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  • Tillman's widow: Do not politicize Pat's memory
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    The widow of former NFL player and U.S. Army serviceman Pat Tillman told CNN in a statement that she doesn't wish for the memory of her husband to be politicized.

    • "As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify," Marie Tillman told CNN. "It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together. Pat's service, along with that of every man and woman's service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us. We are too great of a country for that.

      "Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy. They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day."

      Pat Tillman, a safety, elected to step away from his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals and join the U.S. Army in 2002. He was killed in action in 2004 at the age of 27.

      Marie Tillman's statement to CNN came on the heels of President Donald Trump retweeting a Twitter account that invoked the memory of Pat Tillman and included the hashtags "StandForOurAnthem" and "BoycottNFL."

      "The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one's heart -- no matter those views -- is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for," Marie Tillman said. "Even if they didn't always agree with those views. It is my sincere hope that our leaders both understand and learn from the lessons of Pat's life and death, and also those of so many other brave Americans."

      Trump raised emotions within the NFL ranks with his comments on Friday.

      "If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!" Trump said.

      In response, most league and team owners or executives, along with numerous players, condemned Trump's remarks with official statements or through social media.

  • Texans defense laments poor performance
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    HOUSTON -- The usual conversation surrounding the Houston Texans changed dramatically Sunday with the emergence of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson as a dual threat.

    • But as impressive as Watson was in a 36-33 loss at New England, the Texans left the game with concerns over an aspect of the game that is usually their strength. They struggled mightily against quarterback Tom Brady.

      Many teams might not be overly concerned about being roughed up by Brady because he is, after all, Brady. But this Houston team takes great pride in the strength of its defense and cannot blithely accept breakdowns in the secondary that allowed five touchdowns and made no interception, regardless of who is the quarterback.

      There were assignment issues, pick plays they didn't react to quickly enough and some instances where the Patriots simply physically overwhelmed them. Especially wide receiver Brandin Cooks and tight end Rob Gronkowski. If not for Watson's efforts, this game probably wouldn't have even been close as Brady made throw after throw late in the game to engineer a comeback victory.

      "He kept us in the ballgame," cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of Watson. "We had to hold up our end and we didn't make the plays down the stretch.

      There was one bright spot on defense. The vast potential of Pro Bowl outside linebacker-defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was on display against the Patriots.

      Clowney alertly grabbed a Brady fumble forced by outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and scooted 22 yards for his first touchdown since high school.

      It was arguably the top performance of his career. The former top overall pick from South Carolina sacked Brady twice and finished with six tackles, four for losses and three quarterback hits.

      "He had a really good game," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "We moved him around a lot. He plays very, very hard on Sundays. He's an instinctive player.

      "He makes a lot of plays on the ball. He's just a very, very explosive player."

      --Texans wide receiver Will Fuller is making progress and trending toward potentially returning to play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans after missing the first three games of the season

      Fuller returned to practice last week on a limited basis after breaking his collarbone during training camp.

      Although Texans coach Bill O'Brien was somewhat noncommittal about Fuller's chances of playing Sunday, he was upbeat.

      "I think that'll be something that we'll see starting on Wednesday, but I'm hearing some good things," O'Brien said.

      A first-round draft pick from Notre Dame last year, Fuller could provide a boost to the passing game as a complementary presence opposite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

      Fuller is the fastest player on the Texans' roster with a time of 4.28 seconds in 40 yards.

      He had a mostly promising rookie season last year, but struggled with his hands at times.

      Fuller dropped five passes during the regular season on 92 targets, finishing his first NFL season with 47 receptions for 635 yards and two scores.

      REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

      PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for two touchdowns and connected with eight different targets.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- The Texans moved the ball consistently and had their moments running the ball, but went away from it in key short-yardage situations.

      PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Texans allowed five touchdown passes to Tom Brady and didn't intercept him once. They did return a forced fumble for a touchdown.

      RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Texans shut down the Patriots' running game, but New England was having so much success passing the ball they didn't need to run it much.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Special teams wasn't the culprit for the loss. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn made four field goals, a career-high.

      COACHING: C - Texans coach Bill O'Brien did a poor job with clock management, but his offensive game plan was good and he pushed the defending Super Bowl champs to the brink.

  • Cardinals' ageless Fitzgerald a star in a losing cause
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He might not have been the whole story of the game, but he clearly was the star of it, even in a losing effort.

    • Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals' ageless wide receiver, just keeps making big play after big play the older he gets and somehow also seems to always make it look easy. That's what he did during the Cardinals' 28-17 loss to the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, tying his single-game career record by hauling in 13 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.

      Yes, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott showed some uncanny athleticism by deftly rolling out to his right twice on busted plays and slinging it downfield for two huge strikes to Brice Butler, both of which were huge plays for Dallas.

      Fitzgerald, though, made more than a dozen of them and in the process, moved past Marvin Harrison (14,580) and into eighth place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list.

      "That's Fitz. That's Monday night. He's a Monday player," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It was a great performance by him. It's a shame we couldn't play better around him."

      Fitzgerald did all he could, but could not prevent the Cardinals from falling to 1-2. He said he "left a few plays out there," but he really didn't. He looked like he was still in his prime, especially on his 15-yard touchdown catch on a post-corner route and an incredible grab on a 24-yard reception on a must-have, third-down conversion.

      He was all over the 50-50 balls thrown his way by Carson Palmer.

      "Yeah, we had some favorable looks today," Fitzgerald said. "In some weeks there are good looks and in other weeks, they're just not there. That's just the National Football League."

      At age 34, however, Fitzgerald seems to be defying Father Time. Consider that just last season, he led the league in receptions with 107. With 22 receptions through three weeks, he might just get there again.

      "Nothing that Larry does ever surprises me," Arians said. "Especially in crunch time."

      Fitzgerald, though, walked away from this one with regrets and disappointment. That, and a ton of bruises, scrapes and cuts.

      "It's demoralizing anytime you lose the game," he said. "It was great energy, we had the home-field advantage, it was Monday Night Football -- this would have been a great one to be able to get. But it didn't come to fruition. We've just got to get back to the drawing board and get ready for San Francisco on a short week. But it stings. It definitely stings."

      And don't let the salty veteran fool you by telling you the hits he took Monday night wouldn't hurt as much had the Cardinals won the game.

      "At 34, it hurts all the time," he said. "It'll hurt at practice. Everything hurts."

  • Watson wows Texans as ascending star
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Deshaun Watson looked trapped for a moment before redirecting while rolling to his left, utilizing his rare mobility and balance while New England Patriots defensive lineman Lawrence Guy got menacingly close to engulfing him.

    • Somehow, the Houston Texans' multidimensional rookie quarterback avoided the sack and threw across his body before being crushed by the 6-4, 305-pound veteran pass rusher. The spiral hit its target, the football traveling all the way across the field into the waiting hands of tight end Ryan Griffin.

      It was a signature play Sunday for the precocious first-round draft pick in his second NFL start. He delivered a vintage Brett Favre improvisation during an encouraging performance in the Texans' 36-33 defeat to the defending Super Bowl champions at Gillette Stadium. The 35-yard completion in the third quarter led to Watson throwing a 12-yard dart in the back of the end zone to Griffin for a touchdown pass to cap the drive.

      Although the Texans lost, Watson gave the defending AFC South champions a lot of reasons to be upbeat about finally having a talented, dual-threat quarterback who gives them hope after years of futility under center.

      "He gave us energy, a chance to win, playmaking ability," Griffin said. "Can't say enough about him, I'm proud of him. There were a couple of times I thought the play was over, and he kept it going. I don't know how he saw me way over on the far sideline. He has a knack of knowing where guys are."

      Watson completed 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 90.6 passer rating. It was another step forward for the 22-year-old Georgia native.

      With his unflappable personality, Watson never seems to get rattled. His poise is uncommon.

      "I'm just doing my job," Watson said. "That was the reason they got be to come here to try to help the team out and just do my job, be the quarterback, make good decisions and try to score points and get wins. It's pretty cool, but that's why they put me in this position because they feel that I can come help this team out."

      The passes to Griffin weren't the only eye-catching plays from Watson. He repeatedly flashed his ability to elude pursuit and escape their pass rush.

      "He's an exciting player," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's a player that never says die. You're always in the game with him. He can make plays on his own.

      "I thought Deshaun played his heart out. He's a sharp kid. He's a fun guy to coach. He gets better every day. He's a special kid."

      Watson displayed his trademark knack for rising to the occasion in a big-game atmosphere. He did his best to try to keep up with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had a masterful performance with five touchdown passes and zero interceptions against an overmatched Texans secondary.

      "I think we're growing as an offense with Deshaun," running back Lamar Miller said. "He does a great job of keeping plays alive and being a leader."

      O'Brien operates as the Texans' offensive coordinator and is adapting his offense to suit Watson's primary strengths as a young quarterback, including his use of play-action, throwing on the move and having the green light to run the football when he needs to create something out of nothing.

      "I just try to make plays as much as I can when nothing is there and try to keep the chains moving and move the ball and try to score points," Watson said. "Always think positive. You can't have any doubt when you step on the field at this level."

      During the O'Brien era, the Texans have started nine different quarterbacks. That includes $72 million bust Brock Osweiler last year. The Texans are hopeful they finally have their franchise quarterback on the roster.

      "Deshaun's doing some great things with his feet and has a lot of heart and is very poised," safety Eddie Pleasant said. "It's rare to see someone be like that as a rookie. He's going to be a great quarterback. I think he will bring a championship to this city."

      How Watson conducts himself in the huddle is also impressive, according to rookie running back D'Onta Foreman.

      "It's amazing, it's been fun playing with him," Foreman said. "He's very supportive. He encourages everybody as soon as we get in the huddle to start the series.

      "That's big to be a rookie and come in and have the respect of the huddle and be able to conduct the offense. He's a great athlete. Hopefully, he can just keep it up and continue to play at a high level."

      Watson regularly gets Foreman pumped up when the third-round draft pick from Texas is about to get some carries.

      "If he knows I'm going to get the ball, he might say, 'Come on, we need some yardage,' for me to get going or whoever to get going," Foreman said. "I definitely respect that."

      Foreman has seen the 22-year-old Georgia native handle plenty of adversity as he learns on the job.

      "His poise is wonderful," Foreman said. "I can never tell if he's nervous or not. To come from college and step onto a big stage like that, to play a great team like the Patriots, you have to have the mindset of being somebody that lets mistakes go and not get down and never get too high when things go well."

  • Did Decker know of anthem plan?
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A day after the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks elected to stay inside the locker room for the national anthem, the fallout didn't go away, and comments on the situation on talk radio and social media was split as might be expected.

    • The biggest development related to the Titans was a TMZ.com report that Jessie James Decker, a country singer who performed the anthem in the opener against Oakland, said her husband, Titans receiver Eric Decker, was unaware of the team's plans to stay in for the anthem. Jessie James Decker went on to say that Eric Decker wanted to go out and stand for the anthem, and did not know of the decision that had been made.

      "My husband was not made aware it was time to go out for the game," she said told TMZ. "Unfortunately, a decision was made for him without him knowing."

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said it was his belief that Decker knew what decision had been reached.

      Titans tight end Delanie Walker said the decision between the Titans and Seahawks came about by players from both teams texting back and forth and then consulting with coaches about what to do.

      Walker said the Titans' decision to stay inside was not meant to disrespect the flag or the military.

      "First off, I'm going to say this: We're not disrespecting the military, the men and woman who served. That's not what it's all about. If you look at most of the guys in here - I've been to the USO. I support our troops. It's not about that," Walker said. "It's about equal rights and everyone is trying to show that we all care about each other. And the fans that don't want to come to the games, OK, bye. I mean if you feel that's something where we're disrespecting you, don't come to the games. You don't have to. No one is telling you to come to the game. It's your freedom and your choice to do that."

  • Jaguars on the road again after success in London
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Sunday was about as perfect a day in London as the Jacksonville Jaguars could have envisioned. From sunny skies producing temperatures in the low 70s to a nearly flawless game on the field in all three phases, it was Jaguars football at a level that hasn't been seen in quite some time.

    • The Jaguars' play in their 44-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens was especially pleasing to head coach Doug Marrone, who is always in search of solid play from all three of his groups -- the offense, the defense and special teams play.

      The Jaguars held a 393-72 advantage in total yards after three quarters, and one play into the fourth quarter, they held a 44-0 lead as an example of how they dominated this game. At that point Marrone started substituting freely and cleared his bench, getting all active players for the game except third-string quarterback Ryan Nassib some game action.

      Arriving back in Jacksonville around 2 a.m. on Monday, Marrone got a couple hours sleep at the Jaguars' facility before he was awoken at 5 a.m. when security began testing the alarms. He decided it was time to start reviewing game tapes, and was pleased with what he saw ... for the most part.

      "The glaring concern are the penalties," Marrone said in a teleconference call with local media. "They seemed to come Sunday on big plays that we made, 10-12 yard runs. I think all three phases played well, but I won't say it was a complete game and that everything was perfect. But we're striving for that consistency and I really feel good about how all three phases played."

      In addition to playing well, it appears the Jaguars escaped without any serious injuries. Marrone didn't address injuries on Monday, typically waiting until Wednesdays when the team is required to release its first injury report of the week. But only two starters -- wide receiver Marqise Lee and left tackle Cam Robinson -- missed any time, and both players eventually returned after incurring an ankle injury.

      The win was the third in a row in London for the Jaguars and was easily the most decisive. They started their international play with a pair of double-digit losses to San Francisco and Dallas -

      They then beat Buffalo and Indianapolis the last two years before Sunday's rout over Baltimore.

      But the Jaguars had a bye following the previous four trips to London, and that's not the case this year. The Jaguars not only will play Sunday, but they have to travel to take on the New York Jets.

      Marrone will continue to harp on the theme of consistency. He liked the way the team played in the opener at Houston, was not pleased with their effort last week against Tennessee but was very satisfied with the performance against the Ravens. The key is to put together back-to-back strong showings.

      "I like the way the defense is playing together and feeding off each other. Our secondary is playing extremely well," he noted. "Whenever you hold a team to about 1.8 yards per pass attempt, that's an outstanding job. Putting pressure on the quarterback early really helps. We took some routes away from them on third down plays that helped as well. There are some things we need to clean up. But yesterday, I felt for the first time, guys were happy for each other making plays and having success. We need to embrace that and keep that going."

      REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS:

      --RUSH OFFENSE: B-plus -- The team total of 166 yards looks good on paper, especially on 35 carries, which amounts to a 4.7 average per carry. But considering that 58 of those yards came on a fake punt carry by Corey Grant, the rest of the team total drops to 108 yards in 34 attempts, which is just 3.2 yards a carry. Leonard Fournette was solid with 59 yards in 17 attempts and lost about 20 yards on two runs to Jaguars penalties. Chris Ivory didn't have the success he usually has, gaining just 17 yards in six carries. There were a couple third-down situations in which the running attempt came up short and left the Jaguars with just 3-of-12 conversion on third-down tries. Quarterback Blake Bortles continues to add an element to the running game, gaining 18 yards on three scrambles.

      --PASS OFFENSE: A -- Blake Bortles was on his game in London, posting a 128.2 passer rating, the second-highest mark in his three-plus years with the Jaguars. His numbers were impressive with 20-of-31 passes (64.5 percent), 244 yards and four touchdowns. Just as important were the zero turnovers, matching his performance in the Houston win, and three fewer than he had in the Tennessee loss. The first thing head coach Doug Marrone mentioned in his post-game delivery was the fact the team did not turn the ball over. Bortles was on target in his throws, and with several of his accurate passes dropped and a few others thrown away on purpose. And this was against a Ravens defense that had picked off eight passes in its first two games.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Sure, Baltimore rushed for 134 yards in just 25 carries (5.4 per attempt), but consider the circumstances. At the end of three quarters, Baltimore had just 72 yards of offense, split fairly equal between rushing (44) and passing (28) yards. It wasn't until the fourth quarter, when Jacksonville was substituting freely, that the Ravens had success, piling another 90 rushing yards in the final 15 minutes. The Ravens could not open holes on the Jaguars' front line, and the backs had no opportunities to break off a big run around end. Baltimore's longest rush was just 8 yards.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A-plus -- When you hold a veteran quarterback like Joe Flacco to a career-worst 12.0 passer rating, you've done your job on pass defense. The Jaguars' secondary held Flacco to 8-of-18 passing for a total of 28 yards along with a pair of interceptions for three quarters. Backup Ryan Mallett had little success in the final 15 minutes, even when going against a second-team secondary as he had just 36 yards on six completions. Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye bot came through with spectacular interceptions. Probably the most impressive number was that the longest Baltimore completion netted just 8 yards. A total of 14 completions netted just 64 yards which is less than 5 yards per catch.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- The grade was dropped a little just because Jason Myers' opening kickoff to start the game sailed out of bounds, giving the Ravens the ball at the 40. Myers atoned for his first bungled kick as he was perfect the rest of the game. He hit on his three field-goal attempts, converted all five extra points and placed all nine of his kickoffs deep into the end zone, none of which was returned. Punter Brad Nortman's five boots were good for a 50.0 average, none of which was returned. As a result the Jaguars kick coverage units were perfect, not allowing a return in 14 total kicks.

      --COACHING: A-plus -- Granted the coordinators were making the calls for their respective units, so this grade is shared among the three coordinators and head man, Doug Marrone. Everything the coaches called for worked. A game in London requires a different approach, and Marrone was on target with his preparation. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett mixed up pass and running plays. Even special teams worked to perfection as evidenced by zero kickoff and punt return yards for the Ravens, and a 38-yard gain by Corey Grant on a fake punt call. The only concern with that call was the timing. The Jaguars were ahead 37-0 and heading towards an easy win, so they may have wasted a surprising play when it wasn't needed.

  • Cowboys, Cardinals stand, lock arms for anthem
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    The NFL's weekend of solidarity symbolism during the national anthem carried over to the Monday night game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

    • Each team had players, owners and executives lock arms while standing during the anthem.

      The gesture was in response to comments made by President Donald Trump last week, when he said that NFL owners should fire players who take a knee or sit during the anthem as a form of protest for social injustice.

      The Cowboys' players and management, including owner Jerry Jones, knelt briefly before the large U.S. flag that covers the playing surface was unfurled.

      That drew some boos from the crowd, but the Cowboys contingent quickly rose to its feet before the anthem began.

      Anthem singer Jordin Sparks had a reference to a Bible verse written on her hand: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." (Proverbs 31:8-9)

      "I think this team, this organization, players, coaches, staff, everyone did the right thing," Prescott said of the Cowboys' pregame decision. "We came together. We had a lot of dialogue. Talked about what we wanted to do, just as a sign of the unity we want to bring in this country and just help everything that's going on right now. I think we did a great job."

      The Cardinals, including several members of the Bidwill family that owns the team, interlocked arms in the end zone behind the singer instead of taking their usual place on the sideline.

      "We had a discussion, us as teammates and coaches," Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Guys were comfortable, and it was open forum, where anybody could say anything, coaches or players. We just talked about a gamut of different things, and we came to the conclusion that we wanted to do that.

      "Everyone was on board with it, and that is what we did."

  • Chargers dig an early hole with 0-3 start
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Sometimes teams can fudge the numbers. Sometimes players can fiddle with the calculus. Sometimes a calculation that appears so clear-cut is actually deceptive.

    • Then there's the Los Angeles Chargers and their 0-3 record.

      The Bolts have earned it and the reaction that comes with it: "Oh-no!"

      Sure, the Chargers are already peeking at the Philadelphia Eagles before they visit Sunday. They're the next team in at the cozy StubHub Center as the season marches on.

      But those close to the team realize the ditch it is digging would rival the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. The Chargers are stuck in the muck.

      Since the NFL went to 12 playoff qualifiers in 1990, three teams have made the postseason after losing three out of the gate.

      There are few indications the Chargers will be the fourth team after three losses, including two at home.

      The offense is sputtering. The defense hasn't had a turnover in two straight games. And watching special teams isn't for the faint of heart.

      Then there were the three first-Half picks by Philip Rivers that all but gift-wrapped the win for the Chiefs.

      "Philip will be the first to tell you he did not have a good day," head coach Anthony Lynn said Monday.

      Lynn also said in Monday's team meeting that the receivers have to win those 50-50 balls more often. And if not, then become a defender.

      Believing in the last-place Chargers, already with two home losses, takes some gumption.

      Luckily, Lynn has that in abundance.

      "I believe it is going to turn around," Lynn said. "I really do."

      --Tight end Hunter Henry continues to disappear in an offense in which he had eight touchdown receptions last year. He was thought to be a big part of the mix, but once again he was seldom in Philip Rivers' sights. Hunter had zero receptions and targets. Head coach Anthony Lynn said, "I've got to get him involved."

      --The secondary suffered a blow before the first snap when it was revealed that cornerback Jason Verrett would be lost for the year. Verrett, a Pro Bowler and former first-round pick, tried to come back this season from last year's knee surgery. He never looked right in camp and was ultimately shut down again as he faces another procedure. Verrett and Casey Hayward, behind the pass rush of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, was going to be one of the team's strengths.

      With Verrett out for the season, there were reports the Chargers were among those gauging the interest of free-agent Darrelle Revis in returning to the NFL.

      REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Philip Rivers' unit seldom takes this grade; can't remember the last time? But he was awful on Sunday with three interceptions in the first half. Those miscues were turned into 17 points by the Chiefs and that was the game. The protection was pretty good -- Justin Houston got a huge sack in the final drive -- and the receivers seemed to be on their marks -- Antonio Gates did have a drop and Dontrelle Inman and Rivers exchanged puzzled looks. Instead, it was Rivers forcing balls into coverages and making decisions he quickly regretted. Again, tight end Hunter Henry wasn't involved. Strange.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-PLUS -- The running game looked good, real good, when compared with what was happening in the air. Melvin Gordon was showing patience, picking holes and finding the edge on a quick K.C. defense. But that was when he gained 55 yards in the first quarter. In the second half, Gordon battled a bum knee and wasn't nearly as effective. The run-blocking was good, especially considering a new body at right tackle with Joe Barksdale being out.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B -- Giving up two scoring passes doesn't help here, but the men were put on short fields time and again by Rivers' carelessness. One of the touchdown passes was a shovel pass, which lands more at the feet of the linemen. The pass rush was on point as Melvin Ingram led the charge with three of the team's five sacks. That was impressive.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Maybe a tad high with the grade, but 69 yards came when the defense was selling out at the end and once Kareem Hunt hit the second line he was gone. Hunt, though, was shifty and deserves all 172 yards he got on the ground. Brandon Mebane flashed more in the middle. Jatavis Brown led everyone with 10 tackles. Korey Toomer and Jahleel Addae delivered some physical hits that left a mark.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The kick is up and good and too bad for Younghoe Koo it came in his first field-goal attempt on Sunday instead of his last one against the Miami Dolphins in the previous game. Coverages are still a work-in-progress. Travis Benjamin looks more speedy returning punts and he's primed to break one. Directional punting wasn't keen and the unit was flagged for roughing the kicker.

      --COACHING: F -- Lynn is showing to be more Mike McCoy than Don Coryell with each passing game for the first-year head coach. Punting from your own 35 when trailing by seven? Please. He and Rivers also seem to bump heads, with Rivers going to bat for the offense. But Lynn is going to have to ditch the conservative route if he's expecting to win a game for the fans in a new city. While the Chiefs were showing an exciting, quick-hitting brand of ball on one side, the Chargers looked dated.

  • Titans better after Mariota counsels receivers
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The first four series of the Tennessee Titans' 33-27 victory over the Seattle Seahawks looked anything but promising Sunday. In each of those four series, the Titans went three-and-out and gave punter Brett Kern a leg up on earning player of the game honors.

    • Not only did the Titans run the ball in somewhat mundane fashion, quarterback Marcus Mariota began the game 1 of 7 for 6 yards.

      But after that sluggish start, Mariota rebounded to finish 16 of 26 in the half for 129 yards, and was 20 of 32 for 225 yards and two touchdowns for the game, as the Titans scored on seven of their final eight possessions against the Seahawks defense.

      So what changed and what adjustments did Mariota make to get the Titans and himself on track?

      Apparently, it was a little sideline talk with his receivers, who were cutting their routes short in the early going, leading to a number of throws by Mariota that sailed high and wide of the mark early on.

      "He did, he got the receivers to run really better routes," Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said. "Just like I've said before, if you're not where you're supposed to be and you don't run it the right depth, you can put all the blame on the quarterback. He's going to throw where you're supposed to be. We need to be more detailed."

      When he watched the film Monday, Mularkey took special note of the first 12 plays and noted that eight of those 12 plays were unsuccessful because of mistakes his own team made, not by plays the Seahawks made.

      "Those first 12 plays that we ran yesterday, when I watched the tape this morning I put a little asterisk, was it the Seahawks or the Titans that failed at executing the play? And eight of the 12 was us. Those are things we still need to clean up, especially when you're going to play a defense like that and like the one we have coming up here this week (against Houston)," Mularkey said.

      After a coaching up from Mariota and the coaching staff, the Titans receivers got on the same page with their quarterback, who completed 19 of his final 25 throws for 219 yards and the two scores.

      After Sunday's game, Mariota spoke of everyone being in sync.

      "When we're able to do what we do and everyone is on the same page, and executing we're tough to stop," he said.

      REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Mariota began the game slowly - 1 of 7 - but part of that was because his receivers were rounding off routes and not getting to the right spot, leaving throws to sail high and wide. He and his receivers recovered nicely, though, as he finished 20 of 32 for 225 yards and two scores.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- So much for Demarco Murray's hamstring injury, as he broke loose on a 75-yard rushing touchdown as part of a 112-yard day for him, and 195 yards on the ground for the team. Murray had missed most of the week nursing a sore hamstring but was a go on Sunday and had his first 100-yard rushing day of the season.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B - Russell Wilson lit up the Titans for 373 yards on Sunday, and they sacked him just once, when Erik Walden got him in the first half. But the Titans did a better job than the numbers show of containing Wilson, who was on the run much of the day and throwing out of desperate situations. The Titans defense did OK, except for one blown coverage that allowed C.J. Prosise to gain 46 yards to the 4.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A -- A good solid day, but truthfully the Seahawks abandoned the run pretty early on. Seattle had just 69 yards on the ground and 26 of that came courtesy of Wilson running for his life.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus -- Nearly a perfect day on special teams, except for David Fluellen's block in the back that nullified Adoree' Jackson's punt return TD. Ryan Succop was perfect on four field goals and punter Brett Kern flipped the field a couple of times early before the offense could find its rhythm.

      --COACHING: B-plus -- A good overall day with no real questionable play calls and a good job with both the offensive and defensive game plans, plus in making halftime adjustments that helped lead to 21 third-quarter points.

  • Buoyed by first win, Colts brace for Seahawks
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- On to Seattle.

    • That was basically the call by Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano following his team's 31-28 win over the visiting Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

      It was the Colts' first win of the season, giving Pagano and his coaching staff something to build on heading into this week's nationally televised Sunday night game with the Seahawks.

      Despite the win, there is plenty of work to get done before heading west to face Seattle.

      "(We) haven't put teams away because of mistakes, penalties and missed opportunities," Pagano stressed during his Monday media availability.

      There were bright spots in the win over the Browns.

      Quarterback Jacoby Brissett made his second straight start and continues to learn more of the Colts' offensive playbook. Brissett is also getting his timing down with the team's receiving corps, most notably T.Y. Hilton.

      "Brissett's done a great job in a very short time," Pagano said. "He had experience in New England, but this was (about) learning a new system and terminology. That's hard."

      Especially when Brissett joined the team just a few days before the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams and was pressed into service as a starter a week later.

      Hilton had a big day against the Browns, hauling in seven passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. He knows things will get a lot tougher this week in Seattle.

      "It's going to be tough," Hilton said Monday. "But at the end of the day, we're dealing with the same situation. We're both 1-2. We're both looking for a win. We've just got to go out there and play."

      Facing the Seahawks means that Hilton will get a long look at cornerback Richard Sherman. The pair have had their moments in the past and the Colts receiver is expecting a battle on Sunday night.

      "Always. It's the best against the best," Hilton said. "I'm pretty sure he's going to follow me, so I look forward to it. It is what it is."

      REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- QB Jacoby Brissett got his second start and continued to show improvement as he learns more of the offensive playbook. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 259 yards to nine different receivers, including his first NFL touchdown pass on a 61-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton caught seven passes for 153 yards with the TD. WR Donte' Moncrief hauled in two passes for 44 yards. TE Jack Doyle, usually sure-handed and dependable, caught only two passes on five targets. But Doyle also fumbled twice and had a couple of drops. That won't happen very often.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- As a group, the combination of RBs Frank Gore, Robert Turbin and Matt Jones combined for 92 yards on 36 rushing attempts. Gore led the way with 57 yards on 25 carries and had a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. While the Colts only averaged 2.6 yards per rushing attempt, they were able to get needed yards on the ground when it counted the most. Brissett also was a weapon as a runner, rushing five times for 14 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- CB Rashaan Melvin had a career day against Cleveland, making his first two interceptions of the season and breaking up four other passes. Melvin very nearly had a third interception late in the second half. That was the good news. He also had a couple hard-luck penalties in the second half that allowed the Browns to keep offensive drives alive. CB Pierre Desir made his first start and responded with five tackles and a pass break-up. Rookie CB Nate Hairston continues to play well at nickel back, coming up with three tackles and a pass broken up. Rookie S Malik Hooker showed why he was Indianapolis' first-round pick as he displayed his overall sideline-to-sideline range. Hooker's interception in the game's final seconds sealed the Colts' win. OLB John Simon was a force for much of the first half of the Browns game. Simon ended the day with six tackles, four solo, with a sack, two tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Colts didn't allow a 100-yard individual rusher. Cleveland RB Isaiah Crowell and QB DeShone Kizer both had 44 yards rushing. Backup RB Duke Johnson added 23 yards in two carries, including an impressive 19-yard touchdown run where he eluded three would-be Indianapolis tacklers. Inside linebackers Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison led the way defensively with 10 and seven tackles, respectively. Bostic also had a tackle for loss.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- K Adam Vinatieri connected on his lone field-goal attempt, hitting from 33 yards out. Rookie P Rigoberto Sanchez averaged 45.7 yards overall and 42.9 yards net on seven punts. Two of his punts were downed inside the Cleveland 20-yard line. Sanchez also had six touchbacks on kickoffs. WR Quan Bray averaged 5.3 yards on three punt returns, including a return of 13 yards. The Browns averaged zero yards on one punt return and zero yards on six kickoff returns.

      --COACHING: B-minus -- The Colts got off to a quick start and led 28-7 in the second quarter. But Indianapolis continues to have issues putting teams away. Part of the problem is that the team went into conservative mode after getting the big lead. Instead of being aggressive offensively and defensively, which got the Colts the 21-point advantage, Indianapolis had to hang on at the end to pull out the victory.

  • Subpar receiving group hurts Browns offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns ignored wide receivers in the 2017 draft and signed no undrafted rookie wide receivers, and now those decisions are haunting them with no way of rectifying the problem.

    • Eight passes were dropped by Browns receivers in the 31-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Two were dropped by veteran Kenny Britt, whom the Browns signed in free agency after Terrelle Pryor Sr. used free agency to sign with the Washington Redskins.

      The problem for the Browns is there's no help on the horizon.

      "We have the group that we have," head coach Hue Jackson said at his Monday press conference. "These guys are working hard and are trying to be the best they can be. We're going to keep working with these guys. We're going to get them better.

      "We're going to make sure that when we go out there in our next opportunity that we play even better than we did this past week."

      Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer blamed himself for the drops, but he was clearly taking one for the team. The Browns (0-3) host the Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) next Sunday.

      Kizer is doing everything he can to hold the team together. There are no signs of splintering this early in the season, but it could happen if the quarterback starts pointing fingers.

      "There were a lot of opportunities for me to put the ball in better places and allow our receivers to have better opportunities to catch it," Kizer said. "In order for us to move forward as an offense, I have to make sure the ball is in the right spot at the right time."

      The issues at wide receiver became magnified when second-year receiver Corey Coleman suffered a broken hand in the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 17.

      Though the Browns did nothing in the draft at wide receiver this year after drafting four of them in 2016, they have been very busy at the position in September.

      Cleveland traded a sixth-round draft choice to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Sammie Coates on Sept. 2. The next day they claimed Kasen Williams (Seattle Seahawks) and Reggie Davis (Atlanta Falcons) on waivers.

      The next they elevated 2016 fifth-round draft pick Rashard Higgins (he was waived by the Browns on Sept. 2) from the practice squad.

      After Coleman was injured, the Browns signed wide receiver Jordan Leslie, who was with the Browns in training camp, to the practice squad. They then activated Leslie in time to face the Colts and waived Davis to create a roster spot.

      The net result of the revolving wide receivers is Kizer hasn't had time to develop chemistry, and that results in eight dropped passes, though Kizer isn't making excuses.

      "We're pros," Kizer said. "We're supposed to be on the same page after one day of practice, and we've gone out there and got quite a few reps.

      "We're spending the extra time. I'm very confident in all the guys around me. I just got to make sure that, once again, the ball's in the right spot at the right time."

      Jackson on Monday said the Browns incurred no injuries in the loss to the Colts.

      REPORT CARD VS. COLTS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three interceptions and his wide receivers dropped eight passes. Not all eight drops hit the receivers squarely in the hands. The timing was off on some throws. The fact is the Browns look like they are in the second week of training camp. Kizer was sacked only once, but that in part was because he ran seven times because his receivers weren't open.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Kizer tied running back Isaiah Crowell for the team rushing lead with 44 yards. Crowell had 12 carries and Kizer seven. Kizer won't last long if he keeps that up. Under-used Duke Johnson carried twice for 23 yards. He is the Browns' shiftiest runner, but he doesn't get enough opportunity to showcase his talent.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D-plus -- The Colts did not need quarterback Andrew Luck against the Browns. Jacoby Brissett posted a 120.0 passer rating while completing 17 of 24 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown, Brissett picked on cornerback Jamar Taylor all day. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 153 yards, including a 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown. The D-plus grade would be lower if the Browns didn't sack Brissett three times.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus - The Browns had to play without linebacker Jamie Collins, who sat out the game with a concussion, but they still held the Colts to just 92 yards on 36 carries - a 2.6 average. The run defense failed at the goal line, however. Brissett rushed for two touchdowns and running back Frank Gore one. It was more a case of good blocking by the Colts than sloppy tackling by the Browns.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - The return game was virtually non-existent for both teams. Browns punter Britton Colquitt punted seven times and still stuck three inside the 20 while posting a 47.9-yard average. The Colts wisely punted away from Browns returner Jabrill Peppers. When Peppers did have a chance to make a return in the final 30 seconds he panicked and signaled for a fair catch. Safety Derrick Kindred jumped offside early in the fourth quarter when the Colts lined up to go for it on fourth-and-2. The Colts turned the new set of downs into a field goal to make the score 31-14.

      --COACHING: B-minus - The grade seems generous, but the reason it isn't lower is the Browns made defensive adjustments at halftime after giving up 28 points in the first half. It is hard to quibble with the offensive play-calling, which is done by head coach Hue Jackson. It isn't Jackson's fault the receivers dropped eight passes.

  • Belichick likes fight of his team
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    There is good and there is good enough.

    • Head coach Bill Belichick's message during his traditional day-after-game conference call Monday morning following the New England Patriots comeback, last-second 36-33 win over the Texans at Gillette Stadium was that his team was much closer to the latter than the former.

      Sure, it's early in the season. Sure, every team across the NFL appears to have its weaknesses, lapses in play and inconsistencies.

      But Belichick has been down this road so many times. He knows where he wants to get his defending champions to and what it takes to get there.

      "We did enough to win, but there are a lot of things we can do better and a lot of things we need to do better. If just a couple of things had gone differently we would've had a different outcome," Belichick declared. "So we have a lot of work to do and that includes everybody and every position and every unit. Pretty much pick out any player and it's going to be the same for all of us, players and coaches. Some good things and then there were other things that just weren't good enough and aren't going to be good enough."

      Some of the deficiencies are obvious right now. The New England pass defense, which sports a $65 million newcomer in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and two returning Pro Bowl talents in cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Devin McCourty just isn't getting the job done.

      Sunday afternoon, Deshaun Watson looked too comfortable taking on the Patriots defense, looking more like a polished veteran than a raw rookie. He threw for 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Some came with his ad-lib athletic ability, but more came in a traditional passing offense.

      Through three weeks, the Patriots have been a pass-happy team on both sides of the ball. Offensively, that's seen Tom Brady tally a 121.5 passer rating through three games, completing 64.5 percent of his throws for 1,092 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. That's tremendous production for anyone, never mind a 40-year-old.

      But opposing quarterbacks have actually been almost as good. Alex Smith, Drew Brees and Watson have combined to complete 68.1 percent of their passes for 1,025 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a 112.9 passer rating against New England.

      In improving to 2-1 with Sunday's last-minute comeback win, Belichick did see improvement from his team. That was most evident in the fight to the finish. While Brady may have questioned his team's "attitude and competitiveness" in the opening night loss to K.C., that certainly wasn't an issue this week.

      "I thought we battled for 60 minutes," Belichick said on Monday. "It took all of it, all the way down to the last three seconds on the final play. The competitiveness of the team was evident. From a conditioning standpoint, we were able to compete for 60 minutes on a warm day. So yeah, those things were all things that the team, I think, were on the positive side. Like I said, we made some plays that were good, but didn't have enough consistency on offense or defense, like we need to have, like we feel like we should have. Playing all the way through the game, competing hard - we did that."

      Brady had a similar view in the immediacy of the win, taking it as a step in the right direction even if it was far from perfect.

      "We just kept fighting. That was the most important thing," Brady said. "When we were in this stadium a couple weeks ago, we talked a lot about that - playing four quarters and playing all the way down to the last minute - and we needed it (against Houston). It's a real good football team. I thought they played really well. It was just a great win for our team."

      As Belichick pointed out on Monday, though, a great win does not mean a team is great.

      But it's a step in the right direction.

      REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus - The reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week put up award-worthy work once again in the comeback win over the Texans. Tom Brady completed 25 of his 35 throws for 378 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 146.2 rating despite a Houston pass rush that sacked him five times and hit him eight times. Brady did fumble three times, including a strip-sack that led to a Jadeveon Clowney touchdown. But he made the plays he needed to pull out the hard-fought win, including the eight-play drive to a 25-yard game-winning touchdown to Brandin Cooks with just 23 seconds to play. The newcomer Cooks came up huge for New England, breaking out with five catches for 131 yards with two touchdowns and a two-point play. Rob Gronkowski showed no limitations from his groin injury, hauling in a game-high eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown, including two key grabs to jumpstart the game-winning drive. Chris Hogan had a pair of touchdowns on his four grabs, including a 47-yard catch-and-run score. Dealing with the Texans talented pass rush was a clear problem at times, but not enough to derail Brady and the home squad on the way to victory.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D - The Patriots want to be more balanced and less predictable in the backfield this fall. So far, it hasn't worked out. New England ran the ball just 20 times for a mere 59 yards (3.0 average) against Houston. Mike Gillislee continues to get the most carries, but the newcomer was able to gain just 31 yards on his 12 attempts. In the face of the pass rush New England tried to turn to the ground attack in the fourth quarter but it didn't work. Gillislee picked up 5 and 4 yards on consecutive carries to start a drive trailing 30-28, but was stuffed on third-and-1 leading to the punt. Short-yardage runs have been an issue through three weeks, but the bigger concern is the inability to really get much of a complementary ground game going in New England. That's on Gillislee and the offensive line, neither of which were good enough against Houston.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - While the back end is supposed to be the strength of the New England defense, the group continues to allow opposing passers to throw all over the field. Devin McCourty and Co. allowed Deshaun Watson to look like anything but a raw rookie. Watson completed 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 90.6 rating, one of the picks coming on a desperation Hail Mary attempt as time expired. Watson kept plays alive with his legs and spread the ball around to eight different receivers, led by seven catches for 76 yards to DeAndre Hopkins. Tight end Ryan Griffin (5 for 61) and wide receiver Bruce Ellington (4 for 59) hauled in Watson's touchdown passes. Big plays continue to be an issue as New England allowed Houston to complete five passes longer than 25 yards.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C - The New England run defense that struggled so much on opening night is clearly moving in the right direction based on the work in the last two weeks though their remains room for improvement. Houston ran the ball 32 times for 125 yards (3.9 average) as a team. Lamar Miller led the way with 14 attempts for 56 yards (4.0 average), while Watson used his legs to pick up 41 yards on eight attempts/scrambles. The Patriots didn't allow a run longer than 12 yards all day and came up with a big stop when it needed one on a Texans third-and-1 attempt from the New England 18 late in the fourth quarter to force a field goal. That stop of Miller by Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and the rest of the front kept the door open for the eventual Brady-led comeback. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy led the front with 11 tackles, including nine solos, for a run defense that's showing improvement.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C - It was a relatively quiet day in the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski did not attempt a field goal, hit all five of his PATs and put four of six kickoffs into the end zone with a pair of touchbacks. Ryan Allen had an up-and-down day punting. His final two punts of the day were 59 and 60 yards. But he had a 36 yarder from his own 8 in the second quarter and a 38 yarder for a touchback in the third quarter. He did finish the day with a 45.3 average, 38.7 net and three inside the 20. Danny Amendola gave the punt return game a jolt with a 33 yarder, while Dion Lewis had a long of 24 on two kickoff returns. Coverage was solid as Houston averaged just 18.8 yards on four kickoff returns and 6.7 yards on three punt returns. Just an average overall day in the third phase.

      --COACHING: B - The Patriots seemed to have a pretty balanced, basic, traditional game plan on both sides of the ball against Houston and in the end, it was enough to eke out the win. Offensively, one key to trying to deal with Houston's talented front was extra help from the tight ends and running backs dealing with J.J. Watt and Co. It didn't always work, but it was a sound approach. There was also an attempt to run the ball more as the line struggled in pass rush, but that effort never really got on track. Defensively Matt Patricia used early 4-3 fronts with four defensive backs, a rarity these days in New England. The Patriots coming up strong in situational football, on both sides of the ball, is a credit to the preparation not just in the week leading up to the game but all the way through the year. There weren't a lot of real dramatic decisions on the field for New England or crazy game plan wrinkles to either applaud or question. In the end, it all worked well enough for the win.

  • Giants OBJ explains end zone leg-lift
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Controversial New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s two-touchdown performance Sunday was stained by a graphic attempt to mimic a urinating male dog following his first score of the 2017 season.

    • He revealed through his social media account that the action was in response to President Donald Trump's suggestion that NFL team owners fire any "son of a bitch" who takes a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

      Beckham, who drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for his actions, said after the game he was looking to give his struggling team a spark.

      "When I get in the end zone, I'm going to do what I do. I'm going to try to spark this team," he said. "The consequences are going to be what they are. It's like life, you have to deal with the consequences. And that's something I can take. We were motivated from that. I don't think it set us back any. I just don't think we finished."

      He then added, "I don't care if you kick it from the 5-yard line on our side. We need to make a play."

      Head coach Ben McAdoo, who is trying to figure out how to right a sinking ship, was quick to downplay Beckham's judgement.

      "We should be talking about the way he played," McAdoo said Monday via conference call. "He made some great plays in the ball game yesterday, some tremendous plays, game-changing plays. I'd rather be talking about that then the celebration penalty."

      When pressed further about Beckham's action and that it cost the Giants 15 penalty yards, the head coach said, "I mean it's simple: I don't want to kick off from the 20-yard line. It doesn't help our team. It makes it tough on the players who are covering kicks and it makes an impact on field position."

      Beckham's penalty was the 19th called against him in his career and his second this season. Since entering the NFL in 2014, eight of his penalties have been of the undisciplined category, including taunting, unnecessary roughness, and unsportsmanlike conduct.

      He was suspended one game in 2015 for drawing multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game against cornerback Josh Norman, then of the Panthers.

      Last year, he was fined $127,157 for various rule violations that included verbal offense against an official, two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and one excessive celebration infraction.

      --In the wake of President Donald J. Trump's comments regarding NFL athletes who take a knee during the National Anthem, three prominent Giants players -- defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and safety Landon Collins -- all took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before their game Sunday against the Eagles while the rest of their teammates, coaches and staff locked arms in solidarity.

      Trump's words seemed to particularly hit Vernon hard. His father is a retired police officer who emigrated from Jamaica and whose mother emigrated from Switzerland.

      "I had a lot of patience from last year with what was going on. I respect this nation, this country. I'm a first-generation American," Vernon said. "All these remarks just built up. (Saturday night), just hearing that just struck a chord."

      Vernon didn't stop there.

      "What does it say as far at the First Amendment when you can show you feel non-violently when you have a platform to do it? No matter how much money you make, why not do it? Why not stand down with your brothers and represent something that's bigger than the game of football?

      "Something that we have in our nation that's been going on a long time and I just felt it was a necessary thing to do. What's fair is fair. If you can protest something that's non-violent and make a stand for something what's wrong with that?"

      Vernon, who generally chooses his words carefully, continued. "I've been raised the right way. I know what's right and I know what's wrong. Ain't nobody ever going to scare me. I don't care if you the president or not -- you ain't my president."

      Collins, who despite not being voted a team captain has morphed into a leader, said that his decision to kneel had nothing to do with disrespect of the country itself.

      "We love our country to death," he said. "We'd die for it, too if we could. At the same time, we respect each other, we have a family over here and we're going to fight for each other."

      After the game, the Giants organization issued the following team statement: "We think the national anthem is an important way to honor this great country and the men and women who protect all of us. We are thankful and respect that we live in a country where an individual has the right to make the choice in how they recognize the anthem.

      "Coach McAdoo has been proactive in conveying to our players the significance of the national anthem. As an organization, we will continue to provide our players with opportunities to make a difference in our society and in our communities. Many of our players have accepted the responsibility to use their platform to make this country and our world a better place.

      "There are many issues and problems that trouble all of us, and we know many of our players feel strongly about being on the forefront of positive change and progress and being a force for unity. As an organization and a team, we practice empathy and not judgement."

  • McAdoo seeks new pep talk for 0-3 Giants
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo must deliver some encouraging or compelling message when the team reports back to work Tuesday after losing their first three games.

    • Good luck with that one, coach. It is the first such losing streak for the Giants since 2013 and the team is a vulnerable target for upset fans and critical media.

      McAdoo's goal is to ensure his players don't get too down on how things transpired for the club so far and to make sure that the team remains united and in tune with the program he's established.

      "We need to talk about our potential in the room," McAdoo said when asked what his approach would be to make sure he doesn't lose the locker room.

      "We haven't played a complete football game and clean football in all three phases and we really haven't earned a win yet. It's all correctable and we need to stay positive but realistic and understand that we need to learn from these first three games and find a better way to play team football."

      The problem is McAdoo has been saying the same thing since the season began, yet the concept of playing "complementary football" has continued to elude him and the players.

      In trying to keep his players believing in the program and their spirits up, McAdoo will preach to them about slowing down and taking their goal or returning to the playoffs in smaller steps.

      "I think No. 1 is we can't worry about playoffs this week; we just have to get a win," he said of the process. "We can't accomplish going to the playoffs or getting a playoff berth or anything like that this week.

      "All we can focus on is the way we prepare so we can go down and perform well in Tampa. That's where our focus needs to be. We can only focus on what we can control and that's the way we prepare."

      That approach might be easier said than done, but McAdoo believes he can rally his team around the greater cause.

      "We need to keep fighting through," he said. "I believe in this team. I believe in the potential of this team. It starts with me and we need to keep fighting to get better and we need to keep fighting to get the win."

      REPORT CARD VS. EAGLES

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B - Quarterback Eli Manning, working as part of an up-tempo offense that focused on getting the ball out of his hand as quickly as possible, had his best game of the young season. He completed 35 of 47 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. His numbers might have been better if his receivers didn't drop five of his pass attempts and if on one of his two interceptions, Brandon Marshall had fought harder to knock the ball away.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - New week, same results for the Giants running game, which got 17 carries and logged 49 yards, the long being a 20-yard run by Orleans Darkwa. The Giants played 11-personnel for most of the game, but more important, they didn't run their fullback, Shane Smith, on any plays and they asked Rhett Ellison to run-block on just nine snaps, amazing stats considering the struggles of the offensive line to run-block consistently.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C - Other than some early game pressure, the Giants pass rush couldn't get near the slippery Carson Wentz, who completed 21 of 31 pass attempts for 176 yards. The play of free safety Darian Thompson and cornerback Eli Apple in particular drove this unit's grade down. Thompson missed half of his tackle attempts, taking poor angles on the majority of them while Apple had two big defensive pass interference calls that cost his team over 70 yards in penalty yardage and which both helped set up Eagles scoring drives. However, the Giants did limit the Eagles to just 176 passing yards, largely in part thanks to the return of cornerback Janoris Jenkins and nickel linebacker Keenan Robinson.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D - Missed tackles and an inability to get off blocks resulted in the once vaunted Giants run defense giving up their third straight 100-yard game to an opponent, this week being 193 yards on 39 carries. It didn't help the Giants that Damon Harrison was successfully double teamed on a fair number of snaps nor did Olivier Vernon's early exit due to an ankle injury help matters.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D - Kicker Aldrick Rosas was solid, coming through with a clutch 41-yard field goal that gave his team a 24-21 lead. However, the same can't be said of punter Brad Wing, who has struggled to maintain consistency the last two games. Wing mis-hit a fourth-quarter punt from his 34-yard line, the ball traveling just 28 yards and out of bounds. With the Eagles getting the ball on their 38, they were able to pick up enough yards plus get a 61-yard game-winning field goal to boot. If Wing hits a high punt down the middle of the field, then perhaps he takes more than the six seconds his shank took off the clock and sends the game into overtime where maybe the Giants have a chance.

      --COACHING: C - Head coach Ben McAdoo apparently spent as much time contemplating relinquishing the play-calling duties as it took for him to say as much last week. While the decision to go to an up-tempo offense saved the wear and tear on his quarterback, McAdoo was right back to his beloved 11-personnel package which while gaining the Giants 415 yards of offense and 27 points to snap an eight-game streak in which the offense failed to score over 20 points, it led to the decision to go for it on fourth down from the 1-yard line after botching the call on the previous play in which the Giants passed the ball instead of running.

  • Del Rio glad ugly game counts as just one loss
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- With a healthy roster and rampant optimism among both the players and the fan base, the Oakland Raiders gave what may have been their worst performance in the Jack Del Rio era in a 27-10 road loss to the Washington Redskins.

    • Del Rio's first game, a 33-13 loss in a game the Raiders trailed 33-0, was actually worse in terms of a point spread, but those Raiders aren't nearly as talented as the current edition.

      The devastation was total and went beyond the final score, as Washington outgained the Raiders 472 to 128 and it would have been much worse had the Redskins kept passing and Oakland not had a flurry of completions late in the game to break 100 yards.

      Del Rio wasn't pleased with the loss, but he wasn't snorting or snarling either, chalking it up in part to the strange ways of the NFL.

      "We had an ugly day. I'm glad they don't count for more than one," Del Rio said. "We definitely took one on the chin ... I sure don't like looking at it, don't like seeing it, but nobody's immune to it. It's one game and it counts for one."

      Quarterback Derek Carr, on center stage in a nationally televised Sunday night game, threw an interception on his first pass attempt -- breaking a streak of 110 consecutive passes dating back to last season without a pick. Later, he threw another one. He was sacked four times.

      "We just got our butts kicked. Hats off to Washington," Carr said. "They came out great. They played well and they got after us. There's no going around it. They played better than us and won because of it."

      The Raiders were so inert on offense they failed on all 11 third-down attempts.

      Washington, meanwhile, had its way with the Raiders defense. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had ample time to throw and was flawless, completing 25 of 30 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns.

      Cousins was 14 of 15 for 145 yards in the first half.

      The Raiders, after getting the better of both sides of the line of scrimmage in a season-opening road win against Tennessee and a Week 2 domination of the New York Jets, saw its defensive line and offensive line get outplayed by a significant margin.

      --Del Rio wasn't letting quarterback Derek Carr off the hook for his poor play.

      "We've obviously seen him play at a real high level," Del Rio said. "Tonight wasn't one of those nights. It started on the second play of the game and I think it kind of unraveled from there. We didn't get a lot done with our offense and he's the trigger man that makes it all go."

      Carr was philosophical and not ducking responsibility.

      "I just have to be better," Carr said. "You put it all on me, every single time. When something like this happens it's my fault. Everyone wants to pat you on the back when you win as a quarterback. You just go ahead and put it all on me. I promise you I'll be alight."

      Del Rio is fine with Carr taking the leadership role and assuming responsibility.

      "We don't want anybody to feel like they have to be the whole team," Del Rio said. "Derek taking ownership is what you like your leaders to do."

      REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Derek Carr was 19 of 31 for 118 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and had to rally to get there. Michael Crabtree, who had caught 12 of 13 passes headed in his direction, was blanketed by Josh Norman and had a single catch for seven yards. Amari Cooper had one catch for six yards and a drop. Carr was sacked four times.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Raiders had 32 yards on 13 carries and only two rushing first downs. Marshawn Lynch never got going and had six carries for 18 yards with a long gain of five yards. Jalen Richard had an 11-yard run but lost seven yards on his only other carry. The Raiders offensive line got zero in the way of push up front.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- Kirk Cousins shredded the Raiders with 25 completions in 30 attempts for 365 yards and three touchdowns in one of the best days of his career. The Raiders did manage to keep him out of the end zone deep in their own territory occasionally. Vernon Davis had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown -- all in the first half -- and Chris Thompson was a game-long mystery with six catches in seven targets for 150 yards and a touchdown.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Washington had 116 yards on 34 carries, averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. The going was rough for Samaje Perine, with 19 yards on 49 carries. Thompson added 38 yards on eight attempts to go with all his receiving yards, so the Raiders at least put up some resistance in this area.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Marquette King forced his second muffed punt in two weeks, this one on a 61-yard punt with James Cowser getting the recovery and setting up the Raiders' lone touchdown. King put four punts inside the 20 and had a 49.4 net. The Raiders did no significant damage with their return game. Giorgio Tavecchio kicked a 22-yard field goal and converted an extra point.

      --COACHING: D-minus -- A team that looked sharp and well prepared in the first two games of the season barely even showed up. There was another three-passes-and-nothing sequence near the goal line -- the second time that's happened in three games. Head coach Jack Del Rio says it's his responsibility and we'll take him at his word.

  • Packers' defense finally comes alive
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' defense has been their Achilles heel since their run to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season. The Packers' defense got off to another shaky start this season, then faced Cincinnati Sunday without several key players.

    • Defensive end Mike Daniels, Green Bay's best defensive player, was out with a hip injury. Nick Perry, the Packers' top edge rusher, couldn't play after undergoing midweek hand surgery. And Davon House, arguably Green Bay's top cornerback, sat out Sunday's game against Cincinnati with a quadriceps injury.

      In addition, linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion) and safety Kentrell Brice (groin) -- two important defensive pieces -- couldn't go.

      But after an inconsistent first half, Green Bay's defense was outstanding after intermission and helped the Packers rally for a 27-24 overtime win.

      "We saw all the stuff they threw at us and I think at that point you just have to have play recognition," said Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, who had 11 tackles, including a tackle for loss. "And I give it up to our coaches making the adjustment at halftime to, kind of, not allow that to happen. We played what they called and we made the plays that we made and it got us the win."

      The Packers hope they can duplicate their second-half defensive performance in Thursday night's home game against the Chicago Bears.

      In the first half, Cincinnati had 192 net yards, 13 first downs and averaged 2.8 points per possession. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a 140.8 passer rating, Cincinnati had 82 rushing yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

      In the second half and overtime, though, the Bengals had just 109 net yards, eight first downs and averaged 0.60 points per possession. Dalton's passer rating after halftime was a respectable 90.5, but the Bengals ran for just 28 yards and averaged only 2.3 yards per rush.

      After the Bengals converted 4 of 7 third downs in the first half (57.1 percent), they went 0-for-5 in the second half.

      "Obviously in the second half, we hunkered down," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "They made some plays, but, for the most part, we were able to limit them to three points in the second half, which was huge. Eventually, our offense is going to get it going, and that's exactly what we did."

      Rookie safety Josh Jones had the Packers' most spectacular defensive performance, finishing with a team-high 12 tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss.

      "You know our room is a strong room," Jones said of the safety group. "All those guys can play. We all can play. No matter where our coach tells us to go and play, line up, man, we're all going to ball out. Everybody's dogs in the room."

      Martinez had his most active game as a Packer. Veteran Ahmad Brooks, playing for the injured Perry, had a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.

      And rookie cornerback Kevin King shadowed Bengals six-time Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green. Green did plenty of damage against King, finishing with 10 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. But King competed throughout and showed no fear.

      The Bengals took a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter after second-year cornerback William Jackson jumped in front of Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, intercepted an Aaron Rodgers floater and raced 75 yards for a touchdown.

      From that point on, though, Green Bay's defense allowed just three points in the final 44 minutes.

      "I thought they did a good job with their first 15 plays, the way they moved on the first drive there," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "You know, they did a good job running the football, so, it was a chess match. But I thought our guys were consistent throughout the day and just kept battling."

      --Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been 0-7 in overtime games in his career prior to Sunday. In four of those games, Green Bay lost the coin toss and never had the ball.

      But Rodgers capped a memorable day by recording his first-ever overtime win.

      First, Rodgers engineered a 12-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in the closing moments of regulation to force overtime. Rodgers and second-year wideout Geronimo Allison then hooked up on a 72-yard pass play in overtime to set up kicker Mason Crosby with the game-winning field goal.

      "That was a desperate opponent (at) 0-2, not wanting to go to 0-3," Rodgers said of Cincinnati. "We spot 'em a lead and start picking up in the second half and making some more plays. And then obviously when we had to have it there in the fourth quarter and overtime, we made the plays."

      --Geronimo Allison set a career high with 122 receiving yards on six catches. The former undrafted free agent missed Week 1 after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but has quickly taken on a huge role in the offense.

      "I've known Geronimo has been a player for a long time," Rodgers said. "He's a fantastic part of our offense, does a lot of things really, really well, he's a tough kid, a really tough competitor.

      "I remember the first day I watched him at training camp, I said, 'How do you not get drafted?' I said this kid's fantastic. He's got a great attitude. I was ripping him a little bit Week 1 about him being suspended and missing him out there, but it's good having him back. He's a guy who can really help out."

      Added Allison: "I feel good, I'm healthy, I feel more confidence with the offense and I feel good running around out there making plays."

      REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Aaron Rodgers threw his first pick-six interception since Week 9, 2009, a string of 3,907 passes. But Rodgers bounced back and threw for 313 yards, giving him a franchise-record five straight games in which he eclipsed 300 yards. Rodgers was sacked six times, though, an area that must be cleaned up immediately.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Packers can't get running back Ty Montgomery going. Montgomery carried 12 times for 35 yards Sunday (2.9 yards per carry). And through three games, Montgomery has just 124 rushing yards on 41 carries (3.0)

      --PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Packers used four safeties much of the game against Cincinnati. Rookie safety Josh Jones was a show-stopper, becoming the first rookie defensive back in team history to register two sacks in a game. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton did have a 124.1 passer rating, but that mark was 90.5 in the second half and overtime.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bengals ran for 82 first-half yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But the Packers held Cincinnati to 28 rushing yards and 2.3 yards per carry in the second half and overtime. "Obviously in the second half, we hunkered down," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Green Bay return man Trevor Davis had a solid day, averaging 14.0 yards on his five punt returns. Kicker Mason Crosby also made his first game-winning field goal at Lambeau Field since Week 1 of 2007, which also was Crosby's first-ever NFL game.

      --COACHING: C-plus -- Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has now defeated every NFL team, except Green Bay, of course. McCarthy was 0-2 against Cincinnati, and after a forgettable first half, appeared in trouble again. But McCarthy and the Packers got rolling in the second half and posted a thrilling win.

  • Lions must rebound after emotional loss
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They suffered one of the cruelest losses in recent memory, on a clock runoff after officials made a controversial call on the field, and now the Detroit Lions must regroup in time for a tough division game against the Minnesota Vikings.

    • "That's part of the challenge that we face every week after either you win or you lose," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "If you win and guys are still thinking about how well they played the day before or week before, that can get you. And this is no different. This is kind of (what) this league is all about."

      The Lions haven't been very successful in bounce-back games recently.

      In 2015, they lost handily to the Arizona Cardinals a week after officials missed a batted-ball call in the end zone that preserved a Seattle Seahawks victory, and later in the season they fell to an inferior St. Louis Rams team 10 days after Aaron Rodgers completed a miraculous Hail Mary touchdown pass.

      Last year, the Lions no-showed their playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks after losing at home to the Packers in Week 17 with the division title on the line.

      Caldwell said this year's team is different, and the roster has had plenty of turnover. But Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons still was of the gut-punch variety.

      "It's crazy," defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. "It's just, it sucked the life out of me."

      The Lions intercepted three Matt Ryan passes to rally from a 14-point second-quarter deficit, and briefly appeared to take the lead on a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate with 8 seconds to play.

      Replays, however, showed Tate was touched down inches short of the goal line, and when the score was overturned on review, it necessitated a 10-second runoff because the Lions were out of timeouts.

      In an instant, the Lions went from upsetting the defending NFC champions in dramatic fashion to picking their hearts up off the ground.

      Caldwell said he doesn't think there'll be much work to do this week to put those hearts back together, but even he won't be sure until the weekend rolls around.

      "You have setbacks during the course of games," Caldwell said. "You have adversity, and we've been able to overcome those. So we'll see how we bounce back and the idea is to get it behind us as quickly as we can and a lot of that has to do with just guys making up their mind, it's over and done with. But the close ones make you think about it a little bit."

      REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B - Matthew Stafford didn't have his best day under center, but he led the Lions to the brink of an upset before the game ended with a clock runoff. Stafford finished 25-of-45 passing for 264 yards. His lone touchdown pass to Golden Tate came late in the third quarter, and he misfired on a couple opportunities to extend drives. TE Eric Ebron had two costly fourth-quarter drops, while Tate was effective with seven catches and TJ Jones had a nice day, catching all three of the passes thrown his way for 63 yards. Jones made a tough 29-yard catch on the game's final drive, when he held onto the ball despite taking a huge hit across the middle.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - Running the ball was a struggle for a Lions offense that played without center Travis Swanson and top interior backup Joe Dahl. Left guard Graham Glasgow moved to center, Zac Kerin made his first start at guard, and the Lions struggled to get any push up the middle against the Falcons. Ameer Abdullah ran for 47 yards on 14 carries and didn't have a gain longer than 11 yards all day. Zach Zenner was ineffective, running for just 5 yards on three carries as Dwayne Washington's replacement in short-yardage situations.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Matt Ryan had gone nine games without throwing an interception before the Lions picked off three passes Sunday. Glover Quin made a great read on the pick that he returned 37 yards for a touchdown, while Darius Slay's two interceptions came off tipped passes. The Lions didn't get enough pressure on Ryan, though Anthony Zettel and Jeremiah Valoaga had sacks. Ziggy Ansah, fresh off a three-sack game, did register a single tackle, and DJ Hayden missed at least one tackle and wasn't great in coverage.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: D-plus -Devonta Freeman finished with 106 yards on 21 carries, but he and the Falcons' offensive line seemed to have their way with the Lions up front. Freeman scored on a 1-yard run and was especially important in controlling the game flow early. The Lions missed Jarrad Davis in the middle of their defense. Nick Bellore started at middle linebacker and made just two tackles, though he did not play in nickel situations. Tahir Whitehead had seven tackles, including a big third-down stop on Tevin Coleman to force the Falcons' first punt.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - Matt Prater made a bid for his second straight special teams Player of the Week award by making all four of his field-goal attempts from 35, 40, 55 and 57 yards. Prater is nearly automatic between 50-60 yards, making all 13 of his kicks from that distance going back to last year. The Lions didn't get much out of their return game, with no punt return opportunities until the fourth quarter. They allowed Andre Roberts a long kickoff return. Punter Jeff Locke had a solid 40.2-yard net average on his five punts, landing one inside the 20.

      --COACHING: A-minus - It's tough to fault coaches for the way things ended. The Lions had to use their three timeouts on defense before the two-minute warning to preserve clock for the comeback, and all three of their final plays from the 1-yard line were designed to get into the end zone. The Lions didn't do enough to stop Devonta Freeman, and their offense struggled to sustain drives early, but with so much potential distractions on a day when national anthem protests were at the forefront of minds, the Lions were dialed in and played a solid all-around game.

  • Bears' O-line bolstered by return of Long
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long marveled Monday at the toughness displayed by injury-plagued running back Jordan Howard in Sunday's 23-17 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field.

    • "He would go down, he would get up, they'd bring him off, he'd come back in, first down," Long said. "I felt like it just kept happening over and over again like that."

      Considering the holes Howard and Tarik Cohen had to run through, and the number of changes the offensive line endured, their blockers should have been held with similar esteem.

      Depth on the offensive line and Long's return went a long way toward staking the Bears to 220 yards rushing.

      "I thought Kyle played well, he played very physical, he played probably a lot longer than I thought was possible, as far as I think he was probably pretty gassed afterwards," Chicago head coach John Fox said.

      Long hadn't played since Nov. 13 because of the bad ankle injury he suffered last year that required surgery to repair. He hadn't really been part of the offseason team work, and the plan had been to start him at left guard this season.

      "Yeah, I mean I was happy to be able to run around out there and sustain almost 70 plays, I think it was, I'm not sure how many," Long said. "I'm about as sore today as I was prior to anything surgically.

      "The good thing is I was able to finish and we got a win."

      Long had never really practiced much at left guard, even though the intent was to start him there and put Josh Sitton at right guard. Surgery and rehab kept him from taking many snaps at all in organized team activities and in the second half of training camp.

      "Well, the reality of it was I didn't even get, I probably got 10 reps at the left guard position so playing, going back to the right spot was a place where I felt comfortable," Long said.

      With Sitton unavailable due to a rib injury and Tom Compton suffering from a hip injury, the Bears were sent scrambling on the line when center Hroniss Grasu went out of the physical battle with a hand injury.

      Chicago solved the problem by moving Cody Whitehair from guard to replace Grasu, and putting Bradley Sowell at right guard.

      "Luckily, we're able to have a lot of guys who can do multiple pieces like Cody and Brad, Tom (Compton), whoever it may be. We've got guys who can fill in."

      Sowell is a tackle and never played guard until Week 2.

      "He's tough," Long said. "He's a tough dude. And he is fearless. And he is a throwback offensive lineman. He can play any number of positions on the offensive line, tackle or guard, and he's done so for us, on short notice. At the drop of a hat. I mean, the guy is ready to roll."

      With a short week leading to Green Bay approaching, the offensive line's health will be a major issue.

      The nature and severity of Grasu's hand injury wasn't revealed Monday by Fox, but the team said he would have had limited participation if there had been practice.

      If Sitton returns to face Green Bay, it would be the first time this season they've had the projected first-team line together.

      Regardless, Long said the Bears can handle injuries better than any other team they've had since Ryan Pace became general manager. The depth is improved.

      "I mean, if losing a player is going to make you down in the dumps, then the NFL isn't the place for you," Long said. "One thing we're no stranger to is injury here. And as football players it comes as no surprise that people go down every week."

      NOTES: Head coach John Fox confirmed that safety Quintin Demps suffered a broken arm late in Sunday's win and now the Bears will turn to former starter Adrian Amos.

      Demps' veteran influence had been credited with steadying the back of the defense.

      "The good news is we've got guys that have been with us, whether it's Adrian, DHC (DeAndre Houston-Carson) or Deon Bush, there's guys there that are familiar with what we're doing. That was the advantage of some of the injuries and play time we got a year ago," said Fox. "We feel good about guys stepping in. Obviously, we don't want to see anybody get hurt or injured but those other guys are worthy."

      REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- Teams in the NFL shouldn't win with 101 passing yards, 3.5 yards per pass attempted and four throws with one completion to wide receivers. The Bears did. Mike Glennon got away with two passes that should have been intercepted, and had one bad pick into triple coverage that was an option route and was misread by the quarterback. Glennon's big contribution in the passing game was a well-executed fake and short toss on a play-action goal-line TD to tight end Adam Shaheen.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus -- The 220 yards was the best by the Bears under head coach John Fox. Run blocking was effective all day despite the line being without injured Josh Sitton, with Kyle Long playing for the first time in 10 months and with center Hroniss Grasu leaving with an injury (hand). The cuts and reads made by running back Jordan Howard were textbook, particularly on counters. He took full advantage of strong outside zone blocking, and ran hard after contact on inside plays despite a bad shoulder. Tarik Cohen's 36-yard run in overtime to put the Bears in scoring position was pure brilliance, and not merely a result of natural instincts. He knew how Pittsburgh had tried plugging inside zone runs and looked for a quick indicator they were doing it again, then popped outside. After that it was Barry Sanders-style fun.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B -- The only failure in this was the third straight game without an interception for a defense that couldn't make them the last two years. Cornerback Kyle Fuller played his best game with Chicago, including the win at San Francisco as a rookie in 2014 when he made two interceptions. He played both run and zone with solid technique. Cornerback Prince Amukamara returned from a month away and was a positive factor with the exception of failing to make a tackle on a Pittsburgh touchdown when he had lined up eight yards off the receiver inside the 10-yard line. Marcus Cooper couldn't erase the memory of his blunder on a blocked kick return, but did play some of the best man coverage against deep passes the Bears have had in recent years from a cornerback. The pass rush struggled with consistency, but kept Ben Roethlisberger uncomfortable by preventing him from moving to throw. Three sacks helped keep their presence in his mind.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- Holding Le'Veon Bell to 61 yards is an effective day for any defensive front. It was a third straight stout effort from nose tackle Eddie Goldman pushing the center of the line back and refusing to get caught up in the Pittsburgh blocking scheme. It's easy for linebackers to lose sight of Bell in the Steelers' blocking, but Christian Jones, John Timu and Danny Trevathan kept focused and the Bears gave up no runs longer than 13 yards. They kept the pile from pushing forward.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- Cooper's stupid stunt at the goal line, trying to celebrate before the end zone, wiped out chances of a complete special teams day. Also, kicker Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter. Sherrick McManis is the Bears' holdover from Dave Toub's tenure as a special teams coordinator and he still plays like he came from that era of teams dominance. He blocked a field goal, recovered a muffed punt and was on the field for 22 special teams plays.

      --COACHING: B-plus -- It would be easy to criticize Dowell Loggains' offensive game plan as too conservative based on Glennon's low passing numbers, but he can't throw the passes. On many plays, Glennon could have taken it downfield for tries at moderate gains, but checked down. His receivers aren't the best, but they occasionally were open and he was unwilling to throw their way -- or didn't recognize they were open. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had Roethlisberger figured out, and even without a strong pass rush he devised a scheme to keep the Steelers quarterback from settling in comfortably to throw. Stopping the run first made play-action difficult for Pittsburgh. It's difficult to measure, but the Bears came in totally unified despite the situation with political unrest, as they decided to stand for the anthem and lock arms. Coaches, ownership and players all deserve credit for keeping everyone unified. Were the Steelers as unified? They had one player standing at the edge of the tunnel and coaches on the field for the anthem, with everyone else in the locker-room area. It's safe to assume some would rather have been doing what the Bears did and lock arms. It's immeasurable, but togetherness is an intangible that might have been just enough to alter the scales in a close game.

  • Redskins defense growing each week
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    ASHBURN, Va. -- The performance was shocking for anyone who watched the Washington Redskins defense closely for the past decade.

    • A team that could not get out of its own way on third down in 2016, a group that has tried patchwork solutions at safety and on the defensive line for years, held a formidable Oakland Raiders offense to 128 yards of offense.

      The Raiders couldn't run the ball against the Redskins, they couldn't throw it and they were lucky to score at all. It took two fumbles inside its own 20 for the Redskins to give up points in a 27-10 victory.

      Historically bad on third downs in 2016 at 46.6 percent -- only four teams have done worse since 2009 -- Washington didn't allow a single third-down conversion in 11 tries on Sunday night. So what's changed?

      "No. 1, we've upgraded our talent pool," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said in a Monday afternoon conference call.

      That's true. And while Washington is still thin at some spots, its unheralded offseason moves have paid dividends. Free safety D.J. Swearinger arrived from Arizona and immediately became a team captain. At age 26, he's the best blend of youth and experience at the position since Sean Taylor's tragic death a decade ago.

      Add in the speed of Pro Bowler Zach Brown at inside linebacker and rookie first-round pick Jonathan Allen on the defensive line, and it's clear the Redskins have quickly upgraded their talent base.

      And other young players have developed. Third-year pro Preston Smith has three sacks in three games. Second-year cornerback Kendall Fuller had a fine Week 1 game and Sunday intercepted a pass and forced a fumble. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, a fifth-round pick in 2016 who landed on the practice squad, has found a role in the middle of a defense that has held opponents to 3.2 rushing yards per play, which is seventh in the league through Sunday's games.

      Five different Washington players were credited with a sack or half sack against Oakland's excellent offensive line (Smith, Allen, Ioannidis and outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Junior Galette).

      "It was somebody different all the time. It was the interior pass rush. It was the edge pass rush. It was the coverage. It was tackling. It was pursuit. It was a little bit of everything," Gruden said. "There was some fundamental clinic tape in that game that I am very, very impressed with. Now the standards are set very high around here now. The ability to maintain it is going to be critical for us."

  • Why Chiefs were fans of Thursday Night Football
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid heard the team's personnel department mention the name of running back Kareem Hunt as a target in this year's draft, he immediately recalled working in his office on Thursday nights last fall.

    • That is when he watched a prolific speedster for the Toledo Rockets on television as he lit up the Mid-American Conference.

      "I did more TV scouting, which is kind of dangerous," Reid said, "but on Thursday nights he was on quite a little bit, so you had a chance to see him and see what he was all about just as a player. I remember his name and he was a standout player at Toledo there."

      Now the rest of the NFL understands what caught the attention of Chiefs' scouts who believed Hunt could be their running back of the future.

      The Chiefs traded a compensatory third-round selection in this year's draft, No. 104 overall, along with fourth- and seventh-round picks to move up 18 spots to take Hunt in the third round.

      A season-ending knee injury to Spencer Ware accelerated that timeline, and Hunt has more than exceeded Kansas City's high expectations for him.

      The rookie rattled off another big day in the Chiefs' 24-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, picking up 172 yards rushing along with a touchdown. Hunt leads the NFL with 401 rushing yards. The next closest to him is Minnesota rookie Dalvin Cook with 288.

      Hunt's hot start puts him rare air among rookie running backs since 1950.

      Only Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 434 yards in his first three games in 2005, posted more yards than Hunt has so far. He also has 538 yards from scrimmage; only Detroit's Billy Sims with 562 posted more yards from scrimmage in the first three games of a career.

      Hunt and Sims share the mark for most touchdowns in a rookie's first three games with six each.

      Reid says everyone is seeing what the team's personnel department saw.

      "You're seeing the core strength, the yards after hit, contact, which is a big thing with backs, and the balance, the ability to catch the football and the fourth-endurance, those were all things that popped up and I remember him," Reid said.

      The head coach also credits the team's running backs coach Eric Bieniemy for helping Hunt tap into his God-given physical talents.

      "You have a feel of what you're coaching them on and then also at the same time to open up that can of his instincts and allow him to utilize those to the best of his abilities," Reid said. "Eric does a great job with those two things."

      Hunt is continuing to apply the lessons he's learning from Bieniemy.

      "He's still stopping at red lights, but he's ready to accelerate through the green ways," Reid said. "It's important there."

      The Chiefs also seem to be carefully managing Hunt's workload, and the rookie's productivity helps in that regard. He averaged fewer than 16 carries through his first three games. His gaudy 8.5-yard average per carry helps him pile up the yardage. He also has nine catches for 137 receiving yards.

      Reid says he's not worried about his rookie back hitting a wall from overuse. The coach has backup running backs he trusts in Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt.

      The Chiefs also occasionally uses Tyreek Hill in the backfield.

      "I've seen enough make it through, I've seen some that hit a wall," Reid said about rookie running backs running out of steam as the season wears on. "We'll just see how it rolls here as we go."

      The head coach trusts his instincts on managing Hunt's playing time.

      "I just go off the feel I have and experience," Reid said. "We'll be all right there."

      REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -Hard to find fault with Alex Smith's numbers, going 16-of-21 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns for a 128.1 quarterback rating. Yet the offensive line surrendered five sacks, and the passing game virtually disappeared for two quarters after the Chiefs raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Smith continues a hot start playing at the top of his game but the offensive line continues to allow too much pressure on Smith in the middle of the game.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A - Kareem Hunt continues wreaking havoc on run defenses and the NFL record book, piling up another 172 yards rushing a touchdown. The offensive line continues providing just enough space for Hunt to find a hole, and the rookie running back is proving he can take it from there.

      --PASS DEFENSE: A - The Chargers live and die with quarterback Philip Rivers, and the Chiefs stifled the veteran passer Sunday to 20-of-40 passing for 237 yards and three interceptions. Rivers posted quarterback rating of 37.2, the fourth-worst in his 179 career starts. The Chiefs pass rush and secondary bottled up the Chargers much of the day, allowing only one big play, a 44-yard pass from Rivers to Travis Benjamin.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B - It was a tale of two halves for the Chiefs' run defense, with Melvin Gordon bursting out his early slump with 79 yards rushing in the first half. But once Gordon left because of a knee injury, the Chiefs' defense established its dominance, holding the Chargers to 17 yards rushing in the second half.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - Akeem Hunt broke a 42-yard kick return, but other than that the Chiefs’ return game proved flat. Punter Dustin Colquitt had a nice day, averaging 49.8 yards per punt and a 47.4-yard net with three kicks inside the 20. Kicker Cairo Santos was perfect including a 34-yard field goal after taking a nasty hit to the knee. But a botched fake punt set up the Chargers with a short field, forcing the defense to bail out the special teams.

      --COACHING: B - Head coach Andy Reid's team moved to 3-0 thanks to a terrific start and a fantastic finish, but the 30 minutes in between left much to be desired. The Chiefs offense switch to a pure vanilla approach, and only lights-out defense kept the team in control through the second half. The Chiefs at their best this season can put on an offensive show, but Reid's team needs to show it can play its A-game for a full 60 minutes.

  • Big plays doom Seattle defense
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    The Seattle Seahawks' defense is not a group usually prone to giving up big plays.

    • But on Sunday in Tennessee, the Seahawks gave up two touchdowns of 50-plus yards to the Titans. Rishard Matthews took a wide receiver screen for a 55-yard touchdown while running back DeMarco Murray sprung free for a 75-yard score weaving through the Seattle defense.

      After Carlos Hyde broke free for 61-yard and 27-yard runs last week for the 49ers, the Titans gashed the Seahawks for 195 yards.

      Murray's 75-yard touchdown romp in the third quarter was the longest rushing touchdown allowed by a Seattle defense in the Pete Carroll era. Andre Ellington had a 48-yard touchdown for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, which was the previous mark.

      "The thread is we've made totally unique, different mistakes, but we've made a couple big mistakes and they've really cost us," Carroll said. "Really fine running backs have been able to take advantage of it and really maximize them.

      "We made an error and we misread a formation and didn't hit it just right on the run play and the ball got out."

      It's just the third time in the Carroll era that the Seahawks have allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to an opposing running back. Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams (134) and Mike James of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (158) did so in Week 8-9 of the 2013 season.

      David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals (113) and Tim Hightower of the New Orleans Saints (102) did so in Week 7-8 last year, and now Hyde and Murray with their showings the last two weeks.

      "We're concerned that we don't want that to happen anymore," Carroll said. "We want to get rid of that. We played such a perfect first half of run fits and then it was just a couple of similar plays in the second half that we didn't hit right, different looks from the defensive side."

      The Seahawks had held the Titans to 30 yards on 17 carries in the first half, but after the break Tennessee managed to find running room.

      "It fell apart with a couple runs," Carroll said.

      The Seahawks rank 30th in the league in rushing defense with one game remaining in Week 3.

  • Seahawks' Sherman comes close to ejection
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman flirted with ejection during Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

    • Sherman was called for three separate penalties on the same play in the first quarter.

      He was flagged for a pass interference call on Eric Decker and then a hold against Decker on an interception return by Kam Chancellor. After seeing the flags had been thrown, Sherman removed his helmet and aggressively questioned the officiating crew as to what he had done to be penalized. Removing his helmet resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penaltyl. Two such penalties in a game results in an automatic ejection.

      "We've covered that for years, but in the moment he made a mistake," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "That's a 15-yarder you just hand somebody."

      Sherman said he was just seeking an explanation as to why he was penalized.

      "The flag came after Kam caught the ball," Sherman said. "You don't have a problem with the flag being thrown if they called what they called (during the play). But when it happens after a big play, then it raises some eyebrows, raises some suspicions. Then his explanation was very poor."

      Sherman pressed him further.

      "'Get away from me,'" Sherman said the official told him. "But I can ask what you saw -- I'm not disrespecting you in any way. I want to know what you saw so I can correct my decision."

      Sherman could have been flagged again for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected for not standing down in his quest for an explanation. He was later involved in a scuffle on the Titans' sideline after Sherman delivered a late hit on quarterback Marcus Mariota, which prompted several Titans players to react viscerally and get in Sherman's face.

  • Steelers' Villanueva: Standing alone for anthem was accidental
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva gained national exposure for being the only Pittsburgh player to stand on the field for the national anthem on Sunday, but on Monday he said his separation from the team was unintentional and blamed himself for the occurrence.

    • The Pittsburgh players decided Monday they will be on the field for the national anthem in future games, but they didn't yet know how they would represent themselves during the anthem.

      Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had said before Sunday's game that the team decided as a unit to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. Linebacker James Harrison said Villanueva's deviation from that plan took him by surprise.

      Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, tried to clear things up Monday.

      He said he asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand in front of the tunnel to get a vantage point to see the flag. Roethlisberger agreed, and Villanueva ventured too far out trying to gauge where the flag was. He then considered tuning back, but by that point the anthem had started and he felt he could not turn around and leave.

      "When everybody sees the image of me by myself, everybody thinks the team, the Steelers are not behind me, and that's absolutely wrong," Villanueva said. "I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. ...

      "This national anthem ordeal has sort of been out of control, and there's a lot of blame on myself."

      He said he was not trying to be play the role of an outcast acting alone, and he understands why teammates would be frustrated.

      "Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally," Villanueva said.

      He added that he would continue to stand for the national anthem.

      "People die for the flag. There's no way else to put it," Villanueva said. "I wish I could stay at home. I wish we could all play Call of Duty and not have to go to war. But some men, some women sign up for this tough challenge and they have to do it for the flag. When I see a flag on a mission, on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that the guy's with me."

      At the same time, Villanueva acknowledges his life experiences have been different from those of some of his teammates. He was born on a naval air station in Mississippi, spent part of his childhood in Europe and played college ball while attending the U.S. Military Academy (Army).

      "I've learned that I don't know what it's like to be from Dade County, I don't know what it's like to be from Oakland," Villanueva said. "I can't tell you I know what my teammates have gone through, so I'm not going to pretend like I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem. It's protected by our constitution and our country. It's the freedom of speech."

      Nonetheless, national support for Villanueva has exploded over the past day. His No. 78 jersey became the No. 1 seller on NFLShop.com and Fanatics.com since Sunday's game. It is one of the few times that the jersey of an offensive tackle has been more popular than the jerseys of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.

      Steelers teammate Cam Heyward said he still supports Villanueva.

      "He feels he had to do it. This guy served our country, and we thank him for it," Heyward told ESPN.

      As for the Steelers' stance before future games, Roethlisberger said, "We've had a team meeting and discussed what we want to do. Moving forward, we will be on the field. What we do when we're out there will be determined. Luckily, it's not the night before a game where we have to make a decision. I know I want to be on the field. Cam wants to be on the field. and the guys in that locker room want to be on the field. We plan to be on the field this week in Baltimore."

  • Little things lead to Broncos' loss to Buffalo
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was the sum of little things that cost the Denver Broncos in Buffalo on Sunday in their 26-16 loss.

    • It wasn't only two bad passes by quarterback Trevor Siemian, throws that the Bills intercepted in the second half. They were costly; one came on a first down as the Broncos were driving and already in field-goal range. But the Bills could only turn the turnovers into three points.

      It wasn't only Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor's ability to find the gaps in Denver's downfield coverages and get a little lucky as well; his first touchdown pass skipped off the hands of Zay Jones and into the grasp of Andre Holmes in the back of the end zone for the fortuitous, unexpected score that put the Broncos in their first deficit of the season.

      It wasn't only a failed fake punt that led to a Bills field goal that extended the Broncos' second-half deficit from four to seven points.

      It wasn't only the Broncos' 10 penalties, although two of them led directly to a pair of Bills field goals.

      One flag, for an illegal-formation penalty on a punt, effectively cost the Broncos 37 yards of field position after Brandon Tate returned the re-kick 17 yards; the Bills were in field-goal range after the return and didn't even need a first down to score.

      But the costliest flag came with 7:38 remaining and the Broncos trying to get the football back with a 23-16 deficit. Von Miller forced Taylor to throw an incompletion on third-and-6, and then held his hand out as though to help Taylor off the turf. He pulled it back. Miller and Taylor laughed as Taylor arose; it seemed like two members of the 2011 draft class just having a good time.

      Referee Carl Cheffers didn't see the humor in it. He flagged Miller for unsportsmanlike conduct. Buffalo kept the football for four minutes, 20 seconds longer, driving down to the Denver 9-yard line, within reach of an easy Stephen Hauschka field goal.

      It wasn't only one of those things that cost the Broncos.

      But they all came together for a defeat in a winnable game. Take away one of them, and the result might have been different. Put them all together, and you have a recipe that can cause as much damage as a plate of nuclear hot wings to someone suffering from gastroenteritis.

      That's why the Broncos weren't panicking Monday. Some of it was within their control. Some of it was beyond their grasp. On a Sunday defined by mystifying results, the Broncos had a head-scratcher that they knew was simply one of those days.

      "It wasn't as bad or terrible as you would think it was after a loss," running back C.J. Anderson said. "There are just some things that we need to clean up as an offense that we know we can clean up."

      They'd better, with the Oakland Raiders looming next week.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      --Given that inside linebacker Brandon Marshall took a knee during the national anthem before half of the Broncos' games in 2016 to call awareness to issues of social justice, it came as no surprise that he kneeled during the anthem Sunday in Buffalo in the wake of President Donald Trump's remarks regarding NFL players who protest at a speech in Huntsville, Ala., and subsequent tweets on the subject.

      "We talked about the fact that (Trump) called the (neo-Nazis in) Charlottesville 'very fine people,' but (players who kneel) are 'sons of bitches,'" Marshall said. "I think that he has to know that what he said is not going to make people go that way, it's going to provoke people to bail, so to speak.

      "So we all did it and I told (head coach) Vance (Joseph) before the game. Right before the game I said, 'I don't want to blind-side you, but some guys are going to go ahead and take a knee.'

      "He said he respects my decision. I just didn't want to blind-side him."

      But Marshall wasn't alone. He was joined by 31 teammates. And they didn't kneel with him out of obligation.

      "I would never ask anybody or pressure anybody to do something that they don't want to do. A lot of the guys came to me," Marshall said. "So I was like, 'This is where y'all are at? OK, cool.'"

      And Marshall appreciated their support. As he knelt and looked around, eyes locked. Marshall's teammates knew what their support meant to him -- both last year and right now.

      "Oh, man, it meant a lot, because they know I went through it last year. I did it by myself eight times. I guess they knew I'd be down for it," he said with a knowing smile.

      "Everybody just really came together. They talked about it themselves. I didn't have a meeting and say, 'Hey, we all should do this.' Some guys came to me and then I was like, 'OK, this is where y'all are at,' and then another guy came to me, and then I talked to some other people about it, and then everybody was cool with it. I was like, 'All right, let's do it.'"

      --With fourth-and-2 at their own 31-yard line late in the third quarter and a four-point deficit, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph called for a fake punt that failed. He took the blame for it.

      "The fake punt is my call solely," Joseph said. "The idea of the fake punt was obviously getting within fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2. We ran our offensive line off.

      It was an unusual call -- with an unusual personnel grouping. He kept his offensive line in the game. He used running back De'Angelo Henderson as the punt protector. Henderson got the snap, but went nowhere, gaining only one yard, giving the ball back to the Bills.

      "We mixed (the line) in with the punt team and ran those guys back on. We wanted our offensive line versus their punt return team, which is all defensive backs and one linebacker," Joseph said. "We ran our O-line back on."

      But one player -- cornerback Lorenzo Doss -- was late in taking the field.

      "We had the perfect look, but we were short one guy. So when (Doss) ran on, it gave them a chance to see what we were doing. Watching the tape last night and this morning, if the ball was snapped at the appropriate time, in my opinion, it would have been a good play," Joseph said. "Now, it didn't work, so it was a bad play."

      QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of people, they agree with the President. But a lot of people agree with us." -- Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, who knelt during the national anthem before eight games last year and was one of 31 Broncos to kneel before Sunday's game.

      STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

      PLAYER NOTES

      --QB Trevor Siemian threw two costly second-half interceptions Sunday, both of which could have been prevented if he had opted to throw the football away when he got outside of the pocket.

      --RB Devontae Booker was inactive for a third consecutive game as he completes his recovery from a fractured wrist.

      --RB Jamaal Charles' second-quarter touchdown was his first since joining the Broncos this offseason. He finished the day with 56 yards on nine carries.

      --WR Demaryius Thomas caught six passes for a team-leading 98 yards despite tight coverage and is back on pace for what would be his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

      --OLB Von Miller had a sack, another quarterback hit and two tackles for losses. He has three sacks in the last two games after going five games without a sack.

      --ILB Todd Davis had his best game of the season so far, notching a sack, two tackles for losses and 10 total tackles. Davis saw more playing time this week as the Broncos leaned heavily on their base defense after playing in sub packages for most of their win over the Cowboys.

      REPORT CARD VS. BILLS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Two second-half interceptions helped doom the Broncos and provided a key lesson for Trevor Siemian: that discretion is the better part of valor. Siemian could easily have thrown the football away, but instead fired errant passes that the Bills intercepted, turning one of them into a field goal. Until those picks, Siemian was steady, although his passes floated a bit more than usual, and the pass protection had its best day.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The consistency wasn't there as the Broncos would have hoped, but Jamaal Charles and C.J. Anderson did combine for 92 yards on 17 carries, with Anderson ripping off a 32-yard run. Charles touched the football on 10 of the 21 snaps he played, averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored his first touchdown as a Bronco.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Denver got to Tyrod Taylor for four sacks and four other hits, but Taylor found open receivers downfield, exploiting gaps in the Broncos' coverage for 213 yards on 20-of-26 passing with no interceptions. Denver's young safeties struggled in coverage at times, as the Broncos appeared to miss T.J. Ward more than in the first two games of the regular season.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A -- If you had told the Broncos that they would limit Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor to just 34 yards on 22 attempts Sunday, they probably would have taken that and expected to win. Even when Mike Tolbert's 41 yards on 11 attempts were factored in, the Broncos dominated at the line of scrimmage and limited the Bills to just 2.3 yards per carry and just 75 yards on the ground. Only one of Buffalo's 33 attempts went for a double-digit gain.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus -- Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. An illegal-formation penalty against Jamal Carter effectively resulted in a 37-yard change in field position, as it wiped out a tackle for an 8-yard loss on a Brandon Tate punt return. Instead of starting at the Buffalo 31, the Bills began their next possession at the Denver 32 after the re-kick, and turned the good field position into a field goal. That penalty followed another on an earlier kickoff by Will Parks, who cost the Broncos a chance to have the Bills start at their 11 because of an unnecessary roughness penalty; the Bills built some momentum off the field-position reprieve and marched to their first touchdown after the infraction. A fake punt in the third quarter went nowhere. Brandon McManus was perfect on four placekicks and Isaiah McKenzie and Latimer had solid return days, but their work was not enough to overcome Denver's self-inflicted wounds.

      --COACHING: B-minus -- The Broncos' issues weren't about preparation, but execution. Denver's offensive game plan created some wide-open receivers, allowing Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas to combine for 173 yards on 13 receptions. Defensively, the Broncos shut down the Bills' running game and dared Tyrod Taylor to beat them with his arm. He did, dropping some perfectly placed passes in gaps downfield. Denver got away from the run at times, and a decision to call a fake punt late in the third quarter could come under scrutiny, but the biggest mistake the Broncos' coaches could make would be to overreact to a road loss that came down to execution, a tip-drill touchdown and a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct call that led to the Bills' game-clinching field goal.

  • Dolphins can't get it together once game starts
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    DAVIE, Fla. -- Against a backdrop of solidarity and protest during the national anthem, the Miami Dolphins laid an egg in a 20-6 loss to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

    • And it wouldn't be a stretch to say it was the worst loss of head coach Adam Gase's one-plus seasons in charge.

      "They just beat the (expletive) out of us," Gase said after the game.

      Things are so serious, Gase was talking about personnel changes Monday.

      "I'm upset about the way our offense played," Gase said. "I'm just tired of watching it for two years. Just garbage, so ... we're going to figure something out.

      "We'll probably make some changes. So, figure out what we've got to do, get that thing rolling. I've been watching it for two years. It hasn't worked."

      Miami gained only 225 yards, 30 yards rushing, and went 1 for 12 on third downs. Running back Jay Ajayi, the heart and soul of the offense, rushed for 16 yards on 11 carries.

      Quarterback Jay Cutler looked every bit like a 34-year-old who was brought out of retirement as he went 26 of 44 for 220 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 70.3, throwing a number of passes that simply missed the mark.

      The Dolphins avoided their first shutout since December 2013 when Cutler hit wide receiver DeVante Parker for a 3-yard touchdown on the game's final play. It was no surprise Miami missed the extra point.

      Gase was quietly fuming Monday.

      "A lot of bad football," he said of Sunday's game. "More mental errors than we've had the last two years. I'll find the guys that want to do it right, and those are the guys that will play."

      Defensively, the Dolphins weren't that bad. The problem was they weren't that good, either.

      The Jets rushed for 103 yards, but averaged only 3.0 yards per carry. New York quarterback Josh McCown was 18 of 23 for 249 yards and one touchdown for a 126.3 passer rating.

      The big payoff in the New York passing game was a 69-yard touchdown pass from McCown to Robby Anderson in the second quarter, beating cornerback Alterraun Verner on one of his first snaps from scrimmage after he replaced Byron Maxwell (eye), who later returned to the game.

      This was a humiliating loss for the Dolphins, who were six-point favorites against a team many project to be the worst in the NFL.

      Miami appeared flat and uninspired, a rarity in the brief Gase era.

      Many thought the Dolphins might have had road fatigue from going from the west coast to the east coast.

      "You can't really put too much onto that," guard Jermon Bushrod said. "We have to fight and we have to find a way to get Ws. We can play 16 games on the road and nobody cares. You win or lose, that's all everybody cares about."

      --Among the many theories on why Miami lost to the New York Jets was the debatable idea the Dolphins didn't have a good week of practice, and that led directly to their lackluster performance.

      "Our week of preparation wasn't our best," cornerback Bobby McCain said. "You could just tell in all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- we didn't have it together. We didn't play with emotion, we didn't play with passion like we normally do, we didn't play with fire."

      Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey went against that idea.

      "The coaches didn't say we had bad practices after practice," he said. "But it's easy to say that after a loss."

      Quarterback Jay Cutler didn't blame poor practices for the loss.

      "I think anytime you go out there and play like that you're going to go back and look at what you did at practice and refine some things and change some things and try to get better," he said.

      Right tackle Ja'Wuan James focused on the bottom line.

      "We definitely can't let that happen again," he said. "Whatever happened, we need to (watch it on) film and correct it."

      --Miami owner Steve Ross locked arms with players in a show of unity during the national anthem, standing between safety Reshad Jones and center Mike Pouncey. A few players, tackle Laremy Tunsil, running back Jay Ajayi, and tight end Julius Thomas among them -- knelt on one knee during the anthem.

      A host of others wore black T-shirts during pregame warm-ups that said "#ImwithKap" a reference to ex-San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited with starting the movement to kneel during the national anthem in an attempt to draw attention to the social injustices sustained by people of color in the United States.

      Wide receiver Kenny Stills acquired the T-shirts from someone he knows.

      Among those wearing the T-shirts were Stills, Julius Thomas, safety Michael Thomas, wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Drew Morgan (who is Caucasian), tackles Ja'Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil and guard Jermon Bushrod.

      --Running back Jay Ajayi was held to 16 yards rushing on 11 carries against the Jets, a career-low for a game in which he had at least 11 carries. Ajayi's inability to get going had a ripple effect because the offense had to rely on quarterback Jay Cutler and he didn't have a good day, finishing with a 70.3 passer rating.

      Ajayi's 11 carries were his fewest since he had 13 carries for 42 yards in a 30-17 loss to Tennessee last year.

      NOTES: RB Jay Ajayi (11 carries, 16 yards) got a bit of a breather Sunday by not playing in the fourth quarter. ... QB Jay Cutler was off-target frequently against the Jets, going 26 of 44 for 220 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and head coach Adam Gase had an interesting answer when asked how Cutler performed. "Not as well as I'd like him to," Gase said. "He took a couple of vicious shots early. When you're 34, it's a little different than when you're 25." ... C Mike Pouncey seemed to be off Sunday, once even getting knocked backward and landing on his rear. It was a rarely-seen performance by the three-time Pro Bowl selection. But the entire offensive line had a poor showing. The good thing is Pouncey, who has been limited to one practice a week because of his hip ailment, seems healthy. ... TE Julius Thomas was among the five Dolphins players who took a knee during Sunday's national anthem, joining RB Jay Ajayi, WR Kenny Stills, DT Jordan Phillips and safety Maurice Smith. Thomas remains low-key on the field, recording three receptions for 16 yards against the Jets. ... WR Jarvis Landry was targeted a team-high 11 times against the Jets. This is after being targeted a team-high 15 times the previous week against the Los Angeles Chargers. Landry had six receptions for 48 yards against the Jets. ... DE Cam Wake had a sack and four quarterback hits to go along with four tackles against the Jets. Wake, a Pro Bowl selection last season after recording 13.5 sacks, was among the few bright spots for the Dolphins' defense. ... LB Chase Allen, the undrafted rookie from Southern Illinois, made seven tackles and was active Sunday against the Jets. Head coach Adam Gase said Allen "did alright." Gase seemed to suggest this remains a work in progress. "Any time you get a younger guy in there, it's a learning experience," Gase said. "Every week you play, the schemes change dramatically -- run scheme wise most of the time -- when you're on the defensive side. One week you're playing a team that's outside zone, inside zone or gap scheme -- it depends on what their flavor is -- and then the next week you see something completely different. It takes time to get used to." ... CB Byron Maxwell said although the defense had decent numbers -- the Jets rushed for 103 yards but only averaged 3.0 yards per carry, for example -- they must be better. "At the end of the day we lost the game," said Maxwell, who left briefly in the second quarter due to an eye injury but returned in the third quarter. "They scored more points than us. It's on the defense. We could have stopped them. I think about a couple of key plays in the game. For sure the third-and-18 they caught on me. So it's like that could have changed the game." ... SS Reshad Jones has seemed to uncharacteristically miss tackles in the first two games, sometimes taking poor angles and other times seeming to attempt arm tackles. Jones, who was limited to six games last year due to a shoulder injury, said the shoulder isn't an issue. "I think I'm playing solid, but I've got to do more," Jones said. "We've got to continue to win football games. It's about winning around here. I think I've just got to do more." ... P Matt Haack, the undrafted rookie from Arizona State, attempted a pass on a fake punt in the second quarter Sunday. The errant pass resulted in an interception. Haack was good otherwise, with seven punts for an average of 47.6 yards. ... RB Kenyan Drake ended with one carry for no yards against the Jets despite playing almost the entire fourth quarter. Of course, Miami was forced to pass by that time to come back from its 20-0 deficit. Drake ended up with one reception for two yards.

      REPORT CARD VS. JETS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: F - There was nothing to see here. QB Jay Cutler often threw off his back foot and ended 26 of 44 for 220 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. None of the wide receivers were a major factor and Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills each had at least one drop. Pass protection was shoddy, too. Miami allowed two sacks and seven quarterback hits.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: F - RB Jay Ajayi had 11 carries for 16 yards, and Miami finished with 15 carries for 30 yards. The offensive line didn't blast open many holes, as the Jets swarmed Ajayi every time he touched the ball. Without a running game, the entire offense fell apart.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D - Jets QB Josh McCown feasted to the tune of 18 of 23 for 249 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. WR Robby Anderson had a 69-yard touchdown reception against CB Alterraun Verner, who was subbing for Byron Maxwell (eye). And the middle of the defense, manned by the safeties and linebackers, got chewed up. Again.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B - Miami was OK here, allowing 103 yards on 34 carries for an average of 3.0 yards per carry. DT Ndamukong Suh (four tackles) was pretty good. And MLB Mike Hull (seven tackles), SLB Chase Allen (seven tackles) and WLB Kiko Alonso (eight tackles) also were good. But most of their tackles came downfield, and not at or behind the line of scrimmage.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D - P Matt Haack (7-46.7 yards per punt) was OK except for an interception on a fake punt. K Cody Parkey missed an extra point wide left after Miami scored a touchdown on the game's final play. PR Jakeem Grant fumbled the ball out of bounds on one of his two returns. Coverage teams were OK.

      --COACHING: F - Adam Gase's team was flat and made numerous mental mistakes. This was an embarrassing loss to a team many feel could be the worst in the NFL. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with play-calling or strategy. The problem was with execution. Miami wasn't ready to play, and the coaches must take part of the responsibility.