The San Diego Chargers have several players at different stages of working their way back to the field. Head coach Mike McCoy did not provide reporters at his Friday afternoon news conference much clarity on when any of those players will return.

After watching film on Friday, the Chargers will take the weekend off before returning to the practice field Monday.

After sitting out the loss to Denver on Thursday with a concussion, cornerback Brandon Flowers has a chance to clear the NFL protocol process and get back on the field at Miami.

Running back Donald Brown missed the past three weeks because he has not cleared the NFL protocol process for returning to the field from a concussion.

Fellow running back Ryan Mathews missed six games with an MCL knee sprain, but was seen running sprints during pregame workouts in Denver, and appears close to a return to the field.

Initial reports had Mathews returning in four to six weeks from his knee issue.

Inside linebacker Manti Te’o, out for the past five games with a broken foot, is walking without a limp and working with trainers on the field.

Fellow linebacker Melvin Ingram is on the injured reserve/designated to return with a hip issue. The earliest Ingram can return to the field is after the bye week against Oakland on Nov. 16. Ingram appears on track to meet that goal.

And rookie edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu missed four games this season with a lingering hamstring injury, but with more rest and rehabilitation should be closer to being fully healthy.

The Chargers play just one game in the next 23 days, giving McCoy the prospect of having a healthier team down the back stretch of the season as his Chargers try to stop a two-game losing streak.

“I think the past couple weeks we just haven’t played well enough to win against two good football teams,” McCoy said. “Give Kansas City and Denver all of the credit. They beat us. We didn’t play good enough to win. But I think we’ll bounce back. We’ll have a great week of practice next week. We’ll put together a great plan and find a way to go down to Miami and win.”

McCoy addressed safety Jahleel Addae’s injury concerns from Thursday night’s game again on Friday. Addae twice went down during the Denver game with what appeared to be a shoulder stinger. McCoy confirmed that Addae suffered a stinger, not a concussion.

Addae said he went through a concussion test during the game and passed. McCoy said the team’s training staff and doctors monitored Addae throughout the game and believed there were no safety issues with the hard-hitting safety returning to the field.

“Like every player, regardless of what the injury is, you monitor him throughout the game,” McCoy said. “And that’s exactly what they did with Jahleel. From the first injury he was checked out and throughout the game, like every player. When something happens, every time you come to the sideline, there’s certain things.

“There’s a number of people in the medical fields, not just our training staff and our doctors. There’s someone up in the press box watching everything. There’s someone on our sideline that evaluates everybody. So he did like every other player does during the game.”

McCoy would not say if Addae will be healthy enough to play against Miami on Nov. 2.

McCoy also said he has not met with the training staff, so could not provide an update on the status of cornerback Jason Verrett. The former TCU standout re-injured a shoulder injury he suffered against the Raiders, and watched from the sidelines in the second half.

Verrett was questionable heading into the Denver game, but wound up starting. McCoy was asked if it was a mistake to play Verrett because of his shoulder issue.

“If he wasn’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have put him in there,” McCoy said. “So the answer is he was ready to go.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It’s a simple equation: First eat the veggies then you get dessert.

And for the Denver Broncos to turn loose their pass rushers they first have to put opposing offenses in favorable down-and-distance situations where, as Broncos linebacker Von Miller put it, “We can just go.''

With Thursday night’s 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos sit among the league leaders in most of the major defensive categories, including No. 2 in sacks and No. 1, by a tenth of a yard on average, in run defense.

[+] EnlargeBroncos
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Broncos have given up only 191 rushing yards in their past four games combined.
Things could change at least some when the remainder of the games get played this weekend, but since the Broncos have already had their bye , they are ranked, at the moment, with most of the other top 10 teams on defense that had played seven games before the Broncos played Thursday night’s affair.

“In order to keep a defense honest you have to be able to run the ball, and whenever they felt like they had an opportunity to run the ball we shut them down and that was our main focus this week as a front,’’ Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “That’s something we improved on this year.”

The Chargers finished with 61 yards rushing Thursday night and that total included a meaningless 23-yard run by Branden Oliver on the last play of the game. The Chargers were the fourth consecutive opponent, and the fifth for the season, the Broncos have held to fewer than 63 yards rushing.

The Kansas City Chiefs put up 133 yards in Week 2, and the Seattle Seahawks had 129 in Week 3. In both of those games the Broncos allowed mobile quarterbacks to get free with 42 yards rushing by Kansas City’s Alex Smith and 40 by Seattle’s Russell Wilson, including 21 in the Seahawks’ game-winning drive in overtime.

The Broncos continue to make progress as a group. And the thing they have done far better this season than last is defend the run out of their specialty packages, such as the nickel and the dime, something opponents used to take advantage of as they pounded away at the smaller personnel groupings.

Though most teams haven't been able to get games into a grind-it-out mode to keep the ball away from the Broncos offense yet this season, especially if the Broncos get an early lead, the Broncos' defense sees its job as getting the ball back for Manning and Co. as many times as possible.

“It all starts when we stop people from running,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “It’s a passing league, but teams still want to run the ball to keep you from coming after the quarterback. If teams can’t run, we get to rush the passer and if we get to rush the passer we’re going to get off the field. And if we get off the field that just means Peyton and our offense get the ball more and that’s always good.’’

It is a trend, at least if the numbers are to be trusted, that should continue if the Broncos can hold up their end of the bargain. In their remaining nine games they face just two teams -- Kansas City (No. 10) and Miami (No. 11) -- that are ranked higher than 15th in rushing offense, and the Broncos have five games against teams currently ranked 23rd or lower.

That is plenty of road still to travel so, as Fox put it in so many words Friday, hold the confetti just yet.

“We’re a work in progress,’’ Fox said. “I’m not too big into statistics when you’re not even to halftime yet. It doesn’t really matter who is leading at halftime. The important thing is where you’re at at the end of it. That’s kind of where we are.’’

“We just want to get the ball and give it back to our offense,’’ Ward said. “If you give more and more possessions to Peyton and our offense, that’s a long day for you … and we want it to be a long day for you.’’
ALAMEDA, Calif. – It certainly seems like Maurice Jones-Drew is out of the Oakland Raiders’ plan at running back.

Jones-Drew, the Week 1 starter, who missed two games with a hand injury, hasn’t gotten much work. He had three carries for 6 yards last week against Arizona, and he has clearly fallen way behind Darren McFadden in the pecking order. He has 48 yards on 18 carries this season.

Still, Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano, a run-game specialist, says he hopes to get Jones-Drew more involved.

“We need to get Maurice more snaps,” Sparano said. “I think the plan is to try to get him involved a little bit more if we can do that now. One of the things we have to do is in order to get people more snaps, we have to play more snaps. In the ballgame the other day, really the ball was snapped 49 times and one of them was a kneel-down at the end of the half. So the ball was snapped 49 times, you’re not getting an awful lot of plays out there and that hurts you a little bit. But we need to get him involved more and try to do that, and that takes a little bit off of Darren in some of those situations. It keeps both of those guys fresher. We need to be able to do that.”

The team has not gotten Latavius Murray involved, even though it has hoped to. He has 7 yards on four carries this season. Overall, Oakland, which has had one good ground game this season, hopes to get the running game established Sunday at Cleveland. The Browns have the worst run defense in the NFL.

“You certainly would hope so,” Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson said when asked if Oakland looks at this game as a chance to get productive in the run game. “Obviously, you look at those things every time you go in a game as you study your opponents and are looking for an edge or an advantage. That’s one that we look at.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Remember the incredible run of backups, developmental players and journeymen quarterbacks the Kansas City Chiefs played against last year in their 9-0 start? It’s been a distant memory this year.

The Chiefs have instead gone up against a couple of quarterbacks who are certain to eventually reach the Hall of Fame (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) and another who will likely get to Canton (Philip Rivers). Two of the others were former first-round draft picks (Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker) and the last was Colin Kaepernick.

Not a bad lineup, certainly more formidable than the group the Chiefs faced last season over the first nine games. Six of those quarterbacks from 2013, by the way, are no longer starting. Two of them aren’t even on the active roster of an NFL team.

The stretch of upcoming opposing quarterbacks for the Chiefs resembles the bunch the Chiefs faced early last season more than the ones they’ve gone against this year. On Sunday, the opposing quarterback for the St. Louis Rams will be Austin Davis, an undrafted player who was once on the scrap heap for any team to salvage.

After that: struggling Geno Smith of the New York Jets and journeyman Kyle Orton of the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs will face Seattle Russell Wilson, Arizona’s Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger later this season, as well as Manning and Rivers again. But there are also two games against the Oakland Raiders and rookie quarterback Derek Carr.

Davis has played well in replacing the injured Sam Bradford. He’s completing 66 percent of his passes and is 14th in passer rating at 94.3. As a comparison, the Chiefs’ Alex Smith is completing 64 percent of his throws and is 19th in passer rating at 91.0.

"There are challenges,’’ Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of playing against a young starting quarterback as opposed to an established veteran. “You don’t know his arm strength.

“Anytime you haven’t played against somebody personally, whether you’re coaching or playing, there’s always that unknown. You’re not quite sure what he’s really like. You can see things on video but you don’t appreciate [his strengths and weaknesses].’’

But it bodes well for the Chiefs’ chances to successfully defend Davis that they’ve done well against their first six opposing quarterbacks, four of whom have better passer ratings than Davis.
The Cleveland Browns face their second winless team in a row Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET at FirstEnergy Stadium. Last Sunday in Jacksonville, the Browns took the Jaguars from the winless column, as the Jags completely outplayed the Browns.

Now the Oakland Raiders come to Cleveland. Oakland rookie Derek Carr is the starting quarterback and the long-term answer, while Brian Hoyer is trying to right his ship so he can keep staving off the more-celebrated rookie, Johnny Manziel.

The Browns won’t want to lose two in a row to winless teams. The Raiders will want to win a stinking game. Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson take a look at Sunday’s game.

McManamon: Everyone asks me about Manziel, so I'll ask you about your rookie quarterback. What's your assessment of Carr, and can he be the long-term answer Oakland has long sought?

Williamson: I think, yes, Carr can be the long-term answer. I think the Raiders think so as well. He may not ever become elite, but he could be a guy who goes to more than a few Pro Bowls and who gives his team a chance to win for the long haul. The Raiders aren’t 0-6 because of Carr. He shows great poise and, when the Raiders get more talent around him and when he gets more experience, he could be dangerous. Finally, the Raiders look like they have a quarterback they can build around.

Are the Browns worried about Hoyer’s poor game against Jacksonville? Do you think it’s a sign of things to come?

McManamon: It could be, but not because of that one game but because of the past three. Hoyer started very well, with more than 60 percent on completions in three games (two close losses and one win). Since, he has been below 60 in one game, below 50 in the next and his completion percentage for the season is just below 56, that’s not trending well. Whether this is one of those mini-slumps that affect a guy during a season or a sign that defenses have figured out how to defend him will play out over the next two or three weeks. The Browns say they are not worried about Hoyer, but the concern will grow if he continues on the same path against Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The Browns and Raiders have been neck-and-neck in the past decade for clumsiness and ineptitude. Is there a reason to believe the Raiders are finally getting it right, or will the fire drill continue?

Williamson: Other than the hope for the quarterback, no, there isn’t any reason to think this team is turning the corner anytime soon. They are 0-6 and have holes everywhere. Add in the fact that they are the NFL’s oldest team and there are big long-term problems, the Raiders will start over again in the offseason. With luck, maybe they will be three years away. But they were supposed to be three years away when Reggie McKenzie took over a general manager in 2012. Little if any overall progress has been made.

Do you think the Browns have figured it out or do you think the playoffs are still a long way off?

McManamon: They’re figuring it out, but until they actually do it the playoffs are a distant dream. Mike Pettine’s moves make sense. The Browns run the ball well, and they have some talented people to build around. But the nagging quarterback question popped its head out of the gopher hole last week, and the defense is giving up 155.5 yards per game rushing. GM Ray Farmer does not try to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room; he merely makes logical decisions. On that hope and on the hope that Jimmy Haslam will probably give Pettine time, there is hope.

Williamson: What is the vibe around the Browns after that loss? They have to be a little tight about the prospect of losing back-to-back games to winless teams.

McManamon: The mood was pretty somber early in the week. A team desperate to prove it has grown past these gaffes laid a gigantic egg in Jacksonville. If the Browns truly had turned the corner to respectability, they’d have handled business. That they didn’t, raises concerns. But teams have lulls in seasons. The Browns' job now is to prove that game was just “one of those days” and show they can rebound. They do have two very real chances to get that done the next two weeks. If the Browns do take care of things against the Raiders and Bucs, they’d be 5-3 at the midway point and very happy about what they’d done to that point.

Jacksonville won their first game last week, naturally over the Browns. Do the Raiders believe they can match the magic in a road game?

Williamson: There is hope. Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano mentioned the Jacksonville win Monday. There is a lot of hope in the locker room. I will say this: The Raiders are professional. They work hard and they try. The team has not quit. They will go to Cleveland with the intention of winning. But can the Raiders finish? They have competed in the two games since Sparano took over for the fired Dennis Allen. But they haven’t played well enough to win. If the Browns stumble around the field, though, Oakland could perhaps take advantage.

DENVER -- It is a spinning wheel of fortune, a fast, powerful, migraine-inducing combination of choices for opposing defensive coordinators.

Because Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning can drop back and pick a number, any number, and dial up touchdowns. And Thursday night, in a 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' turn.

"I feel like on any given night it can be anybody's night," Manning said. " ... They're all running full-speed routes because they know the ball might be coming to them."

By the time they turned out the lights in the stadium, Sanders had finished with nine catches for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Each of those was a career best for Sanders, and the three touchdown receptions were more than he had in each of his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Definitely a great night to be a Bronco," Sanders said. " … Obviously we understand in this offense it can be anybody's night at any moment."

Tight end Julius Thomas and now Sanders each have had three-touchdown games this season. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has had multiple two-score games.

When the Broncos swept up the wreckage from a 35-point Super Bowl loss, the overriding theme -- in both tweaks made to what was a record-setting offense and the retooling of the team's defense -- was an emphasis on speed. Executive vice president and general manager John Elway said he wanted a more athletic roster, "more speed across the board, at every position."

And when the Broncos ranked the offensive players they hoped to pursue in free agency, the guys they believed could come to the team and have real impact, Sanders was at the top of the list -- so much so that the Broncos let wide receiver Eric Decker go into free agency without making him an offer.

The attraction was mutual to be sure, as Sanders consistently has called the Broncos' offense "wide receiver heaven" since his arrival, even as he went through the first five games of the season without a touchdown catch. But with the Broncos having played two games in the abbreviated Sunday-Thursday week, Sanders scored four touchdowns in a five-day span.

"I'm just happy tonight was my night and as a team we got the win," Sanders said. " ... That's the reason why I came here. When I entered the free-agency process, I said I wanted to go to a team that's going to spread the football around, that's going to throw it. ... Every week we don't know where the ball is going to go. [Thursday] night was just my night."

There have been times in recent weeks when Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has said he believes this season's offense could be better than the 2013 version, and it has often been met with a raised eyebrow or two, or three. The Broncos scored a single-season-record 606 points last season with five players finishing with at least 10 touchdowns. No other team in league history has had more than three.

But Sanders' speed, his ability to dismantle press coverage with his quickness off the ball and to elevate and catch the ball in a crowd gives these Broncos a dimension they didn't have a season ago to complement Demaryius Thomas. Toss in running back Ronnie Hillman's athleticism, which has been increasingly on display since Montee Ball's injury (two 100-yard games to go with 4.9 yards per carry over his past three starts), and the Broncos are a ruthlessly efficient collection of matchup nightmares. It is an offense where a remember-when game could pop up most anywhere on the depth chart.

"[Thursday] 18 was looking, was just looking at me," Sanders said. "And it felt good."
DENVER -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after the 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers:
  • Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. had a good start to what he said would be a "great weekend" when he nabbed his second interception of the season with 13:35 to play in the second quarter. Harris' wife Leah is also scheduled to give birth to the couple's first child and was being induced late Thursday. "We were in the second half, and in first half my mind wasn't really in the game to me, and I just told Coach [John Fox] that I was going to turn up and make a play for us, and I did that."
  • Running back Ronnie Hillman now has two 100-yard games in this past three starts since Montee Ball suffered a right groin injury Oct. 5 against the Arizona Cardinals. Hillman finished with 109 yards on his 20 carries against the Chargers and has had 37-yard runs in back-to-back games. He has averaged 4.2, 5.3 and 5.5 yards per carry in those three starts. "I feel like I can do a lot more," Hillman said. "... I just plan on getting better every week, and if getting better every week helps this offense, I'll do my best. ... When you understand the offense, you understand what's going on, the angles, you start to realize it gets easier, you see the play."
  • Broncos linebacker Lamin Barrow, a regular on the special-teams units, suffered a concussion and did not return to the lineup. Barrow is now under the guidelines of the league's concussion protocol.
  • The Broncos like how the defense has played in recent weeks, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is still looking for the complete game, as it were. "We just have that one series [every game] where it looks like we don't know what we're doing," Knighton said. "And our coaches are putting us in good position to make plays, and we just have to make them."
SAN DIEGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 35-21 loss to the Denver Broncos:
  • Rivers
    San Diego players indicated that the team played hard against the Broncos but just did not execute during the critical moments of the game. The Chargers forced two fumbles but could not recover them. A potential recovery by Kavell Conner on a fumbled kick return by Andre Caldwell was overturned by the replay official. Eric Weddle's interception at the goal line that would have prevented a Denver touchdown was negated because of a defensive holding call on fellow safety Marcus Gilchrist.
  • The Chargers had three turnovers all season, but Philip Rivers threw two interceptions on Thursday. San Diego finished with seven penalties for 77 yards. "That's a very good football team," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "And we gave them too many opportunities with a team like that. So, we've got to do a better job coaching and playing. It comes down to execution."
  • Rivers was asked about where the Chargers stand at 5-3 at the midpoint of the season, with San Diego suffering its first two-game losing streak of the year. "This is a 16-round fight," Rivers said. "And we've won five and lost three. It's one big game, that's the way I see it. And we've had a couple rounds where we've got knocked around a little bit. And we're going to regroup and try to go get a win in Round 9 in Miami."
  • Safety Jahleel Addae suffered a shoulder stinger, not a concussion, on a second-half play where he slammed into the line of scrimmage to stop Denver running back Ronnie Hillman. Addae was observed shaking the left side of his body, which appeared to go numb after the hit. He stayed in the game for another play after the hit but eventually was replaced by Darrell Stuckey to start the fourth quarter.
  • Cornerback Jason Verrett reinjured his shoulder in the first half and did not return. He was seen wearing a sling on his left shoulder on the sideline in the second half. Receiver Malcom Floyd suffered a shoulder injury but returned to the game.
DENVER -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 35-21 loss to the Denver Broncos in this Week 8 contest at Sports Authority Field on Thursday night.

What it means: The Broncos seized control of the AFC West with an emphatic win over the Chargers. At 6-1, Denver created some breathing room from the Chargers, who fall to 5-3 overall.

Manning breaks the tie: Heading into Thursday's contest, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers were knotted at 5-5 in regular-season matchups against one another. But with Denver's win, Manning now holds the edge in the series. Manning finished 25-of-35 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rivers threw for 252 yards on 30-of-41 passing, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Rivers still holds a 2-1 edge in the postseason.

Gates makes history: Heading into the contest against Denver, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates needed 29 yards to pass Lance Alworth's franchise record of 9,584 receiving yards. Gates accomplished that feat, finished with five catches for 54 yards and two touchdown catches. Gates now has nine touchdowns on the year and 9,610 career receiving yards.

Stock watch: Keenan Allen got his first touchdown of the season on a 2-yard reception from Rivers. Allen finished with nine receptions for 73 yards.

Broncos dominate trenches: Denver controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Broncos finished with 139 rushing yards, while the Chargers mustered 61 yards on the ground for the game. Branden Oliver was held to 36 yards on 13 carries, including a meaningless 23-yard run on the final play of the game.

Game ball: Safety Eric Weddle appeared to make every tackle on defense for a short-handed San Diego secondary. Weddle finished with a team-high 11 combined tackles (nine solo), and now leads the team with 56 tackles. Weddle also made a spectacular one-handed catch that was negated because of a holding call on teammate Marcus Gilchrist, and forced a fumble the Chargers failed to recover.

What's next: The Chargers will get some time off before traveling to Miami for the team's final game before the bye week, a 1 p.m. ET contest against the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Nov. 2.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Now that LaMarr Woodley is out for the long term and will likely go on the injured reserve with a torn biceps injury, the Oakland Raiders are looking to young players to fill his role.

C.J. Wilson will plug into the starting role and Benson Mayowa will continue to get more snaps.

Like Woodley, Wilson and Mayowa are in their first season with the Raiders. Woodley, of course, was a big-ticket signing. He signed a two-year, $12 million deal with $4.35 million in guaranteed money. Yet, Woodley, who was cut by Pittsburgh Steelers, failed to make an impact with the Raiders. He had five tackles this season.

Wilson, a bargain free-agent pickup from Green Bay, has been good in a rotational role and has a team-high two sacks.

“I’ve come in here and tried to help and get better when I can,” Wilson said. “With [Woodley] out, we need to do a lot of things and I’m just looking to get that chance.”

Mayowa, a waiver claim from Seattle, is getting his first defensive snaps of his career. He played the most snaps of the season last week because of Woodley’s injury and the coaches liked what they saw.

“He went in there and I didn’t think the game was too big for him at all,” Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said. “He did some good things against the run, which is, when you think about him, he’s a little bit lighter player. More of a pass rush type player, but he went in and competed really hard in the run game as well. I thought he did some really good things.”
DENVER -- For the first time since the season opener when Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer played 10 plays on special teams, Latimer was slated to be in uniform for a game. Latimer was among the 46 active players for the Broncos for Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Latimer, whose potential impact in the offense has been lauded by several of his teammates, including quarterback Peyton Manning, was the Broncos' second-round pick in May.

Cornerback Omar Bolden, who is also one of the Broncos' kick returners, and running back Montee Ball, who suffered a right groin injury against the Arizona Cardinals, were the two most prominent inactives for Thursday night’s game.

Ball has now missed three games as the Broncos hope he may be able to practices, at least on a limited basis, next week.

Other Broncos inactives were: running back Kapri Bibbs, guard Ben Garland, linebacker Steven Johnson, tackle Michael Schofield and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.

For the Chargers the inactives included cornerback Brandon Flowers who suffered a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Other Chargers inactives were: running back Ryan Mathews, running back Donald Brown, linebacker Manti Te'o, cornerback Steve Williams, outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and outside linebacker Cordarro Law.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs last year set an NFL record for kickoff return average and scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns. This year, they’re near the bottom of the league in return average and their longest return is a feeble 37 yards.

“We’re a little bit disappointed right now," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “We’ve had some breakdowns. It’s one guy here, one guy there. We just haven’t been able to pop one yet. It’s a long season. We’re just going to keep plugging away and eventually they’ll start coming, hopefully sooner rather than later."

The Chiefs should be better in this particular phase. They’ve built the bottom of their roster with an eye on special teams, keeping backups such as running back Cyrus Gray and linebacker Jerry Franklin because of their value in the kicking game. Their main returner, Knile Davis, averaged more than 32 yards per chance last year and had a 108-yard touchdown.

Davis has started a lot of his returns from deep in the end zone, when he might be better off taking a touchback. But he’s only doing what Toub has coached him to do.

“They’re doing everything we’re coaching them to do," Toub said, speaking of Davis and the alternate returners. “We still want to be aggressive coming out with the ball. That’s not going to change. We just have to do a better job of blocking. It’s not the returners. It’s the blockers up front [not] giving those guys a chance to get started."

The Chiefs have had to shuffle some players on special teams because of injuries and that hasn’t helped the kickoff-return efforts. But despite having to utilize some different players, the Chiefs still excel in some phases of the kicking game. They’ve been good at returning punts and great at covering them.

The pieces are in place for the Chiefs to move into one of those categories on kickoff return. It’s important they do. The Chiefs don’t have a big-play offense. They could use the points and field position that kickoff returns are capable of providing.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Brice Butler played 11 snaps Sunday and he has seven catches this season.

Yet, he has gotten the attention of the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, who face Butler and the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

"Brice Butler jumps off the tape. I know he doesn't get a ton of touches, but when he does, he's a major threat," Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday.

It's a good thing for Pettine he has taken noticed. I wouldn't be surprised if we see more of Butler. While he hasn't played much, Butler has taken advantage of his time. In Week 6, he had a 47-yard touchdown catch. In Week 7, he had a 55-yard catch to setup Oakland's only touchdown. Oakland needs young receivers to emerge and Butler is not hurting his cause.

"I feel good about what I've done when I've played," Butler said. "I just have to keep doing that."

Butler said he isn't one to lobby for playing time. He only hopes his play speaks for itself. Butler had nine catches as a rookie last season. He said he is excited to work with Oakland rookie quarterback Derek Carr.

"I think we're going to have a bright future together," Butler said. "We have a good relationship and I enjoy catching passes from him."

If Butler can keep up his production, Oakland fans will enjoy it as well.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Placed next to the Super Bowl XXXIV trophy at team headquarters in suburban St. Louis sits an award presented by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon after the Rams beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a 2012 preseason game, the last meeting between the teams.

"I’m actually more fond of the Governor’s Cup trophy than I am of the Super Bowl trophy," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

Fisher’s sentiment is understandable. He coached the losing team in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Tennessee Titans. But nobody else shares that thought.

[+] EnlargeChase Daniels
Albert Dickson/Sporting News/Getty ImagesFormer Missouri QB Chase Daniel, now a backup with the Chiefs, says not playing every season lessens the impact of the Chiefs-Rams rivalry.
To most everyone else involved, players and fans from both sides, the Governor’s Cup, presented whenever the NFL football teams from Kansas City and St. Louis face one another, is just a meaningless piece of hardware.

Though the Rams and their backers get worked up about games with Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona, and the Chiefs look forward to their AFC West rivalries, this Missouri battle is just another game.

"When I was in college, there was never a rivalry," said Chase Daniel, a former Missouri quarterback who now backs up Alex Smith with the Chiefs. "We don’t play each other every year. We play every third or fourth year. We’re both just trying to win.

"It would have been pretty cool actually if (the Royals and Cardinals) were playing in the World Series. But it didn’t work out like that."

The teams have tried to kindle a rivalry by playing most years during the preseason. For various reasons the teams haven’t met during the summer for the past two years, and nobody seemed to care.

The 3-3 Chiefs and 2-4 Rams will play for real on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, but there is little buzz about the game other than each team needing a victory to stay relevant in its respective playoff race.

"Anytime you have two teams in the same state, you’d think you’d have a little bit of intensity in that," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "You’d think there would be a lot of bragging rights for everybody in between, especially with both cities on the border (of Missouri). There’s a whole lot of space in between there. You’d think it would be more heated.

"As players, we’re plenty motivated. But I really don’t get the sense from the fans ... not as many people try to hit you up on Twitter about this one as they do the Niners and Seahawks rivalries."

When the teams have played during the regular season, the series hasn’t been competitive. The Chiefs are 5-0 against the Rams since they moved from Los Angeles in 1995. The smallest margin of victory was eight points in 1997. The Chiefs won 54-34 in 2000 and 49-10 in 2002.

That can explain some of the apathy. So can the distance between the cities, about 250 miles.

The biggest reason is the teams play in separate conferences. Laurinaitis played in college at Ohio State, where he had a good view of the rivalry between the Bengals and Browns. Cincinnati and Cleveland are also separated by about 250 miles, but because the teams meet twice each season as members of the AFC North, their rivalry goes well beyond that of the Chiefs and Rams.

"It was great," Laurinaitis said. "It was one or the other. In between there, there was no 'Oh, gosh, if they’re not playing each other I’m rooting for both of them.' There’s none of that. If you’re a Browns fan, you want the Bengals to lose all the time and vice versa. It was very heated in the state of Ohio between those two franchises. They were in the same division as well. I think that had a lot to do with it."

The winner of Sunday’s game gets custody of the Governor’s Cup until the next meeting between the Chiefs and Rams. Each team wants possession, though that has far more to with winning a game than beating an in-state rival.

"The trophy’s downstairs and I was advised it needs to remain downstairs," Fisher said. "We’re going to work hard at that this week."

Rams vs. Chiefs preview

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23

The 3-3 Kansas City Chiefs and 2-4 St. Louis Rams, both coming off big divisional victories, meet for the Governor’s Cup this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won in San Diego for the first time in seven years last week when they beat the Chargers 23-20. The Rams, after losing 16 of their past 18 games to Seattle, beat the Seahawks 28-26 in St. Louis.

Here, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner discuss Sunday’s game.

Teicher: Nick, big win for the Rams last week, but they obviously put a lot into that game, and I wonder how much they’ll have in the tank for this week’s game, at least from an emotional standpoint. How do you think the Rams will respond against the Chiefs?

Wagoner: The Rams do and have lacked a lot of things this year, but in a general sense, effort and enthusiasm have been pretty constant. The only time they looked wholly unprepared was the beginning of their loss to Philadelphia, and even then they came back and had a late possession with a chance to win the game. The stunning thing was that one came out of the bye week. The Rams under Jeff Fisher have been a mixed bag. In 2012, they were great against NFC West division foes and not good outside the division. Last year was the opposite. This year, they haven't really had enough of a sample size to determine either way. But they went on the road and blasted Indianapolis a year ago, and they might have another performance like that in them. That's not to say it will come against the Chiefs, but the Rams under Fisher seem to find a game or two a year in which they play way above their means. It should also help them to get back on a normal schedule this week (St. Louis played last Monday night) and potentially get some guys healthy in the secondary.

I suppose I can simply redirect a similar question to you, but with the addendum that the Chiefs' win was probably more expected than the Rams', though they were on the road. The Chiefs seem to be getting some momentum, anyway, and have won three of their past four. What's been the key to getting it going a bit?

Teicher: It’s true the Chiefs put a lot into beating the Chargers. They had to win that game to stay relevant in the playoff race. Since they were coming off their bye, they had two weeks to rest and emphasize that game. But the Chiefs didn’t play much better in San Diego than they had in the previous several weeks. The Chiefs actually picked up their game starting with the Week 2 game against Denver. Ever since their miserable game against Tennessee to open the season, they’ve played fairly consistently. So, it’s the Titans game that stands out among their six this season. The Chiefs looked lost, unprepared to play. But that hasn’t happened since.

Give me a scouting report on Rams quarterback Austin Davis. What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Wagoner: Davis has mostly been a pleasant surprise, especially for a guy who didn't look like he had a chance to make the roster entering training camp. His teammates love his fire and enthusiasm, something that Sam Bradford didn't really bring to the table. One thing I like about him is you can see noticeable progress and improvement each week. For example, he found himself taking too many deep shots against San Francisco two weeks ago, missing easy, open completions underneath. So last week he took what the defense gave him, and though he averaged only 5.5 yards per completion, he had just three incompletions on his 21 attempts. And all of those short passes opened things up for him to make plays when the Rams needed him to at the end of the game. His mission now will be to find a healthy balance between taking shots and settling for checkdowns, but it's encouraging that he's able to notice something he needs to work on, be honest about it and then take steps to fix it. As for weaknesses, he's had a tendency to make a bad throw or two every week that turns into an instant six points for the opponent. Turnovers have been a serious issue for him, though he didn't have any against the Seahawks. He's got a good-but-not-great arm, and he sometimes gets caught locking onto a receiver without going through progressions. He's made strides in that area, but there's still work to do. But honestly, as third-string quarterbacks go, you can't ask for much more from Davis.

Sticking with the quarterback theme, the last time the Rams saw Alex Smith, they were knocking him out of a game in San Francisco in what became the official changing of the guard to Colin Kaepernick. That was in 2012. Since he's been in Kansas City, obviously he's become a key part of what they do. In what ways does he fit with what Andy Reid wants to do, and do you believe he's the right guy for the long term?

Teicher: Smith isn’t the most talented quarterback around, but he does fit well with what Reid is looking for. He is a mostly accurate passer who is mobile enough to frequently get out of trouble and extend a play either with a throw or run. Smith also has the intangibles that Reid likes. He’s liked and well-respected in the locker room. As for the long-term, Smith might not be the quarterback who will ever lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory. But better alternatives will be difficult to find, and the Chiefs committed to Smith for the foreseeable future when they gave him a new contract. For the time being, they seem content to coach him up, make him the best player he can be and then build the rest of the roster around him.

Robert Quinn had 19 sacks for the Rams last year but has only one so far this season. The Rams as a whole have just four. What have opponents done to counter Quinn in particular and the Rams’ pass rush in general?

Wagoner: Well, the first thing they've done is not throw the ball much. In the first four games, the Rams were seeing almost nothing in terms of pass attempts against. That was partially because they couldn't stop the run and teams had no desire to take a risk throwing against the Rams' pass rush when they could hand it off and move the chains. Beyond that, teams have also been getting the ball out as quickly as possible. The Rams are now seeing the ninth-fastest release in terms of average time teams are taking to get the ball out, but that number has dipped a bit the past two weeks. San Francisco and Seattle had little success running the ball in traditional ways (with running backs), and that forced those teams to pass. The results haven't been pretty for the Rams, as they've allowed 656 passing yards in the past two games, so they can probably expect to see teams throwing it around a little bit more moving forward. That should create more pass-rush opportunities. They had three sacks in a span of five plays against the Seahawks and were in Russell Wilson's face for most of the day. The hope is that production will give them something to build on moving forward.

The Chiefs got off to such a great start in 2013 because of what they were getting done defensively, particularly in the pass rush. They again rank near the top in sacks per dropback. While the Rams have struggled to maintain their pass rush of a year ago, the Chiefs seem to keep the beat going. How do they do it, and has anything changed in terms of scheme or approach from a year ago?

Teicher: The Chiefs are actually blitzing less than they did last year. They have for the most part been getting the job done with their two edge pass-rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and their inside rushers, Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey. They’ve cut back greatly on the exotic blitzes they showed last year. While they haven’t been vanilla in their approach, they’ve more often been able to get pressure with skill than with scheme. The biggest change in the defense is that they’re giving up far fewer big pass plays than they did last year. One reason is that they’ve reduced their blitzing. But the safeties have also played well, much better than last season. One cornerback, Sean Smith, is also having a better