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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUNNING GAME FOCUS

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

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

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

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

SACK RACE

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

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

COMING ALONG

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

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

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AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

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Pats’ Gronkowski tops AP’s list of top NFL tight ends

NEW YORK (AP) — Rob Gronkowski is a difficult man to stop.

Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs.

The latest example was Sunday night, when the Patriots tight end had two key catches in the fourth quarter as New England edged the Chiefs 43-40.

He has caught 76 TD passes from Tom Brady

NEW YORK (AP) — Rob Gronkowski is a difficult man to stop.

Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs.

The latest example was Sunday night, when the Patriots tight end had two key catches in the fourth quarter as New England edged the Chiefs 43-40.

He has caught 76 TD passes from Tom Brady in his career.

“He made a big play. He’s been making a lot of those his career,” Brady said. “I’ll keep throwing to him in the biggest moments.”

Because of his knack for coming through when needed most, Gronkowski was the runaway choice as the NFL’s top tight end by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press. The All-Pro received eight first-place votes in balloting released Friday.

“He hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2011, but when he’s on the field he’s still essentially unstoppable,” said Minnesota-based AP Football Writer Dave Campbell.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce was second. He has 33 catches for 468 yards and three touchdowns for the Chiefs, who are off to a 5-1 start entering Sunday night’s matchup against Cincinnati.

“Kelce is already just a notch behind Gronkowski and could top this list soon while playing in Kansas City’s high-flying offense with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball,” said New York-based AP Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr.

Zach Ertz of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles was third. He leads tight ends with 48 catches for 480 yards.

“One wonders if Wentz-Ertz will be a household combo along the lines of Brady-Gronk five years from now,” said Dallas-based AP Football Writer Schuyler Dixon. “It’s lofty company, but the pieces are in place.”

Green Bay’s Jimmy Graham was fourth. He has 27 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown in his first season with the Packers.

“Aaron Rodgers sure knows what to do with a tight end like Graham,” said Nashville-based AP Football Writer Teresa Walker.

Graham edged out Carolina’s Greg Olsen, who has been dealing with injuries the past two seasons. After Olsen, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph finished sixth.

Tennessee’s Delanie Walker, who is also hurt and out for the season with a broken leg, still managed to finish seventh.

“It’s a shame he is injured, and the flop of the Titans’ offense has a lot to do with his absence,” said New York-based AP Football Writer Barry Wilner.

Eric Ebron, who has six touchdowns, has been a bright spot for the Colts in his first season in Indianapolis. He finished eighth.

“He’s become a go-to guy in the red zone for Andrew Luck,” Philadelphia-based AP Football Writer Rob Maaddi said.

Veteran Jared Cook, who’s third among tight ends with 32 receptions, was ninth.

“Might be the only bright spot in Oakland right now,” said Denver-based AP Football Writer Arnie Stapleton of the one-win Raiders.

Rounding out the top 10 was San Francisco’s George Kittle. The 2017 fifth-round pick is tied for sixth among tight ends with 27 catches.

“Kittle has emerged from being primarily a blocking tight end in college at Iowa to a real dual threat for the 49ers,” Bay Area-based AP Football Writer Josh Dubow said.

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The rankings:

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England

2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City

3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

4. Jimmy Graham, Green Bay

5. Greg Olsen, Carolina

6. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

7. Delanie Walker, Tennessee

8. Eric Ebron, Indianapolis

9. Jared Cook, Oakland

10. George Kittle, San Francisco

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Cardinals offensive coordinator gone after blowout loss

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have dismissed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy a day after the team was blown out at home by the Denver Broncos on national television.

The team said in a statement Friday quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich will take over the job for a club that is 1-6 and

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have dismissed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy a day after the team was blown out at home by the Denver Broncos on national television.

The team said in a statement Friday quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich will take over the job for a club that is 1-6 and has the worst record in the league.

Coach Steve Wilks is to discuss the move later in the day.

The Cardinals lost 45-10 on Thursday night, trailing 21-3 after one quarter and 35-3 at the half. Wilks called the effort “embarrassing.”

The Cardinals have lost their first four home games for the first time since 1979, nearly a decade before the franchise moved from St. Louis to the desert.

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Returning Woodyard, Titans’ D eager to face Chargers’ Gordon

LONDON (AP) — Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knows that the Los Angeles Chargers are going to get the ball in the hands of running back Melvin Gordon on as many plays as possible on Sunday.

That means it will be up to his unit to keep Gordon out of the end zone.

LONDON (AP) — Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knows that the Los Angeles Chargers are going to get the ball in the hands of running back Melvin Gordon on as many plays as possible on Sunday.

That means it will be up to his unit to keep Gordon out of the end zone.

“In the red zone, he’s one of their top targets, and we know what type of runner he is,” Woodyard said Friday. “He’s a guy that’s good on the edge and fine to beat you with his speed. Most importantly, (we need to) just understand the runs that he’s going to give us in different backfield sets.”

Gordon, the Chargers’ do-everything running back, enters the game at Wembley Stadium third in the league with 466 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and his nine total touchdowns rank second only to the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley.

And while the Titans (3-3) have allowed 14.5 points per game, the third-fewest in the league, they have also surrendered an average of 123.2 rushing yards, the sixth-most of any team.

“The biggest challenge is all 11 of us just getting to the ball, point of attack, wrap up and make sure we make the tackle,” defensive end DaQuan Jones said. “(If) we just swarm, do our job up front, we horde the point of attack, set the edge … we’ll be fine. We have to be consistent. We can’t do it a couple plays here, a couple plays there. It’s got to be all 60 minutes of the game.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers, in his 15th season, is off to one of the finest starts of his career, having thrown 15 touchdown passes and averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt for the Chargers (4-2) — marks that are both good for third in the league.

His success, though, has relied heavily upon Gordon, who is also the Chargers’ second-leading receiver with 30 catches for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

“Philip Rivers obviously is Philip Rivers,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s a top, elite quarterback in this league, but everything goes through Gordon. Whenever the receivers are not open, the checkdown to Gordon is always there and he’s always getting positive yards.

“The running game is wide open and guys want to rush the passer, (so) they do a lot of draw plays, things of that nature to get Gordon free. So we have to contain and stop Gordon and then we’ll worry about all the other (explosive) plays.”

Woodyard, who is expected to make his return on Sunday after missing two games with a shoulder injury, should help with that.

Hurt in the overtime victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 30, Woodyard had a career- and team-high 172 tackles last season and had played in every game since joining the team in 2014.

“It was really tough, especially seeing my guys not being able to get a victory,” said Woodyard, who was with the Denver Broncos in 2010 but was inactive for their game at Wembley. “I felt like that was my fault for not being able to get out there, but I’m excited to be back out there making calls and making plays.”

The Chargers, who rolled to a 38-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, remained in Ohio for practice before departing Thursday evening to cross the Atlantic.

Tennessee also arrived on Friday, and free safety Kevin Byard said he hopes players can acclimate to the time difference quickly in order to avoid the Titans’ third consecutive loss.

“That’s the most important thing,” Byard said. “Nobody wants to lose three straight games. We have to get back on track. Nobody’s panicking. Nobody’s living like the sky is falling or anything like that, but we have to play with more consistency.”

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Eagles fan hit with fame after hitting pole gets some glory

The moment in the spotlight isn't over yet for a Philadelphia Eagles fan who stumbled into fame as a viral video star after running into a subway pillar earlier this year.

Jigar Desai is now the subject of an NFL digital short feature, shot ahead of the Oct. 28 Eagles game against the

The moment in the spotlight isn’t over yet for a Philadelphia Eagles fan who stumbled into fame as a viral video star after running into a subway pillar earlier this year.

Jigar Desai is now the subject of an NFL digital short feature, shot ahead of the Oct. 28 Eagles game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

In the short, he’s surprised with tickets for him, his wife and two kids to attend the game in England.

Desai says the ticket giveaway was a total surprise.

In January, Desai was trying to rally subway passengers for the NFC Championship game. He was filmed running along the train, and then slamming into a pole.

He says the whole ordeal has “been a wild ride and a long 15 minutes” and he’s “enjoyed every minute of it.”

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Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: ‘I’m fine’

Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: 'I'm fine'

Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who injured a toe on his left foot late in Arizona's blowout loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, downplayed the ailment postgame.

"I'm fine," he said after the Cardinals' 45-10 defeat in Glendale, Ariz. Referring to

Cards QB Rosen on toe injury: ‘I’m fine’

Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who injured a toe on his left foot late in Arizona’s blowout loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday, downplayed the ailment postgame.

“I’m fine,” he said after the Cardinals’ 45-10 defeat in Glendale, Ariz. Referring to leaving the game limping, he said, “I was just being soft.”

Arizona coach Steve Wilks added, “From early talking to him, he thinks he is fine, but I am not going to sit here and say that. That may be the case. We have to make sure we get the evaluation from the trainer.”

Rosen was injured while getting sacked on a fourth-and-16 with two minutes left and the Cardinals down by 35 points.

Wilks admitted his probably should have removed Rosen earlier, but the 21-year-old quarterback disagreed.

“Football is a violent sport,” Rosen said. “I’d definitely rather stay in there and see as many defenses as I possibly as I can as early in my career as I can. If (Wilks) tried to pull me out, we would have definitely had to have a conversation about that one.”

Injury aside, Rosen endured a tough night. He threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for first-quarter touchdowns, and he fumbled three times, with the Broncos recovering two of them.

Rosen, the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA, completed 21 of 39 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.

Regarding to the turnovers, Rosen said, “I think sometimes you just got to make the smart play and I can’t just toss it up there, or I even got lucky on some of the fumbles that weren’t fumbles and some that were. …

“I’ve got a lot to learn. More to learn than I would have wished for.”

–Field Level Media

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Lots of Broncos fans on hand to watch rout of Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There were a lot of orange-clad Denver fans in the stands in Arizona.

They must have loved watching the Broncos beat down the host Cardinals 45-10 Thursday night.

"That was unbelievable," Denver quarterback Case Keenum said afterward. "It felt like a home game there for a lot of it.

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There were a lot of orange-clad Denver fans in the stands in Arizona.

They must have loved watching the Broncos beat down the host Cardinals 45-10 Thursday night.

“That was unbelievable,” Denver quarterback Case Keenum said afterward. “It felt like a home game there for a lot of it. That was impressive. That was really cool.”

After four straight losses, the Broncos (3-4) took control early, returning two interceptions of Josh Rosen’s passes for first-quarter touchdowns. Denver led 21-3 after one quarter and 35-3 at the half, giving a rare breather of a win to embattled coach Vance Joseph.

“That’s more about our football team. I’m not concerned about me,” Joseph said. “It’s a good win for our football team. It has been a tough, tough two weeks. We had a tough loss on Sunday. We had a short week, so it’s really good for our team to win a game.”

The Cardinals (1-6) have lost their first four home games for the first time since 1979, nearly a decade before the franchise moved from St. Louis to the desert.

“Definitely an embarrassing effort tonight,” first-year coach Steve Wilks said. “Our fans deserve more than that. We have to perform better than that. Six sacks, three interceptions. It can go on and on. Unacceptable.”

Arizona offensive coordinator Mike McCoy had been considered on shaky ground but there’s no indication that any move is imminent.

“You guys are going to ask me about changes,” Wilks said. “That’s premature to talk about any changes right now. Everyone is going to be evaluated across the board.”

Here are some things to consider from the Broncos’ romp in the desert:

MILLER’S PROMISE

Denver’s Von Miller had promised the Broncos would kick the Cardinals’ backside and they certainly did.

Miller said he did it to boost the confidence of his teammates.

“And it worked,” he said.

Defensive end Zach Kerr agreed.

“It puts an extra fire in us,” he said. “You can feel it all week during the preparation. Everyone was zoned in, locked in. It’s a short week, but nobody complained. Nobody said anything, but we just went out there and worked.”

HARRIS’ FLIP

Emmanuel Sanders had a big night, throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass and catching a 64-yarder for a score.

On the TD catch, he did a front flip over the goal line. He had said he was going to quit with the flips, but couldn’t resist.

“That’s what it’s about, man, having fun and playing football,” Sanders said. “That’s how you win games. To catch that pass, I didn’t have to do anything but run straight. It was probably one of the easiest touchdown passes I’ve caught in terms of a deep ball.”

ROSEN’S NIGHT

Arizona rookie quarterback Josh Rosen had a tough night.

He threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. He also was sacked six times.

Rosen said he tried to force things and it backfired.

“This is kind of an old saying I got in college. ‘Don’t turn a car crash into a fatality,'” Rosen said. “So I think sometimes you just have to make the smart play. I can’t just kind of toss it up there. … I just have to take care of the ball. For the most part, I think that was the biggest lesson I can take from the game.”

FITZGERALD’S SCORE

It took seven games, but Larry Fitzgerald finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season.

The four-yard pass from Rosen in the third quarter was Arizona’s lone touchdown.

It was Fitzgerald’s 111th career touchdown catch, tying him with Tony Gonzalez for seventh on the all-time list.

BIG RETURNS

The Broncos had two big early interception returns.

On the second play of the game, Derek Wolfe deflected Rosen’s pass and Todd Davis gathered it in, returning it 20 yards for the score.

With two minutes left in the quarter, miscommunication between Rosen and receiver J.J. Nelson led to the ball being thrown right to Denver’s Chris Harris Jr., who took it 53 yards for a touchdown.

“Yeah, we’re having a good time out there,” Davis said. “When everything is clicking like that, it really becomes fun and you really enjoy the game of football.”

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Cardinals drop to 1-6 after mistakes in all phases

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A season already gone bad turned worse for the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, before a national television audience.

The Cardinals absorbed a 45-10 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to fall to 1-6, one of the worst home losses in franchise history. There were mistakes across the board on

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A season already gone bad turned worse for the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, before a national television audience.

The Cardinals absorbed a 45-10 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to fall to 1-6, one of the worst home losses in franchise history. There were mistakes across the board on offense, defense and special teams.

The offense entered last in the NFL in yards per game, and didn’t do much to help deflect further criticism. With offensive coordinator Mike McCoy under pressure amid rumors of his possible ousting, the Cardinals went 4 for 14 on third down and gained only 223 total yards.

Forced to play from well behind, they managed only 69 rushing yards against the league’s worst rushing defense.

“That’s premature to talk about any changes right now,” Cardinals first-year head coach Steve Wilks said. “Everybody’s going to be evaluated across the board. We’ve got to find ways to get this thing moving in the right direction.”

Wilks was pressed on McCoy’s status.

“I didn’t say Mike McCoy at all,” Wilks said. “I’m talking about changes that could personnel. It could be players. Whatever it may be. It could be scheme.”

Josh Rosen threw three interceptions — two returned for touchdowns in the first quarter — and lost two fumbles.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller had earlier in the week said boldly claimed that the Broncos would kick the Cardinals’ behind. The Broncos, 2-4 going in, helped their star linebacker back up his words.

Rosen, the 10th overall pick this year, was critical of himself. Miller stripped him of the ball twice and he was sacked six times.

“Obviously I didn’t play up to my standards or even close to it, but there’s another one next week,” Rosen said.

Things were already in such dire straits at halftime that Cardinals fans booed their team off the State Farm Stadium field going into the locker room, and even that was drowned out in part by the cheers from a large number of fans in Broncos orange.

Defensively, the Cardinals were caught off guard by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ trick-play touchdown pass to a wide open Courtland Sutton in the first quarter, and Sanders was so open on his 64-yard touchdown reception that he had time to execute a flip into the end zone.

“The one trick play in the first quarter, that was a little surprising,” linebacker Haason Reddick said. “No matter what the score is, whether we’re down 14, 15 or 60, you’ve’ve just got to continue to play and try to get back on top.”

Denver’s rush defense was strong; Arizona, the second-worst rush defense in the league behind the Broncos coming into Thursday, was gashed for a third-quarter 28-yard touchdown run by Phillip Lindsay with the Broncos already ahead 35-3.

On special teams, Brandon Williams leg-whipped Broncos return man DaeSean Hamilton after he called for a fair catch, and the Broncos got the ball at their own 21 instead of the 6, already ahead 28-3.

Rosen was replaced by backup Mike Glennon with 5:29 to play and, by that time it was a celebration for Broncos fans in the Cardinals’ stadium.

“Good question,” Wilks said when asked why Arizona’s offense continues to struggle. “Whether it’s not getting movement up front, whether it’s not protecting in the pass game, not being able to make the proper throws or make the proper catches, there’s a lot that goes around.”

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Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Le'Veon Bell likely has more than a few detractors in the Pittsburgh Steelers' front office.

However, in the locker room, and specifically when it comes to fellow running back James Conner, the sentiment is pro-Bell.

The veteran running back

Holdout Steelers RB Bell supports teammates from afar

Le’Veon Bell likely has more than a few detractors in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office.

However, in the locker room, and specifically when it comes to fellow running back James Conner, the sentiment is pro-Bell.

The veteran running back has not reported to the team this season as he seeks a more lucrative contract — a demand the Steelers have not yet been willing to meet.

Conner, the replacement starter, said Bell sends him supportive text messages during games and frequently reaches out to wish him well.

“Any time I do something good on the field, I always come back to the locker room to a text from him saying ‘good game’ or ‘nice move right there,'” Conner told the TV network FS1. “Me and Le’Veon are super cool. He’s a great person. With him holding out, people are going to call him selfish, but that’s not the case at all. This is business, and that’s my guy.”

Conner, 23, has rushed for 453 yards and seven touchdowns in six games (five starts). He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Bell, 26, has topped 1,000 yards three times in five seasons with Pittsburgh. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season as he compiled 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two scores in 2017.

–Field Level Media

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Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

The visiting Denver Broncos returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter and coasted to a 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Emmanuel Sanders caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw

Broncos pound Cardinals, end 4-game losing streak

The visiting Denver Broncos returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter and coasted to a 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Emmanuel Sanders caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw for another, as Denver (3-4) snapped a four-game losing streak. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum went 14 of 21 for 161 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Rookie Josh Rosen finished 21 of 39 for 194 yards, a touchdown and three picks as Arizona (1-5) failed on its first seven third-down conversion attempts after going 0-for-10 last week. He limped off in the final minutes after getting sacked for the sixth time.

Entering last in total offense and 31st in scoring, the Cardinals got off to a disastrous start. On the second play from scrimmage, Rosen’s pass was tipped by Derek Wolfe and intercepted by Todd Davis, who returned it 20 yards for a 7-0 lead.

After an Arizona three-and-out, the Broncos’ offense marched 77 yards in six plays on its first possession for a 14-0 lead. Sanders capped it with a 28-yard reverse pass to rookie wideout Courtland Sutton, who made a diving grab.

A 43-yard Phil Dawson field goal cut it to 14-3 before Denver’s defense scored again. Rosen threw a slant to J.J. Nelson, who stopped his route as Chris Harris Jr. intercepted it and returned it 53 yards for a 21-3 advantage with 2:13 left in the first.

Keenum opened the Broncos’ next possession with a 64-yard bomb to Sanders two plays into the second quarter, pushing the lead to 28-3.

Rookie back Royce Freeman’s 1-yard plunge 21 seconds before halftime made it 35-3. The Broncos outgained the Cardinals 237 to 82 before the break.

Rosen hit Larry Fitzgerald from 4 yards out midway through the third to cut into the lead.

Phillip Lindsay’s 28-yard scamper and Brandon McManus’ 41-yard field goal capped the scoring. Both were set up by strip-sacks from Von Miller, who added four QB hits.

–Field Level Media

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Flexed: NFL’s nice move had Bengals-Chiefs in prime time

It's been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.

No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is

It’s been a while since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.

No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is most attractive for prime time. Back in 2016, there were three flexed games, including Week 17. Not counting that, the last flex was Bucs at Cowboys on Dec. 18, 2016.

So switching a pair of first-place teams made sense: Cincinnati (4-2) is at Kansas City (5-1).

Some of the juicy plot lines involve offense, hardly a surprise in this year of points, points and more points. Kansas City has the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Bengals rank 29th. Even worse, both are dealing with a slew of injuries on that side of the ball.

So Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt could fill the screen. So might Andy Dalton connecting with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.

“Any time you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best offenses in the league,” Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “And right now, they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ’em.”

There are some caveats to this matchup, however.

Although the Bengals have won four straight in the series dating to Oct. 14, 2007, they are 3-15 on Sunday nights, losing eight straight. The Chiefs are 7-3 in games on Sunday nights.

The weekend began with Denver’s 45-10 victory at Arizona on Thursday night

Emmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak.

Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead. Rosen threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly for him and never got better. The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.

Off this week are Seattle (3-3), Green Bay (3-2-1), Oakland (1-5) and Pittsburgh (3-2-1).

New England (4-2) at Chicago (3-2)

Seems like every week, the Patriots’ opponent is battered by injuries to key players. No one is more key in Chicago than edge rusher Khalil Mack, who is battling an ankle problem.

Just what Tom Brady needs against one of the five teams he’s never lost to. Brady is 4-0 against the Bears; the others are Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).

While the Bears should be able to move the ball on New England, they’ll likely need lots of points for a chance in this one.

New Orleans (4-1) at Baltimore (4-2)

Just like Patriots-Bears, this is one terrific offense against defense matchup. New Orleans ranks third in total offense and Baltimore is first on defense.

Led by Drew Brees, who set the yards passing career mark in a rout of the Redskins before their bye the Saints have won four in a row. Nobody is more balanced with the ball now that RB Mark Ingram is back from suspension to team with dynamic Alvin Kamara. Brees, who is 0-4 vs. the Ravens, this year has a 78 percent completion rate for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Ravens had 11 sacks last week against Tennessee and a league-most 26 overall. They are allowing an NFL-low 12.8 points per game and the fewest yards per game (270.8). Baltimore has four of the NFL’s past 14 shutouts since the start of the 2017 season.

Carolina (3-2) at Philadelphia (3-3)

An intriguing matchup of a solid running team in Carolina, led by Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, facing the second-stingiest rushing defense in a place where the Eagles are 17-4 under Doug Pederson.

As for the air game, which seemingly everyone needs to succeed these days, Carolina is far too inconsistent.

Meanwhile, Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD in his past 19 games played, the longest streak in franchise history and second-longest active streak behind Andrew Luck (28). Wentz has thrown 133 consecutive passes without a pick. His longest streak is 135 passes.

Tennessee (3-3) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) at London

The Titans were humiliated at home by Baltimore and should welcome the long trip overseas. Then again, they have lost 10 of the past 11 to the Chargers and bring a sputtering offense into Wembley.

Although Tennessee has a solid D, it faces an in-synch offense. The Chargers are 13-5 since starting last season 0-4 and QB Philip Rivers leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with a 115.1 passer rating. He has 13 TD passes and four interceptions in seven games vs. the Titans.

Houston (3-3) at Jacksonville (3-3)

The other AFC South leaders.

After beginning the season with three defeats, the Texans have turned it around, albeit all their wins have been tight affairs, two in overtime.

Defensive end J.J. Watt , perhaps the NFL’s best player when healthy, is back in form after missing most of the 2016 and ’17 seasons with injuries. Watt has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in the past four games.

The Jaguars have a solid defense, too, particularly against the pass, where they ranked first in yards surrendered. But Jacksonville was outscored 70-21 in consecutive road losses, forcing coach Doug Marrone to return to training camp practices this week to emphasize fundamental football.

Dallas (3-3) at Washington (3-2)

Among pro sports’ most intense rivalries, this will be a physical and possibly low-scoring affair given the strength of both defenses and imbalance of the offenses.

Dallas, winless on the road, will try to run with Ezekiel Elliott, second in rushing yards with 586 and third in yards from scrimmage with 752. Washington will counter with Adrian Peterson, who averaged 108.5 yards rushing in the past two home games.

Minnesota (3-2-1) at New York Jets (3-3)

The Vikings have never won at the Jets, going 0-5. To break that slump, the main weapon could be WR Adam Thielen. He had 11 catches for 123 yards last week, joining Houston’s Charley Hennigan (1961) as the only players in NFL history with 100 or more yards in each of his team’s first six games to begin a season. Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches, the most by a player in the first six games in league history, and 712 yards receiving.

Guess what: New York’s secondary is banged-up and porous.

The Jets are seeking their first three-game winning streak since Weeks 3-5 of 2017.

Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco (1-5)

Keeping the NFL’s only perfect record shouldn’t be too challenging for LA, which has the most dangerous offense around. RB Todd Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards and two TDs last week. The Rams are averaging 32.7 points per game despite scoring TDs on only 56.7 percent of red-zone trips. Los Angeles also leads the NFL with 7.64 yards per play on first down.

San Francisco blew a game at Green Bay last week and Niners QB C.J. Beathard is tied for the NFL worst with seven turnovers in the past three weeks since Jimmy Garoppolo tore up his knee. The Niners have an NFL-worst minus-11 turnover margin.

New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta (2-4), Monday night

More injuries plagued the Falcons, who placed top running back Devonta Freeman on IR. No team has been more damaged by injuries in 2018, most of them coming on defense.

That means Atlanta needs shootouts to have a chance most weeks, and QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,432 yards passing and a 128.2 rating since Week 3. He is tied for first with 12 TD passes in that span.

New York’s D is vulnerable and the offense is enigmatic despite the presence of sensational rookie RB Saquon Barkley, and firebrand wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The O-line should be dubbed the “Awful-Line.”

Detroit (2-3) at Miami (4-2)

The Lions are feeling upbeat following a victory over Green Bay and a week off, but that special feeling could turn sour because of their special teams.

Lions coverage units rank last on punts and sixth worst on kickoffs. The Dolphins rank second in kickoff return average and third in punt return average.

Miami is no powerhouse, though. The Dolphins are tied for the AFC East lead even though they’ve been outgained by 398 yards.

Cleveland (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay (2-3)

The Dawg Pound was silenced in Cleveland when the Chargers pounded the Browns last week. Tampa will be hitting the airwaves, trying to find mismatches for WRs DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. It won’t hurt the Bucs that Browns Pro Bowl MLB Joe Schobert is out with a hamstring injury. This will be his first game missed — at any level — due to injury.

The Browns do lead the NFL with 16 takeaways, three more than all last season. Tampa has 11 giveaways.

Buffalo (2-4) at Indianapolis (1-5)

Remember Derek Anderson, most lately the backup to Newton in Carolina. He has surfaced as the new starter in Buffalo with rookie Josh Allen hurting and Nathan Peterman an interception machine.

On the positive side, the Bills’ defense is tied for the league lead with seven fumble recoveries.

The Colts will try for the fifth time to win game No. 300 since moving to Indy in 1984. And placekicker Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen’s scoring record (2,544 points).

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Broncos return 2 interceptions for TDs, beat Cardinals 45-10

Emmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak with a 45-10 rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night.

Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen's deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris

Emmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak with a 45-10 rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night.

Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead.

Rosen threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly for him and never got better. He limped off the field after he was sacked for the fifth time, on a fourth-and-16 play near the end of the game.

The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.

Case Keenum completed 14 of 21 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown with one interception for Denver. Phillip Lindsay rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries, including a 28-yard TD run.

Rosen had called a time out after the game’s first play. Then his pass was deflected by the outstretched hand of defensive end Derek Wolfe. The ball dropped into the hands of Davis, who ran it in from there.

Arizona followed with a three-and-out and the Broncos quickly made it 14-0 with a six-play, 77-yard drive. Sanders took the ball on an end around and threw to a wide open Courtland Sutton 28 yards for the touchdown.

The receiver may have run the wrong route on Rosen’s second “pick six.” In a third-and-one situation from the Arizona 46, Rosen passed but there was no one near the ball except Harris, who returned it 53 yards to make it 21-3.

The Broncos made it 28-3 in the second quarter when Keenum found Harris wide open on a 64-yard TD play, the Denver receiver doing a front flip over the goal line.

A pass interference play against Bene Benwikere in the end zone set up Royce Freeman’s one-yard TD run that made it 35-3 with 21 seconds left in the half. The run capped a 15-play, 70-yard drive that used up 6:39.

The Arizona fans booed as the team left the field for the half, while there were cheers from the sizable contingent of orange-clad Broncos supporters.

FITZ SCORES

The Cardinals got their only touchdown in the third quarter, Rosen throwing four yards to Larry Fitzgerald for the score. Fitzgerald’s first TD catch of the season came at the end of an 11-play, 63-yard drive that followed Patrick Peterson’s interception. Fitzgerald’s 111 career TDs tie him with Tony Gonzalez for seventh on the NFL’s career list.

INJURIES

Denver lost two players to injury in the first half.

Rookie punt returner DaeSean Hamilton left with a knee injury after Arizona’s Brandon Williams rolled into his legs as he was waiting for the ball to make a fair catch. Williams was penalized for interfering on the play.

Safety Darian Stewart left the game with a neck injury in the first quarter.

Arizona tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, trying to run down Rosen’s fumble, slammed his left forearm against an opponent’s helmet and didn’t return.

UP NEXT

Broncos: At Kansas City on Oct. 28.

Cardinals: Host San Francisco on Oct. 28.

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NFL to celebrate 100th season in 2019 with series of events

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL will celebrate its 100th season in 2019 with a yearlong series of "NFL 100" events.

The league says the historic celebration will salute fans; highlight the unifying nature of football and its positive impact in communities; bring together generations of past, present and future players; and look

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL will celebrate its 100th season in 2019 with a yearlong series of “NFL 100” events.

The league says the historic celebration will salute fans; highlight the unifying nature of football and its positive impact in communities; bring together generations of past, present and future players; and look ahead to the NFL’s next 100 years.

A special “NFL 100” logo was unveiled Thursday night during halftime of the Broncos-Cardinals game. It will be prominently displayed throughout the 100th season during celebrations on the field, in stadiums, game broadcasts, NFL Films and NFL Network programming, and in digital and social media content. That logo will be featured on game balls and on every player’s game jersey in the neck area.

NFL 100 will officially kick off at the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

“For nearly 100 years, the NFL has been part of the fabric of America, unifying communities and bringing fans together to support their favorite teams and players.” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Next year, we will join our fans in celebrating what this incredible game means to each of us.”

A panel of former players, general managers, coaches, NFL historians and media will select an all-time team and the 10 greatest coaches in NFL history.

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Saleh aiming to fix holes in 49ers defense

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Robert Saleh sometimes beams with pride when watching film of his 49ers defense.

Other times he wants to hide his eyes.

It's been a perplexing season for San Francisco's defensive coordinator, as Saleh has found it difficult to get his young unit to string together four quarters of

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Robert Saleh sometimes beams with pride when watching film of his 49ers defense.

Other times he wants to hide his eyes.

It’s been a perplexing season for San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, as Saleh has found it difficult to get his young unit to string together four quarters of mistake-free football.

“You see the flashes,” Saleh said Thursday. “You can go to every game, and there’s a block of plays where those guys are executing and performing at a very high level and they look unbelievable.

“But when we trip over ourselves, it looks horrendous.”

The 49ers’ knack for giving up big plays cost them dearly in Monday night’s 33-30 loss to Green Bay.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers carved up San Francisco’s secondary during a game-winning drive in the final minute.

Another big test awaits the 49ers (1-5) on Sunday afternoon when they host the undefeated Los Angeles Rams, who have the NFL’s top-ranked offense led by quarterback Jared Goff.

To have any chance at an upset, San Francisco’s defense has to avoid the blown coverages and game-changing plays that have marked its season so far.

“It’s just being where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there, and doing that for 60, 70, 80 plays,” veteran cornerback Richard Sherman said.

Against the Packers, the 49ers gave up a 60-yard completion to a wide-open receiver on their first defensive snap, setting up a Green Bay touchdown. Two series later, a 54-yard completion on another busted coverage led to another touchdown.

The 49ers then clamped down, holding the Packers to just two field goals over their next seven possessions, spanning the end of the first quarter to midway through the fourth.

But trying to hold a 30-23 lead, San Francisco allowed 10 points in the final two minutes and lost. Rodgers picked apart the 49ers’ pass defense on the tying and game-winning drives.

San Francisco ranks 25th in the league in pass defense (279 yards per game), too often leaving receivers wide open with plenty of room to run after the catch.

The key is “guys staying on their details, doing their job,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “We’ve been having too many busts, and we can’t have that.”

Saleh called for more blitzes than normal against Green Bay, and the result was three sacks and good pressure on other plays that threw Rodgers off his rhythm.

But the 49ers need better play from whichever cornerback is playing opposite Sherman. Second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon has lost his starting job for the time being.

Jimmie Ward, who started in place of Witherspoon at Green Bay, is nursing a hamstring injury. His status for Sunday is unknown. Greg Mabin, who spelled Ward after he was injured Monday, gave up several completions as the Packers made their late comeback.

Saleh, in his second season running San Francisco’s defense, said he’s examining his own game plans and preparation to make sure he’s putting players in the best position to succeed.

“When we’re not communicating and there’s a lack of execution, it is not pretty. And that’s the thing that’s happening,” Saleh said. “We make the smallest mistake and it’s going for a lot of yards.”

NOTES: Ward didn’t practice Thursday. Witherspoon (concussion protocol) and nickel back K’Waun Williams (shoulder) both practiced but were held out of contact. Among the receivers, Trent Taylor (back) and Pierre Garcon (shoulder, knee) were both limited. Dante Pettis (knee) worked on a side field.

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After latest concussion, Lions’ Lang plans to keep playing

After latest concussion, Lions' Lang plans to keep playing

Detroit Lions offensive lineman T.J. Lang plans to keep playing despite recently sustaining another concussion.

Lang, 31, visited several neurologists after his most recent concussion last month, either his fifth or sixth brain injury, per varying media reports. He said at

After latest concussion, Lions’ Lang plans to keep playing

Detroit Lions offensive lineman T.J. Lang plans to keep playing despite recently sustaining another concussion.

Lang, 31, visited several neurologists after his most recent concussion last month, either his fifth or sixth brain injury, per varying media reports. He said at least one expert had concerns about him returning to play, but others indicated that he could do so once he was cleared.

“The biggest question I had was, do you guys feel safe?” Lane said in comments published by the Detroit Free Press. “Do you think I’ll be safe to return once I’m fully back healthy, and I think most of them said yeah. And that gave me a lot of comfort knowing that, hey, when this thing’s all settled and gone, then basically hit the reset button and continue to play.”

Lang brought his wife, Laura, to the consultations and admitted that the conversations were “tough.” He does not remember the play that caused his last concussion, a helmet-to-helmet hit with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith that dropped him to his knees.

“Coming off the field, I didn’t really remember what happened, but the next day or a couple days after that, I watched the TV copy and didn’t really want to look at it,” Lang said. “Nobody really, you don’t really want to see yourself in that kind of position, but this is what it is, man. It’s football. There’s a lot of risks in this game. It’s not the first time I’ve been injured. Hopefully it’s the last.”

Lang has appeared in 135 career games, including 119 with the Green Bay Packers before he joined the division rival Lions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017 and won a Super Bowl championship with the Packers in 2010.

The Michigan native said he might reconsider his position after this season.

“I think the offseason is definitely a time where you finally have a couple days to sit back, reflect and think,” Lang said. “I mean, cross that bridge when I get there, but for right now I’m comfortable where I’m at here (in Week 7) and I’m just glad I’m feeling better.”

–Field Level Media

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Take 5: Battle in Baltimore highlights Week 7

Take 5: Battle in Baltimore highlights Week 7

Sunday brings the second matchup in three weeks featuring the league's best scoring offense and best scoring defense, this time when the New Orleans Saints (36 points per game) visit the Baltimore Ravens (12.8 allowed per game).

This one should look entirely

Take 5: Battle in Baltimore highlights Week 7

Sunday brings the second matchup in three weeks featuring the league’s best scoring offense and best scoring defense, this time when the New Orleans Saints (36 points per game) visit the Baltimore Ravens (12.8 allowed per game).

This one should look entirely different than the Jaguars-Chiefs clash of Week 5, mostly because the Ravens’ defense is built on disguises and blitzes, unlike the straightforward Jacksonville defense. The multiplicity will put a heavy burden on New Orleans up front.

1. Saints’ protection must be sharp physically and mentally

Anchored by tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints’ line is excellent in protection. Always uber athletic, Armstead has blossomed into a technician and has been nearly flawless on Drew Brees’ blind side this year. Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs remains a terror despite turning 36 last week, but he won’t have it easy Sunday.

Ramczyk has continued the steady play he showed as a rookie, and he’ll draw a variety of challenges in Baltimore: Solid third-year man Matt Judon, speedy pass-rush specialist Tim Williams and the 274-pound Za’Darius Smith, who plays both inside and outside and has already matched his career high with 5.5 sacks (three last week)

New Orleans is stout inside, too, where former tackle Andrus Peat has become a rock at left guard, and center Max Unger ($8 million cap hit) and right guard Larry Warford ($9 million) are well worth their hefty contracts. That group will be tested mentally this week against an expansive collection of amoeba fronts.

The Ravens often bring only four or five rushers, but good luck trying to figure out who’s coming. They routinely line up players in both A gaps (on either side of the center), threaten blitz off either edge or employ both tactics at once. Chaos ensues at the snap, as four or five (and sometimes six or seven) men rush, and two or three drop out. Veteran safeties Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle might rotate 20 yards as one blitzes and the other drops deep, while Suggs, Judon or Smith will buzz under crossers to take away quick throws.

The coverage usually settles into a three-deep zone featuring matchup principles and two or three underneath defenders, but the Ravens mix in plenty of man coverage as well. That frees up linebackers and safeties to blitz when the running back or tight end to whom they are assigned stays in to block (called a green-dog blitz), which led to several of the 11 sacks on Marcus Mariota last week.

But Brees is no Mariota, who looked lost trying to decipher the Ravens’ coverages and routinely held the ball too long, essentially sacking himself on several plays. Brees, an 18th-year veteran, has great protection, but more important, he diagnoses and delivers on time and decisively, often aided by an offense that manufactures short completions.

Brees will sniff out some of Baltimore’s disguises and make them pay. Saints coach Sean Payton, a master of the screen game, will call several to slow down the rush. But the Ravens will get home some, too, especially with a rowdy home crowd making communication difficult. Brees has historically been a different player outdoors (103.6 QB rating in domes compared to 90.8 outside), and the forecast at M&T Bank Stadium calls for some wind.

That should make for one of the more intriguing and evenly matched offense-defense battles we’ll see this year.

2. Bears must fix fundamentals, and fast

The consensus best defense in football through five weeks collapsed on Sunday against Brock Osweiler, of all people, because its players suddenly forgot how to tackle. The Dolphins quarterback went just 7 of 16 with two interceptions on throws at least 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, but he finished with 380 yards and three touchdowns because his receivers generated 274 (!) yards after the catch.

Miami coach Adam Gase deserves credit for crafty underneath designs, but most of the damage came from missed tackles. Chicago safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson each whiffed on Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown, and then again on his 75-yarder. Linebacker Danny Trevathan could have kept the latter to a 4-yard gain, but he inexplicably let Wilson escape from a trio of Bears before the two safeties missed.

Chicago must correct those mistakes immediately, because defending the Patriots’ offense is untenable with tackling breakdowns. New England coordinator Josh McDaniels — who hired Gase in Denver — engineers the NFL’s shrewdest horizontal passing game, which became all the more lethal with Julian Edelman’s return in Week 5.

Against zone-heavy schemes like Bears coordinator Vic Fangio’s, the Patriots attack underneath pockets over and over, putting the burden on linebackers and safeties to close quickly and tackle shifty wide receivers. Though not major pieces of the offense, Josh Gordon and Cordarrelle Patterson are even more dangerous in space than Edelman, and James White is also extremely elusive.

Even if Khalil Mack (ankle) is healthy, the Bears’ pass rush could have trouble getting home before Tom Brady delivers. If Chicago can’t tackle soundly, it’ll be an awfully long day on defense.

3. Geno Atkins is licking his chops

Through six weeks, we’ve seen Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes do almost everything, and do it extremely well. But he hasn’t yet had to deal with repeated pressure, a credit to both Andy Reid’s scheme and a front five that has been excellent in protection.

But that line is taking hits, with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (fractured fibula) on injured reserve and center Mitch Morse (concussion) likely to miss at least one game. The timing isn’t ideal with Atkins coming to town this week. The Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle has a new contract that pays him more annually than any other non-QB over age 30 in NFL history, and Atkins has earned every penny so far.

The six-time Pro Bowler still has a lethal combination of lateral wiggle and forklift power, already producing six sacks and 12 QB hits (tied for second in NFL). Traditionally a 3-technique tackle, he usually lines up on a guard’s outside shoulder, but he also will align directly over the center in some third-down packages, a threatening look because centers are rarely isolated against top rushers in protection. Atkins happily beats single blocks, but he also reaches QBs through doubles on occasion and leading tackle-end stunts, plowing between the guard and tackle.

Jordan Devey moved to center in Morse’s absence last week, with Andrew Wylie stepping in at right guard. Even if recently re-signed Jeff Allen — released after struggling for two years in Houston — takes over at right guard, expect to see Atkins across from both spots often. Left guard Cameron Erving has had hiccups as well, so Atkins should have plenty of chances to collapse pockets in Mahomes’ face.

4. Get-right game for Jaguars’ pass rush

Eerily quiet in losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys the past two weeks, the famed “Sacksonville” front four is due for a bounce-back performance. As it happens, they face the league’s most exploitable offensive line this week.

Already thin entering the year, the Houston Texans lost Seantrel Henderson in Week 1, thrusting rookie third-rounder Martinas Rankin into the lineup opposite raw 2017 fourth-rounder Julien Davenport. Both players have been benched for stretches in favor of Kendall Lamm, a fourth-year undrafted free agent. The results have been about what you’d expect: 25 sacks (one shy of the NFL’s highest total) and 65 QB hits allowed, the latter a whopping 18 more than any other team.

With his front five whiffing blocks and getting bulled into him with frightening regularity, Deshaun Watson has exacerbated matters by moving preemptively and erratically. But his escapability isn’t limiting pressure — it’s expanding the burden up front because linemen aren’t taught to protect for a moving target. Not only is Watson moving into pressure, but he’s holding the ball too long while trying to create, leading to more hits and sacks.

Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (four sacks, seven QB hits) should have a field day. Offensive tackles rarely face edge rushers with his raw power, and Davenport lacks the anchor to handle it. Yannick Ngakoue (four sacks, nine QB hits) also should give Lamm repeated trouble with his blend of burst and bendability.

For whatever reason, Texans coach Bill O’Brien has dialed back the use of play-action in Watson’s second season, but that would be a helpful tactic to feature again this week. It won’t matter, however, if Houston gets behind early and has to throw.

5. Pressure squarely on Titans’ linebackers

With an offense that possesses little identity and a quarterback who isn’t seeing the field clearly, Tennessee needs defense to win right now, and the unit has mostly impressed. One weak spot, however, has been inside linebacker, where first-round rookie Rashaan Evans has been pulled in some passing situations in favor of nominal special-teamer Daren Bates.

The group should be better this week with the return of Wesley Woodyard (shoulder), who pairs with second-year man Jayon Brown to form a speedy duo. The two will be stressed often in London against the Los Angeles Chargers’ outstanding running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, who rank eighth and second, respectively, in yards per carry among qualified rushers.

The Chargers killed the Browns with the perimeter run game last week, getting the edge on tosses and sweeps while often running the same plays. Gordon’s power and ability to set up blocks has been devastating, and the shifty Ekeler continues to leave defenders grasping at air in the open field.

They might be even more dangerous as receivers, especially because Philip Rivers has always been excellent at hitting his check-down early to maximize yards after catch. Gordon ranks fourth and Ekeler 12th in receiving yards by running backs this season, and Ekeler’s 14.8-yard average is tops among backs with more than 10 catches.

Woodyard and Brown will be central to the Titans’ hopes of slowing an offense that ranks fifth in scoring (29.2 points per game) and third in yards per play (6.8).

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Titans, Chargers meet in London going in opposite directions

The Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers have made the trip abroad to London for Sunday's game with their seasons going in opposite directions on offense.

The Chargers (4-2) are on a three-game winning streak with one of the more well-balanced offenses in the league while the Tians (3-3) have dropped two straight

The Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers have made the trip abroad to London for Sunday’s game with their seasons going in opposite directions on offense.

The Chargers (4-2) are on a three-game winning streak with one of the more well-balanced offenses in the league while the Tians (3-3) have dropped two straight and haven’t scored a touchdown the past two weeks.

Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariotta said there is plenty of urgency going into the game, while also trying not to push too hard.

“It’s finding the happy medium. When it comes down to it, it’s just making plays,” he said. “When you’re out here in practice, it’s getting comfortable with the game plan, making sure that everybody knows the little details. From there, it’s just the process.”

If the Titans are going to be successful on Sunday, they needs to commit to keeping Mariotta upright and also recommitting to the run game. Mariotta was sacked 11 times in last Sunday’s 21-0 loss to Baltimore. The performance was surprising because the Titans had their top six offensive linemen back, including both tackles who’ve missed time because of injuries, and they had allowed only nine sacks combined over the first five games.

One step toward taking pressure off Mariotta would be finding a way to get running back Derrick Henry more involved. Henry came into this season having led the Titans with 744 yards rushing last season despite starting only two games, and he ran for 156 yards in their playoff victory last January. But the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner had a season-low seven carries for 21 yards in last week’s loss. Henry could be very helpful against a Chargers defense that is giving up 4.2 yards per carry.

Los Angeles has been firing on all cylinders offensively. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a 115.1 passer rating, which leads the AFC and is second in the NFL. A key to Rivers’ hot start is that he has been sacked only seven times.

Running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the past three weeks and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Rivers said the biggest key for this week has been on maintaining a familiar schedule despite being away from home.

The Chargers stayed in Cleveland after last Sunday’s win against the Browns and practiced at Baldwin-Wallace University.

“We kind of talked about it as a group. Whatever you normally do, make sure you do it. There’s going to be plenty more time to do more, but make sure you do it whether it be a rehab routine you have, something you do recovery or studying,” Rivers said.

Here are other things to watch during the NFL’s second straight week at Wembley Stadium:

EARLY POSITIONING

As the season gets closer to the midway point both teams are looking to stay in prime postseason position. The Chargers, who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2013, are only a game behind Kansas City in the AFC West, but also in good early shape for a wild-card spot. The Titans are in a three-way tie for the top spot in the AFC South.

“We want to get this win and be able to rest up on a positive note. It always sucks if you were able to lose a game and then you have a bye week, then you have a long time to process and think about it. We want to come off on a good note.” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said.

STOUT DEFENSE

The Titans’ defense is allowing the third-fewest points in the league at 17.8 per game. They have also been very tough in the red zone, allowing only six touchdowns in 16 opportunities (37.5 percent).

SEARCHING FOR DAVIS

Tennessee wide receiver Corey Davis set career highs with nine receptions for 161 yards in a Sept. 30 win over Philadelphia. But Davis has only five receptions for 73 yards the past two weeks as the Titans have been kept out of the end zone.

PASS RUSH REBOUNDS

The Chargers had only eight sacks in the first four games, but have eight the past two weeks. They are still missing defensive end Joey Bosa (foot), but defensive tackle Corey Liuget’s return from a four-game league suspension has resulted in fewer double teams to Melvin Ingram and other players.

KEEP AN EYE ON

The Chargers kickers. Caleb Sturgis missed last Sunday’s game because of a quad injury, which meant Michael Badgley became the seventh kicker to make a field goal for the team since the start of last season. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said it is likely to come down to a game-time decision.

Sturgis’ future has been in doubt since he missed four extra points in the first five games.

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AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this story.

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Jaguars trying to straighten out turnovers against Texans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Of all the things that went right for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, turnovers were at the top of the list.

The Jaguars took care of the ball, especially in the postseason, and ranked second in the league with 33 takeaways. They finished the regular season at plus-10 in

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Of all the things that went right for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, turnovers were at the top of the list.

The Jaguars took care of the ball, especially in the postseason, and ranked second in the league with 33 takeaways. They finished the regular season at plus-10 in turnover margin, tied for fifth in the NFL.

They’re nowhere close to that these days.

The Jaguars (3-3) have been careless with the football through six games and have done considerably less to create fumbles and interceptions.

The result: Jacksonville sits next to last in turnover margin, a minus-9 ratio that was a key part of consecutive blowout road losses to Kansas City and Dallas.

Finding a way to end the trend Sunday against Houston (3-3) could be the difference between first place in the AFC South and a three-game losing streak.

“We’re definitely not helping ourselves out by any means,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “We are getting unlucky. Not only are we not helping ourselves, but we are also getting some bad bounces, and that is part of it.

“We will start creating our own good fortune, and I think with that we will start getting some breaks and some bounces will go our way as well.”

The Jaguars could use some better fortune, especially since they are without their top two left tackles, their top two tight ends, two of their top three running backs and their leading receiver from a year ago. The rash of injuries has hampered the offense so much that it failed to score in the first half of the past two games.

And the usually stout defense has done little, if anything, to pick up the slack. The unit allowed a combined 802 yards, 63 points and 49 first downs against the Chiefs and Cowboys.

“We haven’t lost our confidence,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “I think it’s a reality check. We understand who we are. We know who we are. I think a lot of us are leaning on the accolades.

“We want to be Pro Bowlers. We have to be All-Pros. We want to be this, but we have to understand that we just have to play like we did last year, just stay carefree, and the less you care about your accolades off the field, the more we’ll win as a team.”

The Texans have won three in a row in dramatic fashion. They won twice in overtime and beat Buffalo last week thanks to Johnathan Joseph’s interception return for a touchdown in the waning minutes.

Houston hasn’t won four in a row since 2015.

Beating Jacksonville could come down to how well Houston’s offensive line plays. The Texans allowed 14 sacks in two lopsided losses to the Jaguars last season and have allowed 25 in six games this season, the second-most in the league.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson played last week with a partially collapsed lung and a broken rib.

“I’m fine now. I’m healthy,” he said. “I’m cleared to practice, cleared to do everything. I’m good.”

Bortles should be wary, too. He has been sacked eight times in the past two games while playing behind an injury-riddled line. And now the Jaguars have to deal with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

Equally concerning are the team’s 14 turnovers and five takeaways.

“It has not been what we wanted or what we expected or planned for,” Bortles said. “Everybody knows that. You learn from it, you put it in the past and you move on. You have to find a way to get back on track and get back to playing like we did against the Jets or against New England or late last year. That is all we are focusing on: getting back to playing the kind of football and the execution level that we know we can do.”

Here are some other things to know about the Texans and Jaguars:

BACK TO BASICS

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone focused on fundamentals in practice all week, with several players saying they essentially returned to training camp mode in Week 7. Some might consider it a desperation move, but Marrone defended his decision to go back to square one.

“Anytime you see football being played as poorly as we have been playing, then it comes down to fundamentals,” he said. “That is my philosophy.”

HAL RETURNS

Texans safety Andre Hal, who is in remission after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, resumed practicing this week. He won’t play against the Jaguars, but gave the team an emotional lift this week. Hal was diagnosed with the disease in May and immediately began treatment.

“I’m in the best shape of my life just from working out all the time, eating right, getting closer to God, getting closer to myself, finding out who I am, stuff like that,” Hal said. “I’m a better person.”

PASSING LEAGUE

Watson and Bortles have three games each with at least 375 yards passing this season.

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Cowboys’ draft gamble paying off in emerging LB Jaylon Smith

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Jaylon Smith makes himself presentable for the cameras, then turns to his locker to grab one last thing before starting an interview: the neck pad given to him by hard-nosed defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to acknowledge the Dallas linebacker's physical style of play.

The former Notre Dame standout is

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Jaylon Smith makes himself presentable for the cameras, then turns to his locker to grab one last thing before starting an interview: the neck pad given to him by hard-nosed defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to acknowledge the Dallas linebacker’s physical style of play.

The former Notre Dame standout is proud of the memento. It still hangs loosely around his neck in front of reporters weeks after he got it, while Smith invariably gets another question about the painstaking recovery from a devastating left knee injury in his final college game.

Smith is doing more than just playing again two years after owner and general manager Jerry Jones gambled early in the draft on a player considered a top prospect before the career-threatening injury.

He has helped the defense surge into the top five while Sean Lee missed three games with a hamstring injury, when the opposite often happened in recent years during the oft-injured two-time Pro Bowler’s absences. The Cowboys (3-3) visit Washington (3-2) on Sunday.

“It’s just about doing my job and understanding the player that Jerry drafted,” Smith said. “He believed in me. The Cowboys organization believed in me, that I would get back to this point of being a top-five pick. It’s not a surprise to me. It’s expected. It was just a matter of time.”

With Lee out, Smith has a key companion in rookie first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who leads the Cowboys with 60 tackles while Smith has 57. No other Dallas defender has more than 35.

But the 2015 All-America at Notre Dame is the middle linebacker making most of the calls and displaying leadership skills that attracted the Cowboys to him in the first place, when Dallas and plenty of other teams were wondering if he could play again.

A case in point is also one of Smith’s signature plays this season. Before sprinting to the sideline to deliver a hard shoulder hit that stopped Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson on fourth down near the goal line, Smith told DeMarcus Lawrence, “I got you.”

That was Smith’s way of turning Dallas’ star pass rusher loose on Watson, and believing he could clean up the play wherever Watson decided to scramble.

“It’s just the trust, the growth and my leadership and my respect on this team,” Smith said. “People understanding that they can count on me and this team believes that.”

Smith probably wouldn’t have done that during his inconsistent debut a year ago, when it was generally acknowledged by coach Jason Garrett and others that he was forced to play too much because of injuries at linebacker and struggled as a result.

This season, Smith is no longer playing with a foot brace designed to help overcome the nerve damage associated with tearing a ligament in his knee during Notre Dame’s 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day 2016.

Marinelli says Smith’s change of direction and lateral movements are the biggest differences from last season.

“And he’s more comfortable,” Marinelli said. “Sometimes a guy can look a little bit slower, or hesitant when you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s our job is to make the complex simple for them, the irregular regular so they can see it and play fast. It takes time to do that.”

Marinelli’s schemes haven’t been big on blitzing since he came to Dallas, but Smith’s skills and the aggressive philosophy of new passing game coordinator Kris Richard have changed that.

Smith is second to Lawrence with three sacks and has eight QB pressures — three more than the rest of the Dallas linebackers combined.

“He might be one of the better blitzing linebackers I’ve been around,” Marinelli said. “He’s physical. He’s fast. He is playing lights out.”

Asked if the play on the goal line against Watson could be one of those definitive moments in Smith’s development, Garrett shot back, “Which one?”

That was Garrett’s way of saying the Cowboys have seen plenty of big plays from Smith this season. Smith says the same thing. And it fits with Garrett’s feeling that there was never one moment where he said to himself, “Jaylon Smith is back.”

The Cowboys knew more about Smith’s injury than most because team physician Dr. Dan Cooper performed the surgery. Garrett has always stopped short of calling that the primary factor in their decision to draft him.

“We heard so many great things about him as a guy,” Garrett said. “Anybody who has any chance of coming back from an injury like he had, it really started there, the kind of person he is. I think that’s shown through here the last couple of years.”

It used to show behind the scenes at the Cowboys’ facility. Now it’s showing on the field.

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So-so Cowboys, Redskins trying to stop alternating W’s, L’s

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys and Jay Gruden's Washington Redskins have been the very definition of mediocre as the NFC East teams resume their rivalry.

The Cowboys are 3-3, while the Redskins head into Sunday's home game leading the so-so NFC East at 3-2 and with an 18-18-1 mark since

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Jason Garrett’s Dallas Cowboys and Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins have been the very definition of mediocre as the NFC East teams resume their rivalry.

The Cowboys are 3-3, while the Redskins head into Sunday’s home game leading the so-so NFC East at 3-2 and with an 18-18-1 mark since the start of the 2016 season.

Neither club has managed to win two games in a row in 2018. Neither has dropped two in a row, either. They just keep alternating W’s and L’s.

Something has to give, because both are coming off victories.

“It’s been a minute since I’ve had back-to-back wins,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “It’s very important for this team, for the confidence of this team.”

The Cowboys look at it the same way, and they are well aware of the disparity between how they perform when at home (3-0) and away (0-3).

Garrett and Gruden have been criticized for various flaws, but both might have earned some breathing room with what happened in Week 6 against opponents who entered with winning records and strengths that would seem to be trouble for the weaknesses exhibited by Dallas and Washington.

Having been embarrassed by Drew Brees just six days earlier, then forced to deal with Cam Newton and a Carolina offense coming off a pair of 30-point outings, the Redskins relied on their defense to beat the Panthers 23-17.

Up against a talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense, and coming off a 16-point effort, Dak Prescott led the offensively challenged Cowboys to a surprising 40-7 triumph.

“I’ve said it before,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 586 yards. “If we don’t build on it, everything we did last week really means nothing.”

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

SCHEDULING BREAKS

The Redskins do not play a team the rest of the way that currently has a record above .500. Their opponents’ combined mark, including Dallas, is 27-38, a .415 winning percentage. Dallas’ slate is not much tougher, although it does have to play New Orleans, which is 4-1. Still, the foes lined up on the Cowboys’ remaining schedule began this week at 25-31, a .446 winning percentage.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

The Redskins and Cowboys are having trouble putting up points. They both rank among the 10 lowest-scoring teams, with Washington at 21.2 per game, and Dallas 20.5. The Cowboys’ number plummets to 12.3 on the road.

MR. SMITH IN WASHINGTON

Alex Smith hardly has been a solution at QB for the Redskins, and Gruden was rather pointed in discussing his new guy’s play. Smith’s passer rating of 91.9 is barely ahead of the much-maligned Eli Manning’s 90.9. “There are some things we’ve got to clean up. Get his eyes in certain progressions a little bit quicker and maybe get off some a little bit quicker,” Gruden said about Smith. “Sometimes he hangs on too long, giving guys too much of a chance, where he needs get off of them, get to the next guy.”

RUNNING DAK

Running isn’t anything new for Dallas QB Dak Prescott; it just seems more important with the Cowboys learning to live without Jason Witten and Dez Bryant in the passing game.

The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year ran for a career-best 82 yards last week; Roger Staubach, with 90 in 1971, is the only Cowboys quarterback who gained more on the ground in a game. The Cowboys are using more zone read, playing off the strengths of Elliott.

“Some teams are going to make him hand the ball off; some teams are going to make him keep it,” Elliott said about Prescott. “It just depends on what the defense shows you.”

Sunday’s outcome could hinge on Dallas’ run game — averaging 147.5 yards per game, No. 2 in the league — vs. Washington’s run defense, which allows 90.2 per game.

YOUNG ‘BACKERS

Two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee could miss a fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury, but for the first time in several years, the Cowboys feel as if they have adequate replacements. Leighton Vander Esch leads the team with 60 tackles, and middle linebacker Jaylon Smith has 57.

Nobody else has more than 35. Vander Esch is a rookie first-round draft pick from Boise State, where he was a walk-on. Smith was a second-rounder in 2016 after a devastating knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame.

“Each of those guys, they are playing more snaps,” Garrett said. “They are seeing these different situations. They are becoming more confident football players.”

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AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon in Frisco, Texas, and AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.

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Cards right guard Pugh active with big wrap on left hand

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Cardinals right guard Justin Pugh was active for Thursday night's game against Denver, his injured left hand encased in a large cast-like wrap.

There were no other surprises among inactives. Broncos left guard Ron Leary (Achilles tendon) and right tackle Jared Veldheer (knee) already had been declared out,

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Cardinals right guard Justin Pugh was active for Thursday night’s game against Denver, his injured left hand encased in a large cast-like wrap.

There were no other surprises among inactives. Broncos left guard Ron Leary (Achilles tendon) and right tackle Jared Veldheer (knee) already had been declared out, as was Cardinals left guard Mike Iupati (back) and safety Tre Boston (shoulder, ribs).

Also inactive for Denver were quarterback Kevin Hogan, cornerback Adam Jones, safety Dymonte Thomas, inside linebacker Alexander Johnson and outside linebacker Shane Ray.

Inactive for Arizona were quarterback Sam Bradford, running back T.J. Logan, cornerback Deatrick Nichols, outside linebacker Jeremy Vujnovich and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.

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