As we turn toward Week 7 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
-- One player who is shining during a tough year in Washington.
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NFL: Owners pushing for 17-game season in next CBA.Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy told me at the NFL's Fall League Meeting this week there's a "pretty strong" consensus among owners that expanding to a 17-game regular season as part of the next collective bargaining agreement is the right thing for the future of the league -- a change that would coincide with the expected shortening of the preseason.
"A big part of it is, the quality of the preseason is pretty bad, and getting worse," said Murphy, who is a member of the executive committee involved in talks with the players' union. "Obviously it's (about) revenue, but it's the quality of the games, and players don't need four games to get ready for the (regular) season. Fewer and fewer starters are playing. So switching out a preseason game for a regular-season game is really good for fans."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged for the first time publicly Wednesday that the idea of playing 17 games has been discussed in bargaining sessions with NFL Players Association leadership. But as NFL.com has reported, players have remained committed to growing their share of revenue (they're guaranteed 47 percent of total revenue under the current CBA, which expires after the 2020 season) without adding regular-season games. And while both sides modified their positions on the central economic issue at the last session Oct. 1 in Jacksonville, there still has been no major breakthrough amidst hopes of completing a new CBA during the NFL's 100th season.
If a 17-game season were approved, Goodell said, the season would still start the week after Labor Day and push back the Super Bowl by one week. Another scenario favored by some would be to add a second bye week for each team, which would put the Super Bowl on the three-day Presidents Day holiday weekend.
No further bargaining sessions have been scheduled, according to people informed of the talks, though it's expected things should heat up in the coming weeks.
PI challenge rule working as intended. The takeaway on officiating from the NFL's Fall League Meeting: The league doesn't like officiating being a constant source of conversation, but the pass-interference challenge rule is working the way the league wants it to.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league has to work to improve officiating and better prepare officials. But he also noted that he has worked for the NFL for nearly 40 years, and "there's always a two- or three-week period where there's an intense focus on it."
The officiating in the Lions-Packers game on "Monday Night Football" this week was a topic of conversation at the meeting, with the league admitting that one of the hands-to-the-face penalties called on the Lions' Trey Flowers was wrong.
"It's tough. It's tough to be in that situation," Goodell said.
"That's sports," he continued later. "You see it in every sport. We've seen it over the last several months."
So far this season, there have been 44 stoppages to review pass interference and just seven reversals heading into Week 7. While coaches and fans have expressed frustration at the infrequent reversals, particularly as the season has progressed, the league has maintained that this is how the challenge rule was designed. As one member of the Competition Committee put it: "It was designed to prevent trainwrecks like the NFC Championship Game. We are not trying to re-officiate every call." The committee member was referring to a missed pass interference penalty that came at a crucial juncture in the game and drew national attention.
The Competition Committee, which reluctantly went along with allowing challenges to pass interference this offseason, anticipated that the rule would be controversial because it was the first time the NFL waded into allowing a subjective call to be reviewed. Coaches pushed for the ability to challenge pass interference, and comments by Goodell and others this week suggested that it is up to coaches to adjust to how it is being officiated. Of the 44 reviews on pass interference, 38 were coach challenges, and of those, just four were reversed, a reversal rate of 10.5 percent.
"Whenever there is a rule change, there's a period of adapting," Goodell said. "There's also a period where people are testing, the coaches are testing, to see what types of changes are going to be made. I think it's settling out where we expected."
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BALTIMORE RAVENS: Thomas eager to see how Seattle receives him. Safety Earl Thomas makes his return to Seattle this week when the Ravens meet the Seahawks. His history with that franchise was long and distinguished -- taken 14th overall by the Seahawks in the 2010 NFL Draft, Thomas was a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the leaders of the "Legion of Boom" secondary that helped Seattle win Super Bowl XLVIII -- but his tenure didn't end well. Thomas squabbled with the team last year because he wanted a new contract. He also broke a bone in his left leg in Week 4 and gave the Seahawks sideline a middle-finger salute as medical staff members carted him off the field (he wound up on injured reserve and missed the rest of his final season in Seattle, then signed in Baltimore this offseason).
Now that the 30-year-old Thomas has settled into his new role as a leader on the Ravens' defense, he's looking forward to seeing what type of treatment he receives from the Seahawks faithful. "I've thought about it," Thomas said. "Hopefully they'll respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers and not too many boos. Whatever happens happens. But hopefully, it's love."
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Harry on the horizon for depleted passing attack. Though New England led the NFL in points per game (31.7) heading into Week 7, Tom Brady isn't all that satisfied with the Patriots' offense, which was held to 224 yards against the one top-10 defense it's faced so far this season (third-ranked Buffalo in Week 4). In fact, he hasn't really done a good job of concealing those feelings, with long pauses and default answers like "We'll see" when asked. But the 42-year-old quarterback may get a boost in a couple of weeks. Receiver N'Keal Harry, the team's 2019 first-round pick (No. 32 overall), has been designated to return from injured reserve and could play for the first time this season against the Ravensin Week 9.
Harry practiced Tuesday for the first time since August, fully recovered from the hamstring and ankle issues that have marred his inaugural season in Foxborough. The hope is that his size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and intelligence come into play quickly for Brady, who had to play the entire second half against the Giants in Week 6 with undrafted rookie free agents Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski joining Julian Edelman for the majority of snaps.
"N'Keal flashed the things we've seen from him," said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels earlier this week, referring back to training camp. "He's a big guy that can go up and catch the ball. He's a tough guy to get to the ground when he has the ball in his hands."
But with the good comes the bad -- or maybe, in this case, the unknown. Harry has never caught a pass from Brady in a game, not even during his brief time in the preseason.
"... Like all young receivers, there's a lot of nuances to playing that position in our league that are critical to being a good player -- releasing at the line of scrimmage, top-of-the-route technique, finishing plays against tight coverage," noted McDaniels. "Those are things that are all going to come with experience and repetition, and it's exciting to have an opportunity to continue to work with him. Really like the kid; he's diligent, he works hard, he's got a good attitude, he's a good kid, so we'll see how he can progress moving forward."
Harry has not been made available for comment since the injury. The expectation is we'll finally get a chance to speak with him once he finally plays a game.
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Trust in Teddy.Teddy Bridgewater has literally bridged the gap for the New Orleans Saints, leading the team to four straight wins while future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees recovers from the thumb injury he suffered in Week 2. New Orleans is 5-1 and the leader of the NFC South heading into a Week 7 meeting with the Bears in which Bridgewater will start again in place of Brees. While the defense has been stout, much credit is owed to head coach Sean Payton, his offensive adjustments, and his backup quarterback, steady Teddy Bridgewater.
Since becoming the Saints' QB1 in Week 3, Bridgewater is one of five QBs with a completion percentage of 70 percent or greater and seven or more pass TDs (Bridgewater is the only member of the group with an unbeaten record, though). I spoke with Saints left tackle Terron Armstead, who had glowing reviews on No. 5.
"Teddy's been great," Armstead said. "He's been himself, most importantly. He understands who he is, how he goes about things, the way he prepares. He has a pretty calm and even temperament, and I think that's been very beneficial for him. He doesn't get rattled. He doesn't panic. So we've been behind him 100 percent and we'll continue to be that way."
Payton also shared a strong evaluation of Bridgewater's performance thus far during a conference call with the Chicago media, explaining how the QB has ingested the game plan each week, digested it, and put it into action despite not having started consecutive games since the 2015 season.
"He's come in, done a good job," Payton said. "He's understood each week what we needed to do to win. He's protected the football well. ... In each game, it's been a little different, and yet, he's done a good job of understanding the way a game's unfolding. I think he's athletic. I think he's got a real good long ball. And I think for him, it had been a while. I know how he felt prior to that Seattle game (in Week 3), it had been a minute. He was prepared and ready, and yet, you get out there, live bullets, and he handled it well."
Bridgewater will have his hands full this week against the Bears' sixth-ranked defense, one that already has 10 takeaways on the season (tied for 10th-most). As Armstead told me, "ball security will be our biggest point of emphasis."
Defense answers the call. The Saints defense has clamped down on the competition in recent weeks, allowing just 13.3 points per game over the past three contests (vs. Dallas, vs. Tampa Bay, at Jacksonville). The pass defense has been particularly stingy. New Orleans is averaging 173.7 passing yards allowed in the last three games, which is 128 yards fewer than its average in the first three games. The Saints have as many passing touchdowns allowed as interceptions in this span (two), holding opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 75.6 passer rating.
Look no further than the pass rush for a big reason for the success against the opposition's aerial attack. The Saints have generated pressure at the highest rate in the NFL (34.9 percent), per Next Gen Stats.
"We have a resilient group," Bell said. "I'm so proud of us accepting the challenge when Drew (Brees) went down (with a thumb injury) and how we said this is our moment to put the team on our back. And that's what we've been doing these past couple of games."
Brees, of course, tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right (throwing) hand during the Saints' lone loss this season, in Week 2 vs. Rams. Brees has not returned since subsequently undergoing surgery on Sept. 18. And while backup Teddy Bridgewater has been fantastic in helping the team to four straight victories while Brees continues to progress, the defense has carried much of the load in impressive fashion since the loss of the future Hall of Fame QB.
Bell explained how the unit came together after Brees' injury, saying "We just came in like (we do in) a regular work week, and we had our defensive meeting. Dennis Allen, our DC, said 'Men, it's our time.'
"AG (Aaron Glenn), our position coach (defensive backs), has been saying that from the beginning. And we knew what type of group we had in the backend. And we just said 'Now is our time.' We took that jump, we took that leap, and we just keep on stringing it out and just keep on making plays for each other and just having fun."
How much fun?
"We're playing for the man next to us," Bell said. "We're serving each other. ... Being around these guys, man, it doesn't even feel like we're at work because of how much fun we're having. We've got a special, tight-knit group and that's what's making it even better ... because we know how far we've come and how we've still got a lot more to go, just trying to improve ourselves week in and week out."
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NEW YORK GIANTS: Defense prepping for Murray's unique capabilities. As the Giants prepare to face the Cardinals in Week 7, defensive players have marveled at Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray's "PlayStation speed." Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who outweighs Murray by 112 pounds, said: "It's like Sonic the Hedgehog out there. Super elusive. Quick as well as fast."
Murray represents a total opposite challenge from the one Tom Brady did when the Giants visited the Patriots in Week 6. The defense gained confidence by allowing only 14 points to Brady and Co. in the first three quarters of what became a 35-14 loss.
Cornerback Janoris "Jackrabbit" Jenkins said the fastest quarterback he has faced is Seattle's Russell Wilson. Jenkins allowed for the possibility that Murray may be faster. He also knows he almost certainly will find out.
Jenkins bristled when asked about the 5-10, 207-pound Murray's stature.
"You can't (make conclusions based solely on) size and height in the NFL," he said. "You can't measure heart."
Jenkins also shared this, a conclusion from watching film of the rookie: When Murray's first read isn't available, "you know he's going to Larry" Fitzgerald.
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NEW YORK JETS: Mosley eager to make an impact. On Thursday, C.J. Mosley dispensed with any intrigue regarding his injury status for Monday night's home game against the Patriots. The Jets middle linebacker stood in front of microphones and said, "I'm playing Monday night."
He added that he meant barring a setback.
Mosley is on the comeback trail after injuring his groin in Week 1 against the Bills. His road back has been longer than he and the Jets training staff initially figured; coach Adam Gase has called the injury "more severe" than they originally thought, and Mosley has yet to play since making his debut with the team in September.
Gase also compared getting Mosley back to having quarterback Sam Darnold return in Week 6 after the quarterback missed three games with mono. Darnold threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns against one pick in the Jets' first win of the season.
I followed up with Mosley at his locker to ask why broke his own news -- rather than leave that to Gase -- and why he was so confident in his proclamation four days before the game.
One more thing: At least some teammates learned Mosley's status after the media did. Running back Le'Veon Bell -- like Mosley, one of the high-profile free agents brought in by the Jets this offseason -- found out in the locker room, via an alert on his phone. He was very happy.
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Shanahan doesn't want Niners to 'relax.' Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are headed to Washington this week to face a franchise with a lot of history for San Francisco's head coach.
When looking back at his time with the Redskins, for whom he served as offensive coordinator from 2010 to '13, Shanahan said his favorite memory was working with his dad, then-head coach Mike Shanahan, and other good coaches. The worst part? "Everything else" said Shanahan with a chuckle.
He did, however, emphasize the respect he has for Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan, who stepped into that role after Jay Gruden (Mike Shanahan's successor in 2014) was fired earlier this month.
Shanahan is making sure the 49ers are staying laser-focused ahead of facing a Redskins team looking to add a second notch to the win column after claiming its first victory of the season in Week 6. On Wednesday, Shanahan went through the "bad" film from his team's Sunday victory over the NFC West-rival Rams.
"You can watch that game in a different light and just see it's three plays away from getting out of hand and going the other way," Shanahan said, of a game in which the Niners held the Rams to 7 points and 157 yards. "You always want to put that perspective back in players' minds, so you never relax. If you relax in this league, you will be humbled as quickly as you can imagine."
Part of Shanahan's midweek press conference drew some laughs from the members of the media. Shanahan had a lot to say about defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and the considerable excitement he showed on the sideline in the win over Los Angeles. Shanahan half-jokingly said the 49ers defensive coordinator is a "peaceful giant" and that many within the organization liken him to Gandhi for his wisdom. Shanahan says he loves the energy and hopes to see Saleh hyped up again on Sunday in Washington.
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WASHINGTON REDSKINS: McLaurin's start a ray of hope. In a difficult Redskins season, rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin has provided a considerable lift. With at least 50 receiving yards against the 49ers, he would join Earl McCullouch as the only players in the Super Bowl era with at least 50 receiving yards in each of their first six career games, according to NFL Research. McCullouch was the 1968 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Lions.
McLaurin, a third-round pick, was an explosive player at Ohio State -- averaging 20 yards a catch for the Buckeyes last season -- and was an interesting prospect at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.35-second 40-yard dash. He told me back then that he really enjoyed blocking, saying: "Good things happen when you play to the whistle. I'm a very physical player ... I don't back down from anybody."
McLaurin is averaging 17.7 yards per catch and has five receiving touchdowns; only Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin, with six, has more. When it comes to having core players to build around, the Redskins have some work to do. But in McLaurin, they seem to have found one.