Tom Brady vs. Jaguars is one-sided confrontation

If there’s ever going to be a changing of the guard in the AFC, then Sunday’s visit to Jacksonville by the Patriots would seem a perfect time.

Except when you look at the numbers that say Tom Brady doesn’t lose to the Jaguars.

Ever.

Jacksonville had a 10-point lead at New England in the second half of the AFC championship game last January when Brady worked his magic, helped mightily by the Jaguars’ discomfort being so close to making the Super Bowl. It shouldn’t have been a surprise in this matchup: Brady now is 8-0 against the Jags, the only AFC team without a win against the five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP. He has 19 TDs and two interceptions against Jacksonville while completing more than 70 percent of his passes for more than 1,800 yards.

So solving Brady, as it is for most teams, is a must for Jacksonville in this battle of opening-game winners that could wind up pivotal for the AFC playoffs.

“It’s going to be an emotional environment,” Brady said. “I think everyone, whenever you play some of the best teams, you want to see where you’re measured up to, and that defense has been ranked very high all last year, and I could see why. We practiced against them. They were very good. They’ve got a lot of very talented players — some of the guys that are probably the best at their position. So, it’s going to be a great environment for football.”

Brady has 224 career wins, one shy of the NFL record held by kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose Colts are at Washington.

Jacksonville could be short-handed in a key area: running back Leonard Fournette has hamstring issues, and the Jags need a strong running game to keep Brady on the sideline.

T.J. Yeldon would get the start if Fournette can’t go.

“He has always been good,” coach Doug Marrone says of Yeldon. “I think he is more explosive. He’s stronger. He’s elusive. I think he can carry a load of carries.”

The weekend began with Cincinnati’s 34-23 home victory over Baltimore. Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes in the first half — three to A.J. Green — to help the Bengals improve to 2-0. The Ravens are 1-1.

Philadelphia (1-0) at Tampa Bay (1-0)

One reason the Eagles had the NFC’s best record in 2017 was a 6-2 road mark. They were sloppy yet victorious in their opener at home against Atlanta and haven’t played since Sept. 6. Nick Foles gets the call at quarterback again with Carson Wentz still not ready, though Philly’s running game with Jay Ajayi, who had two touchdowns last week, and strong defense could decide things.

The Buccaneers come off an impressive upset win at New Orleans in which Ryan Fitzpatrick showed why he has been a quality fill-in passer for years. He threw for a career-best 417 yards, four TDs, and had no interceptions against the Saints. He also scored a rushing TD.

FitzMagic indeed.

Kansas City (1-0) at Pittsburgh (0-0-1)

As ugly as the Steelers’ performance was in the rain in Cleveland, that’s how pretty Chiefs fan think their team’s work was in Los Angeles.

But this is a nightmare matchup for KC: The Steelers have won seven of the last eight vs. the Chiefs, who are 0-6 in Pittsburgh since 1986. Plus, the Steelers are 15-2 in home openers at Heinz Field.

Two of the NFL’s most dynamic wideouts go at it here: All-Pro Antonio Brown for Pittsburgh, WR-KR Tyreek Hill for Kansas City. Don’t take your eyes off the field.

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

Right up until kickoff, the fans at Lambeau Field will be holding their breath to see if Aaron Rodgers can go. Green Bay is in massive trouble if he can’t, as last week’s heroic performance by A-Rod in the comeback victory over Chicago showed.

“Yeah, well, you know he walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said.

The Vikings aren’t the Bears and won’t likely be playing passively if they get a lead. Not with that dynamic defense that handed Jimmy Garoppolo his first pro defeat in the opener.

Carolina (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1)

Not only did the Falcons falter in Philly in their opener, they had two significant long-term injuries with safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones. The defense kept them in the Eagles game while Matt Ryan struggled. Sure, he completed 10 passes for 169 yards to Julio Jones, but Ryan generally was off the mark.

Carolina has its own injury woes, losing star TE Greg Olsen with a foot problem. Its defense was super stingy against Dallas, with LB Luke Kuechly in on 13 tackles.

Miami (1-0) at New York Jets (1-0)

Barring a tie — and we all know those never happen in the NFL, right? — one of these teams will be a surprising 2-0 Sunday night.

The Dolphins come off the longest NFL game since the 1970 merger, outlasting Tennessee in 7 hours, 8 minutes, including 3:59 in multiple weather delays. RB Frank Gore has 14,087 career yards rushing and needs 15 to surpass the Jets’ greatest runner, Curtis Martin (14,101), for fourth place on the NFL’s list.

Sam Darnold threw a pick-6 on his first pro attempt, then reversed things with aplomb at Detroit. The Jets’ defense deserves the highest accolades for making Matthew Stafford look like an inept rookie, something Darnold didn’t resemble beyond that opening pass.

Cleveland (0-0-1) at New Orleans (0-1)

Oh yeah, they do have ties, which for the Browns is a monumental achievement considering they lost all 16 games in 2017 and were 1-15 the previous year. Oddly, the Browns overwhelmingly lead this series 13-4, winning five of the last six meetings.

WR Michael Thomas had a Saints single-game record 16 catches last week for 180 yards and a score. Drew Brees will target him often, sometimes against rookie Denzel Ward, who had two picks of Ben Roethlisberger in the opener.

Arizona (0-1) at Los Angeles Rams (1-0)

All seven of the new head coaches lost last week, none more distressingly than Steve Wilks at home against Washington. QB Sam Bradford, the top overall draft choice by the Rams in 2010, now is the Cardinals’ starter, and he has an all-time great receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. Yet Arizona was outclassed in its first game for Wilks.

No such problems for the Rams, who looked strong in all phases at Oakland. A worry, though, is losing All-Pro kick returner Pharoh Cooper to an ankle injury.

Oakland (0-1) at Denver (1-0)

The glow from the return of Jon Gruden as coach will fade into the Mile High air if the Raiders put forth another mediocre showing in this bitter rivalry. Oakland struggled in the second half in falling to the Rams, with only TE Jared Cook a consistent positive with nine catches for a career-best 180 yards. The defense clearly missed Khalil Mack.

Von Miller was a terror against Seattle: Miller had three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s one of three active players (Robert Quinn, Terrell Suggs) with two career games with at least three sacks and two forced fumbles.

In all, Jon Gruden’s teams are 1-9 against the Broncos, with the one win coming in Oakland in 2001.

Indianapolis (0-1) at Washington (1-0)

The last time Frank Reich coached in a game that counted, he helped Philly win a Super Bowl. His Colts blew a big lead at home to Cincinnati, but at least Andrew Luck is back behind center. And Luck likes the look of Redskins burgundy: He threw for 370 yards, five TDs and one interception in his only previous game vs. Washington.

RB Adrian Peterson moved into 10th place all-time in rushing yards after gaining 96 last week at Arizona. Washington’s defense was stout and ranks second overall.

Houston (0-1) at Tennessee (0-1)

After their long, weather-related wait to eventually lose in Miami, and a right elbow injury to Marcus Mariota, the Titans could use a boost in a key early season AFC South game. Mariota should play for new coach Mike Vrabel, who was an assistant in Houston the last four years under Bill O’Brien.

The Texans have won nine of the last 12 against Tennessee, and O’Brien is 6-2 against the Titans. Houston lost at New England last week, but kept things close.

L.A. Chargers (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1)

So, first-round pick Josh Allen will start and hope to avoid another debacle after the 47-3 defeat at Baltimore. Allen will have a long leash. Remember, Buffalo’s other QB, Nathan Peterman, threw five first-half interceptions in his start against the Chargers last year. He was just about as bad against the Ravens.

The Chargers have won three straight and 17 of the past 22 meetings. They outscored the Bills by 113-44 in those three victories.

Detroit (0-1) at San Francisco (0-1)

It’s impossible to fathom Stafford being as awful again. He threw four picks, one returned for a touchdown by the Jets. His passes were off the mark most of the game.

Now that 49ers QB Garoppolo has lost a game, maybe the expectations in the Bay Area can be tamped down a bit. Keep a watch out for DL DeForest Buckner (2 1/2 sacks at Minnesota) and LB Fred Warner, who led all rookies with 12 tackles last week and forced a fumble.

New York Giants (0-1) at Dallas (0-1)

Easy to understand why the NFL keeps scheduling this matchup in prime time and why the broadcasting network loves it: big audiences. This year’s faceoff doesn’t have all that much charm considering both teams stumbled, particularly with the ball, in losing openers.

Of prime interest will be the running backs, second overall pick Saquon Barkley, who excited Giants fans with his 68-yard TD burst in his debut, and Dallas star Zeke Elliott.

Seattle (0-1) at Chicago (0-1), Monday night

So the two night games in the second week of the schedule feature a combined record of 0-4. YAWN!

Both teams lost close ones on the road, with the Bears infamously blowing a 20-point lead at Green Bay to a hobbled Rodgers. Seattle gave up 475 yards at Denver and the usually slippery Russell Wilson was sacked six times.

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Mahomes already chasing Manning and Brady

Patrick Mahomes is already chasing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Mahomes tossed six touchdown passes at Pittsburgh after throwing four in the opener at the Chargers. His 10 TDs are the most in NFL history by a quarterback in his team's first two games of a season. Manning has the most through three

Patrick Mahomes is already chasing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Mahomes tossed six touchdown passes at Pittsburgh after throwing four in the opener at the Chargers. His 10 TDs are the most in NFL history by a quarterback in his team’s first two games of a season. Manning has the most through three games with 12 in 2013 for Denver and Brady is second with 11 in 2011.

Mahomes, who turned 23 Monday, is the youngest quarterback with at least six TD passes in a single game. He also had more TDs than incomplete passes in that game.

The second-year pro makes his first career start at home when the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) host San Francisco on Sunday.

Here’s a look inside more numbers going into Week 3:

FITZ-MAGIC: Ryan Fitzpatrick is only the third quarterback to have 400 yards passing and four TDs in consecutive games, joining Hall of Famer Dan Marino (1984) and Billy Volek (2004). No one has done it three straight games.

Fitzpatrick leads the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) against Pittsburgh (0-1-1) on Monday night.

STILL SLINGIN’: Drew Brees needs only 14 completions to break Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s career record for most complete passes (6,300). Brees also has tied Manning with two consecutive games of at least 30 pass attempts and 80 percent completions.

JERRY HAS COMPANY: DeSean Jackson’s 75-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles, his former team, gave him 23 career TDs of at least 60 yards, tying him Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for most scores from that distance.

EVERYBODY SCORES: The 174 touchdowns scored through Week 2 are the most at this point in NFL history. The 1,506 points scored rank second all-time through Week 2. There were 1,556 in 2012.

DOWN TO THE WIRE: Already 21 games have been decided by one score, third-most in league history through Week 2. That equals 66 percent of games played. Four more games have been within 8 points in the fourth quarter.

COMEBACKS: Nine teams have come back to win or tie after trailing in the fourth quarter. The Packers, who overcame a 20-3 fourth-quarter deficit in a win over Chicago in Week 1, wasted a 20-7 lead after three quarters in a 29-29 tie with Minnesota.

RECORD PACE: Michael Thomas has 28 receptions through two games for New Orleans and is on pace to catch 224 passes, which would shatter Marvin Harrison’s single-season record of 143.

STILL WINLESS: Four of the NFL’s seven new coaches this season are 0-2, including Oakland’s Jon Gruden. Giants coach Pat Shurmur, Detroit’s Matt Patricia and Arizona’s Steve Wilks are also 0-2. Patricia faces former boss Bill Belichick when the Lions host the Patriots on Sunday night.

THE PERCENTAGES: Seven teams are 2-0 — Bengals, Broncos, Jaguars, Chiefs, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers. Since the current playoff format began in 1990, 62.3 percent (142-228) of teams that opened 2-0 made the playoffs.

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Reports: Maroon 5 set to play Super Bowl halftime

Reports: Maroon 5 set to play Super Bowl halftime

Thirteen years after Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones played during the Super Bowl halftime, Maroon 5 will display the "Moves Like Jagger" at Super Bowl LIII.

Maroon 5 will be the headline performer at the break in Atlanta on Feb.

Reports: Maroon 5 set to play Super Bowl halftime

Thirteen years after Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones played during the Super Bowl halftime, Maroon 5 will display the “Moves Like Jagger” at Super Bowl LIII.

Maroon 5 will be the headline performer at the break in Atlanta on Feb. 3, multiple media outlets reported Wednesday.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine told Howard Stern in 2015, “We very actively want to play the Super Bowl.”

The Reporter also noted that Cardi B and Travis Scott potentially could make guest appearances at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Cardi B was featured on Maroon 5’s recent hit, “Girls Like You.”

The NFL issued a statement regarding reports of the Super Bowl entertainment being set: “It’s a Super Bowl tradition to speculate about the performers for the Pepsi Halftime Show. We are continuing to work with (sponsor) Pepsi on our plans but do not have any announcements to make on what will be another epic show.”

Last year’s Super Bowl halftime show featured Justin Timberlake in his return after he was part of Janet Jackson’s notorious “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 NFL title game.

The list of past Super Bowl halftime performers includes Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Madonna, Lady Gaga, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Prince, Paul McCartney, U2, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

–Field Level Media

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Foster’s return major boost for 49ers’ defense

Foster's return major boost for 49ers' defense

Arizona Cardinals: At 0-2 with the league's second-worst point differential (minus-52), the Cardinals don't have a lot to hang their hats on, but there could be reinforcements coming Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive end Markus Golden, who are each returning

Foster’s return major boost for 49ers’ defense

Arizona Cardinals: At 0-2 with the league’s second-worst point differential (minus-52), the Cardinals don’t have a lot to hang their hats on, but there could be reinforcements coming Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive end Markus Golden, who are each returning from serious injuries sustained in 2017, returned to a full practice Wednesday for the first time this season. “That is a major plus when you are talking about a team that is 0-2, that needs a spark, needs some energy,” coach Steve Wilks said. “Those two guys definitely bring that, particularly Jermaine. Very vocal, high-strung guy. Loves to compete, is going to get his teammates going. And Markus is the same way. I can’t wait to get those guys back out there, and hopefully it’s this week.”

Los Angeles Rams: After adding three players with a combined 12 Pro Bowl nods to their name (five each for Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib, two for Marcus Peters) this offseason, the Rams’ defense is off to a scorching start. The unit has allowed the fewest points (13) and first downs (25) in the NFL while ranking third in yards per game, fourth in interception rate and fifth in yards per play. Talib and Peters have been particularly special, allowing just 37 yards combined through two weeks, per Pro Football Focus. This week, they face a familiar foe in Philip Rivers, whom Talib has intercepted once and Peters has intercepted four times, more than he’s victimized any other QB. “I’d put ’em up there with the top corners in the league, both those guys,” Rivers said Wednesday.

San Francisco 49ers: After serving a two-game suspension, middle linebacker Reuben Foster returns to the team this week, an addition that coach Kyle Shanahan expects to make a major difference. “Reuben’s one of our best players,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “Just having his presence out there, just from a leadership standpoint, guys gravitate to him. We really enjoy having him around.” Shanahan added that Foster “seems great mentally” and should be in good shape after two weeks off. The team has not decided yet how to use Foster with fellow linebackers Malcolm Smith, who is returning from a hamstring injury, and rookie Fred Warner, who started in Foster’s absence and is second in the NFL with 22 tackles.

Seattle Seahawks: After opening the season with two road losses, the Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field to host the Dallas Cowboys this week, and coach Pete Carroll can’t wait to get back in front of the raucous home crowd. “It’ll be tremendous to come home,” he said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I hope the 12s will be jacked and help us out and give us the kind of feeling so we can take advantage of the pass rush and those kinds of things.” Carroll also hopes the team will be closer to full strength, with linebackers Bobby Wagner (groin) and K.J. Wright (knee) both having “a chance to play,” and guard D.J. Fluker “pretty darn close” to a return.

–Field Level Media

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Rams’ Jamon Brown returns from suspension as likely backup

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Jamon Brown might have lost his starting job on the Los Angeles Rams' offensive line during his two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substances of abuse policy.

If Brown isn't in the starting lineup when the Rams (2-0) host the Chargers on Sunday, the right guard doesn't seem

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Jamon Brown might have lost his starting job on the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive line during his two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substances of abuse policy.

If Brown isn’t in the starting lineup when the Rams (2-0) host the Chargers on Sunday, the right guard doesn’t seem overly disappointed by the decision.

Brown saw just how well Austin Blythe played in his unfortunate absence, and he knows he’s got to go back to work.

“I’m going to do whatever is asked of me,” Brown said Wednesday after returning to practice. “Blythe, he played well the first two weeks, and I think that he earned and deserves every right to continue to keep that up. I’ll do what I can as far as still preparing and still practicing how I need to, but right now it’s just doing what Coach has asked me.”

The Rams’ sturdy, durable offensive line was one of the biggest factors in coach Sean McVay’s complete transformation of their offense last season from the NFL’s worst to one of its best. McVay had the same five starters on his line for the first 15 consecutive games, and the entire group returned intact this fall.

Brown was a key contributor on that line, even starting all 16 games while his four fellow starters rested for the regular season finale.

But Brown lost his spot when he was hit with a suspension in July, and he had plenty of time to think about it while he stayed away from the team for the past two weeks.

“Those of you who know me know how much I love this game, how much I love being around the team, around the guys,” Brown said. “So it was hard. But the main thing for me was making sure I stayed in football shape, making sure I keep my mind sharp, and when I was able to be around, be around.”

The Rams welcomed back Brown to the locker room this week, but McVay essentially indicated Monday that Blythe had earned the starting spot for the time being.

“This is a situation where we feel like we have two starting-caliber guards,” McVay said. “As far as how we move forward, it’s not a result of anything Jamon hasn’t done, but the fact that these are decisions that aren’t very clear-cut is because of Austin’s play. He’s played so well. He’s done such a great job.”

Brown has started 30 games over his first three seasons with the Rams, who drafted him out of Louisville in 2015. Blythe is a third-year pro out of Iowa who worked his way onto the Rams’ roster after signing as a free agent last season, playing in all 16 games and showing the versatility to contribute at guard or center.

Blythe received high marks for his first two games of this season — both from outside evaluators and from his coaches, who praise his physical run-blocking and versatility. He is still the Rams’ starting right guard on their new depth chart.

“It really, just bottom line, means I’ve done my job,” Blythe said. “And done it well enough that the coaches have recognized that, and they’re going to let me continue to prove myself, and I’ve got to keep doing that every week.”

NOTES

LB Mark Barron is unlikely to make his season debut against the Chargers, McVay said. The veteran still isn’t ready to return from his Achilles tendon injury, although McVay believes he is making progress. … K Sam Ficken was back in the locker room to fill in for All-Pro Greg Zuerlein, who could be sidelined four to six weeks with a groin injury. Ficken was with the Rams until the final roster cutdowns, and he didn’t leave the Los Angeles area after getting cut because he figured he would end up signing somewhere. “In this situation here, you’ve got three Pro Bowlers,” Ficken said, referring to the Rams’ other key special teamers, including punter/holder Johnny Hekker and long snapper Jake McQuaide. “So my job is to come in here and do what I can.” … DL Michael Brockers (shoulder) and C John Sullivan (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday. … The Rams added WR KhaDarel Hodge to the active roster from the practice squad. Injuries had reduced the Rams to just four receivers on the roster, along with kick returner JoJo Natson.

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Gruden expects to get Nelson more involved

Gruden expects to get Nelson more involved

Denver Broncos: Quarterback Case Keenum isn't known for his legs, but he had three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown Sunday in a comeback win over the Oakland Raiders. However, he paid a bit of a price, missing Wednesday's practice with left knee soreness. "I

Gruden expects to get Nelson more involved

Denver Broncos: Quarterback Case Keenum isn’t known for his legs, but he had three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown Sunday in a comeback win over the Oakland Raiders. However, he paid a bit of a price, missing Wednesday’s practice with left knee soreness. “I guess I need to slide a few more times instead trying to go run and bounce around off of defenders,” Keenum told reporters Wednesday, adding he wanted to practice but coaches held him out. “But I want to get a first down, I want to score. I’m competitive in that way.” Coach Vance Joseph expects Keenum to return to practice Thursday and play on Sunday in Baltimore.

Kansas City Chiefs: As fantastic as Patrick Mahomes’ season has started, coach Andy Reid knows that opposing teams will get a better read on the young QB as they get more film to study. “That’s the challenge,” Reid said Wednesday. “As they study him, you’ve got to be able to rise up and do that. Is there going to be a hiccup here or there? Yeah, there’s going to be learning experiences going on here. And everything hasn’t been roses to this point — it looks like it, but that’s not been the case.” Reid added that Mahomes got great experience in training camp going against defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s complex designs, but he expects other challenges. “Everybody’s got their flavor (on defense), and you’ve got to be able to answer it,” Reid said. “If you don’t answer it, then you’ve got problems.”

Los Angeles Chargers: Most out-of-conference games inherently feature unfamiliarity between opponents, but Philip Rivers has a pretty good feel for the Los Angeles Rams’ defense after playing for Wade Phillips from 2004 to 2006 and facing him twice a year when Phillips was with the Broncos in 2015 and 2016. “They don’t try to trick you with their scheme,” Rivers said Monday. “They just line up and say they’re better than you, and shoot, that works for them a lot of the time. So it’ll be a heck of a challenge.” Rivers is also all-too-familiar with former Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and former Chiefs corner Marcus Peters, whose four picks of Rivers are his most against any single QB. “I’d put ’em up there with the top corners in the league, both those guys,” Rivers said.

Oakland Raiders: Despite Derek Carr’s 29-for-32 day against the Broncos on Sunday, wide receiver Jordy Nelson again wasn’t heavily involved in the offense, finishing with two catches for 30 yards. The former Green Bay Packer now has five grabs for 53 yards through two games, but those numbers should increase, according to coach Jon Gruden. “We expect to see more and more from Jordy as the weeks unfold,” Gruden said Wednesday. “(Amari) Cooper had a big week last week. (Jared) Cook had a big week in Week 1. Hopefully Jordy has one this week.” Cooper broke out in Denver with 10 grabs for 116 yards, one game after having just one catch for 9 yards.

–Field Level Media

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Fitzpatrick’s final stand in Tampa?

Fitzpatrick's final stand in Tampa?

Atlanta Falcons: Injuries are denting the depth chart of the Falcons, and wide receiver Julio Jones was the latest casualty. Jones missed Wednesday's practice with a calf injury, but the injury is not considered serious. Head coach Dan Quinn called Jones day-to-day, and of more concern are the

Fitzpatrick’s final stand in Tampa?

Atlanta Falcons: Injuries are denting the depth chart of the Falcons, and wide receiver Julio Jones was the latest casualty. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice with a calf injury, but the injury is not considered serious. Head coach Dan Quinn called Jones day-to-day, and of more concern are the potential absences against the New Orleans Saints of running back Devonta Freeman (knee) and defensive ends Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby (groin injuries). Already down multiple starters due to injury, the latest role player to be thrust into a starting role, guard Wes Schweitzer, is stepping in for Andy Levitre, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a triceps injury.

Carolina Panthers: Linebacker Luke Keuchly grew up 25 miles from Cinergy Field — formerly home of the Cincinnati Bengals — and dreamed of wearing a tiger-striped helmet. In high school, he was a lacrosse rival of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis’ son, Marcus. On Sunday, he’ll play a professional game against the Bengals for the second time. The previous game was a 37-37 tie in Cincinnati in 2014, and Kuechly led all players with 13 tackles. “I was a Bengals fan,” Kuechly said, recalling a game in which Corey Dillon rushed for nearly 200 yards against the Browns. Lewis said the Bengals are “still trying to clone guys like Luke Kuechly around here.”

New Orleans Saints: Lamenting a stagnant running game and other issues with his typically potent offense was not a high priority for Sean Payton on Wednesday, but he has made a call for more playmaking from Saints tight ends. Veteran Benjamin Watson has been the primary tight end this season with Josh Hill playing about 20 percent of offensive snaps. Watson has seven catches in two games. “I can play better, definitely, make more plays, do more,” Watson said. “That’s the goal. The goal is always to get better, so I definitely feel like I can get better.” Drew Brees uncharacteristically missed a wide open Watson in the end zone in the first quarter on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Fitzpatrick is guaranteed only one more start before Jameis Winston’s suspension ends. Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter is not planning to commit to either one until he’s required to do so; Winston can be activated Tuesday, one day after Tampa hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Monday Night Football.” Fitzpatrick has nine of the team’s 10 touchdowns (one rushing) in two games and completed 78.7 percent of his passes entering Week 3, good for a passer rating of 151.5. A third stellar showing against a Steelers defense lit up for 42 points by second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs last week could shift the impending decision. “Right now we’re going to start working on Pittsburgh, and that’s all that matters right now,” Koetter said. “Everything else is in the future because it could all change just like that.”

–Field Level Media

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O’Brien rips ‘idiotic’ remark about QB Watson

O'Brien rips 'idiotic' remark about QB Watson

Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien responded harshly Wednesday to controversial comments made online by a Texas school superintendent about quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Lynn Redden of the Onalaska Independent School District in East Texas wrote "you can't count on a black quarterback" on the

O’Brien rips ‘idiotic’ remark about QB Watson

Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien responded harshly Wednesday to controversial comments made online by a Texas school superintendent about quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Lynn Redden of the Onalaska Independent School District in East Texas wrote “you can’t count on a black quarterback” on the Houston Chronicle’s Facebook page Monday, following the Texans’ 20-17 loss on Sunday at Tennessee.

Redden subsequently issued an apology while speaking to the Chronicle, telling the newspaper he thought he was responding to a private message from a friend.

O’Brien addressed the incident at length during his press conference Wednesday.

“I really don’t want to waste a lot of time responding to outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements,” he said. “I’ll just let Deshaun’s proven success on the field, his character off the field speak for itself. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached. He represents everything that’s right about football, about life. His teammates respect him, his coaching staff respects him.

“In this day and age it’s just amazing that this B.S. exists — but it does. But we’re moving forward and our fans, they love Deshaun and we’re really concentrating on the Giants.”

Watson, 23, shrugged off the comments.

“That’s just everyday life, I guess,” he said. “But I’m all about love, so I don’t have none of that. I don’t focus on none of that. I love all people and that’s what I focus on.”

Through two games this season, the second-year quarterback from Clemson has completed 39 of 66 passes for 4866 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Houston (0-2) hosts the Giants (0-2) on Sunday.

According to the Chronicle, the Onalaska school board will meet Saturday to discuss Redden’s contract.

“Onalaska ISD regrets that an inappropriate comment has been attributed to the district’s superintendent,” the board said in a statement, per the Chronicle. “The OISD does not condone negative comments or actions against any race. The district values every individual and therefore the district will take the appropriate measures to address the situation expeditiously and completely.”

–Field Level Media

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Garoppolo looks for consistency going into matchup at Chiefs

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo's first two games of the season have been a mixed bag, with his shining moments counterbalanced by mistakes.

A stern challenge awaits San Francisco's young quarterback Sunday when the 49ers travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

"We know it's going

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo’s first two games of the season have been a mixed bag, with his shining moments counterbalanced by mistakes.

A stern challenge awaits San Francisco’s young quarterback Sunday when the 49ers travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

“We know it’s going to be loud,” Garoppolo said before Wednesday’s practice. “I played there my rookie year (with New England) and it was rocking. So we know what we’re in for.”

Sunday’s game features an intriguing matchup of two young quarterbacks who benefited from the expert tutelage of the veterans they once played behind.

After serving as a backup to Tom Brady for three seasons, Garoppolo was traded from New England to San Francisco and looked sensational in five games to close out the 2017 season, which led to a five-year, $137.5 million contract for the 26-year-old.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes soaked in all he could from Alex Smith as a rookie in 2017. Smith was traded to Washington in the offseason, and Mahomes has responded with an NFL-best 10 touchdowns so far, the most by a quarterback in NFL history over the first two games. He has yet to be picked off.

While the 49ers’ defense has a challenge in slowing down the Chiefs’ high-powered attack, Garoppolo and the offense simply want to avoid the potentially game-changing mishaps that they’ve been susceptible to over the first two weeks.

Garoppolo had an interception returned for a touchdown in the opener at Minnesota, a play on which receiver Kendrick Bourne ran the wrong route. Garoppolo threw three picks total in that loss and Alfred Morris lost a fumble inside the Vikings 5-yard line.

Then in Sunday’s 30-27 victory over Detroit, Garoppolo threw a fourth-quarter interception that would have been a game-changer were it not nullified by a Lions holding penalty.

It came out later that rookie receiver Dante Pettis ran the wrong route on that play, but it was still an ill-advised throw by Garoppolo.

Being on the same page in the passing game is a key to avoiding those kinds of mistakes. And good communication can be a challenge when dealing with the crowd noise at Arrowhead.

“I think it starts with the week of practice,” Garoppolo said. “We want to go out there and be perfect on every play call — how we hear it, how we communicate with each other between series, all that stuff. It’s a lot of little things coming together.”

The 49ers hope for the healthy return of veteran receiver Marquise Goodwin, who missed Sunday’s game because of a bruised thigh. Goodwin practiced Wednesday for the first time since that injury, but he looked to be holding back a bit while running routes during the portion of practice open to reporters. Goodwin declined to speculate on whether he would play against Kansas City.

NOTES: Linebacker Reuben Foster was added to the 49ers active roster after serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policies of conduct and substances of abuse. Foster is expected to start at inside linebacker against the Chiefs, but coach Kyle Shanahan was non-committal about whether rookie Fred Warner, who has been a bright spot through two games, would remain in the lineup if Foster starts. Offensive lineman Matt Tobin was released to clear a roster spot for Foster. … Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and guard Joshua Garnett (toe) did not practice. Goodwin was limited as was cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (ankle) and guard Mike Person (foot).

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All-in Vikings upgrade 3 spots, in no position for patience

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have almost every key player back from the 2017 team that won 14 games and went to the NFC championship game.

Their new quarterback, Kirk Cousins , is playing up to his big contract. They're one kick away from starting this season unbeaten.

For all their

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have almost every key player back from the 2017 team that won 14 games and went to the NFC championship game.

Their new quarterback, Kirk Cousins , is playing up to his big contract. They’re one kick away from starting this season unbeaten.

For all their strengths and stability, let alone dwindling space under the salary cap, the Vikings still sought upgrades at three positions in the three days that passed since their 29-29 tie at Green Bay .

They signed kicker Dan Bailey after cutting their fifth-round draft pick, Daniel Carlson, following his three missed field goals against the Packers.

They dropped wide receiver Stacy Coley, a seventh-rounder in 2017, in favor of Aldrick Robinson for a more experienced backup. When defensive tackle Tom Johnson became available, they brought him back to spell Sheldon Richardson and let David Parry go.

“I wanted to go somewhere that had an opportunity to win and be a part of an organization that’s right there and right on the brink of having a lot of success,” said Bailey, who like Johnson had offers from multiple teams. “When this situation came up, it fit the bill perfectly.”

Such cutthroat competition is commonplace in the NFL, of course, but nonetheless indicative of the all-in approach the front office has applied in 2018 in pursuit of a Super Bowl.

There’s little appetite this fall for leaving one of those 53 precious spots on the roster for a developmental purpose, if it can be used instead for a player who’ll contribute to the current team.

When the opening week rosters were established, the Vikings had the youngest average age in the NFC. But they replaced Carlson (23) with Bailey (30), Parry (26) with Johnson (34) and Coley (24) with Robinson, who will turn 30 on Monday.

Coach Mike Zimmer even texted general manager Rick Spielman and some of the other evaluators this week with this message: “Thank you for trying to get some more players in here.”

Zimmer added: “It’s great to see. We felt like we needed to make some moves after that game.”

Carlson was going to have a hard time recovering from his performance in Green Bay. Coley made a couple of less-obvious mistakes, but coupled with some costly dropped passes by fellow wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in that game, the Vikings were understandably concerned about their depth behind stars Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

Then Johnson suddenly became available after his release by Seattle, and the Vikings seized on the opportunity to add a player who was good enough to start for the league’s top-ranked defense last season in a reserve role.

Johnson became a free agent and picked the Seahawks after the Vikings signed Richardson. The Seahawks told Johnson they preferred to re-sign him, after dropping him from the roster to accommodate the promotion of a player from the practice squad.

“I guess they didn’t think I was going to get as much interest as I got,” Johnson said, adding: “It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, as far the better situation that I’m in. I’m taking full advantage of it.”

The same goes for Bailey, who was cut by the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 1 in a cost-cutting move after he struggled in 2017 down the stretch of his seventh NFL season following a groin injury.

“Hopefully,” Zimmer said, knocking his knuckles against the podium, “he’s really, really good for us.”

The coach hoped aloud that Bailey would solidify the position the same way Cousins has at quarterback, after the carousel that has spun at both spots since Zimmer arrived in 2014.

“For me it was about being patient and waiting for the right opportunity,” Bailey said.

“It’s hard to say if I would have waited longer, but that was my game plan going into it. I’m fortunate this opportunity came up, and I took advantage.”

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Seahawks struggling to protect quarterback Russell Wilson

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Pete Carroll has a firm belief that the protection the Seattle Seahawks offensive line is providing Russell Wilson has improved from where it was in recent years.

The statistics tell a far different story.

No team in the NFL has seen its quarterback sacked more often through the first

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Pete Carroll has a firm belief that the protection the Seattle Seahawks offensive line is providing Russell Wilson has improved from where it was in recent years.

The statistics tell a far different story.

No team in the NFL has seen its quarterback sacked more often through the first two weeks of the season than the Seahawks. It’s been a disastrous mix of mistakes by the offensive line, Wilson holding the ball too long at times, and facing a pair of elite pass rushers that has led to the quarterback being sacked 12 times already.

Since the sack became an official statistic in 1982, there have been 26 instances of a team allowing 12 or more sacks in the first two weeks of the regular season. But only three of those — Jacksonville in 2014, Houston in 2017 and Seattle this year— have come in the past 10 seasons. Jacksonville and Houston each allowed 13 sacks in the first two weeks, both on their way to terrible seasons. The Jaguars went 3-13; the Texans 4-12. But neither of them had an established, top-tier quarterback like Wilson calling the shots.

All of which puts the Seahawks in the kind of company they’d rather not be a part of so early in the season.

“We’ve tried to make him more confident in the protection. Even though the sack numbers are there, our protection is more solid than it’s been,” Carroll said. “It was throughout the preseason and Russell is counting on that rhythm to help him. He’s moving in the pocket a little bit because that’s what he’s had a lot of times. But the other part of it, the miscues and all are new. We’re missing this, missing that, and we can fix all of those things.”

The competition Seattle has faced didn’t help the situation. The Seahawks opened the year having to deal with Von Miller and Denver’s front, then followed up in Week 2 facing Khalil Mack in his first home game with Chicago. The final result was Wilson getting sacked six times in each game, which compounded other mistakes that have left the Seahawks sitting at 0-2.

While coming home this week to face Dallas removes the challenge of playing in a loud environment, others have emerged. Starting center Justin Britt injured his shoulder late in the loss to Chicago while trying to get on a fumble Wilson lost while being sacked.

Carroll said Britt was sore and would be day-to-day, but he did not practice Wednesday. Also sitting out practice was left guard Ethan Pocic, who was considered a candidate to potentially replace Britt at center. Pocic has an ankle injury.

If Britt can’t play and Pocic is an unknown, Seattle may plug in backup Joey Hunt at center and shift guard J.R. Sweezy. D.J. Fluker, who started at right guard before suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason, is expected to return this week after missing the first two games.

“We have to be better. The numbers aren’t solely on the offensive line but as a lineman you never want to see your quarterback on the ground,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “We have to do everything we can to correct it. We have to win our individual battles, communicate protections better, picking up blitzes better. We’ll get there quick.”

The Cowboys are second in the NFL with nine sacks through two games and last season sacked Wilson three times and limited the Seahawks to 136 total yards. But Dallas still watched Seattle come away with a 21-12 win.

“Lot of movement up front, line stunts, things like that. They don’t like to sit still. They like to move around and throw your scheme off,” Brown said.

NOTES: Carroll said the team received indications from the league that LB Mychal Kendricks will be able to play this week. Kendricks, who pleaded guilty to federal insider trading charges, made his debut with the Seahawks on Monday and had three tackles, including a sack, against Chicago. … LB Bobby Wagner (groin) and CB Tre Flowers (hamstring) were full participants in practice Wednesday and are expected to play Sunday after missing the loss to Chicago.

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‘Frustrated’ Bradford looks to turn around Arizona’s offense

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals' offense has been dreadful by any measure and Sam Bradford knows that, as the quarterback, he takes the lion's share of the blame.

"I think as a quarterback, you always take ownership of the offense," Bradford said after practice Wednesday. "To be honest, I don't really

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals’ offense has been dreadful by any measure and Sam Bradford knows that, as the quarterback, he takes the lion’s share of the blame.

“I think as a quarterback, you always take ownership of the offense,” Bradford said after practice Wednesday. “To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to what’s being said outside this building. I just know however I do it, I’ve got to figure out a way to get this offense going. Find ways to make plays, find ways to get us going, and that’s how I’ve tried to approach it this week.”

The offensive statistics of the winless Cardinals through two games are the worst in the NFL.

The team has scored one touchdown, a short run by David Johnson in the season-opening 24-6 home loss to Washington. Last week, in a 34-0 drubbing by the Rams in Los Angeles, Bradford completed 17 of 27 passes but for only 90 yards. Through his first two games as Arizona’s quarterback, he has completed 37 of 61 for 243 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 55.6.

The Cardinals didn’t get past midfield against the Rams until the next-to-last play of the game.

“You put so much time in in the offseason, in training camp, during the regular season, during practice, during your film study that you want to go out and you want to play well,” Bradford said, “and when you don’t, I think it’s very frustrating just given the amount of time and the amount of effort that you put into it.

“So it’s definitely been a frustrating two weeks but I think you look at it as a challenge, look at it as a way to find a solution , to keep battling, to keep competing and find a way to get better.”

Not that a fix will be easy. Next up is a Sunday home game against Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears.

This kind of start to a season naturally triggered speculation from the grumbling Arizona fan base that rookie Josh Rosen should take over at quarterback. That isn’t happening, yet anyway.

“Sam, right now, is the quarterback, as I’ve stated before,” coach Steve 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. That’s what I saw today. Guys executing, doing the little things right. So no, Sam’s the guy.”

Bradford has had some problems with accuracy, usually a strong point of his game. Asked if he’s playing cautiously because he’s coming off yet another knee injury, he said, “I don’t believe so. I would say, ‘No,’ to that.”

The Cardinals have scaled back the game plan and simplified things offensively.

The idea, Bradford said, is to “just make sure that the plays that we have in the game plan everyone’s comfortable with versus multiple looks. Just really feel like we own the plays that are in the game that week as opposed to having so many calls on the sheet that maybe we know them but we’re not owning them the way that we should.

“I think the thought is just allow everyone to go out there and play faster, simplify everything a little bit and hopefully it shows up in the speed in which we play.”

And they’ve got to keep giving the ball to Johnson, who has yet to break the big plays that were his trademark two years ago, before a wrist injury wiped out virtually all of last season.

“I think with Dave, if you give him enough opportunities he’s eventually going to make a play,” Bradford said. “I think it’s just staying committed to finding ways to get him the ball.”

Notes: TE Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) and DE Markus Golden (knee) participated fully in practice Wednesday, increasing the likelihood that both will make their season debut Sunday. Both are coming off surgery. … WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) didn’t practice but is expected to play, Wilks said. … The Cardinals signed LB Joe Walker off Philadelphia’s practice squad. He played in 12 games, three as a starter, with the Eagles last season, accumulating 13 tackles.

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Chargers hoping to establish run game early against Rams

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers haven't needed to rely too much on their run game during their first two games, but that might change on Sunday against the unbeaten Rams.

The Chargers (1-1) have called runs on 37.5 percent of their plays the first two weeks, which is the

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t needed to rely too much on their run game during their first two games, but that might change on Sunday against the unbeaten Rams.

The Chargers (1-1) have called runs on 37.5 percent of their plays the first two weeks, which is the fifth-lowest percentage in the AFC. Despite that, they are averaging 116 yards, which is above the league average of 104 yards.

In other words, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler aren’t getting a lot of carries, but they are making the most of their plays.

“They’ve been very effective,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’s been a tremendous help for us because it opens up other things like play action.”

Gordon has only 24 carries, which is his lowest total for the first two games in his four-year career, but he is tied for the team lead in receptions with 15. Gordon had the second three-touchdown game of his career in last week’s 31-20 win at Buffalo, with two TDs coming on catches. He’s also gained over 100 yards from scrimmage in six of his last eight games dating to last season.

While the quarterback matchup between the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Rams’ Jared Goff is attracting plenty of attention, the running back battle between Gordon and Todd Gurley is tantalizing as well. Both were drafted in the first round in 2015, with Gurley having the advantage so far. He led the league in yards from scrimmage last season with 2,093 while Gordon was fifth (1,581).

“We compete. It’s not like we hate each other. We both want to prove we are the best back and it happens that we compete in the same city,” Gordon said.

Ekeler had a career-high 77 yards on 11 carries in last week’s win at Buffalo. Three of his longest carries came on runs off the left side.

Whisenhunt continues to find different ways to use the second-year back. In the opener against Kansas City, Ekeler caught a 13-yard touchdown while last week he was getting most of the carries.

“They are starting to use both of us in different ways and it has been working,” Ekeler said. “It’s going to be important again this week because they have a real solid front five. If we can get the run game going early that can help us in play action.”

The Chargers have a lot of experience facing a Wade Phillips defense. They faced Phillips twice a year when he was with Denver in 2015-16.

The Rams have one of the best interior pass rushes in the league with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald at the tackles. They also have gone 12 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

One of the best matchups could be center Mike Pouncey going up against Suh. The two went up against each other often during practices in Miami the past three seasons.

“That’s going to make things a lot easier for me and a lot of other guys,” Gordon said of Pouncey. “You have a bully like that up front that ain’t scared to back down, that gets them other guys going.”

Pouncey, who is in his first season in Los Angeles after seven seasons in Miami, said getting the run game going early is going to be vitally important this week.

“Any time you can run the ball it keeps us on schedule,” he said. “We have been over 100 yards in each game, which is something to build off of.”

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Khalil Mack, Bears defense look to turn sacks into turnovers

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — In just a few weeks, linebacker Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears defense feel they've established an identity.

The identity is no secret: They're coming after the quarterback and the football.

The Bears hope to build momentum Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after they beat Seattle 24-17 Monday

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — In just a few weeks, linebacker Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears defense feel they’ve established an identity.

The identity is no secret: They’re coming after the quarterback and the football.

The Bears hope to build momentum Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after they beat Seattle 24-17 Monday night. And a defense leading the NFL in sacks is giving them a shot at climbing over .500 for the first time since September 2014.

“Consistency is what you want, especially from a defense on the road,” Mack said. “It’s going to be very important to go out, pack our defense and do what we’re capable of doing.”

Mack’s impact has gone beyond consistency for the defense. Now they’re all trying to get the football the way he did when he stripped it from quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson while they threw in each of the first two games.

“If you can’t tell, it’s very contagious,” Mack said.

There’s method to the madness Mack has created on the field.

“You definitely consciously work on that,” Mack said. “That’s something you want to preach throughout the whole defense — getting the ball back to the offense. Creating a short field (for the offense) is a great feeling, but it feels even better when you can score it yourself.”

Linebacker Danny Trevathan had two sacks and a forced fumble against Seattle and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. The defense has 10 sacks in all, and has scored two touchdowns on interception returns.

“The ball is the most important thing on the field,” Mack said. “You can get the big hits. But the ball is very, very important, especially in a game.”

They think it will only get better.

“Oh yeah, that’s what they pay us the big bucks for,” Trevathan said.

Mack came over in a trade just before the season with Oakland and received the biggest defensive contract in history, with $90 million guaranteed.

New teammates immediately saw big plays from him against Green Bay in the opener, with a fumble forced, recovered, a sack, an interception and a touchdown return.

They all wanted to imitate him.

“I believe for us, just seeing it happen, you’ll want to go out and do it yourself,” linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “It definitely motivates the rest of the team to go out and make those types of plays.”

By watching Mack, Floyd thinks he can pick up techniques for getting around the corner and knocking out the ball.

“It’s definitely a skill you can learn,” Floyd said. “It’s a skill of just wanting to get the ball out. Just when you get the opportunity, you want to force a turnover.”

Another reason the Bears defense sees possible improvement ahead is they’ve operated so far at less than 100 percent capacity.

Floyd still has to wear a club cast on his right hand to protect a fracture, and doesn’t have a sack. He said he hopes this week to reduce the size of the protective cast.

Rookie Roquan Smith has eight tackles, a sack, and just started to make an impact last week after holding out most of training camp. And Mack says he’s still adjusting to a new team, new scheme and playing again after a preseason holdout.

While new teammates are imitating Mack, he’s also gaining a respect for them — Trevathan in particular.

“You can tell he won a championship,” Mack said of the former Bronco. “That’s definitely what he’s bringing to the table, that communication and vibe that you feel from your vocal leader.”

The Bears finished 10th defensively last year, ninth in points allowed, and they expected to be better. Mack’s addition has changed expectations outside of Halas Hall, but coach Matt Nagy insisted it did nothing to his belief in the team.

“It didn’t change any mentality at all,” Nagy said. “I told (reporters) from the day we walked into this building here, there was one goal and that was to win the Super Bowl. That was it. That was with the team that we had, before Khalil.

“Now that he gets here, he helps us get better on that side of the ball and helps us be better as a team as a leader. The goal never changed. Maybe it has to outsiders, but for people in this building it hasn’t changed.”

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Texans’ O’Brien rips superintendent over Watson comment

Texans' O'Brien rips superintendent over Watson comment

Houston Texans: Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he's not worried about the Houston-area superintendent of schools making an inflammatory comment about the trustworthiness of black quarterbacks. Lynn Redden -- superintendent of the Onalaska Independent School District in the Piney Woods, about an hour north of Houston --

Texans’ O’Brien rips superintendent over Watson comment

Houston Texans: Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he’s not worried about the Houston-area superintendent of schools making an inflammatory comment about the trustworthiness of black quarterbacks. Lynn Redden — superintendent of the Onalaska Independent School District in the Piney Woods, about an hour north of Houston — is reportedly under investigation for a comment made on Facebook about Watson holding onto the ball as time ran out in Week 2. Redden claimed he thought the comment was a direct message. “When you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback,” Redden wrote, later admitting to the message in a Houston Chronicle interview. Texans coach Bill O’Brien shared his pointed thoughts on the post Wednesday. “I really don’t want to waste a lot of time responding to outdated, inaccurate, ignorant, idiotic statements. I’ll just let Deshaun’s proven success on the field (and) his character off the field speak for itself. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached. He represents everything that’s right about football, about life. His teammates respect him, his coaching staff respects him. In this day and age, it’s just amazing that that BS exists, but it does.”

Indianapolis Colts: Le’Raven Clark could remain in the lineup at left tackle Sunday, and the task is tall against the Philadelphia Eagles’ deep defensive line rotation. Clark started at left tackle in Week 2 when Anthony Castonzo’s chronic hamstring injury kept him on the sideline, after Joe Haeg filled in for Castonzo in Week 1. Castonzo will attempt to return and make his season debut against the Eagles, but head coach Frank Reich indicated the Colts are playing it safe with quarterback Andrew Luck’s blind-side protector. “We think he’s going to be back,” Reich said, cautioning that both player and coach expected Castonzo to start at Washington.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette was back on the field for practice Wednesday, returning for the first time since he exited the Week 1 win over the New York Giants with a hamstring injury. Fournette, who said his hamstring popped, did not play last week in the Jaguars’ win over the Patriots. But his understudy, T.J. Yeldon, missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. Quarterback Blake Bortles said Fournette looked good. “It looked like he was Leonard. He was flying around, making some good plays. He got some touches and looked good,” Bortles said.

Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Marcus Mariota experienced tingling in two of his fingers, and the Titans are not sure when he will be ready to return from an elbow injury suffered Week 1. Mariota took the practice field Wednesday with the index and middle fingers cut out of a glove on his throwing hand. He said the issue is with the nerves in those fingers. “It’s getting better, but it is frustrating. It is hard because it’s one of those things where you can’t really do a whole lot,” Mariota said. Blaine Gabbert, who started Week 2 and guided Tennessee to a 20-17 win over Houston, will continue to take the first-team reps with the offense in preparation for Sunday’s game with the Jaguars.

–Field Level Media

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Bears rolling out new plan for Trubisky

Bears rolling out new plan for Trubisky

Chicago Bears: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky remains his own harshest critic, which is not a major shock to head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy said Wednesday he wants Trubisky not to dwell on individual plays that don't work, and to leave failed drives in the past to avoid

Bears rolling out new plan for Trubisky

Chicago Bears: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky remains his own harshest critic, which is not a major shock to head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy said Wednesday he wants Trubisky not to dwell on individual plays that don’t work, and to leave failed drives in the past to avoid carrying the weight into more important spots in the game. One area in which Trubisky is excelling is throwing on the move. Nagy said changing the launch point is elevating Trubisky’s comfort level and confidence. “Mitch does a really good job,” Nagy said. “He did it in college. He was really good outside the pocket. And so we need to be able to figure out ways to do that and where we feel it’s advantageous for the offense and I know he’s comfortable in that.”

Detroit Lions: Matt Patricia’s NFL voyage began with the New England Patriots as a quality control coach in 2004, when his best friend on the support staff of Bill Belichick was an offensive assistant. They’ll convene again Sunday night at Ford Field when first-time head coach Patricia goes for his first win by trying to stop that assistant — current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “Josh and I are really close,” Patricia said. “I think the two of us leaned on each other quite a bit, helped each other out a lot as young coaches and developing into wherever we are right now. … Utmost respect for him.” Even McDaniels expects a few surprises from Patricia. “He’ll keep you off balance. There’s definitely an element of spinning the wheel with Matt,” McDaniels told Masslive.com.

Green Bay Packers: Cornerback Kevin King’s groin injury kicked the door open for the Minnesota Vikings’ fourth-quarter rally last week, and King is a longshot to return this week at Washington. King, 23, was a first-round pick in 2017 — his season ended early due to a shoulder injury — and helped frustrate Kirk Cousins through three quarters in Sunday’s game. Without King, the Packers are going to need to be creative. “We probably didn’t handle Kevin King’s injury very well,” McCarthy said. “We just weren’t as detailed down the stretch. It was obviously an ability for them to extend drives, and they hit the big play there on the (75-yard Stefon Diggs) touchdown, too.”

Minnesota Vikings: Settling the kicker position might finally be checked off of general manager Rick Spielman’s to-do list. The Vikings parted with kicker Daniel Carlson in what head coach Mike Zimmer described as an easy decision after Carlson failed to deliver in overtime at Green Bay. His replacement happens to be the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dan Bailey. Bailey was on the street only because the Dallas Cowboys opted not to pay his $4 million salary and released him Sept. 1. “I wanted to go somewhere that had an opportunity to win and be a part of an organization that’s right there and right on the brink of having a lot of success,” Bailey said Wednesday. “When this situation came up, it fit the bill perfectly. I can’t complain about eight games out of the year inside (at U.S. Bank Stadium); that was a plus.”

–Field Level Media

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Reich downplays reunion with defending Super Bowl champs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Frank Reich has the inside track on Philadelphia.

He coached the quarterbacks, helped construct one of the league's most innovative offenses and worked closely with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz before leaving for Indianapolis in February.

On Sunday, the Colts are hoping Reich's knowledge could give them a leg up on

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Frank Reich has the inside track on Philadelphia.

He coached the quarterbacks, helped construct one of the league’s most innovative offenses and worked closely with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz before leaving for Indianapolis in February.

On Sunday, the Colts are hoping Reich’s knowledge could give them a leg up on the defending Super Bowl champs this weekend.

“Nothing too dramatic, a few things here and there,” Reich said when asked about this week’s conversations with defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

“Not anything that would be over the top. My experience is if you say too much it just confuses the matter. So you give a few personnel things, a few philosophical things, maybe one or two things to look for and then you let our defense play the way we’ve been playing.”

Of course, Reich downplays the significance of this weekend’s reunion. Most coaches do.

But Reich’s third game as a head coach will understandably be a big deal.

It was in Philly where Reich went from rising assistant to head coaching candidate after spending two seasons with coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz, who is expected to make his season debut Sunday.

It was in Philly where Reich finally put his fingers on the Super Bowl ring that eluded him so many other places.

It was in Philly where Reich turned down interviews so he could focus solely on winning playoff games with Nick Foles following Wentz’s season-ending knee injury.

And it was in Philly where he finally got the Colts’ phone call after Josh McDaniels reneged on a commitment to take over as head coach.

Neither Reich nor his players see much point in making this game bigger than it needs to be.

“I didn’t even think about that (Reich’s return),” quarterback Andrew Luck said Wednesday. “I don’t think anyone in this locker room needs extra motivation to win a game for him. I mean I think our guys are hungry to play. Yeah, that would be special, that would be special, that would be cool.”

Reich already has given the Colts (1-1) a fresh perspective.

They are off to their best start since 2013 and Luck has looked like his old self in an offense that, not so surprisingly, resembles the Eagles’ plan.

Four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton is off to the best start of his career as he lines up in multiple spots. Running backs Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins delivered a one-two punch last week that was reminiscent of Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Nyheim Hines possesses natural versatility, like Darren Sproles, and the Colts’ tight ends are being asked to do more, too.

Eberflus, who faced the Eagles twice a year while coaching previously in Dallas, has the Colts defense clicking, too.

Rookie linebacker Darius Leonard was selected as the AFC’s defensive player of the week Wednesday after getting 18 tackles in last weekend’s 21-9 victory at Washington.

Eberflus can always seek additional advice from linebacker Najee Goode, a free-agent signee who played with the Eagles last season.

The Eagles know all about the potential pitfalls in facing their former offensive coordinator and are planning accordingly.

“He (Reich) knows, obviously, our structure offensively, what we try to do, how we attack things and maybe even some of the terminology and verbiage. So, we have to be careful there,” Pederson said on a conference call with Colts’ reporters.

“At the same time, we can’t change everything. There is some similarity, but at the same time we’re aware of it. We are looking forward to seeing him again on Sunday and welcoming him back to Philadelphia.”

Even if the reception is less than warm — as Eagles’ fans tend to make it.

But Reich returns with fond memories of the city, organization and staff that welcomed him with open arms and nothing but gratitude for the opportunity he got. All he wants to do now is win.

“It (leaving Philadelphia) was bittersweet in that it was such a great experience there, such a good relationship with everyone there,” Reich said.

“But there’s only 32 of these things and if it’s a goal and it’s an aspiration, you have to seize the moment.”

Notes: Indy has signed running back Jeremy McNichols to the practice squad, released quarterback Phillip Walker from the practice squad and waived running back Josh Ferguson from the injured reserve list. … Team owner Jim Irsay and his family have donated $100,000 to the Wheeler Mission to help the local charity expand the Center for Women & Children, which provides emergency shelter and long-term programs for homeless women and women with children.

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Pats tempering expectations as Gordon practices for 1st time

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Josh Gordon arrived at a Patriots' team facility that was abuzz with excitement about what he could potentially bring to their depleted receiving group.

There was also just as strong a sentiment in the building to keep any lofty expectations in check — at least for now.

Gordon practiced

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Josh Gordon arrived at a Patriots’ team facility that was abuzz with excitement about what he could potentially bring to their depleted receiving group.

There was also just as strong a sentiment in the building to keep any lofty expectations in check — at least for now.

Gordon practiced with the Patriots for the first time Wednesday since being traded by the Browns on Monday.

New England worked out a deal with Cleveland for the embattled receiver about 48 hours after the Browns announced their intention to cut ties with him, saying they had “reached a point where we feel it’s best to part ways and move forward.”

It never came to that, with the Patriots offering a fifth-round pick for a freakishly athletic player on the field, who often has been less than dependable off it.

Gordon has been suspended multiple times by the NFL for violations of its drug policies since being drafted by the Browns in 2012. He missed the entire 2015 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and hasn’t come close to duplicating his All-Pro 2013 season, in which he had 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns.

He’s appeared in only 11 games since then.

It may be why coach Bill Belichick remained coy Wednesday morning when asked about what Gordon could add to New England’s offense, saying that the trade was yet to be finalized.

An hour later Gordon took the practice field wearing the No. 10 jersey once occupied by former Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was traded to San Francisco last season.

Gordon was a limited participant in practice with a hamstring issue and didn’t speak with the media afterward.

But his new teammates said he has been welcomed with open arms. It’s up to him to fit in on a team that demands discipline.

“I think the slogan kind of stands for itself — ‘Do your job’ is kind of the big mantra that’s preached around here. I’m sure he’s had that conversation with coach,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said.

“I think it’s just more about him getting comfortable. … Whatever he needs, whatever questions he has, obviously we’re all here to help him.”

While there’s uncertainty about just how Gordon will fit into New England’s strict culture, it is a gamble the Patriots appear willing to take.

They’ve been trying to plug holes at receiver after starting the season without Julian Edelman (suspended for first four games), Danny Amendola (signed with Miami in free agency) and Brandin Cooks (traded to Los Angeles Rams).

The Patriots have brought in several new faces since the season began, creating a constant jumbling on the depth chart.

Quarterback Tom Brady has compensated by spreading around passes to nearly everyone in the offense. In the season-opening win over Houston, he completed passes to eight different players. Seven different players caught at least one pass in Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville.

Adding a big-play threat such as Gordon could bring some better balance.

Still, during a radio interview, Brady said that he hates to “make projections and expectations” about how Gordon can help.

“That’s not fair. I’ve never met Josh, personally — just like I hadn’t met some of the guys who have come in the last couple of weeks. We’ll see how it goes this week,” Brady said.

“Hopefully, he can work hard, put the team first and end up helping us in a role that he can find for himself on the team.”

Notes: Starting DE Trey Flowers and S Patrick Chung both missed practice with concussions. Chung appeared in all 16 regular-season games each of the past two seasons. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game with the Patriots since Week 16 of the 2015 season… RB Sony Michel (knee) and DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (finger) were both full participants in practice.

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Payton says Saints’ last-ranked run game not in ‘crisis’

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton said it's too early to judge New Orleans' last-ranked running game.

New Orleans managed only 43 yards rushing on 13 attempts in a Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, but Payton said that was more about the nature of a game because the Saints had

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton said it’s too early to judge New Orleans’ last-ranked running game.

New Orleans managed only 43 yards rushing on 13 attempts in a Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, but Payton said that was more about the nature of a game because the Saints had to lean on the pass after falling behind. And though the coach was more critical of the running game following the Saints 21-18 victory over Cleveland, he stressed: “We’re talking about one game here. We’re not talking about a crisis.”

The Saints’ surge to the NFC South title last season was fueled to a large degree by a rejuvenated running game that ranked fifth in the NFL.

The addition of Alvin Kamara, who became the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, to Mark Ingram, who had his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, gave New Orleans an elite tandem.

Heading into Sunday’s game against Atlanta, the Saints are averaging an NFL-worst 52.5 yards rushing during a 1-1 start.

Ingram is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Falling behind early also has compounded matters for New Orleans. Payton has had to lean heavily on Drew Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has an NFL-record 28 catches through two games.

“We definitely miss Mark,” Thomas said. “He adds value to this offense.”

New Orleans’ 36 rushing attempts are third-fewest in the NFL, but the Saints also have struggled when they have run the ball, averaging only 2.9 yards per rush. That ranks second-to-last, ahead of only Tampa Bay.

When Ingram’s suspension was announced in the spring, Payton said the solution would not be to just give his carries to Kamara. Yet, Kamara’s workload has increased. He has averaged 10.5 carries and 7.5 pass receptions after averaging 7.5 rushes and five receptions per game last season.

The Saints spent much of the offseason, training camp and preseason looking for a complementary running back to Kamara.

The turnstile of rushers hasn’t worked out.

New Orleans signed veterans Terrance West and Shane Vereen and drafted Boston Scott in the sixth round to join holdovers Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds and Daniel Lasco.

West and Edmunds were released, Vereen and Lasco wound up on injured reserve and Scott was released and later signed to the practice squad.

The Saints wound up signing Mike Gillislee after he was released by the Patriots at the end of the preseason and bringing up Williams after briefly placing him on the practice squad.

After two games, Gillislee has 11 rushes for 27 yards and he lost a fumble that Tampa Bay returned for a pivotal touchdown in the Saints’ 48-41 loss in the season opener. Williams has rushed just twice minus-1 yard.

Payton said communication and blocking were the main issues against the Browns, who held the Saints to 62 yards on 23 rushing attempts.

“We just didn’t run as effectively against (Cleveland) as we would have liked,” Payton said. “It’s one of those teams that’s going to give you some tough run looks. There’s just a number of things that we have to get cleaned up.”

Brees cited two important runs that helped the Saints rally from a 12-3 deficit in the fourth quarter.

Kamara had an 18-yard run that started a touchdown drive which pulled them within two points. He also gained five yards on a third-and-2 to extend another touchdown drive that gave New Orleans its first lead.

“When we rushed better in the latter part help of the game it helped,” Payton added. “When we review with our players where we stand in terms of what’s important to winning and losing, (running effectively) certainly sits at the top.”

Notes: Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison (foot), receiver Tommylee Lewis (knee) and linebacker Manti Te’o (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. … The Saints listed three players as limited in practice: left tackle Terron Armstead (knee), receiver Ted Ginn (knee) and left guard Andrus Peat (ankle).

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Minkah Fitzpatrick claims ‘FitzMagic’ moniker

Minkah Fitzpatrick claims 'FitzMagic' moniker

Buffalo Bills: NBC Sports' Peter King has been covering football a long time and has seen really bad player debuts and really good ones. He marked the first career start of Bills quarterback Josh Allen in the not-too-bad category. "Well, I thought it was better than I expected,"

Minkah Fitzpatrick claims ‘FitzMagic’ moniker

Buffalo Bills: NBC Sports’ Peter King has been covering football a long time and has seen really bad player debuts and really good ones. He marked the first career start of Bills quarterback Josh Allen in the not-too-bad category. “Well, I thought it was better than I expected,” King said. “He is obviously going to have difficultly with protection issues, the Bills are. And so you’re probably not going to be able to use everything. You wonder how many seven-step drops he has, when he does take snaps from under center, when that happens, but overall you know, I’d give him a good mark.”

Miami Dolphins: Will the real “FitzMagic” please stand up? That’s a nickname that has been associated with Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the past, and with his hot start in 2018, it’s gotten a lot of use. But one player is officially laying claim to it. Representatives of Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last week filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on his behalf. Fitzpatrick — Minkah, that is — wants to sell merchandise and apparel using the moniker. His mother said the Alabama product, whom the Dolphins took 11th overall in April’s draft, has used the nickname since high school.

New England Patriots: Down 14-0 to Jacksonville after the first quarter Sunday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels huddled together the offense — and yelled. He explained why on a conference call. “Our overall performance, I feel like that’s what my job is and so I didn’t do a good enough job obviously on Sunday,” he said. “We didn’t score enough points, didn’t produce enough first downs, didn’t control the game at all, and we weren’t playing as well as any of us would like at that point in the day. I think part of coaching is understanding there’s times where you do things quietly and pull somebody aside, and there’s other times where you either just want to try to create a spark or what have you and just refocus on the things that are really important, and that’s really all I was doing.”

New York Jets: Football fans lauded the most recent season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which featured the Cleveland Browns. The Jets meet the Browns on Thursday night, and coach Todd Bowles was asked this week if he learned anything about the opponent from the show. He said he hadn’t watched it. “I watch ‘Power’ and ‘Queen of the South’ and that is about it,” he said. “That’s my leisure time.” The 2010 Jets, coached by the animated Rex Ryan, were the subject of “Hard Knocks” that season. Would Bowles ever want his team on the show? “If I had to do it, we’d do it,” he said. “But, I’d probably be the most boring person on the show. I don’t think they want to come this way.”

–Field Level Media

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Too many receivers in Dallas? Beasley says no

Too many receivers in Dallas? Beasley says no

Dallas Cowboys: With the addition of Brice Butler, the Cowboys now have seven wide receivers. One of them, Cole Beasley, doesn't seem worried about how quarterback Dak Prescott will distribute the ball. "Like I've been saying, the strength is in the group," Beasley said, via

Too many receivers in Dallas? Beasley says no

Dallas Cowboys: With the addition of Brice Butler, the Cowboys now have seven wide receivers. One of them, Cole Beasley, doesn’t seem worried about how quarterback Dak Prescott will distribute the ball. “Like I’ve been saying, the strength is in the group,” Beasley said, via The Dallas Morning News. “We don’t need a No. 1, superstar-type guy. When you spread the ball around and each guy just makes their plays when their number is called upon, it’s like the same thing. I think it just makes us that much harder to defend, not knowing where the ball is going to go.”

New York Giants: Coach Pat Shurmur has named veteran John Greco as the starting center, replacing Jon Halapio. Halapio was lost for the season with a broken leg and broken ankle that he suffered during the 20-13 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night. “We’ll start with John and then obviously get Spencer [Pulley] ready to go,” Shurmur said during a conference call. “We have guys on the roster who have played center. John Greco went in there and played and then we brought in Spencer Pulley on the roster who played all last season at center [with the Chargers], so we’ve got guys that have done it and they’ll just slide up and get ready to go.”

Philadelphia Eagles: Quarterback Carson Wentz will reclaim his starting spot Sunday, more than nine months after suffering a serious knee injury. And one of the men charged with protecting him, right tackle Lane Johnson, doesn’t want him to try to do too much. “All he has to do is just be Carson Wentz,” Johnson said, via the team’s website. “You don’t have to be Superman. You don’t have to go out of the way to make plays, just do what you do. Don’t overcomplicate it. He just needs to be him. He’s super-talented, super-humble, and works hard man, so he’ll be fine.”

Washington Redskins: Safety D.J. Swearinger said his team might have gotten too self-satisfied after a Week 1 win when it came time to the following game — a 21-9 home loss to Indianapolis. “We can’t relax,” he told the Washington Post. “Last week … for whatever reason, there was complacency in the building. But we haven’t done anything, so we should never get complacent around here. I feel like we just gotta work as hard as we can this week to be focused on the little things and the little details, because they’re going to be huge going against [Week 3 opponent] Green Bay.”

–Field Level Media

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