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  • Ravens look to strengthen playoff position vs. Texans
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    The Baltimore Ravens thrive under the bright lights and they can strengthen their position in the AFC playoff race with a victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

    • Since coach John Harbaugh took over the team in 2008, Baltimore has gone 11-1 in night games -- the best mark in the NFL. The Ravens (5-5) have also won nine consecutive prime-time matchups, also the longest streak in the NFL.

      "It is historic," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said about playing Monday night. "Growing up, I think we all watched Monday Night Football. It was always exciting. It was a big part of the week. We are looking forward to it."

      The Texans (4-6) are trying to stay afloat without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice earlier this month. As a result, backup Tom Savage will get his fifth start of the season against a Ravens' secondary that leads the NFL with 16 interceptions.

      "I think one of the main emphases -- and it really is a point of emphasis every week -- is ball security," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.

      "That is something that against the Ravens, you better make sure you take care of the football. Whoever is carrying the ball, obviously throwing the ball, everything (is important). That is one of the biggest stats in our game today -- that turnover-takeaway ratio. We have to do a great job in that area."

      Baltimore, which holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, has not played at M&T Bank Stadium since a 44-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 26. Now, the Ravens have a chance to win consecutive games for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season and go a game above .500 since Week 5.

      It's also Baltimore's first Monday night home game since the 2012 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

      "We've got to keep getting these wins," linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

      "If we win six out of these next seven, we have a good chance of getting in. I don't care if we give up 19 points, 35 points; as long as we are winning games, we will take that. We've had shutouts and then we've come back after games and not played so well."

      The Ravens face a backup quarterback for the second consecutive game. Last Sunday against the Packers, Baltimore kept the pressure on quarterback Brett Hundley, who threw three interceptions. The Ravens will have the same game plan against Savage.

      Baltimore leads the NFL with 16 interceptions.

      Savage lost his first two starts when Watson went down with the injury. However, he was better last week against the Arizona Cardinals, going 22 of 32 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 31-21 victory.

      O'Brien is confident that Savage is making strides.

      "I think he is getting better. I think the game on Sunday is probably the best game he has played since he has been playing for us," O'Brien said.

      "He does not have a ton of experience, so every game that he plays, it is really important for him to remember the things that went on during that game, so he can really use that experience to get better every single day and every game. I thought he did a good job of having a short memory on Sunday, and he really made some big plays for us to help us win the game."

      The Ravens hope to have left tackle Ronnie Stanley back in the lineup from a concussion. The offensive line struggled to protect Joe Flacco last week against the Packers. As a result, Flacco resorted to mostly check-downs because of the constant pressure. Stanley remained in the concussion protocol this week.

      Houston is ranked 26th against the pass, so Flacco will take some shots downfield, despite having the league's 32nd-ranked passing offense.

      "I think this offense, as a whole, we've been a little frustrated this year," Flacco said. "So, I think that goes for everybody. We haven't played as well as we wanted to, and that leads to a little bit of frustration. But, we're working through that as quickly as possible."

  • Chiefs, Bills try to pull out of tailspin
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    Two teams heading in similar directions meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills searching for victories to right the ship after disappointing losses.

    • Bills head coach Sean McDermott tried to not put too much emphasis on just one game.

      "It's important because it's the next game on our schedule and that's where our focus has to be," McDermott said.

      But the matchup takes on greater importance for both teams following recent results.

      The Chiefs dropped their fourth game in five tries with a mystifying 12-9 overtime loss to the struggling New York Giants. The Bills dropped to .500 with their second straight blowout loss, falling to the Los Angles Chargers 54-24.

      Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in his NFL debut in that game, prompting McDermott to turn back to former starter Tyrod Taylor this weekend.

      "Long and short of it really is it's the right thing for our team right now," McDermott said.

      Taylor said the brief demotion did not shake his confidence.

      "You never let things surprise you," Taylor said. "My focus has still been the same. I'm going to continue to be the leader that I am, the player that I am, week in and week out.

      "As a team, more importantly, we've got to fix what we haven't done right the last three weeks and that's get back on the winning side of the scoreboard."

      The Chiefs have found difficulties defending mobile quarterbacks in the past, including Taylor. In Kansas City's 30-22 win over Buffalo in Week 12 of the 2015 season, Taylor passed for 291 yards with three touchdowns while adding 46 yards rushing.

      Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Taylor's scrambling ability makes him a dangerous opponent.

      "Any time you have a quarterback that can extend plays and make plays and do the things he does, it makes it really difficult because it stresses the defense," Sutton said. "There's the play, then there's the play within the play. Sometimes he makes that play within the play pretty effective."

      The Chiefs have struggled against the pass much of the season, ranking 25th in the league with 253.8 yards allowed per game. The club made a move Wednesday to bolster their secondary, signing free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis.

      Coach Andy Reid did not rule out the possibility that Revis could play in a limited role against Buffalo.

      "No, but he knows the system, which is the only reason I wouldn't, but I've got to see where we're at here," Reid said. "We're not going to rush him into anything until he's ready to go."

      The Chiefs have juggled the right cornerback slot much of the season, especially with Steven Nelson missing the first seven games of the season with a core muscle injury.

      Terrance Mitchell started the season at right cornerback with Phillip Gaines as the slot nickel-back.

      Nelson's return allowed him to resume his role as the primary right cornerback. He moves to the slot in nickel and dime packages. Gaines and Kenneth Acker have both been tested right corner, with no one managing to convince Sutton the job belongs to them.

      "We took Phillip and said, hey, Phillip's the guy and go there," Sutton said. "Just like we've said before, none of these are permanent. You've got to continue to show that you're the right guy and go from there. And if you don't, then we got to keep kind of going."

      Reid hopes the addition of Revis benefits his young secondary.

      "We have some young guys trying their hearts out, man, and doing a nice job for us too," Reid said. "I think it's a win-win. You get a veteran guy, you have some young guys that still continue to grow and it's good for the football team. I think that's a positive thing all the way around."

      The Chiefs' pass defense also remains limited by injuries among the front seven.

      The Chiefs may once again be without linebacker Dee Ford, who remains sidelined with a back injury. Linebacker Tamba Hali and defensive end Allen Bailey, both of whom missed last week's game against the New York Giants, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

      Without those three in the lineup, the Chiefs picked up zero sacks against Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

      Buffalo continues battling its own injuries as well. Left tackle Cordy Glenn, who has missed four game with a lower-leg injury, did not practice Wednesday. Neither did starting wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with a knee injury.

  • 49ers stick with QB Beathard for another game
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan philosophized Wednesday about the importance of a unit playing together in football.

    • The more the 11 men work as a unit, the easier it becomes for that unit to gel.

      It seemed like the perfect reason to announce that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would make his first start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, giving the recent acquisition six full games to work with his new teammates and, ideally, springboard the 49ers' offense into a fast start next season.

      Except Shanahan used the reasoning as the explanation why he will stick with C.J. Beathard as his quarterback this week.

      "I don't see it much different than the other weeks," he said a bit surprisingly Wednesday. "As always, we'll see how practice goes, just like we would with any other position. But reps-wise and everything, we see it the same this week as it's been."

      Shanahan said that while Garoppolo, acquired Oct. 30 from the New England Patriots, continues to get more acquainted with the 49ers' offensive scheme, Beathard earned the right to retain his starting status with his performance in the club's first win of the season, 31-21 a week ago Sunday over the New York Giants.

      The 49ers had a bye last week.

      "Is Jimmy going to be the best he can? To me, that's impossible," Shanahan observed. "He just hasn't been here long enough. I don't think we're going to see Jimmy's best football, to be fair to him, until next year because that's what guys need.

      "C.J. did play his best football last week, which definitely, to me, made the decision easier. It wasn't just C.J., but the offense around him. Everyone together. I thought that those group of 11 guys, when they were out there, they had their best game. And that was important for C.J. It was also important for our team.

      "I did go into the weekend and all week and into Monday considering Jimmy. But, definitely, the way that game went, I knew it was going to make it easier for me to stick with what we've been doing because I think we made a stride in that way and I don't think it's totally right for Jimmy, C.J., the entire team or organization just to change that right away."

      Both friendly rivals took the decision in stride.

      "I wasn't surprised," Beathard insisted. "I trust the coaches' decision, whatever they decide to do."

      Garoppolo put in a full week's work during the bye, only to see nothing has changed at Wednesday's practice after his new teammates returned from their break.

      "The competitor in me, obviously you want to get out there, play with your teammates and help the team win," he said. "But it's a tough situation coming in midway through the season. It's going to be a process, but we'll get there."

      Shanahan noted he doesn't need to see Garoppolo in game action to evaluate him and prepare him for his first start, which might be next season.

      "Just working with the guy every day and knowing what he's capable of, studying him throughout college and the times he has played in the NFL," Shanahan said, "I know the game's not too big for him. I know he doesn't mind contact. I know he has all the talent. I know just working with him that he's a very smart guy and he's capable of doing it all.

      "That's why I don't feel much of a pressure. You don't want to completely judge a guy when he's put in not the best situation with being so behind on this stuff. If he does get the opportunity to go in, which I think he eventually will, it's more just to give him a chance and give him some playing time."

      SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 22-15. The Seahawks have won seven in a row, including the last three meetings at San Francisco. The 49ers' last win was 19-17 at San Francisco on Dec. 8, 2013. The teams have met just once in the postseason, with Seattle winning 23-17 at home in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.

      --Actually, two surprises came out of head coach Kyle Shanahan's announcement Wednesday that C.J. Beathard would remain the club's starting quarterback ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo.

      The when of the disclosure surprised some as much as the who.

      Why not keep the decision private and force Sunday's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, to prepare for two quarterbacks?

      "One, it'd be exhausting to talk about this every day," he explained. "Two, I don't see it as a competitive advantage. If one guy was a totally different quarterback than the other, and they are both different, but if one guy is a complete option quarterback and does all this stuff and the other guy can't move at all, then that's something you keep a secret. It's two totally different offenses.

      "But I think you've got two guys who have similar traits and they are going to do some things a little better than the other, but you've got similar traits and that's why I don't see a huge advantage."

      --While the competition to be Sunday's starting quarterback appears to be over, that's surely not the case at free safety, where the club's fourth- and fifth-stringers are the last two men standing.

      While third-stringer Adrian Colbert, who suffered a broken thumb in the Week 10 win over the New York Giants, hasn't given up hope of facing the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, converted cornerbacks Antone Exum Jr. and Dexter McCoil began their duel to be this week's starter.

      The 49ers lost starter Jimmie Ward and his backup, Jaquiski Tartt, to injuries earlier this season.

      Shanahan doesn't expect Colbert, who had surgery on his thumb during the bye week and was held out of Wednesday's practice, to be cleared to face the Seahawks.

      "Very small chance. Very small chance," he reported. "We haven't ruled him out yet. We'll see. He'd have to practice a little bit this week, but I'm not feeling too optimistic about that."

      NOTES: WR/PR Trent Taylor (broken rib) practiced on just a limited basis Wednesday in his hopes of playing Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Taylor suffered the injury in Week 9 against Arizona and sat out the Week 10 win over the New York Giants. ... TE George Kittle (sprained ankle) was limited in practice Wednesday as he tries to return from a one-game absence. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday he expects Kittle to be able to play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. ... DL Solomon Thomas (sprained knee) is likely to return to game action Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reported Wednesday. Thomas has missed the last two games, and practiced only on a limited basis Wednesday. ... DE Cassius Marsh was claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots on Wednesday. Marsh was on the Patriots' active roster for last Sunday's win in Mexico City over the Oakland Raiders. The 25-year-old, who began his career with the Seattle Seahawks for three seasons, played in nine games, one as a starter, for the Patriots this year. ... CB/FS Antone Exum Jr. is a candidate to start at free safety against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The first-year 49er has played in just one game this season, getting 14 snaps on special teams in the Week 10 win over the New York Giants. ... CB/FS Dexter McCoil will compete in practice this week with Antone Exum Jr. for the start at free safety in Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. McCoil has seen action in four games this season, including getting 14 snaps on special teams in the Week 10 win over the New York Giants.

  • Young Titans TE Smith learning the ropes
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' running game has had lots of reasons it has not been as effective this season as it was a year ago.

    • The Titans still rank 11th in the NFL in rushing, but last season they were third overall and running back DeMarco Murray led the AFC with 1,287 yards for the season.

      Part of the Titans' downturn has been a mystery, because Tennessee returns the same running backs in Murray and Derrick Henry and the same five offensive linemen from a year ago.

      The one place they have made a change is at the blocking tight end position. Anthony Fasano was rated as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league a year ago, but he spurned the Titans in free agency to return to the Miami Dolphins.

      That left the Titans turning over the blocking tight end role primarily to rookie Jonnu Smith, a third-round pick from Florida International. Smith did have the advantage of playing in a pro-style offense at Florida International, but that was still a far cry from playing tight end in the NFL.

      "It's a lot of carryover, but also there are a lot of things that are different," Smith said. "Of course, this is an NFL system, so when I first got here, I knew there was going to be a lot of adjustments with the terminology and things. But some things were kind of similar and I was able to take advantage of it."

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey admits that Smith is a work in progress and is still growing into the role. He has a ways to go before becoming as savvy as Fasano, a 10-year veteran last season.

      "It's definitely been a factor. I wouldn't say that Anthony was a dominant guy, but Anthony kind of knew the tricks of the trade," Mularkey said. "He could get by with just being smart and crafty. He's been in the league for a long time and knowing how without knocking a guy off the ball but how to get position on a guy. That's something Jonnu -- he's a rookie -- is kind of learning the ropes. Eventually, if he has the years that Anthony Fasano has had that'll help because he'll have seen all the things he possibly could see."

      Mularkey said it is a role he expects Smith to grow into over time, even if he isn't a true old-school blocking tight end.

      "You can put them in three categories -- pass receiving tight ends, a blocker and guys that can do both, but maybe not one as good as the other," Mularkey said. "Jonnu, I think, can develop into that. (Phillip) Supernaw is kind of a tweener. Jonnu has done the best job he can being the guy that we're putting in that position for a rookie. He's having to block some defensive ends. I think he's gonna get better at it. But there are very few Craig Stevens and Mark Brueners in the league."

      It is a role Smith accepts willingly.

      "It's not easy, but it's going to help this team. I'm just doing my job and trying to be the best at it and just looking to improve every day," Smith said. "I actually enjoy doing it. Whatever is going to put this team in position to win, I'll take that role."

      SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 31-14. The Titans finally ended an 11-game losing streak to the Colts by winning 30-22 on Monday Night Football on Oct. 16 of this year. Now, they go to Lucas Oil Stadium where the Titans are 0-9 all-time.

      --The Titans activated wide receiver Harry Douglas into the window of evaluation from injured reserve on Monday. Douglas, in his 10th NFL season, was placed on IR one day after the initial 53-man roster was established due to a knee issue that had plagued him late in preseason.

      "I felt like a kid in a candy store. I really didn't sleep that much last night, knowing that today was going to be my first practice back," Douglas said Monday.

      Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said Douglas has fresh legs and brings some energy to the practice field.

      "He talks a lot," Mularkey said. "He brings a lot of energy and our defense loves competing against him; he's fun to be around. He looks like he's got some fresh legs, there's no question about it. But, he had a good day today as well."

      The Titans have three weeks to make a decision on whether to add Douglas to the active roster or keep him on injured reserve and shut him down for the season.

      --Marcus Mariota had never had a game like the one he had in Pittsburgh last Thursday when he tossed four interceptions against the Steelers.

      He said he is eager to bounce back and show that the performance was not the norm.

      "Yeah, I would say I'm anxious. I think the competitor in me wants to prove that it was a fluke and that I'm better than that," Mariota said. "Obviously, you can learn from it, make smarter decisions with the football. Yes, I'm ready to get back out there."

      When asked how he most benefits from correcting his mistakes with the interceptions, Mariota said some of the issues were in his mechanics and some were misreads.

      "It was a combination of a few things. Just really when it comes down to it, if I can be smarter with the football, I think every quarterback when they're sitting back there thinks they can make every throw and sometimes it's better to either take off and maybe get a few yards or even get a sack. Those are things that I learned and I'll continue to get better at them," Mariota said.

      NOTES: QB Marcus Mariota has just eight touchdown passes this season after throwing 26 a year ago. He also has 10 interceptions this season after tossing just nine all last year. ... TE Delanie Walker leads the Titans with 49 receptions and now has at least 500 yards receiving in each of his five seasons with the club. ... OLB Derrick Morgan leads the Titans with six sacks, and has had at least six sacks now in five different seasons. ... S Kevin Byard still leads the NFL with six interceptions. No Titans player has had seven interceptions in a season since Michael Griffin in 2008. ... K Ryan Succop is three field goals shy of 200 for his career. Succop set an NFL record earlier this season making 56 straight over the course of four seasons from inside 50 yards. ... -WR Harry Douglas was activated into his 21-day window to be evaluated to see whether the Titans want to activate him to the 53-man roster from injured reserve.

  • Jaguars' defense one of league's best
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It is hard to imagine how much the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense has improved in one season. But numbers don't lie.

    • A quick comparison of the 14 team defensive categories that the NFL tabulates, shows that the Jaguars have a better mark this season in all but one of the rankings. The only area where the Jaguars are not better is yards allowed per rushing attempt. And the numbers aren't that far apart -- 3.8 a year ago compared to 4.5 yards per carry this year.

      Two areas stand out the most -- average total yards allowed and points allowed. A year ago, the Jaguars gave up an average of 321.7 yards per game and 25.0 points per game. Those marks left the Jaguars with the sixth and 25th best marks, respectively.

      Compare that to this season. Jacksonville allows an NFL-low 275.6 yards per game and a matching league-low 14.1 points per contest. And those numbers equate to near reversal in won-lost records after 10 games.

      A year ago at this time, Jacksonville was in the midst of what would become a nine-game losing streak and was 2-8 after 10 games. It's a stark contrast to 2017 where the Jaguars are currently 7-3 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC South, the first such occurrence since 2007 when they were also 7-3.

      Not only are the Jaguars better in 13 of the 14 defensive categories from a year ago, but they are dominating the NFL in 12 categories. Jacksonville ranks first or is tied for first in 10 of the 14 categories, are third in another (interceptions) and fourth in another (point differential). The only two areas where the Jaguars are not among the league leaders are rushing yards allowed per game (16th at 113.6) and rushing yards per attempt (4.5).

      It's the aforementioned numbers and rankings that reflect how dominant the Jaguars' defense has been. When you can be the best in the NFL in stopping the pass and recording sacks, it limits what a team can do offensively.

      And don't think that stopping the run is a Jaguars weakness. Through seven games the Jaguars were allowing 135 yards a game. But since the arrival of Marcell Dareus to help clog the middle, the Jaguars have allowed an average of 55.3 yards on the ground in the last three contests.

      Those are numbers that will concern former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who will likely get his second straight start for the Arizona Cardinals after injuries to Carson Palmer (broken hand) and Drew Stanton (knee) have sidelined them for recent games.

      Gabbert had little success in his three years (2011-13) with the Jaguars after they picked him as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft. When he was with the Jaguars, Gabbert had a reputation for having problems against a fierce pass rush. If he has the same problem this Sunday the Cardinals offense will be in serious trouble.

      The Jaguars are aware of his past and are likely to bring extra people, even though the front four alone have been adequate in most games as the Jaguars amassed a league-leading 40 sacks.

      If the defense comes through as it has most of the time in the first 10 games this season, the Jaguars' offense just needs to be average. That means quarterback Blake Bortles doesn't have to do too much, and he certainly doesn't have to force issues with contested passes. It's partly because of that and how Bortles has played this year that the Jaguars have won seven of their first 10 games.

      "I think there's been more good than bad. I think you look at it kind of on a week-to-week basis and say let's win the week," Bortles said. "You go through each day and say let's win the day, let's figure out how we can get better, how we can go out there and execute and if we go mess up or we make mistakes, let's make sure we fix them so we get something out of it to essentially be able to go and execute on Sunday. I think you take those one at a time and you get as many in as you can until the end of the season and hopefully you win a lot more than you lose and you're looking at a chance to play late into January and February."

      SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 2-2. This is now one of two teams that the Jaguars have met just four times, the other being San Francisco, their opponent in four weeks. The Los Angeles Rams were also in this group before the teams met earlier this season. Jaguars won the first two meetings (2000, 2005) while the Cardinals have won the last two (2009, 2013). Three of the four games resulted in a winning margin of 13 points or more. The only meeting in Arizona was a 24-17 win by Jaguars in 2005.

      --Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is looking forward to his second trip to the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday when the Jaguars take on the Arizona Cardinals. Bortles' only other trip to the stadium in Glendale, Ariz., came on New Year's Day in 2014 when his Central Florida team beat Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl.

      Even with an 11-1 season coming into the game, UCF was a 16 1/2-point underdog but pulled off an upset of the sixth-ranked Bears. Bortles had a strong game, going 20 of 31 for 301 yards and three touchdowns in what proved to be his final game at UCF. He was named the game's Offensive Most Valuable Player.

      "It was awesome," Bortles said this week. "For a mid-major school at the time to get an opportunity to play on that stage was really incredible. We had never played in front of a crowd like that in a place like that. And to then go out there and beat a team that people thought was really good, was pretty cool."

      A few days after the game Bortles declared for the NFL draft where he was the No. 3 overall pick by the Jaguars. He'll make his 56th consecutive start for Jacksonville this Sunday.

      --Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo may pay the price for what was almost a highlight reel play for him.

      In last week's game against the Browns following the Jaguars' first touchdown, the call was issued by head coach Doug Marrone for an onside kick. Lambo was to dribble the ball 10 yards straight down the field, then fall on it.

      Lambo did his job, falling on the ball 11 yards from where he kicked it, but reserve linebacker Blair Brown, who lined up adjacent to Lambo, jumped the gun and was a foot beyond the line of scrimmage when Lambo made contact with the ball. The offsides penalty negated the play and forced Lambo to kick the ball normally.

      Lambo did his job in falling on the ball but in the process, had several players pile on top of him. He's now battling a right hip injury and while he didn't want to say how or when he was injured, it appears that it did happen following the surprise kickoff. Lambo was pleased with his effort but was disappointed the Jaguars weren't awarded the ball.

      "I practiced it a decent amount," he said. "(Special teams coordinator) Joe (DeCamillis) gave me a great point that he learned from another kicker and it worked well for me and I implemented it and it came pretty naturally."

      Lambo called the end result "a massive bummer because you want to pull it off and let it stand. But I had to go right back there and kick it off."

      --Wide receiver Dede Westbrook didn't fulfill his prediction of a 200-yard receiving game in his NFL debut last Sunday, but just the fact that Westbrook was in action proved to be a win-win for the Jaguars and Westbrook.

      The fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma led the NFL in receiving in the preseason with 288 yards. But he suffered a core muscle injury late in the preseason and had surgery on Sept. 12, relegating him to injured reserve. That put him on the shelf until at least Week 8. The Jaguars didn't rush him back and it wasn't until this past Sunday that they felt comfortable enough to activate him to the 53-man roster.

      Against the Browns, Westbrook caught three passes for 35 yards and should have been credited with another catch for 16 yards after replays showed he had both feet in bounds and control of the ball through his fall out of bounds.

      "I honestly thought I was in," Westbrook said. "I watched myself put my other foot down. I thought it was a sure catch."

      Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone liked what he saw from his rookie receiver, especially the diving 28-yard catch near the sideline. It was the Jaguars' longest pass play of the game.

      "Westbrook came in there and he made a big play down the sideline," Marrone said. "He had the opportunity to make another play, but I'm happy with seeing that type of confidence. I liked his effort, I really did. I thought he did a nice job in the blocking aspect of it. He'll get better each time he's out there."

      NOTES: T Jermey Parnell did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury he suffered several weeks ago and may miss his third straight game. ... G Patrick Omameh also missed practice on Wednesday due to a quadriceps injury that kept him out of last week's game against Cleveland. ... WR Allen Hurns was not able to practice on Wednesday due to a sprained ankle he suffered late in the game against the Los Angeles Chargers. He'll likely miss a second straight game this Sunday. ... RB Leonard Fournette returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis. Fournette is battling an ongoing ankle injury. ... G Chris Reed had a good week of practice prior to last Sunday's game against Cleveland and earned the start against the Browns. He played well in that game and is likely to get another start on Sunday against the Cardinals if Patrick Omameh is not fully healthy. ... K Josh Lambo was limited in Wednesday's practice with a right hip injury. He did say after Tuesday's practice that "100 percent I feel like I will be able to go (Sunday)." Lambo is the only kicker on the roster. ... FS Tashaun Gipson was limited in Wednesday's practice due to a knee injury. ... LB Donald Payne, who suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday's game against Cleveland, was limited in Wednesday's practice. ... WR Marqise Lee was again limited in Wednesday's practice due to an ongoing knee injury. Lee has not practiced in full for nearly a month yet has started every game this season. ... LB Blair Brown was limited in Wednesday's practice with a hamstring issue.

  • Colts face mobile Mariota this time
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano knows that he is preparing his team to face a different Tennessee Titans squad than the one the Colts faced on Oct. 16 in Nashville.

    • The Titans won that game 36-22, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter. Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota was limited with an injury coming into that game, but still managed to lead his team to the home-field victory, throwing for 306 yards and a touchdown.

      It was Mariota's 53-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Taywan Taylor with less than six minutes remaining in the game that snapped a 22-22 tie. A 72-yard touchdown run by running back Derrick Henry closed out the scoring for the Titans.

      "Mariota is 100 percent now. He can extend plays (with his legs)," Pagano said Wednesday. "We played well (in Nashville), but they're better and they're healthy."

      Indianapolis is playing better now than it was last month, especially on defense. The coaching staff is hopeful that improvement continues against the Titans this week.

      Pagano said the defensive staff has simplified schemes during the second half of the season.

      "Sometimes you can do too much," the Colts coach admitted, adding that the development of some of the team's younger players has been a major plus.

      Offensively, Indianapolis needs to do a better job of handling blitz situations. Tennessee hurt the Colts with the blitz in the previous meeting. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, ramped up its blitz package in the second half of its game with Indianapolis two weeks ago.

      Pagano says the Colts have to take advantage when the Titans bring pressure.

      "Had (wide receiver T.Y.) Hilton open a couple times in first meeting and didn't have time to get him the ball," the Colts coach said.

      According to Pagano, Indianapolis needs to win the red-zone battle on both sides of the ball.

      "We've gotta score touchdowns. And we've gotta force field goals," the Colts coach said.

      SERIES HISTORY: 46th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 31-14. Indianapolis has posted wins in 11 of the past 12 meetings. The Titans registered a 36-22 victory in their first matchup this season, winning 36-22 at Nissan Stadium on Oct. 16. Going further back, the Colts have won 24 of their last 29 meetings dating back to the 2003 season. Sixteen of the previous 28 games in the series have been decided by 10 points or less.

      --Safety Clayton Geathers has been selected as the Colts' 2017 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Geathers has not played in an NFL regular-season game since last December vs. Tennessee due to a neck injury, which required an offseason medical procedure. Despite the injury, he has maintained a strong presence in the Indianapolis community with his involvement in several charitable projects. He is expected to make his return vs. the Titans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

      --Running back Frank Gore has 13,574 career rushing yards and is ranked seventh all-time. Gore needs 89 yards vs. Tennessee Sunday to pass No. 6 Jerome Bettis. He needs 111 yards to pass No. 5 LaDainian Tomlinson.

      --Outside linebacker John Simon knows the Colts will have their hands full with Tennessee Sunday.

      "They're a very good team that played us well the last time we played them. And I know (quarterback) Marcus (Mariota) is a lot healthier out there, so that's another challenge for us," Simon said.

      "But we have to play a full 60 minutes. We didn't do it the last time and it cost us."

      --Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino likes the way veteran cornerback Rashaan Melvin has developed into Indianapolis' best cover corner this season.

      "Rashaan's a pro's pro. He knows his body. He knows the system. And he knows how to help the (younger) guys along," Monachino said.

      --Left tackle Anthony Castonzo knows the huge task that is ahead of the Colts as they try to get back into postseason consideration.

      "We've got a slate of three division games, which are always important. It's going to be a good run. You get late in the season, it's kind of when teams start to show who they really are," Castonzo said. "Hopefully we'll be able to show that we're better than what we've shown so far."

      NOTES: S Clayton Geathers (neck) practiced Wednesday. Geathers appears to be getting close to returning from offseason surgery to correct an issue that ended his 2016 season prematurely. ... DT Hassan Ridgeway (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. He listed as week-to-week. Ridgeway is not expected to be ready to go in time to play vs. Tennessee Sunday. ... QB Jacoby Brissett remains in the league's protocol process, but is expected to start Sunday against the Titans. ... OLB John Simon (neck/stinger) practiced Wednesday and is expected to play against the Titans Sunday. ... CB Kenny Moore (concussion) remains in the league's protocol process. His status for the Titans game will be reviewed after Friday's workout. ... TE Darrell Daniels (hamstring) was held out of Wednesday's workout. Daniels could end up being a game-time decision Sunday. ... WR Kamar Aiken (hamstring) had limited practice time Wednesday. His status for Sunday's game with Tennessee remains undecided. ... G Kyle Kalis (knee) was limited Wednesday in practice, but probably will be available for the Titans game Sunday. ... S Matthias Farley (knee) did not practice Wednesday. While his absence is thought to be precautionary, Farley's availability for the Tennessee game remains undecided. ... Rookie OLB Tarrell Basham (illness) was held out of Wednesday's workout. Basham should be able to play Sunday but a final decision will be made Friday.

  • Ellington cousins happy to be teammates with Texans
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    HOUSTON -- When cousins Andre Ellington and Bruce Ellington were high-school football stars growing up in South Carolina, they were teammates.

    • They traveled separate pathways in college as Andre Ellington enrolled at Clemson and Bruce Ellington accepted a scholarship to South Carolina.

      Now, the family reunion has begun in earnest with the Houston Texans after Andre Ellington, a running back, was claimed off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. Bruce Ellington, a wide receiver, has caught a career-high 25 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns this season.

      The family is thrilled.

      "They're loving it," Andre Ellington said Wednesday inside the Texans' locker room. "They're on cloud nine right now. They're all excited about it now because we don't have to buy separate tickets. It's going to be good."

      Bruce Ellington characterized his cousin as his role model. Now, they can work together on the same offense as they are teammates again for the first time since high school.

      "Bruce is a sharp guy," Andre Ellington said. "He's fun to be around. He's a pleasure. I'm sure the guys love him out here and hopefully he can keep that personality going."

      Ellington is also good friends with Texans wide receiver and former Clemson teammate DeAndre Hopkins.

      "Oh yeah, Nuk was my boy," he said. "I was there, but when he first got there, we started hanging out right away. He's a great guy."

      For his career, Ellington has 1,750 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He's caught 145 passes for 1,296 yards and three scores.

      He joins the Texans as they placed rookie running back D'Onta Foreman on injured reserve with a ruptured left Achilles tendon that required surgery.

      "It was good to get him," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Good quickness, good speed. A guy that can do a lot of different things, can maybe help us on special teams. Seemed like a quick learner."

  • Texans QB Savage understands the boos
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Tom Savage has lost his grip on a few footballs this season. He has already committed nine turnovers in five games.

    • The Houston Texans quarterback hasn't lost his perspective, though, or his sense of humor.

      Not even when the home crowd is booing him after he throws another interception or fumbles it away.

      "Listen, it's an entertainment business," Savage said. "They're not booing me, they're booing the product. That's what I think a lot of people have to realize is, if they met me they wouldn't boo me, they'd like me, I'm sure of it, at least I hope.

      "You just got to go out there and you got to perform. Once you do that and you can see that it starts to take a turn and the players start to rally around it and that's the most important part."

      That's true. And Savage did perform better as he helped engineer a win last Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals.

      He threw two touchdown passes and rebounded from a four-turnover debacle the previous week against the Los Angeles Rams that could easily have been a five-turnover meltdown if not for a penalty nullifying an interception returned for a touchdown.

      However, Savage still had a deflected interception and a strip-sack he lost against the Cardinals.

      "I think you got to have a feel for when the pressure's getting around you," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "In practice, you can never simulate how fast that rush is actually coming, and so when it's in the game, you need to really speed up your alarm, your silent alarm.

      "You really have to understand, look it's coming and look, maybe we don't have it blocked very well, you got to protect the ball. And I think that all comes with experience. He knows that he can't do that anymore."

      Still, Savage isn't happy with the situation, having lost six of seven fumbles and throwing three interceptions.

      He's thrown four touchdown passes and displayed the arm talent that prompted the Texans to draft him in the fourth round out of Pitt. However, the fumbling has to stop.

      He's up to 10 fumbles for his career with eight lost.

      "This whole fumble deal, I don't know where this has really come from," Savage said. "I've never been a fumbler in my life. I think it's just really protecting the ball when you're getting hit and just kind of moving past some of the turnovers.

      "You have two turnovers, you're starting to hear the boo birds a little bit and you could either fold or say, 'You know what, I'm going to go out there for my team and pull a win out.' That's really all that matters, is winning."

      Savage is 1-3 as a starter this season. He has completed 52.8 percent of his throws for 732 yards for a 71.2 passer rating as the replacement for injured rookie star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who had 19 touchdown passes and two touchdown runs before injuring his knee.

      Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan gave Savage an inspirational speech before the Cardinals game that resonated with the Pennsylvania native.

      "I kept him afterward and we just had a conversation," Ryan said. "It was things that I was thinking about during the week and things that I thought were applicable to him that might help him with a different perspective, way of looking at things. That was that."

      Savage is feeling good about himself after the Cardinals game. The ice was getting thin for Savage after the Rams game, with O'Brien putting him publicly on notice that he needed to upgrade his play.

      "It helps, for sure, going out there and getting a win and showing the team that you can do it and handle it," Savage said. "Hopefully, this trend is going upward and we'll just keep it going."

      When Savage got booed Sunday after the fumble, he didn't come unhinged. He remained focused on the task at hand. While not immune to the negative reaction, Savage wasn't overwhelmed.

      "I'm going to keep throwing the ball down the field, I'm not going to get gun-shy and get worried about getting booed or throwing an interception or another strip-sack," Savage said. "The biggest regret you'll have in life in this whole deal is holding on to this too tight. I think you'll regret that. You won't regret going out there and just playing out and really ripping it."

      SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series 6-2. The Texans beat the Ravens 25-13 in 2014.

      --Due to cracked ribs, Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V still isn't practicing and is regarded as a question mark for Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

      Fuller was at practice, but wasn't dressed out.

      While Fuller's status is still being determined, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins wasn't at practice Wednesday during the portion open to reporters.

      However, he is expected to play Monday night.

      "No, he's all right," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He rode the bike a little bit. He'll be there Monday night."

      Cornerback Kevin Johnson remains under the NFL concussion protocol. The Maryland native has been improving on a daily basis, though.

      "No question, I think he'll be able to play," O'Brien said. "I think he'll have a good shot to play."

      Meanwhile, rookie inside linebacker Dylan Cole may return from a Grade 2 hamstring strain.

      "I think he's got a shot to play," O'Brien said.

      Running back Alfred Blue is anticipated back after missing a game with a hamstring injury.

      "I don't think anybody's 100 percent, but I think Blue will be ready to go," O'Brien said. "I don't have any hesitation putting Alfred in a game. He's come up big for us in the past."

      --Texans middle linebacker Brian Cushing's 10-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy ends next Tuesday.

      The Texans could have Cushing back in the building, but also have him remain under an NFL roster exemption while they gauge what they want to do with him and their other personnel.

      "We've talked about that," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said of Cushing. "Look, we're going to get him back in the building and see how he's doing and kind of go from there."

      Cushing has been suspended twice by the league for violations of its PED policy. The first came in 2010. It was reported at the time that Cushing tested positive for a fertility drug that has frequently been used to restart natural testosterone production.

      As a repeat offender, Cushing is serving a mandatory 10-game suspension. He did not appeal.

      Cushing is due a non-guaranteed base salary of $6.756 million this season and has a $9.319 million salary-cap figure. He forfeited 10 game checks, costing him $3.97 million.

      --The Texans made it official, placing rookie running back D'Onta Foreman on injured reserve Wednesday with a ruptured left Achilles tendon.

      The Texans replaced Foreman on the active roster by promoting wide receiver Cobi Hamilton from the practice squad. They also signed running back Troymaine Pope to the practice squad.

      Foreman is expected to make a full recovery for next season,

      "I just know that they feel very good about his surgery and where he's going to be," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said.

      --Texans head coach Bill O'Brien and his coaching staff are working part of Thanksgiving. He gave players the day off.

      "The coaches and I are going to share turkey and break film down," O'Brien said. "The players will be off. They'll be back to work on Friday."

      NOTES: CB Kevin Johnson (concussion) is expected back this week. ... T Julien Davenport is a question mark with a shoulder injury.

  • Lynch gets his chance to lead Broncos
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, November 23, 2017

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is time for Paxton Lynch to learn by doing.

    • He has spent 23 of the first 26 regular-season games of his NFL career on the bench watching and waiting while Trevor Siemian and, later, Brock Osweiler got the starting assignments. In those 23 games, the Denver Broncos went 10-13, and in the last eight of those games, they went 1-7 and the offense never accounted for at least 20 points in any of those games.

      There was little reason for the Broncos to stick with what they had. And after dismissing offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Monday morning and replacing him with Bill Musgrave, it was easy for them to go with Lynch for their Sunday game at Oakland.

      Siemian will back up Lynch. And while Broncos head coach Vance Joseph didn't say for certain that Lynch would remain the starter for the rest of the season, it seems clear that the rest of the Broncos' campaign will be used to determine whether their 2016 first-round pick is the future of the team or whether they need to turn to free agency or a deep draft class to find their next signal-caller.

      "It won't be perfect, but again, we have to coach him to the point where he can be efficient with the offense," Joseph said. "That's what we're doing. Again, running the football is always a must for a young quarterback and giving him a chance to have some easy completions. That's also a must for young quarterbacks."

      Lynch's mobility will also be used.

      "I'm looking forward to watching him play because he can run around," Joseph said. "His skill set is perfect when you're young. If it breaks down, he can run with the football. I told him, I said, 'Just play. Don't try to be a pocket passer. We call a play and it's not there, take off and run.'"

      One thing about this year's process helps Lynch: splitting the repetitions with Siemian during OTAs and training camp. He doesn't have to start from zero when it comes to building cohesion with the first team.

      "I think it helped him tremendously," running back C.J. Anderson said. "In the time during training camp when they were battling for the job, he got to see some good looks from our defense.

      "One thing I told him that is crazy and I told him all the way back in September, 'You're just one play away. You never know it.' He was one play away.

      "I told him, at the time when Billy (Musgrave) was the QB coach, be back there letting Billy know what the reads are, where the ball should go or what coverage it is. Be annoying, kind of how I was. Be annoying. He's done that and he's ready now."

      Ready to annoy opposing defenses with his arm and his feet, the Broncos hope.

      SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 61-51-2. Broncos have won 10 of the last 12. Most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 1, 1978, when the Broncos defeated the Raiders 20-17 to win the first of their eight AFC championships.

      --After replacing dismissed offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave had no time to waste in settling into his new position after serving as quarterbacks coach for the previous 10 months.

      Musgrave will lean upon his past experience with young quarterbacks -- most recently in Oakland as offensive coordinator with Derek Carr -- and even his own work as a player in San Francisco and Denver under then-coordinator and later-head coach Mike Shanahan.

      "I've been fortunate to be around some young QBs. I was a young QB once with Shanahan. He really did a great job with me and got me off on the right foot. I try to apply those lessons as I go forward," Musgrave said.

      His biggest lesson? Take each quarterback individually and know that you can't attack the process with a one-size-fits-all approach.

      "You handle every guy differently," he said. "Some guys respond to different styles of coaching, so that's the key. It's a little bit like a teacher. You find out what that student's champion is and play to his strength. That's what we're going to try to do as coaches.

      "We're going to think players first, then plays and play to our guy's strengths to keep those concepts up their respective alleys."

      --Brock Osweiler wasn't bad in his three starts. But he wasn't a world-beater, and couldn't pull the Broncos out of their skid, so after three defeats in which he threw three touchdown passes against four interceptions, he was demoted to the third team.

      "Words can't explain," Osweiler said. "As football players, we put our hearts and our souls; we put everything we have into winning football games and winning for our team. When that doesn't happen, it breaks you. It (stinks)."

      Osweiler returned to the Broncos at the cutdown to 53 players on a one-year contract and now faces an uncertain future. The promise of his seven-game starting stint with the Broncos in 2015 has faded, and while he appears to be a capable backup, the window on potentially becoming a full-time starter in the NFL may be closing.

      For now, he will prepare to watch the game in sweats from the sideline.

      "Big picture, it's just control the things you can control," Osweiler said. "Right now, that's being a great teammate, continue to practice hard and continue to study film and develop your skill set.

      "It's a funny league. You never know what's going to happen. You always need to prepare like you are going to play. That is always what you're going to get with me."

      NOTES: CB Aqib Talib was held out of practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. Talib hasn't missed a game all year. ... TE Jeff Heuerman did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. Heuerman did not play against the Bengals last week because of the injury. ... WR Emmanuel Sanders did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. Sanders missed a pair of games because of an ankle problem, but has played every game this month. ... QB Trevor Siemian will be the No. 2 quarterback behind Paxton Lynch in Oakland on Sunday, a reversal of their roles late in the preseason after Siemian beat out Lynch for the starting job.

  • Chiefs hope CB Revis has something left
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs made a bold move Wednesday to bolster their maligned pass defense with the addition of veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis.

    • The seven-time Pro Bowler signed as a free agent after sitting out the first half of the season resting his body and mind while shopping for the right opportunity to resume his career.

      "I think the reason for me returning is the fire I have, the fuel I have to continue to play this game at a high level," Revis said. "I'm excited. I'm excited about the signing today with the Kansas City Chiefs. Pretty great football team, and I'm joining their success."

      Head coach Andy Reid appeared ecstatic to make such a big-name acquisition for the postseason stretch drive.

      "You're talking about one of the all-time great players at that position," Reid said. "It's just a matter of getting him back in the swing of things and seeing where he's at. He's excited to be here, we're excited to have him here. I would think his role would be to step up and be a starter. That's how I would look at it."

      How quickly Revis can return to a starting role remains in question. Reid did not rule out the possibility of Revis playing Sunday against Buffalo.

      "No, but he knows the system, which is the only reason I wouldn't, but I've got to see where we're at here," Reid said. "We're not going to rush him into anything until he's ready to go."

      Revis' signing with the Chiefs means reuniting with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who served the same role with the New York Jets when Revis first entered the league.

      "Bob has been very vital in my success after getting drafted to the Jets in 2007," Revis said. "He helped me. Helped me grow as a football player, he helped me grow as a man. Teaming back up with him and loving what he does as a defensive coordinator is a no-brainer."

      The Chiefs rank 28th in the league in pass defense, allowing 253.8 yards per game through the air. The club struggled much of the season finding a running mate opposite All-Pro left cornerback Marcus Peters. Four difference players have played right corner for the team this season.

      "If you're going to make a decision, if you have a decision to make to go one side or the other, you're probably going to go to the other side," Reid said. "Quarterbacks are going to go opposite a Pro Bowler and go to the other side naturally if they have a choice."

      Revis said he relishes the opportunity to partner with Marcus Peters.

      "Marcus Peters is really awesome," Revis said. "Love the way he plays. Been on the other side of playing against him and him making plays and being a little bit upset in terms of just being competitive and wanting to win. But he took the league by storm, very talented player and I'm excited about what we can do."

      The last time Revis took the field, he appeared well below his former All-Pro level. A wrist injury slowed his preparation for the 2016 season with the Jets, leading to Revis playing well above his normal weight.

      The Chiefs have pursued Revis since the beginning of the season, but only now does the veteran feel ready mentally and physically to help a team pursue its postseason goals.

      "It's been a whirlwind in terms of me continuing to just work on my body and train," Revis said. "There's been a number of teams that called. For me personally it was just for me mentally to get my body back where I need to get it at, and that was a hundred percent."

  • Reid preaches fundamentals for struggling Chiefs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With adversity surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid reverted to the basics, preaching fundamentals and execution.

    • In his mind, that is the way forward for a team reeling from four loses in their last five games and contemplating what went wrong in a mystifying loss last week to the struggling New York Giants.

      "It's one thing here or there that's off and you get everybody dancing the same dance," Reid said. "The best way to do it is to go back to your fundamentals and what you believe in and put a little more focus on it. Whether you're a coach or a player, it's the same deal."

      After opening the season with five straight wins and averaging 32.8 points per game, the Chiefs have averaged just 19.6 points in their last five games. But while fans may cry for wholesale changes involving personnel and play-calling, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy agreed with Reid for the need to eliminate mistakes.

      "None of this is because of effort," Nagy said. "Everyone's playing hard, there's a lot of effort out there. There's just some mistakes right now that are going on. But there were mistakes going on when we were winning too; it just gets masked."

      Reid believes timing to be a key issue with the offense's faulty performance. Much of his West Coast offense playbook remains predicated on well-timed execution between quarterback and receiver as well as between runners and blockers.

      One example of the team's failed execution and timing was exhibited on quarterback Alex Smith's first of two interceptions against the Giants.

      The Chiefs have deployed a run-pass option shovel pass to great results this season, with many other teams copying the design. On Sunday, however, poor blocking allowed Jason Pierre-Paul to grab the short shovel pass to tight end Travis Kelce.

      "The margin between winning and losing is small because of the parity in the league," Reid said. "You've got to bring your A-game every week and be prepared. We got to make sure we're doing that. We're lucky enough where we have another game here. That's what we're going to focus on and fix the problems we had and get working on Buffalo."

      The Chiefs hope the potential return of wide receiver Albert Wilson can inject life into the offense this week. Wilson missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Nagy explained that Wilson's experience in the Chiefs' offense brings leadership and trust to the team's young receiving group.

      "He's been here now for five years and those younger receivers look up to him," Nagy said. "So when you're out there in the field and something goes wrong or you're on the bench, he's there to pick guys up, and so we're really looking forward to getting him back."

      Reid said the losing streak certainly grinds on the players and coaches alike, but said he senses no problems in the team's locker room.

      "But at the same time, you have another game to get ready for and if you don't put all your energy into that you have a problem," Reid said. "That's where we're at right now. Good locker room, they're doing that, and the coaches are doing it and so we get back out here and get to work this afternoon."

      SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 23-20-1. The Chiefs-Bills rivalry dates back to the days of the American Football League. Buffalo holds the edge over the long haul, but the Chiefs own a three-game winning streak in the series, with all three wins coming under head coach Andy Reid. The Chiefs won 30-22 in the last meeting between the two clubs in 2015. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 291 yards and tossed three touchdown passes, yet the Chiefs prevailed behind Jeremy Maclin's 160 yards receiving and Spencer Ware's 114 yards rushing.

      --Sunday's game between the Chiefs and the Bills features a matchup between a mentor and his protege with Kansas City head coach Andy Reid facing his former assistant Sean McDermott, who will be on the Buffalo sideline.

      "He's been a huge mentor of mine professionally since the time that he and I spent together in Philadelphia and he continues to be that," McDermott said. "He's a great man and a great football coach."

      McDermott joined Reid in his first season as Eagles head coach. McDermott started as a scouting coordinator and later as Reid's assistant before climbing the coaching ladder, eventually holding the defensive coordinator position in the 2009-10 seasons.

      Reid said McDermott's work ethic and intelligence sold him on McDermott as future head coaching material.

      "All-state wrestler, all-state football player," Reid said, delivering his pitch for McDermott. "Smart, goes to Willian and Mary. You've got to have some aptitude to go to that school. And so I was able to get him on board as my administrative assistant and he showed those traits there and just kind of worked his way up through the ranks there."

      Just as Reid built his Chiefs organization with many coaches who worked with him in Philadelphia, McDermott also built his staff with contacts from the Reid tree. McDermott's staff includes four coaches connected to Reid, including former Chiefs assistant head coach and wide receivers coach David Culley, who now coaches the Bills' quarterbacks.

      Despite the many friendships between the two staffs, McDermott says everyone understands the competition takes over Sunday afternoon.

      "At the end of the day we're still competing," McDermott said. "That's what we do. We go out to win. I'm sure Andy feels the same way, in fact I know he does. We'll say hi before the game and I'm sure he's looking to kick our tail and we've got to do the same."

      NOTES: LB Dee Ford did not practice Wednesday, creating the likelihood that he will miss his fifth game this season with a back injury. Ford last played Oct. 30 against the Denver Broncos, when his back issue limited him to just 28 snaps. ... B Terrance Smith remains in the league's concussion protocol after sustaining a concussion during a block on New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie during last Sunday's game. The timeline for Smith's return remains uncertain. ... --WR Tyreek Hill practiced in full on Wednesday after suffering a glute injury against the Giants. Hill briefly left the game but returned to the field and made a leaping grab of a Alex Smith pass for 38 yards. ... WR Albert Wilson was listed as a limited participant in practice Wednesday as he returns from a hamstring injury. Wilson did not practice last week, and has missed the team's last two games. ... DE Allen Bailey returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. That marked his first on-field work since suffering a sprained knee against Dallas Nov. 5. ... LB Tamba Hali returned to practice in a limited role Wednesday. He did not practice last week, and played just 23 snaps in his season debut against the Cowboys in Week 9. The club indicated Hali battled swelling in his knee following the game against Dallas. ... CB Kenneth Acker was a full practice participant Wednesday despite an elbow injury. Acker started two games as the team's right cornerback until CB Phillip Gaines started in that role Sunday against the Giants.

  • Del Rio wants major improvement in Raiders' defense
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- One day after Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio dodged a question about staff changes in the wake of the Denver Broncos dumping offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the axe fell.

    • Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., the man Del Rio hired to run his team's defense upon his hiring in 2015, was fired. John Pagano, who came on this past offseason as assistant head coach and whose job was working with the defensive secondary, was promoted.

      When Del Rio addressed it for the first time with the local media, he talked of his desire for the defense to play "fast" and trust the process.

      And while he said he expects Pagano to move ahead as defensive coordinator next year, he hinted more changes could be in store if the poor play continues.

      "I know one thing, nobody should feel comfortable because what I've been watching is not enough," Del Rio said. "No one should feel comfortable."

      Norton was a first-time coordinator. Pagano was defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers from 2012 through 2016 until he was allowed to walk following the hiring of Anthony Lynn as head coach.

      A little more than a year ago, the Raiders and Chargers were 6-2 teams fighting for division supremacy. When they play in Oakland on Sunday, they're instead fighting for relevancy in the playoff race.

      The Raiders will have Pagano in charge of the defense while the Broncos will have deposed Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave calling plays. Musgrave replaced McCoy after the Broncos lost their sixth straight game.

      Free safety Reggie Nelson, one of the Raiders' defensive co-captains, is in his 11th season but has never undergone a coordinator change during the season.

      "I have not been a part of anything like this before," Nelson said. "Unfortunately, in this business, with the production on defense, we haven't been playing well. So everybody has their hand in it and we've got to just come out and play because it's going to keep trickling down. We've still got a job to do."

      Two things got Norton fired -- not enough takeaways and an inability to defend against the pass.

      The Raiders have gone 10 games without an interception, the longest stretch to open a season in NFL history. They have six fumble recoveries. A season after tying for the NFL lead at plus-16 in turnover margin, the Raiders are tied for 29th at minus-9.

      The lack of takeaways has resulted in a lack of short-field drives for the offense. The Raiders started 20 drives at the opponent's 40-yard line or closer last season and have four such drives this year -- and none since Week 3.

      The pass defense has been historically bad. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 72.3 percent of their passes with 17 touchdowns and a passer rating of 113.3 thanks in large part to the zero interceptions.

      The all-time record for career passer rating is 104.8 by Aaron Rodgers; the record for completion percentage is Drew Brees at 66.8 percent.

      So to suggest the Raiders have had issues defending the pass would be an understatement.

      And the man they elevated, Pagano, was hired with the mission of improving the communication and overall play of the defensive secondary.

      While Norton took the fall, Nelson said everybody felt the sting.

      "The axe came down on everybody," Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. We love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't to a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing, we are."

      Cornerback David Amerson, out for the last three games because of a foot injury, is having a hard time wrapping his brain around the Raiders' inability to get interceptions and excel in terms of turnover ratio.

      "I can't explain how we haven't been able to create turnovers or do some of the things we did last year," Amerson said. "The one area we needed to keep our high standard or go past was turnovers and we haven't been able to do that so far. We've got to find a way if we want to keep playing in January."

      SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 61-51-2. Broncos won 16-10 in Week 4, holding the Raiders to 254 yards in total offense, 2-for-12 on third-down conversions and 24 yards rushing. The Raiders' only offense to speak of was a 64-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Johnny Holton. In the last game at the Coliseum, the Raiders won 30-20 against the defending Super Bowl champs to improve to 7-2 in what might have been the signature win under Jack Del Rio. The Raiders rushed for 218 yards on 43 carries and three touchdowns, with Latavius Murray gaining 114 yards on 20 carries.

      --Raiders quarterback Derek Carr wanted to put to rest the idea that he had a strained relationship with former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. The move to Todd Downing was made in part because of his connection as quarterbacks coach with Carr and that he was thought of as the man to take Carr to the next level.

      "I went to two Pro Bowls with coach Musgrave," Carr said. "He's one of the smartest people I've ever been around. Every time I see him I give him a big hug. When we played at Denver, I went straight to him, gave him a hug, asked him how he was doing, asked him how his boys were doing.

      "That's definitely the farthest thing from the truth that me and coach Musgrave didn't like each other."

      It came as at least a minor surprise when Musgrave wasn't offered a contract after his contract expired with the Raiders, with Jack Del Rio opting to promote quarterbacks coach Todd Downing.

      The sixth-ranked offense under Musgrave has fallen to No. 20 under Downing.

      Del Rio also fired Musgrave when he was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He doesn't see the Broncos doing much differently under Musgrave than they did under Mike McCoy.

      The Broncos will start second-year quarterback Paxton Lynch against the Raiders.

      "You can't change dramatically what you've done with your system in Week 12 or Week 13," Del Rio said. "We'll prepare ourselves and be ready to go against the system, and understand there may be some things that Bill likes a little more than what Mike might do."

      Cornerback David Amerson said the knowledge works both ways.

      "The guy was here. So he obviously knows some of our personnel, what guys are good at and what guys are not good at," Amerson said. "What we like to do and what we don't like to do, and vice-versa. And we know what he likes to do, being in practice against him and things like that. It works out for both sides, really."

      --Linebacker Bruce Irvin posted a one-word response to Ken Norton Jr.'s dismissal on Twitter, which could be condensed to the letters "B" and "S."

      Irvin played in Seattle with Norton as linebackers coach before joining the Raiders as an unrestricted free agent. After talking with Del Rio and Pagano, he did not participate in practice Wednesday for non-injury purposes.

      Defensive end Khalil Mack, who declined comment regarding Norton's firing to reporters, also did not practice.

      "I don't try and handle them," Del Rio said. "I think the biggest thing is to understand the relationship, respect that, give them a little space and then at the end of the day we're going to get on with our work. But I'm human. It wasn't easy for me, either."

      --The Raiders' struggling defense has gotten no contributions from their second- and third-round draft picks of 2016, end/tackle Jihad Ward and rush linebacker Shilique Calhoun.

      Both were healthy scratches against New England.

      "You'd certainly like to have them heavily involved, but you get what you earn," Del Rio said. "They haven't earned it to this point."

      NOTES: CB David Amerson did not practice because of a foot injury and could miss his fourth consecutive game. ... WR Johnny Holton, who is also a special teams gunner, did not practice while in the league's concussion protocol. ... G Gabe Jackson, who has been dealing with ankle and toe issues, did not practice. ... DE Khalil Mack did not participate in practice for non-injury reasons. ... T Marshall Newhouse, inactive against New England with hip and quad issues, did not practice. ... LB Cory James who has been dealing with a knee injury, was limited in practice.

  • Tough Panthers ahead for Jets
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets return home to face an opponent few believe they have a chance against.

    • So that must mean one thing ... they have the Carolina Panthers right where they want 'em.

      Whenever the computer models and pundits think the Jets are dead and buried, they come back with a vengeance, especially at MetLife Stadium. It's a sign of good coaching and the players' focus on the task at hand.

      But here's the rub: Should the Jets lose Sunday's game at home to Carolina (7-3), as many expect they will, it could finally be the knockout blow to their season. New York (4-6) is only a game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC's final playoff spot, but at 4-7, they would have virtually no margin for error the last five weeks.

      Already in ninth place in the conference based on tiebreakers, the Jets are one of six AFC teams at 4-6. So they'll have to leapfrog plenty of teams to get themselves into postseason position, which is why head coach Todd Bowles isn't concerning himself with the myriad scenarios.

      "We believe we have to win them all and will let that take care of itself," he said Monday.

      Makes sense, considering the Jets have enough problems of their own.

      They've lost four of their last five, and the losses have come by a combined 20 points. The only one of the four in which they didn't have at least a touchdown lead was two Sundays ago in Tampa.

      While that may make fans ponder what could have been for the Jets this season, that's not how 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown -- with his 22-48 career record as a starter -- has trained himself to think.

      "Every team that has lost any game this year, across the league, would look and wish they had it back, especially if you are in the AFC," McCown said Monday. "We're still in the thick of things here with the last six weeks to play, and we just have to go out and play good football."

      ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Jets only a 31 percent chance to beat Carolina on Sunday. They are a 4.5-point underdog at home despite being 5-0 against the spread at MetLife Stadium this season.

      The same ESPN model gave the Jets only a 32 percent chance to beat the Dolphins in Week 3 coming off two road losses to start the season that fueled doomsday predictions of a winless campaign. The Jets won the game, 20-6, with Miami scoring only on the last play of the game.

      Then, after blowing leads in each game of a three-game skid, the Jets went into their Week 9 game against Buffalo with less than a 40 percent chance of victory, according to the ESPN FPI. Of course, they dominated the Bills, 34-21, in their most complete performance of the season.

      The Jets seemed to get a big head after that, with the offense sputtering in a 15-10 loss to the Buccaneers.

      In their last six games, the Jets will play four teams with a winning record, including three division leaders (Chiefs, Saints, Patriots).

      "We are playing some good teams coming up, but the ball's in our court," right guard Brian Winters said Monday. "And we can decide what we want to do with it."

      SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 3-3. The Panthers' first-ever win as a franchise came against the Jets on Oct. 15, 1995, at Clemson's Memorial Stadium. Carolina, which was 0-5, beat the 1-5 Jets and first-year head coach Rich Kotite, 26-15, as the late Sam Mills returned an interception thrown by Bubby Brister 36 yards for a touchdown. These teams last met Dec. 15, 2013, a 30-20 Panthers win in Charlotte, as Cam Newton connected with DeAngelo Williams for a 72-yard touchdown and Captain Munnerlyn returned an interception thrown by Geno Smith 41 yards for a score. Sheldon Richardson scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown for the Jets. The Jets and Panthers, who meet only once every four years, have had five of their six games decided by double digits, with the lone exception a 13-12 Jets win in 2001, when John Hall hit a late field goal and the Jets overcame three Vinny Testaverde interceptions.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      --During this Thanksgiving week, numerous Jets were involved in community service activities in the New York City area on their Tuesday off day.

      At the NYC Food Bank's location in Harlem, Quincy Enunwa, Brian Winters and former Jet Erik Coleman unloaded food off trucks, served dinner and presented the organization a check from the Jets and Berkeley College for $20,000. The Thanksgiving-style dinner drew more than 500 people.

      "I think it's great because we see the smiles that they give back to us," said Enunwa, who is out for the season with a neck injury. "I think that kind of makes me smile and feel good. Jets Nation aren't just the people that come to games, it's also the people who can't make it to the games and watch it in their homes."

      Through the end of the year, the Food Bank will match donations up to $1 million, according to the Jets official website.

      Also on Tuesday, Josh McCown and Demario Davis served as coaches in a flag football game among service members at the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn.

      "It was a tremendous honor and a privilege to be out here with these guys," said Davis, who leads the Jets with 82 tackles. "These are the true heroes of our country. They lay their lives on the line for us."

      --A familiar face to Jets fans has resurfaced in the NFL.

      Longtime Jet and likely Hall of Famer, Darrelle Revis, signed with the Chiefs on Wednesday. The Jets, coincidentally, will play host to Kansas City next Sunday.

      The 32-year-old had been out of the league since the Jets released him in March. A 10-year veteran and four-time first-team All-Pro, Revis was brought in by the Chiefs (6-4) to shore up a defense that is 26th in the league in receiving yards allowed.

      Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton served the same role with the Jets for the first two years of Revis' career.

      Revis made 25 of his 29 career interceptions for the Jets. The only years he didn't play for them was 2013, when he was with the Bucs, and 2014, when he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.

      Said head coach Andy Reid about Revis on Wednesday: "I would tell you he looks great physically. ... He's a smart guy who knows how to play the game. That becomes important at this point in his career. I'm not telling you he can't run. He can still run."

      NOTES: RB Matt Forte, who missed the Jets' game in Tampa two weeks ago with a knee injury, did not practice Wednesday. ... CB Morris Claiborne, who aggravated a foot injury against the Bucs, was limited at practice Wednesday. Head coach Todd Bowles said the Jets' top cover man is "getting better" and that "he's got a chance" to play Sunday if he practices a couple more days without pain. ... LT Kelvin Beachum (non-injury related, excused) did not practice Wednesday. Head coach Todd Bowles said he expects Beachum back Thursday. ... CB Rashard Robinson (illness) did not practice Wednesday. ... DE Muhammad Wilkerson (foot) was limited at practice Wednesday. It was his first practice in more than five weeks. ... FS Rontez Miles (ankle) was limited at Wednesday's practice. ... RG Brian Winters (abdomen) was limited at Wednesday's practice.

  • Seahawks still running on empty
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    RENTON, Wash. -- It might be a broken record at this point, but the Seattle Seahawks still can't run the football.

    • Mike Davis gave Seattle a bit of a spark Monday night against Atlanta only to leave the game with a groin injury in the third quarter. Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic managed only 32 yards on 10 carries in Davis' absence as quarterback Russell Wilson continues to carry most of Seattle's rushing load.

      The Seahawks rank 17th in the league in rushing with 104.2 yards per game on the ground. However, Wilson remains Seattle's leading rusher with 376 yards on 58 carries. The trio of Lacy, Thomas Rawls and McKissic have gained 377 yards combined this season.

      "We have just been inconsistent," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We haven't found our consistency. We've been trying. You've seen us, we've been experimenting to get the right guy on the field at the right time. ... Nobody has really found the consistency that we're looking for connected to how we've been blocking up front and all that, it just hasn't worked out the way we wanted. We're behind it right now. We're still finding yards and Russell is doing a fantastic job of finding us yards, but not exactly the way we anticipated, and we want it to be. We like to get those guys more productive and more on point, so we're just working at it."

      Davis sparked the group last week with 59 total yards rushing and receiving in just over two quarters of action before a groin injury sidelined him for the rest of the game.

      "He did a nice job in his first game out," Carroll said. "We're really pleased with the showing. Was kind of what we had hoped that he would show a little bit of something and he did, run game and pass game."

      It's been a constant theme for Seattle this season. As soon as any back starts to get any momentum going, they suffer an injury that knocks them out of a game. Chris Carson, Lacy, Davis and C.J. Prosise all have missed games due to injury this season. Carson and Prosise are on injured reserve.

      It's created a rotating door of options in the backfield that hasn't been able to find consistency.

      "The reality is we're not running our best right now," Wilson said. "That's the truth. We're not running our best. The truth of it though is we can be better and that's what we look forward to. ... We got a lot of great players. We got some great running backs. Have they played their best yet? Not yet, and that's not necessarily because of them; it's all of us. We've got to play better."

      After being inactive last week, Rawls will be right back in the mix again this week as Seattle's options change once again. Rawls has struggled to recapture his form from 2015 this season and has been bypassed for other options at times this year.

      "Don't try so damn hard," offensive line coach Tom Cable said of what Rawls needs to do to get back on track. "You see it all the time when guys are trying to make a statement or they're trying to stake a claim to something, sometimes they kind of overstep on the gas if you will. He just needs to relax and be Tommy and play ball.

      "You're not going to become a 1,000-yard rusher on one run."

      SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 22-15. Seahawks have won seven straight and nine of the last 10 meetings between the two teams. The last meeting in San Francisco in Week 17 of last season was the only Seattle victory over the stretch decided by fewer than 10 points.

      --The Seahawks promoted wide receiver David Moore from their practice squad on Wednesday to fill the vacancy created by the release of defensive end Dwight Freeney on Tuesday.

      The Seahawks made the move with Moore because another team was attempting to sign Moore off their practice squad. They wanted to keep him and promoted him to the active roster to keep him in Seattle.

      "We had to make roster stuff happen," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We had some injuries and some things we had to deal with. It is a spot where we have some guys that have played that spot. We're a little bit deeper there. We hated to do it but we had to do something and that's what happened.

      "We just had to do something and this is where it came too. There are cap concerns and all kinds of issues that we're dealing with right now."

      The Seahawks have just $189,034 in cap space remaining, according to NFLPA records, which is the least cap space of any team in the league. Moore costs Seattle less than half of what Freeney was making on a weekly basis. If Kam Chancellor is moved to injured reserve and the Seahawks need to add another contract to their roster, the savings of the move from Freeney to Moore could be significant.

      Moore was a seventh-round pick out of Division II East Central (Okla.) in May. He's spent the entire season on Seattle's practice squad after being released the roster cut to 53 players.

      "He's done a great job. He's a very versatile athlete," Carroll said of Moore. "Much like we saw the ability that Mike Davis had to come off the practice squad and help us, hopefully we can find a way to do that with David and we want to keep him on our team."

      Freeney was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions.

      NOTES: LT Duane Brown is "ahead of where he was last week" after playing through a sprained ankle on Monday night against Atlanta. Head coach Pete Carroll is expecting that Brown will be able to play this week as well. ... DT Jarran Reed was close to playing last week but didn't quite make it back due to a hamstring injury. Head coach Pete Carroll is expecting that Reed will be available this week. Reed was limited in practice on Wednesday. ... LB Michael Wilhoite did not practice on Thursday after straining his calf Nov. 9 in Arizona. It's the second time this season a calf injury has kept him out of practice. He also missed Seattle's season opener in Green Bay with a calf issue. ... CB DeShawn Shead is "really close" to being able to return to practice, but is still not quite able to clear a final hurdle in his recovery to get back on the field. Shead sustained a torn ACL against Atlanta in the playoffs last January. Head coach Pete Carroll said he'd be watching Shead's workout on Wednesday to get a better sense for his current status. ... LG Luke Joeckel practiced on Wednesday for the first time since knee surgery in October. He is expected to be able to return to the lineup this week. He was a full participant in practice.

      ... RG Oday Aboushi is expected to miss this week's game after dislocating a shoulder Monday night against Atlanta. ... CB Shaquill Griffin is in concussion protocol after being injured Monday night. Head coach Pete Carroll said it would be difficult for Griffin to make it back to play this week. ... RB Mike Davis did not practice due to a groin injury. Offensive line coach Tom Cable indicated that he believed Davis would miss a little time due to the injury. ... LB Bobby Wagner did not practice due to a hamstring injury. He's been rested for a day routinely the last several weeks.

  • Eagles run game to be challenged vs. Bears
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    Statistically, the Philadelphia Eagles are first in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 71.0 rushing yards per game. But the truth is they really haven't been tested much.

    • Because teams usually are playing from behind against them -- the Eagles have outscored opponents 71-18 in the first quarter and 232-105 in the first three quarters -- they have had to give up the run early in games and throw a lot more than they had planned.

      Opponents have averaged a league-low 19.3 rushing attempts per game against the Eagles and have a league-low 31.2 run-play percentage.

      Last week, the Dallas Cowboys stayed with the Eagles for a half and ended up running the ball 27 times, the most carries against the Eagles this season. They rushed for a respectable 112 yards, which is 4.1 yards per carry.

      Alfred Morris, subbing for suspended Ezekiel Elliott, rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries (5.4 yards per carry). The Eagles gave up a season-high four double-digit yard runs, including 22-, 20- and 12-yard runs to Morris.

      "It was one or two plays that popped; we can clean those up," defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "It wasn't anything to panic about."

      Said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: "It was really more on our edges. There were some things that we can play a little bit better. I think we set that bar awful high. There are some teams in the league that -- what did we give up, 110? 112? I think some defenses might get a pat on the back for that.

      "I think it's a tribute to the players in the locker room that that's a poor performance for them, and they consider it a poor performance. Sometimes that goes a long way to keeping you focused."

      The Eagles' run defense is expected to get its biggest test of the season Sunday when they host the 3-7 Bears. Despite their record, the Bears have a very good ground game. And they are committed to it regardless of the score.

      They are second in the league in run-play percentage and ninth in rushing attempts per game (29.0). Second-year running back Jordan Howard is third in the league in rushing with 841 yards in 10 games. He already has four 100-yard rushing performances, including one last week in a three-point loss to Detroit. Rookie Tarik Cohen, a 5-foot-6, 179-pound Darren Sproles clone, has rushed for another 273 yards on 64 carries.

      "They put both backs on the field at the same time a little bit; sometimes it's two-back sets, sometimes it's one," Schwartz said. "Traditionally, there's a fullback there in two-back sets, but not so much with the Bears. They can put two (actual runners) back there. It spreads you a little bit thin. You have to be very assignment sound. It'll test us in the run game."

  • Dolphins QB Cutler still in concussion protocol
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    DAVIE, Fla. -- Quarterback Jay Cutler remains in concussion protocol meaning the Miami Dolphins aren't sure who will be under center when they take the field at New England on Sunday.

    • Backup quarterback Matt Moore took the first-team snaps in Wednesday's practice but head coach Adam Gase sounded helpless as he went over the situation.

      Gase said he's not sure how far he can go with the uncertainty.

      "I'm sure there will be a point I make a decision," Gase said. "I don't really know what the timetable is right now."

      Gase, who said Monday that Cutler is the starter if he's healthy, said it's basically a waiting game.

      "Really at the end of the day the (concussion) protocol tells us what the right thing is," he said.

      Miami has been through this before at quarterback. Cutler sustained a rib injury in the third quarter of the 31-28 victory over the New York Jets and missed the rest of that game as well as the following game, a 40-0 loss at Baltimore.

      Moore performed well in second halves against the Jets and Buccaneers, but he didn't so well against the Ravens. And he has a different style than Cutler, which caused problems with cadence last week when he relieved Cutler in the second half of Miami's 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay.

      "We're ironing that out," Moore said.

      Moore also plays at a different speed than Cutler.

      "(Matt) plays fast," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. "He plays extremely fast, sometimes too fast. (Last) week there were a couple in the red zone that maybe he was too fast.

      "But the ball is going to come out of there. His mind works fast, everything's moving fast, so I think that's probably a little bit different as far as the tempo of that goes, which is sometimes an advantage, sometimes a disadvantage."

      Regardless, as Gase said Monday, Cutler will be the starter if he's healthy.

      And it sounds as though Moore has resigned himself to accepting that fact.

      "My role is what it is," he said. "When Ryan (Tannehill) was here, I was the backup. When they signed Jay, who knows what's going to happen, I became the backup again and it was defined.

      "My role is what it is and I do my best to execute it, whatever it is. That's the way I roll with this thing."

      SERIES HISTORY: 101st regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 52-48. New England won the last meeting, 35-14, in last year's season finale in Miami. Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns as the Patriots took a 20-0 halftime lead. Miami QB Matt Moore had won his previous two starts in place of injured Ryan Tannehill.

      --Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said it's "unexplainable" and "unfathomable" Miami still has pre-snap penalties at this time of year. Worse, it was a point of emphasis last week.

      "That was probably more the frustrating part is we made some changes last week," head coach Adam Gase said.

      Regardless, penalties are still a concern. Miami had 17 for 123 yards last week against Tampa Bay and 11 penalties for 107 yards against Oakland three games ago.

      "A lot of times we've lost games it's been self-inflicted things we've done that have prevented us from having a chance in the fourth quarter," Gase said.

      --New England head coach Bill Belichick has always been known to go a bit overboard when analyzing the opposition. That didn't change Wednesday during a teleconference with South Florida writers, which included Belichick saying the Dolphins "have very good depth at quarterback" and calling quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Matt Moore both "outstanding."

      Belichick, whose teams have won eight consecutive games against Miami at Gillette Stadium, went on to say Miami has a "very good and healthy quarterback situation," and later added, "It's a good position the Dolphins have put themselves in."

      --Miami could have issues on the offensive line this week considering right guard Jermon Bushrod (foot) and left tackle Laremy Tunsil (unknown) missed practice Wednesday. If Bushrod doesn't play, Miami will likely use Jesse Davis at right guard and Sam Young at right tackle, which is how they finished last week.

      If Tunsil doesn't play, Miami will likely use Jesse Davis at right guard and Sam Young at right tackle, which is how they finished the Tampa Bay game last week.

      If Miami goes that way it would be its fourth starting offensive line in six weeks. The Dolphins have changed because of injuries to left guard Anthony Steen and right tackle Ja'Wuan James and the return of left guard Ted Larsen.

      NOTES: QB Jay Cutler (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday and his availability for Sunday at New England is in question. Injuries are starting to become a factor. Cutler left the New York Jets game five weeks ago with a rib injury, missed the Baltimore game the following week, didn't play the second half of last week's Tampa Bay game and could miss this week's game. ... RG Jermon Bushrod (foot) missed Wednesday's practice and head coach Adam Gase said of the injury, "I'm not sure if it's long term." Bushrod hasn't missed a game this year. ... LB Neville Hewitt, who started five games but was cut with a shoulder injury in September, was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad Wednesday. Hewitt, who has been on the practice squad, could provide immediate depth. ... LB Stephone Anthony (quadriceps), who has been inactive for six games, missed practice Wednesday and is "day-to-day," according to defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Anthony found a spot in the nickel defense last week, sometimes relieving LB Lawrence Timmons. ... LT Laremy Tunsil (illness) missed practice Wednesday. Tunsil has struggled this season. He was flagged three times last week against Tampa Bay. ... DE William Hayes (back) didn't practice Wednesday. Hayes, one of Miami's best run stoppers, missed practice time last week with a back injury, but he hasn't missed a game. ... WR Rashawn Scott was activated for last week's game over WR Leonte Carroo because he had a better week of practice. Scott, a better special teams performer, will have a weekly battle with Carroo, according to head coach Adam Gase. ... WR Jakeem Grant was being mentioned as a key secondary target during training camp, but things haven't worked out that way. Grant has three receptions for 15 yards. "We had some personnel packages that we liked with a few of those younger guys," head coach Adam Gase said, "and we weren't getting enough plays in the game to where we could kind of start messing around with that and see how it works." Gase said he likes how Grant has been working. ... DE Cam Wake hasn't had a sack in the last four games. Head coach Adam Gase was asked about giving Wake fewer snaps to help his effectiveness. "I think it's hard to take a guy that's still disruptive and doing his job in the run game," Gase said. "He's doing what we're asking him to do and he's executing things still at a high level." ... QB Matt Moore could be making his sixth start in the last 14 games if he gets the nod against New England. Moore, who has come on in relief twice this season and once last season, has a 2-3 record as a starter since last season.

  • Rams enter crucial stretch without WR Woods
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- While the Los Angeles Rams caught a break when the Seahawks lost to the Falcons Monday to enable the Rams to retain sole possession of first place in the NFC West, their work is really just beginning in their push for a division title and a playoff berth.

    • Of the Rams' next five games, two are against fellow division leaders -- the Saints on Sunday at the Coliseum and at home to the Eagles in December -- and two others are against teams on the cusp of playoff participation in the Titans and Seahawks.

      It's a daunting task for a team hoping to claim a playoff berth for the first time in 13 years. But it's a necessary exercise if the Rams want to prove their 7-3 start is no fluke.

      It doesn't help that the Rams lost wide receiver Robert Woods for at least two weeks with a shoulder injury. Woods is the Rams' leading receiver, and his loss will be felt.

      "It's probably going to be a couple weeks on Robert, so that's unfortunate, but it requires some guys to step up and fill in for the void left by Robert and he's done a lot of great things," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "It's an opportunity for some other guys to step up, and I know he'll take care of himself and hopefully we'll get him back sooner than later, but that's what it is right now and we'll continue to gather more information."

      As far as who will take Woods' place, the Rams will likely look first to a committee situation with rookie Josh Reynolds and second-year receiver Mike Thomas getting the initial nod.

      "That's something that we'll discuss. I think you can see it kind of by committee with the depth that we do have whether it be finding ways to get Tavon (Austin) more involved," said McVay. "Then Josh (Reynolds) and Mike and Pharoh (Cooper). So, I think it will really require a kind of by-committee approach and try to get some of those guys more involved."

      The Rams are also testing their depth at cornerback, where Kayvon Webster is in concussion protocol and Nickell Robey-Coleman is dealing with a thigh injury. Both players were forced out of Sunday's game against the Vikings.

      The Rams are expected to get back cornerback Troy Hill, so that helps.

      "Troy is going to be back this week. We're in good shape with Troy," McVay said. "But, that definitely is a concern -- especially you look at a top offense that we're getting ready to play this week. The thing that's so impressive is they've consistently over the last couple of years thrown the ball as well as anybody and now they're able to run it as well.

      "They're an extremely balanced offense, coach (Sean) Payton has done a great job. Obviously, we know that (quarterback) Drew (Brees) is a Hall of Fame quarterback and you look at the playmakers that they spread it around to and also the one-two punch with (running backs Alvin) Kamara and (Mark) Ingram is special and that's why they're playing as well as they are offensively."

      SERIES HISTORY: 73rd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 40-32. The two clubs met last year, with the Saints hanging a 49-21 blowout on the Rams in New Orleans. It was an embarrassing setback that ultimately began laying the groundwork for the dismissal of former head coach Jeff Fisher.

      --Wide receiver Robert Woods, the Rams leading receiver, will be sidelined at least two weeks in a devastating blow to the Rams offense. Woods has been a revelation for the Rams after signing with his hometown team as a free agent last March, developing into a trusted go-to target for quarterback Jared Goff and a leader in the locker room.

      While losing Woods was a big blow, it could have been worse as the Rams initially worried they might lose him to season-ending surgery.

      "There was a chance, but I think we got good, positive news back on that and the optimistic approach is hopefully a couple weeks," said McVay. "But, there was a chance that if it was something other than what it ended up being, that it was going to maybe require surgery, but it was nothing like that. So, those are positive things and there's a guy that he'll do all the right things in the meantime to try to get him back on the field sooner than later."

      --Wide receiver Tavon Austin spent most of Sunday's game against the Vikings watching from the bench. Rams head coach Sean McVay said afterward it was the result of the rhythm of the game. But with Robert Woods out for at least two weeks with a shoulder injury, it might be time for Austin to step up as a bigger part of the offense.

      "I think it's just continuing to find ways to get him on the field," McVay said. "I think especially when you look at just the depth that we have -- (running back) Lance (Dunbar) has done a good job in the limited opportunities he's had these last couple weeks, but without Malcolm (Brown) being involved. The bottom line is Tavon is too dynamic of a playmaker for our offense to not try to get him involved a little bit more than yesterday. You can sit here and make excuses that we didn't have enough snaps and things like that, but it's on me and I've got to do a better job of getting a feel for the flow of the game and finding a way to get him involved, especially when that was part of our plan and we kind of went away from that."

      --Kicker Greg Zuerlein needs 14 points to pass former running back Marshall Faulk for the fifth-highest single-season output in franchise history. Faulk scored 128 points in 2001, and Zuerlein has 115 points through 10 games this season.

      --"You can't let that stuff linger, especially in the middle of the game. We've got to flush it and move on and be ready to move forward. There's a lot of football left. That's the attitude no matter who comes to the sideline. When we come off as an offense, there's always going to be someone who didn't execute. On this team, the expectation is that we're going to flush it and move on. That's how it is for everyone and that's why I have a lot of respect for the guys on this team. They're going to come alongside you and push you to move on and be ready for that next drive." -- WR Cooper Kupp on whether Rams head coach Sean McVay pulled him aside after his key fumble Sunday against the Vikings.

      NOTES: OLB Connor Barwin did not practice Wednesday for non-injury related reasons. ... C John Sullivan did not practice Wednesday for non-injury related reasons. ... LT Andrew Whitworth did not practice Wednesday for non-injury related reasons. ... LB Mark Barron did not practice Wednesday with a hand injury. ... RB Malcolm Brown did not practice Wednesday with a knee injury. ... RB Lance Dunbar did not practice Wednesday with a knee injury. ... CB Nickell Robey-Coleman did not practice Wednesday with a thigh injury. ... CB Kayvon Webster did not practice Wednesday while in concussion protocol. ... LB Bryce Hager did not practice Wednesday with a calf injury.

  • Rams hoping to slow down runaway Saints train
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    The streaking New Orleans Saints play the Los Angeles Rams in search of their ninth straight victory on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

    • The Saints (8-2) will carry plenty of momentum into the contest after an improbable win over the Washington Redskins last week. New Orleans trailed by 15 points with three minutes remaining and still prevailed. In previous games when it was down by 14 points in the final quarter, New Orleans was 0-223-1.

      "It just felt like one of those games that we shouldn't win," Saints punter Thomas Morstead said.

      The Rams (7-3) are looking to return to their winning ways. They saw a four-game streak snapped when the Minnesota Vikings' vaunted defense contained what was then the NFL's highest-scoring team, 24-7, on Sunday.

      Los Angeles fell for the first time in over a month and it came with a cost. Robert Woods, the team's leading receiver, sustained a shoulder injury and is out this week.

      "It requires some guys to step up and fill the void left by Robert," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "He's done a lot of great things."

      So have the NFC West-leading Rams, one of the NFL's biggest surprises this year. But they need to rebound after getting thumped in their showdown in Minnesota between divisional leaders.

      To meet that goal, someone has to replace Woods' production: A team-best 47 catches for four touchdowns and 703 yards.

      The Rams are deep at that spot and a collection of players will be in the mix for more playing time. Tavon Austin, Mike Thomas, Pharaoh Cooper and rookie Josh Reynolds are available.

      "It will really require a kind of by-committee approach," McVay said.

      Austin is making $15 million this year but the Rams aren't getting much bang for their buck. The speedy Austin has been used mostly as a running back, gaining 171 yards.

      Against the Vikings, Austin was on the artificial turf for just two plays.

      "I've got to do a better job for getting a feel for the flow of the game and finding a way of getting him involved," McVay said.

      While the Rams have depth at wide receiver, the same can't be said at cornerback. That's not a good sign against a unit led by Drew Brees, which is averaging an NFL-high 415.7 yards per game and 30.2 points.

      "Definitely it is a concern," McVay said.

      Cornerback Troy Hill, out last week with a hamstring injury, is primed to return. But two other cornerbacks, Kayvon Webster (concussion) and Nickell Robey-Cole (thigh) could be compromised.

      The Rams' secondary was relatively healthy leading to the outing in Minnesota. But the physical game took its toll.

      "We have been fortunate in that manner that we haven't had a lot of guys miss games that have been in starting roles," McVay said. "But it looks like that is going to end up occurring."

      While the Rams' offense is ranked No. 2 in averaging 30.3 points a contest, the defense hasn't been as stout. It is No. 16 in total yards (3,350) and it will have to decipher the Saints' balanced approach.

      While most of the Saints' outcomes once depended on Brees' right arm, now it's the churning legs and sure hands of running backs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.

      Coach Sean Payton has embraced the running game so much that he called a rushing play on 24 straight plays in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills. The Saints served noticed with Ingram and Kamara rushing for a combined six touchdowns and 298 yards; each eclipsed 100 yards.

      Since Adrian Peterson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, Kamara has provided solid production with an average of 112.7 yards per scrimmage.

      Ingram found another gear as well as he's averaged 120.7 yards from scrimmage, nearly double his output from when Peterson was on the roster.

      Ingram has been a force on early downs and early in games, gobbling up yards after contact.

      Payton then inserts the shifty Kamara against a spent defense and the results have been impressive.

      "I've always had a lot of respect for him as a play-caller," McVay said. "He's one of those guys that seems like he's got a great feel."

      McVay was still the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator when the Saints walloped the Rams last year, 49-21. In McVay's film study of the Saints, something is hard to ignore.

      "They do such a great job of making people defend the width and the depth of the field in the pass game," he said. "It's a very well-versed offense where it's quick screens, play-actions, movements. They do it all and they do it very well."

      The Rams own a 40-33 advantage over the Saints, winning two of their past three meetings.

  • Saints need better defense against Rams
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are coming off one of their worst defensive performances of the season.

    • Even though the Saints beat the Washington Redskins, 34-31, in overtime, last Sunday for their eighth straight win, the defensive performance raised some concerns.

      The four offensive touchdowns allowed were tied for the most this season as were the three touchdown passes.

      The 456 total yards and 300 passing yards were the most allowed during the win streak and the 156 rushing yards were the third-most allowed during the streak.

      Washington's time of possession was the most by an opponent during the win streak.

      Now New Orleans (8-2) plays the second-highest scoring team in the NFL when it travels to Los Angeles to play the 7-3 Rams in an important NFC game.

      "They're very dynamic on offense," safety Kenny Vaccaro said Wednesday, adding that he expects to play Sunday after missing the last two games because of a groin injury.

      His is one a few injuries that contributed to the performance against Washington. In that game, defensive end Alex Okafor suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.

      "That's a tremendous loss," end Cameron Jordan said.

      Cornerback Marshon Lattimore missed most of that game after injuring an ankle and linebacker A.J. Klein missed the game because of an ankle injury he suffered a week earlier.

      Klein said his injury is much improved and he's hopeful of playing against the Rams.

      "Obviously, (Los Angeles) has been very efficient on offense," Klein said. "They've got skill guys across the board and they can hurt you in different ways."

      New Orleans has been able to hurt opponents in different ways. The offense picked up the defense last week by scoring 15 points in the final six minutes to force overtime. In different games, different areas of the team have stepped to the forefront when needed.

      "We understand that each game at times has played a little bit differently, depending on the opponent and how they're defending you or what have you," quarterback Drew Brees said. "When you do win in a lot of different ways, no matter what the scenario you feel like, 'Hey we've been here before we know how to win this game.' There's just a belief and the confidence."

      SERIES HISTORY: 73rd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 40-32. The Saints won the last meeting, prevailing 49-21 last season in the Superdome. The Rams won the last game in which they were the home team, winning 27-16 in 2013 at the Edward Jones Dome when the franchise was located in St. Louis. In the last meeting in Los Angeles, New Orleans won, 31-15, in 1994 in Anaheim Stadium. These teams were NFC West rivals from 1970-2001, meeting twice per season with the exception of 1982 when they did not face each other during a season that was shortened to nine games because of a work stoppage. The Saints' first NFL game was against the Rams and Los Angeles won that meeting, 27-13, in New Orleans in 1967. In 1990, the Saints beat the Rams, 20-17, in the Superdome in a head-to-head regular-season finale to determine the final NFC wild-card playoff berth.

      --The Saints' ball security is getting gradually better, but they would like to return to the level they were at to start the season. They did not turn the ball over in the first four games, but have turned it over in each of the last six. It started with a season-worst three against Detroit, then they had two turnovers against the Packers, Bears and Buccaneers. In the last two weeks, they had just a single turnover against both the Bills and the Redskins. For the season they are plus-2. Ball security figures to be especially important against the Rams, who have forced 19 turnovers and are second in the NFL with 84 points off turnovers.

      --The Saints have brought in reinforcements at cornerback because of the uncertain status of cornerback Marshon Lattimore. They signed Dexter McDougle to fill a vacancy created when injured defensive end Alex Okafor was placed on injured reserve. Earlier, the team signed Sterling Moore to fill a vacancy created by the waiving of LB Adam Bighill, who was later signed to the practice squad.

      NOTES: CB Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and CB Ken Crawley (abdomen) did not practice Wednesday. ... LB A.J. Klein (ankle), T Terron Armstead (rest) and S Kenny Vaccaro (groin) was limited Wednesday.

  • Bears' Trubisky making consistent steps forward
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The 24 points put up by the Chicago Bears in last week's loss to Detroit inspired optimism over the progress of the offense and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

    • It's a good thing, because the offense may need to begin holding up its end of the bargain after a season of watching the defense keep the Bears in games.

      With linebacker Leonard Floyd likely out for the season due to a knee injury, the Bears are losing their most dynamic defensive force. Already without four defensive starters, the Bears are going into Philadelphia to face a high-powered Eagles team on Sunday needing another strong effort from Trubisky just to have a chance.

      "It's going to be about us," Trubisky said. "We're going to go in and execute. Stay manageable. Move the chains. Be efficient on third down. Finish in the red zone when we get the chance. Take what they give us and take care of the football."

      Trubisky and the offense rarely did any of those at the beginning of his six starts. Now with just 19 starts since he was a high-school player, Trubisky is showing obvious improvement.

      "I would assess that I feel like I'm getting a little bit better each day," Trubisky said. "I'm learning a lot every day, each week, and I know what's expected of me and what I need to do on a daily basis in order to be prepared. I know how to carry myself around my teammates and how to lead. So (I'm) just continuing to make sure everybody's buying in."

      The most obvious place Trubisky looked at ease was in the two-minute drill.

      "I would say it's pretty natural," Trubisky said. "I love those moments. That's where you've kind of seen over time where the great quarterbacks have come from -- to be clutch, deliver in those moments.

      "I think it makes the game that much more fun. You definitely want to deliver for your team, but it's all about staying cool, calm, collected, making sure everyone's on the same page and going down to do your job. But it just makes the game that much more exciting, but it's my job to stay calm in those situations. Hopefully, my teammates will feed off my demeanor so nobody's in a panic and everybody can just go do their job."

      Good pass blocking and a 100-yard game from running back Jordan Howard didn't hurt last week. The starting offensive line was healthy -- as healthy as it can be at least -- and playing for the first time since the start of the New Orleans game Oct. 29.

      "The offensive line, I think that was one of the first or second weeks they all played together, so we've got a lot more consistent play up front," Trubisky said. "They're an awesome group. As long as the pocket is clean, it's my job to do my job."

      It's been a weekly progression for Trubisky. Going into Philadelphia could easily wind up being a step back, given the challenge. The Bears are two-touchdown underdogs in a place where they've had plenty of problems in the past.

      "Every day to this point that he's taken the field, he's played better," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "That's what we keep telling him -- keep stacking good games, we're gonna keep playing better around you, we'll keep putting you in good situations, and the wins are going to come. But you're doing a really good job not turning the ball over.

      "The passing game has become more and more efficient."

      The Bears ultimately want Trubisky to be in the same place Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is this year -- leading the NFC in Pro-Bowl voting while playing for a 9-1 team.

      Loggains pointed out Wentz was 1-6 starting in games that came down to a single possession last year. Trubisky this year is 1-4 in such games.

      "Quarterbacks take those huge jumps from Year 1 to Year 2, and when you watch Wentz, he doesn't play like a young player anymore," Loggains said.

      Trubisky has taken note of Wentz's efforts. He has a chance this weekend to leave the impression across the league that he can be like Wentz or the Rams' Jared Goff, and become a force in the near future.

      "For sure, I study all quarterbacks across the league," Trubisky said. "Me and Carson have the same agent, so I was able to spend some time with him preparing for the draft and all that. It's really expected when you're drafted high and play right away that in the second year you transition well and really deliver for your team."

      SERIES HISTORY: 41st regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 28-11-1. The Eagles have won the last two games, including 29-14 in 2015 at Soldier Field. The Eagles won the last game in Philadelphia between the teams, 54-11 in 2013. There have been three playoff games between them, the Eagles winning in 2001, 33-19, and 27-17 in 1979, while the Bears won 20-12 in 1988.

      --Cairo Santos arrived in Chicago feeling like he has the right background to succeed as a kicker at Soldier Field, where fickle winds off Lake Michigan often make for a kicker's nightmare.

      He has already had to make the big adjustment, going from playing soccer in Brazil, to high-school football kicker in Florida, to kicking for Tulane and then to arctic weather.

      "It was hard at first to come in from Brazil and then playing at Tulane in an indoor stadium, it was quite an adjustment to KC (when he was with the Chiefs) weather," Santos said. "But the last four years I think it shaped me to be an accomplished kicker.

      "I played in some really bad stuff: rain, snow, 3-degree weather last year, playoffs, cold playoffs at home, away. So I've kind of gone through it all. And hopefully at Soldier Field, I know it's going to be the toughest place to kick, but through that experience I've learned to hit a straight ball, at least kind of do the things I can control, to not think about the elements."

      Santos said he doesn't hold any grudges against the Chiefs for being cut while he had a groin injury.

      "I was confident it wasn't going to be a serious injury," Santos said. "I just needed time. I dealt with it in training camp. I was kicking really well. I was the only kicker in KC. I just didn't give it the proper time to heal.

      "I tried to play the first three games and it got worse. So my main goal was to get 100 percent. I've been kicking for about a month now. It's in good shape to come back and take a full load from a week's practice and the game."

      --Head coach John Fox isn't feeling any remorse about the way the team handled wide receiver Alshon Jeffery's situation in the offseason, prior to his signing with the Eagles.

      They could have kept Jeffery one more year at a huge salary as a second-year franchise player, or signed him to a big contract. But constant nagging injuries had left them skeptical of the benefits. Then numerous injuries to the wide receiver corps -- including Kevin White and Cameron Meredith -- made it look like the decision had blown up in their faces.

      "Hindsight is always 20/20," Fox said. "That's pretty much known. He's a guy we liked. We did talk to him. It's not like we were not in the mix. A lot of times they (players) have decisions in that as well."

      --Fox said arthroscopic surgery is a possibility for linebacker Leonard Floyd, who suffered a knee injury but did not have a torn ACL. The Bears haven't announced the exact injury to the knee, but Fox did say there's a good possibility Floyd will go on IR and miss the rest of the season.

      "More than likely," Fox said. "It's a significant injury, thus likely."

      --Although the Bears could move Christian Jones to outside linebacker, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thinks it's more possible younger players will take on a relief role as a pass rusher and spell Sam Acho and Pernell McPhee.

      "Well, he's (Jones) got the body type to do it, but I do think he's better suited inside right now," Fangio said.

      Regardless, there's no doubt losing a pass rusher as effective as Floyd will take something out of the defense.

      "I thought Leonard was having a good season," Fangio said. "He had decent sack numbers (4.5), but he had a lot of plays, too, where he ran down quarterbacks.

      "We'll miss that athleticism and speed to where he tackled them after they ran for a yard or two or forced an errant throw, so we'll miss his athleticism and his overall speed."

      Even with Floyd, Fangio called the pass rush "inconsistent" and not what it needed to be the past two weeks.

      --Fangio isn't worried about cornerback Marcus Cooper's confidence level after he was beaten for a long touchdown and a few other passes last week in spot play.

      "Everybody goes through that at some point," Fangio said. "He's not the first corner that got beat for a couple plays, and he won't be the last.

      "But I'm sure because he hasn't played as much lately it could be damaging. But I do like his personality to come back."

      It's not an ideal situation for the front office to have Cooper struggling. Both starting cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are playing well and Cooper is under contract for next year and the other two are not.

      --Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains continued taking heat for not having running back Tarik Cohen on the field for the two-minute drill. But he said the same thing head coach John Fox had said Monday -- younger players are either inexperienced or limited too much to contribute much in no-huddle situations at a game's end.

      "Obviously Tarik is a player that we always talk about being a special player," Loggains said. "Every week is new to him. Every week he walks in and is like, 'I've got to learn this route, this route,' but now on top of that is that he's never played receiver and he is a running back that just has the ability to play some receiver. So we're teaching him new routes. But the thing that gets confusing is when there's 14 different personnel groupings that put him at X, Z, F, quarterback and he has to work really hard studying that.

      "So he is a really bright kid, but it's just a heavy burden the load he carries, but he's done a really good job of it. We had a couple issues in the game that we'll get cleaned up and he'll continue to learn from, but he's a really good football player."

      NOTES: WR Josh Bellamy (concussion) is in the league protocol and did not practice Wednesday after an injury suffered in the game with Detroit Sunday. ... DE Akiem Hicks (knee) did not practice Wednesday following an injury suffered against Detroit. Hicks likely will be questionable going into the game. ... DB DeAndre Houston-Carson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday following an injury against Detroit. ... DE Roy Robertson-Harris (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and is week-to-week after suffering an injury two weeks ago against Green Bay. ... LB Danny Trevathan (calf) missed Wednesday's practice and hasn't been involved in a practice since suffering an injury Oct. 29 injury against the Saints. Trevathan is week-to-week and unlikely to play in this game against the Eagles. Nick Kwiatkoski will join Christian Jones at linebacker in Trevathan's absence, but the absence of Trevathan does keep the Bears from moving Jones to outside linebacker in pass-rush situations because he is the best remaining option to defend the pass at linebacker. ... CB Bryce Callahan (knee) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis for the first time since October and could return this week. It's possible he will have to sit if he's healthy because Cre'Von LeBlanc has played solid at slot corner. ... G Tom Compton (ankle) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and could be ready to play backup guard for the first time since Oct. 29. ... WR Dontrelle Inman (groin) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and should be able to play Sunday, although he is experiencing soreness from a previous injury. ... TE Dion Sims (illness) practiced on a limited basis. Sims hasn't played since facing New Orleans Oct. 29 and hadn't practiced since the week after that game during the bye. The Bears put him in an orange jersey for practice and the possibility he'll play seems 50-50. "He ran around, felt good and we'll see what tomorrow brings," head coach John Fox said. ... DL Mitch Unrein (knee) practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and is likely to play Sunday.

  • Eagles wary of Bears despite sub-.500 record
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    With the NFL's best record and one of its best players, quarterback Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles are on a roll.

    • The Eagles (9-1) welcome the Bears (3-7) to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon surrounded by a euphoria that is rare in a town where its hard-scrabble, blue-collar fans have been viewed nationally as persistently unhappy -- even when the team is good.

      After Sunday's 37-9 rout of the host Cowboys, where they laughed off another potential NFC East challenger as if they were the scrawny and disheveled Santa Claus that Eagles fans once so infamously booed, the talk around town isn't about making the Super Bowl but more centered on parading the Lombardi Trophy down Broad Street.

      Well, unless you're talking to head coach Doug Pederson.

      "If you don't come ready to play, you'll get your tail beat," Pederson, who could point to the Bears' Week 3 win over the now 8-2 Steelers, said Wednesday when asked if the Eagles would be overconfident against Chicago.

      Coach-speak aside, the Eagles certainly have plenty to feel good about while seeking a ninth straight victory.

      First, there's Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft who leads the NFL with 25 touchdowns and is fourth with a 103.4 rating.

      It certainly helps the Eagles' second-year quarterback and his third-ranked offense that he has so many weapons at his disposal -- perhaps too many on another team where egos are put ahead of winning.

      There's the backfield combination of Jay Ajayi (168 yards, one TD in two games), plucked from the disarrayed Dolphins three weeks ago for a fourth-round pick, LeGarrette Blount (team-leading 561 yards) and undrafted rookie Corey Clement (tied for team lead with six TDs).

      Kenjon Barner, another running back, scored a touchdown against the Cowboys.

      Outside, the Eagles are led by former Bears standout Alshon Jeffery, whose 567 receiving yards and six touchdowns are solid but not quite Pro Bowl worthy like in one of his five years in Chicago. That's because Wentz is spreading the ball around to Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and Trey Burton.

      Did we mention tight end Zach Ertz and his 536 yards and six touchdowns?

      The combined gaudy numbers explain much of the winning, but so does the attitude of the players.

      "This is a very unselfish football team right now," Pederson said. "It's a combination of all of them. It doesn't matter who makes the play."

      Defensively, the Eagles also are stout, ranking seventh overall and first against the run.

      They will need to be strong up front against the Bears, who are one of the league's top rushing attacks.

      Second-year Chicago back Jordan Howard leads the NFC with 841 yards and shifty rookie back Tarik Cohen has a team-best 33 catches.

      They also have developing rookie Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, under center. Coach John Fox can only hope that Trubisky's ascent is similar to Wentz's. In his six starts, the University of North Carolina product has completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 988 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions -- though none in his last two outings.

      It wouldn't hurt if one of his targets still was Jeffery, who left the Bears this offseason to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles. Jeffery might have been on to something when he guaranteed his team would win the Super Bowl this season after the Bears went 3-13 in 2016.

      It's not the same team, but the prediction still may hold.

      "Hindsight is always 20-20," Fox said Wednesday when asked if he wished he still had Jeffery. "He's a guy we liked. We did talk to him. It's not like we weren't in the mix."

      If it comes down to a kicking game, both teams have interesting situations. Chicago cut Connor Barth on Monday after he missed a 46-yard field goal that would've sent the game to overtime in its 27-24 loss to the Lions. In his place, the Bears signed Cairo Santos, a career 85 percent field-goal kicker who was injured (groin) in Week 3 with the Chiefs.

      Philadelphia's Jake Elliott was concussed early in the Eagles win at Dallas, forcing the Eagles to go for two points on four of their touchdowns. Pederson said he expects Elliott to play. If not, Caleb Sturgis, whom Elliott unseated due to a Week 1 hip injury, could replace him.

  • Falcons expecting major NFC South rumble with Bucs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are expecting a tough, tough battle from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    • For some reason, the two division foes have exciting games.

      Part of the reason is that former Falcons coordinator Dirk Koetter is Tampa Bay's head coach and former Falcons head coach Mike Smith is Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator.

      Tampa Bay has won two in a row with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, but the Falcons are worried about Tampa Bay's defense.

      "That's a good front that can rush," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "I think we had one (sack) in last week's game against guys who really know how to rush and get going."

      The Falcons were able to convert on 6 of 14 third downs (64 percent) against Seattle and hope to duplicate those numbers against Tampa Bay.

      "That part helps when you're not getting in some third-and-long situations, and you can play in a little bit more manageable third-down spots," Quinn said.

      The Falcons have emphasized getting better on third downs.

      "That part of a game we're working hard to keep improving," Quinn said. "The run game, and the play-action pass and the drop-back makes defending our offense a challenge and when all those things start coming together ... we haven't played our best yet, but man we're chasing it hard. I feel like we're improving as we're going."

      The Falcons know that Fitzpatrick is a knowledgeable veteran, with some running ability.

      "I would say it's definitely underrated," Quinn said. "Already this year, he almost has as many yards on scrambles as (Jameis) Winston has. His ability to (convert) some third downs on the run has been evident in the games that we have evaluated. He's not going to just remain a pocket passer.

      "When he sees (defenders') backs turned ... no, he's not Russell (Wilson) in terms of mobility, but he does have the ability to create."

      The Falcons are preparing like they will not have running back Devonta Freeman, who remains in the concussion protocol. He was in the team's locker room on Wednesday.

      After playing four of their past five games on the road, Quinn is elated about returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

      "We are pumped to be back here at home with our crowd to get rolling," Quinn said Wednesday. "We've worked in some areas over the last few weeks and we'll continue to do that: that's our third downs and our red zone."

      During the tough road stretch, the Falcons dropped games at New England and at Carolina. They posted road wins at the New York Jets and Seattle. They had a big home-win over Dallas on Nov. 12.

      "It will be a great environment come Sunday and we can't wait to feed off the fans' energy," Quinn said. "We'll bring the juice as well."

      For the season, the Falcons have converted on 52 of 117 third downs (44.4 percent), which ranks sixth in the league. Carolina is tops in the league at 46.85 percent.

      "The ability to convert on third down, the byproduct is you get more plays," Quinn said. "Now, there's more run opportunities, more play-action, so having more chances is, I think, a byproduct of playing better on third down ... we feel like we can still make big gains in that area."

      Quinn wants the offense to know that Tampa Bay has an opportunistic defense. The Bucs give up 383.5 yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league. They are a plus-5 in turnover ratio, which is ninth in the league.

      "I've always felt that when you play in their system it starts with the rush, and the get-off, and (defensive tackle Gerald) McCoy's at the very front of that," Quinn said. "His ability to jump off the ball as an inside rusher is really unique. He's got the size of a big guy, but the quickness of a smaller man so he can beat somebody to the punch. He can be disruptive."

      SERIES HISTORY: 48th regular-season meeting. Bucs lead series, 24-23. The Falcons split the series with the Bucs last season. The Bucs won in Atlanta last season defeating the Falcons 31-24 on Sept. 11, 2016. The Falcons defeated the Bucs 43-28 on Nov. 3.

      --Cornerback Jalen Collins, who was released after serving his 10-game suspension, cleared waivers on Wednesday. He is now a free agent and can sign with any team.

      Collins was able to return to practice this week after serving the lengthy suspension for his second violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy.

      Collins' suspension was announced during training camp in early August. Before his suspension was announced, when the Falcons knew the upcoming penalty, Collins worked with the third-team defense.

      Collins, who was suspended without pay, was taken in the second round by the Falcons in the 2015 draft. He played in 24 games with eight starts over two seasons. Last season, he recorded two interceptions and 31 total tackles -- 28 solo, and 10 passes defensed.

      The play of the secondary was a factor in the decision to waive Collins, head coach Dan Quinn said.

      "We made the best decision for the team," Quinn said. "We went through the whole process. We wanted to make sure that we took all the time that we needed."

      Upon returning from Seattle, Quinn met with general manager Thomas Dimitroff over Collins' status. In addition to the 10-game suspension, Collins was suspended for four games at the outset of the 2016 season.

      "Thomas and I stated back in August that we were going to take all of the time and we certainly did to make that decisions," Quinn said. "That was in the best interest of the team in this situation and that's what we decided to do."

      The Falcons have five cornerbacks in the roster.

      "That's what we decided to do and we knew that we had all the time to do that," Quinn said. "We thought we'd gather all of the info that we wanted. But at the end of the day we always want to do what's right for the team. At this point, that was the best decision for us."

      Starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are playing well along with nickel back Brian Poole. Fourth cornerback C.J. Goodwin is starting to play in some dime situations and they also have Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who has been inactive for six games.

      Goodwin played 13 defensive snaps (18 percent) against Seattle.

      "For us, we didn't feel that it was necessary for us to make any additional moves in that regard," Quinn said. "We are happy with the guys in terms on how they are competing and battling for it. That's why we felt it was in the best interest for the team to keep playing like we are."

      --Falcons guards Andy Levite and Wes Schweitzer will have their hands full with Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Both of Atlanta's guards, Schweitzer (28.3) and Levitre (38.1), earned their lowest game grades of the season against Seattle, according to profootballfocus.com.

      Schweitzer, who plays right guard, was beaten four times in pass protection and gave up four tackles on runs (one for a loss). Levitre, the left guard, was beaten three times in pass protection and gave up two tackles (one for loss) and he had a false-start penalty.

      Schweitzer was beaten on a key third down in the fourth quarter for a sack by Sheldon Richardson, that forced the Falcons to punt the ball back to the Seahawks.

      NOTES: LB Duke Riley (knee) fully participated in practice on Wednesday. ... P Matt Bosher (left groin) and T Ty Sambrailo (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday. ... WR Julio Jones (ankle/knee), LG Andy Levitre (knee), C Alex Mack (shoulder) and DT Dontario Poe (hips) were limited in practice on Wednesday. ... RB Devonta Freeman (concussion) remains in the league's protocol.

  • 49ers claim DE Marsh off waivers
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    The San Francisco 49ers claimed defensive end Cassius Marsh off waivers Wednesday.

    • Marsh was waived Tuesday by the New England Patriots, who surrendered fifth- and seventh-round picks to acquire him from the Seattle Seahawks in September.

      The 25-year-old recorded 19 tackles and one sack in nine games this season with New England. He has 74 tackles and four sacks in 46 career contests with the Seahawks and Patriots.

      Marsh is the second defensive lineman that the 49ers selected off the waiver wire this week. San Francisco claimed defensive tackle Sheldon Day off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday before releasing defensive end Datone Jones the following day.

  • Steelers LB Watt meets team he wanted to join
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was just after 10 p.m. on April 27.

    • The Green Bay Packers, desperate for a young pass rusher, were on the clock with the 29th pick in the 2017 Draft. The top remaining rusher just happened to grow up two hours from Lambeau Field, starred at the University of Wisconsin and came from impeccable bloodlines.

      As Pewaukee's T.J. Watt waited and watched, the ex-Badger star and lifelong Packers fan had one overriding thought.

      "I thought it was a legitimate possibility that I could go to Green Bay," Watt said Wednesday afternoon. "But they didn't want me."

      No they didn't.

      Packers' general manager Ted Thompson traded out of the first round instead of choosing Watt at No. 29. Thompson received picks No. 33 and 108 from Cleveland and used those selections on cornerback Kevin King and outside linebacker Vince Biegel.

      The Browns used the 29th pick on tight end David Njoku, who has been a bit player, at best, in his rookie season. Pittsburgh then used the 30th overall selection on Watt, who is in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

      Watt has played in nine games and has four sacks, one interception, 33 tackles and five passes defensed. On the flip side, King has had an up-and-down, injury-plagued rookie season, while Biegel has seven tackles in just three games.

      When Green Bay travels to Pittsburgh Sunday night, Thompson will get a first-hand look at the player he could have selected, but instead chose to run away from.

      "You know, he's a very low-maintenance young guy," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of Watt. "He learns lessons extremely quickly. He's a guy who's capable of learning from others' mistakes. He himself doesn't make mistakes twice. He's diligent, he's attentive. He's a note taker, he's very professional in his approach. I think all of those things set him up for the consistency in the play we're getting."

      Watt played just one full year at outside linebacker at Wisconsin and went wild with 11.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and 63 tackles. Watt then decided to join brothers J.J. and Derek in the NFL and left Wisconsin after his memorable junior season.

      Watt (6-foot-4, 252) was bigger than Clay Matthews (6-foot-3, 240) was coming out of USC in 2009. Watt also has slightly larger arms (33 1/8 inches vs. 32 1/4 inches) and substantially bigger hands (11 inches vs. 9 1/2 inches) than Matthews.

      Matthews edged Watt in bench-press reps (23-21) and 40-yard dash time (4.67 vs. 4.69), but Watt held the edge in the three-cone drill (6.79 seconds vs. 6.90), the 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds vs. 4.18), the vertical jump (37 inches vs. 35.5) and the broad jump (128.0 inches vs. 121.0).

      For whatever reason, though, Thompson went in a different direction on draft night.

      "I didn't have high expectations or I didn't really care where I ended up in the draft," Watt said. "I just wanted to end up with a good team and a great fit and I'm glad that I ended up here in Pittsburgh."

      The Steelers are awfully glad, too.

      Watt had seven tackles, two sacks and an interception in his first-ever NFL start. And he hasn't slowed down since.

      Today, Watt is a major reason Pittsburgh ranks No. 4 in total defense, No. 3 against the pass and No. 2 in scoring defense (16.5).

      "T.J. Watt, he's having a heck of a year," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a perfect fit for the scheme; great motor, he plays the run well. Plays very good discipline, I've been very impressed with that as far as being acclimated to their scheme and what they're asking him to do. He's a fine, fine football player."

      Green Bay, on the other hand, still doesn't have a firm grasp of what it has with King and Biegel.

      King leads Green Bay with seven passes defensed, but doesn't have an interception, a fumble recovery or a forced fumble. Biegel missed the first seven games of the year after undergoing offseason foot surgery, and has begun playing more snaps from scrimmage in recent weeks.

      But both King and Biegel have a lot to prove. And seven months after Thompson traded back and passed on Watt, it appears that decision has harmed a defense that desperately needed a Pro-Bowl caliber player.

      "I just feel like I came into this whole process with a professional approach and I just wanted to be the best player I could be and let my play do the talking for me," Watt said.

      So far, so good for Watt and the Steelers. In Green Bay, it's been a different story.

      SERIES HISTORY: 34th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 18-15, and defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

      --Outside linebacker Clay Matthews suffered a groin injury against Baltimore, and might be a game-time decision Sunday. Matthews did not participate in Wednesday's practice.

      "I feel good," Matthews said. "I still have some obstacles to overcome, dealing with the groin. Mike does a good job, and I feel like we have a good relationship. He'll probably allow me to take it all the way up to the game time. It's one of those things that we may not want to push it as well and set myself back. I can't give you a realistic answer, but we'll probably take it up to the game."

      --Rookie running back Devante Mays had one of the most inauspicious debuts in recent memory. Mays fumbled on the first two carries of his career last week against Baltimore. On the first fumble, Mays said he didn't know the play and was expecting a handoff instead of a toss.

      "The first time, it was just not knowing the play, really, what the play was," Mays said. "It was just everything wasn't right on that, and then second time it was just my fault. I've just got to put two hands on the ball, and I know that it's my job to take care of the ball. Just got to do a better job at that."

      --Wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been largely invisible the last four games, with only eight catches for 92 yards. But Nelson insists he hasn't gotten frustrated with his reduced role in the offense.

      "I've never put my game or how I play on my stats," he said. "I've never set goals to get so many yards because I know, in our position as receivers, you can only control so much. That's what I'm worried about is what I can control and that's how I'm running my routes, how I'm doing my assignments, what the coaches are seeing, if they're coaching me up and I need to improve those things and continue to grow in the others.

      "You want to be a part of it more, but you have no control over it. Again, I don't want to sit here and say (Brett Hundley) needs to throw me the ball because that's definitely not the case. I'm going to do my job, they're going to do theirs. If we continue to do that and be more consistent in everyone doing that, we'll be successful."

      NOTES: SS Morgan Burnett (groin), who has missed the last two games and four of the past five, was back at practice. ... DT Kenny Clark (ankle) and RB Ty Montgomery (ribs) did not practice.

  • Steelers' run defense has improved
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- Since allowing 231 rushing yards to the Jaguars on Oct. 8, the Pittsburgh Steelers have tightened up against the run.

    • The past five opponents have rushed for a combined total of 293 yards for an average of 58.7 rushing yards per game.

      "Honestly, everyone was really (ticked) off about those two games against the Jaguars and the Bears," said linebacker Ryan Shazier, who noted the 220 yards the Bears gained against the Steelers in the third game of the season. "We've really been tidying up on everything. We're not really trying to let anyone run on us. We're forcing them to be in a situation they don't really want to be in."

      The recent five-game streak started against Kansas City's Kareem Hunt, who at the time led the NFL in rushing. The Steelers held Hunt to 21 yards on the ground.

      "When we ended up beating the Chiefs that helped us out a lot and built some confidence," Shazier said. "I think everyone understood what we could do. That helped push the movement forward."

      The game against the Titans last week was the perfect example of what stopping the run can do for a defense. The Steelers held the Titans to 52 rushing yards and forced Marcus Mariota into obvious passing situations. Mariota threw four interceptions, and the Steelers won the game going away, 40-17.

      "You have to be able to stop the run to accomplish some of your goals," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "We have to be consistent with it. It just can't be a five-game streak of doing it. You have to do it throughout the entire year."