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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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When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft last weekend, it appeared that Pittsburgh was finally selecting the heir to Ben Roethlisberger.

After all, Pittsburgh’s confidence in Rudolph is well-documented now — Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said Rudolph was considered by Pittsburgh in “the group of the top quarterbacks” — and Big Ben, 36, isn’t getting any younger.
But the future Hall of Fame quarterback put a halt Tuesday to talk of Rudolph succeeding him in the next two to three years.

“Well, that’s fine. He can do that,” Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Rudolph eventually taking the reins under center. “But I plan on playing for three to five more years, depending on how the line goes and staying healthy, if I can stay healthy.

“If he’s going to be their guy, that’s great, but in my perfect world it’s not going to be for a while.”

Roethlisberger did hedge his desire to play half a decade more, adding that he’ll still evaluate the length of his career year by year.

“I’ll still take it one year at a time and give it everything I have that one year,” Roethlisberger added, “but that’s what I felt comfortable in telling [the front office].”

A chronic retirement-waffler, this is the first time Big Ben has said outright that he sees himself playing into his 40s. If Roethlisberger plays another five years, he will be 41 at retirement; Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be 41 by this season’s kickoff.
Rudolph is the latest in a short line of quarterbacks selected at the tail-end of Big Ben’s career who could be considered his heir apparent. The Oklahoma State product joins a QB room already populated by 2013 fourth-round pick Landry Jones and 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs, both of whom have combined for just five starts in relief of Roethlisberger. Since Big Ben joined the team in 2004, Pittsburgh also selected 2006 fifth-round pick Omar Jacobs and 2008 fifth-rounder Dennis Dixon.

Rudolph is the highest QB selected by Pittsburgh since Big Ben’s ascendance. Does that make it Roethlisberger’s responsibility to tutor the young thrower?

“You know he’s able to play,” Big Ben said of Rudolph. “Anytime you get guys to come in, you can try to teach him a little bit, it’s a good thing. I’ll do whatever I can to help. I did that with Landry and try to help Dobbs as much as I can. Landry does a great job at that, he did it last year with Dobbs. It’s kind of the backup’s role.”

With Roethlisberger still performing at a Pro Bowl level, the Steelers veteran’s leash deserves to be very long in Pittsburgh, but the real question is how long will he be able to hold off Rudolph?