Stand-in head coach Dan Quinn was delighted with the effort of the Dallas Cowboys as they ended their run of back-to-back defeats with a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The former Atlanta Falcons head coach is now defensive coordinator at the Cowboys, but was asked to fill in for head coach Mike McCarthy after he was forced to stay at home due to COVID-19.

The victory at the Caesers Superdome follows a Week 11 defeat at the Kansas City Chiefs and an overtime loss against the Las Vegas Raiders last time out. 

The Cowboys now move to 8-4, comfortably ahead of the Washington Football Team (5-6) at the top of the NFC East.

"Make no mistake, we were not pleased with our last performance [against the Raiders]," Quinn told reporters after the game. "So we needed to make sure we came back and played like we were capable of and it was cool to see the guys fight and battle for it.

"We knew going in tonight was going to be a fight, and this was going to be a battle, and it certainly was.

"We were coming in ready to make sure we were ready to get it on with physicality and aggression, if it took all night or longer into overtime, we were ready to go however long it took."

Quinn praised the leadership within the team, making particular mention of quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed 26 of 40 attempts for 237 yards, including a touchdown pass to Malcolm Gallup in the opening quarter.

"We've got some excellent leaders. If you guys could hear the way Dak talks before the game to the team, it's one of the most impressive things that I've been a part of. The commitment, the leadership, these guys battling for one another, you can tell they've got a unique brotherhood that ties them together."

McCarthy watched from home, but told ESPN via phone following the win: "It was rough, I'm not going to lie. I'm proud of the guys and how it all turned out, but I don't ever want to do this again.

"Adversity win, ugly win, however, you want to define it, you have to have these wins, especially when you get to later in the year when you're playing teams that are trying to get in the playoffs or make a run.

"This is a great experience for us. Let's face it, this is today's NFL. You've got to be able to win with change."

The Dallas Cowboys ended their run of back-to-back defeats, returning to winning ways with a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFL.

Dallas were never headed on Thursday after Dak Prescott – who completed 26 of 40 attempts for 237 yards – found Malcolm Gallup for an opening-quarter touchdown, managing four interceptions in a game for the first time in almost 11 years.

The Cowboys, who improved to 8-4 for the season, now have 16 interceptions this campaign – the equal-second most in the NFL in 2021 alongside the Buffalo Bills – after Saints quarterback Taysom Hill ended the contest with four interceptions on 19-of-41 passing for 264 yards and two TDs.

Dallas claimed the lead in the first period after CeeDee Lamb's run, star quarterback Prescott finding Gallup with a great grab in the corner.

New Orleans responded in the second period when Hill, who was troubled by an early hand niggle, found Lil'Jordan Humphrey for a 24-yard touchdown.

Dallas took a six-point lead into half-time courtesy of back-to-back Greg Zuerlein field goals and a tremendous Jayron Kearse interception.

Kicker Brett Maher closed the gap in the third quarter, before Tony Pollard's sensational 58-yard run down the sideline for a touchdown with Marcus Williams unable to close him down.

Hill's tough night was capped in the fourth period when he threw a pick-six to Cowboys defensive tackle Carlos Watkins.

Deonte Harris broke two tackles to score a spectacular late 70-yard consolation TD, but the Saints (5-7) fell to a fifth consecutive defeat – the franchise's longest single-season losing run since 2005.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown is one of three players suspended for three games for violating NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols.

The Buccaneers wide receiver along with team-mate Mike Edwards and free agent John Franklin III, if signed by a club, have each been suspended without pay for the next three games.

The NFL said in a statement that all three players had accepted their sanctions and waived their right of appeal. All three have since been vaccinated.

The NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement: "The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority. The protocols were jointly developed working with our respective experts to ensure that we are practicing and playing football as safely as possible during the ongoing pandemic.

"The NFL-NFLPA jointly reinforce their commitment and further emphasize the importance of strict adherence to the protocols to protect the well-being of everyone associated with the NFL."

Brown's former personal chef claimed last month that the wide receiver had obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card during the offseason.

The wide receiver had been expected to miss Tampa Bay's next two games due to an ankle injury that has kept him out since Week 7.

Brown has 29 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns in five games this NFL season.

Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers says the Green Bay Packers have defied expectations amid more injuries than ever, meaning their 9-3 record "feels pretty good".

The Packers are top in the NFC North ahead of their Week 13 bye where Rodgers, who has thrown 2,878 yards for 23 touchdowns this season, will get the chance to rest a niggling toe issue.

Green Bay's impressive run has come amid injury issues to cornerback Jaire Alexander, center Josh Myers, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, while star wide receiver Davante Adams tested positive to COVID-19 last month.

"I think we've been dealing with as many injuries as we've had throughout the years," Rodgers said during an appearance on The Pat McAfee show. "A lot of important players, starters on IR, no chance to return and some with a chance.

"Bakhtiari obviously had an opportunity, not sure when that will do. Jaire, hoping him. Za'Darius who knows? Josh Myers up in the air.

"There's a lot of those and then you have the weekly injuries we've had with Kevin King and Aaron Jones. [The bye] definitely comes at a good time.

"For us to be 9-3, not many people expected that looking at our schedule and what we've dealt with this year with Davante being out with COVID and all the injuries up front and on the defensive side of the ball, that feels pretty good."

Rodgers has been in the thick of the news, with his immunisation revelation before testing positive to COVID-19, along with his tongue-in-cheek remark about "COVID toe", all the while his side have claimed good wins against the likes of the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

"It hasn’t been a quiet 12 weeks," he added. "I'm very happy with where we're at. Very happy to have gotten off to the star that we've gotten off to. Happy we've faced some adversity and we're moving through it and close to the other side of it."

The Packers defeated the Rams 36-28 on Sunday, with Rodgers throwing two touchdown passes, as well as completing one rushing TD.

Adams, who has five touchdowns for the season including two in Week 11 in the 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, had eight receptions against the Rams for 104 yards but no touchdowns.

"He has a lot of freedom which he should because he has such a great release pattern and he's such a smart guy," Rodgers said about Adams. "It's not like he's going outside the schematic things but he's making decisions that might not be the expected paper decisions, when you’re looking at it on paper.

"There's paper routes and there's do-whatever-you-want routes for Davante. He did it last week against Minnesota on the second touchdown, he ad-libbed that route, that's why I was a bit late getting to him.

"Normally I have a pretty good sense. You've got to read body movements. Also our conversations are very high level when it comes to those situations."

Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers has insisted that he "won't miss any time" regardless of whether or not he has surgery to fix a toe issue.

The quarterback did not practice in the days prior to the Packers' 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday, but played the full game.

Green Bay, who top the NFC North with a 9-3 record, now have a bye week, meaning their next fixture is not until December 13 against the Chicago Bears, giving Rodgers the chance to recover and consider his options.

NFL Media reported on Monday that the 37-year-old would not be having surgery, but Rodgers revealed that it remains a possibility, although one he would prefer to avoid.

"Comparing this Monday to last Monday I definitely feel better and same with this Tuesday to last Tuesday," Rodgers said during in an appearance on the The Pat McAfee Show.

"So, you know, I'll just keep getting treatment. We were hoping to avoid surgery, obviously, but the surgery would be such a minor one that it wouldn't be something that [would cause me] to miss time.

"That's a pre-requisite of any surgery that I have at this point, that I'm not going to miss any time. We'll kind of reassess early next week and make a decision.

Rodgers explained that, should he be forced to have an operation, it would prevent him from damaging the toe further but also immobilise it, creating a new problem that he would have to contend with for the remainder of the season.

"The surgery would immobilise the toe and that would be an issue I would be dealing with the entire season," Rodgers continued. "I would avoid any further displacement but it would immobilise the toe.

"We're hoping that, with a couple of weeks, we can get enough healing and maybe we can avoid doing that. We'll reassess, like I said, probably later this week or early next week.

"The ultimate goal is to not have to do surgery, this thing heals up a little bit better and I make it through a few more weeks."

Rodgers also hinted that members of the Packers' staff may be leaking information to the media, following the reports that suggested surgery was not an option he was considering.

"With these reports, I don't know where they're coming from," Rodgers added. 

"I don't know who's talking. It seems like there's certain coaches who may have friends in the media who they don't realise are actually just trying to report things."

Rodgers has thrown 2,878 yards for 23 touchdowns in 2021, with 247 completions and just four interceptions from 11 games played.

Amari Cooper's prospective return for the Dallas Cowboys against the New Orleans Saints is in doubt, with the wide receiver still not 100 per cent fit after his positive coronavirus test.

Cooper, who is unvaccinated, has missed the last two Cowboys games, both of which have ended in defeat.

With three losses in their last four games, the Cowboys have gone from 6-1 to 7-4 and have seen their lead in the NFC East trimmed.

Dallas will hope to get back on track against a slumping Saints team on Thursday, though they may have to do so without Cooper once more.

Asked about Cooper, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said the former first-round pick is "still not feeling the best".

"My gut would be if he doesn't practice tomorrow [Wednesday], I don't see him going to the game," said McCarthy, who himself will not be able to attend Thursday's game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Cooper has made 44 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns this season.

He has been usurped as the top option in the Cowboys' passing game by last year's first-round pick CeeDee Lamb, who has 740 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his second season.

Lamb returned to practice this week after missing last week's overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with a concussion and expects to play at New Orleans.

It's Week 13 in the NFL and the fantasy playoffs are on the horizon.

If you're near the bottom of your league's standings, it's probably game over, time to focus on Christmas shopping and plan for next year.

Yet if you're in the midst of a battle for a playoff spot or fighting to secure a top seed, it's never been more important to consistently nail your starting lineup selections.

Stats Perform is once again here with a helping hand, looking at four offensive players and a defense who deserve to be fantasy starters this week.

 

Quarterback: Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans

An otherwise explosive performance from Wentz, in which he threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was undermined by a pair of interceptions, though one of those picks came on a last-gasp Hail Mary attempt.

Turnovers could well be a problem again versus the lowly Texans, whose defense is fifth in the NFL with 20 takeaways, but that should not prohibit fantasy managers from slotting Wentz into their lineup against one of the league's worst teams.

The reverse fixture back in Week 6 saw Wentz average over 11 yards per attempt and, with his 20-5 touchdown to interception ratio the fourth-best in the league, the likely outcome is that the former second overall pick manages to avoid turnovers en route to a productive fantasy performance.

Running Back: Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

Mitchell is one half of a devastating two-headed monster leading the 49ers' running game, and he and ultra-versatile wide receiver Deebo Samuel have gashed teams at will over the course of San Francisco's three-game winning streak.

The Niners are averaging 130.9 rush yards per game, the sixth-most in the NFL, and racked up 208 yards on the ground in their Week 12 win over the Minnesota Vikings, sixth-round rookie Mitchell contributing 133 of them in his fourth 100-yard performance of the season.

This week, that aforementioned monster will be minus Samuel due to a groin injury, meaning potentially greater workloads for Mitchell and fellow tailback Jeff Wilson Jr. against a Seahawks team dead last in average time of possession. All signs point to San Francisco controlling the clock against a slumping Seattle outfit and setting up Mitchell to continue his outstanding first year in the league.

Wide Receiver: Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants

The Dolphins are surging, winning four in a row, and so is their first-round pick, whose performances over the last two weeks have made his status as the sixth overall selection look less dubious.

Having caught eight passes for 65 yards against the New York Jets in Week 11, Waddle exploded for nine catches, 137 yards and a touchdown as the Dolphins thrashed the Carolina Panthers last Sunday.

Waddle has been targeted at least eight times in five of his last six games and, even against a Giants defense that has been largely stingy of late, that share of the workload makes the speedster an intriguing play, especially in points per reception leagues.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons

Gronkowski appears to have shaken off the injury problems that have plagued his 2021 season and has 13 catches for 194 yards over the last two weeks.

Antonio Brown could finally return from an ankle problem to eat into Gronkowski's targets but, against a Falcons team that has conceded 40 points in each of the last two matchups with the Bucs, he should still thrive when targeted by Tom Brady to an extent that makes him an obvious starter in fantasy football.

Defense: Arizona Cardinals @ Chicago Bears

It still isn't clear whether quarterback Kyler Murray will return for the Cardinals after missing the last three games with an ankle injury, but the NFC's top seed should be able to lean on their defense to secure victory in Chicago even if Murray cannot go.

The Cardinals rank eighth in yards per play allowed with 5.27 and get to go against a Bears offense that has allowed the most sacks (37) in the NFL and could only manage 16 points against the Detroit Lions in a miserable Thanksgiving game.

Regardless of whether it is Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback for the Bears, the Cardinals' defense will be a strong fantasy play.

The Seattle Seahawks and their 2021 NFL season is fast becoming a nightmare after going down 17-15 to the Washington Football Team.

Taylor Heinicke lifted Washington past Russell Wilson and the slumping Seahawks, who suffered a third consecutive defeat to fall to 3-8 for the season, in an historic performance.

Wilson had not accounted for a single touchdown in two games since returning from a finger injury – only the second time in the star quarterback's career he had zero total TDs in at least back-to-back games after going three straight in October 2016.

While Wilson threw a pair of touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing for 247 yards and no interceptions, it was not enough against Heinicke and Washington on the road.

Heinicke was 27-of-35 passing for 223 yards, a touchdown and interception for streaking Washington (5-6), who celebrated a third successive win.

The 28-year-old found J.D. McKissic with a 10-yard TD pass in the second period before the latter – who was carted off late in the fourth quarter due to a head injury – scored on a 10-yard run to put the hosts ahead 17-9.

In his last three starts, Heinicke has beaten Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton and Wilson. According to Stats Perform, he is the first undrafted quarterback in NFL history to beat three different opposing starting QBs who had previously started a Super Bowl in three consecutive starts.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury deflected speculation linking him to the University of Oklahoma job, while he is hopeful of Kyler Murray's return.

The Oklahoma Sooners are reportedly targeting Kingsbury for their vacant coaching position, though the Cardinals coach is contracted through 2022, with a team option for 2023.

Kingsbury was asked about the rumours as the high-flying Cardinals prepare for Sunday's NFL matchup against the Chicago Bears.

"I don't get into those things," Kingsbury told reporters on Monday.

"My sole focus the last couple weeks has been the Chicago Bears and, after watching them on Thanksgiving, it needs to be, because they're a really good football team and had a big win, and so that's where my focus has been."

The Cardinals lead the NFC and Kingsbury – who was appointed in 2019 – added: "We're in-season, we're 9-2, Just not a topic I want to touch on right now."

Star Cardinals quarterback Murray has missed the team's last three games due to an ankle injury.

Murray leads the NFL in completion percentage (72.7) and passer rating (110.4), while he has thrown for 2,276 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"I am hopeful," Kingsbury said of Murray and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring).

"I will leave it at that at this point because I want to see them move around, practice full speed, and see where they are at, and where their comfort level and their confidence is."

The slumping Pittsburgh Steelers have been dealt a blow after placing star T.J. Watt on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Pittsburgh have been impacted by coronavirus this NFL season, with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Minkah Fitzpatrick both missing time due to positive tests.

Steelers push rusher Watt is the latest to land on the COVID-19 list after returning from a one-week absence caused by knee and hip injuries in Sunday's 41-10 rout at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Watt recorded just two combined tackles as the Steelers suffered their first season sweep at the hands of the Bengals since 2009, stretching their winless run to three games.

The three-time Pro Bowler, who has missed two games this season, is now likely to sit out Sunday's matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Pittsburgh's humbling defeat left the Steelers 5-5-1 but still within striking distance of the final AFC Wild Card spot, which is currently possessed by the Los Angeles Chargers, who defeated Watt's team 41-37 in Week 11.

The Steelers' final six games are all against playoff contenders. They face the Ravens twice and also have games with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey will miss the rest of the NFL season due to an ankle injury.

McCaffrey has endured a stop-start campaign and after hurting his ankle in Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the running back will play no further part in 2021.

An MRI revealed the severity of the issue, which placed McCaffrey on season-ending injured reserve due to the amount of time it would take for him to recover.

The Panthers (5-7) – who are bottom of the NFC South – have five regular-season games remaining following their bye week.

"I love playing football and have dedicated my entire life to what I believe to be the greatest sport in the world," the 25-year-old McCaffrey wrote via Instagram on Monday.

"Getting healthy and back on the field this season has been my focus everyday from the time I wake up until I go to bed. I've put family, friends and all other interests on hold so I can fully concentrate my efforts on treatment, training, practicing, studying, preparing and playing the game I love at the highest level which is why my season coming to an abrupt end leaves me devastated.

"I am thankful to everyone who continue to help and support me through this difficult time and promise I will fight with everything I have to return bigger, stronger, faster and better than ever. #KeepPounding!"

McCaffrey – a First-Team All-Pro in 2019 – already missed five games this season with a hamstring injury suffered in Week 3, having sat out 13 games last term because of multiple injuries.

Against the Dolphins, McCaffrey finished with 35 yards on 10 carries all in the opening half.

McCaffrey, who totalled 421 yards and a touchdown on 68 touches over the past four weeks, will finish the season with 99 rushes for 442 yards, a TD and 37 receptions for 343 yards and a touchdown in seven games.

Ahead of the 2020 season, McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64million contract extension through the 2025 season – making him the highest paid running back in NFL history.

Since that deal, McCaffrey will have played in only 10 of 33 games for the Panthers.

San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is not overly concerned about the severity of a groin injury he suffered in Sunday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Samuel, whose breakout season has seen him emerge as one of the most valuable offensive players in the NFL, again produced an instrumental display as the Niners claimed their third straight win.

The versatile wide receiver surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season and had 66 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a thrilling 34-26 victory for San Francisco, which moved the Niners to 6-5.

Samuel now has 1,209 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns but was emotional coming off the field late in the third quarter after injuring his groin on a carry.

However, he was soon smiling on the sidelines and was in good spirits speaking to the media after the game, indicating he did not return to the action in order to avoid a more serious injury.

Asked about the level of concern over his injury, Samuel replied: "Not too much concern. I got an MRI and stuff in the morning. We'll just go see how it goes.

"My groin got kind of tight once I went to make a move. So I was just like, let's not make anything worse. And that's why I just went down."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan believed Samuel's initial response was mainly down to frustration, saying: "I think he was just disappointed. We have no idea what it's going to be like.

"I don't think it's as bad as you worry. We're hoping it's a low strain. He feels that it might be, he felt it, which that's what happened to Deebo on the first play of the game versus Washington last year. I think that's what happened to him in the fourth quarter versus New England.

"You can tell when he feels something, he stops right away. That's why I knew right away on the first step of that, that something was there, but by the time that he got to the sidelines, you feel like you saved a real bad injury. We'll have to find out tomorrow [Monday]."

The 49ers moved up to the six seed in the NFC playoff picture with the win, but head coach Kyle Shanahan cited the Niners' coronavirus-enforced late-season move to Arizona last year as an example of the unpredictability that prevents him from looking too far ahead.

"It's way too early to care. You look at that stuff at the end of the day, but what do we have left six games? Six games," he added. 

"There's a lot left to be played. Last year at this time we were moving to Arizona, this Tuesday night. So, I'm fortunate for that. Hopefully these next two days nothing changes, but we were there for a long time."

The Dallas Cowboys have confirmed head coach Mike McCarthy will not take be able to attend Thursday's game against the New Orleans Saints due to COVID-19 protocols.

ESPN reported on Monday that McCarthy, whose side have lost three of their last four games following a six-game winning streak, had tested positive for coronavirus.

The reports stated the Cowboys had suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 within their team camp, with starting right tackle Terence Steele, three offensive coaches and two strength coaches having to withdraw from Thursday's game.

Dallas subsequently confirmed McCarthy would not take to the field against the Saints due to COVID-19 protocols, though did not state if he had contracted the virus.

The statement also confirmed the team would conduct its Monday meeting virtually, with McCarthy cleared to carry on working in a remote capacity ahead of the game.

Dallas (7-4) sit top of the NFC East heading into Week 13, while New Orleans are third in the NFC South with a 5-6 record in 2021.

The New England Patriots are ignoring the noise surrounding their six-game winning streak after maintaining that run by brushing aside the Tennessee Titans.

A dominant second-half showing propelled the Patriots to a 36-13 win over a banged-up Titans team that had previously been the top seed in the AFC.

It is now the Patriots who have their eye on the number one seed after displacing the Titans, with only the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) above the 8-4 Patriots in that race.

But head coach Bill Belichick and his players are giving little regard to talk of their playoff positioning with five games still to play in the regular season.

"Eight games – look, eight games isn't enough to clinch anything or win anything," said Belichick. "We have a long way to go."

Edge rusher Matthew Judon, who registered another sack to take his tally to 11.5, insists the Patriots are in the same place mentally as they were prior to the winning streak and rejected claims of this being a statement victory for New England.

"It is the same confidence. We didn't change, we won't waver and it is the same confidence we had when we were 2-4," Judon replied when asked about their confidence level.

"It doesn't matter if it is a tight game or a blowout, our confidence won't change and we won't waver as a team, as a unit and as players. We come in this building to work every day and we are only going to continue to get better."

"I think someone asked me that a couple weeks ago and the statement or whatever you want to call it, is we have to come out here and win every single game.

"One week at a time so if we don't give up any points and no yards, that game is a statement and every week we have to strive for a statement win.

"If you want to call this a statement or if you just want to call it the next game, we just have to take it week by week and go out there. The statement for us is on to the next week."

The Patriots face the Buffalo Bills, whom they have leapfrogged for the AFC East lead, in Week 13.

And wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who scored two touchdowns against the Titans, believes that could be the game to give a clear picture of where the Patriots stand.

"I don't think there is a ceiling at all. We try to emphasise that. [Matthew] Slater just talked to us after about not getting overzealous about ourselves," said Bourne. "Just being in the moment and playing each game, each week, and thinking about that game.

"We're onto Buffalo now and that's the focus. That'll be good for us to just certify ourselves."

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