Brady finds plenty of targets in 27-20 win over Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady didn’t have any trouble finding receivers to throw to in the New England Patriots’ opener.

The reigning NFL MVP completed passes to eight players in a 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday, connecting with Rob Gronkowski and Phillip Dorsett for seven receptions and a touchdown apiece.

“We try to spread it around quite a bit,” said Brady, who was 26 of 39 for 277 yards and three scores. “If you’re out there, I trust you, the coaches trust you, the team trusts you. That’s why we’re putting you out there.”

After losing Danny Amendola to free agency and Julian Edelman to a four-game suspension, the Patriots were expected to be hobbled by a lack of targets for the three-time NFL MVP. This year’s corps was being compared to the one in 2006, when Reche Caldwell led the team with 63 receptions (and caught only 15 more the rest of his career).

Brady hit Gronkowski for 123 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown three plays after Deshaun Watson fumbled a handoff at the Texans 19 on Houston’s first offensive play . They also connected on a 28-yard pass during a 2-minute drill that left the Patriots with a 21-6 halftime lead.

“It’s very important that they came out and played the way they did. They’re our leaders,” said Dorsett, who had 66 receiving yards, including a 4-yard score. “When they play well, they give an adrenaline boost to the rest of the team.”

It was Gronkowski’s 31st career regular-season or playoff game of 100 yards or more, tying Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record.

“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Brady said. “I know his body language. I know his ability to run and what routes. He can do it. He can do really all the routes. It’s just a matter of giving him a chance, and it came with a big touchdown today.”

The 41-year-old quarterback also found James White for a touchdown; he also had an interception on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who missed the final nine games last season with a torn right ACL, completed 17 of 35 passes for 176 yards, one score and one interception.

Watson struggled to move the team in the first 40 minutes, managing just a pair of field-goal drives before Alfred Blue ran it in from 1 yard to make it 24-13 in the last two minutes of the third period. Lamar Miller ran 20 times for 98 yards for Houston.

A muffed punt by New England’s Riley McCarron with under five minutes left set up Watson’s 5-yard TD pass to Bruce Ellington and cut the deficit to 27-20. But after getting the ball back at their 1 with 43 seconds left, the Texans failed to reach midfield.


Watson, defensive lineman J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus returned after finishing 2017 on injured reserve. Watt had two quarterback hurries, but D.J. Reader had the only two sacks of Brady, both late.

“It’s good to play a full game to know it lasts, to know it holds up,” said Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year. “I didn’t think about it once. So, that’s all you can ask for.”


Watson, who threw for 301 yards in a 36-33 loss to New England last year in his second NFL start, botched a handoff with Miller in the first quarter, setting up the Patriots for their first touchdown. In the second quarter, Watson inexplicably chucked the ball into the end zone for a double-covered Vyncint Smith on a second-and-3 from the New England 42.

Stephon Gilmore brought it down for the interception.

“I think it was terrible, on my part,” Watson said. “I just feel like you can put the ‘L’ on me.”


Texans: DE Christian Covington injured his thigh in the first quarter. T Seantrel Henderson left after getting his left ankle rolled a few plays later. Kevin Johnson left with what the team said was a concussion and did not return.

Patriots: RB Jeremy Hill left with a right knee injury on the Gronkowski fumble in the third quarter.


After the Texans forced New England to punt in the final minute, Ryan Allen landed the ball inside the 5-yard line and Jonathan Jones downed it at the 1. Houston advanced to the 16 on a penalty for leading with the helmet and Watson found DeAndre Hopkins for 14 yards before scrambling for 13 more.

From his 43 with 5 seconds left, Watson chucked the ball as far as the 10, but it was knocked away.


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Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost two games in a row and are without a true starting running back Sunday for a road game against the Oakland Raiders.

James Conner, who had two touchdowns for Pittsburgh (7-4-1) last weekend and is approaching 1,000 yards rushing, has been filling in more than capably for the now-exiled Le’Veon Bell, but Conner will miss the game against Oakland.

He got hurt late last weekend in a loss to the Chargers, and what was originally called a contusion turned out to be “a little more significant than we initially thought,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I don’t know if you would describe it as a high ankle sprain. It is an ankle sprain, much more than a contusion as initially thought to be.”

The Steelers plot a committee approach with rookie Jaylen Samuels, lightly-used veteran Stevan Ridley and Trey Edmunds, who was promoted from the practice squad.

“Everybody’s got to do their part so we can carry this load,” said Ridley, who has rushed for just 56 yards. “I’ve just been working, getting ready.”

Samuels indicated he expects to start, although that hasn’t been confirmed.

“I’ve always got to prepare the same way because you never know what will happen,” said Samuels, who has a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns and has been most effective as a slot receiver. “I had to be 100 percent prepared like I was going to start. Keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”

It might help that Pittsburgh has been riding the passing game more lately.

“I’m not concerned about” the pass-run ratio, Tomlin said. “Sometimes, we’re going to be run-heavy. Sometimes we’re going to be pass-heavy. At the end of the day, we better be a group that is capable of attacking in both and provide that type of balance, if you want to call it balance.”

There is not much balanced this season about Oakland (2-10), which has been eliminated from playoff consideration, is tied with San Francisco for the NFL’s worst record and is a candidate for the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.

The Raiders might have more momentum if they had completed a comeback last week in a 33-30 loss against Kansas City.

“We don’t look ahead right now,” Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. “We’re looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s all we’re doing. I’m really proud of our team. We fought back (Sunday), made it 33-30 in the fourth quarter. We’re not looking ahead to nothing except the Pittsburgh Steelers, I can assure you.”

Three Raiders offensive linemen were limited in practice Wednesday: center Rodney Hudson (ankle/knee), guard Gabe Jackson (knee/ankle) and guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele (toe).

–Field Level Media

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Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Free agent wide

Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Free agent wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is visiting the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, two days the Buffalo Bills waived him.

ESPN first reported the interest from the Chiefs, who are led at the position by Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — though Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury.

Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (37 points per game) and yards per play (7.03).

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released despite the steep cost to the Bills in acquiring him from the Carolina Panthers. The Bills gave up third- and seventh-round picks to land Benjamin from the Panthers at the trade deadline last season.

But the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin struggled to fit in with the Bills, making just 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

Benjamin had 1,008 yards as a rookie in 2014 and another 941 in 2016 after a torn ACL cost him the 2015 season. But an apparent falling out with the Panthers led to his exit. In August, Benjamin told The Athletic’s Tim Graham he and Carolina were “a bad fit from the get-go,” and was critical of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

“If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying?” Benjamin told Graham. “Any other accurate quarterback like (Aaron) Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben (Roethlisberger) — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”

–Field Level Media

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Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

The New York Giants on Thursday officially placed safety Landon Collins on injured reserve, ending the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s season.

Collins suffered a partially torn labrum in his shoulder last Sunday in the Giants’ overtime win over the Chicago Bears and will reportedly undergo surgery.

The club signed defensive back Kenny Ladler from the practice squad to take Collins’ spot on the roster. Ladler has six tackles in five games this season. The club also signed punter Brock Miller to the practice squad.

While denying Wednesday the team had made a decision on whether to shut Collins down, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur lauded Collins’ grit.

“In a sport where toughness is required, Landon Collins has a lot of it,” Shurmur told the media.

Collins, 24, is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. This is his second straight season cut short by a December trip to injured reserve. He missed the 2017 season finale after suffering a broken arm.

Collins has led the Giants in each of his first three seasons, and his 96 tackles this season are tops on the team.

–Field Level Media

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Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Reuben Foster’s ex-girlfriend and accuser detailed the alleged abuse against her, telling ABC on Thursday that the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker slapped and pushed her during an incident that led to his arrest for domestic violence.

Further, Elissa Ennis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was “shocked” that Foster was picked up another team – the Washington Redskins – so soon after his release by the 49ers.

“When he got signed, I was like, ‘I can’t believe somebody picked him up,'” Ennis said on GMA, her first public comments about the incident. “I just couldn’t believe somebody picked him up in less than, how many hours? I was shocked.”

Foster, 24, is currently on the commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he cannot play while the league continues its investigation into the alleged incident.

Ennis alleges that Foster slapped and pushed her on Nov. 24, resulting in bruises, scratches and a concussion. The alleged incident took place in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the 49ers’ game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ennis told GMA that Foster invited her to Florida to discuss their relationship, which the pair had put on hold. Ennis said Foster got violent with her when she threatened to tell another woman Foster was dating that he had paid for Ennis to visit him.

Foster was released the next day before being picked up by the Redskins on Nov. 27.

Ennis had previously accused Foster of violence against her in February but she recanted and those charges were dropped.

“Love will have you doing things that’s not in your best interests,” Ennis told GMA. “I did what I had to do for the person I love. I thought that he would change.”

She also accused members of the 49ers organization of bringing up that incident with police in Tampa in hopes of mitigating her latest charges.

“I have pictures of the 49ers coming up there trying to talk to the police, telling them I’m the same ex-girlfriend that [previously] lied,” Ennis told GMA.

–Field Level Media

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Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

The Washington Redskins on Thursday released a statement asking for privacy for Alex Smith and his family amid reports that the quarterback is dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired leg.

Smith underwent immediate surgery on Nov. 18 after incurring compound and spiral fractures to his tibia and fibula in the Redskins’ game against the Houston Texans.

Now, the quarterback is fighting post-surgery complications resulting from an infection, according to multiple reports, leading to Thursday’s statement from the team.

“On behalf of Alex Smith, we appreciate all the concerns and prayers over the injury he incurred on November 18th against the Houston Texans,” the Redskins’ statement read. “Although this is a serious injury, Alex and his family remain strong. We would ask that everyone please honor the Smith family’s request for privacy at this time.”

Multiple outlets report that Smith has undergone subsequent surgeries to battle the infection.

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden previously said that Smith did not suffer any ligament damage and faced a 6-to-8 month recovery. However, the latest reports indicate that the infection jeopardizes Smith’s chances of playing again.

–Field Level Media

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QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

The visiting New York Giants enter Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins having won three of four games and fresh off an upset of the Chicago Bears.

The Redskins stagger in having lost three straight and starting their third quarterback in four weeks.

Yet it’s the Redskins who remain in the playoff conversation.

The Redskins (6-6) are tied for second in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, one game behind the Dallas Cowboys, and are part of a group chasing a wild card spot.

All they need to do by Sunday is turn recently unemployed Mark Sanchez back into a serviceable NFL starter and figure out why their defense is suddenly very porous.

With Colt McCoy sidelined, the 32-year-old Sanchez will make his first NFL start since 2015. In relief of McCoy against the Eagles, Sanchez was 13 of 21 for 100 yards and an interception.

“We understand that this division is really up for grabs, so these next few games, especially the divisional games, carry a lot of weight,” Sanchez said. “Our focus and our energy is about playing against the Giants. We moved on from that last one and now we’ll get a chance to get some reps and be ready to play.”

A full week of practice as the starter will give the recently signed Sanchez access to more of coach Jay Gruden’s playbook as he plays against a coach from his past.

“I’m familiar with what he is, and he came to us and heck he was playing in two AFC Championship games for the Jets, so he knows how to win and lead and he had that about [him] in Philadelphia,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur, Sanchez’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, said. “He’s good at throwing on the run. He executes well from the pocket and then we’ve got to look at what they do and just kind of surmise the plays they’ll run with him.”

The Redskins signed quarterback Josh Johnson to back up Sanchez. Johnson was a fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, Gruden’s final year as an offensive assistant with the team. He threw his last NFL pass in the 2011 season.

Ranked near the top of the league early on, Washington’s defense has surrendered more than 400 yards in four of its past five games. The Redskins allowed opponents to rush for 100 yards twice in the first 700 games, but in each of the past five.

“The last four weeks we have to be very, very, very sound,” Gruden said of his run defense. “We have to be good physical, tackling football team and if the running back bounces it out to the unblocked corner, he’s got to make the tackle. And that didn’t happen a couple of times in that game [Monday] night.”

They’ll also need a pass rush. When the Redskins beat the Giants 20-13 in Week 8, Eli Manning was sacked eight times. The Redskins only sack of Carson Wentz Monday night was wiped out by a penalty.

Had the Giants (4-8) held a late lead against the Eagles two weeks ago, they’d be in the playoff chase.

New York is still ranked only 12th in the NFC on offense (350.2 yards per game) but running back Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. are producing. Barkley has 954 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go with 602 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Beckham has 77 catches for 1,052 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also thrown two more touchdown passes than Sanchez this season.

The Giants defense ranks 14th in the NFC, allowing 377 yards per game. They’ve lost defensive back Landon Collins, their leading tackler, who will have shoulder surgery and is out for the rest of the season.

“We’re going to do it with the guys that have been playing,” Shurmur said of filling the void. “[Sean] Chandler will be in there, we still have the guys that have been playing, and we’ll just try to work the next man up.”

–Field Level Media

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NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event

NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event


NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event

The Los Angeles Rams have a chance to clinch a first-round playoff bye when they visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday night at Soldier Field.

Los Angeles (11-1) clinched the NFC West title for the second straight season. A win this weekend would give the Rams their first playoff bye since the 2003 season, when Mike Martz coached the team in St. Louis.

“It’s crazy right now, the energy and what’s going on,” Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said this week to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just amazing — crazy in a good way. And we’ve got to keep it going.”

A difficult challenge awaits against Chicago (8-4), which also has sights on the postseason in its first season under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears won five games in a row before losing in overtime to the New York Giants.

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has sat out the past two games because of a shoulder injury but could return for the prime-time matchup. He has passed for 2,469 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season, while backup Chase Daniel has passed for 515 yards, three touchdowns and two picks in two starts.

“I feel strong that he will play, but I’ve got to see more,” Nagy said Wednesday. “I’m anxious to get him out there and see him throw the ball around in practice with the guys.”

Both teams boast high-caliber offenses to go along with defenses that are hungry for takeaways.

The Rams are averaging 34.9 points per game thanks to a dynamic attack that includes, among others, Jared Goff at quarterback and MVP candidate Todd Gurley at running back. Gurley already has 1,649 yards from scrimmage (1,175 rushing, 474 receiving) and 19 total touchdowns (15 rushing, four receiving).

The Bears are not too far behind, averaging 28.7 points per contest. Anthony Miller and Tarik Cohen have scored six touchdowns apiece, while Trey Burton and Jordan Howard have five touchdowns apiece.

On defense, the Bears rank first in the NFL with a plus-30 takeaway margin. The Rams (plus-22) are tied for fourth.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack has thrived since Chicago acquired him from the Oakland Raiders before the start of the season. In 10 games, he has nine sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception return for a score.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has 16.5 sacks to lead the league. He has a shot at former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5.

“I’m just playing football,” Donald said to NFL Network last week. “Whatever happens, happens.”

–Field Level Media

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Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

The Arizona Cardinals figured they would likely have

Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

The Arizona Cardinals figured they would likely have a rookie playing quarterback in December.

But they never envisioned Josh Rosen getting his on-the-job training behind an offensive line with three other rookies undergoing the same baptism by fire.

The Cardinals (3-9) try to regroup behind their sewn-together offensive line when they host the Detroit Lions (4-8) on Sunday.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries went on injured reserve with a knee injury on Wednesday and that transaction completed a wipeout of the team’s preseason projected starting line.

Center A.Q. Shipley suffered a knee injury in training camp, right guard Justin Pugh injured his knee in mid-November and right tackle Andre Smith was released in late November. Standout left guard Mike Iupati suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s victory over the Green Bay Packers and he was placed on IR on Tuesday.

That leaves a patchwork unit of rookie left tackle Korey Cunningham, rookie left guard Colby Gossett, rookie center Mason Cole, right guard Oday Aboushi and right tackle Will Holden. Aboushi and Gossett joined the team in late October and Holden came aboard last week.

“You know you’re going to have some difficulties,” Arizona coach Steve Wilks told reporters. “You face that each and every year. But the attrition that we’ve had on the offensive line is just, I never experienced anything like this. But again, we’ve got to find ways to get guys ready to play.”

The group will try to provide Rosen (10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) time to throw as the first-round pick looks to shake out of his recent doldrums.

Rosen has passed for fewer than 150 yards in each of the past three games. He is just 32-of-65 for 390 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions during the stretch.

But Lions coach Matt Patricia fears a breakout could happen at any time. He feels Arizona has the type of skill players to pose problems.

“They’ve got a lot of good players, (receiver) Larry Fitzgerald and (running back) David Johnson, they just give him an opportunity to get the ball to those guys in different ways, to allow him to control it,” Patricia told reporters. “He’s obviously learning and going through the process right now.”

Detroit ranks 26th in scoring defense (26.3) and has given up 30 or more points in four of its defeats.

The Lions have dropped five of their past six games and close the season with three of four games on the road.

Defensive tackle Damon Harrison said it is important for Detroit to finish the season strong.

“It’s all about confidence,” Harrison told reporters. “It’s hard to gain confidence when you’re losing. Just stay in it. Be able to go into the offseason on a good note.”

Meanwhile, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a spotty season despite throwing for 3,086 yards. Stafford has thrown 18 touchdown passes — 11 shy of last season’s total — and his 11 interceptions top the total of 10 he threw in each of the past two campaigns.

Detroit revealed Wednesday that Stafford is dealing with a back injury. As for the rise in interceptions, offense coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the miscues aren’t solely the fault of the signal caller.

“I think turnovers are always an offensive team stat,” Cooter said during a conference call. “There’s 11 guys on the field, there’s a bunch of coaches, bunch of other players. We’re all trying to do our job at the highest level we can do it.”

The Cardinals rank 29th in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-9 but are receiving standout play from defensive end Chandler Jones, who ranks third in the NFL with 12 sacks.

The Lions posted a 35-23 victory in last season’s meeting to end a seven-game slide against the Cardinals. Stafford passed for a season-high four touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

A league-leading scoring average of 37 points provides a potential advantage for the Kansas City Chiefs where it matters most -- the scoreboard.

Let Andy Reid elaborate.

"It always comes down to, and don't slight the defense here, because

Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

A league-leading scoring average of 37 points provides a potential advantage for the Kansas City Chiefs where it matters most — the scoreboard.

Let Andy Reid elaborate.

“It always comes down to, and don’t slight the defense here, because that’s important, but the thing is based on a points system,” said the Chiefs coach, who needs one more win to tie Marty Schottenheimer (205) for seventh on the all-time NFL wins list.

“Whoever scores the most wins the game. I don’t know any more than that. That’s what you try to do. It’s pretty simple, right? I’ll leave it at that.”

The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) intend to do anything to complicate such simplicity. They rank first defensively in the NFL, allowing 281.7 yards and 17.8 points. The Ravens will visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday looking to end an eight-game home win streak for the Chiefs, who at 10-2 own the best record in the AFC.

The matchup looms as a difficult test for both Kansas City units.

Although Patrick Mahomes has been lights out as a first-year starter, the Chiefs quarterback figures to see a variety of blitzes from schemes the Ravens effectively disguise.

Defensively, the Chiefs have struggled all season, allowing 33 points and 171 rushing yards last week to the woeful Oakland Raiders. Now, Kansas City faces a Baltimore offense that has won three straight with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, rushing for 716 yards over that span while controlling the clock an average of 37-plus minutes.

A stingy Baltimore defense, led by the likes of defensive end Terrell Suggs and linebacker C.J. Mosley, factors into the possession advantage.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, however, realizes Mahomes presents a big-play threat with 43 passes of 25-plus yards and 41 touchdown strikes.

Those marks lead the NFL and incorporate the dynamic speed possessed by receivers such as Tyreek Hill, as well as well as the creativity of Reid, a coach Harbaugh once worked under in Philadelphia.

“He’s had coaches on his staff over the years that have specific areas of study,” Harbaugh said. “They look at college football and probably high school football. Probably junior high football, knowing Andy, and he just does a great job of that.”

Although the Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt after a video was uncovered of an altercation last year’s NFL rushing leader had with a woman, standouts still exist. In addition to Hill, Travis Kelce is an elite pass-catcher who leads NFL tight ends with 1,082 yards receiving.

“In reality, holding this team to what we did last (week) is probably not going to happen,” said Ravens safety Eric Weddle, referencing the 131 yards Baltimore allowed in beating Atlanta 26-16. “But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone. So those things are areas that we can do, and if we do that, we’ll be successful.”

Although Jackson is expected to start at quarterback, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (hip) resumed activity at practice this week. Also, offensive tackle James Hurst could return from a nagging back injury.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins returned to restricted practice reps for the Chiefs, who have still not used Eric Berry, though the veteran safety is participating in limited drills.

–Field Level Media

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Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

If one is searching for

Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

If one is searching for a turning point to the Houston Texans’ season, rewind to Week 4 and a winless club fighting to avoid flushing its season after one month.

After starting 2018 with three straight losses to give it nine in a row, dating back to 2017, Houston coughed up a 28-10 third quarter lead at Indianapolis and trailed in overtime. But the Texans got 29 and 37-yard field goals from Ka’imi Fairbairn in the final 1:50 of the game to pull out a 37-34 win.

That started a nine-game winning streak that’s carried Houston (9-3) to the brink of an AFC South title. Should Jacksonville win Thursday night in Tennessee, the Texans could clinch on Sunday if they beat the Colts in a rematch.

“Pulling through the adversity, it just kind of slingshotted us to where we’re at now,” Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “That was one game where we went through all types of phases, situations that kind of put us through this nine-game winning streak. It was the start of everything.”

Texans coach Bill O’Brien could have been headed for unemployment had his team dropped to 0-4. Instead, nine straight wins have furthered the notion that last year’s 5-11 record was a byproduct of a crushing injury wave more than poor talent or terrible coaching.

While Houston is riding the wave, Indianapolis was drowned by it last week in Jacksonville. Quarterback Andrew Luck’s streak of eight straight games with at least three touchdown passes ended in a bagel.

The 6-0 loss to a Jaguars team that had lost eight of nine prior to the game was made even more maddening by the Colts’ inability to pick up points from any of three situations where they turned down cinch field goals to go for it on fourth down and failed.

The last miss, which happened with 2:38 left when Luck was sacked for a 9-yard loss on fourth and goal from the 1, put Indianapolis in a four-team tie at 6-6.

That’s a game behind surging Baltimore for the AFC’s second wild-card spot.

“At the end of the day, it came down to execution,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Offensively, we just didn’t execute and that ultimately falls on me. It’s my job to put the players in the best position and we didn’t get that done.”

Luck and Watson combined for 839 yards and six touchdown passes in their September 30 meeting, four by Luck. But a failed fourth down gamble in Indianapolis territory gave the Texans a chance to win it, and Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for 24 yards to set up Fairbairn for the game-winner.

–Field Level Media

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Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

When the schedule came out in the spring, Sunday’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers had all the makings of a potential classic.

Two of the NFL’s best teams.

Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

At an iconic venue in December.

So much for that.

The Falcons (4-8) and Packers (4-7-1), who met in the NFC Championship game two years ago, are stumbling into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.

The Packers have lost five of their last six games. Because of it, coach Mike McCarthy was fired after his team lost at home to the woeful Cardinals. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who was fired four games into his fourth season as coach of the Dolphins in 2015, will serve as interim coach.

“I told the guys, we’re looking for them to make progress, we’re looking for them to improve,” Philbin said. “We’ve got to clean up some areas and get better. I told them today again, I don’t have the magic pill. I told the defense, we’ve got to get off blocks, we’ve got to cover people, we’ve got to pursue, we’ve got to get guys on the ground and tackle well. I told the offense, we’ve got to block, we’ve got to throw and catch, we’ve got to run hard with the ball. That’s ultimately what wins games. Schemes are important but not as important as playing guys together and playing with great effort and playing fundamentally sound. That’s really the focus.”

The Falcons have lost their last four games. Coach Dan Quinn’s job appears safe after owner Arthur Blank gave him a ringing endorsement.

“Having a boss like him, you really want to get it right for him because of the support that he gives to me,” Quinn said. “I definitely appreciate it. I wasn’t looking for any of those things in that way, but I definitely appreciated it. And I recognized that the questions go with the territory when you fail more tests than you pass. Certainly these two teams who are strong and proud teams have had disappointing seasons up to this point.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, is having an excellent season. He’s completed almost 71 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns vs. five interceptions. But the Falcons have a feeble running game and a propensity to sleep walk through the third quarter. During their four-game losing streak, they’re yet to score 20 points.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 and 2014 MVP, is 23 passes away from breaking Tom Brady’s NFL-record streak of 358 consecutive passes without an interception. But he’s completed only 61.8 percent of his passes. The Packers have been awful on third down all season, a major reason why they’re only 16th in the league in scoring.

“I think everybody’s kind of realizing that we’re all under the microscope even more,” Rodgers said. “Who knows what the changes are going to be after the season? So, there’s the feeling that more eyes are on all of us, whether Mark (Murphy, the team president and CEO) or Brian (Gutekunst, the general manager) or scouts. I feel like the energy was good today. Unfortunately, the urgency that you need early in the season, we kind of had out in practice today.”

–Field Level Media

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Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns’ lair

Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns' lair

As messed up as the

Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns’ lair

As messed up as the Cleveland Browns have looked at times, the Carolina Panthers arrive with perhaps more pressing problems.

The teams face off Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, with the Browns looking like the team in a better mindset.

Meanwhile, the Panthers (6-6) have tumbled out of the projected NFC playoff mix with four consecutive losses and the week began with the firing of two defensive assistant coaches.

“We put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said.

That’s a theme that has reverberated around the Panthers.

“The last few games we have played have come down to the last opportunities we have had, whether it be on offense or defense,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You just have to make a play. That is unfortunately something we haven’t been able to do right now.”

Rivera has made changes, taking over defensive play-calling duties. Plus, the team fired defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary / cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura at the start of the week.

“Ultimately, I’m charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that,” Rivera said.

Defensive coordinator Eric Washington will oversee the front seven.

Cleveland (4-7-1) is coming off a 29-13 loss at Houston after winning two games in a row. So the Browns have had a considerable better stretch than Carolina.

Even with last week’s setback, Browns coach Gregg Williams describes a good vibe around the team.

“The guys have been very determined, very focused,” Williams said. “We have to put ourselves in better position to win. … But the guys never flinched.”

Newton threw four interceptions at Tampa Bay, marking his most pick-offs thrown since his rookie season, and sat out Wednesday’s practice to rest a weary throwing shoulder.

“I can’t allow that and accept that from myself,” Newton said. “I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision-making.”

The Browns also gave up four turnovers in the loss at Houston.

“The value of protecting the ball you can’t over-value that,” Williams said. “We have to protect the ball.”

Like Newton, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is a past Heisman Trophy winner. A year ago this weekend, he received the honor as a player for Oklahoma.

He’s the first Browns quarterback to throw for at least one touchdown in nine straight starts since Bernie Kosar in 1987. He set the team’s rookie record for passing yards in last week’s game.

“Our offense has been outstanding in the last month,” Williams said.

Mayfield, who wasn’t intercepted three times at Houston, hasn’t been sacked in the past three games.

“I think his mobility is excellent,” Williams said. “There’s just a feel for playing the position and extending the play.”

Williams said he doesn’t think the three pickoffs thrown by Mayfield will impact him going into the Carolina game.

Both teams have floundered in key defensive situations. That’s among the reasons at the root of Rivera’s frustrations.

The Browns have similar concerns.

“We’ve got to execute (on third-down defense),” Williams said.

The Panthers are 1-5 on the road. They’ve been close a few times on the road, but slow starts have been the norm.

“You’ve got to make plays earlier in the game so that it doesn’t come down to that (at the end),” linebacker Luke Kuechly said.

Carolina put tight end Greg Olsen on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his injury-riddled season.

The Browns might be without cornerback Denzel Ward, who has been in concussion protocol and was held out of practice Wednesday.

The Panthers remain in range of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints because those teams matchup twice across the last three weeks of the season.

Carolina has won four of five all-time meetings with the Browns, including the most-recent matchup in 2014 at home. Cleveland’s lone victory came 24-23 in 2010 at home.

–Field Level Media

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Mebane back with Chargers after family emergency

Mebane back with Chargers after family emergency


Mebane back with Chargers after family emergency

Los Angeles Chargers nose tackle Brandon Mebane was back with the team for Wednesday’s practice after missing two weeks to be with his infant daughter, who was born last month with a heart condition.

Mebane had been with his wife, Amena, and their two older children, Mahailey and Makai, in Omaha, Neb. while their newborn daughter, Makenna, has been receiving medical treatment. Makenna was born prematurely on Nov. 12 with a heart condition that will require surgery to compensate for a missing valve.

Mebane told reporters his daughter was born more than a month early and developed a stomach infection, which she is now recovering from. The surgery was pushed back a few months by the infection as Makenna continues to recover.

The parents learned of the heart condition in July and had been planning for the surgery, finding a hospital they preferred in Omaha. Amena and the children have been living in Omaha throughout the season, and Mebane has flown from Los Angeles to Omaha early each week to see them before flying back on Tuesday nights.

“It’s been a long and hard, pretty tough year for me,” Mebane said. “But I’ve been praying way more, keeping my faith and my older two kids.”

The 33-year-old is one of two defensive captains in his third year with the Chargers and 12th in the NFL. He has 32 tackles (three for loss), one forced fumble, one sack and three QB hits in 10 games this season, missing wins over the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers the past two weeks.

“He’s back in practice and doing good,” coach Anthony Lynn said of Mebane. “He’s back with the team, and it’s good to see Brandon.

“He’s one of our leaders. He’s a captain for a reason. On our team, these guys voted him that, and they’ve missed him. His leadership on the field is important, not just his ability. He’s a good man.”

The Chargers (9-3) host the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Bears’ Trubisky near 100 percent

NFL notebook: Bears' Trubisky near 100 percent

Rest has restored Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell

NFL notebook: Bears’ Trubisky near 100 percent

Rest has restored Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who said Wednesday he is “really close” to 100 percent.

Trubisky is expected to return to the lineup Sunday for the Bears’ NFC showdown at Soldier Field against the Los Angeles Rams. He missed the past two games with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.

“Arm feels really good. Just throwing as much as they’ll let me and taking care of it,” Trubisky said. “I’m just making sure I’m 100 percent when I get back out there.”

Trubisky remains on the injury report but practiced without limitation Wednesday for the first time since his injury. Chase Daniel, 1-1 in Trubisky’s stead, worked with the second team.

–Police in Cleveland have launched an internal investigation to determine how the NFL got the police report for the Feb. 10 incident involving ex-Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, according to multiple reports.

News of the fight between Hunt and a 19-year-old woman gained renewed attention last Friday when TMZ posted surveillance video from a downtown Cleveland hotel that shows Hunt shoving the woman and then kicking her while she is on the ground. The Chiefs released Hunt hours after the video was made public.

The city released records that show the NFL didn’t ask for police reports until the video surfaced. But Wednesday, the city said that an unidentified Cleveland police offer gave the report to the NFL, according to TMZ.

–Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders tore his left Achilles tendon during practice.

Sanders was helped off the field and appeared to be in significant pain after going down while running a route uncovered. An MRI confirmed the tear, leading the Broncos to place Sanders on injured reserve and claim wide receiver Andre Holmes off waivers, a day after he was cut by the Buffalo Bills.

–Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was limited in practice due to a shoulder injury but is expected to play Sunday.

Coach Ron Rivera provided few details on the injury, only briefly summarizing by saying, “We’ll see what the doctors say.”

–Green Bay Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin said that longtime assistant coach Winston Moss was fired for more than his critical tweet referencing quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“It’s never about one thing … it’s not about a tweet or anything like that,” said Philbin, who replaced the fired Mike McCarthy “I just think the fit right now isn’t where it needs to be.”

Moss, a longtime assistant coach under McCarthy, was fired Tuesday, hours after tweeting, in part, “Find somebody that is going to hold #12 and everybody in this building to a #LombardiStandard!”

–Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said he would appeal the NFL’s $13,369 fine for his Thanksgiving Day touchdown celebration. During a win over Washington, Elliott dropped $21 into the oversized Salvation Army kettle behind the end zone in Arlington, Texas.

–The Bengals placed wide receiver A.J. Green on injured reserve. Green has torn ligaments in his right big toe and will have season-ending surgery, ESPN reported Monday.

–New York Giants safety Landon Collins is headed to injured reserve with a shoulder injury that is expected to require surgery, ESPN reported. Coach Pat Shurmur said no decision has yet been made but acknowledged surgery is likely.

–Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is week-to-week with a knee injury. The third-year corner, who leads the NFL with seven interceptions, didn’t practice Wednesday.

–New Orleans left tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral) returned to practice for the first time since in Week 10. Armstead has missed three games, including last Thursday’s loss at Dallas when New Orleans gained only 65 rushing yards and saw its 10-game winning streak end.

–The Oakland Raiders placed wideout Martavis Bryant (knee), safety Reggie Nelson (shoulder) and defensive end Shilique Calhoun (neck) on IR.

–The Green Bay Packers placed cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) on IR.

–The Arizona Cardinals put left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) on IR and signed free agent Joe Barksdale.

–Former Bills wideout Kelvin Benjamin went unclaimed on waivers, a day after being released.

–The NFL placed referee Roy Ellison on administrative leave as it investigates a Sunday altercation between the umpire and Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes. The NFL Referees Association said in a statement it expects Ellison to be cleared.

–The Washington Redskins signed quarterback Josh Johnson and placed cornerback Quinton Dunbar (shin), wideout Trey Quinn (ankle) and guard Jonathan Cooper (biceps) on IR.

–The Chiefs signed backup center Austin Reiter to an extension. Terms were unavailable.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Cleveland police reviewing Hunt incident

Reports: Cleveland police reviewing Hunt incident

Reports: Cleveland police reviewing Hunt incident

Police in Cleveland have launched an internal investigation to determine how the NFL got the police report for the Feb. 10 incident involving ex-Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, according to multiple reports Wednesday.

News of the fight between Hunt and a 19-year-old woman gained renewed attention last Friday when TMZ posted surveillance video from a downtown Cleveland hotel that shows Hunt shoving the woman and then kicking her while she is on the ground. The Chiefs released Hunt hours after the video was made public.

The city released records that show the NFL didn’t ask for police reports until the video surfaced. But Wednesday, the city said that an unidentified Cleveland police offer gave the report to the NFL, according to TMZ.

“Following an internal review, it has been determined that in February 2018 a member of the Cleveland Division of Police provided a copy of the police report involving the February 10, 2018 assault incident at The 9 to a representative from the National Football League,” per a statement to TMZ. “The report did not go through the official public records request process.”

The city also said it is reviewing the “overall response” by the police department regarding its handling of the incident.

Hunt was not arrested or charged. Nevertheless, he went unclaimed on waivers on Monday after his release from the Chiefs.

–Field Level Media

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Mayfield won’t lobby Browns to hire OU coach

Mayfield won't lobby Browns to hire OU coach

Mayfield won’t lobby Browns to hire OU coach

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield can see Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley getting a head coaching position in the NFL one day, but doesn’t plan on pushing his pro team to hire his former college mentor.

“Lincoln’s been ready,” Mayfield said Wednesday. “Just who he is, how he coaches, the respect level he’s had from all of his players. How detailed he is. He’s ready. But that’s his decision. He’s got something special there (at Oklahoma). I don’t think anybody’s going to blame him if he stays there for the next 20 years.”

Riley, who spent three years working with Mayfield at Oklahoma as quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and head coach, could still be a contender for the Browns job that was vacated when Hue Jackson was fired in October. And the Green Bay Packers have a position open after they sent Mike McCarthy packing on Sunday following a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

“Obviously, you guys can take it how you want,” Mayfield added. “I have a relationship with Lincoln. It’s been great. We had success. But whatever decision is made here I’m going to make the most of it. Obviously, there’s been a level of comfortability with him in the past that I’ve had. But whatever happens, happens.”

Mayfield, though, doesn’t plan to consult with Browns general manager John Dorsey or Riley about the opening. “It’s not my decision,” he said.

Yet the rookie believes Riley has a promising future awaiting in the NFL.

“Like I said earlier, some of those coaches that are so successful, they have a standard and they live by that standard every day,” Mayfield said. “He does it with football, family. He’s just a great human being. Wants the best for everybody. Always encouraging.”

The 4-7-1 Browns will host the 6-6 Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Riley will lead Big 12 Conference championship game winner Oklahoma (12-1), which secured the fourth and final College Football Playoff spot, to the Orange Bowl, where the Sooners will play No. 1 Alabama (13-0) on Dec. 29.

–Field Level Media

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49ers’ Shanahan glad Broncos didn’t hire him

49ers' Shanahan glad Broncos didn't hire him

Arizona Cardinals: With left

49ers’ Shanahan glad Broncos didn’t hire him

Arizona Cardinals: With left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) placed on injured reserve, the Cardinals are now without all five of their original offensive line starters entering training camp. Center A.Q. Shipley (knee) was lost in August, and right guard Justin Pugh (knee) followed in November. Left guard Mike Iupati (knee) went on IR on Tuesday, a week after right tackle Andre Smith was released. Humphries had a setback with his knee last week, coach Steve Wilks said, and was shut down with hopes of avoiding major surgery, which will be determined sometime in the future. A first-round pick in 2015, Humphries has played in just 27 games in four years. The team picked up his fifth-year option, which is worth $9.625 million and guaranteed only for injury, in April.

Los Angeles Rams: With backup running back Malcolm Brown (broken collarbone) likely headed to IR, coach Sean McVay told reporters second-year back Justin Davis and rookie sixth-rounder John Kelly will share the role moving forward, depending on the situation. Neither has played an offensive snap all season, and Kelly has yet to play in an NFL game as he’s been inactive all year. “I think it’s going to be more anxiousness than anything,” Kelly said when asked about nerves. “I don’t really do nervous.” Kelly ran for 197 yards and three scores on 46 carries in the preseason, while Davis had seven carries for 41 yards.

San Francisco 49ers: As he prepares to face the team his father, Mike Shanahan, led to two Super Bowl titles, Kyle Shanahan told reporters Wednesday he’s glad the Denver Broncos didn’t hire him as their head coach in 2017. “Definitely thought it was a much better situation for myself (in San Francisco), not that that was my choice or anything,” said Shanahan, who had a four-hour interview in Denver before the Broncos hired Vance Joseph. Kyle Shanahan was later hired by the 49ers. “I’d like to say I made the decision pretty hard on them,” he added. “I definitely am happy where I am, and I think it’s definitely a better situation not being there with my dad. Also, that’s my wife’s home. That’s my home. I enjoy going back there to visit, but I like living where I’m at.” Mike Shanahan also won a Super Bowl with the 49ers, as their offensive coordinator in 1994.

Seattle Seahawks: Bobby Wagner has been to four consecutive Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro three times in that span, but he had never won NFC Defensive Player of the Week in his seven-year career until Wednesday. The honor was well deserved, as Wagner stuffed the stat sheet about as full as possible against the 49ers on Sunday, posting 12 tackles (two for loss), one sack, two QB hits, two passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception, which he returned 98 yards for a touchdown. Wagner has 97 tackles this season despite, according to Pro Football Focus, not missing one all year.

–Field Level Media

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Seeking Salvation? Cowboys’ Elliott appeals fine

Seeking Salvation? Cowboys' Elliott appeals fine

The NFL is looking to

Seeking Salvation? Cowboys’ Elliott appeals fine

The NFL is looking to take more money out of Ezekiel Elliott’s pocket in response to the Dallas Cowboys running back’s Thanksgiving celebration.

Elliott said he would appeal the $13,369 fine the league handed him for his touchdown celebration on Nov. 22, when he dropped $21 into the oversized Salvation Army kettle behind the end zone in Arlington, Texas.

“I mean, I didn’t really expect a fine, really don’t care about the fine,” Elliott said Wednesday. “It’s all for a good cause and we’re trying to bring awareness to the Salvation Army, and if the NFL doesn’t like that, then, I mean, that’s on them. I’ll pay their little fine.”

After running for a 16-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins with 10:02 left in the first quarter, Elliott pulled out $21 — the amount matching his uniform number — and dropped it in the bucket.

In the fourth quarter of the same game, a 31-23 Dallas win, Elliott lifted teammate Dak Prescott into the Salvation Army kettle after the Dallas quarterback scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown run.

Postgame, Elliott and Prescott both announced $21,000 donations to the Salvation Army, and the Cowboys said they would match the amounts.

The NFL gave Prescott a warning but did not fine him. Two years ago, Elliott jumped into the Salvation Army bucket following a touchdown, and he wasn’t fined in that instance.

Asked about the league’s different responses to the two celebrations, Elliott said, “A lot of things they do define ridiculous. But I mean, that’s not really any of my business, not really anything I can change so I’m just going to keep being focused on this season, keep being focused on leading this team and focused on going out there and winning ballgames.”

Fine money the league collects is earmarked for ex-players, but Elliott said in this case, he wishes the money would be given to the Salvation Army.

–Field Level Media

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Saints LT Armstead returns to practice

Saints LT Armstead returns to practice

New Orleans

Saints LT Armstead returns to practice

New Orleans left tackle Terron Armstead returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his pectoral muscle in the Saints’ Week 10 win at Cincinnati.

Armstead has missed three games, including last Thursday’s loss at Dallas when New Orleans gained only 65 rushing yards and saw its 10-game winning streak snapped.

Listed as a limited participant on the practice report, Armstead told reporters his recovery was “going pretty well” and that he could play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Armstead, 27, has been an effective but oft-injured starter since New Orleans drafted him in the third round in 2013. He has missed 18 games in the past three seasons.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs reward C Reiter with extension

Chiefs reward C Reiter with extension

Chiefs reward C Reiter with extension

Denver Broncos: Denver traded Demaryius Thomas to open up opportunities for rookie second-round draft pick Courtland Sutton, but fourth-round rookie DaeSean Hamilton will be leaned on heavily now as well with Emmanuel Sanders (torn Achilles) out for the season. “There’s a reason why I’m in the NFL,” Hamilton said of his confidence in himself. “I don’t expect there to be any downfall.” The team also will count on Tim Patrick and River Cracraft, both of whom were undrafted free agents in 2017. “We have capable guys and I’m very comfortable with that room,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s young, but it’s a proven room.” Added Sutton, “We’ve all got to step up and step into these roles that we’ve been handed, and not look back into it.”

Kansas City Chiefs: After filling in admirably for starter Mitch Morse at center in Weeks 8-11, Austin Reiter was rewarded with a contract extension on Wednesday, the team announced. No terms of the deal have been reported, but the 2015 seventh-round pick was set to become a restricted free agent after this season. Depending on the size and length of the deal, it could mean the Chiefs view Reiter as the future starter at the pivot, as Morse will hit unrestricted free agency in March. The team gave left guard Cameron Erving a two-year extension worth up to $15.7 million in September. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (signed through 2020), left tackle Eric Fisher (2021) and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (2022) are each locked up for at least two years.

Los Angeles Chargers: In his final game before entering the NFL, Philip Rivers led his team to a 28-10 victory over Marvin Lewis, as the Bengals’ staff was coaching the North team in the 2004 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Rivers threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns to pick up MVP honors in the game, which came about three months before Rivers was traded to the Chargers — whose staff coached the South team — as part of the package for Eli Manning on draft day. “Obviously he’s continued to grow as a fine player, but he was there and he was a fine leader,” Lewis recalled Wednesday of the encounter. “Obviously, the Chargers’ staff was coaching the other side and had Philip on their team, so they saw great things in him which caused the move they made to get Philip. I don’t think he’s disappointed anybody there.”

Oakland Raiders: Head coach Jon Gruden is known for praising opponents’ top players, but he was particularly effusive about the guy the Raiders will have to contain on Sunday, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. “What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him,” Gruden said. “He’s the hardest working man, I think, in football. Hardest working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”

–Field Level Media

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