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Torrey Smith: We’re a different team now

Torrey Smith AP

We’ve got a rematch in the AFC Championship Game, which means the Ravens are trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s painful loss to the Patriots.

Lee Evans couldn’t catch a pass in the end zone that he should have caught and then Billy Cundiff missed a field goal as time expired to send the Patriots to Indy and leave the Ravens to lick their wounds. You might imagine that the prospect of another game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line might conjure up some memories of that loss, but Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said Monday that last year’s game won’t have a bearing on this season’s matchup.

“Last year is in the past. We came up a few plays short,” Smith said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “We’re a different team now.”

The Ravens have not looked like the offensively shaky and defensively exhausted team that lost three straight games in the regular season. They’ve gotten healthier and seen their offense click in both playoff games after it finally came to life against the Giants in Week 16.

We’ve seen a team get hot at the right time and ride a low seed to the Super Bowl in each of the last two seasons. The Ravens will try to make it three in a row in New England next Sunday.

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Vikings notch first safety since 2001

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter celebrates as he scores a touchdown on a 24-yard run after a fumble recovery against the Tennessee Titans in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Vikings won 25-16. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) AP

The Vikings have scored, but not because of their offense.

A sack of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the end zone by defensive end Danielle Hunter gave the Vikings their first two points of the game.

As noted by FOX, it was the first Vikings safety since December 2001.

The play came two snaps after a 20-yard run by Panthers running back Cameron Artis-Payne was wiped out by a holding call.

Minnesota offense is still trying to chip in with 3, 6, 7, or 8 points, as the Vikings trail 10-2.

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Flacco gets Ravens’ first rushing TD of season

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 22:  Quarterback  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws a pass against the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown for the game’s first score and a 7-0 lead over the Jaguars.

Neither quarterback is off to a hot passing start, but Flacco had key completions to Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith Sr. on what became an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

Flacco’s touchdown run was the Ravens’ first rushing touchdown of the season.

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has completed just two of his first seven passes.

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Aaron Rodgers carving up the Lions

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) AP

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got annoyed this week by questions about his declining production. Now he’s getting to work on putting those questions to rest.

Rodgers is slicing up the Lions’ depleted defense, with two first-quarter touchdown passes.

Both of the Packers’ offensive possessions have looked like a hot knife through butter, with Green Bay moving the ball at will. In the first 14 minutes of the game, Rodgers has completed six of eight passes for 120 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Packers lead the Lions 14-3.

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Bills get a big run from Tyrod Taylor, take early lead on Cardinals

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Kevin Minter (51) during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) AP

The Bills made a big change on offense last week, but it hasn’t yielded a big change in the offense yet.

Their first drive under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn ended up in a fourth-and-25 punt, but the Bills began to make plays on the ground shortly thereafter.

They had to settle for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead on the Cardinals, but there were a few plays scattered in there as well.

The big one was a 49-yard scramble by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, which as it turns out is the longest run by a Bills quarterback in team history. That a 41-yard ramble by the elusive Joe Ferguson in 1977 was the previous record is the surprising part.

The Bills have also held the Cardinals to a pair of three-and-outs to start the game, a sluggish start for an offense that had high expectations this year.

 

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Panthers open early 10-point lead over Vikings

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) celebrates a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) AP

The Panthers are out to another fast start.

Carolina leads Minnesota 10-0 with more than five minutes left in the first quarter of Sunday’s game.

The Panthers parlayed the opening kickoff into a 48-yard field goal. Then, after holding the Vikings to a three-and-out, Carolina drove 57 yards in seven plays, capping the drive with a Cam Newton touchdown run from the three.

Newton has completed five of five passes for 82 yards, including a perfect 27-yard throw to receiver Corey Brown on third and long, which put the ball inside the 10.

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Josh Norman grabs Odell Beckham, Giants grab lead

Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) talks to officials before an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

All of the focus on cornerbacks in Washington was on Josh Norman this week, but the loss of the other starter for the Redskins is a big story in the early minutes at the Meadowlands.

We’ll see if it winds up being bigger than Norman.

Norman and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham got a pre-game talk from officials, but there was a little moment between them early. Norman grabbed a jumping Beckham in what would look like a hug if not for the history between the two players and then carried him a few steps before returning him to the ground. No flag was thrown.

Bashaud Breeland had to be helped off the field on a Giants scoring drive and is being called questionable to return by the team due to a lower leg injury. Breeland was hurt on a 12-yard gain by rookie wideout Sterling Shepard that came one play before running back Shane Vereen scored from a yard out to give the Giants a 7-0 lead.

The Giants were set up in great field position after Quinton Dunbar made contact with a punt and the Giants fell on top of the ball. Replays showed Dunbar getting pushed into the ball, but officials made no call and the ruling is not reviewable under current NFL rules.

The Redskins answered with a field goal on their first offensive possession and the score is 7-3 with 9:35 to play in the first quarter.

UPDATE 1:41 p.m. ET: Breeland has been ruled out for the remainder of the game. Shepard beat Dashaun Phillips for a touchdown on the next Giants possession. It’s now 14-6 after one quarter.

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Dolphins strike first on Parker TD

Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) loses his footing as he tries to get away from Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) AP

The Dolphins have taken a 7-0 lead on the Browns on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to DeVante Parker.

The teams traded turnovers to start. Tannehill threw a bad interception to former Dolphin Jamar Taylor, who read it the whole way and jumped a slant route. But the Browns came out and took a delay of game before actually getting a snap off, then on third down rookie quarterback Cody Kessler was sacked and fumbled.

Cameron Wake recovered at the Dolphins 39, and the Dolphins scored five plays later.

The Browns came out on their second drive using ex-quarterback turned wide receiver Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. The Browns missed a field goal.

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DeSean Jackson, others raise fist during anthem at Meadowlands

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 20: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins looks on against the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter at FedExField on December 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants linebacker Keenan Reynolds and running back Rashad Jennings said this week that there’s been discussion among their teammates about the national anthem protests that have been going on around the league this season and how players on the team can “appropriately and effectively” make their point.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo said he had spoken to some of the players as well and said that he would “encourage them” to use their platform to make a difference, although he thought it could be done without involving the anthem. It seems his players agreed with him as the Giants stood for the anthem as they did the first two weeks of the season without any players raising fists.

The Redskins sideline was a bit different. All members of the team stood during the song, but multiple reports said wide receiver DeSean Jackson, tight endNiles Paul, cornerback Greg Toler and wide receiver Rashad Ross raised their fists while it played.

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Odell Beckham fined $36,000 for blindside hit on Kenny Vaccaro

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants reacts to missing a catch in the final minutes of the game against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 18, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The New York Giants won 16-13.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

To the extent that the officials and the league office already were planning to keep an eye on receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday against arch-nemesis Josh Norman, they’ll likely be watching him even more closely based on something that happened a week ago.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that the NFL fined Beckham $36,000 for a blindside block on Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.

That’s halfway between the first-offense fine of $24,000 and second-offense fine of $48,000, with Beckham’s history surely a factor in the increase over what would be the fine for a first-time blindside block.

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Cam Newton wears T-shirt with MLK Jr. quote in pregame warmups

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton wears a shirt with a quote by Martin Luther King as he warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) AP

Some have criticized him for not saying enough, others have praised him for striking the right tone. And plenty will surely be reacting to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s choice of pregame attire.

Via USA Today, Newton T-shirt has on the back a famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” the quote reads.

Newton likely will be asked about the issue again after the game, win or lose. Protests are happening outside the stadium following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte earlier this week, but so far there are no signs that the protests will become disruptive or violent.

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Early-season ratings drop a “huge concern” for NFLPA

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  DeMaurice Smith director of the N.F.L. players' union walks on the field during warmups before the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL has opted to keep a stiff upper lip and a stoic demeanor regarding the alarming early-season decline in TV ratings, specifically for prime-time games. The NFL Players Association is opting not to pretend that all is well.

“This is a huge issue for us obviously,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said on Friday’s PFT Live. “We spend a lot of time looking at trends. I was thrilled to see the game being streamed on Twitter. We’re interested about where media is going. Viewership is an important issue, stadium attendance is a very important issue to us. So as we look forward knowing that there are a couple of television contracts that are going to come up. I think it is smart for us to look at the impact of whether fans are watching on TV or not.”

A decline in TV viewership won’t be a factor until after the current TV contracts expire, assuming there isn’t a renegotiation before the existing deals expire after the 2022 season.

“I’m sure there after people at the networks who are trying to figure out whether or not there’s going to be labor peace in 2021 and how that affects the TV contracts that they’re entering into,” Smith said.

That definitely will be a factor, especially if the NFL tries to extend the TV deals before the current labor deal expires. Beyond labor peace, however, the balance between revenue from traditional broadcast networks, cable outlets, and Internet companies will be a challenge for the NFL to balance as it tries to maximize revenue, to maintain a large audience for prime-time games, and to avoid potential scrutiny of the federal government, which could be inclined to strip the league of its broadcast antitrust exemption if a sufficient number of games aren’t easily available to the millions of Americans who still rely on rabbit ears to capture the TV signals floating in the ether.

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Report: Terrelle Pryor could see snaps at quarterback

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Terrelle Pryor #11 of the Cleveland Browns catches a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns added Charlie Whitehurst as a backup quarterback behind Cody Kessler this week, but they may avail themselves of another option against the Dolphins.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Terrelle Pryor could see “limited snaps” at quarterback for the Browns, who have lost Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown to injuries in the first two weeks. Pryor, who said he was willing to do anything and everything up to dying on the field when asked about playing quarterback this week, entered the league as a quarterback with the Raiders in 2011 and also spent time with the Bengals last year before he made the shift to wide receiver with Cleveland.

Browns head coach Hue Jackson was the Raiders coach in 2011 and he was the Bengals offensive coordinator last year, so he’s gotten close looks at Pryor playing the position in the past.

The Browns are also missing wide receiver Corey Coleman, so Pryor should have plenty of work at receiver during the game in Miami whether he also takes snaps at quarterback or not.

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Chris Ivory active for Jags, Elvis Dumervil out again for Ravens

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 20: Josh Keyes #50 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackles Chris Ivory #33 of the Jacksonville Jaguars as he runs with the ball during a preseason game on August 20, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Tampa Bay defeated Jacksonville 27-21. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil returned to practice for the Ravens this week, but his return to the lineup for game action will have to wait a little bit longer.

Dumervil was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report and has been declared inactive for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. Dumervil, who had foot surgery in the offseason, was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but did not practice on Friday.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was also listed as questionable, but he’s active for Sunday’s game. Offensive lineman John Urschel is inactive after drawing the same designation.

Running back Chris Ivory will make his regular season debut for the Jaguars after missing the first two games with a “general medical issue” that forced him to be hospitalized. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, center Brandon Linder and defensive end Jared Odrick are all inactive after being listed as questionable.

Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was ruled out due to the concussion he suffered last week, so the Jaguars will move Luke Joeckel from left guard back to his former position. Tyler Shatley starts at center and Chris Reed will take over at guard.

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Joe Haden inactive due to groin injury

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 11: Wide receiver #10 Jeremy Ross carries the ball while cornerback Joe Haden #23 of the Cleveland Browns defends in the first quarter of a game at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

A groin injury that made cornerback Joe Haden a late addition to the Browns’ extensive injury report on Friday will keep Haden out of Sunday’s game at Miami.

The Browns list Tramon Williams as the starter in place of Haden. The Browns will also be without starting safety Ibraheim Campbell, wide receiver Corey Coleman, center Cameron Erving, defensive end Carl Nassib and quarterback Josh McCown.

Rookie Cody Kessler starts at quarterback. Rookie Derrick Kindred will start at safety.

Injuries limited Haden to five games last season. He had two interceptions last week.

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Hamstring keeping Delanie Walker out vs. Raiders

Jacksonvlle Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker will not play in Sunday’s game vs. the Raiders.

Walker missed two days of practice this week with a hamstring injury, and the team was waiting until Sunday morning to make a final call after listing him as questionable.

Walker has nine catches for 125 yards and a touchdown over the first two games.

The Titans list Anthony Fasano, Phillip Supernaw and Jace Amaro, in that order, on their unofficial depth chart behind Walker.

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