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Ezekiel Elliott returns, Eli Apple’s saga continues in Week 16 of the NFL

Plus, one Buckeye offensive lineman finally got some recognition.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

There is only one week left of the NFL regular season, and as some players are starting to turn their sights on the playoffs, others are looking to finish the season out strong. With a litany of games to fill the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day slates, former Ohio State players continued to make headlines at the next level.

Here’s how Buckeyes in the NFL fared in Week 16:

Zeke’s return

He’s baaaaack. Despite essentially refusing to answer questions about his suspension, or how he spent his time during that six-game suspension, running back Ezekiel Elliott was back at practice in the days leading up to the Cowboys Week 16 game. His return wasn’t enough to get a win — the Cowboys fell to the Seahawks 21-12, but Elliott was right back into the thick of things.

Zeke finished the day just three yards shy of 100 rushing yards, in addition to four catches for 21 yards. His 97 rushing yards came on 24 carries, but he didn’t make it into the endzone during his homecoming.

Someone who had seen a big increase in number of snaps and targets in Zeke’s absence, was another Buckeye rusher, Rod Smith. Now that Elliott is back in the lineup, Smith’s production was definitely reduced, with only two carries for 10 yards, and three receptions for 23 yards -- and no trips to the endzone.

Apple’s complicated saga

It’s been a long, strange season for Giants’ CB Eli Apple. From conflicts within the DB room in New York, to dealing with his Mom needing brain surgery, Apple has stayed among the headlines for the team’s decision to first keep him inactive, and now to bench him.

In Week 16, Apple was back at practice, but was subsequently benched by the Giants. After the game, the Buckeye noted it was a “coaches decision” to limit him to special team snaps against the Cardinals.

“I left that to the defensive coaches. He was going to get in there in some dime situations,” Spagnuolo said, via “The guys that have been in there have been playing together for a little bit, the continuity has been good. We probably need to try to get him in there, but we’ll see how this week goes and we’ll make that decision.”

There was another report out of this week, claiming that Apple’s personal strife far exceeds just the brain surgery of his Mother, Annie Apple. The report claims there’s been a big rift in the family, and that following the split of Annie and his step-father, one of his biggest male role models is now a non-factor in his life — and notably, in his career.

O-line recognition

The Panthers clinched a spot in the playoffs with their Week 16 win over the Buccaneers, and one of the highlights was former Buckeye, left guard Andrew Norwell. Pro Football Focus named Norwell their highest graded player of the game (90.5 overall) and gave him the game ball for the matchup.

Plays of the Week

Marshon Lattimore

Well, folks. It’s not everyday that someone snags an interception with his butt, yet, here we are. Lattimore had arguably the best play of the year when he nabbed a turnover when the ball bounced on his backside and he secured it with his leg. He finished the Christmas Eve game against the Atlanta Falcons with six total tackles and four pass breakups, in addition to his butt interception.

Cameron Heyward

The former Buckeye DE had himself a day for the Steelers. Heyward claimed four total tackles, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble on Christmas Day against the Texans. He’s now netted 12 total sacks on the season, with four games in which he nabbed two in one outing.

Michael Thomas (Honorable Mention)

Week after week, the former Buckeye receiver continues to prove that you, in fact, can’t guard Mike. With his five catches for 66 yards on Sunday against the Falcons, Thomas bested his career-high receiving yard (1,137 from his rookie season), and has already claimed 1,151 receiving yards with one more regular season to play.

Other notables

  • Some former Silver Bullets had good weeks in the NFL, with Darron Lee claiming 8 total tackles, Kurt Coleman snagging 10 total tackles, Joey Bosa with 4 total tackles, and Malcolm Jenkins with 7 total tackles and a forced fumble.
  • Safety Tyvis Powell was brought up to the active roster for the San Francisco 49ers last week, and in Week 16 made three total tackles in some of his first playing time in the 2017 season.
  • Niners running back Carlos Hyde claimed 54 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 16, in addition to 19 receiving yards.
  • Despite being limited in practice in the week ahead of Week 16, Saints’ wideout Ted Ginn Jr. had a big day with 76 receiving yards and a touchdown, in addition to 14 rushing yards.

Injury Report and Inactives

  • Chargers’ QB Cardale Jones was, yet again, a healthy scratch. With the offseason to train with Philip Rivers and team, Jones could work his way into the No. 2 QB spot and start being activated for games next season.