Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady insisted there is a "real urgency" for the NFL Super Bowl champions to arrest their slump ahead of Monday's clash with the New York Giants.

The Buccaneers (6-3) have lost back-to-back games as they prepare to host the Giants at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Brady has not lost three consecutive regular-season games since 2002, when he dropped four in a row, and the record seven-time Super Bowl champion knows the Buccaneers must start winning sooner rather than later.

"I think we have to change it and I think winning football is about doing the right thing as often as possible," Brady told reporters on Saturday.

"Everyone being on the same page, great communication and just giving the best effort as possible on every play. Things aren't always going to be perfect out there, but you have to have as few as mistakes as possible.

"I think there's a real urgency for us to have it right."

Despite their loss of form, the Buccaneers still lead the NFC South, ahead of the New Orleans Saints.

"It's not nearly as fun putting all the work in and us trying to grind and get it right," said Brady. "We're not doing what it takes on the field in order to win.

"In order to do it right, you put in a lot of time and energy and detail into what we're doing. It will feel a lot better when we win, but we have to go earn it and we're going against a team that challenges you to do it."

Brady is 5-1 in his six career regular-season games against the Giants (passing for more than 330 yards in four of those six games) but 0-2 against them in Super Bowls.

The 44-year-old leads the NFL this season in big plays passing (26), attempts per game (41.9), completions per game (28.2), passing yards per game (318.9), having completed 254 passes for 2,870 yards and 27 touchdowns.

His passer rating (106.1) through nine games is his best since 2015 with the New England Patriots.

"I actually have great teammates and great group of coaches and we're going to work our butt off to get it right," said Brady. "I think there are definitely things that we've done a good job of, but it's identifying those things and then working at them.

"I think the expectations are high for a reason because we have a lot of talented players, and we know that we can play at a high level. We just have to go do it."

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, will again be without star Antonio Brown against the visiting Giants.

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians confirmed Brown's absence on Saturday – the wide receiver has not played since Week 6 due to an ankle injury.

Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFL clash with the Chicago Bears.

Ravens quarterback Jackson is in doubt to face the Bears due to an illness, the franchise announced on Saturday.

Former MVP Jackson returned for full practice on Friday, having missed two days with an illness.

Jackson has only missed two games in his four-year career in the NFL – sitting out the 2019 season finale (rest) and a Week 12 fixture in 2020 (COVID-19).

Baltimore's Jackson rushed nine times for 39 yards in the Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins for an average of 4.3 yards, his lowest mark since Week 4 against Denver Broncos. However, his 6.0 yards per carry this season leads the league amongst qualified players, according to Stats Perform.

This season, Jackson has completed 199 of his 309 passes for 2,447 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 93.1 passer rating, while he has rushed for two scores and 639 yards.

The Ravens, who top the AFC North with a 6-3 record, have lost their last two games against the Bears but both encounters have gone to overtime and were decided by a field goal.

It is rare to head into a game wondering if the Kansas City Chiefs can match the explosiveness of their opponents on offense.

But such has been the success enjoyed by the Dallas Cowboys' attack in 2021, that the issue of whether the Chiefs can keep up looms over a mouthwatering matchup on Sunday.

The Cowboys' offense is the best in the NFL by yards per play with an average of 6.33, Dak Prescott building a case for both MVP and Comeback Player of the Year in a stunning return from the grisly ankle injury that prematurely ended his 2020 campaign.

Prescott leads the NFL with a passer rating of 110.8, throwing 20 touchdowns to five interceptions and averaging 8.19 yards per attempt, good for fifth in the league.

The Cowboys scored 29 points in the second quarter of their 43-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons last week. That is the most points ever scored by the team in a single quarter.

That was Dallas' largest win since a 48-7 victory against the Arizona Cardinals in October 2000. Including the playoffs, the Cowboys are 5-2-1 all-time in games immediately following a win of at least 40 points. 

The odds of the Cowboys improving to 8-2 as they compete for the top seed in the NFC playoffs would, therefore, appear to be stacked in their favour, even on the road at Arrowhead Stadium.

Entering Week 11, the Chiefs rank 10th in yards per play with 5.88, indicating they may struggle to operate at the same efficiency as Prescott and the Cowboys.

And that average was boosted significantly by their Week 10 blowout win over the Las Vegas Raiders, which saw Patrick Mahomes throw for 406 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

Mahomes is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era with multiple games of 400+ passing yards, 5+ touchdown passes and no picks in a career. 

If the man many consider the most talented quarterback in the NFL can replicate that performance, then the Chiefs will obviously have little issue keeping pace with the Cowboys. 

Yet his ability to do so partially rests on Dallas' desire to adapt and avoid living in single-high safety coverages Mahomes can pick apart as he did against a Raiders defense that showed no willingness to amend the gameplan.

If Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn throws different looks at Mahomes, then the challenge could be substantially harder for a quarterback who is tied third in the NFL with 10 interceptions against a defense that has lived off turnovers, Dallas' 17 takeaways the fifth-most in the NFL.

The slight improvements a vulnerable Kansas City defense has made over recent weeks are unlikely to be enough to slow down Prescott and Co.

For the Chiefs to solidify their position atop the AFC West by moving to 7-4 and silencing more doubters in the process, Mahomes will have to prove last week was not a flash in the pan and that this offense is firmly back to its best.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been activated off the team's reserve/COVID-19 list.

Roethlisberger missed last week's clash with the Detroit Lions, which finished 16-16 after overtime, but the Steelers' director of communications Burt Lauten confirmed on Saturday that the 39-year-old will be back for Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Steelers are 5-3-1 and second in the AFC North, though Roethlisberger's absence was felt against the Lions.

Mason Rudolph started in his place, but missed a glut of opportunities to deliver touchdown passes, including a late throw into the dirt that should have put Ray-Ray McCloud into the endzone.

Rudolph threw for, 242 yards, one touchdown, one interception and registered a completion percentage of 60.

While Rudolph told ESPN on Thursday that he was preparing to start against the Chargers, it appears he will be back on the bench, with Roethlisberger able to return to action.

Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has thrown for 1,986 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season across eight games.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and will miss his side's next two games at a minimum.

Cooper tested positive to COVID-19 and has been definitely ruled out of Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After that, the Cowboys have a short week with a Thanksgiving Game against the Las Vegas Raiders on the following Thursday, which Cooper will miss as he is unvaccinated.

Under the NFL's COVID-19 protocol, unvaccinated players must spend a mandatory 10 days away from the team if they test positive.

As a result, the earliest Cooper can link up again with the Cowboys is November 29, three days after the Raiders game, putting him in doubt also for the Week 13 game against the New Orleans Saints on December 2 as well.

The wide receiver has caught 44 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns in nine games this season.

The Cowboys boast a 7-2 record and have the top-ranked offense in the league, led by quarterback Dak Prescott.

Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack will miss the rest of the season due to a foot injury requiring surgery next week.

The 30-year-old six-time Pro Bowler sustained the injury in the Bears' Week 3 defeat to the Cleveland Browns but played on for the next four games.

Mack had missed the Bears' past two games – defeats to the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers – and head coach Matt Nagy confirmed he will require season-ending surgery.

"With him, it's been the last several weeks just trying to get right," Nagy told reporters.

"I think we did everything as far as trying to attack it the right way with him, and I know he's put a lot of time and energy in trying to get back and see where things are at. But this is where we're at.

"I know he's frustrated because he's such a competitor. But this is the best thing for him and the best situation to be able to help him out and get it fixed."

Mack joins veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan on injured reserve for the Bears who have a 3-6 record and face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Mack recorded 19 tackles, 6.0 sacks and six tackles-for-loss across seven games this season.

The Carolina Panthers will start Cam Newton at quarterback against the Washington Football Team on Sunday.

Head coach Matt Rhule said earlier in the week that the Panthers were "trending" towards starting Newton.

And he confirmed on Friday that the franchise's first overall pick in 2011, who returned for a second spell last week, would get the start under center in Week 11.

Newton will come up against a Washington team led by Ron Rivera, previously his coach in Carolina.

"He's really done a nice job learning the game plan for this week,'' Rhule said of the QB. "He's worked really hard. He's really a smart player. Really a smart quarterback.''

"The energy is awesome. I don't mean to ever diminish it. I just love the fact that he's on the practice field, he throws his last ball each period, turns and runs a lap and runs back. It's way more to me about the example being set.

"We all understand Cam is a force of nature almost in terms of the things he brings. But I don't want it to be all that people realise. What I see is a true professional that wants to win and puts the time in.''.

Newton made his second debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and had an instant impact, producing two moments that will live long in the memory.

His first touch saw him find the endzone on a two-yard run to give the Panthers the lead, and on his second he connected with Robby Anderson on a two-yard touchdown pass as Carolina cruised to a 34-10 win.

P.J. Walker was the starter at Arizona, and Rhule suggested he will still get some snaps in relief of Newton against Washington as the Panthers look to boost their playoff hopes and move to 6-5.

"We'll have both guys ready," he added. "Game plan wise, we could see a myriad of different things happen.''

 

Dallas Goedert has agreed a four-year contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles, who recently traded star tight end Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals.

The departure of Super Bowl-winning hero Ertz last month cleared the path for Goedert to take up the number one tight end spot for Philadelphia.

And the Eagles have made sure he will be around for his prime after confirming they have reached agreement on a deal that keeps him with the team until 2025.

According to NFL.com, the pact is worth $57million including $35m guaranteed.

Those terms ensure Goedert is the tight end with the third-highest average annual salary in the NFL, behind only George Kittle and Mark Andrews, while it is ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce.

"We're really excited for him," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said on Friday. 

"He's the type of guy that we think the world of. He's a great football player, great on and off the field. 

"Just the type of guy you want to succeed and sign contracts like this and keep in the building."

Goedert, who was drafted in the second-round ahead of the 2018 season, has 29 receptions for 429 yards and two touchdowns in nine games so far this year.

He is averaging 14.8 yards per reception in 2021, which is second only to David Njoku (16.0) among NFL tight ends.

Goedert has remarkably recorded a first down with 75.9 per cent of his catches this year - which is the best rate at his position - and he ranks fourth with 6.8 yards after the catch.

The Eagles are at home against the 5-4 New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Having won two of their last three games to reach 4-6, they remain in contention for a Wild Card place in the NFC.

Nick Chubb has been activated off the COVID-19/reserve list ahead of the Cleveland Browns' Week 11 game at home to the winless Detroit Lions.

Chubb missed the Browns' defeat to the New England Patriots last week after testing positive for coronavirus.

The two-time Pro Bowler has played just seven games this year, having also missed two weeks with a calf injury. Cleveland are 4-3 with their star running back and 1-2 without him.

Indeed, the Browns' numbers across the board without Chubb are a concern, making his a timely return.

Their points per game have fallen from 27.6 to 12.7 in his absence, while both their rushing yards per game (169.6 to 118.0) and yards per carry (5.37 to 4.92) also unsurprisingly drop.

Cleveland's 217 net yards against the Patriots were their fewest in any game since Kevin Stefanski became head coach prior to last season. 

Fellow backs Demetric Felton and John Kelly were likewise placed on the COVID list before that loss, while Kareem Hunt remains injured, going some way to explaining why the Browns have rushed on 50.6 per cent of plays with Chubb in the team but just 40.0 per cent without.

Rookie backup Felton was also activated ahead of taking on the Lions.

Chubb leads NFL RBs this year for yards per carry (6.01), trailing only Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (6.03) among all players.

Despite his various absences, Chubb is third for rushing yards in 2021 (721), behind Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor (both 937).

Chubb's six rushing touchdowns are tied for his most through seven games, while only in his career year in 2019 did he have marginally more rushing yards at this stage (738).

However, the Lions are 16-4 all-time against the Browns, and their rush defense (4.36 yards per play, ranked 18th) has been far more effective than their miserable pass defense (7.68 yards per play, ranked 32nd).

Will the NFL return to some form of normality this week? Maybe... or maybe not.

Even in this season of shock results without any clear Super Bowl favourite, Week 10 stood out for its sheer number of upsets.

The defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were stunned by the Washington Football Team, the Miami Dolphins overturned the Baltimore Ravens and the short-handed league-leading Arizona Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers.

When the San Francisco 49ers then beat NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams in Monday Night Football, it became the first week in NFL history in which four teams had won by double-digits having entered the week at least four wins behind their opponents.

Week 11 looks no easier to call, and there are plenty of intriguing matchups before even considering the potential for further setbacks for some favourites.

Dallas Cowboys (7-2) @ Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

With Patrick Mahomes back on form, two of the best teams in the NFL should be set for a titanic tussle at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Mahomes, setting aside his shaky displays to that point, threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions against the Las Vegas Raiders last week, becoming the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have two games of 400-plus passing yards, five-plus TD passes and no picks in his career.

The 41-14 win represented the league-leading 10th time the Chiefs have scored 40 points in a game since the start of the 2018 season, yet they were topped by the Cowboys, whose 43-3 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons was their biggest since a 48-7 victory over Arizona in 2000.

The Cowboys have gone 5-2-1 all-time previously in games following a win of at least 40 points (including playoffs), but this was an unprecedented success. The team's 29 points in the second quarter in Week 10 were their most in a single quarter of any game in their history.

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) @ Buffalo Bills (6-3)

Neither the Chiefs nor the Cowboys can match the Bills' average winning margin of 26.3 points this year. That is the highest mark in the NFL, having been boosted by last week's 45-17 victory over the New York Jets, their NFL-leading sixth win by 15 or more points.

The Cowboys are ahead of the Bills in points per game, but Buffalo have given up the fewest points per game. The last team to lead on both offense and defense in this regard were the 2005 Colts.

The achievements of this year's Colts team have been rather more modest. Their five wins have come against teams with a combined record of 13-34 (.261).

Still, Jonathan Taylor has excelled, scoring a rushing touchdown in seven straight games – the last NFL player to reach eight was DeAngelo Williams in 2008. In fact, there is rushing talent on both sides of the ball, with the Bills last week having four different players score rushing TDs for the first time in team history.

Arizona Cardinals (8-2) @ Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

Another week, another big NFC West game. The Cardinals' form has tailed away a little since Kyler Murray's injury, but they are still unbeaten on the road and looking to start 6-0 away from home for only the second time in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have their starting QB back, but Russell Wilson did little to help their offense against the Green Bay Packers. He was shut out for the first time in his NFL career in his 166th start (including playoffs).

Seattle's problems on that side of the ball did not end there, though. They were held to under 100 rushing yards for a third consecutive game for the first time since the end of the 2016 season, while only twice in the 21st century have they seen such a streak extended to four games.

Whether or not the Seahawks recover this week, history suggests they are likely to be able to stick with the Cardinals. Six of the past 10 meetings between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer.

Elsewhere...

Cam Newton's Panthers face Ron Rivera's Washington, their first meeting since both left Carolina (Newton returned last week). This is the third time since 2010 a former MVP QB has faced the coach he won his award with, following Peyton Manning versus Jim Caldwell in 2015 and Tom Brady against Bill Belichick earlier this season.

The 49ers are now 4-1 when Jimmy Garoppolo's passer rating is above 100.0 this year (141.7 vs. the Rams) and 0-3 when it is not. He was helped last week by a season-high 156 rushing yards, keeping San Francisco's offense on the ball for just over 39 minutes. They should expect more of the same against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have failed to force a turnover in six games this season.

The Cincinnati Bengals need both of their former LSU stars to rediscover some form at the Raiders. Joe Burrow has thrown an interception in five straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL, while Ja'Marr Chase – surely not helped by his QB's struggles – has fallen short of 50 receiving yards in consecutive games after making that mark in his first seven appearances.

The Detroit Lions will hope to learn from next opponents the Cleveland Browns, who have returned to contention since in 2018 becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to end a losing streak of 10-plus games with a tie. Last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions became the second.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hailed his side's defense after their shutout 25-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday.

The Patriots improved to 7-4 across the season, extending their undefeated away run to five games, being one of two teams who remain unbeaten on the road.

New England also maintained their excellent defensive form, having allowed only 13 points in their past three games.

"I'm proud of the way our guys played on defense," Belichick said at the post-game news conference. "The coaching staff did a good job.

"I thought our defensive coaches really worked hard this week. It was a short week of preparation.

"[Falcons head coach] Arthur [Smith] is always giving us trouble, we had a lot of trouble with him at Tennessee. He gave us some problems tonight but fortunately we were able to get out of some of them one way or another.

"You've got to give the coaches and players a lot of credit. They did a good job."

The Patriots are second in the AFC East after winning their past five consecutive games, and defensive back Devin McCourty said they had discovered their "blueprint" but had to keep it up.

"We found our blueprint," McCourty told reporters. "It's hard work. It's putting in the hours practising hard. We can't let that slip up. End of November-December we have to stick to that.

"I think that's shown so far, when we stick that we have a chance to win a lot of games."

The New England Patriots continued their mastery of the Atlanta Falcons, riding a suffocating defensive performance to a 25-0 road win Thursday. 

It was the Patriots' fifth win in a row overall and seventh consecutive victory against the Falcons as New England (7-4) dominated the game despite scoring only one offensive touchdown. 

Mac Jones hit Nelson Agholor on a crossing route for a 19-yard TD early in the second quarter that gave New England a 10-0 lead, as the rookie quarterback again showed impressive efficiency in completing 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards. 

It was a different story for Atlanta's veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 153 yards and saw his team rush for just 40 more in another disastrous performance.

The Falcons' last four drives of the game ended interceptions, including Kyle Van Noy picking off backup QB Josh Rosen and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown with 1:23 remaining. 

Kicker Nick Folk accounted for the rest of New England's scoring with four field goals from as many attempts, while Younghoe Koo missed his only try for Atlanta. 

The Falcons (4-6) were shut out for the first time since a 38-0 loss at the Carolina Panthers in December 2015, and on the heels of their 43-3 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in the previous game, they have been out-scored 89-6 since their most recent touchdown early in the fourth quarter of a 27-25 victory over the New Orleans Saints on November 7. 

 

The Baltimore Ravens are bullish that quarterback Lamar Jackson missing practice due to a non-COVID-related illness this week is not a "big deal" ahead of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

Jackson was not part of Thursday practice due to illness, having been sent home from the team facility on Wednesday morning.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh clarified the illness was not COVID-related, easing doubts about Jackson's availability for Sunday's game, but Thursday's practice was the fourth time he has missed a session this season.

"I don't really think it's that big of a deal," Ravens center Bradley Bozeman said on Jackson's absences. "I know Lamar is doing his things at home that he needs to do. He's watching plays. He's getting everything right at home.

"When he comes back in, he's not going to miss a step. Week in and week out, he's continued to build on that and step up to the plate when he needs to. I don't see that being an issue."

The Ravens quarterback is enjoyed an MVP-like season, ranking eighth in the NFL in passing (2,447 yards) with 14 touchdowns and seventh in rushing (639 yards) with two touchdowns.

Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman added: "I think he's feeling better."

NFL officials' emphasis on calling taunting penalties this season has generated complaints from players, coaches and fans, but the league is not backing down from its stance. 

Multiple outlets reported the NFL sent a memo and video to its teams this week reiterating the new officiating philosophy. 

NFL officials have assessed 35 taunting penalties this season, ESPN reported, with 16 of them coming in the last three weeks. 

Perhaps the most controversial of those calls came in the November 8 game between the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Referee Tony Corrente flagged Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh for taunting following a third-down sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter, extending a Pittsburgh drive that ended in a field goal for a 26-20 lead in a game they won 29-27.

Though Marsh insisted he had simply performed the same sack celebration he has used for years, Corrente said he threw the flag because he saw Marsh turn toward the Steelers bench "and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them." 

Directing any sort of reaction at an opponent is a key trigger to the new points of emphasis, as NFL senior vice president of officiating training and development Walt Anderson reiterated in the video distributed this week. 

"Avoid any actions where you approach an opponent or his bench and gesture, posture or otherwise demonstrate any verbal or physical form of disrespect," Anderson said.

"Turn away. Take the opportunity to celebrate with your teammates and don't put officials in the position of having to make a judgment about whether or not your actions rise to the level of a foul. Remove all doubt and don't put yourself or your team at risk of a penalty."

The video included examples of what the league considers acceptable celebrations by players in addition to those that cross the newly established line. The ultimate point, according to the NFL, is to encourage sportsmanship not only among its players but among those watching them play. 

"It's an exciting game. It's a game that's very emotional, but there are times that some people are egregious with celebrating and it can be over the top," Bears head coach Matt Nagy told reporters recently. "I think probably the biggest message is 'let's calm this down a little bit' because people watch, and people want to see a little bit of respect and a little bit of doing things the right way.

"It doesn't mean you can't have fun, right? But there's young kids out there right now that are watching games and what happens is you go to some of these sporting events and you might see some imitation going on that's taking it over the top.

"I'm a firm believer in respect and just kids growing and watching, and we have a huge platform as leaders. I'm talking players and coaches.

"So let's understand what the rules are, let's do it the right way, let's still have fun - these guys are still having fun and not taunting, you can still have a great time - but let's stay within the rules when we do it. So that's probably why."

While Nagy and some other coaches have said they support the point of emphasis, New Orleans Saints head coach and NFL competition committee member Sean Payton expressed concern Thursday about the way it is being applied. 

"I think it's being over-officiated," he said on the Dan Patrick Show. "I don't think any of us who discussed it [on the competition committee] saw it going where it is now."

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