Rodgers active for Green Bay’s clash with Vikings

Aaron Rodgers is active for Green Bay’s game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The Packers’ star was questionable coming in with a left knee injury. Rodgers was held out from practice at midweek, but went through the team’s light practice on Saturday . Green Bay has two backup quarterbacks active too with DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle.

Receiver Davante Adams is active as well for the Packers after he was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.

Ben Roethlisberger and his aching right elbow will give it a shot for Pittsburgh against the Kansas City Chiefs. Roethlisberger skipped two days of practice this week after having his throwing arm hit late in overtime of the Steelers’ season-opening tie with Cleveland. Roethlisberger will make his 202nd appearance for the Steelers, second most in franchise history. He needs 76 yards passing to move past Hall of Famer John Elway and into seventh place on the NFL’s career list.

The Steelers will be without All-Pro guard David DeCastro (fractured right hand) and cornerback Joe Haden (hamstring).

Kansas City safety Eric Berry will sit out once again while nursing a sore heel.

The Cleveland Browns listed receiver Josh Gordon as inactive for their game against the New Orleans Saints. That decision signals that the Browns may be waiting to see if there are any trade opportunities for Gordon before following through on an initial announcement Saturday evening that they intended to release him.

Cameron Meredith is inactive for the Saints, who continue to be patient with the receiver who is widely viewed as one of the top additions to the offense in free agency. He is trying to come back from torn knee ligaments that wiped out his entire 2017 season.

The Tennessee Titans are without their top three tackles against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texas. The Titans already knew left tackle Taylor Lewan would be out because of a concussion, and right tackle Jack Conklin is out as he works his way back from a torn left ACL. But Tennessee also declared tackle Dennis Kelly out with a virus. Kelly has been filling in for Conklin.

Los Angeles Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin will not play against the Buffalo Bills because of a foot injury. Defensive end Joey Bosa was also listed as inactive and will miss his second game with a foot injury. Benjamin had one catch for 1 yard in the Chargers’ season-opening loss to Kansas City last weekend.

Inactives for Sunday’s early games:

INDIANAPOLIS-WASHINGTON

Colts: T Anthony Castonzo, OL Denzelle Good, DL Denico Autry, CB Chris Milton, RB Christine Michael, DE Tarell Basham, CB Lenzy Pipkins.

Redskins: WR Maurice Harris, S Troy Apke, RB Samaje Perine, OL Geron Christian, OL Casey Dunn, DL Caleb Brantley, CB Adonis Alexander.

CAROLINA-ATLANTA

Panthers: WR Curtis Samuel, WR Damiere Byrd, LB Andre Smith, G Trai Turner, TE Greg Olsen, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DE Efe Obada.

Falcons: CB Isaiah Oliver, RB Devonta Freeman, DE Steven Means, G Ben Garland, T Matt Gono, WR Russell Gage, DL Justin Zimmer.

KANSAS CITY-PITTSBURGH

Chiefs: S Eric Berry, RB Darrel Williams, CB Charvarius Ward, LB Ben Niemann, OL Austin Reiter, OL Kahlil McKenzie, DL Justin Hamilton.

Steelers: QB Mason Rudolph, WR Justin Hunter, CB Joe Haden, S Brian Allen, OG David DeCastro, T Zach Banner, DE Tyson Alualu.

HOUSTON-TENNESSEE

Texans: DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney, WR Keke Coutee, WR Sammie Coates Jr., CB Kayvon Webster, T Roderick Johnson, DE Carlos Watkins, DE Christian Covington.

Titans: WR Cameron Batson, S Kendrick Lewis, LB Aaron Wallace, T Dennis Kelly, T Taylor Lewan, T Jack Conklin, DE Matt Dickerson.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS-BUFFALO

Chargers: WR Travis Benjamin, DE Joey Bosa, LB Emmanuel Ellerbee, C Cole Toner, T Joe Barksdale, G Forrest Lamp, DT T.Y. McGill.

Bills: DE Shaw Lawson, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, CB Taron Johnson, G Ike Boettger, G Wyatt Teller, T Conor McDermott, TE Khari Lee.

MINNESOTA-GREEN BAY

Vikings: QB Kyle Sloter, RB Roc Thomas, RB Mike Boone, C Pat Elflein, G Bryan Weitzmann, DE Tashawn Bower, DT Jalyn Holmes.

Packers: WR Equanimieous St. Brown, S Josh Jones, S Raven Greene, CB Deante Burton, LB Oren Burks, OL Alex Light, WR J’Mon Moore.

MIAMI-NEW YORK JETS

Dolphins: WR DeVante Parker, QB Luke Falk, QB David Fales, CB Cordrea Tankersley, RB Kalen Ballage, T Zach Sterup.

Jets: S Marcus Maye, CB Derrick Jones, CB Juston Burris, G Dakota Dozier, TE Jordan Leggett, DL Foley Fatukasi, LB Josh Martin.

PHILADELPHIA-TAMPA BAY

Eagles: QB Carson Wentz, WR Alshon Jeffery, RB Darren Sproles, G Chance Warmack, T Jordan Mailata; G/T Matt Pryor, DE Josh Sweat.

Buccaneers: WR Justin Watson, CB Brent Grimes, RB Ronald Jones II, DT Vita Vea, DE Noah Spence, OL Alex Cappa, OL Mike Liedtke.

CLEVELAND-NEW ORLEANS

Browns: WR Josh Gordon, LB Christian Kirksey, TE Seth DeValve, DT Emmanuel Ogban, DL Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Devaroe Lawrence, QB Drew Stanton.

Saints: WR Cameron Meredith, CB Arthur Maulet, OL Cameron Tom, OL Will Clapp, TE Dan Arnold, DE Trey Hendrickson, DT Tyeler Davison.

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Baker Mayfield Era begins as rookie leads Browns past Jets

CLEVELAND (AP) — At some point, Baker Mayfield was going to assume Cleveland's starting job and become the franchise quarterback, the future.

That moment arrived Thursday night.

His days as a backup are over.

Throwing a 14-yard dart to complete his first pass, Mayfield replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor and rallied the Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) — At some point, Baker Mayfield was going to assume Cleveland’s starting job and become the franchise quarterback, the future.

That moment arrived Thursday night.

His days as a backup are over.

Throwing a 14-yard dart to complete his first pass, Mayfield replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor and rallied the Browns from a two-touchdown deficit for a 21-17 win over the New York Jets to end Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak — the NFL’s second-longest in 48 years.

Mayfield erased any doubts about why the Browns selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft with a performance that included him catching a 2-point conversion. The undersized and overlooked kid from Texas who walked on at two colleges, won a Heisman Trophy and became one of college football biggest stars, had some NFL debut.

“He’s really special,” Browns receiver Jarvis Landry said. “He took advantage of the moment and the opportunity. We always have seen him make these plays. As far back as when the Baker Mayfield story started, he has always made these types of plays. It is awesome to be a part of it.”

Mayfield came in after Taylor sustained a concussion late in the first half and led the Browns (1-1-1) on four scoring drives — the last a 15-play, 75-yarder capped by Carlos Hyde’s 1-yard TD run — and Cleveland’s defense intercepted two passes by Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold in the fourth quarter to seal the team’s first win since Dec. 24, 2016.

Following the game, jubilant Browns fans walking down the ramps of FirstEnergy Stadium chanted “Ba-ker, May-field” at the top of their lungs.

Their new hero took it all in stride.

“I have just been waiting for my moment,” said Mayfield, who completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards. “I have been patient. I have been in a good opportunity, put in a good situation with the guys around me — veteran QBs and great coaches that I can learn from. I was never whining or complaining about playing time. I just want the team to win, no matter what the cost is.”

The Browns wanted to bring Mayfield along slowly by having him watch and learn behind Taylor.

That plan is about to be scrapped.

Although Cleveland coach Hue Jackson wouldn’t commit to Mayfield as his starter going forward, the choice is obvious. Mayfield isn’t your average rookie quarterback and it’s clear he’s as ready as he can possibly be.

“I am not surprised by any throws that this young man makes,” Jackson said. “He does things in practice that I just go, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Timing. Timing is everything. The right time. The right situation. You can’t deny the talent. You can’t deny what he is able to do. He showed that tonight.

“That is why we drafted him. He has that magnetism. He has it. He is still a young player. He has a lot of work to do. He has got to keep working. Tonight is his night. It was his coming out party.”

CRUDE CROWELL: Jets running back Isaiah Crowell scored two touchdowns, but his unsuitable celebration of the second one drew him a 15-yard penalty and the wrath of his coach.

Following his 2-yard TD run in the second quarter, Crowell squatted in the end zone and pretended to wipe his rear end with the ball before throwing it into the stands.

Crowell played four seasons with Cleveland and his gesture appeared to be directed at the Browns.

“Inexcusable,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “We addressed it. It will never happen again.”

Crowell said he got carried away.

“It was just passion and it wasn’t a message toward anybody,” he said. “You have to play the game with passion and that is the way I play. I did it so I have to accept whatever punishment comes with the celebration. I can’t put my teammates in that position.”

KICK STAND: Mayfield wasn’t Cleveland’s only rookie star.

Kicker Greg Joseph made a pair of field goals and an extra point in his debut for the Browns, who signed him Monday after releasing Zane Gonzalez, whose four misses cost Cleveland a win last weekend at New Orleans.

Joseph was even cheered as he went through his pregame routine during warmups.

“It felt surreal,” he said. “Amazing.”

GO FOR 2: Down 14-12 in the third quarter, the Browns scored and then converted a 2-point play that seemed stolen from Philadelphia’s playbook.

Running back Duke Johnson took the snap, gave the ball to Landy on a reverse and the receiver lofted a pass to Mayfield in the end zone. The play was reminiscent of the one the Eagles pulled off in last year’s Super Bowl win when QB Nick Foles caught a TD pass.

“We call it the ‘Philly Special’,” guard Joel Bitonio said. “We saw Philadelphia run it in the Super Bowl and they said, ‘Hey, we can do that.’ The funny thing is that Tyrod has taken every rep on it so Baker has not ran it at all. First rep was a perfect rep, though. He did good.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Hyde had 98 yards rushing. … Browns DE Myles Garrett had two sacks. … Darnold went 15 of 31 for 169 yards and the two picks. “It’s not acceptable the way I played,” he said.

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Take 5: Key Week 3 matchups

Take 5: Key Week 3 matchups

Coming off a two-game suspension, Reuben Foster won't be ramping up slowly in his return to the 49ers on Sunday. Instead, he'll be at the center of San Francisco's attempt to halt the hottest player in football, Patrick Mahomes, in the Kansas City Chiefs' home opener.

Take 5: Key Week 3 matchups

Coming off a two-game suspension, Reuben Foster won’t be ramping up slowly in his return to the 49ers on Sunday. Instead, he’ll be at the center of San Francisco’s attempt to halt the hottest player in football, Patrick Mahomes, in the Kansas City Chiefs’ home opener.

Mahomes and coach Andy Reid have set opposing defenses on fire so far.

Reid has used misdirection and Tyreek Hill’s incomparable speed to create chasms in zones, and Mahomes has capitalized with his eyes, accuracy and touch to maximize yards after the catch for his targets. He found a rhythm with Travis Kelce in Week 2, picking on Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic for several chunk plays, including an indefensible, dropped-in-a-bucket throw up the middle of Tampa-2 coverage for 31 yards.

Foster is no Bostic, however. Despite his issues off the field, the 2017 31st overall pick has a combination of size, movement skills, physicality and instincts that only a handful of other NFL linebackers possess. The instincts (to diagnose plays amid a series of fakes and jet sweeps) and speed (to make up for when he diagnoses incorrectly) will be particularly crucial on Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Cover-3-heavy scheme comes from the same tree as Gus Bradley’s, which the Chiefs torched in Week 1 in a 38-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Reid is a master at getting a wide receiver — usually coming from the inside slot of a trips formation — on a vertical route against a linebacker in Cover-3, which is just one way Foster will be tested. It would certainly aid Foster’s fortunes if DeForest Buckner (3.5 sacks, second in NFL) continues his red-hot start as a pass-rusher.

–Joe Haden must help clean up Steelers’ secondary

As great as the Chiefs’ offense was last week, the Steelers’ defense — and particularly the secondary — aided its own undoing. With Haden out nursing a hamstring injury, replacement Cameron Sutton was exploited in a variety of zone assignments, both deep and underneath. Free safety Sean Davis was a beat late reading and reacting throughout the game, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler appeared to scale back his disguises and blitzes somewhat, as if he didn’t trust the group in Haden’s absence.

Like Foster against Kansas City, Haden will be given a major challenge in his return, as the Steelers visit the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. New Bucs play-caller Todd Monken and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick have adeptly dismantled the New Orleans Saints’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ defenses, which finished last season ranked 10th and fourth, respectively, in points allowed. Last week, Tampa Bay took advantage of Philadelphia’s zone-heavy approach, including on a 75-yard TD to DeSean Jackson — who already has five gains of 25-plus yards this year — on the game’s first play.

Haden’s hamstring must be ready to run on Jackson’s deep routes when Butler calls Cover-3 and Cover-4, and he’ll be tasked with taking away deep corners and outs to Mike Evans (17 grabs, 230 yards and two scores this year) when playing Cover-2. We should also see more wrinkles and blitzes from Butler, which could force Fitzpatrick into a turnover or two.

Haden’s return won’t fix all of Pittsburgh’s woes on defense, but he should help eliminate some of the busts and big plays that cost the Steelers in last week’s shootout loss.

–Mind games abound in Philadelphia

Carson Wentz’s return highlights the Sunday meeting between the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, but just as intriguing will be the matchup of head coaches, as former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich meets old friend Doug Pederson.

The familiarity theoretically should benefit the Colts more, as Reich was fully versed in Eagles’ offense — the foundation of which likely hasn’t changed much over the past seven months — while Pederson hasn’t seen Reich’s full playbook with the Colts. Reich also should have an excellent feel for what defensive schemes Wentz doesn’t like to see, which should be incorporated heavily into defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ game plan.

But perhaps Pederson can turn the tables on Reich, showing looks he expects the Colts to recognize — such as a condensed formation suggesting a mesh concept, which features crossing routes from both sides — before running misdirection off of it — like turning those crossers into whip routes (a shallow route that breaks inside before pivoting back out). It’s also possible Pederson has kept new ideas for Wentz on the backburner, in the same way he tailored special plays for Nick Foles during his time as the starter.

With sizable advantages in the trenches on both sides of the ball, the Eagles are rightfully heavy favorites. We’ll see if Reich’s intel can level the playing field or if Pederson will get the better of his former pupil.

–Can Melvin Ingram harass Jared Goff?

With Joey Bosa (foot) apparently not close to a return, the burden of the Chargers’ pass rush continues to fall on Ingram, who is tied for second in the NFL with six QB hits. With opponents keying on Ingram, those hits have turned into just 1.5 sacks, but any type of pressure is helpful for a team whose sack leader is currently a defensive back: rookie safety Derwin James (two).

The Los Angeles Rams’ Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein are two of the league’s most reliable tackles, and Sean McVay’s heavy use of play-action and screens inherently slows down opposing pass rushes, but Ingram could pose a few problems.

The springy edge rusher moves so explosively in every direction that the Chargers line him up all over the place (even at safety on occasion, believe it or not). Often in a two-point stance, Ingram is regularly deployed on twists and stunts, allowing him to use his lateral agility to pick on overmatched guards or centers. He also has the stop-and-start quickness to get pressure against play-action, even when initially stymied while preparing to play the run.

McVay’s offense hasn’t cooled off thus far in Year 2, while the Bolts have allowed 58 points in two games (tied for 25th) without Bosa after allowing just 17.0 points per game in 2017 (third). Ingram’s ability to get to Goff is the Chargers’ best chance to even the playing field on Sunday.

–Trench warfare in Baltimore

The Denver Broncos’ offensive line, nearly as complicit as the quarterbacks in a disastrous 5-11 campaign last season, has quietly been excellent during the team’s 2-0 start.

Despite adding just one new full-time starter (right tackle Jared Veldheer), the group has taken major strides, especially in the run game, where Denver ranks second in yards per game (157.0) and fourth in yards per carry (5.2). Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s expansive approach — mixing in inside zone, outside zone, power, counter, trap and jet-sweep variations — has been a key factor, and the execution has been excellent.

Back at his preferred left guard spot, Ron Leary is destructive on double teams, especially working in tandem with left tackle Garett Bolles, who looks much stronger after a full year in an NFL weight room.

Matt Paradis remains steady at the pivot, while 2016 fifth-round pick Connor McGovern looks much sharper on second-level blocks, as he showed last week in springing rookie Phillip Lindsay for 53 yards. Veldheer had stopped the revolving door at right tackle before sustaining a concussion last week, but veteran Billy Turner held up just fine in his stead.

Sunday’s trip to Baltimore brings a whole new challenge. Ravens defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are among the nastiest and hardest-to-move pluggers in football, and Chris Wormley plays with excellent discipline and leverage. Even approaching age 36, Terrell Suggs remains a ferocious edge setter.

However, though ranked No. 1 in yards per play (4.0), the Ravens’ defense is just 14th in yards per carry (3.8) through two games, and Pierce (foot) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) could join backup defensive tackle Willie Henry (abdomen) on the sideline. Given Case Keenum’s shakiness (tied for the league high with four INTs) even with a good running game, the Ravens would hold a major edge if they can shut down Lindsay and Royce Freeman on the ground.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

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Jets’ Darnold loses unexpected rookie duel with Mayfield

CLEVELAND (AP) — Just as in the NFL draft, Sam Darnold finished behind Baker Mayfield.

Darnold lost an unexpected duel with Mayfield on Thursday night as Cleveland's rookie quarterback came off the bench and rallied the Cleveland Browns to a 21-17 win over the New York Jets for their first win in 20

CLEVELAND (AP) — Just as in the NFL draft, Sam Darnold finished behind Baker Mayfield.

Darnold lost an unexpected duel with Mayfield on Thursday night as Cleveland’s rookie quarterback came off the bench and rallied the Cleveland Browns to a 21-17 win over the New York Jets for their first win in 20 games.

The top story line heading into the game was Darnold getting a chance to showcase his skills for the Browns (1-1-1) in person and maybe make them regret not selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in April.

However, when it ended, all eyes were on Mayfield as the Heisman Trophy winner led the Browns from a 14-point deficit and ended the league’s second-longest winless streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Darnold and Mayfield spoke on the field inside FirstEnergy Stadium before the game, and the young QBs met for a moment afterward.

Following a conservative game plan laid out by New York’s coaching staff, Darnold completed 15 of 31 passes for 169 yards but threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter as he tried to bring the Jets (1-2) back.

“I felt really comfortable throughout the whole game,” Darnold said. “I just made stupid mistakes in the fourth quarter and some missed opportunities throughout the whole game. I just have to play better and that’s one me.”

Isaiah Crowell had two rushing touchdowns for New York, but the former Browns running back angered some of his former teammates with an inappropriate celebration following his second score.

Crowell squatted and wiped the ball on his backside before firing it into the stands, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“That was inexcusable,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “We addressed it and it will never happen again.”

Crowell regretted his actions.

“It was just spur of the moment, but I need to control myself,” said Crowell, who spent four seasons with Cleveland before signing a three-year, $12 million free agent contract with the Jets in March. “I don’t think it had to do with the stadium I was at. I just felt like it was spur of the moment.”

Darnold’s career has already had some highs and lows. He threw two touchdown passes in a 31-point win over Detroit in his debut, and then became the youngest player to throw for at least 300 yards in a loss last week at Miami.

He was inconsistent against the Browns, showing some poise but also rushing some passes.

“I thought he battled,” Bowles said. “Obviously, the two interceptions at the end of the ballgame when they knew we were going to pass and the game was on the line — I don’t really look at that. I thought he battled. I thought he took care of the football for the most part. He gave us a chance and we have to help him out more.”

Darnold was much tougher on himself.

“There were a couple plays, but for me I just have to play better. It’s as simple as that. It’s not acceptable the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it. Find completions and continue to do what I’m doing.”

Darnold may get another chance to play Mayfield and hopes they can develop a rivalry as pros.

“Hopefully,” he said. “Baker is a great competitor. I loved playing against him. Obviously, you wish you could win those games, but he’s a great competitor and is going to play in this league for a while. I’m looking forward to every single week.”

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Mayfield comes off bench, ends Browns’ winless streak

Mayfield comes off bench, ends Browns' winless streak

Rookie No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield relieved a concussed Tyrod Taylor and rallied the Cleveland Browns from a 14-point deficit past the visiting New York Jets for a 21-17 win to break a 19-game winless streak Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Mayfield comes off bench, ends Browns’ winless streak

Rookie No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield relieved a concussed Tyrod Taylor and rallied the Cleveland Browns from a 14-point deficit past the visiting New York Jets for a 21-17 win to break a 19-game winless streak Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Mayfield, in his NFL debut, finished 17 of 23 for 201 yards in a little over one half of work for the Browns (1-1-1), who tallied their first victory since Dec. 24, 2016. It was just Cleveland’s second win in 38 games.

Running back Carlos Hyde’s second 1-yard touchdown, with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, put the Browns ahead for good at 21-17. Linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted Jets quarterback Sam Darnold on the next two possessions, sealing the game.

Hyde totaled 23 carries for 98 yards, and Jarvis Landry had eight catches for 103 yards.

Darnold, whom many thought the Browns would take No. 1 overall in the April draft, finished 15 of 31 for 169 yards and the two picks. He has thrown five interceptions through three games.

The Jets (1-2) grabbed a 14-0 lead on a pair of touchdowns by former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell. A blocked punt set up Crowell’s 7-yard waltz on the first play of the second quarter, and he capped the next possession with a 2-yard score.

Mayfield entered the game with the Browns down 14-0 and 1:42 remaining in the first half after Taylor was hurt. The rookie completed his first three passes for 47 yards and led the Browns to a field goal for a 14-3 halftime deficit.

After another field goal by new Browns kicker Greg Joseph cut the deficit to eight, Hyde scored from a yard out to make it 14-12 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. Mayfield caught a pass from Landry on a variant of the Eagles’ famous “Philly Special” for a two-point conversion to tie it at 14.

The Jets went 65 yards in 12 plays for a 28-yard Jason Myers field goal to lead 17-14 with 8:58 remaining, setting the stage for the Browns’ winning drive.

Taylor was concussed when his head hit the turf on a sack by Jets linebacker Avery Williamson, but he might have been replaced even if healthy.

He went 4 of 14 for 19 yards, taking three sacks and an intentional-grounding penalty as the Browns punted on their first six possessions. Taylor underthrew wide-open rookie wideout Antonio Callaway for a potential 75-yard touchdown four minutes into the game.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Taylor was the first QB to throw for fewer than 20 yards on 14-plus attempts in the first half of a game since 2011.

Cleveland still has not won on a Sunday under Hue Jackson, as its lone 2016 victory came in a Saturday Christmas Eve game.

–Field Level Media

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Are Raiders that bad? Are Dolphins that good? They meet next

There have been some classic games between the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins. While Sunday's meeting doesn't carry the weight of a playoff contest between two powers, it certainly brings plenty of intrigue.

Such as: Are the Dolphins (2-0) real good, and are the Raiders (0-2) pretty bad?

The answers will come over

There have been some classic games between the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins. While Sunday’s meeting doesn’t carry the weight of a playoff contest between two powers, it certainly brings plenty of intrigue.

Such as: Are the Dolphins (2-0) real good, and are the Raiders (0-2) pretty bad?

The answers will come over the next few weeks, but this could be a strong indicator of where each team is headed in 2018.

Miami has been winning the field position battle, is tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions — the Dolphins had nine all last year — and has allowed only seven points in four red-zone possessions by opponents. Healthy QB Ryan Tannehill is 9-1 in his past 10 starts; he missed the 2017 season with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Raiders are allowing 5.7 yards per rush, worst in the league. They are tied for last with only one takeaway and have all of two sacks. Did someone say they miss Khalil Mack?

Yet the key could be when Oakland has the ball and whether it can generate anything against a defense that plays most everybody who suits up.

“The addition of (DE Robert) Quinn is huge,” says Raiders coach Jon Gruden, whose return to the sideline had Raiders fans all giddy before the Mack trade and the two defeats.

“He has given them supreme effort opposite Cameron Wake. And they have a very good unit inside that can generate pressure as well. It’s a combination of new players, new energy and the scheme. It’s fun to watch them.”

Maybe not for Derek Carr, the quarterback who has to face them.

The weekend began Thursday night with Cleveland’s first win in 635 days, a 21-17 home victory over the New York Jets.

The No. 1 overall pick Bake Mayfield replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor and sparked the Browns (1-1-1) , who got two 1-yard touchdown runs from Carlos Hyde in their their first win since Dec. 24, 2016. And so ends Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak, the NFL’s second-longest since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Jets are 1-2.

Indianapolis (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1)

One of several games with tasty matchups.

The Super Bowl champions get back Carson Wentz, whose major knee injury last December led to Nick Foles taking over at quarterback — and winning the title. Wentz is healthy, which means he’ll play.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wentz says. “It’s been quite the grind of an offseason. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of built-up almost anxiety over when it was going to be.”

It will be against the offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, who had a big role in Wentz’s quick development. Reich now coaches the Colts, who have their own star QB back from injury, Andrew Luck.

Luck has thrown a TD pass in 25 consecutive games, the league’s longest active streak.

The Colts are one win from 300 since moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

New England (1-1) at Detroit (0-2)

Matt Patricia spent 14 seasons working for Bill Belichick in New England. Rarely did he deal with what has gone on the past two weeks with the Lions. They have looked inept at times, Matthew Stafford has little protection and has thrown a league-high five picks. Detroit is 30th in rushing defense, which must make defensive guru Patricia cringe.

Belichick is 14-8 against former assistants. New England is 45-6 after losing a game since 2003 and didn’t lose two straight in 2016 or 2017. It fell at Jacksonville last Sunday.

Denver (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1)

One more spicy matchup, on the defensive side.

Led by Von Miller , the Broncos seem to have rekindled the Orange Crush. He leads the NFL with four sacks, a rate that would give him a record 32. Don’t bet against him.

Denver has allowed only five third-down conversions in 22 tries, the best rate (22.7 percent) in the NFL.

The Ravens rank second on D, no surprise there. But they’ll likely be missing three-time Pro Bowl LB C.J. Mosley (knee).

New Orleans (1-1) at Atlanta (1-1)

In perhaps the toughest division, both of these 2017 playoff teams have been way too inconsistent so far.

The Saints opened with two home games, losing to Tampa Bay and getting lucky to beat Cleveland. The defense was awful in the opener, the offense struggled last week.

Still, they have Drew Brees, looking for his fourth straight road game with a passer rating over 100. WR Michael Thomas has 28 catches, an NFL record for the first two games of a season.

Atlanta’s up-and-down nature has been partly caused by injuries, particularly on defense. That’s never a good way to approach a matchup with Brees.

New York Giants (0-2) at Houston (0-2)

The most watchable thing here — if you like defenses creaming quarterbacks — is whether Eli Manning or Deshaun Watson can escape the rush. Watson, who has terrific agility, already has gone down seven times, and he’s not come close to the sensational showings he made as a rookie before tearing up his knee.

Even worse, Manning has been sacked eight times and there haven’t been a handful of pass plays on which he didn’t feel pressure. Now, he gets to see J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney close up, with a new center, John Greco, to boot.

Dallas (1-1) at Seattle (0-2)

More sack time coming.

In years past, Seattle’s defense would be knocking down quarterbacks. This version of the Seahawks has three sacks as the unit is rebuilt.

Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has gone down 12 times, and considering his escapability, that’s scary in Seattle. Dallas barely let Manning breathe last week, has nine sacks from eight players, and faces possibly a bigger sieve of a blocking unit this week.

Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) at Los Angeles Rams (2-0)

Remember when L.A. had no teams? Now, both figure to be contenders in their divisions. Indeed, the Rams have the most talent of any roster and are off to a powerful start.

This could be a shootout. Since Week 11 of last season, the Chargers are tops in offense, averaging 436.9 yards per game. Philip Rivers has thrown three or more TD passes and has a passer rating over 100 in three straight regular-season games, and has plenty of weapons.

So does Rams QB Jared Goff, particularly 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley. The fourth-year RB is off to another brilliant start.

It’s the first meeting between two Los Angeles NFL teams since Nov. 13, 1994, when the Raiders defeated the Rams 20-17.

Cincinnati (2-0) at Carolina (1-1)

Wait, the Bengals are unbeaten? Here’s a real chance to prove they are legit.

Cincinnati can get after the passer and will force Cam Newton to be creative. The Bengals are well rested — they beat Baltimore on a Thursday night in Week 2 — and DT Geno Atkins has looked super, getting three sacks and plenty of pressures.

But second-year running back Joe Mixon is sidelined, and Carolina has its own dangerous RB from the 2017 draft in Christian McCaffrey. He tied WR Steve Smith’s franchise record with 14 receptions vs. the Falcons.

Carolina has won six straight at home.

Tennessee (1-1) at Jacksonville (2-0)

Jacksonville being 2-0 is no shock and the Jaguars could seize early control of the AFC South here. They showed plenty of moxie in beating New England last Sunday and hope to have top RB Leonard Fournette healthy. They haven’t been 3-0 in 14 years.

Even though the Jags won the division in 2017, they were swept by Tennessee, helping the Titans earn a wild card. Tennessee has been very protective of its passer, whether Marcus Mariota or former Jaguar Blaine Gabbert; opponents have one sack. Getting Mariota back from an elbow injury is critical.

San Francisco (1-1) at Kansas City (2-0)

It’s not that the Chiefs have won two straight, it’s how they did it.

First-time starter Patrick Mahomes came out firing and hasn’t let up. He has an NFL-record 10 TD passes through the first two games and has not thrown an interception. Mahomes had six TD passes at Pittsburgh, making him the youngest player in NFL history to accomplish that. Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins all have 100-yard receiving games this season.

San Francisco ranks 25th in pass defense and might not have the talent to get in a scoring free-for-all.

Buffalo (0-2) at Minnesota (1-0-1)

The betting line was so high, above 16 points all week, that it sent fans and bettors scrambling for precedent.

Buffalo once was an even bigger underdog at 17½ points against Miami in 1985. The Dolphins won 28-0.

And 80 teams have been 16-point or more underdogs. Five of those actually won.

For the Bills to even come close, they need to give raw rookie QB Josh Allen time to throw, and find a run defense.

Minnesota comes off a depressing 29-29 tie at Green Bay in which the Vikings made a solid comeback, but then couldn’t kick the ball straight enough to win. Daniel Carson is gone, replaced by veteran Dan Bailey, who was sensational with Dallas before getting hurt.

Green Bay (1-0-1) at Washington (1-1)

A gimpy Aaron Rodgers remains a prime threat, and he has loads of talent to catch the ball in Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison and tight end Jimmy Graham. The pass defense is far too charitable, but rookie CB Josh Jackson recovered a blocked punt for a TD vs. Minnesota.

Alex Smith, the top overall draft pick in 2005 when Rodgers went 24th, now is in Washington. He has a defense ranked No. 1 against the pass, so an aerial contest with A-Rod might not develop.

Pittsburgh (0-1-1) at Tampa Bay (2-0), Monday night

With the Bucs on a roll and Ryan Fitzpatrick demolishing defenses, Pittsburgh could be in trouble. The Steelers have displayed little tackling skill and give up lots of big plays. They rank 30th against the run, a very un-Curtain number.

Their offense hasn’t been troubled much by star RB Le’Veon Bell’s holdout thanks to James Conner. This also has the makings of a high-scoring showcase, especially if Ben Roethlisberger can limit his team’s turnovers.

Chicago (1-1) at Arizona (0-2)

The Cardinals and Bears are the only founding members of the NFL still in existence. While Chicago seems to have found its way with Mack and a defense that leads the league with 10 sacks, Arizona is foundering. The Cardinals didn’t cross midfield vs. the Rams until the next-to-last play. Sam Bradford has not thrown a TD pass, has been intercepted twice and has a 55.6 passer rating.

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Won, won and won! Browns beat Jets for first win since 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) — For the first time in 635 days, the Cleveland Browns found a way to win.

Baker Mayfield showed them how.

The No. 1 overall pick replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor and sparked the Browns, who got two 1-yard touchdown runs from Carlos Hyde and beat the New York Jets 21-17

CLEVELAND (AP) — For the first time in 635 days, the Cleveland Browns found a way to win.

Baker Mayfield showed them how.

The No. 1 overall pick replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor and sparked the Browns, who got two 1-yard touchdown runs from Carlos Hyde and beat the New York Jets 21-17 on Thursday night for their first win since Dec. 24, 2016.

And so ends Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak, the NFL’s second-longest since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

The Browns (1-1-1) trailed 14-0 in the first half before Mayfield came in for Taylor and led four scoring drives while winning an unexpected matchup against Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Cleveland passed on taking Darnold in the draft and instead chose Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma.

Mayfield finished 17 of 23 for 201 yards in a little more than a half after coming in after Taylor suffered a concussion.

Darnold had one last chance, but was intercepted by Terrence Mitchell with 11 seconds left.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Cleveland fans, who had endured a 0-16 season and waited nearly two years to see their Browns win, erupted in celebration.

Refrigerators around the city stocked with Bud Lights were finally unlocked, and there figured to be more than a few beverages consumed in the hours ahead.

This was just one win, and while it was an ending, it also felt like a beginning — because of Mayfield.

Isaiah Crowell had two touchdown runs for the Jets (1-2), who seemed in control when they took a 14-0 lead and knocked Taylor from the game.

Newly signed Browns kicker Greg Joseph made field goals of 45 and 27 yards after being signed just three days ago.

Browns coach Hue Jackson got just his second win in 35 games since being hired by owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, and this win will ease some of the pressure he’s been feeling to get Cleveland turned around. Jackson could also be faced with a difficult choice — either stick with Mayfield or go back to Taylor when he’s healthy.

The decision might not be as tough now.

Mayfield made his NFL debut with 1:42 left in the second quarter, replacing an injured Taylor after Cleveland’s starter was sacked for the third time. Taylor struggled getting to his feet after being dragged down by linebacker Avery Williamson, but he had absorbed several hard blows before that — and had been ineffective.

With Cleveland’s crowd roaring, Mayfield completed a 14-yard pass to Jarvis Landry on his first pass as a pro and then found tight end David Njoku for 17 yards. Mayfield drove Cleveland into field-goal position and Joseph, who signed with the team on Monday following a tryout, drilled a low line drive to pull the Browns within 14-3.

Cleveland’s plan was to have Mayfield watch and learn this season.

Taylor’s injury may change everything.

For Darnold, a promising start ended with his second loss in three games. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 169 yards, but threw two picks late in the fourth as he tried to rally the Jets.

Hyde’s 1-yard TD run pulled the Browns within 14-12 and Cleveland tied it with a trick 2-point play.

Mayfield shifted to the left and the ball was snapped directly to running back Duke Johnson, who ran right and gave the ball to Landry on a reverse. Landry then lofted a pass into the end zone to Mayfield, whose conversion tied it and sent Cleveland fans into a frenzy.

Crowell scored his second TD with 7:54 left in the second quarter, and was flagged for excessive celebrating when he squatted and wiped the ball on his backside before flinging it into the crowd.

Crowell’s untouched 7-yard run TD run came five plays after Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis got a hand on Britton Colquitt’s attempted punt and New York took over at Cleveland’s 28.

On the first play of the second quarter, Crowell took an inside handoff and raced into the end zone before firing the ball into the stands in celebration. Crowell spent four seasons with the Browns before signing a three-year, $12 million free agent contract with New York as a free agent in March.

LONG AUDITION

Joseph stayed on the field and kicked by himself during the opening coin toss, and each of his makes drew a rousing ovation from Cleveland fans. Just a few days ago, Joseph was relaxing in South Florida with friends while Gonzalez missed four kicks in New Orleans and then got booted by the Browns.

RADIO SILENCE

The Browns suspended radio reporter Nathan Zegura eight games for his conduct on the sideline during last Sunday’s loss at New Orleans. Zegura, who also co-hosts the team’s in-house radio broadcast, can’t work a game until Nov. 25. He has also been removed from the team’s afternoon show for two weeks.

INJURIES

Jets: CB Trumaine Johnson left in the first quarter with a suspected head injury, but returned. …. WR Charone Peake sustained a hamstring injury. … CB Buster Skrine injured his knee in the first and did not return. … WR Robby Anderson injured his nose in the third quarter, but came back.

Browns: S Jabrill Peppers hurt a shoulder in the first half, and Landry replaced him on punt returns.

UP NEXT

Jets: Play at Jacksonville on Sept. 30.

Browns: Visit the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 30.

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Jets-Browns Stats

New York 0 14 0 3—17
Cleveland 0 3 11 7—21
Second Quarter

NYJ_Crowell 7 run (Myers kick), 14:56.

NYJ_Crowell 2 run (Myers kick), 7:54.

Cle_FG Joseph 45, :23.

Third Quarter

Cle_FG Joseph 27, 5:21.

Cle_Hyde 1 run (Mayfield pass from

New York 0 14 0 3—17
Cleveland 0 3 11 7—21
Second Quarter

NYJ_Crowell 7 run (Myers kick), 14:56.

NYJ_Crowell 2 run (Myers kick), 7:54.

Cle_FG Joseph 45, :23.

Third Quarter

Cle_FG Joseph 27, 5:21.

Cle_Hyde 1 run (Mayfield pass from Landry), :42.

Fourth Quarter

NYJ_FG Myers 28, 8:56.

Cle_Hyde 1 run (Joseph kick), 2:04.

A_67,431.

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NYJ Cle
First downs 14 20
Total Net Yards 268 323
Rushes-yards 30-107 33-133
Passing 161 190
Punt Returns 1-12 5-20
Kickoff Returns 1-22 1-19
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-0
Comp-Att-Int 15-31-2 21-37-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-8 4-30
Punts 7-49.1 8-33.4
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 6-55 5-41
Time of Possession 29:08 30:52

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INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING_New York, Powell 14-73, Crowell 16-34. Cleveland, Hyde 23-98, Taylor 4-22, D.Johnson 2-9, Chubb 2-6, Mayfield 2-(minus 2).

PASSING_New York, Darnold 15-31-2-169. Cleveland, Taylor 4-14-0-19, Mayfield 17-23-0-201.

RECEIVING_New York, Enunwa 4-57, Kearse 3-35, R.Anderson 2-22, Crowell 2-17, Herndon 2-(minus 1), Pryor 1-25, Tomlinson 1-14. Cleveland, Landry 8-103, Callaway 4-20, Higgins 3-32, Njoku 2-36, D.Johnson 2-24, Hyde 2-5.

MISSED FIELD GOALS_None.

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Browns QB Mayfield replaces injured Taylor

Browns QB Mayfield replaces injured Taylor

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to a field goal on the first drive of his NFL career Thursday against the visiting New York Jets after taking over for injured teammate Tyrod Taylor.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's

Browns QB Mayfield replaces injured Taylor

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns to a field goal on the first drive of his NFL career Thursday against the visiting New York Jets after taking over for injured teammate Tyrod Taylor.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, completed 3 of 4 passes for 47 yards when he entered with under two minutes remaning in the first half, setting up a 45-yard Greg Joseph field goal. The march cut the Browns’ halftime deficit to 14-3.

He also was sacked once on the drive and fumbled, but Cleveland offensive lineman Joel Bitonio recovered the ball.

Tyrod was 4 of 14 for 19 yards, taking three sacks and an intentional-grounding penalty, as the Browns punted each of their first six drives.

On the third sack, Taylor was slammed to the turf by Jets linebacker Avery Williamson and hit his head. After the drive, Taylor was taken to the medical tent for evaluation and then led to the locker room.

Mayfield, 23, won the 2017 Heisman Trophy as a senior at Oklahoma.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: 49ers CB Sherman misses practice with heel issue

Reports: 49ers CB Sherman misses practice with heel issue

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman sat out Thursday's practice with a reported heel injury, according to multiple reports.

The 30-year-old Sherman was not listed on the team's Wednesday injury report and he did not discuss his status with reporters following

Reports: 49ers CB Sherman misses practice with heel issue

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman sat out Thursday’s practice with a reported heel injury, according to multiple reports.

The 30-year-old Sherman was not listed on the team’s Wednesday injury report and he did not discuss his status with reporters following the team’s practice. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, Sherman was not visibly walking with a limp.

Over the past 10 months, Sherman has undergone surgeries to both of his Achilles tendons, in addition to battling hamstring issues during the summer. He has played in all 148 of the Niners’ defensive snaps this season, allowing just one reception in the team’s first two games.

Sherman, 30, signed with the Niners in March on a three-year contract after their archrival Seattle Seahawks released him. He ruptured his Achilles tendon last season and was limited to two interceptions in nine games after not missing a game in his first six NFL seasons.

The California native has 32 interceptions in 107 career games along with four Pro Bowl appearances while with Seattle from 2011-17.

–Field Level Media

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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.

–Field Level Media

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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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