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  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Vikings' ship would sail with loss to lowly Bucs
    By The Sports Xchange

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked the dreaded "must-win" question Wednesday - four days before traveling to Tampa Bay to play a Buccaneers team that has the league's worst defense and the NFC's worst record (1-5).

    • Typically, when a coach is asked to declare a "must-win" situation, his team is falling rapidly behind in its division and has recently experienced some blown opportunities.

      Check and check. The Vikings are 2-5, three games behind the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, and have lost to both division leaders. They also are coming off a stunning defensive collapse that handed the Buffalo Bills a 17-16 win in the closing seconds of last Sunday's game.

      So, what does the coach believe? Must win?

      "I hate getting into the 'must win' things, but it's important for our football team that we win," Zimmer said. "It's probably more important the process of playing well, doing things right, eliminating penalties, the things we did last week that didn't allow us to win the football game."

      A year ago, the Vikings were 1-6. So not much has changed record-wise since Zimmer replaced the fired Leslie Frazier, who's now the Bucs' defensive coordinator. The Vikings are still struggling in three key areas: Getting off the field on third - and, heck, fourth - down, turning the ball over at the quarterback position and protecting the quarterback.

      The area that is most concerning would be the latter. The Vikings are last in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. They've given up 19 sacks the past three weeks and, overall on the season, left tackle Matt Kalil is tied for last in sacks allowed (eight) and pressures (27).

      "Some of it is we are getting beat (on the line) physically," Zimmer said. "It's not so much the stunts and the games, I don't believe. It's sometimes the protection breaks down because of other factors, if that makes sense.

      "I mean sometimes guys get beat, that happens all of the time. Sometimes the protection might be turned the way and a guy turned too far, wasn't necessarily that he got beat but he went further than he was supposed to go. I can go through a ton of them. One time a guy a stepped on another guy's foot and it caused him, so there are a multitude of things that happen and to try to pin it on one thing is not, I don't believe, the right way."

      The Bucs' defense ranks 25th in sacks per pass play while no defender has more than two sacks. Overall, the Bucs rank last in the league in yards allowed (422.8) and points allowed (34.0) per game.

      So while it's not yet "must-win" time, another loss on this particular weekend certainly will increase the field of those questioning the direction the team is heading.

      --TE Kyle Rudolph, who has missed the past four games because of hernia surgery, did not practice Wednesday and is still a few weeks from returning to practice.

      --OLB Gerald Hodges, who missed last week's game because of a hamstring injury, did not practice. Hodges played most of the Lions game on the damaged hamstring two weeks ago, so his recovery has been slow. His exit coincided with starter Chad Greenway re-entering the starting lineup after missing three games because of broken ribs and a broken hand.

      --C John Sullivan, who left Sunday's game with a concussion late in the first quarter, did not practice. He passed the first stage of the NFL's concussion protocol and is expected to play on Sunday. If he doesn't play, the Vikings have a capable backup in Joe Berger, a 10-year veteran.

      --DE Corey Wootton, who missed Sunday's game because of a lower back injury, was limited in practice. With him sidelined last week, rookie third-round pick Scott Crichton got eight snaps, his first action since the opener.

      --DT Sharrif Floyd, who played Sunday despite being listed as questionable because of an elbow injury, now has an ankle injury that caused him to be limited in practice. If Floyd can't play, the Vikings have a viable option in Tom Johnson, who has been a head-turner in limited action in the nickel rush packages.

      --G Vladimir Ducasse, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury in the first quarter, was limited in practice. He's expected to play.

      --CB Jabari Price was limited because of a hamstring injury. He played one snap at corner and saw time on special teams a week ago.

      --S Antone Exum, one of the team's busier special teams players, was limited because of an ankle injury.

      SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 31-22. The Buccaneers have won the past six meetings, going back to the 2001, the last year the teams were together in the NFC Central. The series is tied 13-13 in games played Tampa.

      GAME PLAN: The Vikings' main priority is protecting rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been sacked 13 times the past two weeks. They'll start by trying to duplicate their running performance against Buffalo's then-No. 1-ranked run defense (29 carries, 158 yards, 5.4-yard average). If they can do that while protecting Bridgewater and winning the turnover battle like they did last week (4-2), they should be able to beat a weak Bucs team even on the road.


      Bucs DE Michael Johnson, who is tied for the team lead in sacks with only two, vs. Vikings LT Matt Kalil, who has struggled for most of the season, particularly the past two games. Kalil was punished for 1.5 sacks against the Lions' Ziggy Ansah two weeks ago and 1.5 more sacks by Jerry Hughes last week in Buffalo.

      Bucs WR Vincent Jackson, who has a team-high 25 catches for 344 yards and two touchdowns, vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes, who has played well with a team-high seven passes defensed but was beaten for two critical completions in Buffalo's game-winning, 80-yard drive in the final three minutes. Poor technique cost Rhodes from making a better play on the ball on a deep ball to the 2-yard line and also the game-winning 2-yard touchdown to Sammy Watkins with 1 second left. Jackson is a veteran who will test Rhodes' relative inexperience.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    49ers lag at bye with tough schedule ahead
    By The Sports Xchange

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh instructed his players to relax and enjoy the time off during the team's bye this week. But the fact is: There is reason for concern.

    • After all, if the 49ers spent their vacation lying on their backs, they did so looking up at six teams in the NFC standings. That would put them on the outside looking in if the postseason started today.

      Alas, a 4-3 record doesn't sound so bad when you consider the 49ers, according to the calculations of nationally respected analyst Jeff Sagarin, played the NFL's second-hardest schedule (behind Kansas City) in the first seven weeks of the season.

      Ahead lies seven consecutive non-winning teams before a tough two-week conclusion.

      Maybe that's why Harbaugh's final instructions to his guys Monday morning were: "Enjoy their families, enjoy their children if they have them, play with their kids."

      Be forewarned, however: The upcoming schedule isn't as cushy as it sounds. Included in the next seven games are two matchups with Seattle (3-3) and long trips to New Orleans (3-4) and New York (Giants, 3-4).

      The regular season ends at home against San Diego (5-2) and Arizona (5-1). If it takes 10-6 to make the playoffs in the NFC, the 49ers would need to win at least two games in that Seahawks-Saints-Giants sequence in order to have the luxury of splitting the two season-enders and still get in.

      Rounding out the remaining schedule is St. Louis (2-4), Washington (2-5) and Oakland (0-6).

      Statistically speaking, the 49ers wouldn't seem like a team that hasn't played playoff-caliber football this season. Entering their bye, they rank ninth in total offense and sixth in total defense.

      Breaking those numbers down, one area of concern can be identified on each side of the ball.

      The 49ers are barely average (14th of 32) in passing offense. They've allowed the fifth-most sacks (19) and have just the 20th-best completion percentage (62.9).

      Defensively, they are average (16th of 32) against the pass. They've allowed the fifth-most touchdown passes (13) and have just the 21st-most sacks (12).

      Progress report on 49ers who missed all or part of Sunday's 42-17 debacle at Denver:

      --Expected to return for next game (Nov. 2 vs. Rams) -- guard Mike Iupati (concussion), inside linebacker Patrick Willis (toe), cornerback Chris Culliver (hamstring), cornerback Chris Cook (hamstring) and safety Jimmie Ward (quad).

      --Scheduled to practice for first time this season next week -- Running back Marcus Lattimore (knee).

      --Slated to return Nov. 16 (at Giants) -- Outside linebacker Aldon Smith (suspension).

      --Hopeful of returning on or around Dec. 1 -- Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee).

      The 49ers lost starting center Daniel Kilgore to season-ending leg surgery in the Denver game. Rookie Marcus Martin is expected to start in his place.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Steelers hope home cooking will turn around season
    By The Sports Xchange

    PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have an opportunity with two home games to finally make a statement in the AFC North when they play Indianapolis and Baltimore, two 5-2 teams, at Heinz Field in the next two weeks.

    • At 4-3, the Steelers need at the very least a split. A sweep, though, would put them right up there among teams with the better records in the AFC.

      But quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts would seem to be everything the Steelers cannot stop. The Steelers have major issues on defense, particularly in their secondary, and Luck may find it easy pickings in Sunday's 4:25 p.m. ET matchup.

      "We have to work to minimize Andrew Luck and what he is able to do with his legs and with his arm, and how he administers the offense," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

      That would seem to be too much to ask a defense that has only 10 sacks, four interceptions and cornerbacks in disarray. Neither of the two starting corners to open the season will start Sunday. Ike Taylor has been out with a broken forearm and Cortez Allen was demoted from starter to making appearances only in the nickel defense last Sunday.

      Safety Troy Polamalu has become so poor at covering receivers that they try to minimize what he does in that area by keeping him in the linebackers' zone near the line of scrimmage.

      Luck has a bevy of receivers -- wide, tight and running backs -- to throw to and the Steelers have not seen the likes of him yet. Baltimore's Joe Flacco is the only top 20-rated quarterback they faced so far.

      They also are without starting nose tackle Steve McLendon. Because of that, they played 36-year-old defensive end Brett Keisel nearly the entire game last Sunday, and he was one of their best defenders, swiping a pass and pressuring the quarterback.

      They will need to force a few turnovers -- Luck has thrown seven interceptions -- and not give any up in order to pull this one off.

      "They are a formidable group on offense with a variety of weapons with a guy under center that has proven that he is capable of doing it at a high level," Tomlin said.

      "They are up in the 40s in terms of some of the points that they have scored in recent weeks. They average 37 minutes in terms of time of possession. We have to work to minimize that. Obviously, it's going to require a great effort by us."

      In news off the field, wide receiver Antonio Brown cursed officials on Twitter, where he included a photo of him with both feet inbounds on a catch that was ruled a touchdown Monday night but overturned by officials at NFL headquarters. He backed up what he said.

      "When you're passionate about something, you speak your mind," Brown said.

      However, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino used the league's television appendage, NFL Network, to show why Brown's single frame representation of the play was inaccurate. Blandino stood by the official call.

      "When you look at these plays, it's hard to take a still shot and have that be definitive evidence," Blandino said during an interview on Tuesday night's NFL Total Access on NFL Network and in a video that is posted on

      "When we look at this play, I can freeze it on the video at that point, and it looks like the foot is in, but the foot's not down yet.

      "Now when we take it a couple of frames forward, you can see the foot up against the white. So you gotta be really careful with still frames and photos and making calls like this. I'll show you one other look from behind the play where you can watch the foot being out of bounds there, and then when it comes up, you'll see clearly, in the white, that's an incomplete pass."

      NOTES: OT Marcus Gilbert (concussion) will have to pass all of his tests this week before he is cleared to play again. He did not practice Wednesday. ... LB Ryan Shazier (MCL sprain) has not played since the third game of the season. He was supposed to practice Wednesday but left early and it does not appear he will be ready to return to the lineup. ... SS Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) went through a limited practice Wednesday and he has a chance to play after missing the past two games. ... CB Ike Taylor, who broke his forearm in the third game of the season, went through a limited practice for the first time on Wednesday, but will not play in the game. ... NT Steve McLendon (shoulder) did not practice.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Countering Cards: Eagles insert wrinkle to spring McCoy
    By The Sports Xchange

    PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy is coming off his most productive game of the season - a 149-yard rushing performance in a 27-0 win over the New York Giants in Week 6.

    • If he can come close to duplicating that performance Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in the desert, there's a pretty good chance the Philadelphia Eagles will improve their record to 6-1.

      But it won't be easy. The Cardinals own the NFL's best run defense, holding opponents to an average of 72.5 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry.

      "We just want to go in there and win the game," said McCoy, who rushed for a league-best 1,607 yards last season, but was averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season before the Giants game.

      "I'm sure they'll key out and try to take the run away. But we just have to go play ball. They're a good defense. They play well together. They lost a lot of guys who were very good. For other guys to step in and make plays just shows you a lot about that defense."

      The Eagles still are missing two of their best offensive linemen - All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis and invaluable center Jason Kelce. That's a big reason McCoy has struggled running the ball.

      But coach Chip Kelly did two things against the Giants that kick-started the ground game. He inserted a counter play into the game plan. And he had his quarterback, Nick Foles, line up more under center and less in shotgun.

      "(The counter) was something to get me to the open edge," McCoy said. "To give me some one-on-one opportunities. A lot of teams have been bringing a safety down (in the box). This was something coach came up with to get me some space to work."

      "We've had (the counter plays) for a few weeks," center David Molk said. "But it's the first time we really used it. It's really to take the pressure off the front side of our zone. Because if they're going to heavily weigh (their defense to one side), you go the other way, right? Common sense."

      In their first five games, the Eagles never ran more than seven plays with Foles under center. Against the Giants, he was under center for 22 of 71 offensive plays.

      Thirteen of those 22 plays were McCoy runs. He gained 75 yards on those runs.

      McCoy said he prefers having Foles under center rather than in shotgun.

      "That really helped out," he said. "Just because, sometimes, (when the quarterback is under center), you can see it better. You can see the cuts better, the lanes better. If there is some pressure, you can adjust to it and kind of move the way you want to move.

      "Whereas in the gun, you're already kind of going sideways. And if there is a little pressure, it knocks you back off your course. Under center, you can get back to it.

      "I like under center. I like 'em both. But I would take under center more."

      Molk said the main reason the Eagles decided to run more plays under center was because "we didn't want them to know where we were going. If we were in the gun, they had a key on which way we were going to run the ball and how we were going to run the ball. With Nick under center, there's a little more indecision (by the defense). Which is good for us."

      --The Eagles are hopeful of getting linebacker Mychal Kendricks back for Sunday's road game in Arizona. Kendricks, who has missed four games with a calf injury, is their best defensive player.

      "If you get a starter back and a starter with his athleticism, it will help," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Especially in the dime packages, the nickel packages. (The Cardinals) go to four- and five-wide receiver sets more than most teams we faced. So it will be a game that we've got a matchup on five wide receivers sometimes."

      --RB Darren Sproles, who suffered an MCL knee sprain against the Giants in Week 6, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. He is hopeful he'll be able to play Sunday against the Cardinals. If he does play, it's uncertain whether he would return punts.

      --C Jason Kelce, who has missed the last three games after having surgery to repair a sports hernia, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but he will not play this week against the Cardinals and probably not next week against Houston. He is shooting for a Week 10 return against Carolina.

      --RB/KR Chris Polk practiced fully Wednesday and appears to be a go for Sunday's game against Arizona. Polk, who had a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season, has been hampered by a hamstring injury since the beginning of training camp.

      --G Evan Mathis returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis. Mathis is recovering from an MCL knee sprain. He is on injured reserve-designated for return. Wednesday was the first day he could resume practicing. He can be activated in Week 10 and likely will be.

      SERIES HISTORY: 115th meeting. The Cardinals lead the series, 57-55-2. The Eagles have won just two of the past six meetings. One of them was the most recent meeting - last December in Philadelphia. The Eagles won that game, 24-21. It helped them make the playoffs and ended up killing the Cardinals' postseason hopes.

      GAMEPLAN: The Eagles' rushing attack has been inconsistent this season, mainly because of injuries to their offensive line. But they rushed for 203 yards in their 27-0 Week 6 win over the Giants, and will come out and try to establish the run early Sunday against an Arizona defense that is No. 1 against the run. On defense, the Eagles will try to get pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer and force him into some mistakes.


      --Eagles nickel CB Brandon Boykin vs. Cardinals slot WR Larry Fitzgerald. Boykin is one of the league's top inside corners. Fitzgerald has 10 touchdown catches in six career games against the Eagles.

      --Eagles RB LeSean McCoy vs. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Stopping McCoy will be Bowles' No. 1 priority. His defense is ranked first in the league against the run.

      --Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. Maclin is on pace for his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Peterson is one of the league's best corners.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Jones still believes in injury-riddled Falcons offense
    By The Sports Xchange

    LONDON -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is not throwing in the towel after the team's porous 2-5 start.

    • Jones has 49 catches for 676 yards and three touchdowns as he's coming back from a broken foot that ended his 2013 season after five games.

      However, the team's offensive woes - beginning with five offensive linemen on injured reserve - have slowed their efforts again.

      "It comes with it," Jones said. "We can't control injuries. We had a lot of them on our offensive line this year. We just have to stay positive and find ways to get the ball out of Matt's hands early."

      Jones believes he can be available early against a lot of man-to-man coverage.

      "Even though we can't take those deep throws down the field, those shot plays, including myself, we just have to catch the ball on slants, hitches," Jones said. "Just routine catches. We just have to catch those balls and beat man-to-man."

      With such leaky pass protection, Jones believes the offense can make defenses pay.

      "The corners are kind of sitting on us because they feel like they're getting a lot of pressure on (quarterback) Matt (Ryan) right now, and everybody's just sitting on us," Jones said. "So they're like, 'ok, just make this tackle.' We just have to catch the ball, break a tackle and we can make them pay."

      Jones, for whom the Falcons traded five draft picks to move up from 27th to sixth overall in 2011 to draft, doesn't shy away from his burden.

      "I just got to continue to do my job. I can't go out there and be Superman," Jones said. "I want to, but as long as I'm doing my job and all my other teammates are doing their jobs we'll be successful. We've just been so inconsistent early on. It's a play here, a play there. Like I said, we've just got to be consistent."

      The Falcons were nearly shut out for the first time in 10 seasons last week. They put together a late touchdown drive to avert a shutout on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White.

      There were some keys to the late drive.

      "We blocked them up, and Matt had a little bit more time to get the ball out of his hands," Jones said. "We kind of knew where he was going early on. One high safety, I kind of have a double move, kind of quick, and it was like 34 yards or so, but we just got to be consistent. The plays are there, we're just not making them as an offensive unit. We're missing them by inches. We're missing them."

      The Falcons are about to start their third center and fifth different offensive line combination against stingy Detroit, which ranks No. 1 in overall defense while giving up an average of 290.3 yards per game.

      "We definitely have to get off to a fast start," Jones said. "We have so many play makers on our team. We can't go out there and get three-and-outs. I mean that's unacceptable.

      "We hear from everybody else, 'Aw, y'all not good. Y'all not this.' We're harder on ourselves than anyone is hard on us. We're just too good to be doing that. Like I said, we're missing by inches every time, or somebody's missing their block, or the receivers we're not picking up the right guy, we're dropping balls, routine catches."

      Jones senses that the Falcons can pull it all together.

      "We have to change that," Jones said. "We're a scoring team; we're a high-temp team. We practice that way. We just have to keep going. We just have to stay positive and keep working and get this thing turned around."

      --During the Falcons' open portion of practice Wednesday, offensive lineman Harland Gunn was working on his snaps at center with starting quarterback Matt Ryan at the Arsenal Football Club training ground.

      Gunn was inactive last week against Baltimore.

      With Konz out, Gunn gives the Falcons a veteran option to play center. Stone finished the Baltimore game, playing 56 of the 66 offensive snaps.

      "I think James is a very good young football player that understands the game," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He impressed us early on with his ability to identify fronts and change protections. He's an intelligent young guy, but he just doesn't have any experience."

      Ryan said he's glad the team is away and in a hotel because he has had extra time to watch film with Stone make sure they are on the same page.

      "James has done a great job since the first day he walked into the building," Ryan said. "He's a smart guy and has picked up our offense very quickly. I think (line coach) Mike Tice and (assistant line coach) Wade (Harman) have done a good job of working with our young guys."

      MEDICAL WATCH: WR Harry Douglas (foot) did not practice on Wednesday. Douglas, who has 12 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown, was injured in the third game of the season against Tampa Bay and has been inactive for the past four games. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux did not practice on Wednesday with a foot injury. ... Jones (ankle), LG Justin Blalock (back) and LB Prince Shembo were limited in practice.

      SERIES HISTORY: The Lions lead the series 23-12, but the Falcons have won the past three games including a 34-21 win in 2008, 23-16 in 2011 and 31-18 in 2012. In the previous meeting, Ryan completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns.

      GAME PLAN: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are both expecting the Lions to attack the line of scrimmage and leave the wide receivers in one-on-one situations.

      "We're going to make the adjustments," Ryan said. "That's a big part of what we've been in the past as an explosive offense. We've got to find ways to create more explosive plays."

      Since the injuries started to mount in the Minnesota game, the Falcons have scored 28, 20, 13 and 7 points. The team's net yards have similarly decreased from 411 yards, 397, 287 to 254.

      Ryan passed for a season-low 228 yards last week against the Ravens.

      We need to score points early," Ryan said. "We need to be in games as opposed to playing from behind. We've had to do that a little bit the last couple of weeks."

      Ryan has a few other things to jumpstart the offense.

      "The other thing I think we need to do is that we have to stay ahead of the chains," Ryan said. "I think on first down and second downs, we need to be more efficient. We have to get into more situations where it's conducive to running the football."


      Lions RB Joique Bell, who ran strong as the lead back against the Saints, vs. Falcons LB Paul Worrilow, who's second in the league with 54 tackles: Bell, who had 48 yards rushing and scored on a 1-yard run, played 52 of a possible 70 offensive snaps (74 percent) against the Saints. Lions coach Jim Caldwell insisted that Bush's limited role was due to injury, not lack of production. Worrilow posted his 11th career game with double-digit tackles, notching 10 tackles (three solo) at Baltimore. He has recorded double-digit tackles in four games this season.

      Lions WR Golden Tate, who's stepping up with Calvin Johnson out with an ankle injury, vs. Falcons CB Robert Alford, who had two interceptions: Tate helped lead the comeback against New Orleans with a 73-yard touchdown catch. He has 48 catches for 649 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Alford's interceptions came in the end zone to stop scoring threats. He is the first Falcon to post multiple interceptions in a game since safety William Moore picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees twice on Nov. 29, 2012.

      Lions DT Nick Fairley vs. Falcons LG Justin Blalock, who's having a tough time with a back injury: Fairley was demoted during training camp. He hired a personal chef to help him keep his weight down and he has been able to elevate his play with 14 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Blalock will be left in a one-on-one matchup with Fairley as the Falcons will have to double-team Ndamukong Suh with the center.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Bills' Marrone mulls how to rotate remaining running backs
    By The Sports Xchange

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone was vague Wednesday on how he would utilize running backs Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown on Sunday against the New York Jets.

    • They will be taking over for injured C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

      "You know, I don't really know that yet," Marrone said. "It's not like we sit down and we say that. We're going to look at practice and set the plan and see where it goes.

      "A lot of times that's dictated by the things that go on in the game also, depending on what your plan is. I really can't say how we want to do it right now. Hopefully, whatever way we do it is productive."

      It would seem that Dixon will get the start and probably get the bulk of the work since he has been active all seven games to date. Brown will be active for the first time Sunday. Of course, Brown is probably the more explosive player -- he has three 100-yard games to his credit in two years with Philadelphia -- and he'll have fresh legs.

      "I ran out there first today, but me and Bryce are gonna kinda do it together, as a combination," Dixon said. "That's pretty much how we're going to get it down. We're gonna compete this week and see who's got the feel for the plays that coach wants to run, and then on Sunday we're gonna go with it."

      The Bills have turned to Chris Hogan to be their slot receiver, and Hogan made one of the biggest plays in Buffalo's victory over Minnesota last week.

      His leaping 28-yard reception at the 2-yard-line set up Sammy Watkins' winning TD with one second remaining. Hogan, who lost a fumble early in the game in the red zone, finished with five catches for 63 yards.

      "I give Chris a lot of credit," Marrone said. "Now the question is do you keep improving and keep being consistent throughout the year, because that's the case with all of these players that are just getting their opportunities and being able to play."

      It's no surprise that Hogan has begun to emerge since Kyle Orton was elevated to starting quarterback. All 12 of Hogan's receptions (for 162 yards with one touchdown) have been delivered by Orton, who became the starter three weeks ago in Detroit.

      When Orton arrived in late August, Hogan was deeper on the depth chart, and they formed a connection working on the scout team as Orton learned the offense.

      "Between me and him, when he first got here, he was doing some scout team stuff with me, and that gave us a little more time to get more associated with each other; how he throws the ball, how I run routes, so that's definitely helped," Hogan said.

      "Kyle and I have a pretty good chemistry. He trusts me on the field to know what I'm supposed to do. I'm getting pretty good separation from the DBs and catching a few passes here and there, so that has a lot to do with the playing time I'm getting now."

      The player Hogan has supplanted is veteran Mike Williams, who was inactive for the Week 6 game against New England, then played only five offensive snaps against Minnesota.

      "I'm actually behind a lot of guys," Williams said. "I think Chris Hogan is just one of the guys. I'm just out there doing what they tell me to do. If they put me ninth string again, I guess that's where I'm gonna be at."

      Williams has just eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown this season, his first with the Bills.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Beleaguered Bills try a changing of the guard
    By The Sports Xchange

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone made a much-needed move that many anticipated Wednesday when he inserted veteran Kraig Urbik back into the starting lineup in place of rookie Cyril Richardson at left guard.

    • Urbik, a starter the previous three years at right guard, apparently did not impress Marrone much in 2013, his first year with the team. Urbick was relegated to the bench this season after the acquisition of free-agent Chris Williams and the drafting of three offensive linemen, including Richardson, who was the lone true guard in that group.

      Urbik has been limited to 55 offensive snaps while serving as the backup swing guard and center.

      "We brought Chris in, he played two games and we won both, and we liked what we saw in him, and the other guys were playing better," Marrone said. "(Urbik) made the team and he has to be ready to step up and go if he gets the call on Sunday."

      When Williams went down during the third game with a season-ending back injury, Urbik took his place and that's when he amassed all 55 of his snaps. He hasn't played an offensive down in any of the other six games.

      Richardson, a fifth-round pick from Baylor who was inactive the first three games, became the starter in Week 4 at Houston, but in the past four games, he has been one of Buffalo's worst players.

      After the offensive line gave up six sacks last week to Minnesota, Marrone said he'd be looking at everything, and this is the move he's making, bringing in Urbik.

      "Is it a game where they could play better? It's the inconsistency that gets you upset," Marrone said of the offensive line, which is particularly galling for him since he's an old offensive lineman and offensive line coach.

      "There are times out there where there's a great pocket and no one around (Orton) and there are times where there's not a great pocket around him. That's what gets you frustrated; that type of inconsistency."

      Urbik has been asked on a few occasions why he fell out of favor. Asked again Wednesday, he said, "I'm not going to get into that. I'm very fortunate to be in there right now and I'm looking forward to the next game."

      Asked if the coaching staff ever told him why, he said they hadn't provided an explanation.

      His attitude is that now he has a chance to prove himself, so he has to do it.

      "I'm definitely ready every week, preparing like I'm the starter," he said. "Being the backup who dresses on game day, you're always one play away from starting. So I prepare every week like I'm starting, and I'll be ready."

      It's a big week for the line as it must deal with the talented front of the New York Jets, led by Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, and augmented by the likes of Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, Jason Babin, and Demario Davis.

      "Great against the run, very good against the pass, they're a very good bunch, every one of those guys can flat out play, even the backups, the guys we don't talk about it," Marrone said. "It's going to take our best to play well; it's going to be a big challenge for us."

      According to the analytics site, the Bills have the worst guard play in the NFL. Of 78 players graded at the two spots, right guard Erik Pears is dead last and Richardson is 75th. When Williams was healthy, he was also near the bottom of the list.

      Interestingly, PFF's grades revealed a severe problem at left guard last season for the Bills. The two guys who played, Doug Legursky and Colin Brown, ranked 63rd and 78th, respectively, out of the 81 graded players. Urbik was the right guard last year and he graded out as the 20th-best guard.

      NOTES: RB C.J. Spiller was put on the injured reserve/designated to return list after undergoing surgery to repair his broken collarbone. The earliest he could return is Week 16, but it seems like a long shot that it could happen. ... RB Fred Jackson will be inactive against the New York Jets because of a groin injury. ... WR Sammy Watkins leads all NFL receivers with a 77.1 percent success rate converting first downs. In all, 27 of his 35 receptions have gone for first downs. ... RB Phillip Tanner was signed off Dallas' practice squad and added to the Bills' 53-man roster to serve as a third running back and to play special teams. He will probably fill some of the kicking game duties of Anthony Dixon, who figures to have more time on offense.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Late-arriving Revis told to go home
    By The Sports Xchange

    New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis showed up late for work on Tuesday and coach Bill Belichick promptly sent him home, The Boston Globe reported.

    • When Revis did not arrive on time for a 7:30 a.m. meeting, Belichick wouldn't allow him to participate in practice. A day later, Revis wouldn't discuss the reason for his absence.

      "Between me and coach," Revis told reporters on Wednesday. "Talk to him about it."

      The report indicated that Revis acknowledged his mistake and was back at practice the next day.

      It's not the first time that Belichick sent a star player home. He has taken similar disciplinary action with others, including former wide receiver Randy Moss and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

      Revis, who is in his first season with the Patriots after seven years with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is not expected to miss Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Chiefs' Charles tested for concussion after remarks
    By The Sports Xchange

    Kansas Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who was involved in a violent collision with San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers while scoring a touchdown but stayed in Sunday's game, now admits that maybe he was dealing with symptoms of a concussion.

    • "It definitely hurt," Charles said during an interview with ESPN Radio on Tuesday. "It's like, I woke up -- I mean, like, a couple plays later I was seeing light bulbs, like, light bulbs around my eyes, and I was trying to catch them. But I was in the game so I was like, 'All right, let's get the ball and run again.'"

      After Sunday's game at San Diego, Charles passed off the helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter as no big deal.

      "Yeah, he put a big hit on me and I'm thankful that I got up healthy," Charles said after the Chiefs' 23-20 victory.

      Flowers left the game with a concussion, but Charles finished the game.

      According to ESPN, Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said Wednesday that Charles was placed in the protocol Tuesday and passed all the tests. Charles will practice Wednesday, but the team will continue to monitor his symptoms.

      Burkholder said Charles was placed in the protocol because of the comments he made Tuesday.

      "We're not classifying him as having a concussion. But as with all of our players, I'll monitor him as he goes and he'll go through practice today," Burkholder said.

      Burkholder said Wednesday that he checked Charles after the hit and that the running back showed no signs of a concussion, although Charles said in the ESPN Radio interview Tuesday that he wasn't checked for a concussion Sunday.

      "When he got the hit, I obviously checked with him. He was fine," Burkholder said. "I know coach (Andy Reid) talked to him a good bit there. I came back and checked with him, consulted with our team physician. He was absolutely asymptomatic, wasn't complaining about anything."

      According to ESPN, Charles on Tuesday went on to describe other symptoms that could be consistent with those of a concussion. He said he had flashbacks to scenes from his childhood. But Charles indicated he was never checked for a concussion because he said he didn't have one.

      "I didn't have a concussion,'' Charles said in the radio interview. "It was definitely a hit that shocked me. I didn't think I had to go through the concussion protocol and all that because I didn't want to go through that again. That's what happened in the playoffs. I was definitely fine. I think I came out pretty good.

      "I could definitely play through stuff like that. It wasn't a concussion. If it was a concussion I wouldn't remember the plays or remember none of my teammates' names or remember what sideline to go to. I definitely remember everything. It was just a huge hit.''

      Charles paced all rushers with 95 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Chargers. Charles passed Priest Holmes (6,070) as the team's all-time leading rusher in the second quarter, finishing the day with 6,113 rushing yards.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Steelers a familiar foe to Colts' Pagano
    By The Sports Xchange

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano knows the Pittsburgh Steelers very well.

    • Pagano was an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, serving as the team's defensive coordinator during the 2011 season. Since Baltimore and Pittsburgh both play in the AFC North, preparation for this week's game is old hat.

      The two franchises will square off Sunday in a late afternoon game at Heinz Field. Indianapolis started getting ready for the Steelers on Wednesday morning.

      "(We) had a good start in preparation for our game with the Pittsburgh Steelers," Pagano said after the workout. "The Steelers, great club, great organization. We've got our hands full in all three phases. So we're going to have a great week of preparation in order to get ready for these guys."

      Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in particular, has been a thorn in the sides of both Indianapolis and Baltimore since he came into the NFL in 2004. Pagano expects more of the same on Sunday.

      "They're both great quarterbacks, both future Hall of Famers. I've been beat several times because of what (Roethlisberger) is capable of doing," the Colts coach said when asked to compare the abilities of the Steelers' signal caller with his own quarterback (Andrew Luck).

      "They both have been able to beat opposing defenses because they're big, they're strong and they both have great arm talent. Just when you think that you have them sacked, they have a way of getting away from them. It doesn't matter whether its a defensive lineman or linebackers."

      So how do you hope to stop, or at least slow down, the big and mobile Roethlisberger? It's certainly not easy to do.

      "You try to keep him in the pocket as best you can," Pagano said. "If you're lucky enough to come free and get a chance to get him down, you'd better wrap him up.

      "He's a hard guy to bring down. If he breaks contain, he can go ahead and extend plays. That's when they unleash a bunch of havoc on you. He's as good as there is in extending plays."

      The Colts coach also discussed running back Le'Veon Bell, who leads the Steelers with 599 rushing yards.

      "He's a beast. He's the second leading receiver on the team (36 receptions for 339 yards). He's big, he's strong. He's got great vision. He's a very, very patient runner. He's very tough when he gets to the line of scrimmage," Pagano said.

      "It's kind of like, 'Now you see me, now you don't.' He's got burst. He can take it the distance. He can run you over. Catch it out of the backfield. This guy's dynamic. He's a dynamic kind of runner. He's tough to tackle, tough to bring down."

      Overall, Pagano says that there are several reasons why Indianapolis has been able to string together five straight victories after getting off to an 0-2 start.

      "We're playing better, playing complementary football. All three phases are playing well. I think we played well in Week 1 and Week 2, we just didn't finish. We got off to a slow start the first half of that first game and finished that one OK. We didn't finish off the second one. We're trying to put together complete games, 60-minute games in all three phases," Pagano said.

      "We're getting good play out of all three phases. (But) we've got a lot of things to clean up. Even looking at the tape from (Sunday's win over the Bengals), there's a ton of things to clean up in all three phases. Confidence is good. The energy's good. They feel really good about themselves right now."

      NOTES: Despite the loss of 2013 NFL sack leader OLB Robert Mathis to an NFL-mandated suspension and a season-ending torn Achilles injury, the Colts' defense has still recorded 21 sacks. ... WR Reggie Wayne (elbow) is listed as day to day and did not practice Wednesday. ... Among other players not practicing Wednesday were OT Gosder Cherilis (veteran rest day), RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) and TE Jack Doyle (knee). ... ILB Jerrell Freeman (hip) practiced on Wednesday. ... DT Art Jones (ankle) fully practiced on Wednesday and may be cleared to play. ... CB Darius Butler (ankle) resumed limited practice Wednesday. ... S LaRon Landry (suspension, PED violation) will return to the Colts next Monday.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Manziel seems one misstep closer to Browns QB job
    By The Sports Xchange

    BEREA, Ohio -- It was bound to happen. After one bad performance by Brian Hoyer, the Johnny Manziel quarterback watch is officially on at the Cleveland Browns headquarters.

    • Hoyer was just 16 of 41 for 215 yards with an interception and a strip sack in the 24-6 loss to Jacksonville last week. Head coach Mike Pettine said he toyed with the idea of inserting the rookie Manziel -- not to replace Hoyer, but to provide a spark -- then decided not to do it. He might not be as patient if Hoyer struggles against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in Cleveland.

      "Nothing has changed," Pettine said. "If the situation this week maybe calls for (Manziel) to play some, then that will be the case. We're not going to hit the panic button after one loss. We know that while the quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of the entire offense. Brian is still firmly our starter. Like I said, each week we make the decision on if we want to include Johnny in the plan."

      The Browns have other issues they are dealing with, such as avoiding losing to winless teams on back to back weeks. The Jaguars were 0-6 before beating the Browns and now the Raiders are 0-6 as they head east.

      The AFC North is a tight race from top to bottom. Had the Browns beaten the Jaguars they would have been 4-2 and a half game behind the division-leading Baltimore Ravens. As it is, they are 3-3 and last in the division. The Bengals are 3-2-1 and the Steelers are 4-3.

      "There are 16 games in the NFL; you're not going to be perfect in every one," Hoyer said. "The biggest thing for us is we need to learn from our mistakes, bury it and move on.

      "We get two games at home. We're playing Oakland. Whether you win or lose, you've got to learn from the game that you just played and take what you've learned and apply it the next week."

      Pettine is deciding whether to stay with all three running backs -- Ben Tate plus rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West -- week to week or maybe just go with two so they can get into a groove. No back was on the field for more than two consecutive series in Jacksonville. The three were held to 62 yards on 28 carries.

      Pettine has to weigh making changes against the fact the Browns averaged 145 yards a game rushing before playing the Jaguars. However, the only game in which all three running backs played prior to Jacksonville was two weeks earlier in Tennessee. In that game Tate, West and Crowell combined for 173 yards on 36 carries.

      "We'll have discussions this week how to best rotate those guys," Pettine said. "It's a good problem to have, but you're still dealing with the word 'problem' so it's something we have to plan for."

      The Browns have scored a league-most eight rushing touchdowns. Crowell has scored four times and Tate plus West have scored two each on the ground.

      NOTES: NT Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) was limited in practice Wednesday. ... DB K'Waun Williams (concussion) has been cleared to practice. ... LT Joe Thomas was rested in practice as he normally is on Wednesdays. ... DE Billy Winn (quadriceps) did not practice, but rode a stationary bike. ... DE Phil Taylor (knee) did not practice and has not been on the field since undergoing knee surgery on Oct. 6.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Eli's fancy footwork key to resurgence
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Amidst the New York Giants rocky season, one bright spot has been the quiet re-emergence of quarterback Eli Manning.

    • Through seven games, Manning has completed 64.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,573 yards, an average of 7.0 yards over pass attempt.

      He has also thrown 14 touchdowns and has drastically cut down his interceptions from 15 at this point in the season last year to just five in 2014.

      What's been the biggest reason for Manning's increased efficiency?

      "Probably his footwork," said quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf. "I think he is playing at high level and I think improved footwork has really helped out. He is obviously worked hard at that part of it, and that is a little bit different than what he was used to with the other system.

      "We teach it a little bit differently. I think that is probably the biggest area in how fast he has been playing is his footwork."

      Langsdorf praised Manning, an 11-year veteran, for rolling up his sleeves and thrusting himself headfirst into learning a completely different offensive system with many parts being foreign to the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

      "He has really put a lot of time into learning the system," Langsdorf said. "The thing about what we are doing offensively is so much of it is tied into the footwork. That really is telling him where to go with the ball and the timing, which he needs to get it to a receiver. That has been a big part of it, not that he is learning a lot of new concepts.

      "Football, there is not a lot of new things in football these days anyway. The way we read, the progression of the way he is reading the play -- there are a lot of different factors. We just teach it a little different maybe than how he had it in the past. He has spent a ton of time, really done a great job preparing and working at learning and getting comfortable in the offense."

      NOTES: RB Rashad Jennings is making progress in his rehab of a sprained MCL in his left knee and he hopes to begin running on solid turf when the team returns from the bye week. ... DT Cullen Jenkins confirmed that he will miss at least a couple of weeks after straining his calf in the first quarter Sunday. ... CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hopes the week off will help shake his injury issues so that he can return to more of a full-time role in the second half of the season. ... WR Rueben Randle will see more time in the slot, in place of the injured Victor Cruz, according to Giants receivers coach Sean Ryan.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Giants enter bye week with identity crises
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At the start of the 2014 season, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin had very lofty goals for his team to achieve by its bye week.

    • "I was hoping we would be 7-0," he said with a straight face.

      Instead, the Giants are sitting at 3-4 in third place in the NFC East. They have suffered back-to-back losses to two division rivals, the Eagles and the Cowboys, losing by a combined 58-21 in those two games.

      Stats and record aside, perhaps the most unsettling thing about the Giants at this moment is that the team doesn't seem to have a clearly defined identity.

      "We are probably somewhere between the kind of night we had in Washington and how we were (against Dallas)," Coughlin said when asked where his team is at the bye.

      The Giants sandwiched in a three-game winning streak against Houston, Washington and Atlanta -- three teams that drafted within the top five slots of the 2014 draft and three teams that currently have losing records.

      Coughlin and his staff have been spending the bye week performing some intense self-scouting of the team, trying to identify the areas that need to be prioritized moving forward, while still allowing the team to prepare for its weekly games, including a brutal four-week stretch that begins on Nov. 3 against the Colts at home.

      Coughlin, for his part, is optimistic that they will find some answers and get things back on track.

      "We have nine games to play. Hopefully we will be able to talk about this team being a lot better than you see it right now," he said.

      It won't be easy though, as the Giants are starting to struggle with injuries to key players, some of which have left them thin at certain positions.

      On offense, the Giants have already lost receiver Victor Cruz for the year with a knee injury. They have also been without starting running back Rashad Jennings (knee) and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who has been on the temporary injured reserve list.

      On defense, the picture is worse. Middle linebacker Jon Beason can't see to make it through an entire game these days thanks to an on-going toe issue. Star cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie is nursing a hamstring issue, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins will miss a couple of weeks with a strained calf muscle.

      Slot cornerbacks, Walter Thurmond (pectoral) and Trumaine McBride (thumb), have been lost to season-ending injuries.

      "You have to maneuver some of the talent around, but I think the talent is there," Coughlin said. "We have to get the best out of them every time we line up. There isn't any doubt about that. You can't make up for the loss of the players we have, but every team has those issues."

      Every team might have injury issues, but at the end of the day, the Giants have yet to show they can stand up to the higher echelon of competition, which is why the upcoming four-game run against the Colts, Seahawks, 49ers and Cowboys could very well be the defining stretch of the Giants' 2014 season.

      NOTES: The Giants hosted 15 free agents for a workout during their bye week, a workout consisting of mostly offensive skill players. Among the more noticeable names were former Raiders and Seahawks QB Terrell Pryor, former Chiefs WR Jon Baldwin, former Cowboys RB Felix Jones, former Packers and Jets RB Alex Green, former Eagles RB Dion Lewis, and former Lions K Nate Freese.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Polian, Wolf named HOF finalists
    By The Sports Xchange

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The first-ever contributor's committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday named former NFL general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf as finalists for induction at the pre-Super Bowl meeting that will take place on Jan. 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX.

    • Since the Hall of Fame was established in 1963, there have been 19 contributors elected to the Hall. However, 10 were elected in the first five years and only nine in the ensuing 47 years. To that end, the Hall's Board of Trustees voted in August to create a contributor's committee, similar to the senior's committee, in which those nominated are voted on individually and not in competition with players and coaches.

      Polian and Wolf, along with senior's nominee center Mick Tingelhoff, will have to get 80.4 percent of the entire committee's vote at the selection meeting, which means 37 yes votes from the 46 selectors. Those two were selected by the nine-person committee that also serves on the selection committee from a list of 11 candidates: former general manager Bobby Beathard, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, former Cowboys vice-president of player developement Gil Brandt, former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., former league supervisor of officials Art McNally, for Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell, former NFL films president Steve Sabol, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former Giants general manager George Young.

      The committee considered the semifinalists during six hours of discussion and were aided by four consultants: Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, Chicago Bears chairman of the board George McCaskey, Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, one of only two living Hall of Fame contributors, and Abe Madkour, executive editor for the Sports Business Journal.

      Both Polian and Wolf were taken aback when given the news by Hall president/executive director David Baker.

      The first words out of both men's mouth was a simple, "Wow!"

      Wolf added, "I'm absolutely overwhelmed. This is a tremendous honor."

      The usually unflappable Polian, who currently is an analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM NFL Radio, said, "For someone in the media, I'm at a loss for words."

      Polian worked 32 years in the NFL, including two in the league office, and last was with the Indianapolis Colts as president and general manager in 2011. He helped the Colts and Buffalo Bills advance to a combined five Super Bowls, winning one with Indianapolis, and was in an NFC Championship Game with the Carolina Panthers.

      Wolf spent 39 years in the league with the Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and was executive vice president and general manager of the Green Bay Packers from 1991 to 2001. Wolf engineered the trade that brought quarterback Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers. Green Bay went to two consecutive Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning in '96. That year, the Packers beat Polian's Panthers to get to the Super Bowl.

      Howard Balzer is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He served on the contributor's committee that selected Polian and Wolf.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Pounceys won't be charged for brawl
    By The Sports Xchange

    NFL offensive linemen Mike and Maurkice Pouncey will not face prosecution from a July altercation at a Miami Beach nightclub.

    • The twin brothers have been sued by a trio of plaintiffs who claim they suffered injuries as a result of a brawl that occurred while the Pounceys were celebrating their birthday.

      Mike Pouncey plays center and guard for the Miami Dolphins and Maurkice Pouncey plays center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both played at the University of Florida.

      Lawyer Jeffrey Ostrow said Wednesday that Miami-Dade County prosecutors informed him the brothers won't be charged.

      "As expected, the Miami-Dade Office of the State Attorney has determined that the Pouncey brothers should not be charged in connection with an altercation that occurred at the Cameo Nightclub on July 12, 2014," Ostrow told Pro Football Talk. "This confirms that the previous claim that the brothers were involved was false and fabricated by individuals seeking notoriety and monetary gain."

      The lawsuit won't be affected by the decision.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Manning, Rodgers lead Players of the Week
    By The Sports Xchange

    Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who broke Brett Favre's career touchdown record and added to his own mark in a four-touchdown night, was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the 27th time in his career.

    • Manning completed 22 of 26 passes (84.6 percent) for 318 yards with a passer rating of 157.2 in Denver's 42-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.

      Manning's third touchdown of the game gave him 509 for his career, breaking Favre's all-time record. Manning became the eighth player since 1943 to hold the NFL record, doing so in his 246th career regular-season game played and 8,659th career attempt.

      Fellow MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers took NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

      Rodgers completed 19 of 22 passes (86.5 percent) for 255 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 154.5 in a 38-17 win over the floundering Carolina Panthers.

      In other Week 7 awards announced Wednesday:

      --Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. He compiled four tackles, a game-sealing interception and a sack fumble in the Jags' first win of the season as they beat the Cleveland Browns 24-6.

      --New England Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones won the AFC special teams award. He blocked a potential game-winning, 58-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the fourth quarter in the Patriots' 27-25 win over the New York Jets.

      --Washington Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson took the NFC defensive award. He had 14 tackles in the 19-17 win over the Tennessee Titans.

      --St. Louis Rams punter returner Stedman Bailey won the NFC special teams award. A wacky, trick-play, 90-yard punt return by Bailey helped the Rams pull off a 28-26 upset win over the Seattle Seahawks.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Patriots officially acquire LB Ayers
    By The Sports Xchange

    The New England Patriots officially acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers on Wednesday in a trade with the Tennessee Titans.

    • Trade terms were not disclosed, but it was reported Tuesday that the trade includes the Patriots giving up a sixth-round draft choice to the Titans for Ayers and Tennessee's seventh-round pick.

      Ayers, 25, had two knee surgeries during the offseason and was active in just two games and played only 10 snaps for the Titans this season. He also struggled in 2013, finishing the season with only 49 tackles and a sack after posting 104 tackles and six sacks in 2012.

      Ayers has been with the Titans since being drafted in the second round (39th overall) of the 2011 draft out of UCLA. He has played in 50 NFL games with 44 starts and has registered 254 total tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions 18 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

      The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Ayers earned a starting position at linebacker as a rookie in 2011, leading all team linebackers with 88 total tackles. He had a team-leading 110 total tackles with six sacks in 2012.

      The Patriots also released linebacker Ja'Gared Davis.

      Davis, 24, was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Oct. 4. He was signed to the practice squad after being released at the end of training camp. Davis spent the majority of his rookie season in 2013 on the Patriots' practice squad, but did see action in one regular-season game and both postseason games after being added to the roster.

      The 6-foot, 238-pound Davis was originally signed by the Houston Texans as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 10, 2013. He was released by Houston on Aug. 27, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots on Aug. 28, 2013.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Mistakes haunt Texans in three-game skid
    By The Sports Xchange

    HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans have a three-game losing streak. They lost by three in overtime at Dallas, by five at home to Indianapolis and by seven at Pittsburgh.

    • The Texans were in position to win all three games, but they blew each one with physical mistakes and mental blunders.

      If they win at Tennessee on Sunday, they'll finish the first half of the season with a 4-4 record. That's what they are -- average.

      The Texans have enough talent to compete with the better teams, but they don't play smart enough or well enough from start to finish.

      The Texans are their worst enemy. The mistakes are being committed by players and coaches.

      For instance, the notorious slow starters scored on a 94-yard drive to lead Pittsburgh 7-0. Then they kicked two field goals to make it 13-0.

      Their defense stopped running back Le'Veon Bell, collapsed on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and ran Arian Foster well enough to force defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to make several adjustments before he found one that worked.

      That was in the first half. The Texans led 13-3 after a Pittsburgh field goal with 3:08 left in the first half.

      Then Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns and a field goal to take a 24-13 lead, and there was time still left on the clock before halftime.

      "It's frustrating," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We're all frustrated. But I have a strong belief in this team. I believe if we can get this thing headed in the right direction -- eliminate turnovers and penalties and not give up big plays on defense -- you'll see a winning team."

      The Texans should be blasted for their second-quarter meltdown but praised for rallying to come within an onside kick of possibly tying the game and forcing overtime.

      In the end, they committed three turnovers -- fumbles by Arian Foster and DeAndre Hopkins and a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception -- that Pittsburgh turned into 17 points.

      They also made mental mistakes that left them with bad field position or allowed the Steelers to score easily.

      "The two areas that we have to do a better job at?" O'Brien said. "We've got to stop turning the ball over, and we've got to eliminate the line- of-scrimmage penalties -- too many men on the field, offsides, a false start on offense. We can control that, so we have to make sure that we're correcting it."

      The Texans have been undisciplined at the worst times, but they have also shown mental toughness. It's kept them in every game but the 30-17 loss at the New York Giants, but Arian Foster didn't play in that game.

      "A team that wasn't mentally tough would really go in the tank in that situation," O'Brien said about the collapse in Pittsburgh. "The mentally tough teams that I've been around were the ones that fought back and regrouped at halftime.

      "Still, we didn't come out and play our best in the second half, but we certainly showed up in the second half, only giving up two field goals on defense. We did some good things to finally get the game within reach. That's the sign of a mentally tough team."


      PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Ryan Fitzpatrick was not the reason the Texans lost. He threw an interception that set up a touchdown. He also threw two touchdown passes to go with 262 yards. He helped the offense get off to a fast start and lead 13-0. He helped them rally from a 30-16 deficit with a touchdown pass that made it 30-23, putting them in position to get an onside kick and a possible game-tying scoring drive. But it didn't happen. The pass protection improved. He was sacked once. DeAndre Hopkins had six catches for 108 yards, but he lost a fumble that set up a field goal in the fourth quarter.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Arian Foster reached triple digits for the third consecutive game, finishing with 102 yards and a 5.1-yard average. He had only 14 yards rushing in the second half. The run blocking was excellent in the first half and terrible in the second after the Steelers made adjustments. Foster lost a fumble at the Texans' 3 that set up a touchdown during the collapse in the last three minutes of the first half.

      PASS DEFENSE: D -- It was terrific early in the game, but once Ben Roethlisberger got going, he threw two touchdown passes and kept the chains moving. Whitney Mercilus recorded two sacks and a forced fumble. J.J. Watt had a sack and a fumble recovery. Even with pressure, the defensive backs were beaten often and at other times appeared confused.

      RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Steelers were ranked fifth in rushing. Le'Veon Bell was second behind DeMarco Murray. The Texans did an outstanding job against the run, limiting the Steelers to 76 yards and 3.0 a carry. Bell carried 12 times for 57 yards, including a 20-yard run. The Texans swarmed to the ball and did their best job of tackling. Led by J.J. Watt and nose tackle Ryan Pickett, they were physical up front.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Randy Bullock kicked three field goals. Punter Shane Lechler had a 45-yard gross and a 38-yard net. They downed one of his punts at the 1. Coverage was top notch, but returns were awful. Kickoff returner Danieal Manning made a mistake in the end zone, came out, fumbled at the 1 and put the offense in terrible field position.

      COACHING: D-minus -- For the first time since the second game of the season at Oakland, the Texans started well on offense, jumping to a 7-0 lead. With superb play by the defense, they increased the lead to 13-0. They led 13-3 with 3:08 left in the first half. The coaching staff should be praised. Then they collapsed in unbelievable fashion, turning that 13-0 lead into a 24-13 halftime deficit. They fought back to make it interesting in the end, but they made too many mental blunders, not to mention physical mistakes. The coaches have to do better.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Improved Denver pass rush set to face Rivers
    By The Sports Xchange

    For most of the early season, the Broncos faced an all-star collection of mobile quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Denver was an overtime possession away from beating them all.

    • Despite the team success, the Broncos' overhauled pass rush struggled to generate consistent pressure. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware got off to a good start, but linebacker Von Miller received respites at crucial stretches as he completed his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that occurred Dec. 22.

      The mobile quarterbacks escaped, and the Broncos averaged one sack every 17.5 pass plays in September.

      The pass rush improved in October. Against Smith, Kaepernick and the only immobile passers Denver faced this year -- the Arizona Cardinals' Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas -- the Broncos amassed 13 sacks in the past three games, one every 10.5 pass plays, well above the league rate of one sack every 13.4 pass plays.

      Miller leads the league with eight sacks. Ware is right behind with seven. This is the "brutal nasty" of which Ware spoke when he signed with the Broncos in March. It took a few weeks into the regular season and Miller becoming further removed from the ACL injury, but now, the Broncos' pass rush is restored to the level of its 2012 peak, when Miller and linebacker Elvis Dumervil combined for 29.5 sacks.

      A six-sack performance against the 49ers represented the Broncos' highest sack output since Week 16 of the 2012 season. Denver kept Kaepernick off-balance and rarely let him escape the pocket. Much of the credit can go to the Broncos' interior pass rushers, who frequently drew double teams, leaving Miller and Ware in one-on-one matchups on the edge.

      "It's sort of having really unselfish guys in the middle that can get good pocket presence," Ware said. "Quote unquote, they're not making the plays that they want to make, but their presence is felt from their teammates and what they bring to the game."

      The pass rushers' work Thursday against the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers could be even more crucial to the outcome. Outstanding coverage has not been enough to prevent Rivers from completing passes the last two years, as he drops the football through narrow windows.

      "They're going to make some tough throws into some tight coverages, and you've just got to line back up to the next play," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "I remember last year, Kayvon (Webster) had some great coverage, and (Rivers) was able to just fit the ball in, so you can't be discouraged."

      At the same time, the Broncos' pass rush is miles ahead of where it was last year. On Sunday, Denver threw some more wrinkles into its pressure plan, using linebacker Brandon Marshall as a blitzer on two of its six sacks. Another sack came when Miller, working as a linebacker instead of as a pass-rushing end, followed defensive end Malik Jackson through.

      "The pass rush is going to be big," Marshall said. "(Rivers) drops it in, and if we can get Rivers off the spot, if we can get him to run and try to use his legs -- which is not his best asset -- then that will be a win for us on that down. We've just got to get him off the spot, play tight coverage as well, but if we get these coverage sacks, we'll be good."

      Coverage has not been a problem for the Broncos in recent weeks. Even so, Rivers has no hesitation about throwing downfield, and he has confidence in his receivers to make tough grabs in traffic.

      "We're definitely going to make those throws a challenge," Harris said. "He's going to have to make some perfect throws."

      Rivers did just that last year against Denver, but he didn't have Ware and Miller lining up against him, either.

      NOTES: K Brandon McManus did not practice Tuesday because of a right groin strain. McManus battled this injury in recent weeks, but it has not kept him from kicking in a game. ... RB Montee Ball did not practice Tuesday and is expected to miss a third consecutive game. He sustained a groin strain against the Cardinals on Oct. 4. ... CB Omar Bolden will go through the NFL's post-concussion protocol after being injured on a collision with 49ers WR Bruce Ellington in Sunday's game. He did not practice Tuesday. ... LB Steven Johnson missed Tuesday's practice with what coach John Fox called a mild ankle sprain that occurred Sunday. Johnson has been one of the Broncos' busiest special teamers this year.

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Chargers aim rebound Thursday against Broncos
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN DIEGO -- When injuries arrive, the San Diego Chargers, are fond of saying, "next man up."

    • Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers simply says it's time to "stand up as men."

      Either way, the Chargers seek to rebound against the Denver Broncos in Thursday night's AFC West showdown.

      With the Chargers (5-2) losing to the Chiefs before the Broncos (5-1) beat the 49ers on Sunday, Denver leapfrogged San Diego for the AFC West lead.

      That has added significance to Thursday's game in Denver, which should feature a playoff-type atmosphere.

      But to get to the real playoffs, Rivers knows the Chargers need to bounce back -- quickly.

      "It would be nice to have two and half weeks with all we got going on," Rivers said about the brisk turnaround. "But mentally, it'll be good for us because you can't sulk."

      The Chargers can't afford to do that, not when facing a Broncos team that is humming along like an AFC defending champion should.

      Rivers is confident the team's veteran leadership and big-picture approach will come in handy on Thursday after the players digest their first loss in over a month.

      "Shoot, we should stand up as men and realize where we weren't real good, where we could get better, where are the things we did really well, and get ready," Rivers said. "We know what this thing is: this is a 16-week deal you sign up for, we're here through seven of them. We're in an OK spot; we just got to keep going."

      That works for coach Mike McCoy.

      "We've got a lot of veteran players that have played in a lot of big games," he said.

      Thursday is one of them.

      "These are the type of games," Rivers said, "that you can't wait to play in."

      NOTES: CB Brandon Flowers (concussion) didn't practice on Tuesday and isn't likely to play on Thursday in Denver. ... RB Donald Brown (concussion) has yet to be cleared to return. ... CB Jason Verrett (shoulder) and CB Steve Williams (groin) were limited in practice but should be available Thursday. ...

  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014
    Rice appeal scheduled for Nov. 5-6
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ray Rice will appeal his indefinite suspension from the NFL more than two months after commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment, with a hearing set for Nov. 5-6 before former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones.

    • Rice also filed a grievance against the Baltimore Ravens for terminating his contract, multiple media outlets reported.

      As reported Monday by The Sports Xchange, Jones will determine this week whether Goodell must testify during the appeal process he ordered.

      The NFLPA has pushed for Goodell and any staff present in the first meeting with Rice following the former Ravens running back's domestic violence incident to give their testimony to Jones. Rice's representatives claim he told Goodell exactly what happened at a casino in February when he punched his then-fiancee and rendered her unconscious.

      Goodell said in a TV interview that Rice's first version of the events was ambiguous.

      Rice was suspended two games following his meeting with Goodell.

      But the commissioner announced that he "got it wrong" and established new penalties for domestic violence offenders that will not apply to Rice.

      Video of the elevator incident was released by TMZ, prompting backlash for Rice's lenient penalty. The NFL responded by suspending Rice indefinitely, claiming it had not previously seen -- nor had access to -- the video footage.

      A criminal justice official claimed the video was sent to NFL security officials months earlier.

      Rice's grievance against the Ravens is a separate issue, and that grievance was actually filed several weeks ago, according to ESPN.

      The Ravens released Rice soon after video of him striking his then-fiancee in an elevator was made public.

      In filing his grievance, Rice claims the Collective Bargaining Agreement permits only one punishment for each infraction, ProFootballTalk reported. In July, the NFL suspended Rice two games for the incident in the elevator. Then, after the video became public, the Ravens cut Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014
    Report: Patriots DE Jones out for a month
    By The Sports Xchange

    New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones will miss about one month due to a hip injury, the Boston Globe reported Tuesday.

    • Jones sat out practice Tuesday, four days after playing in the Patriots' 27-25 win over the New York Jets.

      Through the season's first seven games, Jones has a team-high 4 1/2 sacks. He also has 21 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jones scored a touchdown by blocking a field-goal attempt and taking the ball to the end zone.

      New England is set to sign free agent defensive lineman Alan Branch, the Globe reported. Branch, 29, was released by the Bills before the season. He played all 16 games last season for Buffalo and made 13 starts. He recorded 39 tackles.

      Branch previously played for the Arizona Cardinals (2007-10) and the Seattle Seahawks (2011-12).

      Jones' injury further hampers a New England defense that previously lost linebacker Jerod Mayo for the season with a knee injury. In an attempt to fill the void, the Patriots added to their linebacking corps on Tuesday in a trade with the Tennessee Titans for Akeem Ayers, reported.

      The deal, which is contingent upon Ayers passing a physical, includes the Patriots giving up a sixth-round draft choice to the Titans for Ayers and Tennessee's seventh-round pick.

      Ayers, 25, had two knee surgeries during the offseason and was active in just two games and played only 10 snaps for the Titans this season. He also struggled in 2013, finishing the season with only 49 tackles and a sack after posting 104 tackles and six sacks in 2012.

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014
    Seahawks claim TE Brackett from Titans
    By The Sports Xchange

    Making a change in their tight end corps, the Seattle Seahawks claimed Brett Brackett off waivers from the Tennessee Titans and released RaShaun Allen on Tuesday.

    • Brackett appeared in two games this season for the Titans but did not make a reception. He signed as an undrafted free agent with Miami in 2011, then appeared on the practice squad of the Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie.

      He spent 2012 on the Jaguars' injured reserve, and he was out of the league last year. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year before he was released and then signed with Tennessee.

      Allen joined Seattle as an undrafted free agent in May. He was signed to the Seahawks' practice squad after being released Sept. 1. He joined the active roster last week and made his NFL debut Sunday. Allen did not catch a pass against the St. Louis Rams.

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014
    NFL roundup: Cowboys waive Sam
    By The Sports Xchange

    Michael Sam, who first made headlines earlier this year as the first openly gay NFL player, as of Tuesday afternoon is no longer an NFL player. The Dallas Cowboys waived the rookie defensive end from the practice squad to make room on their roster to sign second-year linebacker Troy Davis.

    • Sam was drafted in the seventh round in May by the St. Louis Rams but failed to make their 53-man roster at the end of the preseason. He then was picked up by the Cowboys and added to their practice squad.

      The 6-foot-2, 261-pound Sam, whose strength is as a pash rusher, is now free to sign with another team.

      ---Ray Rice will appeal his indefinite suspension from the NFL more than two months after commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment, with a hearing set for Nov. 5-6 before former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones.

      As reported Monday by The Sports Xchange, Jones will determine this week whether Goodell must testify during the appeal process he ordered.

      The NFLPA has pushed for Goodell and any staff present in the first meeting with Rice following the former Ravens running back's domestic violence incident to give their testimony to Jones. Rice's representatives claim he told Goodell exactly what happened at a casino in February when he punched his then-fiancee and rendered her unconscious.

      ---Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly will not face a fine or discipline after the NFL admitted officials erred when the player was ejected at Green Bay on Sunday.

      Kuechly swung his arms to free himself when he was restrained by back judge Steve Freeman with 1:39 left in the third quarter of the 38-17 loss. The league informed officials not to approach and grab players from the back, when in the heat of the moment they are prone to retaliate.

      Linebacker Chase Blackburn, the Panthers' players association rep, said Monday that he expected an apology from the NFL, which could have levied at fine of $27,562 for contact with a game official.

      ---Wide receiver A.J. Green said Tuesday that he would like to think he will make the final call on his playing status for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

      "I'd like to think so ... it's up to the toe," Green told the Dan Patrick Show.

      Coach Marvin Lewis said Monday that he is optimistic Green will play for the first time in three games. Green has missed the past two games with a toe injury that also forced him to miss all but five snaps of the Sept. 14 home opener.

      ---Brett Favre's reunion with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field next month is on hold, the former quarterback told ESPN.

      Favre was scheduled to be part of a pregame ceremony on the field with Bart Starr on Nov. 9 before the Packers-Chicago Bears "Monday Night Football" game. Starr recently had a second stroke and recently had a heart attack, and is unlikely to be fit for the appearance. Favre told ESPN he doesn't want to participate until Starr can also be there.

      ---The Buffalo Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve Tuesday but designated him for return.

      To take the place of Spiller and injured Fred Jackson on the roster, the Bills signed free-agent running back Phillip Tanner.

      Spiller sustained a broken collarbone and Jackson injured a groin in the Bills' 17-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Spiller will be eligible to return to the active roster for a Dec. 21 game against the Oakland Raiders after an eight-game absence.

      ---The NFL suspended defensive end Da'Quan Bowers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without pay for two games after violating the league policy on performance enhancing substances.

      The suspension begins immediately, forcing Bowers to miss the Buccaneers' next two games. He'll be eligible to return after a Nov. 2 game against the Cleveland Browns.

      In four seasons with Tampa Bay, Bowers has 6 1/2 sacks, including one this year.

      ---The Washington Redskins replaced injured linebacker Brian Orakpo on the roster Tuesday by signing free-agent linebacker Everette Brown.

      Orakpo suffered a torn right pectoral muscle during the Redskins' 19-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The six-year veteran will undergo surgery soon to repair the tear, the team said. He suffered the same injury in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

      Brown rejoins the Redskins after spending the preseason with the team before his release on Aug. 30.

      ---Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne could miss one to two games after injuring an elbow during the 27-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

      The injury, which occurred in the first quarter, isn't believed to be serious and Wayne is hoping he doesn't have to miss any games. But the Colts are still reviewing the test results.

      Wayne had four catches for only 15 yards and two drops against the Bengals.

      ---Well-traveled return specialist Trindon Holliday signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.

      Holliday is in his fifth season and has four career regular-season returns for touchdowns. He also returned a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same playoff game in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. He averages 27.1 yards per kickoff return, but also has 10 fumbles on punt returns in his career and one on a kickoff return. He was waived by the New York Giants on Oct. 6 without appearing in a game.

      ---Tight end Gerell Robinson was signed by the Cleveland Browns, and defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel was waived to create a spot on the 53-man roster.

      Robinson was inactive for Browns in the first three games and dressed but did not play in one other this season. He was waived on Oct. 18. McDaniel spent the first six weeks of the season on the Browns' practice squad before making his NFL debut as a reserve at Jacksonville last week with Cleveland scrambling to field a healthy defensive line.

      ---A revolving door at running back is spinning again for the New Orleans Saints, who will be without Pierre Thomas for at least two weeks because of a shoulder injury.

      Thomas left Sunday's loss at Detroit early just as the Saints were getting Mark Ingram back from a fractured hand. Ingram was held to 16 yards on 10 attempts, and the Saints failed to reach the 100-yard mark as a team for the first time this season.

      ---The San Francisco 49ers made what has become a regular roster move on Tuesday, signing quarterback Josh Johnson to a one-year deal and releasing safety Bubba Ventrone. It is the fourth time since May that the 49ers have signed Johnson to a contract.

      Johnson has not seen any game action this season. Ventrone had one tackle in the 49ers' 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos last week. He has played in two games this year.

      ---The New York Jets signed wide receiver Jeremy Kerley a four-year contract extension through 2018 reported to be worth $16 million.

      The deal includes $5.4 million guaranteed, according to reports. Kerley was in the final year of his rookie contract.

      The 5-foot-8 Kerley was drafted in the fifth round in 2011 and in his first three seasons in the NFL has averaged 40 catches per year. This season, he has 22 receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown.

      ---The Carolina Panthers elevated guard Chris Scott to the active roster from the practice squad and released cornerback Charles Godfrey on Tuesday.

      Godfrey, drafted in the third round by the Panthers in 2008, started 75 of his 82 career games with Carolina. This year, he started once and had played in seven games at corner after returning from an 2013 Achilles injury.

      Scott started eight games for the Panthers last season before he was released in August and then signed to the practice squad on Oct. 14.

      ---The New England Patriots added to their linebacking corps in a trade with the Tennessee Titans for Akeem Ayers, reported Tuesday.

      The deal, which is contingent on Ayers passing a physical, includes the Patriots giving up a sixth-round draft choice to the Titans for Ayers and Tennessee's seventh-round pick.

      Ayers, 25, had two knee surgeries during the offseason and was active in just two games and played only 10 snaps for the Titans this season. He also struggled last year with only 49 tackles and a sack after posting 104 tackles and six sacks in 2012.

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014
    Report: Patriots trade for LB Ayers
    By The Sports Xchange

    The New England Patriots added to their linebacking corps on Tuesday in a trade with the Tennessee Titans for Akeem Ayers, reported.

    • The deal, which is contingent upon Ayers passing a physical, includes the Patriots giving up a sixth-round draft choice to the Titans for Ayers and Tennessee's seventh-round pick.

      Ayers, 25, had two knee surgeries during the offseason and was active in just two games and played only 10 snaps for the Titans this season. He also struggled in 2013, finishing the season with only 49 tackles and a sack after posting 104 tackles and six sacks in 2012.

      The Patriots desperately need linebacker help after losing Jerod Mayo for the season with a knee injury.