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What we learned: Saints 40, Raiders 20

Pierre Thomas AP

After a busy Saturday, we got a chance to focus on one game Sunday night.  Some takeaways from the game are below.

If you missed our previous recaps this week, check them out for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday’s nine-game slate.

1. Drew Brees looked ready to go. In three long drives, he led the Saints to a touchdown, touchdown, and short field goal.

2. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham lined up all over the field while catching 5 catches and 73 yards. New Orleans has such great depth and continuity with their weapons catching the ball.

3. The Raiders backfield could be scary. Rookie Taiwan Jones was absolutely electric in his first preseason game, gliding past defenders and then exploding with terrific burst.  He finished with 13 carries for 81 yards and a score.

It’s hard to think of an NFL runner quite like Jones. If he can learn pass protection, the Raiders will be tough to stop on the ground. Big if.  Oh, and Michael Bush also had a nice night.

4. Well-traveled veteran receiver Derek Hagan may have forced himself into a role in Oakland with 121 yards on six catches, mostly with the first team.

5. Oakland rookie cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke may need to be removed from the starting lineup.  The entire cornerback group is thin, but Van Dyke sticks out.  The Raiders defense has sprung a few leaks this preseason.

6. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley hurt his hip and couldn’t finish the game.  Could we have another John Carney signing in New Orleans?

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Arian Foster expected to play today against Falcons

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The Texans appear to have settled on a quarterback, and now he’ll have someone very important to hand it to.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Texans running back Arian Foster is expected to play today against the Falcons, after missing the first three following preseason groin surgery.

Of course, that’s with the standard “barring pregame setback” proviso, which is true of any player.

But getting Foster and some degree of running game established will be big for Ryan Mallett, who has had to scratch through without much of a supporting cast of skill-position talent, and with mismatced lines in front of him each week.

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Demoff addresses Kroenke’s silence

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As the next ownership meeting looms, it’s likely that plenty of official and unofficial discussions will be occurring regarding the NFL’s return to Los Angeles. Presumably, Rams owner Stan Kroenke will break character and actually say something.

Recently, team COO Kevin Demoff addressed Kroenke’s strategic decision to say nothing about the future location of the franchise.

“They want to hear Stan speak, but they want to hear what they want to hear,” Demoff said at a recent Washington University panel on the business of sports, according to Brian Feldt of the St. Louis Business Journal. “If Stan said he will let the process play out, well, people would rather hear him say he’s committed to St. Louis. Honestly, Stan wants to go through the process.”

Still, Demoff acknowledges that the silence — and the ensuing uncertainty — has done damage.

“There are so many fans who I feel like we are letting down no matter what the outcome is because they feel differently today [about the team] than they did a year ago, and we feel responsible for that,” Demoff said.

They may feel even more differently a year from now, especially if the Rams move out of St. Louis. That’s hardly a lock. As PFT reported last week, a group of owners (including Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) are actively opposing Kroenke’s effort to relocate to L.A., supporting instead the Chargers-Raiders proposal in Carson. Or, ultimately, only the Chargers.

Silence or not, the calendar is creeping closer to the moment of truth for 2016. Part of the political maneuvering this week could entail pushing the decision back a year, given the perception that this could help Kroenke ultimately prove that: (1) St. Louis doesn’t have a viable plan for building a stadium; and (2) San Diego does.

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Eric Decker active, Branden Albert out in London

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The Jets waited until Sunday morning to decide if wide receiver Eric Decker would be in the lineup after listing him as questionable with a knee injury and the decision wound up being the one they wanted for their offense.

Decker is active for their clash with the Dolphins in London a week after missing the Jets’ loss to the Eagles. The Jets offense missed Decker, who scored touchdowns in each of their first two games, in that contest and it also missed running back Chris Ivory. Ivory was active but never played because of a groin injury, something that’s expected to change this time around.

On the other side, the Dolphins are without left tackle Branden Albert again this week. Albert made the trip across the pond, but was doubtful to play due to the hamstring injury he suffered in Week Two. Jason Fox will start in his place. Defensive tackle A.J. Francis, tight end Dion Sims, cornerback Tony Lippett, guard Billy Turner, wide receiver Matt Hazel and running back Raheem Mostert are also out for Miami.

Wide receiver Chris Owusu, cornerback Darrin Walls, linebacker Jamari Lattimore, guard Jarvis Harrison, guard Willie Colon, offensive lineman Ben Ijalana and tight end Jeff Cumberland are the Jets inactives.

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Kevin Coyle on hot seat for Dolphins, too

Kevin Coyle AP

On the person who would take over for coach Joe Philbin if he’s fired after Sunday’s game to the Jets, the Dolphins have not yet crossed that bridge. One possible reason for that? Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle may be thrown off it, with Philbin.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Coyle could be let go after Sunday’s game in lieu of Philbin. Obviously, that makes Coyle not a viable candidate to take over the team on an interim basis, if Philbin is let go.

As Rapoport characterizes it, a mutiny could be coming on the defensive side of the ball. He reports that players had a “very frank and contentious” meeting with Coyle this week, where complaints were aired about Coyle’s schemes. They reportedly “begged” him to simplify his schemes; coincidentally (or not), Coyle has said this week that the schemes may be simplified.

The broader message, then, is that if Philbin goes, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor becomes far more likely than Coyle to get the whistle. Or maybe a non-coordinator will inherit the job.

It’s also possible — but highly unlikely — that Philbin would hire someone from the outside to take over. Apart from the logistical issues (for example, the Rooney Rule would have to be satisfied for an in-season hire from outside the team), good luck persuading someone currently out of coaching to come in and clean up a mess on the fly.

Mike Shanahan seems to be very interested in getting back in, but it’s hard to imagine Shanahan or anyone else accepting the ultimate change-a-tire-on-a-moving-car challenge.

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Josh Freeman’s FXFL debut confirms what NFL teams already knew

Josh Freeman AP

Unlike failed 2010 first-round quarterback Tim Tebow, failed 2009 first-round quarterback Josh Freeman is willing to play football wherever he can. But Freeman’s debut for the FXFL may have vindicated Tebow’s approach.

Tim Casey of the New York Times (as noted on Twitter by Adam Schefter of ESPN) reports that Freeman had a rough game with the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League. It’s a three-franchise operation, and on Sunday night the Bolts hosted the Florida Blacktips, a team that per Casey has no set roster and will have no home games.

The Blacktips’ roster on Friday night featured only two players with NFL experience, but the man who made 60 NFL regular-season starts completed nine of 16 passes for 32 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and five fumbles. While that technically may qualify him to start for the 49ers in their rematch with the Cardinals, as a practical matter it does nothing to attract any NFL team to give him yet another last chance to show that he recapture his long-lost football form.

It’s possible that Freeman had protection problems or other factors that weren’t in his control. But no excuses were offered for Freeman’s inability to compete against players with no ability to compete in the NFL.

Freeman stiff-armed reporters after the game. Coach Terry Shea had this to say on Freeman’s behalf: “I’ve got to think that this was maybe just one of those nights where a perfect storm came together for him. It really controlled him.”

Before the game, Freeman spoke via telephone to Casey.

“I just wanted to keep playing football in any capacity and continue to stay sharp,” Freeman said Thursday. “Stepping in the huddle and calling plays and that whole procedure and process, maintaining my routine that comes along with being in season, I think it gives me a better shot to perform at my highest level if a team does call me up.”

It’s the right approach, as long as the player doesn’t get the wrong results. Ultimately, it’s better to have no film than bad film, and it’s hard to imagine Freeman having anything but bad film from his FXFL debut.

His best hope at this point may be that the fly-by-night league couldn’t afford cameras to record the game.

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Report: Andrew Luck threw yesterday, no shoulder damage

Andrew Luck AP

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is questionable for today with a shoulder injury, but the news this morning is encouraging.

Luck was able to throw on Saturday in a session with only the Colts’ coaching staff present, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. The Colts’ medical staff also did tests on Luck’s shoulder and found no structural damage. Luck wants to play.

If Luck can’t go today, the Colts would start Matt Hasselbeck and use the recently signed Josh Johnson as the backup. The decision to sign Johnson this week suggests that there’s a real chance that Luck won’t be able to go.

But his ability to throw yesterday is a reason for optimism. We’ll know for sure in four hours when we see if Luck’s name is on the inactive list for the Jaguars-Colts game.

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Mike Mitchell shrugs at making Steve Smith’s “hit list”

Torrey Smith, Mike Mitchell AP

After supposedly taking a helmet to the back from former Panthers teammate Mike Mitchell, Ravens receiver Steve Smith said that Mitchell, now with the Steelers, has landed on Smith’s “lifetime hit list.”

Mitchell says he’s not concerned.

It is something that he tries to use to fuel himself,” Mitchell said Friday, via Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It isn’t even something I concern myself with. I didn’t think of anything when I heard about it, and I don’t think anything about it now. I am going to continue on and play football.”

Mitchell also pointed out something that the replays of hit that injured Smith’s back confirm: Mitchell didn’t hit Smith.

“If you look at my fine history, I am more of a helmet-to-helmet kind of guy,” Mitchell said, sarcastically. “I am not going to spear you. I wasn’t even involved in the play.”

Smith nevertheless insists that Mitchell hit him, and that Mitchell said after it, “How do you like that?”

To anyone who thinks they can persuade Smith otherwise, we say, “Good luck with that.”

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Matthew Stafford’s wife responds to fans burning his jersey

DeMarcus Ware, Matthew Stafford AP

After Sunday night’s loss to the Broncos, a couple of Lions fans were seen attempting to set fire to a Matthew Stafford jersey. When the flames wouldn’t take, several Lions fans spit on it instead.

On Friday, Stafford’s wife responded to the indignity, which was captured on video.

“Although many in this city have already turned their back on the Lions and Matthew, we will never stop supporting Detroit,” Kelly Stafford said on Instagram, via “No matter how many #9 jerseys people burn or how many negative things people say about these players they will continue to fight for a championship for this city.”

It’s an admirable response to the behavior of a small handful of fans. The fact that a response of any kind was issued suggests that the taunts and insults struck the intended target.

With Matthew under contract through 2017, perhaps the next time he’s up for an extension he’ll decide not to sign one, and disgruntled Lions fans can then burn and/or spit on the jersey of Dan Orlovsky or whoever else the Lions can find to play quarterback in Detroit.

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Dwayne Bowe says, “It starts Sunday”

Dwayne Bowe AP

The Browns gave receiver Dwayne Bowe $9 million guaranteed in the offseason. To date, they’ve gotten nothing in return.

That could change on Sunday at San Diego.

It starts Sunday,” Bowe said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I can’t wait to go out there and showcase my talent and be a ringleader for the guys and go out there and bring home a win. That’s all I can ask for. If God’s capable of having me out there playing, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Officially, Bowe was a healthy scratch in Week Three against the Raiders. But he has been dealing with a hamstring problem. Unless he hasn’t been.

“I’ve never had a hamstring,” Bowe said. “I’ve never been really injured. It’s just playing it smart, man. What I showed [last week] wasn’t 100 percent. You got so much invested in somebody you want to make sure that guy can go out there and do his job and do it 100 percent. That’s what we’re working on.”

And then Bowe later contradicted himself when talking about the consensus that he had his best practice of the year on Wednesday.

“As time goes by the injury minimizes itself, so I feel like I’m almost back to where I need to be,” Bowe said. “They’re saying, ‘You’re looking back to where you were in camp.’ So I feel good about it and we’re going to go in with that.”

Bowe seemed to be surprised by speculation that he could eventually be out.

“People say that?” Bowe said. “I never even heard that. I know what goes on in this building. Those guys love me. They know I’m a great teammate, they know I’m a great player. I’m just trying to make plays. I’ve been doing it my whole career so that’s not going to change.”

He hasn’t made any plays yet this year, but he seems to think he will on Sunday.

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Ugly loss could indeed doom Philbin

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Last year, a blowout loss to the Dolphins in London got Raiders coach Dennis Allen fired. This year, if the Dolphins are on the other end of a similar outcome against the Jets in the same English stadium, Miami coach Joe Philbin could indeed be gone.

As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported earlier on Saturday, a blowout loss by the Dolphins to the Jets will indeed put Philbin’s job in grave danger. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, owner Stephen Ross’ high regard for Philbin could give him the benefit of the doubt. However, an ugly, embarrassing loss to the Jets could indeed spark a change.

For now, the Dolphins are focused on securing a victory over the Jets, which would make any talk of Philbin being fired moot — and which possibly would ensure that he’d finish out the season.

Also working in Philbin’s favor could be the absence of a clear in-house candidate to take over on an interim basis. Last year in Oakland, former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was on Allen’s staff. Philbin has no assistant with head-coaching experience, and the two most obvious choices — offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle — arguably are as much a part of the problem as Philbin.

For now, the Dolphins haven’t crossed that bridge. In large part because they may not have to. With Jets-Dolphins kicking off at 9:30 a.m. ET, everyone will have a better feel for the situation by the time the 1:00 p.m. ET games begin.

If the Dolphins slide to 1-3 by getting tossed around in London like the Bills tossed them around in Miami, Ross will at least be tempted to do something. Whatever he chooses, Ross needs to realize that those four home games in the final five weeks of the season could be very sparsely attended if the Dolphins aren’t competing for a playoff berth.

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Pete Carroll calls Marshawn Lynch a game-time decision

Pete Carroll AP

Officially, Marshawn Lynch is questionable for Monday night’s game against the Lions with a hamstring injury. Unofficially, he’s 40-60 to play. As a practical matter, Lynch’s availability will be determined not long before kickoff.

“We won’t know all the way until game time,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Saturday.

Lynch hasn’t practiced this week, but Carroll seemed to suggest that this wouldn’t keep Lynch from playing.

“We would go with him if he can make it, if he can pop out of it, then we would go with him,” Carroll said. “Just based on that he’s had other weeks when he wasn’t able to practice and played very well. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

They won’t have to wait and see regarding the outcome of the MRI on Lynch’s hamstring. Actually, it sounds like Lynch has had multiple MRIs on the hamstring, even though he wasn’t listed as having a hamstring injury before the Week Three game against the Bears.

“He’s had one last week and nothing showed up, and then after the game he aggravated his hamstring in a different area than anything that he had felt the week before,” Carroll said. “It happened on that play when he caught the ball on fourth down. So we checked it out and there were some findings. So he’s been working hard at trying to get back, he’s done a really diligent job of rehab, and so we’ll see what happens.”

So it sounds like Lynch has had a hamstring problem for more than a week, that the Seahawks hadn’t disclosed it before the Bears game, and that the MRI conducted after the Bears game revealed damage of some sort.

So, basically, there’s a good chance it will be the Fred Jackson and Thomas Rawls show on Monday night.

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With Pat O’Donnell injured, Bears add a punter

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Bears punter Pat O’Donnell got a hell of a workout on Sunday against the Seahawks, given that the Bears punted on every drive of the game.

O’Donnell emerged with a right knee injury. He’s officially questionable for the game, and the Bears have signed punter Spencer Lanning for Sunday’s game against the Raiders.

To create room for Lanning, the Bears waived defensive tackle Brandon Dunn.

Lanning punted for two years with the Browns. He’s perhaps best known for taking Antonio Brown’s foot to his face in Week One of the 2014 season.

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Harbaugh: Ravens have ruled out Steve Smith for Week Five

Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh AP

Earlier on Saturday, the Ravens described receiver Steve Smith as “week to week.” Later in the day, coach John Harbaugh ruled Smith out for Week Five.

“I think he’s gonna be OK in the long run,” Harbaugh told CSN Mid-Atlantic from the Michigan-Maryland game. “He’s got some small microfractures in his back from what I’ve been told. They’ve ruled him out for the Cleveland game, but after that I think we’ve got some hope that he’s gonna be back.”

That’s a lot more information than the team released, and it provides some short-term clarity as to Smith’s situation. Specifically, he won’t be playing against the Browns in Week Five.

Harbaugh also called the breaks in the back “microfractures,” which sounds less ominous than the reports that previously surfaced. Still, a fracture is a fracture and Smith has plural — fractures — so it’s no surprise he’ll miss at least one game.

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Seahawks declare Marshawn Lynch questionable for Monday

Marshawn Lynch AP

While the reality of Marshawn Lynch’s situation is closer to 40-60, until the NFL comes up with something between probable and questionable, the Seahawks had to make a choice.

And as expected, they opted to lean toward the optimistic side.

The Seahawks listed the running back as questionable for Monday’s game against the Lions, which traditionally translates to a 50-50 chance to play. They’ve been careful with his hamstring all week, and if he’s not able to get 10 percentage points better between now and Monday, they may just give him a chance to get well.

Between Thomas Rawls (who had 104 rushing yards last week against the Bears) and veteran Fred Jackson, the Seahawks have the benefit of sufficient depth to cover if Lynch can’t go.

The Seahawks declared cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Steven Terrell out this week, while defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are also questionable. Tight end Luke Willson and linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mike Morgan are all listed as probable.

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Needing a lineman, Chargers dump running back Donald Brown

Donald Brown, Kenneth Acker AP

The Donald Brown experiment has ended in San Diego. To not really much of a surprise.

The 2009 first-round pick of the Colts, who did enough in his contract year of 2013 to merit a three-year, $10 million deal in free agency (with $4 million guaranteed) was cut by the Chargers on Saturday in order to create a roster spot for offensive lineman Michael Ola.

Brown had appeared in no games in 2015. Last year, he had 85 carries for 223 yards, an average of only 2.6 yards per attempt.

The former Connecticut tailback had largely been a disappointment early in his career, but he finally became moderately productive after Indy traded for Trent Richardson early in the 2013 season. Brown finished that year with 537 yards rushing on 102 carries, with eight total touchdowns.

He now becomes a free agent, able to sign with any other team.

Ola’s elevation comes prior to a game against the Browns that sees guard Orlando Franklin (ankle) out, tackle King Dunlap (concussion) and center Chris Watt doubtful, and guard D.J. Fluker (ankle, chest) questionable.

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Levy doubtful, Bell and Pettigrew out for Lions

Joique Bell, Brandon Marshall AP

The Lions will try to avoid going 0-4 on Monday night in Seattle. They’ll most likely have to make the effort without the services of three key players.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy (hip) is doubtful for the game. He returned to practice this week for the first time during the regular season, but he’s unlikely to play. Levy will be downgraded to out if he doesn’t make the trip to Seattle with the rest of the team.

Ruled out for the Monday night game are running back Joique Bell (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (hamstring). Via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, rookie Ameer Abdullah is expected to get the bulk of the carries, with Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner also receiving some of the work.

Also doubtful is tackle Corey Robinson, with an ankle injury. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (groin), guard Larry Warford (ankle), and cornerback Josh Wilson (lower leg) are all questionable for the game.

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Packers downgrade Adams’ chances of playing Sunday

Davante Adams AP

A day after Packers coach Mike McCarthy said wide receiver Davante Adams had a “slight” chance of playing Sunday vs. the 49ers, the team downgraded Adams from questionable to doubtful.

The Packers also say safety Morgan Burnett (calf) is doubtful. Burnett also missed last week’s win over the Chiefs.

Adams has left the last two games with an ankle injury. He returned to the game two weeks ago vs. the Seahawks but left in the first half last week and was not able to return.

Adams is third on the team with nine catches on the season. His injury makes the Packers bringing back James Jones just before the season an especially important move. With Adams likely out, James will start and rookie Ty Montgomery, who caught a touchdown pass last week, should see more playing time.

Neither Adams nor Burnett participated in practice this week for the Packers, who flew to the West Coast on Friday. The Packers had previously declared defensive back Demetri Goodson and linebacker Jake Ryan as doubtful and will play their third-straight game without tackle Bryan Bulaga.

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Steelers cut Josh Scobee

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Snoop Dogg has gotten his wish.

Two days after kicker Josh Scobee missed a pair of field goals (and nearly missed two others), the Steelers have sent packing the man for whom they gave up a sixth-round pick to the Jaguars in 2016.

The Steelers have announced that kicker Chris Boswell is in, and Scobee is out.

Get the f–k outta here Josh Scobee,” Snoop Dogg said on Instagram after Thursday night’s loss to the Ravens. “We need to get rid of that motherf–ker. He’s sorry as f–k. He was sorry in Jacksonville, he’s sorry with us. Get his ass out of here. Bye bye bitch. Sorry motherf–ker you.”

Scobee takes with him, if he chooses to pursue it, the balance of his $2.5 million base salary, as termination pay. It’s a total of $1.91 million in unearned salary to which he’s entitled under the labor deal.

Scobee becomes a free agent, free to sign with any other team and to keep whatever he gets from another team on top of his termination pay from Pittsburgh.

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Unofficially, Marshawn Lynch is 40-60 to play

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On Saturday, the Seahawks will issue their final injury report in advance of Monday night’s game against the Lions. Running back Marshawn Lynch likely will be listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, which will mean there’s a 50-50 chance he plays.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the current estimate is that Lynch’s chances of playing are more like 40-60.

Because the NFL has only three categories that range from virtually certain (probable) to 50-50 (questionable) to 25-75 (doubtful), there’s no way to accurately reflect other percentages.

If there’s any doubt about Lynch’s availability, it could make the most sense to go with Fred Jackson and Thomas Rawls, especially since Rawls, an undrafted rookie from Central Michigan, rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries last week against the Bears.

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Steelers change kickers: Josh Scobee out, Chris Boswell in

Senior Bowl Getty Images

After two missed field goals in the fourth quarter led to an overtime loss on Thursday night, the Steelers are making a change at kicker.

Chris Boswell tried out for the Steelers and will sign, Adam Caplan of ESPN reports. That means Josh Scobee, who has gone just 3-for-7 on field goals beyond 40 yards this season, is on the way out.

The Steelers have had a tough time finding a kicker who can last this year. Kickers Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley are both on injured reserve.

After going undrafted out of Rice last year, Boswell spent time under contract to both the Texans and Giants but has never played in a regular-season game. The Steelers have to hope he’s ready to go, and to kick well. Or at least kick better than Scobee.

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