By: Barry Barnes, Founder
The performances of the NFL Regional Combine offensive standouts have been admirable and consistent throughout the season. But Week 13’s were the best yet.
Rookie wide receiver Keelan Cole has been solid for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. He has flirted with crossing the goal line all year, and those close encounters have finally led to getting some action.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, with 2:00 remaining in the first half facing third-and-goal from the Colts’ 8-yard line, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles lined up in shotgun formation to take the snap. Cole lined up from the inside and beat Colts cornerback rookie Nate Hairston to the outside. Bortles rolled to his right and threw deep to the post corner of the endzone to Cole to haul in his first NFL touchdown.
Following the team’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12, Cole’s touchdown for the Jags to win was all that mattered.
“It started right after the game (against Arizona),” said Cole, according to Jaguars.com. “We knew we had to start making plays and we knew we couldn’t let those plays get away. Come practice time, we had to make sure nothing touched the ground. If it did, that was some extra Juggs work.”
Cole also came through for the Jaguars in the third quarter with 2:59 remaining as he caught the longest pass for the day. From the Colts’ 40 on first-and-10, Bortles threw deep down the left side of the field to Cole who blew past rookie cornerback Quiney Wilson with a three-yard gap, but got cut off by safety Darius Butler at the 8-yard line. If it was not for Butler, Cole would have walked into the endzone again.
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Cole truly had the Colts’ rookies for lunch.
Colts’ defensive backs from the RC in rookie Kenny Moore II and Chris Milton packed some stats. Moore finished with five tackles, his best performance of the season and first start, and Milton recorded one stop.
Arizona Cardinals running back Elijhaa Penny also registered his first career touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. In the second quarter with 7:40 on the clock, the Cardinals lined up in a power formation on third-and-goal and Penny took the hand off to run off tackle. Penny bowled his way through the pile into the endzone and was welcomed by his teammates.
The Cardinals/Rams contest was interesting in itself as the high-powered Rams did not post many offensive touchdowns, a credit to the Cards’ defense. Nevertheless, that is why kicking specialists are special and the Rams have a pair in punter Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein as they put their squad in great position.
Hekker had four punt attempts, including one spanning 70 yards.
“(T)o be able to kind of pin them deep in their own territory is why you certainly don’t take a great player like Johnny Hekker for granted,” said Rams head coach Sean McVay. “Great coverage in that instance as well.”
While Hekker handled the field positioning battle causing headaches for the Cardinals, Zuerlein provided relief for the Rams as he became the offense. Zuerlein nailed four field goals. He placed one 56 yards through the uprights, one 24 yards and one 41 yards in the fourth quarter, all daggers.
“There’s a lot of pride from everybody, not just one guy,” Zuerlein voiced about special teams. “Everyone from the top down.”
Another workhorse receiver from the NFL Regional Combine platform came through to put the game on ice was Minnesota Vikings’ Adam Thielen.
In the tightly contested matchup between the Vikings and Atlanta Falcons, Thielen was number one on the Falcons hit list. The Falcons held him to one catch in the first half.
But Thielen came alive in the fourth quarter where legends are made. With 3:57 remaining in the fourth quarter from the Falcons’ 43-yard line, the Vikings faced third-and-4. The Vikings are second best in the league in converting third down at 45.6 percent.
This sequence was extra special as Thielen was lined up against fellow RC pioneer cornerback C. J. Goodwin.
Goodwin went head up on press-man against Thielen and at the snap of the ball, Goodwin tried to jam Thielen. Thielen quickly beat Goodwin to the inside and caught a five-yard dart from quarterback Case Keenum. The Vikings leading pass catcher sprinted up the middle of the field for an additional 17 strong yards to the Falcons’ 21-yard line.
Thielen’s play essentially helped the Vikings to secure their eighth straight victory.
“We knew that’s kind of what they were going to give us,” said Thielen. “In critical situations, they were going to play man and try to play you 1-on-1. It was press-man (coverage). It’s just one of those things where you’ve got a 1-on-1 matchup and you’ve got to win it.”
In the showdown, Falcons wide receiver Marvin Hall had his second catch of the year at 20 yards.
- Oakland Raiders were down two key receivers, but wide receiver Seth Roberts demonstrated solid leadership as he hauled in a team high of five receptions (for 46 yards).
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Alan Cross had a pass for 13 yards.
- Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Robert Golden finished off several receivers of the Cincinnati Bengals, causing incomplete passes. He posted four tackles.
- Steelers were down 17-0, and in order to get great field positioning for the offense, the Steel Curtain needed some stops. Punter Jordan Berry provided that support when he planted three out of four punts inside the 20.
- New York Jets linebacker Julian Stanford laid wood with three tackles, including Dallas Cowboys defensive end Benson Mayowa.
- Washington Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar finished with a tackle against the Cowboys.