Center Joe Hawley (right knee) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (right foot) were lost for the season and placed on injured reserve. The team previously lost starting left tackle Sam Baker to a season-ending knee injury.
Also, left guard Justin Blalock, who started 102 consecutive regular season games, did not practice on Wednesday after he suffered a lower back injury against Minnesota and didn't return to the game.
"You hate to lose guys, but when you lose them it's another guy's opportunity to play," Smith said. "It's a 'no blink' mentality. You move on and keep working."
The Falcons also lost reserve offensive linemen Mike Johnson, a tackle-guard, in August.
Peter Konz will replace Hawley at center and Gabe Carimi takes over for Holmes at right tackle. The Falcons signed two linemen for depth: veteran free agent Cameron Bradfield and Harland Gunn, who was promoted from the practice squad.
Gunn would likely start at left guard if Blalock's back doesn't respond to treatment.
Few if any teams in the NFL suffered as many major injuries to key players as the Falcons in 2013.
Their luck isn't much better so far one year later.
In addition to the line being ravaged, starting safety William Moore (shoulder) will miss at least eight weeks after being placed on short-term injured reserve.
Moore will not be eligible to practice for six weeks and can't play until two weeks after he resumes practicing. That means he will miss at least seven games and could return to play, at most, the final five games.
Second-year player Kemal Ishmael will replace Moore. Rookie safety Dezmen Southward and Sean Baker, signed from the practice squad, will provide depth behind Ishmael and veteran starter Dwight Lowery.
The Falcons' rebuilt offensive line has generally performed well this season, especially in pass protection. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said the group has "absolutely" been better than last season, when it was among the worst units in the league that gave up 44 sacks.
Now the group will have to deal with yet another reshuffling.
Konz, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, was the starter at right guard as a rookie. But he couldn't hold the starting center job in 2013 and began this season as a reserve.
He focused on building strength during the offseason and Koetter said Konz's increased physicality has been apparent in video review. Before Hawley was placed on IR, Konz said he was eager to redeem himself.
"If I have to be in there, I've done it before," he said. "I know I can go in there and do a great job."
Carimi has played 72 percent of the snaps this season (201 of 281) with time spent at both tackle spots and left guard. He had a poor game in the opener against the Saints, when he was penalized three times, but performed better in the past three games.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is confident that the line can hold up.
"(Offensive line coach) Mike Tice has done a really good with those guys this entire year," Ryan said. "We have guys who've had more experience playing. Last year, it was a lot of people's first opportunity when they were thrown into the fire. They have some experience under their belts now."
NOTES: WR Harry Douglas (foot) did not practice Wednesday. ... WR Devin Hester (ankle), SS Kemal Ishmael (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee) and WR Julio Jones (ankle) were limited in practice Wednesday.
But lose to a second consecutive winless team? That could be a fatal blow to a season that many throughout the organization believe is prime for Pittsburgh to return to playoff contender status.
"We just lost to one of the worst NFL teams in our house," wide receiver Antonio Brown said of that 27-24 loss to the Bucs. "We blew the game. We feel embarrassed, we feel shame. Losing the game at the end is unacceptable."
At 2-2, the Steelers are miles ahead of their 0-4 start of last season. And after they went 8-4 in their next 12 games, they put themselves in position to make the playoffs with a little help they almost got. They were hoping not to need that kind of help this season, but they already are behind the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals and 3-1 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
The defense, which is in the process of rebuilding with old and new alike, is not nearly where it had been three, four years ago or where they thought it might be. It ranks 16th in the NFL in yards allowed, but the Steelers also have just one interception and only seven sacks, which is tied for 18th in the league.
Safety Troy Polamalu said he's not worried about his defense, that it will come around, "because we're definitely ahead of where we were last year - record-wise and I would say defensive-wise. I feel like we have more potential. We have a good blend now of youth and experience. We just have to get the moving parts together."
Jacksonville's offense should give them that opportunity Sunday. The Jaguars are going with rookie quarterback Blake Bortles in his second start, three rookie wide receivers and so little pass protection that their 20 sacks allowed are seven more than the No. 2 worst pass protection unit in the NFL.
"We have guys who can step up," defensive end Cam Heyward insisted. "I have complete confidence and faith we're going to get the job done."
Yet the Steelers were so shaky on defense that they signed two former players who were not even with them in training camp this summer. Defensive end Brett Keisel has not started but played 170 snaps in four games. Linebacker James Harrison was signed last week out of his brief retirement and played 29 snaps five days later against Tampa Bay. Both are 36 years old.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are not a good team and even present an inviting target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Co. by allowing 320.8 yards per game passing. It should all add up to a Steelers victory and a 3-2 record. If not, this team is in for another very long season.
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting, Jaguars lead the regular-season series 11-10, including 7-4 in Jacksonville. The Steelers won their most recent game, 17-13, at Heinz Field. Jacksonville is 1-0 in the postseason, a 31-29 victory at Heinz Field in Mike Tomlin's first playoff game after the 2007 season. The teams were in the same division, the AFC Central, from the time Jacksonville entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1995 until the two teams went to the North and South divisions in 2002.
-- G Ramon Foster (ankle), held out of last Sunday's game even though he said he was ready to go, went through a full practice on Wednesday.
-- LB James Harrison (illness) did not practice on Wednesday, but should be ready to play Sunday. He played 29 snaps last Sunday, four days after his first practice in nine months.
-- OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle) was limited in practice, but is expected to start Sunday.
-- WR Markus Wheaton (groin) was limited in practice, but is not expected to miss Sunday's game.
GAME PLAN: Pittsburgh hopes to take advantage of a poor Jacksonville defense that ranks No. 32 overall - 32nd against the pass and 25th vs. the run. They would prefer to run because one thing the Jaguars have been able to do is sack the quarterback - 12 times. On defense, the Steelers hope to put pressure on rookie Blake Bortles. He has been sacked four times and Chad Henne 16 times.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Steelers OTs Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert, who have had protection problems, against a group of Jaguars who have combined for 12 sacks, led by defensive end Andre Branch's 3.0.
Jacksonville's rookie trio of QB Blake Bortless and WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson vs. a Steelers pass defense that has not performed well, despite ranking 16th by yards allowed in the NFL.
The Raiders are searching to replace Dennis Allen, who was fired Monday after the team's dismal start this season. Tony Sparano was named interim coach.
Gruden, currently an ESPN football analyst, coached the Raiders from 1998-2001, compiling a 40-28 record, including the postseason.
"I have seven or eight friends that are bloggers and use different screen names and they bring my name up every year when there's a coaching job," Gruden said jokingly on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike. "I'd like to thank those anonymous bloggers, I appreciate it. I'm just trying to hang onto my job, to be honest with you guys. It's four weeks into the season; some of these teams haven't even played three games yet, so I'm not even thinking about coaching.
"I'm thinking about heading to Washington next week, watching the world champions and my brother coach. That will be exciting for me."
Team owner Mark Davis had said Tuesday that the Raiders might contact Gruden about returning to his former job, team owner Mark Davis told multiple media outlets Tuesday.
"(Gruden) may reach out to me," Davis told reporters. "I may reach out to him. I may reach out to anybody. That's the future, and I'm not going to talk about future coaches."
Oakland traded Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in February 2002. In exchange, the Raiders received two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8 million.
In a twist of fate, the Raiders met the Buccaneers in the next Super Bowl, with Gruden's new team beating his old team to win the championship.
Oakland did not post a winning record and did not reach the playoffs in the next 11 seasons. The Raiders are off to an 0-4 start this year, prompting them to fire coach Dennis Allen this week and replace him on an interim basis with Tony Sparano.
Gruden, 51, compiled a 60-57 record in Tampa Bay, counting postseason games. The Buccaneers fired him in January 2009 after the team lost its final four games to finish 9-7 and miss out on the playoffs.
In May 2009, Gruden was hired by ESPN to serve as a commentator on "Monday Night Football."
Asked what the Raiders need to turn the franchise's fortunes around, Gruden said, "Well, I think they need to get some continuity in the organization. When you look at the NFL carefully, the Cleveland Browns, the Washington Redskins, the Raiders, there's a few teams that have had eight or nine, 10 coaches since 1999. And that's hard on an organization. It's hard on the fans, it's hard on the owner. It's just difficult to figure out which direction we're headed."
NFL.com's Albert Breer reported that Gruden would return to the sideline only if he believed a team had a franchise quarterback, adding that Gruden "really likes" Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr.
Citing anonymous sources, NFL.com's Michael Silver said the Raiders are prepared to pay a high sum to attract Gruden.
But the Chiefs' starting quarterback has not been expansive on sharing his thoughts on playing against the team that selected him as the league's No. 1 draft choice in 2005.
Smith grew up and learned the ropes of playing in the NFL with the 49ers. He struggled at times, played poorly in other chances and then after his most successful performances (2011-12), Smith's starting job was taken away. He ultimately asked for a trade and was dealt in February 2013 to Kansas City.
"Yeah, this next game, I'll embrace being back there and accept it," Smith said. "Certainly we're not in denial about it. You know what it is and you take it on. In the end, you know it's going to come down to the final minutes of football."
That's about as deep as Smith is willing to go when talking about playing against San Francisco.
Q: Alex, your turnaround season with the Niners was in 2011, Coach (Jim) Harbaugh's first year there. How much of that improvement was you and how much Harbaugh and the offense he brought in?"
Smith: "This is the ultimate team game. You can't have coaches without players. You can't have players without coaches. We are all in this together, and it's everywhere that you go. It's a ... it's a ... tough question to answer."
An obvious translation would be Smith not wanting to go there, largely because his short time with Harbaugh as the Niners coach were the highest and lowest moments of his NFL career. But there are two facts beyond interpretation in this story of quarterback and his old team:
-- 1. Smith's best seasons as the Niners starting quarterback came in 2011-12 with Harbaugh as coach when Smith threw 30 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions, averaged 7.4 yards an attempt and completed 64 percent of his passes. San Francisco was 20-6-1 in his starts over those two seasons.
-- 2. It was Harbaugh who made the decision that Smith was not returning to the starting lineup in 2012 after he suffered a concussion at midseason. That's when San Francisco went with Colin Kaepernick and the team rolled all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to Baltimore.
It was another chapter in Smith's roller-coaster time with the 49ers, from the NFL's first draft choice in 2005, to dealing with a litany of injuries and poor production in the first six seasons.
Then he became the player San Francisco thought it was getting seven years after being drafted, was allowed only 27 starts and he ended up watching the Super Bowl on the sideline wearing a baseball cap instead of wearing a helmet and being in the huddle.
The Chiefs gave up two second-round selections in the NFL Draft in 2013-14, and it's not a deal they've regretted at any point. In Smith's 22 starts with coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs are 14-8.
"I have full trust in Alex running and commanding this football team during the game," Reid said. "He does nothing but make plays out there for us and get people in the right positions. His leadership is the thing that stands out most to me, the way he handles the whole team. He can turn chaotic situations into calm situations, which you need when you're out there. It's great to have him here."
Smith has indicated he's glad to be in Kansas City. And now that he has signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension with the Chiefs, he knows he will not have to worry about anyone taking his starting job and he's not looking for any plays off. Despite the Chiefs' big lead on Monday night against New England, Smith took every offensive snap.
NOTES: After serving his four-game NFL suspension, OT Donald Stephenson was back in the Chiefs' locker room on Wednesday and took part in the club's afternoon practice. ... WR Donnie Avery suffered a strained abductor muscle (groin) in Monday night's game against New England and did not practice Wednesday. ... SS Eric Berry (high ankle) missed another on-field practice with the Chiefs on Wednesday afternoon and is unlikely to play Sunday. ... RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas (hamstring) was back on the practice field Wednesday and might play Sunday.
Alexander had just returned to the Panthers on Monday after sitting out the first four games of the season for another substance abuse policy violation.
The latest suspension begins immediately. Alexander now won't be able to return until after the Panthers' Week 15 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Alexander was drafted in the fourth round in 2012 and played well as a rookie before struggling last season.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder saw action in all 16 games as a rookie and had 18 quarterback pressures, 25 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries and four passes defensed.
Last year, Alexander participated in 12 games and logged 12 tackles, one sack, five quarterback pressures and two passes defensed.
Beckham, sidelined the majority of training camp and thus far this season by a hamstring injury, worked on a limited basis during last week's short week. He was also limited in the team's Wednesday practice, their first to kick off their week of preparation for their game against Atlanta on Sunday.
So far, so good for the former LSU star.
"We're in that phase (of trying to get him ready)," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
"What we obviously need to do is to see some hard, back-to-back practices, one after the other, which I expect we'll accomplish this week."
If Beckham does come through the week with no setbacks, he will likely get a limited package of plays on Sunday in what would be his first significant game action in almost a year.
Of course, plans are subject to change, and Coughlin noted that if he had to expand a package designated for Beckham, he would be confident in the receiver's understanding of the offense.
"He's been in every meeting. I would expect him to know everything," Coughlin said. "He's demonstrated an ability to handle whatever's thrown at him. He has done that throughout, so I would expect that.
"Now, under fire with adjustments and signals and things of that nature, we've got to see where we are with regard to that, too."
On Sunday, when the Giants host the Falcons, a side story will feature the teacher versus the student.
The teacher is defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the former New York Giants pass-rushing specialist now with the Falcons.
Umenyiora, of course, lined up across from the student, left tackle Will Beatty, for four years. On Sunday, he will get to see up close and personal how far his protege has come.
"Will Beatty has always been a very good player. I think he was very competitive, very mature beyond his age, especially when he came in, and he is still that way now," Umenyiora told the New York media via conference call.
"He is playing very well, I am very happy for him, and I am proud of him, proud to see the type of player he has become, because he was like that from the beginning."
The teacher then turned playful in his tone when speaking about his former student.
"I left last year, so obviously he didn't have anybody pushing him," Umnyiora added. "That is why his game kind of slipped a little bit, but now he looked on the schedule and he sees me on there and all of a sudden he is an All-Pro left tackle again, so I am going to take credit for that."
Told of Umenyiora's words, Beatty laughed.
"He knows I'm going to bring it," Beatty said with a smile. "When we used to practice together, we went all at it. Knowing what Osi did, I get to show him, 'Ok, now I'm no longer the student.'
"He's going to give his all and I'm going to give my all and it's going to be a fun game. I don't know how many plays I'll see him, but when I do, it's going to be like, 'It's me and you.'"
Beatty, who struggled with his consistency in 2013, shook his head when asked if he thought he was playing better this year.
"I'm playing real good, but I don't feel like I'm playing my best," he said. "I'm still out there looking at film and finding things that I can improve like running blocks, the downhill hitting, and things like that. There is still a lot of improvement."
He will not only get his chance against Umenyiora this weekend, he'll also get to work on his craft against whoever Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan lines up across from him.
"It's still a game; it's not like my entire focus is on (Umenyiora)," Beatty said. "There's still an entire defense and a lot more to the game to prepare for."
The gleam in his eye returned when it was mentioned that this might be the only opportunity to go live against Umenyiora.
"Going up against someone you know, you're like now it's no longer practice; you get to go live and it's for bragging rights that you didn't have before because it was practice. Now you get to have them."
NOTES: LB Jon Beason (foot/toe) continues to be limited in practice. ... LB Devon Kennard (hamstring) was limited in practice. Kennard told reporters that he felt good running and changing direction but that he would wait to see how he felt the rest of the week before huddling with team trainers regarding his availability for Sunday. ... P Steve Weatherford (ankle) was limited in practice. ... WR Mario Manningham received an injury settlement after spending the first four weeks on injured reserve with a calf injury.
Palmer was hoping to return for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, but that now appears iffy.
Coach Bruce Arians had said that Wednesday would be a key day to determine whether Palmer might be ready to play this week. He has missed the last two games.
"He threw a bunch last Thursday and Friday and then regressed," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told NFL.com.
With Palmer likely out again, Drew Stanton is in line to get another start. He helped the Cardinals to wins over the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers before the team's bye week.
Palmer played in the Cardinals' 18-17 season-opening win over the San Diego Chargers, completing 24 of 37 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns.
Davis was at first thought to be a stand-in for 13th-year veteran Shaun Hill, who injured his quad while trying to stand in himself for the team's original designated starter Sam Bradford, who was knocked out for the year with a knee injury.
The situation was considered so tenuous that the team even signed Case Keenum, formerly of Houston, for insurance. Questions about the starting quarterback increased as Hill became healthy and is listed as probable this week at Philadelphia.
So Fisher made the call.
"Davis is the starter for the rest of the season," Fisher said. "And I told him in a meeting, 'I don't want you to be looking over your shoulder.'"
Fisher said he made up his mind during a Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys when Davis completed 30 of 42 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Although many gave up on the Rams' offense after Bradford and then Hill were hurt, Davis obviously showed he knows how to keep the team moving. Overall this year he has completed 68 of 94 passes for 754 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. That puts him on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards on the season
While the offense is still a work in progress, Davis shows the ability to spread the ball around. The Rams are ninth in the league in yards per game (368.3), ninth in passing yards (264.3 per game) and sixth in time of possession (32:12).
"Yes, it was personal with me and Dave Gettleman," Smith said Wednesday on Charlotte radio station WFNZ. "Obviously, I did something that got under his skin."
Smith got some revenge when he caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 38-10 victory over the Panthers.
Smith called into the station Wednesday to refute an NFL Network report aired last week saying he had refused a pay cut and instead asked for a release from the Panthers.
"You wake up in the morning after a good win and you just read reports about (how) you demand this and demand that," Smith said. "Man, I just find it interesting."
Smith, 35, said before his release that Gettleman told him that he was a shell of the player he once was, a distraction to the team and jealous of quarterback Cam Newton.
"I say, 'Well, is this about a pay cut?'" Smith said of a conversation with Gettlemen. "He laughs and says, 'No, this is not about a pay cut, but thanks for asking.' And then says, 'We're going to trade you.'
"I pick up myself, walk out, shower and I call my wife and say, 'We're done here. I will either be traded or released.' I knew from the jump I was going to be released or traded."
On the morning that he was released, Smith said his agent had scheduled a 9 a.m. appointment to talk to Gettleman about his future.
But Smith said he then heard on WFNZ at 8:15 a.m. that he had been released.
"He doesn't even have the cojones to tell us to our face,'' Smith said. "We have to hear it from someone else. Then he calls and says, like everyone else says, 'It wasn't personal.'
"If the first thing that comes out is, 'It wasn't personal' ... Guess what? It was personal. Then he says that I could have called at any time. And now that I played well, you're going to say I was a distraction, I've always been a distraction.
"But yet, I didn't beat my wife. Yeah, I hit some teammates six or seven years ago, but I didn't beat my wife. I didn't get arrested for DUIs. I didn't fall off no motorcycles. ... I made mistakes, but building this big old crutch about it as if I pushed their hands."
Those remarks were aimed at Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. Earlier in his career, Hardy was involved in a motorcycle accident that forced him to miss much of training camp.
Smith said he finally had contact with Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who sought him out after Sunday's game to shake his hand.
'Ron Rivera, through that whole ordeal, never sat down and talked to me," Smith said. "He texted me after the release and said, 'Sorry it happened this way.' That was the only time he talked to me.
"(Sunday) was the first time since I was released that he sat down and went out of his way and shook my hand and looked at me man to man."
After being selected in the third round of the 2001 draft, Smith had 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns for the Panthers. He had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns last season. This season with the Ravens, Smith has 25 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns.
He took part in practice on a part time basis Tuesday and Wednesday after taking part in 60 percent of the defensive plays in the Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Of course Matthews says he is certain he will play and start against Minnesota. However, he is less sure of exactly who the running backs are for the Vikings now that Adrian Peterson is not playing.
Last Sunday, Minnesota's Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combined for 241 yards rushing against the Atlanta Falcons, which Matthews definitely saw in game tapes.
"We haven't heard much as far as who their running backs are for years now, outside of Adrian Peterson," Matthews said. "But now they've got ... they've got that one guy who can run really hard, ran for over 100 yards. And the little guy, he was really quick, too."
The hard runner would be McKinnon, the quick little guy is Asiata and, despite being unable to recite their names, Matthews is respectful of their abilities.
"They put up some running yards last week, and that's what I mean," he said. "You think with the drop-off of A.P., or that there would be a drop-off, but there really isn't. We're going to have our hands full, especially with what we put on film last week, this past weekend. They've got to be coming in here thinking that they're going to run it on us. It's just a great opportunity for us to showcase that that's not the case."
The Packers had some offensive success of their own last weekend, resulting in quarterback Aaron Rodgers being named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Rodgers completed 22 of 28 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions for a near-perfect passer rating of 151.2.
He also surpassed 25,000 passing yards for his career in the game, doing so with the fewest pass attempts (3,065) in NFL history.
On the injury front, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (groin) will miss his second consecutive game and rookie Davante Adams will continue to work as the team's No. 3 wideout behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb with Boykin sidelined.
Right guard T.J. Lang was added to the injury report Wednesday with a non-injury-related issue. Lang is probable against Minnesota and expected to make his customary start.
NOTES: OL/DE Mike Neal was added to the injury report Wednesday with a hip injury that kept him from participating in the team's light workout. ... ILB Brad Jones (quad) may resume playing Thursday night after missing three games. ... DT Josh Boyd (knee) is doubtful. ... ILB Sam Barrington (hamstring) is doubtful.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Williams has appeared in 10 games over two seasons with Indianapolis (2012) and the Cardinals (2013), while seeing time on offense (wide receiver), defense (cornerback) and special teams. Williams originally entered the NFL with Dallas in 2010, spending a majority of the 2010 and 2011 seasons on the Cowboys' practice squad.
Manning appeared in two games for the Bears this season, seeing time on special teams. He has appeared in eight NFL contests over three seasons with Green Bay (2012), San Diego (2013) and Chicago (2014).
The Falcons are ranked last in passing yards allowed per play (8.37), second to last in total yards allowed per game (429.9), second to last in sacks per pass attempt (2.27 percent) and 29th out of the 32 teams in points allowed per game (28.3).
The defense surrendered a season-high 558 yards in a 41-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday on the road.
Smith said he believes in Nolan's scheme as the Falcons (2-2) get ready for Sunday's game against the New York Giants -- again on the road.
"Mike Nolan is a guy who has all types of experience in many different situations -- being a position coach, being a special teams coach, being a head coach," Smith said Wednesday. "And when he was the head coach, he basically was the general manager as well. So he brings a wealth of knowledge. And I think on your staff, you have to have as many people that have knowledge to help you in all your decision-making. And I think Mike has a brilliant mind on defense.
"Right now, we're not playing consistently. You could say in the first quarter of the season we played one game very efficiently, one game we made enough plays to win it, and two games, we have not played nearly as well as we needed to."
Nolan was able to be creative with his scheme in a 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3 on a Thursday night.
Smith was the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2007 before taking over as the Falcons' coach. But he doesn't plan to assume more control of the defensive play-calling.
"Ultimately, I have control because I'm held responsible for it," Smith said. "(But) I have all the confidence in the world in Coach Nolan, the defensive staff, our offensive staff, and our special teams staff as well."
The Falcons are a different team on the road. In two games away the Georgia Dome, Atlanta is 0-2, allowing 65 points. It is a concerning trend for the Falcons, who began a stretch last Sunday where five of their next seven games will be on the road.
"We're going to be getting into a stretch here where we're playing a lot of games on the road," Smith said after Sunday's loss to the Vikings. "Our concern right now is, we play like two different football teams depending on where the location of the game is."
Brady was pulled in the fourth quarter of Monday night's 41-14 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots' offense turned over the ball three times against the Chiefs and is ranked 23rd in the NFL in total yardage this season.
"That's obviously going to reflect in every statistic that you can find, that we don't have the kind of offense that's going to perform at a high level," Brady said Wednesday morning in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI 93.7 FM. "Everyone's connected. It all ties together. If we're not playing well, we're not going to have good stats.
"I don't think we've played well for a long time."
Brady finished the game 14-for-23 for 159 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His last pass, an interception to Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah that was returned for a touchdown, ended the quarterback's night early in the fourth quarter.
New England's offensive line so far this season has not given Brady enough time to throw.
"There is no magic play, there's no magic scheme," Brady said. "It is us as players playing better -- a lot better than we're playing."
At his Wednesday news conference, coach Bill Belichick was asked about the Patriots' offensive struggles.
"We are on to Cincinnati," he said.
Belichick was then asked about the 37-year-old Brady's age.
"We are on to Cincinnati. There's nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we are preparing for Cincinnati."
The Pats host the undefeated Bengals on Sunday night.
Brady told WEEI that he wasn't goint to overanalyze Belichick's decision to replace him with rookie Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
"I just do what I'm told," Brady said. "We were getting our butts kicked. So it was a situation where we didn't have a good game, and that's what Coach (Belichick) wanted us to do and that's what we did."
Garoppolo went 6-for-7 for 70 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Cameras showed Brady did not approach Garoppolo to congratulate him.
"I'm really not (aware of the cameras)," Brady said when asked about the criticism he has taken for not high-fiving Garoppolo. "When we lose there's really not a lot -- even when we win, I think it's just important to not ride the roller coaster of emotions. You have to believe in your process. You have to believe in the things that you are doing to help the team win. I think you have to take the good with the bad.
"I was happy for Jimmy. I was happy for our team. We kept fighting at the end. That's a good thing. The more good players we have, the better we will be as a team. So, I didn't pay attention to any of those things. I was obviously disappointed that the outcome of the game was what it was. It's been very frustrating all season the way that we have performed offensively. But we are trying to figure it out to become a better offense."
Brady will need some help if the Patriots' offense is going to produce its customary numbers.
New England was unable to mount much of a running game against Kansas City, managing to top 10 yards on just one run out of 16. The passing attack was Brady to wide receiver Brandon LaFell (six catches, 119 yards and a touchdown), and that was it. Other Patriots receivers caught just four passes for 23 yards. Gronkowski had only two catches for 31 yards.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Cone originally entered the NFL as a college free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2011. The Georgia Tech product has spent the past three seasons (2011-13) with the Falcons, playing in 29 games with one reception for 12 yards, while also adding 10 special teams tackles. Cone has also played in one postseason game (2011).
The 6-3, 315-pound Sloat, a college free agent out of UC-Davis, took part in Tampa Bay's rookie mini-camp this past offseason.
The Bucs also waived linebacker Carlos Fields and tight end Ian Thompson from their practice squad.
Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
*Keys to the game: Teddy Bridgewater is coming off the best rookie debut by a quarterback in franchise history, and the team expects him to be behind center despite missing practice Monday and Tuesday due to an ankle injury. Bridgewater's mobility may be limited, but he showed unflappable poise in leading the Vikings past Atlanta. Another catalyst to the offensive outburst was the play of RBs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon as Minnesota rushed for 241 yards. Building on that momentum, and protecting Bridgewater, is again a primary goal against a Packers team that enters last in the NFL allowing 176 rushing yards per game.
A strong ground game would also serve to keep Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on the bench. He has owned the Vikings, including winning seven of his past eight meetings. However, Rodgers was 0-2 against Zimmer's defenses in Cincinnati while completing just 57.3 percent of his passes. With RB Eddie Lacy struggling to get untracked this season, the Packers' game plan largely falls on Rodgers' right arm, and his ability to diagnose where the pressure is coming from and unload the ball quickly.
*Matchup to watch - Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn vs. Packers WR Randall Cobb. Cobb leads the Packers with five touchdowns to go along with 21 catches for 239 yards. Munnerlyn, who was given a three-year deal worth up to $15 million to leave Carolina, moves inside to cover the slot in nickel packages, but has been the most inconsistent of the Vikings' top three corners this season.
*Player spotlight - Vikings TE Chase Ford: Signed from the practice squad last week to provide the receiving element lost with Kyle Rudolph sidelined, Ford promptly played more than half the snaps last week and his 6-6 frame is an inviting target against the Packers, who were torched for nine catches for 134 yards by Bears TE Martellus Bennett last week.
*Fast facts: Rodgers' 116.8 passer rating in 12 career regular-season meetings is the highest by any quarterback against a single team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. ... McKinnon had five career carries for seven yards before rushing for 135 yards on 18 carries in Week 4.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Vikings can keep Aaron Rodgers off-balance with their unpredictable, pressure-based defense, and Green Bay's own run defense has been abysmal. But this is still Rodgers, at home, against a Vikings offense starting a hobbled rookie quarterback and minus Adrian Peterson.
*Our pick: Packers 33-24
After intercepting a pass by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returning it for 39 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Abdullah slid on both knees in the end zone and then knelt and bent over in prayer position.
Abdullah is a devout Muslim who follows the rules of his religion including spending several moments each day kneeling on his prayer rug. He mimicked that at the end of his slide, and the game officials hit him with the 15-yard penalty.
The flag ended up causing no problems for the Chiefs in their 41-14 victory, but the league was quick to establish that the officials' reaction to the incident was not correct.
The league statement read: "Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) states 'players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.' However, the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play."
After the game, Abdullah said that he promised himself, "If I get a pick, I'm going to prostrate before God in the end zone."
Abdullah did not play the 2012 NFL season, and he joined his family for a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia that fall. He returned last season and signed with the Chiefs.
"When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game.
Nonetheless, team owner Mark Davis had a message for the Brits.
He is sorry.
"That's not Raider football," Davis said about Sunday's debacle at Wembley Stadium, a 38-14 Raiders defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
"Walking down the street (in London)," Davis continued, "I saw Raider fans. A lot of them. There are a lot of Raider fans everywhere. To play like we did over there, that's not right. We need to make it right for them."
Davis said the decision to fire Allen after an 0-4 start was made by general manager Reggie McKenzie. The owner admitted he didn't try to talk McKenzie out of it.
"The way we lost some of the games, we weren't in them," Davis said. "That's something that frustrated me. To me, that's not what the Raiders are.
"Do we not have the players? Do we not have the coaches? Is it schemes? In my analysis, I think we have the players. There'll be some change in the schemes. We may be using some schemes that are putting a square peg in a round hole. We need to change some of these things."
Enter Sparano, whose resume includes an NFL Coach of the Year award after guiding the Dolphins to an 11-5 season in 2008, one year after Miami went 1-15. He served as the Raiders' offensive line coach last season and this season.
Sparano was hired that time by Bill Parcells. He lists hard-liners Parcells, Tom Coughlin and Marty Schottenheimer as influences in his coaching career who taught him how to turn around bad situations.
"I respect Dennis Allen, but I fall from a different tree," the 52-year-old said. "Philosophies are different. I understand the buttons to push.
"I have experience to fall upon. I've been part of this. I've seen it happen before, and I understand how it happens."
Allen said he didn't consider a McKenzie/Allen package dismissal. However, McKenzie knows a team that is 8-28 on his watch -- all with Allen as the head coach -- isn't far from making more moves if things don't get turned around quickly.
"I work every day like my job is on the line," McKenzie said. "No one has to tell me my job is on the line. No one."
Sparano said his goal is to win a championship. McKenzie and Davis admitted to having more of a short-term approach.
In their mind, beating the San Diego Chargers in the Raiders' next game, Oct. 12 following a bye this week, is priority one.
"I want to win this next game. I want to get off that (winless) record. I want to win some games, all right?" McKenzie said. "That's where we are now. I want to get this thing right and start moving in the right direction."
That could be imperative to McKenzie seeing a fourth season in Oakland, Allen said.
"I can't say things he has done have been great or not great. The results will show that," Davis said. "We have to win."
Sparano brings a 29-33 head-coaching record to his new job. He said he will try to keep his position as offensive line coach while at the same time serving as the boss.
The new coach will address the players for the first time Wednesday, recognizing the bye week affords some extra time to start change in progress. He said he knows what he will talk about first.
"I believe we have the right players here," he said. "I think the biggest problem right now is they've forgotten how to win. You can fall into that trap. There's plenty of excuses out there right now. A lot of them. We're not going to use those excuses.
"As soon as we taste, and we will taste, what it feels like to win, that's how change happens. Our guys need to taste that."
Starting offensive linemen Eric Fisher, Mike McGlynn, Rodney Hudson, Zach Fulton and Ryan Harris have now started three games together and that continuity is beginning to show. They were able to control the Patriots' defensive line, especially big tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Chandler Jones.
It's the consistency that allowed coach Andy Reid to increase the volume of his weekly game plan with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis in the backfield, and tight end Travis Kelce becoming a bigger factor in the Chiefs passing game.
"Not that we don't have plenty of room to improve, but I thought they came out and played good, tough, hard-nosed football which is a good starting point," Reid said of his offensive line. "We've got to keep working our fundamentals; we've got to get better there. They'll do that. That's the way they're wired. I thought they played good football all around (against New England.)"
The only one among the current five starters who was in the same position last year is Hudson, at center. Fulton is a rookie sixth-round draft choice from Tennessee. Fisher is a second-year tackle who moved from the right to the left side. McGlynn was signed in the last week of the preseason after being released by Washington. Harris was signed as a street free agent after he did not return to the Houston Texans.
The key to the Chiefs' two game winning streak and their road to returning to the .500 mark on the season is the balanced offensive attack Reid put together in victories over Miami and New England. In those games, Kansas City ran 137 plays and, of them, 73 snaps (53 percent) were running plays called in the huddle. Including passes thrown, sacks and scrambles, the passing game has 64 snaps
While the Chiefs may have trouble consistently protecting quarterback Alex Smith, the pressure is diminished when they can come off the snap and move defenders off the line of scrimmage. They did that to the tune of 207 yards against New England.
This Sunday, they must do it again against one of the NFL's tougher defenses against the run in the San Francisco 49ers. Without balance on offense, the Chiefs will struggle to score points and maintain possession.
"Any time you are running the ball like that you dictate a little bit of what they're doing," said Smith. "Many times there was one-on-one coverage outside because we were running the ball so well, forcing them to bring an extra hat down to the box. That's going to create one-on-one matchups for Jamaal, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Travis Kelce and all those guys.
"It's tough in this league to be one dimensional."
NOTES: WR Donnie Avery suffered an adductor strain Monday night and coach Andy Reid said Tuesday that they are in a wait-and-see mode on the player's availability. ... RB Jamaal Charles came out of the game with a sore ankle, but Reid did not expect that to keep him off the practice field. ... S Eric Berry continues to rehab the sprained ankle that kept him out of the last two games. ... RB Joe McKnight will go to the injured-reserve list at some point Wednesday after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in practice last Thursday. ... OT Donald Stephenson will rejoin the team this week after serving his four-game NFL suspension for violating league rules on performance enhancing drugs. . . .
REPORT CARD: CHIEFS VS. PATRIOTS
--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Alex Smith turned in one of his best performances in his short time with the Chiefs, racking up a 144.4 passer rating, with the key stats being three touchdown passes and no interceptions. His completion percentage of 77 percent and average of 9.5 yards per attempt were among the highest of his career. The pass protection was actually good, not great, holding the Patriots pass rush to two sacks in 28 passing plays. That's the only item that kept them from an A grade.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- With Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis splitting the carries, the Chiefs ran for 207 yards at 5.4 yards per attempt. The ability of the offense to keep balance in the game plan is huge for the Chiefs as they try to deal with a less than special offensive line situation. In back-to-back victories, they've had 137 offensive plays with 53 percent of those (73) being runs called in the huddle.
--PASS DEFENSE: A -- The opposing quarterback was one of the iconic passers in NFL history and the Chiefs were able to confuse and manipulate their defensive package to keep New England quarterback Tom Brady uncomfortable and often without targets that were open. Brady turned the ball over three times, on two interceptions and then a fumble with a sack that the Chiefs recovered.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Offensive balance was something the Patriots wanted to carry into the Monday night game because they are lacking in talented targets and the offensive line has been in a state of flux with two new starters stepping in against the Chiefs. But running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were bottled up as the Patriots top backs had 13 carries for 54 yards. New England did not have a first-down rushing until the fourth quarter and ended up with only two on the evening.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Chiefs did not produce much in the way of big plays in the kicking game, but they also did not allow any either. Rookie Cairo Santos made both of his field goal attempts, and that qualified as his best performance of the season. Santos was also strong on kickoffs with five touchbacks in his seven kicks.
--COACHING: A -- Andy Reid and his offensive staff continues to add pages to their playbook as more and more skill position players are contributing to the effort, especially second-year tight end Travis Kelce and running back Knile Davis. Defensively, coordinator Bob Sutton put together an aggressive plan against Brady, hitting with multiple coverages and a few blitz packages as well.
James was frustrated with his playing time in San Francisco and released by the 49ers on Sept. 9.
The 2012 second-round draft pick was used sparingly on offense in his two-plus seasons with the 49ers, getting just 41 carries for 184 yards as a running back. As a returner, he averaged 28.4 yards on kickoffs and 10.9 yards on punts.
James began the 2014 season behind veteran running back Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde on the 49ers' depth chart.
The Dolphins are currently down a running back after Knowshon Moreno suffered a dislocated elbow.
Sparano replaces Dennis Allen, who was fired Monday after the Raiders' 38-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins in London the previous day.
Allen's teams compiled an 8-28 record after he took over as Raiders coach at the start of the 2012 season. Oakland is in the midst of a league-high 10-game losing streak.
Sparano joined the Raiders in 2013 and served as assistant head coach/offensive line coach before Tuesday's announcement by general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Sparano was Miami Dolphins head coach from 2008 to 2011 and compiled a 29-33 record.
---In an era of billion dollar television broadcasting contracts with the NFL, there is no longer a need for blackout rules regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC eliminated the rule that prevented local network stations from televising games that were not officially sold out.
Numbers show the blackout rule is not needed, both on the earnings ledger of the mega-profitable NFL and attendance tracking at the league's 31 stadiums. Last year, only two games were blacked out in local TV markets and the NFL turned a record profit of $10 billion.
Since 1975, at a time when gate receipts drove earnings for the league, the FCC barred television broadcast of NFL games that were not sold out.
---The NFL acknowledged Tuesday that officials made a mistake in flagging Kansas City safety Husain Abdullah for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty when he fell to his knees in prayer after a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown during the Chiefs' 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night.
A league rule prohibits players from celebrating while on the ground, but Abdullah is a Muslim who prostrated himself in the end zone after scoring. He told reporters after the game that he thought the officials flagged him for a slide and not for prostrating himself.
Abdullah's pick-six gave the Chiefs a 41-7 lead.
---The Atlanta Falcons officially lost two more offensive lineman for the season with center Joe Hawley and tackle Lamar Holmes placed on injured reserve. Safety William Moore was also placed on injured reserve with the designation to return tag.
Hawley suffered a torn ACL in his right knee injury during Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Holmes is out with a foot injury.
The Falcons signed tackle Cameron Bradfield and guard Harland Gunn to the active roster Tuesday and were expected to work out veteran guard Uche Nwaneri. Guard Adam Replogle was signed to the practice squad.
---Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict could return to practice this week after concussions each of the first two weeks of the season.
Asked Monday if Burfict would be back on the field, coach Marvin Lewis said "I would imagine he will, yes." Burfict missed Week 3 and the Bengals are coming off a bye week.
Versatile reserve Vinny Rey has been effectively filling in for Burfict. The Bengals are preparing to play the New England Patriots this week.
---Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis, out for the season with a torn Achilles, signed a one-year contract extension through 2016.
Mathis signed a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2012 season, including a $5 million salary for the 2014 season and $7 million next year. Mathis, 33, was injured working out on his own in Atlanta and would have been eligible to play for the first time in 2014 this week.
Mathis had 19 1/2 sacks in 2013 but was suspended four games for testing positive for testosterone, which Mathis and his physician claimed was taken for fertility reasons.
The Colts also added cornerback Jalil Brown to the active roster.
---Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater missed practice for the second day in a row because of a sprained left ankle and his status remains up in the air for Thursday night's game against the Green Bay Packers.
The rookie said Tuesday that he's feeling better about his chances of playing. He suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Coach Mike Zimmer remains confident that the 2014 first-round draft pick will be ready for the game. If Bridgewater can't go, his replacement likely would be Christian Ponder.
---Detroit Lions tight end Joseph Fauria didn't injure his left ankle on the field during a game or practice. It happened in his apartment while ... chasing his puppy.
Fauria offered full disclosure this week about the mishap that resulted in a sprained ankle and left him on crutches. As Fauria was chasing his 3-month-old Pomeranian-Husky mix down the stairs last Wednesday in attempt to keep the puppy from relieving himself, he missed some steps and landed awkwardly on his left foot.
Fauria refused to discuss when he will be able to return. He has three catches for 49 yards this season.
In other Lions news, running back George Winn joined the active roster from the practice squad, an indication that injured running back Joique Bell is likely to miss at least Sunday's game. Bell was diagnosed with a concussion in the win over the New York Jets.
---The Chicago Bears waived receiver Rashad Ross and promoted wide receiver Chris Williams from the practice squad to the active roster on Tuesday.
Ross returned five kickoffs for 106 yards the past two weeks for the Bears. Williams played in his first NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 and spent the past two weeks on the practice squad.
---Tight end Jordan Reed practiced for the first time since Week 1 and could be back in the lineup for the Washington Redskins this week.
Reed made just one catch for 9 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury in the opening-week loss at Houston. Reed battled concussion issues as a rookie last season but was viewed as a critical cog for the Redskins offense.
The Redskins also signed linebacker Gabe Miller and nose tackle Robert Thomas to their practice squad and released defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo from the practice squad.
Defenders also are excited about the prospect of facing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a defense other than the predictable, read-and-react Tampa 2 scheme that the team employed from 2006 to last season.
"Heck," said left defensive end Brian Robison, "there were some times when we'd line up and Aaron Rodgers was calling out our defenses as we were lining up."
Rodgers denied Tuesday that he ever did that. But there's no hiding the fact that his comfort level against the Vikings was higher than it was with any other opponent.
His 116.8 passer rating in 12 regular-season games against the Vikings is the highest by any quarterback against a single team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He's 8-4 overall, 7-1 in his last eight meetings and is completing 71.4 percent of his passes (277 of 388) for 3,382 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions against the Vikings.
Most of the attention Thursday will be on Bridgewater, who set team records for completions (19), yards passing (317) and passer rating (98.9) by a quarterback making his NFL starting debut. Oh yeah, he also became the first to notch a fourth-quarter comeback win in his first start.
Just as interesting, however, will be coach Mike Zimmer's unpredictable, pressure-based defense against Rodgers.
Rodgers faced Zimmer's Cincinnati Bengals defenses twice. He went 0-2 while Rodgers completed 57.3 percent of his passes for an average of 252.5 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 74.8 passer rating. Last year's 64.5 rating in a 34-30 loss at Cincinnati was Rodgers' third-lowest rating since 2009.
"I have a lot of respect for [Zimmer] and the job he does," Rodgers said. "He's always well prepared and very confusing at times with their schemes.
"He gives you some similar works and they run different things out of it. Different blitz schemes, different coverages behind it. They give you some issues with the protections, obviously. And his defenses in Cincinnati always covered very well with a lot of talented corners, much like Minnesota does."
Zimmer, meanwhile, called Rodgers the NFL's No. 1 quarterback against the blitz. He also referred to him as the third "first-ballot Hall of Famer" the Vikings have faced in the last four weeks, in addition to Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
A week ago, the Vikings allowed the Falcons to convert 10 of their first 13 third-down situations. Meanwhile, in a 21-point win over the Chicago Bears, Rodgers posted a 151.2 passer rating, the highest against a Bears team in 49 years.
Rodgers faced the Vikings only once a year ago. It wasn't pretty. His 130.6 passer rating included Rodgers completing 12 of 12 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns on third and fourth down.
The Vikings are looking forward to trying something new against him. Hey, it can't get any worse.
SERIES HISTORY: 106th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 48-55-2. Packers have won five straight at home, including a wild-card matchup during the 2012 season. The Vikings haven't won at Green Bay since Brett Favre returned to Lambeau Field as the Vikings quarterback in 2009. The teams have met twice in the playoffs, both wild-card games. The Vikings won the other matchup when they upset the Packers at Lambeau in 2004.
INJURY WATCH: LB Chad Greenway, who had his streak of 115 consecutive games played end last week, likely will miss a second straight game because of the short week. He didn't practice Monday or Tuesday because of his broken left hand and broken rib. He will be replaced by Gerald Hodges, who is considered faster and more athletic. ... RB Jerick McKinnon (ankle) has been limited in practice, but will play on Thursday night. ... TE Kyle Rudolph said he's on schedule for a relatively speedy return after last week's sports hernia surgery. The Vikings will keep him on the active roster in hopes that he'll be back in about five weeks from now. ... CB Captain Munnerlyn (illness) missed Monday's practice and was limited on Tuesday. But he'll play on Thursday. ... CB Josh Robinson (hamstring) has been limited in practice this week, but is expected to play on Thursday. The No. 3 corner played 64 percent of the snaps despite being listed as questionable for last week's game.
GAME PLAN: Even without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings feel they can run the ball, control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline long enough to squeak out another upset win. Last week, the Vikings surprised everybody by running for a league-high 241 yards and a 5.5-yard average. The next-highest rushing total in Week 4 belonged to the Bears, who ran for 235 yards in Sunday's loss to the Packers. The Vikings also believe coach Mike Zimmer's defense, which is more aggressive and less predictable than the Tampa 2-based scheme that preceded it, will give them a better chance of containing Rodgers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Packers SS Morgan Burnett and ILB A.J. Hawk vs. Vikings RBs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. Suddenly, the Vikings have a running game for the run defense-challenge Packers to be concerned about. After averaging 2.8 and 2.7 yards per carry the previous two weeks, the Vikings averaged 5.5 yards while piling up 241 yards in an upset of the Falcons. McKinnon went into the game with five carries for seven yards. He had 18 carries for 135 yards, while Asiata rushed for three short touchdowns. The Packers, meanwhile, gave up 235 yards rushing in a win over the Bears. Burnett and Hawk lead the Packers in tackles with 35 apiece.
Packers WR Randall Cobb vs. Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn. Cobb, the Packers' slot receiver, has a team-high five touchdown catches to go with 21 catches for 239 yards. Munnerlyn, meanwhile, was brought to Minnesota not only to start but to also move inside over the slot when the Vikings go to their nickel packages. Munnerlyn hasn't been a disappointment, but he has been the most inconsistent of the top three corners so far this season. He has struggled in his tackling and even called last week's game against the Falcons the worst of his career.
Ross returned five kickoffs for 106 yards the past two weeks for the Bears.
Williams played in his first NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 and spent the past two weeks on the Bears' practice squad.
After a 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, the Bears travel to Carolina this week to face the Panthers.
New England was dominated on both sides of the ball -- both on the ground and through the air -- in a loss that left a mark on the visitors. It comes on the heels of a hold-on-for-dear-life home win over the Oakland Raiders, a team that just fired its head coach.
Make no mistake, projected as near locks to return to an AFC title game rematch with the Denver Broncos by most prognosticators, Bill Belichick's team is a middling squad searching for an identity after getting its teeth kicked in by Andy Reid's Chiefs.
"We just didn't do a good enough job really in any area; no consistency offensively, didn't do a good job defensively against the running game, didn't convert on third down, in the red area. Offensively, we weren't good on third down," Belichick said after watching the film of a game in which his team was down 17-0 at halftime and allowed 303 yards of offense through the first 30 minutes.
"We just dug ourselves a hole and then a good pass rush team, like the Chiefs are, we put ourselves in a bad situation in the second half and they capitalized on it. It's pretty much what we talked about last night. I wouldn't say a whole lot has changed after watching the film this morning."
Things won't get any easier for New England as they have a short week to prepare for a Sunday night matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in Foxborough. The Bengals are coming to town with a 3-0 record after a bye and playing maybe as consistent football as any team in the league.
But that's for next week, Right now, the Patriots are reeling from a dismal performance that was arguably the worst game most in the locker room can remember.
"I think the biggest thing we're going to take away from this game is we got to play a lot better if we're going be a good team and win games," safety Devin McCourty said. "I'm disappointed as this is the most embarrassing game I've ever been a part of. We lost in every aspect. We'll definitely learn something from this and learn a good amount. But now, it's all about fighting and getting better and trying to play better next week."
There is certainly not going to be much finger-pointing to worry about, either. Maybe the one good thing about a team playing putrid football across the board is that everyone lives in a glass house and therefore will keep their stones to themselves.
The offensive line has struggled. The receivers have been subpar. Brady has missed plenty of throws on the way to a 79.1 rating through four games.
Defensively, the front has been pushed around and the pass defense, though statistically impressive, hasn't exactly been a point of fear for opposing passers, certainly not Kansas City's Alex Smith, who completed 20 of 26 throws for three touchdowns on the way to a 144.4 rating.
"We took one on the chin," defensive tackle Vince Wilfolk said. "They beat us like we stole something. It's pretty bad, but we have to correct mistakes and move forward. This is a short week. We will watch the film and hopefully we never have this feeling again because it sucks to have this feeling. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They basically destroyed us."
And that's not something that too many teams have been able to do in the Belichick era in New England.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is far from impressive at this point in the season, one reason why New England has the 30th ranked passing attack through four weeks. Gronkowski has been a shell of his All-Pro self, even though he leads the Patriots with three touchdown catches among his 13 receptions for 147 yards (11.3 avg). So, what is wrong?
"I would say everything -- including myself -- blocking, throwing, catching. Whatever it is, we've got to go out there, work together and get better. (We need to) do our jobs," Gronkowski said.
REPORT CARD VS. Chiefs
--PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Another week and another disappointing effort for Tom Brady's passing attack. New England never got anything going with any consistency in Kansas City, opening the game in the shotgun on the way to a three-and-out. Then as the score got more lopsided, the Chiefs picked things up in the pass rush. All told, Brady completed 14 of his 23 throws for 159 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a 59.9 rating. He was sacked twice, including one lost fumble, before being yanked in favor of second-round rookie Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter of the blowout. Brandon LaFell was the top target on the day, notching six catches for 119 yards, including a 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown that was irrelevant to the outcome. Rob Gronkowski also found the end zone again, from Garoppolo late, though the tight end caught just two passes. The protection was a problem once again. On a day when the Patriots had just three true receivers active, the aerial attack was again stagnant. And the players on the field seemed helpless to fix it.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Chiefs came in allowing 5.1 yards per rush. The Patriots didn't attempt a run until their second drive with two minutes to play in the first quarter. They never got anything going with any consistency on the ground. As the score got out of hand, the five active running backs became an afterthought to the offensive plan of attack. Stevan Ridley led the way with 28 yards on five attempts, but the Patriots had just seven rushes for 24 yards at the half and that equated to a mere 16 attempts for 75 yards in a game where the production on the ground wasn't even as good as those numbers might suggest. New England didn't seem to want to establish the run early and then couldn't run due to the score later.
--PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Chiefs don't exactly have a high-powered passing attack, but the Alex Smith-led group did pretty much whatever it wanted against New England's supposed No. 1 pass defense. Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 248 yards with three touchdowns and no picks for a 144.4 rating. He was sacked twice but wasn't under much of pressure most of the day. He hit his short throws. The Patriots missed a lot of tackles and it looked easy thanks to the success the Chiefs had establishing the running game. Darrelle Revis matched up with Dwayne Bowe at times, but New England also unleashed a lot of soft zone coverage schemes. Bowe had 81 yards on his five catches, and tight end Travis Kelce had 93 yards and a score on his game-high eight receptions. The Patriots' pass rush was lacking. Tight coverage was lacking. Tackling was lacking. It wasn't as ugly as the run defense, but it wasn't impressive, either.
--RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Jamaal Charles returned from a high ankle sprain and ran all over the Patriots. Charles did most of his damage running right at Chandler Jones, who was playing too many snaps as a 3-4 end getting pushed around by left tackle Eric Fisher. Charles ran for 92 of Kansas City's 207 yards on the night, including a touchdown on his 18 attempts. Backup Knile Davis also found plenty of room to run, tallying 107 yards on 16 carries, including a 48-yard scamper. The Patriots were pushed around up front and tackled poorly to give Chiefs ball carriers plenty of extra yards. It was a bad performance for the defensive line and linebackers from New England.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Yet again the Patriots' special teams may have been the strength of the team. Matthew Slater, the captain of the unit, continues to cover punts at a Pro Bowl level. He almost single-handedly held Kansas City returner Frank Hammond to 3 yards on two returns. Ryan Allen punted well, notching a 45-yard net on his six attempts, including two downed inside the 20. He did have one touchback. The Patriots did not attempt a field goal but covered kickoffs well. The tackling the team has shown in coverage could show something to the New England defenders.
--COACHING: D-plus -- New England came out flat. The Patriots decided to totally overhaul the offensive line with three guys in new positions, including two rookies making their first career start in a hostile environment. The Patriots had just three receivers active and yet came out in the shotgun and threw three straight times on the way to an opening punt. The defense failed to adjust to the Chiefs' rushing attack that went right at Chandler Jones, who continues to seemingly be misused. Bill Belichick's team hasn't made adjustments well on either side. They haven't started well in either half. The line can't get its act together and was actually rotating like it's a preseason game. The game plans on both sides of the ball left something to be desired. The players failed to execute and the coaches didn't do anything to help them out either in the game plan or with in-game adjustments.
The FCC eliminated the rule that prevented local network stations from televising games that were not officially sold out.
Numbers show the blackout rule is not needed, both on the earnings ledger of the mega-profitable NFL and attendance tracking at the league's 31 stadiums.
Last season, only two games were blacked out in local TV markets and the NFL turned a record profit of $10 billion.
Since 1975, at a time when gate receipts drove earnings for the league, the FCC barred television broadcast of NFL games that were not sold out.
The NFL opposed eliminating the blackout rule because of fears that it might eventually lead to games no longer being offered for free on network television.
"NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts," the league said in a statement. "The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television. The FCC's decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future."
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in an editorial last month in advance of Tuesday's vote to rescind the blackout rule that the NFL's position that the rule remains viable is misleading.
"To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multi-billion dollar business," he wrote. "If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.
"The bottom line is the NFL no longer needs the government's help to remain viable. And we at the FCC shouldn't be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It's time to sack the sports blackout rules for good."
The rookie said Tuesday that he is feeling better about his chances of playing this week. He suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
"We have a long time until Thursday, so I just want to continue to rehab, do a little excising today and see where I am these next couple of days," Bridgewater said before Tuesday's practice.
Bridgewater passed for 317 yards and ran for a touchdown against the Falcons in his fist career start.
Coach Mike Zimmer said the plan was to have Bridgewater start running on the ankle to prepare for the game. Zimmer remains confident that the 2014 first-round draft pick will be ready for the game.
If Bridgewater can't go, his replacement likely would be former Vikings starter Christian Ponder.