Titans QB Mariota (elbow) making progress

Titans QB Mariota (elbow) making progress

Houston Texans: Veteran cornerback Shareece Wright was signed after the loss of starting cornerback Kevin Johnson (concussion) for at least eight weeks after the Texans placed him on injured reserve. Wright is in his eighth NFL season, and coach Bill O’Brien sees him as a good fit in the secondary. “Size, experience, he’s got a lot of snaps in the league, a good guy,” O’Brien said. “All reports on him being a real good teammate. Glad we were able to get him.” When it came to losing offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson with a season-ending ankle injury, the Texans stayed in-house and promoted Roderick Johnson from the practice squad to be a backup.

Indianapolis Colts: Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is progressing well from the hamstring injury that caused him to miss the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals and is on track to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Castonzo missed the entire preseason because of the ailment, so being back on the football field is therapeutic for his mind-set. “Feeling good,” Castonzo said. “I’m excited to have a full week of practice and get out there and play.” Running back Marlon Mack (hamstring) also missed the opener, and his status is less solid. Rookie Jordan Wilkins (40 yards on 14 carries) is expected to get most of the practice repetitions and likely will make his second consecutive start.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Running back Leonard Fournette will test his injured hamstring Friday, according to coach Doug Marrone, and possibly could play in Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots even if he misses the week’s workouts. “He’s done a good job. He has worked really hard,” Marrone said. “I would be comfortable with him (playing). If it was a rookie, maybe … depending on the situation or position or things of that nature I might not be as comfortable.” Marrone will not be coy about Fournette’s status to toy with the Patriots. “If guys are ready to play, they play, and we’ll get him out there,” Marrone said.

Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota participated in practice Wednesday, and his throwing elbow is no longer prompting concerns. “I am feeling pretty good,” Mariota said after the practice. “I am kind of taking it one day at a time, but I was able to go through practice today and felt pretty good. For me, I just went through practice and felt it went fine.” Titans coach Mike Vrabel liked what he witnessed and is counting on his signal-caller being ready for Sunday’s game against the Texans. “He had some rest Monday and Tuesday, so he was able to get through and do everything and really looked OK,” Vrabel said. “I would say barring any setbacks that Marcus is going to be good to go on Sunday.”

–Field Level Media

Panthers QB Newton laments shoulder issues

Panthers QB Newton laments shoulder issues

Carolina Panthers quarterback

Panthers QB Newton laments shoulder issues

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton opened up about his sore shoulder after Monday night’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, saying that it hasn’t gotten better – or worse – and that he just doesn’t “have the strength, from the range of motion.”

“It is what we expected it to be. … The same way. It’s not getting better, it’s not getting worse. It is what it was, just a lot of soreness and tension in the joints,” Newton told reporters during his postgame comments.

“It doesn’t matter how much you push,” Newton said. “Ice, anti-inflammatories you take … I mean, trust me, I did it. Acupuncture. Massages. It’s just not been a time that (a) night has gone by without me getting some type of work done on my arm.

“We just don’t have the strength, from the range of motion,” Newton said.

Newton completed 16 of 29 passes against the Saints for just 131 yards and an interception while not looking comfortable throwing the ball. The loss was the Panthers’ six straight.

Newton first appeared on the injury report in Week 8. In Monday’s game, he skidded passes in front of receivers, missed multiple targets short and wide, and generally never found a strike zone.

“You work on the range of motion, and then come game time, you never know how it’ll kind of play out,” Newton said. “You try to stay under 25, 30 throws, but if it’s past that, or if you get hit on it, or you have to run, or you get tackled and you fall on your shoulder, certain things happen. That’s the game of football.”

Newton has just two touchdowns against six interceptions in December and a passer rating of 94.2 for the season.

–Field Level Media

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Ray Rice speaks out against domestic violence, says ‘I’m done with football’

Ray Rice speaks out against domestic violence, says 'I'm done with football'

Ray Rice speaks out against domestic violence, says ‘I’m done with football’

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, whose name has resurfaced since video emerged last month showing Kareem Hunt pushing and kicking a woman, spoke publicly on Tuesday, saying he is done with football and that he would be willing to speak with Hunt.

The NFL placed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list hours after TMZ published the video on Nov. 30, and a few hours later the Kansas City Chiefs cut the running back.

The Ravens cut Rice in 2014 after two videos surfaced, the first showing him dragging his unconscious fiancée Janay Palmer out of an elevator, and the second showing him punch Janay in the face in the elevator, knocking her out. Rice has not played in the NFL since.

Speaking with Janay, now his wife, on “CBS This Morning,” Rice, 31, talked about his life in the years since his banishment from the league. And he made it clear he is not speaking out in an effort to get back into the NFL.

“Well, see that for me, is something that I understand why it was being said early on about, you know, is this a ploy to get back into football,” Rice told CBS’ Gayle King. “I’ll be the first one to say it. I don’t have to retire to tell you I’m done with football. The pressure I was under of being a star — that was the person I hated the most.”

The couple married in March 2014, shortly after Ray Rice was charged with aggravated assault against Janay. King asked Janay Rice why she remained with Rice after the assault and why she has yet to see the video of the assault.

“I know it’s hard for people to understand,” Janay Rice said. “And I’m not here to force people to understand. It was never a thought whether I was going to leave or not, because I knew that that wasn’t him in that moment. This is somebody I’ve known since I was 15 years old. I knew that we had work to do, and I was willing to move forward and put in the work.”

When asked if he deserves a second chance of football, Ray Rice bluntly replied, “No. I didn’t deserve another chance.” Instead, he said, he got his second chance with his wife.

According to the CBS report, the NFL confirmed that Ray Rice works with the league on its domestic violence education program. Among other topics Ray Rice covered:

On his life before the assault on Janay and the subsequent fallout:

“One of the underlying issues for me was — I never wanted to ask for help. Football, for me, was my counseling. It was my therapy. It was my psychologist. It was everything.”

On the NFL’s efforts to address domestic abuse, including the current cases of Hunt and Reuben Foster:

“They’re trying to do the right thing … I know they are working with groups to try to get more of an understanding. And they’re doing the work. … I know the NFL … they’re not trying to push — they’re not trying to push people who do bad things or abuse against women. They’re not trying to push those guys on the field.”

On whether he would be willing to speak to Hunt:

“I would love to help anyone that’s willing to go the long haul.”

–Field Level Media

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Panthers S Reid hit with another random drug test

Panthers S Reid hit with another random drug test

Panthers S Reid hit with another random drug test

Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid late Monday tweeted out a notice from the NFL of yet another drug test, his seventh in 11 weeks with the team.

“Number 7 … ‘Random,'” Reid tweeted after the Panthers’ game against the New Orleans Saints, a 12-9 loss.

The notice was taped to Reid’s locker.

It’s the sixth random drug test and the seventh overall since Reid signed with the Panthers on Sept. 28. Reid’s first drug test was mandatory as part of his physical to join the Panthers. Reid doesn’t believe there’s anything random about the subsequent six tests.

“I’ve been here 11 weeks, I’ve been drug-tested seven times,” Reid told reporters after the game. “That has to be statistically impossible. I’m not a mathematician, but there’s no way that’s random.”

ESPN reported last month that the NFL Players Association is looking into Reid’s allegation that the NFL is targeting him with non-random drug testing.

Teammate Torrey Smith chimed in after the latest notice Reid received.

“7 in 11 weeks…this is some BS…including at least 2 after the game which is the worst one smh This ain’t random,” Smith said via Twitter.

Based on the collective bargaining agreement, drug testing is conducted by an independent laboratory — without the NFL or NFLPA’s involvement — with players’ names chosen at random by a computer.

Reid also said he has never failed a test. Failed tests warrant more frequent testing tied to tiered penalties for further failed tests.

The NFLPA filed a collusion grievance on Reid’s behalf in May alleging that NFL owners colluded to keep Reid from being signed, in response to his protests during the national anthem. Reid, a 2013 Pro Bowler, was an unrestricted free agent from March until Sept. 28, when the Panthers signed him after an injury to Da’Norris Searcy.

–Field Level Media

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FLM All-32: Team-by-team NFL notes

FLM All-32: Team-by-team NFL notes

AFC EAST

FLM All-32: Team-by-team NFL notes

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: While his team sits at 5-9 and he continues to rely on young players who bring little fanfare, coach Sean McDermott actually believes such reliance is proof his plan is working. “It’s really the type of culture we’re trying to build where I can walk into the team meeting room on Wednesday morning and say, ‘Hey, Player X has earned the right to be brought up to the active roster,'” McDermott said during his Monday news conference, noting he played six undrafted rookies Sunday. “And the players, I think they really get a lot of motivation out of that and take pride in that because they know what type of culture we’re trying to build and that you’ve got to earn things here.”

Miami Dolphins: With veteran Frank Gore likely out the remainder of the season with a foot injury, Dolphins coach Adam Gase has some evaluating to do at running back these last two games. One back likely to get more carries is rookie Kalen Ballage. After rushing for a total of 11 yards in his first nine games, Ballage broke out with 123 yards — including a 75-yard score — against the Vikings. But don’t count Gase among those surprised. “That long run he had, that’s how he runs every day (at practice),” Gase said. “That’s how he finishes every day. … When he gets a carry with the offense, he finishes in the end zone.”

New England Patriots: The Patriots have surrendered at least 150 yards rushing five times this season and are 1-4 in those games. That includes the last two games, both losses. But don’t expect Bill Belichick to place a renewed emphasis on stopping the run as the postseason approaches. “Look, each week you try to defend whatever the offense your opponents do — running game and passing game, situational football, third down, red area and everything else,” Belichick said during his weekly conference call. “So, what you do is a function of what they do, and that’s really more of a week-to-week thing for us. Whatever the league trends are or aren’t, I don’t really know that it matters. … It doesn’t really matter what the whole league does.”

New York Jets: While the Jets on Saturday hit double-digit losses for the third straight season and fourth time in five seasons, this offseason is sure to be different with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold providing the franchise plenty of hope for the future. Coach Todd Bowles may not be around to see Darnold develop beyond this season, but he offered his take on a key to Darnold’s success, and it’s not necessarily his arm. “He got out of the pocket and made some plays. He gave us a chance to try and win the ball game,” Bowles said during a conference call on Sunday. “He’s getting comfortable, he’s making plays with his feet and he’s finding the open areas.”

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: Safety Eric Weddle gets to see former teammate Philip Rivers before Christmas, but he’s not in much of a festive move about the Ravens drawing one of the AFC’s best teams — the Los Angeles Chargers — given the rest disparity. “It’s obviously a disadvantage,” Weddle said of the schedule working against Baltimore, with the Chargers having 10 days between Week 15 and Week 16 games. By comparison, the Ravens enter Saturday’s game on less-than-normal rest. “We’re going to use this as motivation,” Weddle said. “It’s stacked up against us. We’re going to be the underdog. No one is going to think we’re going to win. This just adds to the game. Would we like to have 10 days to prepare for one of the best teams in the league? Of course, but we don’t.”

Cincinnati Bengals: Another key skill position player is likely done for the season. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd has a sprained MCL and needs at least two weeks to recover. With only two games remaining, he’s a candidate for injured reserve, where he would join quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, though head coach Marvin Lewis said no decision has been made yet. Boyd reached his goal of becoming the first Cincinnati wide receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season not named Green since Chad Johnson did it in 2009. Now, he’s looking at bigger targets to knock down in 2019. “Hopefully I get into the Pro Bowl. I’ve been working my tail off each and every day,” Boyd said.

Cleveland Browns: Interim head coach Gregg Williams said he believes the Browns are shaking the losing culture that has defined the franchise since returning to the NFL in 1999. But he prefers players focus on the next day, instead of the next milestone on the schedule. At 6-7-1, the Browns are still barely alive in the playoff chase. “I would say that our guys understand there is a good young team in there,” Williams said. “We have to continue to focus on week after week after week on don’t look ahead. Do not look ahead. That is when things start to maybe become more distractions that we were just talking about.”

Pittsburgh Steelers: First-round safety Terrell Edmunds and the Steelers kept Tom Brady & Co. without a touchdown in three red-zone opportunities and without a point in two goal-to-go situations on Sunday, which the rookie said was all part of the mindset implanted by the defense early in the week. “It was like a playoff game for us,” Edmunds said. “We just lost three games in a row. We just have to come together as a team, come together on Tuesday, and keep it going.”

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Running back D’Onta Foreman could make his season debut when the Texans play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Foreman is 13 months removed from his last NFL carry after suffering a torn Achilles but has been progressing in practices. Another factor is that starter Lamar Miller departed last Saturday’s game against the New York Jets with an ankle injury and he may turn out to be a game-day decision. Houston coach Bill O’Brien knows what we wants to see from Foreman should he be active against the Eagles. “Obviously, good vision,” O’Brien told the media Monday. “Good knowledge of how the play’s being blocked, decisive running, continuing to improve in his knowledge of pass protection. Just good, solid play. Take care of the ball, No. 1.”

Indianapolis Colts: Indianapolis is one of the hottest teams in the NFL with seven wins in eight games and is one of three 8-6 teams — along with the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans — fighting for an AFC playoff spot. Sunday’s 23-0 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was a dominating performance on both sides of the ball and has the franchise hopeful of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014. “We’re playing great football,” receiver T.Y. Hilton told reporters. “Right now you’re either the train or you’re on the tracks. Right now we’re rolling, so you better get on the train.” Quarterback Andrew Luck professes to be hearing none of the playoff chatter. “We don’t live in holes, but I haven’t heard talk about it all and that’s not a lie,” Luck said.

Jacksonville Jaguars: A season of high expectations continues to be miserable for the Jaguars and veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said the preseason optimism makes the hard fall hurt even worse. “This is as bad as it gets,” Campbell told reporters. “I truly believed we were capable of winning a Super Bowl this year, and we underachieved at the highest level. It’s all bad. That’s hard to deal with sometimes. But at the end of the day, you have to take it for what it’s worth and try to learn from it.” Campbell said the season isn’t entirely lost because there are lessons can be learned. “They’re going to learn tough lessons,” Campbell said. “Hopefully, we can use this kind of season to give us that motivation going forward. I guess if there are any positives to take it’s that there are a lot of lessons to be learned that can be beneficial to this team going forward.”

Tennessee Titans: Running back Derrick Henry set a franchise record with 408 rushing yards over a two-game span, surpassing legendary Hall of Famer Earl Campbell (405 in 1980) from the club’s Houston Oilers’ era. Henry had just 474 yards through 12 games before suddenly emerging as a force. Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said Henry’s “confidence is through the roof.” Another factor may be that the 24-year-old Henry has fresh legs after averaging just 10.7 carries through the first 12 games before averaging 25 over the past two. “I think that Derrick has to be 23, 24 years old, so I hope that his legs stay fresh,” Vrabel said. “I see how hard (he works). He is one of our offseason award winners for how hard he trained in the offseason, and the amount of work he puts in. So I know he is in great condition.”

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: The Broncos (6-8) are officially out of playoff contention, but they still have a milestone to play for. The team hasn’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, a streak it would keep alive with wins over the Raiders and Chargers over the final two weeks. “Absolutely,” head coach Vance Joseph told the media Monday when asked if that’s a goal. “We want to win. These next two games are important for us to finish the right way. That part is very important to me. It’s about winning. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about losing, it’s about winning. That’s very important to our football team and our coaches.”

Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry’s return to the playing field for the first time since the 2017 opener was without setbacks, but the team will remain patient in increasing his snaps. “He’ll continue to increase time and we’ll see how that disperses out there and what the plan will be for this coming week,” head coach Andy Reid said. “The positive was that he came out feeling good. He was sore — he hadn’t played in a long time.” Meanwhile, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is “not ready yet” in his recovery from a spiral fracture in his leg that required surgery, but Reid said he still has a shot at returning sometime this season.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers emerged from Thursday night with not only a victory over the Chiefs, but also nine days to prepare for the Baltimore Ravens. The extra time was ideal, head coach Anthony Lynn said, given the schematic complexity of the Ravens’ offense. “You’re playing a team that is really unconventional compared to what we’ve seen all year with that rushing attack, so many schemes and the way they’re using their quarterback,” Lynn said. “They’re using their quarterback like a running back. It makes it difficult for a defense. You have to be disciplined, you have to be in your gaps. There’s a lot to prepare for.”

Oakland Raiders: With a legal dispute ongoing between the city of Oakland and the Raiders, Sunday’s game against the Broncos could be the last game the Raiders ever play at the Oakland Coliseum. Head coach Jon Gruden, who coached in the stadium for four years from 1998-2001, will miss the environment. “Just raging in the Black Hole,” Gruden recalled of his favorite memories. “Rocking and raging down there after the Steeler game in Week 14, after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of great Raider teams, I get excited. I get emotional about it, and hopefully we get it all resolved so we can continue to play there.” The Raiders’ home in 2019 remains unclear as they await moving into a new stadium in Las Vegas in 2020.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: While five straight wins lifted the Cowboys to the top of the NFC East, did they also help Dallas get a little too cocky? That question was asked of head coach Jason Garrett at his weekly news conference Monday following his team’s 23-0 loss at Indianapolis, but that’s not the way he sees it. “I think the best thing we’ve done here over the last five weeks is we understand the challenges of the game and I think we’ve been mentally tough over the course of these last five games” Garrett said. “… We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win the game yesterday. Period. … It’s really as simple as that.” He later added: “Ultimately (the Colts) ran the ball too easily in the game.”

New York Giants: Despite his team officially eliminated from playoff contention, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said quarterback Eli Manning will start Week 16 at the Indianapolis Colts, avoiding the temptation to start fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta. “I think we’re going to try to put the player in that gives us the best chance to win,” Shurmur said. “We’ll see if that involves Kyle. … Eli playing QB I think gives us the best chance to win.” The coach also indicated the team isn’t in a hurry to move on from Manning, whom Shurmur said he still believes has “years” left as an NFL starter. “Yeah (I want Manning back in 2019),” Shurmur said. “I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters.”

Philadelphia Eagles: A day after Nick Foles led the Eagles to a road win against the Los Angeles Rams, coach Doug Pederson announced the Super Bowl MVP will get the start again in Week 16. Carson Wentz remains out with a back injury but will not yet be placed on injured reserve, Pederson said while discussing his team’s approach toward the Houston Texans next weekend. “It will be Nick (starting). Where Carson is health-wise and just another week of rest for Carson will help him. So we made the decision to go forward with Nick. We will not put Carson on IR.” Wentz has a fractured vertebra that might require three months of rest to fully heal.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins not only broke a four-game losing streak Sunday but also kept their playoff hopes alive. And they did it despite quarterback Josh Johnson making his first start since 2011. One thing that may have helped Johnson settle in was a piece of advice coach Jay Gruden gave him before the game: “Calm down.” But why did Gruden think Johnson needed to calm down? “I saw him playing catch and he threw one 180 miles an hour at the guy and almost killed him,” Gruden said. “So yeah, I told him to relax, calm down and then everything’s going to be fine. But he’s got a lot of poise for a guy who just got here and a lot of confidence.”

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: A division title in hand doesn’t mean Bears head coach Matt Nagy is ready to back off the accelerator. The Bears could still be as low as the No. 4 seed in the NFC depending on the results of the final two games. “Right now, we’ve got to win,” Nagy said Monday. Winning could come with its challenges as linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) and safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) are down with injuries. Nagy said the team is hopeful neither injury is season-ending, but there are no expectations yet for their Week 16 status.

Detroit Lions: Players are not using the term spoiler, but the Lions are geared up for Minnesota — a division opponent that whipped Detroit 24-9 and sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford 10 times last month. “If you love to play this game, every time you go out there is another opportunity to do the best you can,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “We still have a lot to play for. We all want to finish strong.” Offensive tackle Taylor Decker said the Lions want to win to fight through “growing pains” and establish an identity moving forward.

Green Bay Packers: Outside linebacker Clay Matthews said the Packers will keep fighting despite falling out of playoff contention with Sunday’s loss at Chicago. “I don’t think anybody anticipated having a losing season. It is what it is,” Matthews said. “We’re that close to having this whole thing flipped, but that’s all you can say in hindsight. We just haven’t done enough. We haven’t made those few plays that usually turn the game in our favor.”

Minnesota Vikings: Simplifying the offense was a goal of head coach Mike Zimmer’s when he made a change at offensive coordinator last week, elevating quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to the play-calling role. Zimmer liked the result Sunday — 220 rushing yards and 41 points in a win over the Dolphins — but said not to oversell what happened in the build up to Week 14. “We ran like one play 10 times but with 10 different variations, so sometimes that’s what it is too,” Zimmer said Monday. “You format it differently and you get them in different looks so they can’t key on one thing, but you’re basically running the same play.”

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: Tevin Coleman rushed for a career-best 145 yards in Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals to at least temporarily pump life into the team’s sagging running game. Coleman’s big outing boosted the Falcons out of the cellar of the NFL rankings — they are now 31st at 90.7 yards per game — and may prompt Atlanta to decide to make a bid to retain his services. The fourth-year back’s contract runs out after the season, and receiver Julio Jones hopes the team brings him back. “I mean, he’s an amazing running back,” Jones said of Coleman. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s one of the best backs in the league, by far. His speed, his vision, everything about him.” Coleman has rushed for a career-best 704 this season while Devonta Freeman — the NFL’s third-highest paid back — has been limited to two games due to various injuries. Meanwhile, rookie back Ito Smith will go on injured reserve to have knee surgery, meaning even more work for Coleman in the final two weeks.

Carolina Panthers: Host the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.

New Orleans Saints: Visit the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea flashed his potential with nine tackles in Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens after accumulating just 12 in his first 10 NFL appearances. The 12th overall pick injured a calf muscle early in training camp and missed the entire preseason as well as the first three regular-season games. That left him behind in conditioning, and then he was initially overwhelmed by how fast the game is played in the NFL. “I think now I’m just comfortable with it,” Vea told reporters. “The game’s slowed down for me. Just getting back in the flow of things.” Coach Dirk Koetter was impressed with what he saw from Vea against the Ravens. “Vita is really starting to play exactly like we watched on his college tape,” Koetter said during a press conference. “He’s playing violent, he’s running to the football, getting off blocks so much better and making plays laterally as well as just knocking the line of scrimmage back.”

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: Most first-year head coaches have plenty of job security, but many have questioned whether Steve Wilks will be back after the Cardinals fell to 3-11 with another blowout defeat on Sunday. CBS Sports reported Sunday that Wilks’ job is in jeopardy, and the Arizona Republic said Monday his firing “seems a foregone conclusion.” Various reports have also suggested general manager Steve Keim’s job could be in jeopardy. Keim signed an extension through 2022 in February, but he has since pled guilty to extreme DUI, and the roster fell apart this season, with several recent draft classes disappointing. Keim has been with the Cardinals since 1999, working his way up after starting as a regional scout. Arizona won 34 games during his first three seasons on the job, reaching the NFC Championship in 2015.

Los Angeles Rams: Once coasting at 8-0, the Rams are 3-3 since, and their two-game losing streak has suddenly created the possibility that they could miss out on a first-round playoff bye. Holding the tiebreaker from their meeting in Week 14, the Chicago Bears would jump the Rams in the standings by winning out and getting one loss from L.A. Linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. told reporters the importance of getting the bye makes Sunday’s matchup at the Cardinals a huge one. “We gotta play it like it’s our last game and play like it’s a must-win game,” Fowler said. “… We know what’s in front of us. We’ve just got to go take it.” The Rams close the season at home against the 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers: On the practice squad before the season, Nick Mullens continues to impress head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was asked Monday if he planned to get C.J. Beathard any work in the final two games. “Nick deserves to be in,” Shanahan said. “Nick’s played very well, and he’s gotten better as he’s gone. I thought yesterday was probably Nick’s best game, especially the way he finished it in that fourth quarter. … He’s done too good of a job. We’d love to get C.J. more playing time, but Nick’s earned it and I’m not taking him out.” Looking forward to next year when starter Jimmy Garoppolo will be healthy, Shanahan is excited about his quarterback trio. “It’s neat when you have some choices that you believe you can win with,” he said. “I think we’ve got three guys in our building that give us a chance to win.”

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks emerged from Sunday’s overtime loss at San Francisco with a few key injuries, but they could be getting reinforcements for Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Head coach Pete Carroll said linebacker K.J. Wright (knee) will return to practice this week, though it’s unclear if he’ll play for the first time since Week 10. “He’s going to practice this week, so we’ll see how he does,” Carroll said on 710 ESPN Seattle. “He looked fine last week in the amount of work that we gave him.” Right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) also has a chance to return, which would be a major boost after replacement Jordan Simmons went down with a knee injury that Caroll said “is going to be an issue.”

–Field Level Media

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Saints pull out low-scoring win over Panthers

Saints pull out low-scoring win over Panthers

Saints pull out low-scoring win over Panthers

The New Orleans Saints scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, and that was enough for a 12-9 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C.

Drew Brees completed 23 of 35 passes for 203 yards and an interception for the NFC South champion Saints (12-2), who overcame glitches on offense throughout the game. New Orleans would wrap up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs by registering one win in the last two weeks of the season.

Carolina (6-8) has lost six straight games and clings to slim playoff hopes.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who has had a sore shoulder, finished 16 of 29 for 131 yards and one interception.

Alvin Kamara’s 16-yard run with 12:12 remaining was the only touchdown of the game for the Saints, who trailed 7-6 before that play. However, Brees threw an interception on the two-point conversion attempt, with rookie cornerback Donte Jackson making a return of about 100 yards for a two-point defensive score.

The 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive included a 17-yard run by backup quarterback Taysom Hill.

Once New Orleans forced a punt on Carolina’s ensuing possession, the Saints chewed up more than seven minutes. The march included Kamara’s 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Panthers 14-yard line on the final play before the two-minute warning.

However, when Tommylee Lewis picked up what would have been a game-clinching first down, he fumbled the ball out of the end zone with 1:44 left.

The Panthers, who had exhausted their timeouts, moved the ball only 19 yards before turning it over on downs.

The teams will meet again in less than two weeks in the regular-season finale.

The Panthers opened the scoring with a trick play when running back Christian McCaffrey connected with tight end Ed Manhertz for a 50-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-2 snap late in the first quarter.

The Saints scored field goals on their next two possessions, with Wil Lutz converting from 46 and 24 yards.

The score remained 7-6 through the end of the first half even though both teams threatened.

The Saints had the ball near midfield at the two-minute warning, but Brees’ pass was intercepted by James Bradberry on a ricochet.

The Panthers reached the New Orleans 13 before Newton was intercepted in the end zone by Eli Apple.

Carolina moved inside the New Orleans 20 in the third quarter before receiver DJ Moore fumbled on a rushing play.

The Saints finished their road slate with a league-best 7-1 record.

–Field Level Media

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Will Cardinals bring back Wilks, Keim?

Will Cardinals bring back Wilks, Keim?

Arizona Cardinals: Most first-year head coaches

Will Cardinals bring back Wilks, Keim?

Arizona Cardinals: Most first-year head coaches have plenty of job security, but many have questioned whether Steve Wilks will be back after the Cardinals fell to 3-11 with another blowout defeat on Sunday. CBS Sports reported Sunday that Wilks’ job is in jeopardy, and the Arizona Republic said Monday his firing “seems a foregone conclusion.” Various reports have also suggested general manager Steve Keim’s job could be in jeopardy. Keim signed an extension through 2022 in February, but he has since pled guilty to extreme DUI, and the roster fell apart this season, with several recent draft classes disappointing. Keim has been with the Cardinals since 1999, working his way up after starting as a regional scout. Arizona won 34 games during his first three seasons on the job, reaching the NFC Championship in 2015.

Los Angeles Rams: Once coasting at 8-0, the Rams are 3-3 since, and their two-game losing streak has suddenly created the possibility that they could miss out on a first-round playoff bye. Holding the tiebreaker from their meeting in Week 14, the Chicago Bears would jump the Rams in the standings by winning out and getting one loss from L.A. Linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. told reporters the importance of getting the bye makes Sunday’s matchup at the Cardinals a huge one. “We gotta play it like it’s our last game and play like it’s a must-win game,” Fowler said. “… We know what’s in front of us. We’ve just got to go take it.” The Rams close the season at home against the 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers: On the practice squad before the season, Nick Mullens continues to impress head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was asked Monday if he planned to get C.J. Beathard any work in the final two games. “Nick deserves to be in,” Shanahan said. “Nick’s played very well, and he’s gotten better as he’s gone. I thought yesterday was probably Nick’s best game, especially the way he finished it in that fourth quarter. … He’s done too good of a job. We’d love to get C.J. more playing time, but Nick’s earned it and I’m not taking him out.” Looking forward to next year when starter Jimmy Garoppolo will be healthy, Shanahan is excited about his quarterback trio. “It’s neat when you have some choices that you believe you can win with,” he said. “I think we’ve got three guys in our building that give us a chance to win.”

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks emerged from Sunday’s overtime loss at San Francisco with a few key injuries, but they could be getting reinforcements for Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Head coach Pete Carroll said linebacker K.J. Wright (knee) will return to practice this week, though it’s unclear if he’ll play for the first time since Week 10. “He’s going to practice this week, so we’ll see how he does,” Carroll said on 710 ESPN Seattle. “He looked fine last week in the amount of work that we gave him.” Right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) also has a chance to return, which would be a major boost after replacement Jordan Simmons went down with a knee injury that Caroll said “is going to be an issue.”

–Field Level Media

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Titans RB Henry passes Campbell’s two-game mark

Titans RB Henry passes Campbell's two-game mark

Houston

Titans RB Henry passes Campbell’s two-game mark

Houston Texans: Running back D’Onta Foreman could make his season debut when the Texans play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Foreman is 13 months removed from his last NFL carry after suffering a torn Achilles but has been progressing in practices. Another factor is that starter Lamar Miller departed last Saturday’s game against the New York Jets with an ankle injury and he may turn out to be a game-day decision. Houston coach Bill O’Brien knows what we wants to see from Foreman should he be active against the Eagles. “Obviously, good vision,” O’Brien told the media Monday. “Good knowledge of how the play’s being blocked, decisive running, continuing to improve in his knowledge of pass protection. Just good, solid play. Take care of the ball, No. 1.”

Indianapolis Colts: Indianapolis is one of the hottest teams in the NFL with seven wins in eight games and is one of three 8-6 teams — along with the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans — fighting for an AFC playoff spot. Sunday’s 23-0 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was a dominating performance on both sides of the ball and has the franchise hopeful of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014. “We’re playing great football,” receiver T.Y. Hilton told reporters. “Right now you’re either the train or you’re on the tracks. Right now we’re rolling, so you better get on the train.” Quarterback Andrew Luck professes to be hearing none of the playoff chatter. “We don’t live in holes, but I haven’t heard talk about it all and that’s not a lie,” Luck said.

Jacksonville Jaguars: A season of high expectations continues to be miserable for the Jaguars and veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said the preseason optimism makes the hard fall hurt even worse. “This is as bad as it gets,” Campbell told reporters. “I truly believed we were capable of winning a Super Bowl this year, and we underachieved at the highest level. It’s all bad. That’s hard to deal with sometimes. But at the end of the day, you have to take it for what it’s worth and try to learn from it.” Campbell said the season isn’t entirely lost because there are lessons can be learned. “They’re going to learn tough lessons,” Campbell said. “Hopefully, we can use this kind of season to give us that motivation going forward. I guess if there are any positives to take it’s that there are a lot of lessons to be learned that can be beneficial to this team going forward.”

Tennessee Titans: Running back Derrick Henry set a franchise record with 408 rushing yards over a two-game span, surpassing legendary Hall of Famer Earl Campbell (405 in 1980) from the club’s Houston Oilers’ era. Henry had just 474 yards through 12 games before suddenly emerging as a force. Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said Henry’s “confidence is through the roof.” Another factor may be that the 24-year-old Henry has fresh legs after averaging just 10.7 carries through the first 12 games before averaging 25 over the past two. “I think that Derrick has to be 23, 24 years old, so I hope that his legs stay fresh,” Vrabel said. “I see how hard (he works). He is one of our offseason award winners for how hard he trained in the offseason, and the amount of work he puts in. So I know he is in great condition.”

–Field Level Media

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Raiders’ Gruden recalls Oakland Coliseum memories

Raiders' Gruden recalls Oakland Coliseum memories

Denver Broncos: The

Raiders’ Gruden recalls Oakland Coliseum memories

Denver Broncos: The Broncos (6-8) are officially out of playoff contention, but they still have a milestone to play for. The team hasn’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, a streak it would keep alive with wins over the Raiders and Chargers over the final two weeks. “Absolutely,” head coach Vance Joseph told the media Monday when asked if that’s a goal. “We want to win. These next two games are important for us to finish the right way. That part is very important to me. It’s about winning. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about losing, it’s about winning. That’s very important to our football team and our coaches.”

Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry’s return to the playing field for the first time since the 2017 opener was without setbacks, but the team will remain patient in increasing his snaps. “He’ll continue to increase time and we’ll see how that disperses out there and what the plan will be for this coming week,” head coach Andy Reid said. “The positive was that he came out feeling good. He was sore — he hadn’t played in a long time.” Meanwhile, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is “not ready yet” in his recovery from a spiral fracture in his leg that required surgery, but Reid said he still has a shot at returning sometime this season.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers emerged from Thursday night with not only a victory over the Chiefs, but also nine days to prepare for the Baltimore Ravens. The extra time was ideal, head coach Anthony Lynn said, given the schematic complexity of the Ravens’ offense. “You’re playing a team that is really unconventional compared to what we’ve seen all year with that rushing attack, so many schemes and the way they’re using their quarterback,” Lynn said. “They’re using their quarterback like a running back. It makes it difficult for a defense. You have to be disciplined, you have to be in your gaps. There’s a lot to prepare for.”

Oakland Raiders: With a legal dispute ongoing between the city of Oakland and the Raiders, Sunday’s game against the Broncos could be the last game the Raiders ever play at the Oakland Coliseum. Head coach Jon Gruden, who coached in the stadium for four years from 1998-2001, will miss the environment. “Just raging in the Black Hole,” Gruden recalled of his favorite memories. “Rocking and raging down there after the Steeler game in Week 14, after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of great Raider teams, I get excited. I get emotional about it, and hopefully we get it all resolved so we can continue to play there.” The Raiders’ home in 2019 remains unclear as they await moving into a new stadium in Las Vegas in 2020.

–Field Level Media

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Simplified offense energizes Vikings

Simplified offense energizes Vikings

Chicago Bears: A division title in

Simplified offense energizes Vikings

Chicago Bears: A division title in hand doesn’t mean Bears head coach Matt Nagy is ready to back off the accelerator. The Bears could still be as low as the No. 4 seed in the NFC depending on the results of the final two games. “Right now, we’ve got to win,” Nagy said Monday. Winning could come with its challenges as linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) and safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) are down with injuries. Nagy said the team is hopeful neither injury is season-ending, but there are no expectations yet for their Week 16 status.

Detroit Lions: Players are not using the term spoiler, but the Lions are geared up for Minnesota — a division opponent that whipped Detroit 24-9 and sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford 10 times last month. “If you love to play this game, every time you go out there is another opportunity to do the best you can,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “We still have a lot to play for. We all want to finish strong.” Offensive tackle Taylor Decker said the Lions want to win to fight through “growing pains” and establish an identity moving forward.

Green Bay Packers: Outside linebacker Clay Matthews said the Packers will keep fighting despite falling out of playoff contention with Sunday’s loss at Chicago. “I don’t think anybody anticipated having a losing season. It is what it is,” Matthews said. “We’re that close to having this whole thing flipped, but that’s all you can say in hindsight. We just haven’t done enough. We haven’t made those few plays that usually turn the game in our favor.”

Minnesota Vikings: Simplifying the offense was a goal of head coach Mike Zimmer’s when he made a change at offensive coordinator last week, elevating quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to the play-calling role. Zimmer liked the result Sunday — 220 rushing yards and 41 points in a win over the Dolphins — but said not to oversell what happened in the build up to Week 14. “We ran like one play 10 times but with 10 different variations, so sometimes that’s what it is too,” Zimmer said Monday. “You format it differently and you get them in different looks so they can’t key on one thing, but you’re basically running the same play.”

–Field Level Media

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Garrett: Cockiness not Cowboys’ problem vs. Colts

Garrett: Cockiness not Cowboys' problem vs. Colts

Dallas Cowboys: While five straight wins lifted the

Garrett: Cockiness not Cowboys’ problem vs. Colts

Dallas Cowboys: While five straight wins lifted the Cowboys to the top of the NFC East, did they also help Dallas get a little too cocky? That question was asked of head coach Jason Garrett at his weekly news conference Monday following his team’s 23-0 loss at Indianapolis, but that’s not the way he sees it. “I think the best thing we’ve done here over the last five weeks is we understand the challenges of the game and I think we’ve been mentally tough over the course of these last five games” Garrett said. “… We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win the game yesterday. Period. … It’s really as simple as that.” He later added: “Ultimately (the Colts) ran the ball too easily in the game.”

New York Giants: Despite his team officially eliminated from playoff contention, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said quarterback Eli Manning will start Week 16 at the Indianapolis Colts, avoiding the temptation to start fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta. “I think we’re going to try to put the player in that gives us the best chance to win,” Shurmur said. “We’ll see if that involves Kyle. … Eli playing QB I think gives us the best chance to win.” The coach also indicated the team isn’t in a hurry to move on from Manning, whom Shurmur said he still believes has “years” left as an NFL starter. “Yeah (I want Manning back in 2019),” Shurmur said. “I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters.”

Philadelphia Eagles: A day after Nick Foles led the Eagles to a road win against the Los Angeles Rams, coach Doug Pederson announced the Super Bowl MVP will get the start again in Week 16. Carson Wentz remains out with a back injury but will not yet be placed on injured reserve, Pederson said while discussing his team’s approach toward the Houston Texans next weekend. “It will be Nick (starting). Where Carson is health-wise and just another week of rest for Carson will help him. So we made the decision to go forward with Nick. We will not put Carson on IR.” Wentz has a fractured vertebra that might require three months of rest to fully heal.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins not only broke a four-game losing streak Sunday but also kept their playoff hopes alive. And they did it despite quarterback Josh Johnson making his first start since 2011. One thing that may have helped Johnson settle in was a piece of advice coach Jay Gruden gave him before the game: “Calm down.” But why did Gruden think Johnson needed to calm down? “I saw him playing catch and he threw one 180 miles an hour at the guy and almost killed him,” Gruden said. “So yeah, I told him to relax, calm down and then everything’s going to be fine. But he’s got a lot of poise for a guy who just got here and a lot of confidence.”

–Field Level Media

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Falcons face decision on RB Coleman

Falcons face decision on RB Coleman

Falcons face decision on RB Coleman

Atlanta Falcons: Tevin Coleman rushed for a career-best 145 yards in Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals to at least temporarily pump life into the team’s sagging running game. Coleman’s big outing boosted the Falcons out of the cellar of the NFL rankings — they are now 31st at 90.7 yards per game — and may prompt Atlanta to decide to make a bid to retain his services. The fourth-year back’s contract runs out after the season, and receiver Julio Jones hopes the team brings him back. “I mean, he’s an amazing running back,” Jones said of Coleman. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s one of the best backs in the league, by far. His speed, his vision, everything about him.” Coleman has rushed for a career-best 704 this season while Devonta Freeman — the NFL’s third-highest paid back — has been limited to two games due to various injuries. Meanwhile, rookie back Ito Smith will go on injured reserve to have knee surgery, meaning even more work for Coleman in the final two weeks.

Carolina Panthers: Host the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.

New Orleans Saints: Visit the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea flashed his potential with nine tackles in Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens after accumulating just 12 in his first 10 NFL appearances. The 12th overall pick injured a calf muscle early in training camp and missed the entire preseason as well as the first three regular-season games. That left him behind in conditioning, and then he was initially overwhelmed by how fast the game is played in the NFL. “I think now I’m just comfortable with it,” Vea told reporters. “The game’s slowed down for me. Just getting back in the flow of things.” Coach Dirk Koetter was impressed with what he saw from Vea against the Ravens. “Vita is really starting to play exactly like we watched on his college tape,” Koetter said during a press conference. “He’s playing violent, he’s running to the football, getting off blocks so much better and making plays laterally as well as just knocking the line of scrimmage back.”

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Foles to start again for Eagles

NFL notebook: Foles to start again for Eagles

NFL notebook: Foles to start again for Eagles

Nick Foles will make another start for the Philadelphia Eagles after leading a 30-23 upset of the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night, coach Doug Pederson announced Monday.

Carson Wentz remains out with a back injury but will not yet be placed on injured reserve, Pederson said of the Eagles’ approach to Week 16 against the Houston Texans.

Wentz has a fractured vertebra that might require three months of rest to fully heal.

Foles finished 24 of 31 for 270 yards and an interception Sunday as the Eagles put up 30 points in a game for just the second time this season.

–The New York Giants were officially eliminated from postseason contention Sunday, but coach Pat Shurmur said Monday he would start quarterback Eli Manning again in Week 16 at the Indianapolis Colts.

Shurmur didn’t rule out the possibility of fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta seeing more action, but he was clear the Giants won’t just be evaluating talent for the future. The coach also indicated the team isn’t in a hurry to move on from Manning, whom Shurmur said he still believes has “years” left as an NFL starter.

Asked if he wants Manning back on the roster in 2019, Shurmur replied, “Yeah. I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters.”

–Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore is expected to miss the remainder of the season after being carted off the field Sunday due to a sprained left foot.

Further tests revealed the extent of the sprain, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the 35-year-old is not expected to play again this season.

–Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed that cornerback Kendall Fuller had surgery to repair a wrist injury, but contrary to previous reports, Reid said Fuller may not miss any time at all.

On Friday, NFL Network reported that Fuller, 23, was to undergo surgery and likely miss time with a fractured wrist, an injury he played with Thursday in a one-point loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

–Eddie Jackson appears to have escaped major injury, Bears coach Matt Nagy told reporters, after the safety went down late Sunday in Chicago’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

Nagy said Jackson, who sprained his right ankle, and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hurt his elbow, were both having more tests done Monday on their injuries. Nagy added, “I don’t think either one of them is season-ending.”

–Things appear to be trending up for Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and running back Melvin Gordon as they recover from knee injuries.

Henry, who has spent all year on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his ACL on May 22, practiced Monday for the first time since the injury, opening a three-week window in which he can be activated to the 53-man roster.

Gordon plans to play Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens after missing the last two games with knee sprain. He was limited in practice Monday.

–Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan is out for the season with a broken leg.

Ryan, 27, announced the news himself on Monday morning in a social media post shared across multiple platforms. In his second season with Tennessee after four years with the New England Patriots, Ryan posted 76 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 2018.

–Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen confirmed on Instagram that he underwent an operation to repair the ruptured plantar fascia in his right foot. “Surgery went well and I am on my way towards a full recovery,” he wrote. NFL Network reported that the surgery was performed last week. Olsen has been on injured reserve since Dec. 5.

–Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was placed in the concussion protocol after getting injured Sunday against the Bears, ESPN reported. Cobb, who sat out six games with a hamstring injury earlier this season, has produced 356 yards and two touchdowns on 37 catches this year.

–Jacksonville Jaguars safety Ronnie Harrison, who became a starter after the team cut Barry Church last week, was placed on injured reserve because of a left knee injury. He was hurt Sunday in the first quarter against the Washington Redskins.

–San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will be placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a posterior cruciate ligament sprain in his right knee. Moore recorded seven tackles and defended two passes this season.

–Field Level Media

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Ravens use schedule as motivator again

Ravens use schedule as motivator again

Baltimore Ravens: Safety Eric Weddle gets to see former

Ravens use schedule as motivator again

Baltimore Ravens: Safety Eric Weddle gets to see former teammate Philip Rivers before Christmas, but he’s not in much of a festive move about the Ravens drawing one of the AFC’s best teams — the Los Angeles Chargers — given the rest disparity. “It’s obviously a disadvantage,” Weddle said of the schedule working against Baltimore, with the Chargers having 10 days between Week 15 and Week 16 games. By comparison, the Ravens enter Saturday’s game on less-than-normal rest. “We’re going to use this as motivation,” Weddle said. “It’s stacked up against us. We’re going to be the underdog. No one is going to think we’re going to win. This just adds to the game. Would we like to have 10 days to prepare for one of the best teams in the league? Of course, but we don’t.”

Cincinnati Bengals: Another key skill position player is likely done for the season. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd has a sprained MCL and needs at least two weeks to recover. With only two games remaining, he’s a candidate for injured reserve, where he would join quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, though head coach Marvin Lewis said no decision has been made yet. Boyd reached his goal of becoming the first Cincinnati wide receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season not named Green since Chad Johnson did it in 2009. Now, he’s looking at bigger targets to knock down in 2019. “Hopefully I get into the Pro Bowl. I’ve been working my tail off each and every day,” Boyd said.

Cleveland Browns: Interim head coach Gregg Williams said he believes the Browns are shaking the losing culture that has defined the franchise since returning to the NFL in 1999. But he prefers players focus on the next day, instead of the next milestone on the schedule. At 6-7-1, the Browns are still barely alive in the playoff chase. “I would say that our guys understand there is a good young team in there,” Williams said. “We have to continue to focus on week after week after week on don’t look ahead. Do not look ahead. That is when things start to maybe become more distractions that we were just talking about.”

Pittsburgh Steelers: First-round safety Terrell Edmunds and the Steelers kept Tom Brady & Co. without a touchdown in three red-zone opportunities and without a point in two goal-to-go situations on Sunday, which the rookie said was all part of the mindset implanted by the defense early in the week. “It was like a playoff game for us,” Edmunds said. “We just lost three games in a row. We just have to come together as a team, come together on Tuesday, and keep it going.”

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Elway mulled hiring Mike Shanahan last year

Reports: Elway mulled hiring Mike Shanahan last year

Denver

Reports: Elway mulled hiring Mike Shanahan last year

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway considered firing head coach Vance Joseph last January to hire former Super Bowl-winning Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, according to multiple reports on Monday.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported Elway met with Shanahan — who led the Broncos from 1995 to 2008, winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII with Elway as his quarterback — to discuss the possibility. Per the report, it was also part of the plan to sign free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan coached for two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

According to multiple reports, Elway’s idea was not supported by Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, who wanted a full coaching search conducted if the team were to move on from Joseph, who was hired in January of 2017. Elway considered that option before deciding to keep Joseph.

Cousins ultimately signed with the Minnesota Vikings while the Broncos opted for free agent Case Keenum.

Asked Monday about the reports of his near-ouster after last season, Joseph called them “the least of my worries.”

“There have been worse things written about me I’m assuming,” he added. “That’s not my concern.

“… I’m a competitor. But I get it. It’s about winning football games. It’s not my job to hire or fire me. I’m just going to work. As far as that report last year, it didn’t move me at all.”

Joseph appears squarely on the hot seat again, with multiple outlets reporting he is likely to be fired after the season. The Broncos (6-8) will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, and Joseph has gone 11-19 in two seasons leading the team.

Asked if he’s concerned about his future, Joseph replied, “It’s not about me.”

“It’s about my coaches and my players,” he continued. “We have a great staff. It would be tough for me to find a better staff in this league. … Our players each week, they’ve battled, so that’s my only focus and concern. Not my future.”

Denver7 News reports Shanahan is not likely to be a candidate for the head-coaching job in Denver if Joseph is indeed fired this offseason.

The 66-year-old Shanahan has been out of coaching since 2013, and he failed to reach the playoffs in six of his final seven seasons, three with the Broncos and three of four with the Redskins. He has said he would be open to coaching again if the right opportunity presented itself.

The Broncos interviewed Shanahan’s son, Kyle Shanahan, in January of 2017 before hiring Joseph. The San Francisco 49ers made Kyle Shanahan their head coach shortly afterward.

–Field Level Media

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Film Study: How the Steelers finally foiled Brady

Film Study: How the Steelers finally foiled Brady

Film Study: How the Steelers finally foiled Brady

Everybody was waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to fail again.

As detailed in our Week 15 preview, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski & Company torched Pittsburgh’s defense for 173 points in the last five meetings, all New England Patriots victories.

The task was even tougher Sunday, with Pittsburgh’s offense producing just 17 points. Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks, Chris Boswell missed a chip-shot field goal and a forward-progress ruling nullified a strip and recovery by the Steelers’ D in its own red zone.

No matter.

A glaring question mark coming in, Keith Butler’s defense was outstanding … after its first series, anyway.

New England came out and dictated with tempo, creating confusion and easy yards, and then sprung Chris Hogan for the most wide-open catch (18 yards from the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats) by any NFL player this season. The 63-yard touchdown came directly from a matchup-zone coverage bust — one of the Steelers’ concerns we detailed in Thursday’s preview — and looked like a harbinger of another big day for Brady.

Instead, that was almost all New England could muster. The Patriots followed with five consecutive punts, a 13-play, 63-yard field-goal drive that required a pass-interference penalty to convert third-and-16, and two red-zone failures that sealed the game.

After watching Brady dice up their zones for years and solve their man coverage late last season, the Steelers struck a perfect balance on Sunday. On early downs, Butler mixed in five-man pressures with matchup zones; in long-yardage situations, he used more traditional zones (dropping eight at times) but often rotated to them from various disguises; and on most third downs, he opted for 2-man coverage with a key wrinkle.

Rather than leaving his two safeties deep, Butler had them sit 10-12 yards off the line and play aggressively downhill. One of the two (usually rookie Terrell Edmunds) bracketed Gronkowski, who was also matched by a man underneath (usually Sean Davis, whom Gronk exploited in single coverage last year). The other high safety was mostly kept free to double-team routes between the numbers.

The approach dared Brady to throw deep and outside, areas he has struggled to attack with age, and limited Gronkowski to two catches for 21 yards. It also routinely forced Brady to his second or third read, which the Steelers’ pass rush made more difficult by pushing the pocket.

Despite getting home for just one sack, rushers repeatedly put bodies (their own, or New England’s blockers) near Brady’s feet, forcing him to reset and drift rather than stepping up on balance. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt combined for seven QB hits, and even 352-pounder Dan McCullers had a pressure. The payoff came with one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see Brady throw: a hot air balloon off his back foot — as Heyward, Tuitt and Watt converged — on second-and-goal from the 16 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Patriots’ most consistent production came on the ground and off play-action, but game script limited those opportunities. Brady hit Gronkowski and Edelman for a combined 38 yards on back-to-back play-action throws early in the fourth, but New England’s final 15 snaps included 12 straight dropbacks, two runs and one play-action screen as it played catch-up.

Gronkowski’s other grab came when Edmunds played a hair too deep from his 2-high alignment, allowing a key third-and-8 conversion, but Pittsburgh held him to five total targets.

Two of those came in the final three plays, but Gronkowski was actually used as a chip-blocker twice on the final drive — a startling role for the man who had four grabs for 69 yards on the game-winning march last year.

In terms of efficiency, the Steelers weren’t quite as good as 10 points allowed would suggest. New England’s unforced errors included six presnap flags and three or four drops. Pittsburgh also faced just nine drives — it would have been eight if Roethlisberger converted the final third down — as both teams’ rushing success (254 combined yards on 44 carries) shortened the contest. The Pats wound up averaging more yards per play than the Steelers (6.6 to 6.2), with red-zone failures the biggest difference.

Even so, Butler and his unit deserve tremendous credit. Other than an early hiccup, they executed a slew of coverages and disguises with discipline and chemistry. Pass rush aided coverage and vice versa, exactly how you draw it up. And all 11 defenders rallied to the ball like madmen, eating up the screens and quick throws that used to papercut Pittsburgh to death.

Unlike last year, the Steelers have more work to do just to reach January, but if current standings hold, they’ll meet the Patriots again in three weeks. That game would be in Foxborough, but you know what they say: defense travels.

-Colts beat Cowboys with bully ball

The Colts’ win Sunday was no shock, but their methods certainly raised eyebrows.

Indianapolis beat Dallas — riding defense and timely playmaking to a five-game win streak — at its own game. Andrew Luck completed just 16 passes for 192 yards and no scores, but the Colts ran for 178 yards and held the Cowboys to 292 total yards (4.6 per play).

Given his familiarity with his opponent, Colts defensive coordinator (and former Cowboys assistant) Matt Eberflus’ plan was telling. As expected, he favored Cover-3 over Cover-2 to get an extra safety in the box against Ezekiel Elliott, but he also mixed in myriad changeups through blitzes.

Though he rarely rushed more than five, Eberflus sent several defensive backs on blitzes, including some with multiple Dbs. Many came from the slot, but not always — on one third down, outside cornerback Quincy Wilson aligned over the center and rushed the A-gap, an extremely uncommon tactic.

The approach was aimed at speeding up Prescott — whom Eberflus knows well from facing him in practice — mentally while keeping eyes on the mobile QB in zone. Prescott delivered some nice throws, but he let several get away from him, sailing crossers and underthrowing wide-open targets.

Indy’s defensive line gave Dallas’ battered front five fits. Denico Autry, Margus Hunt and 2017 fourth-rounder Grover Stewart fired aggressively off the snap, getting penetration or bench-pressing their man into the backfield. Such aggressiveness creates extra run lanes — Elliott totaled 87 yards on 18 carries — but it also prevents O-linemen from reaching linebackers as easily, keeping stud rookie Darius Leonard and second-year man Anthony Walker clean to make tackles.

The penetration short-circuited many runs, as center Joe Looney (starting for Travis Frederick), right guard Connor Williams (starting for Zack Martin) and left guard Alex Redmond (replacing Xavier Su’a-Filo, who left in the second) reacted too slowly to slants and backside swim moves. Looney failed to reach Hunt on an outside-zone run on perhaps the game’s most critical play, a fourth-and-1 stuff from the Colts’ 3-yard line early in the second quarter.

The D-line also bothered Prescott often with its rush. Outside of intriguing but inconsistent rookie Kemoko Turay — who didn’t play Sunday — the Colts’ front has few rushers reliant on speed or quickness, meaning most are best off going through blockers. That doesn’t always produce sacks (just three Sunday), but it’s better for pushing the pocket, and Prescott was often forced off the spot.

Hunt and Autry (six sacks in his last three games) each put dents in the line, with Autry doing the most damage. Before beating Redmond late for a sack, he forced Looney to drag him down for two holding penalties, including one nullifying a fourth-and-2 conversion in the third quarter. (Autry also blocked Brett Maher’s 48-yard field-goal attempt on the opening drive.)

On the back end, the Colts’ zones were disciplined and cohesive. They held up long enough to create a pair of coverage sacks, including one thwarting a deep play-action design. Leonard showed great awareness for routes and closed quickly to break up two throws to Cole Beasley, tipping one to Walker (who dropped an interception), and knocking another down on fourth-and-1 to open the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir were steady but not standout — like most of the season — each delivering key break-ups.

While Eberflus’ unit stole the show, the Colts’ offense also ran right through a previously stingy Cowboys D. Marlon Mack led a sustained run game with 139 yards and two scores despite a long of just 21. He broke six tackles, gaining at least 4 yards after contact on 10 carries and at least 6 after contact on seven totes.

Indy’s offensive line won with both scheme and physicality. Frank Reich employed all kinds of runs with misdirection elements — most notably trap, but also split zone, pin-and-pull and some arc releases — and there was a clear emphasis on climbing quickly from double teams to reach the Cowboys’ fast young linebackers.

Center Ryan Kelly, left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (often as a puller) landed squarely on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, both of whom have proven adept at slipping blocks. The Colts’ front also handled the Cowboys’ slants and stunts quite smoothly, a testament to their composure and chemistry.

The win was Indianapolis’ seventh in eight games, but this felt different than the others.

We know Andrew Luck is capable of carrying the Colts. If the defense and run game are ready to take turns as well, this team could do serious damage in January (assuming it finds a way in).

-How sustainable is the Vikings’ new offense?

Interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski had one heck of a debut as an NFL playcaller.

The newly promoted quarterbacks coach guided Minnesota to touchdowns on its first three possessions and totals of 41 points and 418 yards. More importantly, the Vikings had the balance Mike Zimmer wanted from John DeFilippo, posting season highs with 220 rushing yards on 40 carries (5.5 average).

But it’s far too simple to say everything is fixed.

There’s a reason DeFilippo was hesitant to run it. The Vikings topped 4.0 yards per carry in just three of their first 13 games, mostly due to an offensive line that struggles to clear lanes and sustain blocks. The group had issues last year too (3.9 ypc) and didn’t really replace retired guard Joe Berger. Even with rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill settling in surprisingly well, the unit remains shaky.

The Dolphins’ wildly inconsistent run defense certainly aided Sunday’s efficiency. Starting tackles Akeem Spence and Davon Godchaux were moved almost at will, and notably up-and-down linebackers Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan swung hard in the latter direction, getting sloppy with their run fits and struggling to shed blocks. Likewise, an inordinate amount of production came against very light boxes — sometimes creating 6-on-6 blocking — and via shoddy tackling by Miami’s cornerbacks, factors that can’t be counted on every week.

Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray ran extremely well, and Stefanski helped them with more use of fullback C.J. Ham (18 snaps, second most this season), adding dimension to run designs. The tight ends and wideouts also blocked well, sealing edges and allowing the backs to bounce.

Perhaps most encouraging from Stefanski’s approach was the overlap between the run and pass game, something DeFilippo’s scheme often lacked. Many of the Vikings’ passes on Sunday came out of run-heavy formations, as Stefanski put Kirk Cousins under center more, used condensed sets and employed motion toward the line to help sell play-action. Cousins, who always thrived off play-action in Washington, responded well, reading the field with definition and delivering accurately from inside and outside the pocket.

The performance wasn’t without hiccups — after Cousins’ pick-six, Minnesota gained just 18 yards total on its next four possessions (excluding the end of the first half) — and there will be bumps moving forward. Stingier run defenses and less favorable game scripts will test Stefanski’s patience. As Zimmer said afterward, “It’s easy (to run it) when you’re getting five and six (yards) a pop.”

Likewise, teams will keep double-teaming wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs (just six catches for 68 yards combined Sunday) and force someone else to beat them.

Kudos to Stefanski for implementing the changes Zimmer wanted and debuting with flying colors. Now let’s see how defenses respond, and whether or not the issues that previously plagued Minnesota’s offense resurface.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Bears S Jackson avoids serious injury

Bears S Jackson avoids serious injury

Chicago Bears safety

Bears S Jackson avoids serious injury

Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson appears to have escaped major injury, head coach Matt Nagy told reporters Monday, after he went down late in Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

Nagy said Jackson, who sprained his right ankle, and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hurt his elbow, are both having more tests done Monday on their injuries, but Nagy added, “I don’t think either one of them is season ending.”

The Bears clinched the NFC North title on Sunday, but getting a first-round playoff bye for an extra week of rest will require help. The Bears need to win out while the Los Angeles Rams to lose one of their last two games or the New Orleans Saints lose two of their final three.

Jackson was hurt while sliding to the turf after intercepting Aaron Rodgers — ending Rodgers’ NFL-record streak of 402 consecutive pass attempts without an pick — to help seal the victory. Jackson’s ankle bent awkwardly, and he was seen in a walking boot in the locker room after the game.

Jackson, 26, had been questionable for Sunday’s game after missing Friday’s practice with a shin injury.

The second-year man has six interceptions, 15 passes defensed and three defensive touchdowns (two on interception returns, one on a fumble return) this season as a key part of the Bears’ defense. Jackson has eight interceptions and five defensive touchdowns in 30 career games.

Lynch, 25, has been effective as the team’s third edge rusher, posting three sacks and eight QB hits on just 353 snaps (40.4 percent) in 13 games.

–Field Level Media

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Shurmur: Manning still Giants’ starter, has ‘years’ left

Shurmur: Manning still Giants' starter, has 'years' left

The New York Giants

Shurmur: Manning still Giants’ starter, has ‘years’ left

The New York Giants were officially eliminated from postseason contention Sunday, but head coach Pat Shurmur said Monday he will start quarterback Eli Manning again in Week 16 at the Indianapolis Colts.

Shurmur didn’t rule out the possibility of fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta seeing more action, but he was clear the Giants won’t just be evaluating talent for the future.

“I think we’re going to try to put the player in that gives us the best chance to win,” Shurmur told reporters. “We’ll see if that involves Kyle. … Eli playing QB I think gives us the best chance to win.”

The coach also indicated the team isn’t in a hurry to move on from Manning, whom Shurmur said he still believes has “years” left as an NFL starter.

Asked if he wants Manning back on the roster in 2019, Shurmur replied, “Yeah. I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters.”

Lauletta saw brief action in garbage time of a blowout win in Week 14, but he went 0 for 5 with an interception and was not active for Sunday’s shutout loss to the Tennessee Titans. Alex Tanney dressed as the backup instead.

Previous reports have said the Giants planned to give Lauletta and perhaps Tanney a look once the team was eliminated from playoff contention, but Shurmur has been supportive of Manning as his starter throughout the season.

Meanwhile, Shurmur also noted the team won’t shut down wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has missed the last two games with a quad injury.

“Odell is going through treatment and doing everything he can to get back,” Shurmur said. “We’re hopeful he’ll work his way back for this Sunday.”

Beckham was initially hurt late in Week 12 but played through the issue in Week 13 before sitting out the last two weeks. He missed the final 11 games of the 2017 season with a broken ankle.

–Field Level Media

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Chiefs CB Fuller could play despite surgery

Chiefs CB Fuller could play despite surgery

Chiefs CB Fuller could play despite surgery

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed Monday that cornerback Kendall Fuller had surgery to repair a wrist injury, but contrary to previous reports, Reid said Fuller may not miss any time at all.

On Friday, NFL Network reported that Fuller, 23, was to undergo surgery and likely miss time with a fractured wrist, an injury he played with Thursday in a one-point loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

On Monday, Reid said the third-year player could play this Sunday despite the procedure.

“Kendall Fuller did have surgery on his hand,” Reid said. “He’s doing well. This is a short-term thing, so there’s a good chance that he has an opportunity in the game coming up here.”

Reid added that the team will be prepared in the event Fuller could not play against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night, specifically noting that rookies Tremon Smith and Charvarius Ward are “making progress.”

“We’ll be okay there if we have to play some other guys there, if (Fuller’s) not there,” Reid said.

Fuller, acquired in an offseason trade with Washington that sent quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins, has started all 14 games this season and has 70 tackles, two interceptions, 12 passes defensed and a forced fumble for Kansas City.

The Chiefs are 11-3 and currently occupy the top spot in the AFC playoff race. But the Chargers are also 11-3, and any slip-up could drop the Chiefs from the top seed to the No. 5 seed.

After visiting Seattle on Sunday, Kansas City closes the season at home against Oakland.

–Field Level Media

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Chargers TE Henry practices; RB Gordon eyes return

Chargers TE Henry practices; RB Gordon eyes return

Things appear to be trending up for Los

Chargers TE Henry practices; RB Gordon eyes return

Things appear to be trending up for Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and running back Melvin Gordon as they recover from knee injuries.

Henry, who has spent all year on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his ACL on May 22, practiced Monday for the first time since the injury, opening a three-week window in which he can be activated to the 53-man roster.

Henry did some individual drills and worked on the side, though no timeline for his return has been established. Still less than seven months removed from the injury, he appears unlikely to play this season, but perhaps a deep playoff run could give him time to get back on the field.

“You got to think about (the long-term implications),” Henry told reporters. “If I feel good, I’m going to give it my best shot. You don’t get a team like this a lot. I’ve already seen that in just two years of being here, so you have to take advantage of trying to get back out there.”

Meanwhile, Gordon plans to play Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens after missing the last two games with knee sprain. He was limited in practice Monday after coming “very close,” per head coach Anthony Lynn, to playing against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.

“I don’t want to get to the playoffs and be rusty,” Gordon told reporters. “I know Baltimore has a real good defense. It would have been good to hop back and knock some rust off against the Chiefs, but it’s also a challenge to come knock some rust off against one of the best defenses in the league.”

Lynn acknowledged Gordon would probably have played in Kansas City if the game had been on Sunday, and he’ll now have more than a week to prepare for the Ravens.

Backup running back Austin Ekeler is further away, as he remains in concussion protocol after being concussed and bruising a nerve in Week 14.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen, who missed much of Thursday’s win with a hip injury, was limited to individual drills in Monday’s practice.

Despite beating the Chiefs and equaling their record at 11-3, the Chargers need to pick up another game on their rivals in the final two weeks to win the division. L.A. visits Denver in Week 17, while Kansas City visits Seattle this week before hosting Oakland in the finale.

–Field Level Media

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Belichick not worried about Pats’ run D

Belichick not worried about Pats' run D

Buffalo Bills:

Belichick not worried about Pats’ run D

Buffalo Bills: While his team sits at 5-9 and he continues to rely on young players who bring little fanfare, coach Sean McDermott actually believes such reliance is proof his plan is working. “It’s really the type of culture we’re trying to build where I can walk into the team meeting room on Wednesday morning and say, ‘Hey, Player X has earned the right to be brought up to the active roster,'” McDermott said during his Monday news conference, noting he played six undrafted rookies Sunday. “And the players, I think they really get a lot of motivation out of that and take pride in that because they know what type of culture we’re trying to build and that you’ve got to earn things here.”

Miami Dolphins: With veteran Frank Gore likely out the remainder of the season with a foot injury, Dolphins coach Adam Gase has some evaluating to do at running back these last two games. One back likely to get more carries is rookie Kalen Ballage. After rushing for a total of 11 yards in his first nine games, Ballage broke out with 123 yards — including a 75-yard score — against the Vikings. But don’t count Gase among those surprised. “That long run he had, that’s how he runs every day (at practice),” Gase said. “That’s how he finishes every day. … When he gets a carry with the offense, he finishes in the end zone.”

New England Patriots: The Patriots have surrendered at least 150 yards rushing five times this season and are 1-4 in those games. That includes the last two games, both losses. But don’t expect Bill Belichick to place a renewed emphasis on stopping the run as the postseason approaches. “Look, each week you try to defend whatever the offense your opponents do — running game and passing game, situational football, third down, red area and everything else,” Belichick said during his weekly conference call. “So, what you do is a function of what they do, and that’s really more of a week-to-week thing for us. Whatever the league trends are or aren’t, I don’t really know that it matters. … It doesn’t really matter what the whole league does.”

New York Jets: While the Jets on Saturday hit double-digit losses for the third straight season and fourth time in five seasons, this offseason is sure to be different with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold providing the franchise plenty of hope for the future. Coach Todd Bowles may not be around to see Darnold develop beyond this season, but he offered his take on a key to Darnold’s success, and it’s not necessarily his arm. “He got out of the pocket and made some plays. He gave us a chance to try and win the ball game,” Bowles said during a conference call on Sunday. “He’s getting comfortable, he’s making plays with his feet and he’s finding the open areas.”

–Field Level Media

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