Redskins RB Guice Torn ACL in preseason opener

This article was updated to reflect new reports of his injury. 

Rookie running back Derrius Guice will miss his rookie season after reportedly tearing his ACL in the Washington Redskins’ preseason opener against the New England Patriots on Thursday.

It was originally thought to be a sprained MCL and a smiling Guice was seen afterward in the locker room saying “All is well.” The MRI brought back the worst news, a torn ACL as reported by Ian Rapoport. 

Before heading to the locker room, Guice had carried the ball six times for 19 yards.

The former LSU star was taken in the second round, 59th overall, by Washington after he slid in the draft.

In three years at LSU, Guice had 503 offensive touches for 3,324 yards (6.6-yard average) and 32 scores. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, the first running back selected this year, had 773 touches for 5,038 (6.5 avg) and 51 scores over the same span.

–Field Level Media

Take 5: Can Belichick slow Chiefs’ offense?

Take 5: Can Belichick slow Chiefs' offense?

Bad Blake Bortles turned Week 5's best game into a dud. Luckily, the NFL schedule brings another AFC showdown this week, this time in prime time when the Kansas City Chiefs visit the New England Patriots on Sunday.

No one will confuse the

Take 5: Can Belichick slow Chiefs’ offense?

Bad Blake Bortles turned Week 5’s best game into a dud. Luckily, the NFL schedule brings another AFC showdown this week, this time in prime time when the Kansas City Chiefs visit the New England Patriots on Sunday.

No one will confuse the Patriots’ defense with the Jacksonville Jaguars’, but it’s a unit that is quietly much improved — 13th in yards per play (5.5) and eighth in yards per pass (6.1), up from 31st (5.7) and 20th (6.4), respectively, in 2017 — and we know Bill Belichick is one of the best at preparing for a specific opponent. But can he limit Andy Reid’s attack with his signature approach?

1. What will be the focus of Belichick’s defense?

The Patriots’ coach is known for game plans centered on taking away the opponent’s top threat.

But that’s hardly simple against the Chiefs, because Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are each so dangerous and unique. Complicating matters, both men often align in the slot (especially in empty sets) and attack vertically, making them more difficult to bracket with dedicated double-teams than an X receiver who lines up wide.

To combat both threats, expect Belichick to employ plenty of three-man rushes, which would open up a number of possible wrinkles. With eight in coverage, the Patriots could assign dedicated double-teams to both Hill and Kelce while still keeping a center field safety and playing man coverage elsewhere (Stephon Gilmore likely will follow former Bills teammate Sammy Watkins, as the two have similar body types).

Dropping eight also would give Belichick freedom to deploy a lurker — a free defender who simply reads the quarterback’s eyes — or a QB spy, or both on the same play at times. These tactics would help clog the middle of the field against Reid’s wealth of crossing routes while keeping a watch on Patrick Mahomes to limit his movement outside the pocket.

2. Containing Mahomes is more important than sacking him

A three-man rush wouldn’t hamstring the Patriots much anyway, as their pass rush (3.5 percent sack rate, 32nd in NFL) shouldn’t threaten the Chiefs’ O-line (3.4 percent sack rate allowed, second).

Instead, Belichick will be more focused on preventing Mahomes’ opportunities to escape, which a three-man contain rush is built to do. The Patriots also could employ stunts and twists with three rushers to flush Mahomes in the direction they want, with a QB spy waiting to close him down as he leaves the pocket.

New England’s dedication to coverage will open up lanes for Kareem Hunt — just as Denver’s did two weeks ago — but Belichick could mitigate the damage somewhat by employing “Bear” fronts, which place defensive linemen over the center and both guards. Belichick often uses this approach, which plays like a 5-2 front (five DLs, two LBs) or a 5-1 in nickel and dime, because it prevents double teams against his stoutest run defenders and can render zone runs — which the Chiefs favor — fruitless.

Even if most of these tactics work, Kansas City’s overwhelming offensive firepower will be enough to move the ball regularly against a famously bend-don’t-break defense. New England will look to win on third down and especially in the red zone, where Hill becomes a less dangerous receiver (and more of a gadget player) because of his tiny frame and less space in which his speed can stretch the defense.

Tom Brady & Co. should carve up the Chiefs’ last-place D, so New England’s defense simply must win a few battles rather than the war.

3. Cincinnati must protect to dispatch Pittsburgh

The Steelers have bullied the Bengals of late, winning the past six meetings, nine of the past 10 and 14 of the past 17 (including playoffs). Perhaps more surprising, Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed more than 21 points to Cincinnati in the past 18 meetings.

Cincinnati’s offense should break the latter streak if it can avoid what short-circuited the Atlanta Falcons in Pittsburgh: poor pass protection (six sacks, 13 QB hits).

Keeping clean pockets is especially important with Andy Dalton, whose inability to handle pressure has always been his biggest weakness.

The Bengals’ reconfigured O-line has been a major part of the team’s 4-1 start. Cordy Glenn rarely wows, but it’s often easy to forget he’s out there (a good thing for a left tackle). Longtime left guard Clint Boling has steadied some in pass protection this year, and Trey Hopkins has held up fine in the absence of first-round center Billy Price, who could return from a foot injury this week.

The right side, however, is more exploitable. Despite mostly steady play, right guard Alex Redmond and right tackle Bobby Hart have each been susceptible to bull rushes this season, with Redmond accumulating four holding calls and Hart racking up 5.5 sacks allowed plus two holds.

That could be trouble against Stephon Tuitt, whose burst and power routinely get him near quarterbacks, and T.J. Watt, who is tied for the NFL sack lead (six) and plays with a springy explosiveness. (Bengals fans probably hold a grudge against Tuitt for ruining Cincy’s 2015 season when he intercepted Dalton and the QB broke his thumb tackling the big man.)

Even without Tyler Eifert (ankle), Dalton has the weapons to carve up Pittsburgh’s leaky back end if given time. That’s the top priority as the Bengals seek a breakthrough against the Steelers.

4. Promising signs for Seattle’s offense

Brian Schottenheimer was hardly an inspiring hire as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, and early returns (including 0-for-10 on third downs in Week 4) were mostly discouraging. But glimpses of optimism have shined through, most obviously Sunday in a 31-point performance against the Los Angeles Rams.

Pete Carroll clearly wanted to return to the run-centric approach that defined the offense early in Russell Wilson’s career. The Seahawks have 105 runs over the past three weeks, but they aren’t just running into a brick wall over and over.

Schottenheimer has kept them efficient with a variety of man- and zone-blocking concepts and a ton of zone-read elements to occupy backside defenders. On Sunday alone, Seattle showed an option for Wilson to keep the ball on 19 of 32 runs, including Mike Davis’ 6-yard touchdown. The same tactic also produced Davis’ 20-yard score at Arizona and Chris Carson’s 5-yarder vs. Dallas.

More important, Schottenheimer has ramped up the play-action passing, one of Wilson’s greatest strengths. Against L.A., Wilson went 9 of 11 for 172 yards and three touchdowns off play-action. Two of those scores came on designer deep shots, one on a sluggo (slant-and-go) and another on a Yankee concept (deep crosser underneath a deep post).

Such designs are a great fit for Wilson, featuring his excellent deep accuracy and forcing him to deliver on time rather than hold the ball and burden his offensive line. Tyler Lockett’s speed and Wilson’s mobility make such plays particularly dangerous, like on a Week 1 design in which Wilson rolled right by design and threw all the way back left to Lockett for a 51-yard score.

The Seahawks probably remain too run-heavy — it’s a myth that you must run it well and/or often for play-action to work; just ask Jay Gruden — but Schottenheimer is building effectively off of the run-based identity.

Facing an Oakland Raiders defense that has been porous against run and pass, Seattle’s offense could be in for its most productive game yet, with friendly matchups against the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers to follow.

5. Which Titans offense will we see vs. Baltimore?

Blaine Gabbert and a limited Marcus Mariota prevented us from seeing the full scope of new coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense until Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Mariota erupted for 344 passing yards and two scores (one INT), including the game-winner to Corey Davis in overtime.

That performance was particularly encouraging because of the Titans’ aggressiveness opening up the playbook. LaFleur, who has worked under both Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan the last two years, dialed up a number of downfield route designs out of condensed formations, using stack releases to free receivers and give Mariota defined reads and throws.

But last week’s flop in Buffalo was equally discouraging. Perhaps thinking they wouldn’t need many points to win, the Titans returned to a far more conservative approach and looked stuck in mud, totaling 221 total yards and just 129 through the air.

Setting aside a nice off-schedule play on Nick Williams’ brutal dropped touchdown, Mariota did little to inspire confidence. He often looked unsettled in the pocket, threw with spotty accuracy and, most worrisome, struggled to read the field against Sean McDermott’s zone-heavy defense.

That has quietly been a major recurring concern for Mariota, who should be much more comfortable reading defenses in his fourth year as a starter, and such issues could be exacerbated against the Ravens on Sunday. Under coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, Baltimore’s defense is as complex as any in the league, employing a wide variety of zone exchanges and blitzes to break down protections and fool quarterbacks.

LaFleur can help Mariota by bringing back the aggression from Week 4 and dictating to the defense with downfield designs, many of which feature extra protection built in. But it might not be enough if the former No. 2 overall pick doesn’t make significant strides on his own.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Jaguars All-Pro CB Ramsey added to injury report

Jaguars All-Pro CB Ramsey added to injury report

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey was a surprise addition to the injury report, the team revealed on its official website Thursday.

The third-year All-Pro was limited at practice because of a knee injury.

Ramsey, who turns 24 later this

Jaguars All-Pro CB Ramsey added to injury report

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey was a surprise addition to the injury report, the team revealed on its official website Thursday.

The third-year All-Pro was limited at practice because of a knee injury.

Ramsey, who turns 24 later this month, has started all five games for 3-2 Jacksonville this season, compiling 17 tackles without an interception.

The Jaguars’ defensive star joins a pair of other cornerbacks on the team’s injury report, as both D.J. Hayden (toe) and Tre Herndon (hamstring) have not practiced since Tuesday.

Veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell was a limited participant for the second straight day because of an ankle issue, although two other linemates returned to full practice Thursday — Malik Jackson (back, sat out Wednesday) and Yannick Ngakoue (shoulder, limited at Wednesday practice).

Two members of Jacksonville’s offense were sidelined for the second straight day, running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and offensive lineman Josh Wells (groin). Fournette was already ruled out for this Sunday’s game at Dallas, promoting the team to sign free agent Jamaal Charles to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Center Brandon Linder (knee) and left guard Andrew Norwell (foot) were limited on Thursday after both missed practice on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

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Pack, Rodgers seek healthy return vs. 49ers

Pack, Rodgers seek healthy return vs. 49ers

Aaron Rodgers' sore knee continues to bother him as the season approaches its halfway point.

Doctors can provide the Green Bay Packers quarterback with medicine. But nothing makes Rodgers feel as good as winning.

The Packers (2-2-1) will try to

Pack, Rodgers seek healthy return vs. 49ers

Aaron Rodgers’ sore knee continues to bother him as the season approaches its halfway point.

Doctors can provide the Green Bay Packers quarterback with medicine. But nothing makes Rodgers feel as good as winning.

The Packers (2-2-1) will try to climb back toward the top of the NFC North standings when they host the San Francisco 49ers (1-4) on Monday night at Lambeau Field.

The Packers are 1-0-1 at home this season. Rodgers has saved some of his best work for home crowds, posting an 8-0-1 record in his last nine starts at Lambeau, with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Now, if only he felt better. He sprained his knee in the season opener against the Chicago Bears, and he sat out Thursday’s practice after experiencing a setback.

Rodgers expects to be available Monday, although he might wear a bigger knee brace that limits his mobility.

“I hope not,” Rodgers told reporters when asked about wearing a larger brace. “The goal would be to wear the same brace I wore last week, but I have a lot of faith in our training staff, and we’re going to (use) the brace we feel is most safe and (allows) me to do exactly what I’m able to do on Monday.”

Meanwhile, 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard is focused on fixing his mental mistakes. The second-year player out of Iowa will try to bounce back from a tough loss against the Arizona Cardinals in which he threw two interceptions, lost two fumbles and was sacked twice.

Beathard has taken over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who is sidelined for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.

“The bottom line is you can’t lose the ball,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Whether you get hit, whether someone’s not open, sometimes you need to get rid of it.

“Sometimes you need to take sacks. But the worst-case scenario, we plan on ending the series with the ball in our hand. That’s something he’s got to do a better job of.”

Green Bay has averaged 401 yards per game on offense while giving up an average of 313.8. The 49ers have averaged 378 yards while allowing 348.4.

Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, who has seven touchdown catches in his past seven games, could pose challenges for the San Francisco secondary. He made nine catches for 140 yards and a score last week in a 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

The 49ers’ top target could be Pierre Garcon, whose two most recent games against the Packers included 100-plus receiving yards and a touchdown.

This is the teams’ first meeting since 2015, when the Packers pulled away for a 17-3 win.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Giants fined Beckham over interview

Report: Giants fined Beckham over interview

Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was fined by the New York Giants over his controversial comments about the team last weekend, Fox Sports reported Thursday.

According to Jay Glazer on the Fox NFL pregame show shortly before New York's home matchup

Report: Giants fined Beckham over interview

Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was fined by the New York Giants over his controversial comments about the team last weekend, Fox Sports reported Thursday.

According to Jay Glazer on the Fox NFL pregame show shortly before New York’s home matchup against NFC East rival Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Giants levied an undisclosed fine on their talented, yet outspoken wideout after Beckham expressed frustration with his role in the offense to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Beckham didn’t express much confidence in quarterback Eli Manning, either.

Asked whether Manning was the cause of the Giants’ offensive woes, Beckham didn’t exactly stick up for the quarterback.

“I don’t know,” Beckham began.

“Like I said, I feel like he’s not going to get out the pocket. He’s not — we know Eli’s not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it’s been pretty safe and it’s been, you know … cool catching shallow (passes) and trying to take it to the house. But I’m, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody.”

Glazer reported that the Giants’ players and coaches were upset with Beckham for speaking publicly.

During training camp, he signed a five-year contract extension worth $95 million, with $65 million guaranteed, ending preseason drama between the two sides.

Going into Thursday night’s game, Beckham had 39 catches for 462 yards and one touchdown.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs, Mahomes will get major test in New England

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

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

Remember, though, that the Chiefs, with Alex Smith, went into Gillette Stadium and won the 2017 kickoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More numbers of note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington has lost five straight to Carolina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’ll face the stingiest defense in the NFL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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Wentz throws 3 TD passes, Eagles look Super vs. Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — All the Philadelphia Eagles needed to get over their Super Bowl hangover was a little more urgency, some big plays — and a timely game against the New York Giants.

Carson Wentz threw a season-high three touchdown passes and the Eagles got an early lift from their defense

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — All the Philadelphia Eagles needed to get over their Super Bowl hangover was a little more urgency, some big plays — and a timely game against the New York Giants.

Carson Wentz threw a season-high three touchdown passes and the Eagles got an early lift from their defense and special teams in beating the struggling Giants 34-13 on Thursday night, avoiding their first three-game losing streak since the 2016 season.

Wentz sandwiched touchdowns passes of 13 and 1 yard to Alshon Jeffery around a 10-yarder to tight end Zach Ertz to help the Eagles (3-3) build a 31-6 lead. They beat the Giants (1-5) for the fourth straight time and seventh in eight games.

Corey Clement scored on a 1-yard run and Jake Elliott added field goals of 33 and 30 yards for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Rookie halfback Saquon Barkley scored on a 50-yard run and rushed for 130 yards in one of the few bright spots for the Giants’ offense, which was booed repeatedly in losing at home for the third time. Aldrick Rosas had field goals of 33 and 21 yards.

This was seen as a must-win game for both teams in the weak and wide-open NFC East, and the Eagles went out and grabbed it.

They came into the game having scored seven points in the first quarter and they doubled that against New York.

Eli Manning was under pressure all game and finished 24 of 43 for 281 yards.

On the opening series, Kamu Gugier-Hill intercepted Manning’s pass that was tipped by fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks and he returned it to Giants 16. Three plays later, Wentz (26 of 36 for 278 yards and no interceptions) was forced out of the pocket and found Jeffery after getting all day to throw.

A 46-yard run by Barkley set up Rosas’ 33-yarder to cut the gap to 7-3, but the Eagles took control later in the quarter after DeAndre Carter returned a punt 23 yards to the New York 44. Passes of 17 to Jeffery and 14 to Clement set up Clement’s touchdown run.

A spectacular tackle-breaking run by Barkley on a 55-yard screen pass helped cut the lead to 14-6 in the second quarter but Wentz hit a wide-open Nelson Agholer on a third and 3 and connected with Ertz for a 21-6 lead on the next play.

Elliott made it 24-6 just before halftime and Philadelphia put the game out of reach with a 75-yard drive that ended with a short Jeffery TD catch.

The only thing meaningful after that was Barkley’s touchdown run.

INJURIES: Eagles LT Jason Peters left with a biceps injury. Backup cornerback Sidney Jones left in the first half with a hamstring injury. The Giants had LB Ray Ray Amstrong (concussion), WR Cody Latimer (hamstring) and CB Antonio Hamilton (illness) leave the game.

BARKLEY GAINS: Barkley has gained at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first six career games. He is one off the NFL rookie record set by Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Host Carolina on Oct. 21.

Patriots: At Atlanta on Oct. 22.

___

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

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Eagles-Giants Stats

Philadelphia 14 10 7 3—34
New York 3 3 7 0—13
First Quarter

Phi_Jeffery 13 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 13:15.

NYG_FG Rosas 33, 10:06.

Phi_Clement 1 run (Elliott kick), 1:28.

Second Quarter

NYG_FG Rosas 21, 5:44.

Phi_Ertz 10 pass from

Philadelphia 14 10 7 3—34
New York 3 3 7 0—13
First Quarter

Phi_Jeffery 13 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 13:15.

NYG_FG Rosas 33, 10:06.

Phi_Clement 1 run (Elliott kick), 1:28.

Second Quarter

NYG_FG Rosas 21, 5:44.

Phi_Ertz 10 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 4:22.

Phi_FG Elliott 33, 1:29.

Third Quarter

Phi_Jeffery 1 pass from Wentz (Elliott kick), 8:42.

NYG_Barkley 50 run (Rosas kick), 6:10.

Fourth Quarter

Phi_FG Elliott 30, 14:52.

A_77,167.

___

Phi NYG
First downs 23 17
Total Net Yards 379 401
Rushes-yards 31-108 17-147
Passing 271 254
Punt Returns 5-47 3-0
Kickoff Returns 2-34 2-58
Interceptions Ret. 1-24 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 26-36-0 24-43-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-7 4-27
Punts 5-48.0 5-50.6
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 4-25 5-61
Time of Possession 32:30 27:30

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INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING_Philadelphia, Smallwood 18-51, Clement 11-43, Wentz 2-14. New York, Barkley 13-130, Gallman 4-17.

PASSING_Philadelphia, Wentz 26-36-0-278. New York, Manning 24-43-1-281.

RECEIVING_Philadelphia, Jeffery 8-74, Ertz 7-43, Agholor 3-91, Clement 3-26, Matthews 2-26, D.Carter 1-11, Goedert 1-7, Smallwood 1-0. New York, Barkley 9-99, Beckham 6-44, Latimer 3-52, S.Shepard 3-37, Gallman 2-25, Simonson 1-24.

MISSED FIELD GOALS_Philadelphia, Elliott 54. New York, Rosas 52.

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Beathard, 49ers look to rebound against Packers at Lambeau

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — After a four-turnover performance last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard faces quite a platform in a try for redemption.

Beathard will lead his team into Lambeau Field for Monday night's game against the Green Bay Packers, a nationally televised matchup that represents the biggest stage on

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — After a four-turnover performance last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard faces quite a platform in a try for redemption.

Beathard will lead his team into Lambeau Field for Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers, a nationally televised matchup that represents the biggest stage on which Beathard will have started an NFL game.

He’ll face the No. 2 pass defense in the league while being supported by a banged-up offensive line and an injury-depleted receiving corps. The 49ers also figure to be without top running back Matt Breida, doubtful because of a badly sprained ankle.

Factor in a raucous and inhospitable Lambeau crowd, and the odds appear stacked against San Francisco (1-4), which lost at home last week to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals.

Beathard prefers to view it as an opportunity.

“It’s definitely something to look forward to,” Beathard said. “A Monday night game, in Lambeau. Historic stadium, playing a great team. It’s everything you ask for.”

A second-year quarterback out of Iowa, Beathard has made two starts in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, who tore the ACL in his left knee Sept. 23 against Kansas City and is out for the season.

Beathard showed promise in his first start, a 29-27 road defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers, completing 23 of 37 passes for 298 yards, despite absorbing some big hits in and out of the pocket.

But in last week’s 28-18 loss to the Cardinals, Beathard was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles, one of them returned for a touchdown. That offset his two touchdown passes and career-high 349 yards through the air.

Overall in two starts, Beathard has completed 57 of 91 passes (62.6 percent) for 647 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy knows the challenge a young quarterback faces in trying to fill the shoes of an injured starter. Last season, Brett Hundley endured a turbulent ride for the Packers replacing two-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone.

“I think the biggest thing with a backup quarterback and especially when he’s young — going through it last year — is his ability to keep the offense playing to the full menu of the game plan,” McCarthy said. “You look at their production and you have to say C.J. definitely does that. That’s a compliment to him but also a compliment to their coaching staff for having the young man ready.”

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan wants Beathard to show better pocket awareness, sensing where the pass rush is coming from and protecting the ball. Both of Beathard’s fumbles Sunday came on strip-sacks, and Green Bay (2-2-1) enters this weekend ranked fifth in the NFL with 16 sacks.

But Beathard could benefit from better health among his offensive teammates.

Left tackle Joe Staley and center Weston Richburg have been playing through knee injuries. Both missed Thursday’s practice, as did Breida, and receivers Pierre Garcon (shoulder, knee) and Trent Taylor (back). Rookie receiver Dante Pettis, the team’s best punt returner, will miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury.

There was a bit of encouraging news Thursday in that receiver Marquise Goodwin — the 49ers’ best downfield threat and who starts opposite Garcon — practiced without restrictions after being limited most of the season with quadriceps and hamstring issues.

Beathard was asked about matching up against Rodgers. He spoke glowingly of Rodgers, who is hobbled by a knee injury but remains a master at dissecting opposing defenses.

“He’s just a baller,” Beathard said. “He’s got the quickest release, the craziest arm I’ve ever seen. It just looks like he’s throwing a Nerf ball out there.”

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A year after knee injury, Lee finding his way with Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Marquel Lee has no plans to apologize for his scuffle last week with Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates late in the fourth quarter.

If anything, Lee is adamant he did the right thing even though it resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Marquel Lee has no plans to apologize for his scuffle last week with Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates late in the fourth quarter.

If anything, Lee is adamant he did the right thing even though it resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and a quick admonishment from Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

“He just told me I’m better than that,” Lee said. “I was defending myself. Guy had my helmet. I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to chump me or punk me. I’m a grown man, too. Coach Gruden was just like, ‘Keep your cool. You’re better than that.'”

A fifth-round pick in 2017, Lee is proving to be better than many people thought. His dust-up with Gates was one of the few signs that Oakland’s defense still had some fight in it during the 26-10 loss that dropped the Raiders to 1-4.

Lee has taken quickly to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system and played well enough over the first month of the season to unseat 14-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Derrick Johnson as the team’s starter.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks in London, Lee is third on the Raiders in tackles behind linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Marcus Gilchrist.

“He’s done some good things,” Guenther said. “He’s progressing in the right direction. Obviously he is playing a lot now so we are counting on him.”

It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when Lee had to be carted off the field with a right knee injury that sidelined him for two weeks. Already behind the learning curve at the time, the injury prevented Lee from making much of an impact and led to the Raiders signing NaVorro Bowman to play middle linebacker the rest of the season.

Bowman wasn’t re-signed this past offseason but Oakland brought in Johnson, the former Kansas City Chiefs star, and penciled him into the starting lineup early in training camp.

Johnson started the first game of the regular season and took the majority of reps in Week 2 before Lee forced a change with his consistent work in practice and games.

“I noticed it a lot with my play,” Lee said. “Just not as much anxiety on myself, and not much panic. Playing calm, to be honest. Just seeing everything slower and making my plays when I need to.”

The Raiders are 30th in total defense and have had a penchant for allowing big plays. Lee has made his share of mistakes, most notably blitzing against the Chargers on a screen play when it wasn’t called for. The result: a 34-yard gain on a day full of breakdowns by Oakland’s defense.

“The margin for error is small in this game,” Lee said. “I feel like we have a great sense of urgency, especially after last week’s loss, seeing the plays that we gave up and could have held onto to win the game.”

The Raiders don’t seem to mind the growing pains with their young inside linebacker. Lee’s progress on defense while also playing extensively on special teams has been a positive in an otherwise disappointing start for the team.

Lee’s challenge this week will be trying to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

“We know that he’s a good scrambler and he makes plays in the open field,” Lee said. “We plan to keep him in the pocket and keep him corralled, not give him much room to run because that’s when he’s most dangerous, when he’s out of the pocket.”

Notes: The Raiders held a brief and light practice Thursday before departing for London where they will play the Seahawks at Wembley Stadium. … Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) missed a third consecutive day of practice. Jon Feliciano has been practicing in Osemele’s place. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (neck) also sat out Thursday.

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Best drama: Rams defense keeps stepping up in fourth quarter

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams have seen cracks emerge in their star-studded defense the past two weeks.

The fourth quarter has not been one of those problems.

Despite allowing 31 points in wins over Minnesota and Seattle, just three of those 62 points were conceded in the fourth quarter,

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams have seen cracks emerge in their star-studded defense the past two weeks.

The fourth quarter has not been one of those problems.

Despite allowing 31 points in wins over Minnesota and Seattle, just three of those 62 points were conceded in the fourth quarter, which gives defensive coordinator Wade Phillips confidence to address the Rams’ issues in stopping the run and pass.

“I’ve been on a lot of teams and I just think, like I’ve told you before, this team plays really well under pressure,” Phillips said Thursday. “We don’t want to be pressured to play that well all the time, but I feel good about where we’re going. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we are going.”

The decline in play through the first three quarters coincides with injuries to cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, who each sustained injuries in the Rams’ 35-23 win over the Chargers in Week 3.

Talib will not be eligible to return until December after undergoing ankle surgery and being placed on injured reserve. Peters sustained a calf injury that forced him out against the Chargers, but has not missed a game since.

However, Peters’ effectiveness has dropped off noticeably since coming back on a short week to face the Vikings. According to Sportradar, Peters has allowed 12 receptions on 17 targets in the past two games. Prior to the injury, Peters had allowed four completions on 11 attempts as the primary defender in coverage.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson went after Peters on all three of his touchdown passes, but Phillips took the blame for not putting Peters in the right positions given the injury, he said. Phillips also noted that retraining the aggressive Peters to play in his system will take time, likening it to asking a mobile quarterback to be more cautious when a play breaks down.

“When you take the scrambling away from him, they’re not as good,” Phillips said. “Same thing with him if you take what he sees away from him. Now you got to limit it a little more, and that’s what we have him doing.

“But he’s getting there, and he’s a great competitor. He keeps fighting, and that’s what happens in the fourth quarter. If bad things happen to really good players, they keep playing.”

And it is the success in the fourth quarter, where the Rams have allowed a total of six points in five games, that Phillips is citing as evidence the Rams defense is anything but broken.

The Rams had four sacks in the fourth quarter against the Vikings, with Ndamukong Suh getting one in the red zone to force a field goal. John Franklin-Myers had a strip-sack of quarterback Kirk Cousins on Minnesota’s final possession to seal the 38-31 win.

The defense was just as effective late against the Seahawks, when the Rams scored the final nine points in a 33-31 win.

Despite allowing 190 yards rushing for the game, a total Suh called “terrible,” the Rams gave up 16 yards rushing on six carries in the final quarter, including five net yards on the final five attempts. Suh also sacked Wilson to end one drive and drew a holding penalty to help snuff out another.

“Going in the fourth quarter when it’s crunch time, when we need to get off the field and need to stop the run and need to stop the pass, we do all of it,” Suh said. “We just got to be consistent. When we get consistent and we’re all on the same page at all times, we’ll be a dangerous defense.”

While Suh struck a disappointed tone for letting the past two games come down to the wire, safety Lamarcus Joyner believes the poise the Rams showed in those critical moments bodes well for the future.

“We definitely want to try not to make it a habit, but it’s good to face that adversity early,” Joyner said. “Playing in the postseason or whatever it is, when you are going to have that competition and that adversity, we already experienced the feelings and the emotions and we know how to handle ourselves.”

NOTES: Wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp (concussion protocol) each participated in individual drills during practice Thursday. Coach Sean McVay said Cooks and Kupp are on track to play against Denver barring any setbacks. … Defensive lineman Michael Brockers (ankle) did not practice.

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Prescott doesn’t feel need to preach unity with Cowboys

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott took plenty of time away from the cameras trying to explain why he thinks the Dallas offense is close to breaking through the struggles most responsible for the Cowboys' losing record.

The quarterback at one point looked for help in his description from Cole Beasley, the receiver

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott took plenty of time away from the cameras trying to explain why he thinks the Dallas offense is close to breaking through the struggles most responsible for the Cowboys’ losing record.

The quarterback at one point looked for help in his description from Cole Beasley, the receiver who sounded off recently about the frustration his group feels in a sound bite that was perceived as a shot at Prescott.

In short, Prescott sees no issues of unity with the Cowboys (2-3) trying for the third time to get back to .500 with a home game coming off a rough road trip. Jacksonville (3-2) visits Sunday.

“That’s why I give these guys a lot of credit because we talk, we communicate,” Prescott said Thursday. “There’s not any beef or any tension from when I go see them on the sideline. It’s great communication. They allow me to do that and we can be straightforward with each other.”

Newcomer Allen Hurns has joined Beasley in trying to defend a receiving corps struggling to replace Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and getting the criticism that figured to go with it.

The former Jaguars player also caused a stir by suggesting that a particularly poor play call resulted in Prescott’s second interception against Houston in a 19-16 overtime loss.

Hurns didn’t back down, but coach Jason Garrett and Prescott didn’t necessarily agree that the call was so terrible. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan brushed it off as a non-issue.

“I don’t put any stock in that as being critical,” Linehan said. “I’m the first one if you had a better play against that coverage to say we could have a better call there. You don’t have to put that on Allen Hurns. He’s busting his butt and we’re really happy with what he’s doing.”

The Cowboys have the 30th-ranked passing offense in the NFL and the second-fewest touchdowns. The receivers haven’t really earned the right to second-guess because they aren’t producing.

But everyone agrees it’s a combination of protection, Prescott’s accuracy and their shortcomings.

“That kind of comes with the territory here,” Beasley said of the criticism. “And I do feel like we’ve gotten a lot of it. But a lot of other people have too. So it’s not just us. It’s just kind of how it goes. Whether it’s true or not, we’ve still got to go in and just do our job.”

The Cowboys have the NFL rushing leader in Ezekiel Elliott, but Prescott is still close to the bottom of the league in key passing efficiency categories two years after setting a rookie passer rating record as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

To illustrate how he thinks the team is close, Prescott points to a play late in regulation against Houston when tight end Blake Jarwin was open for a big gain but J.J. Watt got to the quarterback before he could make the throw. Had the Cowboys converted that play, they likely would have been in position to kick a winning field goal.

“That’s why you can’t let outside of here seep into your head or get into your head,” Prescott said. “You watch the game, you don’t necessarily see that. So you just hear negative all this. We’re this close.”

As the Cowboys keep working to get there, Garrett has no concerns about a divided locker room.

“We’ve got the right kind of guys on our team who go about it the right way every day,” Garrett said. “I have the good fortune of spending time with them at meetings, walkthroughs and practice every day. They absolutely handle themselves like pros who support each other.”

Elliott used a few expletives to try to illustrate how he believes his teammates are accountable.

“There’s enough accountability in this locker room that there’s not going to be any finger-pointing,” the star running back said.

NOTES: DE David Irving returned to practice after a longer-than-expected excused absence to deal with an ongoing custody issue involving his young daughter. Irving was eligible last week after starting the season on a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He practiced one day but left the team again to deal with the personal issue. The Cowboys decided to keep him out of the game against the Texans. … Dallas signed CB C.J. Goodwin from Cincinnati’s practice squad and S Darian Thompson from Arizona’s practice squad. Dallas added RB Darius Jackson to its practice squad, replacing former Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough. … LB Sean Lee (hamstring) went through individual drills but was listed as a non-participant in practice. He is expected to miss his third straight game.

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Packers QB Rodgers weighs bulky brace after setback

Packers QB Rodgers weighs bulky brace after setback

Aaron Rodgers experienced a setback last week on a hit in the Green Bay Packers' loss at Detroit and could go back to a bulky brace on his balky left knee for Monday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Rodgers, injured in

Packers QB Rodgers weighs bulky brace after setback

Aaron Rodgers experienced a setback last week on a hit in the Green Bay Packers’ loss at Detroit and could go back to a bulky brace on his balky left knee for Monday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Rodgers, injured in the opening half of a Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears, has been playing through the injury and only recently ramped up to multiple practices per week.

On a hit from Lions linebacker Christian Jones, Rodgers took a step back on the health front. He’ll test braces this week but doesn’t want to return to the immobilizing, oversized brace.

“I hope not,” Rodgers said. “The goal would be to wear the same brace I wore last week, but I have a lot of faith in our training staff and we’re going to put the brace we feel is most safe and allowing me to do exactly what I’m able to do on Monday.”

Rodgers, admitting the knee was the issue, did not participate in Thursday’s practice. But he felt he had a productive day on the rehab front under the guidance of coordinator of rehabilitation Nate Weir.

“Got to be in the rehab group again today, got a lot of good work in with Nate and just hoping I get back out there tomorrow and have a feel-good Friday and a practice [Sunday] and be good to go,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully back to where I was in Detroit.”

Where he was in Detroit was 442 yards and three TD passes playing with a decimated wide receiver group. That, too, is about to change.

Randall Cobb hasn’t played since Week 3 but was a participant in Thursday’s practice — an improvement from last week — and could be ready to test his hamstring injury on Friday.

Geronimo Allison (concussion) was also back on the field and Davante Adams (calf) is expected to be full-go for the 49ers on Monday night.

“I told you guys Week 1 it’s going to be a work in progress; I don’t think we’re far off,” Rodgers said. “I feel kind of like after Washington a couple of years ago [2016]. We are very close to getting things going and like I said then and I’ll say again now, I feel like if we can get off to a better start on offense, it makes the entire squad play with a different type of confidence. We need to lead from the front as an offense and as a team and give our defense an opportunity to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback and make them a little more one-dimensional.”

–Field Level Media

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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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.”

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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.

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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham contributed.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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