Mayfield and Barkley have strong debuts in preseason opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley lived up to early expectations as the top two picks in the NFL draft in their first action as the Cleveland Browns beat the New York Giants 20-10 on Thursday night.

Replacing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first quarter, Mayfield hit 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and converted two fourth-down plays with his feet. The Heisman Trophy winner who was the No. 1 overall pick found tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard TD pass to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive on his second series. He finished his debut with a completion on a 54-yard slant and run to fellow rookie Antonio Callaway.

Taylor, expected to be coach Hue Jackson’s starter as Mayfield learns this season, hit all five of his passes in two series, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Njoku, a New Jersey native.

Barkley, the No. 2 pick, electrified the fans at MetLife Stadium, taking a handoff from Eli Manning on the opening play from scrimmage and turning no apparent hole into a 39-yard run down the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench. It set up a 42-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.

The Penn State running back finished with 43 yards on five carries.

STEELERS 31, EAGLES 14

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs each tossed touchdown passes and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles rested several starters, including quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. Nate Sudfeld threw a pair of touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown sat for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t signed his franchise tender.

Jones completed all four of his passes for 83 yards, including a 71-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the first quarter. Smith-Schuster made a leaping catch over Rasul Douglas at the 33 and ran untouched to the end zone.

Fitzgerald Toussaint had a 3-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion, while Dobbs threw a 29-yard TD pass to Damoun Patterson.

Sudfeld threw a perfect strike for a 63-yard TD to Shelton Gibson and fired a 15-yard TD pass to rookie Dallas Goedert. He finished 10 of 14 for 140 yards.

Wentz still hasn’t been cleared for contact after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee last December. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, has missed a few practices with muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder.

Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick competing with Jones and Dobbs for the backup job to Roethlisberger, was 7 of 12 for 101 yards.

PANTHERS 28, BILLS 23

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s feud with former teammate Panthers quarterback Cam Newton continued before and during Carolina’s preseason-opening win.

First, the two exchanged words on the field about 90 minutes before kickoff. Then they each played key roles in touchdowns drives in the first quarter.

Benjamin caught four passes for 59 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown reception from Nathan Peterman on Buffalo’s first possession. Newton responded on the next possession, completing 4 of 5 attempts for 67 yards as part of an 85-yard drive capped by Christian McCaffrey’s 2-yard run.

The bad blood between the two emerged last week when Benjamin criticized Newton’s accuracy and questioned why the Panthers used a first-round pick to draft Benjamin in 2014. It was the latest time Benjamin has voiced his frustrations since forcing his trade to Buffalo in October.

Before the game, a video posted by The Charlotte Observer showed Benjamin chatting with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis when Newton approached the two and attempted to shake Benjamin’s hand. Newton waved away Davis, and then had a brief discussion with Benjamin before the receiver began walking away.

Newton followed and the two talked again. The discussion ended when Benjamin shrugged and turned to walk away, and Newton waved his hand at the receiver’s back.

Newton finished 6 of 9 for 84 yards in two series.

BENGALS 30, BEARS 27

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton made a solid debut in Cincinnati’s revamped offense, throwing for a pair of touchdowns.

The Bengals were last in the league on offense last season, the worst finish in franchise history. They overhauled their leaky offensive line, and coordinator Bill Lazor injected more diversity into the playbook. It showed the first time out.

Dalton went 6 of 8 for 103 yards, completing four passes of at least 20 yards. He also had an interception that wasn’t his fault — John Ross fell on his route and Kyle Fuller returned the pickoff 47 yards to the end zone.

The Bears (0-2) rested most of their starters during a 17-16 loss to the Ravens in the Hall of Fame game, including quarterback Mitchell Trubisky . His preseason debut didn’t go very well.

Trubisky was in for two series that netted minus-1 yard on eight plays. The Bears’ only first down on those series came on Carlos Dunlap’s penalty for roughing the quarterback, a late hit on Trubisky. He missed on a deep sideline pass to Kevin White on his opening throw and finished 2 of 4 for 4 yards.

SAINTS 24, JAGUARS 20

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg. Bortles was poised in the pocket and nearly perfect in one series of work, a significant improvement from the way his preseason started a year ago. Bortles had a five-interception performance during a training camp practice in 2017 and continued to struggle during joint practices with New England. He was benched two weeks into the preseason and had to earn the starting job.

A year later, his starting spot is as solid as just about anyone’s on the team. It showed against the Saints.

Bortles led the Jaguars on a 15-play, 79-yard drive to open the game. He converted both third-down passes he faced and finished off the series by going untouched around the right side.

Saints star Drew Brees got the night off, allowing backup Tom Savage to play the first half. Savage completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards. Brees only played in one preseason game in 2017.

Mark Ingram, suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers, carried seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown. Ingram scored against Jacksonville’s backups and after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive alive.

BUCCANEERS 26, DOLPHINS 24

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro made a 26-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to cap a 67-yard drive and give them the win.

Ryan Tannehill completed passes on the first four plays in his return from two serious injuries to his left knee, sparking a 40-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal in his only series.

Tannehill, seeing his first action since December 2016, was off-target on his final two throws and finished 4 for 6 for 32 yards.

Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston played the second quarter against Miami’s second team and led a group of reserves to 10 points on drives of 32 and 40 yards. He went 11 for 13 for 102 yards in four series.

Winston is suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Stills and Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Buccaneers.

___

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

Minn.-raised WRs Fitzgerald, Thielen on stage in Cards-Vikes

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adam Thielen wasn't even in high school yet when Larry Fitzgerald entered the NFL in 2004 with Arizona with the acclaim of the third overall pick in the draft.

Nine years later, Thielen needed a rookie tryout camp with Minnesota just to earn a roster spot. It took a season

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adam Thielen wasn’t even in high school yet when Larry Fitzgerald entered the NFL in 2004 with Arizona with the acclaim of the third overall pick in the draft.

Nine years later, Thielen needed a rookie tryout camp with Minnesota just to earn a roster spot. It took a season on the practice squad and two more years spent mostly on special teams to set him up to break out as one of the league’s best wide receivers — and underdog stories.

With Fitzgerald’s impeccable career with the Cardinals (1-4) winding down, Thielen’s has just begun to take off with the Vikings (2-2-1). Though they play the same position and won’t actually face each other on the field, the matchup Sunday has created an opportunity for these Minnesota-raised pass catchers and summer golfing pals to reflect on their paths to success. And their admiration for each other.

“Being born and raised in Minnesota like him, it just makes me so damn proud to see him doing the things he’s doing, but not just on the field. The way he carries himself, the constant professional, the teammate he is,” said Fitzgerald, who will decide this winter whether to come back for a 16th season. “Being around him at different events, the guy is class personified, and it just makes me so, so happy to see somebody like that be rewarded.”

Fitzgerald, as a teenage ball boy for the Vikings in the late 1990s, befriended Cris Carter and Randy Moss and was able to glean up-close tips he used to develop into one of the most well-rounded and well-conditioned players at this glamorous position. He has missed only six games in 15 years.

Thielen grew up watching Carter, Moss and eventually Fitzgerald on TV.

“I just know how hard he works and how successful he’s been,” Thielen said, “and I’ve really tried to emulate what I’ve done from him.”

They first met during one of Fitzgerald’s summer visits to his hometown, where he has often led workouts for quarterbacks and receivers in the area right before training camps begin. Like Fitzgerald, Thielen has flourished as a smart and sharp route runner who’s capable of winning a matchup at any spot in the formation. His durability compares, too, with perfect attendance on the field to date in his sixth NFL season.

“Early in your career you don’t understand how hard guys work, especially the guys who play a long time and are successful,” Thielen said. “So that was something for me, like, ‘Wow, this guy has been successful for a long time. He’s still out here grinding in the summer when he probably doesn’t need to.””

Here are some other key angles to follow on Sunday:

CHALLENGE OF CHANDLER

The Vikings are well aware of the danger posed by Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, who had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup last week against the 49ers to win the NFC defensive player of the week award.

“He can take over a game at any time. I just hope he can continue to progress in that direction,” coach Steve Wilks said.

Jones, who led the NFL last season with a franchise-record 17 sacks and has a league-leading 32 sacks and 48 tackles for loss since arriving in Arizona in 2016, has 13 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and a touchdown return of a blocked field goal in matchups with Minnesota in 2015 and 2016.

RUNNING BEHIND

Despite the presence of one of the NFL’s most dynamic running backs, David Johnson, the Cardinals rank last in the NFL in rushing with an average of 64.6 yards per game. Johnson has 242 rushing yards, plus 120 receiving yards. Averaging just 3.3 yards per rush, Johnson has had little space in which to use his skills behind a struggling offensive line. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns in 2016.

“We definitely can play better, without a doubt,” Wilks said. “I think if you asked those guys that question, they’d tell you the same thing: too inconsistent.”

RUNNING BEHIND, PART TWO

The Vikings are second to last in the league in rushing with an average of 65.8 yards per game, after ranking seventh last season. Running back Dalvin Cook has been held out of two of the last three games because of a hamstring injury, but he’s on track to return against the Cardinals. The blocking has been spotty, but the Vikings have also faced double-digit-point deficits in the second half of three of their five games.

“There’s no one in this building who wants to run the ball more than I do,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “Because it takes a lot of pressure off me.”

TURNING THE CORNER

After sitting out against the Eagles because of a concussion, cornerback Trae Waynes has returned to action this week for the Vikings. Due to injuries to his knee, his ankle and then his head, Waynes has also missed the second half of three games this season.

“It’s part of the game. Injuries happen,” Waynes said. “You’ve just got to overcome them.”

Rookie Mike Hughes has played the left cornerback spot when Waynes was out, but the first-round draft pick will be able to move back inside to the slot when the Vikings are in their nickel defense.

“He’s got great quickness and talent, and he’s a good kid,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Works real hard, trying to get better, asks a lot of questions. So I’ve been pleased with him.”

LONG TIME

The Cardinals have not won in Minnesota in nine visits since 1977, 11 seasons before they moved from St. Louis to the Phoenix area.

___

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

Read More 905 Words

Madness, not sadness: Browns turn home field into advantage

CLEVELAND (AP) — Empty seats. Anemic football. Bad vibes.

Home field hasn't meant any advantage in recent years for the Browns, who entered this season with three wins in their last 27 home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, dubbed "The Factory of Sadness."

Madness has been the norm so far this season.

The Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) — Empty seats. Anemic football. Bad vibes.

Home field hasn’t meant any advantage in recent years for the Browns, who entered this season with three wins in their last 27 home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, dubbed “The Factory of Sadness.”

Madness has been the norm so far this season.

The Browns (2-2-1) have played two overtime games already at home and rallied to win a nationally televised Thursday nighter to end their 19-game winless streak and breathe life into a fan base that couldn’t take much more misery.

Lifeless for years, the Dawg Pound is howling once more, and Browns coach Hue Jackson begged Cleveland fans to bring the noise for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers (3-2).

“I want them to be as loud as they have ever been,” Jackson pleaded. “This week our players will need that. We need that assistance for them. They have been outstanding, but boy, we need a little bit more from them this week, too. “

Jackson’s hoping a roaring crowd will make things tougher on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is off to one of the best starts of his 15-year NFL career. Rivers has thrown 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions, and Jackson believes Cleveland’s crowd can be as disruptive as any of the Browns’ 11 defenders.

“He’s one of the best that have played the game,” Jackson said. “It does not look like he is slowing down at all. He is one of the top quarterbacks in this league, bar none. We need 12 people when they are on offense, and the 12th person is going to be our crowd.”

Rivers often resets his offense before the snap, changing the plays after taking a look at how the defense is aligned. The Browns experienced that last season in a 19-10 loss to the Chargers.

“We’ve just got to do a better job of bogeying and disguising and making it harder for him to do that,” Browns linebacker Joe Schobert said. “I think being at home this year, where it will be harder for him to make checks if we have a loud crowd, will be an advantage to us. It will be harder for them to change every single play that will be perfectly what they want.”

Rivers enjoys playing in Cleveland.

“It is a great, kind of an old-school NFL atmosphere,” he said.

But while the setting may feel dated, Rivers knows there’s nothing out of style about the Browns and their young defense, which is leading the league with 15 takeaways. After playing against the Browns last season, Rivers felt it was just a matter of time before they jelled.

“It did not feel like they were an 0-16 team or 0-14, whatever they were when we played them last year,” he said. “It was a good football team. They just did not find ways to win. I remember our guys walking away with a heck of a lot of respect for that defense.”

This time, the Chargers will also have to deal with a hungry Cleveland crowd that has watched rookie Baker Mayfield lead two wins already.

“We feed off of the crowd’s energy,” Mayfield said. “We need to continue that, and this needs to be a place that people need to fear coming to play. It needs to be so loud that they can’t communicate, and it needs to be a harsh place for an offense to come in.”

OFF TARGET

In a season of balls going wide right, wide left and clanking off uprights around the NFL, the Chargers and Browns have had more than their share of kicking issues.

The Chargers have missed a league-leading four extra points, the Browns are tied for second with three. The teams are also near the bottom in field-goal accuracy: San Diego is 9 for 12, Cleveland 8 for 12.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn gave kicker Caleb Sturgis a tepid vote of confidence by signing a new holder last week, but Sturgis has been slowed by a quad injury. The team signed Michael Badgley, a rookie from Miami who could kick against the Browns.

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s on its second kicker: Greg Joseph, who missed a field goal and PAT last week before knuckling through a 37-yard field goal to beat Baltimore in overtime.

RECORD BEAKER

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry didn’t set out to catch the most passes in league history over his first five seasons. But that’s what he did.

Landry surpassed Larry Fitzgerald (426) last week and enters Sunday’s game with 429 receptions. Landry said he idolized Fitzgerald and never considered the mark until he was well on his way.

“I broke the second-year mark, then the third, the fourth and now the fifth,” he said. “That is when it kind of hit me, and it has been like that ever since.”

JOE PRO

The Browns will honor retired left tackle Joe Thomas , by adding 10,363 — the number of consecutive snaps he played over 11 seasons — into the team’s ring of honor.

Thomas never missed a play before suffering a torn triceps midway through last season.

“I will never forget walking on that field when he was down there and him not being able to get up, understanding that this might be it,” Jackson said. “To watch and look back on his career and see what he has done, man, that’s amazing to me. Nobody else has ever played that many consecutive snaps, and I do not know if anybody else will do that again for a long time.”

___

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

Read More 866 Words

After poor start, Lions have steadied themselves

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The last time the Detroit Lions entered their open date with a losing record, they fired the general manager.

This year, the break in the schedule has been a bit quieter.

The Lions are 2-3 and have certainly had their problems during the early part of this season,

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The last time the Detroit Lions entered their open date with a losing record, they fired the general manager.

This year, the break in the schedule has been a bit quieter.

The Lions are 2-3 and have certainly had their problems during the early part of this season, but after winning two of their last three games, they appear to have achieved some stability. At the very least, there’s no sense of panic — and that’s noteworthy given how poorly Detroit’s first couple games went.

“We just know what we have. The games that we lost, we had a lot of mental mistakes,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “When we’re a team that doesn’t do that and has less penalties, and can keep a sustained drive and stuff like that, it’s completely different. That’s all we have to do is keep doing that.”

It was hard to imagine a more distressing beginning for the Lions than their 48-17 loss to the Jets in their season opener. That was new coach Matt Patricia’s first game, and Detroit let a bad stretch in the third quarter snowball into a rout. A loss at San Francisco the following weekend had the Lions staring at a possible 0-5 start, since their next three games would be against New England, Dallas and Green Bay.

Detroit did start 0-5 back in 2015, and at 1-7, the Lions fired GM Martin Mayhew. After that, Detroit produced back-to-back 9-7 seasons, making the playoffs in one of them, but the Lions wanted more and made a coaching change last offseason, bringing in Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell.

“Coach Caldwell and Patricia are completely, totally opposite as people. It will be some changes, but with anything, you get used to them,” receiver Golden Tate said. “You’ve just got to adjust.”

After the first two games, Detroit seemed in danger of taking a big step backward this year. That may still happen, but the past three games have given the Lions reasons to be hopeful. Patricia’s first win came against his former team when Detroit beat New England . Last weekend, the Lions held off Green Bay 31-23 in Patricia’s first game against an NFC North opponent.

“Hopefully we are getting better. I think we are,” Patricia said. “I would say there are still some things that, after getting done watching all the tape, that I’m probably going to make sure we get corrected pretty quick here coming out of (Sunday’s) game. It wasn’t really all perfect.”

Detroit had some good fortune last weekend when Mason Crosby of the Packers missed four field goals and an extra point, but the Lions have improved in some tangible ways. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions in the season opener but has only one since, and Detroit’s long-dormant running game has at least become serviceable with rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. The Lions are ranked 21st in rushing offense this season after finishing 28th, 32nd, 30th and 32nd the past four years.

“When you break the huddle and you’re at the line of scrimmage and the defense really isn’t sure if it’s a run or if it’s a pass, that’s a pretty good position for an offense to be in,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “If you’re making yards on the ground, you’re making yards throwing the ball, you’re a little bit of a dual threat there for the defense, it can put them in some difficult situations.”

The Lions have plenty of issues they still have to deal with. They’re ranked 27th in total defense, and defensive end Ziggy Ansah — back this season on the franchise tag — has missed four straight games with a shoulder injury. Detroit hasn’t won away from home, and three of its next four games are on the road, starting with a matchup at Miami on Oct. 21.

Still, the Lions have kept their season from falling apart after a terrible start. If they can make it to the halfway point in decent shape, then Patricia will have every opportunity to turn his debut year into a success.

“It’s early in October, so hopefully we can keep progressing,” Patricia said. “But I think, I hope we’re moving in the right direction.”

___

Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

___

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

Read More 663 Words

Suddenly pass-happy Jags visit throwing-challenged Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With Blake Bortles piling up passing numbers like never before in his career, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone wants to get the Jaguars back to running.

Dak Prescott, Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys have the opposite issue heading into a Sunday matchup with familiar faces on both sidelines.

Bortles

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With Blake Bortles piling up passing numbers like never before in his career, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone wants to get the Jaguars back to running.

Dak Prescott, Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys have the opposite issue heading into a Sunday matchup with familiar faces on both sidelines.

Bortles has a chance to be just the fifth NFL quarterback with at least 375 yards passing in three straight games after establishing a career high in consecutive weeks. He also had a career-high four interceptions last week, which helped explain a 30-14 loss to undefeated Kansas City.

There was something else that bothered Marrone against the Chiefs: a season-low 17 rushing attempts to go with Bortles’ personal high of 61 throws. The only other game this season with fewer than 20 carries? The other loss for Jacksonville (3-2), against Tennessee.

“That’s not the way we want to play,” Marrone said. “I probably should have done a better job of that. I just felt like we were pressing and trying to make plays. I just think overall I have to do a better job of managing that.”

Of course, the Jaguars have some pretty good reasons to tilt toward the pass. Running back Leonard Fournette will be out for the fourth time in six games with a hamstring injury. Jacksonville is on its third left tackle in Josh Walker.

The Jaguars signed two-time All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles this week and expect him to contribute behind T.J. Yeldon against the Cowboys (2-3).

“I think we were pretty fortunate last year as far as staying healthy,” Bortles said. “This year we haven’t been quite as lucky. These next three weeks, not looking ahead or anything, but to get to the bye week are important with the amount of guys we have down.”

The Cowboys aren’t looking for 375 yards passing from Prescott because they have the NFL rushing leader in Ezekiel Elliott. But inefficiency throwing is the biggest reason Dallas has a losing record and questions inside and outside the locker room about play-calling.

The bright side for Dallas: another home game. The Cowboys are trying to win the first three at home for the first time at 9-year-old AT&T Stadium. The worst of the offensive issues have been on the road.

“You just keep banging away,” Garrett said. “There’s a lot of good things we’re doing offensively. We have to continue to build on those. There’s plenty of things we’ve got to shore up and we’ll try to address those things as directly as we can.”

Things to know about the first meeting between these teams since the Cowboys made their first regular-season trip to London four years ago:

FAMILIAR FACES

Dallas receiver Allen Hurns, who questioned the play call on one of Prescott’s interceptions but said he wasn’t second-guessing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, spent his first four years in Jacksonville before signing with the Cowboys in free agency this past offseason.

Safety Barry Church, in his second year with the Jaguars, was a cornerstone for the Dallas defense the last four of his seven seasons with the Cowboys. Both will be facing their former team for the first time.

“It’s just like playing against your brother,” said Hurns, who had his first touchdown with the Cowboys in last week’s overtime loss to Houston but has just eight catches. “You don’t want to lose. I don’t want to say this game is bigger than any other game, but for sure one I want to win.”

SPEAKING OF FAMILIAR

Charles was a standout at Texas and won a national championship with the Longhorns as a freshman during the 2005 season. The former Chiefs star whose career has been marred by knee injuries lives near Houston.

The 31-year-old had been unsigned after spending last season as a backup in Denver. His return will be his first visit to the home of the Cowboys, a week after he was in Dallas watching the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry.

“I’m ready to get the dust off these cleats,” he said.

DEFENSE FIRST

The Jaguars rode their defense to the AFC championship game last season. The Cowboys are relying on that unit more than usual with the difficulties in the passing game and an offensive line unsettled because of the absence of four-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, who is battling a nerve condition.

Both teams are in the top five in scoring defense and bottom seven in scoring offense.

“It’s going to be a battle among the defenses,” Dallas defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “That’s the way I’m looking at it.”

___

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

Read More 716 Words

Broncos’ defenders eager for Phillips’ return with Rams

DENVER (AP) — Wade Phillips returns to Denver this weekend and several Broncos can't wait to hug it out with their former defensive coordinator.

Phillips was the Broncos' beloved bandmaster when they were riding firetrucks in a downtown parade and Von Miller was showing off the Super Bowl trophy 2½ years ago.

"Coach

DENVER (AP) — Wade Phillips returns to Denver this weekend and several Broncos can’t wait to hug it out with their former defensive coordinator.

Phillips was the Broncos’ beloved bandmaster when they were riding firetrucks in a downtown parade and Von Miller was showing off the Super Bowl trophy 2½ years ago.

“Coach Phillips is football royalty ,” a man for whom “the moments were never too big and the moments were never too small,” said Miller, who recalled Phillips depressurizing his defense before Super Bowl 50 by declaring: “All the mistakes are on me and you can just go out there and play.”

“It just shows you what type of coach that he is,” Miller said. “He’s dope.”

Now 71, Phillips is leading a revitalized Rams defense for 32-year-old Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay, who brings a 5-0 team to Denver on Sunday to face the reeling Broncos (2-3).

This game was supposed to mark Aqib Talib’s return, too. But the star cornerback is sidelined with an ankle injury, which bums out Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

“Definitely. You love having that competition,” Harris said. “He’s going to talk mess to me if we lose, and if we win, then I’m definitely hollering at him.”

Harris is certainly embracing Phillips, win or lose.

“Wade, he just gave you so much confidence in yourself. I’ll never forget, I had one bad game, and he’s just, ‘You’re the best. You’re going to get it next week. I’m ready for you next week. I’ve got a big game plan for you to make plays next week,'” Harris recounted. “He just knows how to lift you up and brings your potential out of you.”

The Broncos didn’t renew Phillips’ contract after the 2016 season and McVay was thrilled to hire him shortly after becoming the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

“You’re probably going to have a tough time finding anyone that doesn’t really like him and enjoy being around Wade,” McVay said. “He’s got a great way about himself, a great feel for this game, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s all about making sure that he listens to people, wants to try and put players in great spots.”

Denver’s defenders still talk glowingly about their time with Phillips.

“He’s an old guy, but he acts young,” Harris said. “He tries to be hip with everything and he just loves the game. It’s not hard to play for a coach that really loves the game, really wants to win.”

Broncos coach Vance Joseph called Phillips “my football father,” a football genius and a great man.

“He was a killer on Sundays,” Joseph said. “He had great timing with his calls and he was going to be aggressive. I’m watching this defense and it’s Wade Phillips.”

Phillips, who began his NFL coaching career as an assistant for his father, Bum, in Houston in 1969, is now doling out praise and pointers with his 10th NFL franchise.

“Man, Wade’s been around since dinosaurs have been here,” Broncos linebacker Shane Ray said. “So, I think he’s just got that feel.”

Other subplots as the Broncos aim for their first win over the Rams since 2002:

WOODS’ WOES

Phillips’ protege, Joe Woods, hasn’t enjoyed nearly the same success since replacing him last season, and the situation is quickly becoming dire.

The Broncos, who are 7-14 since Phillips’ departure, have surrendered 958 yards the last two weeks, but Joseph said he won’t be taking over the play-calling duties Sunday.

“Joe’s the coordinator,” Joseph said. “So, he’s calling the plays.”

CHANGES PROMISED

Joseph said he’d shake things up after Denver’s demoralizing 34-16 loss to the Jets, but declined to bench struggling cornerback Bradley Roby, who allowed three long touchdowns and failed to follow proper protocol for calling in sick Monday.

One change that might occur is Max Garcia replacing right guard Connor McGovern, but it appears left tackle Garett Bolles’ job is safe despite being unable to break his holding habit.

Poor protection has contributed to QB Case Keenum rushing his mechanics. He had just five TD passes, has already tied last year’s seven interceptions and is on pace for 42 sacks, about double the number he had in Minnesota last season.

SNOW SHOW

The Rams are aware of the snow in the forecast for Denver this weekend — “Hopefully it slows them down a little bit,” Broncos GM John Elway said — but McVay isn’t worried about his warm-weather team’s ability to handle it.

“Out here in Southern California, unless we want to go to an ice rink, I don’t think we can mimic and emulate that,” McVay said.

RICKETY RAMS

Receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp both left their last game with head injuries, but are expected to play as the Rams seek their first 6-0 start since 2001.

All-Pro kicker Greg Zuerlein has a groin injury, which means Cairo Santos will kick in Denver. Santos made both of his field-goal attempts in Seattle last week, including the winner with 6:05 to play, but also missed an extra point.

___

AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham contributed.

___

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

___

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

Read More 803 Words

Jets’ Maye laughs off jokes over falling short of TD on INT

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Marcus Maye is in the NFL record books for one of the best plays of his football career — and easily the most embarrassing.

The Jets safety has been a staple of the highlight (and blooper) reels this week for his 104-yard interception return on the final play

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Marcus Maye is in the NFL record books for one of the best plays of his football career — and easily the most embarrassing.

The Jets safety has been a staple of the highlight (and blooper) reels this week for his 104-yard interception return on the final play of New York’s 34-16 victory over Denver last Sunday . Maye picked off Case Keenum’s pass in the end zone and took off, making a few cuts and then chugging his way to the other end of the field.

But something funny happened on his way to a game-ending touchdown: He was caught and tackled. At the 1-yard line.

It’s the longest interception return without a player scoring in NFL history .

“I’ve seen it a bunch,” a smiling Maye said Thursday, “and I laugh every time I see it.”

He has taken plenty of ribbing about it, too, from his teammates and coaches.

“It looked like it was in slow motion,” coach Todd Bowles quipped.

“Usually in practice, we pitch the ball to each other to go score if we get tired,” safety Jamal Adams said, “and Marcus Maye did not pitch the ball!”

Maye was playing in his second game of the season after missing the bulk of training camp and the preseason while dealing with ankle and foot injuries. The second-year safety had offseason ankle surgery and is still rounding into shape. He has been limited this week at practice.

So, it’s no wonder he started running out of gas by the time he reached midfield.

“I feel like once I got across the 50 and back to our sideline, all train of thought went out the window,” he said. “I was so tired.”

On the play, Keenum’s pass to Courtland Sutton was deflected by Morris Claiborne and fell into the hands of Maye, who turned around, scooted out of the end zone and took off down the right sideline. He avoided a diving Keenum and then made a cut to avoid two would-be tacklers and headed across the field to the left sideline with a pack of teammates blocking for him.

Broncos right guard Connor McGovern then tried to get Maye, who easily shook the tackle attempt and then headed to the middle of the field as he set his sights on the end zone. But Sutton caught up to Maye and made a diving stop, leaving the Jets safety 1 yard shy of a touchdown.

“I didn’t even see 14 (Sutton) back there,” Maye said. “All I saw was the O-lineman. Once I hit the ground, I was like, ‘Oh, well.'”

Maye laid face-down in the end zone as teammate Parry Nickerson patted him on the back.

“I’ve got to get into the end zone some way,” Maye said.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Maye ran a total of 140.7 yards on the return — the league’s third-longest play this season behind only Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill (140.9 on a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown) and Detroit’s Jamal Agnew (142.1 on a 73-yard punt return for a TD that was nullified by a penalty and credited as a 4-yard return).

“Yeah, I’ve been running,” Maye said when asked if he has gotten into better shape the last few days. “I’ve been running sprints in between periods and getting on the bike and stuff like that.”

All kidding aside, it was a good all-around game for Maye, who had eight tackles — six solo — a sack, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and the interception.

“He sees the game very well, he knows the game,” Bowles said. “He’s pretty bright for a young guy.”

Maye made his season debut two weeks ago at Jacksonville, when he made six total tackles. The safety can see improvement from that game to his performance last week — even with that, well, sluggish ending.

“I felt a lot better,” Maye said. “Each day, each week, you just try to stack the days. Jacksonville, the first game back and first outing, you see things and try to react to them. But for the most part, coming into Denver week, I felt better and felt like I was moving around more and knew what was going on, so it was a better outing.”

NOTES: DE Leonard Williams didn’t practice with what Bowles said was a sore back. It’s too early to tell if it might limit him or keep him out against Indianapolis on Sunday. … RB Isaiah Crowell sat out for the second straight day with an ankle ailment. He was injured during his franchise-record 219-yard rushing performance last Sunday. … CB Trumaine Johnson (quadriceps), CB Buster Skrine (concussion), WR Charone Peake (hamstring), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (foot) and WR Terrelle Pryor (excused absence) also didn’t practice. … WR-KR Andre Roberts (elbow/foot), C Spencer Long (knee/finger), S Doug Middleton (hamstring) and TE Neal Sterling (concussion) were all limited.

___

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

Read More 763 Words

Chargers might have 6th kicker of Lynn’s tenure in Cleveland

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have used five kickers during coach Anthony Lynn's first 21 games in charge. If Caleb Sturgis' quadriceps muscle doesn't feel a whole lot better soon, they'll employ a sixth on Sunday in Cleveland.

With the Chargers well into their second straight season of inexplicably

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have used five kickers during coach Anthony Lynn’s first 21 games in charge. If Caleb Sturgis’ quadriceps muscle doesn’t feel a whole lot better soon, they’ll employ a sixth on Sunday in Cleveland.

With the Chargers well into their second straight season of inexplicably poor performances and untimely injury woes from a carousel of kickers, Lynn still doesn’t know why his team can’t find a durable, reliable foot. He’s simply looking for a solution.

“Frustrating or not, we’ve got to fix it, so …” Lynn said Thursday.

The kicking saga took another twist this week when Sturgis, who won the job out of training camp, revealed he has a strained quad. Sturgis missed a field goal and an extra point and delivered a couple of short kickoffs during the Chargers’ 26-10 win over Oakland last weekend.

Sturgis also missed two extra points in Los Angeles’ previous game against San Francisco. The Chargers lead the NFL with four missed extra points this season, and Sturgis has also missed three long field goals.

The Chargers even cut Sturgis’ holder last week in an attempt to address the problem, but then the kicker came up injured.

With a two-game road trip upcoming to Cleveland and London, the Chargers (3-2) held a quick tryout Monday with three potential replacements. They signed Michael Badgley, a rookie from the University of Miami who spent training camp with Indianapolis.

Badgley could be in the Chargers’ lineup against the Browns, or he could be cut. Although he’s new to the NFL, Badgley is learning how to adjust to the constant uncertainty of his profession — an uncertainty that seems to amplify for people employed by the Chargers.

“You’re just waiting for your opportunity,” Badgley said. “Guys are saying, ‘Stay ready,’ and then this opportunity comes. I’m ready to go. I’m excited.”

The Chargers’ kicking job has been a conundrum for the franchise, the coaches and every man who has held it since the franchise relocated to Los Angeles. Even though the Bolts are a solid 12-9 since the move, they’ve done it with near-constant kicking problems.

They were last in the NFL in 2017 in field goal percentage, with four kickers combining to miss 10 of the club’s 30 attempts. They also tied for the league lead with five missed extra points.

In fact, the Chargers’ current kicking woes arguably began before Lynn’s tenure — during their last visit to Cleveland on Christmas Eve 2016.

Josh Lambo, the Chargers’ fairly steady kicker for two seasons, missed two field goal attempts in the fourth quarter of a 20-17 defeat for San Diego. That was the Browns’ last win until they beat the Jets 21 months later.

Last season, the Chargers cut Lambo and signed Younghoe Koo, who lasted four games. Travis Coons, Nick Novak and Nick Rose all stepped in with middling success, but nobody could manage the combination of consistency and health necessary to solve this problem.

So the Chargers started over in training camp, signing Roberto Aguayo and Sturgis, who won this job after getting hurt early last year during the Philadelphia Eagles’ championship season. Badgley beat out Aguayo in the Bolts’ tryout this week, Lynn said.

Sturgis’ struggles with extra points against the 49ers were blamed partly on punter/holder Drew Kaser, who was waived. He was replaced last week by Donnie Jones, Sturgis’ former holder in Philly.

“The mechanics are good between him and Donnie and the snapper,” Lynn said. “Had a lot of confidence in that group. I thought he kicked well. He missed one (field goal attempt), but he hit it well, and when he missed the extra point, you know, no one thought maybe something was wrong. But the way he missed it was bad, and then we found out that he had the quad (injury).”

But Lynn chuckled when he was asked if Sturgis would be assured of being the Chargers’ kicker in the future even if he misses this week with his injury.

“Nobody has assurance in this business,” Lynn said.

NOTES: The Chargers waived kick returner and receiver J.J. Jones to make room for Badgley on the roster. … Badgley spent training camp with the Colts alongside Adam Vinatieri, the generational model of durability in a kicker. “Just being around him, I probably learned more on kicking in that preseason than I did in four years at Miami,” Badgley said. “The biggest thing was probably just how to be a pro, and how to go about every kick in different situations, and the head game.” … Lynn was asked what he wants to see from Browns QB Baker Mayfield in order to slow him down: “I want him on his back.”

___

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

Read More 735 Words

Castonzo eager to make season debut on Colts offensive line

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo hopes to make his season debut Sunday against the New York Jets.

Castonzo was a full participant at practice Wednesday and Thursday and all indications are he will start on a short-handed offensive line.

Indy (1-4) has already used four starters at right tackle

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo hopes to make his season debut Sunday against the New York Jets.

Castonzo was a full participant at practice Wednesday and Thursday and all indications are he will start on a short-handed offensive line.

Indy (1-4) has already used four starters at right tackle this season and placed right guard Matt Slauson on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week. And center Ryan Kelly has missed two straight practices with an injured calf.

Tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron and Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton also missed a second straight practice because of injuries.

Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle) did limited work Thursday after missing last week’s game. Leonard leads the NFL in tackles.

___

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

Read More 78 Words

What a week for Josh Norman, whose Redskins take on Panthers

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — What a week for Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.

There was a benching during a 24-point loss. Criticism from a former teammate. Biting Twitter barbs from an opposing receiver.

What better way to cap it all off than a matchup for his Redskins (2-2) on Sunday against Cam Newton

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — What a week for Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.

There was a benching during a 24-point loss. Criticism from a former teammate. Biting Twitter barbs from an opposing receiver.

What better way to cap it all off than a matchup for his Redskins (2-2) on Sunday against Cam Newton and the visiting Carolina Panthers (3-1), the club that abruptly parted with Norman about 2½ years ago.

“Old friends. They’re coming to town, and I get to see them and go at each other. They know how I am. Trust me. I know how they are. So it’s going to be quite an exciting time,” Norman said. “I’m looking forward to them. I know (Newton’s) got something special cooked up for us.”

Norman was coming off an All-Pro season and a Super Bowl appearance when the Panthers put the franchise tag on him in March 2016, a move many figured was a precursor to a long-term deal. Fast-forward six weeks, though, and Carolina rescinded the tag offer, allowing Norman to become an unrestricted free agent.

Within a couple of days, he signed a $75 million, five-year contract with Washington. For whatever the reason — and there are various theories out there — things have not gone all that well for Norman, who turns 31 in December and is currently up to 19 games in a row without an interception.

The downswing culminated in Washington coach Jay Gruden’s decision to play a rookie instead of Norman coming out of halftime during a 43-19 loss at New Orleans on Monday night.

Then came all sorts of theories about what might be wrong with Norman, from his age (courtesy of Saints receiver Michael Thomas) to his interest in becoming a celebrity (brought up by ex-Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall) to the shift from Carolina’s zone coverage to Washington’s man-to-man principles (referenced by Panthers coach Ron Rivera).

Newton, a friend who participates in Norman’s charity volleyball tournament, maintains that QBs still need to be wary of the guy.

“He’s not a person who hesitates to take chances, and that’s his gift and his curse,” Newton said. “I still go into each and every game pointing out who the impact players are on every defense, and he’s definitely one of those players.”

Here are some things to know about the Panthers and Redskins:

COUNT ON CAM

A Redskins defense that had zero answers against Drew Brees now goes up against Newton, who is having a so-so season thus far but always comes up big against Washington. The 2015 NFL MVP is 4-0 against the Redskins, with nine TDs and zero INTs, a passer of rating of 115.4 and two rushing scores. “Cam is a beast, man. He can do it all. He can pass. He can run it. He’s an extra running back when he’s back there,” Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. “They’ve got a long list of good playmakers, man. So we’ve got our hands full.”

ROLL TIDE

Defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne played together at Alabama, were first-round draft picks the past two years, and account for nearly half of Washington’s sacks this season. “They are two guys that I never have to worry about: ‘Hey, hustle. Hey, run to the ball.’ These guys are always playing hard, playing fast, playing physical,” Gruden said, “and you can build around those two cats for a long time.”

BAND IS BACK

The Panthers are hoping to get back three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen; he broke his right foot in Week 1. “The band is back,” Newton said with a big smile. The QB’s favorite target for quite some time, Olsen strung together a trio of 1,000-yard seasons before initially injuring his foot in 2017 and missing nine games. If some wonder whether Olsen might be rushing back, he said: “I wouldn’t put myself out there if I couldn’t help the team.”

DAVIS RETURNS, TOO

Carolina is counting on linebacker Thomas Davis, who returns from a four-game suspension under the league’s policy on performance enhancers to give a big lift to a defense that struggled to pressure the quarterback last week. Davis is the team’s all-time leading tackler and joins Luke Kuechly to provide what Gruden called “the best linebacking duo in pro football, in my opinion.”

___

AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.

___

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

Read More 672 Words

Jaguars’ Ramsey calls Gilmore’s criticism ‘lame, corny’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jalen Ramsey says New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore's criticism is "lame, corny," adding "but it's him, though."

In a radio interview Wednesday, Gilmore took a shot at the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back by saying "a lot of people can talk, but you've got to back it up, which

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jalen Ramsey says New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s criticism is “lame, corny,” adding “but it’s him, though.”

In a radio interview Wednesday, Gilmore took a shot at the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back by saying “a lot of people can talk, but you’ve got to back it up, which he does. Sometimes.”

Speaking to “The Sports Hub” radio show in Boston, Gilmore added: “That’s not my style, but I find a lot of guys that talk are mostly zone guys so they have a lot of energy to do that.”

Ramsey fired back Thursday, saying “we know that’s furthest from the truth.”

“I’m going to continue to do what this team asks me to do,” Ramsey said. “Man or zone. Maybe he should try it. I was All-Pro.”

Ramsey usually plays press coverage and regularly follows the opponent’s best receiver all over the field.

He shadowed New York Giants star Odell Beckham in the season opener and did the same last week against Kansas City speedster Tyreek Hill. Beckham caught 11 passes for 111 yards against Jacksonville, with 63 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Hill had four receptions for 61 yards, including a 36-yarder over Ramsey.

“I’ve never understood why somebody on the same side of the ball would hate on another guy,” said Ramsey, who made headlines in the preseason for ripping many NFL quarterbacks . “Usually we’re going against the opponent. Maybe I’m a threat or something. I really don’t know. … It was weird to me. It’s lame, corny, but it’s him, though.”

Ramsey has 17 tackles and one pass breakup this season.

“If the team is happy with my production out there, whether I’m playing man or zone, I’m good with it,” he said. “I’m a zone guy. I’m a man guy. I’m going to do what the team asks me and I’m going to do it at a high level. It’s cool. We know that’s furthest from the truth, though. I play a good mix of both, but I think everybody knows I’m playing man majority of the time.”

___

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

Read More 296 Words

Fan of stingy defenses? Bucs-Falcons is not the place to be

ATLANTA (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be licking their chops for the chance to go against the Atlanta defense.

Then again, the Falcons' offense is surely just as pumped to get on the field against the Bucs.

A fan of stingy defenses?

You've come to the wrong place.

The scoreboard at

ATLANTA (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be licking their chops for the chance to go against the Atlanta defense.

Then again, the Falcons’ offense is surely just as pumped to get on the field against the Bucs.

A fan of stingy defenses?

You’ve come to the wrong place.

The scoreboard at Mercedes-Benz Stadium figures to get a workout Sunday in the matchup between NFC South rivals. Tampa Bay (2-2) has surrendered more points per game than any team in the league (34.75), while the Falcons (1-4) are right on their heels with an average of 32.6.

The Bucs’ defensive woes have put the heat on coordinator Mike Smith, a former head coach of the Falcons. Smith’s boss, Dirk Koetter, has resisted calls to make a change.

“Every week, every game, it’s way bigger than any one guy,” the Tampa Bay coach said. “It’s never all one person’s fault and it’s never all one person’s credit.”

Smith said he’s confident the Bucs can turn things around.

“We did some things in the first three games that you can look forward and say, ‘Gosh darn, those guys, they’ve got a chance to do some things well,'” Smith said. “We’ve been an inconsistent group and really that’s frustrating as a coach because you don’t like to put the inconsistencies out on the field.”

The Falcons are on the defensive about their defense, as well. For the first time since 1987, Atlanta has given up at least 37 points in three straight games.

It would be easy to point to a rash of injuries to key players. Safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are both out for the season, linebacker Deion Jones will miss at least eight games, and tackle Grady Jarrett sat out last week’s contest with a sprained ankle.

“We will never make excuses,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “We are professionals. We’re asking the guys to dominate their gap and their job. I think any man that puts on a helmet should be able to do that, what we’re asking them to do. With the ability that you have, if you give us the maximum, we know that’s just enough.”

Tampa Bay will be looking to strike quickly. Each of the last three weeks, the Falcons have surrendered long touchdown drives on their opponents’ first possession.

“They’ve been marching it down on us pretty easy,” defensive end Takk McKinley moaned.

Some other things to watch for when the Falcons host the Buccaneers:

WINSTON RETURNS

Quarterback Jameis Winston will get his first start of the season for the Bucs.

He served a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and came off the bench in Tampa Bay’s last game. After a bye week, the No. 1 job again belongs to Winston.

Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three straight games while Winston was sidelined, but the “FitzMagic” show came to a crashing halt in a 48-10 loss to Chicago.

Nevertheless, Koetter praised his team for staying competitive while its starting QB was out.

“We’re not exactly where we want to be,” the coach said, “but we’re also right where we need to be as far as competing for the next 12 weeks.”

BALANCING ACT

The Falcons are at their best when there’s not much discrepancy between the number of running and passing plays.

In their lone victory, a 31-24 triumph over the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, the Falcons ran 32 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns while completing 23 of 28 passes for 272 yards and two more scores. But in last Sunday’s blowout loss to the Steelers , Atlanta ran just 19 times for 62 yards and went to the air 45 times.

“That’s part of our identity on offense,” coach Dan Quinn said. “We’ve got to make sure the run game and the play-action pass go hand in hand. That is always at the top of our thinking. When we do that, we’re at our best.”

NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS

Atlanta has given up blocked punts in two of the last three games, leading to a pair of short touchdown drives.

Both miscues were simply a matter of blockers getting beaten: Eric Saubert on one play, rookie Foyesade Oluokun on the other.

“It is 100 percent unacceptable for that to happen,” Quinn said. “We’d like to get that squared away so it never rears its head again.”

BUCS DOWN WITH JPP

Jason Pierre-Paul, who was acquired in a trade with the Giants , has been a force on Tampa Bay’s defensive line. Over his past three games, he has four sacks and caused a fumble.

Now, he’s going against an Atlanta line that gave up six sacks to the Steelers last weekend.

“Jason is such a competitive guy,” Smith said. “We want to have a rotation and it’s hard to get him off the field because he wants to play every snap.”

TOUGH START

The Falcons are off to their worst start since 2013 .

“We didn’t expect to be here,” Quinn said. “But we don’t expect to stay here, either.”

The last time Atlanta began a season 1-5 was 2007, a dismal campaign marred by the downfall of franchise quarterback Michael Vick, who went to prison for dogfighting, and coach Bobby Petrino abandoning the team after only 13 games.

___

AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed to this report.

___

For more AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NFLfootball and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

___

Read More 858 Words

Browns’ defense forcing turnovers at rapid rate

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Miami Hurricanes invented the turnover chain. The Browns borrowed that idea.

They've been stealing everything else lately.

With eight interceptions and seven forced fumbles in just five games, Cleveland's defense leads the NFL with 15 takeaways — two more than the Browns got during 16 games in their

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Miami Hurricanes invented the turnover chain. The Browns borrowed that idea.

They’ve been stealing everything else lately.

With eight interceptions and seven forced fumbles in just five games, Cleveland’s defense leads the NFL with 15 takeaways — two more than the Browns got during 16 games in their winless 2017 season.

The dramatic swing has helped the Browns (2-2-1) turn things around quickly while breeding confidence into a getting-better-by-the-week team that feels like it can do much more than simply compete this season.

Creating turnovers has been a major emphasis of bombastic defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who devotes large chunks of practice — Thursday’s workout has been dubbed “Takeaway Thursday” — to drills geared toward getting the football.

The Browns work on stripping it, tipping it, recovering it and doing anything in their power to gain possession. Then, they’re doing it in games.

“It is what you do as a professional,” said Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Schobert, who has two fumble recoveries and an interception. “You try to take stuff from the practice field to the game, apply it and be able to contribute and do it. The fact that we have been able to do it just shows how hard and how focused everybody on the defense has been this whole offseason and in training camp.

“We are just starting to see the rewards of our hard work.”

After finishing last in the league with a minus-28 turnover differential last season, the Browns are first at plus-8.

They opened the season by forcing six turnovers against Pittsburgh, but failed to capitalize and ended up tying the Steelers 21-21.

A plus-5 turnover differential almost always guarantees victory — teams with that margin are 132-4-1 since 1999. But although the Browns came up short, the defense’s showing created confidence.

“You just go into the game expecting to get turnovers,” said defensive back T.J. Carrie, part of Cleveland’s revamped secondary. “In this league, quarterbacks and coordinators are so good at not giving up turnovers. So when you can go in as a defensive unit and say, ‘We’re guaranteed three turnovers this game, guaranteed. Play the way we play. Play fast.’ That is contagious to the entire team.”

Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward has been Cleveland’s top defensive thief with three interceptions, two in Week 1. He’s also forced a fumble, recovered one and has given the Browns a defender that makes opponents wary.

As he prepared to face the Browns on Sunday, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers took special note of Ward, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft.

“He obviously has good ball skills,” Rivers said. “If he gets an opportunity, he has made the play on it. It seems to be clear on things, too, that he is pretty savvy back there for a young player. He is not just, ‘Oh, I am playing my coverage and I have my zone.'”

The excessive forced turnovers have led to a direct carry-over for Cleveland’s offense, which has been given better field position and more possessions.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield said it’s imperative when the defense comes up with a big play, the offense follows with one of its own.

“We can really put a stamp on a game when the defense gets turnovers,” said Mayfield, who passed for 342 yards in his second career start last week. “We need to take advantage of when they do get those turnovers. We need to turn those into points and really take the life out of the other team. We just have to continue to feed off of that because it is very rare that you get a defense like that, that has 15 this early.”

The Browns’ burglary prompted linebacker Christian Kirksey to copy Miami’s sideline celebration by placing a silver chain with a dangling orange dog bone trinket around neck of any defender who makes a big play.

“It’s just something fun to do,” Kirskey said. “Having it around just bring a lot of chemistry for us.”

Right now, the Browns are thick as thieves.

NOTES: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally got to meet Snoop Dogg, who stopped in at Wednesday’s practice. A die-hard Steelers fan, the rapper had been very critical of Haley’s play calling when he coached in Pittsburgh. “We had a couple of rough years there,” Haley said. “It got smoother over the last few and then him being out there and saying that he is a part of the Dawg Pound, we are good now. I can go back to listening to West Coast rap.”

___

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

Read More 708 Words

Bengals’ message: Don’t lose your cool against the Steelers

CINCINNATI (AP) — Coach Marvin Lewis routinely shows his Bengals players video of egregious conduct from around the league as a way of trying to keep them in line. Exhibit A would be their game last December against the Steelers.

The Bengals were penalized 13 times for a club-record 173 yards during another

CINCINNATI (AP) — Coach Marvin Lewis routinely shows his Bengals players video of egregious conduct from around the league as a way of trying to keep them in line. Exhibit A would be their game last December against the Steelers.

The Bengals were penalized 13 times for a club-record 173 yards during another meltdown against Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers overcame a 17-point deficit with the help of Cincinnati’s damaging penalties, finishing off a 23-20 victory that was their sixth in the row in the series .

Penalties have figured prominently in the streak, including penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones that helped Pittsburgh pull out an 18-16 playoff victory in the 2015 season.

“We can’t have any dumb penalties, any outbursts, anything like that,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve got to stay focused. It’s Pittsburgh week. Everybody’s going to be hyped up, ramped up.”

The AFC North rivalry has big implications for a mid-October game. The Bengals (4-1) are off to their best start since 2015, when they won the division, and could put some distance between themselves and the Steelers (2-2-1) . A loss would essentially even things up. The teams end the season with a game at Heinz Field.

For the Bengals, it’s about keeping their cool when tensions escalate.

“Every game I’ve been in against the Steelers, there’s been some type of aggressive hits or something dirty going on,” said receiver Tyler Boyd, who has played against his hometown team three times. “You can’t go out and play scared. You can’t go play frightened. You’ve just got to go out and hit. It’s hit or be hit.”

The Monday night game last December included nine major penalties and led to two suspensions.

William Jackson got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty; Geno Atkins was flagged for roughing the passer; A.J. Green and Clayton Fejedelem got 15-yard facemask penalties; and George Iloka got an unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting Antonio Brown in the head. Iloka also got a one-game suspension that was reduced to a fine.

Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Brian Allen were flagged for unnecessary roughness. JuJu Smith-Schuster got a 15-yard penalty for a blindside hit on Burfict, and another penalty for standing over the linebacker and talking trash. Smith-Schuster also got a one-game suspension.

Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree says there’s a difference between this rivalry game and all the others.

“Cincinnati game: I hit you as hard as I can, you hit me as hard as you can, but we’re going to talk trash after the play,” Dupree said. “It’s a real-life fight out there.”

Both Lewis and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked to their teams after the game last December, trying to rein in the conduct. Some Bengals veterans are reinforcing the message that they can’t let their emotions lead to another loss.

“The vets are going to be able to remind the young players of it — just talk about keeping your composure in games like this, things they probably did in college and big games, too,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.

Lewis reminded his team of penalties this week. Cincinnati was able to overcome a 17-0 deficit and beat the Dolphins 27-17 on Sunday in part because of Miami’s penalties. The Bengals’ first touchdown drive was aided by Martrell Spaight’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and an unnecessary roughness penalty on T.J. McDonald.

“That’s what the ramifications are — you’re hurting our opportunity to win,” Lewis said. “You’re really putting a dagger in our opportunity to win.”

NO GIO AGAIN: Running back Giovani Bernard was held out of practice again Thursday as he recovers from a knee injury, an indication he won’t be ready for the Steelers game. Bernard also sat out the win over Miami, putting the onus on Joe Mixon. Tight end Tyler Kroft also missed a second straight day of practice with a foot injury. Jackson (knee), receiver John Ross (groin) and offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (wrist) were limited.

___

AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.

___

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

Read More 617 Words

Brees, Saints rest after a promising, memorable start

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

"My kids are what make me be better," Brees began, describing

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

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

And accurate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

Read More 738 Words

Texans try to limit Watson’s hits as they prepare for Bills

HOUSTON (AP) — Everyone agrees that Deshaun Watson took far too many hits last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

That doesn't mean Houston's quarterback is going to change the way he plays on Sunday when the Texans (2-3) host the Buffalo Bills (2-3).

Many of those hits against Dallas came on runs when

HOUSTON (AP) — Everyone agrees that Deshaun Watson took far too many hits last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

That doesn’t mean Houston’s quarterback is going to change the way he plays on Sunday when the Texans (2-3) host the Buffalo Bills (2-3).

Many of those hits against Dallas came on runs when he simply refused to slide, something that he won’t apologize for.

“If you put (me in) that same situation in overtime and it’s fourth-and-1 and we need a touchdown and the ball is in my hands, you’re going to want me to get in that end zone,” Watson said. “It’s a fine line. You’ve got to pick your spots and pick your situations.”

Coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t blame his young quarterback for trying to make plays, but is looking for ways to limit how many blows he takes. Many running quarterbacks have had their production — and careers — curtailed by getting hit too hard too often.

“Two of the plays where he took a hit where he was trying to score touchdowns,” O’Brien said. “So, very competitive guy and does a great job of moving. Sometimes the ball can come out a little bit quicker, sometimes the play can be better, but we’re all working hard to improve every area of the offense.”

The repeated hits from the Cowboys left Watson a bit banged-up this week, but he insisted that he’s fine and won’t be limited against Buffalo. He was asked if this was the sorest he’s ever been after a game.

“I’ve been sore plenty of times,” he said. “It’s part of the game, able to take some shots and just regroup and keep moving forward.”

Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said he spent some time with Watson before he was drafted last year and raved about him as a person and a player. He knows a key for his team Sunday will be finding a way to limit his dynamic plays.

“He’s a headache … the way he plays, he makes plays with his arm, he makes plays with his feet,” McDermott said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Some things to know about Buffalo’s trip to Houston on Sunday:

RUNNING GAME FOCUS

As the Bills try to bring rookie quarterback Josh Allen along, McDermott knows that improving his team’s running game will help the process.

“To me, they go hand in hand when you’re trying to be responsible with a young player, a young quarterback in particular, that some form of balance is important,” he said.

The Bills have struggled on offense so far and their 221.2 yards a game rank 31st. They’re averaging 121.8 yards passing a game, the lowest output in the league. Despite those numbers, McDermott is careful not to put too much pressure on Allen to turn things around by himself.

“I’ve been around young quarterbacks before, and to put too much on young quarterbacks’ shoulders… (and say): ‘Hey go out there and win the game.’ That’s a little bit unrealistic,” McDermott said. “So, we’ve got to make sure we put a good plan in place every week that gives us a chance to win and the quarterback a chance to develop, and also keep the quarterback upright as well.”

SACK RACE

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt looks to have put the last two injury-filled seasons behind him and is tied for first in the NFL with six sacks this year. Watt is tied with Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins and his young brother, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.

“It’s pretty wild when you go and you look at the sack sheet and you see our names next to each other,” Watt said. “We used to beat up on each other in backyard and now we get to see our names at the top of the NFL sack charts. So, it’s incredible and I’m lucky.”

COMING ALONG

The Texans have been impressed with the development of rookie WR Keke Coutee, who has played the last two games after sitting out the first three weeks with a hamstring injury. The fourth-round pick has 17 receptions for 160 yards and scored his first touchdown in Sunday’s overtime win against the Dallas Cowboys.

“He has great instincts, great ability to make plays on the ball, strong hands and he’s just a guy with a high football IQ,” Watson said. “So, whenever I see him one on one or in the zone coverage, get the ball in his area just like Hop (DeAndre Hopkins) and all of the other receivers and he’s going to make the play.”

___

AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

___

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

Read More 719 Words

Dolphins’ injury-depleted line must try to block Bears’ Mack

MIAMI (AP) — Last week the Miami Dolphins resorted to eight-man pass protection, so desperate were they to slow an onslaught against quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

And now they have to block Khalil Mack.

That will be a daunting task when Miami faces the Chicago Bears on Sunday in a matchup of first-place teams

MIAMI (AP) — Last week the Miami Dolphins resorted to eight-man pass protection, so desperate were they to slow an onslaught against quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

And now they have to block Khalil Mack.

That will be a daunting task when Miami faces the Chicago Bears on Sunday in a matchup of first-place teams headed in opposite directions.

The Dolphins (3-2) are trying to patch up an injury-depleted offensive line and rebound from consecutive ugly losses. The Bears (3-1) are well-rested after a bye, riding a three-game winning streak and alone atop the NFC North for the first time since 2013.

Newcomer Mack has led the Bears into first place by dominating on defense. The two-time All-Pro end has five sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with four forced fumbles. He has at least one sack and forced fumble in each game. And the Dolphins might have to confront him without left tackle Laremy Tunsil, sidelined last week by a concussion.

Here are things to know about the first meeting between the teams since 2014:

CONTAINING KHALIL

No team this season has been able to keep Mack off the quarterback.

“He’s just playing at a different level than anybody that I’ve seen,” Miami coach Adam Gase said.

Now Mack faces a team staggered by season-ending injuries to two starters in the offensive line, followed by the loss of Tunsil. He was badly missed last week, when Tannehill was hit 11 times in the second half as the Dolphins blew a 17-point lead at Cincinnati. The Bengals’ pass rush was so overwhelming Miami had almost everyone on offense blocking, and even that didn’t work.

Mack is well aware a harried Tannehill committed two turnovers that were returned for touchdowns.

“You watch the film,” Mack said. “You also know that he’s a good athlete and he makes a lot of plays.”

But in each of the past two games, the Dolphins’ offense has scored only one touchdown and Tannehill has thrown for less than 200 yards.

“He’s getting hit too much,” Gase said. “I’ve got to find a way to get the ball out of his hands, get guys open quicker, or figure something else out.”

RIDING HIGH

The Bears’ most recent game, a 48-10 win over Tampa Bay, was their most lopsided victory in six years. A win over Miami would give Chicago its longest win streak since a six-game run in 2012.

“I just know our work’s not done,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’ve been in the situation. It’s good when you win. You want that feeling, but you want it to keep going. We were talking early, some of the older guys, about not getting complacent. You know, it’s been a long time since it’s been like this around here and we want it to stay this way.”

BUILDING BLOCK

Coming off a breakout game, the challenge for Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is to show it was no fluke.

Trubisky threw for six touchdowns — one shy of the NFL record held by Bears Hall of Famer Sid Luckman and seven others. It was the sort of performance the Bears envisioned when they traded up a spot to grab him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Trubisky had never previously thrown for more than two touchdowns.

OVERSHADOWED DEFENSE

Lost in the Dolphins’ collapse at Cincinnati was a solid performance by the defense, including young linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Baker said. “It’s exciting to see all of us making plays and playing well as a defense. You just have to constantly improve and the rest will handle itself.”

TUTELAGE

When Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015, among those who helped him prepare to become a head coach was Vic Fangio, who is still Chicago’s defensive coordinator.

“The amount of conversations we had in the year that I was there, it helped me grow a lot as to how I looked at things from an offensive perspective,” Gase said. “I really appreciated the amount of time that he would spend if I asked him a question about what he thought. He’s tough to go against.”

___

AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.

___

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

___

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine.

Read More 663 Words

Steelers WR Brown to fight civil lawsuits

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is planning to fight a pair of lawsuits filed against him stemming from an incident at a Florida apartment complex last spring.

Ophir Sternberg is seeking damages against Brown, claiming that objects thrown by Brown from the 14th floor of an apartment building came

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is planning to fight a pair of lawsuits filed against him stemming from an incident at a Florida apartment complex last spring.

Ophir Sternberg is seeking damages against Brown, claiming that objects thrown by Brown from the 14th floor of an apartment building came close to striking Sternberg’s father and Sternberg’s 22-month-old son in April. The lawsuit claims Sternberg’s son was “extremely traumatized” by the event.

A second lawsuit filed by the owner of the apartment building is seeking more than $15,000 in damages from Brown.

Brown told police that the incidents occurred after a gun and $80,000 were stolen from the apartment. Brown said in a statement on Thursday the lawsuits contained “false claims” against him.

“The facts will soon come out that prove my innocence,” Brown said. “My focus will remain on football and I will not let the cases serve as a distraction.”

___

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

Read More 106 Words

Titans coordinator facing off against his old team in Ravens

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dean Pees' retirement from his old job as defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens sure didn't last very long. Not with Mike Vrabel pouncing on the chance to lure his former coach to work with him in Tennessee.

Now the NFL schedule is giving the defensive coordinator a chance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dean Pees’ retirement from his old job as defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens sure didn’t last very long. Not with Mike Vrabel pouncing on the chance to lure his former coach to work with him in Tennessee.

Now the NFL schedule is giving the defensive coordinator a chance to try and slow down his old team on Sunday.

“At some point in time when I do conclude my career,” Pees said, “it will be to me a unique situation and a unique opportunity I was given to work for two guys that are great coaches and were great players for me, and for me then to kind of give back and the fact that I kind of know them so well. We’re on the same page as far as how you do things and that kind of stuff, it all kind of came from the same school.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who played for Pees at Miami (Ohio), hired his former defensive coordinator in 2010 as linebackers coach before turning over the defense to Pees in 2012 — a year Baltimore won the Super Bowl. Pees held that job through last season before retiring after 45 years as a coach.

Vrabel, who played for Pees in New England, called Harbaugh and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome for permission to talk to the retired Pees once hired as the Titans head coach.

Safety Eric Weddle said it was tough to see Pees join the Titans.

“We were all happy for him, because we know how much he loves coaching,” Weddle said. “But he’s with them now. We appreciate what he did here, but we’re doing our thing now, and he’s doing his.”

The Ravens replaced Pees, 69, by promoting Don “Wink” Martindale. Vrabel hired Pees to replace Dick LeBeau in Tennessee.

“Replacing Dick LeBeau anywhere is not an easy thing to do, and I was very aware of that, but I felt like we needed a change,” Vrabel said. “And Dean has been everything that I had hoped for.”

Both the Ravens (3-2) and Titans (3-2) come into this game off disappointing road losses. Baltimore lost 12-9 in overtime in Cleveland, while the Titans fell 13-12 in Buffalo.

After kickoff, friendships are forgotten for at least three hours.

“Once the game starts, we’ll be trying to choke each other out,” Harbaugh joked.

Some things to know about the Ravens and Titans:

DEFENSIVE SHOWDOWN

Without Pees, the Ravens remain just as stingy, leading the NFL in scoring defense and with 34 tackles for loss. The Ravens haven’t allowed a touchdown in the second half of a game this season. Baltimore also is third in fewest yards allowed, four spots ahead of Pees’ Titans, with Tennessee third against the pass, just ahead of Baltimore. Tennessee leads the NFL in red zone defense.

The Titans hope to get back veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard after missing a game with an injured shoulder, while Harbaugh hopes to get back defensive tackle Michael Pierce after missing a game with an injured foot.

JACKSON’S JAUNTS

Drafted 32nd overall, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson gives opposing defenses something else to think about when he lines up behind center. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner ranks fourth on the team with 72 yards rushing and leads Baltimore with an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Jackson ran three times for 10 yards last week and threw an incomplete pass. He’s 1 for 5 through the air this season.

NEED MORE OFFENSE

The Titans are coming off their second game this season when they couldn’t score a touchdown. Luckily, Marcus Mariota and his elbow is off the injury report for the first time since being hurt in the season opener. But the Titans could be missing left tackle Taylor Lewan, who hurt his right foot in Buffalo. Mariota said it’s just a matter of execution and the Titans have to get better.

HEAVY WORKLOAD

Terrell Suggs was used for 66 of the 71 total snaps last week against the Browns, no small workload for a 16-year veteran who turned 36 on Thursday. Suggs is Baltimore’s career sacks leader with 129, including 3 1/2 this year. A rigorous training regimen has enabled him to maintain a degree of excellence, but Harbaugh acknowledged that 66 plays might be too much.

PAYBACK TIME

Odds are good that C.J. Mosley will get a chance to tackle his former Alabama teammate and current Titans running back Derrick Henry at least once, and the Ravens linebacker says he still owes Henry from last year. Henry converted a big third-down late in a Tennessee win with a big stiff arm, breaking loose from Mosley. “I have to make sure that this time I don’t let him get a big play,” Mosley said.

___

AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg contributed to this report.

___

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

___

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Read More 752 Words

Young Bengals trying to end Steelers’ domination of rivalry

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick knows what it's like to think that victory is only a few seconds away, only to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers rally for another improbable win, and run off the field as thousands of their fans twirl towels in the stands.

Many of Kirkpatrick's teammates haven't been on

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick knows what it’s like to think that victory is only a few seconds away, only to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers rally for another improbable win, and run off the field as thousands of their fans twirl towels in the stands.

Many of Kirkpatrick’s teammates haven’t been on the sideline for those blow-to-the-gut finishes, which might work to the Bengals’ advantage on Sunday as they revisit a rivalry that’s more of a horror story for Cincinnati.

The Bengals (4-1) have their youngest team in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons as they get ready to host the Steelers (2-2-1). Nineteen of them are in their first or second season — virtual newcomers to the one-sided series.

“It’s kind of good that some of these guys haven’t experienced it because we’re trying to go in with clear minds, clear everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “Just going out there and playing our game and not (remembering) nothing that happened two or three years ago, or last year.”

The Steelers know their history.

Pittsburgh has won six straight in the series , including an 18-16 victory in the first round of the 2015 playoffs that included an historic meltdown by the Bengals. The Steelers have won nine of 10 and 14 of 17 against their AFC North rival, getting the better of games that have often turned nasty.

“Yeah, you get amped up there,” Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree said. “It’s their house. They’re trying to be so tough.”

Some of the main figures in the most memorable games are gone. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back after sitting out the first four games on his latest NFL suspension, but cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones left after last season. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is holding out.

“Many of the significant contributors don’t play for us (anymore), they don’t play for them,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

LOPSIDED HISTORY

The Steelers are 24-8 against the Bengals since they hired Marvin Lewis as coach in 2003. They’re 15-2 at Paul Brown Stadium during that span, including playoff wins in the 2005 and 2015 seasons. During their current six-game winning streak against Cincinnati, the Steelers have overcome deficits of 17-3 and 17-0. They have two last-minute wins.

SHAZIER BACK

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury at Paul Brown Stadium last Dec. 4 when he lowered his helmet and tackled receiver Josh Malone. Shazier was taken to a local hospital. Ten months later, he’s still recovering and it’s unclear whether he can ever play again. Shazier is on the sideline during games and is expected to be in Cincinnati with his teammates on Sunday.

BIG-PLAY BENGALS

Pittsburgh is known for its tenacious defense, but the Bengals have made some of the biggest plays this season. They’ve returned three turnovers for touchdowns, including an interception and a fumble in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 win over Miami on Sunday. The Bengals’ rotation on the line has kept them fresh for the endings of games.

“Guys were really, really getting after it, and it was fun to watch,” coordinator Teryl Austin said. “It makes the game easy to call when you know the guys are going to push the pocket back and get after the quarterback and harass the quarterback.”

ALIVE AND KICKING

A year after making the Pro Bowl for the first time, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell is struggling. He missed his third extra point of the season last week against Atlanta, matching his career high. It hasn’t been any easier for Boswell when it comes to field goals, where he is just 3 for 6. Still, Tomlin remains confident in Boswell, who signed a five-year contract before the season.

Boswell has never missed a kick against the Bengals, making all 11 extra-point tries and all 20 field goal attempts, including a pair of last-minute winners at Paul Brown Stadium.

“This guy has delivered for us a lot in the last few years, and I do not have amnesia in that regard,” Tomlin said. “He’s gotten me out of that stadium in Cincinnati a few times, and so I look forward to taking him to Cincinnati.”

CAMPAIGNING FOR CONNER

It could be Pittsburgh’s final game without Bell, who reportedly will end his standoff and sign a one-year franchise tag next week. Bell’s return could create an issue on how to split carries. James Conner has been solid while filling in. The second-year back is coming off a 185-yard from scrimmage, two-touchdown performance against Atlanta. Ben Roethlisberger believes Conner has done little to earn a demotion.

“I think James has done some amazing things and deserves to be on the football field,” Roethlisberger said. “We also know what Le’Veon is and what he brings to the table, so I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when it happens.”

___

AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.

___

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

Read More 761 Words

Jets look to win back to back, while Colts try to end skid

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Broadway Joe will be in the building. So will the rest of the 1968 New York Jets, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the squad that won the franchise's only Super Bowl.

Nostalgia will be all around MetLife Stadium on Sunday, with rookie Sam Darnold and this year's Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Broadway Joe will be in the building. So will the rest of the 1968 New York Jets, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the squad that won the franchise’s only Super Bowl.

Nostalgia will be all around MetLife Stadium on Sunday, with rookie Sam Darnold and this year’s Jets team trying to set a much more modest goal against the Indianapolis Colts — not coincidentally, the franchise New York beat for that 1969 title while it was in Baltimore.

Coming off an impressive 34-16 victory over Denver last Sunday and with the likes of Joe Namath and Don Maynard watching, New York will look to win consecutive games for the first time since taking three straight in Weeks 3-5 last season — over a year ago.

“We’ve got a good team,” Darnold said. “It’s just about putting together the pieces. Obviously, we put some together this past Sunday. We’ve just got to build off of it and, for me personally, I’ve just got to stay consistent.”

The Jets (2-3) have struggled with that . They opened the season with a 48-17 romp at Denver and then had clunkers against Miami, Cleveland and Jacksonville before getting back in the win column last weekend.

“We have to grow up and find a way to string games together and get on winning streaks,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said, “instead of losing streaks.”

That’s what Andrew Luck and the struggling Colts (1-4) will be looking to stop when they take the field.

Indianapolis has lost three in a row, is missing some key players such as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle to injuries, and could see its season really spiral with another defeat. The Colts, however, aren’t thinking about that right now.

“I love that this team has no quit,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “I love the story that we’ll have and I say that because we’re very young, we’re all beat up, and what people don’t tend to realize is that you don’t stay beat up forever. You get healthy, you get guys back and then you start to establish a dominance.”

The Jets just want to prevent that turnaround from starting Sunday.

“We know our defense has their hands full, but it’s also going to be a dogfight for us too, because they have a great defense,” Darnold said. “We’re really looking forward to the challenge, though, knowing how great of a quarterback Andrew is.”

Here are other things to know as the Colts and Jets square off:

BIG DEAL

This will mark the first time the teams face each other since swinging their stunning trade in March that changed the top of the NFL draft.

The Jets acquired the No. 3 overall pick from the Colts to move up to take Darnold, giving them the franchise-type quarterback they have been searching for .

New York sent Indianapolis the No. 6 selection, which the Colts used to pick current starting left guard Quenton Nelson. The Jets also shipped two second-round picks this year — one with which Indianapolis took starting right guard Braden Smith; the other was used in a trade — along with a second-rounder next year.

FLYING CROWELL

Jets running back Isaiah Crowell leads the AFC with 390 yards rushing, and ranks third in the NFL behind only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott (480) and Rams’ Todd Gurley (415).

Crowell soared up the list against Denver last Sunday when he set a franchise record with 219 yards rushing on just 15 carries. It also put the controversy from the previous weeks far behind him after he was fined $13,369 by the NFL and scolded by coach Todd Bowles for wiping his rear end with the football after scoring a touchdown at Cleveland in Week 3.

LOTS OF LUCK

Luck has thrown 121 passes in his last two games and leads the league with 245 attempts through five games .

Not bad for a guy who missed all last season with a shoulder injury, but the Colts might not want to keep their franchise QB back there throwing so much. After all, he’s on pace to throw 784 times this season, which would shatter Matthew Stafford’s single-season record of 727 for Detroit in 2012.

Colts coach Frank Reich attributes the high number to his team falling behind early in games, causing Luck and the offense to play catch-up through the air.

SLAUSON DONE

Colts right guard Matt Slauson got his NFL start with the Jets in 2009, but this weekend’s reunion plan has changed because of a back injury.

Slauson landed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week after doctors diagnosed him with two broken vertebrae. Without Slauson, Smith could make his second straight start — this time at his more natural position. The rookie started last week at right tackle.

DEFENSIVE STRIDES

Indianapolis’ defense has made steady a progression under first-year coordinator Matt Eberflus. While the Colts are tied for third in the league with 17 sacks and have moved out of the bottom quadrant in yards allowed, they’re No. 23 in total defense.

Individually, there are more promising signs.

Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leads the league with 54 tackles, even after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Margus Hunt leads the NFL with nine tackles for loss.

___

AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed.

___

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

Read More 822 Words