Colts trying to bounce back after rare 0-2 start

The Colts are ready to start fighting back. They know the unpleasant reality of a 0-2 start – that only 12 percent of those teams have made the playoffs Mike Neal Elite Jersey since 1990. They understand why outsiders worry about the lack of a consistent pass rush. They’ve heard Andrew Luck walk into postgame news conferences the past two weeks and lament his own decisions. And they understand why so many questions are being asked just two weeks into the season. Now, for the first time in more than two years, Indianapolis is attempting to rebound from back-to-back losses Sunday at Jacksonville. ”You can point out every week if we did this, this and this we’d be 2-0,” coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. ”We have 14 games left and the only that matters right now is Jacksonville and that’s the next one. The record is the record. We’re not going to sit there and dwell on anything other than Jacksonville.” The Colts haven’t been this desperate since Peyton Manning went down with a neck injury in 2011 and the Colts opened the season at 0-13. After Monday night’s debacle, there are obvious reasons for concern. The defense allowed 24 points over the final 20 minutes and still hasn’t found a replacement for the suspended Robert Mathis, the 2013 sacks champion who will miss the entire season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon during a private workout last week in Atlanta. Indianapolis couldn’t even generate consistent pressure against Philadelphia’s makeshift offensive line, and now the Colts could be without their key free agent acquisition, Arthur Jones, for several weeks, too. Pagano confirmed Tuesday that Jones has a high right ankle sprain and listed him week to week. The offense, which ran for 169 yards – its highest total since Week 3 of the 2013 season, couldn’t seal the win because the Eagles converted two second-half turnovers into two TDs. And instead of running the ball on third down when they were in field goal range with a little over 5 minutes to play, the Colts got aggressive and threw the ball – and essentially the game – away with an ill-advised pass from Luck. Sure, there were complaints about that there was no call when Luck’s intended receiver, T.Y. Hilton, appeared to be grabbed on the play. But the Colts refused to make the calls the issue. ”We played as good a half as you can play against a good team, a playoff team,” Pagano said, referring to the Colts’ 17-6 halftime lead. ”But it’s a 60-minute game and that’s what we’re shooting for, to play a complete game.” Where do the Colts look to fix things? Perhaps they’ll start with Luck, who acknowledged he ”wasn’t sharp” Monday night. While his completion rate is up, from 60.2 percent last season to 63.2 percent through two games this season, his yards per attempt have dropped for the third straight year. And he’s already thrown three interceptions after throwing only nine during… Read More »

Rams quarterback Bradford makes impressive return

It was only a preseason game, but in this situation, it was so much more. It had been 300 days since St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford last played an NFL game, and in that time, he not only had to experience a grueling Josh McCown Jersey rehab from the torn ACL he suffered Oct. 20 against the Carolina Panthers, but also endure the persistent suggestions that it was time for the Rams to move on and find another quarterback. The speculation was fueled by talk that the Rams were seriously considering selecting Johnny Manziel with one of their first-round picks in May’s draft. It got to the point where Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead brought Bradford on stage at a season-ticket holder gathering the night before the draft and Fisher said, “Sam’s our guy,” which is exactly what Fisher and Snead had been saying throughout the offseason. Still, there was the matter of Bradford going out on the field and performing. He participated in half the team’s OTA sessions, and hasn’t missed a practice in training camp. He didn’t play in the preseason opener, making Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome against Green Bay his so-called coming out party. And Bradford didn’t disappoint. He moved around well, passed with accuracy and on his first possession hit a fourth-and-3 pass to tight end Jared Cook on a play where he hung in the pocket with defenders around him and delivered the ball where it had to be. That first drive was stalled by two penalties and slightly overthrowing wide receiver Kenny Britt on a deep pass to the right. But the next time the Rams got the ball, on a day where the running game wasn’t working, Bradford completed 4-of-5 passes for 63 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Lance Kendricks. It was the Rams’ only touchdown of the game, and it was Bradford’s clear message that he’s back. In fact, various social media outlets claimed that’s what he said after the touchdown (“I’m back”). Asked about that after the game, Bradford said, “No, I don’t think those were the words.” However, he did acknowledge that “in the quarterback room we’ve kind of got something we say and I looked over at Schotty (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) and gave him one of those. So, it was just kind of a signal to him.” In his two possessions, Bradford completed 9-of-12 passes for 101 yards, the touchdown, and a passer rating of 127.4. “Anybody that had questions about Sam’s physical condition, I think they were answered today,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “I’m very pleased with his performance and you can see he has his fastball. Those were great throws to Brian (Quick) and Lance. I’m happy with his game. He’s excited and things are clearly behind him. Now we can move forward, so that was encouraging.” The play to Quick came on a play-action pass that was a little high. Quick went… Read More »

Panthers look to make history, repeat in NFC South

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers will need to rewrite history if they hope to repeat as NFC South champions Will Blackmon Authentic Jersey this season. It won’t be easy. No team has won back-to-back NFC South division titles since the league realigned in 2002. The Panthers are in a division stacked with formidable foes – not to mention tremendously talented quarterbacks – in Atlanta and New Orleans. And Tampa Bay is considered a dark horse under new coach Lovie Smith. The Saints and Falcons have grabbed headlines with their offseason upgrades, while the salary cap-strapped Panthers have released star wide receiver Steve Smith, saw veteran left tackle Jordan Gross retire, and lost a handful of key free agents. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis views the past as a plus. ”A lot of people are ruling us out right now based on the history of the division – and that’s OK with us,” said Davis, entering his 10th season with the Panthers. ”We do our best work when we’re not expected to do anything. We’re not going to do a bunch of trash talk, we’re just going to go out and show it.” Carolina boasts the league’s No. 2 defense led by middle linebacker and Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. However, questions remain about an offense that lost four linemen to retirement, and its top four receivers. But the Panthers aren’t the only team with concerns. The Saints are worried about a leaky, injury-plagued secondary. The Falcons have concerns about protecting quarterback Matt Ryan and replacing his favorite red zone target, Tony Gonzalez. And the Bucs are banking on 35-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown to boost their offense. ”I think the South is the most competitive division in the entire NFL,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. Smith points to Drew Brees in New Orleans, Newton in Carolina and Ryan in Atlanta as three big reasons why. ”We have a division that has three outstanding quarterbacks, and this is a quarterback-driven league,” Smith said. ”They’ve all been to the Pro Bowl in the last three or four years.” The NFC South has been remarkably balanced since 2002, with each team winning three division titles. ”We want to take the lead,” Davis said. Some things to watch in the NFC South: SUSPECT SECONDARY: The Saints spent money upgrading their secondary, though it’s unclear how those moves will pan out. New Orleans brought in three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey. Byrd had offseason back surgery and has been limited during training camp, while the 36-year-old Bailey went down with an unspecified leg injury early in camp and remains limited. Cornerback Patrick Robinson, a 2012 first-round pick whose comeback from knee surgery showed promise early in camp, has been battling an undisclosed leg injury. PROTECTING RYAN: The offensive line was a concern even before left tackle Sam Baker was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. First-round pick Jake… Read More »

Henery close to kicking his way out of Philly

Alex Henery has been the Philadelphia Eagles’ placekicker for the past three seasons, but there is no guarantee Mark Barron Authentic Jersey he still will be their kicker when they open the regular season against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 7. Henery, who the Eagles thought enough of to select in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, did not have a particularly good season in 2013. He had one of the worst touchback percentages on kickoffs in the league and while he made 23 of 28 field-goal attempts, four of his five misses were from 48 yards and in. He also missed a critical 48-yard attempt in the Eagles’ two-point playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. While he has been accurate in training camp this summer, Henery missed a 47-yard attempt last week against the New England Patriots, then shanked a 31-yarder Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Eagles brought in another kicker Aug. 20, acquiring rookie Cody Parkey in a trade with Indianapolis. Parkey converted an extra point Thursday in his only kick of the game. “You have to make a field goal like that,” coach Chip Kelly said of Henery’s 31-yard miss Thursday. “You have to make it.” Corey Spear was signed over the offseason to compete with Henery but hasn’t performed well enough in practice to earn a field-goal opportunity during the preseason. Asked if he is considering bringing in a more experienced kicker to compete with Henery, Kelly said: “I don’t know. But if outside influences are going to affect you, then that’s something you’ve got to deal with, you know what I mean? “There is going to be competition at every position. Our job is to make sure we put the best players out there and the guys that give us the best chance (to win).” Earlier this week, Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp made it clear that Henery is on a short leash. “We’re keeping an eye on everybody (around the league),” he said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how the next two weeks go.” –RB LeSean McCoy suffered a thumb injury and went to the locker room during the first quarter of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but coach Chip Kelly called the injury “no big deal.” X-rays were negative and McCoy came back to the sideline and had his right hand taped. During a first-quarter series, McCoy took a hard hit from Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons on a play that resulted in a 5-yard loss. McCoy came off the field and requested a trainer. On the Eagles’ next offensive series, McCoy went back into the game and scored a touchdown on a 22-yard screen pass from quarterback Nick Foles. McCoy acknowledged after the game that his thumb was sore. “A helmet hit it,” McCoy said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It definitely hurts. But there have been times I’ve been banged up and it turns out fine. We’ll see what happens.” –WR Jeremy Maclin… Read More »

Falcons, Jaguars trying to settle O-line in finale

The Jacksonville Jaguars had few, if any, concerns at center for a dozen years. Brad Meester was Jacksonville’s man in the middle Lavonte David Authentic Jersey every season since 2002, and he was arguably the most consistent and dependable player in franchise history. He set a team record for games played (208) and notched the two longest streaks of consecutive starts (92 and 89). So it should be no surprise that the Jaguars have had a tough time replacing him. The Jaguars essentially benched center Mike Brewster after two preseason games, opening up the job to journeyman Jacques McClendon and rookie Luke Bowanko. Jacksonville hopes to settle the position in Thursday’s preseason finale against Atlanta, which also is looking to finalize its offensive line. ”We just want to challenge them one more time to see who shows up and what we’re looking for,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. Brewster was supposed to slide right into the starting job. The former Ohio State standout spent two years waiting for Meester to retire, but he sailed two shotgun snaps over Chad Henne’s head in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and then got handled inside the following week at Chicago. ”I try to stay positive,” Brewster said. ”I don’t see the point in ever worrying about certain things you don’t control. You’ve just got to prepare yourself for anything and that’s how I’ve always been. It’s how I was raised and it’s how I’m always going to be. Just don’t let anything like that throw you off.” All indications are Bowanko will get the nod over McClendon, who is expected to start at left guard against the Falcons in place of Zane Beadles (calf). Jacksonville selected Bowanko in the sixth round of the NFL draft in May. The Virginia graduate wasn’t expected to start right away, especially since the Jaguars already have third-round pick Brandon Linder penciled in at right guard and second-year pro Luke Joeckel starting at left tackle. But with Brewster’s struggles, the Jaguars believe they will be better off in the long run if they get the rookies on the field – even if it means taking some lumps early. ”It’s like coming in your first day of college,” Bowanko said. ”You know others here have been doing this for a while, but it’s not really about them. It’s about what you can do and what abilities you bring to the table and justifying people’s faith that they had in you to draft you. ”I just came in, and if I was good enough to do that, it would kind of take care of itself. Nothing is etched in stone, anything even to this day. So I’m just working to get better and put my best stuff out there.” Bowanko might be further along had it not been for a foot injury that kept him out parts of training camp. ”He’s got a lot of upside,” Bradley said. ”It’s unfortunate that he’s nicked up a little bit. We’re… Read More »

The most telling moment

The most telling moment of last Sunday’s playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets for the American Football Conference Championship came in the fourth quarter. The Jets were driving to close the score to 24-19. But it was the television shot of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines that interested me the most. It was all in the eyes, unmoving, not even a single blink, aimed at a faraway distance only he could see. I found the moment chilling; into my head popped the description a former prosecutor once gave me of a defendant who had committed repeated acts of assault—it too was all in the eyes, what he called “the dead eyes of a great white shark,” always on the prowl for the next victim. Or in the case of Roethlisberger, the habit of getting what he wanted when he wanted because he wanted, even if it meant troubling accusations of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student in a nightclub last March in Milledgeville, Georgia. In a videotaped interview, she told police that she was led into a hallway by one of Roethlisberger’s bodyguards, whereupon Roethlisberger himself followed and pulled out his penis, ostensibly with more in mind than letting her see if it was circumcised. So how could any woman, no matter how young, no matter how drunk, no matter how ripe for being taken advantage of, resist such an elegant overture? He wanted it when he wanted it because he wanted it, and in the nightclub bathroom he allegedly had sex with the woman, powerless to resist, she told investigators, because of his temper and her size, 5-4 and 141 pounds, versus his, 6-5 and 241 pounds, and the fact she was clearly inebriated. The statement she gave seemed pretty damn convincing. After 500 pages of hemming and hawing by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Roethlisberger was never criminally charged. There were conflicting versions, as there almost always are when a big-time athlete has been accused of sexual assault and the accuser becomes the accused in a matter of seconds. But National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell subsequently suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 regular season, finding that he had facilitated the purchase of alcohol for underage college students who were in all likelihood were already intoxicated, placing both the students and himself at risk. The contrition of Big Ben has turned into the all too familiar condescension of Big Ben—I am a great athlete and the rest of you are annoying gnats. What was Roethlisberger thinking on the sideline last weekend? My hunch is not much. He has never struck me as a man of any particular introspection, his style of play far more Sasquatch than silk, a sullen behemoth tough to bring down and almost always able to make completions when it counts. When he got into his jam in Georgia, he was deft enough to talk the talk and do his best to squirm… Read More »