Foster’s return major boost for 49ers’ defense

Foster’s return major boost for 49ers’ defense

Arizona Cardinals: At 0-2 with the league’s second-worst point differential (minus-52), the Cardinals don’t have a lot to hang their hats on, but there could be reinforcements coming Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive end Markus Golden, who are each returning from serious injuries sustained in 2017, returned to a full practice Wednesday for the first time this season. “That is a major plus when you are talking about a team that is 0-2, that needs a spark, needs some energy,” coach Steve Wilks said. “Those two guys definitely bring that, particularly Jermaine. Very vocal, high-strung guy. Loves to compete, is going to get his teammates going. And Markus is the same way. I can’t wait to get those guys back out there, and hopefully it’s this week.”

Los Angeles Rams: After adding three players with a combined 12 Pro Bowl nods to their name (five each for Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib, two for Marcus Peters) this offseason, the Rams’ defense is off to a scorching start. The unit has allowed the fewest points (13) and first downs (25) in the NFL while ranking third in yards per game, fourth in interception rate and fifth in yards per play. Talib and Peters have been particularly special, allowing just 37 yards combined through two weeks, per Pro Football Focus. This week, they face a familiar foe in Philip Rivers, whom Talib has intercepted once and Peters has intercepted four times, more than he’s victimized any other QB. “I’d put ’em up there with the top corners in the league, both those guys,” Rivers said Wednesday.

San Francisco 49ers: After serving a two-game suspension, middle linebacker Reuben Foster returns to the team this week, an addition that coach Kyle Shanahan expects to make a major difference. “Reuben’s one of our best players,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “Just having his presence out there, just from a leadership standpoint, guys gravitate to him. We really enjoy having him around.” Shanahan added that Foster “seems great mentally” and should be in good shape after two weeks off. The team has not decided yet how to use Foster with fellow linebackers Malcolm Smith, who is returning from a hamstring injury, and rookie Fred Warner, who started in Foster’s absence and is second in the NFL with 22 tackles.

Seattle Seahawks: After opening the season with two road losses, the Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field to host the Dallas Cowboys this week, and coach Pete Carroll can’t wait to get back in front of the raucous home crowd. “It’ll be tremendous to come home,” he said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I hope the 12s will be jacked and help us out and give us the kind of feeling so we can take advantage of the pass rush and those kinds of things.” Carroll also hopes the team will be closer to full strength, with linebackers Bobby Wagner (groin) and K.J. Wright (knee) both having “a chance to play,” and guard D.J. Fluker “pretty darn close” to a return.

–Field Level Media

Falcons looking for more than field goals against Saints

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons can't afford to lean on Matt Bryant's powerful right leg this week.

Field goals won't be enough to keep pace against the high-scoring New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.

Bryant's four field goals provided all of Atlanta's scoring until Julio Jones caught

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons can’t afford to lean on Matt Bryant’s powerful right leg this week.

Field goals won’t be enough to keep pace against the high-scoring New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.

Bryant’s four field goals provided all of Atlanta’s scoring until Julio Jones caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with less than two minutes remaining against Dallas on Sunday. That touchdown tied the game before the Cowboys won 22-19 on Brett Maher’s 42-yard field goal as time expired.

The Saints (9-1) have won nine straight . They led the NFL with their average of 37.8 points per game through Sunday’s games.

“Field goals against them isn’t going to cut it the way they’re putting points up,” coach Dan Quinn said Monday.

The Falcons (4-6) already have lost one shootout against the Saints, 43-37 in overtime on Sept. 23.

“When we get our chances, we have to convert,” Ryan said Monday. “We’ve been doing a good job of that for the most part of the year. … We’ve got to be aggressive with our plays when we get our chances.”

Quinn said the Falcons can win a high-scoring game, even against the Saints.

“We are. We’re equipped,” Quinn said. “Certainly when you’re going against another team that’s high scoring, it was no surprise to see that in the first game, either.”

Jones has touchdown catches in three straight games, but the Falcons are in a scoring slump. They rank ninth in the league with their average of 26.3 points, but they’ve been held below 20 points in four games this season, including back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Cleveland.

Atlanta led Dallas 6-3 at halftime despite being held to 110 yards. For the game, the Falcons had 354 yards, their third-lowest total of the season.

The two straight losses were devastating to Atlanta’s playoff hopes after it won three straight to reach .500.

Quinn said the Falcons shouldn’t be worried about their fading playoff hopes.

“Right now we have no luxury of looking at anything big picture,” Quinn said. “Right now there’s one picture and that’s New Orleans and that’s Thursday.”

Atlanta managed only 80 yards rushing against Dallas. Tevin Coleman had only eight carries for 58 yards, even though he gained 11 or more yards on four runs. The eight carries were his second fewest of the season.

Quinn said “it’s going to be important” to establish the run. But he said he was only seeking balance, not a greater commitment to the run.

“When you’re in the red zone against them you better finish with it in the end zone because they’re certainly able to score and they’ve shown that this year,” he said.

“Whether it’s in the run game or it’s in the pass game, it’s about being able to find explosive games and being able to score. That’s the name of the game when you’re facing a team with an explosive offense like them.”

NOTES: The Falcons are attempting to determine if linebacker Deion Jones will play this week. Jones came off injured reserve last week after missing two months with a broken right foot but was inactive against Dallas . Quinn said Jones did not participate in the team’s walkthrough practice on Monday, but instead was scheduled for work after the practice “so we’ll get a better assessment of where he’s at.” Quinn said the goal was to “keep pushing and develop to see where he’s at with his confidence level with his foot.”


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Rams honor firefighters, police for recent heroic actions

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams honored those impacted the past two weeks by the shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar and wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties before Monday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The California Lutheran University Choir, who had a former member as one of

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams honored those impacted the past two weeks by the shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar and wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties before Monday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The California Lutheran University Choir, who had a former member as one of the 12 killed in the Nov, 7 shooting at a country music bar, sang the National Anthem. Firefighters who have battled the Southern California wildfires the past two weeks received tickets to the game.

The fire erupted Nov. 8 and powerful Santa Ana winds pushed it through suburbs and wilderness parkland in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, forcing thousands of people to flee.

Karen and Jordan Helus, the wife of fallen Ventura County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Hellus, lit the LA Coliseum torch prior to kickoff.


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Andrew Luck’s comeback season putting Colts in playoff hunt

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck looks and sounds like his old self.

He's smiling, cherishing each snap. He's throwing touchdowns and winning games, staying healthy and chasing the kinds of milestones so many expected when the Indianapolis Colts made him the top overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Yes, at age 29, he's

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck looks and sounds like his old self.

He’s smiling, cherishing each snap. He’s throwing touchdowns and winning games, staying healthy and chasing the kinds of milestones so many expected when the Indianapolis Colts made him the top overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Yes, at age 29, he’s again having fun playing football.

“I was not in a good spot a year ago. I remember that. I am in a good spot now,” Luck said in his trademark low-key tone following Sunday’s 38-10 victory over Tennessee.

“My perspective is a little different toward this game. I appreciate things maybe a little bit more and I think that’s pretty consistent with anybody who’s been out for significant time with an injury.”

Twelve months ago, Luck was questioning everything from whether a second surgical procedure might alleviate the pain in his right shoulder to whether he would ever play another NFL game.

He had been shut down for the season by going on injured reserve and headed to Europe where he continued rehabbing in relative anonymity.

He spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Netherlands and when he returned home, just before Indy’s season finale, Luck recounted some of the emotional challenges he faced during his prolonged recovery from a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

Even then, things didn’t go according to plan.

The only NFL coach Luck played for, Chuck Pagano, was fired a few days after his return. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels accepted the Colts’ coaching job then backed out, paving the way for Frank Reich to eventually take over while Luck’s recovery essentially started over.

“We were throwing little — I don’t even know what kind of balls they were — weighted balls, but they didn’t have points on them,” Reich said when asked to recount Luck’s status when he first arrived in town.

“He was patient. I give him a lot of credit. He was really patient and he just said he was going to stay patient and trust the process and he did that. So that’s a lot of credit to him.”

Luck didn’t start throwing footballs until May, didn’t start throwing at practice till mid-June and was kept on a strict pitch count at training camp.

So when the Colts started 1-5 and Luck was throwing short, some naturally wondered if Luck would ever regain his pre-injury form.

A month later, there are no more doubts.

Luck is in the midst of his best pro season with his completion rate (67.3 percent) and rating (101.8) at career highs and his 29 TD passes ranked second in the league to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. Luck has reduced the number of interceptions and forced passes and hasn’t been sacked in five weeks, a total of 214 consecutive dropbacks.

The closest Tennessee even came to touching Luck on Sunday was when Luck tried to catch a touchdown pass from tight end Eric Ebron.

As a result, Indy (5-5) has won four straight to jump back into the playoff picture.

If Luck throws three more TD passes this weekend against Miami, he will tie Peyton Manning (eight) for the second-longest streak of consecutive games in league history with only New England’s Tom Brady (10) ahead of him. And the deep throws have returned, too.

But the more people talk about Luck’s gaudy numbers, the more focused Luck becomes on enjoying football and life.

“It’s nice that the results are positive for us certainly, but I wouldn’t say that I’m having more fun,” he said. “I’m just enjoying it. It’s a great group of guys. It’s a great group of coaches (and a) great building.”

If the injury taught Luck anything, it’s how quickly things can change in the NFL.

He lost right guard Matt Slauson to a season-ending back injury after Week 5 and now, in the midst of this remarkable streak, he may be missing center Ryan Kelly, who left Sunday’s game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Reich said doctors are still evaluating Kelly’s knee.

The loss of Kelly could be huge, given offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo recently said Kelly was playing at a Pro Bowl level and was one of the best centers in the league.

“We feel like Evan (Boehm) is ready if he’s the one playing,” Reich said Monday. “Obviously Ryan is playing at a super high level. So I am not going to suggest that there wouldn’t be any changes, but they would be very minimal.”

Luck understands what it will be like for Kelly if he can’t play.

After fighting through the physical pain and mental difficulty, the agony of defeat and the heartache of not being able to help out, Luck believes he has come out the other end as a better player.

“Everybody’s got a story to tell. Certainly as a quarterback in this league, if you play for a couple years you’re going to have gone through something,” he said. “I’d like to think that what happened, the result of that is probably the best thing for my career, the best thing that could’ve happened.”


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Chargers DT Liuget (knee) out for season

Chargers DT Liuget (knee) out for season

Chargers DT Liuget (knee) out for season

Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget will miss the rest of the season after tearing the quad tendon in his right knee on Sunday, Los Angeles coach Anthony Lynn announced Monday.

Liuget went down against the Denver Broncos on Sunday and was able to limp off the field, but he was carted to the locker room and did not return. He finishes the season with 1.5 sacks and five QB hits in six games, bettering his figures (1.5 sacks, four QB hits) from 12 games in 2017.

The 28-year-old missed the first four games this season due to a PED suspension, and he filed suit against a former trainer in September seeking $15 million in damages for lost wages, as well as pain and suffering for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

A first-round pick in 2011, Liuget has 24 sacks, 59 tackles for loss and 53 QB hits in 108 games (103 starts) across eight seasons.

Lynn said the injury will mean more playing time for Darius Philon and third-round rookie Justin Jones. Philon has 2.5 sacks and six QB hits in 10 games, while Jones has a half-sack on 170 snaps (26 percent of the Chargers’ defensive plays).

The Chargers are already without middle linebacker Denzel Perryman (knee) for the season. They rank 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (112.1) and 21st in yards per carry allowed (4.6).

–Field Level Media

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Wilks, Cardinals open to many changes at 2-8

Wilks, Cardinals open to many changes at 2-8

Arizona Cardinals: After losing

Wilks, Cardinals open to many changes at 2-8

Arizona Cardinals: After losing at home to the previously 1-8 Raiders, the Cardinals dropped to 2-8 and appear to be searching for any ways to improve. According to multiple reports, the team is expected to release cornerback Jamar Taylor — who gave up a 23-yard touchdown to Jared Cook on Sunday — and sign free agent David Amerson, who was briefly on the roster last week. Head coach Steve Wilks did not confirm the move, but did say, “Based on where we are, we are open to a lot of anything. There are some things we have talked about that we are probably going to try and make some moves on.” He has also made changes to the practice week, shortening meetings and adding more walk-through time to get players more live mental reps.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers didn’t play this week, but they did pick up ground in the “race” for the No. 1 overall pick, as the Oakland Raiders beat the Arizona Cardinals to leave all three teams tied for the NFL’s worst record at 2-8. Four of the six wins between the teams have come against one another, as the Cardinals beat the 49ers twice and the 49ers beat the Raiders. Meanwhile, San Francisco has a different quarterback to prepare for in Week 12 than they did entering their Week 11 bye. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom the Niners visit on Sunday, announced Monday they will start Jameis Winston over Ryan Fitzpatrick this week.

Seattle Seahawks: A year after no running back topped more than 240 rushing yards and the entire roster outside of Russell Wilson combined for one rushing touchdown, the Seahawks suddenly have an embarrassment of riches at the position. Chris Carson (580 yards, three scores), Mike Davis (372, 3) and Rashaad Penny (300, 1) have each topped those figures already, and the backfield is due for reinforcements after J.D. McKissic was designated on Monday to return from injured reserve. That opens a three-week window for McKissic to practice as he recovers from breaking a bone in his foot in August. The team could activate the 5-foot-10, 195-pound speedster to the 53-man roster as soon as this week.

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Turnover-prone Bucs return to Winston as QB

Turnover-prone Bucs return to Winston as QB


Turnover-prone Bucs return to Winston as QB

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have dropped two consecutive games as they enter a Thursday contest against the red-hot New Orleans Saints. The back-to-back setbacks follow a stretch in which Atlanta won three consecutive contests and was on a solid roll. Earlier this season, the Falcons pushed the Saints into overtime before succumbing 43-37. Meanwhile, receiver Julio Jones has strung together five consecutive 100-yard outings and has 594 yards during the stretch. Overall, Jones has seven 100-yard efforts and fell just shy of another when he had 96 yards against the Saints. Jones leads the NFL with 1,158 yards, and his 73 receptions rank fourth.

Carolina Panthers: The 20-19 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday was a blow for the Panthers, who have now lost two straight games to fall three games behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. The setback at Detroit included a controversial decision by coach Ron Rivera to go for a two-point conversion with 1:07 left, which was unsuccessful. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was quick to admit the Panthers aren’t in “the best position” after the two defeats. “But we understand at the end of the year you can put yourself in a place where you can be in the playoffs,” Kuechly said. “We still have that in front of us. It’s just going to be a little more difficult. We understand that. We put ourselves in that position.”

New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense have been seemingly unstoppable over the past three weeks while averaging 48 points. New Orleans scored 45 or more in each of the three games and has six 40-point efforts for the season. “I feel really good right now,” Brees said of a squad with nine consecutive wins. “I love my team. I love coming to work every day with these guys. I want to play my heart out for these guys. I care about them. I certainly don’t want to let them down. I want to be as consistent as I can for them, give them confidence, put them in positions to succeed, and that’s my job. So I’m just doing my job.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay is returning to Jameis Winston as the starting quarterback for the Sunday game against the San Francisco 49ers. Winston (11 interceptions) and James Fitzpatrick (12) have combined for 23 interceptions — the worst team total in the NFL — and the Buccaneers have a dreadful minus-23 turnover ratio, also the worst in the league. “We have to protect the football,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “I’m not trying to put this a hundred percent on them. The quarterback’s going to get too much blame when things go wrong and too much credit when things go right. Some of these turnovers are 100 percent on the quarterback, but other times it’s not. Some of this is the fact that we’re down in games and we try to do too much at times, but it’s a bottom-line business.”

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Battered Broncos’ O-line impressed vs. Chargers

Battered Broncos' O-line impressed vs. Chargers


Battered Broncos’ O-line impressed vs. Chargers

Denver Broncos: Despite starting three players in new spots on Sunday, the Broncos’ offensive line performed well against the Chargers, allowing no sacks and four QB hits. Head coach Vance Joseph was also impressed with left tackle Garett Bolles, in addition to backup tackles Elijah Wilkinson and Billy Turner at guard. “I thought Bollesy played one of his best games from a technique perspective,” Joseph said. “To block [Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa] with no penalties is quite an accomplishment for him. But the entire line, no sacks all day with those rushers was impressive, and we have three new starters inside. Our two guards are guys who play tackle. So, for those guys to go inside and play guard. … I think they’re very comfortable playing guard, especially in pass protection.”

Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers had their six-game win streak snapped by the Broncos, but they did get defensive end Joey Bosa back on the field with no setbacks. Head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters Bosa “may be a little sore” after playing 31 snaps — compared to the 20-snap estimate the team intended — but he came out of the game healthy. “I thought, for his first game back and not playing football for 13 or 14 weeks, that he looked good,” Lynn added of Bosa, who was credited with one tackle and one QB hit. “I thought he showed good speed and explosion coming off the edge. … He’ll get more reps this week in practice and he’ll get more in the game.”

Oakland Raiders: Head coach Jon Gruden confirmed that wideout Brandon LaFell is headed to injured reserve with an Achilles injury sustained on a leaping grab Sunday. That injury damages a receiving corps that already had Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant dealing with knee issues, but Gruden was impressed with how rookies Marcell Ateman and Saeed Blacknall — both recently promoted from the practice squad — performed on Sunday. “I was really pleased with Ateman,” Gruden said. “It wasn’t too big for him. He was confident. He was under control. He was calm. He made some plays. Saeed did the right thing for the most part. He had a couple of assignment errors, but he got his first action in some critical moments and I thought he handled himself pretty well.” Blacknall wasn’t targeted on 16 snaps, but Ateman played 65 snaps and led Oakland with four catches for 50 yards.

–Field Level Media

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Miami ownership understands impact of injuries, Gase says

Miami ownership understands impact of injuries, Gase says

Buffalo Bills: On Monday, head coach Sean McDermott addressed

Miami ownership understands impact of injuries, Gase says

Buffalo Bills: On Monday, head coach Sean McDermott addressed the media for the first time since the release of quarterback Nathan Peterman last week and said the decision to let go of the former starter wasn’t easy. “Tough decision. Nate did everything that was asked,” McDermott said. “He’s a class act, through and through. Certainly appreciate everything, all the effort that he gave when he was here. We just, to carry four quarterbacks, is a little unique for any extended period of time. And so getting Josh [Allen] to the point to where he is, allowed us to make a move there.” Peterman is eligible to go on the practice squad, but will that happen? “Not at this time,” McDermott said.

Miami Dolphins: Head coach Adam Gase told reporters that owner Stephen Ross understands how hard injuries have hit the 5-5 team. The team has 10 players on injured reserve, now that Jakeem Grant has suffered a season-ending leg injury. “Every time I see him after a game or talk to him during the week, ‘Just keep grinding,'” Gase said. “‘Don’t think too much about injuries.’ I think he looks at that [as] we’ve lost some good players. That’s something that is always unfortunate. He can see those big plays when they were occurring with Albert [Wilson] and what we get from Jakeem and when we were hitting some deeper throws with Ryan [Tannehill] in there. He sees all of that stuff, and when those guys aren’t there anymore, he understands that we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to try to move the ball and win the game.”

New England Patriots: Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett won’t hear any of the talk that was stirred up after the Patriots lost to Tennessee a week ago — talk that quarterback Tom Brady’s skills are diminishing. “Well, that’s a lie,” Dorsett told the Boston Sports Journal recently. “We play with him every day. Velocity and arm strength aren’t an issue. I’ve been here for a little over a year, and there’s no difference from last year to this year. I mean, he won MVP last year. The results speak for themselves. There’s no difference from last year to this year. I don’t see any difference.” Brady, 41, has thrown for 2,748 yards this season, with 17 touchdown passes and seven interceptions for the 7-3 Patriots.

New York Jets: Linebacker Brandon Copeland already knows how he’s spending the offseason. He’ll be at Penn, his alma mater, co-teaching a class called “Inequity and Empowerment: Urban Financial Literacy” each Monday afternoon. “No matter what major you are, you are going to use this class,” Copeland said recently, per the New York Post. “No matter what you do in life — whether you’re a professional athlete, whether you’re a nursing student, whether you’re a banker — you’re going to use the information from this class.” The idea for the class came to Copeland, 27, in a conversation with a former teammate in Detroit a few years ago. He proposed the class to Penn, where he earned a degree in management and entrepreneurship. “It’s just making sure they feel more confident when they are faced with those decisions when they do leave college and have to figure out, ‘Hey, am I going to rent or buy in this city? Am I going to buy it to rent it out? Am I making smart decisions with my credit? Should I start paying down my student loans as soon as I get out of college?'” Copeland said.

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Cowboys: WR Gallup away from team after brother’s suicide

Cowboys: WR Gallup away from team after brother's suicide

Cowboys: WR Gallup away from team after brother’s suicide

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup is away from the team after learning of his brother’s suicide on Sunday, the team announced Monday.

“We just found out after the ballgame that his brother had committed suicide, and just want to leave it at that,” Garrett told 105.3 The Fan. “Obviously a very personal matter. We’re all behind Michael and supporting him and his family.”

Gallup, who is from Atlanta, stayed in the city while the team traveled home after beating the Falcons 22-19 on Sunday.

“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss,” owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”

The Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day, hosting the Washington Redskins.

Gallup, a third-round rookie, has 16 catches for 285 yards and one touchdown through 10 games this season. The touchdown catch came against Washington in Week 7.

–Field Level Media

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Mathieu meshing well in Texans’ secondary

Mathieu meshing well in Texans' secondary

Houston Texans: Safety

Mathieu meshing well in Texans’ secondary

Houston Texans: Safety Tyrann Mathieu has 61 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and five passes defensed in first season with the Texans. He is fitting in well with the team after being released by the Arizona Cardinals in March. Not a bad move going from a team that is currently 2-8 to a Houston team with seven straight wins. “I think we’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re off on the right start,” Mathieu told reporters. “I thought I picked the right group of guys to go to war with, go to battle with each and every week. I told those guys last night how much I love them, how much I enjoy playing with them.”

Indianapolis Colts: Quarterback Andrew Luck is red-hot with seven straight outings of three or more touchdown passes. Luck has thrown 24 touchdowns during the stretch and has 29 overall in a strong comeback campaign after missing all of last season due to shoulder surgery. The former top overall pick has topped 30 TDs twice in his career, with his high being 40 in 2014. While Luck hasn’t been sacked since Week 5, center Ryan Kelly suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s 38-10 trouncing of the Tennessee Titans. Coach Frank Reich allowed that Kelly “could miss a little time” but declined to further discuss the injury or set a timetable for his return.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The team’s losing streak has reached six games, and quarterback Blake Bortles continues to receive heat for an underwhelming campaign. Bortles passed for just 104 yards in Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but coach Doug Marrone made it clear Monday that he intends to stick with Bortles as the starter. “At times like this, people are going to ask those questions, and we’re continually trying to work together to try to figure out a way to put this complete game in, to do a better job from my standpoint to the coaches and to the players,” Marrone said, adding the team doesn’t have many better options. “…You can’t just replace people just to replace them. You’ve got to replace them with people that you feel are going to do a better job for you.”

Tennessee Titans: The status of quarterback Marcus Mariota for next Monday night’s game against the Texans will be determined during the week. Mariota suffered a stinger during Sunday’s loss to the Colts, and backup Blaine Gabbert will receive most of the practice workload. The contest against the Texans is a crucial one for Tennessee, which is two games behind Houston in the division race and one of five 5-5 teams battling for the second AFC wild-card spot. “We are 5-5, and we have a great opportunity to go to Houston and compete against a team that’s won seven games in a row,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters. “We can’t sit there and be so down and so negative that we can’t come back and play. … We have to move forward. The season is not over.”

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Ravens’ Harbaugh: A ‘chance’ Flacco returns Sunday

Ravens' Harbaugh: A 'chance' Flacco returns Sunday

Baltimore Ravens head

Ravens’ Harbaugh: A ‘chance’ Flacco returns Sunday

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that quarterback Joe Flacco has “a chance” to return from his hip injury in Week 12 against the Oakland Raiders.

“It’s just a matter of how fast the healing takes place in there,” Harbaugh told reporters. “It’s not a surgical thing, it’s a calming down type of thing with the hip. I’m not a doctor. …We’ll see.”

Harbaugh offered little when asked whether or not Lamar Jackson, who won his first career start against the Cincinnati Bengals to snap Baltimore’s three-game losing streak, could remain the team’s starter even when Flacco is healthy, saying only, “I’m not getting into any of that.”

Flacco hurt his hip in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and played through the issue before resting during the Week 10 bye. He was listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game and was never expected to play.

Cagey about his quarterback situation last week, an animated Harbaugh bristled at a number of questions about Jackson on Monday, most notably about the quarterback’s volume as a runner on Sunday and his ability as a passer.

Jackson had 27 carries — the most by a QB in a game since 1950 — for 117 yards against the Bengals while going 13 of 19 for 150 yards and an interception through the air. In total, the Ravens ran on 54 of their 75 snaps, gaining 265 yards on the ground.

Asked if 27 carries for Jackson is too many, Harbaugh replied, “I think it’s obvious. It’s an obvious answer.”

“…Yeah, you don’t want your quarterback getting hit that much,” he added. “I mean it’s not going to last that way, so I think that’s pretty self evident.”

When a reporter later asked Harbaugh if Jackson earned the opportunity to throw more moving forward, the coach went on a rant aimed at what he called the “veiled” questions about Jackson’s passing ability.

“Yeah, we’re going to throw the ball more down the road,” Harbaugh practically yelled. “He’s a great thrower, the guy can pass. You saw him throw, he threw some great balls out there. How many plays did the kid make? Running around, throwing the ball, in the pocket, throwing the ball, he can do it!

“So all this veiled stuff — ‘Is he really a thrower?’ — I got news for you: He’s a thrower. The kid can throw. He’s a QUARTERBACK. …I don’t appreciate the insinuation of the question. We will continue to say it: Lamar Jackson is a quarterback. Did you see the game yesterday? He’s a quarterback.”

The Ravens traded up to take Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in April. Each of the four quarterbacks taken ahead of him entered the starting lineup by Week 4 of this season.

Flacco, 33, has thrown for 2,465 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions this season while going 4-5 as a starter and posting an 84.2 quarterback rating, right in line with his career mark (84.1). The Ravens would incur a dead-money hit of $16 million to move on from him this offseason, but they would still save $10.5 million of his 2019 cap hit.

–Field Level Media

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Packers TE Graham to play with broken thumb

Packers TE Graham to play with broken thumb

Chicago Bears: Defensive

Packers TE Graham to play with broken thumb

Chicago Bears: Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was thrilled after the Bears’ front four set the tone in the division showdown with the Vikings on Sunday. Hicks said the Bears’ front seven is only beginning to round into form, and the pressure falls to the opposing offensive line to find the right answer. “Who do you block is the question. Do you block Leonard Floyd? Do you block Eddie Goldman? Do you block Akiem? Do you block Khalil? That’s the question we want every offense to have to figure out,” Hicks said.

Detroit Lions: Rookie Kerryon Johnson will not need surgery but with a knee sprain could miss 2-4 weeks. However, head coach Matt Patricia said it’s no sure thing the Lions will add a running back for Thanksgiving Day with just one practice scheduled ahead of the lunchtime gathering with the NFC North-leading Bears. Without Johnson, the Lions could attempt to put the ball in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s hands and give wide receiver Kenny Golladay another shot as the lead threat on offense. “Of course, they know Golden is gone, they know Marvin is out, so who else are they going to look to?” Golladay said. He caught eight passes for 114 yards and was targeted 14 times against the Carolina Panthers.

Green Bay Packers: Tight end Jimmy Graham plans to take a few days off but is set to attempt to play with a heavily bandaged broken thumb when the Packers return to the field Sunday night against the Vikings. Graham, injured last Thursday at Seattle, is likely to share the snaps at tight end with backup Lance Kendricks. At 4-5-1, another loss might lead Green Bay to place Graham on injured reserve. However, if he’s comfortable working in practice with a padded glove or splint, Graham could be recovered before the regular season ends.

Minnesota Vikings: Having already exceeded their turnover total from last season and approaching an all-time high for a Mike Zimmer-coached team (20), the Vikings are causing their fifth-year coach fits of frustration. Turnovers contributed to their Week 11 loss to the Bears, and Zimmer said he must do some digging to resolve the issue before time runs out. “It’s definitely a concern. Either they’re not listening or not paying attention or don’t really care,” Zimmer said. “We’ll have to find out which one of the three it is.”

–Field Level Media

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Ravens envision QB Jackson as passer

Ravens envision QB Jackson as passer

Baltimore Ravens: One day

Ravens envision QB Jackson as passer

Baltimore Ravens: One day after calling rookie Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start “spectacular,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defended his quarterback’s ability to pass. “The kid can throw,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a quarterback.” The ongoing narrative around Jackson gained new life when he rushed 27 times — the most by an NFL QB since 1950 — against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. But Harbaugh said Jackson is more than capable, and the Ravens will likely find out if Joe Flacco (hip) remains sidelined. Harbaugh, who became angered by the line of questioning, said Jackson can and will show his arm in the weeks to come. “I think that’s obvious. You don’t want your quarterback getting hit that much. He’s not going to last that way.”

Cincinnati Bengals: As the Bengals juggle their defensive coaching staff, head coach Marvin Lewis said the addition of Hue Jackson was a “big positive.” Lewis said he was more comfortable turning his back on the game. “Optimally, I’m responsible for everything,” Lewis said. “I’ve got to do it that way. That’s where we are right now. Hopefully it’ll become more and more comfortable. I can get the defense set with him and I can go back to paying attention throughout the game.” Lewis did not confirm that he plans to have Jackson handle defensive calls in the future, but said his understanding of opponents’ personnel made him an asset against the Ravens.

Cleveland Browns: Have a bye this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Defensive players repeatedly encouraged quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the late stages of his three-interception performance at Jacksonville, as the Steelers survived and extended their winning streak to six games. But while Roethlisberger and many of the team’s veterans have survived the rigors of December, one untested late-season component in a running game built around second-year back James Conner. Roethlisberger said he will do his part to encourage Conner, now the sure starter with Le’Veon Bell on season-long hiatus, to use Sunday’s game at Jacksonville as a learning tool. “James is one of those special football players where he can’t get down on himself,” Roethlisberger said. “This will be one of those awesome tests to see how he bounces back. I think he’ll be fine.”

–Field Level Media

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Bucs turning back to Winston as starter

Bucs turning back to Winston as starter

Bucs turning back to Winston as starter

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will re-install Jameis Winston as the team’s starting quarterback in Week 12 against the San Francisco 49ers, the team confirmed Monday.

Head coach Dirk Koetter told reporters earlier Monday that he knew who would be starting, but he declined to announce his choice because he hadn’t yet informed the quarterbacks.

Winston came on in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday for the second time in seven weeks, after first doing so in a Week 4 blowout loss in Chicago, and Koetter described his play afterward as “fantastic.”

Winston entered trailing the Giants 24-7 in the third quarter, but he led four consecutive scoring drives to cut the lead to three points on two occasions. He ended the day 12-of-16 passing for 199 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, which came on a last-ditch effort to rally with 23 seconds left, allowing the Giants to hang on and win 38-35.

Fitzpatrick had been pulled after throwing his third interception, this one in the end zone, leaving him 13 of 21 for 167 yards and no touchdowns.

Winston, 24, was previously benched midway through a Week 8 loss at Cincinnati after throwing four interceptions. He missed the first three games of the season because of an NFL suspension before entering midway through Week 4 against the Bears.

Fitzpatrick, who turns 36 on Saturday, has 2,366 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. Winston has 1,380 passing yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Winston is in the fourth year of his rookie contract since being taken No. 1 overall in 2015. Tampa Bay previously picked up his fifth-year option for 2019, which is guaranteed for injury only.

Koetter told reporters last week that he understood the arguments in favor of starting Winston in order to evaluate him over the rest of the season, but argued that the Bucs still had an opportunity to contend in the NFC wild-card race.

Sunday’s loss dropped Tampa Bay to 3-7, leaving the Bucs 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot and ahead of only two teams in conference.

–Field Level Media

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Hue Again? Browns set to face former coach Jackson, Bengals

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — While the Browns relaxed during the bye week, their fired former coach went back to work.

Hue Jackson's got a new gig.

And this strange season in Cleveland will take another odd turn Sunday when the Browns face the Bengals and Jackson, who somehow survived an 0-16 season and

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — While the Browns relaxed during the bye week, their fired former coach went back to work.

Hue Jackson’s got a new gig.

And this strange season in Cleveland will take another odd turn Sunday when the Browns face the Bengals and Jackson, who somehow survived an 0-16 season and was only briefly unemployed before being hired last week as a special assistant to Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis.

“It is Hue,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said.

But even though Jackson has changed back into Bengals stripes, the Browns aren’t worried that their ex-coach on the sideline gives Cincinnati an added advantage.

“It’s a divisional game!” cried Browns safety Damarious Randall. “We knew what they were doing before he went over there and they know exactly what we’re going to do. At the end of the day, we’re just going to go out and punch them in the mouth — straight up. That’s exactly what you have to do on the road rivalry games. You have to go punch them in the mouth.

“If that’s what we do, it doesn’t matter what they have over there.”

Jackson’s same-season reunion against the Browns seems to be unprecedented. The NFL doesn’t keep record of coaches facing their former teams.

“It is surprising,” Browns guard Kevin Zeitler said.

The Browns (3-6-1) returned from their week off healthier than they’ve been all season, and there was even chatter inside the locker room about making a playoff run over the next six weeks.

First, though, comes a somewhat awkward reunion with Jackson, who was fired on Oct. 29, a day after the Browns lost in Pittsburgh. Jackson’s dismissal wasn’t unexpected, given his struggles in Cleveland.

But his return to Cincinnati, where Jackson worked as offensive coordinator with the Bengals (5-5) under Lewis before he was hired by the Browns in 2016, has created two matchups in which the spotlight will be focused on him — whether he likes it or not.

Jackson had a good rapport with his players in Cleveland and several on Monday said they were thrilled he landed on his feet so quickly.

“It will feel a little awkward, but I’m very happy for coach Jackson,” cornerback T.J. Carrie said. “He is a great coach and a great person. It was not going to be a long time before he wasn’t without a job, so it is really good just to be able to see him in a position where he is being able to control a lot of the things over there.”

Jackson’s intimate knowledge of Cleveland’s personnel, schemes and playbook would seem to give the Bengals an almost unfair benefit.

But like Randall, Carrie said AFC North games are decided by which team executes better and not by any insider knowledge.

Carrie doesn’t think Jackson jumping teams makes any difference.

“These divisional games, we play year in and year out twice a year,” he said. “We know what they are going to do. They know what we are going to do. There is not really more scheme-wise that they can really dive into that we can surprise them with. It is all going to be about going out there and playing smash-mouth football.”

Interim Browns coach Gregg Williams said he was “happy” for Jackson and called him a “very smart coach.” However, he said the Browns won’t change any of their play call or audibles and Jackson’s familiarity with the Browns won’t make much difference once the game starts.

“There is nothing private in our world anymore,” Williams said. “Every single clip of film is out there for everybody to watch. It is about execution. We have to go and execute. Even in practices, our guys know what the guys on the other side of the ball are going to be doing, but they get out-executed at times.”

Randall said Jackson’s impact will be minimal.

It’s not him vs. the Browns, it’s the Bengals vs. the Browns.

“The game is on 11-on-11 up on the field and I don’t feel like them having him over there is going to give them no type of edge,” he said.

“It is what it is. They see what we do up on film. Whatever they need to know, they can watch film and see it. We don’t got nothing to hide over here, we’re here to play football and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

NOTES: Williams said he intends to interview for Cleveland’s full-time job once the season ends. Last week, general manager John Dorsey said Williams had earned an interview with the job he’s done since stepping in. … The starting left tackle job remains an open competition between rookie Desmond Harrison and Greg Robinson, who started the past two games before the bye.


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Turnovers, leaky defense compound Buccaneers QB quandary

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It doesn't seem to matter who's playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Turnovers and a leaky defense are hindering the team's chances of being successful.

The Bucs (3-7) have dropped seven of eight games following a 2-0 start, vacillating back and forth between

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It doesn’t seem to matter who’s playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Turnovers and a leaky defense are hindering the team’s chances of being successful.

The Bucs (3-7) have dropped seven of eight games following a 2-0 start, vacillating back and forth between Winston and Fitzpatrick, who’ve played well enough at times that Tampa Bay leads the NFL in passing yards and total offense.

The quarterbacks have also been turnover-prone, with their mistakes compounded by a porous defense that not only has yielded a league-high 329 points but hasn’t forced a turnover in the past seven games.

Coach Dirk Koetter, who has not announced who’ll start this week against the San Francisco 49ers, conceded Monday that the team’s turnover differential of minus-23 through 10 games is a mind-boggling statistic.

“It’s boggling on both ends. That we have that few takeaways and that many giveaways. It’s a ridiculous number to have the disparity be that much,” Koetter said Monday.

“What’s even crazier is we play a team coming up this week that has one fewer takeaway than we do,” the coach added. “It seems impossible. But it is a fact (although) they don’t have as many turnovers as we do.”

Koetter changed quarterbacks for the third time this season, benching Fitzpatrick during Sunday’s 38-35 loss to the New York Giants.

Winston, benched last month after throwing four interceptions in a loss at Cincinnati, entered the game after Fitzpatrick was picked off three times in falling behind 24-7 and led touchdown drives on four consecutive possessions.

Koetter said Monday he’d made a decision on which quarterback will start Sunday’s home game against San Francisco, but he did not want to announce it because he had not yet talked to Winston and Fitzpatrick individually.

“Even though I know what we’re going to do, I’m not going to be able to say it today because I would never tell the media before I told the quarterbacks themselves,” Koetter said.

The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter while Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft, was serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Since topping 400 yards passing in back-to-back wins over New Orleans and Philadelphia, Fitzpatrick has lost five consecutive starts. Winston is 1-2 as a starter this season and also has played twice in relief of Fitzpatrick.

The common denominator in the team’s seven losses is the team has fallen behind early and been unable to escape double-digit deficits. In wins over the Saints, Eagles and Cleveland Browns, the Bucs led most of the way before holding on at the end.

“Almost every game we get some beautiful, beautiful play at quarterback. Some tremendous throws, good decision-making, some beautiful adjustments,” Koetter said. “But at other times we have some bad decision-making that result in turnovers. That’s hurting our team.”

Although the coach did not confirm whether Winston performed well enough against the Giants to reclaim the starting job, Koetter acknowledged the fourth-year pro “played better” and “for the most part made good decisions with the football.”

“Our quarterback play in general has been spectacular at times and not good enough at times,” the coach said. “That’s just the story of where we’re at on offense right now.”

Fitzpatrick said after Sunday’s game that he was proud of the way Winston led the team back against the Giants.

“It’s not easy to not have any preparation and be working with the scout team and get thrown in there during the middle of the game,” Fitzpatrick said.

Winston, meanwhile, would not speculate on who might start against the 49ers.

“I’m worried about finding a way to win our last six games. … I don’t have that much control over that, but my play can speak for me,” Winston said. “That’s the only thing I can control, and I’m going to do my best … if I get the opportunity.”


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Elliott, Cowboys in thick of NFC East with Redskins up next

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott still had five more games to watch last year after the Dallas Cowboys lost in Atlanta at the beginning of their star running back's six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

After playing a huge role in helping the Cowboys thrust themselves into the NFC East race with

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott still had five more games to watch last year after the Dallas Cowboys lost in Atlanta at the beginning of their star running back’s six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

After playing a huge role in helping the Cowboys thrust themselves into the NFC East race with a win at the Falcons, Elliott will be right in the middle of trying to get them back to the playoffs instead of having to watch a season go south without the 2016 NFL rushing champ.

“We can’t lose this grit. We can’t lose the way we’re going out there and working every day. We can’t lose the way we’re going out there and competing on Sundays,” Elliott said after a 22-19 win over the Falcons . “We’ve got to build on that.”

It’s quite a two-game streak to build on for Dallas (5-5): road victories over the past two Super Bowl participants from the NFC, before which the Cowboys were winless away from home and teetering on playoff extinction just halfway through the season.

And it set up a Thanksgiving showdown against Washington (6-4) on Thursday with the division lead on the line.

“That’s all that much more reason to appreciate how this team’s come together and be where we are right now,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We (Cowboys and Redskins) don’t always play for a title, but to some degree, we’re playing for it out there Thanksgiving day.”

Both victories featured winning drives to answer tying fourth-quarter touchdowns — first against defending champion Philadelphia . The Cowboys actually answered two tying TDs in the final quarter against the Eagles.

Elliott had two of his five 100-yard rushing games and combined for 388 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in wins over the Eagles and Falcons.

Instead of wondering what they’ll do without that kind of production, the Cowboys are feeding off growing confidence in an offensive line that is finally absorbing changes and the residual benefits of new No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper, acquired in a trade when Dallas was 3-4 going into its open week.

“We’ve talked about that for a couple weeks now,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “The way teams are playing us and the way they’re playing Amari and adjusting their coverages has given us favorable boxes. The offensive line is doing a great job of taking advantage of that. Zeke’s finding holes and making people miss.”

Prescott was sacked a career-high eight times in his first game without Elliott last year against the Falcons, the start of a three-game losing streak.

Although the Cowboys won the final three without their running back, the margin for error was gone. A loss to Seattle in Elliott’s return eliminated Dallas a year after Prescott and Elliott led the team to an NFC-best 13 wins.

The reward for the current two-game surge is three straight home games, although one-loss New Orleans is the middle opponent. After an extended break following the Saints game, the Eagles visit. Philadelphia’s hopes of a repeat are fading coming off a blowout loss at New Orleans.

“We played our way back into this thing, but this one is every bit as big as the last two,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said on his radio show Monday. “So, we got to pull this off and it’s great we put ourselves back into a position to be relevant here.”

The formula from the two road wins seems to be the best hope for the Cowboys. The defense keeps them in games, as it has done several times this season, while the offense makes the winning plays late.

One of the fourth-quarter TDs against Atlanta was set up by rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s second interception in as many games.

“We’re gelling at the right time,” Prescott said. “We’re complementing the defense. They get turnovers. We’re turning them into points and when you do that, you give yourself a chance. We know we’re going to be in every game.”


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Johnson’s injury a concern for Lions after win over Panthers

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Kerryon Johnson has been a bright spot for Detroit in a season with plenty of struggles.

Now the Lions are finally coming off a win — but Johnson exited that victory with a left knee injury.

Detroit's rookie running back went down in the second half of Sunday's

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Kerryon Johnson has been a bright spot for Detroit in a season with plenty of struggles.

Now the Lions are finally coming off a win — but Johnson exited that victory with a left knee injury.

Detroit’s rookie running back went down in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers, and although the Lions had to be pleased to snap a three-game losing streak, they face a daunting task over the next couple of weeks.

Detroit has a short turnaround before its Thanksgiving game against Chicago — not a great situation for a player recovering from an injury — and then the Lions face the Los Angeles Rams.

Johnson has boosted Detroit’s previously moribund running game. He has rushed for 641 yards on the season — more than anyone on the Lions managed last season — but it’s not clear when he’ll be able to play again.

“Not sure what his situation is, but we’ve dealt with it in other areas on our team before. Just next guy up, let’s go,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

“We have a bunch of guys in that room that are talented. If they need to play more, they’ll play more. If they don’t, then we’ll roll with what we have.”

Detroit was already without wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) against Carolina. Then Johnson left the game, but the Lions were able to win anyway thanks to some big catches by receiver Kenny Golladay.

Detroit (4-6) still faces an uphill climb to make the playoffs. Its next two games are at home but against first-place teams. If Johnson isn’t available, the path becomes even tougher.

“We’ll take it day by day. We’ll see how it goes,” coach Matt Patricia said Monday. “We just have to stay even keel with all of it and make sure we prepare like we’re just pushing forward.”

Johnson leads the Lions with 118 carries. LeGarrette Blount has 78 and Stafford has 21. No other Detroit player has more than nine. Blount is averaging only 2.3 yards per attempt.

“Certainly, Kerryon has a skillset that’s great, just like a lot of our other guys do,” Patricia said. “I think we have good players, we have dynamic guys, guys that can make plays in different ways and it’s not cookie-cutter. Football is not that way. When you have a different player that’s in and in the same position, it doesn’t mean that they can do the same thing. You have to be able to adjust.”

The Lions could always bring in someone from outside the organization to help at running back, but there’s not much time before the next game.

Running back Zach Zenner, who signed with the Lions earlier this month, could have a bigger role now. Zenner has played sporadically for Detroit since the 2015 season — he had 88 carries in 2016.

“No matter what it means for me, it’s always disappointing to see a teammate get injured,” Zenner said. “Kerryon’s a good teammate, good person, good friend. So it’s certainly tough to see him have an injury. I don’t know what the situation is. Hopefully he’ll be back, ready to go, but if not, I’ll be ready to do whatever I’m asked.”


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Longacre inactive, Watkins active for Rams-Chiefs showdown

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Linebacker Matt Longacre is inactive for the Los Angeles Rams' showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Newcomer Dante Fowler started in Longacre's spot Monday night.

Longacre had started the Rams' past seven games, and he wasn't listed on Los Angeles' injury reports during the week.

Former Rams receiver Sammy

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Linebacker Matt Longacre is inactive for the Los Angeles Rams’ showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Newcomer Dante Fowler started in Longacre’s spot Monday night.

Longacre had started the Rams’ past seven games, and he wasn’t listed on Los Angeles’ injury reports during the week.

Former Rams receiver Sammy Watkins is active for the Chiefs after missing last week’s game with a foot injury.

The Chiefs’ inactives are safety Eric Berry, receiver Gehrig Dieter, defensive lineman Justin Hamilton, offensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie, center Mitch Morse, running back Darrel Williams and tight end Deon Yelder.

The Rams other inactives are defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, running back John Kelly, tight end Johnny Mundt, linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, defensive back Darious Williams and receiver Nick Williams.


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For Bears, handling success is unfamiliar territory

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — With a tighter grip on the NFC North, the Chicago Bears are in unfamiliar territory and facing a different kind of challenge as the season heads toward its final stretch.

Learning to handle success.

"We have to make sure that we just continue to keep those blinders on,

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — With a tighter grip on the NFC North, the Chicago Bears are in unfamiliar territory and facing a different kind of challenge as the season heads toward its final stretch.

Learning to handle success.

“We have to make sure that we just continue to keep those blinders on, keep the earmuffs on, don’t listen to anything and just keep playing our football,” coach Matt Nagy said.

The Bears sure look as if they’re serious about winning the division after a 25-20 primetime victory over the second-place Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The defense dominated, with Khalil Mack leading the way. Cody Parkey bounced back from a miserable performance to make all three of his field goals. And the Bears (7-3) came away with their fourth straight win.

It’s quite a change for a franchise with four consecutive last-place finishes. For the first time in years, managing success is an issue for the Bears.

“When it’s the other way, and people tell you how bad of a coach you are, how poor of a player you are and you should be cut and you should be fired, we don’t listen to it,” said Nagy, in his first season as a head coach. “So it’s the same thing when you’re having success. You don’t listen to it. You understand both sides, but we worry about what’s said in this building.”

There are plenty of good things to say about the Bears at the moment.

They’re heading toward their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season. They’re on their longest win streak since a six-game run in 2012. They beat division opponents the past two weeks after dropping 10 in a row against them. And they could make it three over the NFC North in a 12-day span with a victory at Detroit on Thursday.

The Bears beat the Lions 34-22 at Soldier Field on Nov. 11 , with Mitchell Trubisky throwing for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns. Chicago also jumped out to a 26-0 lead and sacked Matthew Stafford six times in that game.

The victory over Minnesota was a sort of validation for Chicago after beating teams with losing records the previous three games, including the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

“It shows that we can battle with the best of them,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “It shows that we are still getting better and that we haven’t reached our ceiling yet. Only we can decide what our ceiling is.”

The Bears are looking good at the moment, with a defense ranked third overall through Sunday. They were allowing league lows in yards rushing per game (77.8) and per carry (3.5), and had more interceptions (18) and takeaways (27) than any other team.

“I think our offense is doing a great job with having the first possession and putting points on the board,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.

“Our offense is really getting things going, so it makes it a little bit easier for the defense because now we know the opposing team’s offense needs to get going and start passing more to get points on the board.”

Mack had a sack against Minnesota, giving him three in the past two weeks and eight in eight games this season. And Eddie Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Parkey also got some redemption after hitting uprights four times while missing two field goals and two extra points against the Lions. But he didn’t attempt an extra point on Sunday.

Nagy opted to go for two after each of their two touchdowns. And he acknowledged Parkey’s struggles the previous week factored into those decisions. He also insisted his own aggressive nature and a belief the plays would work were big reasons.

Chicago converted both times, with Trubisky passing to Josh Bellamy in the second quarter and Adam Shaheen in the fourth.

“It worked,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t always work. And you’ve got to make sure that you get two out of every three.”

Nagy said he discussed the plan with Parkey and wasn’t worried about how it would impact his confidence.

“Whenever you’re honest with people, it’s so easy to do what you do because you’re real with them,” Nagy said. “You tell them exactly what you’re feeling and everybody knows the plan.”


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