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Heroes & Villains: Bucs fun again; Eagles crumble

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All season long, Around The NFL's Marc Sessler will offer up his laundry list of heroes and villains from the week that was.

Let's get down to it:

Heroes


1. Thomas Rawls: Plenty scratched their heads when the Seahawks cut bait before the season with a pair of running backs: Robert Turbin and the enigmatic Christine Michael. Never afraid to go against the grain, Seahawks general manager John Schneider saw more in Thomas Rawls, the undrafted Central Michigan product who stands two inches shorter than Marshawn Lynch, but shares Beast Mode's 215-pound playing weight. Also shared: A leg-churning, shoulder-lowering approach on the ground that leaves defenders wondering what day it is. While Lynch has never run for 160 yards or combined for 200 yards from scrimmage in a single game, Rawls has done both as a rookie. His 255 total yards in Sunday's 29-13 victory over the 49ers were the most ever by an undrafted rookie, leaving this talented young gem with sky-high potential, but no nationally accepted nickname. Any ideas?

2. Brock Osweiler: Three seasons ago, the playoff-bound 49ers made a highly controversial midseason switch at quarterback that sparked a Super Bowl run. Colin Kaepernick is signal-calling poison today, but the mobile young passer was seen by then-coaches Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman as a better option than Alex Smith to run Roman's multiple, Pistol-heavy attack. Before he melted, Kaepernick made the Niners look smart for taking a chance on him, guiding San Francisco on a 5-2 regular season run before pulling the club within a play of the Lombardi Trophy. Three years later, could the Broncos make a similar change? Brock Osweiler capably ran Denver's offense in Sunday's win over the Bears and, to the delight of coach Gary Kubiak, didn't turn the ball over. It's the first game all year where a Broncos quarterback didn't hand the ball to the opponent, leaving us to wonder if Peyton Manning could be in for an extended break. Manning is a legend. Always. But his play has cost the Broncos this season. Very much alive for a first-round bye, Denver's handling of the quarterback position will decide their season. Like the 49ers before them, they shouldn't shy away from forging a bold new path.

3. The Fun-Again Bucs: Here's the thing about Tampa: Nobody saw this coming. Twelve months ago, Doug Martin was trade bait and seemingly on the way out as the failed draft pick of a previous regime. The defense was a mess, the offense was directionless and we couldn't help but wonder if Lovie Smith's ship had sailed. A 42-14 opening-day smackdown by the Titans didn't help, leaving some Tampa fans wondering if the front office should have chosen Marcus Mariota over Jameis Winston. That feels like centuries ago. The Bucs are 5-4 since that Week 1 defeat and riding the wave of Winston, the rookie passer who has evolved into a clutch performer and trusted team leader. They're no superpower, but the Bucs are fun again, leaving general manager Jason Licht in the conversation for executive of the year. The arrow is pointing up in Tampa.

Villains


1. Lifeless Eagles: Football fans have been subject to a litany of glowing reports on the "Football Culture of Chip Kelly." Lauded as a from-the-wilderness genius who lives outside the box trapping 31 other NFL coaches, Kelly became all the rave two seasons ago amid mythical tales of specialized smoothies, customized sleep tests, on-field DroidBots and hyper-analyzed practice playlists.

Even those musical selections came with "a lot of science" behind them, Kelly said in 2013. Two-plus seasons later, it's fair to wonder if Kelly can make it work in the NFL. Without a playoff win to his name, Chip's Eagles have lost their verve. Philly's once vibrant, big-play offense was a huge mess in Sunday's implosion against the Bucs. Ranking a mundane 15th in points per game, the Eagles also sit in the middle of the pack in plays of 20-plus yards after running away with the big-play title in Kelly's first season. After all the hoopla, this roster has issues on both sides of the ball and Chip's Eagles -- most surprising of all -- are dull to watch. All of this should make for a fascinating offseason.

2. Anyone ignoring the Chiefs: Left for dead at 1-5, Kansas City looked like a logical choice for a top-five pick with offensive centerpiece Jamaal Charles lost for the year to injury. Instead, they've been Patriots-like in their ability to plug a pair of young backs -- Charcandrick West and, on Sunday, Spencer Ware -- into the lineup. That depth has saved a Chiefs offense getting another strong season under center from the mostly reliable Alex Smith. It's Kansas City's powerful defense, though, that has saved Andy Reid's job and made the Chiefs a sexy pick for the wild card.

Thanksgiving Week Update on Private Eye/Play-Caller Frank Cignetti, Jr.


We've tracked him all season: Frank Cignetti, the Rams offensive coordinator who continues to split time calling plays for St. Louis while spending his weekdays out West on the hunt for a missing L.A. teen by the name of Regina Jane François.

Frank figures himself to be a real hard-nosed detective, happy to prioritize his latest case over the eternally average Rams. Coach Jeff Fisher last week pleaded with his assistant to ditch the mystery-solving business and fix his fading offense, but Cignetti wouldn't have it.

Our people continue to track the play-caller, but Frank specializes at going dark. Someone close to the François case, though, sent us an intriguing piece of evidence below. It serves as our first indication that Regina Jane François is alive -- and knows about Frank's search for her:

TELEFAX FILE DOCUMENT: 11/21/15. Shipped to NFL MEDIA via [name redacted]. Included: Photo-verified email from to OC/PI Frank Cignetti (OCPIFC):

Dear Mr. Cignetti:

Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers:

It has come to my attention that you have embarked on some sort of "quest" to find Regina Jane François.

Consider this missive an official request to cease your search. François is not missing. She just doesn't want to be found. Not by you.

Regina Jane has made a life decision. She is safe. Never happier. She doesn't need to be rescued by someone with no grasp on the decision she has made about her future.

Please listen, Mr. Cignetti: Put your attention elsewhere. We'll be watching to see that you do.

Regards,

Gemma Shadow-Fox
New Dawn Collective
P.O. Box 17543
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060

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