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Watt, Mercilus punish Ben, but Steelers storm back

texanssteelers AP

The Texans’ defense got off to a stellar start on Monday night in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers aren’t going away without a fight.

As expected, J.J. Watt is having a big game, with a sack and a recovery of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble. That fumble was forced by Whitney Mercilus, who’s also having a big game, with two sacks in the first half. Mercilus has also knocked down a pass, and Watt has hit Roethlisberger twice.

But Brian Cushing, the linebacker once viewed as one of the best young defensive players in the league, looks like injuries have severely limited him. Cushing just can’t keep up in coverage on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who already has 89 receiving yards, and as a result the Texans took Cushing off the field and went into a dime package late in the second quarter. That didn’t help, however, as Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown pass.

That touchdown narrowed the score to 13-10, after the Texans had taken an early 13-0 lead. The Steelers are right back in it.

UPDATE: Then the Steelers scored two quick touchdowns to make it 24-13, Pittsburgh. Wow.

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Arian Foster powers Texans’ fast start

Derek Newton, Arian Foster, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin AP

The Texans rode Arian Foster to a fast start in Pittsburgh.

Foster had five carries for 59 yards on Houston’s first drive as the Texans marched 94 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. The touchdown was scored by Foster’s backup, Alfred Blue, who took a short pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it in for an 11-yard score.

Foster and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are dueling for second place on the NFL rushing list, behind DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys. Bell entered the game leading Foster, 542 yards to 513. But after the Texans’ first drive, Foster had moved ahead of Bell. (Neither is close to Murray’s league-leading total of 913 yards.)

Now the Steelers need Bell to get going, as their defense is struggling to contain Foster.

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Jadeveon Clowney inactive vs. Steelers

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans are still waiting for No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to get healthy.

Clowney, the pass rusher who has been sidelined since a Week One knee injury, is inactive for tonight’s game against the Steelers. The Texans had listed Clowney as questionable, and he went onto the field for pregame warmups, but he apparently still isn’t at full speed.

That’s disappointing news: When Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery, the Texans said he’d be out 4-6 weeks. That surgery was exactly six weeks ago, and he’s still out. So the injury appears to be more serious than the Texans originally believed.

The Texans’ other inactives are OT Jeff Adams, S Josh Aubrey, CB Darryl Morris, CB Jumal Rolle, WR DeVier Posey and QB Tom Savage.

The Steelers’ inactives are QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, CB Ike Taylor, SS Shamarko Thomas, ILB Ryan Shazier, G Chris Hubbard and NT Steve McLendon.

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Rams waive Austin Pettis

Bryan Mattison,  Austin Pettis,  Lionel Smith AP

Austin Pettis’s days in St. Louis are done.

The Rams waived Pettis, a wide receiver and 2011 third-round draft pick, today. Pettis was surprisingly left inactive on Sunday after having played in all five previous games this season.

The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Pettis is a good athlete who showed promise at times but never quite lived up to what the Rams thought they were getting when they drafted him. This year Pettis has 12 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.

Pettis has contributed enough, both on offense and on special teams as a punt and kickoff returner, that it wouldn’t be surprising to see some other team claim him on waivers tomorrow. But in St. Louis, he’s finished.

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Kirk Cousins benched, Colt McCoy will start until RG3 is cleared

grudenmccoy AP

The Kirk Cousins era is over in Washington.

Coach Jay Gruden announced today that Colt McCoy is his new starting quarterback until Robert Griffin III is cleared to return from his ankle injury. Gruden said he doesn’t know when Griffin will be cleared, but if he’s not cleared for next Monday night’s game against Dallas, then McCoy will start.

On one level, that doesn’t come as a big surprise: Cousins has been lousy, and McCoy provided the team with a spark when he came in after Cousins was benched on Sunday. It only makes sense to keep McCoy on the job.

But on another level, it’s a stunner: As recently as a couple weeks ago there was talk that Cousins was the best fit for Gruden’s offense and might keep the job over Griffin. Instead, Cousins is now Washington’s third-string quarterback.

Washington is going nowhere this season, and the most important priority is to get Griffin healthy and see if he can flourish in Gruden’s offense. All Cousins has done is show that not only is he not a threat to unseat Griffin as the No. 1 quarterback, but he’s not even good enough to be a No. 2 quarterback.

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Marc Trestman: Bears are “a very close football team”

trestman AP

Bears coach Marc Trestman says there are no rifts within his team, despite reports of screaming matches in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.

“This is a very close football team,” Trestman said. “A lot of things can go on because people handle winning and losing differently, and we’re not judgmental about players expressing themselves.”

Asked specifically about receiver Brandon Marshall calling out quarterback Jay Cutler, Trestman said there’s “brotherly love” between Marshall and Cutler and that the two of them are fine, as are the rest of the guys in the locker room.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who I think are very close and like each other,” Trestman said.

Trestman said he’s fine with different players expressing themselves differently and that he welcomes passionate players.

“We have to always be accepting of how people express themselves after the game because they’re coming down from a week of working hard and building their emotions and passions for the game,” he said. “We have to be accepting and not judgmental, and let it pass.”

Ultimately, what the Bears really need to do to avoid players screaming at each other after a loss is to quit losing. With the next two games at New England and at Green Bay, that won’t be easy.

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Harvin says Jets have told him to be himself

Harvin AP

Jets receiver Percy Harvin met the New York media for the first time on Monday.  And while he wasn’t pressed as aggressively as the New York media’s reputation would suggest, Harvin elaborated much more on his circumstances than when he faced a strong of slo-pitch softballs from the media operation owned by the Jets.

Harvin opted not to delve into the events that resulted in the stunning trade that sent him from Seattle to New York.  “All I am is I’m moving forward,” Harvin said.  “I’m leaving what’s in the past in the past.”

On whether he’s a good teammate, Harvin said, “All I can say is judge me off of what you see.”

So what will we see?  Harvin said that management “told me to just come here and be myself.”  (Which reminds me of Bill Cosby’s take on cocaine.)

“I’m definitely not a perfect person,” Harvin said.  “I have a lot of things I wish I would have done a little differently.  I’m moving forward.  I’m learning from those lessons.”

He hopes to put the lessons to use for more than the next nine games.  “It’s definitely a place I want to be for a long time,” Harvin said.

“I just feel good here.  I feel welcome.  I’m ready to go.”

He’s ready to play for coach Rex Ryan.  “I love him,” Harvin said.  “Love him, love him.”

That’s good news for Rex.  Because Harvin reportedly has had multiple confrontations with coaches he didn’t love, love.

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Jaguars lose Paul Posluszny for the season to torn pectoral

Le'Veon Bell, Paul Posluszny AP

The Jaguars got their first win of the season yesterday, but they didn’t get to celebrate for long.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, veteran middle linebacker Paul Posluszny suffered a torn pectoral muscle yesterday and will be out for the year.

That’s a huge blow for a young team that was beginning to show signs of life after an 0-6 start, taking the leader out of the middle of the defense.

It’s a big loss,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “That will be a difficult one.”

Posluszny will have surgery this week, and will be placed on injured reserve.

Bradley also said that defensive end Andre Branch suffered a groin injury, and would miss about six weeks.

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Orakpo done for the year with torn pec

Orakpo

Brian Orakpo’s second annual contract year has not ended well.  The Washington linebacker, who had been struggling while playing under the $11.45 million franchise tag, suffered a torn pectoral muscle on Sunday against the Titans, per a league source.

Orakpo will be placed on injured reserve, ending his 2014 season.

A torn pec ended Orakpo’s 2012 season after only two games.  Healthy for 15 games last year, 10 sacks from the 2009 first-round pick prompted Washington to use the franchise tag.  A second application of the tag would cost $13.74 million.

Thus, Orakpo will undoubtedly hit the open market — and he’ll likely stay with Washington only if they offer him more than he could get elsewhere.

If it’s over for Orakpo in Washington, it ends with 71 games, 40 sacks, and a playoff appearance that was earned with Orakpo missing every game beyond Week Two.

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Idzik thinks acquisition of Harvin could be a coup for the Jets

John Idzik AP

Percy Harvin is at work with his new teammates on the Jets today, and the man who brought him to town thinks that’s a big deal.

“This could be a potential coup for the Jets,” General Manager John Idzik said at a press conference today.

There’s no doubt that Harvin has the talent to significantly upgrade the Jets’ offense, as well as their special teams. But Harvin had the talent to upgrade the Vikings and the Seahawks, too, and both teams ultimately decided that he wasn’t worth the headaches. So why will it be different in New York?

Idzik said the Jets have high standards, and that “acting like a Jet” will be a requirement of Harvin and everyone else, but the Jets believe Harvin has what it takes to improve their team. Idzik stressed that the Jets are still committed to developing their offense around quarterback Geno Smith, and bringing Harvin in gives Smith a big weapon.

The Jets are 1-6 and an extreme long shot to make the playoffs, which makes them an odd destination for a star player in a mid-season trade. But Idzik said the Jets don’t think it’s too late for them to go on a run and get to the postseason.

If that happens, Idzik will look brilliant for making this move. But if the Jets keep losing, and if Harvin turns out to be a locker room cancer, this could be a coup in which Idzik and Rex Ryan are overthrown.

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Blake Bortles admits he had a bad game in Jaguars’ first win

bortles AP

Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged by wins and losses, and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles may be the prime example.

The Jaguars won their first game on Sunday, but Bortles is the first to admit he played badly: Bortles completed 17 of 31 passes for 159 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. He now has an NFL-high 10 interceptions, an average of two a game since he took over for the benched Chad Henne.

Bad, not good,” Bortles said of his performance. “The defense and offensive line and running game won this game, no doubt about it. Anybody can see that. Obviously, I’m not happy with the way I played, but I’m extremely happy with the outcome of the game.”

Bortles really isn’t ready to be an NFL starter, and the Jaguars have known that for months. That’s why Henne started the season, and the coaches initially said Bortles would sit out his rookie year. Unfortunately, Henne was so bad that the coaching staff felt it had no choice but to bench him, and Bortles is going through growing pains.

For now, the primary focus of the coaches is to make sure Bortles doesn’t lose confidence. Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said that when Bortles came off the field hanging his head after an interception, Fisch gave him a pep talk.

“I told him, ‘That’s not going to be the last pick you ever throw so move on,’” Fisch said. “We weren’t going to sit there and just go through each pick. We can talk about that [Monday].”

If Bortles keeps throwing interceptions at this rate for the rest of the season, he’ll finish 2014 with 28 picks. That’s terrible. But it’s also the same number of interceptions that Peyton Manning threw as a rookie. Sometimes a young quarterback just has to go through growing pains, and that’s what Bortles did on Sunday.

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Rams are regarded as the favorites to move to L.A.

Cunningham AP

Two weeks ago, we sparked a flurry of reports and quotes and boasts and ultimately concerns regarding the return of the NFL to Los Angeles, reporting that the league believes one or two teams will move there within the next 12-24 months.

Of the three teams viewed as the most likely to move — the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers — the team viewed by the NFL as most likely to make the move is the Rams.

If it’s the Rams, the most likely location for a new stadium becomes the land owner Stan Kroenke purchased last year at Hollywood Park.  AEG’s proposed downtown stadium is believed to hinge on owner Philip Anschutz purchasing a significant piece of the anchor tenant.

The Rams currently have a year-to-year arrangement at the Edward Jones Dome.  They can leave without financial consequence after the coming season, and every season thereafter.

The powers-that-be in St. Louis reportedly are working on a proposal of a new open-air stadium in St. Louis.  It could be a legitimate effort to keep the team.  Or it could be an effort to diffuse criticism that the local politicians didn’t try hard enough to keep him.

But what about San Diego’s threat to oppose the relocation of any team to the L.A. market?  Per a league source, those concerns likely would be resolved, possibly with the Chargers getting a larger slice of the relocation fee than other teams receive.

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If Brees doesn’t catch Peyton, no one will for many years

drew-brees-peyton-manning-pro-bowl-2010-3f08e0a3b5dace3e_large AP

Peyton Manning broke the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown record on Sunday night, and he may put it out of reach for many years.

Looking at the list of career leaders for passing touchdowns, there’s really only one person on the list who has a shot of passing Manning in the next decade, and that’s Drew Brees. Manning is currently 136 touchdown passes ahead of Brees (510 to 374), and Manning is three years older than Brees. Brees has a shot.

But it’s not a good shot. To equal Manning’s total, Brees would have to keep pace with Manning until Manning retires, and then play four more years after Manning retires while averaging 34 touchdown passes a season. That’s a very tall order.

And if Brees doesn’t break the passing touchdown record, it’s going to be a very long time before anyone gets close. After Brees on the list of all-time touchdown passers is Tom Brady, who is closer in age to Manning than he is to Brees. It’s unlikely that Brady will finish ahead of either Brees or Manning, let alone both of them.

Next on the list of active leaders is Eli Manning, who isn’t even halfway to his big brother’s total: Eli has 243 touchdown passes at age 33, meaning at his current pace he’d need to keep playing into his mid-40s just to reach Peyton’s current touchdown record, and of course by the time Peyton retires he’ll have put the record far beyond his current total.

After Eli Manning on the active list are Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, all of whom are in their 30s and unlikely to last long enough to reach Peyton.

Aaron Rodgers, with 206 career touchdown passes, probably got too late a start to catch Manning. The 30-year-old Rodgers spent his first three seasons as Brett Favre’s backup, meaning he was already in his mid-20s before he started throwing touchdown passes. He’ll probably have to play into his mid-40s to have any chance at the record.

If there’s a young active quarterback who would have a chance at catching Manning it would probably be Matthew Stafford, who became the Lions’ starter at age 21 and now has 118 touchdown passes at age 26. Could Stafford play something like 14 more years and average 35 touchdowns a year? It’s unlikely, but he’s by far the youngest of the active quarterbacks who have reached 100 career touchdowns, so if any one of the young crop of quarterbacks is going to break the record, it’s probably Stafford. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are only a year younger than Stafford, and they’re both more than 50 touchdowns behind Stafford.

It’s impossible to guess how the rules of the NFL or football strategies might change to make the passing touchdown record easier or harder to break in the future, but assuming 60-touchdown seasons don’t become commonplace, Manning is likely to own this record for a very long time. If any quarterback is ever going to break it, he probably isn’t in the NFL yet.

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NFL morning after: Teams win and lose, quarterbacks don’t

coltmccoy AP

Colt McCoy is a winner. And so is Blake Bortles. Kyle Orton and Ryan Tannehill, too. And don’t forget Austin Davis, who made a loser of Russell Wilson. Drew Brees? Like Wilson, a loser. Philip Rivers is a loser, and so is Eli Manning. Cam Newton is a big loser.

That’s one way to look at yesterday’s NFL action. It’s an all too common way to look at the NFL. It’s a ridiculous way to look at the NFL.

There’s a tendency to say that a quarterback “won” a game or “lost” a game, and to diminish a great performance by a quarterback in a losing effort, or prop up a bad performance by a quarterback whose team won, by saying that all that matters is the scoreboard. That tendency should stop. Teams win and lose. Quarterbacks do not.

Colt McCoy played well yesterday in relief of Kirk Cousins as Washington beat Tennessee, but that doesn’t make McCoy a “winner.” It makes him a backup quarterback who did his job well. Blake Bortles played badly, with just 159 passing yards and three interceptions, but the rest of his team played well enough that Jacksonville beat Cleveland. We shouldn’t call Bortles a “winner” based on that performance.

There was a stat making the rounds earlier this season about how Russell Wilson was undefeated against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. And it’s true. It’s also largely irrelevant to a question of who’s the best quarterback among that group. The quarterback who wins the most is usually the quarterback with the best teammates. Wilson is a good quarterback, but he has a Super Bowl ring more because he played for a team with a great defense last year than because of his own abilities.

And if you think Wilson’s record against Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers makes him better than those four quarterbacks, I’d love to know what you thought about Wilson “losing” to Austin Davis yesterday.

Andrew Luck, one of the winning quarterbacks yesterday, said it well after his Colts beat the Bengals: “It’s the greatest team game in the world because you rely on different phases of the game,” Luck said. “I’m just like a fan — I might as well be a fan when our defense is out there. I don’t know what the calls are or anything, but they do a heck of a job and they certainly gave us a great lift today, and I’m glad they got that shutout.”

Luck played well, and the Colts’ defense played well, and Indianapolis won 27-0. But if Luck had played well, the Colts’ defense played badly, and Indianapolis lost 35-27, would that change how good a player Luck is? Of course not.

Tony Romo has taken plenty of heat when his team loses, and now he’s getting lots of credit because the Cowboys are winning, but the reality is Romo is the same quarterback he always was. The Cowboys’ offensive line is better than ever, DeMarco Murray is playing lights out and the Cowboys’ defense is much improved, and so the perennially .500 Cowboys are 6-1. Romo, who got too much blame when the Cowboys were 8-8, will get too much credit if the Cowboys keep winning.

For 55 minutes yesterday, Drew Brees played better against a good Lions defense than Matthew Stafford did against a bad Saints defense. Does the fact that the Saints’ lousy defense finally got exposed in the last five minutes, and Stafford’s Lions beat Brees’s Saints 24-23, make Brees a “loser” and Stafford a “winner”? Of course not.

The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but he is not the singular reason a team wins or loses. The quarterback is on the field for less than half of the game and is one of 11 players on his team when he is playing. Pretending he’s even half of the reason his team wins or loses is silly. A good quarterback might cost 10 percent of his team’s salary cap, so maybe a highly paid quarterback should get 10 percent of the credit when his team wins or 10 percent of the blame when his team loses. The bulk of the reason a team wins or loses is reflected in the 90 percent or more of the salary cap that the team spends on the other players on the roster.

A free safety isn’t judged by winning and losing, and neither is a guard or a linebacker or a tight end. A quarterback shouldn’t be judged by winning and losing, either. He should be judged by the quality of his own play. If that contributes to his team winning, great. If he plays great and his team loses anyway, he’s not a loser.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:

Hurry it up, refs. Few things are more aggravating while watching a game than waiting forever to hear the ref announce the result of a replay review. There was an absurdly long review in Dallas on Sunday to check the spot on a play that was initially ruled a first down but later overturned on replay. There’s just no good reason for the refs to delay the game any longer than the standard time it takes for a commercial break. Make the call and move the game along.

What ever happened to Michael Sam? Remember when Sam was supposed to be the dreaded “distraction” in Dallas? Now he’s totally disappeared. He’s just another anonymous guy on the practice squad, no different than any other practice squad player. I didn’t hear anyone mention him during the Giants-Cowboys game. I haven’t heard anyone mention him in weeks. It’s amazing how quickly something that’s supposed to be a big deal becomes ordinary.

DeMarco Murray could make history. The season Murray is having for the Cowboys is unbelievable. In Sunday’s win over the Giants he topped 100 yards, just as he’s done in every game this year, making him the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. Murray is on pace to finish this season with 2,087 yards, putting him within shouting distance of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in a season.

Ahmad Bradshaw could make history, too. No running back in NFL history has ever had 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. Even great pass-catching running backs like Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig never did it. But Bradshaw, who caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, has a real shot at it. The Colts’ passing game is excellent, and Bradshaw gets a lot of red zone targets, and I like his chances of scoring four more touchdowns in the next nine games, giving him the all-time receiving touchdown record for a running back.

Seattle’s far from done, but not in great shape either. At 3-3 after yesterday’s loss to the Rams, the Seahawks still have plenty of time to turn their season around. But this is two straight weeks in which Seattle has lost and looked bad doing it. It also hurts that the Seahawks are in a tough division (third place in the NFC West, behind both the Cardinals and the 49ers), and a conference in which the wild card race will be competitive (two good teams in the NFC North and two good teams in the NFC East). Seattle is certainly good enough to make the playoffs and to repeat as champions. But things need to get turned around soon.

One thing that can be said for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson is playing outstanding football: On Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 yards in the same game. Wilson is playing better football this year than he did last year. That’s clear to anyone who can see that assessing a quarterback is about more than just wins and losses.

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Earl Thomas: Refs need to stay out of it and let us dominate

St. Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seahawks had several special teams breakdowns against the Rams on Sunday, their offense was a non-factor until they were already down 18 points and their defense let the Rams go 80 yards in four minutes in the fourth quarter to slow down Seattle’s comeback attempt.

Despite all of that, safety Earl Thomas thinks something else is to blame for the team’s second straight loss. Thomas looked in the direction of the officials, who ruled that the Rams should retain possession after a late fumble by Rams running back Tre Mason on a play that the Seahawks felt was judged incorrectly. The ruling on the field was that the Rams recovered and NFL officiating head Dean Blandino explained that all angles were reviewed and there was no clear visual evidence of who came up with the ball.

“Player coming out of pile w/loose ball is not a clear recovery. Need video evidence of him gaining possession. Play was reviewed in NY,” Blandino wrote on Twitter.

Thomas saw something more nefarious at play, however, and said that the team is “battling the officials” in addition to the opposing team right now.

“Yeah. At least give us a shot. But you know what? I’m not surprised with the referees this season. If you really look at some plays, we’re playing more than our opponents. We’re playing the referees too. I don’t care what anybody is saying. Something is wrong. That needs to be brought up,” Thomas said, via the Seattle Times. “It’s kind of crazy how football is turning out now. You give a guy, just because he wears a white and black shirt, he has authority of the game. Man, they need to stay out of it — that’s my key — and let us dominate.”

If the Seahawks were truly dominating the Rams on Sunday, there wouldn’t have been a place for the officials to impact the outcome of the game. For the second straight week, though, the Seahawks struggled for stretches in all areas of the game and that explains the 28-26 loss a lot more easily than the ruling on a disputed fumble recovery or anything else.

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