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  • Texans' Watt to be placed on IR
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is headed for injured reserve after re-injuring his back, multiple media outlets reported Tuesday.

    • Watt underwent back surgery in late July, and sat out the preseason. He returned to play each of the Texans' first three regular-season games, but NFL.com reported he was hurt Thursday in Houston's loss to the New England Patriots.

      A move to short-term injured reserve would keep Watt out of practice for six weeks, with a chance to return to action in eight weeks for a Nov. 27 game against the San Diego Chargers, ESPN.com reported.

      Watt, 27, managed only eight tackles and 1 1/2 sacks through three weeks this season. It was a significant drop-off from last season, when he recorded 17 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles en route to his third Defensive Player of the Year honor. He also captured the award in 2012 and 2014, finishing with 20 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles each year.

      Watt, Houston's 2011 first-round pick (11th overall) out of Wisconsin, has 76 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and one interception in 83 games, all starts. He has never missed a regular-season game.

      According to NFL.com, Watt's rate of 0.92 sacks per game is higher than any other player since the stat was first established in 1982.

  • Two key Bengals might return to face Dolphins
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    For the first time since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals are 1-2 and hopeful for reinforcements when the Miami Dolphins visit Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night.

    • "We have to move forward and keep doing things better, whether it be protection or anything," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of preparing a team that fell below .500 for the first time since 2014 with a home loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. "Every time I come in here, there's something not up to snuff. You'll point it out to me, which I appreciate. But the key is to win the game."

      The short week doesn't help matters, but Lewis could get two leaders back soon.

      Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and tight end Tyler Eifert, who had offseason ankle surgery, could be on the field soon. Lewis said Eifert is "close" but was not ready to make a decision on his status against the Dolphins. Miami (1-2) survived the Cleveland Browns in overtime for its first win of the season last week.

      Burfict's three-game suspension is over, and on Monday the team was granted a three-day exemption that allows Burfict to resume football activities and be active Thursday night. Lewis remained noncommittal on Tuesday when discussing Burfict's playing status for the Dolphins, but he said a roster move would be made Wednesday or Thursday to open a spot for him.

      The recent suspension resulted from repeated violations of rules pertaining to player safety, including a blow to Steelers receiver Antonio Brown's head that helped set up the decisive field goal in Cincinnati's 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card game.

      The message has been delivered.

      "He's had enough talks," Lewis said.

      Burfict's replacement, Vincent Rey, who started eight games last season, is described by Lewis as a "core player" because of his ability to contribute in spot duty and far beyond. Burfict also battled injuries last season.

      Getting Burfict back -- he averaged almost eight tackles per game the past two seasons -- would bolster a defense that was ragged against the Broncos last week. And worse yet, at least as Lewis sees it, undisciplined. Cincinnati forfeited five first downs to the Broncos on defensive penalties.

      Enter the Dolphins, who are struggling to run the ball with injuries at running back and shuffling on the offensive line, where mainstay Mike Pouncey, a Pro Bowl center, has been out with a hip injury. The Dolphins rank 26th in third-down conversions, and first-year head coach Adam Gase blames the inability to move the chains consistently on first down. Miami is 25th in rushing.

      "The third-down stuff, the problem with that is if we could just stay on our blocks," Gase said. "We got exactly what we want as far as guys coming open. It's hard to throw a ball with any kind of timing where they pressure, and we get it picked up, but we get beat so fast that the quarterback, he doesn't even have a chance."

      The problem with solving the puzzle for Gase is he might not have enough potential answers available.

      Left tackle Branden Albert (ankle) is questionable, and Pouncey's backup at center, Anthony Steen (ankle), was hurt against the Browns. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James was benched in overtime last week due to his performance, and his job in in jeopardy.

      Injuries, especially on the interior line, could be doomsday news against Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who has 41 sacks since 2011, tops among NFL interior linemen.

      Gase said the entire offense is in dysfunction, and that includes quarterback Ryan Tannehill, when the line gets out of sync.

      "There have been a couple times we're getting pressure," Gase said. "He just knows that where he's throwing it should be wide open, and he just throws it up knowing. ... There was one to (wide receiver) Jarvis (Landry), he threw it in that area knowing, 'There's nobody there if I could get a second to get it there.' That's the frustrating part about playing quarterback."

      Landry has been electric through the first three games, producing a league-leading 24 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown. His individual matchup with Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green -- 22-295-1 -- is one to watch.

      But the Bengals, averaging 293 passing yards per game behind AFC-leading passer Andy Dalton (938 yards), also are trying to spark their ground game. Jeremy Hill is averaging 4.1 yards per carry (37 carries, 150 yards) and third-down back Giovani Bernard has 16 receptions for 141 yards.

      The Dolphins have won three straight meetings with the Bengals.

  • Brees' no-interception streak snapped in Saints' loss
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    NEW ORLEANS -- Saints quarterback Drew Brees' lengthy streak of pass attempts without an interception was snapped with a thud Monday night in a 45-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Superdome.

    • The NFL's fourth-longest streak of passes without a pick ended at 305 in the fourth quarter when Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones, a New Orleans native who played at LSU, intercepted Brees and raced 90 yards to a touchdown to extend his team's lead to 45-25.

      The backbreaking interception came one play after Brees connected with Mark Ingram on pass No. 305. In the third quarter, Brees joined Tom Brady (358), Alex Smith (312) and Bernie Kosar (308) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to have a streak of at least 300 passes without an interception.

      --As if an 0-3 start to the season wasn't bad enough, the Saints continue to battle injuries -- especially to their offensive line.

      In Monday night's game with the Falcons, left tackle Terron Armstead wasn't available because of a knee injury that kept him out of practice last week. That meant left guard Andrus Peat had to move outside to replace Armstead.

      Then, Kelemete, who plays all five offensive line positions, was penciled into the lineup after playing right tackle the previous game when Zach Strief suffered a chest injury against the New York Giants.

      But Kelemete left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and didn't return. He was expected to have an MRI on Tuesday to determine the severity of the injury.

      Kelemete's spot was taken by Tim Lelito, who started most of the 2015 season at left guard. When the game ended, the Saints had only six healthy linemen -- Lelito, Strief, Peat, center Max Unger, right guard Jahri Evans and guard Landon Turner.

      --Since winning 11 consecutive games in the Superdome during the 2013 and '14 seasons, the Saints have now lost 11 of their last 15 games in front of the home fans.

      The Saints actually went 8-0 at home in 2013 and won three in a row to start the 2014 season before starting the rough patch with a 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco on Nov. 9, 2014, in their fourth home game of the season.

      They lost the final four games at home that year, then went 4-4 at home in 2015 before starting this season with back-to-back losses to the Oakland Raiders (35-34) and Falcons.

      --The Saints-Falcons game was played 10 years and one day after a renovated Superdome, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, re-opened.

      On that night, Sept. 25, 2006, the Saints returned with a rush when special teams ace Steve Gleason blocked a punt in the opening minutes and teammate Curtis Deloatch scooped it up and scored to spark an emotional 23-3 bashing of the Falcons.

      To celebrate the anniversary, Gleason, who has suffered from ALS for the past 5 1/2 years, was on hand and served as honorary captain for the pregame coin toss. Also, Irma Thomas, the "Soul Queen of New Orleans," performed the national anthem as she did a decade ago.

      --The Falcons blowout of the Saints was hardly "must-see TV" material.

      The game pulled an overnight rating of 5.6, which is far below the average for Monday Night Football telecasts according to ESPN. That equates to about 10 million viewers.

      The Washington Post reported Tuesday that, if the numbers hold up, it could be the least-watched game in Monday Night Football history.

      Some of the downturn could be attributed to the first presidential debate, which started a half-hour after the Saints and Falcons kicked off. Reuters reported the debate drew a record 84 million viewers.

      --LT Terron Armstead did not play against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night because of a knee injury and it's not known when he will return.

      --WR Willie Snead, the Saints' No. 2 receiving option, was inactive against the Falcons because of a toe injury and it's not known when he'll return.

      --SS Kenny Vaccaro, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 2, did not play against the Falcons and his return is unknown.

      --DT Tyeler Davison missed Monday night's game because of shoulder and foot injuries and it's not known when he'll return to the lineup.

      --LCB Delvin Breaux was out for a second consecutive game Monday night as he continues to rehab from ankle surgery and could return in late October.

      --TE Josh Hill, who sprained an ankle in the season opener, was out for the second week in a row and his return is not known.

      --WLB Dannell Ellerbe missed his third consecutive game with a quadriceps injury and it's uncertain when he'll be able to practice or play.

      --LT Andrus Peat, who started the first two games at left guard, took the place of an injured Terron Armstead at left tackle.

      --LG Senio Kelemete, who started because Andrus Peat was shifted to left tackle, suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter and did not return.

      --LG Tim Lelito replaced an injured Senio Kelemete in the third quarter and played the remainder of Monday night's game with the Falcons.

      --SS Roman Harper, who rejoined the Saints this summer, made his first start of the season in place of Kenny Vaccaro.

  • Saints start strong, then lay egg on MNF
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    NEW ORLEANS -- After dropping their first two games by a total of four points, including a 16-13 loss to the New York Giants in Week 2, the New Orleans Saints were excited about coming home for a Monday Night Football matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

    • When the Saints drove 75 yards to a touchdown on their first possession in front of a raucous crowd in the Superdome, it looked like it might be one of those magical nights.

      But it didn't last long.

      After the Saints muffed a punt on the Falcons' first series, which led to the first of five consecutive touchdown drives before the visitors had to settle for a field goal, the party was just about over.

      The Falcons won 45-32 vs. a Saints (0-3) team that was missing more than half of its projected defensive starters before the season began. The hopes that a new season brings have just about been shattered for winless New Orleans.

      Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took what he wanted after the running game netted 217 yards and a 7.0 average with three touchdowns against a Saints' defense that has been ravaged by injuries.

      But the Saints say they aren't about to let the injuries get in the way of their mission to win games no matter who is on the field.

      "At the end of the day, we have to go," strong safety Roman Harper said. "There's no excuses. Of course we'll talk, we'll get things corrected. How many more times are we going to have to go through this?"

      There's no telling, especially without prized defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins on injured reserve until early November and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, one of their top run-stoppers, sitting on the sideline with an ankle problem.

      Allowing 217 rushing yards and 7.0 yards per carry was the biggest problem Monday night with the Falcons taking advantage of a wounded secondary after the Saints failed to stop the run early.

      "We have to stop the run better than we stopped the run," coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations when you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

      That's no good, but it's no excuse, either.

      REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

      PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Despite missing one of his top weapons in wide receiver Willie Snead, who was out with a toe injury, Drew Brees completed 36 of 54 passes for 376 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the loss to the Falcons. Brees was sacked twice, but he had decent protection for most of the game and finished with a passer rating of 97.5. Four players caught at least six passes, with Coby Fleener, Brandon Coleman and Michael Thomas catching seven each and Travaris Cadet getting six. Fleener had a big night after two rough outings and finished with 109 receiving yards and a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Thomas had a 3-yard scoring catch and Mark Ingram caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the final period.

      RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Seeking more balance after having just 13 attempts in the previous game, the Saints had their best rushing day of the season. They picked up 115 yards and averaged 5.0 yards a pop on 23 carries with Ingram leading the way. He has 77 yards and a 5.1 average on 15 attempts with a long run of 17 yards. Tim Hightower also had some strong carries with 19 yards -- including an 11-yarder -- on three attempts and fullback John Kuhn had a 3-yard touchdown run.

      PASS DEFENSE: D -- Facing a patchwork secondary that was without starting cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams and starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a huge night. Ryan didn't really have to throw a lot because of an effective running game, but he still hit on 20 of 30 attempts for 240 yards and two touchdowns with only two sacks en route to compiling a passer rating of 113.2. The Saints held Julio Jones to one catch for 16 yards, but Ryan took the underneath stuff with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combining for eight catches for 102 yards out of the backfield. Freeman also had a 13-yard touchdown reception.

      RUSH DEFENSE: F -- After the Saints had a strong performance against the New York Giants in their previous outing in allowing 2.0 yards per attempt, it all came apart against the Falcons. Freeman and Coleman combined for 26 carries and 194 yards with Freeman doing the most damage with 152 yards and a 10.9 average on 14 carries. He had a long gain of 48 yards. Coleman had only 42 yards on 12 attempts, but he had touchdown runs of 2, 2 and 6 yards. On the 6-yard run, he easily raced to the goal-line pylon without a Saints' defender in sight. Ryan also scrambled five times for 23 yards, helping the Falcons finish with 217 yards and a 7.0 average on 31 rushes.

      SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- The highlight of the night for the Saints was rookie kicker Wil Lutz's 57-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. Thomas Morstead punted two times for a 41.5 gross and net average with a long of 49. The Saints had no kickoff or punt returns, but they did have a major problem when Da'Vante Harris ran into return man Tommylee Lewis, then picked up the ball and tried to run before fumbling. The Falcons turned that first-quarter miscue into their first touchdown of the night. The Saints also allowed 27.0 yards on two kickoff returns, including a 42-yarder.

      COACHING: B -- It's hard to blame everything on the coaching staff, but the Saints, who lost their first two games by a total of four points, were blown away late by the Falcons. The Saints, who were missing half of their starting unit on defense, get some credit for the fact that they were down by only 10 points and driving to a touchdown early in the fourth quarter before Deion Jones intercepted a Drew Brees pass and returned it 90 yards for score that pretty much sealed the deal.

  • Bears sign DL Wilson, RB Bell
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    In a flurry of roster moves Tuesday, the Chicago Bears signed defensive lineman CJ Wilson and running back Joique Bell, moved linebacker John Timu to the active roster, waived linebacker Jonathan Anderson and tight end Greg Scruggs and placed defensive back Kyle Fuller on injured reserve.

    • Wilson appeared in 78 games (19 starts) with the Green Bay Packers (2010-13), Oakland Raiders (2014-15) and Detroit Lions (2015). He has 111 tackles, 6.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery in that span.

      Bell played in 68 games (15 starts), notching 2,234 yards on 561 attempts with 22 rushing touchdowns with the Philadelphia Eagles (2010), Indianapolis Colts (2010) and Lions (2012-15). He also has 161 receptions for 1,640 yards and one touchdown.

      Timu is in his second season with the Bears (2015-16). He has appeared in seven contests, with three starts at inside linebacker, collecting 25 tackles and two fumble recoveries. He spent the 2016 offseason with the club before joining the Bears' practice squad prior to the start of the regular season

      Anderson appeared in 14 games with three starts over two seasons with Chicago, recording 41 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups.

      In four seasons, Scruggs appeared in 18 games with the Seattle Seahawks (2012-14) and the Bears (2015-16), collecting 11 tackles, three sacks and one pass breakup.

      Fuller has started 30 of 32 games in three seasons for the Bears (2014-16), producing 129 tackles, six interceptions, 24 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He led the Bears in interceptions in 2015 (two) after tying for the team lead in 2014 (four).

  • Gase blames offensive line for Dolphins' third-down woes
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami coach Adam Gase, whose Dolphins (1-2) visit Cincinnati (1-2) on Thursday, acknowledges the Dolphins have problems on third downs offensively. They rank 26th in third-down conversions at 30.3 percent.

    • But Gase points to the offensive line as a primary reason the team is struggling in that area.

      "The third-down stuff, the problem with that is if we could just stay on our blocks," he said. "We got exactly what we want as far as guys coming open. It's hard to throw a ball with any kind of timing where they pressure, and we get it picked up, but we get beat so fast that the quarterback, he doesn't even have a chance."

      Gase could have bigger problems on that front this week.

      Miami, which ranks 25th in rushing offense at 83 yards per game, not only has performance issues on the offensive line, it also has injury issues.

      Left tackle Branden Albert (ankle) is questionable, and center Anthony Steen (ankle) is probable. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James, benched in overtime of last week's 30-24 victory over Cleveland, is in flux based on his performance.

      Gase wants to see consistency, no matter who is healthy. He said it's tough for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get into a rhythm because of the offensive line concerns.

      "There have been a couple times we're getting pressure," Gase began, "(and) he just knows that where he's throwing it should be wide open, and he just throws it up knowing . ...there was one to (wide receiver) Jarvis (Landry), he threw it in that area knowing, 'There's nobody there if I could get a second to get it there.' That's the frustrating part about playing quarterback.

      "It's like I told you guys last week, you need 10 other guys to do their job before you have a chance to do your job. Sometimes when we have these minor errors as far as (you) don't sustain your block for one second, all of a sudden there's an issue."

      Gase is hoping things improve this week. But there aren't many more options in the offensive line. Reserve guard-tackle Billy Turner, guard-tackle Dallas Thomas and center-guard Kraig Urbik all had shots at starting jobs in training camp and lost.

      Still, Gase might have few tricks up his sleeve. Asked whether the Dolphins could make adjustments on this short week he had a firm answer.

      "You'd be surprised. ...you can get creative," he said, "and you can figure out what to do in a short period of time and guys adjust and you walk through it and you roll."

  • Panthers sign S Griffin
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The Carolina Panthers signed two-time Pro Bowl safety Michael Griffin to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

    • Carolina also signed defensive tackle Kyle Love, who was a member of the team the past two seasons.

      The Panthers created the roster space by releasing safety Marcus Ball and placing defensive end Ryan Delaire (knee) on injured reserve.

      Griffin spent nine seasons with the Tennessee Titans before being released in the offseason. He later signed with the Minnesota Vikings but was placed on injured reserve due to a back injury before recently receiving his release via an injury settlement.

      Griffin, 31, was a Pro Bowl selection with the Titans in 2008 and 2010. He has 25 interceptions in 141 career regular-season games (133 starts).

      Love was among Carolina's final cuts earlier this month. He had 19 tackles and three sacks last season.

  • NFL notebook: Redskins place Hall on injured reserve
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The Washington Redskins officially placed safety DeAngelo Hall and center Kory Lichtensteiger on injured reserve, and signed veteran center John Sullivan.

    • The team also signed offensive lineman Vinston Painter to the active roster, added cornerback Tye Smith to the practice squad and released linebacker Amarlo Herrera from the practice squad.

      Hall was lost to a season-ending torn ACL suffered against the New York Giants on Sunday, while Lichtensteiger has a calf strain. With Shawn Lauvao also dealing with a moderate ankle sprain and cornerback Bashaud Breeland straining tendons in his right ankle, the Redskins moved to improve depth along the offensive line and in the secondary.

      --Cornerback Kyle Fuller missed the first three games of the season and the prognosis for his return is not promising, which led the Chicago Bears to place him on injured reserve.

      Fuller, a first-round pick in 2014 with a history of injuries, had arthroscopic knee surgery and was limited most of the summer. Fuller was not an impact player in his first season in Vic Fangio's defense, which calls for increased man-to-man responsibilities.

      --Jay Cutler missed Week 3 at Dallas with a sprained thumb, but the Bears are not holding the starting quarterback job for him during what is expected to be a 2-3 week recovery.

      "I don't think there are any givens. And that's no indictment on anybody," Bears head coach John Fox said when asked about Cutler returning as Chicago's starting quarterback. "This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and so we're just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory."

      --Left guard La'el Collins plans to seek a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery on his injured big toe, which would prompt the Dallas Cowboys to place the second-year starter on injured reserve.

      Collins injured his toe in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that the decision is about pain tolerance.

      The Cowboys are still working through testing with wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had a sprained right knee Sunday but played start to finish against the Bears. Jones said no MRI exam was conducted Monday but could order the test Tuesday if Bryant's knee is swollen or inflamed.

      --The Indianapolis Colts absorbed another hit to their ravaged defense as they placed veteran outside linebacker Trent Cole on the injured reserve list.

      Cole recorded three tackles in two games this season before a back injury forced him to sit out the Colts' 26-22 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

      Indianapolis also signed guard Adam Redmond to their practice squad and released safety Lee Hightower.

      --The New England Patriots signed veteran defensive end John Hughes III.

      Hughes played in the Cleveland Browns' season opener versus Baltimore before being released on Sept. 20.

      The Patriots also signed wide receiver Da'Ron Brown to the practice squad.

      --The Minnesota Vikings addressed their ailing offensive line by signing rookie guard Willie Beavers.

      The addition of Beavers could come into play should fellow guard Alex Boone be unable to play Monday versus the New York Giants. Boone sustained a hip injury in the second quarter on Sunday.

      --The Buffalo Bills released kicker Jordan Gay.

      Gay had been used only on kickoffs, and the Bills apparently will now let place-kicker Dan Carpenter handle the kickoff duties as well as the place-kicking chores.

      The team also announced that it has signed wide receiver Ed Eagan and center Terran Vaughn to the team's practice squad.

  • Falcons waiting for their young defense to mature
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The elephant in the room after the Atlanta Falcons' thrilling 45-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints Monday was the porous play of the Atlanta defense, which yielded nearly 500 yards.

    • The Falcons know the defense must improve quickly as they are about to face league MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers next followed by road games at Denver and Seattle.

      Despite giving up 35, 28 and 32 points in their three games, the Falcons have cause for optimism with the play of rookie middle linebacker Deion Jones, the return of rookie safety Keanu Neal and the eventual return of rookie linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who could return from an ankle injury against the Panthers.

      The Falcons knew that by starting three rookies as well as second-year players defensive end Vic Beasley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett that there would be some growing pains.

      Neal, the 17th player taken in the draft, made his NFL debut against the Saints.

      Neal played mostly in the team's nickel defense, while Kemal Ishmael played in the base defense.

      Neal suffered a knee injury that required surgery on Aug. 25. He missed the first two games of the regular season while recuperating.

      He made a tackle on the Saints first play from scrimmage, when he stopped running back Mark Ingram for a 3-yard gain.

      "It was awesome to be able to go back out with my brothers," Neal said. "It was a blessing to play on Monday Night Football and go against one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

      Neal finished with four tackles and one pass defensed.

      "You got to get the jitters out of the way," Neal said. "Making that first play was good. I was able to play my ball the rest of the game."

      Neal was glad that the Falcons decided to ease him back into the defense.

      "They didn't want to throw me out into the fire and have me play the whole game," Neal said. "So, I played a little bit of nickel. In the base package, they kept Ishmael in. But our rotation was good. It worked out well for us."

      Neal said his surgically repaired right knee held up well.

      "My knee felt good, really good," Neal said. "At first, I just had to get used to the turf and everything. Overall, it was a good day for it."

      Jones, a native of New Orleans, paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of the effects from Hurricane Katrina by wearing some special commemorative cleats.

      The symbols on his cleats denote how the search and rescue teams marked area houses following the disaster. His grandmother was one of the many who made it to the Superdome for refuge.

      He gave the defense a huge lift when he returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown.

      "It was electric," Jones said of his touchdown run. "It was a dream come true. It was a great play for my team."

      Campbell, a speedy 6-foot-4 linebacker, has missed the past two games after he rolled his left ankle during a closed practice. He has started his rehab, but no timetable was given for his return to practice.

      --The Falcons used dynamic performances from running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to dismantle the Saints.

      "Offensively, I thought they really attacked it tonight," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "It was more true with the running backs. I think they totaled somewhere near 300 yards and had four touchdowns between them."

      With the offensive line creating space, the Falcons didn't need to lean of All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones much. He didn't catch a pass until the third quarter.

      Freeman and Coleman, playing in a nearly 50-50 split, were a devastating combination.

      Coleman rushed for three touchdowns and Freeman scored on a receiving touchdown.

      "When you are down there you just have a nose for the end zone," Coleman said. "You can smell it."

      The two backs combined for 296 total yards and four touchdowns.

      Freeman rushed 12 times for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman rushed 12 times for 42 yards and caught three passes for 47 yards.

      "Those guys do a heck of a job by creating lanes and giving us an opportunity," Freeman said of his offensive line.

  • Bills release K Gay
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The Buffalo Bills released kicker Jordan Gay, the team announced Tuesday.

    • Gay had been used only on kickoffs, and the Bills apparently will now let place-kicker Dan Carpenter handle the kickoff duties as well as the place-kicking chores.

      The team also announced that it has signed wide receiver Ed Eagan and center Terran Vaughn to the team's practice squad.

      The Bills have also released linebacker Carlos Fields and safety Damian Parms from the team's practice squad.

  • Bears place CB Fuller on IR
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Cornerback Kyle Fuller missed the first three games of the season and the prognosis for his return is not promising, which led the Chicago Bears to place him on injured reserve Tuesday.

    • Fuller, a first-round pick in 2014 with a history of injuries, had arthroscopic knee surgery and was limited most of the summer. Fuller was not an impact player in his first season in Vic Fangio's defense, which calls for increased man-to-man responsibilities.

      "It's real tough," Fuller said of being inactive the first three games of the season. "But you've got to get healthy … I have to do what my body tells me."

      Fuller could be recalled from injured reserve, with rules requiring he miss at least six weeks. He would not be eligible to return for eight games.

      Several injuries dented the depth chart of the Bears' defense in recent weeks, including defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, outside linebacker Lamarr Houston and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. Trevathan is likely to miss a few more games but is not a candidate for injured reserve, head coach John Fox said.

      Houston is out for the season, after a second ACL tear in three seasons.

  • Redskins place S Hall on IR, bolster o-line with Sullivan
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The Washington Redskins officially placed safety DeAngelo Hall and center Kory Lichtensteiger on injured reserve, and signed veteran center John Sullivan.

    • The team also signed offensive lineman Vinston Painter to the active roster, added cornerback Tye Smith to the practice squad and released linebacker Amarlo Herrera from the practice squad.

      Hall was lost to a season-ending torn ACL suffered against the New York Giants on Sunday, while Lichtensteiger has a calf strain. With Shawn Lauvao also dealing with a moderate ankle sprain and cornerback Bashaud Breeland straining tendons in his right ankle, the Redskins moved to improve depth along the offensive line and in the secondary.

      Spencer Long is the backup center and left guard, and Washington didn't have another center on the roster. Sullivan, 31, started for seven seasons for the Minnesota Vikings before sitting out last season following a pair of back surgeries, and lost a training camp battle for the center job to Joe Berger.

      Long was also the backup left guard after battling Lauvao for that position throughout training camp. That means second-year pro Arie Kouandjio could take over at left guard. He appeared in just three games last season and has been inactive the first three weeks of 2016.

      There is another option. Left tackle Trent Williams slid inside to left guard against New York, and Ty Nsekhe replaced him at left tackle. General manager Scot McCloughan praised Nsekhe over the summer as a player who could start for half of the 32 NFL teams.

      The decision: Is Washington better with Nsekhe at tackle protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins' blind side and Williams adjusting inside? Or is it a total waste to move a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle away from his natural position when Kouandjio could simply slide in at left guard?

      "That's something that we've got to look at. (Williams is) so good at tackle," coach Jay Gruden said Monday. "But he actually played pretty darn good at guard. He's a great athlete. He'd probably be a good center, too. We'll just have to evaluate that situation and see how it goes. See how Arie does at left guard. Ty is an excellent player, there's no question about it. But to move your Pro Bowl left tackle out of the mix to guard is something that is a little unique and hard to do."

      Hall was hurt late in the second quarter of a 29-27 win over the Giants while tackling wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He also collided with cornerback Dashaun Phillips on the play and immediately reached for his right knee.

      Washington's starting free safety this season, Hall missed just 11 games in his first 10 NFL seasons. He became a defensive captain, a vocal locker room presence whose absence in the room was palpable when he tore his Achilles tendon in 2014

      Now, at age 31, Hall will have to decide if he has more football left in him, although he indicated on Twitter on Monday that he plans to return. A typical ACL recovery process is six to eight months. He could be ready for the start of training camp next July.

      "We'll have to see," Gruden said. "I think he's got to really take a look at it and see where he is once he does the rehab if he wants to try it again."

      Phillips, who spent all offseason and training camp holding off third-round draft pick Kendall Fuller for the slot cornerback position, has a hamstring injury and might not play this weekend. Fuller played better at the end of the preseason, but the former Virginia Tech star has yet to be active for a game.

      Phillips struggled at times against a strong contingent of slot receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Giants. However, Gruden conceded Phillips' injury could leave the door open for Fuller to make his NFL debut against the Browns.

      "The thing with Phillips -- we don't know if he's gonna be available this week or not," Gruden said. "With Fuller sitting here, he is obviously our No. 1 option A. And we're excited to see him play."

  • Vikings add Beavers to reeling O-line
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The Minnesota Vikings addressed their ailing offensive line on Tuesday by signing rookie guard Willie Beavers.

    • The addition of Beavers could come into play should fellow guard Alex Boone be unable to play Monday versus the New York Giants. Boone sustained a hip injury in the second quarter on Sunday and was replaced by Jeremiah Sirles in Minnesota's 22-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

      The Vikings are also without left tackle Matt Kalil, who is on injured reserve with an ailing hip.

      A fourth-round selection, Beavers was the highest pick of the 2016 draft (121st overall) to fail to make an active roster as Minnesota released him in the final roster cuts.

      The 6-foot-5, 322-pound Beavers started 40 consecutive games for Western Michigan, earning first-team All-MAC honors as a senior while playing left tackle.

      Also on Tuesday, Minnesota signed wide receiver Isaac Fruechte and tackle Sean Hickey to the practice squad. The Vikings also released cornerback Julian Wilson from the practice squad.

  • Patriots sign veteran DE Hughes
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    The New England Patriots signed veteran defensive end John Hughes III on Tuesday.

    • Hughes played in the Cleveland Browns' season opener versus Baltimore before being released on Sept. 20.

      The 28-year-old recorded 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble in his first four seasons since being selected by the Browns as a third-round pick in the 2012 draft.

      Also on Tuesday, the Patriots signed wide receiver Da'Ron Brown to the practice squad. The 25-year-old was a selected by Kansas City in the seventh-round of the 2015 draft and spent last season on the Chiefs' practice squad before being released on Sept. 3.

  • Bengals' Burfict expects to make impact vs. Dolphins
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict is back, but it's not yet certain how much he'll play on Thursday night when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Miami Dolphins (8:25 p.m. ET).

    • The embattled linebacker says he's ready.

      "Honestly, it'll probably just click on Thursday," Burfict said. "I'm going to do my job. Take control of the defense. Be a leader out there, and play fast."

      Burfict's three-game suspension is over, and on Monday the team was granted a three-day exemption which allows him to resume football activities and be active for Thursday's game if the Bengals move a player off the 53-man roster.

      Coach Marvin Lewis remained noncommittal on Tuesday when discussing Burfict's playing status for the Dolphins, but said a roster move would be made Wednesday or Thursday.

      Then there's the question of Burfict's volatile past.

      His recent suspension resulted from repeated violations of rules pertaining to player safety, including a blow to the head of Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown which helped set up the game-winning field goal in an 18-16 loss in the AFC wild card game.

      The message has been delivered.

      "He's had enough talks," Lewis said on Monday.

      Burfict's reputation precedes him, but his tendency toward reckless abandon isn't something he plans to change. Even Bengals coaches admit Burfict's aggressive nature is what helped him lead the team in tackles each of his first two seasons, and average 7.4 tackles per game last year after returning from a knee injury.

      "Why would I change anything?" Burfict said.

      Bottom line: the Bengals need him.

      After losing 29-17 to the Denver Broncos on Sunday to drop to 1-2 for the first time since 2011, Cincinnati could use Burfict's energy.

      "Having him back bolsters our linebacking unit, our defense in general, and our team," said Vincent Rey, who filled in for Burfict the past three weeks. "We're looking forward to having him back. He's a big-time player and a leader."

      Burfict has been fined nearly $150,000 dating to 2014 when he was docked $25,000 for twisting the ankles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen.

      But, he might be just the spark the Bengals need.

      Cincinnati hasn't been below .500 since the 2014 season. But, after already losing to the Steelers and with the Baltimore Ravens starting 3-0, the defending AFC North champions have a hill to climb in the division.

      After missing most of training camp and not playing in the preseason, Burfict admitted to not quite being in football shape, although he's been doing regular conditioning work. "I'll just try not to think about being tired," he said.

      On Thursday, Cincinnati will face the Dolphins (1-2), against whom they've lost three straight and 15 of 20 all-time.

      "It'll add depth to the football team," Lewis said of Burfict's return. "But this is about the Miami Dolphins, not about Vontaze. We've got to play better."

      --Although he was inactive for Sunday's game against Denver, tight end Tyler Eifert could be available on a limited basis on Thursday night against the Dolphins.

      The Pro Bowl tight end told reporters on Tuesday that he had no discomfort coming off his first week of practice since offseason ankle surgery, and that it was up to the coaches how much he plays on Thursday, if at all.

      "He's close," Lewis said on Monday. "We'll make a decision when the time comes."

  • Zimmer: Vikings WR Treadwell must improve to play
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has barely seen the field while several other rookies are making names for themselves in the first few weeks of the NFL season.

    • Selected with the 23rd overall pick of the 2016 draft, Treadwell remained on the sideline in the season opener, played on only two snaps the following week and was listed as inactive in Sunday's 22-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

      "He has to continue to do better in practice," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's working, just biding his time until he gets an opportunity like how (Stefon) Diggs was last year. I still think he's thinking about the number of steps to take on each route and things like that, being at the right depth."

      Diggs leads the team in both receptions (20) and receiving yards (325) and fellow wide receiver Adam Thielen has 11 catches for 124 yards. Charles Johnson (three catches) and Cordarrelle Patterson (two catches) have been limited in their contributions.

      A lot more was expected out of Treadwell, who was the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2016 NFL draft class, according to NFLDraftScout.com. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Treadwell was ranked ahead of Cleveland Browns wideout Corey Coleman, Washington Redskins receiver Josh Doctson and Houston Texans emerging star Will Fuller.

      A three-year starter, Treadwell played inside and outside in the Ole Miss offense. He recovered from a gruesome leg injury that some thought could be career-threatening as a sophomore and had his best season in 2015 with 82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn All-SEC notice.

      Hall of Famer Michael Irvin was quick to praise Treadwell out of college.

      "He's going to do great things with Norv (Turner)," said Irvin, who compared Treadwell to current Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.

  • Cowboys LG Collins (toe) seeks second opinion; Bryant tests on hold
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Left guard La'el Collins plans to seek a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery on his injured big toe, which would prompt the Dallas Cowboys to place the second-year starter on injured reserve.

    • Collins injured his toe in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday that the decision is about pain tolerance.

      "It's a pain thing and we'll see how he tolerates it," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. "He's a tough, tough player and has a high tolerance for pain. He'll probably not have surgery and see if he can work through this."

      The Cowboys are still working through testing with wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had a sprained right knee Sunday but played start to finish against the Bears. Jones said no MRI exam was conducted Monday but could order the test Tuesday if Bryant's knee is swollen or inflamed.

      Bryant was injured in the first quarter but returned to catch three passes for 40 yards, including his first touchdown of the season.

      "He certainly finished the game out, and that in and of itself is a good indication," Jones said. "It doesn't mean that he's going to be free of the symptoms or the injury, but, again, we may look at an MRI before this day is over."

      Collins has started 14 games at left guard since signing as an undrafted free agent out of LSU. Ronald Leary replaced Collins in Sunday's game and was a three-year starter – 2012-14 – before Dallas bumped him in favor of Collins. Leary has 35 career starts, which is one reason Jones would be comfortable keeping Collins on the roster for several weeks while injured.

      Moving him to injured reserve would be required if Collins opts for surgery. The recovery time is typically at least six weeks and as great as 10 weeks. With Tony Romo on the 53-man roster but unavailable, the Cowboys would be challenging their own depth by carrying two unavailable players on the 53.

      Leary's value could be learned in short order, and Jones was outspoken in July about holding onto him despite serious trade interest.

      "The dropoff isn't as acute as it might've been," Jones said. "Boy, am I glad we didn't take trade bait and kept him."

  • Fox: No promises on QB Cutler starting
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    Jay Cutler missed Week 3 at Dallas with a sprained thumb, but the Chicago Bears are not holding the starting quarterback job for him during what is expected to be a 2-3 week recovery.

    • "I don't think there are any givens. And that's no indictment on anybody," Bears head coach John Fox said when asked about Cutler returning as Chicago's starting quarterback. "This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and so we're just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory."

      A thumb injury was a factor in multiple turnovers Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Cutler said, because it impacted his grip. He has five turnovers, or one for every 5.6 completions (28) this season.

      Brian Hoyer completed 30 of 49 pass attempts for 317 yards and two touchdowns at Dallas on Sunday night.

      Cutler reportedly pushed to start the game but medical personnel did not clear him, which Fox said remains a hurdle to Cutler getting on the field. The Bears (0-3) host the Detroit Lions (1-2) at Soldier Field on Sunday.

      "I think first of all the medical people have to clear him. I don't think we want to have setbacks with any player who is injured, including Jay," Fox said. "You know we'll evaluate it like I said, with all the questions I get with injuries, we're not playing yet. This is my Monday press conference. Players have tomorrow off. And we'll have a better idea on everybody come Wednesday."

  • Mistake-prone Chargers falter in fourth quarter once again
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    SAN DIEGO -- Chargers coach Mike McCoy looked into the bank of lights on Monday and uttered those unseemly three words: "Too many mistakes."

    • Welcome to McCoy's world as he reviewed what went wrong in the Chargers' 26-22 loss to the Colts on Sunday.

      McCoy and the Chargers lost again in the final minutes when the back end got soft and the hard truth became apparent that the defense overall can't be trusted. With the game on the line, it wilted.

      The offense had "plenty of opportunities," McCoy said, to salt it away. But Philip Rivers was average and the running game was below that.

      So it was McCoy's turn to talk again of what might have been and what's upcoming. But his message has started to wane, if for nothing else, it's the same thing the embattled coach says after most weeks.

      "It comes down to when you execute the way you are supposed to, you are a good team," McCoy said. "But every team would say that."

      The Chargers dropped their ninth road game in their last 10 trips. They also lost for the 15th time in 20 games and none of these numbers add up well for McCoy.

      Now in his fourth year and on the heels of going 4-12, McCoy needs to do something extraordinary and quickly. A season that was supposed to bring a playoff run, which might help fuel a ballot win for taxpayer money for a new stadium, is slipping away.

      That the Chargers lost again wasn't that surprising.

      Sadly, neither was the matter in which they squandered another lead, with a coach either unable to halt a slide or not having the personnel to do it with.

      Or both.

      Any team is as good as its coach, and right now the Chargers aren't very good.

      McCoy continues to preach the virtues of grinding away, but something needs to stop -- this brand of losing football that his disappointing tenure is noted for.

      The Chargers were kicked to the mat again, this time by the Colts. Let's see if San Diego gets up or slips deeper into some familiar haunts, the AFC West cellar.

  • Running back duo fuels surging Atlanta offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    NEW ORLEANS -- Don't look now, but the Atlanta Falcons are posting some scary offensive numbers.

    • Through three games, the 2-1 Falcons lead the NFL in yards per game (448.0), yards per play (7.04), passing yards per game (323.3) and passing yards per play (9.4).

      Atlanta also is averaging 34.7 points per game, second best in the league.

      Quarterback Matt Ryan says the offensive efficiency is due in part to the performance of the 50-50 backfield tandem of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. The pair combined for 194 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and four touchdowns against the Saints.

      "They're both so talented," Ryan said. "They run the ball extremely well, but then they're catching the ball out of the backfield. They've got to be as good a tandem as there is."

      Ryan connected with eight receivers, and All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones only caught one pass (for 16 yards) despite being targeted seven times.

      Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said he was thrilled with the way the Falcons pounded the Saints on the ground.

      "We knew it was going to be a good line-of-scrimmage game," Quinn said. "It really starts up front with the communication. We wanted to really be aggressive and keep attacking. The team did a very nice job of mixing the run and the pass, knowing there were going to be certain things there for us."

      The Falcons gambled twice on fourth down and converted both attempts.

      "I was pleased with our ability to keep converting," Quinn said.

      --Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones, a native of New Orleans whose grandmother rode out Hurricane Katrina in the Superdome, had a special message on his cleats related to the markings first responders posted on houses after they searched for survivors.

      "That was very personal to him about growing up here and what happened 10 years ago," Quinn said.

      --Saints punt returner Tommylee Lewis, who got slammed by his own teammate on a fair catch attempt, resulting in a muff, said he didn't know what happened. "It was like a flash," Lewis said. "I didn't realize (teammate De'Vante Harris) was that close. It was just a bang-bang play."

      --Saints quarterback Drew Brees said his team has to own its 0-3 start.

      "It's about accountability," Brees said. "Veteran guys need to have it and young guys need to have it. The bottom line is there is no magic offensive play or defensive scheme. It's about each guy doing what he's supposed to do."

  • Rams' offense finally arrives in Week 3
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- After going the first two weeks without scoring a touchdown, the Los Angeles Rams erupted for four offensive touchdowns and a defensive score in a 37-32 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

    • The Rams moved to 2-1 for the first time in 2006 and set up a big game this Sunday against the division rival Arizona Cardinals.

      After the defense keyed a 9-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2, the offense finally joined the party in Week 3.

      It was a small step in the right direction for a franchise starved for positive feedback.

      And it all started with an opening drive that resulted in -- of all things -- a touchdown pass from quarterback Case Keenum to beleaguered wide receiver Brian Quick.

      "It was really big," Keenum said. "I wanted the ball, coming out (after the coin flip). Coach (Jeff) Fisher said he wanted the ball. We wanted to go put some points on the board. We converted on some third downs, which were really big coming out of the gate, and (Quick) ran a great route on the post and spread it out there. He went and got it. It was great. It was really good."

      Said Fisher: "When you score points, which we did, you got a chance. Turnovers hurt us early, but we got the two big plays on defense, the return for touchdown and the interception by Mark (Barron). That kind of balanced things out. I thought Case made some good throws. The game was hard, but he made some really good throws. It was great to get the ball in the end zone, finally."

      Keenum finished 14 of 26 for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

      For the winning to continue, the offense needs to build off the success of Sunday. Against Tampa Bay, the key was simply doing the basics.

      "We executed," Keenum said. "We put it in the end zone. We had a couple of goal-line series where we had a lot of plays down there and the offensive line did a great job of blocking for (running back) Todd (Gurley) and Todd finished on all of those, which was really good. And then the couple of explosive plays -- guys getting up and downfield making plays for me, which was great."

      --Part of being a winning team is the ability overcome adversity. On Sunday, that meant withstanding a 1-hour, 10-minute weather delay in which the Rams and Buccaneers were ordered off the field with two minutes remaining and the Rams facing a third-and-11 at their own 5-yard-line.

      Los Angeles led by five points at the time.

      "We were just playing spades in there," Keenum joked about the scene in the locker room. "No, we were trying to stay locked in, obviously. Trying to stay hydrated, actually eating. It was weird. I guess that's kind of (how) hockey players (are), you know the three periods. To have that crucial of a moment being paused, it was tough. It was really tough, but guys responded, did well. Defense came back out and did a heck of a job."

      The Rams came back onto the field and closed out the win. For a young team trying to build a foundation, it was a positive development.

      --For the second game in a row, the Rams' defense came up with the game-saving play, this time Robert Quinn chasing down Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston at the Rams 5-yard-line to save the day.

      Quinn said, "I got upfield, came back and I thought he was going to take off running for the touchdown, but I saw him pull up looking to the end zone. I just gave every last bit of effort I had to try to get to him. Luckily, I had enough time and no one got open in time. I was able to get him down."

      NOTES: QB Jared Goff was active and served as the second-stringer for the second week in a row. ... WR Nelson Spruce practiced all of last week after being sidelined the previous six weeks with a knee injury, but he was not cleared to play Sunday against the Buccaneers. WR Pharoh Cooper practiced last week after being sidelined the previous three weeks with a shoulder injury, but he also sat out Sunday.

  • 49ers will wait on Kaepernick's weight
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    SANTA CLARA, Calif -- In the wake of a second consecutive blowout defeat, San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly changed his tune on starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert on Monday.

    • No longer is Gabbert the starter because he's earned it or because he gives the 49ers the best chance to win.

      Rather, it's because Colin Kaepernick is not physically able to take over the role.

      "I don't think he's ready to go full time," Kelly said on the day after the 49ers' 37-18 loss at Seattle that was far more one-sided than the score might indicate.

      "Kap will be the first to tell you," Kelly continued. "His playing weight has been around 225 (pounds), and he's not at that right now. So he's going out there and continuing to work, continuing to get better.

      "He had a serious layoff in time in terms of being able to rehab. To get the full Kap for what you need, the potential that he has, he needs to continue to just work on the physical aspect of things."

      Kelly made it clear: Kaepernick could play in an emergency even at less than 100 percent, and that's why he's been the backup quarterback.

      "Everyone wants to know why Kap isn't our No. 1," Kelly said. "I don't think Kap is 100 percent right now, That's what I'm saying."

      Kelly was then asked if he thought Kaepernick, who underwent surgeries on his shoulder, hand and knee in the offseason, would ever get a chance to start this season.

      "We'll just see how we go offensively," he said. "I mean, if we score 65 touchdowns next week, then I don't see him getting a shot."

      Scoring hasn't been the 49ers' biggest problem this season. They're averaging 24.3 points per game, 13th-best in the league.

      But they're 30th in passing (175.3 yards per game) and tied for 22nd in third-down conversion percentage (16 of 46, 34.8 percent).

      Kelly insisted the club's poor third-down percentage Sunday in Seattle (4-for-15, 26.7 percent) wasn't entirely Gabbert's fault.

      "We need to convert," Kelly said. "We had eight shots at third-and-five or less that we need to convert on third down so we can stay on the field and continue to keep drives alive.

      "Three of those (eight) were runs. You've got to be able to pick it up when it's third-and-two and third-and-three and be able to run the football to be successful in this league, and we're not doing it on a consistent basis right now."

      So Gabbert is doing fine? Kelly wouldn't go there, either.

      "I characterize the offense as OK," he observed.

  • Young defenders contribute to better Raiders effort
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Two more rookies joined the Oakland Raiders youth movement in a 17-10 road win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans.

    • Strong safety Karl Joseph and middle linebacker Cory James were inserted into the starting lineup and contributed to the Raiders' best defensive performance of the young season.

      "The best" in this case is a relative term, given the way the Raiders were torched by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in a win over New Orleans and loss to Atlanta, with the defense giving up 1,035 yards and 69 points.

      Joseph didn't make any big plays, but he had 10 tackles in his NFL debut on defense after seeing action on special teams in Weeks 1 and 2 behind Keith McGill. He made no major mistakes, either.

      "The game started slowing down as the series went on," Joseph said. "We felt like we did a great job. We were locked in all week and it showed."

      Quarterback Derek Carr liked what he saw.

      "He was aggressive. He was trying to fly in there," Carr said. "I saw one time he was a blur up there on the screen flying in there, trying to knock somebody out. The guy barely moved in time, otherwise it would have been a bad one."

      Joseph missed four snaps to open the second half while getting an IV at halftime for dehydration.

      James, a 229-pound middle linebacker, played in place of Ben Heeney and was second on the Raiders with six tackles. He showed a willingness to fill a gap, at one point stopping 245-pound Derrick Henry for no gain in one of the few plays where the Raiders bottled up the run.

      "I thought they did a nice job," head coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. "As I suspected, there are plenty of things we'll clean up. Karl came up and hit people and communicated well. He was part of a secondary that played very well.

      "Cory made a couple of rookie mistakes, but he's a tough kid. He finds the ball, and I thought they both played well for their first opportunity to start."

      Joseph and James had plenty of company.

      In all, nine rookies played for the Raiders, and eight of them had significant roles.

      Defensive end Jihad Ward, a second-round draft pick, has started all three games for the Raiders. Also playing defensively was outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun (30 snaps), a third-round pick, and Darius Latham (27 snaps), an undrafted free agent out of Indiana.

      On offense, the big surprise was 44 snaps for Vadal Alexander, a seventh-round pick out of LSU. Alexander was pressed into action at right tackle after Menelik Watson left with a lower leg injury. Swing tackle Austin Howard wasn't on the trip, rehabbing an injured ankle.

      "He really did a nice job. He graded out very well," Del Rio said. "He went in and played good football for us yesterday."

      Del Rio said he had a feeling coming out of training camp the rookie class would be contributing fairly quickly.

      "I think we knew the number of undrafted (free agents) might be high, several of those guys are undrafted," Del Rio said. "We felt good about the draft class, the draft picks, the guys we brought in. That's a good sign for us that those guys are helping us win on the road."

      --Fullback Marcel Reece, a seven-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowl selection, was released just as he was scheduled to come off suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.

      Reece was suspended for four games, beginning his suspension in Week 17 last season and through the first three games of this season.

      In his absence, the Raiders' running game went from No. 28 last season to No. 2 through three games at 148.3 yards per game. Jamize Olawale, who had begun taking snaps from Reece last year, is the starting fullback and other running backs on the roster include Latavius Murray, rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, and special teams ace and halfback Taiwan Jones.

      "I don't know that the suspension played a big part in the decision, other than to allow the guys that played, the backfield we have, we're using all those guys," Del Rio said. "They're all doing a nice job in the roles they have. I feel it's a good group and we don't want to disrupt it."

  • Redskins scramble to fill secondary, OL holes
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins made it through training camp and the first two weeks of the season with just one major injury. That run of good fortune came to an abrupt end.

    • Washington coach Jay Gruden confirmed reports that free safety DeAngelo Hall is out for the season after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Hall was hurt Sunday during the Redskins' 29-27 win over the New York Giants.

      Meanwhile, center Kory Lichtensteiger has a moderate calf strain, left guard Shawn Lauvao has a moderate ankle sprain and cornerback Bashaud Breeland strained tendons in his right ankle. All three players will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, which puts their availability for the Sunday home game against the Cleveland Browns in doubt. All three could be out for weeks.

      The shuffling begins on the offensive line, where Spencer Long is the backup center and left guard. Washington doesn't have another center on the roster, so Long takes Lichtensteiger's spot.

      Long was also the backup left guard after battling Lauvao for that position throughout training camp. That means second-year pro Arie Kouandjio could take over at left guard. He appeared in just three games last season and has been inactive the first three weeks of 2016.

      There is another option. Left tackle Trent Williams slid inside to left guard against New York, and Ty Nsekhe replaced him at left tackle. General manager Scot McCloughan praised Nsekhe over the summer as a player who could start for half of the 32 NFL teams.

      The decision: Is Washington better with Nsekhe at tackle protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins' blind side and Williams adjusting inside? Or is it a total waste to move a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle away from his natural position when Kouandjio could simply slide in at left guard?

      "That's something that we've got to look at. (Williams is) so good at tackle," Gruden said. "But he actually played pretty darn good at guard. He's a great athlete. He'd probably be a good center, too. We'll just have to evaluate that situation and see how it goes. See how Arie does at left guard. Ty is an excellent player, there's no question about it. But to move your Pro Bowl left tackle out of the mix to guard is something that is a little unique and hard to do."

      --The injury is a devastating blow for Hall, a 13-year NFL veteran who missed most of the 2014 season with a torn left Achilles tendon and sat out five games last season with a sprained right big toe, among other nagging injuries.

      Hall was hurt late in the second quarter of a 29-27 win over the Giants while tackling wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He also collided with cornerback Dashaun Phillips on the play and immediately reached for his right knee.

      Washington's starting free safety this season, Hall missed just 11 games in his first 10 NFL seasons. He became a defensive captain, a vocal locker room presence whose absence in the room was palpable when he tore his Achilles tendon in 2014

      Now, at age 31, Hall will have to decide if he has more football left in him. A typical ACL recovery process is six to eight months. He could be ready for the start of training camp next July.

      "We'll have to see," Gruden said. "I think he's got to really take a look at it and see where he is once he does the rehab if he wants to try it again."

      Phillips, who spent all offseason and training camp holding off third-round draft pick Kendall Fuller for the slot cornerback position, has a hamstring injury and might not play this weekend. Fuller played better at the end of the preseason, but the former Virginia Tech star has yet to be active for a game.

      Phillips struggled at times against a strong contingent of slot receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Giants. However, Gruden conceded Phillips' injury could leave the door open for Fuller to make his NFL debut against the Browns.

      "The thing with Phillips -- we don't know if he's gonna be available this week or not," Gruden said. "With Fuller sitting here, he is obviously our No. 1 option A. And we're excited to see him play."

      --It might seem an odd question to ask of a coach whose team is 1-2, but reporters wondered if the Redskins might be overconfident heading into a game against hapless Cleveland at home this weekend. The Browns are 0-3, and coach Hue Jackson even spent part of his own Monday media session insisting the organization wasn't tanking the season on purpose.

      Gruden, a former offensive coordinator with Cincinnati, says his team isn't overlooking anyone.

      "No. Cincinnati and Cleveland when I was there was a pretty big rivalry and you never took the Browns for granted nor will I ever take any team in the National Football League for granted," Gruden said. "They have good football players. I know Hue Jackson personally. He is an excellent football coach. He'll have his team ready to play."

  • Seahawks hope Wilson can play in next game
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 27, 2016

    RENTON, Wash. -- For the second time in three weeks, the Seattle Seahawks are sweating a leg injury to quarterback Russell Wilson.

    • Wilson suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee on Sunday in the third quarter of Seattle's 37-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers. However, head coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that it appears that Wilson avoided any major damage in his knee.

      "He's remarkably well off for having a play like that," Carroll said. "He looked very good, very upbeat and positive about feeling like he's going to be fine. Just all positive."

      Carroll said he expects Wilson to be able to play Sunday against the New York Jets. The plan is for Wilson to practice with the team on Wednesday.

      "What he has, a lot of guys play with," Carroll said. "This is something that our trainers have been through a number of times and they know that this is really possible that he'll be fine, but he still has to respond to the work on Wednesday and Thursday and we'll see how he gets through it."

      Wilson, who was already playing through a sprained ankle, was injured while being sacked by 49ers linebacker Eli Harold. Wilson was scrambling from pressure when Harold caught him and pulled him down from behind. Wilson's left leg was caught awkwardly underneath Harold as he was pulled to the ground.

      "I don't think it's as severe as it may have looked. Thank God," Wilson said. "We'll have to do some tests and check all that stuff out, but I'm walking fine and all that, moving it well. I've got good mobility. It's exciting that we won. That's the huge thing. You always feel better when you win."

      Harold was flagged for a horse-collar tackle of Wilson on the play. The penalty gave Seattle a new set of downs and Wilson had to be replaced by rookie Trevone Boykin. It was the first snaps of his career Wilson has missed due to injury. The only snaps he'd previously missed had been coming out of games late in blowouts.

      Wilson returned to finish the series after missing just one play. However, he would defer to Boykin for the remainder of the game with Seattle holding a 30-3 lead.

      "I felt like I was strong enough to move just fine," Wilson said. "I came out for a play and realized I was good to go so I went back out there."

      Wilson spoke extensively with trainers and put a knee brace on his knee on the sideline. Eventually he removed the brace and had a large ice pack wrapped around the knee in its place. Wilson said he would have stayed in the game and kept playing if the result had been in doubt. He expected to be able to play next week against the Jets as well.

      "I'll be good to go," he said.

      Wilson completed 15 of 23 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers before exiting the game.

      --In just his second full game since returning from a torn patellar tendon, tight end Jimmy Graham caught six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown for the Seahawks on Sunday.

      Though he played in the regular-season opener against Miami, Graham had his snaps limited. He was ramped up to a full workload in Week 2 against Los Angeles and had a breakout performance against the San Francisco 49ers.

      "He's a special player, one of a kind," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Probably one of the best in the business, in my opinion. To see him make the catches and make the big-time plays, you know he's a force field out there. He brings a certain type of energy to the game."

      It was just the second 100-yard receiving game of Graham's tenure with the Seahawks. He also caught eight passes for 140 yards in last year's regular-season meeting with the Carolina Panthers. However, it's been a chore for Seattle to figure out the best way to incorporate him in their offense. Just when it appeared it was starting to click last year, Graham's knee gave out and ended his season.

      Graham caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Wilson in the second quarter as Seattle surged to a 21-3 lead. He also made an incredible leaping grab, ripping the ball from 49ers safety Eric Reid's grasp after an offside penalty on San Francisco gave Wilson a free play. He was making catches in tight spaces and Wilson found him frequently.

      "Big plays. Tough catches. I think you saw him today in the red zone and on third downs. He's phenomenal. He's a phenomenal athlete and it's going to be cool to see him develop more so in our offense this year," tight end Luke Willson said.