Nov 26, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA;  The ball is hiked to Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Health of offensive line in question as Texans host Broncos

Perhaps the most surprising aspect behind the unexpected rise of Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the resilient play of his offensive line, a patchwork unit besieged by injury from the start of this season.

Despite operating behind a makeshift group, Stroud has performed at a level on par with the greatest campaigns ever for a rookie signal-caller. Stroud certainly is deserving of a lion’s share of the credit for his development, but the ability of his line to hold up under pressure and against attrition has enabled Stroud to produce at a level unexpected by most.

The Texans (6-5) will host the resurgent Denver Broncos (6-5) on Sunday, short-staffed again after offensive lineman Tytus Howard was placed on injured reserve after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the team’s 24-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday.

Howard, who missed the first four games of this season with a broken hand, was replaced by rookie Juice Scruggs against the Jaguars. Scruggs had just returned from IR after missing the first 10 games with a hamstring injury that forced Houston to move Howard from right tackle.

“Unfortunately we’ve had to deal with this before, but we’ve done a good job of shuffling things around and guys working well together as a unit,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “And for me, it’s always whoever steps in, can you just play to the best of your ability. (The) other 10 guys play well around you, we’ll make it work.”

One positive for the Texans: Linebacker Denzel Perryman was reinstated following a two-game suspension.

“Excited to get Denzel back,” Ryans said. “Denzel has been a physical force when he’s in there, and (we) definitely need him this week playing against the Broncos. They’re a physical unit and Denzel being back, it really helps our defense.”

The Broncos extended their winning streak to five games with their 29-12 dispatching of the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, a victory that showcased how defensive might has recently become their calling card.

Denver limited the Browns to 269 yards, recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers. Four different Broncos notched at least a half sack — Nik Bonitto, P.J. Locke, Josey Jewell and Zach Allen — while Alex Singleton, D.J. Jones and Mike Purcell all recovered fumbles, underscoring how a collective approach has sparked the Broncos’ surprising surge into playoff contention.

Integral to the Broncos ranking first in the NFL in takeaways with 22 is the dominant play of Patrick Surtain II, whose ability to negate the top opposing receiver has forced opponents into undesirable situations that have proven advantageous to Denver.

“The takeaways have been a group result relative to punchouts, strips, getting everyone to the ball,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “I’d like to say schematically because we know they’re going away from Patrick and they’re coming over here, but I think there’s a little more to it than that.

“There’s effort, there’s an intelligence that’s involved when you’re trying to take the ball away, and then obviously pressure on the quarterback. I think there are other things that are a byproduct of what he does so well.”

Denver wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (groin) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

For Houston, rookie wideout Tank Dell (calf), tight end Dalton Schultz (hamstring) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) were among eight players who did not practice on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson (22) celebrates after intercepting a Chicago Bears pass in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Suspended Broncos S Kareem Jackson to meet with Roger Goodell

Suspended Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson said he is meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York on Wednesday to discuss his latest punishment.

Saying he feels like a “poster child,” Jackson spoke Tuesday night for the first time since receiving a four-game ban on Nov. 20 for repeated violations of player safety rules.

“For me, I see a lot of the same things happening around the league where guys aren’t going through what I’m going through — no flags, no fines, no suspensions,” Jackson said.

“I’m not really sure why I’m being treated the way I’m being treated. I’m making regular football plays, nothing malicious, in my opinion,” Jackson said. “I just want to know why I’m the only person going through what I’m going through.”

Jackson had just returned from a two-game suspension when he was banned four more games without pay after his hit against Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs on Nov. 19.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension and detailed the violation in a letter to Jackson.

“With 13:38 remaining in the first quarter, you were involved in a play that the League considers a serious violation of the playing rules,” Runyan wrote in the letter. “The video of the play shows that you lowered your head and made forcible contact to Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs. You had an unobstructed path to your opponent and the illegal contact could have been avoided.

“Illegal acts that are flagrant and jeopardize the safety of players will not be tolerated. The League will continue to stress enforcement of the rules that prohibit using your helmet to make forcible contact with your opponent. On the play in question, you lowered your head and delivered a forceful blow to the shoulder and head/neck area of an opponent when you had time and space to avoid such contact. You could have made contact with your opponent within the rules, yet you chose not to.”

Jackson was not penalized on the play. Barring a successful appeal, he is not eligible to return to the active roster after the Week 15 game against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 17.

Jackson said he tried to get some answers from the league during his initial suspension but was unsuccessful.

“There’s no clarity, a lot of gray area,” Jackson said. “I asked them a ton of questions and told them I’ll be in the same situations. How am I supposed to play or how am I supposed to go about these situations?”

“So, hopefully, something comes from this meeting. I don’t think much will, because I don’t even think they know,” he added. “At this point, I feel like I’m the poster child for whatever they’re trying to get across or prove. So, we’ll see.”

So far this season, Jackson has been ejected from two games, suspended for six and fined a total of $89,670 for four illegal hits. The missed game checks are costing him an additional $837,000.

Jackson, 35, has 51 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defended in eight games (all starts) this season.

Jackson is in his 14th season in the NFL and his fifth with Denver after nine with the Houston Texans. He has 952 tackles and 22 career interceptions, returning three for touchdowns. He also has seven fumble recoveries, one returned for a score.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) throws the ball in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson, Broncos top Browns for fifth consecutive win

Russell Wilson threw for a touchdown and rushed for another to lift the host Denver Broncos to a 29-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Wilson threw for just 134 yards but added 34 more on the ground. Samaje Perine rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos (6-5), who recorded their first five-game winning streak since the 2015 season.

Denver rushed for two touchdowns in the first 18:49 of Sunday’s game after finding the end zone on the ground just once in its previous 10 games.

Cleveland rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 134 yards and added his first career passing touchdown before exiting late in the third quarter with a concussion after a high hit from Denver linebacker Baron Browning.

P.J. Walker replaced Thompson-Robinson and completed 6 of 13 passes for 56 yards for the Browns (7-4), who saw their three-game winning streak come to a halt.

Courtland Sutton’s 31-yard reception ultimately set up Perine’s 3-yard rushing touchdown to open the scoring with 8:18 remaining in the first quarter. Perine’s first rushing touchdown of the season capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive.

Wilson atoned for a fumble in the first quarter by doubling the advantage early in the second. The 34-year-old followed up a 19-yard scamper by going 2 yards off right tackle into the end zone to give Denver a 14-0 lead.

Cleveland settled for a pair of field goals by Dustin Hopkins before tight end Harrison Bryant snuck out of the backfield and caught Thompson-Robinson’s short pass to bring Cleveland to within two at 14-12 with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter. Amari Cooper, however, dropped what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion attempt.

Wil Lutz drilled a 23-yard field goal and D.J. Jones recovered a fumble on Elijah Moore’s botched attempt at a reverse. Denver took advantage early in the fourth quarter as Wilson found tight end Adam Trautman just inside the pylon for an 8-yard touchdown.

Lutz added a 34-yard field goal and Zach Allen sacked Walker in the end zone for a safety to cap the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (17) looks to pass as guard Wyatt Teller (77) defends against Denver Broncos defensive end Zach Allen (99) in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (head) ruled out vs. Broncos

Cleveland Browns rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson exited late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the host Denver Browns with a concussion.

Thompson-Robinson was ruled out for the game later in the fourth quarter.

P.J. Walker came on to replace Thompson-Robinson, who was injured after Denver linebacker Baron Browning hit the quarterback up high as he released the ball. Browning was flagged for roughing the passer.

Thompson completed 14 of 29 passes for 134 yards. He also tossed his first career NFL touchdown with a 2-yard pass to tight end Harrison Bryant with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) and wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) before the game at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos, Browns try to keep winning streaks going

The Denver Broncos and visiting Cleveland Browns will look to extend their respective season-high winning streaks at the other’s expense on Sunday.

The Broncos (5-5), in fact, are seeking their first five-game winning streak since the 2015 season. Denver boasts a plus-11 turnover margin during its current win streak to reside at plus-6 for the season, which ranks tied for sixth in the NFL.

The Browns (7-3) have overcome myriad injuries to win three in a row and five of six overall and move within a half-game of the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North.

Denver evened its record last Sunday after posting a 21-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Courtland Sutton reeled in a touchdown reception from Russell Wilson in his fifth straight game to boost his season TD total to eight, which ranks second only to Miami Dolphins wideout Tyreek Hill (10) in the NFL.

“He’s a special player, he’s one of the best in the game,” Wilson said Wednesday. “Courtland’s been dedicated to the game, his craft, his practice every day — his leadership is unbelievable. He’s one of the best guys to be as a teammate.”

With a touchdown reception Sunday, Sutton will become the first Broncos wideout since Wes Welker (2013) to find the end zone in six straight games.

The Broncos’ 23rd-ranked offense has a tall order in store against the Browns, who boast the NFL’s top defense (243.3 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (143.7). There’s also the matter of containing Myles Garrett (league-leading 13 sacks), who is the fourth player since 1982 with at least 13 sacks in four of his first seven NFL seasons.

Making his second career start, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed four straight passes to set up Dustin Hopkins’ 34-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in a 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.

A far-from-perfect performance, Thompson-Robinson finished 24-for-43 for 165 yards and an interception after being ushered into the starting role following the season-ending shoulder injury to franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco was signed by the Browns this week to provide veteran leadership for Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA.

Thompson-Robinson, 24, admitted he’s not threatened by the arrival of Flacco. In fact, he labeled the addition of the 38-year-old as “more of a blessing than anything” for the Browns.

“Like I said, I’m asking him a bunch of questions,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We were chopping it up a stuff ton this morning. He’s in the early meetings with us and me and P.J. (Walker) now, so it’s great, man. He’s fit in so well, and, like I said, I’ve only known him for just about a day with him being here. So I love Joe. It’s been awesome.”

Cleveland’s passing attack will not have to deal with safety Kareem Jackson on Sunday. Jackson’s four-game suspension for his hit on Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs was upheld on Tuesday.

Denver safety P.J. Locke (ankle) was limited in Thursday’s practice and a full participant Friday but is listed as questionable. Running back Samaje Perine (back) and inside linebacker Josey Jewell (back) practiced Thursday and Friday and will play Sunday, as will defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee).

For the Browns, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) and cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder) did not practice Friday and were ruled out. Free safety Juan Thornhill (calf) and middle linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring) are listed as questionable. Inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk (knee) practiced Thursday and Friday but is listed as questionable.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

NFL moves up start time for Broncos-Texans game in Week 13

The NFL shuffled the start times of two games during its schedule for Week 13, the league announced Tuesday.

The Denver Broncos’ road game against rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans has been moved up approximately three hours to 1 p.m. ET. The Carolina Panthers’ road contest versus the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in turn, has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. ET.

The game pitting the Broncos (5-5) and Texans (6-4), two upstart teams with playoff aspirations, will be aired on CBS.

The San Francisco 49ers’ clash against the Philadelphia Eagles will start at 4:25 p.m. on FOX in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) catches a touchdown over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (5) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Courtland Sutton’s late heroics allow Broncos to edge Vikings

Russell Wilson lobbed a go-ahead, 15-yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton with 1:03 to go, and the Denver Broncos held on for a 21-20 win over the visiting Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

Sutton leaped for a catch in the back left corner of the end zone and landed with both feet in bounds. It marked the first touchdown for Denver (5-5), which had settled for five field goals before that play.

Wilson completed 27 of 35 passes for 259 yards and the game-winning touchdown. The Broncos won the turnover battle 3-0 and secured their fourth consecutive victory.

Joshua Dobbs completed 20 of 32 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Minnesota (6-5). Dobbs also rushed for a touchdown for the Vikings, whose five-game winning streak ended.

Dobbs relied on his legs to increase the Vikings’ lead to 17-9 with 7:55 to go in the third quarter. After he could not find an open receiver, he saw an opening and sprinted up the middle for a 10-yard score.

The Broncos drew within 17-12 with 12:40 left in the fourth quarter when Wil Lutz made a 37-yard field goal.

Lutz hit again, this time from 28 yards, to cut Denver’s deficit to 17-15 with 10:37 to play. The score was set up by an interception in Vikings territory by Broncos cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian.

Minnesota made it 20-15 on a 30-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with 3:17 remaining.

Minnesota led 10-9 at the half.

Denver opened the scoring with a 31-yard field goal by Lutz early in the first quarter.

A 3-yard TD pass from Dobbs to Josh Oliver made it 7-3 for the Vikings with 14:53 left in the second quarter. Dobbs rolled right, evaded pressure and hit Oliver for his second touchdown of the season.

A 34-yard field goal by Joseph pushed the Vikings’ lead to 10-3 with 8:09 left in the second quarter.

Lutz hit back-to-back field goals to cut the deficit to one point at halftime. He made a 31-yarder with 4:08 remaining, then drilled a 52-yarder as time expired before the break.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings WR Justin Jefferson questionable for Sunday night at Broncos

Vikings All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson is questionable to play at Denver when Minnesota meets the Broncos on Sunday night.

Jefferson said Thursday after participating in individual drills in practice that the final call on his game status would be his to make. He remains in the 21-day window to return from injured reserve and last played Oct. 8. He said he wouldn’t play until he’s 100 percent healthy.

“Well, I’m the main person who’s gonna make the decision,” Jefferson told reporters. “At the end of the day, I’m the person that’s going out there running, putting my body on the line to win games.”

Kevin O’Connell sounded less than optimistic about Jefferson’s return this week.

“He was listed as limited, and that’s what I would classify him as,” O’Connell said Friday after practice.

Jefferson, 24, was injured in the Vikings’ Week 5 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 36 catches for 571 yards and three TDs this season.

While he was sidelined, the Vikings lost quarterback Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury but haven’t lost a game. They have put together five consecutive wins.

The Vikings (6-4) are 2-0 since Joshua Dobbs took over at quarterback after injuries to Cousins and rookie Jaren Hall, who was ruled out for Week 11 at Denver. They are 1 1/2 games behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North.

Starting running back Alexander Mattison (concussion) is also questionable for Sunday’s game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) after the game against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Winner, winner? Suddenly streaking Vikings, Broncos take primetime test

Frigid starts melted away and two of the NFL’s warmest teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos, get together in the Week 11 Sunday night game.

Minnesota (6-4) rides a five-game streak to Denver despite a spate of injuries to key players including quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The Vikings are coming off a 27-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.

And don’t look now, but Denver (4-5) is riding a three-game winning streak with victories over the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. The Broncos held on for a 24-22 win on the road against the Bills on Monday to pull within one game of .500 and just on the outside of the present playoff picture in the jam-packed AFC.

The Vikings hope to welcome back multiple players from injuries this weekend, including Jefferson.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn could also return after sustaining a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 5. Osborn practiced in full this week and could give quarterback Joshua Dobbs another reliable target alongside rookie wideout Jordan Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Jefferson took part in limited drills in practice, and his status is uncertain against the Broncos. He has missed the past five games because of a hamstring injury.

“We’ll see how he responds to that,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said after Jefferson took part in limited drills. “A little bit more (Thursday) and then throughout the week. We’re kind of in that day-to-day (mode), kind of ramping-him-up phase now. We’ll determine if it’s possible at all to have him for this weekend.”

Minnesota also could be without running back Alexander Mattison, who sustained a concussion last week. He did not take part in practice Wednesday, which could mean an increased role for Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu out of the backfield.

The Broncos had two players idle on Wednesday. Safety P.J. Locke was sidelined by an ankle injury and guard Ben Powers was out because of a foot injury.

Wideout Marvin Mims (ankle), who has blossomed into a dangerous return specialist, and linebacker Baron Browning (wrist, knee) were limited during practice.

The anticipated Sean Payton Effect might be showing through in Russell Wilson’s performance. His 104 passer rating is significantly higher than the 84.4 passer rating a season ago. Wilson has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,806 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Broncos’ running game, another Payton staple, is picking up the pace in the second half of the season. Javonte Williams has led the way with 436 rushing yards to go along with 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“The more we run the ball, the more it helps our offense get the play-action going and get the deep shots going,” Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “So we want to get the run game going. That’s the goal for any O-lineman. That’s what we feel comfortable with, and that’s the plan every game.”

Minnesota will try to maintain the magic since the arrival of Dobbs, who is set to appear in his third game since the Vikings acquired him from the Arizona Cardinals.

In his first two games with Minnesota, Dobbs has passed for 426 yards and three touchdowns. He also has rushed for 110 yards and two scores.

This is the first meeting between the teams since Nov. 17, 2019, when the Vikings held on for a 27-23 win on their home field. Minnesota leads the all-time series 8-7.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) gives a stiff arm to Buffalo Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd (56) in the second quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos slip past sloppy Bills on last-second FG

Wil Lutz converted a 36-yard field goal as time expired Monday night, lifting the Denver Broncos to a 24-22 win over the mistake-plagued Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Buffalo (5-5) took a 22-21 lead with 1:55 left in the game on Josh Allen’s 6-yard touchdown run, but Russell Wilson subsequently led a 57-yard drive that was aided, fittingly, by two huge errors from the Bills.

On third-and-10 from the Buffalo 45, Wilson’s deep throw for Jerry Jeudy fell incomplete, but Taron Johnson was flagged for contacting Jeudy before the ball got there. The 28-yard mark-off moved the ball to the 17.

After Wilson took knees to position the ball on the right hashmark for Lutz, the kicker pushed a 41-yard attempt wide right with four seconds left. However, the Bills were penalized for having 12 men on the field. Lutz’s next kick sailed right down the middle to up Denver’s record to 4-5.

Wilson completed 24 of 29 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, while Allen was 15 of 26 for 177 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Buffalo committed four turnovers and 63 yards worth of penalties as it fell 1 1/2 games behind the idle Miami Dolphins in the AFC East.

The game’s first play set the tone for the game. Buffalo’s James Cook caught a short pass in the left flat but fumbled. Ja’Quan McMillian recovered, and Denver scored four plays later on the first of Lutz’s four field goals, a 40-yarder.

Courtland Sutton gave the Broncos a 9-0 lead in the second quarter with a spectacular catch of Wilson’s pass in the corner of the end zone, toe-dragging both feet inbounds as he fell out of bounds with the reception.

The Bills finally quit making mistakes long enough to get within 9-8 on Allen’s 22-yard connection to Dalton Kincaid and a two-point conversion pass to Gabe Davis.

Lutz connected for 49- and 40-yard field goals in the final minute of the half — the second one after Fabian Moreau intercepted Allen — to give Denver a 15-8 advantage at the break.

–Field Level Media