DeCastro, Haden inactive for Steelers vs. Chiefs

DeCastro, Haden inactive for Steelers vs. Chiefs

Offensive guard David DeCastro and cornerback Joe Haden are inactive for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

DeCastro fractured his hand at Cleveland in Week 1 and admitted the injury is more severe than he initially sensed while playing all but two snaps against the Browns.

Haden was limited by a hamstring injury last week. The team’s top cornerback would likely have been assigned Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s blazing deep threat.

–Field Level Media

Browns rookie Baker Mayfield replaces Taylor in first half

CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield is off the bench and making his NFL debut.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft replaced injured starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first half of Thursday night's game against the New York Jets. Taylor was slow getting up after being sacked for the

CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield is off the bench and making his NFL debut.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft replaced injured starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first half of Thursday night’s game against the New York Jets. Taylor was slow getting up after being sacked for the third time and after being evaluated in the medical tent, was taken to the locker room for treatment.

The Browns say Taylor is being evaluated for a concussion.

Mayfield completed a 14-yard pass on his first throw and then fired 17-yarder on his second as Browns fans roared.

The Heisman Trophy winner’s first drive — he went 3 of 4 for 47 yards — ended with rookie Greg Joseph kicking a 45-yard field goal to pull with the Browns within 14-3.

Cleveland’s plan was to have Mayfield sit and learn this season behind Taylor, but the injury could change things dramatically.

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Bill Belichick has chance to beat another former assistant

DETROIT (AP) — Bill Belichick has a chance to knock off another branch from his coaching tree.

The five-time Super Bowl-winning coach has had his staff trimmed by NFL teams many times.

They all hired coaches who know how Belichick and the New England Patriots operate behind closed doors, banking on them being

DETROIT (AP) — Bill Belichick has a chance to knock off another branch from his coaching tree.

The five-time Super Bowl-winning coach has had his staff trimmed by NFL teams many times.

They all hired coaches who know how Belichick and the New England Patriots operate behind closed doors, banking on them being able to duplicate the formula for success.

It hasn’t worked out that well.

Eight former Belichick assistants have been hired by NFL teams and Al Groh is the only one in the group with a winning record. Groh was 9-7 in his one and only season with the New York Jets in 2000.

Belichick either does not know, or will not say, why he thinks his former assistants have struggled leading teams in the league.

“I’m not in the analytics business,” he bristled.

The track record of Belichick assistants did not deter Detroit because general manager Bob Quinn, a former member of Belichick’s front office, hired Matt Patricia soon after New England lost the Super Bowl.

If the Belichick-Patricia reunion goes as expected, it will follow a trend and teacher will school the student Sunday night in Detroit.

Belichick beat the Bill O’Brien-led Houston Texans in Week 1, making him 14-8 against assistants who worked for him in New England or Cleveland.

Even though the Patriots (1-1) are scuffling a bit on both sides of the ball by their standards, the Lions (0-2) have looked simply lost at times under Patricia and they’re expected to lose by about a touchdown.

Before and after the game, there’s a chance Patricia will be embraced more by his former players than his current ones.

“Matty P, he’s a coach who always had high expectations,” New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower said.

“But at the same time, he was definitely a player’s coach. He was definitely somebody who, once you get outside those doors, he was a guy who you could text or call and had a question — not even necessarily about football — but just life in general.”

And in general, Patricia deflects questions just as his mentor does in public. Patricia has no interest in sharing what parts of his scheme with the Lions mirrors what was done in New England.

“We’re trying to build Detroit here,” he said.

And, Belichick refused to say how much he has kept in touch with Patricia over the past several months.

“I’ll keep that on a personal level,” he said.

Here are some other things to know about the Patriots-Lions primetime matchup:

NEW ADDITION

Josh Gordon was limited because of a hamstring injury in his first two practices in New England on Wednesday after being acquired in a trade with the Browns.

Since Gordon was an All-Pro wide receiver in 2013, he has played in just 11 games, including one this season. Gordon was suspended for the 2015 season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy and he missed all of 2016.

“If he makes plays on us, everybody is going to say Josh Gordon looks real fresh out there,” Detroit safety Glover Quin said. “If we make a lot of plays everyone is going to say Josh Gordon looks real rusty.”

New England needs help at receiver because Julian Edelman was suspended for the first four games, Danny Amendola left to sign in Miami and Brandin Cooks was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.

GOING DEEP

Matthew Stafford has made a career of connecting on deep passes. In last week’s 30-27 loss at San Francisco, though, he missed a handful of opportunities to make big plays by overthrowing receivers.

The Patriots are preparing for Stafford to be sharp.

“He’s a good quarterback. He can get it going,” New England linebacker Elandon Roberts said. “He can throw. He’s very athletic. He can get out of the pocket and he’s still gonna be looking downfield to make a play.”

BOUNCING BACK

The Patriots, who lost 31-20 at Jacksonville last week, are 45-6 in the regular season after a setback since the 2003 season. They have not lost consecutive games since 2015 when it happened twice.

WHO’S COUNTING

Detroit drafted Michael Roberts in the fourth round last year in part because the former Toledo star led the nation in touchdowns by a tight end with 16. He finally scored for his first NFL touchdown against the 49ers in the 17th game of his career.

Roberts said it had been exactly, “638 days,” since he was in the end zone with the ball.

“It’s nice to be able to show the world the talents I have,” he said.

CONCUSSIONS

Three key players may miss the game because of concussions: Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, New England defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung. All three players did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

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Phillips, Rams look to extend scoreless streak vs. Rivers

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips found a box of doughnuts at his desk on Monday morning as a reward for shutting out Arizona 34-0.

The treats have become a tradition for Phillips when his defense keeps the opposition scoreless, one that has even extended to West

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips found a box of doughnuts at his desk on Monday morning as a reward for shutting out Arizona 34-0.

The treats have become a tradition for Phillips when his defense keeps the opposition scoreless, one that has even extended to West Sioux High School in Hawarden, Iowa, as the Falcons let Phillips know on Twitter this week after their varsity and junior varsity teams each recorded shutouts.

Earning another box of doughnuts this week will be a much more difficult task when the Rams host quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers on Sunday.

Phillips was the defensive coordinator in San Diego when the Chargers drafted Rivers in 2004. Now in his 14th season starting for the Chargers, Rivers is the same savvy player Phillips remembers working with in the Senior Bowl at the start of the evaluation process.

“You can’t fool him,” Phillips said Thursday. “He’s going to know what you are in, and that’s where he excels over most quarterbacks and makes him an elite quarterback.

“Any kind of blitz you run, he’ll audible to the right protection, all those things. He basically throws to the weakness of the defense on every play. He’s been doing that for a long time and he continues to do that.”

Rivers’ understanding of defenses negates some of the advantage Phillips’ tactical acumen provides and puts more pressure on Rams players to win their one-on-one matchups.

Phillips hopes his defensive front can take advantage of a Chargers offensive line that will be without right tackle Joe Barksdale because of a knee injury, allowing the secondary to keep Rivers, who has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 680 yards and six touchdowns with one interception, in check.

While the defensive line of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers have combined for one sack through two games, Phillips is largely pleased with how they are performing.

Phillips said the trio is creating pressure, but Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford and Oakland’s Derek Carr were effective in throwing the ball quickly to prevent sacks.

Phillips is also getting contributions from outside linebackers Samson Ebukam, Dominique Easley and Matt Longacre. Ebukam brought down Bradford for the Rams’ second sack of the season, and Easley drew a holding penalty.

Knowing that Rivers will be more willing to test the Rams with a vertical passing game than their first two opponents, Phillips hopes his pass rush will be able to impose themselves more forcefully.

“He’s like every quarterback that gets a lot of pressure, it’s going to be tougher for him,” Phillips said. “Sometimes those windows are down the field and take some time. If we get in the right defenses where he has to throw down the field and we get some pressure, then it’s an advantage for us.”

The Rams had the edge against Arizona, limiting them to 137 yards and five first downs. The defense has not allowed a point in six consecutive quarters, but Brockers said the streak has not been a factor in their performance.

“We haven’t really focused on the ‘oh man, let’s keep them scoreless,'” Brockers said. “We just going out there to execute. If we execute the calls, coaches feel like they should get anything, and that’s what’s been happening.”

Instead, Phillips believes the quality of Rivers and the Chargers offense has been the best motivation for the Rams this week.

“I think them having such a prolific offense, it’s not as hard to say ‘these guys can really play’ because you can see it on the film,” Phillips said. “That challenge for good players and guys that want to be good players, they want to play against somebody that is a challenge. And this is going to be a huge challenge.”

If it leads to more doughnuts, Phillips will take it.

“They’re hard to come by, those zeros in this league are hard to come by,” Phillips said. “I haven’t had very many in my career, and I’ve had a long career. It’s an accomplishment, no matter who you are playing, to hold somebody to zero in this league.”

NOTES: C John Sullivan (ankle) did not practice, and Brockers (shoulder) was limited. However, coach Sean McVay expects both Sullivan and Brockers to play this week. “It’s more just maintenance with these guys,” McVay said.

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Vikings’ Zimmer: Ref said NFL wants more flags

Vikings' Zimmer: Ref said NFL wants more flags

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer maintains that a referee told one of the Minnesota players last week that a penalty was called merely because of the NFL's desire "for us to throw the flag."

Speaking Thursday on KFAN's "X's and O's," according to

Vikings’ Zimmer: Ref said NFL wants more flags

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer maintains that a referee told one of the Minnesota players last week that a penalty was called merely because of the NFL’s desire “for us to throw the flag.”

Speaking Thursday on KFAN’s “X’s and O’s,” according to ESPN.com, Zimmer said the league’s new emphasis on flagging dangerous hits caused a questionable call Sunday against Andrew Sendejo. The Vikings safety was penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver after a third-quarter tackle on Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams.

Adams caught a pass and was hit by cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Sendejo came in to assist as Adams lowered his head, and Sendejo’s helmet struck the side of Adams’ helmet.

“It’s very difficult for a defender — really playing defense, nowadays,” Zimmer told KFAN. “(Sendejo) said (to the ref), ‘What could I have done different?’ (The ref) said, ‘You did everything right. You couldn’t have done anything different. They just want us to throw the flag.’ ”

Zimmer added that he only learned of the exchange a day after the Vikings and Packers played to a 29-29 tie.

The coach asked the NFL for its interpretation of the play but said he had yet to receive a response as of Thursday. NFL spokesman Michael Signora told ESPN that the league would have no comment on the situation.

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Bucs ready to showcase potent offense against Steelers

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — So much for struggling without Jameis Winston.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not only thriving in the suspended quarterback's absence, they're evolving into an offensive juggernaut that's set to perform on a national stage when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit Monday night.

Thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick and a talented collection

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — So much for struggling without Jameis Winston.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not only thriving in the suspended quarterback’s absence, they’re evolving into an offensive juggernaut that’s set to perform on a national stage when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit Monday night.

Thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick and a talented collection of playmakers that include DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, the Bucs (2-0) are off to their best start in eight years and have the NFL’s top-ranked offense.

The Steelers (0-1-1) are not far behind at No. 2, however inconsistency on defense has Ben Roethlisberger and Co. winless through two weeks.

“I respect what they’ve done. I’m not so sure I’m surprised,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Tampa Bay’s emergence with wins against the New Orleans Saints and the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

They’ve done it with Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-old journeyman who has thrown TD passes for seven NFL franchises, delivering the best two games of his career.

“Man, he’s got some explosive weapons. He’s stepping in for Winston, but Fitz is not a step-in guy. This guy has started in multiple cities,” Tomlin said.

“We’ve seen him extensively in Cincinnati and Buffalo. He’s a smart guy, Ivy League-educated, always made good decisions. That’s why he’s been able to sustain himself and play for the length of time that he’s played.”

What once looked as if it might be a potentially disastrous stretch to open the season with Winston suspended three games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy suddenly is an opportunity for the team’s first 3-0 start since 2005.

Very encouraging for a franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons, the second-longest drought in the league behind the Cleveland Browns (15).

Fitzpatrick believes he’s playing the best football of his career.

“But, I mean, it’s early. Consistency is the biggest thing,” the 14th-year pro said. “Trying to stay consistent with a high level of performance and just continue to try to win games.”

As well as things are coming together for the Bucs, though, it’s been rocky times for the struggling Steelers, off to their worst start in five years.

Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell has not reported to the team and signed his one-year franchise tender

And star receiver Antonio Brown made headlines after shouting at offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline last week and then responding to criticism on social media from a former team employee by suggesting the team trade him if it wants to find out how productive he can be without Roethlisberger.

Tomlin, however, isn’t flinching.

“We are two weeks in. We do not have a large body of work. We are focused on winning this next opportunity,” the coach said.

“I am not ready to paint with a broad brush … in terms of where our football team is or what is going to define this group.”

Some things to know about the Steelers and Buccaneers:

JUJU ON THAT BEAT

All the self-created melodrama surrounding Brown has overshadowed another significant development for Pittsburgh’s offense: the continued rise of second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The 21-year-old came on strong over the second half of his rookie season in 2017 and has picked up right where he left off. Smith-Schuster is tied for Brown for the team lead in receptions (18) and his 240 yards receiving ranks fifth in the league.

“He just has a great knack and feel for the game, knowing when to sit down in zone, knowing when to move in man,” Roethlisberger said.

“He uses his body and size at times, so I think he’s really studied the game, and studied his game and has really gotten better.”

RING OF HONOR

Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as a player with the Steelers and later transformed Tampa Bay from a laughingstock into a championship contender as a coach, will be inducted into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony.

He joins Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Paul Gruber, coaches John McKay and Jon Gruden and late owner Malcolm Glazer as members of the ring.

NOT HERE TO TALK ABOUT THE PAST

The Steelers have made it a habit of stubbing their toe early in the season only to find their groove at midseason and reach the playoffs each of the past four years. Not that their resiliency has provided them any sort of comfort facing the club’s worst start since 2013.

“It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I’m not worried about what we’ve done two years ago, a year ago. Worry about what we’ve got to do now, the present. Be in this moment. Understand we made some mistakes. Now we’ve got to correct it.”

FLAG DAY

Defensive breakdowns and Brown’s behavior aren’t Pittsburgh’s only problems. The Steelers have hurt themselves under an avalanche of penalty yards.

Pittsburgh has been flagged 24 times for an NFL-high 206 yards in penalties through two weeks.

Tomlin described the issues as “popcorn,” meaning they’re coming from all over the place. If there’s a bright side for the Steelers, it’s that they’ve found a way to clean things up as the season progresses.

A year ago they were called for 23 penalties through two games and finished with the ninth-fewest penalty yards in the league.

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AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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Saints working to diversify Brees’ passing options

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton preaches the importance of self-scouting to avoid predictable patterns.

That could be one reason why he doesn't expect quarterback Drew Brees to keep throwing to receiver Michael Thomas quite as often as he has through the season's first two weeks, when Thomas has racked up

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton preaches the importance of self-scouting to avoid predictable patterns.

That could be one reason why he doesn’t expect quarterback Drew Brees to keep throwing to receiver Michael Thomas quite as often as he has through the season’s first two weeks, when Thomas has racked up more receptions than the rest of New Orleans’ receivers and tight ends combined.

“Part of it is just, here we are, two weeks in,” began Payton, whose team visits Atlanta on Sunday.

“I think that you’re going to see those numbers change some. And I think historically, offensively with Drew, a lot of different guys have been involved in the passing game — and I think that will be the same case this year.”

Thomas has 28 catches, the most of any NFL receiver in the first two weeks of a season, surpassing Andre Rison’s 26 in 1994 with the Falcons.

Running back Alvin Kamara is second in catches with 15, but many of his receptions are short ones out of the backfield that essentially substitute for running plays.

Among more conventional receiving targets, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has nine catches, tight end Ben Watson has seven, and no one else has more than two.

When asked about his heavy reliance on Thomas in the passing game, Brees downplayed it as more of a short-term phenomenon than a developing trend.

“For one reason or another, I know he’s caught a lot of balls the last two weeks. He’s gotten open. He’s done a great job with that. His number’s been called,” Brees said.

“It’s probably the combination of a lot of things, but I feel like we’ve got other guys that can do it, too. It’s just a matter of what the defense is going to give us.

“I’m going to throw it to the open guy — move the chains, score points.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn also struggled to envision the rate of Thomas’ targets remaining as high as it has been through two games.

“Let’s face it. They’re equipped to attack in a lot of different ways,” Quinn asserted this week. “Michael right now is on his game, but by no stretch have we said ‘OK, it’s just these players.’ … We know they’ve got a big stable of guys that can make plays in a lot of ways, but we have been very impressed by Michael and his start.”

New Orleans made a pair of offseason moves aimed at providing Brees more options, signing Bears 2016 receiving leader Cameron Meredith as a restricted free agent and drafting former Central Florida receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the third round last spring.

But judging those moves could take time.

Smith has been in the game plan, but rookies sometimes take time to develop chemistry with veteran QBs. He had one catch for 18 yards in a victory over Cleveland and no catches in a Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay.

“He has not received a ton of opportunities, but I think as the season progresses his opportunities will come,” Brees said. “He can be a big part of what we do down the road.”

Smith said his daily goal is to win Brees’ trust and he does not sound disillusioned by the relatively slow start to his career.

“You’ve got to be a team player,” Smith said. “If they’re not going to cover (Thomas), keep going to him.

“If Mike has all the yards and all the touchdowns, but we’re winning, that’s totally fine,” Smith said. “I’m sure teams are going to be zeroing in on Mike, but that’s when other receivers have got to step up. We’ve got to be ready.”

Meredith, meanwhile, is trying to come back from torn knee ligaments that wiped out his 2017 season. He said trainers and doctors urged caution during training camp, thereby limiting his opportunities to practice with the first-team offense.

He was scratched from the lineup in Weeks 1 and 2, but with Ginn limited in practice with knee soreness this week, Meredith has been getting work with the first-team offense and appears primed to make his Saints debut in Atlanta.

“It’s hard. It’s an everyday battle. This process is new to me, so whatever the trainers and the doctors say is best, we had to go with that,” Meredith said.

“But at the same time, I’ve been getting better day by day, getting my rhythm back. And those are all important things — not just the health part, but getting in rhythm with the offense.

“I feel good and I’m excited to go out there and make some plays this weekend.”

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Browns missing starting LB Kirksey for matchup with Jets

CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns starting linebacker Christian Kirksey will sit out Thursday night's game against the New York Jets with an ankle injury.

One of Cleveland's captains, Kirksey also missed last week's game at New Orleans, the first time he sat out a game in his NFL career after playing in 65 straight.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns starting linebacker Christian Kirksey will sit out Thursday night’s game against the New York Jets with an ankle injury.

One of Cleveland’s captains, Kirksey also missed last week’s game at New Orleans, the first time he sat out a game in his NFL career after playing in 65 straight. James Burgess will start for Kirksey as the Browns try to snap a 19-game winless streak.

New York starting safety Marcus Maye is sitting out with a foot injury. He’ll be replaced by Doug Middleton, who has 11 tackles after two games.

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry will play. He had been listed as questionable with a knee injury. Landry leads the team with 12 catches for 175 yards.

The Jets are also without outside linebacker Josh Martin and tight end Neal Sterling due to concussions. Martin has not played since getting hurt in the Jets’ third preseason game. Sterling was injured last Sunday against Miami.

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Rivers, Goff take center stage for Battle of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Football fans haven't seen two Los Angeles NFL teams go head to head since 1994.

The quarterback matchup awaiting them this Sunday could make it worth the long wait.

The Chargers' Philip Rivers and the Rams' Jared Goff will be front and center at the LA Memorial Coliseum.

Rivers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Football fans haven’t seen two Los Angeles NFL teams go head to head since 1994.

The quarterback matchup awaiting them this Sunday could make it worth the long wait.

The Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Rams’ Jared Goff will be front and center at the LA Memorial Coliseum.

Rivers has seen this plotline before — an experienced veteran facing an emerging star — which is why he hasn’t dwelled much on the matchup.

“Shoot, I’ve got enough to worry about just trying to score points. I imagine it will be a heck of a game,” said Rivers, who will make his 196th consecutive start Sunday.

Rivers and Goff are at the helm of two of the league’s more prolific offenses. The Chargers (1-1) are second in the league in completions over 20 yards since the start of last season with 72, while the unbeaten Rams (2-0) are sixth with 67.

Goff is second in average yards per attempt among QBs with 10 or more starts (8.10) while Rivers is third (7.96).

They also have nearly identical passer ratings, with Goff’s 100.7 just edging Rivers’ 98.8.

“To me, what seems to stick out is what a comfort level he has in that offense, and being in a good flow,” Rivers said of Goff. “They’re doing a lot of things to move him around in games. You’ve seen that keeps him on the move. He’s one of the young guys that you imagine is going to be around a long time.”

Goff is unbeaten in five starts against AFC teams and has won six of his last seven regular-season starts with a 103.3 passer rating, 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. There are still some who wonder, though, if his success should be attributed to him or coach Sean McVay’s system.

Some quarterbacks might take offense at being called a system quarterback, but Goff has embraced it.

“Yeah, I’ll be a product of the system if we win games, as much as I want. We just continue to go out there and keep playing, keep putting up 30 points and call me whatever you want,” he said. “I feel like I’m just continuing to develop and continuing to get better.”

Rivers has also been playing at a high level. He is one of three quarterbacks to have over 600 passing yards (680) and six or more touchdowns (six) this season. He also has thrown three or more touchdown passes in his last three starts.

Goff and Rivers may be sharing the same city, but Goff made it sound like they have rarely talked. Goff did say that the majority of his childhood was spent watching Rivers’ career.

“He’s a guy I’ve tried to steal things from, for sure. The way he plays the game and the way he works. I’ve heard nothing but great things from people who’ve played with him,” Goff said.

Both quarterbacks face challenges this week from the opposing defenses. The Rams have allowed only one touchdown in the first two games and haven’t surrendered a point over the past six quarters. They also possess one of the top pass rushes in the league featuring defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald.

Rivers is one of the quicker passers in the NFL. According to the league’s next gen stats, he is averaging 2.6 seconds to throw since last season, which is below the average of 2.7 seconds. Goff is averaging 2.93 seconds, which is the third-longest in the league.

Rivers said the challenge this week will be making sure his receivers have time to separate in coverage because the Rams are mainly playing man coverage.

“It’s not going to be those quick, gimme throws that you find in some defenses where you just catch it and throw little spot routes,” he said. “It’s going to be winning one-on-one matchups — outside, inside — and me making good decisions.”

The Chargers’ pass rush remains inconsistent with defensive tackle Joey Bosa out with a foot injury, but they do have a formidable secondary in safety Derwin James and cornerback Casey Hayward.

Rams pass game coordinator Shane Waldron said one of Goff’s strengths is his field vision.

“It’s great to have a quarterback that’s able to improvise or if someone does come free out of the normal rhythm of the play, he’s able to find them,” he said.

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Falcons’ Julio Jones misses practice, says he’s good to play

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones says he's "good" to play against New Orleans on Sunday despite missing his second day of practice with tightness in his calf.

Jones says his absence from practice on Thursday was "just precaution." He says he "felt some tightness" in last week's

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones says he’s “good” to play against New Orleans on Sunday despite missing his second day of practice with tightness in his calf.

Jones says his absence from practice on Thursday was “just precaution.” He says he “felt some tightness” in last week’s 31-24 win over Carolina.

The Falcons also held out running back Devonta Freeman (sore right knee), linebacker Corey Nelson (calf) and defensive ends Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby, who have groin injuries. Nelson was hurt in Wednesday’s practice.

Freeman did not play in the win over Carolina.

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Cowboys showing rare signs of being defined by defense first

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Sean Lee wants more time to decide if this is the best chance the Dallas Cowboys have to be defined by their defense in the linebacker's eight years with the club.

There's no question about the answer through two weeks.

The Cowboys (1-1) are fourth in the NFL in

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Sean Lee wants more time to decide if this is the best chance the Dallas Cowboys have to be defined by their defense in the linebacker’s eight years with the club.

There’s no question about the answer through two weeks.

The Cowboys (1-1) are fourth in the NFL in total defense, with a loss to Carolina that could have been a blowout and a win over the New York Giants that wasn’t nearly as close as the seven-point margin.

In both cases, it was thanks to a defense that is delivering on preseason hopes of being a difference-making unit.

“I think we’re starting to show the type of defense we can be,” Lee said Thursday. “It’s still early in the season. Still room to improve. Still a case we can cause and make more turnovers. But we’re around the football. We’re making plays. We’re keeping points down, yards down.”

Dallas is tied for second behind Chicago with nine sacks after bringing down Eli Manning six times.

The Cowboys visit Seattle on Sunday, and the Seahawks have allowed six sacks of Russell Wilson each of the first two games.

DeMarcus Lawrence, who finished tied for second in the NFL with 14½ sacks last season and ended up with the $17.1 million franchise tag, has a sack in each of the first two games. Three fellow defensive linemen had a sack apiece against the Giants.

For that and other reasons, Rod Marinelli is comfortable saying the Dallas defense has the most upside in his five seasons as defensive coordinator.

“I just think we’ve gotten better every year,” Marinelli said.

“We’ve improved and our talent level has gotten a little bit better. I know we’re fast. We’re really fast. Now we’ve just got to direct our speed.”

For years, talk of the Cowboys surrounded the offensive stars: quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and receiver Dez Bryant.

With all three gone within the past two years, the buzz drifted to the sensational 2016 rookie pairing of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

But the offense is in transition, with Prescott getting used to a revamped group of receivers following the retirement of Witten and release of Bryant in the offseason.

The Cowboys cruised against the Giants anyway, despite Elliott falling short of 100 yards rushing for the second straight week (78) and Prescott throwing for fewer than 200 yards for the eighth time in 10 games going back to last season.

“It’s great when you see the defense going out there and doing what they’re doing,” Prescott said. “That gives the team a lot of confidence and the way they’re playing allows us to want to go out there and do the same.”

Lee is nursing a sore hamstring that sidelined him late against the Giants. The Cowboys are calling his limited approach in practice this week precautionary. But Dallas is also in a different place with its linebackers.

Jaylon Smith is starting to show the promise of his days at Notre Dame before a devastating knee injury in his final game with the Irish.

He leads the Cowboys with 16 tackles. Smith’s emergence is allowing Dallas to bring rookie first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch along slowly.

The Cowboys like free agent pickup Joe Thomas, and fourth-year pro Damien Wilson forced a fumble on a sack of Manning.

“Feel good about that group right now,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Obviously Sean’s the leader. He’s the leader of our defense. He’s a great, great football player. But depth is important on your team.”

As Lee mentioned, turnovers are lacking so far. The Cowboys have recovered two fumbles, but don’t have an interception.

Still, they’ve been pleased with 2015 first-rounder Byron Jones making the switch back to cornerback. Chidobe Awuzie has been solid on the other side.

“We’re very confident, not only in our ability but in our system and our coaching,” safety Jeff Heath said.

“I just think we have the combination of guys to work really well together. We play for each other. I think you’ve been able to see some of the fruits of that.”

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Dalton, Bengals look to stay unbeaten against Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Bengals have their offense revving in high gear.

Cincinnati has put up 34 points in back-to-back games to open the season, although quarterback Andy Dalton said they haven't played a perfect game.

"We left some stuff out there," Dalton said. "We can definitely improve and get better. (But)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Bengals have their offense revving in high gear.

Cincinnati has put up 34 points in back-to-back games to open the season, although quarterback Andy Dalton said they haven’t played a perfect game.

“We left some stuff out there,” Dalton said. “We can definitely improve and get better. (But) if we’re saying that and scoring 34 points, that’s a good thing.”

Dalton and the Bengals will look to fix those “little things” and start 3-0 for the fifth time in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons when they visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The Panthers are coming off an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance in a 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, prompting coach Ron Rivera to say he wouldn’t tolerate laziness on defense .

The big change from last year’s 0-3 start for the Bengals has been up front.

The offensive line was a mess last season, the main reason they finished last in the league in offense.

Coordinator Bill Lazor was given freedom to redesign the offense. He overhauled the line, and the Bengals have new starters at four positions. So far that line has meshed well together, allowing just two sacks — none in a 34-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 13.

“Anytime you have time back there you can step into your throws, and you can put the ball where you want it,” Dalton said of the protection in the team’s 2-0 start .

Another adjustment has been lining up wide receiver A.J. Green in different spots on offense. Green caught three first-half touchdown passes from the slot against the Ravens. Cornerback James Bradberry will cover Green most of the time, but there will be occasions Green could face nickel back Captain Munnerlyn in the slot, where he’ll have a significant height advantage.

“The reason they are moving him around is to try to create opportunities for him. You just got to have a package that can counter it,” Rivera said of Green.

Things to watch in the Bengals-Panthers game:

HISTORY OF 3-0

The Bengals also started 3-0 in 2005, 2006, 2014 and 2015, making the playoffs in three of those years before losing in the first round each time.

McCAFFREY’S CATCHES

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey only carried the ball seven times against the Falcons, but he had twice that many receptions. His 14 catches (for 102 yards) tied a franchise record and showed Cam Newton is willing to be patient and use check-downs to move the chains. Newton is completing a career-best 69 percent of his passes in his first year playing in coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.

Rivera said he anticipates more things will open up down the field once teams begin to honor McCaffrey coming out of the backfield.

“They (wide receivers) understand too that now all of a sudden those linebackers might not be dropping 12 to 15 yards deep anymore,” Rivera said.

“They may be right at about 8 (yards). Those digs are going to start opening up, those post routes, those bang-eights across the middle — they are going to start flashing a little more.”

GIO’S TIME

The Bengals will lean heavily on Giovani Bernard , their only healthy running back with experience in the system. Starter Joe Mixon tore cartilage in his right knee during the win over Baltimore and is out for a few weeks. Running back Tra Carson pulled a hamstring in practice on Monday, so the Bengals signed free agent Thomas Rawls. Bernard has three 100-yard rushing games in his career.

“It doesn’t change for me,” Bernard said. “I feel like people are freaking out, but my goodness, it’s football.”

MORE MOORE

Panthers rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore is expected to see more playing time this week after a 51-yard touchdown catch against the Falcons.

The team’s first-round draft pick played 17 snaps on offense, but Rivera said earlier this week that “it’s time to put more on his plate.” He also said he’s noticed a swagger about Moore this week in practice.

CLUTCH TURNOVERS

The Bengals’ young defense has given up a lot of yards, but forced game-clinching turnovers in each of their wins. Third-year safety Clayton Fejedelem forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown with 24 seconds left as Andrew Luck was driving the Colts for what could have been a winning touchdown in the season opener. Last week safety Shawn Williams hit Joe Flacco and forced a fumble as the Ravens were trying to drive for a tying TD late. Luck threw for 319 yards and the Colts piled up 380 overall. Flacco threw for 376 and the Ravens had 425 in all.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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Broncos changed travel schedule after 1-7 road record

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have adjusted their travel itinerary in hopes of changing their fortunes on the road.

They're no longer flying out on Friday for trips to the East like this weekend's game at Baltimore .

"We're not going to worry about how far we're traveling, what time the

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have adjusted their travel itinerary in hopes of changing their fortunes on the road.

They’re no longer flying out on Friday for trips to the East like this weekend’s game at Baltimore .

“We’re not going to worry about how far we’re traveling, what time the game starts — we don’t care,” coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s going to probably rain on Sunday. We don’t care. I think pushing it back and just going on Saturday is all about our mindset and not worrying about going east, who we’re playing or where we’re playing.

“It’s worrying about the Broncos playing the best we can play,” Joseph added. “Our motto this year is, ‘We don’t care about where we go or who we play or when we travel or where we travel.’ We’re just going to go play.”

The Broncos (2-0) went 1-7 away from home last year and have only won one of their last 10 road games.

That’s a reversal of their road success during Peyton Manning’s four seasons in Denver, when the Broncos were 22-10 away from home.

Von Miller, for one, doesn’t mind the change in plans: “It’s all good,” he said. “We’re able to get a great night’s sleep before, so that’s all that really matters.”

The formula for ending their road woes, Miller suggested, was, “starting fast, getting off on third downs, being able to (force turnovers) and scoring touchdowns.”

Come to think of it, he said, “that’ll work for you anywhere.”

It’ll be imperative against the Ravens (1-1), who have scored touchdowns on all nine of their trips inside the 20-yard line so far.

“It’s the first team in 20 years to be that way in the first two games, that’s amazing,” Joseph said. “They’re running the football, they’re passing the football. So, it’s going to be a challenge.”

The Ravens have four TD runs and five TD passes inside the 20-yard line, and Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods credits their veteran quarterback, Joe Flacco.

“I mean, they obviously have a good scheme. But he’s a smart quarterback. He understands what he’s looking at. He gets rid of the ball on time,” Woods said. “But I think the big thing is just him. Execution.”

Miller spread the accolades a little bit more than Woods, attributing Baltimore’s 9-for-9 mark to “a great corps of receivers” in addition to “a great quarterback.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh would add running back and offensive linemen to that list, although somewhat reluctantly because it’s only Week 3 and he doesn’t want to get carried away.

“What I’m seeing is good players,” Harbaugh said. “I think we have guys making plays and we ran the ball in a few times, and that’s big to our running backs and offensive line. But, man, you don’t want to start patting yourself on the back. This league is too tough.”

The advantage of playing their second game on a Thursday night, Harbaugh said, was that the Ravens got to kick back last weekend and watch the rest of the league, including the Broncos, who rallied past the Raiders 20-19 behind Case Keenum’s second straight fourth-quarter comeback .

“It gives you good perspective. You see it’s a crazy league. You see how tough it is. You see how tough it is to score in the red zone, how tough it is to stop somebody in the red zone,” Harbaugh said.

Denver’s defense leads the league in third-down efficiency. The Broncos have allowed only five third-down conversions in 22 tries for a 22.7 percentage.

“I just think it’s great execution,” Miller said, noting “the Ravens are pretty good on third down.”

Baltimore is sixth in the league with a 43 percent conversion rate.

“So, third down will be pretty tough for both sides,” Miller said.

Notes: Keenum returned to practice after missing one day with a sore knee . … RT Jared Veldheer (concussion) was cleared for activity but not any action. The Broncos were pleased with how well his backup, Billy Turner, played last week. … CB-PR Adam Jones (thigh) missed a second straight day of practice as did ILB Brandon Marshall (knee).

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Patriots DB Cyrus Jones happy for 2nd chance with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Cyrus Jones was sure his tenure with the Patriots was over when he was cut at the end of training camp earlier this month.

New England chose to sever ties with the cornerback and return man, a second-round pick in 2016, after an underwhelming two-year tenure.

It included fumble

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Cyrus Jones was sure his tenure with the Patriots was over when he was cut at the end of training camp earlier this month.

New England chose to sever ties with the cornerback and return man, a second-round pick in 2016, after an underwhelming two-year tenure.

It included fumble issues and a right knee injury that caused him to miss the 2017 season.

It is why Jones said he was “blown away” when he got a call from his agent Monday night saying that the Patriots wanted to re-sign him.

A deal was completed, and Jones was added to the 53-man roster on Wednesday. He practiced for the first time with his old team Thursday.

“Everybody was excited to see me, as I was excited to see them,” said Jones, who had been on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad since being released by New England.

Jones has been working with the safeties since his return, a position that took a hit when starter Patrick Chung suffered a concussion during New England’s loss at Jacksonville.

Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner — a primary special teamer — are the only other safeties on the depth chart. So, if Chung isn’t cleared to play this weekend against Detroit, the chances are high that Jones will see at least some action.

McCourty said he started beaming when he saw Jones back in the team cafeteria.

“Even when he left and went to Baltimore, I was texting him to see how he was doing,” McCourty said. “It was a good feeling seeing him come back in here.”

Jones appeared in 10 games for the Patriots in 2016, making one start. But he had more fumbles (five on 19 punt and kick returns) than tackles (three) on defense.

He was making progress this spring after his knee surgery, but it wasn’t enough to secure him a roster spot when New England made its initial 53-man cut.

He said he’s not looking at this second opportunity as a chance at redemption.

“I’m just here to do a job, just like everybody else,” Jones said. “I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as another opportunity, just like it was when I was in Baltimore. Just like I did when I left here. Trying to be the best guy on Sundays.”

But Jones acknowledged “it hurt” not being on a roster to open the season.

“I get that opportunity being back here, so I’m going to make the most of it,” he said.

Jones said he’s put the past and the circumstances surrounding his initial departure behind him. He said he respects the Patriots reasons for letting him go.

“Whether I was working my way back from injury or whatever — who wants to get cut?” Jones said. “It really didn’t matter the circumstances of why I got cut. It didn’t matter. That wasn’t important to me. It happened, and I dealt with it like a man and moved on.

“Fortunately enough, coach thought enough of me to bring me back and to help this team win. That’s what I’m gonna focus on doing.”

Notes: TE Rob Gronkowski was limited in practice Thursday with an ankle issue. Chung and DE Trey Flowers both sat out the second straight day as they continue to go through the league’s concussion protocol.

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After statement game by Cousins, Vikings host Allen, Bills

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kirk Cousins delivered for the Minnesota Vikings the type of performance expected from, and demanded by, his big contract.

Passing for 219 yards and three touchdowns over the fourth quarter and overtime at Green Bay, Cousins guided the Vikings back from a 13-point deficit to forge a tie with the

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kirk Cousins delivered for the Minnesota Vikings the type of performance expected from, and demanded by, his big contract.

Passing for 219 yards and three touchdowns over the fourth quarter and overtime at Green Bay, Cousins guided the Vikings back from a 13-point deficit to forge a tie with the Packers despite an interception and many other mistakes by the rest of the team.

Given this was his first NFC North game and first on the road against Minnesota’s primary rival, there was a statement made that afternoon at Lambeau Field.

“I’ve seen Kirk do those things before, so it just solidified what type of leader he is,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “You’re never out of the game.”

The Vikings (1-0-1) are fifth in the NFL in total yards, entering Sunday against winless Buffalo. Cousins, however, was quick to point out the Vikings had only seven points through three quarters at Green Bay.

“We’d love to be more explosive throughout the game as opposed to more concentrated to late in the game,” Cousins said. “We want to be an offense that can strike at any time, but also be a threat from the first quarter all the way through the last.”

The Bills have a long way to go to get there, having handed their quarterback job to rookie Josh Allen during their blowout loss at Baltimore in the opener. The seventh overall pick in the draft showed some progress last week, but with an unsettled offensive line and a lack of game-breaking receivers, this season figures to be a steep learning curve for Allen.

“All these trials and tribulations that I’m going to go through my rookie year,” he said, “are only going to help in the long run.”

Here are some other key angles to follow for the Bills-Vikings game:

MAKING THE CALL

The Bills were outscored 75-9 over their first six quarters until making modest improvement in the second half last week. What changed? Well, coach Sean McDermott took over the play-calling duty from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, his long-time friend and mentor. They will collaborate now.

“We’re going to do what we feel we need to do in games, and improve,” McDermott said, “and we look in every corner to improve.”

The Chargers had 284 yards, 17 first downs and 28 points in the first half, then just 65 yards, four first downs and three points in the second half.

“That’s something that we can build on this week going in, just having the confidence of knowing we can stop teams from scoring,” said Tre’Davious White, one of only three healthy cornerbacks on the roster following the retirement of Vontae Davis and injuries to Phillip Gaines and Taron Johnson.

FAMILIAR FACE

Frazier took the adjustment in stride. He first began coaching with McDermott in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We owe it to our players to give us the best chance to win, whatever it may be,” Frazier said, “and so that’s how I looked at it.”

Frazier, of course, was the head coach for the Vikings for three-plus seasons after serving as defensive coordinator prior to that. This will be his first return to Minnesota for a regular-season game since his firing after the 2013 season.

“Just a lot of good relationships back in Minnesota, a lot of fond memories,” Frazier said.

BAILEY’S DEBUT

If and when Dan Bailey makes his first field goal on Sunday, the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium will undoubtedly roar with an undertone of sarcasm after those three wide rights by now-discarded rookie Daniel Carlson against the Packers.

Kicking trouble has hounded the Vikings throughout Mike Zimmer’s reign as head coach since 2014, so they were relieved that a player with Bailey’s accomplishment and experience was available this week .

The Bills have had more stability lately with Stephen Hauschka, who ranks fourth on the NFL’s all-time field goal accuracy list . Bailey is second. Hauschka, who was in training camp with the Vikings as a rookie in 2008, is 33 for 38 on field goal tries in 19 games with the Bills and has converted all 31 extra point attempts.

“We are fortunate. Hauschka is very steady and a veteran who has kicked in big games,” McDermott said. “That was part of the reason why we picked him up.”

MCCOY HURTING

The Bills ranked sixth in the league last year in rushing yards, on the strength of a second straight 1,000-yard season by LeSean McCoy, but Bills running backs have only 108 yards on 31 attempts through two games. This has been a rough season so far for McCoy. He’s been working through a rib cartilage injury this week, when he was also named in a second case of alleged abuse brought forth by a former girlfriend .

Minnesota’s defense is not an ideal opponent against which to get on track.

“They’re a good team. It’s a challenge. If I’m good enough, I’ll go out there and compete,” McCoy said.

NOT SO SPECIAL

Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been under pressure for more than just the place-kicking problems. The Packers blocked Matt Wile’s punt and turned it into a touchdown last week, the most glaring mistake that wasn’t a missed field goal.

“We’re going to have to clean it up,” Zimmer said.

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Returns of Oren Burks, Aaron Jones replenish Packers’ depth

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers might get injured inside linebacker Oren Burks back for their game Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

The rookie appeared to be in line to open the season as the starter inside alongside Blake Martinez when he hurt his shoulder during warmups before a preseason

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers might get injured inside linebacker Oren Burks back for their game Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

The rookie appeared to be in line to open the season as the starter inside alongside Blake Martinez when he hurt his shoulder during warmups before a preseason game last month in Oakland.

He was cleared on Wednesday to return to practice as a full participant.

Depth has also been replenished at running back, where Aaron Jones figures to return on Sunday after missing the season’s first two games after being suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

At the least, the returns of Burks and Jones will help the Packers on special teams. They have each shown the talent to contribute in other ways too.

Jones, who was also bothered by a hamstring injury in the preseason, ran for 448 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries last year. He had two 100-yard games, including 125 and a score on 19 carries in a win at Dallas on Oct. 8.

Coach Mike McCarthy has said that Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery will remain atop the depth chart. Jones gives the Packers another option in the backfield with his slashing ability.

“Give the defense a little bit more to worry about,” Williams said Thursday. “Aaron’s just a sparkplug, really. He’s always trying to open holes, especially if one’s closed, he’ll find another one really and bounce it outside.”

A third-round pick out of Vanderbilt, Burks moved up the depth chart after Jake Ryan was lost for the year in training camp with a torn ACL. The Packers traded for Antonio Morrison from the Colts to help with depth at inside linebacker after Burks went down. They also picked up Korey Toomer and James Crawford before the season started.

Burks remains atop the depth chart inside next to Martinez, having raised his profile during the preseason.

“We’ll see what the week brings us, McCarthy said before practice on Thursday. “You could see him progressing through training camp, so it will be great to get him back out there.”

Burks played inside linebacker and safety in college. His experience in coverage could help against the Redskins and running back Chris Thompson, who leads Washington with 19 receptions.

RODGERS UPDATE

McCarthy expected quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is playing with a left knee injury, to follow a practice plan similar to last week before the Vikings game. Saturday was the only day that Rodgers practiced last week. He played well, especially considering the injury, completing 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in the 29-29 tie with Minnesota.

This week, McCarthy gave the whole team off from practice on Wednesday and elected to do a walkthrough instead, feeling that his players could use a break after a season-opening night game followed by the overtime game against Minnesota. Rodgers was due to focus on rehab on Thursday.

INJURY REPORT

Besides Rodgers, CB Kevin King (groin) also missed practice. … CB Davon House (biceps) and S Josh Jones (ankle) were limited.

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Seahawks trying to avoid troubling 0-3 start hosting Cowboys

SEATTLE (AP) — Whether it was his first two stops in the NFL, his time in college at Southern California or his first eight seasons in charge in Seattle, Pete Carroll has never started a season with three consecutive losses.

That's 12 seasons in the pros and nine in college during which Carroll

SEATTLE (AP) — Whether it was his first two stops in the NFL, his time in college at Southern California or his first eight seasons in charge in Seattle, Pete Carroll has never started a season with three consecutive losses.

That’s 12 seasons in the pros and nine in college during which Carroll has been able to avoid a disastrous start to a new campaign. And it’s what the Seahawks will be trying to avoid Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys.

“There’s only a couple of undefeated teams in the NFC right now and let’s hang with that. Let’s hang with them,” Carroll said. “I don’t want to get behind that number right now, so we’ve got to get a win.”

What’s been called a roster reset multiple times by Carroll and other Seahawks has struggled to get started. Seattle’s offense has looked inept at times, its quarterback confused and its defense vulnerable. The Seahawks understand the rarity of dropping to 0-3 and still being able to turn around the trajectory of the season.

“I’m not going to give you a cliche. You don’t want to be 0-3,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.

Dallas is still trying to solve all of its issues, but at least has a victory after knocking off the New York Giants at home last week. The Cowboys’ defense was exceptional against the Giants, holding rookie Saquon Barkley and New York’s run game to 35 yards on the ground, and sacked quarterback Eli Manning six times. The Cowboys are second in the NFL with nine sacks through two weeks, and now face the offense that’s surrendered a league-high 12 sacks so far, six in each game.

“We’ve continued to try to build the talent level on our front seven and try to create competitive situations where guys are fighting for roster spots and fighting for playing time and hopefully when they get out there that competition brings out the best in them,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “Obviously, those can be very impactful plays.”

The Cowboys are 5-2 in September road games since 2014, one of those losses coming in the opener against Carolina. Seattle hasn’t lost a home game in September under Carroll, going 13-0 since 2010.

RUN AROUND: For two weeks, the Seahawks have failed to follow through on one of their major offseason priorities of returning to being a run-first offense. The Seahawks had just 16 carries for 64 yards in the opener. After committing to running more in Week 2, they ended up managing only 74 yards on 22 carries against the Bears. There was also Carroll’s confusion about the conditioning of starter Chris Carson, who didn’t have a carry in the second half against the Bears.

SILENT ON SEATTLE: New Dallas secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard turned down interview requests before his reunion with the Seahawks. Richard spent the first eight years of his pro coaching career in Seattle, the past two as defensive coordinator. He was fired in a retooling of Carroll’s defensive staff.

The Cowboys have blitzed more the first two weeks than in the past under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. From the start, Richard has said the Cowboys embraced the idea of him bringing new concepts.

“I do think the DNA of both guys in terms of what they believe in coaching is real similar,” Garrett said. “I think that reflects on how they teach technique and the schemes that we use.”

WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: Seattle is expected to get Wagner (groin), rookie starting cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) and guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) back after missing time with injuries. Wagner and Flowers missed the loss to Chicago, while Fluker has been out since the third week of the preseason with the hamstring problem.

While those players appear set to return, the Seahawks could be without starting center Justin Britt (shoulder), while linebacker K.J. Wright (knee surgery) and wide receiver Doug Baldwin (knee) are still at least a week away from getting back on the field.

WEAKNESS IN NUMBERS? The Cowboys are using 11 roster spots — roughly 20 percent of the 53 total — on receivers and tight ends. They added a receiver without releasing one this week by bringing back Brice Butler. He spent the past three seasons with Dallas before signing with Arizona in free agency. The Cardinals cut him at the end of the preseason.

The Cowboys are 30th in the NFL in passing in their first season without tight end Jason Witten and 2014 All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant. Dak Prescott has thrown for at least 200 yards just twice in the past 10 games going back to last season.

LOCKER ROOM VISIT: Garrett said it was a little strange when Seattle safety Earl Thomas approached him in the Dallas locker room following the Seahawks’ victory last December . During his offseason holdout, Thomas made it clear he wouldn’t mind the opportunity to play elsewhere, with Dallas possibly at the top of his wish list.

“I’ve never had that happen before, an opposing player comes into your locker room. But we have great respect for him,” Garrett said.

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Derrick Johnson not concerned about Raiders pass rush

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson isn't as troubled as most people seem to be by the Oakland Raiders' lack of a pass rush.

The way Johnson sees it, there are other ways for the defense to impact games.

Yet with only two sacks in two games, Johnson also realizes something

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson isn’t as troubled as most people seem to be by the Oakland Raiders’ lack of a pass rush.

The way Johnson sees it, there are other ways for the defense to impact games.

Yet with only two sacks in two games, Johnson also realizes something has to change.

“It’s a lot of ways to contribute to being a really good defense besides getting sacks,” Johnson said Thursday. “Don’t get me wrong, sacks help big time but red zone defense is a big part of being a really good defense. Turnovers for sure. It’s still early.”

Oakland’s pass rush, or lack thereof, has been heavily scrutinized since the team traded 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears a week before the season opener.

Mack has had a sack and a forced fumble in each of his first two games while helping the Bears to an NFL-leading 10 sacks. Mack also scored a touchdown in his Chicago debut against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Conversely, the Raiders pass rush has been sparse at best. Defensive end Bruce Irvin got to Rams quarterback Jared Goff for a coverage sack in Week 1 while rookie defensive lineman Maurice Hurst dropped Case Keenum in Week 2.

Like Johnson, Oakland defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes there are other ways for the Raiders to be effective. During Guenther’s stint as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, the Bengals had more than 33 sacks only twice in four seasons but finished in the top 20 overall three times.

“Obviously you’d like to have sacks but if you really look at it, when you look at the statistics year in and year out, the teams that are up there in sacks aren’t necessarily playoff teams. A lot of times they’re not,” Guenther said. “You’d always like to get a number of sacks. It kind of feeds off each other and the kind of personnel you have. That’s not the most important thing but obviously you want to get after the opposing quarterback.”

Oakland has forced only one turnover in two games. The Raiders are also 26th in defensive third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 12 of 27 opportunites.

Johnson said there is a sense of urgency in Oakland’s locker room, although the 35-year-old sounds more concerned with the Raiders’ inability to stop the Broncos on their game-winning drive in the final seconds last week than he is about the pass rush.

“Really the last two games the first half was pretty good team effort but we have to finish the close ones, win the close ones,” Johnson said. “As a defense we have to be hoping for that situation, saying, ‘Hey, if we stop them it’s over.’ It’s not the whole defense. It’s a play here, a play there. Not being tight enough here or communication. Just a little something on each play of that last drive hurt us.”

With nine new starters and a 10th — Irvin — playing a different position than he did a year ago, the argument could be made the Raiders are still going through growing pains.

Johnson isn’t buying it.

“That’s too easy of an excuse,” Johnson said. “We’ve been together for a little bit. We know the plays. We just have to execute better. Our defensive coordinator knows we can do that. We need to help him out by making some plays. We have to make plays.”

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Bears face punchless Cardinals, look to improve to 2-1

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Now the 2018 Chicago Bears will find out how they handle success.

After a close loss to Green Bay, the Bears got a nice win over Seattle. Now they face an Arizona team that's been outscored 58-6 in the Cardinals' first 0-2 start since 2005.

It's a game Chicago

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Now the 2018 Chicago Bears will find out how they handle success.

After a close loss to Green Bay, the Bears got a nice win over Seattle. Now they face an Arizona team that’s been outscored 58-6 in the Cardinals’ first 0-2 start since 2005.

It’s a game Chicago is supposed to win, maybe even dominate.

“Just like last week when it was coming off a difficult loss, now the team is feeling good in the fact that we got a win,” s first-year coach Matt Nagy said. “Sometimes when you have that, with bad teams, complacency sinks in. That’s not what we want. We want our guys to continue to stay hungry, to realize how important it is to stack wins on top of each other.”

Arizona, under first-year coach Steve Wilks, is at the bottom of the league offensively and near the bottom defensively.

To try to boost an offense that got past midfield once — on the next-to-last play of the game — in last week’s 34-0 drubbing by the Rams in Los Angeles, Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy say they’ve scaled down the game plan, simplified things. They also say they want to get the ball to David Johnson more often.

While Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been inconsistent, Arizona’s Sam Bradford has been mostly bad, struggling with his accuracy, usually a strength in his game.

“Sam is known to be able to put the ball where it needs to be,” Wilks said. “Regardless of why, we need to try to make sure we correct that moving forward. Is it the line? Is it just him? Is it the receivers? Again, everybody has a hand in it. Everybody’s working on their craft, trying to correct it.”

Here are some things to consider when the Bears visit Arizona.

MACK’S IMPACT

Now Bradford, Johnson and the rest of the beleaguered offense must deal with Khalil Mack, who has two strip sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown in his two games since joining the Bears.

“You just turn the film on, you can see it,” Wilks said. “He’s doing some great things: a sack/fumble, interceptions for touchdowns, you name it. So, you’ve got to make sure you try to slow him down, neutralize him a little bit. I don’t know if you can stop him, but we’re going to do a great job of trying to create some things and hopefully we can try to slow him down a little bit.”

UP-AND-DOWN TRUBISKY

Trubisky has had some great moments and some that weren’t so great. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks, but had two intercepted.

Trubisky said it’s a matter of making progress.

“I’m just trying to enjoy every single day you have to come out, practice and play with your teammates, develop great relationships and just continue to get better and better,” he said, “and when things go wrong, you just go back that it’s part of the process. There is going be ups and downs. You’ve got to celebrate the small victories. There is going to progress along the way, but there is also going to be setbacks. It’s all about just staying positive and keeping your head down and staying on track.”

CARDINALS QB

While Wilks is sticking with Bradford at quarterback, Arizona’s supposed franchise quarterback of the future is waiting in the wings.

Arizona moved up in the draft to pick Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall with the idea he’d learn by watching Bradford this season. But the Cardinals’ offensive woes could wipe out that timeline.

“Sam, right now, is the quarterback, as I’ve stated before,” Wilks said. “I don’t think it’s just the quarterback position. I think we have some issues across the board in all three phases, and we’re working on those issues. I think we’ve done a great job of trying to correct those issues, starting with trying to simplify things with the game plan, allowing guys to play fast.”

BOOED AT HOME

To try to motivate his team, Wilks played audio of the home crowd booing the Cardinals in their opener. Cornerback Patrick Peterson called the booing “an embarrassment.” Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald seemed to think they were understandable.

“We can’t play any worse than we did the last two weeks,” he said. “All you can go is up.”

HELP ARRIVES

Arizona should have the services of tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive end Markus Golden for the first time this season. Both were recovering from significant surgeries, Gresham’s to repair a torn Achilles tendon, Golden a torn ACL.

Both would be significant contributors if healthy.

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49ers get Foster back from suspension in time for Chiefs

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Reuben Foster spent the first two weeks of the football season being a fan, cheering on his San Francisco 49ers teammates from his couch while serving a two-game suspension.

When he got the chance to rejoin his teammates this past Monday, he was ready to celebrate.

"It was like a

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Reuben Foster spent the first two weeks of the football season being a fan, cheering on his San Francisco 49ers teammates from his couch while serving a two-game suspension.

When he got the chance to rejoin his teammates this past Monday, he was ready to celebrate.

“It was like a holiday,” Foster said Thursday. “It was just like a holiday just knowing I could come back and play the game I love for real. I’m happy that I’m playing the cards right off the field and on the field.”

The end of the suspension for violating the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct closes a difficult stretch for Foster that had him spending much of the offseason dealing with legal issues rather than preparing for his second season in the NFL.

He was charged in January in Alabama with second-degree marijuana possession. That charge was eventually dismissed after he completed a first-time offender diversion course.

Foster then faced more serious charges for an incident in California in February. He was initially charged in April with felonies for domestic violence, making criminal threats and weapons possession after being accused of beating up his ex-girlfriend.

A judge ruled there was no probable cause on the first two charges after the ex-girlfriend recanted the allegations and the judge found no other evidence to support the charges. The weapons charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Foster pleaded no contest to that in June.

He was sentenced to two years’ probation, 232 hours of community service, and $235 in fines.

After dealing with all that and then a suspension, Foster is wary of being too amped when he finally gets a chance to be back on the field.

“I got to be real cautious about being too excited this week on my first day back,” he said. “Getting overwhelmed is very easy. I do that every time. Even if you all don’t see it, I do it a lot.”

Having Foster back Sunday will be key when the 49ers (1-1) face the potent Kansas City Chiefs (2-0). With Andy Reid’s offense featuring a promising young quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, speedy playmakers like Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt and a threat at tight end in Travis Kelce, the Niners will have their hands full.

Kansas City leads the NFL with 80 points through two games, thanks to 10 touchdown passes by Mahomes, and is second in the NFL averaging 7.44 yards per play.

“They do a lot of stuff,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “They mess with your eyes. They’ve got a lot of different jet sweeps and movement. They’ve got a very good vertical pass game. They’ve got a good run game. So, you never know what they’re going to do when they break the huddle and you’ve got to be ready, basically ready for everything.”

With Foster returning this week and Malcolm Smith recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined him the first two weeks, the 49ers have decisions to make at linebacker for Sunday’s game.

Rookie Fred Warner has played middle linebacker the first two weeks and fared well in the difficult role of calling the defense. Warner has 19 solo tackles, three assists and a forced fumble through two games.

“I’ve seen a dog in Fred. I’ve seen a real dog, a mature man who goes about his business,” Foster said. “I really salute him for that and pride him for stepping up and taking control of the defense. I’ve worn the green sticker and it’s really hard to wear the green sticker. I’m really proud of him.”

The 49ers haven’t said whether Warner will remain in the middle with the green dot on his helmet signaling he’s getting the defensive calls or which linebackers will start.

But with Foster showing promise last year as a rookie with 72 tackles in 10 games, and Warner delivering early this season, the 49ers appear to have the makings of a capable duo at the two inside linebacker positions.

“They’re both instinctual and they trust what they see,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “That’s a big part of this game, just being able to play fast and seeing something and being able to react to what they see. There are a lot of guys who can be smart on paper or see it on film. Going out and translating it is difficult for a lot of guys and those two do it as well as anybody.”

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Ravens’ Mosley and Collins return to practice

Ravens' Mosley and Collins return to practice

The Baltimore Ravens got a pair of key pieces back at practice Thursday with the return of linebacker C.J. Mosley and running back Alex Collins.

Mosley was limited in his first session since he was carted off the field last Thursday against the

Ravens’ Mosley and Collins return to practice

The Baltimore Ravens got a pair of key pieces back at practice Thursday with the return of linebacker C.J. Mosley and running back Alex Collins.

Mosley was limited in his first session since he was carted off the field last Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals with a left knee injury. He avoided ligament damage and was diagnosed with a bone bruise.

Collins sat out Wednesday’s session with an illness but was a full participant on Thursday, leaving little doubt about his availability to face the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Head coach John Harbaugh has been vocal about plans to crank up the ground game, which has produced just 183 yards on 56 carries (3.3 per carry) this season. Collins has 16 carries for 48 yards (3.0) and a score so far.

“We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers, and we are very determined to run the ball well, because we think it helps our offense,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We’ve got to get that going.”

Whether Mosely can play against the Broncos remains unclear, but defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale noted the middle linebacker’s absence changes the way his unit runs.

“Losing C.J. after the first three-and-out [against the Bengals], that set us off balance a little bit, just like it would be if, I guess, your computers crashed or something right in the middle of a story that you’re writing,” Martindale told reporters Thursday. “It took us time to get our thoughts together on how we were going to attack it, and I thought we did a much better job in the second half of the Cincinnati game.”

The Ravens have a few other injuries on defense, with defensive tackles Michael Pierce (foot) and Willie Henry (abdomen) again missing practice on Thursday and outside linebacker Matt Judon (hamstring) limited for the second straight day. Pierce and Judon have played in both games this year, while Henry has yet to make his season debut.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley remained limited with an elbow injury on Thursday, after leaving the game against the Bengals early. James Hurst moved to left tackle and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. played on the right side in Cincinnati after Stanley left.

The Broncos are tied for fifth in the NFL with seven sacks this season, and Von Miller leads the NFL with four.

–Field Level Media

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