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Patriots throw fewest passes in a game since 1974

8.7h ago 12/8/2021 2:22 AM ET By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer

Teams: ARI BUF MIA NE NYJ SF

Mac Jones and the New England Patriots played a style of game more reminiscent of a triple-option service academy than the modern NFL.

Jones threw just three passes on a windy Monday night in Buffalo for the fewest pass attempts in an NFL game in nearly a half-century as the Patriots beat the Bills 14-10.

With 40 mph wind gusts placing an emphasis on running the ball, the Patriots relied on the ground game with 46 runs compared to just the three passes. The last time a team threw that little in a game came Sept. 29, 1974, on another windy day in Buffalo.

Joe Ferguson threw only two passes — both incomplete — that day for the Bills in a 16-12 win over the New York Jets. O.J. Simpson ran the ball 31 times for 117 yards and Joe Namath went 2 for 18 with three interceptions for the Jets.

There was only one other game in the last 70 years when a team threw three or fewer passes, with Kansas City having three in a 24-10 win over the Oakland Raiders in 1968.

This was the eighth time in the Super Bowl era that a team threw five or fewer passes in a game, according to Sportradar, with those teams going 7-0-1. The last team to do it was also the Patriots, in the infamous 3-0 Snowplow Game win over Miami in 1982.

TOP OF THE MOUNTAN

If the season ended now, the top seeds for the playoffs would be Arizona (10-2) in the NFC and New England (9-4) in the AFC.

Both the Cardinals and Patriots missed the playoffs last season, with Arizona finishing 8-8 and New England at 7-9. The last time both top seeds were coming off non-playoff seasons was in 1992, when San Francisco (14-2) took the spot in the NFC and Pittsburgh (11-5) in the AFC.

Neither the 49ers nor Steelers made the Super Bowl that season with San Francisco losing to Dallas in the NFC title game and Pittsburgh to Buffalo in the divisional round.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Cardinals have gotten into this position by being the NFL’s best road team.

Arizona’s 33-22 win at Chicago last week improved the Cardinals to 7-0 on the road with all the victories coming by at least 10 points. The last team to win its first seven road games by double digits was the 1968 Cowboys, who went 7-0 on the road that season. The road success ended in the playoffs when Dallas lost its first game 31-20 at Cleveland when the sites were predetermined by division.

The only other team to win seven straight road games by double digits in the same season was the 1984 Super Bowl champion 49ers, who went undefeated on the road but won the opener at Detroit by just three points.

TURNAROUND TEAM

The Miami Dolphins have been on a quite a roller coaster this season.

After winning the season opener at New England, the Dolphins lost their next seven games. Since then, Miami is 5-0 to become the third team in NFL history to have a five-game winning streak and seven-game losing streak in the same season, according to Sportradar.

The others are the 2017 49ers, who lost their first nine games and won their final five, and the 1994 Giants, who started 3-0, lost seven straight and then won six in a row.

With a win next week against the Jets following a bye, the Dolphins will join the 1974 Jets as the only teams to go from 1-7 to 7-7 in a season.

TOM TERRIFIC

Tom Brady is doing things at age 44 that he has never done before.

Brady had his sixth game this season with at least four TD passes, surpassing the five he had in 2007 for the most in a season in his career.

This is the sixth time in NFL history a QB has thrown for at least four TD passes six times in a season with the other five all winning the MVP: Aaron Rodgers (seven in 2020), Patrick Mahomes (seven in 2018), Peyton Manning (nine in 2013), Manning (six in 2004) and Dan Marino (six in 1984).

Two of Brady’s TDs last week went to Rob Gronkowski, giving the pair 90 in the regular season in their careers. That surpassed Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (89 TDs) for second-most in NFL history. Only Manning and Marvin Harrison (112) have more.

TOUCHDOWN TAYLOR

Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor scored on a TD run for the 10th straight game last week against Houston.

Taylor is the fifth player ever to run for a TD in 10 straight games in the season and the first to do it since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 12 straight games in 2004. The others are Priest Holmes (11 games in 2002), Emmitt Smith (11 in 1995) and John Riggins (12 in 1983).

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All aboard: Steeler newcomers scramble to catch moving train

13.6h ago 12/7/2021 9:32 PM ET By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer PITTSBURGH

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Keith Butler doesn’t have time to keep all the unfamiliar faces straight in the middle of the season, so he doesn’t even really try.

At least initially.

It’s why the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator offers the same bit of advice to any fresh-faced newbie the first time they sit down at one of Butler’s meetings. See Cam Heyward? See T.J. Watt? Follow them.

“I just tell all the defensive lineman, ‘watch (Heyward),’” Butler said Tuesday. “Do what he does and you’ll be around for a while. If you don’t, you won’t.”

It’s a lesson Butler has imparted frequently during his team’s wildly uneven season. A series of injuries to high-profile veterans — from Watt to linemen Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt to cornerback Joe Haden — has forced the Steelers (6-5-1) to scour opposing rosters in search of help.

Taco Charlton, Derrek Tuszka, Montravius Adams and Ahkello Witherspoon. All of them were elsewhere when September began. Heck, Adams was in Seattle for Thanksgiving. All of them were on the field during crucial moments of Sunday’s 20-19 high-wire escape against Baltimore.

Charlton and fellow linebacker Tuszka, both signed in September, combined for three tackles while helping keep Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson relatively in check. Adams, plucked off the Seahawks' practice squad at the beginning of last week to add some heft to Pittsburgh's sagging run defense, had two tackles and swatted down a pass in 34 snaps.

“Adams came in and did a good job for us,” Butler said. “It’s very interesting that he did. He helped us and we think he’ll continue to help us.”

The Steelers needed the jolt. After getting gashed for a month while allowing 180.5 yards per game on the ground, Pittsburgh limited the Ravens to just 107 yards with the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Adams clogging up the middle for large chunks of the game.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin joked when you play nose tackle, there's really not much to learn. Just figure out which gap you're supposed to occupy and then go do it. Only there's a bit more to it than that, and Butler and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar did what they could to speed up Adams' crash course in a completely foreign system.

“We tried to simplify and not have a whole lot of different things we want to run and try to stay away from a lot of checks and stuff like that," Butler said. "Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to do that. So we’ve been fortunate that our guys can pick it up and our coaches teach it. It takes a while sometimes.”

Like Witherspoon.

Acquired from Seattle on the eve of the regular season to help out a secondary in need of depth, Witherspoon played all of four snaps during the first half of the year. Pittsburgh traded for Witherspoon because there aren't too many 6-foot-2 cornerbacks running around. Yet there was a certain something lacking in his approach.

“He probably hadn’t been urgent enough as he should be,” Butler said. “And he’s starting to get that now. You’ve got to be able to play with a sense of urgency when you’re playing corner in this league because guys can run by you.”

As difficult as it was being in essence a healthy scratch for weeks on end, Witherspoon understood why.

“In the beginning, with a new defense, I wasn’t as comfortable, I wasn’t as fast," Witherspoon said. "I know I have to make plays in this league at a high level and a consistent level. You have to have the details of the defense down first and then the rest will follow.”

It appears as if he's finally caught up. Witherspoon's playing time has increased each of the past three weeks and he was on the field for 92% of the snaps against the Ravens after James Pierre — who surprisingly claimed a spot in the rotation coming out of training camp — faltered. Witherspoon had five tackles and just missed his first interception since grabbing one last December while playing for San Francisco.

Witherspoon figures to get another start on Thursday night in Minnesota with veteran Joe Haden likely to miss his fourth straight game with a sprained foot.

In a way, Haden's absence has given Witherspoon a little bit of comfort in knowing that he's going to probably get a chance to stay out there.

“It kind of puts me back in my comfort zone,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it affected my confidence, but understanding that if I make a mistake it’s time to take note of it and correct it and have that game flow and that’s always something you love as a corner, especially in this league.”

NOTES: Haden, LB Rob Spillane (knee), OL B.J. Finney (back) and DL Isaiah Buggs (ankle) did not participate in the team's walkthrough on Tuesday, meaning they are all likely out against Minnesota.

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Bills appear in denial as playoff hopes begin to sink

14.2h ago 12/7/2021 8:52 PM ET By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills appear to be in denial identifying their shortcomings and the challenges ahead in staying afloat in the AFC playoff picture.

Though the signs have been apparent for much of the season, the lack of self-awareness became evident following a 14-10 loss to New England on Monday night, when the Bills withered in the blustery elements against the Patriots’ relentless running attack.

There was coach Sean McDermott suggesting not to give Patriots coach Bill Belichick too much credit in dismissing a question over New England’s run-heavy plan.

And yet, McDermott all but confirmed Belichick did more with less in a game the Patriots had the disadvantage of field position and still won with rookie Mac Jones throwing just three times.

It was evident in Bills safety Jordan Poyer suggesting the defense held up its end by limiting New England to 14 points, 11 first downs and 241 yards. And yet, he overlooked the critical junctures in which the defense sagged, such as the gaping hole Damien Harris ran through to open the scoring on a 64-yard run.

More troublesome was the defense failing to get a stop with the wind at Buffalo’s back in the third quarter. The defense instead allowed New England to consume 8:34 of clock on a 14-play, 59-yard drive capped by Nick Folk’s 34-yard field goal to finish the scoring in the fourth quarter.

At least, Josh Allen and the offense acknowledged frustrations over managing just 10 points on four drives inside the Patriots 20.

The Bills are not the confident group they were a year ago in claiming their first AFC East title since 1995, winning 13 games for the first time since ’91 and enjoying their deepest playoff run in 27 years in losing to Kansas City in the conference championship game.

The Bills can hang their hat on beating the Chiefs this year, but what’s followed since improving to 4-1 with a 38-20 win at Kansas City on Oct. 10 has been a consistently inconsistent lose-one, win-one pattern that’s dropped them to 7-5.

Buffalo has yet to overcome a second-half deficit, has difficulty running the ball or stopping the run, and padded its record against mostly backups and rookie quarterbacks.

Perhaps, left tackle Dion Dawkins provided the best glimpse into the team’s fragile psyche last week when asked how the Bills have managed the pressures of higher expectations this year.

“We’re just fighting to continue to be us,” Dawkins said.

“It’s been an up and down battle, as you guys have seen. It’s never easy. We’ve had a lot of lessons. We’ve had a lot of tough tough days,” he added. “In this league, nothing is every promised, and it shows.”

The Bills appear to be a team not ready to deal with the trappings of success, with cracks forming in the carefully groomed culture McDermott established upon his arrival in 2017.

The worries began in spring, when McDermott and GM Brandon Beane raised concerns over the team being at a competitive disadvantage if players didn't get vaccinated. Several players, starting with receiver Cole Beasley, vocally chose to ignore that message.

The concerns were realized over the past month with starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei missing four games and starting right tackle Spencer Brown two on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Buffalo also could have used backup linebacker A.J. Klein’s run-stopping presence against the Patriots had he not landed on the COVID-19 list hours before kickoff.

As mixed messages go, McDermott insists he continues to get through to his players, while in the next breath saying the team hasn’t executed.

Buffalo’s schedule doesn’t get easier. Up next is a trip to Tampa Bay on Sunday, when the Bills will face old nemesis Tom Brady. While in New England, Brady went 32-3 against Buffalo to set the NFL record for most wins by a quarterback against one opponent.

WHAT’S WORKING

Take away Allen’s single-handed ability to extend plays with his mobility, not much.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

It may be too late in the season to expect Buffalo’s running attack to find its legs. Allen’s 422 yards rushing on 75 carries represent nearly half of the combined 893 yards, on 213 carries, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and Matt Breida have generated.

STOCK UP

WR Gabriel Davis scored Buffalo’s lone TD and in showing he has a better rapport with Allen than veteran Emmanuel Sanders, who hasn’t topped 30 yards receiving in each of his past four, and not scored since a two-TD outing against the Chiefs.

STOCK DOWN

TE Dawson Knox. Caught just two of six passes thrown his way, and was flagged for a false start with Buffalo facing third-and-9 at the New England 13 with 2:11 remaining. The game was decided with Knox failing to out-muscle Adrian Phillips (who could have been flagged for holding) in the end zone on the next play, followed by Allen’s pass getting batted down at the goal line on fourth down.

INJURED

None reported.

KEY NUMBER

78 — Combined points the Bills have scored in five losses, as opposed to 258 in seven victories this season.

NEXT STEPS

Though his coverage ability wasn’t needed against New England, cornerback Tre’Davious White’s (torn left knee ligament) absence could be key against Brady and the Buccaneers’ NFL-leading passing attack.

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Patriots are back on top of AFC, after short rebuild

14.4h ago 12/7/2021 8:43 PM ET By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer BOSTON

BOSTON (AP) — Having watched the Patriots control the division for two decades, the Bills hoped that Tom Brady’s departure would clear the way for them to climb the AFC East standings and perhaps even contend for a conference title.

It did.

For one year.

After losing in the wild-card round in 2019 — Brady’s last game in a New England uniform — the Patriots plummeted to 7-9 last season and missed the playoffs for just the second time since 2002.

But they didn’t stay down for long, thanks to a free agent spending spree to surround Brady’s heir at quarterback: Mac Jones.

Since starting 2-4, the Patriots (9-4) have won seven straight games and hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC — just as they so often did on their way to six Super Bowl championships and three more conference titles.

They now have a two-game lead over the Bills — with the edge in the tiebreaker, thanks to Monday night’s 14-10 victory in the wind and snow in Buffalo.

“It’s not finished. We’re not even close to being done. We haven’t even hit our ceiling,” running back Brandon Bolden said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are trying to get on top of it.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Patriots ran for a season-high 222 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown by Damien Harris. He likely would have broken free for another score if he hadn’t pulled up with a hamstring injury after a 22-yard run in the third quarter.

Harris ran for a season-high 111 yards, and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson added 78 on a career-high 24 carries. The Patriots ran the ball 46 times, the most this season.

“Hats off to the offensive line for doing what they did, knowing that we were going to run the ball,” Jones said. “And just putting their nose in there every play and making it happen was incredible. I’ve never been a part of something like that.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The passing game. In fairness, they didn’t really try to fight the wind gusts of up to 55 mph — even in the quarters with the wind at their back. Jones completed two of three passes for 19 yards in all. (By comparison, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen was 15 for 30 for 145 yards.)

“I haven’t seen that much wind, probably ever,” Jones said. “But it’s just a learning experience. But if I could practice in it once a week, that would be awesome.”

STOCK DOWN

Defensive back Myles Bryant was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty when he pushed Josh Allen along the sideline late in the third quarter. The penalty was widely panned — Allen hadn’t stepped out yet, and the “roughness” was more of a push.

But instead of fourth-and-1, the Bills had a first down at the New England 20 and kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 11-10.

Bryant said he didn’t ask for an explanation from the referee.

“I just left it to the officials,” Bryant said. “They call what they call. I think personally I’ve just got to be smarter near the sideline, understanding what they’re looking for.”

STOCK UP

Bryant. He broke from his assigned coverage on Buffalo’s final play, a fourth-and-14 from the New England 18 just after the two-minute warning. Sliding over in the secondary, he knocked down Allen’s pass before it could get to Gabriel Davis in the end zone.

“Just understanding where the ball’s going to go in that situation,” Bryant said. “We sent some pressure and I knew he had to get the ball out quick. I think I should have picked it, and put the game away a lot quicker. But I was glad I was able to make the play and we were able to get a win.”

INJURED

— Harris jogged off to the locker room before halftime after appearing to tweak his hamstring in the second quarter. He returned to the game and then pulled up lame on his first carry of the second half.

— Linebacker Matt Judon was injured with 3:45 left after stopping Devin Singletary on a 17-yard run. Judon walked off on his own and returned to the game.

— Safety Adrian Phillips went down in the fourth quarter just before the two-minute warning. He remained on the field for some time, but after the game tweeted “THANK YOU GOD!!”

KEY NUMBER

3 — Jones threw just three passes, completing two for 19 yards. That broke the record for fewest attempts in a game that was set when Steve Grogan tried just five in a 3-0 victory over Miami in the Snowplow Game.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Patriots are off this week before playing the Colts in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 18.

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Browns place Njoku on COVID-19 list, could miss Ravens game

14.4h ago 12/7/2021 8:42 PM ET By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer CLEVELAND

CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns tight end David Njoku was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday and could miss Sunday’s crucial matchup against AFC North-leading Baltimore.

Njoku leads Cleveland with 407 yards receiving and he scored the Browns' only touchdown in a 16-10 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 28.

The loss of Njoku would be a major blow to the Browns (6-6), who can’t afford another loss if they hope to make the playoffs. Plus, tight end Harrison Bryant is expected to miss Sunday’s game with a high ankle sprain.

Njoku posted on Twitter that he's not having any symptoms, saying “Smh I don’t feel a thing.”

Njoku hasn’t been ruled out yet, but he’ll have to be symptom free and provide two negative tests in a 24-hour period to be eligible.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski favors offensive formations using multiple tight ends and may have to adjust his scheme against the Ravens with only Austin Hooper currently available among his usual players.

“We just feel like we have three good tight ends,” Stefanski said Monday, when asked about his preference to use three-tight end sets. “We like those guys. Now with Harrison out, we will have to adjust.

“That is the conversation we are having. Where do you want to go with that? Who do you want to put on the field and how do you want to evolve your game plan based on who is available to you?”

Without Njoku, quarterback Baker Mayfield would be missing one of his best deep threats. Njoku, a first-round pick in 2017, has played well this season with 27 catches and three touchdowns. He had three grabs for 35 yards in the first matchup with Baltimore.

The Browns were off Tuesday but signed Mike Forristall, an undrafted rookie tight end from Alabama, to the active roster. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder hasn’t played in an NFL game.

Stefanski has other options in tight end Ross Travis, who was signed to the practice squad and fullback Johnny Stanton IV, a solid all-around athlete who has played some tight end.

Long snapper Charley Hughlett was activated from the COVID-19 list after testing positive during the bye week.

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Vikings leaning hard on Jefferson in quest to save season

14.4h ago 12/7/2021 8:42 PM ET By BRIAN HALL, Associated Press

After Adam Thielen was injured on Minnesota’s sixth offensive play Sunday, Kirk Cousins naturally focused on his other standout receiver, Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson responded with career highs of 11 catches and 182 yards, but the Vikings wasted that performance in a gut-wrenching 29-27 loss to Detroit.

It’s becoming a trend.

Despite a dynamic and record-filled two seasons in the NFL for Jefferson, the Vikings are again looking at the playoff picture from the outside. Their loss to the Lions dropped them to 5-7 in a crowded NFC race.

“As long as we don’t get the ‘W,’ it doesn’t matter what type of game I have,” Jefferson said. “If I have a career game, record-setting game, it doesn’t matter. If we don’t come out with the ‘W,’ it’s pointless.”

The career day gave Jefferson 2,609 receiving yards through his first 28 games. He surpassed Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (2,497) for the third-most receiving yards in NFL history through two seasons. Only Odell Beckham Jr. (2,755) and Randy Moss (2,726) had more through their first two seasons, and Jefferson has five more games on the 2021 schedule.

Jefferson had the second-most receiving yards by a rookie in NFL history last year, breaking several franchise rookie records previously held by the Hall of Famer Moss. The Vikings still finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. The defeat in Detroit to the previously winless Lions could prove disastrous for their attempt to make the playoffs this season.

“There’s only so much that I personally can control, so I just always try to do my part, what I can control,” Jefferson said.

After a two-week stretch when he was targeted just nine times with five catches for 90 yards, Jefferson has taken full control. In the past four games, he’s averaged 11 targets, eight catches and 144 yards per game with three touchdowns.

Jefferson is seventh in the league with 78 catches. He’s second in receiving yards with 1,209, behind only the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp. Jefferson has the most receiving yards of anyone in the NFL over the past two seasons.

“He’s done a great job,” Cousins said. “He plays big. He’s not a big guy, necessarily, but he plays big with long arms and has a big catch radius. He runs so well, he cuts so well, he’s great after the catch running away from people. He’s natural at finding the football. I think our coaches have done a tremendous job of finding ways to get him the ball.”

The Vikings will need Jefferson just as much going forward. Thielen has a significant ankle sprain that will likely keep him out of Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh and possibly longer.

He has not practiced this week. Neither has left tackle Christian Darrisaw (ankle), who did not play at Detroit. Running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) returned to practice Tuesday on a limited basis, but he’s unlikely to play on Thursday.

Minnesota did activate veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson from the COVID-19 reserve list on Tuesday. Linebackers Eric Kendricks (bicep) and Anthony Barr (hamstring/knee) also returned to full participation, putting them on track to play against the Steelers.

When Thielen missed a game last year while on the COVID-19 list, Jefferson had a season-high 13 targets. He finished with seven catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns to lead Minnesota to a 28-27 win against Carolina.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Jefferson said. “Defenses focused on me a little bit, but we still had an overall good game. I think like three receivers had seven catches that game, so I mean, if one man’s down, the next man’s up. You can’t really get frustrated over that. You’ve just got to keep playing and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”

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Henry and Mathieu among 32 NFL Man of the Year nominees

1.1d ago 12/7/2021 9:00 AM ET By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer

Derrick Henry and Tyrann Mathieu, 2020 All-Pro players, are among the 32 men chosen as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

Each of the teams nominated one player for the prestigious honor named for the late Payton, a Hall of Fame running back for the Bears. The award recognizes a player for community service and excellence on the field. It has been given annually since 1970 and will be presented at NFL Honors, the TV show during which The Associated Press reveals its individual seasonal award winners.

Titans running back Henry, last season's Offensive Player of the Year, currently is sidelined by a broken right foot. He was chosen by Tennessee for such work as making a $10,000 donation from his Two All Foundation to Jeremy Taylor, a Nashville firefighter who lost his family home and all their belongings in a fire. For the fourth consecutive year, Henry hosted a back-to-school event in his hometown of Yulee, Florida. Through his Two All Foundation, Derrick donated school supplies, backpacks, and bicycles to 200 kids. In September, he worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee to host a back-to-school event that through foundation sponsors and personal donations from Henry met B&GC’s goal of providing 5,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children in need, including $50 gift cards for 25 children the club identified as the most in need. He hosted those 25 youngsters for an in-person, back-to-school shopping day with additional $100 gift cards, reflecting on his youth involvement in a Boys & Girls Club.

Mathieu, the Chiefs' standout safety, was nominated for restarting initiatives during the pandemic. This spring, he activated a “Tyrann’s Teachers” surprise and delight along with board members of his Tyrann Mathieu Foundation. Gift baskets were delivered to 32 teachers in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The teachers were selected through a nomination process on the foundation’s website as students, colleagues, friends, and family submitted their favorite teacher by writing an essay detailing the positive impact teachers have left on the Kansas City community.

As the NFL season began, Mathieu and his foundation held their annual “Back 2 School” shopping spree. For the second year, Mathieu and some teammates surprised 32 underprivileged youngsters ages 6-17 from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City for a night of shopping and dinner. In addition, each child received a special Nike backpack filled with essentials. He also held his annual “Tyrann’s Turkeys” food distribution around Thanksgiving.

Previous winners among active players are Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in 2020; Baltimore defensive linemen Calais Campbell (2019 with Jacksonville) and Arizona's J.J. Watt (2017 with Houston).

The nominees:

Kelvin Beachum, Arizona

Mike Davis, Atlanta

Bradley Bozeman, Baltimore

Harrison Phillips, Buffalo

DJ Moore, Carolina

Jimmy Graham, Chicago

Sam Hubbard, Cincinnati

Denzel Ward, Cleveland

Dak Prescott, Dallas

Justin Simmons, Denver

Jason Cabinda, Detroit

Aaron Jones, Green Bay

Justin Reid, Houston

Kenny Moore II, Indianapolis

Myles Jack, Jacksonville

Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City

Darren Waller, Las Vegas

Corey Linsley, Los Angeles Chargers

Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Jerome Baker, Miami

Anthony Barr, Minnesota

Lawrence Guy, New England

Cameron Jordan, New Orleans

Logan Ryan, New York Giants

Quinnen Williams, New York Jets

Jason Kelce, Philadelphia

Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh

Arik Armstead, San Francisco

Tyler Lockett, Seattle

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay

Derrick Henry, Tennessee

Jonathan Allen, Washington

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Analysis: Patriots' downfall after Brady lasted one season

1.4d ago 12/7/2021 2:40 AM ET By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

It didn't take long for the New England Patriots to become the New England Patriots again.

After stumbling through a 7-9 season last year while watching Tom Brady win a seventh ring in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bill Belichick's squad is once again the class of the AFC.

Josh McDaniel's brilliant plan to have rookie quarterback Mac Jones throw just three passes Monday night paved the way for New England's 14-10 win at Buffalo in the snow globe and wind tunnel that was Highmark Stadium.

Behind those 46 runs in 49 snaps, the retooled Patriots won their sixth road game in six tries and pushed their winning streak to seven games, improving to 9-4.

That's a half-game better than the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens in the logjammed conference race.

And the Patriots are still finding ways to shut down Peyton Manning, who lost his head-to-head series with Brady 11-6.

The quarterback who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame four months ago explained on ESPN's “ManningCast” during the Patriots-Bills slog-fest that the Patriots public relations politely declined his request to interview Jones.

“Well, I tried to talk to Mac Jones, and he was very respectful,” Manning relayed. “He said, ’Peyton, I want to do it, but can you call our PR director, Stacey (James)? Because he kind of has to oversee all things. I said, ‘No problem.’ I called Stacey, very professional, I said, ‘Stacey, I’m talking to Coach Belichick, can I talk to Mac Jones?’"

The answer was no, although Manning took the rare rejection in stride.

“And I gotta tell you, I appreciate how they’re handling Mac Jones. They are trying to protect him, give him as few off-the-field distractions as possible, let him concentrate on playing football," Manning said.

“So, yes, I did get denied. It was the first quarterback I haven't talked to. But, I appreciate it,” Manning said.

Although Manning isn't accustomed to getting turned down, he said he understood what the Patriots were doing because he encountered the same treatment during his rookie season in Indianapolis in 1998.

“Bill Polian, as a rookie with me with the Colts, did the same thing. He didn’t let the marketing department talk to me, the community relations department talk to me. He said, ‘Hey, it’s all football this first season. Don’t bother him,'" recounted Manning. "And I think the Patriots are taking that same approach with Mac Jones and it’s paying off, it’s working.”

Everything's working in New England a year after the Patriots stumbled behind aging QB Cam Newton.

Jones, the 15th overall draft pick out of Alabama last June, finished 2 of 3 for 19 yards in becoming the NFL’s third quarterback to win nine games in his rookie season, joining Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Dallas’ Dak Prescott in 2016. He also joined Roethlisberger and Prescott in becoming the NFL’s third rookie QB to win his first six road starts.

New England has a two-win edge over the Bills (7-5) in the AFC East standings a year after they were swept by the Bills in losing their division for the first time since 2008.

Now, the Patriots get a Week 14 bye a week before closing out with a visit to Indianapolis followed by a rematch with the Bills at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 26, another home game against the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and a road game at resurgent Miami.

They have the smoothest path to the lone bye that goes to the AFC's top playoff seed and home field throughout the playoffs, something they've usually parlayed into Super Bowl appearances.

Belichick is the only person on the planet who owns more than Brady's seven Super Bowl rings. They won six together in Foxborough and Belichick won two as Bill Parcell's right-hand man with the New York Giants before that, giving him eight titles to go with four runner-up finishes.

Although the NFC features Brady's Bucs, Prescott's Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers' Packers, Kyler Murray's Cardinals and Matthew Stafford's Rams, would anyone be surprised if Belichick won his ninth overall ring a year after Brady won his seventh?

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Bills deficiencies exposed yet again in 14-10 loss to Pats

1.4d ago 12/7/2021 2:10 AM ET By MARK LUDWICZAK, Associated Press ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Whether it was the gusting wind or New England’s unrelenting running attack, the Buffalo Bills' two biggest deficiencies this season were exposed yet again on Monday night.

An inability to effectively run the ball or stop the run, combined with a string of self-inflicted errors led to a 14-10 loss to the Patriots that may have cost Buffalo its best chance at repeating as AFC East champs — and perhaps put the Bills in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether.

In outgaining Buffalo 222-99 on the ground, the Patriots (9-4) moved two wins ahead of the Bills (7-5) in the division and are now the No. 1 seed in the conference.

“We are what our record says we are,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We’ve been inconsistent, and again, had opportunities to win the game.”

It wasn’t just that the Patriots beat the Bills, but the manner in which they did it. In the face of 40 mph wind gusts, New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones attempted only three passes — completing two for 19 yards — as the Patriots ran up and down the field and right through the Bills.

Damien Harris scored on a 64-yard scamper up the middle on New England’s ninth play from scrimmage and racked up a season-best 111 yards rushing before being limited by a hamstring injury.

“Not good enough,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to be able to run the football, we’ve got to be able to stop the run. Those things don’t change.”

Something’s going to have to change for the Bills, and soon.

Buffalo is 3-4 in its past seven and hasn’t won consecutive games since capping a 4-0 run with a 38-20 win over Kansas City on Oct. 10 — the only team currently with a winning record the Bills have defeated this year.

And Buffalo’s run defense continues springing leaks after allowing 264 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-15 loss to Indianapolis two weeks ago.

“Do I think that’s an issue for this team, for this defense? No, I do not, and I feel like we can always do better,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We can always do better.”

Hyde and fellow safety Jordan Poyer bristled at the notion that this loss was embarrassing.

“What are you doing, bro? What kind of question is that?” Poyer said. “I think we gave up ... 14 points? 14-10, was that the final score? We made stops when we had to, they had one big run. They’ve got good backs. They kept coming back to a couple of runs. I mean, I don’t know how you want us to answer that question.”

“That’s funny,” Hyde added. “We’ll remember that. I’ll remember that.”

It wasn’t just the defense that failed Buffalo against New England. The Bills' offense scored only 10 points on four trips inside the red zone. Tyler Bass missed a 33-yard field goal attempt into the wind midway through the fourth quarter, and Buffalo’s final drive ended on fourth-and-14 from the New England 18 with Myles Bryant batting down Josh Allen’s pass at the goal line.

Allen had a team-leading 33 yards rushing and finished 15 of 30 for 145 yards and a touchdown to Gabriel Davis.

The Bills have yet to overcome a second-half deficit this season, and have not done so in a win since a 35-32 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2 last season.

“I don’t know if it’s spiraling out of control,” Allen said. “I don’t know if I’d put it in that context. But we’ve got to win the close ones. We’ve got to find a way and we were 1 for 4 in the red zone tonight. Didn’t play good enough. I take that very personally.”

The troubles weren’t limited to the field, as time management became an issue.

McDermott squandered a timeout with a failed challenge with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter on a fourth-and-1 sneak by Jones. The Bills also burned a timeout on the following drive with the ball at the Patriots 6. Buffalo instead moved backward, with Allen being sacked for a 9-yard loss, followed by an incompletion and Bass’ missed field goal attempt.

“I think it’s just the familiar topic of shooting ourselves in the foot at opportune times,” center Mitch Morse said. “There’s no opportune time to shoot yourself in the foot. We just seem to tend to do it at the absolute worst time.”

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Patriots out-run Bills in 14-10 win in blustery conditions

1.5d ago 12/6/2021 11:30 PM ET By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Linebacker Matt Judon praised the Patriots offense while taking a playful swipe at rookie quarterback Mac Jones.

“Hats off to the offense. Really everybody, probably besides Mac,” Judon said breaking into a smile. “He didn’t really do nothing besides hand the ball off.”

No offense taken. With 40 mph wind gusts placing an emphasis on running the ball, Jones was more than content in being relegated to handoff duty in New England’s 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.

Jones completed just two of three pass attempts for 19 yards in essentially standing back and watching the Patriots backfield literally run away with their seventh consecutive win and shore up New England’s familiar place atop the AFC.

“Just a crazy game to be a part of,” Jones said.

“We knew it was going to be windy. You can’t control it. There is no on and off switch,” he added. “You just have to go out there and do your job, and for us to run the ball like we did was incredible.”

Damien Harris scored on a 64-yard run in an outing the Patriots out-gained Buffalo 222 to 99 in yards rushing. Nick Folk hit both field goal attempts from 34 and 41 yards with the wind at his back, and the Patriots defense limited the Bills to a season-low 230 yards offense.

Defensive back Miles Bryant sealed the victory by batting down Josh Allen’s pass at the goal line with Buffalo facing fourth-and-14 at New England’s 18 with 1:55 remaining. It came a series after Buffalo's Tyler Bass missed a 34-yard attempt wide right into the wind in a game the Bills managed 10 points on four drives inside the New England's 20..

“What a memorable game that will be for me in my career,” center David Andrews said. “One, it’s a win. Two, I don’t know if I’ve ever played in a game where we’ve thrown the ball three times. And I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old, so that’s 23 years.”

New England (9-4) improved to 6-0 on the road this season and now has a two-win edge over the Bills (7-5) in the AFC East standings.

The Bills continued their inconsistencies by losing four of their past seven, and have not won consecutive games since capping a 4-0 run spanning Sept. 19 to Oct. 10.

Though the two teams meet once more in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Dec. 26, Buffalo’s path to repeat as division champions, never mind earn a third straight postseason berth, is suddenly muddied. The AFC’s wild-card race now features four teams with seven wins. The Bills also dropped to 5-5 against AFC opponents and 3-1 against division opponents.

Buffalo continues resembling the shell of a team which swept the season-series against New England last year for the first time since 1999, en route to its first 13-win season in 29 years.

“No excuse for it,” middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said. “They came in and they beat us. We’ve just got to get better. We've got to finish off the season strong.”

Easier said than done for a team which continues to have difficulty running the ball and stopping the run. Take away Allen’s six carries for 39 yards, and the Bills trio of running backs finished with 60 yards on 19 carries.

Buffalo’s defense has now allowed 200-plus yards rushing in two of its past three, after giving up a season-worst 264 in a 41-15 loss to Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Harris finished with a season-best 111 yards rushing and opened the scoring on New England’s ninth play from scrimmage. Facing third-and-5, Harris burst though a gaping hole up the middle and was untouched on his way to the end zone.

Rather than attempt the extra point into the wind, coach Bill Belichick succeeded on a 2-point conversion, with Brandon Bolden scoring just inside the left pylon.

Each team capitalized on the other’s mistakes in trading touchdowns in the opening quarter.

Harris’ TD came three plays after New England’s Lawrence Guy recovered Matt Breida’s fumble at the Patriots 31.

Buffalo responded on its next possession which was extended after N’Keal Harry slipped and had Matt Haack’s punt glance off his helmet, with Siran Neal recovering the ball at New England’s 14. Allen hit Gabriel Davis on a slant route on the next play to cut the lead to 8-7.

Allen finished 15 of 30 for 145 yards.

“You don’t plan on losing games, you know. It’s not part of the gig,” Bills center Mitch Morse said. “We understand the magnitude of what this meant and what this loss meant so it’s not lost on us. We understand that we have a lot of work to do to put ourselves in a position where we think this team can be.”

MILESTONES:

According to Elias Sports, the Patriots had the fewest yards passing and became the first team to attempt just one one pass in the first half since at least 1978. ... Jones became the NFL’s third quarterback to win nine games in his rookie season, joining Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Dallas’ Dak Prescott in 2016. He also joined Roethlisberger and Prescott in becoming the NFL’s third rookie QB to win his first six road starts. ... Bass' 35-yard field goal with 6:35 left in the third quarter ended New England's four-game streak of not allowing a point in the second half.

THE ELEMENTS

The elements were at times overwhelming, including a wind-chill that dropped the temperature into the mid-20s.

One of New England’s Jake Bailey’s punts went sideways into the wind for 15 yards. Members of ESPN’s pre-game broadcast crew were blown off their chairs along the sideline, and the orange flags was ripped off the top of the left upright in the east end of the stadium.

UP NEXT

Patriots: Enter bye week off, and return to play at Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 18.

Bills: Travel to play Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, with Tom Brady, 32-3 against Buffalo, holding the NFL record for most career wins by a quarterback against one opponent.

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49ers miss opportunity to open cushion in playoff race

1.6d ago 12/6/2021 8:00 PM ET By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer SANTA CLARA, Calif.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The margin for error for the San Francisco 49ers is extremely thin — especially when they play the Seattle Seahawks.

So after a mistake-filled 30-23 loss on Sunday ended with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing back-to-back incomplete passes to Trent Sherfield following a 95-yard drive, the Niners can't afford many more slipups down the stretch.

“We shouldn't have let it get to that point, but that's stuff you have to live with,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday about the final two passes.

Sidney Jones broke up the first pass to Sherfield to prevent the TD and then Carlos Dunlap deflected the final pass.

San Francisco (6-6) had gotten back into playoff position by winning three straight games, but weren't able to extend that streak against Seattle thanks to a series of special teams blunders, two interceptions from Garoppolo and then the inability to finish off the last drive.

Despite all that, the Niners currently have the final wild-card spot as the seventh-place team in the NFC. But they could have created some space between themselves and the five teams within one game of them in the standings.

“We definitely blew it,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. "We knew it was going to be this type of game whenever we play them. But, we have to do a much better job of not giving the game away. We’re still in the ranks and we’re going to keep working really hard. We still have a lot of confidence in our team.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Passes to George Kittle. With Deebo Samuel injured, Kittle was the focal point of the offense. He had nine catches for 181 yards and a career-high two touchdowns. Kittle had the third-biggest receiving day of his career and has five TD catches in five games since coming off IR, matching his career high for a season set in 2018 and 2019.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Special teams. It was a rough day for coordinator Richard Hightower's unit starting when the Niners allowed Travis Homer to run untouched for a 73-yard TD run on a fake punt on the opening drive. Travis Benjamin also lost a fumble on the opening kick of the second half, Robbie Gould missed an extra point and San Francisco allowed a 33-yard kick return to DeeJay Dallas that helped set up a TD drive in the second quarter.

STOCK UP

Azeez Al-Shaair. With Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw out, Al-Shaair made the most of his opportunity as the middle linebacker and defensive signal caller. He had 16 tackles, forced a fumble near the goal line and had a half-sack.

STOCK DOWN

RT Tom Compton. The fill-in for the injured Mike McGlinchey struggled in pass protection much of the game and was beaten by Carlos Dunlap for two big plays. Dunlap got past him for a sack in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter and deflected the final fourth down pass from the 3.

INJURIES

RB Trenton Cannon was released from the hospital and flew home Monday after a concussion in the game. ... CB Emmanuel Moseley will miss several weeks with a high ankle sprain. ... RB Elijah Mitchell is in concussion protocol after being cleared to return to the game on Sunday. It's the second straight week a 49ers player was cleared to return to play by the independent neurologist only to report symptoms the following day to go into the protocol. LB Marcell Harris missed the game Sunday with the concussion. ... Warner (hamstring) should return to practice Wednesday and is on target to play this week. ... Samuel (groin) remains day to day and has a chance to return this week.

KEY NUMBER

4. The Niners forced four fumbles in the game, their most in a game since they had five in a loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 11, 2019. The forced fumbles came from Al-Shaair, Bosa, K'Waun Williams, and D.J. Jones.

NEXT STEPS

The 49ers visit Cincinnati on Sunday.

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Seahawks show some resolve in snapping losing streak

1.6d ago 12/6/2021 7:50 PM ET By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer RENTON, Wash.

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — In the middle of the locker room after their first win since Halloween, Pete Carroll shouted “We ain’t dead yet, boys!”

Technically, that’s correct. The Seattle Seahawks aren’t dead in the sense of still having a small percentage chance of reaching the postseason, even though it seems highly unlikely.

But what Seattle showed on Sunday in its 30-23 win over San Francisco should be recognized. Having lost six of seven and sitting at 3-8 entering the week, the Seahawks could have easily punted on the season.

Instead, Carroll and his veteran leaders such as Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner found the right words to get the Seahawks to buy in, for at least one more week and keep alive those small percentage chances of finding their way back into playoff contention.

And they played aggressively and in some ways without caution for the first time since before Wilson was hurt back in early October. It was a victory that was sometimes ugly, sometimes mistake-filled, but wildly entertaining.

“It’s the guys that keep the message strong,” Carroll said. “We work real hard to stay connected. It’s not like everybody’s pointing the finger out here. That’s not what’s happening, from me on down. It’s really important that we hang together so we’ve made it a big issue.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Seattle’s run defense against San Francisco was exceptional, especially considering what the 49ers had been doing in recent weeks. The Niners were averaging 178.3 yards per game in the previous three games, but were held to 71 yards on 25 carries. Elijah Mitchell had 66 yards on 22 carries after running for 133 yards a week earlier against Minnesota.

Carroll specifically praised the performance of veteran defensive lineman Al Woods in slowing down the 49ers running attack.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

While Seattle’s run defense was great, its own run game continues to languish even with the addition of Adrian Peterson. Take away Travis Homer’s 73-yard touchdown run on a fake punt, the Seahawks got 58 yards on 23 carries from their running backs. Peterson had 16 yards on 11 carries but did score his 126th career touchdown, tying Jim Brown for 10th all time.

If there was a sign of improvement, Seattle had failed to top 20 rushing attempts in any game during its three-game losing streak.

STOCK UP

Carlos Dunlap is admittedly in a weird spot. He’s being asked to play less than he ever has in his career, while believing he needs to be on the field more. But his production, or lack thereof to date, doesn’t support his argument of more play time.

But Dunlap was productive on Sunday in his limited chances. He used just his right hand to pull quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo down for a safety in the third quarter that pulled Seattle even at 23-23. And on San Francisco’s final play, Dunlap was able to get his hands up in time to deflect Garoppolo’s pass and end the 49ers’ threat of a comeback.

Dunlap played seven snaps and was credited with one tackle for loss, one sack, one QB hit and one pass breakup.

“They’ve been looking for me to make these plays all season. I hadn’t quite made them and had whatever you want to say going on,” Dunlap said. “But today I came through. It is as simple as that.”

STOCK DOWN

Gerald Everett had a forgettable game on a day Seattle seemed focused on trying to get him the ball. Everett fumbled on Seattle’s second offensive possession when he couldn’t hold a quick screen. He bobbled a potential touchdown early in the third quarter and it became an interception when he inadvertently kicked the ball into the air and it was grabbed by K’Waun Williams. And the capper came in the closing minutes when a shovel pass to Everett and a possible touchdown was fumbled at the San Francisco 2.

Everett had two fumbles in 70 games prior to Sunday.

“I have no doubt what Gerald Everett is going to do, how he’s going to respond,” Wilson said.

INJURIES

Safety Jamal Adams sprained his surgically repaired shoulder in the first half and did not return. Carroll did not have an update on his status on Monday. ... RT Brandon Shell left Sunday’s game early because of a lingering shoulder issue and may not be able to play this week. ... Carroll said G Damien Lewis, who has missed the past two games, should be able to play on Sunday at Houston.

KEY NUMBER

33:12 — Seattle won the time of possession battle for the first time all season. The previous high for Seattle was 29:37 in its loss to Pittsburgh, a game that went to overtime. In the previous three weeks, the Seahawks had failed to top 21 minutes of possession.

NEXT STEPS

The Seahawks will be heavily favored this Sunday going to Houston and with the rest of the NFC playoff picture a giant jumbled mess, there is a chance for Seattle to inch a little bit closer. Take care of business in Houston and there could be a little bit of meaning for the Seahawks trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams in two weeks.

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Passive defense yields demise for Vikes, puts season on edge

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 7:30 PM ET By DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Pro Football Writer MINNEAPOLIS

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The aggressive, clever and confident defense that became a hallmark of the Minnesota Vikings under coach Mike Zimmer has been mostly missing for two years, and this vanishing act was never more pronounced than the last drive in Detroit on Sunday.

Pass by pass, Jared Goff led the Lions on a methodical 75-yard march to their first victory of the year with a touchdown that ended the game.

The Vikings (5-7) were supposed to use the afternoon to rejuvenate their push for the postseason. By losing on yet another as-time-expired play, they've not only put the playoffs but the jobs of Zimmer and his staff in further jeopardy.

The 29-27 loss to the Lions had that look of a team that's just not destined to be successful this year, no matter how many bad breaks they've endured.

“Obviously our backs are to the wall, but they’ve been back against the wall for a while,” said Zimmer, who has overseen a 13-19 stretch by the Vikings since Dec. 15, 2019.

The Vikings have allowed an average of 406 yards over the past six weeks, the worst mark in the NFL during that span.

Even without linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, the way the Vikings let Goff advance without any timeouts was inexcusable. The Lions had failed to convert all eight third downs prior to the final possession.

Goff went 9 of 12 on the winning drive, excluding two clock-killing spikes, with no gain longer than 11 yards. Only once did Zimmer send an extra rusher, when a blitz by safety Harrison Smith pressured Goff into a near-interception in the end zone by Bashaud Breeland. Mackensie Alexander nearly picked off a pass, too.

On the last five snaps, the Vikings only had three down linemen. That left eight defenders in coverage for the four receivers in pattern on the last play. Cameron Dantzler passively backpedaled halfway into the end zone as Amon-Ra St. Brown ran a simple hook route in front of him, and safety Xavier Woods was too late to arrive with help as the ball landed in the rookie's arms for the win.

“We weren’t covering that great,” Zimmer said, when asked about the lack of pressure dialed up on the final drive. “Everything’s hindsight I guess.”

WHAT'S WORKING

Even after Adam Thielen was injured on the sixth play of the game, Kirk Cousins kept up his rhythm with superstar Justin Jefferson for 11 receptions, 182 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:50 left. Tyler Conklin and K.J. Osborn stepped up, too. Cousins has thrown for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns with one interception in the past four games.

The downfield passing attack is this team's greatest strength. Lately, it's only been held back by conservative play-calling or decision-making.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The offense was not without fault, with the first six possessions resulting in two punts, one lost fumble, one turnover on downs and two field goals after stalled drives reached the 19 and the 9.

“We just seemed methodical and lethargic in the first half,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings failed on all three of their 2-point conversion attempts and are just 1 for 7 this season. They were 8 for 12 last year. The first two 2-point play calls on Sunday left plenty of room to question offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.

Kene Nwangwu took the handoff on the first one after a fake jet sweep to Osborn and was stonewalled after making his cut, off right tackle. With six linemen, two tight ends and a fullback in the formation for the second one, Alexander Mattison ran a simple dive to the right that went nowhere.

Greg Joseph has missed three extra points this year, but had Zimmer settled for a kick each time, assuming a make, the Vikings would've likely gone to overtime instead of losing on the last play.

STOCK UP

Blake Lynch played every snap in Barr's strong side linebacker spot and produced his first two NFL sacks. The second one forced a fourth-down fumble by Goff that Lynch, who was undrafted last year out of Baylor, recovered.

STOCK DOWN

Oli Udoh started at left tackle, ahead of veteran Rashod Hill, with Christian Darrisaw sidelined. Garrett Bradbury regained the starting center spot that Mason Cole handled the past four games, and Cole took Udoh's place at right guard. Udoh had two false start penalties and has the most flags (14) of any player in the league. Eleven have been accepted, for a total of 94 yards against the Vikings.

KEY NUMBER

The Vikings have allowed 101 points after halftime over their past six games. Only the Las Vegas Raiders (89 points, five games) have been scored on at a worse rate over that span.

INJURY REPORT

The Vikings only held a walk-through on Monday. Five players were held out: Thielen (ankle), Darrisaw (ankle), RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder), Lynch (hip) and backup safety Cam Bynum (ankle). Barr (hamstring/knee) and Kendricks (bicep) were listed as limited participants. Zimmer said he anticipated having “quite a few” defensive players back on the field on Thursday.

NEXT STEPS

With Washington (6-6) and San Francisco (6-6) currently holding the last two NFC wild-card spots, the Vikings are in tiebreaker trouble. Washington (5-2) has a superior record in NFC games than Minnesota (4-4), and San Francisco has the head-to-head victory on Nov. 28. Four other seven-loss teams — Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans — are crowding the Vikings, too.

Winning four of the last five games would probably get them in the postseason, but even winning out wouldn't guarantee entry. At this point, a top-10 draft pick appears more likely than the playoffs.

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Patriots to play Bills minus leading tackler, Kyle Dugger

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 7:20 PM ET ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The New England Patriots are minus their top tackler, safety Kyle Dugger, for their game at the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.

Dugger was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Linebacker Jamie Collins returns after missing the past three weeks with an ankle injury, and was activated off injured reserve hours before kickoff in a showdown between the AFC East's top two teams.

The Bills, meanwhile, are playing their first game since starting cornerback Tre’Davious White sustained a season-ending left knee injury in a 31-6 win over the Saints.

Buffalo did welcome back run-stuffing tackle Star Lotulelei and starting right tackle Spencer Brown. Lotulelei missed four games and Brown two on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Bills were still minus starting guard Jon Feliciano, who resumed practicing this week but remains on injured reserve for a fifth consecutive game with a calf injury.

Buffalo placed backup linebacker A.J. Klein on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and promoted linebacker Joe Giles-Harris and defensive tackle Eli Ankou off the practice squad.

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Chargers' defense finally rises to occasion when needed most

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 6:40 PM ET By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said last week he was looking for that performance from which he could say the defense was the driving factor in a win.

He finally got that on Sunday against Cincinnati.

Los Angeles forced four turnovers, including a defensive touchdown, and sacked Joe Burrow six times in its 41-22 victory over the Bengals.

It is the first time since 2016 the Chargers have had at least six sacks. The four takeaways made for the second time that has happened this season.

“I felt like defensively, we really wanted to put on our performance down the home stretch when it’s crunch time, every game matters, and a game where the defense has to pull us out of the mud,” said linebacker Drue Tranquill, who tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. “It got highlighted at Denver when we weren't able to create those turnovers to swing the pendulum back to the offense's favor. I felt like we were able to do that yesterday.”

The Chargers bolted out to a 24-0 second-quarter lead, but the Bengals scored 22 straight points to make it a game early in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Christian Covington forced Joe Mixon's fumble and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell went 61 yards on the scoop-and-score return to put Los Angeles back up by more than one possession.

The beleaguered run defense, which came in allowing 145.3 yards per game, held Mixon to 54 yards after he rushed for 165 the week before against Pittsburgh.

Burrow was pressured 17 times according to Next-Gen stats, the most he has been under duress this season. It also tied for a season high by the Chargers.

Los Angeles will need similar efforts over the next couple weeks. It faces the New York Giants on Sunday, then has a short week to prepare for AFC West leader Kansas City on Dec. 16. The Chargers are 7-5, equaling their win total from last year, and currently have the second AFC wild-card spot.

“I’ve seen the improvement in our defense. There’s been some uneven times, as you guys know, but I’ve seen the improvement," Staley said to reporters. "Any time you force a fumble, score on defense and then in the power-red area get an interception, you’re going to have a great day. Our defense won the day for us ... because in that second half when it got tight, we had some really big stops. And then we finished the fourth quarter with a ‘bagel.’ I’m just really proud of our defensive staff and players.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Those who were clamoring for Justin Herbert to throw deep more finally got their wish. He completed a career-high five passes in the air for 20 yards or more, which is only the fifth time since 2000 a Chargers quarterback has done that in a game. The last time was exactly 10 years ago by Philip Rivers on Dec. 5, 2011, against Jacksonville. Herbert has 19 completions on deep passes this season. He had 24 last year.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Austin Ekeler is second among NFL running backs in scrimmage yards (1,181) and total touchdowns (15), but he is tied for the lead with Washington's Antonio Gibson in lost fumbles with three. Ekeler coughed it up twice in a game for the first time in his five-year career on Sunday and the Bengals took advantage with a pair of touchdowns with a short field. The Chargers are without a consistent backup running back, and Ekeler is going to receive more carries the later it gets into the season.

STOCK UP

OLB Uchenna Nwosu had a pair of sacks in a game for the first time in his four-year career, along with a strip sack and fumble recovery. The Chargers have forced a fumble on eight of their 27 sacks this season, tied for the league lead.

STOCK DOWN

Ty Long’s net average on four punts was 36 yards, which included a touchback. Long and the Chargers' punt coverage team are last in the league with a 38.2 yard net average.

INJURIES

WR Keenan Allen was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Staley said “he’s day to day right now, and hopefully we’ll have some good news on him in the next few days.”

LB Joey Bosa is not in concussion protocol but might be questionable to practice on Wednesday. CB Asante Samuel Jr. remains in the concussion protocol and has missed the last two games. DT Linval Joseph could come off the reserve/COVID-19 protocol list Wednesday or Thursday.

KEY NUMBER

7 — receptions of at least 40 yards by Mike Williams, which leads the league. Williams had his third 100-yard game of the season with five catches for 110 yards, including receptions of 41 and 47 yards.

NEXT STEPS

The Chargers begin a stretch in which three of their next four games are at home. They have a four-game winning streak against the Giants going into next Sunday's game before having a quick turnaround to face the Chiefs on Dec. 16 in what could be their last and best chance to vault into the AFC West lead.

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Chargers place Allen on NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 6:40 PM ET By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen was placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list Monday.

Coach Brandon Staley said that Allen's status "is day to day right now, and hopefully we’ll have some good news on him in the next few days.”

The Chargers (7-5) — who are in possession of the AFC's second wild-card spot — host the New York Giants this week before a key matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 16.

Allen had five receptions for 34 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 41-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He also threw a pass to Justin Herbert for a 2-point conversion during the first half.

If Allen is vaccinated, he could return to practice if he remains symptom free and has two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. He is tied for second in the league with 86 receptions and is 71 yards away from his fourth 1,000 yard season in the past five years.

The Chargers have had a recent run of COVID-19 cases. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph remains in league protocols while defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, Christian Covington and linebacker Drue Tranquill missed at least 10 days last month. Linebacker Joey Bosa sat out five days and tested negative leading up to the Nov. 21 game against Pittsburgh because he was an unvaccinated close contact.

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Eagles ahead of schedule under rookie coach Nick Sirianni

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 6:30 PM ET By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer

The Philadelphia Eagles have already won two more games than last season and are in the middle of the playoff race under rookie coach Nick Sirianni.

They’re not satisfied.

“I think, obviously, I would like to be in better shape,” Sirianni said Monday, a day after the team improved to 6-7 with a 33-18 win over the New York Jets. “There are some games out there that we feel like we could have got earlier in the year that we didn’t.

"But our job is to try to win every single game, so my mind is in a mindset of whatever we got to do to win each and every game, that’s what we’re going to do. And so, I don’t want to look at it as ahead of schedule. All I really care about is getting a little bit better each day.”

The Eagles are a half-game behind Washington (6-6) and San Francisco (6-6) for the last two wild-card spots in the NFC.

That’s progress for a team that finished 4-11-1 in 2020, fired Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson and traded franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.

“We have a formula of how we want to do this, and for the teams that do that, that puts you on schedule of being the best team that you can be that year with the guys and the coaches and the players that you have on that team,” Sirianni said. “And so, I like the progression we’re on, because I do believe that that’s what we’ve done each day, is just getting a little bit better. That’s been the message, and we got some great leaders on this team that enforce that message.”

The victory over the Jets was Philadelphia’s fourth in six games following a 2-5 start. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew filled in for Jalen Hurts and led the team on seven straight scoring drives until a punt on the final possession.

Hurts was a late scratch because of an ankle injury but is expected to return to the starting lineup when the Eagles return from a bye.

WHAT’S WORKING

The Eagles have rushed for 175-plus yards in six straight games. They’ve had three different leading rushers in those games - Hurts, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard - and four players have had at least one 75-yard rushing performance during that span.

NEEDS HELP

Special teams had issues in the return game. The opening kickoff was returned 79 yards. Also, Jalen Reagor allowed a kickoff to bounce at the 1 and scrambled to pick it up so the Eagles started at their 6.

STOCK UP

Minshew was excellent in his first start of the season. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.

STOCK DOWN

Linebacker Alex Singleton struggled in coverage. That was part of the reason he lost his starting job that he regained after Davion Taylor was injured.

INJURED

Sirianni said center Jason Kelce (knee), linebacker Patrick Johnson (back) and cornerback Steven Nelson (shoulder) should be ready next game after exiting with injuries Sunday. Running back Jordan Howard (knee) also could be back.

KEY NUMBER

15 - Kicker Jake Elliott has connected on 15 straight field goals, including four against the Jets. He’s 22 of 24 this season for a career-best 91.7% rate.

NEXT STEPS

The Eagles host Washington (6-6) on Dec. 19 when they return from a bye.

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Wilson provides some optimism for Jets in loss to Eagles

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 6:10 PM ET By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer NEW YORK

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Jets' defense was brutal again. All the positive feelings after a solid effort last week slipped away, like a missed tackle.

And the Jets had plenty of those Sunday.

Now what? Well, that's a season-long work in progress.

But so has been the development of rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. And that's where the glimmer of hope was found in New York's 33-18 loss to Philadelphia.

Wilson had arguably his best game in the NFL, especially the first half — a period during which he has struggled mightily. He was 23 of 38 for 226 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, and a TD run. But it wasn't so much the numbers as it was the decision making and playmaking that were markedly better.

“Yeah, there were definitely improvements,” Wilson said after the game. "I thought I had some good plays as far as just putting my team in the best decision that I can make every single time and just processing as far as getting through guys.

“Now, the next step comes from finding that balance from how I can now go out and use my playmaking ability and also stay within the offense 99% of the time.”

That's what this final stretch of five games is all about for the Jets. They need to get their quarterback in a groove to where they know the No. 2 overall draft pick has taken significant steps — physically and mentally — heading into the offseason.

“His footwork was awesome,” coach Robert Saleh said. “His eyes, his tempo, playing within the scheme and not trying to overanalyze. Not trying to make defenses pay just because you might know what they’re in. I thought this was, by far, his best game in terms of just working progression and playing within the scheme.”

Wilson was 12 of 14 for 108 yards and his two TD passes and scoring run in the first half, when the Jets trailed 24-18 after two quarters. He went scoring drive for scoring drive with the Eagles and Gardner Minshew — each getting TDs on their first three offensive possessions.

The run ended on the Jets' fourth possession when they went three-and-out. The defense couldn't tackle, with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich saying New York had 15 misses. And the Eagles held the ball for all but 70 seconds in the third quarter, keeping Wilson and the Jets' offense on the sideline for what seemed an eternity.

“I wish we could have kept him in rhythm in the second half,” Saleh said, “because I thought he was getting ready to have an explosive game overall.”

Wilson needs to improve a lot more, but there was enough there Sunday to provide an optimistic sliver even as the Jets fell to 3-9.

WHAT’S WORKING

Wilson's progress. It was only one game, but that's what the Jets want to see. There were a lot of questions — and rust — after he missed four games with a sprained knee ligament. The rookie answered a few Sunday.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The defense. It was back to the drawing board after giving up 418 yards to the Eagles. Cornerback Bryce Hall said the Jets prepared all week for Jalen Hurts, who missed the game with an ankle injury. But several others said they game planned for the Eagles' offense, which Ulbrich said didn't change much schematically with Minshew at quarterback. Still, the Jets couldn't keep Philly out of the end zone in the first half and New York's D couldn't get off the field in the third quarter.

“It hurts,” Ulbrich said of the performance. “I'm a prideful person and I put a lot into it, and the players put everything they've got into it as well. We don't work our (butts) off like we do to have the results we've been having.”

STOCK UP

Braxton Berrios. The speedy wide receiver is making a mark as a returner. He ranks first in the NFL among players with 15 or more kickoff returns with a 28.9 average, helped by his 79-yard return on the opening kickoff Sunday. Berrios is also among the league leaders with a 13.6 average on punt runbacks.

STOCK DOWN

Alex Kessman. The rookie kicker won the open competition last week against Matt Ammendola, was signed to the active roster Saturday — but missed his only two kicks and was gone Monday. The Jets waived him to make room for Eddy Pineiro, who'll be the ninth player to kick in a regular-season game for New York since the start of the 2017 season.

INJURIES

WR Corey Davis is having core muscle surgery Tuesday and is out the rest of the season after reinjuring his groin Sunday. ... CB Michael Carter II is in the concussion protocol. ... RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is day to day with an ankle injury.

KEY NUMBER

70 — number of seconds the Jets had possession in the third quarter. It prompted Joe Namath to tweet after hearing it on the TV broadcast: “Did he say the Jets have only had the ball for 70 seconds in the entire 3rd quarter?” Yep, we guarantee that's true, Joe.

NEXT STEPS

Linebacker C.J. Mosley made headlines after the game when he said the Jets need to change the narrative because teams don't respect them. Well, that comes with winning. And their next shot comes at home against New Orleans, which like Philadelphia, is banged up at quarterback.

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LA Rams finally show adaptability in skid-snapping victory

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 6:00 PM ET By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer LOS ANGELES

LOS ANGELES (AP) — After stumbling and struggling through a three-loss November, the Los Angeles Rams emerged from their rough month with the result they needed from a meeting with one of the NFL's worst teams.

Yet it was the way that the Rams routed the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-7 that provides confidence they might get their season back on course.

The Rams (8-4) controlled both sides of the ball, as they should against a 2-10 opponent. But they started that dominance on their opening offensive series with something they hadn't showed all year — a jumbo formation, using Joseph Noteboom as an extra lineman and running the ball straight at the Jags.

“We decided to change some personnel and get in there and run some heavy runs," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said Monday. “Really some of those where it’s like, ‘You know it’s a run, and we know it’s a run, and we feel like we can out-execute you.’”

Throughout the afternoon at SoFi Stadium, the Rams used more personnel groupings, offensive sets and play-action passes than they've exhibited in just about any game this season. The overall game plan had similarities to Sean McVay’s run-first-and-play-action mentality from his first two seasons in Los Angeles, when Todd Gurley was a rampaging force and the Rams' offense was the envy of the league.

Led by Matthew Stafford’s four touchdown passes, Sony Michel’s 121 yards rushing and Cooper Kupp’s 129 yards receiving, it all added up to an unpredictable offense that consistently found ways to best Jacksonville, even its normally solid run defense.

Los Angeles' defense was similarly sturdy, taking advantage of Jacksonville's obvious personnel weaknesses and holding the Jags to 197 yards — the fewest this season for new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris' group.

The Rams had barely changed their offensive personnel packages at all this season, making fewer substitutions and running three-receiver sets on a greater percentage of their plays than any other NFL team. Robert Woods’ injury and a three-game losing streak essentially forced McVay to re-evaluate what he was doing, and he came out with a new plan that worked splendidly.

“It really is about taking advantage of the guys that we do have up,” McVay said. “We’ve obviously had some changes, and if you have different approaches, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be better. It’s just going to be different.”

For a team with a head coach that has often exhibited supreme — and, frankly, justified — belief in his technical prowess, these new schemes might boost the Rams and McVay to contention for the NFC West title behind Arizona (10-2), their opponent Monday night.

WHAT'S WORKING

Kupp didn't make his first catch until the first two-minute warning, but ended up with his seventh 100-yard receiving game (and his 11th 90-yard game) of the season. The wideout's connection with Stafford remains the backbone of the Rams' attack even with every opponent knowing what they want to do. Woods' season-ending injury seriously damaged Los Angeles' offense, but Kupp — no stranger to injury problems himself — remains unstoppable.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Rams still rely on debatably talented players as pass-catchers and defensive backs. Tight end Kendall Blanton and rookie receiver Ben Skowronek both made costly drops, while Dont'e Deayon, Nick Scott and Darious Williams — not a fringe player, but a respected starting cornerback — all had rough moments in coverage. Star-studded Los Angeles' depth problems loom as a critical flaw.

STOCK UP

Michel produced the Rams' first 100-yard rushing game of the season even against the Jaguars' loaded box. An ability to gain yards after contact has been sorely missed by the Rams since Gurley's departure, and McVay could see how much better his offense ran with Michel breaking tackles.

“I thought he really established himself,” McVay said.

STOCK DOWN

Darrell Henderson Jr. should lose playing time to Michel when he returns from his thigh injury. Henderson was technically available Sunday, but Michel's excellence kept Henderson on the sideline. Henderson has been an adequate back when healthy in his three NFL seasons, but he has run for 100 yards just once, back in September 2020.

INJURIES

C Brian Allen sprained a ligament in his right knee on the first snap, but he's not yet ruled out for next week, McVay said. Coleman Shelton filled in capably with minimal previous playing experience. ... Rookie CB Robert Rochell injured his ribs, but also isn't ruled out.

KEY NUMBER

1 — Plays missed by Stafford after taking a brutal hit late in the second quarter. Stafford shrugged it off as “a little chest shot” and returned after backup John Wolford handed off on his only snap. His teammates were a bit more impressed with their latest example of Stafford's famed toughness: “I thought he died there for a second, the way he was laying there,” Kupp said with a laugh. “It was like, ‘OK, his soul is gone.’”

NEXT STEPS

The Rams probably need to win at Arizona to have any shot at the NFC West title, and they've beaten the Cardinals in eight of their past nine meetings. A victory would also prove Los Angeles is an actual Super Bowl contender, while a loss would keep the Rams firmly in the second tier.

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Brady, SB champ Bucs aiming for playoff home-field advantage

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 5:50 PM ET By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer TAMPA, Fla.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know how difficult the road to the Super Bowl can be. That’s why the defending champions are determined to give themselves a better shot at repeating by earning home-field advantage for the playoffs.

At 9-3, the Bucs have a commanding four-game lead over Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South with five games remaining.

While the team’s first division title since 2007 would guarantee at least one home game in the postseason, coach Bruce Arians and his players want more after defying the odds of winning it all as a wild-card team last season.

Sure, Tampa Bay became the first team to win a Super Bowl played in its home stadium last February. But to do it, the Bucs first had to win three consecutive playoff games on the road as a No. 5 seed.

Four of the team’s remaining five games are against opponents that currently have losing records, however Arians cautions the reigning champs aren’t in a position to take anything for granted.

“You don’t really talk about it. You start thinking about January, you’re going to get ... beat and you’ll wind up playing on the road, for sure,” the coach said.

“It’s take care of every day’s business one at time ... and add them all up at the end,” Arians continued. “But everybody knows how important that is. We’re sitting at the three-seed right now. Each win, each game really matters. It’s fun.”

The 2020 Bucs were the seventh wild-card in league history to win the Super Bowl. Arians also was an assistant coach with Pittsburgh when the 2005 Steelers won the title as a wild-card.

Sunday’s 30-17 victory at Atlanta improved Tampa Bay’s record to 4-3 on the road compared to 5-0 at home this season.

“We have to clean everything up. We are not perfect by any means and don’t claim to be,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “We show up to work every day and try to be the best we can be. We haven’t played our best game yet, so hopefully we can do that this coming week.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Bucs have scored 30 or more points seven times, going 7-0 in those games. Including playoffs, they’ve scored 30-plus a league-leading 19 times since Brady’s arrival in 2020. They’ve scored 377 through 12 games this year, their highest-ever total at this point in a season.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The defense tightened against run and held the Falcons scoreless after halftime Sunday, though not before defensive coordinator Todd Bowles shared some choice words with the team at halftime. The Bucs led 20-17 at the break, however Atlanta had 101 rushing on 13 carries before Bowles’ fiery address. The Falcons ran for just 20 yards on 10 attempts the rest of the way.

STOCK UP

With starting cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis back in the lineup after missing significant time with injuries, the Bucs are feeling better about the prospect of the secondary hitting its stride.

STOCK DOWN

Despite ranking in the top 10 statistically and shutting down Atlanta after giving up 10 points early, the reigning champs are striving for more consistency on defense. Among the areas they’ve shown improvement the past three games, though, are penalties and third-down efficiency.

INJURIES

Although cornerback Jamel Dean is in the concussion protocol and defensive lineman Will Gholston has “a little patellar tendon issue,” Arians was hopeful “we didn’t lose anybody for this next ballgame.” Long snapper Zach Triner, meanwhile, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday.

KEY NUMBER

74 — Brady has thrown that many touchdown passes since joining the Bucs in 2020, which puts him fourth on the Bucs all-time list. He moved ahead of Doug Williams (73 from 1978-82) on Sunday and is closing in on Vinny Testaverde (77, 1987-92) and Josh Freeman (80, 2009-13). Jameis Winston is the franchise’s career TD pass leader with 121 from 2015-19.

NEXT STEPS

Buffalo, the lone team the Bucs will face over the next five weeks that currently has a winning record, visits Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

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Browns return from bye refreshed, refocused for home stretch

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 5:40 PM ET By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer CLEVELAND

CLEVELAND (AP) — Rested and hopefully refocused, the Browns capped their bye week by getting a small boost to their playoff chances in a cluttered, chaotic conference race.

Now, it's time to help themselves.

Although Cleveland slipped back into last place in the AFC North without playing on Sunday, losses by Baltimore, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Denver — all playoff contenders — helped the enigmatic Browns (6-6), who can still salvage their season after not meeting expectations.

“We still haven’t played our best ball yet,” linebacker Anthony Walker said Monday. "We all know that. And to say we’re still in the mix, it definitely makes coming into practice a little bit more worth it.

"We understand that everything we had, all the goals we had to start the season, are still out in front of us. We just gotta take care of business.”

With five games left, the Browns have the slimmest of margins for error in order to have any shot at making the postseason for the second straight year.

They're also facing a rugged path to the playoffs with three division games, including a matchup Sunday against the first-place Ravens (8-4), who overcame four interceptions by Lamar Jackson to beat the Browns 16-10 a week ago.

Things could be better. They could also be bleaker.

“Right now, we have to just focus on ourselves,” running back Kareem Hunt said. "We still have to win. It doesn't matter what other teams are doing if we don't come out and win.”

Last week, coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff undertook a deep dive into addressing numerous issues, with the Browns' ineffective passing game at the top of the need-to-fix list.

While quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled partly because of injuries, the Browns haven't moved the ball through the air nearly as well as expected, and their inability to stretch the field has made Cleveland easier to defend.

Stop the run. Stop the Browns.

Stefanski didn't divulge any specifics in terms of potentially jump-starting his offense, but indicated one option could be playing Hunt and Nick Chubb together.

It would seem like a natural move. However, the Browns have preferred rotating the backs to keep them as fresh as possible. Now that Hunt is back after missing five games with a calf injury, and with every game so meaningful, it's possible Stefanski could use the playmakers in some packages.

“I do think it's something you can do in this system and really any system in terms of plugging in those guys,” Stefanski said. "We just want to be mindful and intentional about why and what we are doing.

"If you do something like that, you want to have a good reason to do it and put those guys in position to succeed.”

At this point, the reason is winning.

Hunt would be all for it, and doesn't see any downside in he and Chubb in the same backfield.

“I would love it, but that's up to them,” Hunt said. "Whatever the coaches decide. If they decide to put us both out there, I'm ready for that. And if not, that's fine. I feel like we still will be fine. The cons, there really are none. It's only pros, I think. It could be a good thing.”

On Sunday, the Browns got in some extra TV scouting of Baltimore, which was a missed 2-point conversion from beating Pittsburgh and opening a three-game lead on Cleveland in the division.

The Ravens missed their chance. The Browns can't miss theirs.

Cleveland's recent game plan against Jackson was exquisite, but still not enough as Jackson overcame his mistakes by making enough plays to avoid a loss. He nearly did it again to the Steelers.

“He's able to put his team in position after what we would say is a not-so great game by him, but still to have a chance at the end to win the game,” Walker said. "That's what we have to do. We have to find a way to win.

"I'm pretty sure Pitt would have taken a 3-0 win or however they got it done. We have to find a way to do the same thing.”

NOTES: Second-year LB Jacob Phillips could return this week after missing the first 12 games with a biceps injury sustained in training camp. Phillips would be a big boost for a unit that's had its share of issues. ... Stefanski said steady long snapper Charley Hughlett has made progress after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. LB Mack Wilson would handle snapping if Hughlett is out.

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Humphrey out for the season as Ravens reel from close loss

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 5:20 PM ET By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer OWINGS MILLS, Md.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens came within inches of creating some much-needed breathing room in the AFC North.

Instead, they fell short in an agonizing loss to a division rival — and now coach John Harbaugh's team has yet another major injury concern.

Harbaugh announced Monday that cornerback Marlon Humphrey is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. That news came following the team's 20-19 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday that left the Ravens just a game ahead of Cincinnati atop the division.

Baltimore (8-4) is only two games ahead of last-place Cleveland and faces a tough schedule down the stretch. The Ravens have won plenty of close games this year, so they shouldn't feel too aggrieved after this one went the other way, but with the standings so tight and injuries still looming large, Sunday's defeat sets Baltimore up for a potentially stressful finish to the regular season.

“As Al Pacino said it ... an inch here or an inch there, or a second too early, a second too late, it is exactly right,” Harbaugh said, referencing a scene from the movie “Any Given Sunday" while talking to reporters Monday. “That is like a classic truth, about football and as a metaphor for life.”

Harbaugh boldly decided to go for a 2-point conversion with 12 seconds left against the Steelers, and Lamar Jackson's pass to Mark Andrews fell incomplete. Baltimore is now 6-2 in games decided by six points or fewer.

WHAT'S WORKING

Game management. With two minutes remaining and Pittsburgh facing second-and-2 at the Baltimore 13, Chuck Clark of the Ravens was called for going offside. It looked as if that pre-snap penalty might have been on purpose, and if so, that was a clever way for Baltimore — which still had three timeouts — to prevent the Steelers from running the clock way down and kicking a go-ahead field goal.

Harbaugh was coy Monday about whether it was an intentional offside.

“I don't need to get into all the strategy of it all,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.”

After falling behind by seven when Pittsburgh scored a touchdown with 1:48 left, the Ravens pulled off an impressive TD drive of their own, and whatever one thinks of the decision to go for 2, the play call resulted in a pretty open receiver. Jackson's pass was a bit long, and Andrews may have been a bit casual reaching out with one arm for it.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Baltimore's passing game as a whole is slipping, even though the Ravens finally have receivers Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins healthy at the same time.

Over his past four games, Jackson is averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt, with six touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Jackson's ability to keep plays going makes him a threat as both a runner and a passer, but he took seven sacks Sunday — a sign that the line isn't protecting well enough or he isn't releasing the ball quickly enough.

“T.J. Watt, he’s a great defender, great rusher. He was doing his thing out there,” Jackson said after the game. “We’ve just got to get in the lab and find ways to make things happen."

STOCK UP

Devonta Freeman had 97 total yards rushing and receiving, his most of the season. He also scored Baltimore's first touchdown on a 3-yard run.

STOCK DOWN

Baltimore's defense held the Steelers to three points through three quarters — then allowed 17 in the fourth. Even though the Ravens finished with a big advantage in time of possession, the defense seemed to wilt against Pittsburgh's running game, and the injury to Humphrey leaves the secondary with another major problem.

INJURIES

In addition to Humphrey's injury, OL Patrick Mekari left in the second half with a hand injury and did not return.

KEY NUMBERS

36-23-1. That's the composite record of the last five teams on Baltimore's schedule. None of them are currently under .500.

NEXT STEPS

The Ravens play at Cleveland next weekend. It's the second meeting between the teams in three weeks, and the Browns had their open date in between. Baltimore won the first matchup 16-10.

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Cardinals' nose for takeaways big reason for 10-2 record

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 5:10 PM ET By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer

Zach Allen sniffed out the screen pass and the Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman lifted his big left hand out to the side, snagging the football out of midair and lumbering toward the end zone.

He didn't quite make it.

“I've definitely got to work on the run after the catch,” Allen said grinning. “I was excited. I just ran in a straight line.”

It was a very minor critique in a great defensive day for the Cardinals, who had four interceptions in Sunday's 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears. Arizona has a 10-2 record, he best in the NFL.

The Cardinals enjoyed the return of quarterback Kyler Murray and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Chicago. Both players were back after missing three straight games with injuries. Murray threw two touchdown passes, including one to Hopkins, and also ran for two more touchdowns.

Arizona was able to be conservative on offense in cold and wet conditions in Chicago largely because the defense kept giving it great field position with the interceptions. The team's takeaways have been constant this season: The Cardinals rank second in the NFL with a plus-12 turnover differential.

“It's the No. 1 stat,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "You look year in, year out, if you traced it back 20 years, you see teams that are playing in the playoffs, playing in championship games are really high in the plus side. The teams that aren't having great years are usually down at the bottom.

“That, to me, it's the biggest stat in football.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Cardinals are a team that can push the ball through the air but make no mistake, this team can run.

Arizona threw the ball just 15 times in Sunday's win, opting to usually stick to the ground in the cold and ran. James Conner ran for 75 yards while Murray added 59. Kingsbury said he hadn't been a part of a team that ran that much since “flag football when I was in sixth grade maybe” but added that he's glad the team was able to adjust.

“That's not what I'm accustomed to doing," Kingsbury said. “I don't think anybody was. We had a lot of angry wideouts and tight ends. I understood it - I didn't like playing that style either. But that's what it took to win.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Cardinals continue to live dangerously on offense with ill-timed fumbles and some tough third-down penalties. Arizona's fumbled 27 times this season yet somehow lost only three. That's a trend that probably won't continue if the Cards keep putting the ball on the ground.

STOCK UP

Safety Jalen Thompson has progressed from a steady starter to one of the Cardinals' most crucial defensive players. He had one of the team's four interceptions and added 10 tackles. His sure tackling has been a big reason Arizona's been able to limit the opposing team's big plays.

Thompson is one of GM Steve Keim's most shrewd acquisitions over the past few years. The safety was picked up in the fifth round of the 2019 supplemental draft out of Washington State.

STOCK DOWN

Rookie linebacker Zaven Collins played just three snaps against the Bears as his playing time has evaporated to almost nothing. The No. 16 overall draft pick was expected to be the team's defensive star of the future, but it's clear that if it happens, it's going to take time.

The Cardinals hope Collins can make a big jump in the near future, much like last year's first-round pick Isaiah Simmons.

Simmons played sparingly as a rookie in 2020 before becoming one of Arizona's most reliable players this season.

INJURIES

The Cardinals are as healthy as they've been in several weeks. Murray and Hopkins are back and the team hopes RB Chase Edmonds, G Justin Pugh and long snapper Aaron Brewer return soon.

KEY NUMBER

6 — Who says warm-weather teams can't play in the cold? The Cardinals now have a six-game winning streak in games when the temperature at kickoff is 40 degrees or less.

NEXT STEPS

One of the strange parts of Arizona's season is that it's been incredible on the road and just OK at home. The Cardinals are 7-0 away from Arizona and 3-2 at State Farm Stadium.

The Cardinals have three of their final five games at home, starting with the Los Angeles Rams next Monday night. All five of the final games will be played indoors.

“We haven't been the same team at home that we've been on the road,” Kingsbury said. “We've talked about that. We're doing some things to try to adjust that.”

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Raiders' playoff hopes take hit after 4th loss in 5 games

1.7d ago 12/6/2021 5:10 PM ET By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer LAS VEGAS

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A few weeks ago, Derek Carr stood up at the podium after a lopsided loss and proclaimed that this year's version of the Raiders would be different and could avoid another collapse in the second half of the season.

After the Raiders fell to Washington 17-15 on Sunday for their fourth loss in five games to deal a big blow to their dwindling playoff hopes, Carr was far less optimistic.

Another game plagued by slow starts on offense and an inability to finish drives with touchdowns have taken a big toll on the Raiders (6-6).

“That’s frustrating. You know because you try to emphasize, you try to fix it, and you go and it doesn’t happen,” Carr said. “It happens one time, and it doesn’t happen every time. Each play tells its own story. It’s frustrating, I wish I could stand up here and break down the whole thing. ... To answer your question, it is frustrating that you emphasize something, it looks good one week, then the other week, and then it’s not. We just got to keep working.”

After a promising start to the season with a 5-2 record, the Raiders have fallen apart since the bye week as the resignation of coach Jon Gruden following the publication of his offensive emails and the release of receiver Henry Ruggs III following a fatal DUI crash have taken a toll.

Las Vegas has scored 16 points of fewer six times in the past nine games, losing all of them as the offense has struggled. The Raiders settled for field goals twice after getting to the Washington 20 or closer, giving them a league-high 43 field goals from inside 40 yards the past two seasons.

“I think it’s a mindset," running back Josh Jacobs said. "I think we kind of just coast a little too much. It’s definitely frustrating.”

It's a similar pattern to the past two seasons when the Raiders lost five of the final six games in 2019 following a 6-4 start and five of the final seven games last season after a 6-3 start to the season.

“You want to talk about highs and lows of the season, the highs have been pretty good and the lows have been really low,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “Humanistically the lows have been really low and then professionally on the grass the lows have been low. But again, if you’re results oriented all the time then you’re just looking at the scoreboard spending your life up there. There’s a process to what we try and do and there’s a process to improving every day.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Passes to Hunter Renfrow. The one bright spot offensively for the Raiders most of the season has been the play of Renfrow in the passing game. He had a career-high nine passes on 10 targets for 102 yards, giving him back-to-back games with at least 100 yards receiving for the second straight week. Carr has a 111.1 rating when targeting Renfrow this season.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Starts to game. The Raiders were held scoreless in the first quarter for the fifth time this season and didn't get their first points until a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half. Las Vegas has been outscored by 30 points in the first quarter, fifth worst in the NFL.

STOCK UP

Nate Hobbs. The rookie cornerback made the biggest defensive play when he intercepted Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter to help set up a go-ahead field goal. Hobbs had nine tackles for the game, including one for a loss.

STOCK DOWN

Tre'von Moehrig. Las Vegas' other rookie starter in the secondary had a chance to seal the game on the final drive when he was in position for an interception. But he dropped the ball and Washington took advantage by moving the ball 9 yards on the next two plays to set up Brian Johnson's game-winning 48-yard field goal.

INJURIES

RB Kenyan Drake will travel to Alabama for season-ending ankle surgery after getting hurt Sunday. ... LB Denzel Perryman (ankle), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (ankle) and LB Cory Littleton (stinger) are all day to day. ... TE Darren Waller, LB Patrick Onwuasor and CB Trayvon Mullen could all return this week.

KEY NUMBER

4.3. Carr's average completion traveled only 4.3 yards downfield as he settled for check downs several times, especially early in the game. The Raiders have had much more success this season when Carr has pushed the ball down the field, with the average completion going 7.7 yards downfield in wins and just 4.9 in losses.

NEXT STEPS

The Raiders visit Kansas City on Sunday.

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Banged-up Bengals dealing with Burrow's finger injury

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 5:00 PM ET By MITCH STACY, AP Sports Writers CINCINNATI

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals came into Sunday's home game riding a wave of momentum and confidence after a pair of dominating wins.

By the end of the afternoon, the mistake-prone Bengals were left to contemplate a strange 41-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Cincinnati's star quarterback Joe Burrow walked off nursing a dislocated pinky finger, and numerous other injuries gave coach Zac Taylor more to worry about this week.

Burrow has vowed not to miss a game because of it. Taylor said he'll be limited in practice and is day to day.

The loss dropped the Bengals to 7-5. They're still in the chaotic AFC playoff picture, but squandered a chance to move up among the leaders. The Chargers are now 7-5, too, but hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals.

“You're going to lose some games — it's about how you bounce back,” Burrow said.

The Chargers stormed out to a 24-0 second-quarter lead before the Bengals could straighten things out. They got to 24-13 by halftime, and Joe Mixon's 7-yard touchdown run cut the deficit to 24-22 in the third quarter.

But early in the fourth quarter, Mixon fumbled and Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell scooped it up and ran 61 yards the other way for a touchdown. Burrow was intercepted in the end zone later in the fourth and Cincinnati couldn't make another serious threat.

“There's not any moral victories, but we put ourselves in a position to win,” Burrow said.

WHAT'S WORKING

Not much on Sunday. But the Bengals did show resiliency, with the injured Burrow leading them to 22 unanswered points after a terrible start. Burrow dislocated his right little finger on a strip-sack on the Bengals' first series. Still, he tossed a 29-yard touchdown to Tee Higgins to get Cincinnati on the board, and then showed his grit by scrambling for a 6-yard TD late in the first half.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Cincinnati's slow start had it playing from behind the entire game. Two starting offensive linemen were out with injuries and the blocking suffered. The Chargers, with the worst run defense in the NFL, bottled up Mixon after his back-to-back 100-yard games. Justin Herbert threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns.

STOCK UP

Higgins had nine catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. That was after making six grabs for 114 yards and a touchdown the previous week in a 41-10 rout of the Steelers. Tyler Boyd had five catches for 85 yards against the Chargers. Bengals defenders sacked Herbert four times.

“I think we can take some positives out of this thing,” Taylor said. “We're not looking to take many of them out. A lot of guys got in there and held the fort down."

STOCK DOWN

Burrow threw for 300 yards and a touchdown, but had two interceptions, six sacks and lost the ball on a strip-sack. One interception was in the end zone. The other wasn't Burrow's fault. Receiver Ja'Marr Chase bobbled a ball that hit him in stride down the right sideline, and Chargers cornerback Michael Davis grabbed it out of the air at the Los Angeles 30. Chase had at least one other dropped pass in the game.

“There's no secret here. When you turn the ball over four times — four times — you're probably not going to win a football game,” Taylor said. “It's as simple as that.”

INJURIES

Starting OL linemen Riley Reiff and Trey Hopkins both have ankle injuries and are day to day. ... The team's best linebacker, Logan Wilson, was carted off the field with a shoulder injury. Taylor said he'll miss at least a couple of weeks ... LB Markus Bailey (left shoulder stinger) and CB Chidobe Awuzie (foot) are day to day.

KEY NUMBER

103 — combined total yards lost on Cincinnati's seven penalties and Burrow's six sacks.

NEXT STEPS

The Bengals have had some big wins and big losses. Now they have to try to rebound from a mistake-filled debacle, led by a star quarterback with a sore finger. The San Francisco 49ers (6-6) come to town Sunday. Two of the Bengals' five remaining games are against AFC North foes Baltimore and Cleveland.

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Last-play touchdown ends Campbell's lengthy victory drought

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:40 PM ET By DAVE HOGG, Associated Press DETROIT

Teams: DET MIA MIN NE

DETROIT (AP) — Dan Campbell had been waiting for 2,160 days to celebrate another win as an NFL coach.

When it finally arrived, he was ready to celebrate.

Jared Goff's touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of Sunday's game gave the Detroit Lions a 29-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings after going 0-10-1.

For Campbell, whose animated reaction went viral, the drought was much longer. He hadn't won as a head coach since his Dolphins beat the New England Patriots 20-10 on Jan. 3, 2016, in his final game as Miami's interim coach.

“This one was definitely special,” Campbell said on Monday. “Winning is always great, no matter the circumstances, but we've gone through a lot this season. When you've been around this group 24/7 - the coaches and players - and seen the amount of work they have put in to build this program, it makes it feel so much better to finally get over that hump.”

For 58 minutes, things hadn't looked much different. The Lions got out to a lead, but turnovers and a botched fourth-down attempt let the Vikings take a 27-23 lead with 1:54 to play.

The Lions stopped Minnesota's 2-point conversion attempt - the third time they had done that - meaning a touchdown would win the game.

“Getting three of those stops was a huge piece of this victory,” Campbell said. “That gave us a chance to play for the win rather than overtime.”

The Lions got the ball back at their 25, needing a touchdown with 1:50 to play and no timeouts. Detroit isn't known for a quick-strike offense and Goff has always struggled against heavy pressure, so it seemed inevitable the Vikings would try to force him into a mistake.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, though, was concerned about covering Detroit's receivers. As a result, he only rushed three players, dropping eight into coverage. That took away any chance of Goff hitting a deep pass, but telling him to hit receivers on 5-yard routes showed off his biggest strength.

The Lions didn't have a play longer than 13 yards in their final drive, and even that required a cross-field sprint by Godwin Igwebuike to pick up a first down and get out of bounds. However, they got to the 11 with 4 seconds to play, and St. Brown's catch in front of oddly loose coverage got Campbell his long-awaited win.

He and his players were so emotionally fired up by the victory he didn't have much left for his family.

“We went home and laid pretty low for the evening,” he said. “I was spent. It just felt good to build a fire, sit on the sofa, hang out with my family and have a smile and a laugh.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Goff was finally able to give the Lions the vertical passing game they've needed all season. He threw for 296 yards, his most since Week 4, and matched a season high with three touchdowns. That was enough of a downfield threat to keep Minnesota from putting more pressure on Goff on the final drive.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Detroit's defense had been outstanding since the Week 9 bye, holding the Steelers, Browns and Bears to 16 or fewer points. It looked like that would continue on Sunday; Minnesota only had six at halftime. But the Vikings had three touchdowns and a field goal in the last two quarters.

STOCK UP

St. Brown, like most of Detroit's wide receivers, had struggled to make an impact in Goff's low-risk passing attack. Sunday, though, he caught 10 passes for 86 yards, including his first NFL touchdown as time expired.

STOCK DOWN

Detroit's running game never got going without D'Andre Swift. The Lions averaged 3.7 yards per rush, and their longest gain on the ground was 11 yards.

INJURIES

The biggest question remains Swift's return from an upper-body injury.

KEY NUMBER

364 — number of days since the Lions had won a game.

NEXT STEPS

Enjoy a Victory Monday. They are at Denver on Sunday.

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Jets WR Davis having core muscle surgery, out for season

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:30 PM ET By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer NEW YORK

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis will have core muscle surgery Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season.

Davis left the Jets' 33-18 loss to Philadelphia early in the fourth quarter Sunday with what the team announced was a groin injury.

Coach Robert Saleh announced Monday that Davis will have surgery, ending a disappointing first season with the Jets. Davis had missed one game after injuring his groin against Miami on Nov. 21. He worked his way back last week and had two catches for 15 yards against the Eagles before leaving.

“He was cleared and went through a lot of different procedures to try to get that thing ready to roll,” Saleh said. “It's unfortunate. It finally gave out on him.”

The Jets also made another change at kicker, releasing Alex Kessman after he missed two extra points Sunday. They signed former Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro, who was most recently with Washington. Kessman was signed to the practice squad two weeks ago and won an open competition with Matt Ammendola last week before being signed to the active roster last Saturday.

Pineiro is 23 of 28 on field-goal attempts in his career.

Davis signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with New York in March. He finished with 34 catches for 492 yards and four touchdowns in nine games.

“I feel awful for Corey,” Saleh said. “He's one of the true pros in this league, goes about his business the right way, shows up every day to work. ... We'll get him back next year and he'll be better than ever.”

Davis was considered the No. 1 receiver in the Jets' offense, although rookie Elijah Moore has stepped up in the past several weeks and leads the team with 43 receptions. But Davis' absence could mean increased opportunities for receivers such as Keelan Cole, Denzel Mims, Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith.

“We love our receiving group,” Saleh said. “There's a lot of pieces there. Not one person needs to step up. They just need to continue to do their jobs.”

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Colts looking for ways to maintain momentum through bye week

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:30 PM ET By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer INDIANAPOLIS

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts created the perfect bye week script Sunday.

They again topped the 200-yard mark on the ground and and scored 30 points for the seventh time in eight games. Defensively, Indy forced forced two more turnovers, allowed 141 total yards and pitched a road shutout for the first time since December 1992. The 31-0 victory at struggling Houston also put the Colts above .500 for the second time this season, keeping them in the middle of the AFC playoff hunt.

Now comes the hard part: maintaining that momentum when Indy returns from its long-awaited break.

“We know what’s at stake," quarterback Carson Wentz said Sunday. “We know where we’re at and we know who’s coming in, all those things. But once it’s December, it’s go time. It’s crunch time, so it’ll be a fun one.”

Sure, Wentz and his teammates know making the postseason remains an uphill battle with little margin for error. Tennessee swept the season series with Indianapolis and also holds a two-game lead in the AFC South, essentially giving the Titans a three-game gap with a month to go.

The Colts also are one of nine AFC teams with six or seven wins vying for the final three playoff spots. And after the bye, Indy faces another daunting three-game run against AFC East-leading New England, NFC West-leading Arizona on Christmas night and another playoff contender, Las Vegas, before finishing the season at Jacksonville.

Still, it's a better scenario than the one Wentz faced last December in Philadelphia — or the Colts were facing in mid-October with a 1-5 record.

What will it take for the Colts to complete another remarkable comeback to make the playoffs?

Maintaining focus and energy, staying healthy and replicating their most recent performance against better competition when they return to work next week.

“We’ve got to win every week. It’s kind of a playoff game every week," Reich said. “I think our guys have been tested, and I think that’s a good thing. We’ve had a really good schedule as far as we've played a lot of good playoff teams, and hopefully we’re learning and getting better from each of those contests."

WHAT’S WORKING

Converting turnovers into scores. Indy forced turnovers on Houston's first two possessions, capitalizing on the first with a touchdown before missing a short field goal following the second. The Colts still lead the league in takeaways (29), turnover margin (plus-13) and points off turnovers (112).

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Deep passing. The Colts reverted to their run-first philosophy and it worked wonders as they played efficiently while burning the clock. What's been lacking over the past several weeks, though, are the deep throws and penalties Indy accrued earlier this season. Instead, Wentz has relied primarily on short and intermediate throws.

STOCK UP

Kenny Moore II. The fifth-year cornerback solidified his Pro Bowl case Sunday by picking off Tyrod Taylor on the first play of the game and forcing a fumble on Houston's fifth play. Moore leads the Colts with four interceptions and trails only linebackers Bobby Okereke and Darius Leonard with 77 tackles. Leonard is a two-time All-Pro.

STOCK DOWN

T.Y. Hilton. Injuries have made it difficult for the four-time Pro Bowler to have a significant impact this season. Even Sunday against a team he's toyed with through the years, Hilton wasn't much of a factor. Wentz threw two passes to Hilton, who caught both for 22 yards.

INJURIES

Reich said Monday the Colts suffered no significant injuries at Houston. They activated starting safety Khari Willis (calf) from injured reserve on Saturday and remain hopeful starting center Ryan Kelly returns against New England, Kelly was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.

KEY NUMBER

163.0 — Jonathan Taylor leads the league with 1,348 yards rushing despite playing seven games against the league's top-10 run defenses. Indy's final four foes are ranked 16th, 20th, 21st and 26th against the run and the 22-year-old needs 163.0 yards per game to become the youngest 2,000-yard rusher in NFL history.

NEXT STEPS

Rest and recovery. The Colts are among four teams finally get their bye week. It's the latest any team has had in two decades, and after battling injuries through most of the first two months, Indianapolis finally gets a chance to recharge before embarking on a four-game stretch that will dictate its January plans.

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Packers hopeful about injured players entering stretch run

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:20 PM ET GREEN BAY, Wis.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur says there’s a possibility three of his injured Pro Bowl players from last season could return to practice this week.

The Packers have been playing without 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) as well as cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (back). Alexander and Smith were second-team selections in the 2020 All-Pro balloting.

LaFleur said Monday they “potentially” could practice this week as the NFC North-leading Packers (9-3) return from their off week and prepare for a Sunday night home game with the Chicago Bears (4-8).

“Certainly we hope so,” LaFleur said. “Those guys again are doing everything in their power, but we’ll see where we’re at on Wednesday, and obviously you guys will get updated then.”

The Packers’ other notable injury involves quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said he fractured his pinky toe last month while working out at home during his quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. Although the injury hasn’t kept him from playing, Rodgers didn’t practice at all before a Nov. 28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams and practiced just once before a Nov. 21 loss at Minnesota.

“I know he was getting treatment and doing everything he can to be 100%,” LaFleur said. “I still think it’s a process, like anything, and we’ll see where he’s at this week. Hopefully we can get him out there at practice, but if not, we’ve got a lot of confidence in just his ability to go out there and play at a high level.”

Bakhtiari hasn’t played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 31. He had returned to practice in late October and was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Nov. 10, but he hasn’t been practicing the last few weeks.

Smith hasn’t played since the Packers’ season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints. Alexander hurt his right shoulder in an Oct. 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and hasn’t played since.

LaFleur noted that he wouldn’t necessarily “lump them all into the same kind of category,” a potential indication that some of the injured players could return earlier than others.

“These guys love the game,” LaFleur said. “They love being with their teammates, they love competing, so I know that they’re itching to get back as soon as possible, and we just want to make sure that there’s no extra risk for a setback or whatnot, because obviously they’re an important part of this team.”

One other issue facing Green Bay’s defense concerns linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. LaFleur said Campbell could return to the team facilities as early as Friday and will be participating in meetings via Zoom until then.

The Packers added backup quarterback Jordan Love to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.

LaFleur said rookie center Josh Myers won’t be returning to practice this week. Myers has been out since injuring his knee in an Oct. 17 victory at Chicago.

“I think Josh needs a little bit more time,” LaFleur said.

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Washington rolling into 5-game finish vs. NFC East opponents

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:00 PM ET By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Sports Writer

When the NFL schedule came out in May, Ron Rivera loved that Washington finished the season with five games against NFC East competition.

He told players it was an opportunity if they could still be in the playoff race by this stretch. A four-game winning streak has vaulted Washington to 6-6 and right in the thick of the chase for not only a spot but possibly a second consecutive division title.

“We’re at the part where we control it,” Rivera said Monday. “What’s going to happen to the Washington Football Team is now in our hands. We go out and play the way we’re capable of, we give ourselves a chance, and that’s where we wanted to be.”

Washington could be without top tight end Logan Thomas when the team hosts the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but Rivera said an MRI did not confirm the worst fears of a torn ACL.

But Washington has dealt with injuries to reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, fellow pass rusher Montez Sweat, linebacker Jon Bostic, safety Landon Collins and center Chase Roullier, so playing down another starter is nothing new.

Rivera credited the personnel department and position coaches for Washington’s ability to withstand so many injuries and keep rolling

“I think the coaches have done a really good job in preparation,” he said. “We’ve had good depth. We’ve had players that we’ve been able to plug in and have them play because they’ve been ready to play.”

Part of the success has been a winning formula predicated on running the ball and taking some pressure off quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Washington ran the ball 30 times in the win at the Las Vegas Raiders.

“I like the physical game,” Rivera said. “I like the physical nature of guys lining up and trying to move somebody and control the clock and grind it out.”

Grinding it out isn’t easy, though. Washington’s past three victories have come by a combined 10 points.

Asked if his team could win a game that’s not chaotic, Heinicke responded: “Trust me, we would like that as well. A win is a win.”

Despite winning four in a row, Washington opened as a 4½-point home underdog against the 8-4, division-leading Cowboys on FanDuel Sportsbook. Beating Dallas once, splitting against Philadelphia and taking care of business against the last-place New York Giants could be enough to get Washington at least an NFC wild-card spot.

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense is finally living up to lofty preseason expectations after being one of the NFL’s best units in 2020, despite losing Young to a season-ending knee injury. Washington is allowing 17.5 points a game during this winning streak.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

It’s nitpicking given how well things are going, but Rivera pointed to offensive penalties as something he’d like to see his team cut down. Washington was penalized six times for 47 yards at Las Vegas, and it was the timing of flags that hurt the most.

“We had a couple penalties that we didn’t overcome, and because of that the drive stalled,” Rivera said.

STOCK UP

Kicker Brian Johnson connected from 48 yards for the go-ahead field goal with 37 seconds left against the Raiders. He’s the team’s fourth kicker this season, with the latest change necessitated by Joey Slye’s pulled hamstring, but Johnson has been on Washington’s radar since training camp and could be the one who sticks.

STOCK DOWN

Curtis Samuel was targeted just once by Heinicke in the Raiders game, his second back after missing time with a lingering groin injury. The receiver who was supposed to be a big part of Washington’s offense has not been, and he’s unlikely to be more than a complementary player the rest of the way.

INJURED

While losing Thomas for some time, Washington could get Sweat, who has been out a few weeks with a broken jaw, and safety Landon Collins, who missed the Las Vegas game with a foot injury, back to face Dallas. Rivera was optimistic about Sweat and Collins practicing this week.

KEY NUMBER

17-15 — Washington beat Las Vegas and Seattle by the identical score, and keeping the points at a minimum is becoming Washington’s style.

“There may be a game where we’ve got to score more than 17 points. I get that,” Rivera said. “You’re in a game and it’s grind-it-out, rock ‘em sock ’em, why would we want to throw the ball 30, 40 times and expose the ball to something bad to happen? The formula is working.”

NEXT STEPS

Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have been able to put together plans that beat Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr. Now they have to figure out how to slow down Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, who can score in bunches.

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Julio Jones cleared to practice as Titans return from bye

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:00 PM ET By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer NASHVILLE, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Proof the Tennessee Titans are healthier now than before their bye came in a roster announcement Monday. Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones and two others can start practicing with the team, a big step toward rejoining the active roster.

The Titans also designated rookie wide receiver Racey McMath and safety Dane Cruikshank to return to practice. Getting this trio back could be a big boost for the Titans (8-4), who currently sit atop the AFC South and returned to work Monday up a spot to No. 2 in the AFC with five games remaining.

“Those guys have been working extremely hard to get back, which is what we ask everybody that isn’t participating,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “And, I felt like the training staff, the weight staff, everybody involved, those particular players worked extremely hard. I think it’s beneficial.”

Vrabel said the Titans use technology to help track players and how fast they're able to run to gauge when someone is ready to start practicing again. Vrabel said it's helpful to both the team and the players involved to see exactly how fast they ran during games before being injured.

“We can track that and monitor that and show them as they get closer,” Vrabel said. "So that, one, we’re all on the same page and they, two, have a lot of confidence to come back.”

Getting Jones back would be a big boost for an offense that went into the bye scoring just 13 points apiece in a two-game skid. A hamstring issue has limited Jones, 32, to six games this season. But Jones has 21 catches for 336 yards and would be a big boost with 2020 Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown also on injured reserve.

The Titans played only four receivers in their last game before the bye, a 36-13 loss to the Patriots. Nick Westbrooke-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, rookie Dez Fitzpatrick and Cody Hollister combined for six catches on 14 passes.

Derrick Henry, the 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, is the biggest name on the Titans' injured reserve list, currently at 18. Henry was put on injured reserve Nov. 1 and has missed the past four games with a broken right foot.

“He won't be out there this week,” Vrabel said. “That's all I can tell you. But I think he's doing OK.”

Vrabel had to push some meetings and Monday's schedule back with a testing backlog as the Titans returned to work after the four-day break for the bye. With the Titans rested, Vrabel also is hoping to practice at a faster pace after many sessions held at walk-through or jog-through pace over recent weeks.

“It’s going to be real, real critical that we focus on our fundamentals, our conditioning, practicing with some speed as we head in here to December," Vrabel said. “All those things that make a difference in football games.”

One area that could show a dramatic improvement from practicing faster could be turnovers. The Titans lost nine combined in the two-game slide and now have 21 for the season, a big increase from having 12 giveaways all of the 2020 season.

For now, the Titans are focused on hosting Jacksonville (2-10) on Sunday and snapping that skid. Tennessee gained a spot during its bye, going from the No. 3 position in the AFC to No. 2. Vrabel said he's more focused on his own team and not what other teams are doing right now.

“This is a focus on fundamentals," Vrabel said. "Let’s focus on conditioning, not letting our conditioning be a factor down the stretch here now that it’s December, focusing on trying to eliminate bad football. That would be a a huge key in our success here down the stretch.”

NOTES: The Titans also signed OLB Tuzar Skipper to the practice squad and released OLB John Simon from the active roster.

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Browns designate LB Phillips for return after biceps injury

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:00 PM ET By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer CLEVELAND

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns could have some extra help at linebacker for their playoff push.

Jacob Phillips, who suffered a biceps injury during training camp, was designated to return from injured reserve on Monday as Cleveland returned from a bye week devoted to getting healthy and recharged for the last five games.

A third-round pick in 2020, Phillips got hurt during the first of two joint practices with the New York Giants on Aug. 19. He was placed on IR on Sept. 21.

The roster move opens a three-week window for Phillips to be activated, but coach Kevin Stefanski indicated Phillips might be ready soon.

“Really excited for Jacob to be back out there in uniform and practicing,” Stefanski said on a Zoom call. “Those are long ways away when you first get injured and you’re spending time in that training room. But just to see him out there, I know that’s just a great reflection how hard he’s worked."

Stefanski said the Browns (6-6) will decide over the next few days if Phillips is ready to play. Cleveland hosts the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) on Sunday in what is for all practical purposes a must win if the Browns want to make the postseason.

Phillips had been expected to have a major role this season. The former LSU standout made three starts as a rookie and was credited with 24 tackles.

Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said Phillips continued to pitch in despite being sidelined.

“True professional. You talk about somebody that’s ever since he’s been out came in with the mindset that I’m going to help the team any way possible while also getting my rehab in and trying to get back as fast as possible to help the team,” Walker said. “He’s been a great voice for us on the sideline, helping us when we come off in practice, watching film, everything like that. He’s been there with us every step of the way.

"So definitely excited to have him back and definitely a boost for our linebacker room.”

In other injury updates, Stefanski said speedy wide receiver Anthony Schwartz remains in concussion protocol. He's been out since getting hurt at New England on Nov. 14.

Stefanski didn't have a specific update on tight end Harrison Bryant, who suffered a high ankle sprain on Nov. 28 and could be headed to IR.

Also, All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin had knee surgery for a ruptured right patellar tendon. Conklin was placed on IR last week and is facing a lengthy rehab.

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Cleveland Browns star defensive end Bill Glass dead at 86

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 4:00 PM ET By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer CLEVELAND

Teams: CLE DET

CLEVELAND (AP) — Bill Glass, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive end with Cleveland and member of the Browns' 1964 NFL championship team, has died. He was 86.

The Browns said Glass died Sunday night surrounded by family at his home in Waxahachie, Texas. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Glass spent seven seasons with the Browns, who acquired him from the Detroit Lions as part of the trade involving quarterback Milt Plum.

An All-American offensive guard at Baylor, Glass switched to defense when he began his pro career in 1957 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. A year later he joined the Lions, who had drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick.

Glass spent four seasons with Detroit before going to Cleveland, where he became a star. He was credited with 16 1/2 sacks in 1965, back when they were not recognized as an official stat by the league.

Glass finished with 87 1/2 sacks, getting 77 1/2 in his seven seasons with the Browns. He retired after the 1968 season and was inducted into the Browns Legends program in 2007.

After he retired, Glass, who was born in Texarkana, Texas, started his own ministry, Bill Glass Behind the Walls, working extensively with helping reform prisoners.

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Texans' Culley mulling QB change after another lopsided loss

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 3:40 PM ET By KRISTIE RIEKEN , AP Sports Writer HOUSTON

HOUSTON (AP) — Another terrible offensive performance by the Houston Texans this weekend has coach David Culley considering a quarterback change.

Culley benched Tyrod Taylor for rookie Davis Mills in the third quarter of a 31-0 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday and he said Monday that Taylor could lose his starting job.

Culley was asked what the most important factor will be in choosing who will start Sunday when the Texans host the Seattle Seahawks (4-8).

“After we keep evaluating what we are doing and just see where we need to go and what gives us the best chance to win,” he said. “We’ll make it based off of that. It will be later on in the week.”

The Texans (2-10) gained just 141 yards as they were shut out for the second time this season and lost for the 10th time in 11 games.

Taylor struggled from the start Sunday when he threw an interception on the first play. Houston fumbled on the second possession and Taylor was benched late in the third quarter with the team trailing 21-0.

Culley said the right-handed Taylor hyperextended his left wrist Sunday, but that he could have finished the game if they needed him. He was 5 of 13 for 45 yards.

Before Sunday, Culley had been staunch in his support of Taylor and as late as last week, he said that he would remain the team’s starter if he was healthy. On Monday, Culley was asked if contemplating benching the 11-year veteran was difficult after being so adamant about him keeping the job previously.

“No, not when you are looking at the way we’ve been playing, how our offense has been playing,” Culley said. “Obviously, the job of our quarterback is to score points and get us in the end zone and we haven’t done that very well and we are going to see what we can do to get that corrected. That’s why we are doing the evaluation right now.”

Mills, a third-round pick from Stanford, didn’t turn over the ball after taking over, but he also was unable to get the offense going. He threw for 49 yards as the Texans punted on two of his possessions and turned the ball over on downs on three others.

Mills lost all six starts this season when filling in for Taylor after he injured a hamstring in Week 2. Mills returned to the bench when Taylor came back against the Dolphins on Nov. 7. Mills has struggled with turnovers and has eight interceptions with seven touchdowns.

Taylor had three touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first two starts, but he’s also had trouble with turnovers since his return. He has five interceptions with just two TD passes in the past four games.

Culley isn’t sure why Taylor has been turning the ball over so much lately, but said the turnovers are the No. 1 reason why he’s evaluating the position.

WHAT’S WORKING

After a 31-point shutout at home it would be difficult to pick anything that’s working on this embarrassing team.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

If the Texans hope to win again this season, they’ll have to take better care of the ball and get back to forcing turnovers. Taylor’s interception on the first play Sunday put them in an early hole and they never recovered. In the Texans' two victories this season, they did not have a turnover and combined for eight takeaways.

STOCK UP

LB Kamu Grugier-Hill set a franchise record with 19 tackles Sunday. He also had a sack and three tackles for losses against the Colts. The six-year veteran leads the team with a career-high 88 tackles.

STOCK DOWN

LB Zach Cunningham was inactive Sunday after being suspended for violating team rules. The move comes after he was suspended for a quarter in a game earlier this season for the same thing.

INJURED

RB David Johnson is questionable this week after missing Sunday’s game with an illness and a thigh injury. ... LT Laremy Tunsil, who had thumb surgery in October, is still not ready to return.

KEY NUMBER

41:35 — Houston’s defense was overworked Sunday when the Colts dominated time of possession by holding the ball for 41:35.

NEXT STEPS

Regardless of who starts at quarterback Sunday, the Texans must find a way to jumpstart their slumping offense. While the focus was on the struggles in the passing game against the Colts, the running game continues to be a problem and must improve to help whoever is under center against the Seahawks.

The Texans rank last in the NFL in averaging just 78.8 yards rushing a game.

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Dolphins hit their bye week, and some aren't eager to stop

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 3:40 PM ET By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Mark it down: The Miami Dolphins will not win a game this week.

Bye weeks are undefeated. And, at least in some corners of the Dolphins locker room right now, they’re also unwanted.

The Dolphins beat the New York Giants 20-9 on Sunday to run their winning streak to five games, continuing to eradicate some of the stench from the seven-game losing streak that immediately preceded this run of victories. They’re rolling right now, which explains why some players sound like they would happily forgo the four-day break from official team activities that starts Thursday.

“Me personally, I’d rather just keep going,” Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker said. “We’re hot right now.”

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had a slightly different perspective.

“I understand what Bake’s saying,” Tagovailoa said. “I think it goes both ways. You take some time off, but you’re not really taking time off.”

For starters, it’s not really a “bye week.” It’s more like a bye half-week, and that’s just from the physical side of football. Tagovailoa said the mental work would continue, and coach Brian Flores and players were in the facility on Monday. They’ll do a walk-through on Wednesday, Flores said.

From there, the mini-vacations can begin. Players and coaches, if they so choose, head out of town for some relaxation. Some may just stick close to home; after all, a recent cool snap is ending and temperatures in Miami by the end of the week will be in the low-to-mid 80s.

“Our guys have got to be smart,” Flores said. “They’ll have some time off, but my big message to them is be safe, spend some time with your family, go, enjoy yourself, relax -- but be safe. That’s the big thing. Enjoy yourselves. They’ve earned it, but be safe.”

Some found it puzzling that the Dolphins didn’t want their bye week after playing in London earlier this season. In the 60 instances to that point of a team playing in London since the NFL began its International Series in 2007, 55 had a bye week to follow. The Dolphins went a different route, as they did once before.

They kept working and, eventually, got on a winning streak.

“A lot was made of that and, I think, maybe opinions are different now,” Flores said of not having the post-London bye. “I don’t know. But like I said then, this is the schedule we have and we’re just going to play it out. It’s good to have some time right now for us to reassess, re-evaluate, and for the players to get some rest.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Miami’s defense has given up 55 points in the five-game winning streak. The Dolphins have yielded only four touchdowns in those games, and one of those was an easy one set up by Cam Newton connecting on a 64-yard pass. Otherwise, field goals, turnovers or punts have been the end result of almost all opposing drives.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Dolphins were 6 for 14 on third downs against Carolina, then 6 for 15 this past week on third downs against the Giants. Those numbers are OK, certainly not bad, but in tougher games down the stretch sustaining drives might be crucial.

STOCK UP

LB Jaelan Phillips. He’s the first Dolphins player since Cameron Wake in 2015 to have at least two sacks in back-to-back games. He’s the first rookie to do so for Miami since Marco Coleman in 1992.

STOCK DOWN

K Jason Sanders. He’s up to six missed field goals this season, though Sanders made a big one at the end Sunday to put the game away. At 74% for the season, he’s on pace for his least-accurate year in the four he’s spent with Miami.

INJURIES

WR Will Fuller gets another week now to try and get back on the field. The Dolphins aren’t sure of the status of RB Patrick Laird, who left Sunday’s game with a knee injury. “We’re going to have a little extra time to let guys heal. We’re still running some tests and we’ll see where that is,” Flores said.

KEY NUMBER

1 — number of teams that started 1-7 and then reached 7-7. That would be the 1974 New York Jets. The Dolphins will try to join that club when they play the Jets in their next game.

NEXT STEPS

After this week off, the Dolphins play host to the Jets on Dec. 19.

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Bears assessing QB Justin Fields' ability to face Green Bay

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 3:20 PM ET By GENE CHAMBERLAIN, Associated Press LAKE FOREST, Ill.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears showed Sunday they struggle trying to beat good teams with veteran Andy Dalton at quarterback.

The attention turns now to getting rookie quarterback Justin Fields available and healthy enough to face the Green Bay Packers for a second time despite broken ribs. The development of their first-round draft pick remains a key goal in a 4-8 season.

“That’s going to be an ongoing discussion for us all week long, literally,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said on Monday. “So starting today as we start to game plan and then as it goes the rest of this week, and I’m sure as each day passes, we’ll have more and more of an idea of where he’s at.”

Despite the injured ribs, Fields threw in practice last week and practiced on a limited basis every day. Dalton then started and threw four interceptions in Sunday’s 33-22 loss to Arizona, three on tipped balls.

“I’ve said it all along: This is more of a pain thing for him right now medically,” Nagy said of Fields. “We’re never going to put him at risk medically. Never. So you can mark that down.

"If he is able to go and he is able to play and be the starter, it’s going to be because medically he’s cleared. And then I think more than anything it’s pain. You know? It’s going to be a pain tolerance deal. We’ve just got to work through all that.”

Fields has missed the past two games after suffering the injury and leaving in the early second half of a 16-13 Nov. 21 loss to Baltimore. Nagy said there is no chance the team would put Fields on injured reserve because they feel he’ll be ready again at some point, and the playing time is critical in his development.

“Even going back to the San Fran game (Oct. 31), I really felt like the game, No. 1, was slowing down to him,” Nagy said.

There are goals in mind for Fields in terms of reading defenses and proving he can run specific types of plays, but coaches also need to learn more about Fields’ strengths. Nagy feels eight starts haven’t been enough to reveal what Fields can do best within their offense.

“I really felt like his confidence was starting to get good out there at practice, on the field, in himself,” Nagy said. “So then the other part of this, too, is us creating, and knowing what his strengths are helped us out as well. So we were kind of trying to find that balance. "

WHAT’S WORKING

The offensive line. The blockers allowed 30 sacks in the first eight games and only 10 in the past four, and helped the offense outgain each of its past four opponents after being outgained by each of the previous four. It’s part of the reason Nagy said there is no rush to get second-round draft pick tackle Teven Jenkins in the starting lineup after he was promoted last week to the 53-man roster.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Pass receiving. Tipped passes for interceptions were only part of the problem Sunday. The Bears had other passes dropped, including one by practice squad player Rodney Adams in his first game after being flexed to the 53-man roster.

Rain, wind and cold at Soldier Field was part of the problem, but the biggest issue they have is health, as top receiver Allen Robinson hasn’t been in the lineup since Nov. 8 with a hamstring injury. No. 3 receiver Marquise Goodwin missed Sunday’s game with foot and ribs injuries.

STOCK UP

David Montgomery. Montgomery had been somewhat hard on himself assessing his play since returning from a knee injury on Nov. 8. He had averaged 3.8 yards a carry with six total receptions in three games prior to Sunday’s loss.

Against the Cardinals, Montgomery carried 21 times for 90 yards and a touchdown, and caught a season-high eight passes for 51 yards.

“I’ll be way more happy if I had 12 yards averaging 0.1 yards per carry if we got the win,” Montgomery said. “I could care less about individual stats because the feeling that you get when you win is completely different than having good stats when you lose."

STOCK DOWN

Dalton. Going into Sunday, the backup had just two interceptions in his first five appearances this year, and now has six. Dalton entered Sunday’s game with an 89.4 passer rating and now it’s 79.9.

INJURIES

Dalton’s left (non-throwing) hand was reported after Sunday's loss as injured while making a first-half tackle attempt following one of his four interceptions. However, he was able to finish the game without a problem. Nagy had nothing more to add Monday on this injury.

KEY NUMBER

1 — number of interceptions made by Bears cornerbacks this year. Jaylon Johnson made it, and it came in Week 2.

NEXT STEPS

The Bears are at Green Bay on Sunday night, trying to break a five-game losing streak against their NFC North rivals.

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Giants close to 5th straight losing season after Miami loss

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 3:10 PM ET By TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — As the losses mounted over the course of the season, the New York Giants could always look at the standings in the weak NFC and recognize they were a game or so out of a wild-card playoff berth.

It's time to end the wishful thinking. The Giants (4-8) are going nowhere in 2021, other than probably back to the drawing board.

With their 20-9 loss to Miami, New York is on the verge of a fifth straight losing record, and fifth straight year out of the postseason. Not only did the Giants lose backup quarterback Mike Glennon — who was starting for the injured Daniel Jones (neck) and sustained a concussion — but New York might be forced to start inexperienced Jacob Fromm, the former Georgia star who was signed off the Bills' practice squad last week.

The step forward Giants fans anticipated after a 6-10 first season under rookie coach Joe Judge has turned into a leap backward. Just watch the replay of Sunday's loss, an awful performance.

Remember this sequence in the third quarter. With a first-and-10 at their 27, Glennon was sacked on consecutive plays, losing 20 yards. On third-and-30 from the New York 7, there was a delay-of-game call.

That coach Joe Judge said after the game he saw progress is baffling.

It seems a rebuild is once again on the horizon. General manager Dave Gettleman probably won't be asked to oversee this one, and there are questions whether Judge is kept around if a new GM is hired.

And what should co-owner John Mara's role should be? He has been the face of the franchise since his father, Wellington, died in October 2005. Over the past six years he has fired coach Tom Coughlin and hired, then fired Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur in hopes of returning the Giants to their glory days; they won Super Bowls in February 2008 and '12. The only year New York has made the playoffs since then was 2016, and that resulted in a first-round exit as a wild card.

Certainly an option would be to give Judge one more year to either make a big jump or bring in someone else. The reality probably is that the Giants will hire a new general manager and it will be that person's call.

WHAT’S WORKING

Pat Graham's defense. In five of the last six games, the Giants have given up 20 points or less, including two outings under 10. The only bad game was against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in a 30-10 loss. Despite the stinginess, New York is 3-3 in those games.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

It would be easy to say the entire offense. The truth is the Giants used the draft and free agency to bulk up the unit and it has failed miserably. Injuries decimated the offensive line and too many skilled player have been on and off the field with strained hamstrings and quads, and sprained ankles. It's more than bad luck.

STOCK UP

Tae Crowder. Since replacing the injured Blake Martinez at inside linebacker early in the season, Crowder has been outstanding. The last pick in the 2020 draft leads the team in tackles with 88. He had a team-high nine against the Dolphins and one of the three quarterback hits against Tua Tagovailoa. Additional points for rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari for a sack, giving him a team-high 6 1/2.

STOCK DOWN

Kenny Golladay. The Giants paid the veteran wide receiver $72 million in free agency despite his playing in only five games in 2020. After signing he said he was healthy. He has missed three games-plus because of a knee injury and was only on the field for 38 of 65 plays against the Dolphins because of a rib injury. For the season, he has 26 catches and no touchdowns. While his 409 yards receiving lead the team, that's not worth megabucks.

INJURIES

Glennon sustained a concussion in the game and his status for Sunday is uncertain. With Jones' status also uncertain, Fromm may get his first NFL regular-season action. Brian Lewerke of the practice squad would be his backup. Lewerke also hasn't played in a real NFL game. Golladay's ribs will be a concern this week. The Giants have to hope receivers Sterling Shepard (quad) and Kadarius Toney (oblique/quad) are ready to return. The Giants had two positive COVID-19 tests on Monday. Quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski and guard Wes Martin were both positive. The team is waiting for a second test on each.

KEY NUMBER

22 — The total number of points the Giants have scored in the last two games since Freddie Kitchens replaced Jason Garrett as the offensive play caller.

NEXT STEPS

The Giants are training in Tucson, Arizona to get ready for Sunday's game in Los Angeles against the Chargers, who have beaten them four straight. This will be their first game against the Chargers in Los Angeles since the team moved from San Diego in 2016.

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Game-wrecking T.J. Watt worth every dollar for Steelers

1.8d ago 12/6/2021 2:50 PM ET By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer PITTSBURGH

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The metrics are easy. When T.J. Watt plays, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playoff contenders.

When he doesn't, they're in trouble. A lot of trouble.

Three months after signing one of the richest contracts given to a defender in NFL history, the perennial All-Pro outside linebacker somehow seems underpaid.

Stacking up 16 sacks — including 3 1/2 during Sunday's heart-stopping 20-19 win over Baltimore that gave Pittsburgh's scattershot season a much-needed jolt — will do that.

Imagine if he'd been healthy all year. Watt left two games because of injuries and sat out two others. The fact the Steelers are 0-3-1 in those games is not a coincidence. They are 6-2 when Watt's No. 90 is in full flight coming off the edge, bringing a unique brand of chaos that galvanizes a defense that's ordinary — or worse — when he's standing on the sideline in sweatpants or watching at home from his couch.

Watt didn't even practice last week after being placed into the COVID-19 protocol just 24 hours after a blowout loss to Cincinnati. He tuned into meetings virtually and attempted to stay game-ready by throwing on a pair of cleats and churning up the turf around the trees in his yard.

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is a tad more elusive than your random pine or oak tree. Then again, Watt is a tad more frenetic than your random linebacker. Time and again two of the NFL's best young players found themselves on a collision course.

Time and again Watt found a way to succeed where so many others have failed, including disrupting Jackson's timing just enough to force a slightly errant pass on a 2-point conversion attempt with 12 seconds to go that swung the outcome of the game.

If Watt isn't there, Jackson flips to a wide-open Mark Andrews for a score that likely would have all but ended Pittsburgh's chances in the AFC North.

Only Watt was there, extending all 6 feet 4 inches of his frame in an effort to disrupt Jackson, whose sidearm throw glanced off Andrews' hands and fell harmlessly to the Heinz Field turf.

“T.J. Watt, he’s a great defender, great rusher,” Jackson said. “He was doing his thing out there tonight.”

And doing it at a level rarely seen in NFL history. Watt has already tied James Harrison's franchise record for sacks in a season and is on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record (22 1/2), remarkable considering Watt has basically missed the equivalent of three full games because of groin, hip and knee injuries and spent last week tearing up his yard while in the COVID-19 protocol.

“He’s unique,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He is unique and a collection of unique people. But you know, his production, his output is unique. And so, you know, we shouldn’t be surprised that his method or his process is unique. His level of effort, his attention to detail, his intensity. All are unique.”

Invaluable too.

“He’s a game-wrecker,” Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "He’s a guy that’s going to go out there and cause havoc. Just the energy that he plays with, the passion he plays with. I wouldn’t call it the anger, but when he’s out there, he’s angry.”

Fitzpatrick believes Watt has stamped himself as the favorite for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, an honor Fitzpatrick believes Watt was “robbed” of while finishing third in 2019 and second last season.

It's an award Watt's older brother J.J. captured three times while anchoring the Houston Texans' defensive line last decade. It's an award the Steelers expected Watt to contend for after signing him to that massive extension in early September.

Watt vowed the pressure that comes with all those zeroes on his contract would not change his approach. If anything, it's only amplified it. Good thing. Any chance the Steelers have of reaching the postseason largely depends on Watt providing the juice for a team in desperate need of electricity.

WHAT'S WORKING

The offense found a rhythm in the second half against the Ravens by mixing in a fair amount of no-huddle, an approach that gives quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more flexibility in calling the plays. Yet Roethlisberger made it a point to praise first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada after a 29-yard touchdown throw to Diontae Johnson, pointing to the box where Canada was sitting as a sign of respect.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

While Johnson is flourishing, the group behind him on the depth chart — Chase Claypool, James Washington and Ray Ray McCloud — have been a mixed bag at best. At the moment, there's a case to be made that all three rank below Johnson, running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth in Roethlisberger's pecking order of preferred targets.

STOCK UP

The practice squad guys. The Steelers have been forced to rely heavily on players such as defensive tackle Montravius Adams — signed away from Seattle last week — and guard John Leglue, who played the first regular-season snaps of his career after B.J. Finney went down in the first quarter with a back injury.

STOCK DOWN

A rare off day for kicker Chris Boswell nearly cost the Steelers. He missed an extra point early in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game and later booted a kickoff out of bounds to give the Ravens excellent field position trailing 20-13 with 1:48 to play.

INJURIES

Finney is likely unavailable to play Minnesota on Thursday. Defensive back Joe Haden's slow recovery from a sprained foot makes his status uncertain. The team did receive a bit of good news on Monday when it activated inside linebacker Robert Spillane off injured reserve.

KEY NUMBER

39 — the number of fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by Roethlisberger during his 18-year career. Only Peyton Manning (43) and Tom Brady (41) have more.

NEXT STEPS

Hope the momentum continues on Thursday night in the team's first visit to Minnesota (5-7) since 2005.

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Home, not sweet home: Falcons keep losing in A-T-L

1.9d ago 12/6/2021 2:00 PM ET By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer ATLANTA

ATLANTA (AP) — Home is not-so sweet for the Atlanta Falcons.

If they can't figure out a way to win their final two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they are headed for a fourth straight losing season.

The Falcons (5-7) dropped to 0-5 in Atlanta this season with a 30-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

“It’s hard, man," running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. “We do it for the fans. Being home and not getting a win for those guys, it hurts me. I love this city, I love Atlanta. I just want to get the win for them at home.”

Atlanta is 5-2 away from its retractable-roof stadium — including a victory over the New York Jets in a designated home game at London — but the lack of success at the Benz has been a huge issue for several seasons.

After going 5-3 at home in their debut season at the stadium in 2017, the Falcons are a miserable 9-20 in Atlanta, compared with 14-17 in other cities.

While it's true the Falcons' opponents in Atlanta this season have a better cumulative record (34-27) than the road opponents (37-48, if the Jets are included), there's still no excuse for losing three home games to teams that are no better than .500.

Going back to last season, the Falcons have lost seven straight in Atlanta.

“We constantly look at everything,” rookie coach Arthur Smith said. “We didn’t win the ones that I felt we should have. I mean, there’s a reason why. Some of it is matchup based. (But) we've got to play better, certainly, at home.”

WHAT’S WORKING

For the second game in a row, the Falcons had success in the running game, though much of the production came on two early carries that produced Atlanta's only offensive touchdown. Patterson had a 39-yard run that set up Mike Davis' 17-yard TD. Patterson finished with 78 yards on 13 carries, Davis ran four times for 32 yards, and the Falcons finished with 23 carries for 121 yards, a 5.3-yard average. The previous week, they rushed for 149 yards against Jacksonville.

WHAT’S NEEDS HELP

Tom Brady passed 51 times — compared with 17 runs for Tampa Bay — but the Falcons rarely got any pressure on the Bucs' 44-year-old quarterback. Brady wasn't sacked at all, leaving Atlanta with a puny 15 sacks in 12 games, the lowest sack average in the league. On the other hand, the Falcons' offensive line struggled to keep Matt Ryan upright. He was sacked five times and hit 11 other times.

STOCK UP

DL Marlon Davidson gave the Falcons a glimmer of hope with a stunning play in the closing seconds of the first half. With Brady looking to throw a screen pass, Davidson peeled off his rush, picked off the pass and glided 3 yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown. WR Russell Gage had by far his best game of the season with 11 catches for 130 yards, though he did have a crucial fumble in the third quarter. Gage came in with just 27 receptions for 270 yards in his first eight games.

STOCK DOWN

TE Kyle Pitts. Opposing defenses have figured out that the best way to shut down Atlanta's passing attack is to take the first-round pick out of the game. The Falcons have little in the way of deep threats on the outside, so opponents are doubling up on Pitts to make sure he can't get loose. He had just four catches for 48 yards against Tampa Bay, giving him nine receptions for 103 yards over the past three games. More troubling, the Falcons can't find a way to get him involved in the red zone. While the Bucs got three receiving touchdowns from their tight end group, Pitts' only TD this season came way back in Week 5.

INJURIES

DL Jonathan Bullard missed his second straight game because of an ailing ankle. S Richie Grant and LB Adetokunbo Ogundeji both hobbled off the field against the Bucs with ankle injuries.

KEY NUMBERS

1 of 3 — On three trips into the red zone, the Falcons managed only one touchdown. The clock ran out on a meaningless drive at the end of the game, but the Falcons were really lamenting a blown opportunity when they had first-and-goal inside the 1 in the first half. Ryan sandwiched a bobbled snap around two incompletions, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 21-yard field goal when they absolutely needed a touchdown against the high-scoring Bucs.

0-10 — The Falcons' record against Tom Brady. Asked about Brady's career domination of Atlanta, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said bluntly, "He’s just been on a better team for a long time.” Ouch.

NEXT STEPS

Amazingly, the Falcons are still part of the NFC playoff race, trailing Washington (6-6), San Francisco (6-6) and Philadelphia (6-7) for the final wild-card spot and tied with a bunch of teams at 5-7.

Another of those 5-7 teams is Carolina, the NFC South rival that the Falcons face next Sunday in Charlotte. It's probably not a stretch to call this a must-win given all the tiebreakers that are working against Atlanta.

“The truth is, we’re still in the mix,” Smith said. “We've got five games to go. That’s a lot of football left.”

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Broncos back in last place after another meltdown vs Chiefs

1.9d ago 12/6/2021 1:50 PM ET By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer ENGLEWOOD, Colo.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — With the AFC West lead so tantalizingly in reach, the Denver Broncos fumbled, bumbled and stumbled their way to another loss against Kansas City, plunging to their familiar whereabouts in the division's cellar instead.

As usual, coach Vic Fangio's defense was exceptional against Patrick Mahomes and company. And per usual, his offense was atrocious and his special teams abominable in their 22-9 loss.

“When you play a team like this, you have to get sevens (because) threes aren't enough,” Teddy Bridgewater said in the lead-up to the showdown Sunday night.

That's why the Broncos (6-6) went on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8 late in the first half when a field goal would have cut their deficit to 10-6.

Rookie running back Javonte Williams, who had a monster game, was confused, however, lining up wrong and looking frantically toward the sideline for help that never came before taking the handoff and losing a yard.

“By the time that we knew there was confusion," Fangio explained, “it was too late to call a timeout."

“I thought we were in the gun, but we were under center,” Williams said of just about the only blemish on his career night in which he became the first rookie in franchise history to top 100 yards rushing and 75 yards receiving in a single game.

So, the Broncos were left with nothing to show for a 20-play drive that covered 83 yards and kept Kansas City's explosive offense on the sideline for more than 11 minutes.

That epitomized the Broncos' night of missed chances that featured three turnovers. Bridgewater threw two interceptions, including a pick-6, and rookie Caden Sterns ran into punt returner Deionte Spencer at the Denver 15-yard line for another costly giveaway.

Fangio always leaves blueprints for the real contenders to copy against the Chiefs, more well-rounded opponents with better offensive creativity and productivity, and sounder special teams discipline and execution.

Fangio found a way to limit Mahomes to 184 yards on 15-of-29 passing with no touchdowns and an interception, an effort that should have been enough for the Broncos to beat him for the first time in eight tries.

Instead, they extended their losing streak to the Chiefs to an even dozen.

Denver's defense has held Kansas City to an average of 22.6 points in five losses under Fangio. A whole lot of good that does when his offense has averaged a mere 10 points a game in those five defeats.

The theme coming out of Denver's locker room is that the Broncos are going to treat the rest of their games as playoff contests. Dreams of the postseason are all this team has had to hold on to ever since the slide began in 2016 with Peyton Manning's retirement that set in motion a carousel of quarterbacks and supporting staffs unable to put the Broncos back in contention.

“We are still in the hunt,” Fangio declared, “and we can take care of business.”

WHAT'S WORKING

The ground game, and now that Williams has shown what he can do in the lead role, he should keep it even when Melvin Gordon (hip, shoulder) gets healthy. Fangio said he expects Gordon to return to practice this week. Williams scored Denver's only touchdown and his backup, Mike Boone, had 54 yards on five touches.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Denver's passing game. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick, who signed contracts for a combined $90 million last month, were targeted a combined 11 times but caught just three passes for 24 yards.

STOCK UP

GM George Paton's first draft class featuring CB Pat Surtain II, who had his third interception in two weeks, and Williams, who drew praise not only for his carries and catches but for his blocking.

“I’m happy that he had a game like he had tonight,” Bridgewater said. "We have to do better around him. If he’s making plays like that, we’ve got to do better and all elevate our games, as well.”

STOCK DOWN

Sterns running into Spencer wasn't the Broncos' only special teams meltdown. They started their long drive at their 3 because of Aaron Patrick's holding call. And Spencer should have fair caught a punt with 10 seconds left in the first half, giving Denver at least a chance of getting into field goal range.

INJURIES

Broncos oft-injured NT Mike Purcell was a surprise inactive with a thumb injury. “It was more opponent based,” said Fangio, explaining that the heavy dose of nickel defense meant Purcell wasn't going to play much anyway.

KEY NUMBERS

1 for 6 — Fangio is now 1 of 6 in coach's challenges this season and 4 of 14 as Broncos coach after failing to get an incompletion to Travis Kelce overturned. Kelce took two steps and was tucking the ball when Kyle Fuller knocked it out and Justin Simmons scooped it up.

“Since they called it incomplete on the field, they stayed with it," Fangio said. “I think if it had been called a fumble on the field, it would have stayed fumble.”

WHAT'S NEXT

Hosting the no-longer-winless Lions (1-10-1), who have actually been to the playoffs more recently than Denver, earning an NFC wild-card berth in 2016.

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Difficult to measure Lawrence's progress amid Jaguars' woes

1.9d ago 12/6/2021 1:30 PM ET By MARK LONG, AP Pro Football Writer JACKSONVILLE, Fla.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville’s offense is in such disarray that it’s nearly impossible to measure any progress rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence might be making.

The Jaguars (2-10) dropped their fourth consecutive game, a 37-7 drubbing at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, and reached double-digit losses for the 10th time in the last 11 years. The latest setback included a dreadful start, a third straight game with two turnovers, and another far-from-promising performance by Lawrence.

The No. 1 overall draft pick completed 16 of 28 passes for 145 yards. He was plagued by more drops and pressured often by a defensive front widely considered the best in the NFL. Adding insult to misery, Lawrence got his helmet slammed against the turf by former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey following a twisting tackle and took a shot to the face – no penalty was called – on a sack in the waning minutes.

“I want to move past this one and go get the next one,” Lawrence said.

He was talking about the game. He might as well have been referring to the season.

Lawrence has one touchdown pass in his last five starts, a woeful stretch in which he’s been held under 200 yards passing four times.

He’s getting little help from his supporting cast – the Jaguars are without Travis Etienne, DJ Chark, Jamal Agnew and Dan Arnold – and hasn’t had much of a complementary ground game because James Robinson has been dealing with heel/knee injuries for weeks.

Lawrence’s debut season has been so pedestrian that he’s now drawing comparisons to fellow top draft picks who struggled as rookies: Troy Aikman in Dallas, Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Matthew Stafford in Detroit.

One difference: Lawrence is starting out in a league built for passing and scoring. Jacksonville is doing neither and might now be dealing with confidence issues after averaging a paltry 12.3 points in six games since its bye week.

“When you lose, it plays with your mind,” coach Urban Meyer said. “You start searching for what’s the answers, what can you do better, what can we do better, and I think that’s where my mindset is right now. What can we do better? We’ve got five more opportunities, and some opportunities I think to win some games.

“There’s no simple answer or everybody would do it.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Jacksonville was penalized three times for 39 yards against the Rams, the team’s least-flagged game in two months. Penalties had become a recurring problem for a team with such a small margin for error, and reducing them had become one of several priorities for Meyer.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Run defense has gone from a strength to a weakness. The Rams ran for 128 yards and averaged 4.7 yards a carry. It’s the fourth straight week that Joe Cullen’s defense has been gashed on the ground, a stretch in which Jacksonville is giving up 143.8 yards rushing a game.

STOCK UP

Laquan Treadwell, the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, has led Jacksonville in receiving the last two games. He has eight catches for 115 yards, taking on a bigger role in the wake of Agnew’s season-ending hip injury.

STOCK DOWN

Jacksonville’s offense failed to top the 200-yard mark for the second time in 12 games. It’s never happened three times in any of the franchise’s 26 previous years. It happened twice in coach Doug Marrone’s four seasons (2017-20), four times in Gus Bradley’s four seasons (2013-16), twice in Mike Mularkey’s one year (2012), six times in Jack Del Rio’s nine seasons (2003-11), and three times in Tom Coughlin’s eight years (1995-2002).

INJURIES

C Brandon Linder (back spasms) and CB Tyson Campbell (abdominal) are undergoing treatment and are expected to play Sunday at Tennessee. CB Shaquill Griffin (concussion) should return after missing the last two games.

KEY NUMBER

7 – number of consecutive loss at Tennessee. The Jaguars have dropped every game in Nashville since stunning the Titans 29-27 in 2013, their first victory following an 0-8 start.

NEXT STEPS

End a seven-game skid in Nashville and a 14-game road losing streak, both franchise records.

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Chiefs offense bogging down when it deviates from script

1.9d ago 12/6/2021 1:20 PM ET By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer KANSAS CITY, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have reached the end zone so regularly on their opening offensive possession this season that their opponents might as well stop wasting time and just give them the seven points.

The rest of the game is another matter.

Once the Chiefs are forced to deviate from their opening script — the set of roughly 15 plays that are carefully curated and crafted throughout a week of preparation — things begin to go sideways. Their once-dynamic offense looks more like a wet firecracker, forcing their once-maligned defense to bail them out in a series of nail-biting victories.

The Chiefs (8-4) have still won five in a row to lead the AFC West, but they hardly look like themselves.

“Obviously we feel like we're not playing our best football," Patrick Mahomes said after a 22-9 victory over the Broncos on Sunday night. "We have spurts where we're really good and spurts where we're not scoring and finishing drives.”

Their latest win is a perfect example. The Chiefs drove 72 yards in 12 plays, an average of 6 yards per, and Mahomes capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs ran 42 plays for 195 yards the rest of the game, an average of 4.64 per, and their only other touchdown came on Daniel Sorensen's 75-yard pick-6 in the fourth quarter.

That's not an outlier, either. It's more like a pattern.

In their previous game against Dallas, the Chiefs went 86 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their opening drive, then ran 57 plays for 284 yards the rest of the way. Against the Packers, they opened with a 15-play, 64-yard drive for their only TD and gained 173 yards the rest of the day. Against the Giants, they went 70 yards in 13 plays before an interception cost them a chance to score, then gained 298 yards on 64 plays the rest of the game.

During their five-game win streak, the only game they didn't score a touchdown on their opening possession came against the Raiders, when they went three-and-out. But they promptly marched 89 yards in 11 plays for a TD on their next drive.

In their first 12 games, they've scored seven touchdowns and a field goal on their first drives. Two other drives went at least 10 plays before ending in an interception. Only two of their opening possessions resulted in a punt.

The Chiefs have averaged nearly 7 yards per play on their opening drives and 5 1/2 the rest of the game.

“We need to take care of some of these little things that are happening here that are killing drives,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who spent Sunday night lamenting penalties and dropped passes that cost his team against Denver.

“Again, it's my responsibility to make sure that happens," Reid added, “and we'll do that.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined to carry 19 times for 74 yards against Denver while catching six passes for 88 yards. That kind of diversity is precisely what Reid seeks of running backs in his offense.

WHAT’S NEEDS HELP

Dropped passes are difficult to track, but the Chiefs are probably among the league leaders in them. Tyreek Hill had a pass bounce off himself for an interception against Denver, the third time that's happened this season, and Byron Pringle and Travis Kelce also had drops on what became a forgettable night for Kansas City's wide receivers.

STOCK UP

DE Melvin Ingram had a half-sack and three quarterback hits against Denver. His acquisition from Pittsburgh has revitalized the Kansas City defense, allowing Chris Jones to move to his natural and more productive position at defensive tackle.

STOCK DOWN

Hill and Kelce rarely have poor games at the same time, but they did Sunday night. Hill’s drop was the lowlight of a game in which he caught two passes for 22 yards, and Kelce was little better with three catches for 27 yards.

INJURIES

Special teams CB Chris Lammons hurt his ankle against Denver. The Chiefs also were missing RTs Mike Remmers (knee) and Lucas Niang (ribs), leaving third-stringer Andrew Wylie to start his third consecutive game.

KEY NUMBERS

12 — The Chiefs broke a franchise record for consecutive wins against any opponent with their 12th straight against the Broncos. The Chiefs had also defeated Denver 11 times from 1964-69.

NEXT STEPS

The Chiefs have a one-game lead on the Chargers and two on the Broncos and Raiders heading into their game against Las Vegas on Sunday. They also are tied with the Titans and Ravens in the AFC, though they lost in head-to-head matchups with Tennessee and Baltimore.

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Analysis: Deciding when to gamble a coach's toughest choice

2.3d ago 12/6/2021 3:30 AM ET By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer

John Harbaugh has the best kicker in the NFL, currently and possibly ever. Yet, trailing by one point, he left Justin Tucker on the sideline Sunday night and went for a 2-point conversion in the dying seconds at Pittsburgh.

Lamar Jackson didn't quite have enough touch on his pass to an open Mark Andrews, and the Ravens (8-4) fell 20-19 to the Steelers. The defeat dropped Baltimore from the overall lead in the AFC.

It seemed one of the stranger decisions of a strange NFL season. But Harbaugh, one of the league's best coaches, quickly explained his reasoning.

“We tried to win the game right there. We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time," Harbaugh said without noting that Baltimore's secondary has been leaky all season no matter who is playing. "It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there.”

Considering the versatility of Jackson, it probably was a strong opportunity. But the one item not a major part of Jackson's bag of tricks is the finesse pass, which is what this play called for.

“You saw the play. It’s that close," Harbaugh said. "It’s a game of inches. You saw the speech in, `Any Given Sunday,' right? That’s football. It’s just that close.”

As is the entire AFC race.

Baltimore's decision surprised its archrivals. And didn't.

“I was a little surprised because I ran off the field," said DE Cam Heyward, who is not on special teams. "But we called the timeout, bought me an extra couple of seconds. At first, I thought (Andrews) scored, because he had it in his hand and then he dropped it. But I mean, it’s just one or two plays that go your way.”

Harbaugh's gamble was in character, according to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has gone up against the Ravens coach for nearly 14 seasons.

“You know what, coach Harbaugh, Miami (Ohio) guy, nothing surprises me," Big Ben said. "And that’s why he’s, you know, I consider him a great football coach because he takes those chances and believes in his team, and as a player, I’m sure they love that belief in them.”

Fair enough, and who is to say the Ravens would have won a coin toss to start overtime, marched downfield and scored a touchdown to end it without putting their secondary on the field?

But the decision brings into focus just how difficult crunch time can be for coaches. There is no accepted manual on how to manage such situations. Many times, the gut feeling is the best approach.

Unfortunately, very few head coaches have the, well, guts to go with their gut. Far too many of them coach not to lose rather to win. Is there anything more frustrating than watching your team go into the prevent defense? Cliche warning: All the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.

See what happened in Detroit, which is pretty emblematic of what the Vikings have gone through in 2021. A team talented enough to be high in the mix for the NFC wild-card spots, they fell to 5-7 in great part because they shut down the throttle. Minnesota added a two-point defeat to losses by eight, seven and four points; by three points in a pair of overtime games; and 34-33 at Arizona.

In pretty much handing the Lions (1-10-1) their initial victory of the season, the Vikings went into such a defensive shell, and offense-challenged Detroit went 75 yards in 1:50. Without a timeout.

Jared Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown just beyond the goal line as time expired — with the Vikings' defensive backs far too deep in the end zone.

Minnesota's three-man rush backfired big time.

“In hindsight, we would have loved to have gotten more pressure on him,” coach Mike Zimmer said of Goff, "but I didn’t think we were covering very well. I thought we needed more people in coverage than we did up front. Obviously, that didn’t work.”

It very often doesn't.

The lesson? It hurts more to be passive and lose than to be super aggressive and lose.

“Honestly if we would’ve converted the 2-point conversion we would’ve been having a different conversation right now," said Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes. "Let’s be real. We’d be talking about how we found a way to win.

“At the end of the day they found a way to make one play and we didn’t. That’s what it came down to. That’s what these games are about, especially this late in the season. They made one extra play.”

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AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Larry Lage, and freelancers Dave Hogg and Dan Scifo contributed.

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Chiefs keep AFC West lead with 22-9 victory over Broncos

2.5d ago 12/5/2021 11:30 PM ET By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer KANSAS CITY, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs' Andy Reid is an offensive-minded coach to his core, so the Kansas City defense must have done something special against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night for him to call its performance “beautiful.”

Three turnovers. Three fourth-down stops. One pick-6 to seal a fifth straight win.

Yep, sounds like a fitting description.

“It was just beautiful to watch,” Reid gushed after the 22-9 victory in chilly Arrowhead Stadium, which kept Kansas City in first place in the crowded AFC West as it chases a sixth consecutive division crown.

Patrick Mahomes had just 184 yards passing with a touchdown run and an interception, and his receiving corps dropped so many passes he probably thought the ball was greased. But despite the Chiefs (8-4) gaining 257 yards of total offense, they managed to keep a one-game lead on the Chargers thanks to the other side of the ball.

“Mostly it's been about a commitment to each other, believing in each other, not letting outside noise dictate what we feel,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It's been a total team effort to stay committed to each other.”

Things went haywire for the Broncos early in the game, when a 20-play drive ended with a failed fourth-down play rather than an easy field goal. And they didn't get much better when Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of second-half interceptions, including the one that Daniel Sorensen returned 75 yards for a score with 9 1/2 minutes left to put the game away.

“We moved the ball well in certain areas, certain times of the game. Guys stepped up and made plays,” Bridgewater said. “But when you give them opportunities and you don't maximize your opportunities, it's a recipe to get beat.”

Bridgewater was held to 257 yards passing for the Broncos (6-6), who have lost 12 in a row to their longtime rival dating to the 2015 season. Javonte Williams started in place of injured running back Melvin Gordon III and had 102 yards rushing along with a touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter.

“The loss makes you feel empty no matter what," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.

The Chiefs must have spent their bye working on their opening offensive script, because they effortlessly flew downfield for a touchdown. They even overcame an offensive pass-interference call before Mahomes scampered for the score.

After the Chiefs forced a second consecutive three-and-out, Harrison Butker made a 56-yard field goal.

That was just about the last anyone saw of Mahomes and Co. for a while.

The Broncos answered with a field goal of their own. Then, after forcing a quick punt, they embarked on a 20-play odyssey that carried them 83 yards and chewed up nearly 12 minutes of the second quarter — and resulted in no points.

Denver twice converted on fourth down to keep the drive alive, then went for the hat trick on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8. Williams took the handoff and was stuffed by linebacker Willie Gay Jr. for a turnover on downs, the first time since 2009 that a 20-play driving lasting at least 11 minutes didn't result in points.

“Frustrating. That's all I can really say,” Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton said. “It would be nice to get points.”

That wasn't the end of the Broncos' woes. They went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, Bridgewater was picked off by Juan Thornhill on their next, and Caden Sterns ran into returner Diontae Spencer after forcing Kansas City to punt; the Chiefs managed to hop on the muff for a fresh set of downs.

Butker hit his third field goal a few minutes later, extending the lead to 16-3 with 13 1/2 minutes to go, and Sorensen tacked on his pick-6 to put the game out of reach.

“It's tough to win in this league,” said Reid, who improved to 20-3 coming off a bye, including 7-2 since his arrival in Kansas City. “And to have that opportunity against a good football team, we'll feel good about ourselves for a minute here until we get ourselves ready for the Raiders come Tuesday.”

STATS AND STREAKS

The Broncos are 3-20 in December when playing at Kansas City dating to the days of the AFL. ... Bridgewater had not thrown an interception in four straight games before the Chiefs picked him twice. ... The Broncos' Patrick Surtain II, the reigning AFC defensive player of the week, had an interception. ... The Chiefs' defense has allowed 17 points or fewer in five straight games. ... Mahomes needs 73 yards passing to pass Alex Smith (17,608) for the third most in Chiefs history. ... Darrel Williams led the Chiefs in rushing (54 yards) and receiving (three catches for 60 yards).

INJURIES

Broncos NT Mike Purcell was a surprise inactive with a thumb injury.

Chiefs CB Chris Lammons left late in the first half with an ankle injury.

UP NEXT

The Broncos host Detroit next Sunday. The Chiefs host Las Vegas the same day.

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Broncos gamble, lose to Chiefs, fall 2 back in division

2.5d ago 12/5/2021 11:29 PM ET By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer KANSAS CITY, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Broncos coach Vic Fangio declared that “field goals weren't going to beat" the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.

Neither were 20-play drives that resulted in no points.

That long march that consumed more than 11 minutes of the second quarter didn't lead to a 22-9 loss to the Chiefs by itself, but it sure didn't help. And Fangio's failed decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8, rather than kick a field goal to make it 10-6 at halftime, left the demoralized Broncos playing catch-up the rest of the way.

“We have to be able to score more points no matter who you're playing, especially the Chiefs at home,” Fangio said. “That drive at the end of the first half was really good. We just couldn't finish it. Couldn't get the last 2 yards to keep it going."

It was the first time in 12 years that a 20-play drive lasting at least 11 minutes didn't result in points.

“Every drive you try to get points," Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, “but a drive like that, you get the ball out of there and all the way down the field — you know, it just sucks, man.”

Fangio's bold fourth-down call wasn't the only play the Broncos probably wanted back.

There was Courtland Sutton's pass route on third-and-7 that he failed to run to the first-down marker on the opening drive of the second half, and the ball that Bridgewater threw on the next drive that was picked off by Juan Thornhill.

There was the gaffe by the punt return team a few minutes later, when Caden Sterns ran into return man Diontae Spencer and the Chiefs hopped on the loose ball, and Bridgewater's pick-6 to Daniel Sorensen that put the game away.

That's not going to get it done against the two-time defending AFC champions, especially when the Chiefs are coming off a late-season bye. Andy Reid improved to 20-3 when he has a week off to prepare for an opponent.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs must have decided that field goals were in fact going to beat Denver.

Harrison Butker drilled a 56-yarder into the wind late in the first quarter, split the uprights from 45 yards out in the third, then tacked on a 26-yard chip shot through swirling winds to stake Kansas City to a 16-3 lead.

The result was another loss to the Chiefs in what is fast becoming a lopsided series.

Kansas City has won 12 straight against the Broncos, which means quarterback Patrick Mahomes has never lost to them in nine career starts — including the first of his career and one that ended with an injury. The Broncos dropped to 3-20 when they play at Kansas City in December dating to their days together in the AFL. And they squandered a surprising chance to take their first AFC West lead this late in the season in six full years.

“Kareem Jackson said it best in the locker room: We have five games left and each is a playoff game for us,” Bridgewater said. “We have to focus one day at a time, one week at a time, one opponent at a time.”

It wasn't all bad. Bridgewater finished with 257 yards passing and mostly managed the game well. Javonte Williams started in place of injured running back Melvin Gordon III and ran for 102 yards while catching Bridgewater's lone TD toss late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos defense held Mahomes to 184 yards passing and Kansas City to 257 yards in all.

It's just that the miscues far outpaced the highlights on another bleak Broncos trip to Arrowhead Stadium.

“We obviously know there's opportunities out there,” Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. “There's a lot of season left. We're going to see them again down the road. There's a lot of games left to be played. This isn't going to be what we're known for. We're going to keep fighting, keep playing, do what we know we can do.”

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Gamble doesn't pay off for Ravens in loss to Steelers

2.5d ago 12/5/2021 10:49 PM ET By DAN SCIFO, Associated Press PITTSBURGH

PITTSBURGH (AP) — John Harbaugh went for the win, and it didn't work out for the Baltimore Ravens.

Lamar Jackson led Baltimore to a touchdown with 12 seconds to play, but his throw on the 2-point conversion was too far in front of tight end Mark Andrews. That oh-so-close play sent the Ravens to a 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Harbaugh pointed to the play of his injury-depleted secondary — a list that now includes star Marlon Humphrey, who left in the second half with an issue Harbaugh did not disclose — as the main reason to avoid overtime.

“We tried to win the game right there,” Harbaugh said. “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there.”

Ben Roethlisberger threw his second fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson, and the ensuing 2-point conversion to Pat Freiermuth gave Pittsburgh a 20-13 lead with less than two minutes remaining.

But Jackson and the Ravens (8-4) weren’t finished.

Jackson overcame a false start and a sack during the Ravens’ eight-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Jackson also converted a pair of third downs, including a third-and-14 and a third-and-5, which resulted in a 6-yard touchdown grab by Sammy Watkins.

But rather than turn to star kicker Justin Tucker for an almost automatic 35-yard extra point, the Ravens went for the knockout punch.

“I was in the moment,” Jackson said. “We just scored. I was cool with it. I wanted to win. I didn’t want to go to overtime anyways.”

The Steelers, as they did throughout the day, brought pressure during the 2-point conversion attempt. Star linebacker T.J. Watt hurried Jackson’s throw to an open Andrews, and the ball went off the tight end’s fingertips in the flat and bounced away.

“T.J. Watt’s got range,” Jackson said. “He’s a long guy. I had to throw around him and try to make something happen. That’s all. Just came up short.”

Jackson was sacked seven times. Watt had a career-high 3 1/2 sacks and Chris Wormley, who was acquired in a March 2020 trade with Baltimore, finished with 2 1/2 sacks.

“Seven sacks is too many,” Harbaugh said. “It’s way too many. That’s on us as a coaching staff to get that cleaned up.”

It was the third game in series history between the Ravens and Steelers decided by one point. The Steelers have won all three of those games — all started by Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger threw for 236 yards and engineered his 39th fourth-quarter comeback, but it took a last-second defensive stand on a 2-point play to help Pittsburgh (6-5-1) end a three-game winless streak.

“You saw the play,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a game of inches. That’s football. It’s just that close.”

Baltimore visits Cleveland for another key division game on Sunday. The Ravens, who lead the AFC North, beat Cleveland 16-10 on Nov. 28.

Jackson passed for 253 yards with a touchdown and a first-quarter interception. The Ravens held a massive edge through three quarters in total yards and time of possession, which included a 10-minute, 99-yard scoring drive, but they only had a 10-3 lead to show for it.

That allowed Roethlisberger and the Steelers to rally in the fourth.

A wide-open Johnson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but Tucker’s 28-yard field goal on the ensuing possession made it a 13-9 game. Boswell answered with a 43-yard field goal, before Roethlisberger’s second touchdown pass to Johnson put Pittsburgh in front late in the game.

Jackson put Baltimore in position for overtime. Harbaugh and the Ravens wanted the win, and they ultimately fell short.

“Honestly, if we would’ve converted the 2-point conversion, we would’ve been having a different conversation right now,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We’d be talking about how we found a way to win. At the end of the day, they found a way to make one play and we didn’t. That’s what it came down to. They made one extra play. They got one extra point than us and they came out victorious.”

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49ers miss chance to separate in jumbled NFC playoff race

2.5d ago 12/5/2021 10:29 PM ET By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer SEATTLE

SEATTLE (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo believed the play was there. There likely was going to be an open target with all the attention focused on George Kittle.

But the pass never got to its intended target, deflected at the line of scrimmage by Carlos Dunlap. When Garoppolo’s throw hit the turf, gone was San Francisco's three-game win streak and a chance for the 49ers to separate themselves in the messy NFC playoff picture.

San Francisco walked out of Seattle with a 30-23 loss Sunday after its offense was shut out in the second half, stopped at the Seattle 3 in the final seconds.

The 49ers took possession 98 yards from the end zone with 4:03 remaining after Gerald Everett fumbled. Garoppolo and Kittle led the 49ers deep into Seattle territory, toward the same end where Fred Warner made a game-saving tackle to win the NFC West title for San Francisco in the 2019 regular-season finale.

But there was no celebration this time. Garoppolo’s third-down pass intended for Trent Sherfield was broken up and the fourth-down throw never made it to the end zone.

“We’re all disappointed, very frustrated,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We felt we had a lot of self-inflicted stuff.”

It was a mixture of mistakes, turnovers and an inability to get the run game established that led to San Francisco losing for the first time since falling to Arizona in Week 9.

Garoppolo was responsible for a few of those mistakes. He was 20 of 30 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but also his seventh and eighth interceptions of the season.

San Francisco was able to hold off his first pick, but the second one by Quandre Diggs in the third quarter led to the winning points for Seattle on Russell Wilson’s 12-yard TD pass to Tyler Lockett.

The 49ers also fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, and, while Seattle didn’t score after its own turnover, it did lead to Garoppolo getting sacked by Dunlap for a safety.

The loss dropped the 49ers (6-6) into a tie with Washington based on record. Right now, that would be good enough for San Francisco to make the playoffs, but there are five teams at either 6-7 or 5-7 behind the 49ers.

Even Seattle at 4-8 isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and it swept the season series from the 49ers.

“It’s one of those losses that you can’t let this stick with you for too long,” Garoppolo said. “Watch the film, be hard on ourselves like we always are. I mean, we’re very critical of all little things. But Cincinnati is going to come up real quick.”

The fact San Francisco had a chance on the final drive spoke to the craziness of the game. Seattle scored on a 73-yard run off a fake punt, but also turned the ball over twice near the goal line, both by Everett. His bobble led to an end-zone interception for K’Waun Williams in the third quarter and his fumble as Seattle went in for a clinching score late was forced by Azeez Al-Shaair and recovered by Dontae Johnson.

There was also the safety, a missed field goal and a missed extra point.

“It was one of the wildest games I’ve ever been a part of. Just the first half was absolutely crazy,” Kittle said.

San Francisco was significantly short-handed playing without starting linebackers Warner and Marcell Harris, and do-everything offensive weapon Deebo Samuel.

Kittle picked up for the absence of Samuel with nine catches for 181 yards and touchdowns of 24 and 48 yards. It was the best game for Kittle since having 15 catches for 183 yards early last season against Philadelphia.

But the 49ers' run game that had averaged 178.3 yards over the past three wins never got started. Elijah Mitchell had 22 carries for 66 yards, and San Francisco finished with 71 yards rushing total.

“It’s always just such a dogfight between us when we play each other,” Garoppolo said. “We know we’re getting into but we’ve just got to be more ready.”

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Century mark: Rams' Kupp reaches 100 receptions in 12 games

2.5d ago 12/5/2021 9:59 PM ET By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer INGLEWOOD, Calif.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Cooper Kupp wasn't aware after the Los Angeles Rams' 37-7 thrashing of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday that he had reached 100 catches. With the way the fifth-year receiver is piling up accomplishments in a career season, it is getting hard to keep track.

Kupp's 8-yard reception from Matthew Stafford early in the fourth quarter made him the first player in NFL history with at least 100 catches and 10 TDs receiving in his team’s first 12 games of a season.

“I didn’t know that,” said Kupp about his latest set of accomplishments after finishing Sunday's game with eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown as the Rams snapped a three-game losing streak. “At the end of day it is about getting a win. I just want to be part of producing and moving the team forward.”

Kupp has done more than move his team forward. He leads the league in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,366) and 11 receiving TDs.

By reaching the century mark in catches, Kupp is the fourth player to do that in his team's first 12 games of a season, the second in the past three seasons. He is also the third receiver in the Super Bowl era with at least 1,350 yards at this point in the year.

“He does everything right,” Stafford said. “People probably watch him on TV and think he’s 5-10 and runs 4.6. He’s 6-2, 210 and runs great. He’s got a great feel for the game. He’s a great competitor. He understands the game. He does everything right. I pinch myself every day. Just lucky to play with a guy like that.”

Kupp was held without a catch until the first play after the two-minute warning in the opening half. He had three catches on that drive as Matt Gay kicked a 44-yard field goal to give the Rams a 16-7 lead at halftime.

“There's only so much we can do. He’s an amazing player and he’s going to go off. We contained him for as long as we could,” Jacksonville defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot said.

Early in the third quarter, Kupp extended the Rams advantage to 23-7 with a 29-yard touchdown. He beat Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard on a post route, caught it at the 20-yard line and coasted into the end zone.

“There’s a lot of stuff in this league that sometimes doesn’t work out for you. But like I’ve said before, there’s no panic from any of us if you’re not getting the ball early on, as long as we’re moving the ball,” Kupp said.

Kupp will go into the Dec. 13 Monday night game at Arizona with eight straight games of at least 90 yards or more. The record of nine is shared by teammate Odell Beckham Jr. and Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.

In the Oct. 3, 37-20 loss to the Cardinals, Kupp was held to five receptions for 64 yards. He will need to perform at the level he has over the past eight games if the Rams (8-4) have any hopes of coming back to win the NFC West. Arizona is 10-2.

“I thought it was a great step in the right direction. There’s obviously been some adversity over these last three games," coach Sean McVay said. “It sure feels good to be back on the winning side of things and now we got to be able to build on it.”

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Third-down woes continue to haunt Raiders in critical losses

2.6d ago 12/5/2021 9:10 PM ET By W.G. RAMIREZ, Associated Press LAS VEGAS

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A stagnant offense that continues to struggle on third downs and failed to score its first touchdown until four minutes into the fourth quarter led to the Las Vegas Raiders losing for the fourth time in five games on Sunday.

Las Vegas was 2 for 8 on third-down conversions and scored just one touchdown in its 17-15 loss to Washington.

“Just a difficult story for us in the red zone, obviously coming out of there with field goals,” interim coach Rich Bisaccia said. “We missed some throws down there today. We had a chance for some. We’ve got to find a way to score more than 15 points, obviously.”

The Raiders, however, were 1 for 2 in the red zone. And the three field goals from Daniel Carlson, last week’s AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, kept Las Vegas within striking distance with boots from 52, 38, and 37 yards.

Washington’s Taylor Heinicke threw touchdown passes to Logan Thomas, on the opening drive, and Antonio Gibson early in the fourth quarter. Washington (6-6) allowed the Raiders (6-6) to score on successive drives to take a 15-14 lead on Carlson’s 37-yard field goal that was set up by Nate Hobbs’ interception of Heinicke.

But Heinicke responded and drove Washington downfield to set up the kick by Brian Johnson, the team’s fourth placekicker who was signed earlier this week after Joey Slye went down with an injury. Las Vegas safety Tre’von Moehrig dropped a potential sealing interception on Washington’s final drive.

Once again, it was Las Vegas struggling to convert on third downs. Making matters worse was it came against a Washington defense that entered the game ranked last in the league in allowing opponents to convert 51.4% of the time.

During the Raiders’ 1-4 slide, they rank dead last in converting 11 of 49 (22.4%) on third downs.

Suddenly, the Raiders’ familiar trend of late-season collapses is haunting the team that opened the schedule 3-0 and 5-2.

In 2019, the Raiders were 6-4 before closing the season on a 1-5 slide while scoring an average of 14.6 points after averaging 22.5 in their first 10.

Last season, the team's first after relocating to Las Vegas, the Raiders were 6-3 and looking like they could snap a three-year playoff drought, then lost five of their last seven.

Derek Carr came into Week 13 leading the league with 3,414 yards passing, and the team is 6-0 when he eclipses 300 yards through the air. Carr, who clearly missed injured tight end Darren Waller, finished 28 of 38 for 249 yards, was sacked twice and spent plenty of time under pressure from an improved defense that held a team to less than 20 points for the fourth time in five games.

“I thought we really mixed our coverages up, we tried to disguise them an awful lot,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Credit to them, too, because they were taking advantage of some of the things that we were doing and they were moving the ball systematically down the field. Fortunate for us we were able to make a stop and force a punt around midfield or have them kick field goals, And that’s one of the things that help you.”

And while Bisaccia suggested it’s time “to come up with some plays somehow, find a way to make a play with people on us, and find a way to make a throw even when we’re under duress,” Carr abruptly shut down the notion. When asked if he was content with offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s play calling or if he thought changes in the scheme should be made, a visibly frustrated Carr responded: “To answer your real question, I love Oly and he’s doing a great job.”

Nevertheless, Las Vegas was averaging 25.7 points per game through Week 8, and in its four losses since is scoring an average of 14.5 points per contest.

“We have to convert third down and we have to get better at scoring touchdowns and not field goals,” said receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught a career-high nine receptions for 102 yards. “Until we get that fixed, we’re gonna keep losing games.”

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Seahawks hold on late for wild 30-23 win over 49ers

2.6d ago 12/5/2021 8:09 PM ET By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer SEATTLE

SEATTLE (AP) — For all the late-game mistakes and missed opportunities throughout their disappointing season, the Seattle Seahawks continue to believe there is something worth playing for.

They showed the San Francisco 49ers exactly that Sunday.

“No matter how people bash us and say we're done and all this we always believe,” Seattle safety Quandre Diggs said.

Russell Wilson played his best game since returning from finger surgery, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and the Seattle Seahawks made a late goal-line stand to beat the 49ers 30-23 on Sunday.

Seattle (4-8) snapped a three-game losing streak but it wasn’t easy as a number of mistakes gave the 49ers a chance for a tying touchdown in the final moments.

With the playoffs still a mathematical possibility, the Seahawks are refusing to fall into the mode of playing out the final weeks. This week, it came at the expense of the Niners' playoff chase.

“I have some amazing teammates, guys who were super supportive this week, just giving me some good energy, too, and vice versa,” Wilson said. “And let’s just go for it. Let’s just have fun while we do it. And we were able to do that tonight.”

It was far from a clean game for Seattle, though. Gerald Everett was responsible for three turnovers, capped by fumbling at the San Francisco 2 with 4:03 remaining and Seattle on the cusp of a clinching score. Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers 95 yards to the Seattle 3. But his third-down pass for Trent Sherfield was broken up by Sidney Jones, and his fourth- down pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Carlos Dunlap.

It was the second big play by Dunlap, who sacked Garoppolo for a safety early in the third quarter.

“When given the opportunity to go straight and impact the game in those situations, I like my odds and I’m betting with me every time,” Dunlap said.

Newly signed running back Adrian Peterson moved into a tie with Jim Brown for 10th all-time with 126 career touchdowns, scoring on a 1-yard run in the second quarter for Seattle.

Wilson threw a 7-yard touchdown to Dee Eskridge in the second quarter and his 12-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett late in the third quarter provided the winning points.

Travis Homer also ran 73 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt on the opening possession of the game for Seattle.

“It's a pretty cool call to go for that,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

San Francisco (6-6) saw its three-game win streak snapped and was swept by Seattle this season. The 49ers were unable to get their run game going as in recent weeks, with Elijah Mitchell rushing for 66 yards on 22 carries. San Francisco had averaged 178.3 yards rushing per game during its three-game win streak but finished with 71 yards against the Seahawks.

Garoppolo threw for 299 yards and two TDs, but also had a pair of interceptions, the second grabbed by Diggs and setting up Seattle’s go-ahead touchdown.

George Kittle had nine catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns, but was shut down in the second half until the final drive.

“Our offense we didn't really do anything in the second half. And it’s hard to win in Seattle if you don’t do anything the second half,” Kittle said.

On that final drive it took San Francisco five plays to reach the Seattle 30, including completions to Kittle of 29 and 14 yards. Brandon Aiyuk’s 11-yard catch got the 49ers to the Seattle 7, two runs by Mitchell yielded only 4 yards and Garoppolo couldn’t connect on his last two throws.

SCARY START

San Francisco reserve running back Trenton Cannon was taken off the field on a backboard after a scary collision on the opening kickoff against Seattle. Cannon was attempting to make a tackle on DeeJay Dallas when his head hit the leg of a teammate. The 49ers said Cannon had a concussion, was in stable condition at a Seattle area hospital, and would remain overnight for observation.

KITTLE’S DAY

Kittle was just the second tight end in the past five seasons with at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half. Darren Waller also did it last season against the Jets. Kittle had five catches for 121 yards and two TDs in the first half.

INJURIES

The 49ers didn’t have starting wide receiver Deebo Samuel due to a groin injury, starting linebacker Fred Warner (hamstring) and LB Marcell Harris (concussion). CB Emmanuel Moseley suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.

Seattle was without starting RB Alex Collins, who had been dealing with an abdominal/core injury for several weeks, and left guard Damien Lewis. Seattle lost safety Jamal Adams to a sprained shoulder injury late in the first half. Adams returned to the sideline in the third quarter in sweats and Carroll said he did not know the extent of the injury. RT Brandon Shell also left in the second half due to a lingering shoulder injury.

UP NEXT

49ers: San Francisco is at Cincinnati next Sunday.

Seahawks: Seattle is at Houston next Sunday.

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Steelers turn away Ravens 20-19 after failed 2-point attempt

2.6d ago 12/5/2021 7:59 PM ET By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer PITTSBURGH

PITTSBURGH (AP) — If the end is near for Ben Roethlisberger, he's not telling. Not publicly anyway. The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback insists he won't make a final decision about his future until January at the earliest.

Until then, he is intent on savoring each moment as it comes. Moments like the giddy postgame locker room on Sunday night inside Heinz Field, when a surprised Roethlisberger received the game ball following the 39th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, a 20-19 victory over Baltimore that will be remembered for Roethlisberger's vintage second-half play and a gutsy — if ultimately fruitless — decision by Ravens coach John Harbaugh to go for the win in regulation.

“You should always try to savor moments like this,” Roethlisberger said after throwing for 236 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Diontae Johnson. “I try and reiterate that to guys. Whether you’re in your first year or your fifth year, your 20th year, you should always appreciate this moment.”

One the Steelers (6-5-1) desperately needed in order to be any sort of factor down the stretch. Pittsburgh ended a three-game winless skid behind a flash of brilliance from Roethlisberger and Johnson and the long arms of linebacker T.J. Watt.

Watt finished with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks despite missing practice all week after being placed on the COVID-19 list, and his presence forced Lamar Jackson's 2-point conversion throw to tight end Mark Andrews to fall harmlessly to the turf after a 6-yard touchdown catch by Sammy Watkins drew the Ravens (8-4) within a point with 12 seconds to go.

Rather than turn to the NFL's best kicker to force overtime by going for an extra point, Harbaugh told Justin Tucker to remain on the sideline and asked Jackson to win it in regulation. Jackson took the snap and looked his right, but in an effort to keep the ball out of Watt's reach, he ended up leading Andrews too far. The pass smacked off Andrews' outstretched hands and the Steelers escaped.

“I was cool with (the decision),” Jackson said. “I want to win.”

Harbaugh pointed to the play of his injury-depleted secondary — a list that now includes star Marlon Humphrey, who left in the second half with an issue Harbaugh did not disclose — as the main reason to avoid overtime.

The Ravens certainly looked a step slow over the final 15 minutes as Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Johnson for scores of 29 and 5 yards, the last a flip that gave the Steelers a 20-13 lead with 1:48 to go.

Jackson took Baltimore 60 yards and Watkins' tumbling touchdown grab pulled the Ravens within a point.

“We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time,” Harbaugh said. “It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there. ... You saw the play. It's that close. It’s a game of inches.”

INACTION JACKSON

Baltimore remained in first place in the AFC North despite the loss after Cincinnati fell to the Los Angeles Chargers earlier in the day. Still, the Ravens missed a chance to put away their longtime rivals thanks in part to an inability to protect Jackson.

The Steelers sacked Jackson seven times, including 2 1/2 by former Ravens defensive lineman Chris Wormley, who was traded to Pittsburgh before the 2020 season.

“I told (Wormley) when he got here, I said, 'Man, when a team trades you within the division, they're telling you what they think of you,'” Tomlin said. “So I hope he plays like that when he sees (Baltimore).”

LAST CALL?

Roethlisberger declined to get into specifics about an ESPN report on Saturday night — which cited anonymous sources — that he'll call it a career whenever the 2021 season ends.

“My focus is on (Thursday's game at) Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready,” he said. “I'll address any of that stuff after the season. I’ve always been a one game at a time, one season at a time person and I'm going to stay that way.”

Contemplating retirement is nothing new for Roethlisberger. The 39-year-old Roethlisberger has been flirting with it since the spring of 2017.

There has been times this season when he's looked every bit his age, and moments when he can briefly turn back the clock as he did in the fourth quarter on Sunday, when he completed 9 of 10 for 129 yards with two touchdowns, a 2-pt conversion and a 158.3 passer rating.

HOME ARREST

How did Watt stay in shape during his unexpected downtime? By pulling on his cleats and running around trees at his house in suburban Pittsburgh.

He hardly looked rusty while chasing after Jackson. At one point the two good-naturedly-slapped each other on the helmet as a sign of respect following an 11-yard gain by Jackson.

INJURIES

Ravens: OL Patrick Mekari left in the second half with a hand injury and did not return.

Steelers: G B.J. Finney left in the first quarter with a back injury. Finney was replaced by John Leglue, who made his NFL debut.

Field judge Mike Weatherford left early in the fourth quarter after getting tangled up with Pittsburgh's Chase Claypool following a 40-yard gain.

UP NEXT

Ravens: Go for a season sweep of the Browns when they travel to Cleveland next Sunday.

Steelers: Face a short week with a visit face the Vikings looming on Thursday night.

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Ticked-off Mosley says Jets not being respected by opponents

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 7:29 PM ET By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — C.J. Mosley felt the disrespect when the Philadelphia Eagles didn't shake hands at midfield during the pregame coin toss.

The New York Jets linebacker saw it when he said Fletcher Cox laughed at Robert Saleh as the coach argued with officials about a call.

“At the end of the day, it's all about respect,” Mosley said after a 33-18 loss Sunday. "And right now, teams are not respecting us. That’s well-deserved, whether it’s by self-inflicted wounds or the history of the Jets.”

Mosley has been around long enough to know what respect looks like, especially from his first five NFL seasons with Baltimore. And the usually reserved linebacker was as fired up after the game as he has been.

“It was all over the field,” Mosley said of the feeling of disrespect. “As a competitor, as a warrior, when you fight with your brothers, that pisses you off.”

The wins have been few and far between during his time with the Jets, and another rough loss won't help things.

“The past doesn't matter,” Mosley said. “The guys that are here, the coaches that are here, we can affect the future. And we can affect right now. So today, we didn't do our job and the results are the results.”

And they're not good.

The Jets dropped to 3-9 in what will be an 11th straight season — the NFL's longest active drought — without a playoff appearance. In this one, they allowed backup quarterback Gardner Minshew to lead the Eagles to scores on each of their first seven possessions. And the only time Philadelphia was stopped was on its final drive in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

“What's disheartening is that I know when we watch this tape and we sit down together,” Saleh said, "there's going to be a lot of missed opportunities that we had from a defensive standpoint to get the ball back to our offense, especially when they were rolling.

“Especially on some of those third downs when we could have been a lot better.”

The Eagles went 6 of 13 in those situations. They also converted their one fourth-down attempt.

But the most damning moment for the Jets' defense came in the third quarter — and really, for almost the length of the period.

The Eagles held the ball for 13:50, running 24 plays for 81 yards while scoring three points. And that came after Philadelphia got a field goal just before halftime. Meanwhile, the Jets ran just three plays in the third quarter, gaining 3 yards in 70 seconds.

“They had the ball to finish the first half,” Saleh said. “Then they go eight minutes and then it’s a quick drive for us and then they had the ball again for however many minutes it was. So you’re looking at over an hour of real time where our offense was on the field for just a quick minute.”

Philadelphia held the overall edge in time of possession: 35:36 to 24:24.

But things started off promising when Braxton Berrios returned the opening kickoff 79 yards and Zach Wilson found Elijah Moore for a 3-yard touchdown a few moments later. But Alex Kessman — signed Saturday from the practice squad to replace the struggling Matt Ammendola — missed the extra point in his NFL debut.

Minshew and the Eagles answered with a 36-yard TD pass to Dallas Goedert to take a 7-6 lead.

Wilson and the Jets came right back with a 1-yard touchdown run, but Kessman was wide left again on the extra point.

“I've just got to make them,” Kessman said. “It’s what I do for a living. I've got to make those kicks. There’s no excuses.”

Mosley and Hall acknowledged the Jets didn't specifically prepare for Minshew, saying the Eagles offense would be similar whether the backup or Jalen Hurts were under center.

But the defense simply couldn't stop Minshew from marching the Eagles down the field.

Over and over.

“It’s disappointing,” Saleh said. "Our offense was rolling. We scored three touchdowns early in the first half and Zach and the receivers, the run game — all of it was working really well. If we could have gotten a stop early, it felt like our offense would've turned around and gotten some points.

“We had some chances there, but obviously, it wasn’t good enough.”

That has been the story of the season for the Jets, whose defense was expected to be a strength while Wilson adjusted to the NFL.

Instead, it has been one of the league's worst overall units.

And has no one respecting the Jets.

“We all hold ourselves accountable, we all hold ourselves to the same standard,” Mosley said. “So, we have to make sure that we’re always on the same page. And when we see things on the field and when we see things off the field, we have to communicate and talk to each other. And that’s from top to bottom.”

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LA Rams snap 3-game skid, roll over Jacksonville 37-7

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 7:20 PM ET By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer INGLEWOOD, Calif.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars were the cure for just about everything that ailed the Los Angeles Rams throughout November.

Matthew Stafford and the Rams hope they can stay up at this level when their stretch run gets a whole lot tougher.

Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. caught touchdown passes from Stafford, and the Rams snapped their three-game losing streak with a 37-7 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday.

Stafford passed for 295 yards while Sony Michel rushed for 121 yards and a score for the Rams (8-4), who rebounded from a winless month with a solid all-around effort against a struggling opponent. Kupp had his 100th reception of a remarkable season among his eight catches for 129 yards.

“It's nice to get a win after three subpar performances,” Stafford said.

Stafford snapped back into his early-season form, playing turnover-free football after giving the ball away six times during the three-game skid that threatened to derail the Rams' playoff plans. Los Angeles still has never lost four straight in coach Sean McVay's half-decade in charge.

“We really need to find a way to start playing our best ball in December,” McVay said. “Our guys did a great job just staying steady and trusting the process. ... You don’t take any wins for granted in this league. This is good for our team, and now we’ve just got to start stacking blocks.”

Jalen Ramsey made three tackles against his former team and recovered a fumble forced by Aaron Donald on the opening drive for the Rams, who comfortably won what appeared to be the least daunting game remaining on a tough schedule. Los Angeles still must make trips to Arizona, Baltimore and Minnesota along with two NFC West games at home.

“When you get turnovers, you tend to win games,” Donald said. “We need to build off this type of win we had today. ... We can't be satisfied. Got to stay hungry.”

Rookie Trevor Lawrence passed for 145 yards for the Jaguars (2-10), who have lost four straight. With their 16th consecutive loss to NFC teams since September 2018, the Jaguars have lost 10 games for the 10th time in the last 11 years.

“There are some times when you’re at a loss for words, especially in a game like this where we were moving the ball earlier and then can’t get anything going," said Lawrence, who went 16 for 28. "The turnovers hurt, and when you’re not moving the ball consistently it is pretty much impossible to come back.”

Jacksonville turned the ball over twice and struggled to get anything going offensively against LA's star-studded defense, managing just 197 total yards. This defeat means Urban Meyer will lose at least twice as many games in his rookie NFL season as he ever did in any of his 17 seasons as a head coach at the college level.

“I don’t mean to be redundant and go into coachspeak, but there’s nothing else I can tell you,” Meyer said. “Is it frustrating for everybody involved? Absolutely. Are we better than that? Absolutely. We have better players and coaches than that. So now it’s time to go produce.”

Michel was the Rams' featured back with Darrell Henderson in uniform but limited by a thigh injury. Michel capped the Rams' only TD drive of the first half with a 5-yard run before finishing with the Rams' first 100-yard rushing performance all season.

Jacksonville's defense hung in throughout the first half, preventing the Rams from converting any of their six third downs and forcing LA's Matt Gay to kick three field goals.

“We’re playing excellent pass defense, field position and complementary football there,” Meyer said. "That’s kind of where you want to be on the road against a good team, and then we couldn’t move the ball.”

The Rams' defense dominated Lawrence's offense in the first half except for one 73-yard scoring drive culminating in Carlos Hyde's 1-yard TD run.

The Rams took control after halftime with two long touchdown drives capped by Kupp's 29-yard TD grab and Jefferson's 2-yard, toe-tap scoring catch.

STARRY DEBUTS

The Rams' two prized midseason acquisitions finally got to play at SoFi Stadium for the first time, and both made contributions to the victory.

Beckham made an early 27-yard reception before his 1-yard TD grab early in the fourth quarter, outfighting Nevin Lawson for a jump ball.

Linebacker Von Miller had just one tackle for loss, but he was active in drawing blockers while the Rams' pass rush kept Lawrence uncomfortable for most of the day.

INJURED

Stafford left for one play after a hard tackle, but returned quickly. “Just a chest shot,” Stafford said. “I feel good now.” ... Rams center Brian Allen injured his knee on their first snap from scrimmage and didn't return. Coleman Shelton took over and played well in the Los Angeles native's first significant NFL action in two years. ... Rams left guard David Edwards injured his foot later in their opening drive, but eventually returned. ... Jaguars C Brandon Linder injured his back. ... Jags rookie CB Tyson Campbell incurred an abdominal injury in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: at Tennessee next Sunday.

Rams: at Arizona for Monday night game on Dec. 13.

___

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Washington rallies for 4th straight win, 17-15 over Raiders

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 7:20 PM ET By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer LAS VEGAS

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brian Johnson made quite the first impression on his new Washington teammates.

Johnson kicked the go-ahead 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining five days after joining the team and Washington beat the Las Vegas Raiders 17-15 on Sunday for its fifth straight win.

“I didn’t even know his name,” defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. “We just brought him up.”

Allen and the rest of the Washington offense know it now after he calmly drilled the game-winning kick after Taylor Heinicke drove the team into position after squandering an eight-point lead.

“The vibe and everything, for not being around it, I felt it once I walked in,” said Johnson, who was signed Tuesday to replace the injured Joey Slye. “It’s an awesome locker room to be in. They’re probably still learning my name, but it’s awesome to be here.”

Heinicke threw a 7-yard TD pass to Logan Thomas on the opening drive and a 4-yarder to Antonio Gibson early in the fourth quarter after extending the drive with a key third-down scramble.

But Washington (6-6) then allowed the Raiders (6-6) to score on successive drives to take a 15-14 lead on Daniel Carlson's 37-yard field goal that was set up by Nate Hobbs' interception of Heinicke.

But Heinicke responded and drove Washington down the field to set up the kick by Johnson that came three plays after Tre'von Moehrig dropped a potential game-sealing interception.

“It’s literally the same thing that happened against the Giants,” Heinicke said. “I feel like we play really well in the two-minute drill. We practice it a lot. Guys executed really well and we got lucky on that one throw, but that’s football.”

Heinicke finished 23 for 30 for 196 yards and has now led four game-winning drives in his first year as a starting quarterback in Washington.

“What can you say about him?” Allen said. “He just keeps showing why he needs to be our quarterback.”

Coordinator Jack Del Rio's defense then sealed it to give him the win in his first game against the Raiders since being fired by the team following the 2017 season.

The game ended when Derek Carr's desperation heave from his 43 fell incomplete, short of the goal line as Washington improved to 4-0 since the bye to get into playoff position.

“We’re not a star-studded roster,” Allen said. “We don’t have those big celebrities. We’re not an L.A. or whatever the case may be, and we just don’t care what anybody says. We believe in ourselves. We went out there and played hard.”

The Raiders were unable to build on a Thanksgiving overtime win at Dallas and lost for the fourth time in five games as the offense has stalled after a strong start to the season.

They were held to just two field goals in the first three quarters as Carr seemed to miss injured tight end Darren Waller and couldn't connect on the big plays with DeSean Jackson that helped fuel last week's win.

Las Vegas finally got into the end zone when Josh Jacobs capped a 75-yard drive aided by three defensive penalties with a 1-yard run. Carr missed Bryan Edwards in the back of the end zone on the 2-point try to keep Washington ahead 14-12.

The Raiders then settled for a field goal late when they stalled in the red zone to set the stage for the Washington comeback.

“It’s very frustrating,” Carr said. “Field goals aren't going to win you games. You have to get touchdowns, especially with the teams we have coming up. We will need touchdowns to win these games.”

SLOW START

The Raiders punted on their first three drives before getting a 52-yard field goal from Carlson in the closing seconds of the first half to cut the deficit to 7-3. It was the fifth time this season Las Vegas failed to score a touchdown in the first half of a game.

Carr struggled to push the ball downfield with his first 18 passes traveling a combined 36 yards downfield, according to NFL NextGen stats.

“It’s definitely very frustrating, annoying really,” running back Josh Jacobs said. “Starting slow every week and taking too long to be who we are is definitely frustrating.”

REUNION

Carr and Del Rio shared a moment together on the field after the game in their first game against each other since Del Rio was fired.

Carr was one of only two players on the active roster who played for Del Rio on the Raiders from 2015-17 and was part of the franchise's only playoff berth since the start of the 2003 season when the Raiders went 12-4.

“We just expressed our love for one another and how thankful we were for the times that we had,” Carr said. “He said some things to me about this year and it was good. I love the man and he’ll always have a place in my heart for the years that we had together.”

KEY INJURIES

Washington: Thomas left the game in the second half with a knee injury and didn't return.

Raiders: RB Kenyan Drake (ankle) and LB Nick Kwiatkoski (ankle) left the game in the first half and didn't return. ... LB Denzel Perryman (ankle) left in the second half.

UP NEXT

Washington: Host Dallas on Sunday.

Raiders: Visit Kansas City on Sunday.

___

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Bengals' momentum screeches to halt in messy Chargers loss

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 7:19 PM ET By MARK SCHMETZER, Associated Press CINCINNATI

CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Mixon's first fumble in a long time was a costly one — just one small slice of a rough day for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Joe Burrow threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked six times during Cincinnati's 41-22 loss to Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Mixon totaled just 54 yards on the ground against one of the NFL's worst run defenses.

The Bengals (7-5) were hoping to build on consecutive wins against Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. Instead, they got off to a terrible start against the Chargers and stumbled down the stretch after making a big rally.

“That was a sloppy game all-around,” coach Zac Taylor said. “To get in a hole the way we did and the things that I did were unacceptable. We didn’t deserve to win.”

Cincinnati stormed back after falling behind 24-0 in the second quarter. Mixon’s 7-yard TD run made it 24-22 with 7:10 left in the third. But Mixon was stuffed on the 2-point conversion try.

Mixon then coughed up the ball in the fourth and Tevaughn Campbell took it back 61 yards for a huge score. It was Mixon's first lost fumble since the 2020 season opener, also against the Chargers.

“I don’t know what happened,” Mixon said. “I remember getting twirled a little yet. Maybe I didn’t have the ball (grasped) yet. That play changed the game.”

After Campbell’s TD, Los Angeles forced Cincinnati to punt. Herbert then directed a four-play, 52-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD for Austin Ekeler.

The Bengals still had time, but Burrow was intercepted in the end zone by Chris Harris Jr. with 8:07 left. Cincinnati got the ball back again, but Burrow threw short to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-5.

Burrow dislocated the pinky finger on his throwing hand when he was sacked and fumbled on the Bengals’ first offensive series. He said it popped back into place on its own and didn’t affect this passing.

Burrow was 24 for 40 for 300 yards. He also had receivers drop at least four catchable balls — two by rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who had problems with dropping passes in the preseason but had seemed to have put them behind him.

Cincinnati sorely missed offensive linemen Trey Hopkins and Riley Reiff, who were sidelined by injuries.

Trainers tried tape and gloves to stabilize Burrow's injury, but nothing worked. He finally just played with nothing protecting it.

“It’s something I can play through,” he said. “It’s football. It’s something you play through injuries.”

Mixon rushed for a total of 288 yards and four TDs in the victories over the Raiders and Steelers. But he was held in check by the Chargers.

“It was nothing we hadn’t seen,” Mixon said. “There were a lot of technique things. The holes were there. It was just some technical things.”

Taylor took the blame for his team’s mishandling of a 2-point try after Higgins' TD, which resulted in a delay of game penalty and then a missed extra point by rookie kicker Evan McPherson.

“That was horrific management by me,” he said. “We had a lot of missed communication, and then we missed it on top of it.”

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Dalton's interceptions send Bears to loss against Cardinals

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 7:10 PM ET By GENE CHAMBERLAIN, Associated Press CHICAGO

CHICAGO (AP) — Quarterback Andy Dalton knew the Chicago Bears had little margin for error going against the team with the NFL's best record.

The Bears weren’t even close to playing error-free football as four interceptions set up Arizona for four easy scores, and the NFC West-leading Cardinals emerged with a 33-22 victory on Sunday.

“You can’t turn the ball over is what it comes down to,” said Dalton, who matched a career high with four interceptions. “We moved the ball really well today at times and we’ve just got to do that more consistently.

“We can’t give them more opportunities and give them short fields.”

The first three interceptions came on passes that deflected off a receiver’s hands or a defender’s, and the last was a screen pass Dalton took full responsibility for after throwing it directly to defensive lineman Zach Allen.

“The thing that’s unfortunate in this league is tipped balls usually don’t find the ground,” Dalton said. “They usually find the other hands. You saw it three times.”

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals (10-2) had to drive only 76 yards for three touchdowns and a field goal after their four takeaways.

“You know, in the end that’s what it comes down to is those turnovers, the momentum and the short fields for them against that offense and that team,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s hard to overcome.”

It wasn’t the only thing to go wrong for the Bears (4-8).

Dalton suffered a left hand injury, and the headset in his helmet allowing him to hear Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor went down for the second straight home game. Nagy was left using a walkie-talkie to communicate with Lazor, who calls the plays.

“They can talk to me, Andy couldn’t hear Bill,” Nagy said. “Bill was calling the play, I had the walkie-talkie, so Bill was saying the play to me and I was relaying it in to Andy. So, there was a whole little deal that goes on there in those moments.

“That’s (how) the walkie-talkie saved us because otherwise you’re yelling plays like high school.”

The technical issues only compounded problems the Bears had playing in wind, cold and rain against a team accustomed to warm weather and a dome.

Dalton’s first pass went off the hand of receiver Jakeem Grant and resulted in Jalen Thompson's interception. The return to the Bears 28 set up Arizona’s first touchdown. Grant also had trouble fielding a punt and let it hit and die at the 2-yard line.

“I was definitely cold,” Grant said. “Just playing in Miami for five years, it was just a shock to me with 17 mph winds. I was like ‘oh my God, I don’t know how the punt’s gonna be. Coach, I don’t know.’ But I think the weather conditions was definitely a little bit of an effect, just you know, being able to secure the catch and look it all the way through.

“I think that in games like that we’ve got to have major focus.”

Tight end Cole Kmet had a pass go right off his chest and to Budda Baker, who returned the interception 77 yards to the 15. That set up a TD to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead. To top it off, Dalton suffered the injury trying to make a tackle on the play.

“I’m going to get it evaluated and see what's going on,” Dalton said. “Obviously it didn’t affect me. I was able to play the whole game. We’ll see how it goes this week.”

Dalton, playing due to the broken ribs suffered by starter Justin Fields, finished 26 of 41 for 229 yards with two touchdown passes.

The Bears eventually outgained the Cardinals 329 yards to 257. They got 90 yards rushing and 51 receiving from running back David Montgomery, but it was almost all gained while barely being in the game.

Once they fell behind 21-7 by halftime they were well on their way to their sixth loss in seven games.

“We wanted to try to get the run going and different things, and so I mean it took us a while,” Dalton said. “Once we kind of got settled in we were able take it down the field.”

The Bears will regroup and possibly face more calls for Nagy’s job, like they did after losing their last home game to Baltimore.

“We all are going through a hard time,” Montgomery said. “It’s not singular. So when coach Nagy signed up for this job, I wasn’t here. But I know that when he took this job, he took everything that came with it as well, and that was the players as well.

“So whatever he feels, we feel too.”

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Tyrod Taylor could lose job as Texans QB after Sunday's flop

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 6:49 PM ET By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer HOUSTON

Teams: HOU

HOUSTON (AP) — Tyrod Taylor’s days as Houston’s starting quarterback could be numbered.

The veteran was benched in the third quarter of a 31-0 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday, and coach David Culley said he’d decide if he’d keep his job later this week.

“When you don’t score any points during a game, you evaluate everything,” Culley said.

Sunday’s loss was the ninth in 10 games for the Texans (2-10).

Taylor was evaluated for an injury after Houston’s first possession of the third quarter, but the team said he was available to play, and it was Culley’s decision to insert backup Davis Mills in his place.

Houston trailed 21-0 when Taylor was benched. Taylor threw an interception on the first play of the game and the Texans fumbled on their second possession before punting on their next four drives.

Mills, a rookie from Stanford, took over with about four minutes left in the third quarter.

Culley said after the game that Taylor hyperextended his wrist, and the trainers weren’t sure that he could grip the ball, but that he could have played if they needed him. He was 5 for 13 for 45 yards before being replaced.

“We’re just going to look at the whole situation,” Culley said. “I’ve got to look at the video to see exactly what happened. ... I’ve got to look at Tyrod while he was in there and look at Davis while he was in there and see where we need to go from there.”

After the two early turnovers, the Texans punted on four consecutive drives before Mills entered the game with about four minutes left in the third quarter. The QB change didn’t do anything to help Houston’s offense and the Texans punted twice after Mills took over and turned the ball over on downs on his other three possessions.

Mills was 6 of 14 for 49 yards.

The boos from the sparse crowd began early and grew louder with each terrible offensive possession as the Texans were shut out for the second time this season. It’s their second loss to the Colts this year after Indy got a 31-3 victory in Indianapolis in October.

Taylor led the Texans to a win in the opener against Jacksonville before injuring his hamstring on a touchdown run in the second quarter at Cleveland Sept. 19, and Mills took over after halftime.

Houston lost to the Browns and dropped all six games that Mills started while Taylor was injured.

Taylor tied a career high by throwing three interceptions in a loss to Miami in his return. The Texans beat the Titans the following week by forcing five turnovers in a game in which they threw for just 107 yards.

Taylor threw two touchdown passes in the first half last week, but couldn’t do anything on offense after the break as the Jets rallied for a 21-14 win.

Culley has been disappointed with Taylor’s turnovers since his return and was particularly upset about his interception Sunday.

“First play of the game he had an interception, didn’t take care of the ball,” he said. “The job for our quarterback is to get us in the end zone and he didn’t do that today.”

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Falcons waste solid rushing performance during loss to Bucs

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 6:30 PM ET By GEORGE HENRY, AP Sports Writer ATLANTA

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons wanted to try to run the ball against the NFL’s top rushing defense.

That part worked out. It just wasn't enough against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.

Cordarrelle Patterson had 78 of Atlanta’s 121 yards rushing, but Brady passed for four touchdowns in the Buccaneers' 30-17 win on Sunday.

The Falcons dropped to 0-7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium since Nov. 29, 2020. They have been outscored 140-66 in losing all five games in Atlanta this season. They fell to 0-10 all-time against Brady.

Not exactly what first-year coach Arthur Smith was looking for.

“We’ve got to be cleaner with the football, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said. “Deflate is not a word we use. We’re going to keep fighting and swinging. Call it damaging, call it deflating, but we don’t use those words. We’ll continue to swing and fight and we’ll fight ’til the finish.”

Matt Ryan was forced into passing situations as the Falcons tried to battle back from a second-half deficit. The Buccaneers finished with five sacks, including two apiece for Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh.

Vea blew past rookie guard Jalen Mayfield to take down Ryan for a 9-yard loss on a third-down play early in the fourth quarter, helping stop Atlanta's attempt to rally.

The Falcons (5-7) dropped into a tie with Carolina and New Orleans while the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs (9-3) opened a four-game advantage in the division.

Atlanta’s offense has been inconsistent, scoring just one touchdown in three of the last four games. The lone score came on Mike Davis’ 17-yard run in the first quarter, tying it at 7.

The Falcons had a chance to go in front in the second quarter, moving to first-and-goal from inside the 1. But they had to settle for Younghoe Koo’s 21-yard field goal and a 13-10 deficit.

Ryan lost a couple of yards falling on a bobbled snap, sandwiched around a pair of incompletions.

The only other touchdown for the Falcons came on defensive end Marlon Davidson’s 3-yard interception return late in the second quarter.

Atlanta had a rough start to the second half when Russell Gage caught a 20-yard pass over the middle to the Tampa Bay 45, only to cough the ball up on a hit by Pierre Desir. The Falcons punted on their next three possessions.

“We had spurts, you know?” Ryan said. “But the consistency wasn’t there. I think there was better consistency there early. We have to find a way to keep drives going and then finish drives when we get our chances. You can’t give them anything.”

Ryan was pressured all day, getting hit 11 times. On the flip side, the Falcons got just one hit on Brady.

“The sacks are going to hurt you when you read a stat like that,” Smith said. “They did a nice job. They kept Brady clean. Obviously it’s everybody’s intention to get after the quarterback. They have got good players up front. We’ll look at it and see what we can tweak here, but that’s usually a pretty good tell of how it went.”

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With Glennon now concussed, Giants' issues at QB worsen

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 6:30 PM ET By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The New York Giants arrived in Miami with a quarterback problem.

They left with two quarterback problems.

Not only is there no clarity on when starter Daniel Jones — who missed Sunday’s 20-9 loss to Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins with a neck injury — can return, but now his backup may be looking at an extended absence as well. Mike Glennon was diagnosed postgame with a concussion, the hardest hit on a day where the Giants took many in Miami.

“Look, I don’t know if you guys saw my high school quarterback tape, but I’m going to put it out there, emergency,” Giants safety Logan Ryan said. “A lot like Tua. I was a lefty, I can throw 2-yard passes to the left. I’m accurate, I’m smart. I’m going to put it out there. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do.”

Taking a jab at Tagovailoa might not have been necessary, after he completed 30 of 41 passes and threw for the game’s only two touchdowns. Then again, it got a laugh, which the Giants needed after a rough outcome got rougher with the news about Glennon’s concussion.

The only healthy quarterback on the roster by the time the Giants left the stadium was Jake Fromm, who was signed this past week as insurance and was most recently on the Buffalo practice squad. Fromm has yet to throw a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

“Just got to have a next-man-up mentality. ... We have to do a better job offensively,” Giants running back Saquon Barkley said.

Glennon started hot, completing his first eight passes. He was intercepted on the ninth and wound up connecting on just 15 of his final 36 throws. He finished 23 of 44 for 187 yards.

“I saw Mike do a lot of good things at the line of scrimmage, as far as identifying what the look was, facilitating the offense, getting the ball out,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “I thought Mike did a good job of pushing the ball down the field early and being aggressive.”

It wasn’t even clear when Glennon could have sustained the concussion. He was sacked three times.

“I thought the Giants had a very good game plan,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I thought they moved it on us. They played a tough, physical game. We knew it was going to be 60 minutes.”

Judge said after the game that he liked some of what he saw from the offense as well, even after a day where the Giants managed only 250 yards and fell to 4-8 on the season. All they managed for scoring was three field goals from Graham Gano.

“I saw a lot of players make a lot of big plays,” Judge said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We have to get the ball in our players’ hands, let them extend plays and let them be explosive players. That’s our focus as a team.”

The question now becomes who’ll be throwing players the ball next week. The Giants are spending this coming week in Arizona, acclimating to West Coast life before facing the Los Angeles Chargers next weekend.

And the team will likely know more about Jones’ status Monday.

“All of our players will have that day after game checkup with the doctors. Daniel will be no different,” Judge said. “We’ll check with the doctors. They’ll continue with the progression. They’ll continue to evaluate him. If they deem that he’s ready to return for contact, then we’ll have him out there playing.”

If not, then who knows.

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Vikings throw away key victory with late defensive collapse

2.7d ago 12/5/2021 6:09 PM ET By DAVE HOGG, Associated Press DETROIT

DETROIT (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings are perfectly aware of what they wasted on Sunday afternoon.

Needing a win to maintain a solid chance at an NFC playoff spot, they had things under control. With 1:50 to play and a 27-23 lead, all they had to do was stop the winless Detroit Lions from driving 75 yards with no timeouts.

They couldn't do it.

Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for an 11-yard touchdown as time expired, giving the Lions an inexplicable 29-27 victory.

“I know there's supposed to be a 24-hour rule about thinking about games, but this one is going to bother me for years,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said. “We have a short week with another game on Thursday, so we have to move ahead, but this hurts.”

The strategy for beating Goff this season has been fairly simple: Bring pressure and force him into small gains or big mistakes. Minnesota got three sacks and forced Goff into a pair of turnovers, but the Vikings changed up on the last drive.

Instead of trying to keep serious pressure on Goff, the Vikings rushed three and dropped eight defenders into a soft zone. As a result, he was able to keep Detroit moving with short passes over the middle - his one obvious strength.

“In hindsight, we would have loved to have gotten more pressure on him, but I didn't think we were covering very well,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought we needed more people in coverage than we did up front. Obviously, that didn't work.”

Detroit's longest play on the winning drive was 13 yards, and even that was a short pass that Godwin Igwebuike caught over the middle and broke down the sideline. After 11 frustrating weeks, Goff had finally found a team he could beat with a thousand paper cuts.

The Vikings were still in good shape with 23 seconds left, with the Lions facing third-and-6 at the 26, but T.J. Hockenson's 10-yard catch got the first down. After a spike, Goff hit St. Brown, who got out of bounds at the 11 with 8 seconds left.

Goff missed Josh Reynolds on his first shot at the end zone, leaving :04, but the Vikings chose an odd coverage scheme on the final play. Despite eight defenders knowing the Lions had to get a touchdown, St. Brown was able to get into the end zone in front of Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler.

“I have to see the film, but Dantzler was supposed to be playing off him,” Zimmer said. “He was supposed to have inside help, and I don't know what happened to it.”

With only three rushers, the Vikings left Goff plenty of time to make the winning throw to St. Brown. In a fourth quarter that had seen him turn over the ball twice, the much-maligned quarterback managed to damage Minnesota's postseason chances.

“We forced two takeaways in the fourth quarter and the offense went down and got us the lead,” Smith said. “All we had to do was execute for one more drive, but we didn't do it.”

The loss leaves Minnesota at 5-7 with a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

“This isn't going to be a loss you forget about,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “But we're all professionals here. We know we have to be ready on Thursday.

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Up-and-down Chargers hold off Bengals for 41-22 victory

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:59 PM ET By MITCH STACY, AP Sports Writer CINCINNATI

CINCINNATI (AP) — Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers know how to bounce back after a tough stretch.

They've been doing it all season long.

Herbert passed for three touchdowns and Tevaughn Campbell returned a Joe Mixon fumble 61 yards for a score, helping the Chargers hold off Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals for a 41-22 victory on Sunday.

Herbert was 26 of 35 for 317 yards as Los Angeles (7-5) rebounded after losing 28-13 at Denver last weekend. Mike Williams had five receptions for 110 yards, and Keenan Allen caught two of Herbert’s TD passes.

The Chargers got off to a 4-1 start this season, and then dropped four of six. So when Cincinnati turned a 24-0 deficit into a tight game, Herbert and company kept their composure — then put the Bengals away.

“There is no flinch," Herbert said. "You know, it’s the NFL. Teams are good. They’re gonna come back and they’re gonna do everything they can to get back in the game. I thought the defense did a great job of coming up with that stop, that turnover and turning it into a touchdown.”

Allen helped key Los Angeles’ fast start, scoring twice in the first quarter on a 4-yard reception and a 7-yarder. Herbert’s 44-yard TD to Jaylen Guyton made it 24-0 early in the second quarter.

The Bengals (7-5) stormed back from there, trying to rally for their third straight win. Mixon’s 7-yard TD run made it 24-22 with 7:10 left in the third. But Mixon was stuffed on the 2-point conversion try and Campbell’s fumble return in the fourth helped close it out for Los Angeles.

“Today was a little bit uneven at times, but our guys played extremely hard,” Los Angeles coach Brandon Staley said. “We were outstanding against the run, against a really, really good back. I thought we defended in the passing game. I really thought we rushed the quarterback at a high level. It was all hands on deck in the pass rush.”

The Bengals committed four of the game’s seven turnovers. Playing with a dislocated little finger on his throwing hand for much of the day, Burrow threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

After Campbell’s TD, Los Angeles forced Cincinnati to punt. Herbert then directed a four-play, 52-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD for Austin Ekeler.

The Bengals still had time, but Burrow was intercepted in the end zone by Chris Harris Jr. with 8:07 left. Cincinnati got the ball back again, but Burrow threw short to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-5.

“(Cincinnati) did a good job of switching up and talking at halftime," Herbert said. "They get paid to play defense, too, I thought we did a good job of taking what we got.”

Even after defensive end Joey Bosa went out with a head injury, the Chargers’ usually terrible run defense bottled up Mixon, who rushed for 54 yards after recording back-to-back 100-yard games.

Tee Higgins had nine receptions for 138 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown for Cincinnati’s first score of the game.

“That was a sloppy game all-around,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “To get in a hole the way we did and the things that I did were unacceptable. We didn’t deserve to win.”

THAT HURTS

Burrow dislocated his pinky finger when he was sacked and fumbled on the Bengals’ first offensive series. He said it popped back into place on its own and didn't affect this passing.

Burrow was 24 for 40 for 300 yards. He was sacked six times.

Trainers tried tape and gloves to stabilize the injury, but nothing worked. He finally just played with nothing protecting it.

“I can’t imagine it getting any worse," he said. "If it doesn’t get worse, I’ll play next week.”

INJURIES

Chargers: Bosa departed for concussion protocol in the first quarter. Staley said Bosa did not have a concussion but was held out the rest of the game anyway. ... DL Justin Jones suffered a knee injury in the third and didn't return.

Bengals: LB Markus Bailey and LB Logan Wilson left in the first half with shoulder injuries. ... CB Chidobe Awuzie left with a right-foot injury in the third quarter and didn't return.

UP NEXT

Chargers: Host the New York Giants next Sunday.

Bengals: Host San Francisco next Sunday.

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Winless no more: Lions top Vikes 29-27 for 1st W in Week 13

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:39 PM ET By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer DETROIT

DETROIT (AP) — Jared Goff dropped back, looked left and let the football loose that Amon-Ra St. Brown squeezed tight as he sat in the end zone.

That set off a roar in Ford Field loud enough it might’ve been heard on Motor City streets.

Detroit finally found a way when Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to St. Brown as time expired, lifting the previously winless Lions to a 29-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“It feels good to stand in front of you now,” Goff said to reporters before answering a question.

Not only was the finish dramatic, it was stunning.

Goff led the Lions on a 75-yard decisive possession without a timeout after Kirk Cousins threw a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson with 1:50 left. The Vikings failed on a 2-point conversion for the third time, and those missed opportunities proved costly.

Goff threw two touchdown passes in the first half to put Detroit ahead by 14 points, its biggest lead this season. Then he turned over the ball twice in the second half to help Minnesota rally.

He came through in the end, leading the long drive and delivering a sharp pass without pressure against a three-man rush to a rookie receiver, who took advantage of the Vikings secondary playing too deep in the end zone.

“It was actually crazy,” St. Brown said. “They were 3 or 4 yards in the end zone.”

The Lions (1-10-1) ended a 15-game winless streak that lasted 364 days since winning at Chicago last season, giving first-year coach Dan Campbell his first victory with the franchise.

“You want this so bad for the players because they’re the ones who put in all the hard work, the sweat, the tears," Campbell said. “When you lose, it hurts, but it’s also why winning is so great, because it isn’t easy to do.”

The Vikings (5-7) hurt their chances of earning a wild-card spot in the playoffs by losing a game they were favored to win by a touchdown.

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer defended the decision to drop eight defenders on the final snap, but lamented that the secondary didn't follow the plan on the play.

“We weren’t covering very well, so we felt we needed to get more guys into coverage,” he said.

Minnesota has the dubious distinction of being the first team Detroit beat this year because it missed chances to score more often, and allowed an offensively challenged team to score more than 17 points for the first time since Week 1.

The Vikings, perhaps lulled to sleep in the first half by the Lions' gray “Color Rush” alternate uniforms that looked like pajamas, woke up with 16 points in the first 18 minutes after halftime.

Red-zone woes, though, will haunt them when they look back at how they let the Lions win. Minnesota had the ball inside the Detroit 20 twice in the first quarter, settling for field goals and a 6-0 lead, and kicked another field goal in the third after a drive stalled at the Lions 12.

“We came out pretty slow and when we did get into the red zone, we only came away with three,” Jefferson said.

Goff finished 25 of 41 for 296 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He fumbled when Campbell chose to go on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 28 with 4:08 left and the play-action pass didn't fool the defense.

“I felt like I needed to be aggressive,” Campbell said.

Goff, drafted No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, had lost 12 straight starts for the longest skid for a quarterback taken first in the common draft era that started in 1967.

St. Brown had 10 receptions for 86 yards — and the winning touchdown was his first NFL score, ending Detroit's nine-game home losing streak dating to last year.

Cousins was 30 of 40 for 340 yards with two touchdowns and a fumble. Jefferson had 11 receptions for a career-high 182 yards, taking advantage of an increased role when Adam Thielen was injured early in the game.

“It’s obviously a tough loss, and I’m going to think about it for years,” Cousins said.

HEAVY HEARTS

The Lions and Vikings paid tribute to the victims of Tuesday’s school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, by wearing a gold “O” on the back of their helmets.

The tragedy took the lives of four high school students, including Tate Myre, a standout football player and wrestler.

Campbell dedicated the game ball to the Oxford community after the game.

NO CIGAR

The Vikings' eight-point loss last week at San Francisco was their largest margin of defeat. They also have setbacks by seven and four points, by three points in a pair of overtime games, and 34-33 at Arizona.

INJURIES

Vikings: Thielen injured his left ankle on the game’s opening drive and didn't return. He entered the game tied for the league lead with 10 receiving touchdowns. ... RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) was inactive.

Lions: DT Nick Williams (left hand, wrist) and CB Jerry Jacobs (neck) were hurt during the game, but did return. ... RB D'Andre Swift (shoulder) was inactive.

UP NEXT

Vikings: host Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

Lions: play at Denver next Sunday.

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Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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Murray throws for 2 TDs, runs for 2 as Cardinals beat Bears

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:30 PM ET By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer CHICAGO

CHICAGO (AP) — Kyler Murray was in prime position following an interception on the game's opening possession. He fumbled his first snap.

Good thing for him, he made the recovery. Three plays later, he celebrated a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins. And just like that, the Arizona Cardinals were on the way to another easy road win.

Murray threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in his return from an ankle injury, and the Cardinals beat the struggling Chicago Bears 33-22 on Sunday.

The Cardinals (10-2) got back Murray and three-time All-Pro receiver Hopkins after both players missed three games because of injuries, then rolled to an easy victory over Chicago (4-8). The NFC West leaders, who have the NFL's best record, intercepted Andy Dalton four times.

“A couple of months before the season, if you'd say ‘if you had this opportunity' yeah, we'd definitely take it," Murray said. “This is all the hard work we've put in. We understand what kind of guys we have in the locker room. We understood what we had before the season started. It was just about going and doing it and executing."

The Cardinals, who were coming off a bye, improved to 7-0 on the road, with each win by 10 points or more.

Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker picked off passes that deflected off the intended target on Chicago’s first two possessions. The Cardinals took advantage, with Murray connecting with Hopkins for a 20-yarder and scrambling 9 yards to the end zone. He also threw a 21-yard TD to James Conner in the second quarter to make it 21-7, sending Chicago to its sixth loss in seven games.

“They understand that it’s OK to be upset, it’s OK to be frustrated after a game, there’s a lot of emotions,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We all want to play better and coach better, they know that. But it is, in these times, you wanna make sure that these guys are understanding that it’s our job, our obligation, to make sure we give it everything we got.”

Murray completed 11 of 15 passes for 123 yards, giving him 10,092 in three seasons, on a cool and soggy afternoon. At 24 years, 120 days, he became the fourth-youngest player with 10,000 career yards passing, according to NFL research. Drew Bledsoe (23 years, 299 days), Jameis Winston (23 years, 303 days) and Dan Marino (24 years, 63 days) are the only younger players to reach it.

Murray also joined Cam Newton as the only players in NFL history with at least 10,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing in his first three seasons.

Hopkins, back from a hamstring injury, caught two passes for 32 yards. Conner added 75 yards rushing and 36 receiving. Byron Murphy Jr. and Zach Allen had interceptions.

“We knew it'd be grindy, wet, windy, cold,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “But I thought our defense played tremendous, creating those takeaways, giving us short fields on offense. We were able to capitalize a few times. Disjointed offensively, we didn't play as well we probably could have. Couldn't throw it as well as we would have liked. But I'm proud of the effort, proud that we got the win.”

The Bears were hoping to build on a last-second Thanksgiving win at Detroit. Instead, it was an all-too-familiar result for them.

Dalton, making his second straight start with Justin Fields sidelined because of broken ribs, matched a career high for interceptions. He injured his left hand trying to make a tackle after getting picked off a second time.

Dalton said he didn't think it affected his throwing, though he will have it checked out this week. He was 26 of 41 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

“You can’t do that,” Dalton said. "You can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win the game. That hurt us. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but you can’t do that and expect to win, especially against a really good team.”

PICK 'EM

The early interceptions by Thompson and Baker helped put Arizona in control.

Murray and Hopkins connected for a 20-yard touchdown on fourth down after Thompson picked off a short pass in Chicago territory that deflected off receiver Jakeem Grant's hands.

The Bears were threatening on their next possession, only to have Baker intercept a pass that hit off Cole Kmet's chest and return it 77 yards to the 15. That led to the 9-yard touchdown scramble by Murray to make it 14-0.

Chicago orchestrated a 77-yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes, with David Montgomery scoring from the 1. But the Cardinals answered. Conner, aided by Xavier Crawford’s missed tackle, turned a short pass by Murray into a 23-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.

INJURIES

The teams did not report any injuries.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: host the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 13.

Bears: visit Green Bay next Sunday.

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Minshew steps in, Eagles score on 1st 7 drives to beat Jets

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:29 PM ET By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Pro Football Writer EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Gardner Minshew stepped into the huddle for Philadelphia, kept things light — as he always does — and led the clock-eating Eagles on seven straight scoring drives.

No, there's no quarterback controversy. But Minshew Mania was back for a day, and the goofy-mustached backup might have helped save the Eagles' season.

Minshew was 20 of 25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas Goedert while starting in place of an injured Jalen Hurts in a 33-18 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.

“It felt so good, man,” said Minshew, who made his first start since Week 14 last season with Jacksonville. “It’s the best time I’ve had since we won last year. There’s nothing like that feeling. Glad to do it with this group of guys. They made it easy for me.”

Kenneth Gainwell ran for a score, Jake Elliott kicked four field goals and the Eagles (6-7) stayed in the NFC playoff mix by improving to 12-0 all-time against the Jets (3-9).

Hurts insisted during the week he would play despite an ankle injury. But coach Nick Sirianni said Hurts simply wasn't healthy enough and instead opted to start Minshew.

“I don’t think there was ever a definitive point where I said, ‘I’m going,’” Minshew said. "I looked around before that first drive and Jalen didn’t dress and I said, ‘OK, this is it.’”

And he kept going, helping Philadelphia bounce back from a 13-7 loss to the Giants last weekend at MetLife Stadium by slicing through the Jets' defense drive after drive. The only possession on which the Eagles didn't score was their last.

“Very proud of him the way he stepped in confidently,” Goedert said of Minshew. “It was everything I expected from him.”

But the win might have come at a cost as Miles Sanders left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury after running for 120 yards on 24 carries. Center Jason Kelce also limped off the field at the 2-minute warning. The Eagles have a bye-week break coming up, though.

Zach Wilson finished 23 of 38 for 226 yards and two touchdowns for the Jets, and also ran for a score. He was intercepted by Marcus Epps in the fourth quarter — and the Eagles scored on their seventh straight drive with Elliott’s 46-yarder.

It appeared the Jets and Eagles would be in for a slugfest as they both scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. It was the first game since the Elias Sports Bureau began tracking in 1978 that each team scored TDs on their first three drives.

Things slowed considerably after halftime as the Jets held the ball for only 70 seconds in the third quarter — just three plays for 3 yards. Meanwhile, the Eagles had 24 plays for 81 yards over 13:50 in the period. Philadelphia held the overall edge in time of possession: 35:36 to 24:24.

Five plays after Braxton Berrios returned the opening kickoff 79 yards, Wilson found Elijah Moore for a 3-yard touchdown. It was Wilson's first TD pass since Week 4.

But Alex Kessman — signed Saturday from the practice squad to replace the struggling Matt Ammendola — missed the extra point in his NFL debut.

Minshew and the Eagles answered with a 36-yard TD to Goedert. And Elliott made his extra-point try to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead.

Wilson and the Jets came right back, with the rookie quarterback scoring on a 1-yard run. But Kessman was wide left again on the extra point, prompting boos from frustrated Jets fans.

Minshew connected with a wide-open Goedert for a 25-yard touchdown. And Wilson marched down the field again, getting a 1-yard TD toss to Ryan Griffin on fourth down. The Jets went for 2, but Wilson's throw to Jamison Crowder was incomplete.

And the Eagles kept the scoring going with Gainwell squirting through the defense on an 18-yard touchdown run.

The back-and-forth TD streak ended on the fourth possession by the Jets, who were forced to punt with just over two minutes left before halftime.

The Eagles didn't get a touchdown on their fourth possession, either. But they still got points with Elliott's 31-yarder. Elliott added a 32-yarder on Philadelphia's first drive of the third quarter, pushing the Eagles' lead to 27-18.

“They had the ball to finish the first half," Jets coach Robert Saleh said. "Then they go eight minutes and then it’s a quick drive for us and then they had the ball again for however many minutes it was. So you're looking at over an hour of real time where our offense was on the field for just a quick minute.”

SPOTTY

The Jets thought they stopped the Eagles for the first time with 1:18 left in the third quarter when they stuffed Minshew on fourth-and-1. But Sirianni challenged the call, and the play was overturned on video review — giving Minshew a 2-yard gain as Saleh voiced his displeasure on the sideline.

That came four plays after the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-3 from New York's 47 and C.J. Mosley was called for encroachment — a penalty Saleh vehemently argued with officials.

Elliott capped that drive with a 43-yarder that made it 30-18.

“I'm not going to get into all that,” Saleh said of the questionable calls. “You guys saw the game.”

INJURIES

Eagles: LB Patrick Johnson (back) and CB Steven Nelson (shoulder) left in the first quarter and didn't return.

Jets: WR Corey Davis (groin), CB Michael Carter II (concussion) and RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle) all left with injuries.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Have their bye-week break and then return home to take on NFC East-rival Washington on Dec. 19.

Jets: Stay at home next Sunday to host the New Orleans Saints.

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Streak continues: Tua, Dolphins hold off Giants, win 20-9

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:21 PM ET By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — It was third-and-goal and Tua Tagovailoa was rolling left, waiting for someone to get open. The play looked as if it was falling apart, until he saw Isaiah Ford create a sliver of space for himself near the side of the end zone.

Touchdown.

Tagovailoa watched Ford catch the ball and began jumping around in celebration, punching the air. He had made something out of nothing — just as the Miami Dolphins have out of what was once a train wreck of a season.

A team that was once 1-7 and falling apart is now 6-7 and brimming with confidence. Tagovailoa threw a pair of short touchdown passes, and the Dolphins extended their winning streak to five games by topping the New York Giants 20-9 on Sunday.

“I’m glad we won, but I think there’s a lot of things that we left out there on the field, a lot of plays that we wish we’d have back," Tagovailoa said.

Mack Hollins had the other scoring grab for Miami. Jaylen Waddle had nine catches for 90 yards for the Dolphins, and rookie Jaelan Phillips had two more sacks — giving him five in his past two games.

Tagovailoa completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards and the two scores.

“We're just executing better," Miami linebacker Jerome Baker said.

Mike Glennon started at quarterback for the Giants in place of Daniel Jones, who was sidelined with a neck injury. Glennon completed 23 of 44 throws for 187 yards, and Saquon Barkley had 55 rushing yards on 11 carries.

Glennon finished the game, and the team said he was diagnosed postgame with a concussion.

“We’ve got to do a better job of taking advantage of all opportunities," Giants coach Joe Judge said. “We have to understand the margin for error in this league is so small."

New York never found the end zone against a defense that has yielded only 55 points during the five-game winning streak. Graham Gano had three field goals for the Giants, including a 51-yarder with 4:59 remaining to get New York within 17-9.

The Giants had a chance to force a three-and-out about a minute later, but Tagovailoa found DeVante Parker with a 16-yard pass that required an acrobatic sideline catch to keep the drive alive. And on another third down with 3:14 left, Tagovailoa lofted one perfectly for Mike Gesicki for a 17-yard gain.

New York was out of timeouts, unable to do anything but watch the Dolphins run the clock down to 1:16 before sending Jason Sanders on for a 48-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 11 and sealing the outcome.

“We talk a lot about those late-game situations, how important they are and finishing the game off the right way offensively, defensively and the kicking game," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I thought we did that across the board."

The Dolphins took the lead late in the first half on a 5-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Hollins, the capper to a 14-play, 89-yard drive. It was quintessential Miami of late, the formula that has worked with Tagovailoa, relying on the short ball to chip, chip, chip away.

He was 11 for 12 on the drive for 77 yards, only one of those throws going for more than 10 yards, six of them going for no more than 6 yards. The only true deep shot in the series came after the Giants jumped offside; Tagovailoa knew he had a free play and let fly with an incompletion that didn’t count anyway.

Ford's TD catch capped a seven-play, 61-yard drive with 11:13 left, and that's what Tagovailoa saw reason to celebrate.

“I think Tua does a good job of reading it and he’s also a very accurate passer," Giants cornerback James Bradberry. “He has a quick release, too. That’s what makes it tough to defend it."

INJURIES

Giants: WR Kenny Golladay (ribs) left the game in the first half, then returned to the game after halftime. Judge said Jones will be evaluated again Monday, like all players are, before the Giants make a determination on his status for the coming week.

Dolphins: Waddle was shaken up in the fourth quarter, pointing to his left knee after a catch. He limped off the field as fans chanted his name, and as he waved his arm to encourage more volume he started walking more briskly and then began to jog. The Dolphins said he was cramping. ... RB Patrick Laird (knee) was lost in the first quarter, on a day when RB Phillip Lindsay was unavailable because of an ankle issue.

WELL BEHAVED

The first penalty of the game came with 1:55 left in the first half, when the Giants’ Leonard Williams jumped offside. The second penalty, and first on the Dolphins, happened with 7:18 left in the third quarter when left tackle Liam Eichenberg was guilty of a false start.

UP NEXT

Giants: visit the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 12.

Dolphins: bye week, then host the New York Jets on Dec. 19.

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Taylor's two-TD day helps Colts rout woeful Texans 31-0

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:20 PM ET By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer HOUSTON

HOUSTON (AP) — Darius Leonard and the Indianapolis Colts defense had one goal entering Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

“Before we even went out there, I said: ‘If we don’t shut these guys out, we didn’t do good enough,'" he said.

The star linebacker helped the Colts accomplish that, leading a defense that forced two turnovers in a 31-0 victory. It is the first time Indy has held a team scoreless since beating Dallas 23-0 on Dec. 16, 2018, and the team's first shutout on the road since a 6-0 victory at New England in 1992.

“The defense was unreal," coach Frank Reich said. “That’s an epic defensive performance from really start to finish."

Jonathan Taylor ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns to lead Indy's offense in the rout.

“The coaches are putting together great schemes," Taylor said. “A lot of runs they’re opening up like the Red Sea, so I’m not getting touched for a few yards."

The Texans turned the ball over twice in the first quarter and quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched in the third quarter as Houston (2-10) lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

“We got outcoached and outplayed," coach David Culley said.

Jonathan Taylor, who leads the NFL in yards rushing, has 16 rushing touchdowns this season, which ties the franchise record set by Lenny Moore in 1964. It’s the 10th consecutive game in which he’s ran for a touchdown, the longest streak in the NFL since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 18 straight in the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

The Colts improved to 7-0 this season in games in which the 22-year-old Taylor runs for at least 100 yards.

Carson Wentz threw for 158 yards and a touchdown for the Colts (7-6) before being replaced by Sam Ehlinger with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the game long decided.

Things went wrong for Houston immediately with Tyrod Taylor throwing an interception on the team’s first play. It was initially ruled an incompletion, but the Colts challenged the call and the review showed that Kenny Moore grabbed it just before falling out of bounds.

The Colts took a 7-0 lead when Jonathan Taylor took the snap out of the wildcat and ran 1 yard for the score.

The second big mistake by the Texans came on the fourth play of the next drive when Pharaoh Brown fumbled after a catch and it was recovered by the Colts.

They failed to capitalize on that mistake when Michael Badgley’s 35-yard field goal sailed wide left.

Indianapolis extended the lead to 14-0 when Wentz found Ashton Dulin in the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown just before halftime. The Colts kept that drive alive on a sneak by Wentz on fourth-and-1.

Jonathan Taylor’s second TD run came on the opening possession of the third quarter to push the lead to 21-0. It was a 3-yard run that capped a 75-yard drive.

Tyrod Taylor was evaluated for an injury after Houston’s first possession of the third quarter, but the team said he was available to play, and it was Culley’s decision to insert backup Davis Mills in his place. He was 5 for 13 for 45 yards before being replaced.

Culley said after the game that Taylor hyperextended his wrist and the trainers weren't sure that he could grip the ball, but that he could have played if they needed him.

Culley has been adamant all season that Taylor would be Houston's starter if he was healthy, but he certainly wasn't as supportive of the veteran after Sunday's loss.

“We’re just going to look at the whole situation," he said. “I’ve got to look at the video to see exactly what happened. ... I’ve got to look at Tyrod while he was in there and look at Davis while he was in there and see where we need to go from there."

After the two early turnovers, the Texans punted on four consecutive drives before Mills entered the game with about four minutes left in the third quarter. The QB change didn't do anything to help Houston's offense and the Texans punted twice after Mills took over and turned the ball over on downs on his other three possessions.

Mills was 6 of 14 for 49 yards.

The boos from the sparse crowd began early and grew louder with each terrible offensive possession as the Texans were shut out for the second time this season. It's their second loss to the Colts this year after they got a 31-3 victory in Indianapolis in October.

The Colts outgained Houston 389-141 and Indianapolis had 26 first downs to just 9 by the Texans.

A 23-yard field goal with about nine minutes left made it 24-0 and rookie Deon Jackson added a 3-yard TD run with two minutes to go.

TAKE IT AWAY

The Colts lead the NFL with 29 takeaways this season and Sunday was the 14th consecutive game in which they've forced at least turnover going back to last season. That's the longest active streak in the NFL.

SUSPENDED

Houston linebacker Zach Cunningham was inactive after being suspended for violating team rules. The move comes after he was suspended for a quarter in a game earlier this season for the same thing. His punishment comes a week after safety Justin Reid was suspended against the Jets for violating team rules.

Culley said he was surprised and disappointed that his team continues to have these issues.

UP NEXT

Colts: Have a bye next week and host New England Dec. 18.

Texans: Host Seattle next Sunday.

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Dynamic duo: Brady, Gronk lead Bucs past Falcons 30-17

2.8d ago 12/5/2021 4:19 PM ET By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer ATLANTA

ATLANTA (AP) — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski teamed up for more history Sunday.

Rarely have two guys had such a connection.

Brady threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns — two of them to his longtime favorite target — and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to the brink of clinching the NFC South title with a 30-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

The 44-year-old Brady completed 38 of 51, including touchdowns of 27 and 11 yards to Gronkowski — their first scoring passes since Week 2 against the Falcons.

The prolific duo has combined for 90 regular-season TDs, passing Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates for No. 2 in NFL history. Only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have more, hooking up for 112 scoring passes.

Counting the playoffs, Brady has thrown 104 TD passes to Gronk.

“Tom knows what he's thinking before he does,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Tom threw a couple of balls before Gronk was ready, because he knew where he was going. There's great chemistry out there.”

Gronkowski missed four games this season after a devastating hit against the Rams left him with fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

But he's going to keep catching passes from Brady as long as he can.

“We keep each other going," Gronkowski said.

Added Brady, “He makes it easy for the quarterback.”

Brady shook off a huge blunder in the final minute of the first half, when 278-pound defensive lineman Marlon Davidson picked off a screen pass and glided 3 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that cut Tampa Bay's lead to 20-17 at the break.

The Bucs (9-3) won their third straight game and pushed their division lead to four games over Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans (all 5-7) with five games remaining.

Brady improved to 10-0 in his career against the Falcons, including four straight wins over the last two seasons since moving from New England to Tampa Bay.

“He's just been on a better team for a long time,” Arians said bluntly.

The Bucs came out throwing. For the first time since 2004, they passed the ball on their first 13 plays of a game — accounting for the entire 75-yard touchdown drive on their opening possession.

Chris Godwin had five catches on the opening drive and finishing with a franchise-record 15 receptions for 143 yards.

Leonard Fournette capped the first drive with a 3-yard touchdown catch, making a slick, one-handed grab. Tampa Bay's second possession also ended with a 3-yard TD pass, this one hauled in by Cameron Brate.

The Falcons scored what would be their only offensive touchdown on their opening possession, doing most of their damage on the ground.

Cordarrelle Patterson broke off a 39-yard scamper before Mike Davis ran for a 17-yard score.

Trailing 13-7, Atlanta squandered a chance to pull ahead after having first-and-goal from inside the 1.

Matt Ryan lost a couple of yards falling on a bobbled snap, sandwiched around a pair of incompletions that forced the Falcons to settle for Younghoe Koo's 21-yard field goal.

Brady's first TD to Gronkowski had the Bucs on the verge of a blowout. But Tampa Bay got greedy near the end of the half, sending the Falcons to a locker room on quite a high after Davidson's pick-6.

It didn't carry over. The Falcons were held scoreless in the second half.

Ryan was sacked five times and called for intentional grounding. Russell Gage lost a fumble in Tampa Bay territory when it looked as if the Falcons might be driving for a go-ahead score in the third quarter.

Ryan moaned about the missed opportunities.

”When you’re playing against a really good football team ... you know you have to come away with touchdowns," he said. “That was disappointing for sure."

GODWIN'S RECORD

The Bucs receiver didn't realize he had broken the team record for catches until someone told him coming off the field afterward.

“I thought I had 10 or so,” he said with a smile.

Actually, he eclipsed the record of 13 that was shared by James Wilder and Earnest Graham.

“This is the most important time of year,” Godwin said. “I'm trying to do whatever I can to help my team win.”

DAVIS RETURNS

Tampa Bay cornerback Carlton Davis came up with a huge play in his first game back from injured reserve.

Davis, playing for the first time since he sustained a calf injury in Week 4, recovered Gage's fumble at the Bucs 37 after Pierre Desir punched the ball away from the Falcons receiver.

“When you see the ball move, you've got to go get it,” Davis said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

INJURY REPORT

Buccaneers: CB Jamel Dean was knocked out of the game with a concussion. RB Ronald Jones had to come out because of an illness.

Falcons: S Richie Grant and LB Adetokunbo Ogundeji both hobbled off the field with ankle injuries.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: Return home next Sunday to face AFC powerhouse Buffalo.

Falcons: Travel to Charlotte next Sunday to face the Carolina Panthers in another NFC South game.

___

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Offensive coordinator Brady relieved of duties by Panthers

2.9d ago 12/5/2021 2:29 PM ET CHARLOTTE, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers have relieved offensive coordinator Joe Brady of his duties.

The team announced the change Sunday.

“I met with Joe this morning and informed him that I have decided to make a change,” coach Matt Rhule said in a statement. “I’m very grateful to him for his time and effort in helping us get established over this past year and a half.”

Offensive assistant Jeff Nixon will take Brady's place for the rest of the season.

Brady was considered a major hire by Rhule before the 2020 season. He was the coordinator of LSU's prolific offense with quarterback Joe Burrow in 2019 when the Tigers won the national title. Then 30 years old, Brady was the NFL's youngest coordinator.

But the offense has struggled in Carolina. Entering their bye this week, the Panthers (5-7) ranked 28th with 308.7 yards per game, and 23rd in scoring 19.7 points each game. They started the season 3-0, but star running back Christian McCaffrey then was injured and the team has spiraled since. McCaffrey is hurt again and done for the season.

Rhule recently brought in Cam Newton at quarterback with Sam Darnold injured. Neither has done particularly well, but it's Brady who was let go.

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Broncos rule out ailing running back Melvin Gordon at K.C.

3.6d ago 12/4/2021 8:19 PM ET By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer ENGLEWOOD, Colo.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Ailing running back Melvin Gordon III was unable to practice Saturday and was ruled out for the Denver Broncos' Sunday night showdown at Kansas City with the AFC West lead on the line.

That means rookie running back Javonte Williams will get his first career start when the Broncos (6-5) face the Chiefs (7-4) with a chance to move atop the division.

Gordon, the Broncos' leading touchdown scorer, is dealing with shoulder and hip injuries that prevented him from practicing all week

Coach Vic Fangio said during the week that if Gordon couldn't play, Williams would get the bulk of the carries against the Chiefs with veteran running back Mike Boone also in the mix.

On Saturday, the Broncos promoted running back Damarea Crockett from their practice squad and waived wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland.

Crockett is a first-year pro from Missouri who has bounced between Denver's practice and active roster. He has appeared in eight games with the Broncos this season, totaling 130 snaps on special teams.

Gordon has five TD runs and two TD catches this season to go with 605 rushing yards and 166 receiving yards.

Williams, a second-round pick out of North Carolina, has rushed for 568 yards and two touchdowns on 117 carries with 27 receptions for 193 yards and a TD.

Williams led the nation in missed tackles last season and the 42 missed tackles he’s forced his rookie year are second in the NFL to Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos are trying to snap an 11-game skid against the Chiefs, who are seeking their sixth consecutive AFC West title.

The Chiefs will be without starting cornerback Rashad Fenton and right tackle Lucas Niang against the Broncos, raising the possibility former All-Pro lineman Kyle Long could play for the first time in two years.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday that Fenton, the NFL’s top-rated cornerback according to some grading services, would miss the game with a knee injury he incurred two weeks ago against Dallas. Niang has been dealing with a rib injury.

Long spent last season in retirement then returned this spring, only to fracture a bone in his knee during a workout in June.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arniestapleton and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/arniestapleton