Steelers’ Roethlisberger (elbow) misses practice again

 

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger skipped practice again Thursday with a right elbow issue.

 

Roethlisberger, 36, sustained the elbow injury late in Pittsburgh’s tie with Cleveland on Sunday. He didn’t practice Wednesday.

 

On Thursday, backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs worked with the first team. Dobbs, a Tennessee product, was taken by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

Roethlisberger said Wednesday that the injury wasn’t significant. It also isn’t unusual for him to skip throwing on Wednesdays during the season.

 

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner declined to discuss specifics about the home opener Sunday against Kansas City and whether Roethlisberger would play.

 

Roethlisberger last sat out a start because of an injury in October 2016. He missed a loss to New England after he underwent a left knee procedure.

 

Dobbs said that if Roethlisberger is a no-go, he’ll be ready.

 

“Practice as if you’re going to play week-in and week-out, so when Sunday comes you’re ready to go when your number’s called, whatever it is,” Dobbs told reporters.

 

“I know if my opportunity comes, if my number’s called, I’ll be ready to go in and play and play to win.”

 

–Field Level Media

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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Rivers rolling, Carr stalling entering Chargers-Raiders game

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars,

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming stars, while Rivers seemed to be on the downside of a career that started in 2004.

The script has flipped heading into Sunday’s meeting between Rivers’ Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) and Carr’s Oakland Raiders (1-7). Rivers is playing as well as he has at any point in his 15-year career, while Carr is struggling to find his way in coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

“Obviously quarterbacks get way too much credit and way too much blame already, but I think we don’t give enough credit to guys who have played that long,” Carr said. “I’ll say it this way, the hardest part mentally going through a season is the days leading up to the game. Sunday is fun, man. You cut it loose and you give it everything you have. Having to recover, ice tub, wake up early to get treatment, the lift, to lift heavy when everything hurts, that’s when those guys don’t get enough credit.

“Here I am at five years, I’m fine. I’m good. I’ll keep doing this and I’m good. But, those guys that are in their 15th, 20th season, we don’t give them enough credit to mentally be that strong. It’s awesome.”

Rivers has career highs in yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (116.5), and is on pace for a career-high 38 touchdown passes while leading the Chargers to five straight wins.

The Chargers have strengthened their offensive line, have a potent running threat in Melvin Gordon, have plenty of outside targets with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, and a strong defense.

That has all taken pressure off Rivers to carry too much of the load.

“These last almost 20 games or so, we’ve had good balance,” Rivers said. “Leaning on one another offensively and defensively taking care of the ball — all of those things are important. So we’ve done a nice job of it so far.”

Here are some other things to watch:

GORDON’S RUN

Melvin Gordon has rushed for 407 yards and scored five touchdowns in his last four games. He also has three 100-yard games in three of his past four, the first time that has happened in his career. The only game when Gordon did not go over the century mark was Week 5 against the Raiders; he had just 58 yards on 19 carries. The Raiders are last in the league in rushing defense, but Gordon knows he has a tough test ahead.

“They played me pretty tough last time we went up against them. It is never easy since they are a rival. As a group the offensive line is hitting on all cylinders. We hope to keep getting stronger.”

PRESSURE POINT

The Raiders have struggled to generate any sort of pass pressure all season after trading away Khalil Mack. Oakland ranks last in the NFL with seven sacks and last with 35 QB pressures, according to SportRadar, 28 fewer pressures than the next-lowest team. Fixing that will only get harder after the team released top pass rusher Bruce Irvin last week. That puts more pressure on a trio of rookies — P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst — that has three sacks this season.

“We put a lot on their plate and that’s because they’re the future of this team,” teammate Frostee Rucker said. “They have to come along and play.”

KINGS OF PICKS

The Chargers have seven interceptions during their five-game winning streak and have 189 yards in returns, which leads the league. Second-year cornerback Desmond King has three of the interceptions and returned one 42 yards for a touchdown last week at Seattle to put the Chargers up by two scores.

MISSING WIDEOUTS

Oakland has struggled to get any production from wideouts in recent weeks. Since the start of Week 5, Oakland ranks last in the NFL with 37 catches and 428 yards receiving from wide receivers. Amari Cooper had one catch for 10 yards in two games in that span before being traded to Dallas. Seth Roberts leads Oakland’s pass catchers with 12 receptions over those four games, while Martavis Bryant has the most yards with 138.

NEW KICKER (AGAIN)

The Chargers have become the Bermuda Triangle for placekickers. Michael Badgley is the team’s sixth since the start of last season and moved into the role fulltime this week after Caleb Sturgis was released on Monday. Badgley made all three of his field goals and seven extra points in the two games he kicked when Sturgis had a quadriceps injury.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report

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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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Mahomes, Rosen to face off when Chiefs welcome Cardinals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Patrick Mahomes Reunion Tour rolls on Sunday when the young, record-setting quarterback leads the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium.

Last week, Mahomes shredded the Cleveland Browns while outplaying their rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The two met when Mahomes was being recruited to Texas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Patrick Mahomes Reunion Tour rolls on Sunday when the young, record-setting quarterback leads the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium.

Last week, Mahomes shredded the Cleveland Browns while outplaying their rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The two met when Mahomes was being recruited to Texas Tech and Mayfield helped to serve as his host, and their relationship continued even when Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma.

This week, Mahomes gets to reminiscence about his time working at Peyton Manning’s football camp with his old roommate, Josh Rosen — now the quarterback on whom the Cardinals are pinning their future.

“I’ve met him a couple times, been out to California and met him,” Mahomes said. “He throws a beautiful ball. It’s always a really tight spiral. I know he’ll have a lot of success.”

It’s going to be tough to top the success Mahomes is having.

The Chiefs’ first-year starter is setting benchmarks just about every time he steps on the field, and the next one might be consecutive 300-yard passing games. Mahomes has eight straight to match Andrew Luck from the 2014 season, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Rosen said, reflecting on those days working camp together. “We weren’t really throwing, we were mostly just coaching the kids. So we didn’t get to really throw too much, but I liked him as a dude. We got along really well.”

Rosen hasn’t seen a whole lot of Mahomes with the Chiefs (8-1) this week, either, because he’s spent all his time focusing on the defense. But Cardinals coach Steve Wilks has seen enough to know that stopping him may be impossible, and slowing him down is nearly as difficult.

That goes for the entirety of the Kansas City offense.

“One thing we talked about all week is really trying to limit those big plays, understanding exactly who they’re trying to target,” Wilks said. “This is a very explosive offense. Going against Andy Reid for several years in different places, going all the way back to the Eagles, this is part of his M.O. So, we’ve got to try to limit the big plays as much as possible.”

The Cardinals (2-6) have struggled much of the season, particularly on offense. But they’re coming off an uplifting, fourth-quarter comeback victory over San Francisco that was capped by Rosen’s touchdown strike to Christian Kirk in the final minute.

“You can let point spreads and all these things — ‘trap game’ — and all these terms that pop up and things that happen come into it,” Reid said of perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Chiefs this week. “But if you can honestly focus on the process and discipline yourself to do that, that normally takes care of things. … You’re not going to let distractions get in the way.”

As the Chiefs and Cardinals prepare to meet Sunday, here are some interesting notes:

GETTING HEALTHIER

Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen is expected to play after returning from injured reserve, where he’d been since breaking his leg in training camp. The Chiefs also could have top pass rusher Justin Houston back from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him the past four games.

ROSEN AND REID

Rosen’s father, noted physician Dr. Charles Rosen, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and the youngster was an avid fan of Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles growing up.

“I used to have an Eagles shirt when I was a kid that said, ‘Our coach will eat yours.’ I was a huge Andy Reid fan,” Rosen said. “Him and Mike Vick and the DeSean Jackson days were very fun to watch.

FITZGERALD’S NUMBERS

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been climbing into the upper reaches of the NFL’s career receiving marks, and he is closing in on a couple very high rungs.

Fitzgerald has 15,902 yards receiving, and he needs 33 more to pass Terrell Owens for second place behind Jerry Rice on the career list. Fitzgerald also needs 58 catches to pass former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez for second behind Rice in career receptions.

Fitzgerald had eight catches for 102 yards and a TD in last week’s 18-15 win over San Francisco.

PERFECTION, ALMOST

Reid was asked this week how often his creative plays are executed properly — when all 11 guys do exactly what they are supposed to do. And his answer was quite candid.

“I’d probably give you 85 percent of the time,” Reid said. “Now, they can get beat and that would bring it down a little bit, but mostly guys will attempt to do the right thing. It amazes me how they can digest all this and in a split-second know — there’s 200 plays on that sheet, and you have to figure it out like that, and these guys do it.”

MAKE WAY, LEN

Mahomes already has thrown 29 touchdown passes, which means he needs just two more to pass Len Dawson’s franchise record. The Hall of Famer set one of the Chiefs’ longest-standing records in 1964, an era in which passing generally took a back seat to running the ball.

“It would be awesome,” Mahomes said, “because Len had a lot of success in the NFL and was kind of ahead of his time, throwing all those touchdowns. It would be awesome to pass that.”

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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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Giants tight end Engram trying to overcome dropped passes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Evan Engram understands that he has all the tools to be a top tight end in the NFL.

The New York Giants' second-year player, the team's first-round selection in 2017, has the size, speed and the drive to be a star.

There's only one problem. Engram has a propensity of

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Evan Engram understands that he has all the tools to be a top tight end in the NFL.

The New York Giants’ second-year player, the team’s first-round selection in 2017, has the size, speed and the drive to be a star.

There’s only one problem. Engram has a propensity of dropping passes, especially in clutch situations.

Engram caught 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns last season. Engram also dropped 11 passes and vowed in the offseason to work on rectifying that problem.

Now, in his second season, Engram has caught 17 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, but he has also dropped three passes.

“It’s pretty tough,” Engram said Thursday before the team practiced in preparation for facing the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.

“It’s not where I want to be. I have to put some of these plays behind me and keep working on getting better and staying positive.”

Engram’s problems are also magnified because the Giants have a 1-7 record for the second straight season.

“We just have to go out and get a win,” Engram said. “We have to get some of the bad tastes out of our mouths. It’s going to feel good to get out there on the big stage Monday night.”

The Giants are coming off their bye week, which should make the beleaguered team feel a little better.

“I think it’s important to put the bad things behind me,” Engram said. “A couple of those drops are catches that I can make in my sleep. I just want to go out there and give us enough an opportunity to win the game Monday night.”

Engram was the first rookie tight end to lead the Giants in receptions. His six touchdown catches were a franchise record for a rookie tight end in 2017.

So the potential is there. He just has to make sure to hold on to the ball, something that coach Pat Shurmur also realizes.

“Evan is a pass-catching tight end,” Shurmur said. “I think we all realize that. But it’s important that he catches the ball. He’s had a couple of drops. But he works at it. He has worked all along at catching the ball. He does a lot of drills, a lot of extra work. He works hard at catching the ball. He always puts the drop behind him and continues to work hard at trying to catch the ball.”

Quarterback Eli Manning recognizes Engram’s passion for improving.

“Evan works hard and wants to do everything right,” said Manning, who will remain the team’s starter for the time being. “He puts in a lot of work. He’s too good of a player and an athlete to let the little things bother him.”

Manning knows that the Giants have had their difficulties scoring touchdowns this season.

“I feel like we’re moving the ball well,” Manning said. “We’re getting yards and moving the ball down the field. We just need that to translate into scoring touchdowns. It always comes down to execution. We have to avoid the negative plays. We just have to execute better in the red zone.”

Manning did not want to talk about whether Monday night’s game against the Niners might be his last as a starter this season.

“I’m worried about this week,” he said. “I have a job to do right now. We’re just going to try to go out there and get the win this time. Sure, there’s a sense of urgency. We all need to get going. We need to improve. We need to score some points. I feel like we’re close. We just have to get back on track, keep improving and play some football.”

The improvement might have to begin with the second-year tight end.

“I watch film of other tight ends,” Engram said. “There are a lot of athletic tight ends in the league, so I try to pick up plays that can make me more effective. I love watching (Kansas City TE) Travis Kelce. He’s so polished and smooth as a tight end. It’s fun watching him. I always try to steal things from him.”

So Engram took the practice field Thursday with the idea that the dropped passes, 14 over his first 1½ seasons, are a thing of the past.

“I think we all strive for perfection,” Engram said. “I just have to put it (the dropped passes) behind me. I understand that it’s part of the game and it’s something that makes you work harder.”

NOTES: Shurmur continued to hint that newly acquired OG Jamon Brown might start Monday night, just a week after being claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Rams. “We’re putting him in there and getting him ready like he’s going to start,” Shurmur said of Brown. “He’s a big man, a really big man (6-foot-4 and 340 pounds). He was a starter on a team that won more than 10 games last year. He’s a really fast learner.” … Standout safety Landon Collins did not want to comment on a report that said the Giants were either going to place the franchise tag on him for next season or work on a long-term contract. “There has been no talk about that,” Collins said. “When we get to that, we get to that. If something happens, I’ll let you know.” … Manning said that he spoke with QB Kyle Lauletta about his arrest last week for motor vehicle violations in Weehawken, N.J. “It’s a tough situation for him,” Manning said. “I’m trying to support him. This whole thing will be forgotten about and will be water under the bridge very shortly.”

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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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History on the line: Porous Bengals try to stop Saints

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati's historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3)

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati’s historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3) are going to have to stop an offense that’s been lighting it up.

Hello, Drew Brees.

The Saints (7-1) have won seven straight and are coming off a 45-35 win that sent the Rams to their first loss. New Orleans piled up 487 yards behind Brees, who leads the NFL in completion rate (76.3 percent) and passer rating (120.6). He’s been sacked a league-low nine times.

If the Bengals fail to get a hand on him, it could be history .

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

The biggest challenge for the Saints will be keeping the momentum in their only road game during a four-week span. They return home to play the Eagles and Falcons the next two weeks.

Although the Bengals have given up the most yards in the NFL, the defense has scored four touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, playing a big factor in three of their wins.

The Saints can’t afford to get off to a bad start that gives the Bengals the advantage. Also, it would help if the Saints tidied up their defense a bit.

While the Bengals are historically bad — on pace to give up more than 7,000 yards — the Saints are also struggling on defense. They rank 25th overall, including second-worst in pass defense. They’ve been among the worst at stopping opponents inside the 20-yard line. The Rams overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and tied it 35-35 in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans would like fewer shootouts in the second half of the season.

“There’s a ton of things we have to improve on and we need to improve on, or it’s going to hurt us later,” coach Sean Payton said.

Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

THE NEW GUY

New Orleans signed former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday . It’s unclear what role — if any — he’ll play this week as he tries to learn the offense. Deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. is hurt, and the Saints hope Bryant can add another dimension to the offense once he gets acclimated.

“I look forward to building a rapport with him,” Brees said. “I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just become a complement to all the guys that we already have.”

THOMAS’ TIME

While Bryant’s arrival gets attention, Michael Thomas remains the Saints’ biggest threat. He set a franchise record last week with 211 yards receiving, including his 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With half the season still remaining, Thomas has 70 catches for 880 yards and five TDs.

BIGGEST BLEMISH

The Saints’ most glaring problems on defense have come near the goal line. New Orleans’ opponents have scored touchdowns on 20 of 28 drives (71.4 percent). That ranks 28th out of 32 teams in defensive red zone efficiency.

“You can’t find any team having success later in the season with the numbers that we currently have,” Payton said. “We’ve got to find a way to improve that.”

The Bengals lead the league in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line, reaching the end zone on 20 of their 26 such possessions. They’ve scored touchdowns on eight of their past nine trips inside the 20.

“We’ve had some really good schemes,” Andy Dalton said. “At the end of the day, our guys have made the plays.”

OH THAT HISTORY

No NFL team has given up three straight 500-yard games. The 1963 Jets gave up three 500-yard games within a four-game span — 510 to the Chargers, 505 to the Raiders, 317 to the Broncos and 528 to the Chargers again. In its past three games, Cincinnati has allowed 481 to the Steelers, 551 to the Chiefs and 576 to the Buccaneers.

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

MISSING GREEN

A.J. Green caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left for a win in Atlanta. He had two catches that moved the Bengals into range for their winning field goal against Tampa Bay before they headed into their bye last week. He also hurt a toe on his right foot on the final catch and is sidelined indefinitely, costing Cincinnati its most dependable receiver.

“It is a huge impact,” Payton said. “He is someone that commands a ton of coverage respect.”

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AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Metairie, Louisiana, and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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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.”

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Texans shake off terrible start with 6-game winning streak

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

"Started from the bottom now we're here," he bellows. "Started from the bottom now the whole team here."

While the 2013 Drake tune is

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

“Started from the bottom now we’re here,” he bellows. “Started from the bottom now the whole team here.”

While the 2013 Drake tune is a little old to be the team’s anthem, the sentiment of the song couldn’t be more fitting for these Texans.

They occupied the basement of the AFC South after opening the season with losses to New England, Tennessee and the New York Giants by a combined 13 points. After falling into such a big hole early, the Texans were written off by many as headed to a lost season.

Everyone insists that such a defeatist sentiment never took hold within the team, with the struggles galvanizing them to get on track and prove the doubters wrong.

“Don’t quit. Everyone keeps fighting. Everyone keeps believing,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “Everyone keeps fighting to the very, very end. That is what we do. Regardless of the situation or the adversity, we are always going to keep fighting. That is how we feel.”

Houston is the second team in NFL history to win six in a row after opening 0-3, the first since the Giants in 1970. The winning streak has the Texans in first place in their division and in good position to compete for their third AFC South title in the last four seasons.

A big reason for Houston’s turnaround has been the play of Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt. Both have started each game this year after having their 2017 seasons cut short by major injuries. Watson tore a knee ligament in practice after appearing in seven games in 2017. Watt played just eight games in the previous two years because of back surgeries and a broken leg.

Watt is tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks and his four forced fumbles are tied for most in the league.

“I know he probably doesn’t want to talk about it too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “To come back from what he’s been able to come back from, some really serious injuries, and to be able to play at the level that he’s playing at, it just says all you need to know about him and how much he cares about the team and how much he wants to help this organization win.”

Watson, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, has thrown for 2,389 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions despite being slowed by lung and rib injuries. O’Brien said his diligence in coming to the facility every day after his injury last season to study film and talk to coaches has helped Watson take a step forward this year.

“He’s grown a lot,” O’Brien said. “He’s just an awesome guy to work with. He cares about studying, he cares about putting time in to prepare for each game. I think he’s learned a lot about NFL defenses. He’s had a lot thrown at him defensively this year, whether it’s third-down defenses, red-area defenses. He’s improved every week.”

Watson has been helped by the stellar play of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is No. 3 in the NFL with 894 yards receiving and whose seven touchdowns are tied for second. The Texans hope that new addition Demaryius Thomas, acquired in a trade with Denver last Tuesday, will make more of an impact after the break with some time to learn the offense.

Hopkins, who has five touchdowns in the last four games, said despite this strong stretch the Texans are approaching things the same way they did when they were desperate for a victory.

“We’ve got the same mentality, and that’s win,” he said. “That’s why we go to practice and that’s why we wake up every day. It’s the same mentality we had when we were 0-3. Nothing’s changed.”

They know that if they let up, their season will end prematurely, just as it did when they went 4-12 in 2017.

O’Brien let out a slight chuckle when asked if 0-3 feels like forever ago.

“It’s not a really long time ago,” he said. “I think our players understand that, and I think the difference between 0-3 and where we are now is not a big difference. We’re just making some more plays, we’re coaching some things better. I think our guys have to — and they do — understand that every week is going to be difficult.”

First up is a trip to Washington on Nov. 18 before a Monday night matchup with Tennessee on Nov. 26 in the first of three straight home games when a win would be key in moving closer to taking their division.

“It’s just important to note that we haven’t been blowing anybody out,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I don’t think we are a complacent group of guys. We’ve been in some fist fights, some real close ballgames, so it’s not like everything is cookie cutter and everything is going all good for us.”

“We still have things we can improve on and work on, so I think that’s what’s going to keep us pushing forward.”

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Linebackers are paying price for NFL’s video-game numbers

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL's volcanic offenses, can't-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren't the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

"Now we have to cover well, too," Denver's Brandon Marshall said. "We still have to tackle well. So, you can't be real light and only playing pass

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL’s volcanic offenses, can’t-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren’t the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

“Now we have to cover well, too,” Denver’s Brandon Marshall said. “We still have to tackle well. So, you can’t be real light and only playing pass or too heavy and only playing run. You’ve got to be able to do all of it, man.”

Which means finding a sweet spot on the scale so they can run like a gazelle and still hit like a truck.

Today’s inside linebackers not only need to have the stamina to go sideline to sideline, but they also require:

—sufficient strength to shed 320-pound linemen;

—enough vigor to cover towering tight ends;

—ample speed to keep up with receivers no longer timid about going over the middle;

—enough recognition and quickness to keep up with shifty running backs and ever-more-mobile quarterbacks.

It’s also handy to have a thick skin, knowing linebackers will bear the brunt of fans’ frustrations as offenses pick apart apparently defenseless units at a record-setting pace.

Sounds impossible.

“It almost is,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It almost is.”

“It’s definitely very difficult,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. “You have tight ends that provide mismatches, you’ve got running backs that are great receivers. You’re asked to be in a lot of positions. But that’s what we get paid to do. So, we’ve got figure out a way to do it and do it well.”

As do the officials, whom Joseph said are allowing illegal blocks with the run-pass option rage that has seeped from the college game and is prominently featured in places such as Kansas City, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Take the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs in Week 8.

Linemen aren’t allowed to block more than a yard from the line of scrimmage on a pass play. But the Chiefs’ guards and center got a few yards downfield several times, causing Denver’s linebackers to instinctively commit to the run — only to see quarterback Patrick Mahomes pull the ball back from running back Kareem Hunt’s belly and zip it to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce.

“It’s the league we’re in,” Joseph said. “Those guys blocking up front don’t know the ball is being thrown. They’re blocking zone, so absolutely it’s an issue. We have to fix this issue in this league, unless it’s going to be college football.

“It’s tough for the linebackers to play both, and you see it on tape. Todd Davis is having hell trying to fit his gap and chase the guy in the flat. When you see Kelce in the flat over there with no one around him, (Davis is) playing his run gap because the guard and center are four and five yards down the field.”

Joseph added, “That’s an issue. It’s a leaguewide issue and it’s a Chiefs issue. Everyone is running these plays, so we have to figure out a way to officiate this better to help the game.”

Marshall isn’t so sure the league’s competition committee will do anything about it, though, saying more points equals more eyeballs.

“They’re not going to change it,” he said.

So it’s the linebackers who are changing.

Davis, the Broncos’ leading tackler, said he’s dropped his weight to 233 and “I do a lot more training with DBs and corners. I add that on to what I already did in the weight room and running and conditioning. But now I have to be ready for everything in the pass game, as well.”

The linebackers who are modifying their bodies and games are embracing the challenge.

“It’s the NFL,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “There’s great players at every position.”

Including linebacker.

“I love it,” Davis said. “It’s on us to play well and it’s on us to set the tempo and be great for our team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Marshall said linebackers ultimately benefit from the ever-increasing challenges brought on by the RPO trend, faster rushers, bigger tight ends and plucky receivers.

“It’s made me a better player,” Marshall said. “It’s also made me more valuable.”

“I think that’s why teams put a premium on athletic ‘backers,” Marshall said. “Because we have to be out there to cover the Kelces and the Gronks and the Dion Lewises and the James Whites of the world. And then we’ve got to be able to tackle (Todd) Gurley. That’s just how it is.”

Defenses are employing more defensive backs, as many as seven, to combat the RPO trend.

“I think schematically we have to adjust as far as personnel and put faster athletes, better athletes at cover linebacker positions to nullify some of this stuff,” Joseph said. “Because right now it’s almost impossible physically.”

Joseph thinks he has an antidote in Su’a Cravens, and the 6-foot-1, 220-pound safety from USC who’s used as a dime linebacker certainly agrees.

“The way the rules are, they handicap defenses. We’re basically on the field to get in the way, we’re not supposed to stop the offense,” Cravens said. “Defense is already hard enough. They’re making it harder.

“So, with guys like me, I think it’s an opportunity for us to showcase what we can do because they’re making it hard for traditional linebackers who are heavy-handed, heavy-footed. They’re ready to be physical at the line of scrimmage and they can’t do that anymore.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Dave Campbell contributed

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Chiefs using screen plays in creative new ways on offense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had been shredding the Patriots defense all night with his incredible arm strength and downfield precision in a back-and-forth shootout last month when it looked as if the Chiefs quarterback might be finally corralled by a well-timed blitz.

With a deft flip of his wrist, Mahomes instead tossed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had been shredding the Patriots defense all night with his incredible arm strength and downfield precision in a back-and-forth shootout last month when it looked as if the Chiefs quarterback might be finally corralled by a well-timed blitz.

With a deft flip of his wrist, Mahomes instead tossed a soft screen pass to Kareem Hunt out of the backfield, and he raced up the field as the Patriots were forced to chase him.

The timing was perfect. The execution was spot-on.

It was just one of dozens of examples through the first nine games this season of coach Andy Reid using the screen pass to impressive effect.

Whether it’s Hunt out of the backfield, Tyreek Hill or Sammy Watkins on a bubble screen or even tight end Travis Kelce catching a short pass behind the defense, the Chiefs may use their myriad variations of the screen better than any other team.

“You are really just taking a blocking scheme and moving it out into space,” Reid explained. “Our backs are good with it, quarterback gives them an opportunity and the big guys get out and run.”

The intricate timing plays are fun for just about everybody.

Mahomes likes them because the throws are fairly easy and often lead to big gains. Hunt and fellow running back Spencer Ware like them because they can use their talent in space. And even the offensive linemen like them because they often get to plow through smaller defensive backs, rather than tangle with big defensive tackles as they would do on a traditional running play.

Oh, and the Chiefs’ fans like them for obvious reasons.

Screen passes are hardly new in the NFL, and indeed, they have been part of Reid’s basic West Coast offense since he was learning the scheme from its originator, Bill Walsh.

But with so many playmakers at his disposal, and a quarterback who is finally capable of executing the variety of plays, Reid has taken the old-school notion of screen passes to another level.

They might incorporate elements of the run-pass option, a relatively new development that has swept through the NFL.

Or they might call for guys to line up in unique spots, such as running backs split wide or a wide receiver in the backfield. Or they might call for exotic blocking schemes.

“It’s a timing thing. We have to be in sync with our offensive line,” Ware said. “Our releases are a big part of it — how we escape. The downfield ball with Tyreek, Sammy, Travis and Mahomes throwing it opens it up for us. Then when you have Kareem running how he’s running, they come up and play the run and it’s like, ‘No, it’s not a run, it’s a pass. You’d better get back.’ That gives us some cushion.”

Such screen plays often look simple, but are in fact quite difficult to execute.

Mahomes has to read the defense correctly in the seconds before a snap. The designated target needs to be on the same page. And as Hunt explained, “there’s just a lot of timing involved.”

“Yeah,” Mahomes added, “but with how well Coach Reid explains it, everything goes off each other. I think we had a screen and it went off a shovel pass to Kareem the week before, things like that, where we build on top of each other every single week. We are never set in our ways.”

That’s another reason the Chiefs’ screen passes are so difficult to defend: They may run a play to one target one week, giving the next opponent film to review, then run the play to a different target out of the exact same formation the following week.

Good luck trying to stop that.

“Asking these guys to go against faster players, for your offensive linemen to go against these defensive backs and block them in space, that’s tough to do,” Reid said.

“We’re fortunate our backs do a nice job of this. They help set up the defense so you can run fast. There’s nothing worse than watching a screen, you get out there and the offensive linemen are out there trying to dance a little bit.

“A back can take care of you with that,” Reid concluded. “As long as you know where he’s at, he’s going to kind of force the issue downhill, good things can happen.”

Notes: Strong safety Eric Berry (heel), OL Cam Erving (illness), LB Anthony Hitchens (ribs), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and C Mitch Morse (concussion) remained out of practice Thursday. … Special teams coach Dave Toub dismissed a couple of recent missed PATs, saying Thursday that “nobody is harder on himself” than PK Harrison Butker. Toub said snaps have been part of the problem, “and again, it’s a 33-yard field goal. It’s not a chip-shot like it used to be.”

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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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