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  • Offensive woes continue for Ravens
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have a short week to find some healthy receivers, fix an inconsistent offense that struggles to score touchdowns and stop opposing running backs from amassing huge chunks of yards.

    • The Ravens have lost four of their past five games, falling to 3-4 on the season. They have to regroup quickly before facing the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night to help keep a potential playoff run intact.

      Baltimore likely needs to win seven of its final nine games to make the playoffs, according to head coach John Harbaugh. That challenge continues on a short week.

      "We have a lot of tough guys," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "It's about mental toughness. You have to put everything aside, ignore the noise and go out there and fight. We have a bunch of guys I know who will do that."

      After wide receiver Mike Wallace was forced to leave the game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, the Ravens had to play without their three top receivers, with Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) already inactive.

      This meant quarterback Joe Flacco had few weapons at his disposal and the result was predictable. Flacco was sacked five times and Baltimore managed just 80 total yards in the first half in the eventual 24-16 loss.

      Baltimore hopes to get healthier for the Dolphins, who also boast an imposing defense.

      "I wouldn't say we're overall trying to fix something that's completely broken," Flacco said. "We can't look at it that way. We got to keep our heads up and play one game at a time. This is where we are right now. There's nothing we can do to go back in time and change it at this point."

      The Ravens' defense also allowed more than 100 yards on the ground for the fifth straight game. Part of the issue is Baltimore's defenders are left on the field for long stretches after the offense goes three-and-out.

      The defense is also under pressure to make game-changing plays. The Ravens have managed just four total takeaways in their four losses, and 11 in their wins.

      "The team is built around defense, it's just disappointing," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We are not playing good football right now. I don't really have any answers for you. Defensively? Yeah, defensively we are not playing really good football."

      --The return of defensive tackle Brandon Williams was supposed to help the run defense. The results, however, were about the same.

      Williams was back in the lineup Sunday against the Vikings after missing the past four games with a foot injury. Baltimore allowed 169.5 yards per game and went 1-3 without Williams in the lineup.

      Even with Williams able to play, the Vikings ran for 169 yards on 33 carries. Latavius Murray led the way with 113 yards and a touchdown. Despite those gaudy numbers, Williams felt the team made progress.

      "I feel like we did well," Williams said. "I mean we still gave up over 100 yards, which is unacceptable for us but, it's definitely better than 231 yards last week."

      Still, the defense is going to have to play much better for the team to have any shot at the playoffs. Williams is confident the entire unit can raise its level of play.

      "Obviously the Ravens defense is historical here," Williams said. "We know that it comes down to us getting out there and keeping offenses at bay. At the same time, I am proud of my guys. We only gave up one offensive touchdown -- the rest were field goals. I am proud of my guys. They are fighting their butts off, just doing everything they possibly can to keep it a close game. I wouldn't go to war with anyone else."

      --"Zero."

      That's how Ravens safety Eric Weddle described the team's margin for error after losing for the fourth time in five games. Baltimore is 3-4 and trails the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) by two games in the AFC North.

      The Ravens likely need to reach 10 wins for any shot in the postseason. The team has missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. Players and coaches acknowledge there is pressure to end that drought.

      Despite the struggles on both sides of the ball, Weddle is confident the Ravens can bounce back this season.

      "I think we are going to win every game, so I don't really understand a question like that," Weddle said. "Do you want me to say we are going to lose next week? I think we are going to win every game, until the season is done and I can't play anymore games. If anyone else says otherwise, they probably shouldn't be on the team."

      NOTES: TE Gavin Escobar was signed Monday to give quarterback Joe Flacco another target downfield. Escobar is a 2013 second-round pick by the Cowboys and had 30 receptions for 333 yards and eight touchdowns during his career in Dallas. In a corresponding move, OL Tony Bergstrom was released. ... WR Mike Wallace was placed in the concussion protocol in the first quarter Sunday against Minnesota and did not return. Wallace lost his helmet and smacked his head against the turf on a hit by safety Andrew Sendejo, who was penalized and then suspended Monday for one game. Wallace had one catch for 9 yards. He also missed practice last week because of a sore back. ... WR Griff Whalen, who was signed last week because of injuries, had an effective debut. He had four catches for 23 yards and showed solid hands. ... DE Carl Davis was available after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. Davis is supposed to help fill the void left by Brent Urban, who is out with a season-ending foot injury.

      REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Quarterback Joe Flacco was 27 of 39 for 186 yards with a touchdown, playing with a depleted group of receivers. He was sacked five times and under pressure most of the game. There is no quick-fix for the offense.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Baltimore could not get its running game going against the Vikings' stout defense. The Ravens finished with 64 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Alex Collins had 30 yards on 10 carries and has been their biggest spark on offense.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C -- Vikings quarterback Case Keenum was 20 of 31 for 188 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 67.7. Baltimore's corners, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, were solid in coverage, but the safeties, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, struggle to make tackles.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Ravens allowed 169 yards on the ground even with defensive tackle Brandon Williams back in the lineup. This unit was supposed to be the strength of the team, but were ranked last in the NFL after Sunday's game.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- It's usually not a good sign when your best players are your kicker and punter. But that's how it went for Baltimore. Justin Tucker converted all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 57-yarder. Sam Koch had a 60-yard punt. There were breakdowns in coverage as the Vikings returned three punts for 83 yards.

      --COACHING: D -- The Ravens lost for the fourth time in five games and trail the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers by two games in the AFC North. The coaches are limited by their personnel, but the results are still disappointing. Despite several votes of confidence by owner Steve Bisciotti, Baltimore likely needs to finish the season strong or there could be a shakeup with the coaching staff.

  • Sarkisian and Falcons offense on hot seat
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan nearly had his streak of passing for 200 yards or more snapped against the New England Patriots.

    • Ryan was at 161 with 13:46 left in the fourth quarter. With some late connections against soft zones, Ryan was able to finish with 233 yards passing.

      Ryan has passed for 200 yards or more in 61 straight games. He has also thrown a touchdown pass in 24 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.

      Before his late touchdown pass to Julio Jones, they went 90 minutes, 21 seconds without scoring. They got a cheap touchdown late on a spectacular catch by Jones with 4:06 left in the game.

      The Falcons had last scored with 5:29 left in the second quarter against Miami, while giving up 43 points (20 to Miami, 23 to New England) going through their scoring drought.

      Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the former head coach at USC and Washington, hasn't been in the NFL since 2004 when he was Oakland's quarterbacks coach.

      Some contend that the Jet sweep he called on fourth-and-goal from the 1 probably worked in the Pac-12 against Arizona or perhaps even Oregon.

      It didn't work against the Patriots, who scored on a similar play to Brandin Cooks when tight end Rob Gronkowski was the lead blocker. But it was fourth-and-goal.

      But the Falcons, with Sarkisian at the controls and just two new starters, look like a shell of the offense that led the NFL in scoring and landed Ryan the most valuable player award.

      "It is frustrating," center Alex Mack said. "The key is to continue working hard. It's a long season. A lot of games are left."

      The Falcons don't have the appearance of a playoff team while sitting at 3-3 in the NFC South. They need to get better in a hurry with games coming up against the Jets (away), Panthers (away) and Cowboys (home).

      The Falcons were 1-4 in the red zone against the Patriots.

      "There were plays out there and we didn't make them," Mack said. "Whether if it's third down, red zone all of those little things add up. When you are playing a game against a good team like the Patriots are, you have to make them."

      The Falcons believe they know how to fix their offense.

      "We just need to do better in the red zone," Mack said. "I think we have more production on first and second down, get better on third down and better in the red zone. Once, we're there we should make plays."

      The Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game last season.

      "Last year, people stepped up and made plays, Mack said. "That's all that it takes."

      The fact that the Falcons struggle against the Patriots defense is alarming. New York Jets journeyman quarterback Josh McCown passed for 354 yards against the Patriots last week.

      Left tackle Jake Matthews was asked, "What's wrong with the offense?"

      "If you look at our numbers, we are moving the ball," Matthews said. "We are having trouble finishing in the red zone and on third down."

      Jones was asked what's wrong with the offense.

      "Every week it's kind of different," Jones said. "Last week, we didn't take shots down the field. This week it was third down and the red area. We just weren't on the same page and weren't connected."

      How of much of it is on the first-time NFL offensive coordinator?

      "I think it's on all of us," running back Devonta Freeman said. "Nobody can point fingers at nobody."

      --Defensive end Adrian Clayborn said Monday that when he was called for roughing the passer in Sunday night's loss at New England to wipe out an interception by Robert Alford, officials told him it was because he hit quarterback Tom Brady high.

      Two plays after the penalty, Brady threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks and New England led 7-0 early in the second quarter. The Patriots went on to a 23-7 win in a rematch of Super Bowl LI.

      "(The official) said it was high, but I don't know," Clayborn said. "I felt like it was shoulder-to-shoulder, but they've got to do their job and make the call. It is what it is."

      --If there was any good news to come out of New England Sunday night, it was that the Falcons (3-3) came out of their game against the Patriots relatively healthy. Rookie linebacker Duke Riley apparently was the only player to sustain an injury that might affect his availability for Sunday's road game against the Jets (3-4). He was to get an MRI on his knee Monday.

      Riley was seen leaving the team facility Monday afternoon with an electrical stimulation kit, although he wasn't wearing it at the time.

      "We'll get more information today, he was going to get an MRI," head coach Dan Quinn said. "It went as a sprain, but I haven't met with the medical to get a full indication yet."

      --Linebacker Deion Jones had a slight limp Monday for unknown reasons, but coach Dan Quinn said he doesn't believe there are any other Falcons players whose status might be in jeopardy against New York.

      --The Falcons have major problems with their leaky run defense.

      The Falcons rebuilt the interior of their defense when they elected not to re-sign veterans Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Babineaux. They signed Jack Crawford and Dontari Poe in free agency to essentially replace Jackson and Babineaux.

      Crawford suffered a torn biceps and is out of the season. The Falcons also parted ways with defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, once his domestic violence case was settled.

      Poe was signed to a one-year, $8 million deal. The former Pro Bowler was expected to help improve the run defense.

      "We have a lot to improve on since we didn't win the game," Poe said. "We have a lot to improve on. That's part of it."

      The Patriots had mostly relied on the passing of Tom Brady this season.

      Dion Lewis rushed 13 times for 76 yards, Rex Burkhead rushed six times for 31 yards, Mike Gillislee rushed eight times for 31 yards, James White rushed four times for 19 yards and Brady had five rushes for five yards.

      The Falcons gave up a season-high 162 yards rushing.

      "They can run and pass and that just so happens to be what they did," Poe said.

      --One theory is that the Falcons didn't get to work on the timing of their deep passing game over the offseason because Julio Jones (toe) and speedy wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (lower leg) were out injured.

      The Falcons continued to miss on their deep passes in the 23-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

      Ryan was 0 of 4 when throwing deep passes of 20 or more yards down the field against New England. He now is 4 of 23 on deep throws this year and has a 74.4 passer rating on those throws, which ranks 24th out of 33 quarterbacks, according to profootballfocus.com

      --The offense recorded 343 total yards of offense and 6.1 yards per play against New England. The team also recorded 120 rushing yards, the fifth straight game the team has rushed for 100 yards or more.

      NOTES: QB Matt Ryan completed 23-of-33 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown, and had a 99.7 passer rating. ... WR Julio Jones caught nine passes for 99 yards and his first touchdown of the season. On his second catch of the game, Jones broke the 8,000-yard mark, becoming the second fastest player in NFL history to reach 8,000 receiving yards. His touchdown moved him into sole possession of fourth place on the franchise's career receiving touchdown list (41). ... LB De'Vondre Campbell recorded a sack-forced fumble in the first quarter. That's the second sack of the season for Campbell and his first forced fumble of the year. ... OLB Vic Beasley Jr. also recorded his third sack of the season. He now has 22.5 sacks, which is the most in a player's first three seasons in franchise history. ... LB Deion Jones finished the game with 11 total tackles.

      REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F - Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's string of consecutive games passing for at least 200 yards was at stake. He had 161 yards on 14 of 24 passes with 13:46 left to play. The return of Mohamed Sanu was helpful, but the passing game is not clicking. Ryan only targeted the running backs against the shaky New England linebackers twice. Tight end Austin Hooper, who dropped a key pass against the Dolphins, was not a part of the game plan. Levine Toilolo started and Hooper did not receive any passes until late in the fourth quarter. Running back Tevin Coleman, who did have a bad dropped pass against the Patriots, is being phased out of the passing game as the Falcons are probing to find ways to jump-start the offense. Last season, Coleman led all running backs with 2.54 yards per route run and averaged 13.3 routes run per game, according to profootballfocus.com. Through four games this year, Coleman averaged the same 13.3 routes run per game, but increased his efficiency to 3.00 yards per route run. In the past two games, however, he has run just 16 total routes, and seen only two targets for four yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B - The Falcons tried get the running game going early, but were stymied. Devonta Freeman had five carries for 16 yards and Coleman had three carries for five yards in the first half. Freeman rushed 12 times for 72 yards and Coleman rushed six times for 16 yards. The running backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry and have been more involved in the game plan. When the run game is shut down, Ryan is not effective with his play-action fakes. The Falcons refused to run power offense again. They called a jet sweep to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter, down 20-0. Head coach Dan Quinn admitted that the team needed a better call in that situation.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - The Falcons did a credible job on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (three catches for 51 yards), but quarterback Tom Brady moved the ball around to wide receivers Chris Hogan, Brandin Crooks and Danny Amendola. Much like he did in Super Bowl LI, Brady used running back James White as the check-down back.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: F - The Patriots, using a committee approach, ran the ball at will against the Falcons. The Patriots had 36 carries for 162 yards. The total was the highest the Falcons have given up this season. The previous high of 138 yards was given up to Miami last week. The Falcons have given up more than 100 yards rushing in the each of the past three games. The run defense was gashed again. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, who was sought by the Falcons in free agency, did most of the damage. The Patriots were able to find success running through the middle of the Falcons defense, which was without linebacker Duke Riley for most of the game. He suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: F - The Falcons' second possession ended with Matt Bryant's 37-yard field-goal attempt being blocked by reserve defensive end Cassius Marsh. The right side of the line was collapsed. Bryant later hit the left upright on a missed 36-yard field goal. Matt Bosher had 4.73 seconds of hangtime on his first punt of the game, a high and unreturnable 35-yarder. Andre Roberts has been a disappointment as a returner.

      --COACHING: F - In the much-hyped Super Bowl LI rematch, the Falcons were not ready to play. They were out-coached in all phases of the game. The Patriots took it to defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. The Falcons' run defense is getting pushed around with defenders getting blocked out of the gaps they are supposed to control. The once-potent offense has clearly taken a step back. Last week, it was a botched snap by the special teams. This week they collapse.

  • Colts appear to be in free-fall
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Frustration. Resolve.

    • Those are a couple of the emotions that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano displayed Monday in discussing his team's 27-0 home-field loss to AFC South rival Jacksonville on Sunday.

      The team's fortunes need to get turned around in a hurry. Indianapolis has now lost two in a row and the road ahead is littered with potential pitfalls.

      The Colts, now 2-5 for the season, will play their next two games on the road, going to Cincinnati Sunday and playing at Houston the following week. Pittsburgh will be the Colts' next home game Nov. 12.

      "We're not where we want to be. The good news is we have nine weeks left," Pagano stressed.

      "We've dug ourselves a nice little hole. But we have an opportunity to write whatever we want to write. We've written seven chapters. There are nine more to write."

      Pagano stated the obvious in discussing his team's ragged performance against the Jaguars.

      "Never got anything going on either side of the ball. Defensively, we showed some signs, but then had some lapses. Eight plays for 298 yards of offense. You can't win games that way," Pagano said.

      "We knew if we fell behind, it was gonna be really hard. Then we compounded it with a 20-0 deficit at half. It's hard enough when they don't know you're passing, but when they know? It's a hard job."

      Quarterback Jacoby Brissett struggled against Jacksonville. Brissett was sacked 10 times by an opportunistic Jaguars defense. Pagano, though, was quick to come to his defense.

      "We want Jacoby to be a 10-year vet. But he's not. He's young and only been here seven weeks. He's raw," the Colts coach said.

      As for the team's fans, many of whom left the Jacksonville game early, Pagano said that he understood their reaction to how the Colts are playing.

      "We're gonna keep grinding. We're not worried about anything but Cincinnati," he said. "Our fans deserve better than what we put out there (against Jacksonville)."

      --The Colts have lost by 27 points or more nine times under Chuck Pagano (including three times this year). That's the most in the NFL since 2012.

      --Indianapolis suffered its first home-field shutout since 1993 in the 27-0 loss to Jacksonville.

      --The 2-5 Colts are three games under .500 for the first time since 2011.

      --Head coach Chuck Pagano said Monday that he had a private conversation with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton after Hilton's post-game criticism Sunday of the Colts' offensive line play against Jacksonville.

      The coach, however, said that he wouldn't go into specifics of what was said.

      "We'll keep it between us," the coach said, adding that he didn't expect any lingering issues in the locker room.

      NOTES: QB Andrew Luck (right shoulder) will not practice this week. Luck will continue his rehab, however. He will not play at Cincinnati this week. ... Rookie S Malik Hooker (knee) suffered a torn ACL and MCL against the Jaguars. Hooker will miss the remainder of the season. Second-year S T.J. Green is expected to get first crack at replacing Hooker in the starting lineup. ... CB Rashaan Melvin (concussion) will be in the NFL protocol this week. He left the Jacksonville game in the first quarter and did not return. ... OLB John Simon (stinger) is expected to miss some time. At present there is no timetable for how much practice or game time Simon will miss. ... C Ryan Kelly (ankle) will most likely return for limited practice on Wednesday. It's hoped that he will be able to play at Cincinnati Sunday. ... Rookie ILB Anthony Walker (hamstring) was held out of the Jacksonville game. ... Rookie CB Quincy Wilson has been a healthy inactive the last two games. That could change this week. "We are going to get that kid up. He's going to get another opportunity," head coach Chuck Pagano said. ... G/T Denzelle Good (wrist) is expected to return to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Good has been on injured reserve for the last several weeks. ... S Clayton Geathers (neck) will see limited practice this week, probably starting Wednesday.

      REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: D -- QB Jacoby Brissett had a tough day, completing 22 of 37 passes for 200 yards. Brissett ended the day with a 74.2 passer rating. He didn't get much help from his offensive line either. Jacksonville sacked the quarterback 10 times, which is the most ever for a Colts quarterback during the Indianapolis era. The overall franchise record is 12 vs. the Cardinals in 1980. The Indianapolis receivers couldn't get much, if any, separation from the Jacksonville secondary. Tight end Jack Doyle had six catches for 44 yards. RB Marlon Mack added four catches for 40 yards, but also had a couple of key drops on swing passes and screen passes. T.Y. Hilton was limited to two receptions against Jacksonville. Hilton has had just three catches total over the last two games. Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken and Chester Rogers all had two pass receptions.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Indianapolis had a tough time putting together a consistent running attack. As a team, the Colts had 96 yards rushing in 20 rushing attempts. Frank Gore led the way with 34 yards in nine carries. Brissett added 31 yards on five scrambles. Mack showed flashes once again and ended the day with 26 yards on five carries. The running game never got fully untracked, although there were glimpses of what could be. Brissett and Mack both had 14-yard runs. Losing center Ryan Kelly to injury in the second half certainly didn't help matters.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D -- There was some improvement in defending the intermediate pass against the Jaguars by the linebackers group. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles wound up completing 18 of 26 passes for 330 yards and one touchdown, a 5-yard pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Bortles was only sacked once and ended the day with a 124.7 passer rating. Wide receiver Allen Hurns had five receptions for 101 yards. Wide receiver Marqise Lee added four catches for 72 yards and Keelan Cole had two receptions for 64 yards. Jacksonville averaged 18.3 yards per reception against an injured secondary. Rookie safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Rashaan Melvin were both sidelined by injuries during the game.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- For most of the game, the Colts hung in against a pretty good Jacksonville running attack. Yes, the Jaguars were playing without rookie Leonard Fournette, who missed the game due to injury. His top backup, Chris Ivory, didn't hurt Indianapolis as much as T.J. Yeldon, who ended the day with a game-high 122 yards on just nine carries. Fifty-eight of those yards came on one play and resulted in the touchdown that effectively ended the game. Defensive end Henry Anderson ended the day with four tackles and a quarterback sack, the only one recorded by the Colts. Nose tackle Al Woods and rookie defensive tackle Grover Stewart each added four stops. Inside linebacker Antonio Morrison had a team-high 13 tackles, eight of them solo. Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo came off the bench to add four tackles when starter John Simon left the game with a shoulder injury. Inside linebacker Jon Bostic had four total tackles.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Adam Vinatieri didn't attempt a field goal or extra point in the game. Rookie punter Rigoberto Sanchez averaged 44.9 yards on seven punts and had four kicks downed inside the Jaguars' 20-yard line. He did a nice job on avoiding a potential blocked punt while also having one touchback on kickoffs. Quan Bray averaged 25 yards on three kickoff returns.

      --COACHING: C-minus -- Another listless performance by the Colts. Indianapolis continues to make crucial mental and physical mistakes at inopportune times. During his post-game press conference, head coach Chuck Pagano continued to accept the blame for the Colts' inability to take advantage of field position and to get consistent performance from his players. Pagano's refrain of "It's on me" is wearing thin among fans.

  • Giants' offensives woes highlighted on third down
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Any hope for a resurgent season following the New York Giants' win last week against the Broncos permanently vanished Sunday when the Giants let the Seahawks score 24 unanswered points in a 24-7 win that dropped the Giants to 1-6 on the season.

    • There are many mysteries behind a season gone awry, but the biggest is why, after opining week after week how well the team was practicing, head coach Ben McAdoo's Giants have been unable to transfer that production to the playing field where it counts, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

      McAdoo tried to narrow the problem down to the Giants' two biggest vices, third-down conversions and short yardage, noting that third down in particular has been a thorn in the team's side.

      The Giants are currently ranked 30th in the NFL on third-down conversions (32.6 percent) and have managed to convert on just 26.8 percent of their third-down attempts in their last three games.

      Against the Seahawks, the Giants converted two of 12 third-down attempts for a season-low 16.7 percent.

      "Third down and short yardage is a challenge in practice, but it's a bigger challenge in the game," McAdoo said.

      "That's the toughest down in football for an offensive football team. Defenses are athletic, they're fast, they're physical and we need to be at our best there and we didn't do it yesterday. We didn't get it done (Sunday). That's really the biggest area where we need to improve."

      So where do they go from here to find the answers?

      "With the type of week it is, we're going to go back, take a look at self-scout, you know, the things that have been working," McAdoo said. "Is there a way to (improve) some of the things that haven't been working?

      "Is it fixable for the last nine games, or is it something that we need to throw out and revisit it later on? And, just take a look at the way we're using players. Take a look at are their roles we can change to help us as a football team."

      Given that the roster is what it is, the Giants might be facing an uphill battle in fixing what currently ails the offense.

      --The Giants drafted quarterback Davis Webb in the third round this year to presumably be their quarterback of the future.

      So, with the 2017 season all but finished for the Giants (1-6), who enter their bye week with a soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback presiding over the league's 27th-ranked offense and the 30th-ranked scoring offense (16.0 points per game), one would think that it might behoove the Giants to see how the 22-year-old Webb might fare against live defenses that he'll presumably face one day.

      There's just one problem. Head coach Ben McAdoo doesn't seem ready or willing to pull the plug on long-time starter Eli Manning in favor of Webb, regardless of how bad things get.

      McAdoo, who kept reminding reporters during his conference call with them Monday that it takes all 11 guys on offense to make for a well-oiled machine, did say that if the decision was ever made to bench Manning for Webb, it would be a coaching decision.

      "But," he added, "it would be something that, if it ever would get to that point, I'd want to have a conversation with (general manager) Jerry (Reese) and ownership on it. But it's not to that point, and I don't see that point coming. Eli's our quarterback; I have 100 percent confidence in Eli."

      While Manning hasn't been helped by being forced to play behind a leaky offensive line without his two All-Pro receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, and without a running game, Manning also hasn't helped himself with some of his decisions to force balls into tight quarters, or his accuracy issues on deep passes, of which he's completed five of 22 attempts this season.

      Still, with the cavalry not coming in to save the Giants season any time soon -- they won't be getting Beckham and Marshall back this year, and they're going to have to wait until the offseason to fix the offensive line and the running game -- it appears that McAdoo is either oblivious to the fact that the franchise could be in line for a top-five draft pick to get a quarterback or he truly believes that when the team returns from its bye week, things are going to be much better.

      "We're gonna get a week away from it and we're gonna come back, fresh mind, fresh bodies and play better football," McAdoo said.

      --It's bad enough that the Giants are losing games at an alarming rate.

      To make matters worse, the Giants also appear to be losing the home crowd support.

      During Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium against the Seahawks, many empty seats began to emerge the farther behind the Giants fell in the game.

      By the end of the game, those fans who did stay around mostly consisted of people wearing the Seahawks colors and who were chanting "Sea-hawks" as the game clock expired.

      "It was tough. And then they were still throwing the ball. That was real tough," said Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "It kind of hurt a little bit. But at the end of the day, you have to give credit to those guys (the Seahawks). Those guys came out and took it."

      With home games remaining against all three NFC East division foes, the Rams and the Chiefs, and with the weather starting to turn colder, it might be just a matter of time before what was once the friendly confines of MetLife Stadium turns into a hostile environment for these struggling Giants.

      "Well, we have a great home-field advantage and we need to work to take advantage of it," head coach Ben McAdoo said when asked how he prevents MetLife Stadium from turning into a hostile environment.

      They can start by winning some games, or at the very least, making them more competitive. So far this season, the Giants are 0-3 at home. They have previously lost their first three home games in 1980, when they dropped their first four games in Giants Stadium (not including the 1982 and 1987 strike seasons). In 2015, they lost their last four home games.

      "We are 1-6 right now, so we got to win some games and give some people something to cheer about," said linebacker Devon Kennard.

      NOTES: CB Janoris Jenkins suffered an ankle injury. Although he finished out the game and was spotted leaving the locker room without any walking aides, Jenkins was still sent Monday for further tests on his ankle. ... LB B.J. Goodson could be looking at missing some games after suffering a significant ankle injury at the end of the first half. Goodson was spotted leaving the locker room with his left foot elevated and in a walking boot as he hobbled out on crutches. ... OL Justin Pugh (back) is not believed to be seriously injured. The Giants are hoping that with the bye week and some treatment, Pugh won't have to miss any games down the road. ... DE/OLB Cap Capi strained a hamstring in Sunday's loss. His status moving forward is uncertain. ... K Aldrick Rosas, who has missed a field-goal attempt in each of the last three games, has not lost the confidence of his head coach. "I have confidence in Aldrick. Again, I see him kick on a day-to-day basis, he's a young player that is improving," said head coach Ben McAdoo. "He missed a kick, we want to have that kick, it ties the ballgame in the fourth quarter. He needs to learn from it, he needs to grow from it."

      REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F - There is a reason why the current group of receivers who played in this game didn't make the initial 53-man roster. Their route-running leaves much to be desired. Quarterback Eli Manning didn't help matters; looking skittish behind his injury-plagued offensive line, Manning probably can't remember the last time he enjoyed the luxury of being able to enjoy a soup and a sandwich behind his protection. Tight end Evan Engram was a bright spot, but defenses are slowly catching on that the way to stop him is to jam him at the lone of scrimmage.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D - After hitting the century mark the last two weeks, the Giants running game was back to reality, managing 46 yards on 17 carries. Besides abandoning the run early (again), the Giants failed to adjust to facing an extra man in the box this week and because they don't have a legitimate threat capable of bouncing runs to the outside, they had little success between the tackles.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - Between the linebackers not reading their keys, which resulted in Seahawks receivers running freely in between zones, the lack of a consistent pass rush and guys being a step too slow in coverage, the Giants once famed "New York Pass Defense" - NYPD for short - looked like a collection of mismatched pieces. One interesting new wrinkle for this week's game plan saw the Giants keep all three linebackers on the field in the nickel, swapping out a defensive tackle instead. The idea was to have speed on the field, but given that Russell Wilson managed to throw for 334 yards while completing nearly 70 percent of his pass attempts would strongly suggest that the strategy didn't work.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C - The Giants run defense was back to allowing opponents over 100 yards, but in fairness, this group, which with the rest of the defense played 41 snaps in the first half alone, was gassed. Damon Harrison, the leader of the run defense, came through with another solid showing, swallowing up ball carriers as though they were Halloween candy.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: F - More inconsistent punting from Brad Wing, who just isn't getting good height or direction on his kicks. Aldrick Rosas missed his third straight field-goal attempt, this one from 47 yards and one that would have tied the game at 10-10 at the time. The return game was also non-existent again; punt returner Ed Eagan had zero yards on two returns while Shane Vereen only managed to return his lone kickoff return 18 yards.

      --COACHING: F - There were some curious decisions made this week by the coaching staff starting with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's decision to blitz Russell Wilson. This decision to bring blitzers from the secondary left the Giants with single coverage on the receivers roaming free. Add to that the struggles of a depleted linebacker unit, and it's little wonder that Wilson's 334 passing yards came about. That total, by the way is the second-most passing yards allowed by the Giants pass defense this season, behind last week's 394 yards by Denver. Offensively, the Giants have tried to have this inexperienced group of receivers do the same things as the All-Pro group the team lost to injury with no success, specifically running slants. A better alternative might have been to use the running backs and the tight ends for the underneath stuff and run the receivers deep down the field to build confidence.

  • Bears coach Fox in a sticky situation
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It's a real football dichotomy, no question about it.

    • On one hand, Chicago Bears head coach John Fox must win games with his job seemingly at stake. On the other hand, the team must develop quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

      Knowing Trubisky will make big mistakes like any rookie passer does, the Bears have played it safe with their offense as in Sunday's 17-3 victory over Carolina. Yet they've managed to pull off two straight wins for the first time since November of 2015 because their defense has become the type of dominant force coordinator Vic Fangio produced while with the San Francisco 49ers.

      So which is it going to be, let Trubisky wing it or keep pulling in the reins to get back to .500 this week against New Orleans at the risk of slowing Trubisky's development?

      Fox said it might not come to this with the Bears offense, if their low-profile receivers and Trubisky find a way to get in sync. Then there may be more than seven passes, like Trubisky threw against the Panthers.

      "We're a work in progress," Fox said. "A lot was made about the receiver position; we're learning more and more about those guys each week.

      "We made a change at quarterback three weeks ago. We've had a couple of line injuries that we've kind of weathered. We were close in the run game yesterday. Our stats weren't as glowing as they have been, but that defense is pretty good, in fact really good."

      So Fox figures the offense will eventually start to resemble a legitimate NFL attack and not a Pop Warner team running the T formation, even with nondescript Tanner Gentry, Kendall Wright and Tre McBride as potential targets. The nature of the opponent may dictate this, as well.

      "All the games take on different personalities," Fox said. "The matchups are different. The offense is different. The defense is different. The kicking game is different. It changes."

      With safety Eddie Jackson becoming the first defensive player to score on fumble and interception returns in the same NFL game since San Diego's Antonio Cromartie in 2007, the defense took care of the points.

      The Bears offense only had 21:25 of possession time.

      Some of that had to do with long Carolina drives that ended in two defensive touchdowns by Jackson. The defense was right back on the field after scoring.

      "At one point I needed to re-warm up, because we hadn't been on the field for an extended period of time," tight end Zach Miller said Monday at Halas Hall.

      Miller joked that he felt very fresh on Monday for a change.

      "It was one of those things where we got a lead early," Miller said. "It was protect that lead. The defense was playing so well that we felt as a team we could rely on them, and run the clock out."

      Yet the problem between Trubisky and his receivers is one the Bears quarterback realizes must change. Fox called the passing offense efficient at 4-of-7 for 107 yards, and liked the high 101.8 passer rating, but knows those weren't the kind of numbers a team can count on for prolonged success -- even if they've reduced the number of throws in each of Trubisky's three starts.

      "We just have to continue to be more balanced," Trubisky said. "I'm going to get better in practice this week, but I'm also going to have to watch the film. We didn't score as an offense and defense carried us so we kind of felt salty, that we couldn't help out more than we did."

      Trubisky said it wasn't quite as conservative as it looked. He intentionally aborted a few passes and accepted some of the four sacks.

      "We had more pass plays called, I was just pulling them down, being conservative and taking sacks," Trubisky said. "I was just trying to play smart, protect the football and get out of here with a win.

      "We just have to get better in the pass game, and that falls on me. I'll be on the receivers and tight ends this week to continue to perfect our timing and routes. However, it mostly falls on me, so I just have to get better."

      Fox promised better passing ahead.

      "I think our guys are willing to work and I think we'll improve," he said. "Really, forget about statistics. The biggest one is we haven't turned it over so we've been able to win.

      "Yards don't win football games."

      But it's hard to get points without yards, unless the defense is planning to continue doing all the scoring.

      Fox said Trubisky has also been playing against strong defenses.

      "To go on the road and play against a very opportunistic defense in Baltimore, and then a very, very good defense yesterday, it's not like he's had any cupcakes as far as the defenses he's going up against," Fox said.

      Trubisky's first game was against Minnesota, the fourth-ranked defense. Carolina is third. Baltimore is 18th.

      "And there's been enough flashes there where you see bright things," Fox said. "Whether it was the third-and-11 to put us in field-goal range in Baltimore. Or a couple of the passes he made in the first half of the Minnesota game, albeit we might have shot ourselves in the foot with some of it."

      --Head coach John Fox took credit for inventing the wildcat formation, but just didn't call it by that name.

      While defending his team's conservative play-calling, Fox said his Carolina Panthers team with Chris Weinke as quarterback had won once with four completions in a game when they used the wildcat.

      "We didn't get much credit for this, but that was when we kind of invented the wildcat," he said. "We played a running back at quarterback a lot that game."

      He said the wildcat quarterback was DeAngelo Hall.

      "We didn't call it the wildcat," Fox said. "We called it Memphis and Tiger because (Hall) played at Memphis. But he had done that in college and we utilized it quite a bit in that game."

      --Defensive end Akiem Hicks, who had his sixth sack on Sunday, used to play for New Orleans but doesn't talk with much fondness about his time with the Saints.

      In the past he has suggested he was misused there.

  • NFL suspends Vikings S Sendejo one game
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    The NFL suspended Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo one game for a violaton of safety-related playing rules in Sunday's win over the Baltimore Ravens.

    • Sendejo was punished for his hit on Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace early in Sunday's game. The hit sent Wallace's helmet flying and knocked Wallace from the game. Senjedo was flagged for unneccessary roughness on the play.

      "The violation was flagrant and warrants a suspension because it could have been avoided, was violently directed at the head and neck area and unreasonably placed both you and an opposing player at risk of serious injury," explained NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan in a statement.

      Sendejo will be eligible to return to Minnesota's active roster on Oct. 30 following the team's game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in London.

      Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer defended the hit after the game and said he planned to send a tape of the incident to be reviewed by the league, according to the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis.

      "I think the receiver took five steps after he caught the ball and I think (Sendejo) hit him with a glancing blow," Zimmer said. "I know what (the officials) told me, but I'm going to turn it in and see what they say."

      Sendejo has the right to appeal the suspension. He was fined by the league earlier this season for a hit to the helmet of Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate.

  • Nothing foggy about Patriots' performance
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. It took a foggy night in Foxborough for the New England Patriots (5-2) to play what was quite clearly their best game of the year.

    • After nearly two months of defensive struggles leading to ugly games that came down to the wire as opposing passers put up record numbers, head coach Bill Belichick's team used a complementary effort from all three phases to dispatch Matt Ryan's Falcons (3-3) in a Super Bowl LI rematch that not only didn't live up to the hype but wasn't even as close as the final 23-7 score might indicate.

      The Patriots admitted they heard the intense criticism of their rocky start with a three-game winning streak, but they now feel there is positive momentum building for the defending champions. They are still very much in the mix as one of the top contenders in what has already been an up-and-down 2017 season across the NFL.

      "I thought everyone was really focused and everyone did a great job of really honing in on what we needed to do," quarterback Tom Brady said after the win, seemingly as content following a game as he has been all season. "The D kept making plays and we kept going out there and chipping away. You know, we didn't score as many touchdowns as we'd like, but we scored enough. It was a great team win."

      Ryan threw for just 233 yards and didn't find the end zone until a contested Julio Jones 1-yard score with a little more than four minutes to play and the game seemingly in hand. New England's 32nd-ranked pass defense held Atlanta to no third-down conversions in the first half and just 2-of-9 overall. There weren't the usual opposing receivers running wide open in the back end, nor were there the big plays that have haunted New England all year. Ryan completed just one pass longer than 20 yards.

      "Our coaches have been on us about just make a team make a play to beat us," Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty said. "I thought we competed and made them earn every yard. When you go against good teams, that's what you have to do. We made enough plays."

      Add in a couple short Brady touchdown passes and a Cassius Marsh blocked field-goal attempt in the early going and you had the recipe for a well-rounded win that was easily New England's most dominant of the year.

      Belichick endlessly preaches the need for 60 minutes of complementary football and that's what he got for the first time as the defending champions near the midway point of the season. Obviously, the Patriots hadn't played bad football, but there was a lacking consistency and breadth to their execution.

      "I thought Bill said it best this week. He said it was about time we played complementary football for four quarters," McCourty added. "He said at times, we played really well on offense. At times, we played really well on defense. At times, we played really well on special teams, but we hadn't gotten it all together. I thought (Sunday night) we did a good job of that."

      After three previous home games in which New England lost to the Chiefs and Panthers while needing last-second Brady heroics to beat the Texans, the Patriots regained some of their usual home-field advantage, and it had nothing to do with the foggy conditions.

      "For 60 minutes we were all focused and into it," Brady said in his weekly Monday morning interview with WEEI Radio in Boston. "Coach talked about the things we needed to do all week and I thought we did a good job executing those things. It was a good team. We had dropped a couple at home and it was a big game for us. I am glad we took care of business."

      While preparing to host the suddenly-hot Chargers on Sunday prior to a bye week and a more difficult second-half schedule that includes trips to Denver and Mexico City to take on the Raiders among five road games in a six-game stretch, Brady knows the time is now to keep the positive momentum rolling.

      "This is now when it really starts to feel more like football season," Brady told WEEI. "The shine in the season has worn off a little bit. The hopes are all probably more tempered with reality. Now you really see what you are made of. We're getting to the halfway point and this is when we have to start learning from all of our mistakes. Hopefully, we've worked hard to make some improvements and we really have to start playing better football as we go down the stretch here."

      --For those in the stands or press box at Gillette Stadium, the fog in Foxborough made for tough viewing Sunday night in the win over the Falcons. It was also an issue for NBC's TV cameras as they did their best to bring the action to viewers at home.

      But the fog, which was at its worst in the second half, didn't seem to bother the players actually on the field.

      "That fog was pretty crazy," tight end Rob Gronkowski said. "I mean, I've never seen anything like that or played in anything like that, but, I mean, a deep ball up in the air was definitely more difficult (to see). But, it didn't change anything in the game."

      "The fog -- that was crazy," quarterback Tom Brady echoed. "I have never seen that. It was just so still out there. The fog had no place to go. I don't think it affected much, really, at the end of the day. I'm sure it looked cool on TV, though."

      One thing it did affect, though, was the coaches' ability to watch the tape of the New England win.

      "It affected us a lot this morning," head coach Bill Belichick said with a chuckle on his Monday conference call with the local media, "because it's hard to see the game. The fourth quarter is -- I don't know -- pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film.

      "The first half, start of the third quarter, it's all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it's a little strained to see it, and then there's a point where you can't really see it at all, especially from the sideline."

      Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater later said that New England's video staff actually began to film the Gillette Stadium video board rather than the on-field action because it offered a clearer view.

      --Linebacker Kyle Van Noy had one of the key defensive plays in Sunday night's win over the Falcons. Atlanta ran a curious jet sweep on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots 1 trailing 20-0 very early in the fourth quarter. Van Noy, who led New England with seven solo tackles in the victory, snuffed out the speed-motion run that was coming right at him and tackled wide receiver Taylor Gabriel to all but close the door on Atlanta's comeback hopes.

      "Kyle made a great play, made a very instinctive play," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "That play is really dangerous if they can just hit it on the outside and then you have no way to catch them. Kyle's awareness and the quickness with which he got outside with all of the traffic so that he could kind of have a clear shot to come up the field was a real heads-up play on his part."

      Belichick went on to praise Van Noy's evolution in the New England defense since arriving via trade from the Lions in the middle of last season. Van Noy has now started each of the first seven games of the year for the Patriots and is second on the team with 49 tackles.

      "Kyle has been a very durable player. He's out there every day. He gets better, works hard every day," Belichick said. "He's able to do more and he wants to do more. He's the type of player that wants more responsibility and likes the challenges of doing different things: coverage, pass rush, playing the run, playing on the line, playing off the line. His hard work has paid off in a lot of opportunity and a lot of production in a number of different areas."

      --Linebacker Harvey Langi and his wife, Cassidy, have been released from the hospital and have returned home more than a week removed from an Oct. 13 car accident in Foxborough that left both with serious injuries. Langi is currently listed on the Patriots injury report as having a back injury, though a video on social media showed him walking with crutches with his right knee immobilized. His wife is reportedly dealing with fractures to both hips as well as broken ribs.

      According to the Boston Herald, 25-year-old Kevin Conroy was behind the wheel of the car that rear-ended the Langis and is facing multiple charges, including drug and alcohol-related offenses.

      Langi is an undrafted rookie out of BYU who's played in just one game this season.

      NOTES: CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) was ruled out on Friday's injury report, missing his second straight game after sitting out practice all week. ... CB Eric Rowe (groin) missed his third straight game and fourth out of five with the injury that still has him walking with a significant limp and unable to get on the practice field. ... LB Harvey Langi (back) missed his second straight game and did not practice last week following a car accident on Oct. 13 that sent him and his wife to the hospital for multiple days. ... LB Elandon Roberts (ankle) missed his first game of the season after missing practice last Wednesday and Thursday to the injury. He returned to the practice field on a limited basis to close out the week but was unable to play against Atlanta. ... OL Cameron Fleming was a healthy scratch for the second straight game and third time overall this season. ... OL Cole Croston, an undrafted rookie, was inactive against the Falcons, the seventh straight game he's been a healthy scratch to open his NFL career. ... DL Geneo Grissom was a healthy scratch against the Falcons, the first time he's been inactive since joining the roster from the practice squad for Week 3. ... DT Malcom Brown left the first half of Sunday night's win over Atlanta with an ankle injury and did not return. The third-year former first-round pick has never missed a game in his two-plus seasons in New England. ... RB Rex Burkhead (ribs) returned after missing four-plus weeks to injury, showing nice burst on a handful of carries. ... LB David Harris, who'd played just seven snaps all season and hadn't played a down in the previous three games, started against Atlanta, played 19 snaps in the win and tallied three tackles. ... LB Dont'a Hightower left the third quarter of Sunday night's win with what was announced as a shoulder injury and did not return. ... WR Chris Hogan, who has been dealing with a rib injury, walked off the field with trainers in the second half against Atlanta and spent some time with the staff in the medical tent on the sideline. Hogan did return to action to close out the game.

      REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Tom Brady threw a season-low 29 passes, only 11 in the second half, completing 21 of them for a season-low 249 yards on the way to the controlled victory. He threw a pair of short touchdown passes, including a little toss on what goes down as an 11-yard completion on what was essentially a jet sweep to Brandin Cooks. Brady had some good fortune recovering his own fumble on a De'Vondre Campbell strip-sack and seeing an interception in the end zone wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Adrian Clayborn in the second quarter. Still, a 121.2 passer rating against the defending NFC champs is nothing to sneeze at. RB James White, who had 14 catches against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, had a team-high five catches for just 28 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown. Cooks had four catches for 65 yards, including the score. Chris Hogan added four grabs for 71 yards, including a key 20-yarder on third-and-16 to extend a drive that ended in the Cooks score. It wasn't a high-flying performance for the potent Patriots attack, but it was more than enough for the win.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Controlling the score and the game, New England was able to run it more than it threw it for the first time this season. Removing three Brady kneel-downs to end the game, the Patriots ran it a combined 33 times for 165 yards for a season-best 5.0-yard average, the fourth straight game New England was over 4 yards per carry as a team. Dion Lewis led the Patriots in rushing yards for the third straight game, tallying season highs with 13 rushes for 76 yards, including a 25-yard long. Rex Burkhead returned from injury to give the ground game an early boost with six carries for 31 yards, including three 9-yard runs on a second-quarter drive to a field goal. New England ran early to balance out the offense and then was able to run consistently to milk the clock with a three-score lead for most of the second half. The Patriots closed the door on Falcons comeback dreams with five straight runs for 32 yards and two first downs to end the game in four-minute offense mode as Atlanta burned its final two timeouts.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A -- New England's 32nd-ranked pass defense put forth easily its best performance of the season despite playing without two of its top cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe) against Matt Ryan and Co. After allowing six straight opponents to top 300 yards passing to open the season, the Patriots eliminated the wide-open receivers and endless big plays against Atlanta. Ryan completed 23 of 33 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown for a 99.7 rating, though that was inflated a bit by a late drive that led to a Julio Jones 1-yard score. Ryan had just 110 passing yards in the first half and New England held Atlanta to 0-for-5 on third downs in the first two quarters. Jones had a relatively quiet nine catches for 99 yards and the score on which he snared a would-be interception out of Malcolm Butler's hands to avoid the shutout. Mohamed Sanu added six catches for 65 yards but it was Justin Hardy with a 22-yard grab, on the late drive, who had the only reception longer than 20 yards. Johnson Bademosi, a special teamer only in the first five weeks, again started in place of Gilmore and competed well, as did second-year player Jonathan Jones. Butler and the safeties showed much improved communication in a lot of two-deep zone looks. There wasn't a ton of pressure up front as Ryan was sacked just once, but the coverage didn't seem to need it on this impressive night that was a major step forward for what had been by far New England's biggest weakness through six weeks.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C -- After its best performance of the year a week earlier in New York, New England's run defense took a little step back against Atlanta. Though 37 of the Falcons' 120 yards came on three Ryan scrambles, Devonta Freeman still found enough room to work with 12 carries for 72 yards and a 6-yard average, though much of that came with the Patriots holding a three-score lead in the second half and willing to let Atlanta run. New England came up with the biggest run stop of the night on Taylor Gabriel's fourth-down jet sweep on the goal line that was snuffed out by Kyle Van Noy for a 5-yard loss, one of seven solo tackles on the night for the linebacker. Atlanta didn't try to run much on the edges, an area the Falcons hit with their speed in the Super Bowl. Overall, the New England run defense was enough of a complementary factor in the victory.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- New England's field-goal block set an early tone and excited Bill Belichick when Cassius Marsh blocked Matt Bryant's 37-yard attempt to keep the game scoreless in the first quarter. Bryant also missed a 36-yard attempt later in the third quarter. Meanwhile, New England's Stephen Gostkowski hit all three of his attempts from 29, 21 and 38 yards. Gostkowski also did a solid job with his usual high, short kickoffs at the goal line to try and pin the Falcons in, keeping them inside the 20 three times on kickoffs. Ryan Allen punted only twice, including the Patriots' first possession, leading to a 57-yarder for a touchback, not what New England was looking for. Danny Amendola handled Atlanta's late onside kick attempt cleanly, but the Patriots got nothing out of the return game all night. Still, the blocked kick and execution on their field goals were key on the way to the win.

      --COACHING: A -- Belichick's team put forth its most complete, balanced performance of the season with major contributions in all three phases. The pass defense was solid in its communication and the use of many two-deep looks ended the big plays opponents had been piling up all season. Offensively, New England ran the ball more and more successfully, taking pressure off the passing attack as well as the defense. And in the kicking game, a recent focus in practice on field-goal block paid off against Atlanta. Through scheme, faith and apparently the proper motivation, Belichick and his staff seem to be righting the ship for a team that's seemed on the precipice of confidence issues at various points. Belichick and Co. pushed all the right buttons this week leading up to and through Sunday night's win.

  • Rams hit bye week on top of NFC West
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The surging Los Angeles Rams reached their bye week playing as well as anyone in the NFL and perfectly positioned at 5-2 to make a legitimate playoff push across the second half of the season after pummeling the Cardinals 33-0 in London on Sunday.

    • It's been a remarkable turnaround for the Rams, who haven't had a winning season in 13 years and were a miserable 4-12 last year in their first season back in Los Angeles.

      The progress they've made is nothing short of shocking, beginning with the hiring of young head coach Sean McVay and the additions of veterans like Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Connor Barwin and John Sullivan and the drafting of sure-handed wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

      All of which has unleashed running back Todd Gurley II back on the NFL with a vengeance, the former Offensive Rookie of the Year rebounding from his terrible sophomore year last season to establish himself this year as a MVP candidate while running for 627 yards and adding 293 receiving yards.

      That has also helped put former top-pick in the draft Jared Goff on the path to his ceiling after a disastrous rookie season in which some people were calling him a bust. Goff has been efficient and effective while throwing for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns against just four interceptions.

      A defense that eased into the transition to the 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Wade Phillips has hit its stride while allowing just 39 points over the last 14 quarters.

      Couple all that with the expertise of McVay, the offensive-minded head coach, and you have a team as dangerous as any in the NFL

      --Quarterback Jared Goff has every reason to gloat after so many people wrote him off last year upon his rookie introduction to the NFL as a rookie. But even with him playing as a top-end NFL quarterback and the Rams sitting pretty at 5-2, don't expect him to take the moment to point out his detractors.

      Be it as an individual or as a team.

      As far as Goff is concerned, it's full steam ahead. No questions asked. No need to boast.

      "Call it whatever you want, man, we're just trying to win games every week," he said. "I don't think we're ever content with where we're at. 5-2 feels good, but offensively especially, we have got a lot of things. I was talking to the guys before the game, I was like, 'How do you think we played? Oh, we played OK, offensively, we thought we played OK.' We ran the ball really, really well, especially at the end there, but a lot of things we can clean up offensively, which is the exciting thing. And then you look at the defense and to put up a zero, pretty nice offensively to be able to play with that as well."

      --Running back Todd Gurley II is not a fan of the NFL playing games in London, and wasn't afraid to say so ahead of the Rams game against the Cardinals on Sunday.

      "Not at all. I mean it's cool playing over there. Don't get me wrong," Gurley said. "It's just more the long week. Messes up a bunch of people's schedule. I'm pretty sure y'all wanna be in y'all bed right now. But nah, it's all good. It'll be love. The fans over there are great."

      NOTES: QB Jared Goff completed 22-of-37 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). Goff rushed nine yards for his second rushing touchdown of his career and first of the season. ... RB Todd Gurley II notched his fourth 100-plus-yard rushing game of the season. Gurley rushed 22 times for 106 yards and caught four passes for 51 yards. Gurley recorded his eighth touchdown of the season (five rushing, three receiving). Gurley has 24 career touchdowns. ... WR Cooper Kupp registered his third touchdown of the season on an 18-yard pass from Jared Goff. ... S Lamarcus Joyner intercepted Carson Palmer at the Arizona 47-yard line and returned it 29 yards to their 18-yard line to set up the Rams' first touchdown of the game on the following offensive snap. Joyner has two interceptions in 2017, which is a new personal best. ... LB Mark Barron intercepted a pass by Cardinals QB Drew Stanton at the Arizona 38-yard line and returned it 10 yards. Barron has two interceptions this season and seven in his career. ... DT Aaron Donald notched a sack on Cardinals QB Carson Palmer. Donald has 3.0 sacks this season. ... DE Ethan Westbrooks sacked QB Drew Stanton for a 5-yard loss. ... K Greg Zuerlein converted four-of-four field goals (23, 33, 53, 34). Zuerlein entered Sunday's game as the NFL's leading scorer and he added 15 points to push his season total to 84 points. ... P Johnny Hekker punted two times for 119 yards. He placed two punts inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 65 yards.

      REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus - Jared Goff passed for 235 yards and a touchdown, and while he was intercepted one time it came well after the Rams had put the game away. The efficiency was impressive, and while there is room to improve that kind of performance moving forward will be enough to win most games.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus - The Rams had their way with the Cardinals on the ground, rushing for a season-high 197 yards with Todd Gurley II eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this year with 106 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Rams' ability to run successfully, combined with an efficient pass game, makes them a multi-dimensional offense that's tough to defend.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - It doesn't get much better than the Rams surrendering just 168 yards through the air while picking off two passes and sacking Cardinals quarterbacks three times. The back end of the defense coupled perfectly with the push up front to make life difficult for Arizona all game long.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Rams gave up 25 total yards and a 2.1 yards per rush attempt average while completely neutralizing the Cardinals. In doing so, they continually put Arizona in obvious pass situations then went to work on attacking the quarterbacks on the pass rush.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Greg Zuerlein was good on all four of his field-goal attempts, Johnny Hekker averaged 59.5 yards on two punts and the Rams' return and coverage teams were on point throughout.

      --COACHING: A - The Rams had been away from home for 10 days by the time they hit the field against the Cardinals in London - and facing a bye week to boot - yet they looked fresh, prepared and diligent about going into their bye week soaring with two straight victories. Credit to head coach Sean McVay and his staff for having the Rams ready to play in all phases in spite of the logistics.

  • Interceptions pile up for Browns QBs
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    BEREA, Ohio -- Head coach Hue Jackson has a simple rule for playing quarterback for the Cleveland Browns: Don't turn the ball over.

    • That rule does not leave him with many choices heading into the game with the Minnesota Vikings in London next Sunday. DeShone Kizer, benched at halftime of the game with the New York Jets on Oct. 8, sat one week and then got a second chance when he was given the start against the Titans on Sunday.

      Kizer, the 52nd pick of the 2017 draft, threw an interception at the Titans 7 late in the first half, threw an interception on his second pass of the third quarter and was on the sideline again the next time the Browns had the ball. That's 11 interceptions in what amounts to a little more than five games. At this point, Jackson isn't concerned about what the benching dose to Kizer's confidence.

      "There is not a team across this league -- there are 31 other teams - that is going to keep a quarterback out there if they keep turning it over," Jackson said Monday. "You can go survey any team you want. They are not going to do that. This business is a performance-based business. It is about winning. It is not about just developing."

      The Browns are 0-7 this season and 1-22 with Jackson as head coach.

      Jackson's problem is his options after Kizer are minimal. Cody Kessler, 0-8 as a rookie starter last year, replaced Kizer against the Titans. He led the Browns to two of their three field goals in the 12-9 overtime loss, but he also threw an interception. Kevin Hogan started against the Texans in Houston on Oct. 15 and threw three picks. Hogan threw two other interceptions earlier in the season. Add them all together and the Browns' quarterbacks have thrown 17 interceptions in just seven games.

      For the third straight week, Jackson is holding off making a decision on his starting quarterback for the next game - in this case the Vikings, who lead the NFC North at 5-2. Four Vikings defenders have combined for seven interceptions.

      "Everything right now is on the table," Jackson said, adding he'll announce his decision Wednesday. "That's been the thing that works. We watch the tape, and I like to get with the players and talk to them before we make any decision that way."

      Hogan was announced as the starting quarterback the Wednesday before the Browns played the Texans. Kizer was named the starter the Wednesday before they played the Titans.

      --Quarterback DeShone Kizer is in hot water with head coach Hue Jackson for hanging out in a Cleveland area bar past 1 a.m. Saturday. Kizer did not break any laws or curfews, but he had to be at practice later Saturday morning.

      "It means a lot to me," Jackson said. "A guy's personal time is his personal time, but I still think that's not what our guys do. I think our guys work at what they do, and I would be surprised if that happened."

      Kizer on Monday said he learned his lesson and won't be a distraction again.

      "We're sitting here talking about this," Kizer said. "My teammates are coming up to me and asking me about this. There are so many cameras around here, it's going to be made a pretty big deal. With that, it's on me to make sure that from here on out I'm not a distraction and I'm only an asset to this team, not a guy that is pulling away from the ultimate goal."

      --Left tackle Joe Thomas left the game against Tennessee because of an arm injury with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter. The 10-time Pro Bowl players underwent an MRI exam Monday morning. It revealed a tear. He will have surgery and need nine months to rehab.

      "The Geneva Convention on torture (confinement, stress positions) was just violated when they wedged me into that MRI tube for two hours. Yikes!" Thomas tweeted.

      The Browns placed Thomas on the Injured Reserve list on Monday.

      NOTES: LT Joe Thomas (arm) has a torn left triceps and will miss the rest of the season. An MRI exam on Monday confirmed the severity of the injury. Thomas was placed on the Injured Reserve list on Monday. ... S Jabrill Peppers (toe) is "making good progress," head coach Hue Jackson said Monday. Peppers was inactive vs. the Titans. ... CB Jason McCourty (ankle) is also progressing. McCourty was inactive against the Titans.

      REPORT CARD VS. TITANS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F - Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw two more interceptions and was benched for the second time in two starts. Cody Kessler replaced him and threw an interception. Wide receiver Kenny Britt missed a catchable pass in overtime. The Browns' receivers, excluding running back Duke Johnson, are not talented. The Browns' quarterbacks have thrown seven touchdown passes and 17 interceptions this season.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - The Browns were in the game from beginning to end, so the excuse the run had to be abandoned because they were behind doesn't work. Still, they managed only 66 yards on 26 carries. The longest run of the day was 10 yards by Duke Johnson. The line did not open up holes against a tough front seven of the Titans. The running game struggles in part because the pass offense is so weak.

      --PASSING DEFENSE: B - The defense played its best game of the season and kept the Titans out of the end zone after giving up 14 touchdown passes in the first six games. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was still hobbled by a sore hamstring. That made it easier to keep him in the pocket. Mariota completed 21 of 34 passes, but for an average of only 9.7 yards a completion. The Browns broke up six passes.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Titans entered the game averaging 132 yards on the ground, but the Browns held them to 80 yards on 32 carries -- a 2.5 average -- and held DeMarco Murray to 59 yards on 18 carries. He had 33 yards on three tries, which means they corralled him for just 26 yards on 15 other carries. Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Trevon Coley have played well consistently all season.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Kicker Zane Gonzalez had a perfect day. He was 3-for-3 on field-goal tries and all four of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Matthew Dayes had a 30-yard kickoff return. Punt return was weakened because Jabrill Peppers missed the game with a toe injury. He is expected to play against the Vikings in London on Sunday.

      --COACHING: C - The only way head coach Hue Jackson is going to get DeShone Kizer's attention is to bench the rookie quarterback for more than one game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had his unit prepared perfectly. Anytime a defense holds an opponent out of the end zone, the team should win, but the Browns' offense isn't good enough to carry its share of the load.

  • Saints finish fast to win fourth straight game
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' fourth consecutive victory was more difficult than their first three.

    • The Saints had beaten Carolina, Miami and Detroit by at least 14 points each and had taken the lead for good in the first half of each game.

      But on Sunday at Green Bay, New Orleans didn't get its first lead until the third quarter and fell behind again early in the fourth before scoring the final 10 points to win 26-17.

      "We had some tough times with turnovers and the way they ran the ball early," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said Monday. "But nobody batted an eye, nobody pointed fingers and nobody panicked.

      "Everybody knew the game lasted 60 minutes. We played a complete game for 60 minutes to the end. We executed better than them at the end and that's the difference from last year."

      Drew Brees threw two first-half interceptions against the Packers, but the Saints didn't turn the ball over after that. They only had one takeaway after having nine during the first three games of the streak, but safety Kenny Vaccaro's fourth-quarter interception of Brett Hundley helped seal the victory.

      Green Bay, playing its first full game without injured quarterback Aaron Rogers, began the game with an effective run game, rushing for 70 yards during a touchdown drive on the game's first possession. But the Packers had just 42 of their 181 rushing yards after halftime.

      "There were some things Green Bay was doing scheme wise," Rankins said of the first-half rushing success. "We just moved some guys here and there. It was little things. Once we fixed that, we neutralized them for the most part."

      --The four-game win streak moved the Saints (4-2) into first place in the NFC South. Carolina is 4-3, Atlanta is 3-3 and Tampa Bay is 2-4. "We've been in first place for a day," running back Mark Ingram II said in downplaying the accomplishment. "If you get complacent you can lose multiple games and be in last place real quick."

      New Orleans has played just one division game, winning at Carolina to start the win streak. The Saints play Chicago on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

      --The Saints have had their two best rushing games the last two weeks. After rushing for 193 yards against Detroit last week, they had 161 against Green Bay as Ingram had his second consecutive 100-yard game. Alvin Kamara had more than 100 yards of total offense as he rushed nine times for 57 yards and caught five passes for 50 yards.

      --New Orleans gained at least one first down on each of its 11 possessions against Green Bay.

      --In the second half, the Saints did not punt and the Packers managed just four first downs.

      NOTES: WR Ted Ginn Jr. had a good news-bad news game Sunday. The good news was the 141 receiving yards (on seven catches), the second-highest total of his 11-year career. The bad news was the two muffed punts he had, though neither did damage. The Packers recovered the first, but it was negated by a penalty, and Ginn recovered the second. ... WR Willie Snead IV was a surprise inactive. He had been listed as questionable because of a hamstring injury, but after missing the Oct. 1 game against Miami because of the injury he had played with it last week against Detroit. ... DE Hau'oli Kikaha was inactive for the first time this season. He had been the Saints' third end, but rookie Trey Hendrickson played more than Kikaha and had his best game of the season against Detroit. On Sunday, another rookie end, Al-Quadin Muhammad, was active in Kikaha's place.

      REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B - Drew Brees threw interceptions on the Saints' first two possessions, but bounced back to have a solid game. He completed 27 of 38 for 331 yards and a touchdown. Ted Ginn Jr. had seven catches for 141 yards and Michael Thomas caught seven passes for 82 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A - Mark Ingram II had his second consecutive 100-yard game after no Saint rushed for 100 yards in the first four games. The Saints followed their season-high 193 rushing yards against Detroit with 161 rushing yards.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - The Saints made things difficult for Brett Hundley, who was replacing injured Aaron Rodgers and making his first NFL start. Hundley completed 12-of-25 passes for 87 yards. S Kenny Vaccaro intercepted Hundley on what wound up being the Packers' final offensive play.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B - New Orleans had a bad first half and a good second half against the Packers' run game. Green Bay ran for 139 yards on 15 carries in the first half, but 42 yards on nine carries in the second half.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - Wil Lutz was 2 for 2 on field goals, but one of his extra points was blocked. Ted Ginn Jr. muffed two punts, but neither resulted in a turnover. Tommylee Lewis averaged 28 yards on two kickoff returns. Thomas Morstead punted twice and both were downed inside the 20. Green Bay averaged 26 yards on two kickoff returns.

      --COACHING: A - The halftime adjustments by coordinator Dennis Allen and the defensive staff that shut down the Packers' run game helped New Orleans outscore Green Bay 19-3 in the second half. Overall, the Saints had a solid all-around plan for handling a good team that was hamstrung by the absence of Rodgers.

  • Packers' Hundley off to a poor start
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    GREEN BAY, Wis.-- Brett Hundley was discussing his first NFL start last week, when he dropped a 10-word sentence that left many jaws agape.

    • "I want to be a Hall of Famer one day," Hundley said.

      That day certainly wasn't Sunday. Not even close.

      And based on the performance of both Hundley and the Green Bay Packers' offense, the odds of that day ever coming seem long.

      After serving a 2 1/2-year apprenticeship behind Aaron Rodgers, Hundley showed he wasn't ready for prime time.

      Hundley completed just 12 of 25 passes for a paltry 87 yards, threw one interception and didn't have a touchdown pass. Hundley's disappointing outing and the second-half collapse of Green Bay's defense helped New Orleans roll to a 26-17 win.

      The Packers lost their second straight game, fell to 4-3 and head to their bye week one game behind NFC North division-leading Minnesota. And considering Rodgers won't return from his broken right collarbone before Week 15, things look awfully bleak in Green Bay.

      "(I) got it under my belt. Didn't win, obviously," Hundley said of his first career start. "We've got to be better, and we will, but we got the first one out of the way. It didn't go the way we planned, and we've got to look at the film and make some adjustments."

      For the past 25 years, Packer Nation has been spoiled watching Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers play the position as well as the all-time greats. Sunday provided a reality check and a reminder how the other half lives.

      Rodgers has made 157 starts while in Green Bay (regular season and playoffs). The only time Rodgers had fewer than 87 passing yards in a game that he both started and finished came at Denver in Week 7 of 2015 (77 yards).

      Favre started 275 consecutive games in Green Bay between 1992 and 2007 and had fewer than 87 passing yards just once in a game he completed. That came during a wet and rainy 33-6 win in Chicago in 1994, when the Packers built a big lead and ran the ball at will.

      Granted, comparing Hundley to Favre or Rodgers is extremely unfair.

      But there is a standard of excellence that has been set, and 87 passing yards doesn't come close to meeting it. Hundley's passer rating of 39.9 was also an eyesore, and virtually the same mark that he posted against Minnesota the week before (39.6).

      "I don't expect us, with the first time working together, for Brett to throw up 50 points," Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "But you know we definitely have to be more productive. I think everybody expects that and everybody wants that. We'll go back to work tomorrow, correct this."

      Hundley made plays with his feet, running three times for 44 yards, highlighted by a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But Hundley never could get comfortable in the pocket or in sync with his receivers.

      Green Bay's leading receiver was tight end Martellus Bennett, who had 17 receiving yards. Pro Bowler Jordy Nelson had one catch for 13 yards, Davante Adams had just two catches for 12 yards and Randall Cobb had two receptions for 15 yards.

      "The in-the-pocket stuff, he wasn't comfortable," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Frankly I was uncomfortable when I was probably calling some things.

      "We've got to kind of find our way there. I need to do a much better job with him in the drop-back passing game. He tried to do a little too much. We tried to guard against it, but he's competitive, he made some big, big plays with his feet and we'll grow from that."

      The Packers had just 65 net yards in the second half after compiling 195 in the first half. Green Bay also went 0-for-4 on third downs in the second half after going 4-of-7 in the first half (57.1 percent).

      "The coaches did a great job of preparing us for this game, and my biggest thing is I didn't play as well as I wanted to," Hundley said. "Especially, I don't care if I throw for 10 yards or 500, if we don't win the game it doesn't matter. So I obviously didn't play good enough today.

      "And obviously, it's a first start, offense (is) probably a little different. But at the same time, we still have to execute, and that's the name of the game. We've got to put points on the board, especially when we're playing a big-time offense like New Orleans, we know we're going to have to score, and unfortunately, we just didn't get it done today."

      Hundley never seemed to trust his protection and was shaky in the pocket. Once he was on the move, his accuracy was poor. And he never got into any type of rhythm with a group of pass-catchers that are typically in sync with Rodgers.

      Hundley also didn't take many shots down the field, even though Green Bay seemingly had some matchup advantages on the outside. That may have been by design, though, as McCarthy tried keeping things as simple as possible for Hundley.

      "He did a good job out there," Packers right guard Jahri Evans said of Hundley. "He commanded the huddle, he got the plays in and we've just got to go out there and execute. And we've got to continue to get better every day. It wasn't like we were thinking about doing anything differently. We've just got to go out there and execute the plays that are called."

      Green Bay now has 15 days to regroup before it hosts Detroit on Nov. 6. And Hundley knows both he and the offense have to be light years better if the Packers have any chance of surviving without Rodgers.

      "I think obviously when 12 (Rodgers) goes out, he's a Hall of Famer, he's a once in a lifetime player and it stinks as an offense to lose a great quarterback like that," Hundley said. "But as a backup I've been learning from him for three years and all I have to say is, don't write us off. I think that's the biggest thing.

      "We've got to get better and we will get better, but we're not out (of it). Just because this game (was lost) and we're 4-3 now, we still have everything in front of us. We've got our division games in front of us and we could still win the division and make the playoffs, and down the road if Aaron is healthy and comes back and we're still rolling, he'll be available. But we've got to just win games and keep the season rolling."

      For that to happen, better quarterback play is a must.

      --Strong safety Morgan Burnett has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and the Packers' defense has missed his leadership and savvy.

      "I mean, there's no question Morgan's been our quarterback," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He's been around here the longest. You've seen us play him at three different positions.

      "You know, before he went down he was our signal-caller and so, all the guys on the defense, I always correlate that with the quarterback position. Guys have confidence, you know in Morgan. And if there's any gray area he's going to try and take the gray area out if it. And so, we'll look forward to hopefully getting Morgan back here after the bye week."

      --Left guard Lane Taylor missed the game Sunday with an ankle injury. If Taylor can make it back for Green Bay's next game on Nov. 6, the Packers would have their starting offensive line together for just the second time in 2017.

      "We've talked about this on a regular basis: The best offensive lines are the ones that line up and play each and every week, and more importantly practice together," McCarthy said. "Yeah that will definitely be a boost just to have the continuity of those five."

      --Defensive tackle Kenny Clark has gigantic 10 1/2-inch hands. Clark used those big paws to block a Saints' extra point early in the third quarter, which helped Green Bay protect a 14-13 lead at the time.

      That was the Packers' first blocked extra point since Datone Jones did it at Cincinnati in Week 3 of 2013.

      "Me, Dean (Lowry) and Q (Quinton Dial) got good pressure on the guard, and just looking at the scouting report and knowing where to attack and got a good block on it," Clark said.

      NOTES: RB Aaron Jones played 44 of Green Bay's 55 offensive snaps (80.0 percent), while Ty Montgomery played just seven (12.7 percent). ... OLB Ahmad Brooks (back) missed his second straight game. ... ILB Joe Thomas (ankle) missed his third straight game. ... CB Damarious Randall has an interception in three straight games. The last Packer to accomplish that was Casey Hayward from Weeks 5-7 in 2012.

      REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Green Bay's 87 passing yards against one of the NFL's poorest passing defenses was embarrassing.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Green Bay's 181 rushing yards were a season-high. Rookie Aaron Jones led the way with 17 carries for 131 yards and his 46-yard touchdown run on the Packers' opening drive was the Packers' longest since James Starks' 65-yarder against San Diego on Oct. 18, 2015.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Packers intercepted Drew Brees two times, but he threw for 331 yards and completed 71.1 percent of his passes.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D -- New Orleans' Mark Ingram II (22 carries, 105 yards) and Alvin Kamara (9-57) punished the Packers all day.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Packers punter Justin Vogel had a net average of 46.2 and defensive tackle Kenny Clark blocked an extra point.

      --COACHING: F -- Green Bay had 10 men on the field on Ingram's 12-yard touchdown run. The offensive game plan was uninspired.

  • Chargers rescuing season from the ashes
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Monday came with a heat wave and big ray of sunshine pointed at the Los Angeles Chargers.

    • They were basking in their third straight win as Southern California entered into a heat wave. The Chargers are hot after beating the Denver Broncos, 21-0, on Sunday, but maybe not that hot.

      "We're not even at .500 yet," head coach Anthony Lynn said.

      That's correct. But the team is also riding a stretch of good football, although Sunday's shutout didn't come without a cost.

      Lynn said left guard Matt Slauson, one of the true leaders on the team, would be lost for the year. He left the game with a biceps injury and it's something that will require season-ending surgery.

      "He was one of our captains," Lynn said. "He was like having another coach in that room, especially for the young players. We are definitely going to miss Matt."

      Rookie Dan Feeney steps in as the Chargers hope to continue stepping up their game.

      "Like I said on Sunday, it was a team win," Lynn said of the Chargers' conquest of the Broncos. "In all three phases we made plays.

      "The defense stepped up and stopped them. We know we can rush the passer, but we stopped the run and that means a lot to our team. Special teams were good, with the touchdown return and the coverages. And offensively it was inconsistent, but when we needed to have a drive we had it."

      There you have it, as that winning feeling stays alive with the Chargers. They must head back out to take on the world champion New England Patriots on Sunday and that's never an easy task.

      But a season that was on the brink of dissolving has new life with the Chargers winning three straight, with two of those games being against AFC West foes.

      "Like I've been preaching, keep believing, keep sticking with us, we're going to get it done," safety Tre Boston said.

      For three consecutive weeks, the Chargers have done just that.

      --Rookie Dan Feeney will replace Matt Slauson (biceps) at left guard. Feeney is a third-round pick. "Dan has been growing by the week and he is ready," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "We knew if something like this happened, he could step in that role."

      --While some wanted to talk about running back Melvin Gordon unable to pick up 1 yard on the goal line in four straight tries, he wanted to talk about Travis Benjamin. The speedy wide receiver put on quite a show with a 65-yard touchdown punt return and a 42-yard touchdown catch.

      "It's crazy," Gordon said of Benjamin's quickness. "It's like a blur. He is so fast. We see it all the time in practice, but when we get a chance to see it on game day and the world gets to see it, it is even crazier."

      --Wide receiver Michael Williams dropped the only pass aimed his way on Sunday. Williams made his debut last week, and had a catch, after sitting out the first five games with a back injury. Lynn didn't sound pleased about Williams' drop, while stressing that he is healthy.

      --Linebacker Chris McCain had two of the Chargers' five sacks on Sunday and that's pretty good for a backup. But defensive end Melvin Ingram, who also had a sack, said that's not a proper description for McCain. "He is a starter; we don't have any backups," Ingram said.

      --Left tackle Russell Okung, who was among NFL players to meet with league executives last week in New York, continues to raise his right fist during the national anthem.

      NOTES: WR Keenan Allen (shoulder) got through the game fine. ... ILB Denzel Perryman (ankle) should continue to practice this week. ... DT Corey Liuget's back issues prevented him from playing on Sunday. ... RT Joe Barksdale (turf toe) was unable to start on Sunday and he will be monitored through the week.

      REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus - Far from Philip Rivers' best work, although he'll certainly take the big, ole' W, one in which gave him 100 in his career. Rivers threw for two touchdowns, although he didn't have all that much asked of him. Austin Ekeler caught a short swing pass and went in untouched and Travis Benjamin caught one and mostly ran the 42 yards away from everyone. But he didn't have a turnover in completing 15 of 26 passes for 183 yards. Protection was solid, although Von Miller did get to Rivers twice.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: F - Four running plays in a row on the Broncos 1 and after that sequence the Broncos get the ball on downs? Please. Melvin Gordon was stymied four straight times and it's hard to be proud of a running game after seeing that happen. The Chargers couldn't get anything going all day on the run, managing but 80 yards and getting but two first downs via the run. Some shuffling along the line is likely as Gordon was often met in the backfield.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B - The Chargers dropped two interceptions -- one a likely pick-six -- but did get one when Casey Hayward got his reliable mitts on a ball. That really iced the win for the Chargers as the Broncos were down by just down two scores at that time of his pick deep in Chargers territory. But the story remains the pass rush of Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and on Sunday, Chris McCain. Trevor Siemian never did look comfortable and when getting sacked five times, that's not a surprise.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Chargers' best showing of the year against the run as they took advantage against an offensive line that was a bit banged up or not very good -- or both. But the push was evident up front led by Brandon Mebane and Jahleel Addae coming in to often finish up -- he had a team-high nine tackles. Finally, this end of the defense came through as the Broncos had but 69 rushing yards.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Travis Benjamin flashed the speed that brought him to the Chargers. He raced 65 yards on a punt return that gave a struggling offense a boost. But the coverages were keen, too, and Drew Kaser got off a 69-yard punt. Little doubt this unit had its top showing of the season.

      --COACHING: A - Lynn had a struggling offense but he figured out how to win against a Denver team that is all about creating turnovers. Once the Chargers got the lead, Lynn kept most of the offense under wraps knowing the Broncos needed a mistake to get back into the game, considering how bad their offense was performing. The run defense was a great surprise, finally giving balance to that side of the ball. Lynn was conservative, and that's hard to do with a so-so running game, but that was the right approach considering the opponent and the scoreboard.

  • Vikings patching up offensive line again
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- All that stands between the Minnesota Vikings and a 6-2 start heading into their bye week is the woeful Cleveland Browns and their 0-7 record.

    • "I think our team will understand that this is a pretty good team once we start getting into our preparation," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday, a day after the Vikings' 24-16 win over Baltimore at U.S. Bank Stadium. "They lost by three to Pittsburgh. They lost by three to Indy. They lost in overtime to Tennessee, which is leading that division.

      "It's going to be about us and how we play. That's how it always is. Can we prepare the same way? Can we play with the same intensity?"

      Throwing a potential wrench in all of that, of course, is the trip to London for the game. The Vikings will leave after Wednesday's practice, fly through the night, land on Thursday morning and practice about five hours later.

      "This is the best we've played, but we have to keep it up," said defensive end Everson Griffen, who had two of the Vikings' five sacks of Joe Flacco and now has eight in seven games. "We're 5-2 and going to London. So we have to be smart with this trip and go there and handle business. This (trip) is not for fun."

      Backup quarterback Case Keenum, who was sloppy but kept the turnovers to only one on Sunday, will start his sixth game of the season. Whether he'll have left tackle Riley Reiff (knee) or left guard Nick Easton (calf) remains to be seen.

      Easton missed his second straight game on Sunday. Then his backup, Jeremiah Sirles, went down in the second half with a sprained knee. That forced rookie Danny Isidora into action. He played well and helped the Vikings grind out the clock in the fourth quarter.

      Zimmer said he thinks the Vikings have a good chance of getting "most" of their injured players back in time for Sunday's game. He said he doesn't think Reiff's injury is anything serious. And he also said he thinks receiver Stefon Diggs could return after missing the last two games because of a groin injury.

      Zimmer has never been to London. When asked if he'll make time to see some of the sights or keep his mind focused strictly on football, the old-school coach simply said, "Football."

      --Strong safety Andrew Sendejo was suspended one game by the NFL for violating player safety rules in Sunday's win.

      Sendejo's hit on Ravens receiver Mike Wallace on Baltimore's second series of the game was directly to the head. Wallace's helmet flew off during the collision, and Sendejo was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

      In his letter to Sendejo, Jon Runyan, the NFL's vice president of football operations, wrote: "The violation was flagrant and warrants a suspension because it could have been avoided, was violently directed at the head and neck area and unreasonably placed both you and an opposing player at risk of serious injury."

      Sendejo had missed the previous game against the Packers because of a groin injury.

      --Sunday was a good day for defensive end Everson Griffen.

      He wore custom-made cleats to honor his late mother, Sabrina. Her face and the words "Best momma in the world" were on the cleats.

      Then, on cancer-awareness day, he gripped the hand of his mother-in-law, Rebecca Brandt, a breast cancer survivor, and walked to midfield for the coin toss. Brandt was the honorary captain. The Vikings won the coin toss and forced a quick three-and-out.

      And, oh yeah, Griffen also had two more sacks, giving him eight in seven games. He and Jim Marshall (1969) are the only Vikings to have a sack in the first seven games of a season.

      Griffen needs a sack against the Browns in London next week to join Marshall (1969) and Jared Allen (2011) as the only Vikings to have a sack in eight straight games.

      "We're winning games, and that's all that really matters," Griffen said. "I'm just going out there and beating my man when I get the opportunity."

      --Former Viking and Raven Matt Birk got a robust cheer when interviewed on the field during a break in the action of Sunday's Vikings-Ravens game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

      During the interview, which was shown on the stadium's massive jumbotrons, former Vikings punter and current team radio sideline reporter Greg Coleman asked the St. Paul native what he would do if he were commissioner for a day.

      "Get rid of offensive holding," the former Pro-Bowl center joked. "Play every game on natural grass. And make everyone stand for the national anthem."

      The crowd cheered as soon as he said that. The Vikings are one of the teams that have yet to have a player kneel or sit for the anthem.

      NOTES: WR Stefon Diggs (groin) missed his second straight game. Before that, he caught only one pass for four yards the week before in Chicago. A groin injury stopped his momentum a year ago as well. ... LG Nick Easton (calf) missed his second straight game. The Vikings might try to get by without him this week against the Browns. They have a bye the week after. ...LG Jeremiah Sirles started his second straight game in Easton's place. He played well again, but sprained a knee in the second half and didn't return. ... LG Danny Isidora, a rookie third-string guard, had to jump in Sunday when Jeremiah Sirles went down. He also played well, got to the second level cleanly and helped the Vikings drive the ball and run out the clock in the fourth quarter. ... QB Sam Bradford didn't play for the fifth time in seven games and doesn't appear to be close to returning from the left knee injury he suffered in the season opener. ... LT Riley Reiff left the game late in the third quarter because of a knee injury. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he doesn't believe it to be serious. Reiff stood on the sideline in uniform after being removed. Backup Rashod Hill didn't make any glaring errors and helped the Vikings grind out the clock with two fourth-quarter drives.

      REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Case Keenum raised his record as a starter this season to 3-2. But he was far from sharp. Despite not taking a sack, Keenum had a sloppy performance that saw him miss several receivers, throw his second interception of the season and post a 67.7 passer rating. Keenum threw for only 188 yards as the Vikings settled for field goals six times. Receiver Jarius Wright had a nice game with three catches for a team-high 54 yards and three first downs. Two of his catches converted third downs, while the other was a game-high 30-yarder.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The run blocking was excellent and running back Latavius Murray capitalized with the first good game of his Vikings career. Given the lead-back role for the first time since signing as a free agent this past offseason, the former Raider had his first 100-yard game, rushing for 113 yards with a long of 35 and a touchdown from 27. He had 18 carries and a 6.3-yard average.

      --PASS DEFENSE A -- The Ravens started the game with three receivers on the inactive list and lost a fourth, Mike Wallace, to a concussion three minutes into the game. Safety Andrew Sendejo was flagged for a vicious blow to the head that knocked Wallace's helmet off. The Ravens had little ammo after that as the Vikings clamped down on Joe Flacco. The defense didn't get a takeaway, but it harassed Flacco all day. Everson Griffen had two of the Vikings' five sacks. No Ravens player had more than 38 yards receiving. And Flacco's only touchdown came on the final play of the game, with the Vikings leading 24-9.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- The Vikings won the game because they stopped the run and forced Flacco to beat them. Facing the seventh-ranked running attack, the Vikings' third-ranked run defense was better. The Ravens came in averaging 129.5 yards rushing per game. They had 64 on 20 carries. Fourteen of those yards came on two 7-yard runs the Vikings were more than happy to surrender as the Ravens ran out the clock in their territory in the closing seconds of the first half.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS A -- Facing the league's best special teams units, the Vikings stepped up with their best special teams effort of the season. Kicker Kai Forbath nailed all six of his field-goal attempts, including 52- and 51-yarders to keep pace with All-Pro Justin Tucker, who hit a 57-yarder for the Ravens. Forbath's odd mental block on PATs continued, though. He missed one for the sixth time in his 14-game Vikings career. Marcus Sherels and the punt return unit were excellent. Sherels averaged 27.7 yards on three returns, including a 46-yarder in the first quarter. Punter Ryan Quigley punted only twice, but averaged 46 yards with no returns.

      --COACHING A -- The Vikings are 5-2 and in first place even though they've had to lean on Keenum to win four of those games. The offense is keeping turnovers to a minimum, blocking well enough to sustain drives and letting the defense take over. Mike Zimmer's defense is stopping the run better than it ever has. And that's allowing Zimmer's creativity and extraordinary personnel shine in third-down situations. Also, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer deserves praise for getting his units ready for the challenge of facing a team that came in off a game in which it scored on punt and kickoff returns.

  • Panthers searching for answers
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers insist they must move on, but forgetting the thoughts of the dismal outing at Chicago won't be easy.

    • Carolina failed time and time again on offense and it's bound to take a toll on the mindset of that unit. There seems to be a shortage of playmakers, particularly if receiver Kelvin Benjamin isn't up to speed or tight end Ed Dickson isn't having a breakout performance.

      In the 17-3 loss to the Bears, the Panthers went through a game for the second time this season without a touchdown. The other time it happened, they defeated the Buffalo Bills.

      Quarterback Cam Newton said the Panthers have to learn not only to recover from such performances, but also to respond better during games.

      A first-quarter fumble and a second-quarter interception resulted in returns for touchdowns for the Bears.

      "We just couldn't seem to get our feel back," Newton said.

      Another road game awaits the Panthers as they go to Tampa Bay on Sunday. It figures that the offense will be under scrutiny leading up to that game.

      "We still have to get the job done and offensively we didn't," Newton said. "We will and we have to be better."

      And even a burst of offense late in the second quarter went for naught when a chance for a field goal was dashed when time expired.

      "We squandered that opportunity," Newton said.

      However, repeating a defensive performance like the one Carolina put together won't be easy. By allowing only five first downs, it marked a franchise-best performance for the defense.

      Chicago managed only 153 yards of total offense.

      "The game was won by the team that made three plays," head coach Ron Rivera said of the two turnovers and one long Chicago pass play. "We didn't make plays. When it counted, they got the takeaways that turned into points."

      --Head coach Ron Rivera was mostly quiet Monday on the injury front other than giving limited information on linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed Sunday's game at Chicago after entering the concussion protocol during the team's previous game.

      Rivera said Kuechly had a meeting scheduled with an independent doctor Monday. That would be the next step in the All-Pro player being cleared for practice.

      Linebacker David Mayo made his first career start Sunday in Kuechly's spot.

      --One of the encouraging aspects for the Panthers heading into the game at Chicago was the return of center Ryan Kalil.

      He had missed five games with a neck ailment. Then he didn't even last a full quarter before he was sidelined again with what was described as a similar injury.

      "I'm just pretty frustrated about the whole thing," Kalil said.

      The Panthers have had concerns along the offensive front and so Kalil's early departure didn't help matters particularly because he was part of the week-long game plan. Center Tyler Larsen filled in again, so he has had plenty of work this season.

      Kalil's status will be closely watched again.

      "Part of it is he knows what his limitations are right now," head coach Ron Rivera said.

      --Two of the best drives for the Panthers in the game at Chicago resulted in points for the Bears.

      Those were many of the disturbing fallouts from the 17-3 loss. There was no scoring in the second half, but by then the damage had been done to Carolina.

      "We're driving and something unfortunate happened," head coach Ron Rivera said.

      The first two times the Panthers drove the ball into Chicago territory, turnovers resulted in long returns for Bears touchdowns.

      It was the first time since 2010 that the Panthers allowed two defensive touchdowns in a game.

      "You lose a game and there are a lot of reasons why," Rivera said, though pointing mostly to the defensive scoring by the Bears.

      NOTES: RG Trai Turner suffered an injured left knee and didn't finish the game at Chicago. ... LT Matt Kalil hobbled off with an ankle injury during the Chicago game, but he returned to action. ... S Kurt Coleman, who had been upgraded to questionable for the game, didn't play at Chicago. But he should be closer to returning after missing three games. ... RB Fozzy Whittaker, who suffered an ankle injury Oct. 12 against Philadelphia, wasn't on the active roster for the Chicago game as he continues to deal with that injury.

      REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus - The Panthers can't seem to hit for big plays with any sort of consistency. QB Cam Newton completed 21 of 34 passes, but many of those resulted in small gains. For instance, RB Christian McCaffrey is a dependable target, but his seven receptions resulted in just five yards per catch. Newton was sacked five times, so just getting the passing attack cranked up tends to be a problem. Considering that the Panthers trailed for almost the entire game, there needs to be more production in this area.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - There was actually improvement here, though that didn't take much. The Panthers put up 108 rushing yards, but most of those were hard-earned and almost half of those (50) came from Newton. Plus, it was an option play on a pitch that resulted in a fumble that was returned for Chicago's first touchdown. Newton, though, continues to show that he's a threat by carrying the ball.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - This grade could just as well be an incomplete because the Bears attempted only seven passes. That was the fewest by any NFL team in 11 years. There was one coverage lapse (probably attributed to CB Kevon Seymour) that resulted in a big second-quarter play, but otherwise it was solid. There also was a strong pass rush on Chicago rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky, who threw for 107 yards.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus - The Bears had nowhere to go for the most part so this was a strong performance. Chicago had 68 rushing yards. In a goal-line situation, the Panthers stopped the Bears on three consecutive rushing attempts and that resulted in a short field goal. Even renowned pass rusher DE Julius Peppers was involved in some of the key stops on rushing plays.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B - These groups weren't used much, though the punt unit did some good things to help with field position. Yet, the Panthers were hurt on one Chicago punt that received a fortunate fourth-quarter bounce. The Panthers converted on their only field-goal attempt.

      --COACHING: D-plus - The Panthers didn't have any solutions that worked on offense, so that right there is a concern. Perhaps the biggest blunder came with shoddy time management late in the first half when there didn't seem to be a sense of urgency earlier in the possession and the Panthers ended up without a chance to get a field-goal attempt off before time expired. Kudos go to the defensive staff because that unit, minus one long pass play that set up a Chicago field goal, had things on lockdown.

  • Red zone is danger zone for Steelers' offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers scored a season-high 29 points against the Cincinnati Bengals, but another bad performance in the red zone puts the spotlight squarely back on offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose unit remains among the worst in the NFL when it comes to red-zone execution.

    • The Steelers scored one touchdown on six trips inside the Cincinnati 20-yard line. They are now 30th in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage. They are scoring touchdowns on only 42 percent of their red-zone trips. In their past three games, they are converting touchdowns at just an 18 percent clip.

      "I think we need to figure out how to make some plays," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "I remember we had a throw in the end zone that was dropped. I mean, if we made that play we aren't talking about red-zone struggles. I think we have to make the plays when plays present themselves.

      "We have to make them every time because you don't know if that play will come back (to haunt you). We got in the red zone near the end of the second quarter, going into halftime, so the time kind of played with us too. So, we didn't really have a good enough time to run, throw, play the pass, hit a run inside, they stopped it. Opportunities, when they come we have to make the plays when we can."

      The drop Bell referenced was by tight end Vance McDonald. After Jesse James caught two touchdowns in the opener at Cleveland, the tight ends on the roster have almost disappeared from the red-zone offense.

      The Steelers also are not getting much from 6-foot-5 wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the red zone. He had just one catch for three yards against the Bengals and was targeted one other time. Oftentimes when the Steelers get in the red zone, Bryant is not even in the game.

      The Steelers have to solve their problems in the red zone because they'll come upon an opponent in the future that will make them pay for leaving so many points on the field.

      --Wide receiver Martavis Bryant was at it again Sunday night after the Steelers beat the Bengals. One week after it was leaked that he had requested a trade from the Steelers, Bryant was responding to fans on social media and doubling down on his trade request.

      On Instagram, Bryant responded to a fan who wrote that rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is better than Bryant.

      "Juju is nowhere near better than me fool all they need to do is give me what I want and y'all can have juju and who ever else," Bryant wrote on Instagram, a post he later deleted.

      Bryant did not show up for work Monday and did not speak with reporters.

      Smith-Schuster said he had communicated with Bryant and said they're "in a good place" with their relationship.

      "I understand where he's coming from," Smith-Schuster said. "I can put myself in his shoes. There's only one ball. It's tough. At the end of the day, we have to do what's best for our team. Just moving forward, hopefully we do get him the ball more. He's a great player, a great athlete. I would like him to be on our team. Moving forward, I think he's going to be big for us."

      Bryant isn't being very productive and is not getting very many targets. He had one catch for three yards against the Bengals and was targeted just one other time in the game.

      Bryant had more snaps than Smith-Schuster against the Bengals. He played 36 snaps while Smith-Schuster played 33.

      --The Steelers recorded four more sacks against the Bengals, giving them 24 for the season. Only the Jaguars (33) have more. Three of the Steelers' four sacks came on the final seven plays the Bengals ran.

      Outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree each had a sack and defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu had the others.

      "It was a combination of rush and coverage and game circumstance," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "You need all of those things. You can have great rushes, but if you're behind, you are not going to get an opportunity to rush. It was rush and coverage working together, coupled with game circumstances. That's always the case."

      NOTES: TE Vance McDonald injured a knee against the Bengals, but there was no update on his health Monday. He had two catches in the game, but dropped a touchdown pass. ... OLB T.J. Watt has four sacks in the first seven games. The Steelers' rookie record for sacks is nine by Kendrell Bell in 2001. ... DE Tyson Alualu recorded his first sack as a member of the Steelers. Starting in place of Stephon Tuitt, Alualu finished with four tackles.

      REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B - Ben Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the first half, but he cooled off the in the second half. For the game, Roethlisberger was 14 for 24 for 224 yards, but he was just 2 for 8 for 31 yards after halftime. It was a winning performance, but the Steelers have to get more out of their passing game overall. They were just 1 for 5 in the red zone. They ended up winning by 15 points, but it easily could have been a 20- or 30-point victory if the passing game was more efficient. One positive for Roethlisberger: he spread the ball around to different receivers. Eight players caught passes with Antonio Brown leading the way with 65 yards on four catches.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-Minus - Le'Veon Bell rushed for 134 yards on 35 carries, and the running game once again paved the way to victory. It was the second consecutive game Bell rushed for 125 yards or more, the first time he accomplished that feat during the regular season in his five-year career. (He did do that in the first two rounds of the playoffs last season.) The Steelers lined up Roosevelt Nix at fullback and played power football for much of the day. The only negative was not picking up a fourth-and-1 late in the game when the outcome was still in doubt. It didn't hurt them in the end, but the Steelers have to be able to finish off teams with their running game.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - The Steelers entered the game with the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL and only added to their case that their secondary is among the most improved in the league. They limited Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to 140 yards and intercepted him twice. Joe Haden picked up his first interception as a member of the Steelers and veteran William Gay had the other. The Steelers are holding their opponents to an average of 147 passing yards per game.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B - Rookie running back Joe Mixon had some success, getting 48 yards on seven carries, but the Steelers made the Bengals one-dimensional and forced them into passing situations. For the game, the Bengals had 71 yards on 17 carries. Mixon had a couple of long runs, including a 25-yarder early in the game. Those inflated the rushing average for the Bengals, but the Steelers have to get more consistent in limiting long runs. They've given up far too many through seven games.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Chris Boswell booted five goals and safety Robert Golden perfectly executed a fake punt. Boswell has been one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL since signing with the Steelers in 2015. Golden completed a 44-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey on a fake punt in the fourth quarter when the Steelers led 26-14. It was an important play in the game because the Bengals looked like they were going to get the ball back with plenty of time to mount a comeback. Instead, the Steelers kicked another field goal and bled the clock.

      --COACHING: B - The coaches finally seem to be figuring out that riding Le'Veon Bell is the best way for the Steelers to stack wins. The coaches fed Bell the ball 38 times, including 35 rushing attempts that netted 134 yards. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley still has to figure out what is ailing his team in the red zone though. The Steelers scored one touchdown on five red-zone trips Sunday and remain among the NFL's worst red-zone offenses. The defense continues to shine under defensive coordinator Keith Butler. The defense limited the Bengals to 19 yards after halftime.

  • Cutler down, but Moore does the job
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins, behind backup quarterback Matt Moore, defeated the New York Jets, 31-28, extending their winning streak to three games. But quarterback Jay Cutler sustained cracked ribs and could be out a few weeks.

    • What that means for the starting job when Cutler eventually returns remains to be seen. Moore, who seems certain to start Thursday at Baltimore, said "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

      Head coach Adam Gase didn't even want to go that far.

      "You're getting way ahead of me because with us with this quick turnaround, I'm really focused on this week," he said Monday. "When we get through Thursday, we've got our bye weekend. Then I'm able to kind of sit back and just kind of see where we're at, total picture and with the health status of a lot of different people.

      "I'm not even ready to go anywhere near anything with the quarterback. I know who's available this week, possibly. It looks like what I'm going to do. After that, I'll move on from there."

      The important thing, for now, is the Dolphins (4-2) are rolling.

      And just as encouraging, Miami, which entered Sunday's game with arguably the NFL's worst offense, got solid quarterback play against the Jets, as Cutler and Moore combined to pass for 304 yards, with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 108.6 passer rating.

      Cutler, who left the game early in the third quarter after being sacked by linebacker Jordan Jenkins, was 12 of 16 for 138 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. That's a 114.1 passer rating, a season best.

      Moore, bypassed for the starting job in the offseason after Ryan Tannehill was injured, was 13 of 21 for 188 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. That's a 102.9 passer rating in his season debut.

      This dynamic between Gase and Moore could be interesting. Moore is a quarterback who likes to air it out, evidenced by his entrance into Sunday's game, when the offense took off.

      But there's a downside to Moore's so-called gunslinger mentality. You saw that with his interception against the Jets.

      There's also a fear Moore will move around outside the pocket and make the pass at the expense of protecting himself, such as last year's wild-card game against Pittsburgh in which Moore was knocked silly by linebacker Bud Dupree.

      Gase has largely kept Cutler under wraps, calling more short and intermediate routes while claiming Cutler seldom had time to set his feet properly to throw deep.

      Speaking of quarterbacks, while the starting job requires no decision this week, the backup job could be in question. Miami has second-year quarterback Brandon Doughty, a seventh-round pick from Western Kentucky, on its practice squad.

      But David Fales, who was with Miami in training camp, is reportedly already in the Dolphins' sights.

      Late last season, when Moore took over for Tannehill, the Dolphins signed veteran backup T.J. Yates.

      As for Cutler, Gase said he is not sure how long he is likely to be sidelined.

      "It really becomes a pain tolerance thing once you get everything calmed down," Gase said. "It's not an easy injury. It's tough to breathe, let alone throw (and do) what he has to do as a quarterback. That's when, yesterday, just watching him, when he stayed down, I knew it couldn't have been anything good. He's not one to really stay down after getting hit."

      --Nickel cornerback Bobby McCain had a key interception with 47 seconds left to basically win Sunday's game against the Jets. MCain's interception led to a 39-yard, game-winning field goal with 26 seconds left that gave Miami a 31-28 victory.

      "Little scrappy little Mighty Mouse, we like to call him," defensive end Cam Wake said.

      It was the second time in two weeks the secondary has come up with a late-game big play. Safety Reshad Jones had an interception at Atlanta two games ago with 39 seconds left to ice that 20-17 victory.

      Combine a newfound knack for making late-game plays with its statistical success -- Miami is 10th in total defense (308.2 yards per game), fifth against the run (82.3 yards per game) and tied for sixth in points per game (18.7) -- and the Dolphins' defense is looking truly tough.

      "It's about winning, whatever it takes to win football games," said Jones, who had a team-best seven tackles against the Jets. "We know it's going to come down to the fourth quarter. Once we get in the fourth quarter we know we have to own the fourth quarter and that's what we did to pull off this victory."

      --Miami is on a 12-game winning streak in games decided by seven or fewer points, and that includes being 8-0 at home.

      "The game is 60 minutes, and we like to play four quarters, so just finish," wide receiver Kenny Stills said. "(Head coach Adam Gase) talks about finishing all the time, and we seem to play really well in the fourth quarter."

      Miami lost its first two close games under Gase, dropping a 12-10 decision at Seattle in last year's opener and then a 31-24 decision at New England in Week 2.

      Since then it's been nothing but success with Miami going 8-0 last season and 4-0 this season in games decided by seven or fewer points.

      --Miami's wide receivers, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, rode to the rescue of a struggling offense against the New York Jets, combining for 13 receptions, 178 yards and three touchdowns.

      Stills (six receptions, 85 yards, two touchdowns) had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first to cut Miami's deficit to 28-21, and the second to tie the game at 28.

      Landry (seven receptions, 93 yards, one touchdown) hurdled a defender after one of his receptions and scored on a 4-yard reception in the first quarter to tie the game at 7.

      Stills and Landry did this, of course, without fellow wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle), who missed his second consecutive game, and while running back Jay Ajayi (23 carries, 51 yards) was being manhandled.

      That and a commitment to a more aggressive attitude in the passing game opened the door for Stills and Landry to excel.

      "We tried to open it up a little bit and do some things to push the ball down the field," head coach Adam Gase said. "We kind of weren't really worried about what the result was going to be. We were going to try to make sure that we took the top off and made them play honest."

      NOTES: LG Anthony Steen (foot) was wearing a walking boot on his left leg in the locker room Monday. Steen started and played the entire game Sunday against the New York Jets. ... QB Jay Cutler (ribs) is expected to miss a few weeks due to the injury he sustained early in the third quarter when he was sacked by Jets LB Jordan Jenkins. ... LT Laremy Tunsil (knee) left Sunday's game early in the third quarter and didn't return. He was replaced by LT Jesse Davis, who seemed to play reasonably well. ... DE Andre Branch (groin) left Sunday's game against the New York Jets and didn't return. His status for Thursday is uncertain. ... WR DeVante Parker (ankle) is questionable for Thursday's game at Baltimore. Parker, who was injured on the third snap of the Tennessee game, has essentially missed the last three games, although officially it's a two-game absence. ... C Mike Pouncey, who spent last week in concussion protocol, started and played the entire game against the New York Jets. ... S Reshad Jones had a team-best seven tackles against the New York Jets and, save for one hiccup, seemed to return to his sure-tackling, good pursuit-angle ways of old. ... CB Bobby McCain had an interception with 39 seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal against the New York Jets. "He was staring down No. 1 (receiver) the whole time," McCain said of Jets QB Josh McCown. "I just jumped the route and caught the ball." ... K Cody Parkey hit the game-winning 39-yard field goal with 22 seconds left against the New York Jets. Parkey, a perfect 8 of 8 on field goals, has provided the winning points in three victories. ... DE Cam Wake had 2.5 sacks against the New York Jets and appears to be heating up. Wake, who has 6.0 sacks, has 5.0 sacks in October with Thursday's game at Baltimore the remaining game this month.

      REPORT CARD VS. JETS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- The quarterbacks played well. Jay Cutler (12 of 16, 138 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception) and Matt Moore (13 of 21, 188 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception) combined to lead the offense when the running game was shut down. Also credit WRs Jarvis Landry (seven receptions, 93 yards, 1 TD) and Kenny Stills (six receptions, 85 yards, 2 TDs), and while we're at it, throw in TEs Julius Thomas (three receptions, 58 yards) and Anthony Fasano (three receptions, 25 yards, 1 TD). The three sacks and Cutler's injury are a downer.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Jets did it again. RB Jay Ajayi (23 carries, 51 yards) had tough sledding against the Jets, who held Miami to 25 carries for 53 yards (2.1 yards per carry). There was nothing there for Miami. Nothing. Ajayi was held to 16 yards on 11 carries vs. the Jets in September. It's just a bad matchup. It should be noted LT Laremy Tunsil (knee) left the game in the third quarter and didn't return.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- Nickel CB Bobby McCain came up with the key play, an interception with 39 seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal. But Jets QB Josh McCown was 17 of 27 for 209 yards, 3 TDs and 1 interception for a 108.4 passer rating. He had a good day. But Miami had 3.0 sacks, led by DE Cam Wake's 2.5 sacks, so that's a bonus. All things considered, Miami did well because it made the game-winning play and kept pressure on McCown.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Miami didn't get hurt badly in this area, but the Jets totaled 92 yards on 22 carries, an average of 4.2 yards per attempt, which is fairly efficient. RBs Bilal Powell (nine carries, 43 yards, 4.8 yards per carry) and Elijah McGuire (seven carries, 41 yards, 5.9 yards per carry) each had a big run, Powell going for 25 yards and McGuire going for 15. Still, it's an acceptable performance for a unit that's been among the league's best so far this year.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A - K Cody Parkey hit the game-winning 39-yard field goal with 26 seconds left. P Matt Haack (six punts, 40.5 yards, two inside the 20) was decent. There wasn't a whole lot in the return game. But Miami's coverage units were solid. The big thing was Parkey was there when Miami needed him again. He has three game-winning field goals this season.

      --COACHING: A -- Head coach Adam Gase held things together despite losing his starting quarterback and having a struggling running game. Miami stayed focused, scoring a remarkable 17 points in the fourth quarter to record yet another come-from-behind victory and extend its winning streak to three games. This team has been through a lot, starting with the training camp injuries, and to be 4-2 at this point is admirable.

  • Newcomer Thompson lifts Bills' WR group
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have had problems all season with an unproductive wide receiving corps, but perhaps they found a solution with veteran newcomer Deonte Thompson.

    • Cut by the Bears last week, Thompson signed with the Bills and was thrust into action immediately, and he produced. He had four catches for 107 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game for the Bills this season, in the 30-27 victory Sunday over Tampa Bay.

      Thompson's biggest play came with three minutes left when he reeled in a 44-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to set up running back LeSean McCoy's game-tying touchdown.

      "Love his attitude, man," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. "Obviously, he loves that attitude that we have, and that's toughness and mental toughness and physical toughness -- the underdog. He embraces that, and that's what you saw. He made a huge play late in the game and a couple of big plays during the game."

      Thompson has bounced around from Baltimore to Chicago to Buffalo since entering the league in 2012. He started six games for the Bears last season and caught 22 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and this year in five games (three starts), he had 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown before the Bears released him.

      "It came out of nowhere," he said of his somewhat surprising release from a team that is even worse than the Bills in the passing game. "I was one of the leading receivers over there. I was playing great. To this day, I still don't know why or what I did. It's very cold-hearted, man. I've been cut before, but that one cut deep. I felt like I was a leader on the team. I still don't understand."

      The Bills recognized an opportunity to grab a player who has some viable NFL experience, something they were gravely in need of. Through Sunday, the Bills' wideouts have just 34 catches for 461 yards combined, 145 of the yards coming against the Bucs.

      "There's a whole bunch of guys in here that other teams didn't want," said Thompson. "We all feel like that, but this is a great team. This team is going to do some special things this year. We believe in one another."

      It also helped that Thompson had a relationship with Taylor as they spent two years together in Baltimore.

      "It's great to see him come in and have the game that he did," Taylor said. "I've known DT for a while now. I'm proud of the way he played. I'm proud of the way everyone played. ... He was able to take advantage of some matchups, and he was able to make some plays downfield."

      The Bills' passing game is desperate for a spark. The Bills still rank 29th in the NFL in passing, and will be playing several more weeks without tight end Charles Clay. Jordan Matthews is a solid veteran, but he's battling a thumb issue following surgery and his effectiveness was limited Sunday. Then there's rookie second-round pick Zay Jones, who is enduring a nightmare of a season. He has only seven catches for 83 yards despite playing 85 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps.

      So the timing may be perfect for Thompson, a player who was with the Bills briefly at the end of 2014, but was cut in training camp by then-head coach Rex Ryan the following year, which led him to joining the Bears.

      --The Bills have a problem in their secondary, and this is not the week to be experiencing personnel issues with the Raiders of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook coming to town. Cornerback E.J. Gaines suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter and was unable to finish the game, and free safety Jordan Poyer suffered a knee injury on the final play of the game, a wacky, multiple-lateral play that made his injury a bit tough for head coach Sean McDermott to swallow.

      "Those are unfortunate," McDermott said. "It'd be nice if there was a time clock on those plays just to, you know, after a certain time you've got to call the play dead. That would've been helpful."

      On Monday, McDermott said that both Gaines and Poyer will for now be listed as day-to-day. Given that Poyer has played almost every defensive snap in the first six games, and been one of the Bills' best players, that one in particular is a critical injury.

      Buffalo's depth is woeful at safety behind Poyer and strong safety Micah Hyde. Currently, only Shamarko Thomas and Trae Elston are on the active roster, while L.J. McCray is on the practice squad. Thomas joined the Bills this season after four years with the Steelers, during which he started only two games in the secondary, both as a rookie in 2013. Elston is an undrafted rookie.

      --The Bills regained some of their missing mojo in the run game against Tampa Bay. After four games where they rushed for 69, 75, 117 and 82 yards, the Bills rolled up 173, with LeSean McCoy gaining 91 and scoring his first two touchdowns of the season. One of the keys was the excellent job the interior blockers did in neutralizing star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

      "We gave him a lot of attention," said Bills center Eric Wood. "We knew where he was on every play, especially pass plays. As far as the run game goes, we knew we didn't want him to penetrate super-hard, so there were times we didn't get off on the 'backers as well as we might like to on a normal day. There's other guys that warrant the same attention. J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald. You close him off and try to not let him get going."

      McCoy started the day with just 279 yards rushing and no touchdowns, but the Bills diversified their run package and McCoy was able to find space on the edges as well as up the middle.

      "We changed the scheme up a little bit," said McCoy. "I had more one-on-one opportunities and I felt I ran solid, too."

      NOTES: QB Tyrod Taylor had one of his best games of the season with 268 yards passing, 53 yards rushing, and no turnovers. He also won for the third time in 19 tries in games where the Bills trailed by at least four points at any stage of the game. ... RB LeSean McCoy got on the scoreboard by scoring his first two touchdowns of the season during a day when he rushed for 91 yards and caught five passes for 31 yards. ... WR Jordan Matthews returned after missing just one game with a broken thumb, though he had only two catches for 10 yards. ... WR Deonte Thompson made his debut for the Bills a big one as he caught four passes for 107 yards including a 44-yarder on the game-tying touchdown drive inside the final three minutes. ... LB Matt Milano made his second career start and had an interception as well as five tackles, two of which went for losses. ... LB Preston Brown led the Bills with 11 tackles and was also credited with two QB pressures on just three snaps in which he blitzed. ... FS Jordan Poyer suffered a knee injury on the game's final play, a wild, multi-lateral fiasco during which he got nailed. Head coach Sean McDermott said Monday he'll be day-to-day this week, but the injury seemed to be a little more significant than that. ... RG John Miller was benched for the second game in a row as Vlad Ducasse got the start and played every offensive snap. ... LT Cordy Glenn returned to the starting lineup after a three-game absence and played 85 percent of the snaps. ... CB E.J. Gaines, already slowed by a groin injury, suffered a hamstring injury and missed half the game. He will be listed as day-to-day this week.

      REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus - Tyrod Taylor had his most productive game of the year as he threw for a season-high 268 yards and was once again turnover free. There were some typically ugly moments as Taylor's ball placement continues to be an issue, but he completed passes to nine different receivers. The biggest surprise of the day was the performance of newcomer Deonte Thompson, who signed earlier in the week and went out and caught four passes for 107 yards including a 44-yarder that set up the tying touchdown in the final three minutes. Rookie WR Zay Jones continues to struggle and had only two catches for 17 yards, while Jordan Matthews returned from thumb surgery and had two catches for 10 yards.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus - The Bills have had a tough time running the ball this year after leading the league in rushing in 2015 and 2016. But against the Bucs, they produced 173 yards with an attack that was a little more multiple in the plays they ran. LeSean McCoy had 91 yards and scored his first two touchdowns of the season, and he was taken off the hook for his fourth-quarter fumble that set up Tampa Bay's go-ahead touchdown. The Bills also got a boost from Taylor, who used some designed runs and scrambles to gain 53 yards, something the Bills need to make their offense work.

      --PASS DEFENSE: F - It was a mostly miserable day for the defense trying to contain Jameis Winston and his band of talented targets. Winston threw for 384 yards on 32-of-44 accuracy, and the quartet of Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, DeSean Jackson and Cameron Brate combined for 24 receptions for 319 yards and three touchdowns. The pass rush produced just one sack, though it was a big one as it resulted in a fumble. LB Matt Milano picked off Winston late in the first half, but the Bills failed to capitalize on either. The biggest play came from rookie CB Tre'Davious White who forced the game-altering fumble after a short completion to Adam Humphries late in the fourth quarter that led to the winning field goal.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus - The Bucs had a big day passing, but they did not quit on the running game. They ran 25 times, but had very little success as the Bills held them to 69 yards. Doug Martin gained 40 on 20 attempts as the Bills did a nice job limiting missed tackles, particularly MLB Preston Brown who led the way with 11 stops. Tampa Bay's average per rush was just 2.8. DT Marcell Dareus played his best game of the season as he was in on five tackles among his 41 snaps of work.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus - Stephen Hauschka was 3-for-4 on field goals, including the game-winner from 30 yards with 14 seconds left to play. He did miss from 41 yards, only his second fail of the year, but he made one from 52 yards that enabled him to tie an NFL record with 12 straight successes from 50 yards and beyond. Colton Schmidt punted only twice, and they were beauties, including a 55-yarder that was downed at the 9 late in the first half. Neither team did anything in the return game, which has become a trend in the NFL.

      --COACHING: C - The Bills have become a resilient, gritty team under new head coach Sean McDermott, and there is no doubt the attention to detail is greatly improved this season. However, there were some problems with clock management, and wasting timeouts in this game, and the Bills were fortunate those mistakes didn't come back to haunt them. The defensive staff never found a way to slow down Tampa Bay's passing game, and the scheme was bailed out by three turnovers. On offense, coordinator Rick Dennison put together a strong run-game package that rolled up 173 yards.

  • Cracked ribs could sideline Dolphins QB Cutler
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler has "multiple cracked ribs" and is unlikely to start in Thursday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, coach Adam Gase confirmed Monday.

    • "Right now it doesn't look real good," Gase said of Cutler playing this week. "We're just kind of taking it day-to-day right now and see where it goes from there."

      Cutler suffered a third-quarter chest injury in Sunday's game against the New York Jets with Miami trailing 21-14 before backup Matt Moore rallied the Dolphins to a 31-28 win.

      "It really becomes a pain tolerance thing once you get everything calmed down," Gase told reporters Monday of Cutler's status. "It's not an easy injury. It's tough to breathe, let alone throw (and do) what he has to do as a quarterback. That's when, yesterday, just watching him, when he stayed down, I knew it couldn't have been anything good. He's not one to really stay down after getting hit."

      Cutler took a hit from Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins and received an MRI exam on his ribs Sunday evening.

      Facing a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Moore threw two touchdown passes in the final 12 minutes as the Dolphins scored 17 points in the final quarter. He was 13-of-21 passing for 188 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

      Moore, who led the team to a 2-1 record filling in for injured starter Ryan Tannehill last season, is expected to get his first start of the season when the Dolphins visit M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

      "He did this last year, and I don't know, it just feels like we didn't really skip a beat," Gase said of Moore. "So it's easy for us to kind of go again. Matt's a very easy guy to call plays for because you never really hear him say, 'I don't like that,' or 'I don't like this.' He just kind of says the play and then rolls."

      The 34-year-old Cutler came out of retirement after Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. Cutler, who signed to a one-year, $10 million contract, has passed for 995 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in six games for the Dolphins (4-2).

  • Texans LT Brown ends holdout, could play Sunday
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    Houston Texans Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown ended his holdout on Monday and could play as soon as this week against the Seattle Seahawks.

    • The 32-year-old Brown reported to NRG Stadium after his holdout did not result in a new contract.

      "I'm just here to work, man," Brown told reporters. "I'm leaving everything else up to the front office and my agent. It's always hard to be away from your craft, but I'm excited to be back."

      Brown, whose base salary was $9.4 million this season, lost about $3.3 million -- forfeiting six $552,921 game checks -- by not reporting, according to the Houston Chronicle. He will have about $6.1 million remaining on his base salary.

      The three-time Pro Bowl selection has two years remaining on his six-year, $53.4 million contract through the 2018 season with a $9.65 million nonguaranteed base salary next year.

      Brown said he is "very ready" to play on Sunday against Seahawks. He can practice but would need to be added to the Texans' active roster to play in a game.

      "It's my 10th year doing this, so I'm very familiar with what I need to do in order to be out there and be productive and be efficient," Brown said. "I'm in shape. So it's just getting caught up to speed on the plays and terminology and I'll be good."

      Brown was asked about the Oct. 31 NFL trade deadline.

      "I'm not thinking about that," Brown said. "I'm just here to play. Everything else is up to the organization and my agent. I'm here. This is where I want to be. I love the city of Houston. I love the fans. I love my teammates."

      The Texans considered trading Brown and spoke to teams such as the Seahawks but nothing materialized, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

  • Streak snapped: Browns iron man LT Thomas out for season
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    Cleveland Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas will miss the rest of the season after an MRI exam revealed a torn triceps in his left arm, the team announced Monday.

    • Thomas suffered the injury with 5:21 left in the third quarter while making a block in Sunday's game as the Tennessee Titans kept the Browns winless with a 12-9 victory in overtime.

      "MRI reveals torn tricep tendon. Surgery soon. Tough break," Thomas tweeted Monday.

      Thomas never missed a snap in his NFL career prior to the injury. He was the third-overall pick out of Wisconsin in the 2007 draft and had played 10,363 consecutive snaps over 10-plus seasons.

      Thomas is one of five players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of their first 10 seasons in the league, joining Mel Renfro, Merlin Olsen, Barry Sanders and Lawrence Taylor.

      Thomas will miss this Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings in London that will also end his streak of 167 straight starts.

      "I've done it a million times where you're just blocking a guy and you go try to finish him and you get one last shove, one last push, and just felt something unnatural in your arm," Thomas told reporters after Sunday's game.

      "It wasn't an infinity streak. There was certainly going to be a time where either because of injury or lack of production it was going to end. I think I was enough of a realist to understand that I wasn't going to be able to continue on forever without missing a play. It was just a matter of time, and unfortunately it happened in Week 7."

      After undergoing the MRI exam on Monday, Thomas showed his sense of humor: "The Geneva convention on torture (confinement, stress positions) was just violated when they wedged me into that MRI tube for 2 hrs. Yikes!"

      Thomas rolled to the ground in pain after a short run play against the Titans. His teammates knelt and watched as trainers tended to him, thinking he would stand and walk back to the huddle as he always does. But not this time.

      Thomas left the game to a standing ovation before trotting to the locker room.

      Browns coach Hue Jackson went out on the field to show his support.

      "(I told him) that I love him and I appreciate everything that he is," Jackson said after the game. "I promised him that when he's back, if he's back, that we're going to get this thing figured out because he is Cleveland Browns football. He is a guy that keeps us all going and moving forward. We owe him more than what we have given him thus far. That is for sure."

  • Cowboys RB Elliott eligible another week after ruling
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    Ezekiel Elliott will be allowed to play at least another week after a federal judge on Monday rejected the NFL's request for an expedited hearing on the Dallas Cowboys running back's six-game suspension for alleged domestic assault against his ex-girlfriend.

    • Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Elliott's hearing will be held, as originally scheduled, on Oct. 30.

      The latest ruling keeps Elliott eligible to play this Sunday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field under the temporary restraining order granted last Tuesday by another U.S. District judge in New York blocking the suspension.

      The 22-year-old Elliott took advantage of last week's legal reprieve, gaining 219 yards from scrimmage and scoring three touchdowns -- 147 rushing yards and two scores in addition to a 72-yard TD pass -- to lead the Cowboys to a 40-10 victory over San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday.

      "I put that aside when I get with these guys," Elliott told reporters after the game. "These guys do a good job of giving me something else to think about, keeping me up no matter what's going on out there. I'm just happy to be out here and be able to play with them and go and get another win."

      NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Elliott for six games on Aug. 11 after the league's 13-month league investigation concluded he was in violation of the league's personal-conduct policy for the incident in the summer of 2016. Elliott, who was not arrested or charged in the case, maintains his innocence after being accused of assaulting his former girlfriend in Columbus, Ohio.

      Elliott has rushed for 540 yards and four touchdowns on 131 carries in six games this season while his case was in the court system. He also has 18 catches for 206 yards and two TDs. As a rookie last season, he led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards.

  • Steelers WR Bryant calls in sick after revisiting trade talk
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant appeared to be asking for a trade again when he posted "give me what I want" on social media Sunday night and then did not show up to team meetings on Monday due to an illness.

    • Bryant's agent, Thomas Santanello, told ESPN that Bryant went to see a doctor Monday morning.

      Bryant was not in the Steelers facility and his locker chair was folded during the media's 45-minute window of open access Monday afternoon, according to ESPN.

      "He wants out, point blank," a source close to Bryant told ESPN.

      Late Sunday night, Bryant on a since-deleted Instagram post, called out rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught a 31-yard touchdown in the Steelers' 29-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

      A post from "FantasyFootballCounselor" showed a video of Ben Roethlisberger overthrowing Antonio Brown on third-and-1 and criticized the Steelers quarterback for forcing the ball to Brown rather than throwing to Bryant.

      Bryant responded in the since-deleted comment that was screen-grabbed and shared on social media.

      "JuJu is no where near better than me, fool," Bryant posted in response. "All they need to do is give me what I want and y'all can have JuJu and whoever else."

      Bryant then clarified those remarks with a new comment that tagged Smith-Schuster.

      "JuJu is the future and got great talent and is going to be one of the best to play this game," Bryant commented. "I want him to get his. I just want mines, period, point-blank. Ain't nobody did nothing to get me back. I worked my ass off to get myself back with no help and little support, period. In due time the process will show."

      Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster three times in Sunday's win and twice to Bryant. who had one catch for 3 yards.

      Smith-Schuster told reporters Monday that he does not take Bryant's comments about him personally.

      "There's only one ball," Smith-Schuster said. "We all have to focus on the bigger picture, and that's getting (championship) No. 7."

      Last week, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that sources informed him of Bryant's trade request because of lack of playing time, adding that Steelers teammates and coaches are well aware that the receiver is unhappy.

      ESPN confirmed the report, citing Bryant's unhappiness with his role in the offense. Bryant then told reporters last Monday he had not requested a trade.

      "I'm good ... That's up to the coaches," Bryant said when asked about his role in the offense.

      Bryant, 25, missed the entire 2016 season due to a suspension by the NFL for multiple drug violations under the substance-abuse policy. He has 18 catches (36 targets) for 234 yards and one touchdown in seven games this season.

      Bryant has 94 career receptions for 1,548 yards and 15 touchdowns in 28 regular-season games since being drafted in the fourth round out of Clemson in 2014.

  • Brady's cancer-surviving mom honored before game
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday was a success for Tom Brady hours before his New England Patriots disposed of the Atlanta Falcons in the fog at Gillette Stadium.

    • Brady's mother, Galynn, a cancer survivor, was in town and was on the field, with his father, Tom Sr., before the game -- as part of the NFL's "Crucial Catch" celebration of survivors.

      Asked what it meant to have them there, as they were at the Super Bowl, Brady said, "A lot. It was great for them to be here and be in attendance and for us to win while they're here in attendance, too. It's been a while since that happened. But, that was very special for me.

      "I heard they got on the field pregame. (I am) just happy for my mom. I mean, what's she's been through is pretty challenging and challenging for my dad, challenging for all the people out there that are battling with cancer and other diseases.

      "You can't take anything for granted, so I love the time I get with her. We were carving pumpkins today with my kids and beating the Falcons tonight, so it made for a pretty perfect day for me."

      --Foggiest idea

      There were times that the Gillette Stadium fans didn't have the foggiest idea of what was happening on the field.

      The fog rolled in, shrouding the game in a bit of secrecy.

      Fans -- and people watching from the press box -- had no idea how difficult a catch Julio Jones made for Atlanta's only score. The wiry receiver went up from behind Malcolm Butler and took the ball out of the shorter cornerback's hands above his head.

      But as far as the players were concerned, the fog really wasn't that big a deal.

      "That was crazy. I have never seen that," said Brady. "It was just so still out there. The fog had no place to go. I don't think it affected much, really, at the end of the day. I'm sure it looked cool on TV, though."

      "That fog was pretty crazy," said tight end Rob Gronkowski.

      Added Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman: "I remember playing in the fog at my high school national championship game down in Orlando, Fla., against Dr. Phillips. It was a similar situation. It's just foggy for the fans, but on the field it's kind of clear. No, it didn't affect us at all."

      --Ryan, Falcons struggling

      Matt Ryan has thrown seven touchdown passes and six interceptions this season and his team, which started out 3-0, has dropped three straight games -- all to the AFC East.

      "I've been in this league long enough to know that one, it's hard to win games," Ryan said. "And two, it's a tall task to be productive, week in and week out. We haven't been as productive as I know we need to be. It really comes down to missed opportunities."

      Jones, who made an outstanding catch for the Falcons' only touchdown of the game, said, "We were just off and that is it. We just weren't on the same page."

      --Gronk flagged much

      Somehow, Gronkowski had as many penalties -- three -- as catches in the New England victory.

      He was targeted seven times and caught three, for 51 yards, with a long of 27. But he was also guilty of a pass interference penalty and a pair of false starts; three of his team's eight penalties in the game.

      But that didn't dampen his post-game spirit, as his team raised its record to 5-3 and he was on the field free of injury for a second straight week.

  • Steelers' Haden successful in rivalry with Bengals' Green
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Green came out of the Bengals' 29-14 loss to the Steelers with season lows of three catches for 41 yards.

    • Little wonder that long-time rival Joe Haden was on the other side of the ball.

      The two have been going at it since they played college ball for Georgia and Florida, when Haden returned a Matthew Stafford pass 88 yards for a Florida touchdown. The two players continued their rivalry when Haden played for the Cleveland Browns. He even returned another pass to Green for a touchdown.

      Haden got another interception Sunday on the only pass thrown Green's way with Haden in coverage.

      "It was," Haden said. "He wasn't lining up on my side very often. He was lining up on the left side of their defense."

      The interception occurred in the middle of the third quarter with the Steelers leading 23-14. The Bengals had a second-and-2 at their 33 when Andy Dalton's pass deflected off Green's hands and Haden swooped in for the interception. It led to another Chris Boswell field goal.

      "I wouldn't call it mastery," Haden said. "That one was just good fortune, just being alert. He tipped it up and I was right there."

      It was the first interception for Haden with the Steelers.

      "I needed to get that first pick," he said. "Picks can start coming in bunches. Never press for it. Never try to go outside of the defense to make a play. But if you're playing your technique, doing your thing, staying on top of coverage, good things will happen."

      "We didn't play up to where we needed to today," said Green. "They did a great job taking me away."

      --The renegade blues

      In the fourth quarter of every game at Heinz Field, a video featuring Steelers defensive hits is played on the Jumbotron accompanied by the Styx song "Renegade."

      The Bengals played it at practice during the week, but it apparently didn't prepare them for the feeding frenzy that followed.

      With 11:05 left in the fourth quarter, and the Bengals' offense waiting through a TV timeout, the song was played to the excitement of 65,363 fans. The Steelers' defense was revved up as well. Defensive lineman Tyson Alualu sacked Dalton on first down for an 11-yard loss, Dalton threw incomplete on second down, and was sacked by linebacker Bud Dupree for a 13-yard loss on third down.

      The Steelers took the punt and drove for a field goal that gave them an insurmountable 15-point lead.

      "Being on the other side of it, I know how it gets the crowd hyped," Haden said. "It gets me hyped, too, even when I was playing against the Steelers. To be able to be a part of it, with the crowd into it and everything, it was exceptional."

      "I'm getting the vibe," said another Steelers newcomer, rookie linebacker T.J. Watt. "When you see that screen go black, you know it's coming. It gets you amped up. And especially when you're getting after the quarterback and you know they're passing, it definitely adds an element to the game."

      The Steelers' defense turned up the pressure in the second half, when the unit recorded all four of its sacks. Watt and defensive end Cameron Heyward each had sacks to tie linebacker Vince Williams at four for the team's lead this season. Dupree and Alualu also had sacks for the Steelers. Haden and cornerback Will Gay had second-half interceptions.

      "The second half was a blast," said Watt. "We knew we were nipping at his heels all game long, and to finally start getting a piece of him and watching everybody get a piece, with the interceptions and the sacks, it was a fricking blast."

      --Rob G. goes deep

      There's Johnny U. And now there's Rob G.

      Rob Golden, the Steelers' reserve safety and personal protector on the punt team, completed a 44-yard bomb to Darrius Heyward-Bey on a fourth-and-7 fake punt from the Steelers' 40-yard line with 6:53 left and the Bengals still within reach at 26-14.

      Golden saw Heyward-Bey uncovered and made the call. Center Kameron Canaday snapped it short and Golden passed the ball into the hands of Heyward-Bey, one of the team's punt gunners.

      It was the second fake punt/pass completion of Golden's career. The other one went for 25 yards in a 2014 win at Cleveland.

      "I was a high school quarterback," said Golden. "I think I was decent, but I had some good athletes around me."

      Why the risk at that point?

      "We wanted to secure the victory," he said. "It's something we work on every week probably for the last three, four years. For us to get out there and be able to execute it at that level, it was clutch."

      The play set up a field goal for a 15-point lead with 5:17 left.

      --The JuJu Games

      Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, at 20, is the youngest player in the NFL, and his veteran teammates enjoy his youthful enthusiasm. On his last touchdown, he celebrated with a tribute to his favorite cartoon, Dragon Ball Z.

      Prior to Sunday's game, running back Le'Veon Bell had a better idea.

      "I came to JuJu with it about 10 minutes before the game," said Bell. "I said, 'Hey JuJu, if one of us scores, let's play hide-and-seek.' He was on it. We didn't even practice it or nothing. It just kind of happened."

      Smith-Schuster was wide open at the 10-yard line and easily made his way into the end zone to complete a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger that put the Steelers ahead by 14-7 in the second quarter. To celebrate, Smith-Schuster pretended to count while Bell hid behind the goal post.

      But there was a more important aspect to Smith-Schuster's third career touchdown.

      "We've been working on that play since camp," Smith-Schuster said. "It paid off. The safety bit down, took the out route, and I came wide open. It was a great play."

      It was also his first experience with the Bengals, perhaps the Steelers' most hated rival.

      "I give respect to that Bengals defense," Smith-Schuster said. "That was the most physical game I ever played in. You could see on film me and 36 (Shawn Williams) were going at it; both safeties, corners. Even on my touchdown, (linebacker Vontaze) Burfict got a piece of me."

      --Protection on the run

      Bell went into the game admitting he would protect himself from any dirty hits from the Bengals.

      That can't be an easy task amid 38 touches.

      "He did it though," said Steelers guard Ramon Foster. "When you're done with your assignment, go down. That's what he did today. He didn't try to go for the extra yards. If there was a pile around, you could see him under the pile bringing his legs in, getting his feet from out of the dirt. It's easier than you think if you're conscious about it. He frustrates defenses. I think throughout the entire year he has to protect himself because they get mad if they miss a tackle, and it's an embarrassment because it's on TV and guys try to get the payback."

      --Tuitt to do it Sunday

      Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt said his back tightened up in the middle of the week and forced him to miss three practices and then the game. But he expects to be back Sunday in Detroit.

      "It'll be all good," said Tuitt. "It got a little tight when I was in the weight room. I twisted something and we figured it would be a week-type of thing, just to get over the hump. I'm going to be back this week."

  • Heath pulls double-duty for Cowboys
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 22, 2017

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath did double duty Sunday, filling in for injured kicker Dan Bailey for the final two-plus quarters of a 40-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

    • Heath made two of three extra points and kicked off four times, banking in his first attempt off an upright. He became the first non-kicker or punter to make at least two PATs in a game since former Houston linebacker and current Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson went 4-for-4 in 1980.

      "That was fun," Heath said. "That was the most fun I've had playing football in a really long time. We kind of prepared for something like that last year one game. I never really thought I was really going to have to do it in a game, but it was a lot of fun, man. The coaches did a really good job, just getting my mind right."

      Before Sunday, the last time Heath had kicked in a game was in 2008 as a senior for Lake Orion (Michigan) High School. He made a 49-yard game-winning field goal in the playoffs that season.

      Heath, who also played soccer growing up, took over the kicking duties after Bailey injured his groin. Dallas went for two points following their first touchdown after Bailey's injury. At halftime, Heath had time to work on his kicks with long snapper L.P. Ladouceur and holder Chris Jones.

      "We felt more comfortable that we could try to execute those, and I think for the most part he did a really good job," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's not an easy thing to do. He talks a lot about this game-winning kick that he made in high school, but the footage is very gray and murky. But, apparently, he won some championship game with a 49-yarder. So we had a lot of confidence based on his past."

      --Cowboys outside linebacker Sean Lee had five total tackles, including two for loss, in his return to the lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Getting back to work was a relief for Lee.

      "I do feel like I'm letting the team down when I've missed time," Lee said. "I've had issues with durability and I've worked hard on improving those. It's something I constantly try to work on. No question.

      "I feel like I'm letting guys down. Getting all of our guys back on defense and getting guys healthy with a couple weeks of practice under their belts shows the type of defense we can be."

      --The 49ers' previous five losses before getting blown out Sunday were by a combined 13 points. Two of the defeats came in overtime.

      "There's no excuse for what happened today," 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "We all didn't play as we could in all three phases.

      "The previous five weeks we've been so close. We're right there. We've got to come closer as a unit and just put in that extra work on the off days. Whether it's watching extra film or getting your body right or any of that. We just have to keep moving forward as a team."

      --49ers rookie middle linebacker Reuben Foster returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring an ankle in the season opener, but he injured a rib in the third quarter and missed much of the second half.

      "I know he wanted to go back in the game and he was cleared to go back in the game late in the fourth, but that was me," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I held him out just at the end. It was too important. I wanted to make sure we have him next week. The fact that he was good to go there, I'm assuming he'll be good to go next week, but you never know."

      Foster started and had five tackles, including one for loss.