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NEW YORK — Todd Bowles is concerned about only one thing regarding his future with the New York Jets: the team’s next opponent.

Despite all the rumours and expectations that the game Sunday at New England will be his last as coach of the franchise, Bowles refuses to publicly fuel any of the speculation that has seemed like an inevitable ending for weeks.

“I do not talk about my job,” Bowles said during a conference call Monday.

Plenty of other people do that for him, of course, with many fans and media already preparing for a coaching search and throwing out potential replacements for Bowles.

Pro Football Talk reported Sunday night, citing an anonymous source, that the Jets plan to pursue Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Bowles said he had no response to the report, but the team issued a statement from acting chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson denying it.

“Todd Bowles is our head coach,” Johnson said in the statement. “There is no truth to the report of our interest in Jim Harbaugh.”

That, of course, doesn’t mean Bowles will, in fact, remain the coach moving forward. The Jets also might know the reality is Harbaugh has made it clear he intends to remain with the Wolverines.

Harbaugh’s brother John, another name mentioned in speculation and rumours, will also not be on New York’s list after Baltimore announced last week it will sign him to a contract extension.

Former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy has been a much-discussed option on sports radio and social media, and there will be plenty more names to consider over the next several days.

Bowles remaining with the Jets, however, does not seem likely. He is about to finish his fourth season — all without a playoff appearance — and has a 24-39 overall record, including a 44-38 overtime loss to the Packers on Sunday.

“Personally, I do not speak about my next job,” Bowles said. “I worry about tomorrow and when Christmas comes, and I worry about New England on Sunday and I go from there.”

That’s not just lip service from Bowles, who has always been reserved about his private life and his job status since being hired by the Jets in 2015 to replace the fired Rex Ryan. Bowles has insisted on keeping the focus on his players, and not letting the outside chatter affect anyone inside his locker room.

“That’s my only job,” the 55-year-old Bowles told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “Nothing else matters. They’re younger and they haven’t been through anything like this, so it’s up to me to make sure we approach it the right way and learn the things we need to learn, and it gets navigated the right way, and that’s my only job.

“There’s nothing else to really lose sleep over.”

To a man, the players have said Bowles has not strayed from that approach. They have praised his ability, despite all the swirling speculation, to not let any of it affect his preparation.

“I can say that our minds and our focus is on the Patriots coming up this week,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “We can’t worry about things going on outside our building. I think more guys are focused on making sure that they’re spending time with their families for Christmas. We don’t have time to really look at what the media has to say about what’s going on.

“At the end of the day, it’s about this organization, about these players in this building.”

When asked what Bowles has to say about it, Beachum said the coach has said nothing regarding his future.

“He’s got us focused on the Patriots,” Beachum said. “That’s not something that is on top of mind right now. What’s on top of mind is finding a way to close out games. We’ll handle the rest when the season is over.”

NOTES: After blasting officials for calling so many penalties on his team, included 16 accepted for a franchise-record 172 yards, Bowles said he had nothing more to add. “I said what I said, I meant everything I said,” Bowles said. “I’m done with it.” … Bowles said WR Jermaine Kearse injured an Achilles tendon and was going for X-rays. He had four catches for 55 yards before leaving against Green Bay. … WR Quincy Enunwa appears likely to end the season having missed the final three games with an ankle injury. When asked about Enunwa’s chances of playing at New England, Bowles said: “Slim. I haven’t talked to him yet, but I would say slim.” … Beachum and his family were treating people to lunch in his hometown of Mexia, Texas, to celebrate Christmas. Although Beachum can’t join them, he invited residents to stop by a local chicken and catfish eatery for a meal “to show holiday love to my hometown.”

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Rams were still reeling from the mass shooting less than five miles from their training complex when wildfires consumed the nearby hills, forcing a cancelled practice and the evacuation of many players and coaches from their homes.

At the close of a horrific week in Thousand Oaks, a comeback victory over the Seattle Seahawks somehow seemed both more trivial and even sweeter to these resilient Rams.
Brandin Cooks rushed for a 9-yard touchdown with 5:49 to play on the first snap after Dante Fowler forced and recovered a fumble by Russell Wilson, and the Rams bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 36-31 victory Sunday.

Jared Goff was forced from his home during the week, but he passed for 318 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams (9-1) swept the season series with their division rivals.

“It’s just been a tough week for the whole city, the whole area up there,” Goff said of the Rams’ weekday hometown, one hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles. “Hoping today provided a little bit of joy and regularity for those people.”

Todd Gurley rushed for 120 yards and a score as Los Angeles moved into commanding position for its second consecutive NFC West title, but only after plenty of late drama in a rivalry that’s never lacking in excitement.

Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee caught TD passes for the Rams, who survived a topsy-turvy game with just enough big plays. Although the perfect season ended last week in New Orleans, Los Angeles still has never lost back-to-back games under coach Sean McVay.

“It means a lot, (because) there’s a lot of tragedy that’s been going on,” said Aaron Donald, who had 2 1/2 sacks of Wilson after evacuating his family during the week. “We’ve all been affected by it. We had to move ourselves, so to win a game like this, a divisional game, we’re trying to give people something to smile about.”

Fowler, the pass-rush specialist acquired from Jacksonville late last month, made up for his costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter by stripping Wilson of the ball and then recovering the fumble, setting up Cooks’ run for a 12-point lead.

Wilson threw three touchdown passes, rushed for 92 yards and nearly rallied the Seahawks (4-5) all the way back after his fumble.

Wilson hit Mike Davis for a short TD catch to cap a 90-yard drive with 1:56 to play. After the Seattle defence held, he got the Seahawks to the Los Angeles 35 before throwing four straight incompletions in the final minute.

“I think the whole stadium was nervous on that last drive, (but) it didn’t work out,” Wilson said.

Wilson also threw TD passes to Nick Vannett and Tyler Lockett , but the Seahawks have lost two straight after winning four of five.

Seattle took the lead with Lockett’s TD catch in the third quarter, but only because their drive was kept alive by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Fowler after a third-down stop.

“I knew I had to go out there and redeem myself,” Fowler said.

RUNAWAY LOSS

Rashaad Penny rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown in the injury absence of Chris Carson for the Seahawks., who had 273 yards rushing at the Coliseum after racking up 190 yards on the ground in their 33-31 loss to the Rams last month in Seattle. “On this day, we went nose to nose,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s a statement to guys running the football. That’s the whole thing fitting together.”

GURLEY’S GAINS

Gurley scored his NFL-leading 17th touchdown in the second quarter on a 17-yard run. He also scored a TD in his franchise-record 13th consecutive game, extending his franchise record. He is the fourth player in league history to score a TD in each of his team’s first 10 games.

SACK MACHINE

Donald has a career-high 12 1/2 sacks already this season. He teamed up with Ndamukong Suh for a huge third-down sack at the Los Angeles 15 in the fourth quarter, forcing Seattle to kick a field goal.

BIG GIFT

Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is donating his game check to the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Conejo Valley Victims Fund, which was set up to help the families of the 12 people killed Wednesday night by a gunman in Thousand Oaks, the home of the Rams’ training complex. The Rams held a moment of silence before the game.

INJURIES

Seahawks: Carson sat out with a hip injury, while starting right guard D.J. Fluker missed the game with a calf injury.

Rams: Receiver Cooper Kupp went down in the fourth quarter holding his left knee, which sidelined him earlier this season. McVay said the injury “doesn’t look good right now.”

UP NEXT

Seahawks: A short week to host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday.

Rams: One of the biggest games of the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City on Monday, Nov. 19.

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Keenan Allen is having another productive season for the Los Angeles Chargers with the exception of one area — touchdowns.

The wide receiver has the second-most receptions (41) and yards (506) through seven games in his six-year career, but he has only one touchdown.
Going into Sunday’s game at Seattle, it is the second straight year that Allen has mostly been kept out of the end zone the first half of the season. He also had only one TD in the Chargers’ first nine games last season.

“They will come. I just have to keep doing my job and make sure I am ready when the play comes,” Allen said.

Allen hasn’t had a touchdown since the opener against Kansas City. Last season he also had a TD in the opener and then went eight straight games before he scored another.

Allen did show some frustration over his lack of touchdowns in the Chargers’ last game against Tennessee on Oct. 21. Allen appeared to be wide open on a third-down play at the Titans 10, but Rivers threw an incomplete pass to Mike Williams, who was covered. Allen kicked one of the end zone pylons after the play and had a brief exchange with Rivers on the sideline.

Rivers said this might be the most playmakers he has had during his 15-year career and had no problems with Allen showing his frustration.

“I think having that competitiveness and that desire to want it and get it and throw it our way as a quarterback, you want them to all feel that, and we all understand and manage from an emotion standpoint,” Rivers said.

Despite having more receiving options, Rivers said he hasn’t seen teams cover Allen differently and that he is still drawing double teams. The double teams have helped Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams make plays downfield. Tyrell Williams has seven receptions for 236 yards and three touchdowns in his past two games.

“He’s obviously a huge part of what we’re doing, the third down plays against Tennessee were huge and he’s going to be a big factor and help those other guys have some favourable matchups,” Rivers said.

Allen is hoping that his hot stretch comes in November again. Last season he had three straight games where he had 10 or more catches as he had 33 receptions for 436 yards and four touchdowns.

“It will come. I just have to keep doing my job and make sure to be ready,” Allen said. “At the end of the day it is all about success.”

Allen will be going up against a Seattle defence that is fourth in the league with 10 interceptions. The Chargers (5-2) have won four straight games and have split the two games at CenturyLink Field since it opened in 2002.

The Seahawks (4-3) have won four of their past five, but a benefit for the Chargers is that Seattle’s defensive scheme is similar to their own. That is because Los Angeles defensive co-ordinator Gus Bradley had the same position in Seattle from 2009 to 2012.

“Our players see it every single day, but it’s still a personnel game, matchup game. They put their player in a position to make plays just like we do and we just have to execute,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said.

Notes: Running back Melvin Gordon, who missed the Tennessee game because of a hamstring injury, was working with his position group during individual drills, but Lynn was not ready to say Gordon was full-go for Sunday. … Lynn said the reason why they kept Caleb Sturgis as kicker was because of Sturgis’ ability the past three seasons to make clutch kicks. Sturgis, who has missed the past two games because of a quadriceps injury, has missed four extra points this season.

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PITTSBURGH — The faces change, sometimes at a dizzying rate. The results when the Cleveland Browns visit the Pittsburgh Steelers do not.

Each fall the Browns make their way to Heinz Field, typically with a new quarterback and frequently with a new head coach in tow.

And each trip ends in similar fashion: with a quiet bus ride back home after another stinging defeat in a rivalry that hasn’t felt like much of one for more than two decades.

Your turn Baker Mayfield. And maybe your last chance, Hue Jackson.

Cleveland’s rookie quarterback will get his initial shot at the Steelers (3-2-1) on Sunday when the Browns (2-4-1) try win in Pittsburgh for the first time in 15 years.

It’s a drought that spans nearly a dozen quarterbacks — from Jeff Garcia to Colt McCoy to DeShone Kizer — and seven head coaches — from Butch Davis to Pat Shurmur to Jackson, who has yet to win a game on the road during his tenure (0-19) and whose status is shaky at best.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Mayfield brings a certain swagger that’s hard to quantify but also hard to miss.

Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis couldn’t help but notice it on film, particularly the way Mayfield bounced up last week in Tampa Bay after getting hit by Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead , a play that the NFL admitted should have drawn a flag but did not.

“He got trucked but he got up and ran into the defender’s face,” Davis said with a laugh. “I kind of like that. When I hit him, he’s not going to run in my face.”

Davis then laughed before stressing “I do like him. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s put some good stuff on tape.”

So, though, have the first-place Steelers. Pittsburgh has won two straight following a bumpy 1-2-1 start, a stretch that began with a strange 21-all tie in Cleveland in Week 1.

The Steelers turned it over six times in the rain and wind, including a fourth-quarter fumble by running back James Conner that sparked a late Browns’ rally and spoiled an otherwise spectacular day by Conner in his first NFL start.

Seven weeks later, Conner is still atop the depth chart and thriving in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, who still hasn’t signed his one-year franchise tender. The way Conner is playing — he already has three games of at least 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns — there’s no telling what Bell’s role will be whenever he bothers to show up.

In many ways, the Steelers have already moved on from Bell. A victory coming off the bye week against an opponent that’s offered little resistance through the years would provide a momentum boost as Halloween nears. Yet Cleveland believes this isn’t the Same Old Browns. Only one way to find out.

Some things to look for as Pittsburgh looks for some separation in the jumbled AFC North while the Browns try to end a 24-game road losing streak, the second-longest in NFL history.

BEN BEING BEN

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is an Ohio native and was passed over by the Browns during the 2004 draft. Cleveland opted for tight end Kellen Winslow with the sixth overall pick while the Steelers scooped up Roethlisberger five selections later.

All the 36-year-old Roethlisberger has done is go 21-2-1 in 24 starts against the Browns, and that doesn’t include the 2016 victory in which he came off the bench in relief of Landry Jones.

Still, he’s eager to atone for his four-interception performance in the opener.

“I hate when we turn the football over,” said Roethlisberger, who is tied for the NFL lead in yards passing per game (339). “I hate when we lose football games, but if you look at positives I think we are getting better every week.”

ON THE OFFENSIVE

An emotional Jackson raised eyebrows following last week’s tough loss with comments that he intended to get more involved in Cleveland’s offence, starting this week.

Jackson’s disappointment with the team’s slow starts — the Browns haven’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter — and overall struggles seemed directed at co-ordinator Todd Haley. Jackson walked back his remarks the next day, saying he was not being critical and only wanted to offer Haley help.

“I have total confidence in Todd and what the staff is doing,” he said. “In those situations, fuming like I was after losing, I had a chance to sit back and see it all. I just wanted to make sure that as an offence we were crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, and making sure that everything is moving in the right direction.”

HALEY’S HOMECOMING

Haley spent six seasons directing Pittsburgh’s high-potent offence before parting with the Steelers following last season’s ugly home playoff loss to Jacksonville. He didn’t always see eye to eye with Roethlisberger, but there were other reasons for the move. Not surprisingly, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin steered clear of any controversy this week about Haley’s departure.

“We just decided that it was an opportunity for change,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes, change is good — not only for us but for him. We had a good experience and had a lot of success together. It is my understanding that he is having a good experience over there, as well.”

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In an era with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, it has been easy to overlook Drew Brees as he’s cemented his status among the greatest to ever play the game.

It was only fitting that on Monday Night Football, Brees had the spotlight he deserves.

Brees became the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader when he threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith that propelled him past Manning’s previous record of 71,490 yards.
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Greer: Brees’ dedication to hard work made him great
Former teammate of Drew Brees and current NFL on TSN analyst Jabari Greer explains how Brees’ attention to detail and years of hard work behind the scenes has made the QB one of the best all-time.

It was a special moment on so many levels and for so many people. It felt good watching Brees celebrate with his teammates on the field. It felt good watching him take a moment to hug and kiss his wife and children on the sideline, followed by a long embrace with head coach Sean Payton. Of course, Brees also took the time to acknowledge the fans, pointing to the crowd as he made his way off and then back on to the field. There was one word that kept coming to mind throughout the celebration: class.

I was fortunate enough to watch the game with one of Brees’ former teammates in TSN NFL analyst Jabari Greer. Jabari talked about the standard Brees has set for the entire organization since he signed with the Saints back in 2006. He talked about the way Brees has always led by example – both on and off the field.

What resonated most was the way Jabari talked about the impact Brees and his family has had on the entire community in New Orleans, an impact that is hard to actually quantify or put in to perspective. There is no doubt Brees deserves to be considered among the greatest quarterbacks ever. The fact that he has used his platform to give so much back to the community truly makes him special.

Brees went on to complete 26-of-29 pass attempts for 363 yards and three touchdowns in a 43-19 win over the Washington Redskins. The Saints have won four straight since a season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to climb to the top of the NFC South standings.

Brees ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,658 passing yards this season, just 69 yards behind Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Brees owns the all-time record for most seasons leading the NFL in passing yards with seven. It won’t be a surprise if he adds to that total this season.

Next up for Brees is the chance to enter the 500 TD club, as he will join Brady, Manning and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to throw 500 scores with his next touchdown pass. New Orleans is on a bye this week. Circle the Saints trip to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Oct. 21 as the date Brees reaches another milestone.

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CINCINNATI — Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick got to see receiver Julio Jones’ rare abilities during practice at Alabama.

They’ve never gone head-to-head in the NFL, which is about to change on Sunday in Atlanta when they’re paired again in a nostalgic rematch.
The Falcons made Jones the sixth overall pick in 2011, when he left Alabama after his junior season. Kirkpatrick was a year behind him at Alabama, giving him a chance to cover him in practice. The Bengals took Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick in 2012.

The Falcons (1-2) and Bengals (2-1) have played once while they were both in the NFL. The Bengals won 24-10 at Paul Brown Stadium during the 2014 season, when Kirkpatrick was on special teams only. Jones caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Kirkpatrick won’t be assigned to Jones on Sunday, but he’ll likely wind up covering him on some plays, allowing them to renew their one-on-one history.

“I just know that competitive nature me and him had when I was down there,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s like me and A.J. (Green). Sometimes me and A.J. are about to kill each other in practice.”

The Bengals have given up a lot of yards in their first three games, facing offences that aren’t as highly ranked as Atlanta’s. Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco threw for more than 300 yards each in the Bengals’ opening wins — late turnovers made the difference.

Christian McCaffrey ran for 184 yards and Cam Newton ran for a pair of touchdowns in Carolina’s 31-21 victory on Sunday that left Cincinnati ranked 26th in the league in defence. The Bengals are last in third downs, allowing opponents to convert 52 per cent.

The defence is still adapting to a new co-ordinator, two new position coaches, and the influx of young players over the past two seasons. The Bengals have their youngest team in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons.

“We’ve got a lot of new, but you’ve got to get it right,” Lewis said Wednesday. “We do a lot of things really good. We’re fifth or sixth in the league on first down. We’ve got to put it all together.”

The cornerbacks are a strength of the unit, featuring three first-round picks — Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson. They’ll get their biggest test yet on Sunday, with three former Alabama players figuring prominently.

Falcons rookie receiver Calvin Ridley was the 26th overall pick out of Alabama. Ridley had seven catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns in Atlanta’s 43-37 overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

“Bragging rights and everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m looking forward to it. A great challenge. Julio is still my guy win, lose or draw. This week I feel like it’s going to be a little extra something.”

NEW D-LINEMAN

The Bengals put second-year defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow on injured reserve with a torn ACL suffered in Sunday’s game. They signed defensive tackle Adolphus Washington off the Cowboys’ practice squad. The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State player was drafted by the Bills in the third round in 2016 and played 31 games for Buffalo. He was waived on Sept. 11 and signed by the Cowboys. It’s unclear whether he’ll learn the defence enough to be able to blend into the Bengals’ line rotation on Sunday.

“It’s a matter of how much he can absorb, given he landed at 7:30 last night,” Lewis said.

GREEN HAS LIMITED PRACTICE

Receiver A.J. Green had a limited practice Wednesday. He sat out the second half at Carolina with a groin/hip injury. Also limited were running back Giovani Bernard (thigh), Kirkpatrick (groin), Dennard (calf), linebacker Preston Brown (ankle), left tackle Cordy Glenn (knee) and defensive end Michael Johnson (knee).

MIXON AND PRICE IMPROVING

Running back Joe Mixon and rookie centre Billy Price will miss their second game with injuries, but Lewis said Wednesday they’re making progress and could be back within a few weeks. Mixon had knee surgery to remove torn cartilage, and Price has a sprained foot.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts spent the off-season investing in Andrew Luck’s protection plan.

After one week, they like the results.

Sure, Andrew Luck was sacked twice and hit seven more times in Sunday’s season-opening loss, but a makeshift offensive line with three new starters held up perhaps better than expected.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an offensive line pass protect as well as they did,” offensive co-ordinator Nick Sirianni said Tuesday.

“It wasn’t just that they weren’t getting near Andrew. You know they got there every once in a while, just as they will with any quarterback. It wasn’t so much they weren’t getting near him, it was the kind of effort where the offensive line was selling out for Andrew.”

Sirianni was most impressed by the teamwork from the starting five and their willingness to do whatever it took to keep Luck upright after going more than 20 months between regular-season starts.

Plus, the Colts (0-1) weren’t even close to full strength — and they may not be again this weekend at Washington.

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Luck’s longtime blindside protector, injured his hamstring between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp.

He returned briefly after being placed on the physically unable to perform list, then re-injured the hamstring before the preseason opener. Castonzo hasn’t played since and was limited in practice all of last week.

Denzelle Good looked like the probable starter at right tackle heading into the preseason, but hurt his knee and wrist in Week 3 of the preseason and sat out all of last week.

Indy danced around those absences by plugging their most versatile lineman, Joe Haeg, into Castonzo’s spot on the left side, and putting veteran J’Marcus Webb, who didn’t even play in the NFL last season, in Good’s spot on the right side.

Indy’s plight may have taken another hit when Webb injured his hamstring on Clayton Fejedelem’s clinching 83-yard fumble return to seal Cincinnati’s victory. Webb was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

“Anthony wasn’t in much of training camp, either, so we were kind of ready for it,” Haeg said. “We have been constantly shuffling guys around, getting guys reps at every position, so it really wasn’t as big a deal, I think, as if Anthony had been healthy all of OTAs, all of training camp and then showed up Week 1 and not been able to play.”

But the Colts’ options are pretty limited.

Haeg could swing back to the right side, where he is more familiar, if Castonzo starts. The only other tackle on the active roster is Le’Raven Clark, a third-round pick in 2016 who was inactive against the Bengals.

What else could the Colts do?

Second-round pick Braden Smith lost out on the starting job at right tackle during the preseason and the only other lineman on the active roster is veteran guard Mark Glowinski, who started 19 games in three seasons with Seattle. He, however, is listed as a guard.

“You have to find a groove so that you’re ready whenever your name is called,” Smith said.

The Colts certainly didn’t play a perfect game against Cincinnati.

Sirianni acknowledged there were some missed assignments and they need to run the ball consistently. But he figures if the Colts continue to protect Luck the way they did for 55 passing attempts Sunday, Indy’s starting quarterback should be in good hands — regardless of the starters.

“I was really just amazed at how little he got hit, dropping back that many times.” Sirianni said. “We got some movement on a really good defensive line on some run plays that we were really encouraged by.”

Notes: The Colts have reached injury settlements with linebackers Tyrell Adams and Jeremiah George, receivers K.J. Brent and Krishawn Hogan and safety T.J. Green. All five become free agents after initially going on the Colts’ injured reserve list when they cleared waivers. … Indy also has signed cornerback Lenzy Pipkins to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and signed guard Sean Harlow and cornerback Tarvarus McFadden to the practice squad and released offensive lineman Jamil Douglas.

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HOUSTON — Deshaun Watson looked rusty in Houston’s season-opening loss to New England, committing two turnovers and failing to move the offence consistently in his return from knee surgery.

Now the second-year quarterback must find a way to improve before Houston begins AFC South play on Sunday at Tennessee where the Texans will be without right tackle Seantrel Henderson.

Coach Bill O’Brien said Monday that Henderson is out for the season with an ankle injury. O’Brien added that Henderson, who was brought in this off-season to improve Houston’s line, will have surgery on Tuesday.

O’Brien said that for Watson to play better this week the rest of the offence has to pitch in to help him.

But he did admit that Watson was a little rusty and that he has “to make better reads, better decisions” for the Texans to be successful. O’Brien was also quick to point out that Watson is still a young player so growing pains are to be expected.

“It’s only I think his seventh game as a starter in this league,” O’Brien said. “He hasn’t played football in … a regular-season game, in a while … there’s a little bit of rust involved in all of those things and I know that he will improve. He’ll work very hard to improve, but there’s a lot of work to do.”

After Henderson was injured late in the first quarter on Sunday the Texans looked to rookie third-round pick Martinas Rankin to fill in. O’Brien thought he did a nice job and could look for him to do more with Henderson out for the season.

Rankin said it was a bit daunting to be thrown into action unexpectedly, but that having a positive attitude helped him succeed.

“Just telling myself: ‘No fear. I belong here. They brought me here for a reason and I’m going to represent this organization the best I can,’” he said.

When asked about regaining the tempo the offence had in the six games Watson started last season, O’Brien lamented the fact that they started things off on a bad note when Watson fumbled a handoff on the team’s first offensive play.

“That’s just horrendous,” O’Brien said. “To give the ball on the 15-yard line or whatever it was, 20-yard line, going in first play of the game, that’s no way to start a game. So, it starts there.”

The good news for the Texans is that Watson improved as the game went on, leading the team to two touchdown drives late after settling for field goals early in the game. He should get a boost this week with the return of receiver Will Fuller, who missed the opener with a hamstring injury.

The speedy Fuller has shown promise as a deep-play threat in his career, but Sunday was the 11th game he’s missed because of injury in his three-year career.

While Watson didn’t have a great game against the Patriots, the Texans did get a solid performance from their running game.

Lamar Miller led the way, rushing for 98 yards after not running for more than 75 yards in 16 games last season. Houston also got a nice game from backup Alfred Blue, who added 36 yards rushing and a touchdown.

“The line blocked well. I thought when we got into a rhythm in the running game, it was good,” O’Brien said. “We rushed for almost 170 yards, which was obviously one of the highlights for us on offence. I thought that Lamar ran hard. Lamar’s a good pro, he does a good job of reading the runs and getting us good yards.”

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Royce Freeman is set to become the first rookie running back to start a season opener for the Denver Broncos since Hall of Famer Terrell Davis in 1995.

“It’s an honour to be mentioned with a man of that calibre, a player with that type of legacy around here,” Freeman said.

Coach Vance Joseph chose the third-round pick from Oregon as his starter Monday ahead of veteran Devontae Booker and fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay, who coincidentally was handed Davis’ old No. 30 jersey.

“That being said, it’s going to be by packages, also,” Joseph said. “So, Royce is our leading runner, but on third down you’ll probably see Booker and obviously having a package for Phillips is going to be important.”

Freeman reacted with humility after his position coach, Curtis Modkins, informed him he’d start Sunday against Seattle.

“It’s an honour to be named a starter for this football team,” Freeman said. “It makes me want to work harder.”

Freeman had plenty of miles on his football odometer coming out of Oregon, where he was a four-year starter and rushed 947 times for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns in addition to catching 79 passes for 815 yards and four TDs.

General manager John Elway said that proved he’s durable, and Freeman also proved his worth as a pass protector for Case Keenum during training camp and the preseason.

Joseph lauded Freeman’s maturity, saying he can “carry the load from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint. He was really good in ‘pass-pro.’ That’s your biggest worry about having a young halfback playing with a veteran quarterback, but he’s shown the IQ and the maturity to be a great ‘pass-pro’ guy.”

Joseph said Freeman’s build and resume — he packs 238 pounds on his 6-foot frame and started 45 games in college — show he can handle heavy workloads, too.

“That’s what he showed at Oregon. He was their main guy. He had a lot of work. He stayed healthy through the work. And that’s also an issue for most young backs, can they carry the load for 16 weeks?” Joseph said. “And I think with his background, his body type, he should be able to carry the load for 16 weeks.”

Freeman was second-string behind Booker in the preseason, but he led the team with three touchdown runs, one in each of Denver’s first three preseason games before sitting out the exhibition finale.

OUT OF SIGHT: Joseph shut down a question about how hard it was to cut a former first-round quarterback when the Broncos jettisoned Paxton Lynch on Sunday.

“Paxton’s gone,” Joseph said. “So, that story’s gone with him.

“We have a big game on Sunday. We have three quarterbacks in our house that we feel good about,” Joseph added. “But Paxton, that’s gone. That story should be gone with him — I wish him well.”

The Broncos on Monday welcomed new No. 3 QB Kevin Hogan, the former Stanford signal caller who replaced Lynch on the roster Sunday and began learning from Keenum and backup Chad Kelly.

“Kevin fits what our quarterbacks look like,” Joseph said. “He’s an athletic guy. He has a good arm. He’s very, very smart. He’s fast with the ball. So, he fits the profile of what Chad and Case look like physically. So, he was a good fit for us.”

CAPTAINSHIPS: The Broncos elected captains on Monday, including three first-time honorees: linebacker Todd Davis, special teams ace Andy Janovich, and centre Matt Paradis.

Other captains are star LB Von Miller, Keenum and kicker Brandon McManus.

“All six guys are deserving the honour and I’m excited about those guys leading our team,” Joseph said.

Notes: Third CB Tramaine Brock (personal reasons) was the only player absent from practice, but Joseph said he’ll return Wednesday. … Joseph said he hopes to have S Su’a Cravens back by midseason. Cravens needs arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and went on IR. … The Broncos brought back WR Carlos Henderson to their practice squad. The 2017 third-round draft pick skipped training camp for personal reasons. “I want to see Carlos grow up,” Joseph said. “I want to see Carlos do NFL things and have great meetings, have great practice, have great days in the weight room. Just do those things for us first.”

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With 10 days until kickoff, the Dallas Cowboys are adding a piece to their offensive line.

The Kansas City Chiefs are trading offensive lineman Parker Ehinger to the Cowboys for cornerback Charvarius Ward, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the situation.

Ehinger was a fourth-round pick of the Chiefs out of Cincinnati in the 2016 draft and won a starting guard job as a rookie, but saw that campaign cut short by a torn ACL. The knee injury has kept him from regaining his job since — save for his lone start in Week 17 of 2017 — and GM Brett Veach evidently deemed him expendable.

Dallas welcomes him in a move that appears to be for interior depth. We took a close look Wednesday at the struggles the Cowboys have faced and likely will continue to endure with Joe Looney taking over at center, but Ehinger has only seen starting snaps in the NFL as a guard. The Cowboys are looking at starting rookie Connor Williams at left guard, opposite two-time All-Pro Zack Martin, and might feel more comfortable with Ehinger behind (or competing with) Williams than the previous situation. It doesn’t appear as though Ehinger will play center, though crazier things have happened.

The loss of backup Marcus Martin to a torn ligament in his toe during this preseason likely is a more logical explanation for this trade. Dallas doesn’t want to enter the season without reliable depth behind the rookie guard and acquiring Ehinger for a bubble player addresses that concern.

Ward was an undrafted free agent who some expected to make the final 53-man roster in Dallas after he showed potential during camp. He’ll instead move to a team that has had issues with its secondary during the preseason.