QBs looking to elevate Panthers, Buccaneers down stretch

Seahawks, Panthers chasing same wild-card possibilities

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The good news for the Carolina Panthers is they return home Sunday to face the Seattle Seahawks where they’ve won 10 straight games.

The bad news is it’s highly unlikely the Panthers will play a playoff game in Charlotte, North Carolina, if they reach the postseason.

The Seahawks (5-5) can relate.

They and the Panthers (6-4) essentially find themselves competing for wild-card spots in the NFC with six games remaining given their chances of winning a division title and hosting a postseason game appear remote. Carolina has lost two straight on the road and fallen 3 ½ games behind New Orleans in the NFC South, while the Seahawks trail the Los Angeles Rams by 4 ½ games in the NFC West.

“Right now, we can’t worry about what New Orleans is doing. We can’t worry about the playoff picture. We just have to win a game,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “In this league, it’s so easy to get caught up in, ‘If this team wins, if this team loses, (then) we can have home-field (advantage). … Hey, if we don’t win some games, we’re not going to be in the playoffs.”

In terms of wild-card implications, this game looms as large as any in the NFC.

Currently, the Panthers would be one wild-card team, while the Minnesota Vikings would be the other. But that could all change if the Seahawks continue their recent dominance over the Panthers.

Russell Wilson is 5-2 against Cam Newton and Carolina.

He has averaged 270.3 yards passing per game with 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Newton, on the other hand, has struggled mightily against the Seahawks with nine turnovers and only five TD passes.

“They get after the quarterback,” Newton said when asked of his struggles against the Seahawks. “That’s what they do extremely well, and they’re very opportunistic in that. You know what they’re going to be in (defensively), they know you know what they’re going to be in, but they just play so fast and rally around the football.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn’t giving any hints as to how his team intends to slow one of the game’s most dangerous QBs.

“If I tell you, then that would help them, huh?” Carroll said.


D.J. Moore has been looking increasingly more like Carolina’s top receiver — and this week he may need to take on the role of No. 1 receiver with Devin Funchess listed as doubtful with a back injury that has kept him out of practice this week.

Moore, the team’s first-round draft pick, caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 20-19 loss to the Lions last week, including an 82-yard catch and run. Meanwhile, Funchess had a miserable game with five drops, including one in the end zone.

If Funchess is out, the Seahawks can expect to see more of second-year wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been explosive in his limited playing time.


Frank Clark is having a standout year in a contract season for the Seahawks. Clark has already tied his career high with 10 sacks with another six games to go. He has been a consistent threat off the edge and has seven sacks in the past five games.

While Clark has been a menace, Seattle is still seeking a complementary pass rusher to work with Clark. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed is second on the team with 5 ½ sacks, but no other player has more than two.

Seattle had five sacks of Aaron Rodgers, but Carroll warned Newton is a completely different challenge.

“I’m hoping that that will be a part again because if you noticed, we broke the pocket down and that’s important to do with Cam as well because he can get out and really scorch you too,” Carroll said.


The Panthers realize they need to get some pressure on Wilson and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.

That hasn’t been Carolina’s strength this season as it ranks 23rd in the league in sacks entering the week with 23. Carolina isn’t getting much penetration inside, where defensive tackle Kawann Short has gone nine straight games without a sack after registering two in the season opener against Dallas.

Wilson is expecting a close game.

“We know these games against Carolina have always come down to the wire,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of respect for how they play the game. They play the game the right way, they play the game fast and physical, they play the game smart.”


Seattle has the top running game in the NFL and it continues to be a collaborative effort. Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis all have had 100-yard games this season.

Carson is clearly the primary ball carrier and had 17 carries for 83 yards in Seattle’s win over Green Bay last week. But Penny has been earning more opportunities as his rookie year has progressed, and Davis was the closer for Seattle against the Packers as the one getting carries on the final drive.

Seattle has rushed for at least 150 yards as a team in seven straight games.


Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed an extra point and a field goal in Carolina’s 20-19 loss to the Lions last week. So when coach Ron Rivera opted to go for 2 in the game’s final seconds instead of tying the game, it appeared to show a lack of confidence in his veteran kicker.

However, Gano returns home this week where he has made 39 straight field goals.


AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.


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FANTASY PLAYGiants, Eagles heading in opposite directionsS: Key fantasy questions for NFL Week 11

Giants, Eagles heading in opposite directions

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Giants and Eagles are heading in opposite directions in an up-for-grabs division.

At the season’s midpoint, Eli Manning’s starting job was in jeopardy and New York seemingly was primed for a run at the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

But the Giants (3-7) have won two straight after a dismal first half and the offense has put up 65 points in those games. Manning is coming off an excellent performance and he’s not hearing any more questions about getting benched.

That’s not the case for Carson Wentz.

The defending champion Eagles (4-6) have lost two in a row and some misguided fans were even calling for Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to replace Wentz in the starting lineup following his career-worst effort in a 48-7 loss to New Orleans.’

Despite losing records, both teams are still in the mix in the NFC East entering Sunday’s game in Philadelphia. Dallas and Washington are tied for first place at 6-5.

“You always want to have the momentum and I think that’s kind of what the two games gave us, and we just got to keep preparing the way that we’ve been preparing and hopefully we keep it on the roll,” Giants wideout Sterling Shepard said.

The Eagles played their best game of the season in a 34-13 victory against New York in October. It was the only game they’ve scored more than 24 points.

“That was a fun game,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I felt like the offense was in sync, in rhythm. I think you just have to, as a play caller. kind of get back to who we are.”

Much has changed since that game as Philadelphia has lost three of four.

“Last time we played them, I know exactly why they beat us,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “We didn’t do anything that you need to do against any type of team to win. We turned the ball over, we gave them big plays. We just didn’t play well enough to beat any team, so we have to fix that. That’s more about us and less about them.”

Here are things to know about the Giants-Eagles matchup:


The Eagles are missing three-fourths of their starting secondary, their starting nickel cornerback and their top backup. The fifth cornerback could be out, too. Cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Rodney McLeod are out for the season and cornerback Jalen Mills has a foot injury. Cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox are also sidelined and Rasul Douglas is questionable. The Eagles will have to count on three guys who have limited experience: Cre’Von LeBlanc, De’Vante Bausby and Chandon Sullivan. It could mean a big day for Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr.

“The biggest challenge is the rhythm, the continuity, communication sometimes, just body language, understanding the defense,” Pederson said. “All those things that kind of come with part of being around in OTAs and being around in training camp. The fact is everything matters now, everything counts. It’s a real game. They have to obviously understand that, step their game up, focus — laser focus — like we talk about, and be prepared.”


Rookie Saquon Barkley had 130 yards rushing and caught nine passes for 99 yards last month vs. the Eagles. The team’s run defense, which ranked first last year and was tops through the early part of this season, has steadily declined. Ezekiel Elliott had 151 yards rushing against Philadelphia two weeks ago, and Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for 174 last week.

“I think he’s improved every week and I think he’s a guy who wants to be great, wants to get better,” Manning said of Barkley.


Receiver Golden Tate has only seven catches for 67 yards in two games since the Eagles traded a third-round pick to Detroit to get him. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said this week it’s been difficult trying to integrate him into the offense.


The Giants’ much-maligned offensive line is coming off its two best games and faces a difficult challenge against Fletcher Cox and Philadelphia’s defensive line that adds Tim Jernigan this week. The Eagles will need to get plenty of pressure from their front four to help the inexperienced secondary.

“The thing that stirs the drink for them is their front,” Shurmur said. “It’s going to be important that we do a good job first off blocking them, and then when we choose to throw the ball outside, being really good about what we try to do.”


The Eagles are 16-4 against the Giants since 2008, including 8-1 since 2014.


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Broncos face Steelers, out to snap another 6-game win streak

Broncos face Steelers, out to snap another 6-game win streak

DENVER (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers can unnerve plenty of defenses with the NFL’s best pair of pass catchers and the league’s top tight end tandem.

Not Denver’s.

“We’ve had a tough game every week,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We haven’t had any easy games. So, this is just another top offense that we get to see, another great challenge and we’re up for it.”

The Steelers (7-2-1), bursting with playmakers in wide receivers Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James and running back James Connor, are the third consecutive opponent to bring a winning streak of at least five games into their matchup against the Broncos (4-6).

The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the last team to face that sort of gantlet, wrapping up an 0-14 season with losses to the Raiders, Steelers and Patriots by an average of 40-10.

The Broncos snapped the Chargers’ six-game roll with a stirring comeback last week capped by Brandon McManus’ field goal as time expired — one game after his errant kick as time expired allowed the Texans to escape with their sixth straight win.

“We’ve seen it all already,” Harris said. “Now, it’s just another challenge, another great offense, another great quarterback and receivers. We’ve had some success this year playing the top offenses.”

In addition to letting Deshaun Watson and the Texans duck out of Denver with a win, the Broncos had their chances against Jared Goff and the Rams and twice against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. They lost those four games by a combined 12 points.

“Close calls against really good football teams,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “This is definitely a team that is much better than their record shows. They’re a team that’s kind of sitting there.”

Ready to pounce.

“They got a big win last week and need to get this win,” Roethlisberger said. “We don’t look at records. We look at going on the road to a tough place to play against a really good football team.”

Other subplots in the Steelers’ first trip to Denver since the playoffs following the 2015 season:


The Broncos counter Pittsburgh’s dynamite duos with the league’s most prolific pass-rushing pair in Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, both of whom are riding five-game sack streaks.

Miller and Chubb have combined for 19 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 29 QB hits, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.

“It’s unbelievable, maybe the best one in the game right now, those two guys,” Roethlisberger said.


Miller is coming off his 100th sack and a key interception that was a game-changer and maybe a season-turner, and he certainly has the attention of the Steelers.

“I’ve got nothing but crazy respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “Such a good football player and he really takes pride in his craft. He’s almost scientific about it.”

Miller was the MVP of the Pro Bowl last year, where he was coached by Mike Tomlin in the Steelers staff.

“I thought he was an alien,” Tomlin said. “He was a special player among a group of special players. He went by me in the fourth quarter and said, ‘Coach, I got this.’ I watched him take over a Pro Bowl and change the climate inside that stadium.”

“An alien?” replied Miller. “Like, which one? There’s Martians with the big head or is it like ‘Alien’ the movie?”


The Steelers are 15-1-1 in their last 17 road games, though the going has typically been difficult in Denver. Pittsburgh has dropped four of its last five visits to the Mile High City, including a pair of playoff setbacks in 2012 and 2016.

“We know it’s a tough place to play,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I know I’ve never won a game there and I’ve been around a while. It’s one of those places where, no matter how hot you might think you are, things can change in a minute.”


While Brown has caught at least one touchdown in eight consecutive games, it’s the development of Smith-Schuster that’s helped keep Pittsburgh’s offense humming even with running back Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season.

Smith-Schuster has 64 receptions for 866 yards and has developed a rapport with Roethlisberger that is paying off in the clutch. He caught four passes in Pittsburgh’s final frenetic two drives last week against Jacksonville, including a leaping 35-yard grab that helped set up the winning touchdown.


“It’s the best of the best,” Harris said of his matchup with Brown, who got the best of him the last time they lined up against each other three years ago.

Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, snapping Harris’ streak of 35 games without allowing a score.

“I didn’t play well that night,” Harris said. “But I’m ready for Sunday.”


AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.


Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton


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new england patriots home underdogs

Patriots QB Brady missing from start of Friday practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was absent at the start of practice on Friday, the team’s last before its game against the New York Jets.

The 41-year-old three-time NFL MVP hurt his knee when he slipped after receiving a pass in last week’s game against Tennessee. He was listed on the injury report as limited for Wednesday’s workout; the team did not practice on Thanksgiving Day.

Since taking over as the starter when Drew Bledsoe was injured in the second game of the 2001 season, only once has Brady missed games for injury, when he tore apart his knee in the 2008 opener. He also missed the first four games of the 2016 season to serve a suspension for his role in the team’s illegal football deflation scheme.


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Hue reunion: Browns try to beat former head coach, Bengals

Hue reunion: Browns try to beat former head coach, Bengals

CINCINNATI (AP) — A jogging Hue Jackson didn’t break stride as he left the practice field. The recently fired Browns head coach was trying to outrun questions about what it’s like being on the opposite sideline this week.

Jackson left Cincinnati after the 2015 season and spent two-plus seasons trying — futilely — to get the Browns to win. Now he’s back in town , trying to beat them in a pivotal game.

He’s hoping his insights give the Bengals (5-5) an edge Sunday in the intrastate rivalry. The stakes are high for Cincinnati, which has dominated the series lately and wants to keep it that way.

“Everybody wants to count us out right now,” center Billy Price said. “Everybody wants to put us in the dumpster and light us on fire, but we still have a lot to accomplish. We have a lot of things going on. We have a lot of winnable games coming up here.”

The Browns (3-6-1) merely would like a victory away from the shore of Lake Erie.

Cleveland has lost 25 consecutive road games, one shy of the NFL mark held by the Detroit Lions from 2007-10. The Browns’ last win on the road came at Baltimore, where Josh McCown led them to a 33-30 overtime victory on Oct. 11, 2015 — back when Jackson was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator.

Whether the streak endures or ends will come down to whether the Bengals figure out a way to stop Cleveland’s rookie duo on offense.

Last week, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards became the first rookie QB/RB duo to run for at least 100 yards in the same game, leading Baltimore to a 24-21 victory over Cincinnati. The Bengals have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the last two games.

By contrast, Cleveland beat Kansas City 28-16 before heading into its bye week. Rookie Baker Mayfield tied a club rookie record with three touchdown passes, and rookie Nick Chubb ran for a career-high 176 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown that was the second-longest by a rookie in NFL history.

“I think it is our guys believing in it, knowing that we do not need anything else besides what we have in this locker room, blocking out the distractions and coming together,” Mayfield said. “Things happen, and you can use it for good. We did.”

Can they do it again against their former head coach?

Some things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:


How much can Hue Jackson tip the outcome? Sure, he knows the Browns’ systems intimately and the players personally, but having the bye week allowed Cleveland to change some things.

“In all honesty, there are no secrets anymore in the league with how all the film is out there to show everybody exactly what you’re doing,” Brown interim coach Gregg Williams said.


The Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to allow 500 yards in three straight games. Coach Marvin Lewis assumed the job of defensive coordinator as well as hiring Jackson as a special assistant on defense. The change didn’t make enough of a difference as the Bengals got run over in Baltimore. Their main focus this week is stopping Chubb.

“We know that’s their emphasis right now and that’s what they’re going to try to attack us with because that’s our perceived weakness right now,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.


The Bengals have won seven in a row against the Browns, the longest winning streak by either team in the intrastate series. The Bengals have won the last seven by 30, 21, 34, 14, 13, 24 and 24 points. The Bengals are 7-1 against Browns rookie quarterbacks under Lewis, who is in his 16th season. The only loss was 34-24 at Cleveland in 2012 behind Brandon Weeden.


Not only are the Browns hoping to avoid infamy with their 26th straight road loss, they’re trying to start a winning “streak.”

Cleveland hasn’t won two straight games since 2014, when the Browns reeled off three in a row while improving to 6-3 under then-coach Mike Pettine. That seems like an eternity ago for the Browns, who have gone 8-56-1 since that modest run.

“Any time a team (starts) to win a couple in a row, it builds momentum, it builds belief and that can have a positive impact on your team,” right guard Kevin Zeitler said. “It’d be real nice if we can get that going.”


While the game has significance for Cincinnati’s playoff hopes, the Browns aren’t yet finished ruminating about the postseason. They’d likely have to win their last six games to end a playoff drought dating to 2002.

“If you can’t and don’t believe that we can make a playoff run, then you’re on the wrong team,” cornerback T.J. Carrie said. “And I feel like from that standpoint we all have that feeling and that emotion about we can definitely do something very special and we’re capable of doing it.”


AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.


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What To Look For - Week 17

Chiefs head into much-needed bye in search of a breather

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It has been a whirlwind first 11 weeks for the Kansas City Chiefs, filled with record-setting performances, high-scoring losses and the emergence of first-year starter Patrick Mahomes as one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL.

It’s also been an exhausting 11 weeks. And a pause is coming at a good time.

The Chiefs headed home from Los Angeles on Monday night still feeling the sting of a 54-51 loss to the Rams in what was arguably the most entertaining regular-season game in years. They headed right into their bye week with an opportunity to refocus and get healthy for the stretch run.

One that Mahomes and Co. still think will involve a deep playoff run.

“It’s kind of like a reset,” Mahomes said, “get your body right and come back with that mentality that we’re going to win and we can still get home-field advantage, hopefully.”

Indeed, the Chiefs (9-2) aren’t in much worse shape regarding the playoffs after the weekend than they were before it. The Chargers, their closest pursuers in the division, lost to the Broncos, while the Patriots were unable to make up much ground on the No. 1 seed because they were on a bye.

After the week off, the Chiefs have two of their final five games against the moribund Raiders, two others are at home against the Ravens and Chargers, and a trip to Seattle rounds out things.

In other words, the Chiefs believe they’re well-positioned heading into December.

“We’re going to heal up here and get ourselves ready to go,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins will no doubt use the week off to rest his ailing foot, which kept him out of practice last week and limited him to a couple early snaps against the Rams. Mitch Morse could be back at center after dealing with a concussion for several weeks, and a series of more minor injuries have affected nearly everybody on the roster.

But the big question mark, at least in terms of health, revolved around Eric Berry.

The Chiefs’ highly paid star safety, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, returned to the practice field over the summer and appeared ready for the year. But his heel began to bother him early in training camp, and even though Reid has insisted that Berry is “day to day,” the injury has turned out to be more “month to month.”

The five-time Pro Bowl pick still hasn’t been on the practice field, even though he was never put on injured reserve, and time is running out if Berry is going to play at all this season.

“If he feels comfortable and the docs are good with it and he’s good with it, then we’ll start easing him in,” Reid said, when asked whether that could happen after the bye.

The Chiefs certainly could have used their hard-hitting safety on Monday night.

Jared Goff threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, and the Rams piled up more than 450 yards in a game that came down to the wire. Most importantly, the Chiefs couldn’t make a stop after taking the lead in the fourth quarter, allowing the Rams a go-ahead answer.

“I think we showed a lot of heart,” Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said. “We took several punches. Everybody’s got a game plan until you get hit in the mouth. We got hit in the mouth several times, but for us to keep fighting as a whole, I think that shows what kind of team we are.”

Or what kind of team the Chiefs can ultimately become.

Both of their losses have come on the road against teams that figure to be in the playoffs; they also lost a shootout in New England, when Tom Brady rallied the Patriots to a go-ahead field goal in the final seconds. And in both cases, the Chiefs would have walked away victors had their defense been able to make one more stop when it counted.

So along with getting healthy during their bye week, the Chiefs will no doubt look at tweaking their defense, trying to figure out on the fly how they can improve down the stretch.

Health is a good place start. But the Chiefs think there are other issues to iron out.

“We all look at it that way,” Reid insisted, “every guy on this team will do that. That’s the way these guys are wired and that’s what’s going to make us a great football team down the stretch.”

Yes, even the Chiefs’ record-setting offense can smooth over some things.

The Chiefs remain one of the NFL’s most-penalized teams, and many of those flags have come on offense. Mahomes also threw three picks and lost two fumbles against the Rams, though that may have been an aberration — he’s been good at protecting the ball all season.

There’s work to be done. And the Chiefs finally have a week off to do it.


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Von Miller chose to channel Bill Belichick

Denver pass-rushing partners Miller and Chubb best in NFL

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers bring the best wide receiving combo and top tight end twosome into Denver this weekend. Countering all that is the league’s most prolific pass-rushing pair in Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb .

“It’s unbelievable, maybe the best one in the game right now, those two guys,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “We’re trying to figure out a way to block them so we can make some plays.”

Miller, coming off his 100th career sack, and Chubb, the fifth-overall pick in the draft last April, have combined for 19 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 29 QB hits, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.

That takeaway last week in Los Angeles, when Miller picked off Philip Rivers , was a game-changer and maybe even a season-turner for the Broncos (4-6).

They had lost four games to the league’s heavyweights by a combined 12 points before eking out a 23-22 win on Brandon McManus’ field goal as time expired in Los Angeles, ending the Chargers’ six-game winning streak.

McManus had missed in a similar situation against Houston in the Broncos’ previous game, allowing the Texans to escape with a 19-17 win for their sixth straight victory.

“This is definitely a team that is much better than their record shows,” said Roethlisberger, whose Steelers (7-2-1) also face the Broncos riding a six-game winning streak .

The Steelers present a huge challenge with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster — who have a combined 126 catches for 1,673 yards and 14 touchdowns — and in tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James, who have combined for 761 yards and five TDs on 43 receptions.

With cornerback Chris Harris losing play-making partner Aqib Talib to a trade last spring and Bradley Roby going through concussion protocol this week, the Broncos will try to counter those duos with their own in Miller and Chubb, the NFL’s most productive pass-rushing pair heading into Week 12.

Both have a five-game sack streak going, and their 19 combined sacks are one more than Dee Ford and Chris Jones, each of whom have nine sacks for the Chiefs, and the Rams’ Aaron Donald (14½) and Ndamukong Suh (3½).

Even though he holds on to the ball longer than most, Roethlisberger has long been one of the toughest QBs to take down because of his size and strength. He’s only been sacked 14 times this year.

Miller has sacked Roethlisberger three times in four meetings, but he was held without a sack in their last two matchups, the last one coming in the 2015 playoffs that preceded Miller’s monster games against Tom Brady in the AFC championship and against Cam Newton when he won the Super Bowl 50 MVP award.

“I’ve got nothing but crazy respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “Such a good football player and he really takes pride in his craft. He’s almost scientific about it. His work ethic, his studying and all the stuff that he does, he is an incredible football player.”

He’s only seen Chubb on video but Roethlisberger said he also has a deep respect for the rookie.

“It’s high motor. He just goes. He seems to be very strong. At times, he’ll just go right down the middle of a tackle and there’s times that he’s able to get around the outside with a little bit of speed,” Roethlisberger said. “Maybe the quarterback steps up and then he throws a spin move in there. It’s just never quitting.

“I feel like he’s watched Von and maybe learned from the best to do it.”

Miller, who was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, won’t take any credit, saying Chubb “is just one of those guys who’s way past his years.”

And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, “I told Chubb today I was grateful and I’m appreciative to be able to play with a top-5 pick like that because he’s come in, he’s definitely lived up to the hype,” Miller said. “He’s definitely more than advertised and it’s a true blessing to be able to play with a guy like that.”


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Not that simple: Titans focus on trying to win a game

Titans QB Mariota limited, playing status remains unclear

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans are back in wait-and-see mode with Marcus Mariota.

The quarterback is trying to recover from a stinger that knocked him out of their last game. Mariota said Wednesday that the stinger, which came from a hit to his head in last week’s 38-10 loss to the Colts, left him with some numbness in his throwing arm. But Mariota said the injury is not related to the nerve issue in his elbow that cost him playing time in September.

Mariota also said his grip holding a ball is fine. He wore a partial glove for five games to help him grab the ball better when recovering from the injured elbow.

“Basically one of those deals again with the nerves,” Mariota said. “Just feeling down my right arm wasn’t totally there, so it’s just one of those deals you just kind of got to wait and see for the nerve to calm down and things should be good.”

Mariota took part in individual drills Wednesday. The Titans will not issue an injury report until Thursday with their next game Monday night in Houston (7-3), though coach Mike Vrabel said Mariota was limited.

“We’re hopeful that he’ll progress as the week goes on,” Vrabel said.

The elbow injury kept Mariota out of the second game this season, a 20-17 victory over Houston. The Titans (5-5) desperately need a victory to pull within a game in the AFC South going into the final month of the season for a team looking for a second straight playoff berth.

The No. 2 pick overall in 2015 out of Oregon has missed eight starts in his Tennessee career, though Mariota came off the bench in Week 3 in Jacksonville after backup Blaine Gabbert was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

The quarterback needs only 10 more passing attempts to qualify for career completion marks in both the NFL and franchise history with at least 1,500 attempts. Once he throws his 10th pass, Mariota will top the late Steve McNair in both the highest career completion percentage in team history at 62.6 percent and passer rating at 88.5.

Mariota still has his doubters on whether he’s the quarterback for this franchise long-term. The Titans picked up his fifth-year option for 2019 at a price of $20.9 million, but the offense in the first season with coordinator Matt LaFleur has struggled mightily. Tennessee ranks 30th in both total offense and yards passing (183.7 yards per game). The Titans rank 28th in points scored.

He’s already been sacked 29 times this season — more than each of the past two seasons when he played 15 games apiece. Mariota was sacked 38 times in 12 times as a rookie playing 12 games.

The Titans have an extra day of preparation and healing with the Monday night game. Mariota says he doesn’t believe he needs a “whole lot” of practice to be able to play.

“I feel like I’ve played enough ball that if it comes down to it, I’m feeling good enough to go out there and play I’ll be ready,” Mariota said.

Vrabel said they believe practice is important.

“Certainly there’s a fine line between trying to get a guy back and practicing,” Vrabel said.

Notes: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who spent Sunday night in a hospital, returned to work Tuesday. He was on the field Wednesday at practice. “He is back, and we are thankful to have him back here, and I would say healthy,” Vrabel said.


Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker


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Hue reunion: Browns try to beat former head coach, Bengals

Hue Jackson trying to help Bengals beat his former team

CINCINNATI (AP) — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis shut down the question immediately, making it clear he won’t be talking about the latest addition to his staff — one who’s in an unusual position to influence the next game.

Only last month, Hue Jackson was Cleveland’s head coach, intimately involved in the Browns’ game planning. Now he’s on the Bengals sideline with Lewis, trying to beat the Browns — a sensitive subject that the head coach is trying to put off limits.

“I think I’ve answered enough Hue questions, OK?” Lewis said Wednesday with an edge to his tone. “We’re done. We’re over.”

Oh, no. The intrigue is just getting started.

The Bengals (5-5) desperately need to beat the Browns (3-6-1) at Paul Brown Stadium to remain relevant in the playoff chase. They’ve lost four of five , fired their defensive coordinator and installed Lewis as leader of a historically bad unit.

As part of the shuffle, he brought back a close friend at an opportune time.

Jackson was fired by the Browns on Oct. 29 after winning only three games in three seasons. Lewis brought him back to Cincinnati for the third time , creating a role of special assistant. Jackson helps develop the weekly game plan on defense and provides tips on the sideline during games.

His input will be especially useful this week. Jackson knows the Browns’ tendencies and the players’ strengths and weaknesses.

“That was very unique,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “He knows the players, he knows the staff. They just got a new (offensive coordinator), so they’re probably calling things differently than when (Jackson) left. So you have your advantages there.”

It’s not unusual for a team to pick up a player who was released by an upcoming opponent, but it’s highly unusual to get the other team’s former head coach.

One more unique feature to this intrastate matchup: Both head coaches will be calling the defensive plays. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was elevated to interim coach after Jackson was fired. Lewis took over the defensive coordinator duties after Teryl Austin was fired on Nov. 12.

“It brings a smile to my face,” Williams said Wednesday during a conference call. “It’s kind of unique.”

It’s challenging to analyze what the opposing offense is doing and adjust defensively while also running the overall game. That’s where Jackson’s presence could be especially helpful on Sunday.

The Browns are coming off a bye week that gave them a chance to add a few things that Jackson won’t anticipate.

“He’s not there (in Cleveland) anymore, so they could have changed a lot of those things,” Dunlap said. “So you don’t want to get caught guessing. But it’s good to know what they like to do and what they’re built and set up for, so it’s great to have that understanding.”

Jackson jogged off the practice field on Wednesday and declined to stop and talk about his reunion with Cleveland, referring questions to the closed-lipped Lewis.


Receiver A.J. Green could return against Cleveland. He’s missed the past two games with an injured toe on his right foot, and the offense struggled in losses to the Saints and Ravens . Green didn’t practice Wednesday, but Lewis said he will work out the rest of the week, aiming to be ready by Sunday.

Left tackle Cordy Glenn (back) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (shoulder) also missed practice. Defensive end Michael Johnson (calf) and safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) were limited.


The Bengals figured they’d upgraded their linebacker group when they signed durable Preston Brown from Buffalo in the offseason. He was limited by a right ankle injury that he suffered the first game, and he injured his right knee during a 51-14 loss to the Saints. The Bengals put him on injured reserve Tuesday and signed defensive end/linebacker Kasim Edebali, a college free agent who has played with the Saints, Broncos, Lions and Rams. Lewis said Brown might have surgery on his ankle now that he can’t return this season.


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Streaking Saints, Brees seek to ground sagging Falcons

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The latest chance for Saints fans to show Drew Brees their gratitude for the many memorable, triumphant moments he’s brought them comes on Thanksgiving night.

The Saints (9-1) are riding an NFL-high, nine-game winning streak as the rival Atlanta Falcons (4-6) land in New Orleans, so don’t expect a sleepy crowd in the Superdome, no matter how well-fed.

Some 13 seasons after Brees embraced the challenge of resurrecting a downtrodden franchise in a disaster-ravaged city, his level of play, at age 39, appears as high as ever.

He is on pace to break his own single-season record completion rate of 72 percent. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 25-1. And the Saints, averaging 37.9 points per game, are threatening to score more points in a season than any team in NFL history.

“He’s been as challenging a guy to go against over the years as you can imagine,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said, adding that he’s been particularly struck by Brees’ accuracy and decisiveness. “To say he’s doing it better than ever — he’s been doing it pretty well for a long time, but I’d say he’s certainly doing it as well.”

With the luxury of a strong offensive line and running game — not to mention playing with a lot of leads — Brees has been able to throw selectively and efficiently. He has also benefited from receiver Michael Thomas’ monster year, but demonstrated in a 48-7 win over Philadelphia on Sunday that he can connect, to prolific effect, with younger, lesser-known targets as well.

“There’s a lot to be said for experience,” a grinning Brees said as he reprised an old expression about wisdom trumping youth and skill.

“When we step on the field, I feel like I can see it before it happens, and it takes a lot of work to get to that point. That doesn’t mean there’s not surprises. … but I feel good playing the game right now.”

The Falcons aren’t feeling so good about their season so far. Their last-second loss to Dallas last Sunday dropped them five games behind the NFC South-leading Saints with six games left.

“We’ve got to get the bad taste out of our mouth,” Atlanta receiver Julio Jones said. “It’s going to be a great game. We’re going to have fun. People are going to fly around. People are going to get up. You don’t have to worry about people not being ready to play this game. … We’re just going to be out there swinging.”

Some other prominent story lines surrounding the 100th meeting between the Falcons and Saints:


While the teams are spread apart in the standings, they played each other pretty close the previous time they met in Week 3 in Atlanta. New Orleans needed a late TD to force overtime and won in the extra period. The Saints are nearly two-TD favorites in the rematch, which would seem appropriate given New Orleans has outscored its past two opponents 99-21 combined. But Brees’ experience against Atlanta tells him otherwise.

“These are always hard-fought games,” Brees said. “They’re games that typically come down to the last possession.”

Added Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan: “They have a potential high-ceiling offense. … This is something we have to be aware of.”


Vic Beasley Jr., the 2016 NFL leader with 15½ sacks, finally showed a return to his form with two sacks against the Cowboys last week. Beasley had five sacks in 2017 and only one sack in Atlanta’s first nine games this year. The Falcons hope Beasley’s resurgence continues this week against Brees. “You have to find ways to pressure,” coach Dan Quinn said. “His efficiency without getting hit or without getting moved is so high.”


If Alvin Kamara fails to match the 190 yards from scrimmage he had against Atlanta in Week 3, it might have less to do with Atlanta’s defense than with fellow Saints running back Mark Ingram’s resurgence. Ingram did not play in the previous meeting because of a four-game suspension stemming from his positive test for a banned substance. In their past two games, the Saints have averaged 208.5 yards rushing, with Ingram have rushed for 100-plus yards in each.


Jones’ touchdown drought is over. He has TD catches in three straight games after having none in Atlanta’s first seven. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t productive all along. Jones leads the NFL with 1,158 yards receiving.

“He’s been playing so well for us all year and has been so consistent,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said.


While Brees has not thrown an interception at home this season, the Falcons counter with safety Damontae Kazee, who leads the NFL with five interceptions, a career high. He is the first Atlanta player with as many as five interceptions in a season since 2012, when Thomas DeCoud had six and Asante Samuel had five.


AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed from Atlanta.


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