As we turn toward Week 9 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
-- What's going on with the flurry of kicking woes in 2019?
-- Why Adam Gase still believes in Sam Darnold
-- The tactful approach of Kyle Shanahan.
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NFL: PI challenges, reversals slowing down. The NFL is approaching the halfway point of the regular season (121 of 256 games were played through Week 8) and it's clear that in the second quarter of the season, the NFL adjusted its approach to pass-interference challenges: It doesn't want coaches to use them much, and it's going to drive that home by making almost any challenge futile.
Through Week 8, there have been 52 reviews for pass interference, 44 of them initiated by coaches challenges. That means coaches are challenging pass interference only a little more than once every three games (.364 times per game). There have been just eight reversals in all (15.4 percent), and only five of those reversals were on reviews initiated by coaches (11.4 percent).
Consider how different that is from the numbers a quarter of the way through the season (63 games played). Through Week 4, there had been 31 reviews for pass interference, 25 of them initiated by coaches challenges. That means coaches were challenging at a rate of once every 2.5 games (.397). More startling is the rate of reversal. Through Week 4, seven calls had been reversed in all (22.6 percent), which means that there was only one reversal in 21 reviews in the last four weeks of games.
The shift is even starker when you consider that more than half of all reversals of pass-interference calls this season happened in the first two weeks, when there were five reversals on 16 total reviews (31.3 percent). At the Fall League Meeting two weeks ago, members of the Competition Committee made it clear they wanted the rule in place only to prevent "trainwreck" mistakes, like the missed pass-interference call in the NFC Championship Game last season. But they did not want to reofficiate every pass-interference play in the season. Replay officials in New York clearly became stingier with reversals after the first few weeks of the season, and coaches seem to be adjusting to that now.
Kickers failing to get into gear.Adam Vinatieri was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 8 after he drilled a 51-yard game-winning field goal to help the Indianapolis Coltsbeat the Denver Broncos last Sunday. That was one of three that Vinatieri made, but it was even more critical because Vinatieri had missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt and an extra-point try earlier in the game.
The roller coaster experienced by the greatest kicker in history is emblematic of the historic troubles kickers throughout the league are having this season. Through Week 8, there have been 121 missed kicks (field-goal attempts and extra-point attempts combined). That is 12 more missed through eight weeks than in any other season of the last 25 years.
The extra point was made longer in 2015, and 31 extra-point tries have been missed so far. But 90 missed field-goal attempts is the number that stands out. Of those 90, 35 were from 50 yards or longer. Former kicker Jay Feely pointed to a few reasons behind the numbers.
Older kickers are struggling badly. Of kickers 35 and older, San Francisco's Robbie Gould (36) has missed seven field-goal attempts, Detroit's Matt Prater (35) has missed three field-goal attempts and an extra-point try, Vinatieri (46) has missed four field-goal attempts and four extra-point attempts, Matt Bryant (44) missed five field-goal tries and one extra-point attempt before being released by Atlanta, Mike Nugent (37) missed three field-goal attempts and an extra-point attempt before being released by the Patriots and New England's Stephen Gostkowski (35) missed one field-goal try and four extra-point attempts before going on injured reserve. That means 23 of the 90 missed field-goal tries were by kickers 35 or older.
At the other extreme is how many inexperienced kickers are playing this year. Chicago's Eddy Pineiro (24) and Chase McLaughlin (23) have each missed three field-goal attempts. (McLaughlin was since released by the Chargers.) Carolina's Joey Slye (23) has missed five field-goal attempts and an extra-point try, and Tampa Bay's Matt Gay, at 25 the oldest of this group, has missed two field-goal tries and two extra-point attempts.
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HOUSTON TEXANS: Making sure London trip goes smoothly. NFL teams traveling for games in London do all they can to accommodate their players during the long flight. The Texans, who made their first trip across the pond in franchise history on Thursday, took measures to ensure the trip for Sunday's game against the Jaguars was as comfortable as possible, especially for their injured players. And they have a lot of them (18 players appeared on their Thursday injury report).
"Yeah, I think plane rides do," said head coach Bill O'Brien earlier this week, addressing a question about whether plane rides affect injured players. "I think we have a -- again, going back to the plane that we have, I think it's one of those planes where you press a button and the seat comes out to a bed. I guess that helps. I think our guys getting on that plane, they're going to know we've got every resource imaginable to help them hydrate, help them get therapy on the plane, help them do whatever they need to do to be ready to play on Sunday."
Deshaun Watson -- who's nursing an eye injury but is expected to play on Sunday -- spent some time in London this offseason and went on a tour of Wembley Stadium, where Houston and Jacksonville will play on Sunday, during his visit. He walked the field and checked out the locker rooms. An avid traveler, Watson is hoping his previous visit to London will help him this week since he already has some familiarity with the city, the people and the stadium.
One of O'Brien's closest friends is Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, who has made the trip for a London game several times with Jacksonville. Would Marrone help his old friend and Sunday adversary with any pointers about making the trek?
"Hell no," O'Brien said. "He's not going to help me with that. He helps me on, like, food advice, bologna sandwiches. He's not going to help me. He's not going to give me any type of competitive advantage."
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Murray making most of opportunity.New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray spent the first six games of this season operating as a little-used backup to Alvin Kamara. But the veteran has used his last two contests to provide significant value to the franchise. With Kamara sidelined due to knee and ankle injuries, Murray has turned into a dominant threat in the Saints' offense. He ran for 119 yards on 27 carries against Chicago in Week 7, then followed that up with 102 yards on 21 carries against Arizona in Week 8. Murray also has added 14 receptions for 86 receiving yards over that two-game span while scoring four total touchdowns.
It's likely that Kamara will be ready when the Saints return from their Week 9 bye -- he was practicing in a limited capacity before the win over the Cardinals -- but Murray, who signed with New Orleans this offseason after two seasons with the Vikings and three with the Raiders, surely has done enough to deserve more work. Prior to Kamara going down, Murray had received just 32 rushing attempts this year.
"He's been real steady," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "He's one of these runners who has good vision, puts his foot in the ground and can pick up steam in a hurry. He's a good teammate. Of all the things we look for in a player, he has (those qualities). He's been a good addition for us."
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Williams was traded this week (for a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2021 fifth-rounder that can become a fourth if he re-signs before the start of the new league year) by the Jets to the Giants. Williams will be a free agent after the season. Clearly, the Jets decided Williams, drafted sixth overall in 2015, was not part of their future plans.
An era comes to an end in rivalry with Cowboys. This week's Monday Night Football matchup will represent a very different Cowboys-Giants game than we have come to expect. You have to turn back the calendar to Oct. 10, 2004 to find the last meeting that did not include Eli Manning as New York's starter.
Some things haven't changed: Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was in his second NFL season back then. Witten, who returned to the Cowboys this season after a one-year hiatus in the broadcast booth, has the most career receptions (157) and receiving yards (1,583) against the Giants in the Super Bowl era.
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NEW YORK JETS: Gase confident in Darnold.Sam Darnold's challenging second season continues. He was sidelined for three games by mononucleosis, had a toenail removed after the Week 7 loss to the Patriots and sprained his left (non-throwing) thumb in Sunday's loss at Jacksonville. He is expected to play against the Dolphins with a splint on the thumb.
For coach Adam Gase, the challenge is to get Darnold out of his funk. He has eight turnovers in his last two games. Putting Darnold on the move and getting the ball to running back Le'Veon Bell, who has been underutilized, top the to-do list.
The one worry Gase doesn't have? That Darnold will lose confidence.
"That's the furthest thing I've got to worry about," Gase said.
Also worth noting: When general manager Joe Douglas spoke to reporters Tuesday, he described Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, as a franchise quarterback who is "made of the right stuff."
Gase determined to feed Bell more. Speaking of Bell, his positive messages on social media and his upbeat demeanor in the locker room in his first year with the team have been noted in this dreary Jets season.
The problem? Bell's words and messages of encouragement have had as much impact as his play.
He had only 11 touches against the Jaguars last week and has yet to record a 100-yard rushing game this season. That is the longest single-season drought for the seventh-year pro since 2014.
Gase took blame for not getting Bell the ball more in Jacksonville. The concern?
"We just have to make sure that he has touches. Last week was bad, that was on me," Gase said. "We need to do a good job of creating some kind of hole for him to go through (so) he can get to the next level. We at least got to get him to the linebackers, where he's clean."
Especially with a young quarterback who is struggling, that should be the plan at Miami on Sunday.
An emotional player and leader, Adams said being dangled pre-trade deadline hurt his feelings.
Those players -- and their teams -- are more accomplished than Adams. The short-term result of Adams' comments, including his saying that he was not ready yet to talk it out with Douglas and Gase, has led to considerable backlash among media and fans.
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Shanahan's tactful critiques keeping players on top of their game. Prior to their Thursday Night Football win over the Cardinals, one of the questions looming over the NFC West-leading 49ers, who are now 8-0, was whether they could function as the hunted, a position they haven't been in for years.
Cornerback Richard Sherman, one of the few veterans on the team who has been on winning teams in a leading role (when he was with Seattle) said earlier this week that he, tackle Joe Staley and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (who recently arrived via trade with the Broncos) don't need to keep guys level. Coach Kyle Shanahan does that, Sherman said.
During film review and practice, Shanahan will, individually and by position group, let players know about mistakes or how a lack of execution on a certain play either led to a shortcoming or a play that could have been more productive. The key, Sherman said, is that he doesn't embarrass or humiliate players.
"He is just honest," said Sherman on Tuesday. "He keeps us all from getting ahead of ourselves. A lot of these guys are so young, too, they don't know any better."
"It's been this way since OTAs," Ford said. "Nothing's changed. Nobody has changed. Guys come to work every day and work to get better."