Seahawks, Bears seek to rebound from opening losses

Seahawks, Bears seek to rebound from opening losses

The Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears each held fourth-quarter leads on the road in Week 1, but one of them will exit Monday night’s battle at Soldier Field with an 0-2 record.

The Bears’ collapse surely was more crushing, as they led by 20 in the third quarter and 17 in the fourth before a gimpy Aaron Rodgers willed the Packers to a miraculous 24-23 victory. Once eyeing a share of the NFC North lead, Chicago would slip two games out with a loss to Seattle as Green Bay hosts 1-0 Minnesota on Sunday.

“In this league, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Bears receiver Allen Robinson said. “There’s a lot of games. You’ve got to forget about it. We’ve got a big task this week at home.”

The Seahawks picked off Case Keenum three times in their opener against Denver but couldn’t keep a 24-20 fourth-quarter advantage, losing 27-24. A sluggish run game (16 carries for 64 yards) and six sacks of Russell Wilson led to inconsistency on offense, as 117 of the team’s 306 yards came on two plays. The other 53 snaps averaged 3.6 yards per play.

Pete Carroll defended his offensive line’s performance, however, saying Wilson was responsible for some of the sacks.

“I think our protection is better than it’s been,” Carroll said. “Six sacks doesn’t show you that, but the four-man rushes that [the Broncos] did, we did very well on and we’ll be able to clean some things up.”

There’s no rest for the much-maligned front five, which says goodbye to Von Miller (three sacks, two forced fumbles) and hello to Khalil Mack and a Bears front that had four sacks at Lambeau Field. After Mack stole the show in the first half of his debut — tallying a strip-sack, fumble recovery and pick-6 — his new teammates remain in awe.

“Did you see Khalil’s [play], where he just snatches the ball from [DeShone Kizer]?” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said this week. “Who does that? You dream about that type of play, you know? Pretty cool.”

Mack should play a bit more this week after getting eased in (42 of 60 snaps) at Green Bay. Linebacker Roquan Smith, a first-round selection in the NFL draft in April, missed the preseason with a holdout and hamstring tightness, but he also could get more work after seeing just eight snaps in his debut.

“Whatever Coach feels like is best for me as far as playing time-wise, if it’s one quarter or an entire game, whatever that may be, I’m just with it,” Smith said.

For Seattle, Earl Thomas should return to an every-snap role after playing 64 of 74 in a return from his own holdout. He made the most of his chances, baiting Keenum for a pick and tipping another pass that teammate Bradley McDougald, who later nabbed two interceptions of his own, couldn’t corral.

The Seahawks’ defense probably will remain without K.J. Wright, who had a knee scope shortly before the season, though Carroll said he’s made quick progress. Rookie fifth-round selection Shaquem Griffin started for Wright last week but was pulled late in favor of Austin Calitro after he “got fooled on a couple things,” as Carroll put it.

Seattle also is expected to be without Doug Baldwin, who injured his right knee against Denver after missing all of the preseason with left knee soreness. That should mean more work for Tyler Lockett and newcomer Brandon Marshall, both of whom scored in the opener.

Other than tight end Adam Shaheen (foot, injured reserve), the Bears are mostly healthy. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd will continue to play with a club on his broken right hand.

–Field Level Media

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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Trailblazing African-American RB Wally Triplett dies at 92

DETROIT (AP) — Wally Triplett, the trailblazing running back who was one of the first African-Americans drafted by an NFL team, has died. He was 92.

The Detroit Lions and Penn State announced Triplett's death Thursday. Triplett was the third African-American selected in the 1949 draft, but he was the first of those

DETROIT (AP) — Wally Triplett, the trailblazing running back who was one of the first African-Americans drafted by an NFL team, has died. He was 92.

The Detroit Lions and Penn State announced Triplett’s death Thursday. Triplett was the third African-American selected in the 1949 draft, but he was the first of those draftees to play in a regular-season game. He played in 24 games for the Lions and Chicago Cardinals.

Triplett was also the first African-American to start for Penn State, and in 1948, he and teammate Dennie Hoggard became the first African-Americans to play in the Cotton Bowl.

Triplett played in 18 games for the Lions from 1949-50. After serving two years during the Korean War, he returned to play for the Cardinals.

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Vrabel gets 1st crack coaching against Belichick, Patriots

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings over eight seasons with the New England Patriots. He even caught eight passes — all for touchdowns and all thrown by Tom Brady.

Then Bill Belichick traded the linebacker away to Kansas City in 2009.

"We didn't talk for a couple months,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings over eight seasons with the New England Patriots. He even caught eight passes — all for touchdowns and all thrown by Tom Brady.

Then Bill Belichick traded the linebacker away to Kansas City in 2009.

“We didn’t talk for a couple months, maybe a year,” Vrabel said. “Then we became friends, and I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career, and still talk to him a lot now. This week we’re competitors.”

In his first season as an NFL head coach with Tennessee, Vrabel gets his first crack at both his old coach and former team Sunday when the Titans (4-4) host the Patriots (7-2).

The men share some of the same philosophies about football, though not personalities.

Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, who spent his first four seasons in New England, says Vrabel’s also younger and taller than Belichick. Vrabel may dress a bit better too during games, and Ryan sees some other similarities.

“They’re hard-nosed. They care about the fundamentals,” Ryan said.

For his part, Belichick says Vrabel will be a great coach with his passion and football knowledge as a player easily carrying over. Belichick also believes Vrabel deserves to be recognized in the Patriots Hall of Fame and yes, the Nashville native cheers for Vrabel and the Titans every game except this one.

“It will be the Patriots against the Titans,” Belichick said. “That’s what it will be.”

The Patriots have won six straight after beating Green Bay 31-17 last week. They also have won the past seven against the Titans, including playoffs, with the most recent a 35-14 romp in the divisional round last January. The Titans snapped a three-game skid Monday night with a 28-14 win in Dallas.

Some things to know about the Patriots and Titans:

LAST THREE

Only a trio remains of those who played alongside Vrabel during his tenure in New England: Brady, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and special teams captain Matt Slater. Brady spent eight seasons with Vrabel from 2001 to 2008. Gostkowski arrived in 2006, and Slater was a rookie during Vrabel’s final season in 2008 before being traded.

“His body can do it longer than mine could at the position that he plays,” Vrabel said of Brady.

NEW ENGLAND TIES

Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty spent his first eight seasons with the Titans and now plays alongside twin brother, Devin, in New England. Trying to rebuild, Tennessee has stocked up on former Patriots including general manager Jon Robinson, Vrabel, Ryan, right guard Josh Kline. Robinson signed cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis this offseason. Also, Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees was an assistant and coordinator with the Patriots. He was the linebackers coach in 2004-05 and defensive coordinator in New England from 2006-2009.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman called Lewis a fiery jitterbug.

“He meant a lot to me when he was here. Now I hate him,” Edelman said with a smile.

DEFENDING BRADY: Brady enters this game having won five straight against the Titans. His lone loss came in 2002 in a 24-7 setback during Brady’s third year in the league. That also was his only meeting with the Titans in which he didn’t have a touchdown pass and the only time he threw an interception.

In six regular-season meetings with Tennessee, Brady has thrown for 1,561 yards, 12 touchdowns and the one interception, while completing 66 percent of his passes.

“He’s seen every look in the book, and even ones that haven’t been in the book,” Vrabel said of Brady. “Anytime that somebody’s open, they get the football. Anytime you make a mistake, he’s always going to find the guy that you make a mistake on and get them ball really quickly.”

MORE BRADY

The three-time MVP will play his 300th game, including the postseason, Sunday. Brady will join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to reach that mark, and the Patriots quarterback needs four TD passes to pass Peyton Manning (579) for most TD passes in NFL history for regular season and postseason combined. The Titans, the NFL’s top scoring defense and also best in the red zone, are allowing only 17.6 points per game and have allowed three TDs in a game only twice this season.

MERRY-GO-ROUND

Tennessee has to be ready for an unconventional look in the Patriots’ backfield. With rookie Sony Michel nursing a knee injury the past two weeks, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has emerged as New England’s go-to threat at running back. Patterson led the Patriots in rushing each of the past two games, including 61 yards and a 5-yard touchdown last week.

Both Michel (knee) and Patterson (neck) started this week limited in practice. Belichick currently has just two healthy running backs: James White and Kenjon Barner.

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AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed to this report from Foxborough, Massachusetts.

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Harbaugh, Flacco seek strong finish in 11th year with Ravens

BALTIMORE (AP) — Having worked in unison for 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco are under pressure to extend their extraordinary bond to an even dozen years.

The emergence of first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson and a three-game losing streak have raised questions about the future of a

BALTIMORE (AP) — Having worked in unison for 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco are under pressure to extend their extraordinary bond to an even dozen years.

The emergence of first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson and a three-game losing streak have raised questions about the future of a coach and quarterback who reached the postseason in each of their first five seasons together and capped the run with a Super Bowl victory.

Recently, however, the Ravens have stumbled. They’ve missed the postseason for three consecutive years and entered their bye week with a 4-5 record.

General manager Ozzie Newsome will step down after this season, and Baltimore’s performance over the last seven games could go a long way toward determining if the transition will extend to a change at head coach and/or quarterback.

Following a lackluster 2017 season that could be attributed in part to a slow-healing back injury, Flacco has been solid this year. He’s thrown for 2,465 yards and has 12 touchdown passes with only six interceptions.

Though Harbaugh has allowed the fleet-footed and elusive Jackson to receive several snaps each game, he’s not about to make a quarterback change at this pivotal point in the season.

“Joe has played well, so I don’t want to get into all of that,” Harbaugh said. “We’re rolling right now with what we have.”

Harbaugh took the job as Ravens coach in 2008 with Flacco as a rookie quarterback. Flacco started the opener, the first of his 163 regular-season games under Harbaugh — second-most in NFL history by a quarterback who’s spent his entire career with the same head coach. Only Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have more (260).

But the Ravens didn’t trade up to get Jackson just to keep the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner on the sideline. The former Louisville star ranks second on the team with 139 yards rushing and has completed seven of 12 passes, most of them during mop-up duty.

The challenge for Harbaugh is to determine when, and how often, to use the rookie. It’s a tricky problem, in part because the Ravens often keep Flacco in the game when Jackson enters so the defense won’t know who will take the snap when the huddle breaks. If Jackson is the quarterback, then Flacco lines up as a receiver who almost certainly won’t be a target.

“I sure hope not,” Flacco said with a grin.

Jackson ran for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns at Louisville. He’s far more of a threat with his legs than the 33-year-old Flacco, leaving the opposition to guess whether Jackson will keep the ball, hand it off or pass.

“The stats say we’re over twice as effective running the ball with Lamar on the field. That’s even with the 10-man football that people say we’re playing,” Harbaugh said. “The numbers don’t lie there. That’s probably why I say I’d like to get him on the field more, because you always want to do things that are effective more.”

Though unyieldingly loyal to Flacco, Harbaugh didn’t dismiss the possibility of using Jackson for an entire series.

“I would say that’s an option, yes,” Harbaugh said.

The strange thing about all this is that the Ravens have not made use of another quarterback who has started in 41 NFL games, including the playoffs. Retained as part of the 53-man roster in case Flacco or Jackson gets hurt, Robert Griffin III has been inactive every game this season.

Whether Griffin gets to play remains to be seen. For now, the Ravens are focused on finding the right mix between Flacco and Jackson.

Jackson enjoys contributing, though he would prefer better results.

“It’s very cool, but I feel like I need to do more,” he said. “We need to score more points. I’ve got to help my team move the ball.”

The Ravens planned to use the bye week to rest and get healthy. Starting tackles James Hurst (back) and Ronnie Stanley (ankle) missed a 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday, and it’s essential that Baltimore have a full offensive line against Cincinnati at home next week.

The defense has to get better, too. After getting 11 sacks in a 21-0 rout of Tennessee on Oct. 14, the Ravens have yielded 83 points during a skid that has put their postseason chances in jeopardy.

“We’re not eliminated yet. We’re in a hole, and now we have to dig ourselves out,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We just have to get our minds refreshed and refocused, then come back and get after it.”

___

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

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Patriots put win streak on line vs. Vrabel’s Titans

Patriots put win streak on line vs. Vrabel's Titans

Patriots put win streak on line vs. Vrabel’s Titans

The New England Patriots have won six straight games since a former team insider engineered a stunning upset on Sept. 23.

Don’t look now but another head coach intimately familiar with the Patriot Way is itching for a similar triumph on Sunday.

Former Patriots defensive star Mike Vrabel matches wits with Bill Belichick for the first time and looks to post a much-needed victory when the Tennessee Titans host the red-hot Patriots in Nashville.

New England (7-2) has won four games by two touchdowns or more since former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia coached the Detroit Lions to a convincing 26-10 win in Week 3. The latest victory was a solid 31-17 performance against the Green Bay Packers.

“I still don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Patriots running back James White said. “We’re still working, still trying to improve, especially as an offense. We can be better.”

New England may have to be in top form against the Titans (4-4), who lead the league in scoring defense (17.6 points per game) and rank eighth in total defense (333.5 yards per game).

Tennessee’s defensive success isn’t a surprise to Belichick, who always was impressed by Vrabel’s intelligence and tenacity during the eight seasons he coached him.

“Mike’s got a lot of great qualities — great player, tough mentally and physically, smart, had a real passion for the game, was in great condition, could go all day, loved to play, loved to practice, great leadership,” Belichick told reporters of the first-year Tennessee coach. “So I have a ton of respect for Mike and I think he’s been a great (assistant) coach. I think he’ll be a great head coach.”

Vrabel initially had hard feelings after the Patriots traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2008 season but credits Belichick for having a huge impact on why he became a coach — first at Ohio State and later with the Houston Texans.

“I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career and still talk to him a lot now,” Vrabel told reporters. “This week we are competitors — we are always competitors, as I am still coaching and so is he.

“… I think that spending time there, there are some similarities that I believe in and you grow up as a player believing in. But we have a different personality. … I respect his friendship and respect his guidance and leadership when I played there.”

The Patriots are averaging 30 points per game — fourth in the NFL — but could be without tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back) and impressive rookie running back Sony Michel (knee). The status of both will be determined later in the week. Gronkowski (29 receptions for 448 yards and one touchdown) missed the victory over the Packers and Michel (422 yards) has sat out the last two games. Michel is expected to play barring a setback in practice.

Quarterback Tom Brady continues to perform well no matter who is on the field. The 41-year-old has thrown for 2,494 yards and 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Titans signal caller Marcos Mariota is impressed with Brady’s continued dominance.

“He’s done an incredible job and I think he has kind of laid the blueprint out for a lot of young guys,” Mariota told reporters. “When you are playing into your 40s, I think it says a lot about how he is taking care of his body, how he has done it. Because the lifespan in the NFL is so short, so for him to exceed that and more says a lot about what he has done.”

Tennessee cornerback Malcolm Butler gets to play against his former team of four seasons for the first time. Butler was infamously benched for the Super Bowl last February when the Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Belichick had no interest in fielding a question about Butler and instead discussed the Tennessee defense.

Butler didn’t have a lot to say.

“It’s just a game,” Butler said. “I know I used to play for New England and all of that. I’m not over-hyped, I’m not very pumped. It’s just another game. I’ve got to be ready to play no matter who I play.”

–Field Level Media

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Bryant joins Brees, Saints for date with Bengals

Bryant joins Brees, Saints for date with Bengals

As if Drew Brees didn't

Bryant joins Brees, Saints for date with Bengals

As if Drew Brees didn’t have enough offensive weapons in his multi-faceted arsenal, the New Orleans Saints added yet another – free agent wide receiver Dez Bryant – just before they take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

In the latest sign that the 7-1 Saints are going all-in to win a Super Bowl this season behind the leadership and veteran skills of the 39-year-old Brees, New Orleans signed Bryant to a one-year deal on Thursday. Bryant was released in the spring after playing for eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, averaging 66.4 catches per season, 14.0 yards per catch and 73 touchdowns.

“I’ve heard a lot of great things about him,” said Brees, who has led the Saints to seven consecutive victories and is averaging 292 passing yards per game with a league-best 76.3 completion percentage, 18 touchdown passes and only one interception. “I think he’ll add a good element to already a pretty good cast of skill players. I look forward to getting to work with him.”

Saints coach Sean Payton did not indicate if or how much Bryant would play against the Bengals — his first practice was Thursday and his knowledge of the playbook would be limited – but it is clear Payton wants a complement to second-year receiver Michael Thomas, who has 70 catches for 880 yards and five scores. The Saints’ next most productive wide receiver, rookie Tre’Quan Smith, has just 12 catches.

“Dez has been a really good player in this league for a very long time,” Brees said. “There’s certainly a skill set that he has that’s going to be very beneficial. I think he’ll be a great addition.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose 5-3 team is coming off a bye week, said it was hard to guess how much of an impact Bryant would have on the Saints’ game plan.

“I don’t need to speculate,” Lewis said. “I’ve not seen Dez play football this season. Dez was a good player with the Cowboys and had a lot of production. But he’s going to a new team, and we’d be wasting time speculating whether or not he’s going to be up and part of that (active gameday roster of) 46.”

The Bengals likely will be without one of their most important offensive weapons. Wide receiver A.J. Green, who has caught 45 passes for 687 yards (15.3-yard average) and scored six touchdowns, has a toe injury.

“It’s just a tough loss seeing our best player go down,” said receiver Tyler Boyd. “It’s just more opportunities for the rest of our guys to make plays.”

“It is a huge impact,” Payton said of not having to face Green. “He is someone that commands a ton of coverage respect. He is one of their better players. That is always difficult.”

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip), linebacker Nick Vigil (knee), cornerback Darqueze Dennard (strernoclavicular), tight end Tyler Kroft (foot) and guard Alex Redmond (hamstring) also did not practice Wednesday.

The Saints are battling injuries on their offensive line. Starting tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk and center Max Unger practiced on a limited basis because of sore knees, as did left guard Andrus Peat (hip).

–Field Level Media

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Bears expect Mack back when Lions visit

Bears expect Mack back when Lions visit

A couple of first-year head coaches will meet when the

Bears expect Mack back when Lions visit

A couple of first-year head coaches will meet when the Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

But the early results have been much different for Chicago’s Matt Nagy and Detroit’s Matt Patricia.

The Bears are 5-3 and sit in first place in the NFC North as they pursue their first playoff appearance since 2010. Alternatively, the Lions are in last place at 3-5 and hope to avoid a three-game skid this weekend.

Just don’t bring up any playoff chatter with Nagy. Not yet, at least.

“Never,” Nagy said in comments published by the Chicago Daily Herald. “You’ll never hear that from me. You’ll never hear the word ‘playoffs’ from me. Because we’re worried about (Game) 9. If we worry about playoffs, then we’re worrying about the wrong thing. We have a lot of season left.”

That includes home-and-home games against the rival Lions, who have won three straight games against the Bears and nine of the previous 10. This is the 177th all-time meeting between the clubs, with Chicago holding an all-time advantage of 97-74-5.

The Bears enter the weekend fifth in the NFL with an average of 29.4 points per game. The Lions are 20th with 22.5 points per game.

On defense, the Bears are No. 4 with an average of 19.1 points allowed. Detroit has let up 26.3 points per game, which is 23rd in the league.

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has a 96.1 passer rating in his second season. He has passed for 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Trubisky’s counterpart on the opposite sideline will be Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, now in his 10th season. The Georgia alum has a nearly identical passer rating at 96.5 and has passed for 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

A sprained right ankle has sidelined Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack for the past two games, and his status is uncertain for Sunday. In a likely positive sign, Mack was available for a Wednesday practice for the first time since Week 6.

That might not be viewed as a positive for the Lions, who allowed Stafford to be hit 17 times with 10 sacks against Minnesota last week.

Chicago also expects to welcome back tight end Adam Shaheen, who has not played since injuring his right foot and ankle in the preseason.

For the Lions, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah told reporters “I feel amazing” after his first game back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for two months.

Ansah registered a sack last week against the Minnesota Vikings and has a four-game sack streak in games in which he has played. That is tied for the longest sack streak in franchise history.

This will be the first game for Detroit since it fired special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano. The team has struggled in many facets of special teams this season, including a No. 24 ranking in kick return yards allowed and a last-place No. 32 ranking in punt return yards allowed.

“It’s never really an easy decision when you have to try to make a move in the middle of the season,” Patricia said. “But just kind of taking a look at the evaluation of everything so far, from what we’ve done so far in the season and moving forward, I just thought it was the best thing right now to make that move and kind of go forward without Joe. …

“He’s a great man, a good person. Just thought the move was necessary.”

–Field Level Media

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Report: Steelers WR Brown ticketed for driving over 100 mph

Report: Steelers WR Brown ticketed for driving over 100 mph

Report: Steelers WR Brown ticketed for driving over 100 mph

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was reportedly cited for driving in excess of 100 mph at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.

CBS-TV (KDKA) in Pittsburgh reported police responding to a nearby bank robbery caught Brown going over 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. Brown is not a suspect in the bank robbery.

The Steelers play Thursday night at Heinz Field.

Brown, per the report, was driving a black Porsche. Police ticketed Brown for reckless driving.

The Steelers have not commented on the report.

–Field Level Media

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