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  • Tuesday, September 23, 2014
    Bears 27, Jets 19
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed two touchdown passes to tight end Martellus Bennett, and the Chicago Bears raced out to a big early lead before hanging on to beat the New York Jets 27-19 Monday night at MetLife Stadium.

    • The win was the second in a row for the Bears (2-1), who moved into a tie atop the NFC North with the Detroit Lions. The Jets (1-2) lost their second straight.

      Chicago led 14-0 just 5:06 into the game thanks to a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Ryan Mundy and Cutler's 7-yard scoring strike to Bennett.

      The Jets crept back but continually hurt their own cause with ill-timed mistakes. Quarterback Geno Smith threw two interceptions, including one into the end zone in the third quarter as the Jets were trying to pull within four points. In addition, linebacker David Harris and safety Antonio Allen each dropped seemingly sure interceptions.

      New York nearly tied the game in the final two minutes, when Smith hit wide receiver Greg Salas for a 51-yard gain to put the Jets at the Bears' 20-yard-line. A holding penalty on Chicago two plays later gave the Jets a first down at the Bears' 14-yard-line, but Smith's fourth-down pass to Jeremy Kerley took the wide receiver out of bounds beyond the end zone.

      Cutler finished 23 of 38 for 225 yards and no interceptions. He capped the Bears' first drive of the second half with a 13-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Bennett, who had had five catches for 54 yards.

      Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery made eight receptions for 105 yards.

      Smith finished 26-for-43 for 316 yards and a touchdown pass to Kerley (seven catches for 81 yards). Running back Chris Ivory had 96 total yards and set career highs with four catches for 52 yards.

      Jets kicker Nick Folk hit all four of his field-goal attempts.

      The Bears jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the second play from scrimmage, when Mundy picked off a Smith pass intended for running back Chris Johnson and raced 45 yards for a touchdown.

      Chicago went three-and-out on its first offensive possession, but Jets wide receiver Jalen Saunders fumbled the subsequent punt, and Bears safety Ahmad Dixon recovered it at the Chicago 40-yard-line. Four plays later, Cutler threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Bennett.

      The teams exchanged field goals on their next three possessions before the Jets pulled within 17-13 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Kerley, who held on despite absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bears safety Danny McCray.

      NOTES: The Jets and Bears met one day shy of the 23rd anniversary of their previous Monday night game. On Sept. 23, 1991, the Bears came back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Jets 19-13 on QB Jim Harbaugh's 1-yard touchdown sneak in the final minute of overtime. ... Jets WR Eric Decker, who was listed as questionable due to a tight right hamstring, was active but didn't play after the first quarter. ... The Jets announced former owner Leon Hess and former WR Wayne Chrebet would be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during the Dec. 1 game against the Miami Dolphins. ... Bears WRs Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and Brandon Marshall (ankle), both listed as questionable throughout the week, were active. Marshall appeared to aggravate his injury with 7:52 left in the first half, and he limped off the field. He returned to start the second half.

  • Tuesday, September 23, 2014
    Cardinals' early bye could be blessing in disguise
    By The Sports Xchange

    TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals would prefer to have their bye later than the fourth week of the season, but the timing might work out for them.

    • They have a number of injured players, including quarterback Carson Palmer, who could use the time off to let his ailing right shoulder rest.

      A year ago, coach Bruce Arians used the bye week to try to instill some toughness in his team. They had two physical practices that week and went 6-2 afterward.

      This year, he's backing off.

      "The big thing right now is to get some young players some action for depth," he said. "I would love to have them both days in pads, but we just can't do it."

      Palmer hasn't thrown a pass with authority since the first game of the season. The nerve problem in his right shoulder is improving, Arians said, and it's hoped he will be able to throw sometime this week or early next week.

      There is less of a rush for him to return than there was two weeks ago. Drew Stanton has played well in his two starts and showed steady improvement.

      "Last week (against the Giants) I thought he was in the management mode: don't lose it," Arians said. "This one (against the 49ers) I thought he went to win. He took his shots down the field."

      The Cardinals are 3-0 for only the third time in the past 41 years (2012, 1974), and they beat the 49ers after a tumultuous week.

      Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested at the team facility on Wednesday on domestic abuse charges. On Friday, outside linebacker John Abraham was placed on injured reserve due to a severe concussion.

      "They are just bumps in the road," Arians said. "Everything is not going to come easy. The harder they get, the easier they are for us now. There are no excuses. Nobody wants to hear them."

      REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS

      PASSING OFFENSE: A - Drew Stanton was more than efficient in his second start of the season. Two touchdown passes to John Brown gave the Cardinals the lead in the third quarter. Stanton has not had a pass intercepted, and he was rarely under pressure on Sunday.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: B - The Cardinals had just 84 yards on 27 carries. But all but two runs by backs went for positive yardage and they were able to run for a first down at the end to put the game away.

      PASS DEFENSE: B - It was a tale of two halves. In the first, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick worked underneath and guided two touchdown drives. In the second half, the secondary played tighter and the Cardinals generated at least some pass rush.

      RUSH DEFENSE: A - The 49ers rushed for 82 yards on 24 carries and their biggest gain was 10. Part of that was because the Cardinals did a good job, and part of that was because the 49ers were missing their top two tight ends. They relied primarily on multiple receiver sets and didn't try to run with any consistency in the second half.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro made all three field-goal attempts and he's 9-for-9 for theseason. The Cardinals also blocked a field goal, and they did it with nine men on the field.

      COACHING: A - Arians and his staff had this team ready to play against the 49ers. That was the easy part of the week. The difficult part was making adjustments during the game. The 49ers surprised the Cardinals by using four- and five-receiver sets. But after two touchdown drives by the 49ers, the Cardinals adjusted and shut out the 49ers in the second half.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Report: Bucs work out Pryor
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may need some help at quarterback with Josh McCown sidelined for the next few weeks with a thumb injury.

    • With that in mind, the Bucs worked out former Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday, ESPN.com reported.

      Pryor started nine games for the Raiders last season, throwing seven touchdown passes and 11 interceptions and running for 576 yards.

      Pryor was released by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the preseason after Tarvaris Jackson got the backup job in Seattle. Pryor completed 21 of 39 passes for 281 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in exhibition action for the Seahawks.

      Mike Glennon looks like the Bucs' starter at the moment, and Mike Kafka is on the practice squad.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Dangerous Bengals offense adding another weapon
    By The Sports Xchange

    As creative and explosive as the Cincinnati Bengals offense has been in getting off to a 3-0 start under new coordinator Hue Jackson, it's about to be infused with another jolt of electricity.

    • Injured wide receiver Marvin Jones is expected to return to practice this week and should be ready to make his season debut after the bye week in the nationally televised game at New England on Oct. 5.

      "I'm about five weeks post-op, so the progression is there and we're happy with where my status is right now," said Jones, who had surgery Aug. 11 after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

      Even though Jones, a third-year player from Cal who had 51 catches for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, is still listed as the starter, look for the Bengals to ease him back into action for a few games after he's cleared.

      Jones missed the first two weeks of training camp with an ankle injury he suffered in the offseason. He broke his foot in his first practice back. It's going to take some time for him to get into football shape.

      "It takes a couple of practices," Jones said. "That first practice is always, 'Oh, my gosh.' It doesn't matter how much conditioning you do on the side, nothing can replicate you actually going in there and consistently running routes. That's always a big part of it.

      "You have to get in there and practice at first and see how that goes," he added. "But knowing me, I can get ready pretty fast. We'll see."

      The Bengals can afford to be as patient as needed with Jones because of the play of Mohamed Sanu, who has 12 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown in addition to his two throwing plays where he has gone 2-for-2 for 68 yards and a touchdown.

      Asked if he can throw the ball, too, Jones laughed.

      "Yes, but I'd rather be on the receiving end of it," he said. "I'll let the professionals handle the throws, because Mo is a professional quarterback as well. Every time we practice, it's not on Mo, it's up to the guy to catch it. He puts it in the right spot. I've never seen him throw a bad pass, so don't mess up Mo's perfect passer rating."

      Jones has 11 carries for 112 yards (10.2 average) in his career, so you can bet Jackson is already drawing up some new gadget plays to get him involved in different ways.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      --The Bengals came within 6:09 Sunday of posting their first shutout in six years and first at home since 1980.

      "We almost had it," said safety George Iloka, who had a team-high eight tackles and a jarring hit on Titans tight end Delanie Walker that led to a Robert Geathers interception.

      "Of course I'm disappointed," Iloka added. "Perfection is what you strive for. We fell short of that."

      Many of the Bengals starters were out of the game by the time Tennessee running back Shonn Greene capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, but the Bengals weren't using that as an excuse.

      "We had another good game overall defensively, but we're hunting excellence," said linebacker Vinny Rey, who got the start for injured Pro Bowler Vontaze Burfict (concussion). "We really want to be perfect in everything we do. We obviously weren't today, but that's what we're going to continue to strive for."

      The last time the Bengals recorded a shutout was Dec. 21, 2008, a 14-0 blanking in Cleveland. The last time they did it at home was a 14-0 triumph of Minnesota on Oct. 19, 1980.

      --Andy Dalton because the first quarterback in Bengals history to catch a touchdown pass when he leapt to grab a toss from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, slipped a tackle attempt by Tennessee cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and beat safety Michael Griffin to the pylon.

      Wreh-Wilson looked as though he was either going to beat Dalton to the ball for a pick six or splatter the quarterback all over the turf, but he did neither despite practicing for the trick play during the week.

      "Luckily he didn't hit me squarely, and I was able to bounce off him," Dalton said. "It didn't happen exactly as we drew it up, but I'm glad it unfolded the way it did."

      Four other Cincinnati quarterbacks have caught passes -- Sam Wyche (1968), David Klingler (1994), Akili Smith (1999) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2008). Wyche, Klinger and Fitzpatrick all caught their own passes after they were batted back by a defensive player. Only Smith caught a pass from someone else, a 6-yarder from wide receiver Carl Pickens.

      Dalton is the first NFL quarterback to score a receiving touchdown since Kansas City's Tyler Thigpen in 2008.

      "It was fun," Dalton said. "It's not something you get to do all the time. I always tell the receivers that I have the best hands on the team (laughs). I don't know if I'll be getting another one for a while."

      --The blowout of Tennessee gave head coach Marvin Lewis a chance to empty his bench, and rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the team's first-round pick, made the most of his first opportunity outside of special teams.

      On the second defensive snap on his career, Dennard came off the right edge and chased down Titans quarterback Jake Locker for a sack.

      "The secondary did a great job covering the receivers so he had no room to throw and the defensive line did a great job of cutting everything back," Dennard said. "I just had to tackle him. I came clean.

      "It's definitely exciting," he added. "It's a great defense with great players, so just sliding in at the end for a couple of plays was pretty cool."

      REPORT CARD VS. TITANSA

      PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Andy Dalton only threw for 169 yards and in a closer game against a better opponent, his first interception of the year -- an off-target screen that gave the Titans the ball at the Bengals 22 -- could have been a game-changer.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The Bengals averaged only 3.7 yards per carry, but they got them when they needed them. Nine times they ran the ball when the line to gain (for either a first down or touchdown) was 4 yards or less, and eight times they converted.

      PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- Granted they weren't facing a Hall of Famer, or even a Pro Bowler, but the Bengals made life miserable for Jake Locker from start to finish

      RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The tackling wasn't great as the Bengals gave up 149 yards on the ground, but 50 of those were on scrambles by Titans quarterback Jake Locker

      SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Kicker Mike Nugent bounced back from his worst day as a pro to nail his first and only attempt of the day, and punter Kevin Huber was not only long, averaging 49.0 yards on his four kicks, but precise as three of his boots pinned the Titans at the 6, 4 and 2,

      COACHING: A -- Maybe the worst thing you can call a play-caller is predictable, and no one in their right mind would even consider slapping that tag on offensive coordinator Hue Jackson or defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on Sunday.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Broncos show improvement, but a loss is no victory
    By The Sports Xchange

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- "There are no moral victories," Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton maintained late Sunday, and given the demanding schedule the Denver Broncos face upon returning from their Week 4 bye, the team may soon lament the opportunity they lost in a 26-20 overtime defeat at Seattle.

    • But it was impossible to ignore the fact that most of the changes the Broncos underwent during their offseason did bear fruit.

      Their defense was smarter, faster and more aggressive, which allowed the Broncos to have cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadow Percy Harvin when he went in motion, preventing the Seahawks from ever using the jet or fly sweeps that have invigorated their offense. It intercepted Russell Wilson once, stopped Marshawn Lynch for a safety and held the Seahawks to a single field goal in the second half, allowing the offense to come all the way back from a 14-point deficit.

      The offense overcame its stops and starts to drive 80 yards in the final minute to a touchdown and a game-tying two-point conversion, sprinting downfield in just 41 seconds with no timeouts. The momentum it built late in the game was such that if the Broncos had won the overtime coin toss, their chances of driving the length of the field and ending matters with a touchdown of their own seemed solid.

      It was a long way from the 43-8 rout in Super Bowl XLVIII, where the Seahawks punched the Broncos early, and the response was quick capitulation. The Broncos staggered at times Sunday, but kept the Seahawks from landing the knockout blow until overtime.

      "Better than last time," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "We went 80-something yards, no timeouts with under a minute, it's not easy to do against that defense. Those are the things you take from it, that if you get in that situation again, having been here before, you know you can do it."

      Perhaps more than the wins in Weeks 1 or 2, the loss to the Seahawks reaffirmed the Broncos' status as legitimate title contenders -- although with some issues that need to be fixed, particularly in the run game.

      But after hearing about their Super Bowl rout for seven and a half months, the Broncos can finally move on, having answered most questions about their toughness and resilience. If their offense can find the consistency it has lacked in the first month of the season, they should be primed for another run.

      So confident were the Broncos after Sunday's loss that they spoke openly of wanting another shot at the Seahawks, with Harris speaking of what might happen "next time."

      "Oh, man. I'd love to play them again," Harris said. "We'll see them again, if they make it to the final game, because I believe that we're the best team.

      "I feel like we'll see them again."

      Notes: Tight end Virgil Green will go through the league's post-concussion protocol after leaving Sunday's game with a concussion in the second quarter. . . . Wide receiver Wes Welker caught six passes for 60 yards and played 47 of 70 snaps in his return from a two-game suspension that was shortened from four games after a change in the NFL's drug-testing policy. . . . Linebacker Lerentee McCray sat out because of a knee injury suffered in the first quarter of the Week 2 win over the Chiefs. . . . Safety David Bruton suffered a sprained ankle and is considered day-to-day.

      REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Once the Broncos began taking shots downfield to Emmanuel Sanders, their underneath receivers had more room to make plays. Wes Welker had a successful return, catching six passes for 60 yards, and Sanders' speed exposed the Seahawks late. But Demaryius Thomas looks slow and hesitant, and caught just four passes for 31 yards, and Julius Thomas was a non-factor for most of the game, although he did score the Broncos' first touchdown.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Montee Ball's second-longest run ended in a lost fumble, which got the offense off to a bad start, and the running backs rarely had any room to roam, as the Broncos' offensive line was overwhelmed by Seattle's defensive front. Center Manny Ramirez struggled to contain Seattle's defensive tackles, and offensive tackles Chris Clark and Ryan Clady were beaten on the outside. The result was that Broncos running backs mustered just 37 yards on 18 carries, a paltry 2.1-yard average that does nothing to keep opposing defenses honest.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- Just two Russell Wilson passes covered more than 20 yards, and the Broncos did a credible job preventing explosive plays while also generating pressure that led to three sacks and an interception. But Wilson was able to keep the Broncos off-balance when he escaped the pocket, and his throws on the run helped Seattle build momentum late in the second quarter and again in overtime. Seattle averaged 6.7 yards per pass play -- 0.8 yards more than the Broncos.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was tasked with shadowing Percy Harvin, and that kept the Seahawks from leaning on the jet and fly sweeps that propelled their offense in Weeks 1 and 2. But Marshawn Lynch provided enough bursts up the middle to keep the Seahawks balanced, although his 3.4-yard average was well off the 5.6-yard pace he posted in Weeks 1 and 2.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Brandon McManus has yet to be tested with a pressure placekick, but blasted every kickoff into or out of the end zone. The only kick that was returned was placed near the sideline, which limited Percy Harvin's return to just 13 yards. Britton Colquitt was solid on punts, dropping three inside the 20 and posting a solid 42.8-yard net average. But the Broncos' return game was nondescript once again.

      --COACHING: C -- The Broncos' close-to-the-vest play-calling Sunday -- and with leads in other games -- led to questions Monday about whether the offense was being too conservative in the name of trying to create a balanced attack. They went into the game emphasizing possession and ball security, and saw that fly out the window on the offense's first play from scrimmage, which ended in a Montee Ball fumble. Jack Del Rio's defense did a good job corralling Harvin and limiting the Seahawks' explosive plays, but allowed Wilson to break containment too often in overtime.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Long drought over, Colts look ahead
    By The Sports Xchange

    INDIANAPOLIS -- After losing a postseason game at New England last January, going 0-4 in the preseason and 0-2 to begin the 2014 regular-season, the Indianapolis Colts were desperate to get back in the win column as soon as possible.

    • After a 44-17 road victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Indianapolis finally can take a breath and move on with their season.

      It wasn't as if the Colts played badly in losing to the Broncos in Denver in the season opener or at home to the Philadelphia Eagles the following week. Indianapolis lost by a total of 10 points to two of the better teams in the NFL.

      Still, a loss is a loss. And Indianapolis needed a win. Badly.

      Mission accomplished.

      "I am proud of the guys. Great team win," coach Chuck Pagano said. "(Proud of) bouncing back after two disappointing losses on a short week. (The season) is definitely pointing up. It was a great team win.

      "I am very pleased to get (a win) on the board because it's been a very, very long time. We hadn't had that feeling since (a postseason win over) Kansas City. It's been a long, long time since we had that feeling."

      Quarterback Andrew Luck admitted that the Colts' focus narrowed after the last-second loss to the Eagles.

      "There definitely was a sense of urgency," Luck said. "You don't want to start 0-2, but you definitely don't want to start 0-3. We realized we control that.

      "I think guys took (the situation) to heart. And it was a divisional game on the road. We managed to put two decent halves together and get the win."

      Now Indianapolis is moving on and preparing for Sunday's home game against the Tennessee Titans (1-2).

      "Lot of good things (in the Jacksonville game)," Pagano said. "There's always things to clean up. We'll do that again this week. ... We'll get those things cleaned up."

      Pagano continues to be impressed by the play of running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who scored three receiving touchdowns over the past two games. Bradshaw missed most of last season with a neck issue and had surgery to correct the problem.

      "He's a football junkie, a man's man. He loves to play the game," Pagano said. "(He) plays the game the way you are supposed to play the game. Our guys feed off that."

      NOTES: WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) left the Jacksonville game in the second half and did not return. The injury, though, is not considered to be serious. ... OLB Andy Studebaker (hamstring) will be listed as day-to-day after he left the Jaguars game in the second half. His status for the Tennessee game won't be determined until the end of the week. ... C Khaled Holmes (ankle) was a pregame inactive for the Jacksonville game. Holmes went through all practices last week. ... OT Joe Reitz (ankle) returned for limited work in practice last week, but he didn't play Sunday. A decision on his availability for the Tennessee game won't be made until Friday. ... DT Arthur Jones (ankle) will be sidelined for the next several weeks.

      REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: A -- The Colts' passing game was sluggish at best through the first two games. Indianapolis certainly had its moments against Denver and Philadelphia but had trouble sustaining the performance. That wasn't the case at Jacksonville. QB Andrew Luck completed 31 of 39 passes for 370 yards, four touchdowns and a 140.4 passer rating. He completed passes to nine receivers, eight of whom caught three or more. WR T.Y. Hilton led the way with five receptions for 80 yards. WR Reggie Wayyne, rookie WR Donte Moncrief, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Coby Fleener and TE Dwayne Allen each had four receptions.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Indianapolis' run game continues to show new life. The Colts produced 144 yards on the ground and averaged 5.0 yards per attempt. RB Ahmad Bradshaw led the way with 65 yards on nine carries. RB Trent Richardson added 57 yards on 14 rushing attempts.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B -- Yes, the Colts faced a struggling Jacksonville offense. Even so, Indianapolis did a pretty good job against QBs Chad Henne and Blake Bortles. Henne completed four of seven passes for 33 yards and was sacked three times. Bortles played the entire second half and connected on 14 of 24 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie also was sacked once and intercepted twice. CB Greg Toler returned one Bortles interception 47-yards for a touchdown.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B -- As a team, the Jaguars totaled 105 yards on the ground on 20 rushing attempts. RB Denard Robinson led the way with 33 yards on eight carries. RB Toby Gerhart added 32 yards on nine carries.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- PK Adam Vinatieri made three field goals, hitting from 48, 43 and 25 yards. P Pat McAfee averaged 53.5 net and gross yards on two punts, with both downed inside the Jacksonville 20-yard line. He also had eight touchbacks on kickoffs, which was a franchise single-game record. WR Griff Whalen had three fair catches on punts.

      --COACHING: B-plus -- Credit goes to head coach Chuck Pagano along with coordinators Pep Hamilton and Greg Manusky for getting the Colts' focus off their opening two losses and back on preparing for their next game. Indianapolis (1-2) is now one win away from being right back in the AFC South race.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Foster's absence felt in Texans' loss
    By The Sports Xchange

    HOUSTON -- Houston Texans running back Arian Foster was a late scratch from the New York Giants game because of a hamstring injury suffered in the victory over Oakland. He was limited in practice last week and questionable on the injury report. The Texans lost to the Giants.

    • Foster said on Monday he would be "day to day" leading up to Sunday's game against Buffalo.

      "As soon as I feel 100 percent, I'll be out there," said Foster, who reached triple digits against Washington and Oakland. "It's my hamstring's call.

      "I've played through a lot in this league -- knees, shoulders, broken bones -- but hamstrings are the hardest thing to gauge because you don't know how it's going to fatigue or react to a certain cut."

      Foster sat out the preseason and started the regular season with 241 yards on a league-high 55 carries.

      "It's frustrating watching your team play without you," he said. "I've put a lot into (getting ready for) this season. It's hard to stomach when all your people aren't out there, but it's part of the game."

      Foster was replaced by rookie Alfred Blue, whose 13 rushes for 78 yards included a 46-yard scamper that set up one of the Texans' two touchdowns.

      "I thought he played well," Foster said. "It was his first start, on the road, and he made some big plays. He has a good future in this league. I was proud of him."

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Romo playing like himself after back surgery
    By The Sports Xchange

    IRVING, Tex. -- The best news coming out of the Dallas Cowboys' 34-31 victory over the St. Louis Rams is that quarterback Tony Romo is starting to look like himself again.

    • Romo struggled with accuracy and movement the first two games of the season. And there was a thought that it might take until midseason before he felt completely comfortable as he continued to progress from last December's back surgery to repair a herniated disc.

      But Romo showed some of that old magic against the Rams, completing 18 of 23 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

      His 68-yard bomb to wide receiver Dez Bryant showed that he can still throw the deep ball -- an issue in the first two games.

      "I felt better. I felt stronger," Romo said. "It felt as if everything was firing, activation sequence, blah, blah, blah, stuff like that. That wasn't necessarily as well as I wanted to play probably the first couple of weeks."

      "At first glance, it looked like he was more himself in this ballgame," coach Jason Garrett said. "I thought he made some throws down the field, spontaneous throws, where he had to move in the pocket, kept his eyes down the field and really looked like himself."

      But it was on a third-quarter drive where he looked truly Romo-esque. He converted a third-and-13 with a 16-yard scramble, even making a defender miss. He converted a third-and-14 with a 20-yard bullet pass to Terrance Williams. He then beat the blitz on third-and-2 with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Williams, giving the Cowboys their first lead of the game at 27-24.

      "Yeah, it was a great drive, guys handled the environment well and we came back," Romo said. "The run was good. I had to make one guy miss -- that was obviously an exceptional move that I think he probably wants back."

      "There were huge plays he made," tight end Jason Witten said. "That one drive was really Romo-esque. He scrambled. He looked vertical and took the check-down. He created and made some big plays. We will see more of that."

      REPORT CARD VS. RAMS

      PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Things started badly for quarterback Tony Romo with a pick six in the second quarter, but he finished very well and very efficiently, completing 18 of 23 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and a 116.8 passer rating. He completed passes to six different receivers, with Dez Bryant leading the way with six receptions for 89 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown reception.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: B - Even as the Cowboys trailed 21-0 in the second quarter, they stayed true to the run. They still ran more than they passed, rushing 29 times for 123 yards, including 24 for 100 for running back DeMarco Murray.

      PASS DEFENSE: D - The Cowboys allowed Austin Davis, an undrafted free agent and third-string quarterback, to play the role of Kurt Warner. Davis completed 30 of 42 passes for 327 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Cowboys didn't record a sack. But the two fourth-quarter interceptions by linebacker Bruce Carter and cornerback Morris Claiborne turned the game. Carter's 25-yard pick six gave the Cowboys a 34-24 lead. Claiborne's pick sealed the victory.

      RUSH DEFENSE: D - The Cowboys played without middle linebacker Rolando McClain and it showed. They allowed 30 carries for 121 yards to the Rams. Zac Stacy led the way with 12 carries for 67 yards. But give the Cowboys credit: They did stop the Rams on a crucial fourth-and-1 in the third quarter. Anthony Hitchens, who replaced McClain in the middle, led the way on the crucial stop. He also had a team-high 13 tackles.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Dan Bailey was perfect on field goals and had five touchbacks on kickoffs. Dwayne Harris made some questionable decisions on kickoff returns and punter Chris Jones was average at best with a 38.5 average on two punts.

      COACHING: B - The Cowboys rallied from a 21-point deficit to win the game. It tied for the largest comeback in team history. Give the coaches credit for not panicking and staying the course with the commitment to the running game. The lack of a pass rush remains an issue.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Fitzpatrick can't carry Texans by himself
    By The Sports Xchange

    HOUSTON -- In their 30-17 loss to the New York Giants, the Houston Texans' worst fears came true.

    • They found out what would happen if they couldn't rely on running back Arian Foster, and the focus of the offense shifted to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

      In their victories over Washington and Oakland, Foster carried 55 times for 241 yards. Fitzpatrick was 28 of 41 (68.3 percent) for 345 yards and three touchdowns. He had no interceptions, and he wasn't sacked. His 118.5 passer rating was second to Peyton Manning.

      With Foster watching from the sideline at MetLife Stadium because of a hamstring injury, the Texans fell behind 17-0 in the third quarter, and they were forced to play catch-up behind Fitzpatrick, who threw three interceptions.

      Fitzpatrick was 20 of 34 for 289 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice. He was under constant pressure. He ran for a touchdown.

      Fitzpatrick was much better in the second half than the first, but his teammates and coaches let him down. They were terrible on offense and defense, and coach Bill O'Brien made some bad coaching decisions.

      "We're not going to win any games when I play like that, especially in the first half with the turnovers," Fitzpatrick said. "Sometimes interceptions happen, but that was just poor play by me. It's something I've got to eliminate.

      "You saw in the first two games the formula of not turning the ball over and forcing turnovers on defense and what that led to, which was two wins. As a quarterback you really hate losing, but you especially hate losing when it's kind of on you.

      "I made some poor decisions. It's a tough feeling, but I'm going to learn from it and move on."

      The Texans are 2-1, and they host Buffalo, Fitzpatrick's former team on Sunday. He started three seasons (2010-2012) for the Bills before signing with Tennessee last year.

      "It's the NFL (and), there's adversity every game, even when you're winning," Fitzpatrick said. "With injuries or whatever it is, you're going to face some adversity. In a sick way, the adversity is one of the best parts of this game -- guys coming together and not getting on each other and having that confidence and working that much harder. That's what I see with our group here.

      "We've got to play efficiently. We can't have penalties. We can't have turnovers. We've got to be better on third down."

      This is Fitzpatrick's 10th season. He's seen just about everything conceivable. He stays even keel, never on a roller-coaster emotionally.

      "It's definitely about being steady -- not allowing anything that happened in the past affect the way you go about your business for the next week," he said.

      REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS

      PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions. At halftime, when the Texans trailed 14-0, his rating was 0.6. He recovered in the second half, but his teammates failed him. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had six catches for 116 yards, as well as a 53-yarder called back, was one of the few bright spots. Pass protection was mediocre at best.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- With Arian Foster, they used three backs, including rookie Alfred Blue (13 for 78 yards) as the starter. Blue's 46-yard run was the highlight. The linemen did a poor job of run blocking on third down.

      PASS DEFENSE: D -- Four defensive backs, including three corners, left with injuries, but all returned. Without much pressure from the front seven, they were victims of quick drops and a lot of slant routes. They spent too much time trying to stop the run.

      RUSH DEFENSE: F-minus -- If Rashad Jennings could play against the Texans every week, he'd be on his way to Canton and the Hall of Fame. He carried 34 times for 176 yards. Playing for Oakland last season, he ran for 150 yards in Houston. The front seven got steamrolled by the Giants' blockers.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Shane Lechler had a punt blocked and suffered a hip flexor in the process. Earlier, he completed a 10-yard pass on a fake punt. Randy Bullock kicked a 27-yard field goal. Returns were terrible, but coverage was terrific.

      COACHING: F -- Bill O'Brien calls the plays, and he called two horrible ones that led to 10 points. On third-and-19 from the Texans' 9 with two minutes left in the first half, he had Ryan Fitzpatrick throw for a first down, but he was intercepted by Antrel Rolle, who returned it to the Houston 2 to set up an easy touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead. O'Brien should have been conservative, punted out of trouble and gone into halftime down 7-0. Then, on the first series of the second half, he went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Texans' 46, and Alfred Blue lost a yard, leading to a Giants' field goal.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    WrestleMania body slam on Brees ignites Saints
    By The Sports Xchange

    METAIRIE, La. -- After two late losses and nearly three sluggish quarters of a third game, the New Orleans Saints needed a spark in the worst way during Sunday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

    • Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn unintentionally awakened the Saints, and if they go on to have a successful season after an 0-2 start, they will owe him a sincere thank-you.

      Leading only 13-9 as the final seconds of the third quarter clicked down, Munnerlyn got to Drew Brees for a sack on third-and-13, and, in the process, flipped the quarterback upside down onto the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf.

      Brees was incensed when he quickly scrambled to his feet and gave a shove to the back of the first purple-shirted Vikings player he saw -- safety Robert Blanton, who assisted Munnerlyn on the takedown.

      A 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Vikings kept the drive going, and the Saints went on to score a touchdown on Brees' 18-yard pass to wide receiver Marques Colston. An inspired New Orleans defense made the lead stand up, and the Saints posted a much-needed 20-9 victory after dropping the first two games on the road.

      "That was a straight Hulk Hogan, 1985 WrestleMania suplex," said Brees, who was able to crack a smile about it after the game.

      The play helped inject some life into the Superdome crowd and a New Orleans offense that produced touchdown drives of 80 and 82 yards for a quick 13-0 lead (the second extra-point attempt was blocked) before struggling for two full quarters.

      "If you want to fire this team up," right tackle Zach Strief said, "that's the guy to go after."

      Brees, who was familiar with Munnerlyn from when the latter was with the Carolina Panthers, said there was no bad blood between the two.

      "No, I actually like him," Brees said. "He came up to me about 30 seconds later and said, 'That wasn't a penalty.' I said, 'Yeah, it was ... and thanks for the 15 yards.'"

      Not everything ended up going New Orleans' way Sunday, however. The Saints may be without starting center Jonathan Goodwin for an extended period of time after the 13-year veteran went down with a lower leg injury in the third quarter.

      The NFL Network reported Monday that Goodwin, who was seen in the locker room after the game on crutches and wearing a walking boot on his left foot, sustained a high ankle sprain. He was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday, but coach Sean Payton had no update Monday afternoon.

      NOTES: RCB Corey White started against Minnesota in place of Patrick Robinson, who struggled in the first two games. ... RB Mark Ingram did not play against the Vikings because of a fractured hand from Sept. 14. He could miss three more games.

      REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The Saints did a much better job against the Vikings' porous pass defense than they did in a loss to the Browns a week earlier. Drew Brees was efficient in hitting on 27 of 35 passes for 293 yards with two TDs and no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.3, but his protection was shaky at times. He was sacked once and hurried on several occasions. Still, he had time to hit WR Brandin Cooks eight times for 74 yards and TE Jimmy Graham six times for 54 yards. Brees started the game with nine completions in a row and eventually had scoring passes of 34 yards to third-string TE Josh Hill and 18 yards to WR Marques Colston.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- After picking up 38 yards on six attempts in their 80-yard drive that ended with RB Pierre Thomas' 1-yard touchdown run on the first possession, the Saints were slowed a bit on the ground. New Orleans added just 70 yards on 26 carries the rest of the afternoon and finished with 108 yards and a 3.4 average on 32 attempts. The Saints got long runs of 13 and 11 yards from RB Khiry Robinson and Thomas, respectively, with both coming on the opening drive. Robinson started in place of an injured Mark Ingram and had a game-high 69 yards on 18 attempts, while Thomas netted 30 yards on eight tries.

      --PASS DEFENSE: B -- Angry over a pair of poor performances, the Saints did a much better job Sunday. With third-year pro Corey White replacing CB Patrick Robinson, the Saints proved to be tougher to throw against, and the Vikings completed 17 of 30 attempts for 188 net yards with no touchdowns. QB Matt Cassel was 5-for-10 for 53 yards before sustaining a foot injury in the second quarter. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater entered and completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards with a long gain of 40 yards. Bridgewater, who was sacked twice, and Cassel combined for a passer rating of 77.5 as the defense brought more pressure with the front seven. WR Greg Jennings gained 70 yards on five receptions, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson had four catches for 61 yards.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- The Vikings, who played without All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson, managed just 59 yards and a 2.7 average on 22 rushing attempts. The Saints held RB Matt Asiata to 35 yards and a 2.9 average on 12 carries with a long of 8 yards. Bridgewater gained 27 yards on six attempts with a long of 15 after he broke containment a few times. He wasn't able, however, to break free for a big gain that might have given Minnesota some much-needed offensive momentum after a sluggish start.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- The Saints had no return game to speak of, and they were hot and cold on kick coverage, as the Vikings averaged just 2.8 yards on four punt returns. Patterson, however, nearly gave his team the spark it needed with a 43-yard kickoff return, and he averaged 30 yards on four attempts. P Thomas Morstead averaged 46.8 gross yards and 44.0 net yards with a long of 54 yards on four punts. One of PK Shayne Graham's three extra-point attempts was blocked by the Vikings.

      --COACHING: A -- After two rough outings for the secondary, the coaching staff knew a change was needed, and they replaced Patrick Robinson with White. The move paid off when the Saints allowed just 188 passing yards, with White doing a decent job in coverage. New Orleans also did a nice job of mixing up its coverages, which had rookie Bridgewater a bit out of sync at times. Credit Saints coach Sean Payton with getting his team to bounce back from two tough road losses to start the season even though the offense stumbled a little after opening the game with back-to-back touchdown drives of 80 and 82 yards.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    LB Harrison's return to Steelers in works
    By The Sports Xchange

    Less than three weeks after retiring, linebacker James Harrison is contemplating suiting up once again for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    • Harrison tweeted on Monday that he would like to play another season and will meet Tuesday with Pittsburgh officials.

      The longtime Steelers defensive stalwart played last season for the Cincinnati Bengals.

      Pittsburgh rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones both were injured in Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

      Shazier is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a sprained knee. Jones was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list. He will be out at least eight weeks after dislocating his wrist.

      Shazier sprained his knee and is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    NFL roundup: Ravens owner responds to latest controversy
    By The Sports Xchange

    Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sat on a stage at the team's practice facility Monday and answered questions for almost 50 minutes regarding the way the team and the NFL handled the Ray Rice domestic abuse case.

    • Bisciotti and the Ravens disputed many aspects of a report by ESPN last week. They specifically disputed allegations that the Ravens knew about the incriminating video before it publicly surfaced via TMZ and that allegations that coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice earlier in the year, but was overruled by the front office.

      The Ravens issued an eight-page report disputing a number of the allegations in the ESPN article.

      Bisciotti also vehemently denied a report that he promised Rice an eventual front office job with the organization if he agreed to stay quiet about the way the incident was handled.

      Bisciotti did admit he would have handled the Rice situation differently if given another chance.

      Bisciotti said that it's "obvious" that the majority of the anonymous sources in the ESPN article work for Rice (his agent, attorney friends, etc.) in order to build a case for his reinstatement to the league. Bisciotti also said no one with the Ravens organization will lose their jobs over the handling of the case.

      --Tests confirmed that Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall suffered a season-ending Achilles injury

      against Philadelphia.

      The Redskins placed him on injured reserve and promoted cornerback Chase Minnifield from the practice squad.

      --Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch will be placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL while celebrating a sack, coach Jim Caldwell announced.

      Tulloch's left knee buckled while he was jumping up and down after making a sack of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

      ---Kicker Alex Henery signed with the Lions and struggling rookie place-kicker Nate Freese was waived.

      Freese missed a 41-yard field goal wide left to end the first half and was 0-for-4 from 40 yards and longer in the first three games.

      --The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without three defensive players for a while after they were injured in Sunday night's game.

      Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has a sprained MCL and will undergo an MRI.

      Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones likely needs wrist surgery that would sideline him indefinitely, a source told ESPN.

      Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor suffered a broken right forearm and is a candidate to go on short-term injured reserve where he could return to action after eight weeks.

      --Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin declined to commit to quarterback Ryan Tannehill as his starter for Sunday's game in London.

      It remains unclear who will be the starter for Dolphins' game against the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium.

      Matt Moore is the Dolphins' backup quarterback.

      --Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce has a sports hernia injury and will need surgery, coach Chip Kelly confirmed.

      Sources told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Kelce could miss up to two months or more.

      --The San Diego Chargers placed running back Danny Woodhead on season-ending injury reserve after he suffered a broken leg in Sunday's game.

      The Chargers are already without running back Ryan Matthews, who is expected to miss a few more weeks with a hamstring injury.

      -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who may be without quarterback Josh McCown sidelined for the next few weeks with a thumb injury, worked out former Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday, ESPN.com reported.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Browns will refresh during bye week
    By The Sports Xchange

    BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns head into their bye week feeling low and disappointed after losing to the Baltimore Ravens on a last-second field goal Sunday.

    • They will practice Wednesday and Thursday and then head to their mini-vacation before returning next week to begin preparing for their game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 5. The Browns have plenty to work on between now and then to get back on the winning track.

      "At the end of the day, it's only one game," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "While we wanted to win this one, we have the bye week coming up, and we're going to come in and study this film because we have a long season ahead of us. It's only the third game of the season. We're not going to be in panic mode."

      The Browns were penalized 12 times in the loss to the Ravens. They were penalized a total of 12 times in the first two games. Two of the penalties were on the defense for having 12 men on the field. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby said the errors were the result of a communication problem the Browns should be able to clean up without much trouble.

      "Anytime you get a bye week, it's good for the mind, body and soul," Dansby said. "We can take our time, make some adjustments and get ready for the long haul. We have to do better. We have to play technically sound and make better plays. That's the nuts and bolts of it right there."

      The Browns hope starting running back Ben Tate will be back from a knee injury by the time they resume practice next week. The injury kept him out of games against the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore.

      Rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell put up good numbers in Tate's absence, totaling 345 yards and five touchdowns to date, but West in particular was guilty of rookie mistakes. He was called for an illegal shift in the second quarter against the Ravens, a penalty that erased a 39-yard pass from Hoyer to backup quarterback Johnny Manziel on a trick play.

      REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

      PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Brian Hoyer completed 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards. At one point, he was 17 of 19. He still hasn't thrown an interception, but he completed only two of his last six passes and could not muster a first down in either of the last two possessions. Rookie WR Taylor Gabriel fell catching a pass that went for 70 yards. He ran 19 yards after falling, but had he stayed on his feet, he would have scored a touchdown.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- RBs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West continue to provide a one-two punch while Ben Tate mends from a knee injury. Crowell averaged 5 yards a carry and scored his third rushing touchdown. The Browns tried getting tricky a couple times, and it cost them. Gabriel lost 2 yards on two carries, and WR Travis Benjamin lost two yards on an end-around.

      PASSING DEFENSE: C-minus -- QB Joe Flacco raised his record to 12-1 against the Browns by completing 19 of 31 passes for 217 yards. He did an excellent job of finding FB Kyle Juszczyk, whom the Browns failed to cover well until the fourth quarter. Juszczyk scored a touchdown and caught three passes for 54 yards. Cleveland rookie CB Justin Gilbert was flagged for a 31-yard pass-interference penalty, and CB Joe Haden gave up a 32-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal.

      RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Ravens ripped through the Browns for 160 yards on 33 carries. Rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro had wide-open holes on many of his 18 carries, and at other times the Browns missed tackles. Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said the defenders were out of position at times. Opponents are averaging 5.2 yards a carry this season.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- PK Billy Cundiff missed a 50-yard field-goal try, and a 36-yard attempt was blocked because Billy Winn, playing the right wing on protection, failed to slow CB Asa Jackson running around the corner. The Browns had no punt-return yardage. The negatives outweigh Cundiff booting the ball out of the end zone on all four kickoffs.

      COACHING: D -- Pettine took the blame for the loss. The Browns were penalized twice on defense for 12 men on the field. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tried to get too cute by calling reverses when the running game was working well.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Harbaugh hopeful 49ers find answer to second-half woes
    By The Sports Xchange

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers have been outscored 52-3 in the second halves of their three games this season. And now, here come the ultra-conditioned Philadelphia Eagles.

    • Uh oh.

      Asked for a third consecutive week to explain his club's second-half woes, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't point a finger at poor halftime adjustments after Sunday's 23-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

      And he certainly wouldn't go anywhere near saying that his guys are out of shape.

      "I feel good about it," he said Monday when asked if his coaches are doing enough at halftime to prevent the second-half meltdowns. "I feel really good about our coaches' process of how we do things. I feel good about our football team."

      The 49ers' defensive numbers don't support Harbaugh's optimism. The following is a list of total yards allowed in each 10-play sequence of the first three games:

      Plays 1-10: 154 yards.

      Plays 11-20: 101 yards.

      Plays 21-30: 112 yards.

      Plays 31-40: 180 yards.

      Plays 41-50: 151 yards.

      Plays 51-60: 107 yards.

      Plays 61-70: 114 yards (on 19 plays).

      Plays 71-72: 2 yards (on two plays).

      The difference between plays 1-30 (4.1-yard average) and Plays 31-72 (5.0-yard average) is significant. The average play after the 30th is 22 percent more productive than the first 30 for the opposing offenses.

      Of course, when you throw in the scoring, the disparity goes through the roof. The first 90 plays (30 per game) have produced nine field goals; the last 111 have surrendered eight touchdowns and a field goal.

      And here come the Eagles.

      NOTES, QUOTES

      --49ers coach Jim Harbaugh refused to blame the officials after his team was nailed with nine penalties for 107 yards in Sunday's 23-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

      "We never point any finger of blame or make excuses in terms of the officiating," he said Monday. "Something the football gods can be unforgiving. You work to fix it, and I'm confident we'll do that.

      While the club has been hit hard by flags in the first three games, the 49ers are by no means the team with the most to complain about.

      While the 49ers lead the league with 36 infractions, they are only third with 305 yards in penalties. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the 49ers have benefitted from 25 opponents penalties, also the third-most in the league.

      In terms of difference, the 49ers have 11 more penalties than their opponents for 132 more yards. Those numbers rank just sixth in both categories.

      --Coming off consecutive losses to the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers are 1-2 for the second year in a row, something that didn't go unnoticed by coach Jim Harbaugh in the aftermath of Sunday's 23-14 defeat.

      "We're going to build on the positives," he insisted. "We've been in this situation before."

      --The home of embattled defensive end Ray McDonald was burglarized late Saturday night after the 49ers had left for their game in Arizona.

      Mostly personal items were taken.

      McDonald's home was the site at which he was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse on Aug. 31. He awaits a hearing on that matter.

      To add injury to insult, McDonald suffered the 49ers' only significant injury in Sunday's loss to Arizona. He dislocated a finger.

      REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

      PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had career-best numbers in completions (29), completion percentage (78.4) and quarterback rating (103.3) in Sunday's loss to Arizona. Despite missing tight end Vernon Davis (ankle injury), the 49ers came out throwing against one of the league's best run defenses. Kaepernick successfully followed the game plan by spreading the ball around, even getting veteran newcomer Stevie Johnson (nine catches, 103 yards) involved.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Running backs Frank Gore (six carries) and Carlos Hyde (three) were afterthoughts in the 49ers' game plan against a rugged Arizona run defense. Hyde managed a touchdown, his second of the season, on one of his three carries. Operating out of a spread offense that gave him more scrambling options, quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran 13 times for 54 yards. Most important, he did so without getting hurt.

      PASSING DEFENSE: D -- The 49ers once again were without their best pass rusher (suspended defensive end Aldon Smith) and best cover corner (injured defensive back Tramaine Brock), but it wasn't supposed to matter against the Arizona Cardinals. Alas, injury replacement Drew Stanton managed 244 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception, providing the difference in the game in Arizona's 23-14 win.

      RUSHING DEFENSE: B -- The 49ers held running back Andre Ellington to 62 yards on 18 carries and Arizona to a total of 84 yards. That was supposed to be good enough to hold the Cardinals offense in check, especially with starting quarterback Carson Palmer injured. Alas, it wasn't in the 49ers' 23-14 loss. That said, the defensive problems came mostly against Arizona's Drew Stanton-led passing game.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: C+ -- Everything was going fine until veteran Phil Dawson had a 46-yard field goal blocked in the fourth quarter. It came at a critical point, with the 49ers electing to go for three while down by six, 20-14. The hope was to get within three, then get the ball back with a chance to tie or win. The missed kick put the team in a serious catch-up mode the rest of the way, and it failed in a 23-14 loss at Arizona.

      COACHING: F -- Head coach Jim Harbaugh claims his players are in good shape and that his assistant coaches are making the proper adjustments at halftime. That said, the 49ers got seriously outplayed for the third consecutive game in the second half, blowing a 14-6 lead and losing 23-14 to the Arizona Cardinals. The meltdown continued a trend. The 49ers have dominated their three opponents to the tune of 59-16 in the first half, only to get whipped 52-3 after halftime. The result: a disappointing 1-2 record.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Offense missing for Packers early in season
    By The Sports Xchange

    GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The oddity of the offense allowing more points than it produced Sunday left the Green Bay Packers with one of the most scrutinized losses in Aaron Rodgers' six-plus seasons as their stellar quarterback.

    • "We never established anything (on offense). It's an embarrassment," receiver Randall Cobb bemoaned in the aftermath of Green Bay's 19-7 defeat to the Detroit Lions.

      A Rodgers touchdown throw to tight end Andrew Quarless late in the first quarter, which tied the score at 7, was all the Packers mustered as they lost for the second time at Detroit's Ford Field in less than a year.

      Conversely, the Rodgers-led offense gift-wrapped nine points for the Lions, who, thanks in part to an opportunistic Green Bay defense (three takeaways), weren't so hot with the football, either.

      A fumble by halfback Eddie Lacy on the Packers' second play of the game resulted in a 40-yard touchdown return by safety Don Carey, and Lacy was tackled by linebacker DeAndre Levy in the end zone for a second-quarter safety.

      "If you score (just) seven points, it's frustrating," Rodgers said.

      The seven-point output is the lowest for Green Bay in a game started and completed by Rodgers. What's more, Rodgers passed for just 162 yards, his lowest total in a game he played from start to finish.

      The travails Sunday compounded a ragged start for the offense after three games this season. Despite an emphasis on running the football against Detroit's two-shell scheme devoted to slowing down Rodgers and red-hot receiver Jordy Nelson, the Packers (1-2) remained in a funk on the ground, producing a season-low 76 rushing yards.

      After gaining a total of 77 yards in the first two games, Lacy managed only 36 yards on 11 carries Sunday, and he committed the costly fumble on a hit by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

      "Eddie needs to play better," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "I don't correct individuals in the media. We've seen the film; the corrections have been made. Our run game wasn't nearly what it needed to be -- not even close."

      Although McCarthy admitted in two separate postgame interviews and also in his Monday news conference that he perhaps should have put the ball in Rodgers' right hand to throw more, the veteran coach/play-caller defended his balanced game plan.

      "He's in a best-play-available mindset, not on every single play," said McCarthy, when asked Monday about the latitude given to Rodgers to check out of calls. "But, let's be honest, if you've got a run (called) and they're playing two-deep, we should be running the ball. I think that's elementary football there."

      Plus, when Rodgers did throw the football, the results weren't good. He went just 16-for-27, was sacked two times, endured what the coaches determined to be six dropped passes and also was off the mark on what could have been a 20-yard touchdown throw to Nelson on fourth down.

      The Packers didn't get the football back after that missed opportunity, as the Lions ran out the final 6 minutes, 54 seconds.

      "Yeah, we haven't been as sharp offensively," Rodgers said. "I haven't been as sharp to maybe the standard I've set. But, we've all got to do better. We've got to adjust better. We've got to throw better. We have to catch better. We've got to score points."

      REPORT CARD VS. LIONS

      PASSING OFFENSE: D -- QB Aaron Rodgers endured an unusually forgettable afternoon. The seven points put up by the Packers not only were their lowest output in a game started and finished by Rodgers in his six-plus years as the team's starting quarterback, but his 162 passing yards also are a low watermark in a game he played in full. Rodgers didn't get any favors from the likes of WRs Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin with drops and rookie WR Davante Adams' running a wrong route. Rodgers' flimsy 16-of-27 accuracy, which didn't include a turnover, also was due in part to him being off target with a few throws, none bigger than what would have been a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 to WR Jordy Nelson with about seven minutes left and Green Bay down 19-7. Rodgers' deep dart to a slanting and sliding Nelson at the goal line, however, was behind the open receiver for an incompletion on what turned out to be the Packers' last touch of the football.

      The Lions' effectiveness with a two-high scheme at safety limited Nelson, the league's most involved pass-catcher after the first two weeks, to five receptions for 59 yards in seven targets. The maddening inability by receivers to separate from Detroit's patchwork cover guys downfield resulted in no significant deep completions by Rodgers. Green Bay's only points came on an impressive 10-yard touchdown grab in end-zone traffic by TE Andrew Quarless (four catches, 43 yards) late in the first quarter. The Packers' pass protection wasn't bad, but Rodgers wound up eating the football as he went down in the pocket amid delayed pressure for two sacks.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Take away a pair of explosive runs -- 15 yards by top reserve RB James Starks in the second quarter and 17 yards by starting RB Eddie Lacy in the team's only fourth-quarter possession -- and Green Bay's season-worst rushing total would have been more appalling. As it was, the Packers had plenty to lament in the wake of producing all of 76 rushing yards against a physical, athletic and relentless defensive surge by Detroit. The second play of the game for Green Bay was a foreshadow of how turbulent the day would be for Lacy & Co. on the ground behind an offensive line and complementary pieces that were overmatched in run blocking. Lacy's run off left tackle resulted in a strip by Lions DT Nick Fairley, then an easy fumble recovery and 40-yard dash to the end zone by S Don Carey for an early 7-0 Detroit lead.

      Green Bay's self-destructive offense gave away two more points early in the second quarter. Lacy had nowhere to go in the end zone on a designed run to the right on first-and-10 from the Packers' 1-yard line. Green Bay rookie TE Richard Rodgers, lined up to the right of RT Bryan Bulaga, was driven back off the snap by veteran DE Jason Jones. That prevented Lacy from getting to the outside and allowed LB DeAndre Levy to swoop in unblocked past tardy RG T.J. Lang for the big takedown well behind the goal line. The Packers averaged just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, slightly better than Lacy's clip of 3.3 yards (11 carries, 36 yards). Starks had a team-best 38 rushing yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

      PASS DEFENSE: B -- After many predicted an early-season shootout between these two pass-happy, potent offenses in their first clash of the season, Green Bay's previously maligned defense certainly wasn't the biggest reason for the latest loss. The Packers nearly made Detroit QB Matthew Stafford a nonfactor. Their pressure-oriented attack forced him into 22-of-34 throwing for 246 yards and zero touchdowns with three turnovers, including two interceptions that dropped his passer rating to a measly 61.6. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the team's first-round draft pick this year, had the first interception by a Green Bay safety since late in the 2012 season on the back end of a deflected deep pass. Later in the first half, CB Davon House beat WR Calvin Johnson for the catch of another Stafford deep ball from midfield just short of the goal line.

      The combination of CB Sam Shields and House on the outside and CB Tramon Williams in the slot kept Johnson to a relatively quiet six receptions for 82 yards (long of 26) in 10 targets. Veteran OLB Julius Peppers had a big strip-sack of Stafford and also the fumble recovery when the Lions were inside the Green Bay 10 in the third quarter. It was one of two Packers sacks in the game. Green Bay, though, let its guard down in a number of third-down situations, including a pair of penalties by Williams (holding, pass interference) in the second half. The Packers also allowed No. 2 WR Golden Tate (five receptions, 51 yards) and versatile TB Reggie Bush (six catches, 38 yards) to have an impact, not to mention giving up a desperation heave from Stafford to WR Corey Fuller for 52 yards in the final seconds of the first half that would have led to three more points for the Lions if not for a missed field goal.

      RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Unlike the first two games, when Seattle and to a lesser extent the New York Jets ran over them, the Packers were up to the task stopping the run Sunday. Problem was, all the good for a little more than three quarters was overshadowed by a major letdown on one play early in the final quarter. Green Bay S Micah Hyde was slow to react and get to the outside, allowing Bush to blow by after taking a shotgun handoff from Stafford on third-and-2. Bush bounced it around left end for a 26-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 19-7 cushion with less than 11 minutes to go.

      That accounted for nearly a fourth of Detroit's rushing output of 115 yards. The Lions averaged just 3 yards per attempt, but Bush's big play enabled him to get to a 5.1-yard average (61 yards on 12 carries). The Packers held bruising change-of-pace RB Joique Bell to 2.2 yards per touch with 33 yards on 15 carries, though Bell had a decisive 4-yard carry on third-and-4 at midfield that allowed the Lions to kneel away the final three plays of the game as they exhausted the last 6 minutes, 54 seconds.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The ineptitude by the offense prevented K Mason Crosby from making more than one point-after cameo, keeping his streak of 20 consecutive field goals made on hold for at least another week. Cobb, who was kicking himself hard after the game for his lack of production on offense, did have a redeeming 22-yard punt return. DuJuan Harris still hasn't provided sizzle on kickoff returns, averaging a pedestrian 25.5 yards on two runbacks Sunday. Lions counterpart Jeremy Ross had a big return of 34 yards. Packers P Tim Masthay continued to be his reliable self, averaging 43 gross yards and 39.8 net yards, and he placed two of his five punts inside the Detroit 20. Green Bay TE Brandon Bostick committed two penalties on special teams.

      COACHING: C-minus -- In a game that was still there for the taking until Rodgers' off-target, would-be scoring pass to Nelson on fourth down with about seven minutes left, head coach/play-caller Mike McCarthy had one of his worst outings in his nine seasons at the helm. He admitted as much after the game by acknowledging that he probably waited too long to put his exclusive trust in his star quarterback to throw the football after inexplicably sticking with a struggling, mistake-prone running dimension. McCarthy also was guilty of a few game- and time-management blunders. For a change, defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn't have to be the target of widespread criticism for why the Packers had another unbecoming performance. Capers used a liberal rotation of pass rushers at outside linebacker to generate a good amount of pressure on Stafford and went more heavily with defensive backs to keep Johnson from having much of an impact.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    It's now Bortles time in Jacksonville
    By The Sports Xchange

    JACKSONVILLE -- The Blake Bortles era for the Jacksonville Jaguars is underway.

    • It officially began at the start of the second half of Sunday's Indianapolis-Jacksonville game, shortly after quarterback Chad Henne had posted anemic numbers of 4-of-7 passing for 39 yards and a total of two first downs in the first 30 minutes of action.

      Everyone knew that it was just a matter of time until Bortles saw his first game action. The guesses had been anywhere from early in the season to the bye week after the Jaguars play the Dallas Cowboys in London on Nov. 9. It's just that few had the second half of Sunday's Colts game as the lottery choice for Bortles.

      It did not come as startling news to either Henne or Bortles. Head coach Gus Bradley had taken both aside during the week and said if things didn't go well in the first half of the Indianapolis game, a change could come then. Obviously things did not go well in that first half. Henne could not get into any rhythm whatsoever, once again dodging defenders blitzing through the middle of the line who sacked him on three occasions and forced hurried throws several other times.

      As early as the second series, the Jaguars' faithful let loose with a chorus of boos for the offense, and Henne in particular, as the team incurred three consecutive three-and-outs to open the game. A mocking cheer went up midway through the second quarter when Henne completed a 5-yard pass to Toby Gerhart for the Jaguars' initial first down of the game. Two and three plays later, Henne was sacked, though the second one was wiped out on an Indianapolis offside call.

      But the damage was done by that point, and in the locker room at the intermission, Bradley allowed Henne to call the team together and inform them that there would be the change at the quarterback spot.

      "I cannot tell you how much respect and admiration I have for (Chad) as a person how he's handled this (change)," Bradley said after the game. "It's truly top notch. In my conversations with Chad and Blake this week, I felt like as the week went on, it felt clear to me that Blake's body of work as far as in practice, mentality, all those things that we wanted to challenge him on from OTAs to now, I felt like was in a pretty good place. I just felt like he was ready for his body of work to begin on the field."

      Bortles responded with some high points and some low spots. He escaped the Colts pressure on a couple of occasions to make completions that drew loud roars of approval from the crowd that had been chanting his name since midway in the first quarter. But there were also two throws that ended up in the hands of Colts' defenders, including one that was returned 47 yards by cornerback Greg Toler to the end zone. Yet when the Jaguars got the ball back following the kickoff, Bortles responded by driving the team 80 yards in eight plays in 2:18 for a touchdown. Granted it was in the final three minutes of the game and Indianapolis had already pulled a couple key starters by that point, but it was a drive that gave Bortles and Jaguars fans confidence that more of the same could be coming in the weeks ahead.

      Asked to assess his performance, Bortles called it "average".

      He added, "I thought there was some good stuff and there was some bad stuff we need to correct. There are definitely some things we'll see on film I need to work on. You can't throw two picks."

      There will be more picks in the coming weeks, maybe more than touchdowns. But for the Jacksonville faithful that had been calling for a change at the quarterback spot, they got their wish. It could be the start of a long run of Bortles at the helm of this franchise. Good times and/or bad times, but this has become Blake Bortles' team.

      REPORT CARD VS. COLTS

      PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- A mixture of two halves produced an F for the first 30 minutes with Chad Henne completing four passes for 39 yards, and a second-half output of 223 yards and two touchdowns from Blake Bortles was worthy of a B. The C-minus is the highest grade for the passing offense in three games, an indication of how feeble the Jaguars' air game has been. With Bortles now firmly implanted as the starter, it should be much more respectable, though there will be some painful growing stages that Bortles and the young receivers will still go through.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Only because four players combined to gain over 100 yards did this unit avoid its third consecutive failing grade. Based on individual output for the starters, Toby Gerhart at running back and Henne at quarterback, it would have been an F. But backup Denard Robinson came in to gain 33 yards on eight carries, Jordan Todman contributed a 10-yard run and Bortles showed his value as a runner with 10- and 20-yard gains on two quarterback keepers. Still, there is concern that Gerhart failed to gain 50 yards for the third consecutive game.

      PASS DEFENSE: F -- The next time the Jaguars successfully prevent an opposing tight end from making a reception will be the first of the season. For whatever reason, Jacksonville either doesn't think the tight end will hurt them or doesn't have the personnel to keep up with players at this position. It's the third consecutive game the Jaguars have been burned by tight ends. This time, Indianapolis' three-pronged attack combined for 11 receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns. That only left 22 completions for 288 yards among the rest of the Colts' receivers, another weak, weak effort by the Jaguars secondary.

      RUSH DEFENSE: F -- When three of the Colts' top four rushers in the game all averaged five yards a carry or better, it's an indication the defense is not doing its job. As a team, the Colts were right at that mark, rushing for 144 yards in 29 carries, including 122 yards by Indy's two main running backs. It's not that the defense was focused on stopping the pass, as the Colts amassed 390 yards through the air. The defensive line, which many thought to be the most improved unit on the Jaguars this year, has suddenly become a liability when it comes to stopping opponents either on the ground or through the air.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Nothing spectacular but nothing that hurt either. Bryan Anger did a good job of directional punting and placed one of his five kicks inside the 20 and one into the end zone for a touchback. He averaged 46.4 yards for the five punts, forcing the Colts into three fair catches. Josh Scobee sent all four of his kickoffs through the end zone and converted on his only field-goal attempt from 41 yards out. Jordan Todman was able to return one kickoff for 26 yards while eight other kicks were ruled a touchback.

      COACHING: C-plus -- The grade was upgraded from a D only because Gus Bradley had the wise thought to insert Bortles into the lineup in the second half and then name him the starter for next week. Otherwise, the coaching was suspect again. The Jaguars continue to be confused on defense, not knowing who is covering who. The team had to take two of its timeouts in the first half because of defensive confusion. Bradley then cost his team its final timeout when he threw the challenge flag on a play with less than two minutes remaining in the half. Such a move is an automatic charged timeout for a team as any replays in the final minutes of either half are called only by the replay official upstairs. Bradley or someone on the staff should have known this and while the Jaguars didn't need their final timeout, it was another sign of a sideline meltdown by the coaching staff.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Amputee father motivates Giants Jennings
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J. -- Running back Rashad Jennings spoke in a hushed tone following his big performance in the New York Giants 30-17 win over Houston.

    • For Jennings, the game was more about redeeming himself following a fumble deep in Arizona Cardinals territory the week before, a fumble that came despite no contact from a defender.

      Instead, this week's game was all about his biggest fan, home watching the game several miles away in Richmond, Va.

      "We pray before every game," he said. "In leading the prayer (Sunday). I just kind of reminded the guys before we walked out on the field -- whatever reason you play this game, play like that.

      "Today, I was just reminded, my father (Albert Jennings) has diabetes and he ended up getting both of his legs amputated. He doesn't have legs so I remembered that I do have them so I played that way. You have to find a different motivation outside this game to push you. Simply playing football, playing to my best ability is how I say, 'Thank you,' to God for giving me this talent."

      Jennings used that talent to deliver his best career rushing performance in both carries (34) and yards (176). It was also the most carries by a Giants running back since Dec. 5, 1999, when Joe Montgomery had 38 against the Jets and the most yards rushing by a Giants back since Oct. 7, 2012, when Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 200 yards on 30 carries against Cleveland.

      The performance Sunday also was Jennings' fifth-career 100-yard showing and his third against the Texans, against whom he regularly played as a member of the Jaguars for the first years of his career.

      Jennings spoke about the sacrifices his father made -- the elder Jennings turned down a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska in order to support the family -- thatinspired him to transform his own life.

      Thus, Jennings morphed from being what he described himself as a one-time "overweight, chubby kid with glasses and asthma" who had a 0.6 grade-point average in school, into the athlete and scholar he is today.

      "I'm through the bloodline of my father so obviously it does affect me directly," Jennings said. "I started off at Pittsburgh, ended up earning a starting spot as a true freshman. My father had diabetes and that's when he got his first leg amputated. I transferred from Pittsburgh to Liberty University because Liberty University is 10 minutes from home.

      "I figured my family took care of me for 19 years up until that point in my life that I wanted to leave a top university at the time to go to a small one just to be there for them. The world is round, you do what's right and it will come back to you."

      So far, so good for Jennings, who while not a Giants team captain, has evolved into a leader.

      "I'm more and more interested in pulling the best out of every single person. When you remind somebody why they do what they do, you try not to force the reason why they're doing it. I was just trying to motivate my guys to play for the reasons why they want to play," he said.

      --Head coach Tom Coughlin confirmed that starting safety Stevie Brown, was benched late in the third quarter of Sunday's game. Brown, who gave up a 44-yard touchdown reception by Damaris Johnson, was removed in favor of rookie Nat Berhe, one of the Giants' two fifth-round draft picks this year.

      Berhe finished out the game.

      "We made a position change there, and that's all I'm going to say about that," Coughlin said Monday during a conference call, adding that Brown was not injured.

      Last week, Coughlin opined that Brown, the team's 2012 leader in interceptions with eight, didn't look like he was all the way back to his preinjury self.

      "We referred to Stevie Brown as kind of a ball-hawking guy in center field when he had that opportunity," the coach said. "He's just not there yet. He's not back yet to where he was a couple of years ago. Let's hope he gets there."

      Coughlin wouldn't confirm if Brown, who is continuing to work his way back from ACL surgery, will be back in the starting lineup on Thursday when the Giants travel to Washington for a nationally televised game.

      NOTES: Linebacker Jon Beason, who was inactive after aggravating his toe injury in last week's game, expressed optimism about returning for Thursday night's game against Washington. However, he also stressed that the final decision would be up to head coach Tom Coughlin and the medical staff.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Panthers limp forward without some key player
    By The Sports Xchange

    CHARLOTTE, N. C. -- A day after his team's not-fit-for-primetime performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera closed his Monday afternoon news conference by saying, "And remember, we are moving on now."

    • Minutes after that, Rivera shared injury news that revealed the Panthers will have to move on without two of their top three running backs and their second-best linebacker this week.

      Running back Jonathan Stewart "severely" sprained his right knee when his foot got caught in the ground while being tackled by former Carolina safety Mike Mitchell in the third quarter. When he limped to the sideline, the oft-injured Stewart slammed his helmet in frustration. Steward will be re-evaluated on Friday and his status for this week's game in Baltimore remains uncertain.

      Fullback Mike Tolbert has already been ruled out for next Sunday. He has a hairline fracture in his right leg, and he is week-to-week.

      Rivera would not clarify the injury that knocked linebacker Thomas Davis out of the second half Sunday night, but "it has nothing to do" with his right knee that's been surgically-repaired three times. Like Stewart, Davis will be re-evaluated Friday, but it appears he is unlikely to play against the Ravens.

      While they are not at Davis' level, the Panthers have capable backups in A.J. Klein, Chase Blackburn and Jason Williams.

      The running back situation is much worse.

      DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) and Fozzy Whittaker (quad) were both held out against the Steelers. Rivera is hopeful Williams will return this week, but that was the case last week as well. Whittaker is more likely to come back later rather than sooner.

      Carolina's ground game is now ranked 29th in the league, and that number is unlikely to increase much via runs by Cam Newton. The banged-up quarterback is averaging three carries in 2014 after averaging more than seven carries per game over his first three seasons.

      Rivera admitted Newton is "not quite where we need him" to run the ball effectively. And when asked if the run game can be a threat if Newton is not, Rivera replied, "It's going to have to. That's the bottom line."

      Undrafted rookie Philly Brown played a handful of snaps on offense during the first two weeks, but he did not have a reception. Sunday night he not only caught his first career pass, but he finished with seven catches for 66 yards.

      But early in the fourth quarter, with the Panthers down 23-13 and about to get the ball back, Brown muffed a punt. He tried to jump on it, but it slipped away. Then cornerback Josh Norman failed to corral it, allowing the Steelers to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, which effectively put the game away.

      Once Brown picked himself off the turf, he was met immediately on the sideline by Newton.

      "My thing to him was, he had too much of a good game to dwell on something that bad," Newton said. "That's just the moral of the game. One play was this player, the next play was that player. People just took turns making mistakes."

      REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Quarterback Cam Newton was playing with sore ribs and a gimpy ankle, a suspect offensive line, a nonexistent run game, and with Jason Avant, Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin as his No. 2-4 receivers. So it's tough to judge Newton too much in this one. The offensive line most critics were expecting this offseason showed up, and it seemed like Newton was sacked more than three times. He played his second straight game without throwing an interception (24-for-35, 250 yards, TD), and he got Brown involved early and often. The undrafted rookie had a breakout game -- as a receiver -- with seven receptions for 66 yards. Fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin added 115 yards on eight catches, plus another highlight reel touchdown from Derek Anderson, who mopped up in the fourth quarter in an effort to let Newton get out alive.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Running back DeAngelo Williams missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury, and perhaps the 31-year-old is still highly important to this offense. The Steelers had given up an average of 170 rushing yards their first two games, yet the Panthers managed 42. Running back Jonathan Stewart sprained his right knee in the third quarter, and then fullback Mike Tolbert suffered a hairline fracture in his right leg during the fourth.

      --PASS DEFENSE: D -- In their second game without deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy, the Panthers sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once. That was by end Mario Addison in the first quarter. Roethlisberger ended up with a clean line of 22 of 30 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Both scores went to receiver Antonio Brown, who torched the defense for 10 receptions and 90 yards. The Panthers also had a few killer penalties in coverage.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Panthers had allowed a 100-yard rusher just once in their last 22 games (Buffalo's C.J. Spiller on Sept. 15, 2013. The Steelers had two backs that broke 100. La'Veon Bell ran free for 147 yards on 21 carries while LaGarette Blount went for 118 yards on 10 carries. The only other time the Panthers have given up a pair of 100-yard rushers was during a 48-14 loss to the Rams in 2001 when Marshall Faulk and Trung Canidate combined for 328 yards.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Kicker Graham Gano was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts, while Brad Nortman booted a 65-yard punt and added one that landed inside the 5-yard line. Those two were pretty much the Panthers' MVPs, which obviously says a lot about the kind of night it was. Rookie Philly Brown, who broke out as a receiver, made his first major mistake as a returner, botching a punt that ended up as a Steelers touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wes Horton and Josh Norman both jumped offsides on a third-quarter field goal attempt, and the Steelers took advantage by turning the penalty into a touchdown.

      --COACHING: F -- Head coach Ron Rivera deserves credit for winning with so much going against the Panthers in Weeks 1 and 2, but his team was not ready for prime time. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula came out with a solid first couple of drives, but unless he can figure out how to get a run game going with a line that can't run block and a backfield that's injured, the offense is going to continue to struggle. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott didn't have a solution to stop Roethlisberger's short passes, or for a Steelers run game that embarrassed the previously proud Panthers' rush defense.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Giants kick back to sweet music of success
    By The Sports Xchange

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If any member of the current New York Giants team has his finger squarely on the pulse of the team, it is safety Antrel Rolle.

    • Rolle, a defensive co-captain and a member of head coach Tom Coughlin's team leadership council, recognized after the Giants' first two games that his teammates were too wound up.

      "I felt like we weren't playing relaxed," Rolle said in calling the players-only meeting last week. "I felt like we were just trying to do too much as a team.

      "This week was just about relaxing. Just taking your mind away from the game a little bit. We know how to do this. We have been doing this for a long time. Just go out there and play relaxed. Play your assignment, play your technique and get the win at all costs. That's basically what it was about," he added.

      So Rolle, who called a players-only meeting last week, took the players' feedback to Coughlin regarding ways to help lessen some of the tension.

      Coughlin listened and yielded, if just slightly. One of the changes made by Coughlin was to allow an eclectic selection of music to be played during the team's pre-practice warmups last Friday.

      "I think it was great," Rolle said. "It was something that definitely lifted the team's spirits a little bit."

      "Sometimes change is always good. It was good. Hopefully we have some more music on Friday because it seemed to work."

      Coughlin, who did something similar during the 2007 season, the year the Giants won their first Super Bowl under his watch, has always been regimented in how he conducts practices.

      "When you're in a position that we were in with two losses and the world around our neck, I want to demonstrate always that we're all in it together and we do stick together regardless of the circumstances, we are about team, we are about being there for each other, and I want that message to be there very strongly," the coach said.

      That's why he agreed to allow music to be played during a part of Friday's practice.

      "It was meant to send a signal to them that I still believed in them and I wanted them to focus on what had to be corrected and accomplish rather than something else," he said.

      "Keeping it positive was very important, keeping it in terms of we wanted outstanding work, we wanted guys to relax and show us the kind of football players they really were, to demonstrate their ability to play together as one, to perform with the athleticism they had but we hadn't seen a lot of."

      His faith in his players worked, as they put together their best showing to date this season in Sunday's 30-17 win over the Texans.

      "I saw a huge difference (Sunday)," Rolle said of his teammates' play. "I think it all started in practice. I think we grew closer as a team this week. The coaching staff and Coach Coughlin did a great job of keeping us together doing little things that will get us over the top. So we definitely have to thank him for that.

      "That was my message to the team. If coach takes care of you and he throws you a bone, you make sure you go out and you play your butt off for him."

      REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS

      --PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Looking as comfortable in the new offense as ever, quarterback Eli Manning, behind sound pass protection, completed 75 percent of his pass attempts, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions while only being sacked once all day. That's outstanding production considering the offensive balance favored the running game (42 runs to 28 pass attempts). Receiver Victor Cruz also had a big afternoon, recording his first touchdown reception in 12 games while also generating 107 receiving yards, a total that exceeded his combined receiving yardage from Weeks 1 and 2.

      --RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus - From the run blocking to the inspirational performance by Rashad Jennings, who logged career highs in both rushing attempts (34) and rushing yards (176), this was about as picture-perfect of a performance as you'll ever see from a NFL rushing offense. Most of the yardage came between the tackles, not an easy feat against the Texans' aggressive defensive front.

      --PASS DEFENSE: C - Although they held quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 39 passing yards through the first 30 minutes of the game and came up with three interceptions and two sacks, the Giants pass defensive still had its struggles with the big pass play. New York gave up four pass completions of 30 or more yards to the Texans, including a 44-yard score to Demaris Johnson in the third quarter to make it a one-possession game.

      --RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus - The Texans still managed to average 4.8 yards per carry, even with their starter, Arian Foster, inactive due to a hamstring injury. For the most part, the Giants run defense was solid in playing their gap responsibilities, but they did allow a 46-yard scamper by Alfred Blue and a rushing touchdown by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

      --SPECIAL TEAMS: D - The unit might have redeemed itself later in the game with three Josh Brown field goals and a blocked punt by Damontre Moore, but the early-game follies continue to be a concern. The miscues included the players being asleep at the wheel on the fake first-quarter punt on fourth-and-1 that went for 10 yards; the botched field goal snap that rolled past holder Steve Weatherford, and the holding call against Moore that wiped out Preston Parkers' best punt return of the game.

      --COACHING: B - Just when you think that head coach Tom Coughlin has run out of ways to motivate his team, he surprises you. This week, he took the advice of his leadership council and allowed hip-hop and rap music selections to be played during the team's Friday pre-practice warmups and post-practice cool downs. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is starting to come into his own as a play caller and game planner. This week his plan to keep the dynamic defensive end J.J. Watt out of the offensive backfield by throwing chips and double-team blocks worked to perfection. Except for one sack that came about on a mental breakdown by Justin Pugh, Watt had no effect on the game. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell still needs to come up with a fix for his pass defense, which is still getting burned by the big play. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn might not be at the heart of the execution issues, but when a player fails to anticipate a possible fake punt or commits a holding penalty, that starts with teaching/coaching.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Redskins' DeAngelo Hall to miss rest of season
    By The Sports Xchange

    ASHBURN, Va. -- Tests on Monday confirmed that Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall suffered a season-ending Achilles injury Sunday against Philadelphia.

    • With the Eagles leading 24-20, Hall was helped off the field and taken to the locker room on a motorized cart. The noncontact injury initially was reported as a leg injury, but Hall said after the game he was certain he had suffered an Achilles injury.

      Hall had an MRI exam Monday morning and returned to Redskins Park on crutches early in afternoon and told his teammates that he indeed did suffer a ruptured Achilles tendon.

      The Redskins placed Hall and safety Duke Ihenacho on injured reserve and promoted cornerback Chase Minnifield from the practice squad while terminating the contract of linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

      "I've spoke to a couple other athletes, who have had this similar injury," the 11-year veteran told The Washington Post. "I'm just trying to do my homework, my due diligence make sure I pick the right place. I'm not a spring chicken, so I've got to make sure I get it done it the right way.

      "I've got to be as patient as possible, attack this rehab and get back out on the field."

      Hall's' due diligence' included talking to Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star who suffered a similar injury in 2013.

      "This could've been a lot worse. It could've been an ACL. It could've been something that was quote-unquote a bigger deal than an Achilles'," Hall said. "So, one out of 11 years isn't a bad average. So, I'll take that in any situation."

      The three-time Pro Bowl pick is the captain of Washington's secondary and is much more experienced than fellow starting cornerback David Amerson or third corner Bashaud Breeland. Reserve corner B.J. Biggers has started 29 NFL games, more than twice as many as Amerson and rookie Breeland combined. Tracy Porter, a four-year starter for New Orleans and Oakland, has yet to suit up for Washington this season because of a tender hamstring, but is day-to-day for Thursday's game against the Giants.

      "It's a huge loss for us," said veteran safety Ryan Clark. "Not as much from a football standpoint, because you understand that players have to step up in his place. He was voted captain for a reason. He was a guy who was playing very good football for us so now we have to figure out a way to replace what he was able to do on the field, but also in the meeting room, on the practice field. We have to find a way to compensate very quickly because we're back on Thursday."

      That's when the Redskins play host to another NFC East rival, the New York Giants, in hopes of avoiding a drop to 1-3. Reserve corner B.J. Biggers has started 29 NFL games, more than twice as many as second-year man Amerson and rookie Breeland combined. Tracy Porter, a four-year starter for New Orleans and Oakland, has yet to suit up for Washington this season because of a tender hamstring.

      Ihenacho suffered a broken bone in his heel while playing special teams Sunday. Sharpton had been on injured reserve.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Redskins stuck in one step forward, one step back cycle
    By The Sports Xchange

    ASHBURN, Va. - There were plenty of positives for the Washington Redskins to take away from Sunday's 37-34 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles. But the question remains, how to clean up the inconsistency that led to another key setback?

    • They did a superb job of keeping the ball from the potent Eagles offense in the first half while taking an early 10-point lead. Quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns while not being sacked in 48 drop-backs. The defense bottled up reigning NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy to the tune of 22 yards on 20 carries. Receiver DeSean Jackson overcame an ailing shoulder to celebrate his return to Philly with an 81-yard touchdown. Kai Forbath nailed two long field goals.

      But, as has regularly been the case this millennium no matter who's coaching the team or wearing the burgundy and gold jerseys, the Redskins still found a way to lose, falling into a tie for last place in the NFC East at 1-2 with the New York Giants, who visit Landover on Thursday.

      Washington's bumbling special teams surrendered a 102-yard kickoff return and saw Forbath smack a critical 33-yard field-attempt off the right upright, ending his streak of 18 straight conversions. Cousins threw a late pick and couldn't generate a first down when the Redskins started their final possession at the Philadelphia 41-yard line.

      The defense, which tied a franchise record last week with 10 sacks, didn't take down Foles once on his 42 drop-backs. Stalwart running back Alfred Morris managed just 77 yards on 23 carries. Washington committed 10 penalties for 131 yards including the personal foul for which nose tackle Chris Baker was ejected for a cheap shot on Foles. And top cornerback DeAngelo Hall is done for the season with a torn Achilles.

      "We all had our hand in this so I'm not going to point fingers at special teams," first-year coach Jay Gruden said when asked to do just that.

      Despite his strong day, Cousins blamed himself for the defeat. That was beyond falling his sword, but he was accurate in saying after the Redskins turned an early 17-7 lead -- with the Eagles' score coming on the kickoff return -- into a 37-27 fourth-quarter deficit.

      "We always want to start fast and finish strong," said Cousins, whose team has outscored its foes 21-7 in the first quarter but just 60-57 afterward. "We started fast but didn't finish as strong as we wanted."

      The Redskins did overcome a 1-2 start in 2012 to win their only NFC East title of the millennium, but if they're going to catch the Eagles, they can ill afford another division loss on Thursday.

      REPORT CARD VS. EAGLES

      PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Quarterback Kirk Cousins started off on fire for the second straight week, connecting on 16 of his first 18 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He finished 30 of 48 for 427 yards, the fourth-most in franchise history, three touchdowns and one interception. He wasn't sacked, which is a credit to the offensive line and his own quick release. Pierre Garcon led the targets with 11 catches for 138 yards and a score while fellow receiver DeSean Jackson returned to Philadelphia, where he played the previous six seasons, with five catches for 117 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. Niles Paul continued to shine in place of injured tight end Jordan Reed with six catches for 68 yards. Reserve running back Roy Helu added a career-long 55-yard catch on a screen pass. Fullback Darrel Young caught a touchdown from Cousins for the second straight game.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- It was a below average day for running back Alfred Morris and his blockers. Morris did move into 10th place on Washington's career rushing list in just his 35th game, but he managed just 77 yards on 23 carries and was fortunate that Garcon recovered his fumble. Coach Jay Gruden called on Helu, not the more powerful Morris, for the 1-yard touchdown run that followed the former's long catch.

      PASS DEFENSE: D -- A week after tying a franchise record with 10 sacks against Jacksonville, Washington smacked Nick Foles numerous times, but didn't sack Philadelphia's quarterback once in 42 drop-backs as he passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who tied a franchise mark with four sacks against the Jaguars, was also the most active pass rusher against the Eagles. Inside linebacker Perry Riley and safety Brandon Meriweather -- in his 2014 debut after being suspended for the first two games -- were burned for three touchdowns between them, two by Eagles rookie receiver Jordan Matthews and the other by veteran wideout Jeremy Maclin who gave the Redskins fits all day. Rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland took over when starter DeAngelo Hall was lost with a torn Achilles. Nose tackle Chris Baker was ejected for his blind-side hit on Foles in the aftermath of Breeland's seeming interception that was reversed by replay. Frank Kearse took over for Baker.

      RUSH DEFENSE: A -- As bad as they were against the pass, the Redskins were even better against the run. They held usually elusive reigning rushing champion LeSean McCoy to 22 yards on 20 carries. Scatback Darren Sproles did carry twice for 20 yards and Foles kept it four times for 12 yards, but this was a superb performance by inside linebacker Keenan Robinson and Co. Baker and defensive ends Jason Hatcher and Jarvis Jenkins certainly won their battles against a battered Eagles offensive line.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: D+ -- The rollercoaster ride for this unit that was awful in 2013 continued with another lousy day, one that began with a 102-yard kickoff return by Philadelphia's Chris Polk, the Eagles' first such score in nearly six years. Meriweather, Trenton Robinson and kickoff man Tress Way were most guilty on the play. Kicker Kai Forbath, who has been limited in practice by a sore groin and has yielded kickoff duties to Way, nailed field-goal tries of 49 and 44 yards before his streak of 18 straight successes ended when he booted a 33-yard attempt off the right upright during the fourth quarter. Andre Roberts didn't make anything happen on returns. Way averaged a booming 56.7 yards on three punts, but Sproles averaged a solid 13.5 yards on his two returns against Washington's coverage team.

      COACHING: C -- Gruden almost pulled off a victory on the road against a division champion with his backup quarterback, which is admirable. However, the Redskins let a 17-7 lead deep into the second quarter unravel so fast that they trailed 21-20 at halftime and never led again. Coordinator Jim Haslett's defense had a tough day in pass coverage while sparkling against the run. The reverse was mostly the case for play-caller Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Special teams boss Ben Kotwica better get his units fixed or the Redskins could be looking for a new man for the job for a third straight January.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Kelly has no issue with 'frustrated' cornerback's criticism
    By The Sports Xchange

    INSIDE SLANT

    • Chip Kelly has brought some very different approaches to training and conditioning with him from the University of Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles. And for the most part, his players have bought into The Chip Kelly Way, which has included everything from fast-paced practices with blaring music to Tuesday in-season practices to stretching before bed to wearing sleep monitors to having their hydration levels constantly checked.

      But after Sunday's 37-34 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Redskins, there were sounds of discord from veteran cornerback Cary Williams. Williams contends Kelly works his team too hard, and that's the reason the defense has struggled in the first half this season.

      "A lot of guys had no legs," he said. "A lot of guys, coming in here, were in a dogfight before the game even started. We've got to start taking care of our guys during the week in order for us to be productive and have more energy on Sunday. We've got to be smart -- as a coaching staff and as players."

      Kelly talked with Williams on Monday. He said he thought the cornerback's comments were spoken out of frustration over both his injury and the way he played in Sunday's win. Williams was burned by former Eagle DeSean Jackson for an 81-yard touchdown.

      Kelly said he had no issues with Williams.

      "I know we ask our guys to run a lot during practice," Kelly said. "I met with Cary a little while ago. I think he was frustrated, and I understand that. Cary's a competitor, and I have no issues with that."

      Kelly said he and his training and sports science staff monitor and assess each player individually.

      "We assess everybody daily," he said. "So they all tell us (how they're feeling), and we monitor every player daily. You'll see some guys that aren't going full on some days, and other guys that are going full. We take care of everybody from that standpoint."

      Williams' argument would carry a little more legitimacy if the Eagles hadn't rebounded from each of their slow starts and played better in the second half, including Sunday against the Redskins. The Eagles have won each of their first three games.

      The Redskins ran 45 offensive plays against Williams and the defense in the first half. Bill Davis' unit should've been road kill in the second half.

      But the defense sucked it up and played much better in the final 30 minutes.

      The Redskins converted just 1 of 6 third-down opportunities in the second half.

      And when the Eagles needed a big play, they got it, whether it was safety Malcolm Jenkins' interception that set up Cody Parkey's game-deciding 51-yard field goal, or Brandon Boykin's diving third-and-10 pass breakup on the Redskins' final possession.

      The Eagles were coming off a short week after beating the Colts on Monday night. But Williams said the short week wasn't the problem.

      "I'm going to be honest with you," he said. "It didn't matter whether we had a short week or a long week, because it's been the same thing.

      "Something has to change in order for us to be more productive. It's hard to go out there and fight for 60 minutes when you're fighting throughout the week to make it through one practice.

      "When you don't have legs. Period. It shows up in a game. Period. Throughout the game. Period."

      Williams said he's not the only Eagles player who thinks Kelly's pedal-to-the-medal approach is counterproductive.

      "I'm just one who's man enough let you guys know that we're not a fresh team; we're not the freshest team out there," he said. "And it's an issue in our (poor) starts."

      In each of their games, the Eagles have spotted their opponents double-digit leads.

      On Sunday, the Eagles were torched for 427 passing yards by Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was making just his fifth NFL start.

      "It's tough, it's tough," Williams said after the game. "We've got to start taking care of our guys, taking care of our players. And doing the right thing from there, man."

      But, but, but, Cary, you're 3-0.

      "It's awesome that we're 3-0," he said. "It's great. It's tremendous. It just shows the resilience of this team. The fight in this team. It shows everybody's heart. It shows that even though we might not be 100 percent out there, when the ball is kicked off, we play with all of the energy we have.

      "It's about guys finding a way to get it done. We've been able to get it done. But to be honest with you, starting with low energy isn't conducive to a winning program."

      NOTES, QUOTES

      Quarterback Nick Foles was leveled by Redskins nose tackle Chris Baker early in the fourth quarter following an apparent interception by cornerback Bashaud Breeland (the play was later reviewed and changed to an incompletion because the ball hit the ground).

      The hit got Baker thrown out of the game and triggered a sideline confrontation that also got Eagles left tackle Jason Peters tossed after he retaliated and hit Baker.

      Foles was on the ground for about three minutes before finally getting up and returning to the huddle. He didn't miss a snap.

      "I'm going to get up for those guys," Foles said of his teammates. "That's my mindset. It's not a pride thing, where I have to be a tough guy. I know those guys are depending on me, so I'm going to get up and keep fighting for them.

      "They're going to see me up and keep fighting."

      STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

      PLAYER NOTES

      --Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught his first NFL touchdown pass in the first quarter Sunday, an 11-yarder from Foles. He didn't ask official for the ball, but a thoughtful Foles retrieved it and handed the ball to Matthews on the sideline.

      --LeSean McCoy, who ran away with the league rushing title last season, is struggling this year. He's rushed for just 175 yards in the first three games and is averaging a puny 2.9 yards per carry. Against the Redskins, he had just 22 yards on 20 carries. The 22 yards equaled the lowest total of his career in a game in which he had at least 10 carries.

      REPORT CARD

      RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Tough day at the office for LeSean McCoy. He averaged a miniscule 1.1 yards per carry, gaining just 22 yards on 20 carries. Had just 12 yards on seven carries before Jason Kelce got hurt, and only 10 yards on 13 carries after that. The Eagles had just three rushing first downs.

      PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Nick Foles, who had poor starts in the Eagles' first two games, completed 12 of 14 passes in the first half, including a pair of touchdown throws to rookie Jordan Matthews. Matthews and the rest of the Eagles' wide receivers, who had been relatively quiet in the first two games, combined for 21 catches for 262 yards and three touchdowns.

      RUN DEFENSE: B-plus -- Even without injured linebacker Mychal Kendricks, the Eagles did a good job of neutralizing Alfred Morris and the Redskins' stretch run plays. Morris finished with just 77 yards on 23 carries. He got 18 of those yards on Washington's first possession. Averaged just 3.1 yards per carry the rest of the game.

      PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Eagles gave up too many yards and too many big plays. Kirk Cousins sat in the pocket and had plenty of time to throw for 427 yards and three touchdowns, including an 81-yarder to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter. The Eagles did make two big defensive plays late though -- an interception by Malcolm Jenkins that set up a Cody Parkey field goal and a clutch diving pass breakup by Brandon Boykin on a third-and-10 with less than two minute left in the game.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Chris Polk replaced Nolan Carroll on kickoff returns and took one back 102 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He also had a 39-yard return. Cody Parkey hit all three of his field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter that gave the Eagles a 10-point lead.

      COACHING: B-plus -- Defensive coordinator Bill Davis again made some halftime adjustments that helped his unit hold Washington to one third-down conversion in the second half. Chip Kelly hired a replay consultant two weeks ago and the Eagles won all three of their replay challenges Sunday.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Ravens players keeping focus on hard-fought victories
    By The Sports Xchange

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. - While a throng of media arrived at team headquarters on Monday to dive into the latest round of drama surrounding the Ray Rice situation, the Baltimore Ravens players were basking in the afterglow of a quietly critical road win at the Cleveland Browns the previous day.

    • The Ravens improved to 2-1 on the season and picked up a crucial AFC North win on the road at Cleveland on Sunday, especially after dropping their home-opener to division foe Cincinnati. Baltimore put together another gutsy performance in what was a typical AFC North slugfest. The Ravens out-gained the Browns 377 to 375 and overcame an interception by quarterback Joe Flacco.

      Most important, the Ravens responded with a hard-fought win in what is always a tough, hostile environment for them.

      "We've been playing tough games against the Browns for many years and they are even better than they have ever been before," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "They are extremely well coached, they are physical and tough. That was AFC North football. It is a great victory on the road. To win an AFC North game on the road this year is going to be really, really hard to do. Our guys stepped up and did it. I am proud of our men."

      The running game was again one of the bright spots. With Bernard Pierce out with a thigh injury and incumbent starter Ray Rice off the team, the Ravens were forced to use rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. The 2014 fourth-round pick responded with 91 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown in his first regular-season game.

      Harbaugh was impressed the way Taliaferro responded and showed no fear on the big stage.

      "I think the results speak for themselves with Lorenzo," Harbaugh said. "He was downhill running, physical and was hard to tackle. That is an element that is a big plus for an offense. That goes with our offensive line as well, our offensive line played very well."

      Veteran Justin Forsett also had 11 carries for 63 yards. As a team, the Ravens outgained the Browns 160 to 91 yards on the ground. Forsett said it was important for Baltimore to set the tone.

      "We wanted to establish the run," Forsett said. "You have to when you play on the road and you're playing a tough divisional game. We wanted to establish the run and take control of the clock."

      Another bright spot was the Flacco-Steve Smith combination. Smith had another big game with five receptions and 101 yards. He also caught a 32-yard pass with 1:28 left to set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal.

      "It was for moments like that that we brought Steve Smith in here, and for everything else that he brings," Harbaugh said. "I have been a big admirer of Steve for many years, ever since the draft when he came out. We've always had a great relationship and I am just happy that the Ravens and the Ravens fans have a chance for him to be part of us. I think he is happy to be here too."

      The victory did come with a steep price tag, with tight end Dennis Pitta lost to a season-ending dislocated hip.

      When the Ravens look at tape this week, they will have to find ways to play better defensively. The secondary struggled again to avoid big plays. Safety Matt Elam was beat for a long pass in the fourth quarter and Lardarius Webb looks like he will need some time to grasp the speed of the game after missing the entire preseason with a back injury.

      Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. The secondary, however, cannot be fully blamed for some of the defense's struggles.

      The Ravens also did not record a sack on the day, which put pressure on the corners and safeties. In the end, Baltimore was just happy to come out with a victory and the players expect to improve when the Carolina Panthers visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

      "We have done it before," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You're only as good as the last time you did it, but we know that this defense is capable of making plays and winning the game. We were all sitting on the edge of our seat until the field goal went in."

      -- TE Dennis Pitta suffered another devastating injury to his right hip and had to be carted off the field. It was the same area where he underwent surgery and missed the beginning of last season. Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed Pitta underwent season-ending surgery Monday.

      "I don't know the ramifications of that long term," Harbaugh said. "I'm going to be really hopeful for Dennis' return."

      The players were also shaken up by the injury.

      "When you're in the middle of a game, you don't think too much about that stuff, but yeah, it's not easy," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Dennis is a good friend. He's a good teammate and he's a hell of a player. No matter who it is, it's tough to see it happen. When it looks like it might be what it is or it might be serious, it's not too easy.

      Like I said, I think in the middle of the game, you kind of just go out and complete a play and keep your mind off of it. It's going to be rough over the next day or two just thinking about it or talking to him and seeing how he feels about it. I know last time he got hurt, he was pretty optimistic about everything. It'll be interesting to talk to him. It's tough."

      REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

      PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Ravens did not exactly dismantle the Browns' secondary, but they made plays when they needed them. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 19 of 31 passes for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He had a quarterback rating of 79.6. However, his 32-yard pass to Steve Smith with 1:28 left to set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal. Smith had five catches for 101 yards.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Baltimore's rushing attack once again set the tone for much of the game. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro had 91 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown in his first regular-season game. Veteran Justin Forsett also had 11 carries for 63 yards. The Ravens outgained the Browns 160 to 91 yards on the ground. A healthy balance with running and throwing will be crucial for the Baltimore's offense going forward.

      PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Cornerback Lardarius Webb played his first game after dealing with a lower back injury. However, the secondary simply gave up too many big plays and struggled with tackling. This group is going to have to play better, especially when facing more veteran, marquee quarterbacks and receivers.

      RUSH DEFENSE: B - Baltimore's defensive line held Cleveland's runners to 91 yards on 29 carries, an average of 3.1 yards per carry. This also helped the Ravens win the time of possession battle, 30:55 to 29:05. However, Baltimore did not get a sack on Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Justin Tucker continues to be one of Baltimore's most dangerous weapons. He converted all three of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winner from 32 yards as time expired. Sam Koch had three punts for 152 yards (50.7 yards per kick) and the Browns did not have any dangerous returns. The Ravens did not have any kickoff or punt returns.

      COACHING: A-minus - John Harbaugh once again had his team ready to play in a hostile environment. The Ravens also continue to deal with off-the-field distractions with the Ray Rice domestic violence issue. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees must still tighten up his unit. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak stuck to the run when it was working and then Flacco made the big plays at the end when they were needed most.

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Ravens owner faces latest controversy head-on
    By The Sports Xchange

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens returned from Cleveland and were met Monday with a horde of about 100 media members amid new reports regarding the ongoing Ray Rice saga and his domestic abuse case.

    • A big road victory against the Browns seemed almost secondary as owner Steve Bisciotti sat on a stage at the team's practice facility and patiently answered questions for almost 50 minutes regarding the way the team and the NFL handled the case.

      A report by ESPN was published last week alleging the Ravens knew about the incriminating video before it publicly surfaced via TMZ. The story also alleged coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice earlier in the year, but was overruled by the front office. Bisciotti and Harbaugh dismissed those allegations, and the Ravens also issued an eight-page report refuting the ESPN article.

      Bisciotti also vehemently denied a report that he promised Rice an eventual front office job with the organization if he agreed to stay quiet about the way the incident was handled.

      "I cut a guy making $6 million a year," Bisciotti said. "If I'm promising him to be by his side and hire him for $100,000 a year five years from now so that he can help Harry Swayne in our Player Development Department, if that is considered worthy of him going along, I find that rather absurd because it would take him 250 years to make back the $25 million I took away from him."

      Prior to playing Pittsburgh in Week 2, a new video appeared of Rice apparently assaulting his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator. Just hours after the footage was made public, Baltimore terminated Rice's contract. He also was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Both the Ravens and the NFL claimed they had never seen the video from inside the elevator.

      Bisciotti did admit he would have handed the situation differently if given another chance.

      "I'm sorry that we didn't push harder to get that tape," Bisciotti said. "It seems to me in hindsight that we certainly had the leverage to say to Ray and his lawyer that we can't have him play on our team until we see that last bit of evidence. That's what we are dealing with now."

      Bisciotti said that it's "obvious" that the majority of the anonymous sources in the ESPN article work for Rice (his agent, attorney friends, etc.) in order to build a case for his reinstatement to the league. Bisciotti also said no one with the Ravens organization will lose their jobs over the handling of the case.

      "The best way to get reinstatement is to get everyone else look like they are lying," Bisciotti said.

      Harbaugh said he was not surprised by the amount of scrutiny the case has brought to the team. However, Harbaugh said his team has been effective focusing on football.

      "When you're in football, you get pretty used to being under attack," Harbaugh said. "You can't worry about it. You have to try to do what's right and do your best."

  • Monday, September 22, 2014
    Chiefs' Davis impressive as sub for Charles
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs' No. 1 weapon was on the sideline due to an ankle injury, but second-year running back Knile Davis produced a very Jamaal Charles-like performance against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

    • He fit right into coach Andy Reid's offense, running 32 times for 132 yards and a 21-yard touchdown in the 34-15 victory.

      "We knew we wanted to run it some," Reid said. "I didn't put a number on it, but it was working, we stuck with it."

      It was all positive production out of Davis with the exception of one thing -- ball security. He fumbled twice, once in one of the worst spots for a back to ever give up the ball -- in the fourth quarter trying to protect a lead. Davis recovered his own fumble on the other lost ball. They were the only blemishes on a performance that established Davis as the Chiefs best other running back in many years.

      "You know, you get comfortable, you don't see what's around you and things happen," Davis said of the fumbles. "You've got to keep two hands on the ball at all times. It's that simple."

      Reid wanted to focus on the positives of Davis' performance, knowing he'll be able to drum home the ball security-issue in the coming practice week.

      "He does need to keep it high and tight," Reid said. "He's always trying to get that extra yard and sometimes that's where the ball gets loose on running backs. There's a time when you just got to keep it in there tucked, get what you can and then get down.

      "He was running very hard and he can learn from that. He's a young guy. He didn't play a ton last year because of Jamaal. You've got to give him credit for what he did today."

      Charles, scratched just before the game due to a sprained ankle, should be back to full work in practice on Thursday when the Chiefs return to the field for preparations to face New England in next week's Monday night game.

      --It has long been the so-called rule that punt returners place their heels on the 10-yard line and do not go backwards. They allow the ball to sail over their heads, hoping that it will bounce into the end zone. Catching the ball that deep in their own territory is asking for trouble and bad field position.

      That wasn't what punt returner Frankie Hammond did for the Chiefs against the Dolphins. He caught a punt at his own goal line and returned it 48 yards. But a penalty on the Chiefs for an illegal block set up the offense at their one-yard line, instead of the 48. On the first play, quarterback Alex Smith was sacked for a safety.

      Later, Hammond caught a punt at the Chiefs four-yard line, this time he returned it 47 yards and gave the offense good field position at the Miami 49-yard line. Was this good or bad decision making by Hammond?

      "We probably could have let a couple of those go," Reid said. "Normally you let some go. They ended up being decent returns."

      Reid admitted the old philosophy on when and where to return punts and kickoffs is slowly dying away.

      "The flavor of the day is that you are returning everything," Reid said. "Kickoffs all the way to the end line and teams are bringing them out. Through studies it shows there's production there. That's not the way it was when I first got into the game; you would always let those go. Today it's different."

      Notes: Safety Eric Berry is scheduled to return to practice on Thursday. Berry missed the Miami game due to a sprained ankle he suffered on Sept. 14 against the Broncos and did not practice all last week. ... Running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas (hamstring) is scheduled to return to practice on Thursday He practiced for the first time last Wednesday, but did not get back on the field because of muscle fatigue.