Chiefs rally past Broncos, stay unbeaten

Chiefs rally past Broncos, stay unbeaten

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives Monday, passing for 304 yards as the Chiefs outlasted the host Denver Broncos 27-23.

With the Chiefs trailing 23-13, their flashy first-year starter sparked his first comeback as a pro. Kansas City went in front when running back Kareem Hunt crashed in for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:39 remaining.

Although he started slowly, Mahomes completed 28 of 45 passes while adding an 8-yard touchdown rush.

The victory was the sixth straight in the series for the Chiefs (4-0), who opened a two-game lead in the AFC West while posting their 18th win in their past 19 matchups against division rivals.

Before the game-winning, 60-yard drive, Mahomes completed 8 of 10 passes to drive the Chiefs 75 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce with 6:27 left. That march brought Kansas City within 23-20.

Kelce finished with 78 yards on seven catches. Hunt added 121 yards on 19 carries.

On the decisive drive, the Chiefs faced second-and-30, yet Mahomes responded with a 23-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson and a 35-yarder to Demetrius Harris to get the ball to the Denver 11.

Rookie running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman rushed for 69 and 67 yards, respectively, to ignite the upset bid for Denver (2-2).

Quarterback Case Keenum drove the Broncos to the Chiefs 28-yard line in the closing seconds, but an attempted catch-and-lateral on fourth down was ruled as an incomplete pass. Kansas City then took possession with 12 seconds remaining.

Keenum finished 21 of 33 for 245 yards with one interception.

After the Chiefs tied the score at 13 with a 21-yard field goal by Harrison Butker in the third quarter, they could not capitalize on an interception by Eric Murray, stalling on downs.

That gave the Broncos a lift as they marched 80 yards and made it 20-13 on a 1-yard plunge by Lindsay with 2:05 left in the third quarter.

Denver drove 60 yards in just more than two minutes for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus as time expired in the first half. The boot gave the Broncos a 13-10 halftime lead. Kansas City managed one first-half TD drive, going 89 yards, capped by Mahomes’ TD run.

A Freeman 14-yard run produced the game’s first touchdown, tying the score 10-10 in the middle of the second quarter.

–Field Level Media

Middling Minnesota: Vikings hit final stretch, not in stride

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Though one quarter of the regular season remains for the Minnesota Vikings to finish strong, none of their biggest tests have so far revealed a team playing like the championship contender it was built to be.

The Vikings still have a better-than-average chance of returning to the playoffs, but

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Though one quarter of the regular season remains for the Minnesota Vikings to finish strong, none of their biggest tests have so far revealed a team playing like the championship contender it was built to be.

The Vikings still have a better-than-average chance of returning to the playoffs, but for all the individual standouts on this roster there has not been enough collective evidence in 2018 that this is more than simply a better-than-average squad.

“Right now, we’re kind of an up-and-down-team a little bit,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “and that’s the thing that frustrates me the most. We need to develop more consistency.”

The latest illustration of this second-tier status came on Sunday afternoon at New England, where the Patriots maintained their December mastery under coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady with a 24-10 victory .

There’s no shame in losing on the road to the five-time champion Patriots, particularly when the score is tied at 10 in the final minute of the third quarter, but at some point to have legitimate Super Bowl hope a team has to beat a superior opponent in a challenging setting.

The Vikings (6-5-1) have lost to four of the eight current division leaders this year, teams with a combined 38-10 record. The cumulative standing of their opponents in games they’ve won is 21-49-1 entering Philadelphia’s game on Monday night. The Eagles are the only one with a shot at the postseason.

Up next is a trip to Seattle, where the Seahawks (7-5) have won three straight games to take control of the first wild-card spot in the NFC.

“It’s not over. We still have everything out there in front of us right now, but there definitely needs to be a sense of urgency on getting that done,” running back Latavius Murray said.

In five seasons under Zimmer, the Vikings are 2-9 on the road against teams that made the playoffs. Though the Eagles could add another win this year to the tally, Chicago and New England are likely to push that loss total to 11.

These Vikings are well past the point of a still-developing team trying to find its way and learn how to succeed under the bright lights, and there’s been no shortage of praise expressed by players about the chemistry in the locker room. Zimmer even said on Monday that he thought the practices last week were as sharp as ever.

So while some of the moves made or not made by general manager Rick Spielman during the offseason could be fairly criticized, at least pertaining to the offensive line and the special teams, several questions have been raised in recent weeks about the in-game strategic approach by the coaching staff.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has taken plenty of heat. Zimmer’s long-dominant defense has displayed some uncharacteristic breakdowns in crucial spots. The most scrutiny, though, has fallen on first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

The Vikings have been held to under 300 total yards in three of their past four games, and against a Patriots defense that has allowed 30-plus points four times this season they were frequently stymied again.

Balance has become a significant issue. The Vikings have the fourth-fewest rushing attempts and the third-most passing attempts in the NFL.

Specific game scenarios have dictated some of this discrepancy. Three holding calls, for example, against the Patriots produced these undesirable situations: second-and-17, first-and-18, second-and-20. Many times, the holes in the middle of the line simply have not been there.

Dalvin Cook, though, had a season-high 84 rushing yards at New England — on only nine carries. Zimmer has not been shy, either, about publicly expressing concern about the play calling.

“If I get five, I get 10, two, whatever, I’m just trying to make a play to help my team win,” Cook said. “I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened in the game. Coach Flip has been calling great calls all year.”

Zimmer said he felt the offense “might have panicked a little bit” after the Patriots took a 17-10 lead. On the first play, Kirk Cousins went deep for Aldrick Robinson, a throw that fell incomplete. After a 5-yard run by Murray, Cousins was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

Despite his recent airing of discontent, though, Zimmer offered at least a measured compliment for DeFilippo.

“I think he’s doing a good job,” Zimmer said. “We talk all the time. We talk about things, what I think are important, and I think he tries to do those.”

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Chargers have confidence going into final quarter of season

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — With their comeback win at Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Chargers have established themselves as a contender in the AFC going into the final quarter of the season.

The Chargers' 33-30 win over the Steelers put them firmly in control as they chase their first postseason berth since 2013.

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — With their comeback win at Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Chargers have established themselves as a contender in the AFC going into the final quarter of the season.

The Chargers’ 33-30 win over the Steelers put them firmly in control as they chase their first postseason berth since 2013. Los Angeles (9-3) has a two-game lead over Baltimore for the first wild-card spot and has a three-game cushion over the rest of the field.

Coach Anthony Lynn, though, wasn’t ready to say his team made a statement.

“I don’t know if you can say it was a statement win,” he said Monday. “It’s always exciting when you come back after a win, especially when you do it in that fashion.”

The Chargers ended the Steelers’ 175-game unbeaten streak with at least a 16-point lead at home and it was the largest blown lead at home in franchise history.

It also marked Los Angeles’ third win that went down to the last minute. They stopped Tennessee from making a two-point conversion in a 20-19 win in London on Oct. 21 and then needed a goal-line stand two weeks later in Seattle to earn a 25-17 victory.

“I think it is a big win for us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We haven’t had one like this on the road against this kind of opponent, then add the fact that it was come-from-behind. I think winning the game would’ve been a lot, but it really just gets us one more win.”

The rally was familiar territory for Rivers, who threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is his seventh comeback victory when trailing by 16 or more points, which ties him with Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.

The Chargers are 18-6 since losing their first four games last season. They host Cincinnati on Sunday before a key rematch four days later against Kansas City. Los Angeles trails the Chiefs by a game in the AFC West. The Chargers close the season with a Dec. 22 home game against Baltimore and at Denver on Dec. 30.

Lynn likes that he has a team with a lot of confidence when they need it at this time in the season. While most coaches would go apoplectic in the locker room down by 16 in a prime-time game, the second-year coach focused on adjustments.

“What I saw was a bunch of men who didn’t want to let the next man down in the locker room. That’s way more powerful than anything a coach can say,” Lynn said. “With this group you don’t have to throw tables and knock over water coolers and all that to get them going, they knew. I could see in their eyes they were ready to play.”

The Chargers still have some concerns this week. Running back Melvin Gordon could miss his second straight game due to an MCL sprain in his right knee. Rookie Justin Jackson had 63 yards and a touchdown during the second half and could split carries with Austin Ekeler.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is also expected to interview for Georgia Tech’s head coach opening this week. Lynn said there is a backup plan in place if Whisenhunt gets hired and doesn’t finish out the NFL season, but wouldn’t elaborate.

“We haven’t talked much about it. I know there is a lot of interest,” Lynn said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s his job to turn down. He’s a heck of a football coach, it’s his alma mater, there’s some loyalty there.”

The Chargers made a roster move Monday by releasing offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who had been with the team for four years and started 43 games. Barksdale started the opener against Kansas City before suffering a knee injury and missing the next five games. He then played in the next four but was declared out for the game at Pittsburgh for a non-injury-related reason.

To fill Barksdale’s spot on the roster, the Charges promoted wide receiver Dylan Cantrell from the practice squad. Cantrell was selected in the sixth round in last April’s draft.

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Lions back to losing ways in Matt Patricia’s first season

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — In firing him after the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions indicated the Jim Caldwell era was just not good enough.

But meaningless December football is back in Detroit again as first-year coach Matt Patricia's Lions will play out the string with four games with nothing at stake but

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — In firing him after the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions indicated the Jim Caldwell era was just not good enough.

But meaningless December football is back in Detroit again as first-year coach Matt Patricia’s Lions will play out the string with four games with nothing at stake but draft position remain.

The Lions are 4-8 and all but mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoff race. Road games at Arizona and Buffalo are next before Detroit finishes with divisional games at home against Minnesota and at Green Bay.

After Sunday’s 30-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit has to win out to finish better than Caldwell’s worst of four seasons as coach. After three winning seasons and two playoff berths under Caldwell, the Lions will be .500-or-below for the 13th time in the past 14 non-Caldwell coached seasons.

A lot of things have changed in Matthew Stafford’s 10 seasons with the Lions, but the franchise is back in the losing position he grew accustomed to in the first half of his career.

“I come to work every day, work my tail off, try to push our team to be as good as we can be,” Stafford said Sunday after his fumble on an Aaron Donald sack ended a chance for the Lions to take their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“There was some good in this game, there was some bad. We’ve got to fix the bad and keep doing a lot of the good. But I’m going to come to work ready to go.”

Public reflection is rare during an NFL season, especially under Patricia, who was groomed under Bill Belichick in New England.

“For me, it’s been pretty much the same from all the way through,” Patricia said Monday. “I don’t know what the team’s been previous, I don’t know what it’s been before I got here. I’m just trying to make sure we build from where we’re at.”

Injuries have decimated Stafford’s skill position options, as wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) is out for the season and running back Kerryon Johnson (knee) missed his second straight game Sunday. Wide receiver Golden Tate was leading the Lions in receptions for the fifth straight season when he was traded to Philadelphia on Oct. 30.

After watching film Monday, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, acquired Oct. 25 in a trade from the New York Giants, said he saw positives from Sunday’s defensive effort.

“There was a lot more good than bad, we actually played a pretty good game, the score wasn’t a great indication of how close that game was,” Harrison said after the Lions trailed 16-13 heading into the fourth quarter against a Super Bowl contender. “It was encouraging to see everybody take the technique and the coaching and bring it into Sunday.”

The Lions did have a win on Monday though.

Offensive lineman Taylor Decker scored his first touchdown of his football career on Sunday, faking a block but releasing into a wide-open space of the Rams’ defense for an 11-yard touchdown.

In his euphoria, Decker threw the ball into the stands. Later, on Twitter, Decker put out a plea to relieve the keepsake.

“To whoever caught/has the ball I threw into the stands,” his tweet Sunday night began, “I’ve played football since first grade, and that was my first ever touchdown. I’d love to have the ball, and would be more than happy to hook you up if you’d be willing. #defendtheden #bigmantouchdown”

The story had a happy ending, with Decker tweeting Monday morning that the case was solved.

Decker tweeted: “I HAVE FOUND HIM!!!!!!! AND HE IS BEING GREAT ABOUT IT #socialmediastrikesagain”

It’s the kind of karma that his team could use.

“We need to keep pushing that forward and we need to go out and play better and we need to go out and win,” Patricia said. “We want to put it together the best we can, go out there and go play a really good ballgame. That would probably be the best thing for us.”

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Gruden: Raiders gave Chiefs too many ‘mulligans’

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Coach Jon Gruden knows the Oakland Raiders aren't nearly good enough to overcome a litany of mistakes if they want to be able to beat one of the top teams in the league like the Kansas City Chiefs.

So when the running backs lose three fumbles, a key penalty

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Coach Jon Gruden knows the Oakland Raiders aren’t nearly good enough to overcome a litany of mistakes if they want to be able to beat one of the top teams in the league like the Kansas City Chiefs.

So when the running backs lose three fumbles, a key penalty wipes out a fourth-down conversion and a player jumps offside on a third-down stop that denied Oakland a chance to try to put together a game-winning drive, the Raiders ended up on the short end of a 40-33 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday.

The loss made the Raiders (2-10) the first team to be officially eliminated from the playoffs, although Gruden is not quite ready to turn his focus to the draft and the future.

“We don’t look ahead right now. We are looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers, that’s all we are doing,” Gruden said. “I’m really proud of our team. We fought back yesterday and made it 33-30 in the fourth quarter. We got them third-and-5, we get a stop and we jump offside. We gave Kansas City too many mulligans. We fumbled the ball to them three times. We had a fourth-and-1 called back, and we gave them first downs by jumping offside. We are not looking ahead to nothing except the Pittsburgh Steelers. I can assure you that, at least on our side of the building.”

Despite another loss that sent the Raiders to their 12th season of at least 10 losses in the past 16 years, Gruden was able to glean some positives, especially with the play from the offense.

Oakland ran for 171 yards for its biggest day on the ground since Week 2 in 2017. The Raiders averaged 6.1 yards per carry but were hurt by the fumbles from Doug Martin, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.

Quarterback Derek Carr had one of his best games yet, throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns, while extending his streak of games without an interception to seven in a row, tying Rich Gannon’s franchise record.

Carr even managed to stretch the field a bit, completing five passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, tied for his most in a single game in the past two seasons.

“I think the offensive line has gotten healthy. I think that helps,” Gruden said. “I think we’re healthier up front. Derek has played good football. I think that’s a great combination. When you’re healthy upfront and you’ve got some continuity with your linemen, you’re able to pass-protect and block better. It has an effect on every phase of your offense. Derek has been hot. He’s been playing well. He’s really picking up the system well. He made some great audibles yesterday. He made some great throws. I’m excited about that.”

But it wasn’t enough in part because of the fumbles, the holding penalty on center Rodney Hudson that wiped out a fourth-down conversion on the opening drive and the offside penalty against Fadol Brown that extended Kansas City’s game-sealing touchdown drive.

NOTES: Gruden explained why he used a challenge after Kansas City scored a TD late in the first half on a pass to Travis Kelce, even though coaches aren’t allowed to challenge scoring plays. “I knew exactly what I was doing, by the way. It wasn’t a very sensible thing to do but I wanted to challenge Al Riveron in New York City to look at it because I have people in the press box telling me that’s not a catch. Seeing plays overturned by somebody you can’t even see, I thought with three timeouts and seven seconds left I’d use one of my timeouts by giving Al a little extra time to look at that play. I knew exactly what I was doing.” … Gruden said he wasn’t sure if either OL Donald Penn (groin) or RB Marshawn Lynch (groin) will be able to return from IR and play down the stretch. … Oakland claimed OL Denzelle Good off waivers from Indianapolis and waived Ian Silberman.

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Eagles RB Sproles makes return from hamstring injury

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles is active and set to play against Washington for the first time since he suffered a hamstring injury in the first game of the season.

Sproles was active Monday night in a must-win game for the Super Bowl champions. Sproles said last week that

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles is active and set to play against Washington for the first time since he suffered a hamstring injury in the first game of the season.

Sproles was active Monday night in a must-win game for the Super Bowl champions. Sproles said last week that “more than a simple hamstring injury” has kept him sidelined for almost the entire season. The 35-year-old Sproles has played in only four games since the start of the 2017 season and missed most of the championship run with a torn ACL.

Undrafted rookie Josh Adams has emerged as Philadelphia’s lead running back.

Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Avonte Maddox, tackle Jordan Mailata, cornerback Jalen Mills, guard Matt Pryor, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and guard Chance Warmack are inactive.

Washington Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster remains on the commissioner’s exempt list. Last month, the Redskins claimed Foster off waivers after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers following a domestic violence arrest in Tampa, Florida, and he is facing league suspension.

Wide receiver Trey Quinn, cornerback Quinton Dunbar, running back Samaje Perine, running back Byron Marshall, tackle Austin Howard and lineman Matt Ioannidis are inactive for the Redskins.

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Jaguars’ Fournette returns after another extended rest

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Leonard Fournette's one-game suspension might turn out to be beneficial for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The second-year running back returned to the facility Monday after a week away. The Jaguars (4-8) ended a seven-game losing streak against Indianapolis without him — thanks to the team's best defensive performance of the

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Leonard Fournette’s one-game suspension might turn out to be beneficial for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The second-year running back returned to the facility Monday after a week away. The Jaguars (4-8) ended a seven-game losing streak against Indianapolis without him — thanks to the team’s best defensive performance of the season — and now have a rejuvenated Fournette back for a quick turnaround at AFC South rival Tennessee on Thursday night.

“He’s definitely had himself a nice, long break throughout the season, so I don’t mind if they give him 45 carries,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “He needs them.”

Fournette, the centerpiece of Jacksonville’s run-first offense, was suspended one week without pay for leaving the sideline, running across the field and instigating a fight at Buffalo on Nov. 25. He wasn’t allowed to practice or be at the facility.

Carlos Hyde carried 13 times for 36 yards in Fournette’s place. T.J. Yeldon added 16 yards on eight attempts.

The Jaguars finished with a season-low 211 yards against the Colts. It was the first game for new quarterback Cody Kessler and new play caller Scott Milanovich.

Kessler and the offense did just enough to manage two field goals, which was all Jacksonville needed because the defensive effort was among the best in franchise history.

Fournette’s return should be a boost against the Titans (6-6). He rejoined teammates Monday, but refused to speak with reporters despite meandering around the locker room for 30 minutes.

Coach Doug Marrone said he didn’t have a chance to chat with Fournette on Monday.

“I’ve been in meetings all day,” Marrone said. “I just went and checked, though. He’s back. I haven’t had a chance. I apologize for that.”

Fournette missed six games earlier this season because of a strained right hamstring. He played in three straight before the suspension, carrying a combined 70 times for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

He managed a season-high 95 yards in each of his last two games despite playing behind a makeshift offensive line, which is now without three starters.

“Any time you get a guy a like him in this offense, the two games back he’s been, three games since his injury, man, the spark that he’s provided with the offense,” Gipson said. “You can’t replace a guy like that, that type of production, and the respect that he demands himself as a football player definitely goes unnoticed, and I think that you see it with and without him in the lineup.

“Getting him back is going to be a huge boost, especially for our team. We’re a physical team and we want to run the ball, get your playmakers the ball, and obviously he’s the best player we have on the offensive side of the ball.”

Fournette has 90 carries for 314 yards and four touchdowns this season. He also has 14 receptions for 134 yards and a score.

Marrone said Fournette remains a captain despite hurting the team with his actions against the Bills.

“It’s not something I can take away because it was voted by the team,” Marrone said. “The team would have to take it away.”

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Penalties, errors spoil Allen’s big day for Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Allen had another breakout performance for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. It wasn't enough to overcome a lack of discipline and self-inflicted miscues in a 21-17 defeat.

Sloppiness and mistakes spoiled a fine performance by the rookie quarterback, who took another step forward

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Allen had another breakout performance for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. It wasn’t enough to overcome a lack of discipline and self-inflicted miscues in a 21-17 defeat.

Sloppiness and mistakes spoiled a fine performance by the rookie quarterback, who took another step forward against Miami. Allen threw for 231 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while adding a franchise-record for a quarterback of 135 yards on the ground, topping the mark he established one week earlier against Jacksonville.

Penalties proved to be especially costly. The Bills had 13 for 130 yards compared to Miami’s eight penalties for 89 yards. It continued a disturbing trend for Buffalo, which has the second-highest penalty total in the NFL behind only Kansas City.

One week earlier, the Bills had 13 penalties for 80 yards in a game that saw defensive end Shaq Lawson and Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette ejected for their roles in a brawl. In Week 10 against Chicago, the Bills set a franchise record for penalty yards with 163.

Two flags in particular were pivotal against Miami. On the Dolphins’ winning drive, linebacker Matt Milano was called for a 25-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, the Bills stuffed running back Kenyan Drake for a 4-yard loss but were penalized 15 yards after defensive tackle Jordan Phillips received a taunting penalty.

Two plays later, Ryan Tannehill connected with Kenny Stills on the winning touchdown pass.

“We always take ownership of all of it,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “That’s where we start. And you try and peel back the layers and say, OK, if it’s pre-snap or post-whistle, those are the ones you’ve heard me talk about before — they’re non-negotiable. Those are the ones that hurt. The ones that happen during the course of the play, which ones were aggressive penalties, which ones were technique-based … certainly that’s an area we must improve moving forward.”

Penalties on the offensive line have been an issue all season for a revamped unit missing three key starters from a year ago: Eric Wood, Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn. The line had six penalties against Miami, with two fouls declined. Rookie guard Wyatt Teller had three of those penalties (two holding calls, one false start).

“You look at false starts and holding, up front our offensive line, it’s gone way past the point of where we need to have it to win games,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to get that corrected.”

Things won’t get any easier up front with starting center Russell Bodine out for the remainder of the season. Bodine broke his leg against Miami and underwent surgery on Monday, McDermott said.

It wasn’t all bad for the Bills.

Buffalo’s 415 yards of offense were the most with Allen at QB and the most in a Bills loss since a 425-yard performance in a 31-25 defeat at Seattle on Nov. 7, 2016. Twenty-four first downs against Miami were a season-best and the most in regulation since Buffalo had 29 first downs in a 33-13 win over Cleveland on Dec. 18, 2016. And with 391 yards passing and 234 yards rushing, Allen has accounted for 625 of Buffalo’s 742 yards of offense over the past two games — showing he very well could be the team’s long-term answer at quarterback.

“I thought he grew for sure,” McDermott said. “It looked like as the game went on he got more and more comfortable. … It was nice to see him settle in.”

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Texans defense looks to improve after 9th straight win

HOUSTON (AP) — With the defense forcing a season-high four turnovers, the Houston Texans extended their winning streak to nine games with a win over the Browns.

But as good as the unit has been, the Texans believe they can get much better down the stretch with the first test coming on Sunday

HOUSTON (AP) — With the defense forcing a season-high four turnovers, the Houston Texans extended their winning streak to nine games with a win over the Browns.

But as good as the unit has been, the Texans believe they can get much better down the stretch with the first test coming on Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

“We can tackle better,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think we can communicate better. I think there’s a lot of things that we can improve on in all three phases, but I think they’re playing hard. They’re playing with really good effort.”

That effort was highlighted on Sunday when rookie safety Justin Reid chased down Antonio Callaway after a long catch and forced a fumble just before he crossed the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

It was just the latest big play for the third-round pick, who helped Houston to a 23-21 victory over Washington on Nov. 18 by returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown.

“He’s really improved every week,” O’Brien said. “He really works hard to improve. He’s a very smart guy, works very hard in practice, instinctive player, good speed, good size. He’s come a long way. He really understands the importance of practice and he tries to get better every day.”

Reid’s emergence illustrates the fact that Houston’s defense has succeeded this year because it has received important contributions from several players. While the return of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and the solid play of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has led the unit, the Texans have also seen plenty of other players step up to make big plays as they’ve piled up win after win.

On Sunday, Andre Hal had one of three interceptions of Baker Mayfield. It was the first interception of the year for Hal, who missed the first six games of the season recovering from cancer after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in May.

Zach Cunningham made another big play for the defense when the second-year player grabbed his first career interception and returned it for a touchdown against the Browns.

“You’re always looking to try to figure out, as you get ready for the next team, what does this individual player need to improve on,” O’Brien said. “What does this unit need to improve on? What does the team need to improve on? What do I need to improve on? I think that’s been a big theme for us and our players are doing a good job of taking that to heart.”

The Texans are also careful not to get too caught up in the streak. They know that if they don’t focus on their next opponent that things could go wrong quickly.

“I don’t even think about it anymore,” 13-year veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of the winning streak. “It’s almost boring to talk about because … it doesn’t really mean anything. We have to go out and play the next game whether we’re on a win streak or we lost the week before. So, it’s all good for everything other than the people in this locker room because if we buy into it too much that’s when we get smacked in the face.”

Houston is allowing the third-fewest points in the NFL (19.6), ranks 10th in yards allowed (341.5) and its rush defense ranks fifth by allowing just 91.3 yards rushing a game.

This week the group will face a team that is averaging more than 27 points and 377 yards a game. Indianapolis scored 34 points in an overtime loss to Houston in Week 4 where Luck threw for a season-high 464 yards with four touchdowns.

“He can make every throw,” defensive back Kareem Jackson said. “He can definitely buy time for guys to get open so … with him you know a play is never over. So we’ve definitely got to be (solid) in coverage and play to the whistle.”

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McCarthy’s connections to Browns could lead to Cleveland job

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy's connections with the Browns could land him his next job.

Dumped by Green Bay on Sunday after 13 seasons, a Super Bowl win and amid a seemingly growing rift with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy's candidacy to become Cleveland's next coach has gotten more legitimate.

The 55-year-old McCarthy

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy’s connections with the Browns could land him his next job.

Dumped by Green Bay on Sunday after 13 seasons, a Super Bowl win and amid a seemingly growing rift with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy’s candidacy to become Cleveland’s next coach has gotten more legitimate.

The 55-year-old McCarthy was already being mentioned as a possibility for the Browns, who dismissed Hue Jackson last month and will wait until after the season before hiring his full-time replacement.

As far as center JC Tretter is concerned, the Browns couldn’t go wrong with McCarthy.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with Mike McCarthy,” said Tretter, who played four seasons under McCarthy before signing as a free agent with Cleveland in 2017. “I think what he has done in his career in Green Bay has been extraordinary. I think he’s a great man, too. I don’t have a bad thing to say about Mike McCarthy. He was really an awesome leader and an awesome coach.”

McCarthy is no stranger to the Browns.

General manager John Dorsey, who has revamped Cleveland’s roster and is leading the team’s coaching search, spent 21 years as an executive in Green Bay and helped hire McCarthy. Browns assistant GM Eliot Wolf, son of former Packers GM Ron Wolf, worked in Green Bay’s scouting department for 14 years, and vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith was with the Packers for 19 years before he was hired by Dorsey.

Tretter said he can’t provide any more information to Cleveland’s executives about McCarthy than they have already.

“They know enough upstairs,” Tretter said. “They got Eliot and Alonzo and they’ve got other guys from the Green Bay organization. I don’t think I can bring anything more to the table than they already know. They were with him longer than I was and they were upstairs with him more than I was downstairs with him, so I think they know everything they need to know. I’m just looking forward to seeing the direction we go with this team.”

Dorsey hasn’t revealed much about his plans to hire Cleveland’s 17th full-time coach — and sixth in the past 10 years.

Interim coach Gregg Williams, who took over for Jackson, will be interviewed; Dorsey has not disclosed who else is on his list. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has been mentioned as a possible candidate along with Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels among the most prominent names being mentioned.

It will be tough for any candidate to have a resume as impressive as McCarthy’s.

He went 125-77-2 in 13 seasons with the Packers, leading them to a Super Bowl title in 2010. However, Green Bay has struggled the past two seasons, missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008.

The Packers are 4-7-1 this season, with McCarthy’s relationship with Rodgers becoming a weekly drama around the team.

Tretter knows both men well, and said any of differences have been exaggerated.

“That whole story line gets a little overblown,” Tretter said. “They are just two competitive people and I think they are both competitive in the same direction in that they both want the team to win. They just are very confident in what they think is best for the team to win, so I never really interpreted it as a bad thing.”

Cleveland’s coaching gig has never looked so attractive.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has shown signs of being the franchise QB the Browns have coveted for years, and any coach who comes to Cleveland will be required to further develop him.

Tretter feels McCarthy would be ideal for Mayfield.

“They would do great, he said. “He started working with Aaron when Aaron was a rookie, too, and Aaron’s developed into a hell of a player, so I think that relationship would be fine. I see a lot of similarities between Aaron and Baker personality-wise, competitiveness, and that’s all the things that Aaron came in with, too, when he was a young player, so I think they’d work well together.”

NOTES: S Denzel Ward remains in concussion protocol after getting hurt in Sunday’s loss to Houston. … DL Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) said he doesn’t think his injury is serious. Williams said Ogunjobi was still undergoing tests. … The Browns did not put a claim on former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, waived Saturday after a video showed him shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel. Dorsey drafted Hunt in the third round in 2017.

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Kareem Hunt unclaimed on NFL waivers on Monday

NEW YORK (AP) — Kareem Hunt went unclaimed on NFL waivers Monday, three days after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The star running back was cut Friday after TMZ released a video showing him pushing and kicking a woman during a February incident at a Cleveland hotel.

Police did not

NEW YORK (AP) — Kareem Hunt went unclaimed on NFL waivers Monday, three days after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The star running back was cut Friday after TMZ released a video showing him pushing and kicking a woman during a February incident at a Cleveland hotel.

Police did not charge Hunt with a crime, but the Chiefs released him for being untruthful with them about what happened.

Hunt currently is on the commissioner’s exempt list and cannot play even if another team signs him. The NFL says it is continuing its investigation.

Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher as a rookie in 2017, almost certainly would be fined and suspended by the NFL under its personal conduct policy should he find another team.

Last month, the Redskins claimed linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers following a domestic violence arrest in Tampa, Florida. He also went on the exempt list and is facing league suspension. Washington drew criticism for the signing, and coach Jay Gruden admitted Foster might never play for the Redskins.

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Versatile James Develin gets bigger role with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — James Develin has spent most of his seven seasons with the Patriots doing the kind of dirty work that rarely gets noticed on the field.

A special teams player and fullback used mostly as a blocker, he entered 2018 having not registered a carry in either of his previous

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — James Develin has spent most of his seven seasons with the Patriots doing the kind of dirty work that rarely gets noticed on the field.

A special teams player and fullback used mostly as a blocker, he entered 2018 having not registered a carry in either of his previous two seasons.

Now, it seems as if nearly every time Develin touches the ball, it leads to points.

Each of his first three rushes this season produced touchdowns. He had a 1-yard TD run at Tennessee on Nov. 11. He added bookend touchdown runs against Minnesota on Sunday, scoring the Patriots’ first touchdown of the game from 1 yard in the first quarter and their final one in the fourth from 2 yards to help secure the 24-10 victory .

His two TD runs against the Vikings set a career high. And it’s fortunate timing for a Patriots offense that has had trouble at times this season getting the ball into the end zone on the ground.

It’s also helping position Develin as New England’s X-factor with the playoffs approaching.

“Honestly, I’ve never dreamt about a game like this,” Develin said. “This is the first time I’ve ever thought about it. I know my role, and that is to get these other guys in the end zone, but it’s a really cool experience to get in myself.”

Develin in many ways is a posterchild for the long list of undrafted players that have become integral contributors for the Patriots under coach Bill Belichick.

A defensive lineman in college, he played in just one game after he was initially signed by New England in 2012. But he has appeared in all 16 games in every season since, the lone exception being 2015 when he spent the entire season on injured reserve with a broken leg.

Develin’s efforts were rewarded with his first Pro Bowl selection last season as a fullback-tight end hybrid.

Belichick said recently that Develin is one of his most versatile players.

“Pretty much whatever we ask him to do, he does a good job of, whether it’s blocking, playing in the kicking game, catching the ball, fighting for extra yards in tough, short-yardage situations, whether that’s after a throw or a catch,” Belichick said. “That’s really important to have a lot of players on your team that do that, and he’s as solid and dependable in his role as probably anyone we have in a situation like that, a role like that.”

Tom Brady throws to him occasionally as a safety option. This season it’s been more frequent, with Develin already posting a career-high nine receptions to go along with his recent production in the run game.

His increased role hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

Each time Develin has gotten the ball across the goal line this season, it has set off some of the most exuberant celebrations by members of the offense.

Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said it comes from the respect they have for him.

“He stepped up big. He’s always blocking, lead blocking, third down, first down, whatever,” Patterson said. “His name was called and … he got the opportunity to carry the ball a lot, and he did a hell of a job.”

The Patriots entered the Vikings game with only five rushing touchdowns on the season and before Sunday had only twice produced multiple rushing TDs in a game in 2018.

Sunday saw the return of last season’s short-yardage specialist Rex Burkhead, but he is coming off a neck injury that caused him to spend time on injured reserve.

The continued production of rookie Sony Michel and Develin’s emergence will likely mean Burkhead’s opportunities could come more in the passing game.

But even if Develin’s primary function in the game plan reverts to a blocking capacity, he said it’s a role he embraces. It already has earned him the tag of “honorary lineman” by members of the offensive line.

“Whenever my number’s called, I’ve just gotta go out there and get whatever we need done,” he said. “Whether it’s on the goal line and trying to get into the end zone or if it’s short yardage and trying to get a first down, I mean that’s the goal on every play.”

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Chargers waive OT Barksdale, promote Cantrell

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have released offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who started 43 games for the team over the past four seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive lineman started the opener against Kansas City before suffering a knee injury and missing the next five games. He then played in

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have released offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who started 43 games for the team over the past four seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive lineman started the opener against Kansas City before suffering a knee injury and missing the next five games. He then played in the next four but was declared out for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh for a non-injury-related reason.

Barksdale has been in the league eight seasons. He was drafted in the third round by Oakland in 2011 before being waived and claimed by the Rams, where he played for three seasons.

To fill Barksdale’s spot on the roster, the Charges promoted wide receiver Dylan Cantrell from the practice squad. Cantrell was selected in the sixth round in last April’s draft.

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Titans’ Mike Vrabel going with hot hand on offensive line

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans coach Mike Vrabel may go with who has the hot-hand when it comes to Tennessee's offensive line — whoever that might be.

Who plays is not etched in stone.

So even though changes in the offensive line may have jump-started a comeback victory against the New York Jets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans coach Mike Vrabel may go with who has the hot-hand when it comes to Tennessee’s offensive line — whoever that might be.

Who plays is not etched in stone.

So even though changes in the offensive line may have jump-started a comeback victory against the New York Jets that kept the Titans’ playoff hopes alive for another week, there may be more tweaks on the horizon.

“Just kind of something that I felt like needed to be done at that time,” Vrabel said Monday. “Again, that may change each week. But, at that point in time, I wanted to try to get Corey (Levin) in there at center and see if Ben (Jones) looked like a left guard.”

Trailing 16-6 at halftime, the Titans benched left guard Quinton Spain, a lineman with 44 career starts as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia, after a mere 126 yards of total offense against the Jets. They slid Jones from center to left guard and put Levin, a sixth-round draft pick in 2017 out of Chattanooga, at center.

The combination seemed to work.

The Titans (6-6) rallied and beat the Jets 26-22 on Sunday while piling up 277 yards and 20 points in the second half.

Vrabel fielded plenty of questions about the offensive line going into this game. The Titans had allowed the most sacks in the NFL (39) with the offense anemic. Even after a season-high 403 yards total offense against the Jets, the Titans still rank only 28th in the NFL for both total yards and points per game.

Levin started at left guard Oct. 21 in a loss to the Chargers with Spain out with an injury. Jones has started every game at center since signing with the Titans in March 2016, but he started 16 games at left guard for Houston in 2014. Vrabel said both did OK in the new spots.

“Keeping the quarterback clean and giving us a chance to throw certainly was big in being able to come back,” Vrabel said. “So again, we all have to play better and coach better than what we did at times in that game. That’s my challenge.”

After the tweaks to the middle of the line, the Titans turned in their biggest comeback since their playoff victory in Kansas City last January with Mariota posting his third game-winning drive this season.

The Titans have plenty of issues to fix. They failed to convert their first 10 third downs with the lone conversion coming on the game-winning touchdown pass from Mariota to Davis. They also continue to struggle with penalties, racking up eight for 75 yards.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan was so unhappy with referee Jerome Boger’s crew that he yelled at officials after the game . Lewan said in the locker room that the Titans are really good at beating themselves right now and the officials didn’t help with calls the tackle described with an expletive.

“It’s frustrating, man it’s frustrating with some of those calls, like the one with Jack where he’s just finishing on the play and the guy actually hits him,” Lewan said of Conklin being flagged for a late hit. “Calling me for holding after the ball is out, there were just some absolutely ridiculous calls. That being said, we shot ourselves in the foot so many times even without their help.”

The Titans have little time to clean up their mistakes; they host the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) Thursday night.

Now only four teams stand between themselves and the final AFC playoff berth with four games to play. Tennessee loses the head-to-head tiebreaker to Baltimore, Miami and Indianapolis and even the Broncos are ahead of the Titans.

“We play in four days,” Lewan said. “So we’ve got to get going and finish strong.”

Notes: The Titans signed RB Jeremy McNichols off the Denver practice squad and waived RB Dalyn Dawkins. They signed CB Kenneth Durden to the practice squad to replace OL Jordan Morgan.

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Bengals keep getting shredded as season slips away

CINCINNATI (AP) — The desperation was evident when coach Marvin Lewis fired his defensive coordinator and installed himself in the role the rest of the way.

Another season was slipping away. There was no more time to lose.

"Game day will be different for me," Lewis said three weeks ago. "It will be

CINCINNATI (AP) — The desperation was evident when coach Marvin Lewis fired his defensive coordinator and installed himself in the role the rest of the way.

Another season was slipping away. There was no more time to lose.

“Game day will be different for me,” Lewis said three weeks ago. “It will be a different approach, and it’ll be fun.”

No fun. No victories. And now, virtually no hope.

The Bengals (5-7) have unraveled the past three games, allowing more than 200 yards rushing twice while dropping all three and falling out of contention. A season that started with raised hopes at 4-1 has crashed with six losses in the past seven games. It’s their worst stretch of losing since they dropped 10 straight in 2010.

And there’s no reason to think it’ll get much better in the final four games.

The Bengals lost quarterback Andy Dalton to a torn ligament in his passing thumb a week ago. Receiver A.J. Green returned from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games, but aggravated it in the second quarter of a 24-10 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, likely ending his season.

The offense is missing its best players and the defense is still getting flattened with Lewis and special assistant Hue Jackson calling the shots in place of fired coordinator Teryl Austin.

The Broncos ran for 218 yards , the fourth time this season that Cincinnati has given up at least 200 yards rushing — a shocking statistic. The Bengals also gave up 198 yards rushing by Kansas City.

It’s only the fourth time in franchise history that they’ve allowed four 200-yard games in the regular season. The club record is six allowed in 1969, their second season as an expansion team.

Next up is a game on the West Coast against the Chargers (9-3), who rallied for a 33-30 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Bengals then host the Raiders (2-10). The finish with road games at Cleveland (4-7-1), which got four TD passes from Baker Mayfield in a 35-20 victory on Nov. 25 , and at Pittsburgh, which won 28-21 at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 14.

The only intrigue left is how owner Mike Brown reacts to the latest debacle.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.

Lewis has gotten the Bengals into the playoffs seven times during his 16 seasons, and has lost in the first round every time for the worst postseason coaching mark in league history.

There were indications that Lewis’ stay in Cincinnati was ending last season when the Bengals got drubbed by the Bears and Vikings in successive weeks, dropping them to 5-9.

Even Lewis was noncommittal at that point about whether he’d be back. The Bengals won their final two games, and Brown — who has a deep aversion to change — decided that was good enough reason to give Lewis a contract extension.

This time, Brown could use the team’s injuries as cover for keeping Lewis in place if he wants to do so, although they still must find a defensive coordinator and figure out where special assistant Hue Jackson fits into next year’s plans.

The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy after a 20-17 loss to Arizona on Sunday left them 4-7-1. Brown always waits until the end of the season to decide next year’s plans, so Lewis is safe until at least then. Lewis said Monday he’s had no discussion with Brown about the future.

“The least of my worries,” he said.

Players understand that all the talk about turning the season around has become irrelevant.

“At some point, it’s not even about that,” receiver Alex Erickson said. “It’s up to you to perform. If you don’t, obviously there are going to be consequences.”

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Cardinals learn of long-term losses after victory over Pack

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals' satisfaction from their stunning victory over the Packers in Green Bay has been tempered by news that rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk and starting left guard Mike Iupati are out for the season with injuries.

Kirk, who was developing into a dynamic force on offense, has

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals’ satisfaction from their stunning victory over the Packers in Green Bay has been tempered by news that rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk and starting left guard Mike Iupati are out for the season with injuries.

Kirk, who was developing into a dynamic force on offense, has a broken foot. Iupati, who has battled injuries throughout his time with Arizona, has a knee injury.

“Christian, a great season,” coach Steve Wilks said at his Monday news conference. “There’s no setbacks for 2019. I’m real excited to get him back, did some great things. You can see from the game yesterday, really progressing and moving in the right direction.”

A second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, Kirk is second to Larry Fitzgerald with 43 receptions and leads the team with 590 yards receiving. He caught three passes for 54 yards and had a 23-yard gain on a fly sweep before being injured in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-17 win. That 23-yard run was followed by a 37-yard reception, Josh Rosen’s longest pass of the day, and led to Zane Gonzalez’s 44-yard field goal that tied the game at 10.

Kirk stayed in for a couple of plays after he was injured.

“It says a lot about his personality, his character,” Wilks said. “He tried to fight through it. He went out there a couple of more plays and tried to endure but the pain was just too much for him.”

The Cardinals expect a lot from Kirk in future seasons.

“I’ve said it before, this guy’s a pro’s pro,” Wilks said. “The way he prepares, the way he comes in each and every day is very exciting to see, so the future’s very bright with him.”

Iupati started 10 games this season and missed two due to injury after taking a pay cut to return this year. His departure further mixes up an offensive line that was going with its eighth combination of starters this season in that game. Colby Gossett, signed off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad a month ago, filled in for Iupati.

The injuries did not diminish the magnitude of the unexpected win. The Cardinals were in a dark place after consecutive losses to Oakland and the Los Angeles Chargers left them 2-9. Some were criticizing their effort, but they went into cold, snowy Lambeau Field and won there for the first time in nine tries. They hadn’t won at Green Bay in 49 years, which was pre-Lambeau.

Two-touchdown underdogs, Arizona’s victory cost Packers coach Mike McCarthy his job. McCarthy was fired a couple of hours after the game ended.

It was just the second loss for Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in 18 games at Lambeau in the month of December. His last home loss in December was Dec. 7, 2008, vs. Houston.

“Growing up you see how dominant Green Bay is in December, especially at home,” said Cardinals rookie running back Chase Edmonds, who rushed for both Arizona touchdowns in a breakout game, “but you know coach Wilks talked about it all week, we’re going up there to win a football game and nothing else.”

Arizona rushed for a season-high 182 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.

Rodgers, meanwhile, had one of the worst home games of his career, completing 31 of 50 passes for 233 yards. His passer rating of 79.8 was 30 below his career home average. Green Bay’s 17 points were its fewest at home since Dallas held the Packers to 16 two years ago. Aaron Jones managed just 36 yards on 11 carries. He entered the game averaging six yards per carry.

It was that kind of day for the Packers. And all of it against an Arizona defense that surrendered 45 unanswered points in a 45-10 loss to the Chargers the previous week.

“I thought it started with our disguise,” Wilks said. “I thought we did a great job of really just trying to show him different looks.”

There was no bigger play than Fitzgerald’s sliding grab of Rosen’s 32-yard throw to convert a third-and-23 late in the game. Fitzgerald just got his hand underneath the ball and cradled it from the turf.

“Phenomenal,” Wilks said. “Typical of Larry. I don’t think nine times out of 10 somebody else probably wouldn’t make that catch.”

The Cardinals moved on to get the game-winning 44-yard field goal from Gonzalez, signed by the team just a week earlier.

It was just the third win of the season for the Cardinals, who are home against Detroit on Sunday. The players had a rare Monday off because of the equally rare victory.

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Quinn scrambling to find fixes to stop Falcons’ 4-game skid

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — A four-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Falcons out of the playoff picture, leaving coach Dan Quinn with what he described as the biggest challenge of his four seasons with the team.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank reaffirmed his support for Quinn following Sunday's 26-16 loss to the

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — A four-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Falcons out of the playoff picture, leaving coach Dan Quinn with what he described as the biggest challenge of his four seasons with the team.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank reaffirmed his support for Quinn following Sunday’s 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Falcons (4-8) already have matched the most losses in any of Quinn’s first three seasons as they prepare to visit Green Bay on Sunday. Jobs could be on the line for players and assistant coaches in the final four games, but Quinn said that’s nothing new.

“What I can say the focus right now is how hard we can grind to get our football over this last quarter exactly right,” Quinn said, referring to the final four games. “Then, postseason we will look at everything together from personnel, players, coaches, everything just like we do all the time. That starts with me first.”

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian is under pressure to find fixes for an offense that has failed to reach 20 points in the four straight losses. Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel’s unit ranks near the bottom against the run and pass.

Quinn’s 2015 team finished 8-8, one year before Atlanta made a surprising run to the Super Bowl and then returned to the playoff last season.

Quinn said he has challenged his team to improve its turnover ratio and stagnant running game. He also said he’s looking for better effort from players.

“What I’d like to see is strong, relentless effort, both on and off the field,” he said. “What do I mean when I say off the field? That’s staying even tighter, connected, preparation, mindset heading into the game. All of those things I’d like to see tick up.”

Blank was at the Falcons’ practice facility and in the locker room on Monday. On Sunday, after attending Quinn’s postgame news conference, Blank said “I haven’t lost any faith” in the coach and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Quinn said he appreciates Blank’s support “during this time of year, especially.”

“I know there are 32 teams … and I’m aware not everyone has that type of support,” Quinn said Monday. “So I appreciate having a boss like that. I know what he stands for and I love having that connection. It’s very important.”

Quinn’s 2015 team suffered a six-game losing streak before winning two of its last three to finish .500 and establish momentum for the Super Bowl run in 2016.

This year’s team has lost seven players, including some prominent leaders, to the injured reserve. The list includes running back Devonta Freeman, starting offensive guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco and starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. Linebacker Deion Jones returned Sunday and led the team with 15 tackles and a sack after missing 10 games with a foot injury.

Quinn has not used injuries as an excuse for the losing streak. The four straight losses, and especially the sudden decline in scoring , are signs the drain on the team’s talent pool finally is too much to overcome.

Matt Ryan’s 131 yards passing on Sunday set a career low for a full game.

Ryan said the team’s effort was good but lack of execution was the problem.

“We need to play well,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing is to play well, and we haven’t done that.”

Quinn said the missing players “have had a significant impact” in the Falcons’ “style and attitude.”

“We’re always bummed when we don’t have those players here,” he said. “That is part of it, we recognize, in the game. Some years you have more than others. This happens to be one of the years we have more.”

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Packers president Murphy to hire next coach, GM involved

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy says he will hire the franchise's next head coach after firing Mike McCarthy following a stunning loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.

General manager Brian Gutekunst will also be heavily involved, along with a committee, though Murphy will make the decision.

Murphy

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy says he will hire the franchise’s next head coach after firing Mike McCarthy following a stunning loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals.

General manager Brian Gutekunst will also be heavily involved, along with a committee, though Murphy will make the decision.

Murphy says that while quarterback Aaron Rodgers is free to provide input, the two-time NFL MVP will not be part of the process. He says that Rodgers was not part of the decision to fire McCarthy.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is the interim coach. Murphy says Philbin as a candidate and Murphy wants to evaluate the veteran assistant and former Dolphins head coach over the next four weeks.

Gutekunst says the decision was about “changing course more than anything,” and that it was time to make a change.

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McCarthy’s connections to Browns could lead to coaching job

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy's candidacy to become Cleveland's next coach has gotten more legitimate.

McCarthy was fired Sunday by the Green Bay Packers, who dumped their Super-Bowl wining coach amid a disappointing season and growing rift with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

McCarthy was already being mentioned as a possibility for the

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike McCarthy’s candidacy to become Cleveland’s next coach has gotten more legitimate.

McCarthy was fired Sunday by the Green Bay Packers, who dumped their Super-Bowl wining coach amid a disappointing season and growing rift with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

McCarthy was already being mentioned as a possibility for the Browns, who dismissed Hue Jackson last month and will wait until after the season before hiring his full-time replacement.

The Browns know McCarthy well. He worked in Green Bay with Cleveland general manager John Dorsey as well as Browns executives Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith.

Browns center JC Tretter praised McCarthy on Monday, calling him “an awesome leader and an awesome coach.” Tretter spent four seasons in Green Bay with McCarthy, who went 125-77-2 with the Packers and won the championship in the 2010 season.

Tretter said McCarthy would be a good fit in Cleveland and an ideal coach for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

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Dominant much of the year, the Bears’ defense displays flaws

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — There are signs the Chicago Bears' defense is leaking, and it couldn't come at a worse time.

Whether it was stopping the run in the second half or giving up big plays in the passing game, the defense wasn't as dominant as in other games during Sunday's 30-27

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — There are signs the Chicago Bears’ defense is leaking, and it couldn’t come at a worse time.

Whether it was stopping the run in the second half or giving up big plays in the passing game, the defense wasn’t as dominant as in other games during Sunday’s 30-27 loss in overtime to the New York Giants.

Coach Matt Nagy thinks of it as an anomaly, but it’s an issue the Bears must fix fast with the powerful Los Angeles Rams coming to Chicago on Sunday night.

“No, it’s not a concern,” Nagy said Monday at Halas Hall. “We have a lot of confidence. Our guys have tons of belief in our system; I’m talking defensively, too. They have tons of belief in our system.”

The system and players put the Bears (8-4) in the top five among defenses much of the season, but in Sunday’s second half the Giants averaged 4.5 yards a run. Saquon Barkley finished with 125 yards, the most the Bears have given up to a running back this season.

“I thought for the most part overall we did a good job shutting down the run, except for a couple big plays,” Nagy said. “And those ‘except for a couple big plays’ can get you.”

The most important play might have been Barkley’s 22-yard run to set up a field goal before halftime, swinging momentum.

“Well, he is a good runner and you know he made some nice moves, he ran all over the field,” Nagy said. “I felt like our guys know. Our guys are going to go back and watch the tape and say, ‘Man we could have been better there. We could have made some tackles and at least cut it to a 7- or 8-yard gain, right, not a 22-yard gain.'”

The Bears’ defense also struggled in the second half to stop Detroit’s rushing attack in the previous game, allowing 15 carries and 85 yards in a 23-16 victory.

“Just a little leakage,” Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said following Sunday’s loss. “Nothing we can’t fix. Just a little leakage.

“We’ve just got to make the plays when they come our way. We knew what type of offense we were facing, we’ve just got to make our plays. Our defense is way better than the way we were. We know it.”

The Bears have more to worry about than their run defense going up against the Rams. Their chief concern the past few weeks has been the injured throwing shoulder of starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Nagy said after Sunday’s loss that Trubisky remains day to day, and has improved since he started throwing Friday in practice. He wouldn’t commit Trubisky’s return this week after two missed games.

“I can’t say that for sure,” Nagy said. “I hope he, is but I feel like the last several days, as I told you (Sunday) was, he’s getting better and he’s feeling better.

“And so I think it’s only fair for today, tomorrow and the next couple of days to go by that we just keep seeing him throw and see how he feels, and then he tells us.”

Nagy was encouraged by one improvement on offense: a better rushing attack. After going over 100 yards only once in the previous four games, the Bears ran for 118 yards against the Giants, including 76 by Jordan Howard.

However, Howard had only three second-half carries.

“Well, the second half, they had a little plan for him,” Nagy said. And so, I would’ve loved to be able to call more runs, but they did a pretty good job getting into our backfield and stopping the run.

“And then before you know it, we got behind and in overtime we started off with a run and had a nice little run there for six or seven yards. But it’s hard when it’s second-and-14 after a run call on first-and-10.”

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Giants coach Shurmur: ‘I’m fond of toughness and resiliency’

Giants coach Shurmur: 'I’m fond of toughness and resiliency'

Giants coach Shurmur: ‘I’m fond of toughness and resiliency’

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys spent their day off on Monday making their annual visits to local children’s hospitals in Dallas and Fort Worth. They spread out among the facilities to share their holiday good wishes with youngsters, but players said they got as much in return. Said linebacker Jaylon Smith: “It means a lot whenever you get a chance to go out in the community with this platform that we are on. We get so caught up in this world of football when in reality there are a lot of people going through some real life stuff. So to be able to spread some holiday cheer and put smiles on people’s faces is amazing. Just getting a chance to go into the rooms and see the joy on their face. We are called America’s team for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is the impact we have on children. It’s a wonderful opportunity and privilege to be a Cowboy.”

New York Giants: Head coach Pat Shurmur was happy to get the overtime win against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears on Sunday, and he was even happier with the resolve his team showed, he told reporters. “The takeaway is, and I told the team this — I’ll keep the swear words out of it — some people are fond of talented people, some people are fond of smart people, I’m fond of tough, resilient people,” Shurmur said. “When you’re trying to flip culture, when you’re trying to build something, you’ve got to really dig in on that. There was some toughness and some resiliency. It would have been easy to cave when they came back, an 8-3 team, came back and tied us up, they had a little bit of juice, a little bit of mojo, but our guys found a way to put points on the board and then stop them at the end. I’m fond of toughness and resiliency, and our team showed that.”

Philadelphia Eagles: Host Washington Redskins on Monday night.

Washington Redskins: Visit the Philadephia Eagles on Monday night.

–Field Level Media

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