Brees, Saints rest after a promising, memorable start

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees, perhaps only half joking, explains that fatherhood and having a son who is highly critical of his living room passing accuracy, is what has kept the Saints’ record-setting quarterback sharp as he’s approached his 40th birthday.

“My kids are what make me be better,” Brees began, describing how his son, Callen, likes to make diving catches on the couch. “He always tells me I am not throwing it in the right place. … He wants like the outstretched catch on the corner of the couch. They are my toughest critics. They keep me honest.”

And accurate.

When Brees became the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing (now 72,103 and counting) during Monday night’s 43-19 victory over the Washington Redskins , he also posted the best single-game completion percentage of his career. He connected on 26 of 29 passes (89.7 percent) for 363 yards and three touchdowns — and still has not thrown an interception this season.

Yet this week, Brees is bound to find himself exposed to his heaviest dose of criticism all season; the Saints are on their bye, meaning more time to throw to the kids. He’ll return next week to a Saints squad riding a four-game winning streak, sitting atop the NFC South at 4-1 and looking to maintain one of the NFL’s best offenses while building on the recent improvement of a defense that got off to a shaky start.

There do not appear to be many problems to keep coach Sean Payton up at night during the week off. Certainly, his 39-year-old quarterback is the least of his worries.

“The thing that is inspiring the most is knowing what is most important to him and that common goal that we have relative to winning another championship,” Payton said of Brees.

When the Saints snapped a three-year playoff drought last season, Brees threw for his fewest yards in his 12 full seasons as a Saint: 4,334, which happened to be the fourth-highest total in the league in 2017. But that was because the Saints had one of the better running games in the NFL and used it effectively to protect leads. Brees was accurate as ever, setting the NFL single-season record for completion rate at 72 percent.

This season, he’s at 77.9 percent through five games. And with physical running back Mark Ingram opening the season on a four-game suspension, he has been throwing more, averaging 331 yards per game. That would put him on pace for his sixth 5,000-yard season.

Earlier this season, Brees eclipsed Brett Favre’s completions record of 6,300, and he is on pace to break Manning’s career touchdowns mark of 539 next season — although he’d have to outpace New England’s Tom Brady to take over first place all-time. Brady has 500 and Brees 499.

Payton raved recently about how in every game, Brees inevitably makes throws that demonstrate “great vision and anticipation,” in addition to still having the arm talent to deliver the ball where and when he sees fit.

With a healthy and fresh Ingram back now, Payton could start calling more run plays again. But that’s no given because of the emergence of some new players in the receiving corps. Free-agent acquisition Cameron Meredith had a team-high five receptions for 71 yards against Washington, including a 46-yarder on a deep route down the left side of the field. Rookie Tre’Quan Smith did more than catch the 62-yard touchdown pass on which Brees broke Peyton Manning’s previous record of 71,940 career yards. Smith also had a 35-yard touchdown catch and totaled 111 yards on three receptions.

“This kid can really help, can be a big part of our offense,” Brees said of Smith. “We’ve also got some other pieces as well. We’ve got Mark Ingram II back, Cameron Meredith is coming along, and so we feel like we have a lot of weapons and feel we have a lot of ways to spread the ball around and be really productive.”

If that’s the case, the Saints could be increasingly tough to beat over their final 11 games — and Brees’ yards passing record could be downright untouchable by the time he’s done. Manning needed 18 seasons to set the previous mark and his skills were in obvious decline because of health issues when he did it. Brees has yet to show signs of slowing down and says he wants to play as long as possible.

Every one of Brees’ teammates, from young receivers to veteran All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordon — sound awe-struck when they talk about their quarterback.

“I see the work he puts in. I see how meticulous he is at practice. You see his perseverance through any adversity,” Jordan said. “He has always stayed constant in the ups and downs of a football season. He is clearly the greatest of all time.”

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFLfootball and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Report: Flacco expected to change uniforms in 2019

Report: Flacco expected to change uniforms in 2019

The Baltimore Ravens

Report: Flacco expected to change uniforms in 2019

The Baltimore Ravens are expected to release or trade quarterback Joe Flacco this offseason, NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning.

Coach John Harbaugh announced earlier this week that rookie Lamar Jackson, who subbed for an injured Flacco the past four weeks, will start even though Flacco is recovered from the hip injury that sidelined him.

Flacco will be the backup quarterback for the first time in his 11-year career when the Ravens meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

The Ravens were 4-5 when Flacco was injured. Now, with a 3-1 record under Jackson, they are 7-6 and knocking on the door of a playoff berth.

Rapoport said Flacco, who turns 34 in January, is scheduled to make $18.5 million next season. He added they could release him and let him become a free agent, or they could try to trade him to a team of his choosing.

Several teams will be in the starting quarterback market and could have interest in Flacco. The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to move on from Blake Bortles, the quarterback situation could be unsettled in places such as Tampa Bay, and if Alex Smith isn’t able to come back from a devastating leg injury, there could be a starting spot available just 45 minutes to the south in Washington.

On the season, Flacco has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,465 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.

–Field Level Media

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Dolphins RB Gore carted off with ankle injury

Dolphins RB Gore carted off with ankle injury

Dolphins RB Gore carted off with ankle injury

Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore suffered a left ankle injury Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and will miss the rest of the game, the team announced.

Gore suffered the injury when he was tackled on a run in the first quarter. He was able to make it to the sidelines, but he later was carted to the locker room.

The veteran Gore has not missed a game since 2010, when he appeared in 11 games for San Francisco.

Rookie running back Kalen Bellage replaced Gore.

Coming into the game, Gore had gained 708 yards on the ground this season. Before his departure Sunday, he had run for 14 yards on five carries.

–Field Level Media

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Redskins QB Smith released from hospital

Redskins QB Smith released from hospital

Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith is finally out of the

Redskins QB Smith released from hospital

Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith is finally out of the hospital after multiple surgeries to repair his broken right 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 and had been hospitalized since.

Sunday morning, his wife posted a photo to Instagram, showing Smith sitting by the family Christmas tree, his legs covered by a Redskins blanket.

“The last month has been a difficult ride. Our family is beyond happy to have this man with us and home,” Elizabeth Smith wrote. “This experience has given us great perspective and gratitude for all the people and blessings in our lives. We couldn’t have gotten through it without our amazing family, friends and community. A special thank you to the relentless doctors, nurses, techs, hospital administrators, the (owner Daniel) Snyder family and the Washington Redskins.”

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has said that Smith did not suffer any ligament damage and would face a recovery of six to eight months. However, there were reports earlier this month that claimed an infection had led to Smith needing further surgeries and could jeopardize Smith’s chances of playing again.

The team requested privacy for Smith after those reports emerged.

Washington is on the hook for $41.8 million in dead cap space over the next two seasons for Smith if he can’t return from the injury.

Smith’s backup, Colt McCoy, broke his leg against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13, leaving the Redskins with journeymen Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson as the team’s only options to end the season.

Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, will be 35 when the 2019 season begins. He was signed before the season to a four-year, $94 million extension.

–Field Level Media

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Bills RBs McCoy, Ivory out vs. Lions

Bills RBs McCoy, Ivory out vs. Lions

Bills RBs McCoy, Ivory out vs. Lions

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy and his backup, Chris Ivory, are both out for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, the team announced.

McCoy was held out of Wednesday’s practice and was a limited participant on Thursday and Friday. He was listed as questionable on the injury report entering the weekend.

McCoy hurt his hamstring in Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Jets. The 30-year-old running back left the game after nine plays — he had one yard on two carries — on Buffalo’s opening drive and has struggled with leg muscle strains in recent seasons.

Ivory served as the Bills’ primary running back and finished the game with 42 yards on 12 carries.

Ivory also was listed as questionable this week with a shoulder injury, but he was a full participant in practice all week.

With the Bills’ top two backs out, Keith Ford and Marcus Murphy are the only active running backs for Sunday’s game. Ford was signed from the practice squad earlier this week.

McCoy has struggled in his 10th NFL season with just 145 carries for 479 yards and two scores.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Bills RB McCoy out vs. Lions

Report: Bills RB McCoy out vs. Lions

Report: Bills RB McCoy out vs. Lions

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy won’t play in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

McCoy was held out of Wednesday’s practice and was a limited participant on Thursday and Friday. He was listed as questionable on the injury report entering the weekend.

McCoy hurt his hamstring in Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the New York Jets. The 30-year-old running back left the game after nine plays — he had one yard on two carries — on Buffalo’s opening drive and has struggled with leg muscle strains in recent seasons.

Chris Ivory served as the Bills’ primary ballcarrier and finished the game with 42 yards on 12 carries.

Ivory also was listed as questionable this week with a shoulder injury, but he was a full participant in practice all week.

McCoy has struggled in his 10th NFL season with just 145 carries for 479 yards and two scores.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Roethlisberger suffered cracked ribs, will play

Report: Roethlisberger suffered cracked ribs, will play

Report: Roethlisberger suffered cracked ribs, will play

The injury Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered last week in a loss to the Oakland Raiders apparently was worse than originally thought, but it shouldn’t keep him from playing when the Steelers host the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Roethlisberger required a pain-killing injection to deal with a rib injury sustained in the second quarter last week. He returned to the game late in the fourth quarter.

Afterward, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger was dealing with bruised ribs.

But the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Roethlisberger actually suffered cracked ribs vs. the Raiders, but an antiquated X-ray machine produced results that couldn’t be read, according to the team’s medical staff.

Roethlisberger said team doctors cleared him to play anyway, and his performance indicated he was fine. Roethlisberger wound up completing 25 of 29 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns.

Asked if there’s any reason to think he wouldn’t play against the Patriots, Roethlisberger said, “No, no, I don’t think so.”

Rapoport suggested Sunday that Roethlisberger might require another pain-killing injection, but he doubted the Steelers would hold him back.

“Wouldn’t be surprised if he has more, let’s say treatment like he did last week,” Rapoport wrote in a tweet. “He took a shot in the locker room and came back and then played. He should be fine going forward. But yes, unlike that X-ray machine, I can actually tell you, they were cracked.”

The Steelers have lost three consecutive games, and at 7-5-1, they hold a slim lead over the 7-6 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North entering play Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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NFL panel endorses ex-Raiders GM McKenzie

NFL panel endorses ex-Raiders GM McKenzie

Former Oakland Raiders general

NFL panel endorses ex-Raiders GM McKenzie

Former Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, fired last week, has received the seal of approval from the NFL’s career development advisory panel, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday.

That means the panel recommends him as a potential top candidate for any general manager position that comes open.

The advisory panel is part of the league’s effort to make sure minority candidates are given strong consideration for general manager and head coaching jobs. It is comprised of former NFL head coaches and general managers.

With the firing of McKenzie and the upcoming retirement of Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, the only minority general manager will by Chris Grier of Miami. Two seasons ago, there were seven minority GMs, Schefter reported.

McKenzie, 55, had clashed with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden over the direction of the team. Oakland named McKenzie general manager in 2012, and he earned Executive of the Year honors in 2016.

–Field Level Media

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Dolphins, Vikings fight to keep playoff hopes alive

Dolphins, Vikings fight to keep playoff hopes alive

Dolphins, Vikings fight to keep playoff hopes alive

The last time most fans saw quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he was in a state of euphoria, lying flat on his back on the Hard Rock Stadium turf last Sunday.

His Miami Dolphins had just upset the New England Patriots, 34-33, on the dramatic final play of the game.

Tannehill started the play by completing a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills. Two laterals later, the Dolphins had gone 69 yards to finish off the “Miracle in Miami.”

“Knowing we had one shot with minimal probability to be successful and have that 0.1 percent-chance play pay off is pretty incredible,” Tannehill said. “It just hits you all at once. I just collapsed.”

Fortunately for Dolphins fans, their team hasn’t collapsed this season, overcoming three losing streaks of two games each and the five-game injury absence of Tannehil to sport a 7-6 record — still alive for a possible AFC wild-card playoff berth.

On Sunday, the Dolphins will travel to play the Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1), who have lost two straight games and on Tuesday fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

The Vikings have scored a combined 17 points the past two weeks, including a garbage-time touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Minnesota, still in wild-card contention in the NFC, will try to salvage the season with Kevin Stefanski as the interim offensive coordinator.

The pressure is mounting on Kirk Cousins, the quarterback Minnesota signed to a mega-contract last offseason.

“I’d be the first to say that if we had played at a higher level, we’re probably not talking about the things we’re talking about this week,” Cousins said. “I take ownership as well.”

The Dolphins are just 1-5 on the road this season, while the Vikings are 4-2 at home.

Before the current two-game slide, the Vikings’ offense had played reasonably well, scoring at least 20 points in eight straight games and compiling a 5-3 record during that span.

Cousins has put up impressive numbers all season, passing for 3,698 yards and 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He has completed 70.6 percent of his passes.

His top target is wide receiver Adam Thielen, who has an NFL-high 103 catches for 1,236 yards and nine touchdowns. Thielen is battling an ankle injury but is expected to play against Miami.

Teammate Stefon Diggs is also having an excellent season with 88 grabs, 915 yards and six touchdowns.

For the Dolphins, Tannehill (ankle) is listed as probable. He has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,578 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Miami’s most reliable weapon this season has been 35-year-old running back Frank Gore, who leads the team in rushing yards (708) and average (4.7).

The Dolphins also have running back Kenyan Drake (829 scrimmage yards, nine touchdowns), steady Danny Amendola (team-high 49 receptions) and Kenny Stills (team-high six touchdown catches).

Each team is hoping that a key defensive player will be ready to go on Sunday.

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, missed last week with a knee injury and is questionable.

Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a Pro Bowl player in 2014, is questionable due to a hip injury.

–Field Level Media

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Giants WR Beckham ruled out vs. Titans

 

New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has

 

New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans as he recovers from an ailing quadriceps, coach Pat Shurmur announced Friday.

 

Beckham missed last Sunday’s victory over the Washington Redskins due to the injury and was held out of Thursday’s practice after being a limited participant the day before.

 

He was initially hurt during a Week 12 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

Beckham had the leg evaluated by doctors Thursday and at the time expressed optimism.

 

“I honestly don’t know until Sunday gets here,” Beckham told reporters on Thursday. “It has just been getting better each and every day.”

 

Beckham was blunt when asked to describe the nature of the injury.

 

“I don’t know. It’s like saying I broke my leg but you really fractured it. It’s a choice of words,” Beckham said. “Whatever you want to call it, (bleep) ain’t right.”

 

Beckham has 77 receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games this season.

 

–Field Level Media

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Steelers RB Conner practices, questionable to face Patriots

Steelers RB Conner practices, questionable to face Patriots

Steelers running

Steelers RB Conner practices, questionable to face Patriots

Steelers running back James Conner was limited in practice Friday and is expected to return to the Pittsburgh lineup for a key AFC affair with the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Conner was seen walking without a limp after Thursday’s practice and declared himself ready to roll, but the Steelers will officially list him as questionable.

The renewal of the Steelers-Patriots rivalry is a headliner of Week 15 as Pittsburgh slides into the game on a three-game losing streak, holding a narrow lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and at risk of being thrust into a dogfight with numerous teams for the final spot in the AFC playoffs with another loss.

With three games to play in the regular season, the Steelers welcome the return of Conner from a sprained ankle. Without him, the Steelers lost at Oakland last week. Even before Conner went down, Pittsburgh has struggled to find balance on offense of late, particularly the last three games.

Including the postseason, New England has won nine of the 12 games against the Steelers since Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger entered the NFL.

The Patriots are in the running for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, which would assure home-field advantage through the conference championship game, after the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

Conner was thrust into a key role in his second season when Le’Veon Bell opted to hold out after being designated the team’s franchise player for the second consecutive season.

Conner has 1,376 yards from scrimmage for the Steelers in 2018.

–Field Level Media

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Jaguars sign K Forbath as insurance for injured Lambo

Jaguars sign K Forbath as insurance for injured Lambo

Jaguars sign K Forbath as insurance for injured Lambo

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed kicker Kai Forbath on Friday in case Josh Lambo is unable to kick Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Lambo suffered a right groin injury during Thursday’s practice and is listed as questionable on the injury report released Friday.

Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said he has no idea if Lambo can recover in time to kick on Sunday.

“We don’t really know how it’s going to go,” Marrone told reporters of Lambo. “It’s not a lot of time between now and Sunday for an injury like that. We’re going to take it day-by-day, probably up until game time.”

Lambo, 28, is 19 of 21 on field-goal attempts this season and 38 of 41 in two seasons with the Jaguars. He spent his first two NFL seasons with the then-San Diego Chargers and is 90 of 105 on field goals in his career.

Forbath hasn’t kicked in the NFL this season after being cut by the Minnesota Vikings in training camp.

Forbath, 31, kicked a career-best 32 field goals (in 38 attempts) for the Vikings in 2017 in his second season with the team.

The UCLA product also kicked for the Washington Redskins (2012-15) and New Orleans Saints (2015). He has made 116 of 135 career field-goal attempts while scoring 517 points.

Forbath worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this week.

Jacksonville placed linebacker Leon Jacobs (quadriceps) on injured reserve to open up the roster spot.

Also, starting right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee), wideout DJ Chark Jr. (quadriceps) and offensive lineman Josh Walker (foot) will miss the game against Washington, the team announced.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys’ Elliott gets fined $26K for helmet hit

Cowboys' Elliott gets fined $26K for helmet hit

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ Elliott gets fined $26K for helmet hit

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, the first offensive player penalized this season for the helmet rule, was fined $26,739 on Friday for lowering his head to initiate contact Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The action occurred against defensive back Corey Graham in a game the Cowboys won 29-23.

Elliott is appealing the fine, which is the second he has received in four weeks. He was fined $13,369 for unsportsmanlike conduct after donating $21 into the Salvation Army kettle following a Thanksgiving Day touchdown against Washington on Nov. 22.

Delivering the hit against the Eagles, Elliott also struggled to recover. He went to the blue medical tent and missed five plays, saying he briefly lost feeling in his arm.

“I mean when you’re on that sideline, I’ve got to protect myself,” Elliott said. “And if a guy’s going low, I’ve got to go low, too. The rule is meant for the betterment of the game. The rule is for our safety, and if there was illegal helmet-to-helmet contact on there, that’s something I need to go look at and work on. That’s not OK. It’s just a tough play.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, while not defending his player 100 percent, did understand Elliott’s rationale.

“We’re just making some calls here that are tough, but we’re doing it for protection and safety,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest question being asked: How do you play? … I don’t want Zeke to stop punishing them on the end of his runs. Upon further review, they both tucked their heads. Zeke is a punishing runner. That’s what we want in the NFL. That is a physical aspect of football that we want to give our fans. I’ll certainly do everything I can to not make those kinds of things penalties.”

According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, officials threw 10 flags for use of helmet — all against defensive players — through the first 13 weeks of the season.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys OL Martin (knee) to miss game for first time

Cowboys OL Martin (knee) to miss game for first time

Cowboys OL Martin (knee) to miss game for first time

Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin, who has started all 77 games of his career since the team selected him in the first round out of Notre Dame in the 2014 NFL Draft, will see his streak end on Sunday.

A Pro Bowl selection each of his first four seasons and a two-time first-team All-Pro, Martin was ruled out for the game against the Indianapolis Colts because of a knee injury on Friday.

Connor Williams, who took for Martin last week when the latter aggravated a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, will start in Martin’s place. The rookie out of Texas actually started the first seven games of the season at left guard for Dallas but underwent knee surgery in October and lost that job to Xavier Su’a-Filo.

“He did a good job in the [Eagles] game going in there and playing,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told the media of Williams. “I thought he handled that work well. He’ll benefit from that experience and then he’s come back and had a good week so far.”

The Cowboys hope to have Martin back this season, at least for the playoffs, if not for the Dec. 23 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Also Friday, the Cowboys listed linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring pull) and wide receiver Tavon Austin (groin injury) as questionable.

–Field Level Media

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Raiders WR Bryant suspended indefinitely

Raiders WR Bryant suspended indefinitely

Oakland Raiders

Raiders WR Bryant suspended indefinitely

Oakland Raiders receiver Martavis Bryant was indefinitely suspended by the NFL on Friday for violating his reinstatement terms of a previous ban, the league announced Friday.

Bryant was allowed to play this season while he appealed a one-year suspension. He went on injured reserve earlier this month with a knee injury suffered on Nov. 11 during a game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“Effective immediately, Martavis Bryant has been returned to the Reserve/Commissioner Suspended list indefinitely for violating the terms of his April 2017 conditional reinstatement under the Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse,” the league said in a statement.

Bryant, who turns 27 next Thursday, reportedly violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy during the offseason.

The Clemson product was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season and the entire 2016 season because of positive drug tests while he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Raiders initially released Bryant on Sept. 1 but resigned him 11 days later when the NFL ruled he could play while appealing the penalty.

Bryant had 19 receptions for 266 yards in eight games for the Raiders this season.

–Field Level Media

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Bears’ Nagy named top coach by AP panel

Bears' Nagy named top coach by AP panel

First-year Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy

Bears’ Nagy named top coach by AP panel

First-year Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy received seven of 10 possible first place votes among a panel of 10 Associated Press football writers asked to name the NFL coach doing the best job this season.

Nagy, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, finished ahead of Pete Carroll.

In his first year at the helm, Nagy has guided the Bears to a 9-4 record and is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. The Bears hadn’t won nine games in a season since going 10-6 in 2012 and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010.

A win in Chicago against Green Bay on Sunday or a loss by the Minnesota Vikings will clinch a playoff spot for the NFC North leading Bears.

Carroll’s Seahawks can also clinch this week despite a defense decimated by injuries and departures. Carroll didn’t receive any first-place votes; Bill Belichick (New England Patriots, 2 votes) and Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts, 1) were the other coaches picked.

Belichick finished in ninth place despite the two No. 1 votes.

–Field Level Media

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Saints QB Brees tops all players in Pro Bowl fan vote

Saints QB Brees tops all players in Pro Bowl fan vote

Saints QB Brees tops all players in Pro Bowl fan vote

Amid a growing group of young star players around the league, 39-year-old New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished the fan ballot portion of Pro Bowl voting with more votes than anyone.

The NFL announced the results on Friday from fan voting, which ended a day earlier. The 11-time Pro Bowl passer Brees got 1,270,631 votes to top all players, ahead of second-place Patrick Mahomes (1,197,370 votes), the second-year Kansas City Chiefs QB who has thrown 45 touchdown passes in 14 games in his first season as a starter.

Rounding out the top five was New York Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley (987,562 votes), plus a pair of Los Angeles Rams teammates — running back Todd Gurley (957,052) and quarterback Jared Goff (838,561).

Seven of the top 10 players receiving votes have three seasons or fewer of NFL experience.

The fan vote is merely one factor deciding the Pro Bowl rosters, as the league’s players and coaches also get the opportunity to make selections — with their voting done on Friday. The final Pro Bowl rosters will be revealed on Tuesday, Dec. 18 on NFL Network.

The Pro Bowl will take place on Jan. 27 on Orlando.

NFL PRO BOWL — TOP-10 VOTE-GETTERS, FAN VOTE

1. Saints QB Drew Brees, 1,270,631

2. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, 1,197,370

3. Giants RB Saquon Barkley, 987,562

4. Rams RB Todd Gurley, 957,052

5. Rams QB Jared Goff, 838,561

6. Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, 827,888

7. Steelers RB James Conner, 817,495

8. Steelers WR Antonio Brown, 778,630

9. Saints RB Alvin Kamara, 776,846

10. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, 753,981

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Steelers expecting RB Conner back for Pats

NFL notebook: Steelers expecting RB Conner back for Pats

Steelers

NFL notebook: Steelers expecting RB Conner back for Pats

Steelers running back James Conner practiced on a limited basis Friday and is expected to return to the Pittsburgh lineup for a key AFC affair with the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Conner was seen walking without a limp after Thursday’s practice and declared himself ready to roll, but the Steelers will officially list him as questionable.

The renewal of the Steelers-Patriots rivalry is a headliner of Week 15 as Pittsburgh slides into the game on a three-game losing streak, holding a narrow lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and at risk of being thrust into a dogfight with numerous teams for the final spot in the AFC playoffs with another loss.

Conner has 1,376 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns.

–Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin will miss a game for the first time in his career Sunday, bringing to end a streak of 77 straight regular-season starts.

A Pro Bowl selection each of his first four seasons and a two-time first-team All-Pro, Martin was ruled out against the Colts because of a knee injury.

Rookie Connor Williams will start in Martin’s place.

–New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans as he recovers from an ailing quadriceps, coach Pat Shurmur announced.

Beckham, originally injured in Week 12 against Philadelphia, missed last Sunday’s victory over the Redskins because of the injury.

Beckham has 77 receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games this season.

–Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller was to undergo surgery for a fractured wrist Friday and is likely to miss time, NFL Network reported.

Fuller played with the injury in Thursday’s 29-28 loss to the Chargers.

While a recovery window will reportedly be established once the surgery is performed, it typically takes six weeks for a complete recovery from a wrist fracture. That would stretch to the AFC championship game or even the Super Bowl.

–Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was downgraded to doubtful for his team’s game against the Rams on the official injury report because of a stress fracture in his back.

Head coach Doug Pederson said that Wentz will need up to three months for a complete recovery. The team is measuring whether Wentz could do significant damage by playing in a game with the injury.

–Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was a practice participant for the second straight day and is expected to be available when the team visits the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Baldwin missed Monday night’s win over the Minnesota Vikings due to a hip injury. The Seahawks listed him as questionable for the game against San Francisco.

–The New York Jets are placing leading rusher Isaiah Crowell on injured reserve with a toe injury, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Coach Todd Bowles said Elijah McGuire (158 yards) and rookie Trenton Cannon (80) will get heavy work in the backfield in an effort to make up for Crowell’s production (685 yards, six touchdowns).

–The NFL indefinitely suspended Oakland Raiders receiver Martavis Bryant for violating his reinstatement terms stemming from a previous ban under the league’s substance abuse policy.

The 27-year-old reportedly violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy during the offseason but played through appeal. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season and the entire 2016 season because of positive drug tests while he was with the Steelers.

–Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was fined $26,739 for lowering his head to initiate contact Sunday against Philadelphia defensive back Corey Graham, Elliott’s second fine in four weeks.

–First-year Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy received seven of 10 possible first place votes among a panel of 10 Associated Press football writers asked to name the NFL coach doing the best job this season.

–The Jacksonville Jaguars signed kicker Kai Forbath in case Josh Lambo (right groin injury) is unable to kick Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

–New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished first in the fan ballot portion of Pro Bowl voting with 1,270,631 votes. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (1,197,370 votes) was second.

–Field Level Media

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Redskins coach Gruden not worried about future

Redskins coach Gruden not worried about future

Redskins coach Gruden not worried about future

The Washington Redskins’ hopes for a playoff berth are hanging by a thread, but head coach Jay Gruden is not feeling the pressure regarding his future with the organization.

In an interview with ESPN, Gruden on Friday said, “It doesn’t weigh on me at all. My key works; I come in and work. … I understand it. You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine and then you’re not fine. I’ll wait to get final word when the season is over.”

After four straight losses (including an embarrassing 40-16 drubbing by the New York Giants on Sunday) and dropping five of their last six games, the Redskins are 6-7 as they prepare for this Sunday’s game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

The longest-tenured Redskins coach under Dan Snyder’s ownership since the team was bought in 1999, Gruden is five years into his contract, and Washington has not made the playoffs since the 2015 season, when it lost to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round.

“It’s not my job to judge [my performance],” said Gruden, who will sit down with Snyder after the season as a coach with two years left on his contract. “It’s my job to coach the guys I’ve got. There’s only one judge and he’s the one that has all the money. He’s the one that writes the checks. It’s up to him.”

The Redskins have struggled for various reasons this season, most notably on offense, where they will start their fourth quarterback of 2018 on Sunday. Seventeen of their players are on injured reserve, and that includes five starters on offense led by quarterback Alex Smith.

Maybe Gruden is not too concerned because the two-year contract extension he received after the 2016 season includes a combined $10 million in fully guaranteed money.

“He has always been supportive,” Gruden said of Snyder. “Never been negative. He gets very upset after losses, as we all do. But he’s been very supportive and has tried to do everything he can to help.”

–Field Level Media

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Chargers’ Allen could miss time with hip pointer

Chargers' Allen could miss time with hip pointer

Chargers’ Allen could miss time with hip pointer

The bad news for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen? He could miss some time with a hip pointer suffered in Thursday night’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The good news, however, is that Allen’s diagnosis did not include any structural damage in the hip, and if he is sidelined, it shouldn’t be for long, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Allen has 88 catches for 1,074 yards for the Chargers, who moved into a tie with the Chiefs atop the AFC West Division at 11-3 with their 29-28 win. He landed hard in the end zone as he came within fingertips of making a highlight reel touchdown catch in the second quarter.

The Chargers don’t play again until Dec. 22, a Saturday night game in Los Angeles against Baltimore, before closing the regular season Dec. 30 at Denver.

In six NFL seasons, all with the Chargers, Allen has 411 catches for 5,084 yards and 28 touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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Eagles rule out QB Wentz (back) for Sunday

Eagles rule out QB Wentz (back) for Sunday

Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz will

Eagles rule out QB Wentz (back) for Sunday

Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz will not play Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams because of a back injury, the Eagles confirmed Saturday.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will make his third start of the season in place of Wentz, who had been listed as doubtful after an exam earlier this week revealed a stress fracture. Coach Doug Pederson said the injury could take up to three months to heal.

Foles, who started the Eagles’ first two games as Wentz completed his rehabilitation from a knee injury, has completed 54 of 82 passes for 451 yards with one touchdown and one interception this season.

Foles played for the Rams when they were still based in St. Louis in 2015, posting a 4-7 record with 2,052 passing yards, seven TDs and 10 picks.

Wentz likely will finish this season with a 5-6 record. He has completed a career-high 69.6 percent of his passes for 3,074 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Philadelphia (6-7) still has a slim chance at a wild-card playoff berth heading into the prime-time contest at Los Angeles (11-2).

–Field Level Media

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