The NFC East race is tightening up on Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, who could be without the quarterback’s top two receivers in another game with the best pair of defensive ends sidelined on Thanksgiving.

A brighter medical outlook awaits in December if nobody else gets hurt, but the Las Vegas Raiders come first Thursday after Dallas (7-3) couldn’t overcome injuries while failing to validate its status as a Super Bowl contender against two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City.

“We went through everything that we went through last year for moments like this, to be able to move forward and for other guys to step in and take advantage of their opportunity,” said Prescott, who watched most of a 6-10 season in 2020 with a broken ankle. “That’s where playmakers and guys get better. We’re going to have to continue to do that with guys being out.”

At receiver, that list is topped by Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown for now with Amari Cooper out for sure and CeeDee Lamb likely to join him on the sideline.

Cooper won’t play against his former team because of a positive COVID-19 test last week and the accompanying rules for unvaccinated players. The Cowboys gave the Raiders a first-round pick in a 2018 trade for Cooper. Lamb sustained a concussion in the 19-9 loss to the Chiefs.

Star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is close to returning after being out since the opener with a broken foot, but the target date is more likely Dec. 2 at New Orleans. That’s also the first week Randy Gregory (calf strain) is eligible to return from injured reserve.

It’s also worth noting that running back Ezekiel Elliott is dealing with a knee injury that got a little worse with another awkward twist on a tackle Sunday, when division rivals Philadelphia and Washington each won a second consecutive game.

BEARS: Coach Matt Nagy said the team was still trying to determine if QB Justin Fields bruised his ribs or broke them in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

“I can’t rule out anything, all I can say is we’re waiting to get feedback today and then that’s what we’ve got to go off of,” he said.

The Bears (3-7) were hoping Fields would build on his best outing as a pro. Instead, he struggled Sunday before heading to the locker room in the third quarter, and the Bears lost their fifth straight game.

Fields completed just 4 of 11 passes for 79 yards after throwing for a career-high 291 yards at Pittsburgh two weeks earlier. His final play was a 6-yard scramble on third-and-11 at the Chicago 45 on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Fields went to the locker room and was replaced by veteran Andy Dalton. Who will start when the Bears visit winless Detroit on Thursday was unclear.

BROWNS: Every bad throw, every body ache and every chance Baker Mayfield missed to put away the Lions pained him.

The boos directed at Cleveland’s quarterback – from some hard-to-please fans at home – didn’t help. So when the final seconds ticked off in a 13-10 win that felt more like a loss, Mayfield didn’t feel like celebrating.

“I feel like I let my teammates down,” he said.

With a day to process what went wrong and get a grip on his emotions, Mayfield said frustration with his own performance – not any booing or a litany of injuries – caused him to head straight to the locker room following the game and not speak to the media.

Mayfield threw two interceptions against the Lions in a sloppy, penalty-filled affair for the Browns (6-5), who held on for dear life and kept their playoff hopes intact as they head into a critical three-week stretch.

After the Browns ran out the clock to escape the upset, Mayfield took off his helmet and didn’t acknowledge teammates, coaches or anyone from Detroit’s team as he gloomily walked off the field.

He declined postgame interviews, which are required by the NFL unless a player is getting medical treatment.

“I was frustrated, among other things,” Mayfield said Monday on a Zoom call. “I mean I’ve never dodged any questions or hid – so just frustrated, removed those emotions and all of that from it and decided it was best to wait.”

Mayfield defended his decision to not discuss his uneven game.

“Not one part of that is not being accountable,” he said, snapping at a question. “I’d be the first to tell you I played like (expletive), so it’s not about accountable and I don’t owe you guys any of that.

“I owe that to my teammates and I talked to them, so that’s what matters.”

Mayfield, who is playing despite shoulder, knee and foot injuries, had another uneven performance in a season in which he’s trying to convince the Browns he’s worthy of a long-term contract extension. The trouble is, with each two-interception, 50% completion game, he could be playing himself out of the job.

On Sunday, he went 15 of 29 for 176 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown. But he wasn’t good when it mattered most.

PANTHERS: Cam Newton re-energized the Carolina Panthers and the home crowd in his first start since returning to the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

But the 32-year-old QB didn’t produce when his team needed him most Sunday.

The Panthers (5-6) had two chances to drive the length of the field and beat Washington in the final 4:13. Both possessions ended in turnovers on downs rather than a heroic finish as Carolina lost 27-21. The costly defeat dropped Carolina from the third NFC wild card entering the weekend to tied for the 10th-best record in the NFC.

“You can’t have the ball twice at the end of the game and not go down and score in the National Football League,” Coach Matt Rhule said on Monday. “We have to convert more third downs. Is that Cam? No, it’s everybody.”

Carolina was 2 of 9 on third downs and 1 of 3 on fourth downs.

Rhule made it pretty clear that Newton will need to be better moving forward.

“I don’t like putting anything on one guy. When you are the quarterback there is a lot of responsibility on you,” Rhule said. “Cam did a lot of good things. He ran the ball and executed the offense and he’s learned a lot quickly. But all of these games are going to come down the last four minutes where we have to score a field goal and a touchdown. I put that on all of us, but at the end of the day as a quarterback we’ve got to get that done. I’m sure he would be the first to say that. We’ve got to win at the end of the game.”

The Panthers were unable to win close games last season, one of the reasons they jettisoned quarterback Teddy Bridgewater following a 5-11 record.

Newton’s stat line was solid as he completed 21 of 27 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, ran 10 times for 46 yards, including a 24-yard score he punctuated by celebrating at the team’s midfield logo by doing his Superman impersonation.

But on the final two drives, Newton was 7 of 9 for just 45 yards and managed one first down.

BRONCOS: Denver and wide receiver Courtland Sutton agreed to a four-year contract extension worth more than $60 million with $35 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press.

The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the extension was being finalized, confirmed the deal that was first reported by the NFL Network.

Sutton’s extension comes two days after wide receiver Tim Patrick signed a three-year extension worth $30 million with $18.5 million in guarantees.

Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or any other veteran quarterback who might have his eyes on Denver in the offseason will see that the Broncos have their top four receivers – Patrick, Sutton, 2020 first-rounder Jerry Jeudy and 2020 second-rounder KJ Hamler – under contract for several more seasons.

Sutton, Denver’s second-round draft pick in 2018 out of SMU, has 43 catches for 617 yards and two TDs in his return this season from a torn ACL that sidelined him almost all of 2020. Sutton had a Pro Bowl year in 2019, when he caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns.

CHARGERS: Defensive tackle Linval Joseph entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol following a positive test.

He is the fifth Chargers defensive player over the past two weeks that has either tested positive or had to go on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a close contact.

Joseph missed Sunday’s 41-37 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a shoulder injury and will be out for this week’s game at Denver because he is unvaccinated. Players must miss at least 10 days if they are unvaccinated following a positive test.

Defensive linemen Jerry Tillery and Christian Covington remain in protocol after positive tests last week. Linebackers Drue Tranquill, who first went on the list on Nov. 11, and Joey Bosa were activated before the Pittsburgh game.


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