Bengals down to Giovani Bernard as experienced running back

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals are down to Giovani Bernard as their only experienced running back who knows their offense.

Joe Mixon had surgery to remove torn knee cartilage and will be out for a few games, leaving the Bengals (2-0) with Bernard and Tra Carson as their experienced running backs at Carolina (1-1) on Sunday.

Carson got hurt in practice on Monday and was waived on Wednesday. The Bengals signed former Seattle running back Thomas Rawls, who was with the Jets in preseason and was released in their final cuts. They also have rookie Mark Walton, a fourth-round pick.

Center Billy Price and defensive end Michael Johnson also are recovering from injuries during a 34-23 win over the Ravens on Thursday night.

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Bills RB McCoy breaks silence by saying he’s frustrated

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy ended his near two-week silence by saying he wanted to keep his frustrations to himself in what's been a miserable season.

"I was just upset how everything's been going, 2-7," McCoy said Friday, referring to the Bills' record. "That's frustrating. I want to win

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy ended his near two-week silence by saying he wanted to keep his frustrations to himself in what’s been a miserable season.

“I was just upset how everything’s been going, 2-7,” McCoy said Friday, referring to the Bills’ record. “That’s frustrating. I want to win games, so I just kind of took that approach. Just kind of upset. But my mindset is just try to get better.”

The comments were the first from McCoy since a 25-6 loss against New England on Oct. 29. He’s ducked interview requests ever since, including canceling his weekly news conferences each of the past two Wednesdays after combining for 23 yards rushing on 22 carries over two games.

“There’s plays to be made and we’re not making them. Got to play smarter. Got to play better. Simple as that,” McCoy said. “Can’t complain or pout about it. Just got to find ways to win games and make it happen.”

What bothers him even more is that at 30 , McCoy is beginning to realize he’s running out of time to achieve various objectives. They include winning a championship and establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier running backs by becoming just the 17th player to reach 12,000 career yards rushing.

“Oh, it’ll take a little longer than I expect now,” said McCoy, whose 267 yards rushing this season have upped his career total to 10,359.

“The urgency is up. I want to win now. I want to add on to my legacy of course, a chance to get a ring. And those things are on my mind,” McCoy said. “So the frustration about losing, all them things, every player has a clock.”

In getting off to the worst start of a season in his 10-year career, McCoy hasn’t reached the end zone since scoring twice in a 24-17 win over Miami on Dec. 17. And he hasn’t topped 100 yards since finishing with 156 on a snow-covered field in a 13-7 overtime win against Indianapolis on Dec. 10.

At the rate the Bills’ anemic offense is producing in having scored an NFL-worst 96 points, McCoy wasn’t making any promises when the droughts might end with Buffalo preparing to play at the New York Jets on Sunday.

“I don’t have the answers, why and when, but I just look forward to getting there,” he said. “Just got to find a way to do it.”

McCoy didn’t want his frustrations to be interpreted as him being unhappy to still be in Buffalo after the NFL’s trading deadline passed on Oct. 30. And he’s pleased to hear general manager Brandon Beane say McCoy remains in the team’s plans through the final year of his contract next season.

“They’ve been good to me. I’m a loyal person, and I’m happy here,” said McCoy, in his fourth season in Buffalo since being acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. “I think sometimes people get that mixed up with the frustrations of losing. But for me to be in their plans, I like the way that sounds.”

Beane told The Associated Press this week he maintains his confidence in McCoy’s ability.

“We don’t see a guy who’s a declining player. We see a guy who’s still playing well, and he’s one of the better players at his position in the league,” Beane said. “He is working hard. He’s trying to be the best he can. And he’s going to continue to do that. And if he wasn’t, then we probably would’ve moved on.”

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Say his name: Rookie WR Valdes-Scantling on rise for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling turned to Twitter to give a tutorial about how to pronounce his first name.

Get it straight: It's "mar-QUEZ" and not "mar-KEZ."

"It happens all the time," Valdes-Scantling said this week about the mispronunciation. "So there is no 'k' in my name."

Keep making highlight-reel plays

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling turned to Twitter to give a tutorial about how to pronounce his first name.

Get it straight: It’s “mar-QUEZ” and not “mar-KEZ.”

“It happens all the time,” Valdes-Scantling said this week about the mispronunciation. “So there is no ‘k’ in my name.”

Keep making highlight-reel plays and announcers will catch on soon enough and get it right.

The fifth-round selection out of South Florida is about to get more consistent playing time after Geronimo Allison went on injured reserve this week. Green Bay hosts the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

This is quite the impression that Valdes-Scantling has left the last few weeks, with breakaway speed and a 6-foot-4 frame that allow him to snare jump balls.

“The biggest thing is just him gaining the trust of (quarterback Aaron Rodgers) as fast as he has,” veteran wideout Randall Cobb said. “It’s really impressive that Aaron wants to come to him in certain situations. He’s making those plays for him.”

To the tune of 17 catches for 358 yards and two scores so far for Valdes-Scantling, plus a team-high 21.1 yards per catch. He has touchdown catches in two of his last four games, with 100 yards receiving in each of the other two games during that span.

The production increase is in part due to helping fill in for Allison and Cobb while each player missed a few games with hamstring injuries. Cobb is questionable again for the Dolphins game because of hamstring trouble.

That leaves more opportunities for Valdes-Scantling to be the second receiver behind Davante Adams.

The process of gaining Rodgers’ trust, though, isn’t easy. It requires more than just making catches.

“It’s not going to happen in one day. You’ve got to learn the plays, you’ve got to know the plays,” Valdes-Scantling said. “He’s going to quiz you in practice, so you’ve just got to know all those things. It just happens over time.”

Proof of the payoff came late in the third quarter of last week’s loss at New England, with the game tied at 17. Deep in Packers territory, Rodgers rolled right, where he quickly found two defenders trying to close in on him for a sack.

The two-time NFL MVP threw a high pass that traveled about 30 yards to Valdes-Scantling at around the 36. The rookie adjusted near the sideline to the throw while on the run. With a defender a couple steps behind him, Valdes-Scantling turned and jumped high for the catch .

He’s the breakout contributor of the three receivers taken by the Packers in the draft.

Fourth-rounder J’Mon Moore has just one catch for 10 yards. Sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown has seven catches for 143 yards, and moves up in the depth chart behind Valdes-Scantling.

“At the end of the day, (Valdes-Scantling) has been given some opportunities, probably more than we all anticipated due to the injury, and he’s just delivered,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “So you can see with the success and the production he’s had, his confidence grows more and more each week.”

NOTES: RT Bryan Bulaga (knee) and LB Blake Martinez (ankle) are also questionable for Sunday. CB Kevin King (hamstring) is out, as expected. … S Kentrell Brice (knee) and DL Mike Daniels (shoulder) were dropped from the injury report.

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Beckham Jr. hopeful Giants can run the table

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Call Odell Beckham Jr. the eternal optimist.

When the New York Giants' flashy wide receiver was asked Friday what he hoped his 1-7 team would do for the remainder of the season, Beckham didn't pull any punches.

"I think the goal is to win eight games, go 9-7 and go

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Call Odell Beckham Jr. the eternal optimist.

When the New York Giants’ flashy wide receiver was asked Friday what he hoped his 1-7 team would do for the remainder of the season, Beckham didn’t pull any punches.

“I think the goal is to win eight games, go 9-7 and go to the playoffs,” Beckham said.

Even though no NFL team has ever pulled off such a comeback?

“It’s not an easy task,” Beckham added. “But that’s the goal. We want to win every game and I want to do everything I can to help that. The Giants have been there before, gone 9-7 and got into the playoffs. Anything is possible. It’s not impossible to win eight games. It wasn’t impossible to lose seven. Anything can happen.”

Beckham remained upbeat as his team prepared to face the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, California on Monday night. He was certain his team is ready to turn it around, albeit in miraculous fashion — provided the Giants do a better job of scoring touchdowns.

“We’ve lost a lot of close games that we just didn’t pull through,” Beckham said. “We know what situations we’re in when we are in those close games. We just haven’t found a way to pull them through. It’s easy to sit up here and be like we want to win eight games knowing that it’s very tough to do. You just got to pull it all together now.

“I know we’re not in a very good situation, but you just got to make the most out of that.”

Beckham signed a five-year, $95 million contract, with approximately $65 million guaranteed, during training camp in August, so he’s the new face of the franchise moving forward. He was asked if he felt he had any pressure to be the one who kick-starts the offense.

“Not any more than I ever have,” said Beckham, who has caught 61 passes for 785 yards and two touchdowns this season. “Hopefully I can start catching some of these things and start taking them to the crib, making bigger plays. I put more on myself. Whatever happens is what’s going to happen, but I know that my mentality is not going to be to quit. I’m not going to be out there not trying to go hard every play. Any chance that I get, that’s just always how I’m going to be.”

Beckham was also asked if the Giants could eliminate some problems in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“I think that any chance I get, and all of us get a chance to take something to the house, it’s time to go,” he said. “There’s no more holding back, playing it safe, or waiting for the next play, because you don’t know if you’re going to have a next play, and that’s just the mentality we have to take. Any chance I get now, and I catch one of these slants, there’s no motion wasted. It’s just got to be somebody has got to come catch me. You trust your training, you trust your speed — somebody has got to come catch me. I’m trying as much as I can to make these plays, explosive plays, and we all need to do that.”

Fellow wideout Sterling Shepard also recognizes his team’s struggles in the red zone.

“Explosive plays are always good themselves, but if you can take them all the way, then that obviously is better for the team,” said Shepard, who has 40 receptions for 542 yards and two touchdowns. “You just take them as they come and some of them will pop, some of them won’t, but an explosive play all around is good for the team. I think it’s we’re just not being assignment sound. I feel like one guy is always off or two guys off when we get into the red zone, and that can kill your chances of scoring.”

Beckham Jr. is befuddled why the Giants aren’t scoring more.

“Not to say that the opportunities haven’t been there, but they’ve been limited,” he noted.

But Beckham feels the tide is about to turn for him personally.

“I don’t know, but towards the back end of the season, I feel like I do better,” Beckham said. “As the season goes on, people’s bodies start to break down. I really try to maintain and I really try to be better than I was in Week 1 or Week 10. I feel a lot stronger going in towards the back end of the season. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Now, it’s just time to do that.”

NOTES: Coming off a bye, the Giants had a full team at practice Friday. WR Jawill Davis (concussion), who had been out, returned to practice, so he will more than likely be the Giants’ main return option on punts and kickoffs Monday. Starting LB Alec Ogletree (hamstring) returned to practice, as did OT Chad Wheeler (ankle). . Olivier Vernon said that there was no difference in preparing to face 49ers QB Nick Mullens, who will be making the second start of his pro career. “We have to disrupt him and make him feel uncomfortable,” Vernon said. “There’s not a whole lot of film to watch on him, so we just have to have the mindset to get after him and get him out of a comfort zone.”

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NFL fines Titans safety for celebrating on Cowboys’ logo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL has fined Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard $10,026 for celebrating his end-zone interception on the Dallas Cowboys star logo at midfield.

Byard said Friday the fine was actually worth it as the interception helped change momentum by denying the Cowboys a possible touchdown. The Titans outscored the Cowboys 28-7

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL has fined Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard $10,026 for celebrating his end-zone interception on the Dallas Cowboys star logo at midfield.

Byard said Friday the fine was actually worth it as the interception helped change momentum by denying the Cowboys a possible touchdown. The Titans outscored the Cowboys 28-7 after the interception en route to a 28-14 victory Monday night.

“I actually kind of expected it to be more with all the crazy fines that are going on in the league right now,” Byard said. “I expected it to be more than $10,000. But I feel like it was worth it. I kind of knew it was coming, but I didn’t know the amount. … It was a momentum changer. If it was $10,000 it was worth it, because I’ll make that up on the back end.”

The 2017 All-Pro safety copied what Terrell Owens did 18 years ago in a win over the Cowboys in old Texas Stadium. The interception was the second this season for Byard and his 10th since the start of the 2017 season, tying him for the most in the NFL in that span.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel talked with Byard after the game and again Tuesday. Vrabel also talked to the rest of the team Wednesday to make sure they understand what is expected of them when celebrating.

“That’s not what we want as an organization, and that’s not what I want as a head coach,” Vrabel said. “I want our guys to play as hard as they possibly can for each other, between the whistle, and as physical and aggressive and as clean as they possibly can.”

Vrabel said he wants players to celebrate with a teammate.

“Find somebody else in a Titans uniform. Find a coach, and celebrate with them,” Vrabel said. “But we don’t need to do that. It’s not what we want to do. … That’s not what I want, and if that’s what they want, then we see it very differently.”

Notes: The Titans (4-4) will be without right tackle Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) against the New England Patriots (7-2) on Sunday. The Patriots eliminated Tennessee from the postseason in January. … WR Tajae Sharpe (ankle) told reporters in the locker room he will play. LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder), WR Taywan Taylor (left foot) and S Dane Cruikshank (knee) did not practice. DL Bennie Logan (knee) practiced Friday after being limited Thursday. LBs Daren Bates (illness) and Will Compton (hamstring) practiced.

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Bills QB Matt Barkley in the mix to start against Jets

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott is backing off his previous commitment of having Nathan Peterman start against the New York Jets if rookie Josh Allen isn't cleared to play.

And that puts Matt Barkley in the mix to start Sunday.

McDermott reversed course Friday after he ruled out Derek Anderson

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott is backing off his previous commitment of having Nathan Peterman start against the New York Jets if rookie Josh Allen isn’t cleared to play.

And that puts Matt Barkley in the mix to start Sunday.

McDermott reversed course Friday after he ruled out Derek Anderson and said Allen’s status remains uncertain four weeks since spraining his right throwing elbow. Asked of the possibility of Peterman starting, McDermott sidestepped the question by saying he preferred to keep the focus on Allen.

That’s a switch from Monday, when McDermott said Peterman would start if Allen and Anderson couldn’t play.

Allen is listed as questionable on Buffalo’s injury report.

A person familiar with situation told The Associated Press that Barkley is being considered ahead of Peterman, but a final decision hasn’t yet been made. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because McDermott did not reveal the team’s plans.

Peterman has thrown seven interceptions in four appearances this season, including three in a 41-9 loss to Chicago last weekend.

The Bills signed Barkley on Oct. 30. He is on his sixth team in six seasons, and hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since 2016, when he started six games with the Chicago Bears. Barkley was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in September after hurting his knee in a preseason game.

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Vikings’ Harrison Smith voted top NFL safety by AP panel

/NEW YORK (AP) — Harrison Smith has been making his mark for years with big hits and clutch interceptions for the Minnesota Vikings.

As a key piece of one of the NFL's top defenses, the playmaking safety was voted the top player in the league at his position by a panel of 10 football writers

/NEW YORK (AP) — Harrison Smith has been making his mark for years with big hits and clutch interceptions for the Minnesota Vikings.

As a key piece of one of the NFL’s top defenses, the playmaking safety was voted the top player in the league at his position by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press.

“The independent analysts at Pro Football Focus rated Smith’s performance in 2017 the highest by any player at any position in the league,” Minneapolis-based AP writer Dave Campbell said. “This year, the three-time Pro Bowl pick has three interceptions and three sacks in nine games. No player in the NFL hit both of those marks over the entire 2017 season.

“With Earl Thomas out for the year, it’s easy to see Smith as the top safety in the league.”

The AP voters overwhelmingly agreed. Smith received 97 points in a 10-points-to-one-point system, garnering eight of 10 first-place votes. He finished second on one ballot and third on the other to easily outdistance the New York Giants’ Landon Collins, who had 69 points.

“Not only is Smith the clear leader at this position, particularly with his skills in coverage,” said New York-based writer Barry Wilner, “but he’s probably Minnesota’s most valuable defensive player.”

That’s saying a lot, particularly with a team that includes defensive end Danielle Hunter, who leads the NFL with 11½ sacks.

“Smith is an elite pass defender who can bat away a throw or pick off a pass on one play, then sack the QB on the next,” Washington-based Howard Fendrich said.

Smith finished second in last year’s voting, with Thomas winning. The injured Seahawks star, who’s out for the season with a broken left leg, had 59 points — and received one first-place vote, from Bay Area-based Josh Dubow — to finish third this year.

“Thomas is still the benchmark at safety despite a season-ending injury,” Dubow said.

There were 28 players who received at least one vote, but Smith and Collins were the only safeties to appear on all 10 ballots.

Collins jumped up two spots after finishing fourth last year. He doesn’t have any interceptions yet this season, but has firmly established himself as one of the best at his position.

“Yeah, he’s on a team with one win (entering Week 10), but Collins is strong tackler and pass defender,” New York-based Simmi Buttar said.

Tennessee’s Kevin Byard is fourth with 54 points, but received the other first-place vote from Nashville-based Teresa M. Walker.

“Byard is just getting better with every game,” Walker said, “and he was pretty good in 2017 when he was an All-Pro who tied for the league lead with eight interceptions and led the NFL with 10 takeaways.”

Byard has two interceptions this season, and caused quite a stir with his star turn on his most recent pick. After intercepting Dak Prescott’s pass Monday night in Tennessee’s 28-14 victory at Dallas, Byard ran to the 50-yard line at AT&T Stadium and danced with his teammates on the Cowboys’ star logo.

“He should’ve left the Cowboys star stomp to Terrell Owens,” said Philadelphia-based Rob Maaddi. “But Byard is a ball magnet and no longer an unknown around the league, even to Deion Sanders.”

Sanders and Byard got into a Twitter feud in the offseason about who the league’s top safety is. Prime Time picked Tyrann Mathieu, who didn’t finish in the AP’s top 10.

New England’s Devin McCourty was fifth with 38 points, and has been a model of consistency for Bill Belichick’s defense.

“Anyone who can stick so long (nine years) on a revolving door that is the Patriots’ defense is a special performer,” Wilner said.

McCourty was followed by Washington’s D.J. Swearinger, who had 36 points.

“Swearinger does everything well, from coverage to run support to rushing the passer,” said Dubow, who had him ranked second on his ballot.

The Jets’ Jamal Adams (24 points), Los Angeles Chargers rookie Derwin James (21), Baltimore’s Eric Weddle (20) and Kansas City’s Eric Berry (19) rounded out the top 10.

Berry appeared on six ballots despite having not played since last year’s season opener.

“He might be No. 1 if he had played a down this season,” Fendrich said. “If he recovers enough from the heel injury that has kept him out for every game so far, he could be a big factor in the playoffs for the Chiefs.”

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The rankings:

1. Harrison Smith, Vikings

2. Landon Collins, Giants

3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks

4. Kevin Byard, Titans

5. Devin McCourty, Patriots

6. D.J. Swearinger, Redskins

7. Jamal Adams, Jets

8. Derwin James, Chargers

9. Eric Weddle, Ravens

10. Eric Berry, Chiefs

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Halfway to NFL awards: decisions and lots of candidates

By the time every NFL team has played eight games, there are some heavily established favorites for The Associated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Super Bowl eve.

Not this year.

MVP? Lots of candidates — and not just quarterbacks.

Coach of the Year? Nearly every division has a contender.

Comeback Player? Some

By the time every NFL team has played eight games, there are some heavily established favorites for The Associated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Super Bowl eve.

Not this year.

MVP? Lots of candidates — and not just quarterbacks.

Coach of the Year? Nearly every division has a contender.

Comeback Player? Some likely Hall of Famers are in the mix there.

So the AP polled a few of the 50 voters for the awards, including genuine Hall of Famer James Lofton. The theme was clear: There isn’t much clarity as we head into the final eight weeks of the schedule.

MVP

This honor has gone to a quarterback the past five seasons and 10 of 11. Two running backs, Adrian Peterson in 2012 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, broke through the QB domination in the past dozen years.

Lofton and some others select Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

“So good you just can’t take your eyes off of him,” the CBS analyst says.

“Maybe this opinion changes next week, given the stellar competition that includes (Todd) Gurley and (Drew) Brees,” adds USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “Maybe not, as the kid keeps showing up. A first-year starter as quarterback? Hey, Mahomes is like the new Kurt Warner.”

Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News opts for Brees. Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk prefers Gurley.

Don’t forget about Tom Brady, Adam Thielen or Philip Rivers, and perhaps even a defensive force such as J.J. Watt.

COACH

Another wide-open field headed by, according to Jenny Vrentas of Monday Morning Quarterback, Kansas City’s Andy Reid.

“I selected Andy Reid … for his ability to seamlessly transition from Alex Smith to Mahomes,” Vrentas explains. “He’s been so invested in Mahomes’ development that he sits with him on the bench in between offensive series, going over what they see and how they’ll attack the opponent next. Reid has demonstrated an ability to keep his offense fresh and tailored to his players, updating his West Coast system with spread concepts pulled from the college ranks.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday points to last year’s winner, Sean McVay of the Rams.

“He’s one of the brightest minds in the game, and at 32, is proving not only to be a brilliant play caller, but an exceptional leader as well,” Glauber says.

Not far behind in our little poll: the Saints’ Sean Payton, the Texans’ Bill O’Brien, the Bears’ Matt Nagy, and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, whose team “plays a road game every week,” Lofton notes.

COMEBACK PLAYER

Rarely has there been such an impressive group vying for an award no one really wants to win considering the implications of a comeback.

From Watt to Peterson to Aaron Rodgers, from Andrew Luck to Carson Wentz to Deshaun Watson, from Odell Beckham Jr. to Richard Sherman — WOW!

“It’s either Andrew Luck or Watt,” says Williams, “but Watt has returned to being one of the best at his position. He is playing at an All-Pro and Pro Bowl level. Luck is not one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL and maybe not in the top 10.”

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports goes for the Colts quarterback.

“Can’t imagine the frustration he’s faced,” Adelson says. “A pro’s pro.”

Vrentas picks Watt.

“The surgery Watt had last October to put his leg back together after a tibial plateau fracture was so complicated that the surgeons couldn’t even be certain that it would work, and that his leg would be able to bear the full weight of his body while running full speed,” she explains. “Watt, who has nine sacks in nine games, was undeterred. He wasn’t back to full strength in the season opener but has steadily gotten better each week, a scary thought for opponents.”

OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Another free-for-all, with Gurley, Mahomes, Thielen, Brees, Michael Thomas and James Conner getting consideration.

“Before it’s done, he could wind up as MVP,” Bell says of Gurley, his choice in this category. “Ditto for Brees. Running backs don’t get the same love as quarterbacks in the pass-centric environment of the NFL. But if Gurley breaks LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season TD record and the Rams keep winning big, people will have to take notice. Then again, Brees has a few records and has never been MVP.”

Domowitch, a Brees supporter for MVP, puts Mahomes here. So does Williams.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER

This category could be a two-horse race between a pair of thoroughbreds previously honored with the award: Aaron Donald and Watt.

“Now that’s a man who don’t need no stinking training camp,” Bell says of Donald.

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports prefers Donald, as well.

“A game wrecker on every down,” Adelson says.

Adds Glauber: “Donald is a disruptive force in the middle and already has 10 sacks. The only problem for him — and the Rams — is that teams will often go to great lengths to shut him down. Thus, the constant double teams he has to fight through.”

Lofton likes what Khalil Mack has done in Chicago: “Mack turned the Bears from pretenders to contenders.” But this train could be a runaway for Donald and Mack.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE

No contest.

“He’s the only good thing going for an awful Giants team,” Glauber says of Giants RB Saquon Barkley. “Until the Giants figure out their quarterback situation, he’ll be wasted in this offense.”

But not lost in the awards prognostications.

“On pace for more than 2,000 total yards — on a bad team,” Adelson notes.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE

Chargers safety Derwin James has gotten lots of love, but there’s no runaway leader.

“Darius Leonard and Denzel Ward make this an interesting race for the award down the stretch,” Williams says.

Glauber leans to Leonard: “Halfway through the season, he not only led all NFL rookies with 88 tackles, he led all NFL players in that category. He also has four sacks and three forced fumbles and has already won defensive rookie of the week honors twice.”

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Seahawks’ Moore trying to move past loss to Chargers

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — David Moore tried his best not to let the final pass in Seattle's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week bother him for long.

It's not easy when it's a throw that could have potentially tied the game and forced overtime, but instead bounced off Moore's shoulder and fell incomplete

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — David Moore tried his best not to let the final pass in Seattle’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week bother him for long.

It’s not easy when it’s a throw that could have potentially tied the game and forced overtime, but instead bounced off Moore’s shoulder and fell incomplete on the final play of Seattle’s 25-17 loss.

It was shown on seemingly every TV broadcast playing highlights of the game , and while it would have been an exceptionally difficult catch after getting tipped by a Chargers defensive back, Moore wishes he could have made the grab.

“I tried to stay away from it,” Moore said on Thursday. “After a while, I’d say Monday after meetings, I tried to watch it and then I was like, ‘It’s over with now. I’m on to (the Rams).'”

The incompletion was the most difficult moment the second-year wide receiver has faced since becoming part of Seattle’s wide receiver rotation. The Seahawks had an untimed down from the 6-yard line needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime.

Quarterback Russell Wilson stepped up away from the pass rush and Moore had flashed open running across the back of the end zone.

Wilson zipped his pass in Moore’s direction, but just a couple of yards away from finding the receiver’s hands, the ball was tipped by the Chargers’ Jahleel Addae. The tip slightly changed the trajectory of the pass and it started severely wobbling offline. Moore was unable to adjust his hands in time and the ball thudded off his shoulder pads and to the turf.

“I (saw) it get tipped. I saw the dude come across and I tried to adjust to it but it was a little bit too late,” Moore said. “It was a fastball coming in hot, getting touched, it’s kind of hard to get your hands where it needs to be after that.”

Moore said he spent time Sunday night wondering if there are even drills to mimic having a pass change as that one did so close to the receiver.

“It’s a really tough catch. He’s tracking the ball, he sees it coming and all of a sudden the ball takes kind of a strange turn,” Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He was really dejected, really upset. Got a chance to talk to him after the game, said a lot of things still had to happen. That wasn’t the reason we won or lost that game, but it was a very difficult play.”

Moore’s development has been one of the big stories of the season for Seattle. His progression from an unknown seventh-round pick in 2017 to becoming the Seahawks’ No. 3 receiver was so rapid Seattle felt comfortable releasing veteran Brandon Marshall last week to open a roster spot.

While it wasn’t a dropped pass, the final play is the first major adversity Moore has faced this season. He was emotional after the game, but said the moment was quickly put in perspective.

“At first I took it kind of hard, but then I had Doug (Baldwin) and Tyler (Lockett) and all the brothers and stuff, and all the coaches tell me stuff like this happens all the time,” Moore said.

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Mullens to share stage with Manning when 49ers host Giants

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens remembers getting the phone call from Archie Manning inviting him to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy two summers ago.

Mullens savored the chance to take part in the four-day clinic run by Archie and his two NFL quarterback sons, Eli and Peyton. Mullens especially relished the opportunity to

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens remembers getting the phone call from Archie Manning inviting him to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy two summers ago.

Mullens savored the chance to take part in the four-day clinic run by Archie and his two NFL quarterback sons, Eli and Peyton. Mullens especially relished the opportunity to watch Eli Manning take part in some of the drills.

“To see how he moves in the pocket, he has very quick feet and is just very smooth,” Mullens said. “I definitely remember just sitting there and watching him throw. I took that all in.”

Mullens now will get another chance to see Manning up close when he makes his second career start for the San Francisco 49ers (2-7) on Monday night against Manning and the New York Giants (1-7).

Mullens is coming off a scintillating debut, completing 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 151.9 passer rating in a 34-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders. That’s the highest rating since the merger for a player in his debut with at least 20 attempts.

Things might not be as easy now that the Giants have an idea of what Mullens can do.

“I think they’re going to be like, ‘Oh crap. This guy is good,'” running back Matt Breida said. “I think they’ll put more people back there to cover because of the throws he made and can do.”

While Mullens is just getting started, Manning is nearing the end of his career as he plays his 15th season for a team that is struggling mightily. New York has lost five straight games and the questions are mounting about how much longer the two-time Super Bowl MVP Manning has as quarterback.

“I think there’s urgency to get things going, for sure,” Manning said. “We got to get some wins. We got to get going, and everybody wants it. The team needs it, for the morale and for just the hard work and everything we put in. Just need to reap the benefits of the work, and feel good about what we’re doing.”

Here are some other things to watch:

SPLENDID SAQUON

Rookie Saquon Barkley has been a rare bright spot for the struggling Giants, topping 100 yards from scrimmage in seven of his first eight games. Barkley has been a bit hit and miss with 16 runs for negative yards, tied for fifth worst in the league, and 11 plays that gained at least 20, which is tied for second most among running backs. Barkley is just the ninth player to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the first eight games of his rookie season.

“I’m not one of those guys that says, let me see my stats, let me see how much I ran for this or that. I just play,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and lie, I am very active on social media, so there’s fan pages of me and I can go on Instagram or even on my explore page and they just happen to pop up. I’ve seen predictions of what I’m capable of doing, but it means nothing to me.”

PRESSURE POINT

The struggling pass rush for the 49ers broke through in a big way last week with eight sacks against Oakland. Cassius Marsh led the way with a career-best 2 ½, and Dekoda Watson had 1 1/2 in his first game after coming off IR. San Francisco had eight sacks in a game only once in the previous two decades, doing it against the Rams in 2009.

KITTLE’S CATCHES

San Francisco tight end George Kittle has been a big-play threat all season. He had a 71-yard catch and run last week against the Raiders, making him the first tight end since Rich Caster in 1972 to have two 70-yard catches in the same season. Kittle ranks second among all tight ends with 692 yards receiving and is second to Barkley among all players with 496 yards after the catch.

STRUGGLING FRANCHISES

Twenty-eight years after these franchises met in the best matchup in “Monday Night Football” history, they now play in one of the worst. Back in 1990, the 49ers beat the Giants 7-3 in a matchup of 10-1 teams that provided the highest winning percentage ever for a Monday night game played after Halloween. The teams come into this meeting with a combined winning percentage of .176, the second lowest for a Monday night game played Nov. 1 or later. The lowest combined winning percentage is .167 for a matchup of the New York Jets (3-9) and the Chargers (1-11) in 1975 that featured Hall of Fame QBs Joe Namath and Dan Fouts.

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Larry Fitzgerald closing in on yards receiving milestone

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald is closing in on another milestone, and it's an impressive one.

The 35-year-old receiver needs to catch just 33 yards worth of passes Sunday at Kansas City to move past Hall of Famer Terrell Owens into second place on the NFL's all-time yards receiving list.

As usual, Fitzgerald brushed

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald is closing in on another milestone, and it’s an impressive one.

The 35-year-old receiver needs to catch just 33 yards worth of passes Sunday at Kansas City to move past Hall of Famer Terrell Owens into second place on the NFL’s all-time yards receiving list.

As usual, Fitzgerald brushed aside talk of the milestone in his weekly meeting with the media Thursday.

“Honestly, I don’t really think about it,” he said.

Modesty aside, there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald is very aware of his place among the greats in the game.

Halfway through his 15th season, Fitzgerald has 15,902 yards receiving, behind Owens’ 15,934 and Jerry Rice’s phenomenal 22,895.

Fitzgerald needs 58 catches to pass Tony Gonzalez for second on the NFL career receptions list. Fitzgerald has 1,268 catches to Gonzalez’s 1,325 and Rice’s 1,549.

Fitzgerald also is closing in on Rice’s record for receptions with one team. Fitzgerald, who has spent his entire career with the Cardinals, needs 14 receptions to pass the 1,281 catches Rice had with the San Francisco 49ers.

There are numbers that Fitzgerald will talk about with pride, and that’s what he’s accomplished in the postseason.

He has 942 yards receiving in nine postseason games, most of any player in his first nine playoff contests. His three 150-yard playoff receiving games are most in NFL history. His five 100-yard games are tied for third all-time, behind Michael Irvin and Rice. Fitzgerald is tied for third in postseason TD receptions (10), behind John Stallworth and Rice. And Fitzgerald did it in only nine games.

Fitzgerald’s performance in Arizona’s surprise run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season shattered NFL records for yards receiving (546), receptions (30) and touchdowns (7).

In Arizona’s divisional game against Green Bay in 2015, Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards, including the two biggest plays of overtime. He is the only player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown in every postseason game.

“I think every player wants to be at their best in the biggest moments,” Fitzgerald said. “I think my numbers in the playoffs say that I’m a guy who steps up in the bigger moments. I think that’s something you look at the greats in history, the Jerry Rices and the Michael Jordans and the Kobe Bryants, the Reggie Jacksons of the world, those guys , when their teams needed them the most, they were able to find something to make a difference in the games.”

But Fitzgerald may never appear in the playoffs again.

The Cardinals limp into Kansas City at 2-6 and Fitzgerald repeated Thursday that he hasn’t decided whether this is his last season. It’s hard to imagine him ever playing for another team.

Fitzgerald has been conspicuously absent from the statistics as the Arizona offense sputtered through seven games, leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. With Byron Leftwich as the new coordinator, Fitzgerald had his best game of the year in the team’s 18-15 victory over San Francisco two weekends ago, catching eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, just his second of the season.

Notes: S Budda Baker, a critical component of Arizona’s defense, did not practice Thursday due to a foot injury. He was not on the injury report Wednesday. He was the only player who did not practice on Thursday.

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Steelers RT Gilbert out for 3rd straight week

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his third straight game while dealing with a knee injury.

The Steelers made Gilbert inactive for Thursday night's game against Carolina. Matt Feiler will start in place of Gilbert.

Pittsburgh will also be without reserve nose tackle Dan McCullers, who is dealing with an

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his third straight game while dealing with a knee injury.

The Steelers made Gilbert inactive for Thursday night’s game against Carolina. Matt Feiler will start in place of Gilbert.

Pittsburgh will also be without reserve nose tackle Dan McCullers, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver Justin Hunter, safety Marcus Allen, cornerback Brian Allen and offensive lineman Zach Banner are also inactive for the Steelers.

The Panthers will be without wide receiver Torrey Smith, who will sit out a third straight week due to a knee injury. Jarius Wright will start in place of Smith.

Carolina center Ryan Kalil will play despite skipping practice on Tuesday with an ankle injury.

Cornerback Josh Hawkins, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, linebacker Andre Smith, guard Brendan Mahon, defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. and defensive end Marquis Haynes are also inactive for the Panthers.

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Mayfield hopes NFL officials find consistency on helmet hits

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield has become the NFL's unwanted poster boy for helmet-to-helmet hits.

Twice this season, Cleveland's rookie quarterback has been struck in the head by tacklers during games and both times the officials failed to call a penalty for the obvious infractions.

Mayfield's trying not to take oversights personally.

"They just

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield has become the NFL’s unwanted poster boy for helmet-to-helmet hits.

Twice this season, Cleveland’s rookie quarterback has been struck in the head by tacklers during games and both times the officials failed to call a penalty for the obvious infractions.

Mayfield’s trying not to take oversights personally.

“They just have to find their consistency,” he said of the erratic calls. “With every ref it’s different — how they see it, how they’re seeing the plays, momentum with the whistle, when it’s blown, stuff like that. So as they continue to try to enforce the same rule, I think the consistency will grow. But right now, that’s why you’re seeing some confusion.”

On Oct. 21 at Tampa Bay, Mayfield slid after a 35-yard run and was drilled from the side by Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead, who wasn’t flagged but was fined $26,739 fine by the NFL, which acknowledged days after the hit that it should have been a penalty.

Last week, Kansas City safety Ron Parker delivered a glancing blow with his helmet to Mayfield while the quarterback was being wrapped up by defensive tackle Chris Jones. Again, no penalty was called, but Mayfield was forced to leave the game after an independent medical observer called the officials and requested the QB undergo a concussion evaluation.

Mayfield passed the test and was allowed to return three plays later. He fought to stay in the game.

“Yeah. I guess that is the new rule,” he said. “I have to come off the field for a checkup.”

Parker could be fined by the league, which announces its weekly punishments on Saturday.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, joked that Parker’s hit fortunately didn’t do any damage.

“It would be more frustrating if it hurt,” Mayfield said. “I was more frustrated they took me out of the game, to be honest with you. But they’re protecting me. They’re doing their job. So ultimately what can I complain about?”

Mayfield has sympathy for the officials, who are doing what they can to protect players — especially quarterbacks — while presiding over a game that’s moving very fast. Mayfield smiled when asked if the officiating was as uneven when he played in college at Oklahoma.

“No,” he said, grinning. “I had a bunch of friends out there, so it was good.”

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FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit in NFL Week 10

Like winter, fantasy football playoffs loom. Successful fantasy owners shouldn't go into victory formation yet, as one bad week or unfortunate injury can change the complexion of the whole season.

Those still pushing for a postseason berth should pull out all the stops without fear. Week 10 brings opportunity for players who have otherwise been

Like winter, fantasy football playoffs loom. Successful fantasy owners shouldn’t go into victory formation yet, as one bad week or unfortunate injury can change the complexion of the whole season.

Those still pushing for a postseason berth should pull out all the stops without fear. Week 10 brings opportunity for players who have otherwise been disappointments along with a rookie or two who should be used to exploit favorable matchups.

START: Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: With four touchdowns in his last three games, Howard is showing signs of finally breaking out of his season-long funk. Howard is no longer a component in the Chicago passing game, but he’s averaged 19 touches per game over the past three weeks. Now he faces a Lions run defense that gives up 5.1 yards per carry and is ranked 27th in stopping the run. He’s still a long way from the RB1 many envisioned he’d be on draft day, but Howard will fit in most fantasy lineups as a solid RB2 this Sunday.

SIT: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Yes, him. Gronkowski hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 1 and has exceeded better than 70 receiving yards just twice after tagging the Texans for 123 yards in the regular season opener. He missed last Sunday’s win against the Packers and is questionable for Sunday’s game versus the Titans. There are good streaming options available at tight end (Chris Herndon of the Jets, for example) but the days of Gronkowski as a must-start fantasy beast appear to be reaching their end.

START: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Packers: Since joining the starting lineup, Valdes-Scantling is averaging just over nine targets per game and has a pair of 100-yard outings to go along with two touchdowns. Green Bay’s pass, pass and pass again mindset makes the rookie a strong WR2 who continues to gain the trust of Aaron Rodgers. He’ll keep building his rapport with Rodgers at the expense of a Miami defense that is 25th in receiving yards allowed and 29th in yards per catch allowed. Valdes-Scantling has averaged 21.1 yards per catch, as seven of his 17 receptions have been for 20 yards or longer.

SIT: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: The optimism about Carr following a strong performance against the Colts was critically shattered after a near-lifeless effort against the 49ers. Things will not get better for Carr, who must contend with a Chargers defense that is a solid 12th in net passing yards allowed and is tied for sixth with 10 interceptions. While Carr has 10 touchdown passes this season, keep in mind that seven of those came in two games. Los Angeles held him to just 14 fantasy points when the two teams met in Week 5.

START: Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys: Dak Prescott has gotten the rookie wideout more involved over the past two games, with 11 of his 28 targets this season coming in that span. He’s responded well, catching six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and will continue his upward trend going against a suspect Eagles pass defense that is 20th in net passing yards allowed. Gallup has shown he doesn’t need a lot of targets to make an impact, which makes him an intriguing WR3/flex option.

SIT: Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions: Even with Golden Tate no longer in the lineup, Golladay was a non-factor in last week’s loss to the Vikings, catching just three passes for 46 yards on four targets. Things don’t get easier for Golladay, who faces a Bears defense that is ninth in fewest net passing yards and is second only to the Dolphins with 14 interceptions. Golladay should see more targets after having a mere seven in his last three games combined, but there’s little to feel good about playing him, especially in a PPR format.

START: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans: He’s starting to round into shape and comes off his second game of better than 20 fantasy points with a great chance at a third against the Patriots. New England is 28th in net passing yards allowed and have given up 19 touchdown passes and must deal with Mariota’s running ability. While he’d be a gamble in standard leagues, Mariota is a good play in deeper leagues. There’s a good chance he steps his game up and turns this contest into a high-scoring affair.

SIT: Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: Stafford hasn’t recorded a game of better than 20 fantasy points since Week 4 and after being sacked 10 times by the Vikings last week, his body will go through another brutal afternoon against the Bears, who have 24 sacks along with 14 interceptions. Chicago is ninth in fewest net passing yards, and if the Lions fall behind early, Stafford had better brace for a long afternoon of uncomfortable meetings with Chicago’s withering pass rush.

START: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers: Sooner or later, the Packers will catch on to giving Jones more than 12-14 carries per game. Sunday would be a good time to do so, as Green Bay gets a Miami defense ranked 31st against the run and allows a healthy 4.6 yards per carry, which bodes well for Jones’ six yards per attempt. Yes, there is some disappointment in Jones after his fumble against the Patriots, but there’s a great rebound opportunity awaiting any fantasy owner willing to use him as an RB2.

SIT: Wendell Smallwood, RB, Eagles: In fact, avoiding Eagles running backs altogether is a sound move. The backfield by committee style is a fantasy killer, one whose level of pain is increased by facing a Cowboys run defense that is seventh in fewest yards allowed and gives up a mere 3.6 yards per carry.

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Rivers rolling, Carr stalling entering Chargers-Raiders game

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars,

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming stars, while Rivers seemed to be on the downside of a career that started in 2004.

The script has flipped heading into Sunday’s meeting between Rivers’ Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) and Carr’s Oakland Raiders (1-7). Rivers is playing as well as he has at any point in his 15-year career, while Carr is struggling to find his way in coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

“Obviously quarterbacks get way too much credit and way too much blame already, but I think we don’t give enough credit to guys who have played that long,” Carr said. “I’ll say it this way, the hardest part mentally going through a season is the days leading up to the game. Sunday is fun, man. You cut it loose and you give it everything you have. Having to recover, ice tub, wake up early to get treatment, the lift, to lift heavy when everything hurts, that’s when those guys don’t get enough credit.

“Here I am at five years, I’m fine. I’m good. I’ll keep doing this and I’m good. But, those guys that are in their 15th, 20th season, we don’t give them enough credit to mentally be that strong. It’s awesome.”

Rivers has career highs in yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (116.5), and is on pace for a career-high 38 touchdown passes while leading the Chargers to five straight wins.

The Chargers have strengthened their offensive line, have a potent running threat in Melvin Gordon, have plenty of outside targets with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, and a strong defense.

That has all taken pressure off Rivers to carry too much of the load.

“These last almost 20 games or so, we’ve had good balance,” Rivers said. “Leaning on one another offensively and defensively taking care of the ball — all of those things are important. So we’ve done a nice job of it so far.”

Here are some other things to watch:

GORDON’S RUN

Melvin Gordon has rushed for 407 yards and scored five touchdowns in his last four games. He also has three 100-yard games in three of his past four, the first time that has happened in his career. The only game when Gordon did not go over the century mark was Week 5 against the Raiders; he had just 58 yards on 19 carries. The Raiders are last in the league in rushing defense, but Gordon knows he has a tough test ahead.

“They played me pretty tough last time we went up against them. It is never easy since they are a rival. As a group the offensive line is hitting on all cylinders. We hope to keep getting stronger.”

PRESSURE POINT

The Raiders have struggled to generate any sort of pass pressure all season after trading away Khalil Mack. Oakland ranks last in the NFL with seven sacks and last with 35 QB pressures, according to SportRadar, 28 fewer pressures than the next-lowest team. Fixing that will only get harder after the team released top pass rusher Bruce Irvin last week. That puts more pressure on a trio of rookies — P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst — that has three sacks this season.

“We put a lot on their plate and that’s because they’re the future of this team,” teammate Frostee Rucker said. “They have to come along and play.”

KINGS OF PICKS

The Chargers have seven interceptions during their five-game winning streak and have 189 yards in returns, which leads the league. Second-year cornerback Desmond King has three of the interceptions and returned one 42 yards for a touchdown last week at Seattle to put the Chargers up by two scores.

MISSING WIDEOUTS

Oakland has struggled to get any production from wideouts in recent weeks. Since the start of Week 5, Oakland ranks last in the NFL with 37 catches and 428 yards receiving from wide receivers. Amari Cooper had one catch for 10 yards in two games in that span before being traded to Dallas. Seth Roberts leads Oakland’s pass catchers with 12 receptions over those four games, while Martavis Bryant has the most yards with 138.

NEW KICKER (AGAIN)

The Chargers have become the Bermuda Triangle for placekickers. Michael Badgley is the team’s sixth since the start of last season and moved into the role fulltime this week after Caleb Sturgis was released on Monday. Badgley made all three of his field goals and seven extra points in the two games he kicked when Sturgis had a quadriceps injury.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report

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Mahomes, Rosen to face off when Chiefs welcome Cardinals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Patrick Mahomes Reunion Tour rolls on Sunday when the young, record-setting quarterback leads the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium.

Last week, Mahomes shredded the Cleveland Browns while outplaying their rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The two met when Mahomes was being recruited to Texas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Patrick Mahomes Reunion Tour rolls on Sunday when the young, record-setting quarterback leads the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium.

Last week, Mahomes shredded the Cleveland Browns while outplaying their rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The two met when Mahomes was being recruited to Texas Tech and Mayfield helped to serve as his host, and their relationship continued even when Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma.

This week, Mahomes gets to reminiscence about his time working at Peyton Manning’s football camp with his old roommate, Josh Rosen — now the quarterback on whom the Cardinals are pinning their future.

“I’ve met him a couple times, been out to California and met him,” Mahomes said. “He throws a beautiful ball. It’s always a really tight spiral. I know he’ll have a lot of success.”

It’s going to be tough to top the success Mahomes is having.

The Chiefs’ first-year starter is setting benchmarks just about every time he steps on the field, and the next one might be consecutive 300-yard passing games. Mahomes has eight straight to match Andrew Luck from the 2014 season, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Rosen said, reflecting on those days working camp together. “We weren’t really throwing, we were mostly just coaching the kids. So we didn’t get to really throw too much, but I liked him as a dude. We got along really well.”

Rosen hasn’t seen a whole lot of Mahomes with the Chiefs (8-1) this week, either, because he’s spent all his time focusing on the defense. But Cardinals coach Steve Wilks has seen enough to know that stopping him may be impossible, and slowing him down is nearly as difficult.

That goes for the entirety of the Kansas City offense.

“One thing we talked about all week is really trying to limit those big plays, understanding exactly who they’re trying to target,” Wilks said. “This is a very explosive offense. Going against Andy Reid for several years in different places, going all the way back to the Eagles, this is part of his M.O. So, we’ve got to try to limit the big plays as much as possible.”

The Cardinals (2-6) have struggled much of the season, particularly on offense. But they’re coming off an uplifting, fourth-quarter comeback victory over San Francisco that was capped by Rosen’s touchdown strike to Christian Kirk in the final minute.

“You can let point spreads and all these things — ‘trap game’ — and all these terms that pop up and things that happen come into it,” Reid said of perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Chiefs this week. “But if you can honestly focus on the process and discipline yourself to do that, that normally takes care of things. … You’re not going to let distractions get in the way.”

As the Chiefs and Cardinals prepare to meet Sunday, here are some interesting notes:

GETTING HEALTHIER

Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen is expected to play after returning from injured reserve, where he’d been since breaking his leg in training camp. The Chiefs also could have top pass rusher Justin Houston back from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him the past four games.

ROSEN AND REID

Rosen’s father, noted physician Dr. Charles Rosen, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and the youngster was an avid fan of Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles growing up.

“I used to have an Eagles shirt when I was a kid that said, ‘Our coach will eat yours.’ I was a huge Andy Reid fan,” Rosen said. “Him and Mike Vick and the DeSean Jackson days were very fun to watch.

FITZGERALD’S NUMBERS

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been climbing into the upper reaches of the NFL’s career receiving marks, and he is closing in on a couple very high rungs.

Fitzgerald has 15,902 yards receiving, and he needs 33 more to pass Terrell Owens for second place behind Jerry Rice on the career list. Fitzgerald also needs 58 catches to pass former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez for second behind Rice in career receptions.

Fitzgerald had eight catches for 102 yards and a TD in last week’s 18-15 win over San Francisco.

PERFECTION, ALMOST

Reid was asked this week how often his creative plays are executed properly — when all 11 guys do exactly what they are supposed to do. And his answer was quite candid.

“I’d probably give you 85 percent of the time,” Reid said. “Now, they can get beat and that would bring it down a little bit, but mostly guys will attempt to do the right thing. It amazes me how they can digest all this and in a split-second know — there’s 200 plays on that sheet, and you have to figure it out like that, and these guys do it.”

MAKE WAY, LEN

Mahomes already has thrown 29 touchdown passes, which means he needs just two more to pass Len Dawson’s franchise record. The Hall of Famer set one of the Chiefs’ longest-standing records in 1964, an era in which passing generally took a back seat to running the ball.

“It would be awesome,” Mahomes said, “because Len had a lot of success in the NFL and was kind of ahead of his time, throwing all those touchdowns. It would be awesome to pass that.”

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Giants tight end Engram trying to overcome dropped passes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Evan Engram understands that he has all the tools to be a top tight end in the NFL.

The New York Giants' second-year player, the team's first-round selection in 2017, has the size, speed and the drive to be a star.

There's only one problem. Engram has a propensity of

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Evan Engram understands that he has all the tools to be a top tight end in the NFL.

The New York Giants’ second-year player, the team’s first-round selection in 2017, has the size, speed and the drive to be a star.

There’s only one problem. Engram has a propensity of dropping passes, especially in clutch situations.

Engram caught 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns last season. Engram also dropped 11 passes and vowed in the offseason to work on rectifying that problem.

Now, in his second season, Engram has caught 17 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, but he has also dropped three passes.

“It’s pretty tough,” Engram said Thursday before the team practiced in preparation for facing the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.

“It’s not where I want to be. I have to put some of these plays behind me and keep working on getting better and staying positive.”

Engram’s problems are also magnified because the Giants have a 1-7 record for the second straight season.

“We just have to go out and get a win,” Engram said. “We have to get some of the bad tastes out of our mouths. It’s going to feel good to get out there on the big stage Monday night.”

The Giants are coming off their bye week, which should make the beleaguered team feel a little better.

“I think it’s important to put the bad things behind me,” Engram said. “A couple of those drops are catches that I can make in my sleep. I just want to go out there and give us enough an opportunity to win the game Monday night.”

Engram was the first rookie tight end to lead the Giants in receptions. His six touchdown catches were a franchise record for a rookie tight end in 2017.

So the potential is there. He just has to make sure to hold on to the ball, something that coach Pat Shurmur also realizes.

“Evan is a pass-catching tight end,” Shurmur said. “I think we all realize that. But it’s important that he catches the ball. He’s had a couple of drops. But he works at it. He has worked all along at catching the ball. He does a lot of drills, a lot of extra work. He works hard at catching the ball. He always puts the drop behind him and continues to work hard at trying to catch the ball.”

Quarterback Eli Manning recognizes Engram’s passion for improving.

“Evan works hard and wants to do everything right,” said Manning, who will remain the team’s starter for the time being. “He puts in a lot of work. He’s too good of a player and an athlete to let the little things bother him.”

Manning knows that the Giants have had their difficulties scoring touchdowns this season.

“I feel like we’re moving the ball well,” Manning said. “We’re getting yards and moving the ball down the field. We just need that to translate into scoring touchdowns. It always comes down to execution. We have to avoid the negative plays. We just have to execute better in the red zone.”

Manning did not want to talk about whether Monday night’s game against the Niners might be his last as a starter this season.

“I’m worried about this week,” he said. “I have a job to do right now. We’re just going to try to go out there and get the win this time. Sure, there’s a sense of urgency. We all need to get going. We need to improve. We need to score some points. I feel like we’re close. We just have to get back on track, keep improving and play some football.”

The improvement might have to begin with the second-year tight end.

“I watch film of other tight ends,” Engram said. “There are a lot of athletic tight ends in the league, so I try to pick up plays that can make me more effective. I love watching (Kansas City TE) Travis Kelce. He’s so polished and smooth as a tight end. It’s fun watching him. I always try to steal things from him.”

So Engram took the practice field Thursday with the idea that the dropped passes, 14 over his first 1½ seasons, are a thing of the past.

“I think we all strive for perfection,” Engram said. “I just have to put it (the dropped passes) behind me. I understand that it’s part of the game and it’s something that makes you work harder.”

NOTES: Shurmur continued to hint that newly acquired OG Jamon Brown might start Monday night, just a week after being claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Rams. “We’re putting him in there and getting him ready like he’s going to start,” Shurmur said of Brown. “He’s a big man, a really big man (6-foot-4 and 340 pounds). He was a starter on a team that won more than 10 games last year. He’s a really fast learner.” … Standout safety Landon Collins did not want to comment on a report that said the Giants were either going to place the franchise tag on him for next season or work on a long-term contract. “There has been no talk about that,” Collins said. “When we get to that, we get to that. If something happens, I’ll let you know.” … Manning said that he spoke with QB Kyle Lauletta about his arrest last week for motor vehicle violations in Weehawken, N.J. “It’s a tough situation for him,” Manning said. “I’m trying to support him. This whole thing will be forgotten about and will be water under the bridge very shortly.”

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Rams eager to rebound from 1st loss, sweep Seahawks series

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams hadn't lost a game until last week, their spectacular season has featured several close calls.

Not many were closer than their 33-31 victory just five weeks ago in Seattle, where the Seahawks racked up 190 yards rushing, intercepted two passes by Jared Goff and came agonizingly

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams hadn’t lost a game until last week, their spectacular season has featured several close calls.

Not many were closer than their 33-31 victory just five weeks ago in Seattle, where the Seahawks racked up 190 yards rushing, intercepted two passes by Jared Goff and came agonizingly close to a huge NFC West win.

With the second-place Seahawks (4-4) visiting the Coliseum on Sunday for the rematch, the Rams (8-1) have a chance to essentially end the division race with seven weeks to go. The Rams aren’t looking that far ahead, but Aaron Donald hopes Los Angeles will learn from that narrow win in Seattle — and a 45-35 loss at New Orleans last week.

“We’re in a good place, and we’re locked in,” said the Rams’ superstar defensive tackle, second in the NFL with 10 sacks. “We play these guys twice a year, so we’ve got respect for them. We’ve just got to get after them.”

The Rams have never lost back-to-back regular-season games in their 1½ seasons under Sean McVay, but they’ve thrived primarily on the strength of an offense that has been able to outscore nearly every opponent, including the Seahawks. NFL scoring leader Todd Gurley rushed for three TDs in Seattle, and the Rams kept the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands in the final 3:38 by running out the clock.

The Seahawks also are coming off a loss after the Chargers won in Seattle last week, but the Seahawks know they can beat the Rams because they did it last season at the Coliseum.

Even if the division race might already be out of hand, they’ve got a chance to begin their playoff rally with a statement victory.

“We can’t allow them to score as many points as they put up,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We feel like we did a really good job against the run for the most part. We have to find a way to do that, make them one-dimensional, make sure Todd doesn’t get into the end zone as many times as he did.”

More things to watch in this NFC West showdown:

TOUGH CHECK

Donald has sacked Wilson eight times in their careers, more than any other quarterback. But Donald and the Rams didn’t manage to sack Drew Brees last week, and they still have something to prove to the Seahawks — particularly to guard D.J. Fluker, who wasn’t impressed by the toughness of the Los Angeles defense in the clubs’ previous meeting.

The Seattle offensive lineman said the Rams “want to be pass rushers,” but hadn’t “seen a team go out there and actually take it to them.” Donald had no interest in starting a public discussion this week: “We’re just going to go out there and play a game and let our play speak for us.”

RUN AROUND

Seattle’s impressive rushing performance in their first meeting with the Rams included 116 yards from Chris Carson, but he is in question for the rematch because of a hip injury that caused him to sit the final 2½ quarters last week against the Chargers. Mike Davis and seldom-used Rashaad Penny probably would replace Carson.

But Seattle also has offensive line concerns after Fluker injured his calf late in the loss to the Chargers. Fluker’s addition to the offensive line helped spark Seattle’s turnaround in the run game starting in late September.

GURLEY GOES

Gurley has scored a touchdown in a franchise-record 12 straight games, and his 868 yards rushing are the NFL’s most by a whopping 162 yards over Pittsburgh’s James Connor.

Gurley’s 16 TDs this season are the most in the league and the second-most in NFL history through nine games, trailing only Jim Brown’s 17 in 1958. That’s the challenge facing Seattle’s run defense, which is giving up 4.8 yards per attempt — tied for fourth-worst in the league — but has been effective in stretches.

GET MARCUS

Former Washington Huskies defensive back Marcus Peters was targeted repeatedly by the Saints, and the Rams’ top corner took the blame for much of Brees’ success. The Seahawks undoubtedly saw the former Pro Bowl cover man’s struggles on video, but Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has limited options in the continued injury absence of cornerback Aqib Talib. The Rams’ best solution might be increased pressure on Wilson, who has been sacked 25 times already this season.

SAFETY PLAN

Bradley McDougald has been one of Seattle’s defensive standouts, but with a quick turnaround to facing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next Thursday, McDougald may end up sitting out against the Rams because of a bothersome knee injury. If McDougald can’t play, the Seahawks would turn to second-year safety Delano Hill, which could create an extremely young secondary. If Hill starts, he would play alongside second-year free safety Tedric Thompson, second-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin and rookie cornerback Tre Flowers. Nickel cornerback Justin Coleman, in his fourth season, would be the veteran of the group.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed.

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History on the line: Porous Bengals try to stop Saints

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati's historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3)

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati’s historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3) are going to have to stop an offense that’s been lighting it up.

Hello, Drew Brees.

The Saints (7-1) have won seven straight and are coming off a 45-35 win that sent the Rams to their first loss. New Orleans piled up 487 yards behind Brees, who leads the NFL in completion rate (76.3 percent) and passer rating (120.6). He’s been sacked a league-low nine times.

If the Bengals fail to get a hand on him, it could be history .

“They go as Brees goes,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We’ve got to find a way to slow down that future Hall of Famer.”

The biggest challenge for the Saints will be keeping the momentum in their only road game during a four-week span. They return home to play the Eagles and Falcons the next two weeks.

Although the Bengals have given up the most yards in the NFL, the defense has scored four touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, playing a big factor in three of their wins.

The Saints can’t afford to get off to a bad start that gives the Bengals the advantage. Also, it would help if the Saints tidied up their defense a bit.

While the Bengals are historically bad — on pace to give up more than 7,000 yards — the Saints are also struggling on defense. They rank 25th overall, including second-worst in pass defense. They’ve been among the worst at stopping opponents inside the 20-yard line. The Rams overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and tied it 35-35 in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans would like fewer shootouts in the second half of the season.

“There’s a ton of things we have to improve on and we need to improve on, or it’s going to hurt us later,” coach Sean Payton said.

Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

THE NEW GUY

New Orleans signed former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday . It’s unclear what role — if any — he’ll play this week as he tries to learn the offense. Deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. is hurt, and the Saints hope Bryant can add another dimension to the offense once he gets acclimated.

“I look forward to building a rapport with him,” Brees said. “I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just become a complement to all the guys that we already have.”

THOMAS’ TIME

While Bryant’s arrival gets attention, Michael Thomas remains the Saints’ biggest threat. He set a franchise record last week with 211 yards receiving, including his 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With half the season still remaining, Thomas has 70 catches for 880 yards and five TDs.

BIGGEST BLEMISH

The Saints’ most glaring problems on defense have come near the goal line. New Orleans’ opponents have scored touchdowns on 20 of 28 drives (71.4 percent). That ranks 28th out of 32 teams in defensive red zone efficiency.

“You can’t find any team having success later in the season with the numbers that we currently have,” Payton said. “We’ve got to find a way to improve that.”

The Bengals lead the league in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line, reaching the end zone on 20 of their 26 such possessions. They’ve scored touchdowns on eight of their past nine trips inside the 20.

“We’ve had some really good schemes,” Andy Dalton said. “At the end of the day, our guys have made the plays.”

OH THAT HISTORY

No NFL team has given up three straight 500-yard games. The 1963 Jets gave up three 500-yard games within a four-game span — 510 to the Chargers, 505 to the Raiders, 317 to the Broncos and 528 to the Chargers again. In its past three games, Cincinnati has allowed 481 to the Steelers, 551 to the Chiefs and 576 to the Buccaneers.

“We’re underachieving right now,” Dunlap said. “We’re playing well enough to win some games, which is why we’re 5-3. If we work on the negatives, we can be that elite defense and that elite team.”

MISSING GREEN

A.J. Green caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left for a win in Atlanta. He had two catches that moved the Bengals into range for their winning field goal against Tampa Bay before they headed into their bye last week. He also hurt a toe on his right foot on the final catch and is sidelined indefinitely, costing Cincinnati its most dependable receiver.

“It is a huge impact,” Payton said. “He is someone that commands a ton of coverage respect.”

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AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Metairie, Louisiana, and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Texans shake off terrible start with 6-game winning streak

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

"Started from the bottom now we're here," he bellows. "Started from the bottom now the whole team here."

While the 2013 Drake tune is

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

“Started from the bottom now we’re here,” he bellows. “Started from the bottom now the whole team here.”

While the 2013 Drake tune is a little old to be the team’s anthem, the sentiment of the song couldn’t be more fitting for these Texans.

They occupied the basement of the AFC South after opening the season with losses to New England, Tennessee and the New York Giants by a combined 13 points. After falling into such a big hole early, the Texans were written off by many as headed to a lost season.

Everyone insists that such a defeatist sentiment never took hold within the team, with the struggles galvanizing them to get on track and prove the doubters wrong.

“Don’t quit. Everyone keeps fighting. Everyone keeps believing,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “Everyone keeps fighting to the very, very end. That is what we do. Regardless of the situation or the adversity, we are always going to keep fighting. That is how we feel.”

Houston is the second team in NFL history to win six in a row after opening 0-3, the first since the Giants in 1970. The winning streak has the Texans in first place in their division and in good position to compete for their third AFC South title in the last four seasons.

A big reason for Houston’s turnaround has been the play of Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt. Both have started each game this year after having their 2017 seasons cut short by major injuries. Watson tore a knee ligament in practice after appearing in seven games in 2017. Watt played just eight games in the previous two years because of back surgeries and a broken leg.

Watt is tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks and his four forced fumbles are tied for most in the league.

“I know he probably doesn’t want to talk about it too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “To come back from what he’s been able to come back from, some really serious injuries, and to be able to play at the level that he’s playing at, it just says all you need to know about him and how much he cares about the team and how much he wants to help this organization win.”

Watson, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, has thrown for 2,389 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions despite being slowed by lung and rib injuries. O’Brien said his diligence in coming to the facility every day after his injury last season to study film and talk to coaches has helped Watson take a step forward this year.

“He’s grown a lot,” O’Brien said. “He’s just an awesome guy to work with. He cares about studying, he cares about putting time in to prepare for each game. I think he’s learned a lot about NFL defenses. He’s had a lot thrown at him defensively this year, whether it’s third-down defenses, red-area defenses. He’s improved every week.”

Watson has been helped by the stellar play of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is No. 3 in the NFL with 894 yards receiving and whose seven touchdowns are tied for second. The Texans hope that new addition Demaryius Thomas, acquired in a trade with Denver last Tuesday, will make more of an impact after the break with some time to learn the offense.

Hopkins, who has five touchdowns in the last four games, said despite this strong stretch the Texans are approaching things the same way they did when they were desperate for a victory.

“We’ve got the same mentality, and that’s win,” he said. “That’s why we go to practice and that’s why we wake up every day. It’s the same mentality we had when we were 0-3. Nothing’s changed.”

They know that if they let up, their season will end prematurely, just as it did when they went 4-12 in 2017.

O’Brien let out a slight chuckle when asked if 0-3 feels like forever ago.

“It’s not a really long time ago,” he said. “I think our players understand that, and I think the difference between 0-3 and where we are now is not a big difference. We’re just making some more plays, we’re coaching some things better. I think our guys have to — and they do — understand that every week is going to be difficult.”

First up is a trip to Washington on Nov. 18 before a Monday night matchup with Tennessee on Nov. 26 in the first of three straight home games when a win would be key in moving closer to taking their division.

“It’s just important to note that we haven’t been blowing anybody out,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I don’t think we are a complacent group of guys. We’ve been in some fist fights, some real close ballgames, so it’s not like everything is cookie cutter and everything is going all good for us.”

“We still have things we can improve on and work on, so I think that’s what’s going to keep us pushing forward.”

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Linebackers are paying price for NFL’s video-game numbers

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL's volcanic offenses, can't-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren't the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

"Now we have to cover well, too," Denver's Brandon Marshall said. "We still have to tackle well. So, you can't be real light and only playing pass

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL’s volcanic offenses, can’t-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren’t the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

“Now we have to cover well, too,” Denver’s Brandon Marshall said. “We still have to tackle well. So, you can’t be real light and only playing pass or too heavy and only playing run. You’ve got to be able to do all of it, man.”

Which means finding a sweet spot on the scale so they can run like a gazelle and still hit like a truck.

Today’s inside linebackers not only need to have the stamina to go sideline to sideline, but they also require:

—sufficient strength to shed 320-pound linemen;

—enough vigor to cover towering tight ends;

—ample speed to keep up with receivers no longer timid about going over the middle;

—enough recognition and quickness to keep up with shifty running backs and ever-more-mobile quarterbacks.

It’s also handy to have a thick skin, knowing linebackers will bear the brunt of fans’ frustrations as offenses pick apart apparently defenseless units at a record-setting pace.

Sounds impossible.

“It almost is,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It almost is.”

“It’s definitely very difficult,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. “You have tight ends that provide mismatches, you’ve got running backs that are great receivers. You’re asked to be in a lot of positions. But that’s what we get paid to do. So, we’ve got figure out a way to do it and do it well.”

As do the officials, whom Joseph said are allowing illegal blocks with the run-pass option rage that has seeped from the college game and is prominently featured in places such as Kansas City, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Take the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs in Week 8.

Linemen aren’t allowed to block more than a yard from the line of scrimmage on a pass play. But the Chiefs’ guards and center got a few yards downfield several times, causing Denver’s linebackers to instinctively commit to the run — only to see quarterback Patrick Mahomes pull the ball back from running back Kareem Hunt’s belly and zip it to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce.

“It’s the league we’re in,” Joseph said. “Those guys blocking up front don’t know the ball is being thrown. They’re blocking zone, so absolutely it’s an issue. We have to fix this issue in this league, unless it’s going to be college football.

“It’s tough for the linebackers to play both, and you see it on tape. Todd Davis is having hell trying to fit his gap and chase the guy in the flat. When you see Kelce in the flat over there with no one around him, (Davis is) playing his run gap because the guard and center are four and five yards down the field.”

Joseph added, “That’s an issue. It’s a leaguewide issue and it’s a Chiefs issue. Everyone is running these plays, so we have to figure out a way to officiate this better to help the game.”

Marshall isn’t so sure the league’s competition committee will do anything about it, though, saying more points equals more eyeballs.

“They’re not going to change it,” he said.

So it’s the linebackers who are changing.

Davis, the Broncos’ leading tackler, said he’s dropped his weight to 233 and “I do a lot more training with DBs and corners. I add that on to what I already did in the weight room and running and conditioning. But now I have to be ready for everything in the pass game, as well.”

The linebackers who are modifying their bodies and games are embracing the challenge.

“It’s the NFL,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “There’s great players at every position.”

Including linebacker.

“I love it,” Davis said. “It’s on us to play well and it’s on us to set the tempo and be great for our team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Marshall said linebackers ultimately benefit from the ever-increasing challenges brought on by the RPO trend, faster rushers, bigger tight ends and plucky receivers.

“It’s made me a better player,” Marshall said. “It’s also made me more valuable.”

“I think that’s why teams put a premium on athletic ‘backers,” Marshall said. “Because we have to be out there to cover the Kelces and the Gronks and the Dion Lewises and the James Whites of the world. And then we’ve got to be able to tackle (Todd) Gurley. That’s just how it is.”

Defenses are employing more defensive backs, as many as seven, to combat the RPO trend.

“I think schematically we have to adjust as far as personnel and put faster athletes, better athletes at cover linebacker positions to nullify some of this stuff,” Joseph said. “Because right now it’s almost impossible physically.”

Joseph thinks he has an antidote in Su’a Cravens, and the 6-foot-1, 220-pound safety from USC who’s used as a dime linebacker certainly agrees.

“The way the rules are, they handicap defenses. We’re basically on the field to get in the way, we’re not supposed to stop the offense,” Cravens said. “Defense is already hard enough. They’re making it harder.

“So, with guys like me, I think it’s an opportunity for us to showcase what we can do because they’re making it hard for traditional linebackers who are heavy-handed, heavy-footed. They’re ready to be physical at the line of scrimmage and they can’t do that anymore.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Dave Campbell contributed

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