Panthers TE Olsen re-fractures right foot

Panthers TE Olsen re-fractures right foot

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen re-fractured his right foot in the team’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Panthers confirmed Tuesday.

There are no plans for Olsen to undergo surgery at this time, Panthers head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion said in a statement. The team will evaluate Olsen’s progress on a monthly basis, with the hope he returns this season.

Olsen was limited to seven games last year as the result of a broken right foot, which he had surgically repaired. Prior to last season, Olsen reached 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive years.

Olsen, 33, has 641 catches for 7,589 receiving yards and 53 touchdowns across his 12-year career. He signed a two-year extension with the Panthers in the offseason worth up to $20.1 million.

Rookie Ian Thomas is expected to start in Olsen’s place. Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Monday that he feels Thomas has a good rapport with quarterback Cam Newton.

“I think he’s pretty prepared,” Rivera said. “There are still some things he has to learn. He’s got a long way to go in terms of having that natural feel.”

The Panthers also announced offensive tackle Daryl Williams has had surgery recommended to him for the right knee injury he sustained when a Cowboys player fell into the side of his knee on Sunday.

Williams was carted off the field as the result of the injury, which occurred to the same knee that he suffered a dislocated patella tendon and torn MCL in during training camp. Williams, 26, started all 16 games for the Panthers last season.

–Field Level Media

Panthers can’t recover from early deficit in blowout loss

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Carolina Panthers fell behind early and never recovered.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense used an early surge and a first-quarter defensive touchdown to jump out to a big lead as the Steelers pounded the Panthers 52-21 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

"I tell you what,

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Carolina Panthers fell behind early and never recovered.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense used an early surge and a first-quarter defensive touchdown to jump out to a big lead as the Steelers pounded the Panthers 52-21 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

“I tell you what, it sure enough was a humbling piece of pie,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “It was a learning experience for a lot of guys. If we are as good as we expect us to be, we have to find a way to win games in a hostile environment.”

The Panthers (6-3) saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in a city where they’ve never won. Carolina fell to 0-4 all-time in Pittsburgh and was never really in it after the Steelers scored 21 points in the game’s first 11 minutes.

“We had a lot of our noses bleeding early on and we just have to stop it,” Newton said. “We need to find ways to keep things going in our favor. We just got outplayed today.”

Newton’s showdown with Roethlisberger also never materialized.

Roethlisberger finished 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards with five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The Steelers, who punted for the first time with 9:34 to play, were 8 of 9 on third down with Roethlisberger in the game.

Newton completed 23 of 29 passes for 193 yards and a pair of flips to Christian McCaffrey that the second-year running back turned into scores.

The Steelers sacked Newton five times and rarely let him get comfortable as the Panthers’ offensive line struggled against the pass rush. Entering Thursday’s game, Carolina allowed just 12 sacks, second-fewest through eight games in franchise history.

The biggest rush came on the 11th snap of the game when Newton threw off his back foot out of the Carolina end zone while trying to avoid getting sacked. Pittsburgh linebacker Vince Williams raced under the floater and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead they never came close to relinquishing.

“I was just trying to throw the ball away,” Newton said. “When you’re getting slung around, you can’t really control the accuracy. I hit the ground, I looked up and it was an interception.”

The Panthers scored 99 points in their last nine quarters entering Thursday’s game. That included a franchise-record 35 first-half point outburst during a 14-point win against Tampa Bay last week.

MCaffrey finished with 138 yards of total offense and accounted for all three Carolina scores, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

“This league is hard, this league will humble you real fast,” Carolina TE Greg Olsen said. “Hopefully, that’s the lesson we get out of tonight. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We found out tonight that we have some work to do to be in that upper echelon right now.”

The Steelers’ 52 points are tied for the most ever allowed by the Panthers in franchise history. The last time it happened came during a 52-9 loss, Dec. 24, 2000, against Oakland.

The Steelers, who scored on seven of their first eight drives, held a 17-point halftime lead and increased the advantage to 38-14 on the opening series of the second half.

Roethlisberger’s fourth touchdown pass came two plays after Carolina safety Eric Reid was ejected for an unnecessary hit to the head while Roethlisberger slid for a first down.

“It was a bang-bang play,” Reid said. “He was scrambling and I’m trying to do my job and tackle the person carrying the ball. I understand the NFL is trying to protect quarterbacks, but when they’re running the ball they’re running backs.”

The hit sparked a brief fracas with members of the Steelers’ offensive line, but ended with Roethlisberger and Reid sharing a fist bump and a tap on the helmet after the play.

“I told him that I didn’t intend to hurt him by any means,” Reid said. “I was just trying to do my job, and he said “no hard feelings.”

The Panthers plan to take the extended weekend to regroup for a road game at Detroit on Nov. 18. Carolina is 6-2 all-time against Detroit.

“When you get put behind the eight ball that kind of deters you from the given game plan,” Newton said. “The guys in the locker room seem to have a grasp on what’s at stake. We know we’re capable of being a deep contender playoff team.”

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Roethlisberger throws for 5 TDs, Steelers rip Panthers 52-21

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't playing like a team missing Le'Veon Bell.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns, James Conner ran for 65 yards and a score before leaving late with a possible concussion and the Steelers pounded the Carolina Panthers 52-21 on Thursday night for their fifth

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t playing like a team missing Le’Veon Bell.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns, James Conner ran for 65 yards and a score before leaving late with a possible concussion and the Steelers pounded the Carolina Panthers 52-21 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

Antonio Brown added eight receptions for 96 yards — including a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter — to cap an eventful day that began with the star wide receiver being cited for reckless driving after police clocked Brown’s Porsche driving over 100 mph down a busy highway in the northern city suburbs.

While Bell — a three-time Pro Bowl running back who still hasn’t signed his one-year franchise tender — tweeted his thoughts as he watched on television, the Steelers (6-2-1) rolled on without him. Bell has until next Tuesday to sign a contract if he wants to play this season. His teammates have long since tired of talking about Bell’s status and at this point, the AFC North leaders appear to be doing just fine on their own.

Carolina not so much.

The Panthers (6-3) saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in a city where they’ve never won. Carolina fell to 0-4 all-time in Pittsburgh and was never really in it after the Steelers scored 21 points in the game’s first 11 minutes.

Cam Newton completed 23 of 29 for 193 yards and a pair of flips to Christian McCaffrey that the second-year running back turned into scores but Newton’s showdown with Roethlisberger never materialized. The Steelers sacked Newton five times and rarely let him get comfortable.

Newton didn’t help matters when he threw off his back foot out of the Carolina end zone while trying to avoid getting sacked in the first quarter. Pittsburgh linebacker Vince Williams raced under the floater and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead they never came close to relinquishing.

McCaffrey finished with 138 yards total offense (77 yards rushing, 61 yards receiving) and accounted for all three Panther scores but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Pittsburgh’s 52 points matched the most ever surrendered by the Panthers in franchise history. Carolina allowed the same total in a 52-9 loss to Oakland on Dec. 24, 2000.

The Steelers held the 36-year-old Roethlisberger out of practice during the short week in an effort to keep him fresh. Roethlisberger responded with one of the finest performances of his career, completing 22 of 25 passes while spreading the ball to nine different players on his way to a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

Roethlisberger’s first pass turned into a 75-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on Pittsburgh’s first offensive snap and his last came on a 6-yard toss to rookie Jaylen Samuels on the first play of the fourth quarter.

In between he did a little bit of everything. Roethlisberger even showed off his legs, scrambling for 18 yards in the third quarter on a play that ended with Carolina safety Eric Reid getting ejected for targeting after Reid appeared to dive at Roethlisberger’s head as the quarterback attempted to slide.

Reed, signed by Carolina in September six months after filing a grievance alleging collusion by the NFL to prevent teams from signing him because of his participation in racial injustice protests during the national anthem alongside former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick, went out to shake Roethlisberger’s hand as a peace offering before making his way to the Carolina locker room.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Travel to Detroit on Nov. 18 to take on the Lions. Carolina is 6-2 all-time against Detroit.

Steelers: Visit Jacksonville on Nov. 18. The Jaguars beat Pittsburgh twice on the road last season, including a 45-42 upset in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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Here comes Who Dey vs. Who Dat. Say what?

Here comes Who Dey vs. Who Dat.

Say what?

The Who Dat folks from New Orleans go head-on with the Who Dey fans in Cincinnati on Sunday. And don't ask which group first came up with its catchy phrase and odd rendering of the English language.

"Who Dey? I don't understand. I'm baffled,"

Here comes Who Dey vs. Who Dat.

Say what?

The Who Dat folks from New Orleans go head-on with the Who Dey fans in Cincinnati on Sunday. And don’t ask which group first came up with its catchy phrase and odd rendering of the English language.

“Who Dey? I don’t understand. I’m baffled,” says Saints running back Mark Ingram. “It’s like, did they copy us? Or not? I don’t know. Who Dat! Who Dat! Who Dat! …”

What anyone might ask is whether the Saints (7-1), coming off three huge victories, including handing the Rams their first loss, are ripe for a letdown. Drew Brees and company face Philadelphia next week.

“They’re going to be hungry coming off the bye week,” Ingram says of the Bengals. “They have playoff aspirations. They have aspirations of winning their division. So every game is important to them just like it is to us. So we’re going up there in foreign territory, hostile territory, and we’ve got to go make it happen. We’re a good team. We respect them but we’re always worried about this building, this team, what we need to do to put ourselves in position to have success.”

It might be difficult for New Orleans to find a way to lose this one, though. In the past three games, the Bengals (5-3) have given up 481 yards to Pittsburgh, then 551 to Kansas City and 576 to Tampa Bay.

Granted, those are three of the NFL’s top attacks. The Saints are up there, too, so if Cincinnati gives up 500 yards Sunday, it will become the first team to allow 500 in three consecutive games.

“We’re underachieving right now,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap admits. “We’re playing well enough to win some games, which is why we’re 5-3. If we work on the negatives, we can be that elite defense and that elite team.”

Right now, the eliteness is in the Big Easy

“They go as Brees goes,” Dunlap adds. “We’ve got to find a way to slow down that future Hall of Famer.”

The weekend began Thursday night with Pittsburgh’s 52-21 home victory over Carolina. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 328 yards and five touchdowns to help the Steelers (6-2-1) win their fifth straight. The Panthers (6-3) had won three in a row.

Off this week are Minnesota (5-3-1), Denver (3-6), Baltimore (4-5) and Houston (6-3).

Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (4-4)

For the Cowboys to stay real in the NFC East, they need a quick reversal of fortune. With four of those five losses coming on the road, a visit to the Linc isn’t all that enticing.

These teams meet on “Sunday Night Football” for the 10th consecutive season and 12th time overall. Dallas must find a passing game somewhere, and spring Ezekiel Elliott for some big plays, but the blocking unit has declined significantly.

The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles are 17-5 at home under coach Doug Pederson. Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD with no more than one interception in 21 straight games, tied with Matt Ryan for the longest streak in NFL history. He has a new target in Golden Tate. The wideout was obtained from Detroit, for which he had eight catches for 132 yards and two TDs vs. the Cowboys on Sept. 30.

Seattle (4-4) at Los Angeles Rams (8-1)

Coming off their first defeat, the Rams will remember they struggled to win 33-31 at Seattle last month. A victory would give LA a 4½-game edge in the NFC West and pretty much shut it down.

Both teams boast potent ground games, with the big star being LA’s Todd Gurley. The Rams are No. 1 in the NFL with Gurley at 868 yards rushing; he also has 12 TD runs; he has scored in 12 consecutive games, the longest regular-season streak in team history.

The Seahawks are tops in rushing since Week 3 with 159.8 yards per game after concentrating more on the ground game following an 0-2 start.

Arizona (2-6) at Kansas City (8-1)

The Cardinals are 0-4-1 at Kansas City, and this isn’t exactly the best time to be visiting. Arizona has the NFL’s worst offense and ranks 31st in pass defense. All the Chiefs do, with Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, is score, score and score some more.

But Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald could make some history. Fitzgerald needs 33 yards receiving to pass Terrell Owens (15,934) for second in NFL history. Fitz needs 14 receptions to pass Jerry Rice (San Francisco, 1,281) for the NFL record for receptions with one team.

Detroit (3-5) at Chicago (5-3)

A very lopsided series recently in favor of Detroit, which has won nine of 10. Indeed, Chicago hasn’t won an NFC North game in its past 10 attempts.

But the Lions allowed 10 sacks — yes, 10 — to Minnesota last week, and Chicago has an even better defense than the Vikings.

The Bears also are decently balanced and rank fifth in scoring. Still, their calling card is on D, and they scored twice that way against Buffalo: Eddie Jackson’s 65-yard fumble recovery and Leonard Floyd’s 19-yard interception return.

Washington (5-3) at Tampa Bay (3-5)

The Redskins were routed at home by Atlanta last weekend and lost three key players, including both starting guards. Adrian Peterson has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games against Tampa Bay, including last year with the Cardinals. Can he find room to roam behind a makeshift offensive line?

Tampa sure can pass and sure can score, but it often falls so far behind that it can’t catch up. The Bucs have been outscored 103-27 in the first half of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s past three starts, all losses.

Still, Fitzpatrick has three games with four or more TD passes, the most in the NFC this season, and has been much better than erstwhile starter Jameis Winston.

New England (7-2) at Tennessee (4-4)

Here we go again: New England is on a roll as Tom Brady makes everyone around him better.

The Patriots have won six straight (seven in a row overall against Tennessee). Brady will play in his 300th game, including postseason, and will join Brett Favre (326) as the only NFL quarterbacks to appear in 300 games. Brady needs three TD passes to tie Peyton Manning (579) for the most in NFL history, also including playoffs.

Tennessee comes off a solid victory at Dallas and coach Mike Vrabel had his biggest playing days in New England, where he won three titles.

“We’ve just gotten ourselves to the surface where there’s a little bit of air, a little bit of water,” Vrabel says. “You’re kind of taking a little bit of both in and you can’t survive there for long. But you can survive there for a few minutes. And so we got to make the next decision to see if we can get our heads completely above water.”

Atlanta (4-4) at Cleveland (2-6-1)

Injuries seemed to ruin the Falcons’ season, yet here they are at .500 and with six games upcoming against teams currently owning losing records. Matt Ryan is having an outstanding year, even while overshadowed in the NFC South by Brees and Cam Newton.

With 13 yards receiving Sunday, Julio Jones will reach 10,000 in his career and become the fastest player to reach that milestone (104 games).

The Browns have dropped four straight, and are 0-1 under interim coach Gregg Williams. But their .786 winning percentage (11-3) against the Falcons is the team’s highest against any opponent.

Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) at Oakland (1-7)

Another guy not getting enough recognition for a superb passing season is Philip Rivers while Patrick Mahomes grabs the AFC West headlines. Playing the woeful Raiders shouldn’t hurt Rivers’ resume: He has completed 75 of 100 passes for 994 yards, six TDs and no INTs in his past three outings vs. Oakland for a 126.0 rating.

Plus, the Chargers have won five straight for their best record at the season’s midpoint since 2006.

Meanwhile, the Raiders are such a mess that they have been outscored 55-3 over the past five quarters and are allowing a 113.9 passer rating, on pace for the worst in franchise history.

Miami (5-4) at Green Bay (3-4-1)

Somehow, the Dolphins are a wild-card contender despite being outgained by 704 yards and outscored by 38 points. Much of that can be attributed to the past three road games, in which they were outscored 107-47.

On the bright side, Miami ranks first with 15 interceptions, including four last week against the Jets.

Aaron Rodgers, of course, doesn’t throw picks. Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdowns to one interception, leading the league with a 0.3 percent interception percentage. And RB Aaron Jones leads the NFL at 6.03 yards per carry.

Jacksonville (3-5) at Indianapolis (3-5)

Two 3-5 marks that look much different. Jacksonville has dropped four in a row and is among the most disappointing clubs in football. Indy is giving a decent accounting of itself despite a lack of talent.

There’s plenty of skill at quarterback, however. Andrew Luck, who missed 2017 with a shoulder injury, is back in fine form and has not been sacked in his past 154 pass attempts dating to the second offensive play against New England on Oct. 4. It’s the longest stretch of his pro career.

Colts K Adam Vinatieri will be honored for breaking the NFL’s career scoring record two weeks ago at Oakland. Vinatieri needs one win to tie George Blanda (209) for most regular-season wins in league history.

Buffalo (2-6) at New York Jets (3-6)

With all that record scoring throughout the league, this could be an 8-5 snoozer.

Sam Darnold has regressed behind center for the Jets and now has a foot injury. But let’s be fair: Darnold has very little help, especially with versatile RB Bilal Powell on IR. Last year’s starter, veteran QB Josh McCown, steps in.

As for Buffalo, well, maybe getting rid of Tyrod Taylor wasn’t such a wise move.

New York Giants (1-7) at San Francisco (2-7), Monday night

This isn’t likely to be as much of a sleep-inducer as Bills-Jets. At least a national TV audience gets to watch Saquon Barkley, the most dynamic rookie to hit New York since Odell Beckham Jr. — and without all the baggage.

San Francisco has its own intriguing story after rookie QB Nick Mullens tore up Bay Area rival Oakland last week. Mullens joined Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton as the only players with at least 250 yards passing, three TDs and no INTs in his career debut.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Kay and Brett Martel contributed to this report.

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Rams CB Marcus Peters to Saints coach Payton: “Keep talking”

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Cornerback Marcus Peters criticized himself for playing poorly when his Los Angeles Rams lost at New Orleans last weekend.

That doesn't mean Saints coach Sean Payton can say anything about it, however.

Peters reacted sharply in the Rams' locker room Thursday when asked about postgame comments by Payton

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Cornerback Marcus Peters criticized himself for playing poorly when his Los Angeles Rams lost at New Orleans last weekend.

That doesn’t mean Saints coach Sean Payton can say anything about it, however.

Peters reacted sharply in the Rams’ locker room Thursday when asked about postgame comments by Payton in which the veteran coach said the Saints liked the matchup of receiver Michael Thomas going against Peters, a former Pro Bowl selection. Peters also claimed Payton said something to him or his teammates during New Orleans’ 45-35 victory.

“Tell Sean Payton to keep talking that (expletive),” Peters said. “We’re going to see him soon. You feel me?”

New Orleans sent the Rams (8-1) to their first defeat of the season with a 487-yard offensive game last Sunday.

Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, none bigger than the 72-yard touchdown catch on which he burned past Peters to seal the win. All told, Thomas made six catches when Peters was in coverage on him.

“They were going to travel Marcus to him, and that was fine by us,” Payton said afterward. “We thought we really liked that matchup, a lot.”

Peters repeatedly blamed himself for having a bad game, and he refused to echo defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ claim that he had put together a poor scheme that didn’t help Peters.

After a few seconds to think about it Thursday, Peters had more to say about Payton.

“Yeah, because I liked what he was saying on the sidelines, too,” Peters said. “So tell him, keep talking that (expletive), and I hope he sees me soon. And then we’re going to have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”

Peters didn’t elaborate on what Payton said on the sideline, but that delicious dinner date is a distinct possibility for January.

The Saints (7-1) and the Rams are the only one-loss teams in the NFC, putting both on track for first-round postseason byes if they can maintain their outstanding starts.

Los Angeles hosts the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

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Frustrated WR Jackson not giving up on Bucs playoff hopes

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — DeSean Jackson's frustration grows by the loss.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dropped five of six games following a 2-0 start, and the veteran receiver doesn't want anyone to buy the notion that all it'll take to make him happy is to catch more passes Sunday against the Washington

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — DeSean Jackson’s frustration grows by the loss.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dropped five of six games following a 2-0 start, and the veteran receiver doesn’t want anyone to buy the notion that all it’ll take to make him happy is to catch more passes Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

The Bucs (3-5) haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and the only way to change that trend is to start winning.

Jackson, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2017 after spending the previous three seasons with the Redskins, thinks he can make a difference. He fielded questions this week for the first time since he reportedly asked to be traded last month.

“Whatever them conversations were, they were between us,” Jackson, when asked if he approached general manager Jason Licht before the Oct. 30 NFL trade deadline.

“It’s over and done with now, and I’m looking forward,” the five-time 1,000-yard receiver added. “We’ve got eight games left to continue to try our best to get in the playoffs and win here.”

The 11th-year pro has rebounded from a subpar debut with Tampa Bay a year ago to average 22.4 yards per reception in 2018.

But since beginning the season with consecutive 100-yard performances, that included TD catches of 58 and 75 yards in victories over New Orleans and Philadelphia, the 31-year-old’s production has curtailed.

Through eight games, Jackson has 28 catches for 626 yards and four touchdowns, including a 60-yard scoring reception against Cincinnati that gave him the most TDs of 60-plus yards (24) in NFL history.

At the risk of sounding selfish, Jackson concedes he would like to be more involved in the offense. He began his career in Philadelphia, where he had three 1,000-yard seasons in six years. He had two in three seasons with the Redskins.

“It’s just knowing what’s in this locker room, knowing the players we have all across the board. … That’s been more of the frustration for me,” Jackson said. “It’s not individual. It’s more (about) accomplishing what we all want to accomplish.”

The NFC East-leading Redskins (5-3) are coming off a lopsided loss to Atlanta that snapped a three-game winning streak.

Bouncing back on the road doesn’t figure to be easy after losing three starters — receiver Paul Richardson and guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao — to season-ending injuries against the Falcons.

Alex Smith is coming off throwing for a season-best 306 yards last week, and coach Jay Gruden is counting on leading rusher Adrian Peterson’s skill and experience to help him to adjust to changes of the offensive line and continue to be productive.

“He just goes through his reads like he normally would. It doesn’t matter who’s blocking for him — at guard, center, tackle, tight end, fullback … or receiver,” Gruden said. “He’s just going to go through his progressions and make his cuts and do what he does.”

Some things to know about the Redskins and Buccaneers:

NICE TO MEET YOU

After placing Scherff and Lauvao on injured reserve Monday because they need season-ending surgeries, and with left tackle Trent Williams recovering from an operation on his right thumb, the Redskins are putting together a makeshift offensive line. They signed three unemployed linemen — tackle Austin Howard, along with guards Jonathan Cooper and Luke Bowanko — and at least one is expected to start Sunday.

“The big thing, I think, is on the road, crowd noise, against a good D-line,” Smith said. “I think those things, all the calls, all the communication that has to take place — run, pass, third down — all the different looks, the thousands and thousands of reps that we’ve had — you try to condense into a few days to get ready.”

FITZMAGIC

Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his sixth start of the season at quarterback for the Bucs, who benched Jameis Winston after a road loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago. Tampa Bay has been outscored 103-27 in the first half of Fitzpatrick’s past three starts — all losses.

Like Smith, Fitzpatrick is in his 14th season. Smith was the first pick in the 2005 draft. Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round pick, No. 250 overall.

“He was 249 picks before I was,” Fitzpatrick said, “but we’re both still here.”

CAN PETERSON BOUNCE BACK?

Peterson entered this week fifth in the league in rushing with 604 yards at age 33, but he is coming off a poor game: He only ran nine times for 17 yards in the loss to Atlanta. Things might not be easy with a reconstructed O-line.

“I always say: The play looked great in practice when you draw it up and you run through it at practice. But when you’ve got guys coming at 100 mph, things change,” Peterson said.

NO COMEBACKS YET

The Redskins have not managed to win a game in which they’ve trailed this season. And during Gruden’s 4½ years in Washington, the team only has 15 come-from-behind victories; only five clubs have fewer in that span.

“That’s something that we have got to do a better job of,” Gruden said.

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49ers QB Nick Mullens knows how to make good 1st impression

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens knows how to make a good first impression.

Whether it was wearing a suit to his pre-draft interview with the San Francisco 49ers or setting records in his NFL debut, Mullens has proven that he can get off on the right foot in a new situation.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens knows how to make a good first impression.

Whether it was wearing a suit to his pre-draft interview with the San Francisco 49ers or setting records in his NFL debut, Mullens has proven that he can get off on the right foot in a new situation.

Now the key for Mullens heading into his second start for the 49ers (2-7) on Monday night against the New York Giants will be building on the big performance he had last week against the Oakland Raiders to earn that second chance.

Instead of getting rushed into action on a short week with no real practice, Mullens gets the benefit of a full week of work with his teammates as he tries to match the three-touchdown performance in a 34-3 win over the Raiders last Thursday night.

“He doesn’t have to cram everything in in a day and a half,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “He’s got the whole week to kind of let it saturate, learn the play calls, spit them out easier, gets to throw some full-speed balls to all our players where last week there wasn’t one full-speed rep. I think it helps prepare him more and makes him more comfortable going into the game.”

Mullens has felt comfortable ever since joining the Niners. He impressed people by dressing up for the interview and even though he went undrafted out of Southern Mississippi, he showed enough to stick around last year on the practice squad.

Mullens kept working hard, knowing the offense as well as anyone and improving at working under center after spending so much time in college in the shotgun that he had to watch YouTube videos to teach himself how to drop back properly.

“He worked as hard as anyone last year and he played scout team safety all last year,” Shanahan said. “We spent most of last year this time messing with him on how bad his backpedal looked and things like that, on tape. But, he was a guy who just, he knew he had to do that, that’s how the league works. You don’t have enough guys to practice and he didn’t just sit there and mope about it because I get how people could because it isn’t a fair situation. But, he found ways to work on his own, to grab guys after, to go out late at night and do stuff. He’s obsessed with getting better and he’s needed the time to do it and it helped him get ready for last week.”

That hard work paid off when Mullens got his first chance to play in a game when C.J. Beathard was hampered by a sore right wrist.

Mullens completed 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 151.9 passer rating last week. That’s the highest since the merger for a player in his debut with at least 20 attempts.

Mullens also joined Hall of Famers Jim Kelly (1986) and Fran Tarkenton (1961) as the only QBs to throw for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception in their NFL debuts.

That made it an easy call to give Mullens a second start this week, although Shanahan said he will evaluate the quarterbacks on a week-to-week basis.

“I don’t think it was too tough of a decision,” Shanahan said. “Our team played really well and he played well. It was going to be hard to not give him the opportunity.”

About the only time Mullens got flustered was when Shanahan kept talking after relaying the play call into Mullens’ helmet. Mullens got frustrated enough that teammates said he told Shanahan to quiet down even though the helmet offers only one-way communication.

That ended up amusing his teammates and lightening the mood in the huddle.

“Sometimes in the huddle, you hear the play call and you’re ready to repeat it …,” Mullens said. “I was just ready to call the play.”

Shanahan joked that Mullens will have to yell at him louder if he wants his coach to hear him on the sideline but he understands the frustration.

“That’s always the dilemma for coaches and quarterbacks. It’s funny because I know if I was a quarterback and someone was yelling in my ears, I would handle it much worse than those guys would,” Shanahan said. “I struggle. I’ve almost gotten in trouble with head coaches for saying the wrong thing when you’re trying to think and make a play call and someone’s yelling in your ear, it’s hard to think.”

NOTES: LB Reuben Foster (hamstring) and S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) didn’t practice and will be questionable this week. … WR Pierre Garcon (knee) and LT Joe Staley (veteran’s day) also didn’t practice. … The 49ers promoted DB Greg Mabin to the active roster from the practice squad and signed CB Tarvarus McFadden to the practice squad.

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Thielen, Diggs have helped Vikings stay on track

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Thanks to Adam Thielen, Minnesota's record book has already needed several revisions this year.

Just past the midpoint of the schedule for the Vikings, Thielen leads the NFL in receptions (78) at a pace that would fall four short of the all-time single-season mark (143). He leads the league

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Thanks to Adam Thielen, Minnesota’s record book has already needed several revisions this year.

Just past the midpoint of the schedule for the Vikings, Thielen leads the NFL in receptions (78) at a pace that would fall four short of the all-time single-season mark (143). He leads the league with 947 yards. Kirk Cousins, the new prize quarterback with the annual $28 million salary cap hit, without prompting recently called Thielen the best player on this standout-laden team.

The accolades of this magnitude might not exist for Thielen, though, without Stefon Diggs.

Thielen and Diggs are the only teammates currently in the top 10 in the league in catches, on pace for a combined 242. That would break the record for receptions by a pair of teammates, set in 1995 by Herman Moore and Brett Perriman for Detroit with 231.

Opposing defenses are naturally less likely to apply double coverage on Thielen when Diggs is in a pattern at the same time, as evidenced by contrast in a victory over the Lions last week . With Diggs sidelined by a rib injury, Thielen didn’t have much space. He used one of his textbook double moves to beat cornerback Nevin Lawson for a short touchdown , his seventh of the year, but he finished with only 22 yards for his lowest total since the 2016 season.

The mutual benefit of this dominant wide receiver duo, though, began on the practice field years ago.

“We’re always competing, we’re always having fun, and we’re always giving each a hard time if we’re not performing at the level we know we can,” Thielen said.

If Thielen makes a catch in practice, Diggs will often make it a point to create even more separation from the defender the next time he’s assigned to run the same route. That, in turn, frequently triggers playful yet spirited banter between the two.

“He’s my brother. He’s a guy I love messing with, love having fun with,” Thielen said. “He’s even one of my best friends.”

At a position that has long produced some of the NFL’s biggest personalities, in some cases breeding a disruptive brand of selfish and boorish behavior, Thielen and Diggs are the anti-divas. Part of that is a product of their route, no pun intended, to the league.

Thielen was the NCAA Division II player who went undrafted and needed a rookie tryout camp to make the team five years ago. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 2016. Diggs was the fifth-round draft pick who was a healthy scratch for his first three NFL games in 2015.

“All the cute stuff, like records being broken and stuff like that, you like it and it’s good to hear, but we always want to win,” Diggs said. “We worry about the win column more than anything. So to see good things happen? Yes, it’s exciting. Yes, you congratulate your guys, because guys work extremely hard, you know? So it’s always good stuff, and it’s good stuff moving in the right direction, but we want to win.”

The Vikings (5-3-1) have been doing that more lately after a rough first quarter of the season, entering their bye week a step behind Chicago (5-3) in the NFC North, with a prime-time matchup with the Bears up next on Nov. 18.

Cousins has been as advertised, ranking in the top 10 in the league in most of the passing categories, including third in completion percentage despite being prone to a costly turnover here and there. The offensive line has again shown vulnerabilities, though, and the Vikings have averaged the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league.

Thielen and Diggs have been all the more valuable to the Vikings this fall, with an assist by new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo for aggressive and creative play calling that has helped spring them open so much.

“He uses his playmakers, and he just lets them play. So I admire that, and I appreciate that,” Diggs said. “As a player you just want to do the best that you can, and it’s good that he plays to your strengths.”

The defense, which led the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed last year, was surprisingly one of the biggest problems in September. After that humbling loss in Los Angeles to the Rams dropped the Vikings to 1-2-1, though, coach Mike Zimmer has helped steer the group back into dominant form.

With daunting road trips to Chicago, New England and Seattle looming over three of the next four games, the pressure will be on the offense to do its part.

“When you look at it glass half-full, I’m thrilled about our locker room, the chemistry we have on this team, the quality of teammates, the quality of leadership we have in this organization. I think all that has probably even exceeded expectations from me,” Cousins said. “Certainly would have loved to be better than 5-3-1, but I’m grateful we’re not 3-5-1. You can look at it both ways. The point is, we keep saying, everything is in front of us.”

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Bears eye rare win over Lions, end of skid against division

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears have a rare opportunity to beat the Detroit Lions and pick up a victory over an NFC North opponent.

As accomplishments go, those seem rather modest. Then again, consider their recent history.

The division-leading Bears have a chance to check off two more boxes when

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears have a rare opportunity to beat the Detroit Lions and pick up a victory over an NFC North opponent.

As accomplishments go, those seem rather modest. Then again, consider their recent history.

The division-leading Bears have a chance to check off two more boxes when they host the struggling Lions on Sunday.

They have lost nine of the past 10 games against Detroit and have dropped 10 in a row to division opponents heading into their matchup at Soldier Field.

Since the start of the 2014 season, Chicago is 4-21 against the NFC North. But these Bears aren’t those Bears.

Chicago (5-3) hit the halfway mark with its best record in five years and sole possession of the NFC North lead for the first time since 2013. It’s a big change for a franchise with four straight last-place finishes. But the Bears have already matched their win total from last year and are making a push for their first playoff appearance since the 2010 team advanced to the NFC championship game.

“There’s just so much ball left,” said coach Matt Nagy, in his first season. “For our team, we’ve won in different ways and we’ve lost in different ways. I think we’ve kind of learned different ways to do it. And when you lose, you try to figure out why and how to not let it happen again. When you win, you figure out why and how you can always improve and be better. I like where we’re at, but we understand we have a ways to go.”

Chicago is coming off back-to-back wins over two struggling teams, with a 41-9 blowout at Buffalo after beating the New York Jets at home.

Detroit (3-5) has dropped two in a row and last week’s 24-9 loss at Minnesota was particularly ugly. Matthew Stafford got sacked 10 times, and the Lions were held to single digits in points for the first time since a 17-6 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 18, 2016.

They also traded wide receiver Golden Tate to Philadelphia prior to the Vikings game, and they fired special teams coordinator Joe Marciano on Monday night.

“Definitely have to learn from some of those things that we’ve done in the past that haven’t been up to par or haven’t been good enough, and try to minimize those or eliminate them as we go forward,” coach Matt Patricia said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Here are some things to know about the matchup:

ON THE MEND

The Bears might get star outside linebacker Khalil Mack (ankle) and top receiver Allen Robinson (groin) back from injuries.

Both players missed the past two games. But they went through full practices on Wednesday. Tight end Adam Shaheen might also return from a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

ANSAH BACK

The Lions got a boost last week with the return of defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

He had a sack in the second quarter that forced the Vikings to settle for a field goal, after missing six games because of a shoulder injury. Having Ansah back means more pressure on the quarterback and maybe better luck stopping the run. The Lions rank 30th in that area.

“We’ve just got to set an edge and whoever has got a gap to be in, they’ve just got to be in there,” Ansah said. “Just play fundamental and be able to execute.”

FAMILIAR FOES

The Bears are about to meet the Lions twice in a 12-day span, with a Thanksgiving matchup at Ford Field and a primetime Sunday game against Minnesota at home in between.

This three-game run facing the NFC North comes after four in row against the AFC East. Chicago hasn’t played a division team since a 24-23 season-opening loss at Green Bay, when it blew a 20-point lead against an injured Aaron Rodgers.

STRUGGLING STAFFORD

After a solid stretch, Stafford has struggled a bit the past two weeks with 13 sacks and a 90.3 rating. He had ratings above 100 in each of the previous five games.

“He’s been with the Lions for all of his career and he has a great group of receivers, and for some reason they’re not putting games together,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “But they’re still a great team and I know for a fact we won’t take them lightly.”

GETTING OFFENSIVE

While a defense that ranks fifth overall has gotten much of the credit, the Bears insist their offense is doing its part.

Though Trubisky has been wild at times, his rating (96.1) is similar to Stafford’s (96.5). Chicago also ranks fifth in the NFL in scoring.

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Raiders’ Guenther says no friction between him, Gruden

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther denied there is any friction between him and coach Jon Gruden and said the two remain united in trying to improve a team that has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season.

One week after cameras caught the two

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther denied there is any friction between him and coach Jon Gruden and said the two remain united in trying to improve a team that has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season.

One week after cameras caught the two coaches getting into a heated exchange after a costly blown play in Oakland’s 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Guenther laughed about the incident and called it a daily occurrence.

“Jon and I fight every day upstairs, golf course, in the car, whatever it may be,” Guenther said Thursday. “That’s going to happen every Sunday. It’s happened every Sunday, whether it’s good or bad. That’s just part of our expectations are higher than what we’re showing. That’s probably going to happen 100 times a game.”

Guenther’s statement echoed comments made earlier this week by Gruden, who joked that the two have bigger disagreements on the golf course.

The recent sideline exchanges between the coach and his hand-picked defensive coordinator have gotten more attention, however, as the Raiders have struggled through a 1-7 start.

Both Gruden and Guenther have come under fire from fans and the media.

Gruden has been targeted for the team’s inconsistent offense and the radical roster changes being made, while Guenther’s defense has been bad all season. The Raiders are on pace to give up 6,514 yards and are allowing opponents to gain a league-high 6.8 yards per play.

While acknowledging frustration over the situation, Guenther — who spent the past 13 seasons in Cincinnati and was the Bengals’ coordinator from 2014-17 — downplayed any suggestion of problems between him and Gruden.

“I love Jon, he’s great to work with,” Guenther said. “We’re really trying to build this thing the right way and we have a vision for it. I know it doesn’t look like that right now but I’m confident in what we’re doing.”

The Raiders have made sweeping changes since Gruden was hired, much of it on the defensive side.

Khalil Mack, the team’s top pass rusher and the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, was traded to the Chicago Bears before the season opener in exchange for a pair of first-round draft picks. Oakland’s best run defender, Justin Ellis, was lost to injured reserve with a foot injury he suffered in Week 1. Then last week, the Raiders released defensive end Bruce Irvin, one of the team captains.

Those moves and others have forced Guenther to reach deep into the roster for help.

“That’s just part of the business,” Guenther said. “Our vision was to bring in some young guys in the draft and we did that and they’re playing. Obviously we’re going through some growing pains right now with the young guys but hopefully the more and more snaps that they get at the back end of this year going into year two, we’re going to see massive improvement out of those guys.”

Still, Guenther acknowledged it hasn’t been easy and said he’s had to bite his lip a few times.

“There are certain things, breakdowns that we’re having that we shouldn’t have, that I’m not used to seeing,” Guenther said. “It is a patience thing but I’m not the most patient guy. I want to get the stuff fixed quickly. That’s part of the evaluation process with the guys that we have now moving forward the last eight games to see, hey, what guys we want to keep here and what guys we want to move on with.

“We have a vision. Jon and I have a vision of what it should look like and what it’s going to look like down the road. Hopefully, we can just keep getting better every week but it’s certainly been a challenge.”

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Falcons flying high again after rough start, face Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) — Quietly, steadily and with little fanfare, the Atlanta Falcons have gotten off the ground.

They're flying again — under the radar.

Despite numerous injuries at vital positions, the Falcons have shaken off a 1-4 start and carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup with the Browns (2-6-1). Cleveland has

CLEVELAND (AP) — Quietly, steadily and with little fanfare, the Atlanta Falcons have gotten off the ground.

They’re flying again — under the radar.

Despite numerous injuries at vital positions, the Falcons have shaken off a 1-4 start and carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup with the Browns (2-6-1). Cleveland has changed coaches, dropped four in a row and is trying not to let another season spiral completely out of control.

The Falcons (4-4) are coming off their best performance this season, a well-rounded 38-14 thrashing of the Washington Redskins that has pushed them back into contention in the wild-card race. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said the key to the team’s turnaround has been persistence.

“The main thing for us was the message to be real consistent, to stay the course,” Quinn said this week. “Although we got knocked down, defensively especially from the communication standpoint, we had to work hard to increase on that. There might be some new voices leading the way. We just tried to stay consistent with the guys. Make sure that we knew what we were doing was right and we had to do what we did better.”

Nobody’s doing it better than Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who is playing like he did as the league’s MVP in 2016. Ryan has thrown 19 touchdown passes, only three interceptions, and is completing 71 percent of his passes. The 33-year-old leads the NFL with 335.6 yards passing per game, and he recently went 213 attempts between interceptions.

Matty Ice is on fire.

“He really is playing well. He is executing very well,” said Browns interim coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. “You can see the comfort zone that he has with (Falcons offensive coordinator) Steve (Sarkisian) in Year 2. That usually is the way that it is in our league.”

Last week, Ryan passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns, one to star receiver Julio Jones, who ended a 12-game scoreless drought and finished with seven catches for 121 yards.

Cleveland’s defense will get another stiff test one week after dealing with Kansas City’s high-flying aerial circus. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs scored 34 in three quarters before coasting through the final 15 minutes.

Williams knows Ryan’s capabilities after facing him twice a season while he was defensive coordinator in New Orleans. Back then, Williams could take chances and blitz a young Ryan. Those tricks don’t work as well on a savvy veteran.

“I look at it as an older quarterback — you start to get into the double-digit years, plus years and stuff — the influence of whoever is coordinating him and whoever is coaching him, he is having some say in some things and doing some really, really good things,” Williams said. “He is very accurate. Our work is going to be cut out for us. You can’t fool those kinds of guys that many times.”

BROWNS DOWN

Cleveland’s task of stopping Ryan, Jones and Co. got harder when starting linebacker Christian Kirksey and cornerback E.J. Gaines were lost to season-ending injuries.

The Browns should have rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and safety/corner Damarious Randall back from injuries. Randall may draw the assignment of covering Jones, who presents problems with his size and speed.

“Big, fast, strong. I mean, you name it,” Randall said when asked to describe Jones. “He’s pretty much what you want in your typical receiver nowadays. He’s the guy that if you had to pick a receiver No. 1 in the league, I’m pretty sure probably all 32 teams would pick Julio Jones.”

NEW RUNNING BACK TANDEM

With Devonta Freeman on injured reserve for at least six more weeks, Atlanta’s distribution of carries has been unexpectedly balanced. Tevin Coleman is starting, but rookie Ito Smith’s role is expanding. Proof came in last week’s win when Coleman had 13 carries for 88 yards, and Smith added 10 for 60 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s gotten better for us every week,” Ryan said of Smith. “I’ve been really impressed with his growth from game to game. It’s really cool to see that from young players, particularly rookies.”

GO, BAKER, GO

The Browns want rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to cut it loose.

Mayfield was tough on himself after some missed throws last week, but Williams’ said his message to the No. 1 pick this week was to only look forward.

“We have his back. Now, let’s go,” Williams said. “You’re a smart enough quarterback, instinctive enough quarterback. We understand that mistakes are going to be made. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just cut it loose and play, and make faster and faster decisions.

“That’s the No. 1 thing that I’ve tried to convey to him.”

PERFECT FIT

Newly signed defensive end Bruce Irvin is expected to make his Falcons debut. Quinn said Irvin will play as a pass-rush specialist in the nickel package.

Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator for two seasons when Irvin played for the Seahawks. That familiarity, along with Irvin’s desire to return to his hometown, helped the Falcons reach a deal when Irvin said he was offered more money elsewhere.

“I know Bruce,” Quinn said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’ll fit in really well with this group.”

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report.

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New Falcon Bruce Irvin delighted to be back home in Atlanta

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Bruce Irvin has wanted to play for the Atlanta Falcons since he was a kid.

Now that the seventh-year pass rusher is back home and about to make his Falcons debut, Irvin said he won't take this opportunity for granted.

It's a rebirth for a 31-year-old who acknowledges

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Bruce Irvin has wanted to play for the Atlanta Falcons since he was a kid.

Now that the seventh-year pass rusher is back home and about to make his Falcons debut, Irvin said he won’t take this opportunity for granted.

It’s a rebirth for a 31-year-old who acknowledges he made bad decisions as an Atlanta teenager and now gets a chance to rewrite his local legacy.

“Yesterday it hit me a little bit,” Irvin said Thursday. “I know that I look scared but I really was crying yesterday, this is a childhood dream for me. Growing up, watching Michael Vick, and guys like Terance Mathis … this was always my dream so for me to be able to come and live it out it was a surreal moment and I’m just very fortunate to be an Atlanta Falcon right now.”

Irvin was cut last Saturday by Oakland, part of a housecleaning with the rebuilding Raiders. He cleared waivers and was a free agent with offers from several teams.

He never doubted where he wanted to land.

“My agent said, ‘You know everybody thinks you’re going to Atlanta,’ and I said under my breath, ‘Well, they’re right,'” Irvin said. “So it was no comparison, man. My family is here. My wife is from here. It was a childhood dream.”

Irvin said life passed him by growing up in nearby Stone Mountain. He watched friends from Stephenson High School — Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard and Jermaine Cunningham — focus on their football careers while he was getting having run-ins with law enforcement and constantly putting himself in danger.

“I was out in the streets doing stuff, and those guys were getting four-year scholarships to Florida and LSU and it hurt me,” Irvin said. “It hurt me seeing those guys go off, and I was just around here doing God knows what. It was a motivating factor. Look at me now. I outlasted Perry and Jermaine (in the NFL). Sheppard just got on so, but it was a motivating factor. I’m glad that I figured it out and got my head on straight.”

Irvin returned recently to Stephenson to meet with current students and offer some advice.

“Like I said, I never played at Stephenson,” he said. “I didn’t play football since the ninth grade and I didn’t play for six years. Going back there and letting those young guys know that anything is possible. You can be in the worst situation and if you surround yourself by the right people and not around a bunch of yes-men, you can make it around anything. So that was the biggest thing.”

Now Irvin gets to show what he can do on the field. Before his first practice with the Falcons on Thursday, Irvin wanted to show his new teammates he can still be a force in disrupting the quarterback.

Irvin will wear jersey No. 52 when the Falcons (4-4) take a three-game winning streak to (2-6-1). He intends to help Atlanta improve a pass rush that ranks 27th in sacks.

“I think I bring a lot of swagger, a lot of attitude,” Irvin said. “I speak my mind. I talk a lot of mess. Just running around having fun, man. That’s the biggest thing in this league. If you’re not having fun, it doesn’t take you a long way. Me just bringing energy and knowledge to these guys. Just being the best Bruce Irvin I can be every day.”

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Irvin was a first-round draft pick for Seattle out of West Virginia in 2012. He played four seasons with the Seahawks and two-plus with the Raiders, and had 40 sacks. His 15 forced fumbles over that span lead the NFL.

“Me and DQ can’t dwell on what we did in Seattle, going to the Super Bowl and things like that,” Irvin said. “It’s more about right now and I feel like they needed me. I wanted to be here. I did what I had to do. We made it happen.”

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Mack, Allen Robinson just about ready to return to Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Two-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack and top receiver Allen Robinson look as if they're just about ready to return after missing the Chicago Bears' past two games because of injuries.

Both players practiced without limitations Thursday for the second consecutive day.

The NFC North-leading Bears hope to

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Two-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack and top receiver Allen Robinson look as if they’re just about ready to return after missing the Chicago Bears’ past two games because of injuries.

Both players practiced without limitations Thursday for the second consecutive day.

The NFC North-leading Bears hope to have them back in the lineup against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday.

Robinson says he’s “100 percent” after missing victories over the struggling New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

Mack, who suffered an ankle injury at Miami Oct. 14 and played the following week against New England, did not make himself available to reporters.

Coach Matt Nagy says the Bears still are “taking it day by day with them.”

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Dolphins’ Burke says Jones, defense now on ‘same page’

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke has spent the week patching up things, and not just because his unit is on pace to allow more yards than any team in franchise history.

Two-time Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones mysteriously took himself out of last week's win over the New

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke has spent the week patching up things, and not just because his unit is on pace to allow more yards than any team in franchise history.

Two-time Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones mysteriously took himself out of last week’s win over the New York Jets and watched the second half from the sideline. In the aftermath, coach Adam Gase said communication problems between Burke and players needed to be addressed.

“Obviously there was some sort of disconnect,” Burke said Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of conversations — the whole defense and myself, Reshad and myself, Adam and myself. I think we’re all on the same page.”

Jones declined to say why he became a spectator, but he apparently was unhappy with Burke’s plan to rotate safeties against the Jets. Burke said he’s confident that if the decision is for Jones to share playing time Sunday at Green Bay, the veteran will accept that.

Gase, who seemed to side with Jones in the aftermath of last week’s standoff, agreed the issue has been resolved.

“We did everything we need to get straightened out and moved on,” Gase said. “Sometimes you have to go through all of this kind of stuff during a season. Sometimes it gets aired out publicly. That’s the hardest thing about the NFL sometimes. You have to bounce back. We got what we needed fixed, and we’re moving on to the next game.”

Jones has been a starter for Miami since 2011 and a defensive leader. Burke said he doesn’t believe Jones’ standing within the team has been harmed.

“I know he has had conversations with his teammates on how he’s going to move forward,” Burke said. “I don’t see an issue with that.”

Even if the matter is now in the rearview mirror, Burke has plenty of other problems. The Dolphins held the woeful Jets without a touchdown , but before that their defense had been awful for several weeks in a row.

They rank 26th in league overall, 28th in run defense and 22nd in pass defense. They’re allowing 394 yards per game, more than the team’s record-high average of 383 in 2016, the year before Burke became coordinator.

The Dolphins have allowed 107 points in their past three road games, and now they visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers , who are ranked sixth in offense.

Rodgers, ever the pro, managed to find nice things to say about Miami’s defensive, specifically Jones’ secondary.

“They’ve made a lot of plays on the ball,” Rodgers said. “They do a nice disguise package. They play some different coverages behind some of their pressures.”

The saving grace for the Dolphins’ defense is that they have 15 interceptions, including four last week. They’re on pace to the lead the league for the first time in franchise history.

Burke believes that for his defense, the best is yet to come.

“I hope so,” he said. “Hope is not a strategy, but you hope the trend from last week is where we’re heading more than weeks prior. If we execute and perform the way we performed last week, we’ll have a chance to put a decent showing together.”

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AP Sports Writer Genaro Armas contributed to this report.

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Packers hope to bounce back against Dolphins’ pick-happy D

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — One team is starting a backup at quarterback but still above .500. The other boasts one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, yet has a losing record.

It's a topsy-turvy matchup when the Miami Dolphins visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Brock Osweiler will make a fifth straight

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — One team is starting a backup at quarterback but still above .500. The other boasts one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, yet has a losing record.

It’s a topsy-turvy matchup when the Miami Dolphins visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Brock Osweiler will make a fifth straight start at quarterback for the Dolphins with Ryan Tannehill nursing a shoulder injury . Two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers seems to be getting healthier after hurting his left knee in the Packers’ season opener against the Chicago Bears.

Advantage Packers on offense, at least on paper.

Yet for whatever reasons, what should be a prolific unit isn’t clicking consistently for the Packers (3-4-1), especially in the fourth quarters of their last two losses.

“Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating, especially when you’ve got the talent we do,” receiver Davante Adams said. “We just need a little bit of flow and consistency, and I think that’s what’s going to get this offense moving in the right direction.”

It’s little consolation that the losses have come against two of the league’s best teams, the Rams and Patriots . Miscues on special teams, offense and defense have caught up to the Packers to contribute to the stinging defeats.

Green Bay may need a “run the table” type of streak to get into the postseason. That phrase uttered by Rodgers turned into a catchword in 2016 when the Packers won eight straight games to go from 4-6 to the NFC title game.

“We’re focused on winning No. 4. That’s all we’re talking about right now,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We improved as a football team the last two weeks, but you have to play your best football coming down the stretch, and that’s clearly been evident the last two weeks.”

The Dolphins (5-4) relied on a resilient defense to beat the struggling New York Jets 13-6. Miami had four interceptions and four sacks while holding the Jets to 2 of 15 on third and fourth downs.

It’s a nice cushion with Osweiler making another start. The Dolphins are 2-2 with Osweiler behind center, averaging 22 points a game.

“Any time you play a quarterback that’s as special as Aaron is, you want to limit the amount of possessions that he’s able to have,” Osweiler said. “We know offensively this week it’s very important for us to sustain drives, get first downs and try to be in control of that clock.”

Other notes and things to watch:

RUN THE DRAKE?

Kenyan Drake had only three carries for the Dolphins last week, while starter Frank Gore carried 20 times.

“We don’t want to be that far apart,” coach Adam Gase said. “There were a few opportunities where we were trying to do certain things with Kenyan that didn’t work out the way we wanted to where we were trying to get him the ball.”

Drake is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but he has had six or fewer in five of Miami’s nine games. For the season he has 73 carries to 104 for the 35-year-old Gore.

ROOKIE RECEIVER

A groin injury to Geronimo Allison means more opportunities for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The fifth-round draft pick out of South Florida has shown potential to be a stretch-the-field threat with his speed and 6-foot-4 frame. Valdes-Scantling is averaging a team-best 21.1 yards per catch. He could be a beneficiary of more targets if the Dolphins decide to double Adams, the Packers’ top wideout.

SAFETY SHUFFLE

Reshad Jones will be back in the lineup for the Dolphins after the two-time Pro Bowl safety took himself out of last week’s win over the Jets. Gase said that communication problems between defensive coordinator Matt Burke and players need to be addressed. Still, the defense last week was better after three straight poor games.

SAFETY SHUFFLE, PART 2

The Packers have done a midseason shuffle at safety. The moves began with the trade of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington last week.

Kentrell Brice was limited at midweek with a knee injury, while Jermaine Whitehead was released this week. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams was moved to safety against the Rams, but could be needed back at cornerback against Miami because of Kevin King’s hamstring injury. Green Bay picked up safety Ibraheim Campbell off waivers from the New York Jets this week, while second-year player Josh Jones figures to see more snaps after being slowed by injury earlier this year.

TURNOVER TIME

The four picks of Jets rookie Sam Darnold last week gave Miami a league-high 15 interceptions. Now the Dolphins face Rodgers, who has thrown one pick this season.

“They’ve made a lot of plays on the ball. They do a nice disguise package,” Rodgers said. “Guys with vision to the football, which means you always have to be smart about your eye discipline.”

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AP Sports Writer Steven Wine contributed.

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Colts’ revamped line studies hard for test against Jaguars

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts spent their offseason cramming for Sunday's test.

They understood that to ascend in the AFC South, they needed a bigger, stronger offensive line, better coaching and different study habits. So far, they've aced it.

Now they face their biggest challenge: Jacksonville's daunting defense.

"We don't need any

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts spent their offseason cramming for Sunday’s test.

They understood that to ascend in the AFC South, they needed a bigger, stronger offensive line, better coaching and different study habits. So far, they’ve aced it.

Now they face their biggest challenge: Jacksonville’s daunting defense.

“We don’t need any incentive. It’s the NFL, we go out there, it’s our job to protect the quarterback,” longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “The past is the past, we’re going to try the best we can.”

Just about anything would be an upgrade over what’s happened lately against the Jaguars.

When these teams previously met, late last season, the Jaguars finished with four sacks — a significant improvement over the 10 sacks Indy allowed six weeks earlier last season.

Those 14 sacks accounted for more than one-fourth of Indy’s season total, showing general manager Chris Ballard where the Colts needed to focus their attention to get back into the division race.

Ballard found two starters in the draft, left guard Quenton Nelson in the first round and right tackle Braden Smith in the second. He added right guard Matt Slauson in free agency. Center Ryan Kelly returned to form following an injury-filled 2017 season, and even after Slauson went down with a back injury the Colts have managed to find solid replacements.

As a result, Andrew Luck has been sacked just 10 times all season, none in his past 154 attempts — the longest stretch of his pro career.

The improvement can’t be measured by pass protection alone. Marlon Mack rushed for career highs each of the past two weeks and has given Indy (3-5) its first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since 2007.

Still, the Colts know they are far from perfect and careful study of last year’s two game tapes reveal just how quickly Jacksonville’s defense can expose their lingering flaws.

“I’m not going to tell you what our weaknesses are but this is going to be a big week coming off the bye,” Castonzo said. “It’s going to be tightening the screws on the things that we can.”

But this Jacksonville team doesn’t resemble the one that reached last year’s AFC championship game, either.

Despite being ranked No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 in total defense, only seven teams have fewer sacks than the Jags (19) and only three teams have produced fewer turnovers (seven).

It explains why the Jags (3-5) have lost four straight and, like the Colts, are 2½ games behind division leader Houston.

Coach Doug Marrone doesn’t expect this week’s challenge to get any easier, especially against an opponent hoping to ace its biggest test of the season.

“It’s a really, really good group and honestly right now collectively, I would have to say when you look at them on film they’re probably the best offensive line that we have seen this year,” Marrone said.

WELCOME BACK

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette is expected to return after missing six of the past seven games because of a strained right hamstring.

He practiced in full for the first time in more than a month Monday and did the same Wednesday. Marrone says the coaching staff won’t limit Fournette’s touches against the Colts.

“We are full-boring everybody,” Marrone said. “Once a guy is ready to play, that has to be our expectation.”

PAYING TRIBUTE

Adam Vinatieri became the NFL’s career scoring leader at Oakland.

On Sunday, the Colts will celebrate the record-breaking moment during a pregame ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium. Details are being kept under wraps.

Not surprisingly, the 45-year-old Vinatieri doesn’t want to make too big a deal out of it.

“I want to keep it fairly low key,” Vinatieri said. “I don’t want to be a distraction. It’s a fun accomplishment, it’s a big accomplishment not only for me but for the guys I’ve played with. But at the end of the day the only thing I want to get out of this weekend is a win.”

GOING BACK

Jaguars receiver Donte Moncrief, who spent the first four years of his career in Indianapolis, is looking forward to going back for the weekend.

“There’s going to be a lot of emotions,” Moncrief said. “I’ve still got to go out there and play and make plays like I’ve been doing. Don’t try to make it too big. Just go out there and do what you usually do.”

Moncrief has 29 receptions for 379 yards and two touchdowns this season. He signed a one-year, $9.6 million contract with the Jaguars in March, betting on himself to stay healthy and prove he’s worthy of a more lucrative, long-term deal in the league.

MR. 3,000

With seven passing attempts Sunday, Luck will hit No. 3,000.

He needs one TD pass to tie Eli Manning (156) for the 10th-highest total in league history over a player’s first seven seasons and three to match Cam Newton (158) for No. 9.

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LA Rams horrified by mass shooting near their training base

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams are reacting with horror and sadness after a mass shooting occurred near their training complex.

The Rams train in Thousand Oaks about five miles north of the Borderline Bar and Grill, where Marine combat veteran Ian David Long opened fire Wednesday night. He killed

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams are reacting with horror and sadness after a mass shooting occurred near their training complex.

The Rams train in Thousand Oaks about five miles north of the Borderline Bar and Grill, where Marine combat veteran Ian David Long opened fire Wednesday night. He killed 12 people on college night at the country music bar before apparently killing himself.

The Rams currently believe no one connected to their organization was at the bar, but coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips both described a somber mood in the Rams’ locker room Thursday before practice.

The team will hold a moment of silence before its home game against Seattle on Sunday, and the Rams may organize additional tributes to the victims, McVay said.

The Rams built their training complex in 2016 on a corner of the campus of Cal Lutheran University, which had students at the bar during the shooting.

The Rams’ separate corporate offices also are a few miles away in Agoura Hills. Most of the team’s players and employees live in the suburban Ventura County suburbs one hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

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Joseph’s job safe for now as Broncos stumble again

DENVER (AP) — Vance Joseph keeps losing games but not his locker room.

That's why Denver Broncos general manager John Elway didn't fire his coach at the bye like so many fans were suggesting.

Despite Joseph's 8-17 mark in Denver and a 3-6 start for the second straight season, Elway is encouraged by

DENVER (AP) — Vance Joseph keeps losing games but not his locker room.

That’s why Denver Broncos general manager John Elway didn’t fire his coach at the bye like so many fans were suggesting.

Despite Joseph’s 8-17 mark in Denver and a 3-6 start for the second straight season, Elway is encouraged by the growth he sees in the coach he contemplated firing last year and in the fight he sees in his scrappy team this year.

“At this point in time, we’re going to stay the course. I think there’s enough good things that are going on … and the way that we’re playing,” Elway told Broncos broadcasting partner 760-AM in Denver. “I’m much more encouraged this year than I was last year.”

In 2017, the Broncos lost eight games by double digits on their way to a 5-11 mark.

Although they’re flirting with back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 46 years, the Broncos have gone toe to toe with some of the league’s heavyweights.

They’ve lost by a combined dozen points to the Chiefs (8-1) twice, the Rams (8-1) and the Texans (6-3).

Elway hit the motherlode in 2018 by drafting Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman and Josey Jewell and signing undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay.

These baffling Broncos, though, lack depth at key positions because of his deficient drafts in recent years that include first-rounders Bradley Roby, Shane Ray, Paxton Lynch and Garett Bolles.

With the immediate impact of so many rookies and the strong, steady play of veterans Von Miller , Chris Harris Jr. , and Emmanuel Sanders , the Broncos have enough star power to compete with the league’s top teams.

They also have a razor-thin margin for error as they’re repeatedly encumbered by bad play-calling, penalties and poor performances, especially by Bolles at left tackle and Roby at cornerback.

Bolles’ NFL-high 17 holding calls in his 1½ seasons has earned him the nickname “Garett Holds” on Denver’s airwaves.

After excelling as a nickel back for years, Roby’s promotion to starter in a contract year following Aqib Talib’s trade to the Rams has been a perplexing failure.

Yet, Joseph has had to let both Bolles and Roby fix their flaws in the glare of games because of a lack of depth at their positions. Last month, Joseph told The Associated Press he didn’t fear losing his players over sticking with Bolles and Roby: “They understand we’re playing the best players.”

Despite their holes, the Broncos could be 6-3 and surrounded by an entirely different narrative were it not for three slip-ups, all at home:

—They lost 27-23 to the Chiefs when offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave inexplicably went to three-wide sets on a crucial fourth-quarter three-and-out, giving the ball back right away to Patrick Mahomes for what turned into the game-winning drive. With Denver’s defense exhausted — Harris was taken off for IVs — what was needed instead was for the Broncos to run both the football and time off the clock.

—They lost 23-20 to the Rams when Sanders’ taunting foul resulted in a field goal instead of a touchdown, a four-point swing that proved to be the difference.

—They lost 19-17 to the Texans when Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal as time expired after Joseph decided he was close enough after reaching the Houston 32 with 38 seconds left. The Broncos ran down the clock to 13 seconds before snapping it again and Lindsay lost a yard.

McManus, who missed a 62-yarder in the closing seconds of the first half, allowing the Texans to go down and kick a field goal for a six-point swing, had never missed consecutive kicks as a pro but was again wide right.

Joseph accepted the blame for the 62-yarder, saying he got greedy because of Denver’s offensive struggles.

“Put that on me,” Joseph said. “I was chasing points. That’s wrong.”

Joseph, however, staunchly defended his decision-making on the second one when he decided not to risk Case Keenum getting sacked again after the Broncos got inside the Houston 35-yard line.

However, McManus is much more accurate from inside of 50 yards than outside. He’s successful 77 percent of the time between 40 and 49 yards, but just 52 percent of the time on field goals of 50 yards and longer.

So, Joseph basically settled for a coin flip and paid the price with his 17th loss in 25 games as Broncos coach, leading furious fans to call for his ouster as they filed out of Mile High Stadium on Sunday night.

Not so fast, said Elway.

“You’d love to have the magic wand and throw the fairy dust on this thing and have some good things happen and get us over the hump,” Elway said on 760-AM. “We’ve been in six one-score games, so I’m much more encouraged this year than I was last year because I think that guys are still playing hard and we’re in games.”

Although the Broncos have the 49ers, Browns and Raiders left to play, they also face the Chargers (6-2) twice, the Steelers (5-2-1) and the Bengals (5-3).

Joseph said the Broncos need to start and finish better and somehow “find six more points a game.”

“We do that,” Joseph said, “we can win a lot of games.”

And maybe save his job again come January.

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Losses, ugly offenses, QB uncertainty mark Bills-Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Even the most die-hard of Bills and Jets fans might have a tough time getting fired up about this one.

Struggling offenses, quarterback questions and losing streaks are the ugly story lines marking the latest matchup of AFC East rivals, the first of their two meetings this season.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Even the most die-hard of Bills and Jets fans might have a tough time getting fired up about this one.

Struggling offenses, quarterback questions and losing streaks are the ugly story lines marking the latest matchup of AFC East rivals, the first of their two meetings this season.

“It’s the NFL and anybody can be beat in this league,” Jets safety Jamal Adams said. “You’ve definitely got to show up each and every Sunday. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are.”

Well, they aren’t very good — for either side — when it comes to offense.

The Bills (2-7) have the 31st-ranked overall unit and have been dealing with a quarterback carousel all season, and were trying to figure out late in the week where it would stop this time.

Rookie Josh Allen has missed three games with a sprained right throwing elbow , veteran Derek Anderson was in concussion protocol, and turnover-prone Nathan Peterman has been healthy but ineffective, to put it mildly. He completed a career-high 31 passes last week against Chicago, but also had three interceptions in the 41-9 rout by the Bears.

It has been a problem all season no matter who has been under center for the Bills, who have lost four straight. They have scored two touchdowns in their last four games, and been outscored 103-20 in its last three.

“Well, you know, the result, obviously, is not what we want it to be on the offensive side,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We’ve got to continue to find ways to create things, to create separation, to create wins in the 1-on-1 game, whether it’s the run game or the pass game. You always look at yourself first. I expect myself and our coaches to look at ourselves first, and I expect the players to look at themselves first.

“Collectively, though, we have to do a better job.”

The Jets (3-6) know the feeling.

Todd Bowles’ bunch has echoed those sentiments during the team’s second three-game skid of the season.

“We’re kind of realizing that it’s a time to come closer together as a team, as a family and as a brotherhood,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. “When times are starting to get hard, that’s when we’ve got to face adversity arm in arm and face it as a team.”

It appears they’ll have to do it without rookie Sam Darnold, who is dealing with a foot strain that could sideline him a few weeks. Darnold leads the league with 14 interceptions, so 39-year-old Josh McCown might be what the Jets need to get things back on track for the league’s 29th-ranked offense.

“I’ll go out and expect to play to my standard and to the standard of this football team,” McCown said, “and win a football game.”

Here are other things to know about the Bills-Jets matchup at MetLife Stadium:

THE REAL McCOY?

Bills running back LeSean McCoy is off to the worst start of his career with just 267 yards rushing and has yet to score.

He had 10 yards on 10 carries against the Bears, and hasn’t been anything close to the dynamic player he has been throughout his career. McCoy was mentioned as a possible piece in a trade leading up to last week’s deadline, but remains with Buffalo.

OH, SNAP!

The struggles of Jets center Spencer Long have epitomized the New York’s problems on offense.

Long has been trying to play through an injured right middle finger on his snapping hand, and things really came to a head last week when he had several wayward snaps out of the shotgun. Bowles finally pulled him for Jonotthan Harrison late in the game, and Long could find himself on the sideline again this week.

FAMILIAR FACE

The Bills were so desperate for receiver help they thrust Terrelle Pryor on the field five days after signing him. That came two weeks after the Jets cut him with an injury settlement because of an ailing groin.

New York thought he’d be sidelined a while, but Pryor was back on the field last Sunday and had two catches for 19 yards. He’ll have a chance to show the Jets how healthy he is Sunday.

ELI RETURNS

Second-year running back Elijah McGuire had 30 yards on seven carries and three catches for 37 yards for the Jets in his season debut after spending the first eight games on injured reserve with a broken foot.

McGuire has stepped into the dual-threat role usually held Bilal Powell, who’s out for the season with a neck injury.

“Really nice,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said of McGuire’s play. “I was really fired up about him last year. A true pro, reminds me of Kevin Faulk. I thought he played very well.”

BRIGHT SPOT

Buffalo’s defense ranks third overall in the NFL, including third against the pass and 11th against the run.

The Bills were done in by offensive turnovers last week against the Bears, but they allowed only 190 yards of offense by Chicago. It was the fewest allowed since 103 in a 19-0 win vs. Miami in 2013. It was also the fewest in a Bills loss since a 20-6 defeat at Baltimore in 2004.

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AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed.

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New Eagles wideout Golden Tate is up on Cowboys rivalry

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It didn't take Golden Tate long to learn his new team's biggest rival.

Tate, the playmaking wide receiver acquired from Detroit last week, will make his debut with the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) against the Dallas Cowboys (3-5) on Sunday night.

"I've read my social media, so our fans have expressed

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It didn’t take Golden Tate long to learn his new team’s biggest rival.

Tate, the playmaking wide receiver acquired from Detroit last week, will make his debut with the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) against the Dallas Cowboys (3-5) on Sunday night.

“I’ve read my social media, so our fans have expressed the passionate dislike of the Cowboys,” Tate said. “It’s going to be a great game. I’m happy that my first game gets to be at home against such an intense opponent.”

Tate had his best game this season against the Cowboys, catching eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns on Sept. 30.

“I think it gives me an advantage,” Tate said. “I’ve seen those guys. They are going to run the same defense, and I’m on another team with a completely different playbook.”

The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles are coming off a bye week and trail the Washington Redskins (5-3) in the NFC East. The Cowboys are reeling following a 28-14 loss at home to Tennessee on Monday night.

“One hundred percent, it’s a must win,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “Being a division game, that makes it that much more important. Must win.”

Here are some things to know about the Cowboys-Eagles prime-time matchup:

DAK & CARSON

When Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record in 2016 while fellow rookie Carson Wentz was 7-9 with the Eagles, some thought Dallas got the better franchise quarterback — and in the fourth round. The Eagles traded a slew of draft picks to move up and select Wentz at No. 2 overall.

But Prescott is 12-12 since with 32 TDs, 18 interceptions and an 87.4 passer rating. There are even questions whether he’s going to be the long-term answer in Dallas.

Meanwhile, Wentz is 14-5 with 46 TDs, only nine picks, and a 104.5 rating in the past two seasons, though he missed last year’s playoffs after tearing his ACL. He’s undoubtedly the present and future in Philadelphia despite having to watch Nick Foles lead the team to its first NFL title since 1960.

O-LINE WOES

The difficulties continue for Dallas’ once-vaunted offensive line, which has surrendered 28 sacks of Prescott, just four shy of his career high halfway through the season. Rookie left guard Connor Williams had arthroscopic knee surgery after getting hurt in the loss to Tennessee and will miss at least one game.

The Cowboys appear set to leave Joe Looney at center. He’s been there all season in place of four-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick, out with a nerve disorder. If Looney stays put, left guard will be filled by either Adam Redmond or Xavier Su’a-Filo.

DALLAS VS. DALLAS

Eagles rookie tight end Dallas Goedert will face the team he was named after for the first time.

Philadelphia traded up in the second round and moved ahead of the Cowboys to select Goedert, who would’ve helped replace retired Jason Witten in Dallas. Goedert has 18 receptions for 188 yards and three TDs while teammate Zach Ertz ranks first among tight ends with 61 catches.

Goedert will hear plenty of “Dallas stinks!” chants and worse. He knows fans won’t be referring to him.

PASS RUSH PUZZLE

The Cowboys are awaiting the return of defensive end Randy Gregory, who had knee surgery similar to Williams before the bye week and missed the last game. He was listed as limited in practice early in the week. Taco Charlton injured a shoulder against Tennessee and didn’t practice to start the week. Defensive tackle David Irving, out the first four games on a substance-abuse suspension, is likely to miss a second straight game with a sprained ankle.

DeMarcus Lawrence, who tied for second with 14½ sacks last season, stopped a three-game sackless streak against the Titans. Daniel Ross and Tyrone Crawford had a sack apiece, while Caraun Reid and rookie Dorance Armstrong shared one.

NEW PUNT RETURNER

The Eagles released DeAndre Carter, who was returning punts during Darren Sproles’ absence. Sproles is expected to play after missing seven games with a hamstring injury. He has seven career TDs on punt returns. Tate also could be used in that role, though he hasn’t done it much recently.

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AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.

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Jets’ McCown to start vs. Bills for injured Darnold

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the New York Jets against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in place of injured rookie Sam Darnold.

Coach Todd Bowles says Thursday he has ruled out Darnold to start because of a strained right foot, but hasn't determined whether the rookie

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the New York Jets against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in place of injured rookie Sam Darnold.

Coach Todd Bowles says Thursday he has ruled out Darnold to start because of a strained right foot, but hasn’t determined whether the rookie will be inactive for the game. If Darnold is out, Davis Webb would be promoted from the practice squad to serve as McCown’s backup.

The 39-year-old McCown has not taken a snap in a regular-season game this season as the Jets have focused on developing Darnold. The No. 3 overall pick won the job out of training camp, but was injured during New York’s 13-6 loss at Miami last Sunday.

McCown was the Jets’ starter last season and had a career year before being sidelined the last three games with a broken left hand.

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