Chiefs, Mahomes will get major test in New England

There can be no better measuring stick for the Chiefs and young quarterback Patrick Mahomes than what they face Sunday night.

Beat the Patriots in Foxborough and all that excitement in Kansas City might be validated.

Remember, though, that the Chiefs, with Alex Smith, went into Gillette Stadium and won the 2017 kickoff to the season. They went on an up-and-down ride the rest of the way, lost in the wild-card playoff round, while the Patriots straightened out and made the Super Bowl before losing to Philadelphia.

Mahomes, of course, has looked immune to any sort of high-stakes pressure in leading the Chiefs (5-0) to the top of the AFC. He embraces this challenge and trying to outdo Tom Brady.

“It is going to be a great opportunity,” says Mahomes, who has a league-best 14 touchdown passes. “He is one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest to ever play. I am going against their defense, but as a team we are going to go in and try to compete. They are a good team in the AFC every single year. Just to compete against one of the best teams in the league is going to be an awesome opportunity.”

How familiar is Mahomes with three-time league MVP Brady, whom he has never met?

“I definitely watched a good amount of him in college (at Texas Tech),” he says. “Coach (Kliff) Kingsbury actually played with Tom at one point. He liked to show me some things that he did where he was in the pocket, his pocket movements and things like that. I have definitely taken some things from him. He does it at such a high level, it’s something you have to strive to be like.”

New England (3-2) is striving to be, well, New England. After a 1-2 start, the Patriots appear to have gotten back on their usual winning path.

The weekend began with Philadelphia’s 34-13 road victory over the New York Giants. Carson Wentz threw a season-high three touchdown passes for the Eagles (3-3). They beat the Giants (1-5) for the fourth straight time and seventh in eight games.

Off this week are Detroit (2-3) and New Orleans (4-1)

Pittsburgh (2-2-1) at Cincinnati (4-1)

One of the NFL’s most vicious and yellow-tinted rivalries . As in:

—These teams combined for four penalties for unnecessary roughness, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, one for taunting, one for roughing the passer, and two 15-yard penalties for grabbing a facemask in their previous meeting.

—Cincinnati set a club record with 173 yards in penalties in that messy affair, when the Steelers overcame a 17-0 deficit to win.

More numbers of note:

—The Steelers have won the past six games in this series, nine of 10 and 14 of 17.

—The Bengals are 8-24 vs. the Steelers under coach Marvin Lewis

—Lewis is 2-15 at Paul Brown Stadium against Pittsburg.

— Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 24-4-1 in his native Ohio, including the postseason. He’s 13-2 at Paul Brown Stadium with 23 TDs, 10 interceptions.

Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) at Cleveland (2-2-1)

When last they met in Cleveland, the Browns won in their 15th game to avoid a perfect season on the wrong side of the ledger. So they lost every game in 2017, including at the Chargers.

“Not to speak too much of last year, but I could not believe and I did not feel like they were an 0-16 team or 0-14, whatever they were when we played them last year,” says Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. “It was a good football team. They just did not find ways to win and so many (games) they had opportunities.”

They’ve got two wins already and lead the NFL with 15 takeaways, two more than in the entire 2017 season.

Baltimore (3-2) at Tennessee (3-2)

Two clubs coming off down weekends: Tennessee was punchless at Buffalo, Baltimore was inept offensively at Cleveland.

Both can play D, though, so don’t expect a lot of end zone activity in Music City.

The Ravens are playing a third straight road game, then have four of the next five at home. They lead the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 15.4 points per game, with no TDs in a second half.

The Titans have allowed seven points in the first quarter and lead in red zone defense, allowing three TDs in 13 possessions for a 23.1 percent success rate by opponents.

Chicago (3-1) at Miami (3-2)

The Bears have won three in a row and come off a bye. They haven’t earned four straight wins since 2012.

With Khalil Mack revitalizing the defense, Chicago ranks No. 1 against the run and second overall. If second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky truly has found the passing rhythm — his six TD throws in a rout of Tampa Bay tied for second most in an NFL game — the Bears needs to be taken seriously.

Miami was taken seriously until it laid eggs at New England and Cincinnati, where it blew a 17-0 lead. The Dolphins rank third worst in yards and fifth worst in points. They have been outgained by 94 yards per game, which ranks third worst.

Carolina (3-1) at Washington (2-2)

Washington was on the wrong end of the record-setting Brees blitz through the air in New Orleans, and was damaged as much by penalties as inefficient defense. The usually precise Alex Smith threw an interception and was generally off-target.

Now comes Carolina, which has seven picks, is plus-5 in turnovers, and has nine sacks. The Panthers also have the NFL’s top rushing offense, in part because quarterback Cam Newton is such a weapon on the ground. Newton is 4-0 with nine TDs and zero picks for a 115.4 passer rating vs. Washington, along with two rushing scores.

Washington has lost five straight to Carolina.

Los Angeles Rams (5-0) at Denver (2-3)

While Denver’s defense has been getting Orange Crushed recently, LA’s offense has looked unstoppable. Jared Goff leads the league with 1,727 yards passing and ranks second with a 119.7 passer rating. In the past month, Goff is averaging 374 yards per game.

Todd Gurley tops the NFL with seven TD runs and ranks second with 645 scrimmage yards. Of concern for the impressive receiving group is that Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp each left last week’s win at Seattle with concussions.

Denver star LB Von Miller has gone sackless the past three weeks. The Broncos yielded 323 rushing yards to the Jets, so, yes, that has caught Gurley’s attention.

Jacksonville (3-2) at Dallas (2-3)

Oddly, Dallas has never won its first three home games at Jerry World.

With RB Leonard Fournette still hurt, the showpiece matchup with Ezekiel Elliott disappears. Elliott has been the prime weapon for Dallas and is averaging 154 yards from scrimmage per game in the past three. But the passing game is 30th as Dak Prescott struggles without a topnotch receiver.

He’ll face the stingiest defense in the NFL.

Seattle (2-3) vs. Oakland (1-4) at London

Wonder if the Raiders will have as many fans in Wembley as they did in StubHub Center. They could really use the support as Jon Gruden’s return season spirals out of control.

“I’m going to continue to emphasize the good and do everything I can to fix the things that are bad, because most of the things that are bad, my fingerprints are all over,” Gruden said.

Such as a defense, minus the traded Mack of course, that ranks 30th. Oakland has the fewest QB pressures in the league (29), tied for fewest sacks (six), and is tied for third-fewest takeaways (five).

Seattle makes its first regular-season overseas appearance. Worth watching:

—Pete Carroll seeks his 91st win with the team to pass Mike Holmgren as winningest coach for the franchise.

—Russell Wilson is 25-6 after a loss, the best record of any quarterback since the merger.

—Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski spent 18 seasons with the Raiders, holding the franchise record for points (1,799) and games (268).

Indianapolis (1-4) at New York Jets (2-3)

If any team needed the long layoff from a Thursday nighter, it was the Colts. They went into New England undermanned and then got hammered with more injuries, giving them little chance against the Patriots.

Assuming they are somewhat healthier, this is a far better chance for Indy to straighten out its season. Andrew Luck’s arm looks strong, but who does he have to throw to if T.Y. Hilton isn’t in the lineup?

New York opened up its offense in a win over Denver, letting Sam Darnold occasionally fling the ball downfield and it led to some huge plays. The Colts are vulnerable to that.

Buffalo (2-3) at Houston (2-3)

Each team comes off a tight victory in which the offenses were stagnant, while the defenses and kicking games were decisive.

Houston wants things more open when it has the ball, with Deshaun Watson connecting on throws to DeAndre Hopkins. Buffalo’s solid second-year cornerback Tre’Davious White, will be tested.

Apparently fully healthy after two tough years, Texans DE J.J. Watt is tied for the NFL lead with six sacks. Watt had an 80-yard interception return for a score in his previous game against the Bills in Houston, a 23-17 win in 2014.

Arizona (1-4) at Minnesota (2-2-1)

What could be a mismatch — Arizona has the NFL’s worst offense and has scored all of 65 points — has one intriguing element. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, a likely Hall of Famer, returns to his hometown for the sixth time in his 15-year career, with an average of 87.4 receiving yards and no touchdowns at Minnesota.

On the other side, wideout WR Adam Thielen leads the league in receptions (47) and is second in yards (589). He’s also first in third-down catches (14). Thielen is the third player in NFL history with five 100-yard games to start a season, the first since 1961.

San Francisco (1-4) at Green Bay (2-2-1), Monday night

Following a stinker at home to hand Arizona its first win, the Niners go to the prime-time showcase against Green Bay, which is following a stinker of its own at Detroit.

Both teams struggle to protect the ball, and the 49ers can’t find ways to take it away from opponents; they have a league-low one interception and have forced three turnovers.

Of special interest for the Pack: Mason Crosby went 1 for 5 on field goals and missed his only extra-point try at Detroit.

Tampa Bay (2-2) at Atlanta (1-4)

No one played worse the past two weeks than the Bucs. But the Falcons were close.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston gets back his starting job following a bye; he was suspended for the first three games, when Ryan Fitzpatrick was either magical or mediocre. Tampa’s defense has been dreadful.

Then again, so has Atlanta’s, which is ravaged by injuries. It ranks worst in points allowed and worst in third-down percentage. The offense struggles to protect Matt Ryan and to generate a running game.

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Report: Rihanna backed players, turned down SB LIII halftime

Report: Rihanna backed players, turned down SB LIII halftime

Superstar singer Rihanna turned down an invitation to perform at the 2019 Super Bowl in solidarity with protesting NFL players, according to multiple reports.

"The NFL and CBS really wanted Rihanna to be next year's performer in Atlanta," a source told

Report: Rihanna backed players, turned down SB LIII halftime

Superstar singer Rihanna turned down an invitation to perform at the 2019 Super Bowl in solidarity with protesting NFL players, according to multiple reports.

“The NFL and CBS really wanted Rihanna to be next year’s performer in Atlanta,” a source told US Weekly, which first reported the news. “They offered it to her, but she said no because of the kneeling controversy. She doesn’t agree with the NFL’s stance.”

Rihanna, who reportedly has an album and tour in the works, declined on principle despite the potential exposure, according to another source.

“The offer and exposure would have been great for Rihanna as she’s planning a new album and tour but she stuck to what’s right in her eyes,” a person close to the singer reportedly told Entertainment Weekly.

Rolling Stone said it had independently confirmed the news on Friday morning.

Fellow singer Pink, who performed the national anthem before Super Bowl LII in February, was also reportedly considered, but never reached an agreement.

Maroon 5, fronted by Adam Levine, was reportedly offered the job and accepted, though no formal announcement has been made.

Super Bowl LIII will take place in Atlanta on Feb. 3.

–Field Level Media

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Jaguars RB Fournette to miss third straight game

Jaguars RB Fournette to miss third straight game

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette will miss his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury after being ruled out of Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

Fournette suffered the injury in the season opener against the New York Giants and missed

Jaguars RB Fournette to miss third straight game

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette will miss his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury after being ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.

Fournette suffered the injury in the season opener against the New York Giants and missed the next two games. He aggravated it in Week 4 when he returned to play against the New York Jets.

Fournette has just 71 yards on 20 carries this season. T.J. Yeldon (299) again will be the main ball carrier.

Standout defensive Calais Campbell was listed as questionable on Jacksonville’s Friday injury report due to an ankle injury.

Campbell has four sacks in six games this season. He posted a career-best 14.5 last season.

Cornerback D.J. Hayden (toe) and tight end James O’Shaughnessy (hip) also will sit out the contest. Cornerback Tre Herndon (hamstring) and offensive lineman Will Richardson Jr. (knee) are listed as questionable.

–Field Level Media

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Browns’ Garrett complains about officiating after bad calls

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns defensive end Myles Garrett flagged NFL officials, saying he's tired of bad calls going against Cleveland.

Garrett spoke out on Friday and said he doesn't care if he gets fined by the league for his comments because "something needs to be said."

He was particularly upset about a

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns defensive end Myles Garrett flagged NFL officials, saying he’s tired of bad calls going against Cleveland.

Garrett spoke out on Friday and said he doesn’t care if he gets fined by the league for his comments because “something needs to be said.”

He was particularly upset about a non-call last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, whose left tackle Russell Okung clearly moved before the snap to block Garrett. The play was allowed to continue and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw a touchdown pass.

Garrett argued that not only should Okung have been penalized, but if he had continued rushing he may have sacked Rivers or forced a fumble.

Garrett also pointed to a fumble that was whistled dead on Oct. 30 at Oakland. The Browns stripped Raiders quarterback David Carr, recovered the ball and were running for a TD. But officials ruled Carr was in the grasp.

NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron later acknowledged the call was wrong.

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Jets’ secondary will be down a few key players vs. Vikings

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Marcus Maye are out for the team's game against the Minnesota Vikings with injuries, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson is doubtful to play.

The Jets will have to face a Vikings offense on Sunday that includes wide receiver Adam Thielen, who

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Marcus Maye are out for the team’s game against the Minnesota Vikings with injuries, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson is doubtful to play.

The Jets will have to face a Vikings offense on Sunday that includes wide receiver Adam Thielen, who leads the NFL in receptions and yards receiving.

Skrine has a concussion that has caused him to miss most of the last two games. Maye is dealing with a broken right thumb. Meanwhile, Johnson — the Jets’ top free-agent signing — will likely miss his third straight game with a quadriceps injury.

New York could also be short-handed at wide receiver, with Quincy Enunwa having been previously ruled out with a sprained ankle and Terrelle Pryor doubtful with a groin injury.

Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (foot) is doubtful, and running back Isaiah Crowell (foot) is questionable.

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Chargers duo Rivers, Gates back in London 10 years later

Ten years after their first trip to London, Los Angeles Chargers veterans Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are keen to see how much the British audience has learned about the American version of football.

Rivers and Gates took part in the second regular-season game played at Wembley back in 2008, when the NFL

Ten years after their first trip to London, Los Angeles Chargers veterans Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are keen to see how much the British audience has learned about the American version of football.

Rivers and Gates took part in the second regular-season game played at Wembley back in 2008, when the NFL was still a bit of a curiosity and large parts of the crowd didn’t quite understand the sport.

“I remember like if it was yesterday,” Gates said. “The ball would be punted in the air and the crowd would be making noise. We were like, ‘what are you making noise about?’ But it was just their way. They’re used to watching soccer, and the chants and things of that nature. It was foreign to us, just like we were foreign to them.

“And now I think over the years, they’ve learned to grasp a little bit more a better concept of the game of American football. Most people understand it now here.”

That was the goal behind the NFL’s decision to stage annual games in London — to grow the interest and understanding of the game overseas. When the Chargers (4-2) host the Tennessee Titans (3-3) at Wembley on Sunday, it will be the 23rd game played in London since 2007.

“I’m interested to see again the atmosphere in the stadium,” Rivers said. “Last week, I hear it was an unbelievable crowd for Oakland and Seattle. I remember there being a great crowd 10 years. I just remember so many different jerseys from so many different teams represented. The energy was in there. A long pass, or a ball getting kicked, all those things got the crowd going pretty good.”

The Chargers arrived in London on Friday morning after spending the week in Cleveland following a win over the Browns, a move aimed to shorten the trip and make it easier to adjust to the time difference.

It also helped the players bond while spending that time together, coach Anthony Lynn said.

“We did have a team-building activity and 100 percent participation. And I thought the guys liked it a lot,” Lynn said. “I left it up to my sports psychologists. The coaches get the hell out of the room and let the players talk and do their own thing. But everyone says it went really well.”

The shorter flight didn’t completely help Rivers stave off the jet lag.

“Today was one of those days where I don’t think anything could help. It got to the point where that third, fourth cup of coffee wasn’t working at all,” the quarterback said after finishing a training session in North London at 8 a.m. California time. “But it’s not bad. I think if we can push through and get to 8, 9 o’clock tonight, we should be OK.”

Running back Melvin Gordon was limited in the practice session, but Lynn said it was mainly a precaution after the long trip.

“He was just sore. Long plane ride. Probably didn’t drink enough water,” Lynn said. “We were being extra cautious with him.”

For those European fans who have really studied the game since the Chargers’ last visit, Rivers did have some disappointing news. The Alabama native won’t be wearing his famous bolo tie after the game, although he does plan on sporting his traditional cowboy boots.

“I did not bring the bolo tie. I’ve got the cowboy boots,” Rivers said. “I always make sure to have those with me on game day. The same boots I probably wore here in 2008, I’ve had them for that long. They’re almost like slippers now.”

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Manning stresses importance of financial literacy for kids

Eli Manning recognizes that the numbers in a playbook aren't the only important statistics.

Manning wants children, including his three daughters, to have a strong set of financial skills.

"I think it's so important for kids to understand what it means to save, to have a budget, to be smart about spending money,"

Eli Manning recognizes that the numbers in a playbook aren’t the only important statistics.

Manning wants children, including his three daughters, to have a strong set of financial skills.

“I think it’s so important for kids to understand what it means to save, to have a budget, to be smart about spending money,” the Giants’ 15th-year quarterback says. “I think the more you can introduce financial literacy to students at an early age, the more it’ll prevent them from making mistakes when they’re a young adult.”

Manning and Giants rookie Saquon Barkley spoke to more than 100 local high school students about the importance of managing their finances before facing off in a head-to-head competition playing the latest version of Financial Football, a free video game designed to educate users on smart money decisions. Financial Football was created in a partnership between the NFL and Visa. The game challenges players to answer multiple choice and true or false questions to advance down the field in order to score a touchdown.

With one in five teenagers in the United States lacking basic financial skills, Visa has teamed with 49 state governments and the District of Columbia to issue copies of the game to middle and high school students across the country.

The free video game is available through iOS and Android apps and financialfootball.com.

“It’s a fun interactive game for both adults and kids,” Manning says. “You get to play a game, but also answer questions and learn about your finances. It’s good for kids to start learning about the importance of financial literacy and to start saving their money.”

“Involving football for the kids is a way for them to learn more interactively. Some of it is asking questions they might not know the answer to, but it might trigger their curiosity. It starts a conversation and I think it will help them down the line.”

https://financialfootball.com/downloads

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BENGALS BOOK

No one knows more about the Cincinnati Bengals than Geoff Hobson, now in his 18th year at Bengals.com after covering the team for the Cincinnati newspapers.

Hobson’s incredibly detailed “This Day In Bengals History” is a terrific ride through 50 years of a franchise that has had highs — two Super Bowl appearances — and lows — a string of 14 seasons without making the playoffs, and no postseason wins since Jan. 6, 1991.

Stories about Cincinnati greats such as Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and team founder Paul Brown share space in the book with anecdotes about the lesser-known Bengals Solomon Wilcots and David Verser.

From New Year’s Day through New Year’s Eve, there’s plenty of good reading for every day on the calendar.

“Two things I rediscovered while putting together a daily log of the club,” Hobson says. “It’s amazing how 24/7 the NFL has become in the 21st century. Even as late as 30 years ago, it was virtually a six-month enterprise for everyone from coaches to media — except scouts.

“But even though it wasn’t 24/7, there was never a dearth of news. From the World League to the USFL to expansion to free agency to strikes, the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s give the new century a run for its money when it comes to headlines. Put a football down between coaches, players, fans, media, you’ll always make news no matter the decade.”

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COUNTRY FLAIR

Nashville is making it very clear just how much of a country flair Music City will be bringing to the 2019 NFL draft.

Even though no artists have been announced yet for free concerts in Nashville around the draft, country star Tim McGraw has been tapped for Nashville’s local organizing committee. Other celebrities include Eddie George, former Titans running back, and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

The committee is raising money to pay for free fan events during the draft scheduled for April 25-27. Nashville had free concerts by Alan Jackson before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final in June 2017 and Luke Bryan performed before Game 6 of that series. Nashville is planning concerts, autograph sessions and other events as part of a three-day festival around the draft.

The organizers already have raised $1.5 million of the $2 million expected to be needed. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk and the Nashville mayor are honorary co-chairs on the committee. Strunk thanked everyone who volunteered to work on the committee, and says she can’t wait for Nashville to be on the national stage for the draft.

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TOAST TO THE CHAMPS

Joe Wagner grew up watching and playing football. Now, he gets to bottle up his passion.

Literally.

The fifth-generation Napa Valley winemaker has created the second release of Jets Uncorked Championship Reserve, a limited-edition premium 2016 California Red that celebrates the 50th anniversary of New York’s Joe Namath-led 1968 team that upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in the Super Bowl.

The Jets collaborated with Wine by Design on the project, and fans can purchase the wine at retailers in New York and New Jersey, throughout MetLife Stadium, and online through the team’s website for $24.99.

“Bringing two of my passions — football and winemaking — together was a great opportunity,” said Wagner, owner and operator of Copper Cane Wines and Provisions. “Together with the team, we created an amazing red blend using some of my favorite vineyards from throughout the Napa and Sonoma appellations. We believe it’s the perfect way for a Jets fan to celebrate the past and look forward to a successful Jets future.”

The wine bottle’s label includes green and white stripes and a diagrammed X’s and O’s play — “19 Straight” — with which Matt Snell ran for the go-ahead touchdown for New York.

It’s the second time the Jets and Wine by Design have worked together, with the first coming in 2010 when Jets Uncorked Wine was released. Through a multiyear partnership, they plan to expand the wine lineup in the future.

https://www.newyorkjets.com/stadium/wine

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FIRED UP

Quarterbacks are the natural team leaders, but in the case of Kirk Cousins he’s only been with Minnesota for about seven months. Still, Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph nominated him before the game in Philadelphia on Oct. 7 to lead the breakdown prior to pregame warmups on the field , when Cousins delivered a message about finishing strong.

On the flight home, Joseph told him to be ready for a repeat. So before playing Arizona last Sunday, Cousins screamed at his teammates to encourage a similar effort and urge the defense to harass rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. The Vikings (3-2-1) won both of those games.

Though Cousins has said he considers himself reluctantly vocal in some of those situations, preferring to let his play do the talking, he’s had plenty of experience with pep talks.

“In college, we did it some, and then in the locker room as well,” Cousins said. “In high school, we did it a lot. It’s not foreign to me. I’ll put it that way.”

The Vikings have posted the clips on their website, thus making a story out of their quarterback’s recent rah-rah moments.

“He definitely has the fire. He has the passion. Sometimes guys have too much passion and their words get lost and they get jumbled over, but we know what they meant, and other times guys have the right words but not the right gusto,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “And he has a great balance of both.”

The message is easier to express when you’re third in the NFL in completion percentage and fifth in the league in passing yards.

“I loved it,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “At first, not knowing the guy, it kind of maybe comes off as fake or phony. But as you get to know him, that’s really who he is, an intense guy, a competitor, a guy who likes to go out and compete at a high level and compete well for his team, and the message that he shares hits home.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Teresa M. Walker, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Dave Campbell contributed.

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NFL giddy right now, must watch for storm clouds

NFL owners were almost giddy about the state of their game as they departed their fall meetings on Wednesday. So was Commissioner Roger Goodell.

That's easy to do when TV ratings are up, viewership across all digital media is strong, scoreboards are practically exploding with all the points being scored, and the number

NFL owners were almost giddy about the state of their game as they departed their fall meetings on Wednesday. So was Commissioner Roger Goodell.

That’s easy to do when TV ratings are up, viewership across all digital media is strong, scoreboards are practically exploding with all the points being scored, and the number of close games through six weeks has been eye-catching.

There’s also the prospect of attracting billionaires from other sports when NFL franchises hit the market now that a cross-ownership ban has been lifted. Going in the other direction, the football billionaires are free to purchase teams in baseball, hockey or basketball that are not located in their NFL areas.

“I will leave you with something that I have said to the owners many times,” Goodell said. “I don’t think there has been a better time to be an NFL fan. The quality of the games and the enjoyment that comes with that, I hear it from the fans all the time — that is No. 1 for them. No. 2 is the access to the games and the way that fans are able to engage with the NFL. There are more platforms and more opportunities to do that. The experience is better because of technology. All of that creates a much better opportunity for our fans to enjoy football and NFL football.

“From our standpoint, we look at this as a great moment for us: the tremendous growth and the tremendous popularity of our game.”

There are storm clouds ahead, though.

The unilateral policy the league put together in May barring players from demonstrating against social and racial injustice on the sideline during the national anthem remains in limbo.

The players’ union and its members fought back against the policy that would allow players to remain in the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but they could not kneel or sit by team benches during the anthem.

And while Goodell correctly cited the strong and widespread community involvement being done by the league and players, the protests haven’t gone away, nor should the players be penalized for expressing their concerns.

Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling during the anthem soon was embraced by many of his peers, hasn’t been with a team since 2016. That comes down to the individual teams, of course, and not the league itself, and it’s uncertain that Kaepernick would return to the field if given the opportunity.

But does anyone truly believe that opportunity might come?

There’s also been a fan and media maelstrom — with complaints by coaches and players, both publicly and privately — about the inconsistency of officiating. When a defensive player admits he let up on a hit to prevent getting a roughing-the-quarterback call, that’s a bad sign. Those defenders have little idea what is a foul anymore.

One week, lowering the helmet to initiate contact, by the offense or the defense, draws a flotilla of yellow flags. Another week, when “incidental contact” is added to the equation, the penalties decrease exponentially.

To its credit, the NFL is trying very hard with its rules to make the game safer. One mechanism for that is consistency with implementation of them.

Another way of keeping players healthier and safer would be by increasing the size of rosters on game day. The Colts went into a recent meeting with the Patriots minus five starters and lost a few more during the defeat.

It’s difficult enough trying to win in Foxborough with a full complement of players. With third-stringers on the field, well, give Indy credit for not getting entirely blown out.

The senseless requirement that seven of the 53 active players be declared inactive on game day can lead to more such inequities. If teams are paying 53 guys, let them all suit up.

Indeed, as we move forward, the union would be wise to seek expanded rosters, and not just for the added salaries. That would help make the game safer, in part because fewer banged-up guys would wind up on the field.

Also ahead, albeit not until 2021, is the expiration of the labor agreement. Already, both sides are building “war chests” for the likely lockout or players’ walkout. Neither the owners nor the players have displayed an inclination for at least preliminary peace talks, if you will.

Then again, why would they at this point, with so many indicators looking so positive?

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FANTASY PLAYS: Burning questions for Week 7 in football

A look at some key fantasy football questions going into Week 7:

WHICH SAINTS WR WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST BOOST IN PRODUCTION WITH TED GINN ON INJURED RERSERVE?

The Saints have been high on Tre'Quan Smith since the preseason. He had 16 receptions (three for 20 yards or more) this summer, and with

A look at some key fantasy football questions going into Week 7:

WHICH SAINTS WR WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST BOOST IN PRODUCTION WITH TED GINN ON INJURED RERSERVE?

The Saints have been high on Tre’Quan Smith since the preseason. He had 16 receptions (three for 20 yards or more) this summer, and with Ginn sidelined in Week 5 he caught three passes for 111 yards and added two TDs. His two scores went for 62 and 35 yards, showing he’s a big play receiver. Although he was second on the team in routes run, in Week 5 he only received three targets.

Cameron Meredith should play most of his snaps from the slot. He might receive more targets and catch more passes than Smith, but Smith has the bigger upside. Saints receivers have a tough matchup against a good Ravens defense this week, so don’t become alarmed if neither player puts up big numbers. Both receivers should see an uptick in production but Smith has better potential for the rest of the season.

WHICH UNDER-THE-RADAR WR HAS THE BEST CHANCE FOR A BIG GAME IN WEEK 7?

Bears WR Allen Robinson has been dealing with a groin injury this week. He may not play and if he does, he might be limited. Robinson’s injury could make Taylor Gabriel Chicago’s most targeted receiver this week. Gabriel hasn’t dropped a pass since Week 3 and has two straight games with 100 receiving yards or more. The Patriots defense has given up the third most TDs to wide receivers with nine this season. Gabriel leads Bears WRs with four targets within the 10-yard line, so should have a good opportunity to score a TD in Week7.

Jets WR Jermaine Kearse could be in line for another double-digit target week vs. the Vikings. With Quincy Enunwa out, Kearse should play a significant portion of his snaps from the slot, a weakness for the Vikings defense.

WHICH UNDER-THE-RADAR RB HAS THE BEST CHANCE FOR A BIG GAME THIS WEEK?

Peyton Barber may eventually lose his starting job to rookie RB Ronald Jones but it’s not likely to happen right now. Barber’s coming off his best performance of the season, having rushed the ball 13 times for 82 yards (that’s 6.31 yards per carry). He also added four receptions for 24 yards and a TD. He has the potential to build upon that with a choice matchup against the Browns. They’ve given up 4.67 yards per carry and the second-most rushing TDs to the position this season.

Kerryon Johnson could also have a larger role out of the Lions backfield this week if Theo Riddick is forced to miss time due to his knee injury. Johnson has averaged 5.98 yards per carry in his last four games and could be featured in the Lions passing game if Riddick is out.

WHICH UNDER-THE-RADAR TE COULD BREAK OUT?

Fantasy football players have been waiting a long time for Austin Hooper to emerge as a reliable fantasy TE. Well, it looks like it’s finally happening. Hooper has caught nine passes in each of the last two weeks and has over 70 receiving yards in each of the past two outings as well. With Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley battling injuries and questionable to play on Monday night, Hooper should see double-digit targets for a third straight game.

CAN YOU RECOMMEND A GOOD BUY LOW TARGET AMONG WRS?

Browns WR Jarvis Landry averaged just under seven catches per game through Week 3. He’s maintained an average of 11 targets per game, but since Week 3 his has just over four catches per game.

Now he gets a very favorable schedule over the next four weeks, facing the Buccaneers, Steelers, Chiefs and Falcons. All four of those teams are top 6 in most yards per game yielded to slot receivers. If you own Landry, use him with confidence starting this week. If you don’t, his two catch for 11-yard Week 6 performance might allow you to trade for him at a discount.

IF DALVIN COOK IS ACTIVE FOR WEEK 7 SHOULD HE BE IN STARTING LINEUPS?

Cook’s status (hamstring) needs to be closely monitored as game time approaches but even if he’s active, if you have an alternate option, you should use it. Leading up to Week 6, Cook’s practice status was as both a limited and full participant, he was also questionable, then likely to play and finally inactive. With the constant uncertainty surrounding his availability and the number of snaps he’ll play if active, try to minimize your risk and slip another RB into your lineup if possible.

IS IT TOO LATE TO TRY TO TRADE STEELERS RB JAMES CONNER?

No. It never hurts to put a player with Conner’s skill set on the trading block and allow offers to come your way. The potential impending arrival of Le’Veon Bell could drive down Conner’s fantasy trade appeal, but if and when Bell reports, he’s probably not going to be able to take on a full workload for a couple of weeks.

If Bell reports and is activated for Week 8 he’d probably suit up, but it might take until Week 10 before he can possibly work as a bell cow back again. It could even still be a time share. Don’t be too surprised if Conner retains a significant role in the Steelers offense.

Gauge his value if you have another feasible option at RB that you can slide into your weekly lineup. If you don’t, continue to use Conner until he’s no longer a surefire starter.

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For more Week 7 fantasy lineup tips and advice, visit RotoExperts: https://rotoexperts.com

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Report: Broncos RB Freeman sprained ankle

Report: Broncos RB Freeman sprained ankle

Rookie running back Royce Freeman sprained his ankle in the Denver Broncos' Thursday night rout of the Arizona Cardinals, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, who has started every game for the Broncos this season, left the 45-10 victory after carrying the ball 13

Report: Broncos RB Freeman sprained ankle

Rookie running back Royce Freeman sprained his ankle in the Denver Broncos’ Thursday night rout of the Arizona Cardinals, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Freeman, who has started every game for the Broncos this season, left the 45-10 victory after carrying the ball 13 times for 37 yards and a touchdown.

He could reportedly miss some time, but the Broncos don’t play again until Oct. 28 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

Freeman, 22, was drafted by the Broncos in the third round of the 2018 draft, 71st overall.

The rookie has rushed 71 times for 309 yards and four touchdowns through his first seven games.

In a 27-23 loss to the Chiefs in Week 4, Freeman had eight carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.

–Field Level Media

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Cardinals fire OC McCoy, promote Leftwich

Cardinals fire OC McCoy, promote Leftwich

The Arizona Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Friday morning and promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich to the play-caller position.

The move comes hours after a 45-10 loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday night, which dropped the Cardinals to 1-6 on the

Cardinals fire OC McCoy, promote Leftwich

The Arizona Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Friday morning and promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich to the play-caller position.

The move comes hours after a 45-10 loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday night, which dropped the Cardinals to 1-6 on the season.

The Cardinals are 31st in the league in scoring at 13.1 points per game this season. They were limited to 223 total yards against the Broncos and haven’t had more than 269 yards in a game this season.

Leftwich, a former first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, joined the Cardinals as an intern in 2016 under former coach Bruce Arians. He takes up the task of guiding rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and turning the offense around.

Rosen had a season-worst five turnovers on Thursday night. His 1.9 QBR on Thursday is the second-worst by any quarterback this season, surpassed only by Bills QB Nathan Peterman’s pitiful 1.1 rating in Week 1.

Leftwich spent nine years in the NFL as a quarterback after going from Marshall to the Jaguars in 2003.

In 60 career games (50 starts), Leftwich completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 10,532 yards with 58 touchdowns and 42 interceptions.

The Cardinals face the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday before their Week 9 bye. They beat the 49ers 28-18 on Oct. 7 for their only win of the season and first under new coach Steve Wilks.

“I would say all our jobs are in jeopardy, including mine, if we don’t win (Thursday),” Wilks said on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

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Giants WR Beckham vows to improve, but needs help

Giants WR Beckham vows to improve, but needs help

Odell Beckham Jr. is ready to do his part to get the New York Giants back on a winning path.

But the outspoken wide receiver also said he can't do it alone.

"I'm ready to talk about the

Giants WR Beckham vows to improve, but needs help

Odell Beckham Jr. is ready to do his part to get the New York Giants back on a winning path.

But the outspoken wide receiver also said he can’t do it alone.

“I’m ready to talk about the Atlanta Falcons. I think we’re 1-5,” Beckham said, “and we need to start winning games. “Everybody needs to do more. I need to play better. I can’t say that I’ve had my best games. I can’t say I’ve done enough. … We win games together, we lose games together.”

With the Giants at 1-5 entering “Monday Night Football” in Atlanta, Beckham put himself on the spot by flinging arrows at teammates and the offense in general in a wide-ranging ESPN interview last week. Beckham’s critique drew the ire of ownership, and John Mara said publicly he needs “less talk, more play” from the newly minted Beckham.

On Friday, Beckham said he has not yet talked to Mara and did not confirm he was fined by the team as ESPN reported this week.

Mara said Manning, 37, has become an easy target but said there is plenty of blame to go around. Beckham signed a six-year, $103 million contract before the start of the 2018 season. He said this week on Uninterrupted that he would not apologize for his critical comments.

Beckham, asked Friday about Manning turning this around after his sluggish start, didn’t offer blatant support.

“You gotta ask him,” Beckham said. “I tell him every time we get in the huddle, ‘Take me home, 10.’ Which to me carries weight because he’s been there. He knows how to win. He knows what he’s doing, he’s the most prepared of anybody I’ve ever seen. That’s exactly what I say, ‘Take me home.’

“We’ve got to start picking it up. We’ve got to. … We’ve just been beaten. Some games we’ve been out-executed. We just need to win.”

–Field Level Media

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Cardinals offensive coordinator gone after blowout loss

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have dismissed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy a day after the team was blown out at home by the Denver Broncos on national television.

The team said in a statement Friday quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich will take over the job for a club that is 1-6 and

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have dismissed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy a day after the team was blown out at home by the Denver Broncos on national television.

The team said in a statement Friday quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich will take over the job for a club that is 1-6 and has the worst record in the league.

Coach Steve Wilks is to discuss the move later in the day.

The Cardinals lost 45-10 on Thursday night, trailing 21-3 after one quarter and 35-3 at the half. Wilks called the effort “embarrassing.”

The Cardinals have lost their first four home games for the first time since 1979, nearly a decade before the franchise moved from St. Louis to the desert.

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Returning Woodyard, Titans’ D eager to face Chargers’ Gordon

LONDON (AP) — Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knows that the Los Angeles Chargers are going to get the ball in the hands of running back Melvin Gordon on as many plays as possible on Sunday.

That means it will be up to his unit to keep Gordon out of the end zone.

LONDON (AP) — Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knows that the Los Angeles Chargers are going to get the ball in the hands of running back Melvin Gordon on as many plays as possible on Sunday.

That means it will be up to his unit to keep Gordon out of the end zone.

“In the red zone, he’s one of their top targets, and we know what type of runner he is,” Woodyard said Friday. “He’s a guy that’s good on the edge and fine to beat you with his speed. Most importantly, (we need to) just understand the runs that he’s going to give us in different backfield sets.”

Gordon, the Chargers’ do-everything running back, enters the game at Wembley Stadium third in the league with 466 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and his nine total touchdowns rank second only to the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley.

And while the Titans (3-3) have allowed 14.5 points per game, the third-fewest in the league, they have also surrendered an average of 123.2 rushing yards, the sixth-most of any team.

“The biggest challenge is all 11 of us just getting to the ball, point of attack, wrap up and make sure we make the tackle,” defensive end DaQuan Jones said. “(If) we just swarm, do our job up front, we horde the point of attack, set the edge … we’ll be fine. We have to be consistent. We can’t do it a couple plays here, a couple plays there. It’s got to be all 60 minutes of the game.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers, in his 15th season, is off to one of the finest starts of his career, having thrown 15 touchdown passes and averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt for the Chargers (4-2) — marks that are both good for third in the league.

His success, though, has relied heavily upon Gordon, who is also the Chargers’ second-leading receiver with 30 catches for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

“Philip Rivers obviously is Philip Rivers,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s a top, elite quarterback in this league, but everything goes through Gordon. Whenever the receivers are not open, the checkdown to Gordon is always there and he’s always getting positive yards.

“The running game is wide open and guys want to rush the passer, (so) they do a lot of draw plays, things of that nature to get Gordon free. So we have to contain and stop Gordon and then we’ll worry about all the other (explosive) plays.”

Woodyard, who is expected to make his return on Sunday after missing two games with a shoulder injury, should help with that.

Hurt in the overtime victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 30, Woodyard had a career- and team-high 172 tackles last season and had played in every game since joining the team in 2014.

“It was really tough, especially seeing my guys not being able to get a victory,” said Woodyard, who was with the Denver Broncos in 2010 but was inactive for their game at Wembley. “I felt like that was my fault for not being able to get out there, but I’m excited to be back out there making calls and making plays.”

The Chargers, who rolled to a 38-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, remained in Ohio for practice before departing Thursday evening to cross the Atlantic.

Tennessee also arrived on Friday, and free safety Kevin Byard said he hopes players can acclimate to the time difference quickly in order to avoid the Titans’ third consecutive loss.

“That’s the most important thing,” Byard said. “Nobody wants to lose three straight games. We have to get back on track. Nobody’s panicking. Nobody’s living like the sky is falling or anything like that, but we have to play with more consistency.”

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Eagles fan hit with fame after hitting pole gets some glory

The moment in the spotlight isn't over yet for a Philadelphia Eagles fan who stumbled into fame as a viral video star after running into a subway pillar earlier this year.

Jigar Desai is now the subject of an NFL digital short feature, shot ahead of the Oct. 28 Eagles game against the

The moment in the spotlight isn’t over yet for a Philadelphia Eagles fan who stumbled into fame as a viral video star after running into a subway pillar earlier this year.

Jigar Desai is now the subject of an NFL digital short feature, shot ahead of the Oct. 28 Eagles game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

In the short, he’s surprised with tickets for him, his wife and two kids to attend the game in England.

Desai says the ticket giveaway was a total surprise.

In January, Desai was trying to rally subway passengers for the NFC Championship game. He was filmed running along the train, and then slamming into a pole.

He says the whole ordeal has “been a wild ride and a long 15 minutes” and he’s “enjoyed every minute of it.”

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Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: ‘I’m fine’

Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: 'I'm fine'

Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who injured a toe on his left foot late in Arizona's blowout loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, downplayed the ailment postgame.

"I'm fine," he said after the Cardinals' 45-10 defeat in Glendale, Ariz. Referring to

Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: ‘I’m fine’

Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who injured a toe on his left foot late in Arizona’s blowout loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, downplayed the ailment postgame.

“I’m fine,” he said after the Cardinals’ 45-10 defeat in Glendale, Ariz. Referring to leaving the game limping, he said, “I was just being soft.”

Arizona coach Steve Wilks added, “From early talking to him, he thinks he is fine, but I am not going to sit here and say that. That may be the case. We have to make sure we get the evaluation from the trainer.”

Rosen was injured while getting sacked on a fourth-and-16 with two minutes left and the Cardinals down by 35 points.

Wilks admitted his probably should have removed Rosen earlier, but the 21-year-old quarterback disagreed.

“Football is a violent sport,” Rosen said. “I’d definitely rather stay in there and see as many defenses as I possibly as I can as early in my career as I can. If (Wilks) tried to pull me out, we would have definitely had to have a conversation about that one.”

Injury aside, Rosen endured a tough night. He threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for first-quarter touchdowns, and he fumbled three times, with the Broncos recovering two of them.

Rosen, the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA, completed 21 of 39 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.

Regarding to the turnovers, Rosen said, “I think sometimes you just got to make the smart play and I can’t just toss it up there, or I even got lucky on some of the fumbles that weren’t fumbles and some that were. …

“I’ve got a lot to learn. More to learn than I would have wished for.”

–Field Level Media

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Lots of Broncos fans on hand to watch rout of Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There were a lot of orange-clad Denver fans in the stands in Arizona.

They must have loved watching the Broncos beat down the host Cardinals 45-10 Thursday night.

"That was unbelievable," Denver quarterback Case Keenum said afterward. "It felt like a home game there for a lot of it.

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There were a lot of orange-clad Denver fans in the stands in Arizona.

They must have loved watching the Broncos beat down the host Cardinals 45-10 Thursday night.

“That was unbelievable,” Denver quarterback Case Keenum said afterward. “It felt like a home game there for a lot of it. That was impressive. That was really cool.”

After four straight losses, the Broncos (3-4) took control early, returning two interceptions of Josh Rosen’s passes for first-quarter touchdowns. Denver led 21-3 after one quarter and 35-3 at the half, giving a rare breather of a win to embattled coach Vance Joseph.

“That’s more about our football team. I’m not concerned about me,” Joseph said. “It’s a good win for our football team. It has been a tough, tough two weeks. We had a tough loss on Sunday. We had a short week, so it’s really good for our team to win a game.”

The Cardinals (1-6) have lost their first four home games for the first time since 1979, nearly a decade before the franchise moved from St. Louis to the desert.

“Definitely an embarrassing effort tonight,” first-year coach Steve Wilks said. “Our fans deserve more than that. We have to perform better than that. Six sacks, three interceptions. It can go on and on. Unacceptable.”

Arizona offensive coordinator Mike McCoy had been considered on shaky ground but there’s no indication that any move is imminent.

“You guys are going to ask me about changes,” Wilks said. “That’s premature to talk about any changes right now. Everyone is going to be evaluated across the board.”

Here are some things to consider from the Broncos’ romp in the desert:

MILLER’S PROMISE

Denver’s Von Miller had promised the Broncos would kick the Cardinals’ backside and they certainly did.

Miller said he did it to boost the confidence of his teammates.

“And it worked,” he said.

Defensive end Zach Kerr agreed.

“It puts an extra fire in us,” he said. “You can feel it all week during the preparation. Everyone was zoned in, locked in. It’s a short week, but nobody complained. Nobody said anything, but we just went out there and worked.”

HARRIS’ FLIP

Emmanuel Sanders had a big night, throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass and catching a 64-yarder for a score.

On the TD catch, he did a front flip over the goal line. He had said he was going to quit with the flips, but couldn’t resist.

“That’s what it’s about, man, having fun and playing football,” Sanders said. “That’s how you win games. To catch that pass, I didn’t have to do anything but run straight. It was probably one of the easiest touchdown passes I’ve caught in terms of a deep ball.”

ROSEN’S NIGHT

Arizona rookie quarterback Josh Rosen had a tough night.

He threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. He also was sacked six times.

Rosen said he tried to force things and it backfired.

“This is kind of an old saying I got in college. ‘Don’t turn a car crash into a fatality,'” Rosen said. “So I think sometimes you just have to make the smart play. I can’t just kind of toss it up there. … I just have to take care of the ball. For the most part, I think that was the biggest lesson I can take from the game.”

FITZGERALD’S SCORE

It took seven games, but Larry Fitzgerald finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season.

The four-yard pass from Rosen in the third quarter was Arizona’s lone touchdown.

It was Fitzgerald’s 111th career touchdown catch, tying him with Tony Gonzalez for seventh on the all-time list.

BIG RETURNS

The Broncos had two big early interception returns.

On the second play of the game, Derek Wolfe deflected Rosen’s pass and Todd Davis gathered it in, returning it 20 yards for the score.

With two minutes left in the quarter, miscommunication between Rosen and receiver J.J. Nelson led to the ball being thrown right to Denver’s Chris Harris Jr., who took it 53 yards for a touchdown.

“Yeah, we’re having a good time out there,” Davis said. “When everything is clicking like that, it really becomes fun and you really enjoy the game of football.”

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Cardinals drop to 1-6 after mistakes in all phases

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A season already gone bad turned worse for the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, before a national television audience.

The Cardinals absorbed a 45-10 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to fall to 1-6, one of the worst home losses in franchise history. There were mistakes across the board on

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A season already gone bad turned worse for the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, before a national television audience.

The Cardinals absorbed a 45-10 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to fall to 1-6, one of the worst home losses in franchise history. There were mistakes across the board on offense, defense and special teams.

The offense entered last in the NFL in yards per game, and didn’t do much to help deflect further criticism. With offensive coordinator Mike McCoy under pressure amid rumors of his possible ousting, the Cardinals went 4 for 14 on third down and gained only 223 total yards.

Forced to play from well behind, they managed only 69 rushing yards against the league’s worst rushing defense.

“That’s premature to talk about any changes right now,” Cardinals first-year head coach Steve Wilks said. “Everybody’s going to be evaluated across the board. We’ve got to find ways to get this thing moving in the right direction.”

Wilks was pressed on McCoy’s status.

“I didn’t say Mike McCoy at all,” Wilks said. “I’m talking about changes that could personnel. It could be players. Whatever it may be. It could be scheme.”

Josh Rosen threw three interceptions — two returned for touchdowns in the first quarter — and lost two fumbles.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller had earlier in the week said boldly claimed that the Broncos would kick the Cardinals’ behind. The Broncos, 2-4 going in, helped their star linebacker back up his words.

Rosen, the 10th overall pick this year, was critical of himself. Miller stripped him of the ball twice and he was sacked six times.

“Obviously I didn’t play up to my standards or even close to it, but there’s another one next week,” Rosen said.

Things were already in such dire straits at halftime that Cardinals fans booed their team off the State Farm Stadium field going into the locker room, and even that was drowned out in part by the cheers from a large number of fans in Broncos orange.

Defensively, the Cardinals were caught off guard by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ trick-play touchdown pass to a wide open Courtland Sutton in the first quarter, and Sanders was so open on his 64-yard touchdown reception that he had time to execute a flip into the end zone.

“The one trick play in the first quarter, that was a little surprising,” linebacker Haason Reddick said. “No matter what the score is, whether we’re down 14, 15 or 60, you’ve’ve just got to continue to play and try to get back on top.”

Denver’s rush defense was strong; Arizona, the second-worst rush defense in the league behind the Broncos coming into Thursday, was gashed for a third-quarter 28-yard touchdown run by Phillip Lindsay with the Broncos already ahead 35-3.

On special teams, Brandon Williams leg-whipped Broncos return man DaeSean Hamilton after he called for a fair catch, and the Broncos got the ball at their own 21 instead of the 6, already ahead 28-3.

Rosen was replaced by backup Mike Glennon with 5:29 to play and, by that time it was a celebration for Broncos fans in the Cardinals’ stadium.

“Good question,” Wilks said when asked why Arizona’s offense continues to struggle. “Whether it’s not getting movement up front, whether it’s not protecting in the pass game, not being able to make the proper throws or make the proper catches, there’s a lot that goes around.”

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Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Le'Veon Bell likely has more than a few detractors in the Pittsburgh Steelers' front office.

However, in the locker room, and specifically when it comes to fellow running back James Conner, the sentiment is pro-Bell.

The veteran running back

Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Le’Veon Bell likely has more than a few detractors in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office.

However, in the locker room, and specifically when it comes to fellow running back James Conner, the sentiment is pro-Bell.

The veteran running back has not reported to the team this season as he seeks a more lucrative contract — a demand the Steelers have not yet been willing to meet.

Conner, the replacement starter, said Bell sends him supportive text messages during games and frequently reaches out to wish him well.

“Any time I do something good on the field, I always come back to the locker room to a text from him saying ‘good game’ or ‘nice move right there,'” Conner told the TV network FS1. “Me and Le’Veon are super cool. He’s a great person. With him holding out, people are going to call him selfish, but that’s not the case at all. This is business, and that’s my guy.”

Conner, 23, has rushed for 453 yards and seven touchdowns in six games (five starts). He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Bell, 26, has topped 1,000 yards three times in five seasons with Pittsburgh. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season as he compiled 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two scores in 2017.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

The visiting Denver Broncos returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter and coasted to a 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Emmanuel Sanders caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw

Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

The visiting Denver Broncos returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter and coasted to a 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Emmanuel Sanders caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw for another, as Denver (3-4) snapped a four-game losing streak. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum went 14 of 21 for 161 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Rookie Josh Rosen finished 21 of 39 for 194 yards, a touchdown and three picks as Arizona (1-5) failed on its first seven third-down conversion attempts after going 0-for-10 last week. He limped off in the final minutes after getting sacked for the sixth time.

Entering last in total offense and 31st in scoring, the Cardinals got off to a disastrous start. On the second play from scrimmage, Rosen’s pass was tipped by Derek Wolfe and intercepted by Todd Davis, who returned it 20 yards for a 7-0 lead.

After an Arizona three-and-out, the Broncos’ offense marched 77 yards in six plays on its first possession for a 14-0 lead. Sanders capped it with a 28-yard reverse pass to rookie wideout Courtland Sutton, who made a diving grab.

A 43-yard Phil Dawson field goal cut it to 14-3 before Denver’s defense scored again. Rosen threw a slant to J.J. Nelson, who stopped his route as Chris Harris Jr. intercepted it and returned it 53 yards for a 21-3 advantage with 2:13 left in the first.

Keenum opened the Broncos’ next possession with a 64-yard bomb to Sanders two plays into the second quarter, pushing the lead to 28-3.

Rookie back Royce Freeman’s 1-yard plunge 21 seconds before halftime made it 35-3. The Broncos outgained the Cardinals 237 to 82 before the break.

Rosen hit Larry Fitzgerald from 4 yards out midway through the third to cut into the lead.

Phillip Lindsay’s 28-yard scamper and Brandon McManus’ 41-yard field goal capped the scoring. Both were set up by strip-sacks from Von Miller, who added four QB hits.

–Field Level Media

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Flexed: NFL’s nice move had Bengals-Chiefs in prime time

It's been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.

No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is

It’s been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.

No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is most attractive for prime time. Back in 2016, there were three flexed games, including Week 17. Not counting that, the last flex was Bucs at Cowboys on Dec. 18, 2016.

So switching a pair of first-place teams made sense: Cincinnati (4-2) is at Kansas City (5-1).

Some of the juicy plot lines involve offense, hardly a surprise in this year of points, points and more points. Kansas City has the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Bengals rank 29th. Even worse, both are dealing with a slew of injuries on that side of the ball.

So Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt could fill the screen. So might Andy Dalton connecting with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.

“Any time you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best offenses in the league,” Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “And right now, they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ’em.”

There are some caveats to this matchup, however.

Although the Bengals have won four straight in the series dating to Oct. 14, 2007, they are 3-15 on Sunday nights, losing eight straight. The Chiefs are 7-3 in games on Sunday nights.

The weekend began with Denver’s 45-10 victory at Arizona on Thursday night

Emmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak.

Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead. Rosen threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly for him and never got better. The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.

Off this week are Seattle (3-3), Green Bay (3-2-1), Oakland (1-5) and Pittsburgh (3-2-1).

New England (4-2) at Chicago (3-2)

Seems like every week, the Patriots’ opponent is battered by injuries to key players. No one is more key in Chicago than edge rusher Khalil Mack, who is battling an ankle problem.

Just what Tom Brady needs against one of the five teams he’s never lost to. Brady is 4-0 against the Bears; the others are Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).

While the Bears should be able to move the ball on New England, they’ll likely need lots of points for a chance in this one.

New Orleans (4-1) at Baltimore (4-2)

Just like Patriots-Bears, this is one terrific offense against defense matchup. New Orleans ranks third in total offense and Baltimore is first on defense.

Led by Drew Brees, who set the yards passing career mark in a rout of the Redskins before their bye the Saints have won four in a row. Nobody is more balanced with the ball now that RB Mark Ingram is back from suspension to team with dynamic Alvin Kamara. Brees, who is 0-4 vs. the Ravens, this year has a 78 percent completion rate for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Ravens had 11 sacks last week against Tennessee and a league-most 26 overall. They are allowing an NFL-low 12.8 points per game and the fewest yards per game (270.8). Baltimore has four of the NFL’s past 14 shutouts since the start of the 2017 season.

Carolina (3-2) at Philadelphia (3-3)

An intriguing matchup of a solid running team in Carolina, led by Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, facing the second-stingiest rushing defense in a place where the Eagles are 17-4 under Doug Pederson.

As for the air game, which seemingly everyone needs to succeed these days, Carolina is far too inconsistent.

Meanwhile, Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD in his past 19 games played, the longest streak in franchise history and second-longest active streak behind Andrew Luck (28). Wentz has thrown 133 consecutive passes without a pick. His longest streak is 135 passes.

Tennessee (3-3) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) at London

The Titans were humiliated at home by Baltimore and should welcome the long trip overseas. Then again, they have lost 10 of the past 11 to the Chargers and bring a sputtering offense into Wembley.

Although Tennessee has a solid D, it faces an in-synch offense. The Chargers are 13-5 since starting last season 0-4 and QB Philip Rivers leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with a 115.1 passer rating. He has 13 TD passes and four interceptions in seven games vs. the Titans.

Houston (3-3) at Jacksonville (3-3)

The other AFC South leaders.

After beginning the season with three defeats, the Texans have turned it around, albeit all their wins have been tight affairs, two in overtime.

Defensive end J.J. Watt , perhaps the NFL’s best player when healthy, is back in form after missing most of the 2016 and ’17 seasons with injuries. Watt has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in the past four games.

The Jaguars have a solid defense, too, particularly against the pass, where they ranked first in yards surrendered. But Jacksonville was outscored 70-21 in consecutive road losses, forcing coach Doug Marrone to return to training camp practices this week to emphasize fundamental football.

Dallas (3-3) at Washington (3-2)

Among pro sports’ most intense rivalries, this will be a physical and possibly low-scoring affair given the strength of both defenses and imbalance of the offenses.

Dallas, winless on the road, will try to run with Ezekiel Elliott, second in rushing yards with 586 and third in yards from scrimmage with 752. Washington will counter with Adrian Peterson, who averaged 108.5 yards rushing in the past two home games.

Minnesota (3-2-1) at New York Jets (3-3)

The Vikings have never won at the Jets, going 0-5. To break that slump, the main weapon could be WR Adam Thielen. He had 11 catches for 123 yards last week, joining Houston’s Charley Hennigan (1961) as the only players in NFL history with 100 or more yards in each of his team’s first six games to begin a season. Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches, the most by a player in the first six games in league history, and 712 yards receiving.

Guess what: New York’s secondary is banged-up and porous.

The Jets are seeking their first three-game winning streak since Weeks 3-5 of 2017.

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco (1-5)

Keeping the NFL’s only perfect record shouldn’t be too challenging for LA, which has the most dangerous offense around. RB Todd Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards and two TDs last week. The Rams are averaging 32.7 points per game despite scoring TDs on only 56.7 percent of red-zone trips. Los Angeles also leads the NFL with 7.64 yards per play on first down.

San Francisco blew a game at Green Bay last week and Niners QB C.J. Beathard is tied for the NFL worst with seven turnovers in the past three weeks since Jimmy Garoppolo tore up his knee. The Niners have an NFL-worst minus-11 turnover margin.

New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta (2-4), Monday night

More injuries plagued the Falcons, who placed top running back Devonta Freeman on IR. No team has been more damaged by injuries in 2018, most of them coming on defense.

That means Atlanta needs shootouts to have a chance most weeks, and QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,432 yards passing and a 128.2 rating since Week 3. He is tied for first with 12 TD passes in that span.

New York’s D is vulnerable and the offense is enigmatic despite the presence of sensational rookie RB Saquon Barkley, and firebrand wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The O-line should be dubbed the “Awful-Line.”

Detroit (2-3) at Miami (4-2)

The Lions are feeling upbeat following a victory over Green Bay and a week off, but that special feeling could turn sour because of their special teams.

Lions coverage units rank last on punts and sixth worst on kickoffs. The Dolphins rank second in kickoff return average and third in punt return average.

Miami is no powerhouse, though. The Dolphins are tied for the AFC East lead even though they’ve been outgained by 398 yards.

Cleveland (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay (2-3)

The Dawg Pound was silenced in Cleveland when the Chargers pounded the Browns last week. Tampa will be hitting the airwaves, trying to find mismatches for WRs DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. It won’t hurt the Bucs that Browns Pro Bowl MLB Joe Schobert is out with a hamstring injury. This will be his first game missed — at any level — due to injury.

The Browns do lead the NFL with 16 takeaways, three more than all last season. Tampa has 11 giveaways.

Buffalo (2-4) at Indianapolis (1-5)

Remember Derek Anderson, most lately the backup to Newton in Carolina. He has surfaced as the new starter in Buffalo with rookie Josh Allen hurting and Nathan Peterman an interception machine.

On the positive side, the Bills’ defense is tied for the league lead with seven fumble recoveries.

The Colts will try for the fifth time to win game No. 300 since moving to Indy in 1984. And placekicker Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen’s scoring record (2,544 points).

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