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  • Scuffling Panthers look to regain form vs. Chargers
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For a team in danger of missing the playoffs and mired in another two-game losing skid, the Carolina Panthers would seem to have enough on their plate heading into what looks like a must-win stretch.

    • The distractions, however, have been plenty for the Panthers as they prepare for a home game Sunday afternoon with the San Diego Chargers.

      Not only is Carolina coming off Sunday night's 40-7 throttling from the Seattle Seahawks, but they're dealing with the fallout from the benching of quarterback Cam Newton at the start of the game because of a violation of the team's dress code.

      Newton wasn't much of a help when he got into the game.

      The Chargers have their own issues, losing two of their last three games as they've been unable to climb into legitimate playoff contention.

      San Diego (5-7) and Carolina (4-8) are last-place teams in their respective divisions.

      While physical ailments have been part of the storyline for the Panthers, the shortcomings might extend beyond that. The mental psyche of the team is at the core of recent discussions.

      "You are concerned about them. You are concerned about the mental health of the team," coach Ron Rivera said. "It's disappointing because expectations were hot. ... I feel very fortunate that we have a strong culture inside that locker room."

      Speculation has been simmering about Rivera's relationship with Newton after the quarterback, who was the 2015 Most Valuable Player in the league, was held out for the first snap at Seattle because he failed to wear a tie as part of his attire on the team's trip to the game.

      Newton didn't appear for a scheduled news conference Wednesday. Rivera said the issue of the dress code has been addressed and he's ready to move on.

      "I treat everybody the same," Rivera said. "Everybody gets treated the same."

      Chargers coach Mike McCoy is dealing with questions about the team's personnel and his decision-making with his club unable to make much headway. He said it's not fair to paint the entire season with one brush.

      "Everyone is different," McCoy said of each game. "Nobody likes to lose. We all understand we have to do our jobs better. It's never just one thing from week to week. It's a different reason for it.

      "It's not easy winning in this league. Look at us. One or two plays can change everything."

      The Panthers had linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has missed the last two games with a concussion, back at practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday, so it appears he might be available for the game.

      "This is the situation we're in," Rivera said. "There's no turning around from it. ... You want to be consistent. We've got four games left in the regular season and we're going to play them all one at a time. I think it's a good opportunity to see who we are, to see the character and see what we can build on."

      The Chargers are often sparked by quarterback Philip Rivers, who returns to the state where he starred in college for North Carolina State. But Rivers has thrown 14 interceptions, marking the second-highest total in the NFL this season. He has also thrown for 25 touchdowns.

      With the microscope on some of the Chargers' missteps, the problems are spread across different areas.

      "It's not just the last two minutes of a game," McCoy said. "Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn't."

      The Chargers, too, have been questioned about the team's collective mindset.

      "We have a lot of good veteran guys around here who keep you upbeat and keep you going," San Diego tight end Hunter Henry said. "It makes you sick to your stomach knowing what you could have done and what you could have done in all those other games."

      Carolina has an 0-3 record this season against AFC West teams, so it will try to prevent a sweep in that regard. San Diego is 1-2 against the NFC South.

      Rivera was the Chargers' linebackers coach in 2007 and then became the defensive coordinator the next year during his four seasons on the San Diego staff. Rivers was the quarterback during that time.

      McCoy spent nine seasons with the Panthers, serving as receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

      "I love going back there," McCoy said. "A lot of what I do today, I developed with Carolina. It's a special place."

      The teams haven't met since the Panthers won 31-7 on Dec. 16, 2012, in San Diego. Carolina has won four of the five all-time meetings.

  • Browns, Bengals try to erase that losing feeling
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    With their season on the brink of collapse, the Cincinnati Bengals found a way to win last week against Philadelphia. And the Bengals found a way to win without five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green in the lineup.

    • Week 13 also was kind to the Cleveland Browns. They had a bye and coach Hue Jackson's winless squad sorely needed some time to regroup as they hope to avoid becoming the first team since the 2008 Detroit Lions to go 0-16. And reports that quarterback Robert Griffin III is expected to start this week for Cleveland may buoy the Browns' spirits.

      On Sunday, the two intrastate rivals collide at 1 p.m. at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium on the banks of Lake Erie.

      Jackson did have this warning for his old team and the rest of the league on Wednesday.

      "You better get us now because it won't be like this always," Jackson said of his 0-12 club. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us. I think we're committed to doing it the right way and the other part of it is you have to do it."

      The Bengals (4-7-1) come to Cleveland having ended a four-game winless streak --they hadn't won since beating the Browns on Oct. 23. In between victories were three losses and an uninspiring tie along with even more uninspiring play.

      Bengals players are very aware that the Browns and Jackson would love to win their first game against them.

      "You don't want to be the team to help them stop their streak," said defensive end Carlos Dunlap. "For us it's an AFC North game, against one of our old coaches. We know it's personal for him and we're going to approach it that way."

      Against the Eagles, quarterback Andy Dalton had his best game of the season when the Bengals needed it most. He passed for 332 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

      Dalton completed 74 percent of his passes and had a season-high passer rating of 130.0 to help the Bengals keep their slim postseason hopes alive.

      "When there are new guys in there it's going to take a little bit of time. It was definitely a big improvement this week and we have to keep going," Dalton said.

      Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also praised his young group of wide receivers for stepping up while Green recovers from a hamstring problem.

      "I think we have to be most pleased with our young group of guys," Lewis said. "Our receivers particularly -- James Wright, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Eifert. They picked up the slack in a game where we had to throw the ball a little bit more than anticipated. Those guys did a very good job of executing and being efficient with it."

      Dalton might be licking his chops as he prepares for a Browns' defense that has given up a league-high 28 touchdown passes. The Cleveland defensive line has an anemic 17 sacks -- last in the league.

      No wonder Green, who has missed two games since being injured on the second play from scrimmage Nov. 20 against the Buffalo Bills, wants to return so quickly.

      He worked out on the rehab field during Cincinnati's practice Wednesday.

      "He's done a good job with his rehab," Lewis said, adding, "We'll see how the week goes."

      Green's one-handed catch in the middle of an end zone scrum on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half highlighted Cincinnati's day full of big plays against the Browns back in October.

      In that game, Cincinnati amassed 559 yards of offense against a porous Browns defense. Jeremy Hill rushed for a career-high 168 yards and scored on a 74-yard run.

      The Bengals have dominated Cleveland in four straight victories, holding the Browns to just 7.5 points per game in those contests.

      Having been the offensive coordinator for two years under Lewis and the Bengals, Jackson knows all too well what the Browns are up against.

      "They're starting to play well," Jackson said Wednesday. "The QB is playing well. Their defense is playing extremely well and they just beat a very good Philadelphia team."

      Despite their struggles, the Browns continue to play hard -- a testament to Jackson.

      "Some of the years' past, when you're sitting in this situation with poor records, the coach is imminently going to get fired," said left tackle and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. "All the players on the team are going to get cut, traded or released and you know a bomb is going to get dropped on the organization in a month. I think the optimism and positivity and the effort you still see out there on a daily basis is because everybody here knows we're working for something down the line in the future and it's not just going to get destroyed at the end of the season."

      Still, with one of the youngest teams in the league, a bevy of draft picks and the expectation of being well below the salary cap, there will be plenty of opportunity to shore up the lack of talent on next year's team.

      In essence, players are auditioning for jobs next year, and one player who will be closely followed is Griffin.

      Griffin is expected to get the call at quarterback, but Jackson on Wednesday wasn't ready to anoint the former Heisman Trophy winner the starter. Griffin has not played in a game since suffering a broken bone in his left shoulder in the opener.

      "I'm getting close but I'm not ready to make a decision," Jackson said. "We'll keep watching the practice tape and put together a game plan and go from there."

      Jackson is being cautious, wanting to make sure Griffin is put in a position to succeed and not fail.

      "He hasn't played a whole lot of football this year," Jackson said.

      For his part, Griffin wants the chance to prove he belongs, and he is all in as a Cleveland Brown.

      "It is just an opportunity to get to play in the NFL with a group of guys that do not deserve to be 0-12," he said. "I just want to come in, give the team as much of a spark as I possibly can, have fun and hopefully, we can go 4-0 because that is what we have been working for in this last quarter of the season."

      And if Jackson decides to go with rookie Cody Kessler or veteran Josh McCown, how will Griffin react?

      "Whatever their decision is, I will be OK with it because I'm here to be a Cleveland Brown," he said. "I'm here to help this team not just these last four weeks but into the future -- at least that's my hope and my wish -- so I just want to have an opportunity to go out there and put it on the line for my team."

  • Red-hot Lions look to avenge early-season loss to Bears
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    DETROIT -- Overconfidence should not be an issue for the Detroit Lions this Sunday. While the Chicago Bears have only three wins, one of them came at Detroit's expense.

    • The Lions (8-4) own a four-game winning streak and a two-game lead over Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC North, but they know they can't look past the other team in the division. The Bears posted a 17-14 victory in the first meeting at Soldier Field on Oct. 2.

      Detroit, however, will have the home-field advantage the second time around.

      "Chicago's got our full attention," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Obviously, they beat us at their place the last time we played them and they beat us pretty handily, so we've got our work cut out for us."

      Stafford and the Lions' offense were unable to produce an offensive touchdown in that game. He threw two interceptions and the only touchdown Detroit scored came on Andre Roberts' 85-yard punt return with less than two minutes remaining.

      "They just handled us, to be honest with you," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "They played us tough in every phase of the game. They ran to the ball, they hit us hard, and we were not as effective as we're capable. Some of it had to do with them."

      That loss dropped to the Lions to 1-3 and few people would have anticipated they would be in control of the division for the second meeting. Detroit recorded its first seven wins with fourth-quarter comebacks.

      The Lions finally took care of business earlier last Sunday, keeping the potent New Orleans Saints' attack under wraps in a 28-13 road victory.

      Stafford doesn't think the loss to the Bears was a wakeup call for the team.

      "I don't know if we needed one. At that point, that was our third in a row," he said. "If the first two didn't wake you up, I don't know what's wrong with you. We've just played better football since then. In that game, we turned the ball over twice. Those were huge turnovers and cost us points. Since then, we've done a nice job of avoiding that and that's been a big turnaround for us."

      The Lions are banged up on offense. Wide receiver Marvin Jones returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday after missing the Saints game with a quad issue. Running back Theo Riddick is nursing wrist and ankle injuries, and center Travis Swanson is in the league's concussion protocol. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah is a question mark because of knee and ankle injuries.

      Chicago (3-9) has been one of the league's most injury-riddled teams this season. The Bears defeated San Francisco, 26-6, on Sunday behind a stout defense and a workhorse performance from rookie running back Jordan Howard.

      He rushed for 117 yards on 32 carries and scored three touchdowns in snowy conditions. Howard, who emerged after season-opening starter Jeremy Langford was injured, gained 111 yards in 23 carries against the Lions.

      "At the start of the season, I'm not sure people even knew his number," coach John Fox said. "One thing about injuries that does happen, they give guys opportunities. Obviously, he's young, being a rookie, but his humility and kind of how he's maintained being the same guy has been big, too. It says a lot about him, aside from all the abilities."

      Quarterback Matt Barkley wasn't supposed to start any games for the Bears this season but injuries to Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer -- who passed for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting -- have thrust the 26-year-old into that role. Barkley only attempted 18 passes against the 49ers in the inclement weather, and completed 11 for 192 yards. But he didn't throw any interceptions after getting picked off twice in each of his first appearances this season.

      "I don't think he's lacking confidence," Fox said. "I think that's evident in his style of play and kind of how he handles things. I would imagine he's a little more confident now than he was prior to his first two starts."

      Cutler won't be coming back, as he was placed on injured reserve on Monday. Barkley is working with a depleted receiving corps.

      Top wideout Alshon Jeffery is finishing up his four-game suspension for taking a banned substance. Eddie Royal missed the 49ers game with a toe injury and did not practice on Wednesday. Marquess Wilson's status is also questionable because of a groin injury.

      The Bears will be looking to sweep the Lions for the first time since 2012.

  • Reports: Browns QB Griffin to start vs. Bengals
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson has not officially named his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but multiple reports have Robert Griffin III scheduled to make his first start since the season opener.

    • Citing a source, Dan Graziano of ESPN reported that "barring an unforeseen health setback in practice" that the Browns plan to start Griffin.

      "That has been the vibe even before they left for the bye week," Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Wednesday of the plan to start Griffin. "(Griffin) talked like that Monday, and he spoke like that again today."

      Griffin has not played in a game since suffering a broken bone in his left shoulder. He was placed on injured reserve after the injury, but he was cleared for contact on Nov. 29. He practiced that day and again Monday and Wednesday this week.

      Josh McCown, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan would be the other candidates to start Sunday's game, but every indication is that it will be Griffin.

      The Browns, who are coming off a bye week, are 0-12 and desperately want to avoid being the first team since the 2008 Lions to go 0-16.

      This is Griffin's first season in Cleveland after spending his first four NFL campaigns with the Washington Redskins.

      The Browns would like to get a look at how Griffin fares in the final four games before deciding on how to address its quarterback situation in the offseason.

      Officially, Jackson is remaining non-committal.

      "We're going to practice guys and see where they are, but no decision today," Jackson said. "(Griffin) looked good. He's moving around and throwing the ball. It's hard to get four guys reps."

      Jackson acknowledged protection problems might make him hesitant to activate RGIII, who is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list.

      Griffin said he will go along with whatever decision Jackson makes, but he is talking like he expects to start.

      "I get an opportunity to go out, put my skills to the test with this team to try to open up some new things, some new holes and figure out what our game plan will be this upcoming week," Griffin said.

      "But I've played Cincinnati before. I know they know a little bit about me. It's not like there's no tape on me but whatever surprises that we have, hopefully we execute them to the best of our ability. This team (Bengals) is an extremely physical, really good defense, and it'll be a challenge. But we're up for it."

  • Losing S Smith a huge blow to Vikings
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    WINTER PARK, Minn. -- Coach Mike Zimmer on the Minnesota Vikings says he's back. Hall of Fame-bound running back Adrian Peterson says he's coming back, as long as the playoffs are still a possibility.

    • And safety Harrison Smith, their most versatile defensive star, might not be back the rest of the season because of an ankle injury that will keep him out of Sunday's game at Jacksonville.

      Just another day at the Vikings' Winter Park infirmary, where the next in a long and never-ending list of injuries is probably lurking right around the corner.

      Coach Mike Zimmer, who missed last Thursday's 17-15 loss to the Cowboys after having emergency eye surgery the night before, said Wednesday that he feels "great" and "is good to go" for Sunday's game at Jacksonville.

      That's good, because the Vikings (6-6) are in the midst of a 1-6 free-fall and need to pull out of it against Jacksonville (2-10), which has lost seven straight games.

      Having undergone four surgeries since Nov. 1 to repair a detached retina in his right eye, Zimmer might have to coach from the coaches' booth. But he is expected to be able to fly with the team because the type of surgery he had doesn't prohibit flying, he said.

      The Vikings had a contingency plan in place for Zimmer to be driven to the game if his eye couldn't handle the pressure of traveling by air.

      "I just want to talk about Jacksonville," Zimmer said when pushed for more information about his eye.

      Meanwhile, in the Vikings' locker room, Peterson was talking to reporters for the first time since going on injured reserve because of torn meniscus sustained in the second game of the season.

      Peterson, who will be 11 weeks out from surgery on Thursday, said he feels he's close to returning from injured reserve. He started sprinting and cutting a week ago and appears to be in his usual top shape.

      Asked how he feels compared to before he was injured, Peterson said: "I feel like I'm there. Mentally, that's how I feel. I feel I was there six weeks ago. I guess that's why I'm able to heal a lot faster and to jump over hurdles that people wouldn't expect me to be jumping over as of now, going on 11 weeks. I'm taking things in stride and just controlling the things I can control."

      Peterson has been known as a quick healer since 2012, when he rushed for 2,097 yards and won league MVP honors after sustaining a torn ACL the previous Christmas Eve in Washington.

      "God really has blessed me to be able to heal a lot faster than others," he said. "You guys seen that in 2012 with the ACL. With this injury, it has been the same."

      However, Peterson was brutally honest when asked if he would return to the field if the Vikings were out of the playoff picture.

      "No," he said. "I wouldn't for obvious reasons. I'm not going to get into details about, that but my vision is making it to the playoffs. That's what I believe and that's what I have my eyes on right now."

      Peterson carries an $18-million cap hit for 2017. The Vikings would have to pay him $6 million on the third day of the league year or release him. They can release him without any cap hit and aren't expected to keep him under his current contract.

      Peterson knows this and presumably meant that he wouldn't want to risk his future playing in meaningless games.

      There also is the game on Sunday.

      The Vikings head into the game with the fourth-ranked scoring defense (17.4) and the second-ranked turnover margin (plus-13). The Jaguars have the 27th-ranked scoring offense (18.7) and are last in turnover margin (minus-18), giveaways (25) and interceptions thrown (18).

      But the Vikings will be without Smith, who could be replaced by rookie Javon Kearse, second-year pro Anthony Harris or even starting cornerback Terence Newman, who shifted to safety a year ago when Smith missed a game at Arizona.

      Losing another star player is just business as usual this season.

      When the Vikings played the Dallas Cowboys, their quarterback, running back, punt returner, one defensive tackle, 60 percent of their offensive line and even their on-field head coach (special teams coordinator Mike Priefer) were once backups or not even with the team when training camp started.

      Asked if reports that Smith could be done for the year are true, Zimmer didn't rule out one of his tougher players.

      "I know Harrison Smith is a pretty tough guy and he plays all the time," Zimmer said. "When he's hurt, he plays. He always plays, so I don't care about reports."

      SERIES HISTORY: Sixth regular-season meeting. Vikings lead the series, 4-1. The Vikings have played at Jacksonville only one time, winning 30-12 to improve to 6-5 during the 2008 season. The first of four straight wins that year helped Brad Childress reach the playoffs for the first time in his third season as head coach. The last meeting came in 2012, when Blair Walsh, in his first NFL game, kicked a game-tying 55-yard field goal to force overtime in the closing seconds and then the game winner for a 26-23 win in overtime.

      --Quarterback Sam Bradford's record with the Vikings fell below .500 (5-6) for the first time. But he's having one of the better seasons of his career, especially when you consider that he didn't join the Vikings until eight days before the season opener and started a week later against the Packers at home.

      "I do feel more comfortable out there than I probably have in the past, and I think that's just being healthy for two years in a row, being able to go out there and to play," said Bradford, who battled knee injuries in St. Louis before being traded to Philadelphia last year and then the Vikings this year.

      Bradford has a career-high five games with a passer rating of 100 or more. He's also second in the league in completion percentage (71.2) and has thrown only three interceptions in 393 attempts.

      The Vikings have played five games since Norv Turner resigned as offensive coordinator. Tight ends coach, Pat Shurmur, who was with Bradford in St. Louis in 2010 and Philadelphia last year, was elevated to interim offensive coordinator.

      "Obviously, I think some of that (comfort) comes with being with Pat (Shurmur), being in a system I'm familiar with, too," he said. "And so, yeah, I would say right now is the most comfortable I've felt out there."

      --Coach Mike Zimmer doesn't mind that defensive end Brian Robison ripped the officiating in the locker room after the Vikings' 17-15 loss to the Cowboys. Robison complained about holding that went uncalled and singled out a non-call on a Cowboys defender who grabbed quarterback Sam Bradford's facemask on an incomplete pass on the game-tying two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds.

      "What I said (about the officiating is), 'They probably missed some calls like every ball game, but the officiating didn't beat us,'" said Zimmer, correcting a reporter who said Zimmer told his players not to criticize the officials.

      Zimmer also said he talked to the players about what he calls E.E.F. -- or Everybody Else's Fault -- and the importance of steering clear of using that as a crutch.

      "I don't really hide much from the players," Zimmer said.

      NOTES: DE Danielle Hunter has 5 1/2 sacks in the last four games. He leads the team with 9 1/2 on the season and all second-year players with 15 1/2 the last two seasons. He was a third-round draft pick. ... DE Brian Robison is tied with Everson Griffen for second on the Vikings in sacks with six. He has two in the last three games. Robison, 33, is trying to reach double digits in sacks for the first time in his 10-year career. He has 54 1/2 career sacks with a season-high of nine in 2013. ... WR Stefon Diggs is 194 yards short of becoming the Vikings' first 1,000-yard receiver since Sidney Rice had 1,312 yards while teaming up with Brett Favre during the Vikings' 2009 run to the NFC title game. ... FS Harrison Smith (ankle) didn't practice and isn't expected to play on Sunday at Jacksonville. He's one of the team's best defenders and its most versatile. Without him, the Vikings will be much more one-dimensional and weaker at the position. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Jayron Kearse started in place of SS Andrew Sendejo at Chicago on Oct. 31, but had to be benched early because of poor play. Anthony Harris is another possibility. ... C Joe Berger, who missed last week's game because of a concussion, was limited in Wednesday's practice. The fact he has cleared the concussion protocol means he will play Sunday. ... PR Marcus Sherels, who missed the last two games, was limited on Wednesday because of a rib injury. He should be able to return Sunday. If not, the punt return duties could fall on WR Stefon Diggs or WR Adam Thielen. ... DE Everson Griffen (hip) was limited in Wednesday's practice, but is expected to play on Sunday.

  • Dolphins hope to turn corner with 'December football'
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Once again, it comes down to December football for the Miami Dolphins. And almost as importantly, it comes to the mentality of playing December football.

    • It won't be easy for a few reasons: Arizona (5-6-1) is a bad statistical matchup for the Dolphins (7-5), and the Cardinals, who have been to the playoffs the last two years, are a seasoned December team.

      The Dolphins claim they can marshal their forces this week against Arizona, shaking off the effects of last week's 38-6 shellacking at Baltimore.

      But this will be as much mental as physical.

      Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is among the many who contend there's something about December football that's different.

      "It's more intense," Arians said. "You can feel it in your locker room and during the practices each week. Players turn it up even more. December football is special."

      The Dolphins haven't mastered that skill yet. Last week was a rude awakening to the intensity and focus required in December. Many of the Dolphins' key players haven't yet made a successful march to the playoffs, so this remains a learning experience.

      Still, it's not a good matchup. Arizona is No. 3 in average time of possession (31:37) while the Dolphins are 28th; Cardinals running back David Johnson is No. 3 in rushing at 1,005 yards while the Dolphins are 30th in run defense at 130.3 yards per game; Arizona is No. 2 in total defense while the Dolphins are 25th in total offense.

      Miami is pinning most of its playoff hopes on going 4-0 the rest of the way. But if that doesn't happen, this week's game against Arizona is the one the team can afford to lose for tiebreaking purposes because it's the lone NFC opponent.

      That's speaking the truth, but no one on the Dolphins wants to hear about Plan B.

      Plan A is Miami shows it's ready to win in December.

  • Bills are seeing the real McCoy in 2016
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- LeSean McCoy has played 113 games in his NFL career, but only twice before last week had he enjoyed a more prolific game than he had in Buffalo's 38-24 loss to Oakland.

    • McCoy piled up 191 yards from scrimmage, 130 rushing and 61 on seven pass receptions as he averaged eight yards on his 24 touches.

      The only two games where he had more scrimmage yardage came during his time with Philadelphia, 221 yards in a victory over Detroit in 2013 (a career-high 217 of that on the ground), and 200 yards in a 2011 victory over Dallas (185 rushing).

      By comparison, in his Hall of Fame career, ex-Bill Thurman Thomas, the franchise's all-time yards from scrimmage leader, had only three games where he totaled at least 191 yards from scrimmage.

      That's the kind of performance this was, one that should have resulted in a clutch Bills' victory, one that would have kept them relevant in the AFC playoff chase.

      Instead, it went for naught, and the Bills, who led by McCoy, rushed for 212 yards yet lost for only the 15th in 100 games in their history where they topped 200 yards rushing.

      "There's a lot of guys who poured it all out, but the type of day he had, he'd be the AFC player of the week, many things that go with it," coach Rex Ryan said.

      "But when you lose the game, he doesn't get the appropriate attention he would get if we had found a way to win that game. That's frustrating for him, but I know for LeSean it's all about the team and he'd rather trade that type of performance for a win and have a way less impact than having that kind of day in a loss."

      McCoy came to the Bills in a surprising trade before the 2015 season. Admittedly, he was not happy leaving the Philadelphia Eagles. where he played the first six years of his NFL career.

      Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he was very comfortable in Philadelphia, and the move to Buffalo took some getting used to. On the field, he battled injuries throughout 2015 and he rushed for only 895 yards in the 12 games he played.

      This season, he has endured a couple injuries that forced him to miss the equivalent of two full games, yet he has surpassed his 2015 yardage total.

      McCoy has 949 yards rushing which is sixth in the NFL, but his 5.5-yard average per carry is easily No. 1 among the top 25 rushers.

      "It's not a wasted season," Ryan said when he was asked if McCoy's performance is going down the tubes for a team with a 6-6 record. "There's a reason we're still in this and he's a big reason why.

      "The type of year he's had really is an amazing year, regardless of the record and we're were' at. He's having an unbelievable season or us."

      McCoy played on some potent Philadelphia teams, and he enjoyed four 1,000-yard seasons including a league-high 1,607 yards in 2013, but he said this Buffalo running offense is the best he's been a part of.

      "We do so many different things," McCoy said. "I'm sure the Steelers are preparing for tons of different plays that we run. We'll have a formation and we could run 5-6 different plays and the defense has to account for all of that.

      "Other places I've been, you see a formation that you recognize from watching tape, 80 percent chance it's probably the play you'll get, and here it's different. And our quarterback is very mobile, he's very athletic so he helps out in the running game."

      When the Bills host Pittsburgh this week, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the place you start when it comes to defending the Bills is McCoy, a player he has watched for a long time.

      "I've had the pleasure of knowing him since he was about 19 because he played next door here at Pitt," Tomlin said. "That's always defined his game, his competitive spirit. He loves the individual one-on-ones within the game of football, he most always wins them.

      "He's just a tremendous competitor and a good natural instinct football player. He utilizes those instincts and he trusts those instincts and that's why he's the type of back he is averaging 5.5 per carry this year."

      SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 13-8. The last time the Steelers played in Buffalo, they pulled out a 19-16 overtime victory, a game remembered in Buffalo for a dropped pass in the end zone by wide open Stevie Johnson that would have won the game for the Bills, and then Johnson asking God why he'd let Johnson down like that. Pittsburgh won the last meeting, in 2013 at Heinz Field, 23-10.

      --WR Percy Harvin's return to the NFL was abbreviated, and now it's over, at least for 2016. Harvin came out of retirement early in November to rejoin the Bills who were desperate for help at wide receiver. However, Harvin wound up playing only two games, catching two passes for six yards, then sitting out two games because of his recurring problem with migraines. Apparently, that situation wasn't improving, so the Bills officially ended Harvin's season by placing him on the non-football illness list. "I really don't know what it means," coach Rex Ryan said regarding Harvin's future in the NFL. "I know he is on that NFI right now and can't come back this year. That is what I know about it."

      Harvin joined the Bills before the 2015 season and was looked upon as a player who would serve as a perfect addition to Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods in Buffalo's three-receiver formations. But Harvin played only five games last season because of knee and hip injuries, and then he announced in the offseason that he was retiring. He changed his mind when the Bills came calling, but it simply didn't work out for either side.

      --The NFL's leading receiver, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is coming to Buffalo on Sunday, and the Bills' top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, is looking forward to the challenge. However, Gilmore won't always be lined up across from Brown because the Bills typically play sides, and Gilmore usually stays on the right while Ronald Darby lines up on the left. "I wish I could follow the best receiver, but whatever the coach wants me to do, I'll do," Gilmore said. "It's another good receiver this year I'm playing against. I went against a lot of great receivers and did my thing."

      Gilmore, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, has had an up-and-down year. He's played very well in some games, but poorly in others. Browns has 88 receptions, tied with Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona for the NFL lead, and 1,052 yards, third behind Julio Jones of Atlanta and Mike Evans of Tampa Bay. Since he came into the NFL in 2010, Brown has the most receptions (614) and second-most receiving yards (8,145) of anyone in the league.

      Coach Rex Ryan defended his philosophy on cornerbacks this way: "When you do have two really good corners, you feel great about, then most of the time ... they're really comfortable playing left and right. But, I will say this: Stephon is playing about as good as any corner in the league right now, probably. I mean, he's right there. The last three weeks, in particular, he's been absolutely outstanding. We'll see what we think. It's way too early to tell you who's going to match with who or whatever."

      BY THE NUMBERS: 23 -- Rushing touchdowns by the Bills this season, third-most in team history. They had 26 in 1975 and 25 in 1964.

      QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this is the most dynamic run game I've been a part of. Obviously, Adrian (Peterson of Minnesota) had a great year (2012 when he rushed for 2,097 yards and Jamie Felton was his fullback), but just the different ways we can run the football, our schemes, I think probably it's the best that I've been around." -- FB Felton, on the Bills' No. 1-ranked running game.

      NOTES: CB Ronald Darby, who sat out the Oakland game because of a concussion, is expected back this week for the Steelers game. He practiced for the first time since getting hurt two weeks ago. ... G John Miller was evaluated for a concussion in Oakland late in the game. He passed the tests and is expected to be ready for Pittsburgh. ... WR Percy Harvin won't play the rest of the season, as he was placed on the non-football illness list due to his recurring problems with migraines. ... LB Zach Brown continues to lead the Bills with 116 tackles, 10 of which have been for lost yardage, which also leads the team. ... RB LeSean McCoy is closing in on the fifth 1,000-yard rushing season of his career, and first with the Bills. ... QB Tyrod Taylor's six rushing touchdowns this season are the most by a Bills' quarterback since Daryle Lamonica had six in 1964. ... LB Lorenzo Alexander continues to lead the Bills with 10 sacks, but he hasn't had any in the last three games. ... WR Robert Woods (knee) is back working on a limited basis, but it seems unlikely that he will play this week.

  • Ravens need to keep composure vs. Patriots
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    One of the keys for the Baltimore Ravens will be keeping cooler heads in the heated matchup against the New England Patriots on Monday night.

    • This is especially true for receiver Steve Smith, who was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct against the Bengals in Week 12 and an illegal use of the hands last week against the Dolphins in another heated exchange.

      Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan also received a taunting penalty versus Miami. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he has addressed the importance of avoiding those types of mistakes.

      "I have my ways of expressing it to those guys," Harbaugh said. "They understand where we're coming from on it. It's communication, it's relationship, and that's what it is."

      While the Ravens have to play smarter against the Patriots, they simply will not back down when the game becomes physical.

      "Every player on this team isn't going to take any mess from anybody," linebacker Zachary Orr said. "That is just how we are raised up here in Baltimore. We are not going to get any flags, but we are not going to take any mess from anybody."

      -- Lardarius Webb seamlessly has made the transition from cornerback to safety this season. This has been a boost to the Ravens' secondary and has opened the door for rookie cornerback Tavon Young to get on the field and make plays.

      Webb has also played a key role in Baltimore's late-season surge with an interception, a sack and 25 tackles over the past five games. He credits fellow safety Eric Weddle with helping make the transition easier to a new position.

      "Every day. I'm just learning from Weddle," Webb said. "He's teaching me different types of stuff every week. You're never too old to learn. I just keep pushing, I just keep doing my job. It's not about me, it's about the team, so I'm always doing my job. But the front seven makes it so much easier for us."

      The Ravens enter the contest against New England with the league's seventh-ranked pass defense and allow just 222 yards per game. Webb has helped keep the secondary organized and efficient.

      "We are talking about playing a position at the highest level," Harbaugh said about Webb. "Although he had played (safety) in college, it had been a long time. But 'Webby' brings some intangibles to the table. He is a natural cover man."

  • Harbaugh, Ravens set for 'toughest challenge' in Patriots
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    On paper, there doesn't appear to be much of a rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots.

    • In fact, the regular-season series has been completely lopsided with Baltimore managing just one win in eight games. But it's been a different story in the playoffs where the Ravens have beaten the Patriots twice in Foxborough, Mass.

      The meetings between the teams have been generally close and almost always contentious. The stakes will be high on Monday night with the Ravens clinging to a spot in the playoffs and New England trying secure the top overall seed.

      Baltimore seems to be peaking at the perfect time, and coach John Harbaugh doesn't want to derail that momentum.

      "Now we have our toughest challenge," Harbaugh said. "We're going to need to play our best football on Monday night up in New England to win that football game. We do believe we have a chance to do that based on where we're at right now. That's what we're shooting for."

      The Ravens had their most complete game of the season last week against Miami. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed a franchise-record 36 passes for 381 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.

      While Flacco would like to stay aggressive against New England (10-2), Baltimore (7-5) will need more balance between throwing and running the ball to keep Tom Brady and company off the field.

      Flacco, however, has shown he can go head-to-head with Brady and win at Gillette Stadium. Two of Brady's three home losses in the playoffs have come against Flacco.

      "We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing," Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."

      Flacco completed passes to 10 different receivers against the Dolphins, including a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Breshad Perriman. The Ravens hope that impressive performance can carry over to this game.

      "For the most part, it's great confidence and momentum for us," Perriman said. "Everybody's playing great in all three phases, so we want to do that again in New England."

      The Ravens enter the game with the NFL's overall defense in the NFL, allowing 296.1 yards per game. Brady is the league's top-rated quarterback (113.1).

      While Brady has dominated the rest of the league, he's had some struggles against Baltimore.

      In six career games against the Ravens, Brady has six touchdowns and three interceptions with quarterback rating of 83.6. He has also been sacked 14 times.

      The Baltimore players are not going to be intimidated by the hostile environment or back down from the challenge of containing a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Brady.

      "We're always excited to play," defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. "It doesn't matter where we play. Wherever we are as a team, we're going to get it done."

  • Browns must gets Bengals on the run, with or without RG3
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns (0-12) have a boatload of problems to fix and four games to fix them before going quietly into the 2017 offseason.

    • Near the top of the list as they resumed practice Wednesday for their home game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) is rediscovering their ground game.

      The Browns rushed for more than 100 yards only once in the last eight games, and that happened on Oct. 23 in a 31-17 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.

      "Offensively, we are not running the ball as well (as early in the season) and not protecting the quarterback, and that is a unit issue," head coach Hue Jackson said.

      "It's not just the line. I'll be the first to tell you that. That was very apparent to me watching the tape."

      The Bengals went 0-3-1 after beating the Browns and then ended their slide by beating the Eagles, 32-14, last Sunday. The victory put them back in the race in the AFC North. The Steelers and Ravens are tied for the division lead at 7-5.

      The Browns look at this game as a chance to finally break into the win column. The Bengals look at it as a must-win game to stay on the heels of the Ravens and Steelers with a quarter of the season to play.

      Even the 180-yard rushing game against the Bengals was a bit of an anomaly because Kevin Hogan, who ended up playing quarterback when starter Cody Kessler was concussed, rushed for 104 yards.

      The Bengals were content to let Hogan run while making sure he did not get the Browns back in the game with a quick strike touchdown pass.

      Hogan probably won't play against the Bengals in the rematch in Cleveland and there have been reports that Robert Griffin III will start. Griffin is ready to return to at quarterback after missing 11 games because of a broken bone in his left shoulder, although Jackson is holding off naming him the starter.

      "We're going to practice guys and see where they are, but no decision today," Jackson said. "(Griffin) looked good. He's moving around and throwing the ball. It's hard to get four guys reps."

      Kessler, Hogan and Josh McCown are competing for the starting job along with Griffin.

      Jackson is being cautious with Griffin. He concedes protection problems might make him hesitant to activate RG3, who is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list.

      Griffin was cleared for contact on Nov. 29, practiced that day, and practiced again Monday and Wednesday.

      Griffin said he will go along with whatever decision Jackson makes, but he's talking like he expects to start. He did not take a single snap in 2015 with the Redskins and is eager to prove he can still play -- if not to for Browns than for another team that might be willing to give him a chance even if it doesn't come until 2018. Griffin is under contract with the Browns next season.

      "I get an opportunity to go out, put my skills to the test with this team to try to open up some new things, some new holes and figure out what our game plan will be this upcoming week," Griffin said.

      "But I've played Cincinnati before. I know they know a little bit about me. It's not like there's no tape on me but whatever surprises that we have, hopefully we execute them to the best of our ability. This team (Bengals) is an extremely physical, really good defense, and it'll be a challenge. But we're up for it."

      Griffin faced the Bengals as a rookie with the Redskins on Sept. 23. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown in a 38-31 loss.

      SERIES HISTORY: 87th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 47-39. The Browns have lost four straight games in the Battle of Ohio. They have been outscored, 129-30, in those games.

      --Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III and his girlfriend will probably be more cautious when they leave their car to be parked for the home game against the Bengals.

      The couple allegedly had cash stolen from their wallets, which they left in the car to be parked by a valet in a parking area designated for family and friends of team members when the Browns played a home game against the Giants on Sept. 27.

      "Everything's been taken care of, so I trust it will never happen again," Griffin said.

      --There is nothing mysterious about the Browns' 0-12 record. They rank last in the AFC defensively in seven categories -- total defense, rushing yards per game, passing net yards per play, sacks per pass play, first downs per game, third down efficiency and points allowed.

      --Jonathan Cooper, a 2013 first-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals, is ready to make his first start at right guard for the Browns. The Browns have given up a league-high 45 sacks.

      "I'll step in and do the best I can to help the team however I can," Cooper said. "Do I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders specifically? No. I'm only one person. I know as long as we work together and continue to improve as a unit, the sky's the limit."

      Cooper is starting because John Greco is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury.

      --Rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman might see some time as a punt returner over the last four games, but Coach Hue Jackson isn't making guarantees.

      "There is potential that can happen, yes," Jackson said. "Corey is very talented. We would love to see him go out there and catch them, but again, he is such a huge part of what we do on offense. I would like to get him back there before the season is out just so he can do it."

      NOTES: LT Joe Thomas (knee) did not practice. He has been taking Wednesday and Thursday off since October. ... TE Randall Telfer (thumb) did not practice. He had surgery last week during the bye. ... sS Derrick Kindred (ankle) was placed on the non-football injury list. He was injured in an unspecified way during the bye. ... DB Tramon Williams had full participation in practice Wednesday. He missed the last two games because of a knee injury. ... CB Jamar Taylor was limited in practice because of a groin injury.

  • Jets re-sign RB Robinson, promote RB Wilds
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    The New York Jets re-signed running back Khiry Robinson on Wednesday, a day after waiving veteran C.J. Spiller.

    • The 6-foot, 220-pound Robinson was the Jets' first signing of this year's unrestricted free agency period on March 11. The fourth-year back, who signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent after the 2013 draft out of West Texas A&M, came to the Jets after rehabbing a tibia fracture suffered midway through the 2015 season.

      Robinson finally got into the final preseason game at Philadelphia, but he reinjured his leg and was waived with an injury designation on Sept. 4.

      Robinson played in 28 games (three starts) in his three seasons with the Saints, rushing for 766 yards and eight touchdowns along with 25 receptions for 178 yards.

      The Jets also promoted running back Brandon Wilds from the practice squad.

      The 6-0, 220-pound Wilds was signed to the Jets' practice squad on Sept. 26. He was signed as an undrafted free agent with Atlanta out of South Carolina after this year's draft and led the Falcons in the preseason with 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns before being waived at the final cutdown.

      Defensive lineman Claude Pelon was re-signed to the Jets' practice squad.

      The 6-4, 300-pound Pelon was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of the USC after the draft before being a final cut. He was first signed to the practice squad the next day, then released 11 days later.

  • Vikings RB Peterson to sit unless playoffs are possible
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There is a major caveat in the 2016 comeback plan for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

    • If the Vikings are out of playoff contention, it sounds like Peterson is out, too.

      Peterson said Wednesday it would be "pointless" to play this season if his participation wasn't geared toward reaching the playoffs. That is uncertain with the Vikings losing six of their last seven games following a 5-0 start.

      Asked if he would return to play even if the Vikings are mathematically eliminated from the postseason picture, he said, "No, I wouldn't."

      Still, Peterson said he feels ready physically. The training staff has been diligent reminding him that cutting on an empty practice field is much different than game speed.

      "I feel like I'm there. Mentally, that's how I feel and I feel like I was there six weeks ago," Peterson said. "I guess that's why I'm able to heal a lot faster and jump over hurdles that people wouldn't expect me to be jumping over as of now. I'm just taking things in stride and controlling the things I can control."

      Peterson's plan includes continuing to prepare for a potential return.

      "I'm thinking we're going to make the playoffs, so that's what I'm keeping my mindset on," he said. "If that's not the case a week or two from now, we can settle back around."

      Peterson was sidelined by a torn meniscus in his right knee in September and had surgery on Sept. 22. He has 31 carries for 50 yards this season.

      But the long view for Peterson includes the possibility of relocation. The Vikings might be ready to move on rather than pay a $12 million salary next season.

      Peterson does not seem ready to trot into retirement. He has 11,725 career rushing yards and 97 rushing touchdowns.

      Head coach Mike Zimmer said Peterson's health, and not the NFC North standings, would be the only determining factor in putting him back on the field.

      Peterson would not say if he was targeting the Christmas Eve game at Green Bay on the schedule.

      "I'm going to keep that among the coaches and training staff right now," Peterson said. "I'm focusing on getting my body ready, conditioning and getting back to doing the things I’d have to do on the football field."

  • Bengals WR Green limited Wednesday
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    CINCINNATI -- Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has missed two games with a strained right hamstring but is not expected to return Sunday against AFC North rival Cleveland.

    • Green worked out on the rehab field during Cincinnati's practice on Wednesday. He was injured on the second play from scrimmage Nov. 20 against the Buffalo Bills.

      While Green said last week the injury was "not bad" his injury was considered a severe muscle strain. Green vowed to be back on the field this season.

      Head coach Marvin Lewis would only say that Green was "doing well," but there was no indication whether he'll be ready to play on Sunday when the Bengals travel to Cleveland to face former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, now the head coach of the 0-12 Browns.

      Green is 36 receiving yards short of joining Randy Moss as the only NFL Players with 1,000 or more yards in their first six seasons.

  • Colts promote LB Rhodes after Jackson suspension
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    The Indianapolis Colts promoted linebacker Luke Rhodes from the practice squad on Wednesday to take the roster spot of suspended linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.

    • Jackson was suspended Tuesday for the final four regular-season games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Jackson will be eligible to return on Jan. 2, the day after the regular season ends.

      The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Rhodes, 24, spent most of the season on the Colts' practice squad since signing with the team on Oct. 5. He participated in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2016 offseason program and training camp before being waived during final cuts on Sept. 3. Rhodes originally signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent on May 2.

      Collegiately, Rhodes started 45 of 47 games at William & Mary and finished with 341 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 19 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.

      The Colts also signed safety Stefan McClure to their practice squad.

      The 5-11, 205-pound McClure, 23, participated in the Colts' offseason program and training camp before being waived on Sept. 3. He originally signed with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent on May 2 after playing collegiately for the California Golden Bears.

      McClure appeared in 37 games (28 starts) at Cal and totaled 165 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, 12 passes defensed and three fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown).

  • Colts' Luck, Cardinals' Johnson among players of week
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 13 after his four-touchdown performance, the NFL announced Wednesday.

    • Luck completed 22 of 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns for a 147.6 passer rating in the Colts' 41-10 victory over the New York Jets on "Monday Night Football." This marks the fourth time Luck has earned the award in his career.

      Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson took the NFC offensive honor for his huge performance in Sunday's 31-23 victory over the Washington Redskins.

      Johnson recorded 175 yards from scrimmage (84 rushing, 91 receiving). He also had two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving), giving him 28 career touchdowns in 28 games -- a new franchise record for a player in his first two seasons. Johnson has 1,709 yards from scrimmage (1,005 rushing, 704 receiving) this season.

      Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry's emotional return to Atlanta netted him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. He was playing in his hometown of Atlanta for the first time since he went through chemotherapy treatments at Emory University for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

      Berry had a 37-yard interception return touchdown off Matt Ryan in the first half and a 100-yard, two-point conversion pick with 4:32 left to play that gave the Chiefs a 29-28 victory.

      Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his two-sack, 10-tackle performance in the 26-6 win against the San Francisco 49ers.

      New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski earned the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the 26-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. He was 4-for-4 on field goals, including three field goals of 40 or more yards (48, 45 and 45).

      Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater took the NFC special teams honor after setting a career high with five field goals, including a 52-yarder, in the 28-13 win against the New Orleans Saints.

  • Giants DE Pierre-Paul out rest of regular season
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul underwent hernia surgery Wednesday morning and is out for the rest of the regular season.

    • If the Giants reach the playoffs, it is possible Pierre-Paul could return. The typical recovery time from hernia surgery is five or six weeks.

      Pierre-Paul posted a picture from the hospital before surgery on social media Wednesday morning.

      "Surgery went well and feeling way better already. God is good," Pierre-Paul later wrote on Twitter. "Time to heal up."

      Pierre-Paul had seven sacks in the Giants' first 11 games, including three against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27 -- a game in which he had seven tackles, a forced fumble and a touchdown.

      He was injured with less than two minutes left in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      Pierre-Paul, who turns 28 on Jan. 1, signed a one-year deal to return to the Giants this season and is eligible to return to free agency in March.

      He missed most of last season recovering from a hand injury and surgery that followed a July 4 fireworks accident.

  • Week 14 GameScout: Raiders at Chiefs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)


      KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox.

      SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting between these original franchises from the American Football League. Along with San Diego and Denver, this is the 57th consecutive season they played in the same conference/division. The Chiefs lead the series against the Raiders 59-51-2, and Kansas City has won four straight against Oakland and five of the past six meetings. That includes a 26-10 Kansas City victory on Oct. 16 in California. Since the 2000 season, the Chiefs are 19-14 against Oakland overall but just 8-8 in games played at Arrowhead Stadium. The last Raiders victory in the rivalry was in 2014 when Oakland was 0-10 and registered Derek Carr's first win as an NFL quarterback. The Raiders' last win in Arrowhead was 2012 when a 26-16 victory became Oakland's sixth consecutive triumph in K.C. The teams met three times in the playoffs, with the Chiefs winning in 1969 and 1990, and losing to the Raiders in 1968.

      GAMEDATE: 12/8/16

      KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Chiefs win, they would be tied for the division lead with the Raiders but would own the tiebreaker advantage with victories in both meetings. Kansas City's remaining games are against Tennessee and two more AFC West foes -- San Diego and Denver. The Raiders close with San Diego, Indianapolis and Denver. All that makes this Thursday night game one of the hottest of the season, despite weather predicted to be about 10 degrees with a possibility of snow.

      Kansas City's 16-point October victory in Oakland was based on the running of Spencer Ware in his only 2016 game rushing more than 100 yards (131). He helped the Chiefs hold the ball for 13:30 longer than the Raiders. That was critical after Oakland showed its explosiveness with QB Derek Carr and WR Amari Cooper hooking up nine times for 117 yards in the first half. After the break, Kansas City adjusted coverage with CBs Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson. Cooper caught only one more pass for 12 yards. The Chiefs also have S Eric Berry, who had a pick-six and a game-deciding two-point extra-point interception on Sunday against Atlanta. However, this time Carr is also dialed in on WRs Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts, giving Oakland three receivers who have combined for 1,947 yards and 14 touchdowns. Five of those TDs were fourth-quarter game-winners.

      It will be interesting to see if Carr, who injured his right pinky two weeks ago and took only shotgun snaps Sunday, will be able to take snaps under center to help timing and handling in cold weather.

      For the Chiefs, Gaines has a bad knee and was torched several times against Denver. Nelson is coming off a neck injury. Peters, the NFL's top pass thief over two years, is hyped to play against his hometown Oakland team.

      Chiefs QB Alex Smith's favorite target is TE Travis Kelce, who is moved around to create mismatches, and the Kansas City may have WR Jeremy Maclin (groin) back in the lineup.

      Still, the Raiders' No. 1 goal on defense will be to stop the run, which is probably the worst aspect of their game, evidenced by the 212 yards rushing from the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, even more than the 186 the Raiders yielded to the Chiefs earlier in the season.

      The Oakland defense also will miss hard-hitting rookie first-round pick Karl Joseph (toe) at safety and LB Shilique Calhoun (knee).


      --Raiders RT Austin Howard vs. Chiefs OLBs Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford. Houston has made a big splash since returning from a knee injury, looking like one of the NFL's top edge rushers in the past two games. Helping compensate for Houston's absence, Ford has 10 sacks this season. If that were not enough, Hali is still formidable on the other side. Howard is solid but probably the most susceptible to a pass rush of the Raiders' linemen. Oakland will scheme to get Howard help and might even insert Menelik Watson, originally the projected starter, though he has battled injuries. Backs and tight ends will also be involved for a team that considers Job 1 keeping QB Derek Carr clean.

      --Chiefs' pass protection vs. Raiders DE/pass rusher Khalil Mack. In their first meeting this year, the Chiefs protected QB Alex Smith, who was sacked only once in 23 passing plays. Going into that game, Smith was knocked down 13 times in the first four games. Mack had that lone sack last time and comes into this rematch with 10 sacks, including at least one in each of the past seven games, and 28 over 43 games in his three-season career. Kansas City's pass protection broke down in the victory over Denver, allowing six sacks of Smith, but yielded only one to Atlanta.

      --Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Raiders SS Nate Allen. Kelce is one of the NFL's top receiving threats, but he caught only three passes for 32 yards in the first meeting. At that point, first-round draft pick Karl Joseph was the starter, but Joseph is sidelined with a toe injury. Allen, who had an interception against Buffalo, will step in. The Raiders have had issues guarding the tight end for the last two seasons, and Kelce's 65 catches for 815 yards are worthy of concern.

      PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs RB Spencer Ware. When it became apparent RB Jamaal Charles was not returning from a torn ACL, Ware became the focal point of the Chiefs' running game. That was a key factor in Kansas City's victory over Oakland in October when Ware ran for 131 yards on 24 carries. But that was the only game this season a Chiefs back topped 100 yards rushing. Since then, Ware has not run for more than 77 yards. After sitting out a game while in the NFL's concussion protocol, in the past three weeks he carried 47 times for only 194 yards (4.1 yards per carry) with no touchdowns. A lot of the Chiefs' problems on offense (third down, red zone, pass protection) can be solved with a more consistent running game. That means Ware.

      FAST FACTS: Raiders QB Derek Carr has a passer rating of at least 95 in four of his past five games. He has 11 TD passes vs. 2 INTs in the past five games. RB Latavius Murray is tied for third in the NFL with 11 TDs rushing, including two last week. WR Amari Cooper has at least 100 yards receiving in two of the past three division games. DE/OLB Khalil Mack has five tackles for loss (TFL) and three sacks in the past three meetings. In the past nine games, he has collected 10 sacks, 11 TFL, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception for a touchdown. Since 2015, he leads the NFL with 25 sacks. ... Chiefs QB Alex Smith sports 18 TD passes vs. three INTs and a 107.0 passer rating in nine career starts vs. the Raiders. WR Jeremy Maclin caught three TD passes in the past three meetings. WR Tyreek Hill is tied for second among rookies with seven total TDs (five receiving, one rushing, one kickoff return). LB Justin Houston seeks his fourth sack in four consecutive games against Oakland. LB Dee Ford made two sacks and had a forced fumble in the previous meeting and is tied for third in the NFL with 10 sacks.

      PREDICTION: On paper, the Chiefs appear able to hog the ball with rushing and short passes against a generous Oakland defense (allowing 389.7 yards a game). But the Bills had the same advantage last week (212 yards rushing), and the Raiders coaxed them to abandon it. Sacks and steals will make the difference, and each team is good at both. Kansas City leads the NFL with a net of plus-14 in takeaways, and Oakland is plus-12. The best thief will steal this game.

      OUR PICK: Raiders, 35-32

      --Frank Cooney.

  • Raiders downplay distractions entering showdown
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders don't have a lot of time to dwell on the most important game the franchise has seen in 13 years.

    • That's because their AFC West showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs is on Thursday night, giving the Raiders not only precious little time to prepare but the added burden of crossing two time zones to get there.

      The organization has managed to keep most of the grumbling in-house, doing its best to embrace a challenge rather than voice their concerns about a legitimate scheduling disadvantage.

      "In my career, if you played on a Thursday, you're going to take some soreness into the game," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "The older guys for sure. Some of the younger guys even ... tough set of circumstances. We don't mind tough things. We're looking forward to the challenge."

      The Raiders will draw upon a resolve steeled by meeting other challenges this season. They are 5-0 on the road and won back-to-back games against Jacksonville and Tampa Bay (while practicing all week in Florida), the second of which went nearly a full overtime in humidity.

      There was also a neutral-site, come-from-behind win in Mexico City on Monday night at an elevation of more than 7,200 feet, and enough of a recovery for a short-week win against Carolina.

      Oakland has won six straight games and is 10-2 for the first time 2000. It is the top-seeded team in the AFC, ahead of the New England Patriots (10-2).

      Yet another loss to the Chiefs (9-3) at Arrowhead Stadium would be a body blow to their stated goal of winning the division. The Raiders' last loss came on Oct. 16 in convincing fashion to Kansas City, a 26-10 defeat which was their least competitive game of the season.

      Losing to the Chiefs would give both teams 10-3 records, but Kansas City would own the tiebreaker in case both finished with the same division record.

      Del Rio was succinct when asked what bothered him the most about the first game with the Chiefs.

      "They won," Del Rio said. "That bothered me. But they earned it. They outplayed us that day. Nothing beyond that."

      If avenging the first defeat was on the mind of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, he was keeping it well-hidden. Carr got his first career win (after an 0-10 start) against the Chiefs in Oakland in 2014, but was swept by Kansas City last year.

      "To be honest, it's like 'Groundhog Day,'" Carr said. "Everybody asks, they've beaten you this many times and all that. When I'm preparing, it never goes through my head. That stuff never is a determining factor in anything I write down, or anything that goes on in my brain. I just prepare for them like I do any other game.

  • Thursday's Raiders-Chiefs game means something this time
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    When the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs got together for their twice yearly meetings over the last 57 years, there's always been a certain edge to the competition.

    • Generally what has been on the line is pride, reputation and honor. Every once in a while the payoff is even larger. The latter is the case Thursday night when the Raiders visit Arrowhead Stadium to play the Chiefs. Kickoff is set for 7:35 p.m. in what is predicted to be a frigid evening, with temperatures in the high-teens and a wind-chill factor that will make it feel like 10 degrees.

      "Honestly I love the cold," said Oakland quarterback Derek Carr. "I played in the Mountain West Conference and you play in a lot of different places whether it's Wyoming or Reno or Air Force or Colorado State, obviously cold places. I've had my fair share of those games; you treat it like any other game whenever you talk about weather. If you let it affect you, it will, so you just go out there with the right mindset."

      The weather conditions just may help the 9-3 Chiefs cool off the hot 10-2 Raiders. The battle is for control of the AFC West, where Oakland is the leader and the Chiefs sit a game behind. But Kansas City won the first game between the teams 26-10 back in October in Oakland. Since that game the Raiders have not lost, racking up six consecutive victories by an average margin of nine points. Carr has become the first player in NFL history to throw five game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter or overtime in a season.

      "Both teams know each other," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. "They've made changes defensively that have made them better on that side of the ball. They're playing very good all the way around in the different phases. They were a little down on the defensive side early on but they've picked up in that area. They're flying around and making plays."

      Other than a two-point loss to Tampa Bay just over two weeks ago, the Chiefs have continued their winning ways, taking six of the last seven games. With their 11-1 record to close out the 2015 season, Kansas City is 20-4 in their last 24 regular-season and postseason games. Both teams won last Sunday, with the Chiefs beating the Falcons in Atlanta by one point and the Raiders coming from behind for a victory over Buffalo.

      The short preparation time is the bane for all players and coaches, especially the Chiefs, who have had two straight road games, including the trip to Denver when they played a full 75 minutes. The Raiders will be sore, tired and cold.

      "The number one thing is recovery," said Carr. "In a week like this, there's some tough things that come with it, but like Coach Del Rio says, 'Nobody cares.' Nobody cares, at the end of the day you have to go play."

      The Raiders have a half-dozen victories this season that came with strong fourth-quarter comebacks. It's a mentality that's changed around Oakland with Del Rio in charge.

      "We're learning how to win games at whatever cost it takes," said Carr. "Whether it's Khalil (Mack) stripping somebody or Tay (Latavius Murray) running the ball in or Seth (Roberts) catching another game-winner, we're just learning how to win games. I think that the more experience we have at doing that, the more situations we're in we're going to be able to look back and said, 'We've done this before'."

      The first game between these teams was a 16-point victory for the Chiefs. That day the Raiders did not have Murray, who was out with an injury. He should be on the field Thursday evening. That K.C. victory was built on ball control and security.

      They'll need more of the same to slow the Raiders locomotive.

      "The positive is you get a few days off afterwards," said Reid. "Getting ready is a bit of a scramble drill, but you do it and you move on. It's hardest on the players, especially the later you get in the year."

  • Chiefs S Berry excels on field, remains classy off it
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    So what does Eric Berry have planned as an encore for Thursday evening when his Kansas City Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium?

    • Last Sunday, Berry had one of those Disney-type performances in Kansas City's one-point victory over the Falcons in Atlanta. In front of his family, friends and neighbors from the southwest Atlanta suburb of Fairburn, Berry had two interceptions, scoring a touchdown with the first and then picking up two points for the Chiefs when he grabbed a Falcons' attempted conversion.

      Whether or not the Chiefs as a group can put behind them their overtime and fourth-quarter victories in the last two weeks over Denver and Atlanta won't be known until well after Thursday night's kickoff. But, one player that will be wearing the all-red uniform of the Chiefs was quick to indicate the emotions of his afternoon against the Falcons will be forgotten.

      "When you put in work and put everything into the process, the product is always going to be good," Berry said after beating Atlanta. "There's no reason to be surprised. We can clean up some things but there's no reason to be surprised or get too high about this win. We still haven't reached our ultimate goal, so there's no reason for us to act like we did."

      Berry talks like that all the time, meaning he's a coach's dream and a teammate everyone in the organization can rely on. In the Chiefs' locker room after the victories over Denver and Atlanta, head coach Andy Reid asked one player to speak to the team - Berry.

      "I think he's mentally tough, and I think that helped him in his recovery (from Hodgkin's lymphoma)," Reid said. "He just says, 'I'm doing it, and no one is stopping me and here we go.' That's kind of how he goes about life."

      Plus, there's his ability to perform in the spotlight and pressure situations. "What happened Sunday was phenomenal," Reid said of Berry's play against Atlanta.

      Nothing about what their safety did surprised his teammates.

      "It's a normal routine for us," cornerback Marcus Peters said. "We know what type of player he is, how dominant he is and how he leads this team. We're all on the same page of where we are and where we want to go."

      Said Reid of the Berry work-ethic: "When you're around here, it's all about football, and that's the part you appreciate - him coming to work and bringing that attitude. There's never a day off. It's let's stay focused, let's go through the process, let's get ready to play the game and then, play it hard. That can be contagious.

      "In every business it's who can sustain? Then, in particular, if you get a lot of pats on the back and you're told how good you are in Pro Bowls and All-Pro deals; how do you sustain? He's been able to do that."

      Thus, Berry has become the heart and soul of the Chiefs, whether on the field or in the locker room.

      "You're talking about a man that's undeniably one of the best around," defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. "His work ethic and what he overcame to get to where he is right now - just the guy he is - and to see him come home and put on a show like that -it's special.

      "When you're around E.B., every game means a lot to him."

      Even for those around the Chiefs that do not play, there is high praise for Berry. The team's long-time equipment man Allen Wright took to Facebook to express himself:

      "As I get older, in my fifties, you take notice when someone says "please" and "thank you."

      Eric is the first one to say, "Good morning, how are you doing?", "thanks" when he asks for something and the first one to help if he sees a need. Notice I haven't said anything about him being a football player. ... In today's world, what a blessing for all of us. Especially Chiefs Fans!"

      Long-time NFL trainer Rick Burkholder also took to Facebook and captured a moment after the overtime victory against Denver:

      "After that amazing win, Eric Berry our all-pro safety came to the athletic training room and hugged or shook every AT's and MD's hand and said thank you! The epitome of why we do our jobs!"

      It was two years and two weeks ago that Berry felt discomfort in his chest after a Chiefs' loss to the Raiders in a Thursday night game in Oakland. A few days later, the lymphoma diagnosis came down and Berry headed back home to Georgia for treatments and to spend time with his family. Even in those moments when he was curled up in the fetal position, exhausted and nauseous from chemotherapy and racked by doubt on his ability to return to his chosen profession, Berry marched forward.

      That's why just a few moments after the Chiefs beat Atlanta, Berry was already looking not behind, but ahead.

      "I'm ready for the Raiders," Berry said.

  • Seahawks place S Thomas on injured reserve
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    The Seattle Seahawks placed All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas on injured reserve on Tuesday, officially ending his season.

    • Thomas suffered a fractured tibia during Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers.

      Seattle also signed safety Jeron Johnson and fullback Marcel Reece and waived running back George Farmer.

      The signing of Johnson is key since the six-year veteran already knows the defense. He played in 46 games for the Seahawks from 2011-14. He left Seattle to join the Washington Redskins last season and was in training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs this year before being released.

      Reece was a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the Raiders and has scored 15 NFL touchdowns (12 receiving, three rushing). He began this season by serving the final three contests of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse agreement and Oakland released him when he was eligible to return.

      Farmer saw action in two games with Seattle, carrying the ball once and also making one reception.

  • NFL notebook: Colts LB Jackson banned four games
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

    • The NFL made the announcement Tuesday, and the suspension begins immediately for Jackson, who is eligible to return to the active roster on Jan. 2 should the Colts qualify for the playoffs. Indianapolis (6-6) is locked in a three-way tie with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South.

      Jackson collected a team-best 78 tackles, one sack and three pass deflections in 12 games this season. The 33-year-old Jackson is in his third year with Indianapolis after spending his first eight NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

      -- Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Pennel agreed to a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, the league announced.

      Pennel was facing a 10-game ban for a second offense but filed a lawsuit in an Ohio federal court last week, claiming that the NFL and the NFL Players Association didn't follow the rules listed in the collective bargaining agreement during the appeals process.

      Instead, the settlement means that Pennel will miss the final four games of the regular season and will be eligible for reinstatement on Jan. 2. He could play in any postseason games if Green Bay qualifies.

      -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will start Sunday's game against the New York Jets, offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins announced.

      Kaepernick struggled mightily in Sunday's 26-6 loss to the Chicago Bears before getting benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick was sacked five times and completed just 1-of-5 passes for 4 yards, with the passing yardage serving as the lowest of his career and his 39.6 passer rating matching his career-worst.

      "(Kaepernick) is going to be the starter and we'll go from there," Modkins said on Tuesday. "We just decided during the game to try to see if Blaine could give us a spark. Kaep is back being the starter. It's nothing other than that."

      -- The Detroit Lions signed running back Joique Bell and cornerback Asa Jackson to the team's active roster.

      Defensive end Armonty Bryant and cornerback Quandre Diggs were placed on injured reserve while tight end Brandon Pettigrew was shuffled from the physically unable to perform list to the reserve/non-football injury list.

      Bell recorded 561 carries for 2,235 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons with the Lions. The Wayne State product had three rushes for six yards while appearing in four games with the Chicago Bears this season before being released on Oct. 24.

  • Packers' Pennel accepts four-game suspension
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Pennel agreed to a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, the league announced Tuesday.

    • Pennel was facing a 10-game ban for a second offense but filed a lawsuit in an Ohio federal court last week, claiming that the NFL and the NFL Players Association didn't follow the rules listed in the collective bargaining agreement during the appeals process.

      Instead, the settlement means that Pennel will miss the final four games of the regular season and will be eligible for reinstatement on Jan. 2. He could play in any postseason games if Green Bay qualifies.

      Pennel missed the first four contests of this season due to a first violation of the same policy.

      The Packers declined comment, citing the "confidentiality of the process."

      Pennel, 25, played in eight games this season with no starts and collected five tackles and two assists.

  • Jets QB Fitzgerald accepts benching gracefully
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    By Jerry Beach

    • FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick responded to his first benching of the season with a defiance that was interpreted by some as petulance. But Fitzpatrick was equal parts resigned and eloquent on Monday night, when he lost his job for the second and almost assuredly final time during the New York Jets' 41-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

      Head coach Todd Bowles benched Fitzpatrick in favor of Bryce Petty after Fitzpatrick was just 5 of 12 for 81 yards and an interception -- thrown on his final pass -- in the first half, when the Jets went into the locker room down 24-3.

      Afterward, in a bit of weirdness unusual even by Jets standards, Bowles said the plan was always to have Petty start the final four games of the season and that, with the Colts blowing out the Jets, the Petty Era " ... just started a half early."

      Barring injury to Petty, Fitzpatrick will not see the field again as a member of the Jets. After throwing a franchise-record 32 touchdowns in 2015 and keeping the Jets in the playoff race until the final weekend of that season, Fitzpatrick regressed to his journeyman form this year, during which he threw just 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

      "I didn't get it done, you know?" Fitzpatrick said.

      His tone was much different Monday night than on Oct. 23, when Fitzpatrick opened the game as the second-string quarterback but finished it on the field after Geno Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury.

      Following the 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Fitzpatrick said self-belief was the biggest thing an NFL player can possess and declared nobody else in the organization had faith in him.

      "Because when the owner stops believing in you, and the GM stops believing in you, and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself," Fitzpatrick said then.

      Now, though, his goal is to make sure Petty never feels alone. Fitzpatrick offered Petty a message of support not often relayed from a displaced starter to his replacement.

      "I have to do my best to help him as much as I can," Fitzpatrick said. "There were so many people that helped me and playing quarterback, especially that quarterback group. You can't do it alone."

      Fitzpatrick said he has grown close with Petty, perhaps because the former seventh-round draft pick who has played for six NFL teams and has a perpetual chip on his shoulder sees a little of himself in Petty, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who seemed likely to lose his roster spot when the Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round last spring.

      Instead, Petty put together a pretty good preseason (481 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) and will now get the chance to prove he deserves to be considered a candidate to start for the Jets next season. Nobody will be rooting harder for Petty than his predecessor.

      "It wasn't anything that was handed to him or given to him because he was a draft pick," Fitzpatrick said. "It's because he went out there and took it. This will be a great opportunity for him.

      "It's going to be a difficult thing for me not to play, but it's not a difficult thing for me to be in there with a guy I really respect and works his butt off, trying to help him along the way to maybe try to kick-start his career."

      --The Jets didn't change draft position with Monday's loss, but they moved closer to the fourth overall pick.

      The Jets' loss, coupled with the Chicago Bears' 26-6 win over the San Francisco 49ers, left the two teams tied for the fourth-worst record in the NFL at 3-9. The Jets and Bears are "behind" the 0-12 Cleveland Browns, the 1-11 49ers and the 2-10 Jacksonville Jaguars.

      At the moment, the Bears would draft fourth by virtue of going 3-9 against an easier schedule. The Bears' opponents are 72-72 thus far while the Jets' foes have gone 73-68-3 (a .518 winning percentage).

      For better or for worse, the Jets will have a chance to move ahead of the Bears this week. While the Jets travel to San Francisco to face the aforementioned 49ers, the Bears will visit the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions.

  • Pagano, Colts focused on 'December football'
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    After Monday night's 41-10 road win over the struggling New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves smack dab in the middle of a three-team tie for the AFC South lead.

    • Indianapolis, the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans are all 6-6 on the season. The Colts already have swept their divisional series with Tennessee and lost in overtime to Houston after allowing a double-digit lead slip away in the fourth quarter.

      Coach Chuck Pagano's team has won three of its last four games while this week's opponent, Houston, has lost its last three contests. While earning a wild-card spot for the playoffs is pretty much off the table for Indianapolis, the only road left is winning the division title.

      The Colts have four games remaining in the regular season, starting with Sunday afternoon's home matchup with the Texans.

      "It was an overall great team win (on Monday). And we had one goal and one goal only and that was to be 1-0," Pagano said.

      "We talked about this time of year, December football, playoff football time ... to stay in the hunt you've got to win football games. Again, I'm proud of our guys for pulling (the New York game) out."

      After having a day off on Tuesday, the focus turns to this week's game with the Texans.

      "I think coming in (to the Jets' game) we said that we do control our own destiny. Everything is right there in front of us. And it's out there for us and our guys understood that and regardless of what's happened from the start of this season, you can go all the way back to the first preseason game and what transpired there, and everything that's happened in between," Pagano said.

      "It's been a little bit of a rollercoaster ride, if you will. But our guys have stayed steady. They've stayed the course. We've got great leadership in that locker room and they've got great resolve and determination and they're driven. And so the opportunity was sitting there. But you've got to win, you've got to play well and they did that."

      Now, it's on to Houston.

      "So we are tied atop the division, but nothing matters unless we respond the same way we responded to a poor loss, a bad loss on Thanksgiving night to the Steelers," Pagano said.

      "And so you've got to do the same thing when you win a football game. So we'll prepare accordingly, like we always do, and stay focused on the task at hand. Again, we control our own destiny."

      -- Monday night's 31-point win over the New York Jets was Indianapolis' second biggest margin of victory in a game since 2010.

      --The Colts are 6-6 overall, including a 3-3 mark at home, 3-3 on the road and 2-2 in the division. They have scored 311 points and surrendered the same total.

      --Indianapolis came into Monday's game with the Jets with only three intercepted passes by the defense. The Colts equaled that total against New York, intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick once and backup Bryce Petty twice.

      "We finally got off the schneid," Pagano said. "We'd been in a little bit of a slump as far as that goes. Mike Adams comes up with one and Darius Butler and then at the end, (Darryl Morris) got the last one. So that was good to see."