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Analysis: Deciding when to gamble a coach's toughest choice

Mon Dec 6 3:24am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

Related photo caption below

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) takes questions during a new conference after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)


John Harbaugh has the best kicker in the NFL, currently and possibly ever. Yet, trailing by one point, he left Justin Tucker on the sideline Sunday night and went for a 2-point conversion in the dying seconds at Pittsburgh.

Lamar Jackson didn't quite have enough touch on his pass to an open Mark Andrews, and the Ravens (8-4) fell 20-19 to the Steelers. The defeat dropped Baltimore from the overall lead in the AFC.

It seemed one of the stranger decisions of a strange NFL season. But Harbaugh, one of the league's best coaches, quickly explained his reasoning.

''We tried to win the game right there. We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time,'' Harbaugh said without noting that Baltimore's secondary has been leaky all season no matter who is playing. ''It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there.''

Considering the versatility of Jackson, it probably was a strong opportunity. But the one item not a major part of Jackson's bag of tricks is the finesse pass, which is what this play called for.

''You saw the play. It's that close,'' Harbaugh said. ''It's a game of inches. You saw the speech in, `Any Given Sunday,' right? That's football. It's just that close.''

As is the entire AFC race.

Baltimore's decision surprised its archrivals. And didn't.

''I was a little surprised because I ran off the field,'' said DE Cam Heyward, who is not on special teams. ''But we called the timeout, bought me an extra couple of seconds. At first, I thought (Andrews) scored, because he had it in his hand and then he dropped it. But I mean, it's just one or two plays that go your way.''

Harbaugh's gamble was in character, according to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has gone up against the Ravens coach for nearly 14 seasons.

''You know what, coach Harbaugh, Miami (Ohio) guy, nothing surprises me,'' Big Ben said. ''And that's why he's, you know, I consider him a great football coach because he takes those chances and believes in his team, and as a player, I'm sure they love that belief in them.''

Fair enough, and who is to say the Ravens would have won a coin toss to start overtime, marched downfield and scored a touchdown to end it without putting their secondary on the field?

But the decision brings into focus just how difficult crunch time can be for coaches. There is no accepted manual on how to manage such situations. Many times, the gut feeling is the best approach.

Unfortunately, very few head coaches have the, well, guts to go with their gut. Far too many of them coach not to lose rather to win. Is there anything more frustrating than watching your team go into the prevent defense? Cliche warning: All the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.

See what happened in Detroit, which is pretty emblematic of what the Vikings have gone through in 2021. A team talented enough to be high in the mix for the NFC wild-card spots, they fell to 5-7 in great part because they shut down the throttle. Minnesota added a two-point defeat to losses by eight, seven and four points; by three points in a pair of overtime games; and 34-33 at Arizona.

In pretty much handing the Lions (1-10-1) their initial victory of the season, the Vikings went into such a defensive shell, and offense-challenged Detroit went 75 yards in 1:50. Without a timeout.

Jared Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown just beyond the goal line as time expired - with the Vikings' defensive backs far too deep in the end zone.

Minnesota's three-man rush backfired big time.

''In hindsight, we would have loved to have gotten more pressure on him,'' coach Mike Zimmer said of Goff, ''but I didn't think we were covering very well. I thought we needed more people in coverage than we did up front. Obviously, that didn't work.''

It very often doesn't.

The lesson? It hurts more to be passive and lose than to be super aggressive and lose.

''Honestly if we would've converted the 2-point conversion we would've been having a different conversation right now,'' said Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes. ''Let's be real. We'd be talking about how we found a way to win.

''At the end of the day they found a way to make one play and we didn't. That's what it came down to. That's what these games are about, especially this late in the season. They made one extra play.''

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Player Notes
Lamar Jackson Dec 6 9:10am ET
Lamar Jackson

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson completed 23 of 37 passes for 253 yards, one touchdown, and one interception during Sunday's 20-19 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He added eight carries for 55 yards. The 24-year-old didn't find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter and salvaged his fantasy day with a six-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Jackson has struggled with interceptions recently and has thrown eight picks over his last four games. This season, the 2019 NFL MVP has been productive, throwing for 2,865 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions while rushing for 762 yards, and two scores in 11 games. Jackson will look to turn things around in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns.

From RotoBaller

Leonard Fournette Dec 6 9:00am ET
Leonard Fournette

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette rushed 13 times for 45 yards and caught seven of eight targets for 48 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Another big receiving day for the former first-round pick, as he's now caught at least six passes in four straight games. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady connected with Fournette for a three-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Fournette has been productive for fantasy managers, rushing for 65 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 58 passes for 402 yards and two scores over 12 games in 2021. The 26-year-old will look to find the end zone for a third straight game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Mike Evans Dec 6 8:50am ET
Mike Evans

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans hauled in seven of 10 targets for 99 yards in Sunday's 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He was second on the team in targets and receiving yards behind only Chris Godwin. The 28-year-old was one yard shy of recording his third 100-yard receiving game. Evans has been terrific this season, catching 57 catches for 794 yards and 10 touchdowns over 12 games in 2021. The Buccaneers star wideout will look to build on Sunday's performance and is a surefire WR1 against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Marlon Humphrey Dec 6 8:23am ET
Marlon Humphrey

Updating a previous report, Baltimore Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey (pectoral) will have tests Monday, Dec. 6, but he's feared to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle.

From TheHuddle

Chris Godwin Dec 6 6:00am ET
Chris Godwin

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin reeled in 15-of-17 targets for 143 yards and rushed once for nine yards in Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons. He led the team with 17 targets in the Week 13 win and recorded his fourth 100-yard campaign of the season. The 25-year-old had three receptions gaining 15 or more yards. Godwin should continue to see a heavy volume of targets with wide receiver Antonio Brown serving a three-game suspension. He has had a terrific season, catching 82 passes for 949 yards and five touchdowns over 12 games in 2021. Godwin is a must-start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Rob Gronkowski Dec 6 5:50am ET
Rob Gronkowski

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski caught four of eight targets for 58 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady connected with Gronk for a pair of scores from 11 and 27 yards out. Since returning from a back injury in Week 12, the Buccaneers tight end has caught 17 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns over his last three games. Gronkowski should continue to see an uptick in targets with wide receiver Antonio Brown serving a three-game suspension. Gronk is must start and a top-five option against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Tom Brady Dec 6 5:40am ET
Tom Brady

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 38-of-51 passes for 368 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the Buccaneers' 30-17 win over the Falcons on Sunday. He also rushed once for minus-1 yards. The 44-year-old continues to shred the Falcons defense and has now thrown 15 touchdowns (averages 3.75 TDs) against them over his last four games. He connected twice with old friend Rob Gronkowski and once apiece with Leonard Fournette and Cameron Brate. Brady is having another terrific season, throwing for 3,771 yards, 34 touchdowns, 10 interceptions while rushing for 52 yards, and a score in 12 games in 2021. The GOAT is a surefire QB1 and a must-start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

From RotoBaller

Rashaad Penny Dec 6 4:03am ET
Rashaad Penny

Seattle Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny carried 10 times for 35 yards and caught his only target for 27 yards in Week 13 versus the San Francisco 49ers.

Fantasy Spin: Due almost entirely to multiple injuries he has suffered in the last two years, Penny's 11 touches in this game were his most since Dec. 2, 2019. Penny essentially shared carries with Adrian Peterson this weekend with Alex Collins (abdominal) inactive, so it's tough to know for sure if Penny he can expect a repeat of this workload again anytime soon. There is not a lot of upside in Seattle's offense this year, so fantasy managers can probably ignore Penny in all but the deepest of leagues.

From TheHuddle

Bobby Wagner Dec 6 3:53am ET
Bobby Wagner

Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner totaled nine tackles (six solo), a pass defensed and an interception during the team's Week 13 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

From TheHuddle

Gerald Everett Dec 6 3:43am ET
Gerald Everett

Seattle Seahawks TE Gerald Everett caught four passes for seven yards in Week 13 against the San Francisco 49ers. He also fumbled twice, losing both.

Fantasy Spin: It's hard to conjure up a more dismal performance in recent memory than the one Everett put together in the Emerald City on Sunday. His first fumble led to a one-play 49ers TD drive. Then, he had what should have been a touchdown pass ricochet off his hands and turn into an interception that stopped a Seattle drive. Everett put a bow on things when he fumbled inside the two late in the game, giving San Francisco possession down by just seven; they'd drive 95 yards but needed 98 to tie. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln... Keep Everett on the bench next Sunday.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle Dec 6 3:13am ET
George Kittle

San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle hauled in nine of his 12 targets for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks. He also carried the ball once for five yards.

Fantasy Spin: Each mark was a season best The more amazing part of his bottom line is that he did it in just over a half of action. Kittle became only the second tight end in the last five years to go off for 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He was then silenced for most of the second half before adding four receptions and 60 yards to his box score on the final drive of the game. Kittle possesses about as much upside as any tight end in the league and needs to be locked in lineups whenever he is healthy, including Week 14 versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

From TheHuddle

Tyler Lockett Dec 6 3:03am ET
Tyler Lockett

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett had seven receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in a Week 13 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Fantasy Spin: While he and DK Metcalf got a matching eight targets each, Lockett delivered more value, leading the team in catches and yards while hauling in one of Wilson's two TD strikes. It was Lockett's first touchdown since Week 2 and helps reinforce that he has had better chemistry with Wilson since his return than Metcalf. Lockett is a risk/reward WR2 most weeks.

From TheHuddle

Russell Wilson Dec 6 2:53am ET
Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson connected on 30 of 37 passes for 231 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Dec. 5. He also ran three times for 15 yards.

Fantasy Spin: There was a lot of dinking and dunking from Wilson on Sunday, and the Seahawks were hardly dynamic -- 73 of their 327 total yards came on a fake punt -- but it still represented progress. In fact, they broke their three-game losing streak despite a pair of turnovers in the red zone; one of which should've been Wilson's third TD of the day and instead was intercepted. Although it's still dangerous to consider playing Wilson as your QB1, it at feels as though he's at least starting to trend in the right direction.

From TheHuddle

Jimmy Garoppolo Dec 6 2:53am ET
Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo finished 20-of-30 for 299 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Fantasy Spin: Garoppolo had a decent day overall, but this contest was yet another reminder that he is much more reliant on his pass-catchers carrying him than the other way around. Seattle was able to neutralize San Francisco's rushing attack and it fell on Jimmy G's shoulders to lead the 49ers to victory, which did not happen in part because of two bad interceptions by the 30-year-old. Rookie Trey Lance continues to wait in the wings, but it's unlikely this game will be enough to bump the veteran out of the lineup. Garoppolo should be viewed as an uninspiring QB2 option in Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

From TheHuddle

Travis Kelce Dec 6 2:33am ET
Travis Kelce

Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce had three catches for 27 yards against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 5.

Fantasy Spin: For the third time this season, Kelce was held to less than 30 yards receiving. It happens. In his other nine, he's topped 60 yards eight times. What has become an issue is the lack of TDs. After scoring four touchdowns in his first five games, Kelce has one over the last seven. Despite the TD shortage he remains a must-start TE1.

From TheHuddle

T.J. Watt Dec 6 2:23am ET
T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers LB T.J. Watt posted six tackles - five solo - including 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in Week 13 versus the Baltimore Ravens.

From TheHuddle

Tyreek Hill Dec 6 2:23am ET
Tyreek Hill

Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill had two receptions for 22 yards during a Week 13 win over the Denver Broncos. Hill was targeted five times.

Fantasy Spin: It's undoubtedly been a rough stretch for the KC offense, but Hill has weathered it better than most. Not on Sunday night, though, as two receptions were a new season low, and the 22 yards were his second-lowest output. While it's a frustrating performance, don't even consider removing Hill from your lineup, given that he had seen double-digit targets in seven of his previous eight games coming into Sunday. He's still a must-start WR1.

From TheHuddle

Chris Wormley Dec 6 2:23am ET
Chris Wormley

Pittsburgh Steelers DT Chris Wormley posted five tackles - three solo - including a career-high 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits in Week 13 versus the Baltimore Ravens.

From TheHuddle

Mark Andrews Dec 6 2:13am ET
Mark Andrews

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews hauled in four of his nine targets for 50 yards in Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fantasy Spin: Oh, what could have been. Andrews and Lamar Jackson just missed hooking up on a 29-yard touchdown in the first half, and Jackson just missed Andrews on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game up in the closing seconds. Outside of Travis Kelce, Andrews has been the most consistent fantasy tight end this season, so he should be considered a top-five option once again in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns.

From TheHuddle

Patrick Mahomes Dec 6 1:43am ET
Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes completed 15 of 29 passes for 184 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 5. He also ran for a 10-yard touchdown.

Fantasy Spin: If you were holding out hope that Mahomes and company would get things squared away during their bye I have some bad news for you. Once again, the Chiefs got off to a solid start and then completely fizzled. It's a pattern that has held true in each of their last six games with the notable exception of their dismantling of Las Vegas in Week 10. The good news for the Chiefs is that those same Raiders are on the schedule next week, so Mahomes should be a quality QB1. After that, some tough decisions may lie ahead.

From TheHuddle