big fan of his. Don't really want to lose him, but I have a feeling that's going to happen. Somebody is getting a championship-caliber coach there."
The constant discussion has always been about Reid calling plays as the head coach, with his offensive coordinators getting limited opportunities to call plays themselves. However, Reid believes Bieniemy's lack of solo experience shouldn't be a factor.
"It seems like play-calling is always the issue," Reid said. "He called during the preseason. He helps me with all of the set-ups. The only reason I do it is because I enjoy doing it. I don't enjoy this, but I enjoy that. It's one of those things. If that's the issue, that shouldn't be an issue. Most of all, you're going to get a leader of men. That's what he does."
We still haven't played a complete game yet.
But it hasn't really ever been said in a negative fashion, probably because the Chiefs were still winning games. Their mindset is that they want to peak right at the end of the season and carry that into the playoffs. As Watkins put it, "We're right there. And when the postseason comes and it all comes together, look out."
"I feel like, as a team, we're playing really good football on offense, defense and special teams," Mahomes said on Christmas Eve. "I feel like we're hitting our stride here as we're hitting the playoffs. Where we were last year, we were kind of hot in the middle, and as the season ended, we fluctuated a little. I feel like we're really building right now at the end of this season."
We've all seen the defense go through a transformation these last few weeks. On offense, the Chiefs haven't put up the ridiculous numbers they achieved last year, but Mahomes feels they're a complete unit right now.
"That we're able to do a variety of things," Mahomes said when asked about what he sees in the momentum that is building within the offense. "We're able to hit our shot plays, but if you look at this last game, it was moving the ball down the field a different way than we usually do. I feel like, as an offense, we're able to do different things than we were able to do last year. That's going to really help us out going into the playoffs."
Last season ended when Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Chiefs in overtime of the AFC Championship Game; the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. It appears the Chiefs feel this season they're even closer to a Super Bowl appearance than they were last season, when a coin toss in overtime of the AFC title match took away Mahomes' chance to take them there.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Brady not thinking retirement yet. Despite speculation about his future plans -- including the possibility of retiring after this, his 20th season in the NFL -- Tom Brady reiterated to Westwood One radio host Jim Gray that his lofty goals remain.
"I think I have said for a long time, my tune has not changed," he said. "I hope to continue playing. I've had long-term goals. I've have short-term goals. And again, football is a contact sport. You never know when your last game is going to be, and you count your blessings every time you walk off the field healthy."
Gray posed the question to Brady on Monday night, two days after the Patriots beat the Bills to clinch an 11th straight AFC East title. The Pats quarterback is in uncharted waters, in the final months of his contract, which is set to void at the end of the league year (March 18, 2020). At Brady's insistence, the team can't place the franchise tag on the 42-year-old, meaning he could end up as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Rookie QB Stidham turning some heads. Just prior to the Patriots game against the Bills, Bill Belichick casually mentioned that Tom Brady had moments this season where he hadn't been able to do much in practice, then referencing the job "Stid" -- rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham -- had done running the first-team offense in his place. No one works more closely with the former Auburn product than offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and he too has been impressed by the youngster.
"Each week, you have to prepare like you're going to go in there on the second play of the game if something were to happen. I think he's ready to go each day of practice," McDaniels said earlier this week. "He stays late, he's here early, he really does a good job of digesting the scouting report, the game plan. He does extra work at night on his own. He and Cody (Kessler, the third-string QB) both really work hard at the preparation aspect of playing the position of quarterback here, which is a challenge in the NFL. And those guys, they work really hard at being ready to go."
Several defensive teammates have complimented Stidham on the job he has done running the scout team. McDaniels sees the benefit in that for the rook and for Kessler, as well.
"They take a lot of pride in the things that they do to get our defense ready," he said. "Being able to compete and throw against those guys, that's not always easy. That's a great learning opportunity for all those young guys to be able to go in there and really try to compete against the starting defense. When they get their chances to go in there and run some of our stuff, which they do periodically anyway, there's some pressure on them to go in there and execute and communicate in the huddle and do things right at the line of scrimmage and have a productive period. I really think [Stidham has] got a great attitude, he's improved during the course of the year and he's ready to go each week."
Kessler hasn't thrown a single pass in the NFL this season, while Stidham has completed two of his four passes in mop-up duty, seeing time in three games, the last Oct. 21 against the New York Jets.
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NEW YORK GIANTS: Sack secures the bag. A correction of a statistic from Sunday's game -- which is routine -- significantly enhanced the holiday season for Giants linebacker Markus Golden. On Tuesday, Golden learned that his half sack of Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins was changed to a full sack. (Teammate Lorenzo Carter, who was holding Haskins' ankle, was initially given credit for a half sack.)
With that full sack, Golden reached double-digit sacks on the season, triggering a $1 million bonus. Golden has 10 of the Giants' 35 sacks this season.
"I earned it," said Golden, whose relentless play stands out.
Golden, one of Giants general manager Dave Gettleman's best free-agent signings, inked a one-year, $3.75 million contract this past offseason.
"I think he's a great coach," Jones said. "I think, particularly for a young quarterback, an opportunity to work with him, as he's kind of installed his offense, and how he sees it, and how he's coached me, has been very important to my development, as well as Coach (Mike) Shula. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to work with him."
Jones said the question about job security is "above my pay grade."
He added: "I've really enjoyed working with Coach Shurmur, and I think he's done a whole lot for my development and my growth. Yeah, he's been great for me."
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NEW YORK JETS: Ending the season on a high note? If New York sports talk radio is an accurate barometer, coach Adam Gase still has a ways to go in terms of winning over Jets fans. But his injury-riddled team -- this season included quarterback Sam Darnold missing three games with mononucleosis -- has made an impressive turnaround after a disastrous 1-7 start.
"I love the fact that our guys kept battling, kept practicing hard, kept trying to find a way to improve and flip it around," Gase said Thursday. "I hate it for our fans. ... We didn't play very well at the beginning of the year. We had too many negative things happen and we didn't find a way to win games. We got going too late."
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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Sanders shining down the stretch.Eagles fans aren't the most patient folks in the football world. A few weeks into the season, they were proclaiming -- on Philadelphia sports talk radio, on social media and, probably, in empty parking lots -- that rookie running back Miles Sanders was a bust. A waste of the 53rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
That narrative has changed.
A Penn State product (and former backup to Saquon Barkley), Sanders is a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate -- he would follow the Giants' Barkley in that honor -- and a staple in the Eagles' 12th-ranked offense. Sanders had 156 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown Sunday in the Eagles' win over the Cowboys. A week prior, he had 172 total yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Redskins; that day, Sanders set franchise rookie records for scrimmage yards and rushing yards in a season.
"This stuff don't feel real," Sanders said after that game. "I don't want to make this about me," he said, adding that the Eagles' victory was most important.
He ranks fourth among NFL rookies with 766 rushing yards and leads all rookie RBs in receptions (47), receiving yards (510) and receiving TDs (three).
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Minkah explains his breakout season.Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has been one of this year's breakout stars. After an early-season trade sent him from Miami to Pittsburgh, he's earned his first Pro Bowl nomination, become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and helped put his team in contention for a playoff spot after a 1-4 start.
The biggest reason for all that success? The Steelers simply asked Fitzpatrick to focus on one position instead of playing him in various roles as he did in Miami.
"When I first got here, I just played middle-of-the-field safety or in the half," said Fitzpatrick, whose responsibilities in Miami included lining up at safety, slot corner and even linebacker. "They just wanted to simplify it for me because I was learning a new playbook and it can get confusing. They know I can move around and play different positions, but they just wanted to lighten the load. That's what I told them: I just wanted to go out there and play fast. And that's what I've been doing."
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One of the major advantages for San Francisco is that, while teams across the league are dealing with a slate of injuries, the Niners are relatively healthy going into Week 17. DE Dee Ford was the only player who did not participate in Thursday's practice. He's still dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him out for four of the last five games. WR Deebo Samuel was out on the field Thursday, once again in a blue, non-contact jersey like earlier in the week. I'm told his shoulder injury should not hinder his ability to play in Seattle on Sunday.
I spoke with RB Raheem Mostert in the locker room and he told me that the team is not focused on the lengthy list of "what could happen" scenarios surrounding Sunday's game. Mostert says the priority is playing every single second vs. the Seahawks like it's the only game they'll ever play again. The key to that, according to Mostert, is switching off any emotions around the "hype." Along those same lines, DC Robert Saleh referenced one of my favorite movies to get that point across.
"It's not the Catalina Wine Mixer. You guys remember that movie?" Saleh said, referencing Step Brothers. "It's not the biggest deal in the world. ... Your mindset should always be internally driven, in that every day, every practice, every rep is a championship play. You have to approach it that way and the opponent is just secondary."
An interesting mindset for a team that will definitely be playing January football.