DENVER – After not practicing this week, Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was one of the team’s game-day inactives Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Thomas
While Thomas, who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, was dressed for practice Friday as he went through stretching with the team, the Broncos held him out of the workout. At the time, Broncos head coach John Fox said: “We could have said limited, but it was probably closer to did not participate."

Tight end Virgil Green, who had been limited in practice this past week with a calf injury, will be active for the Broncos.

Thomas suffered his injury in the first quarter of the Broncos’ 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The current injury is not to the ankle Thomas had surgically repaired before the 2012 season.

Thomas, after suffering an injury to his right ankle on his first NFL catch in his rookie season in 2011, had surgery on that ankle before the 2012 season when the ankle continued to give him problems.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin Jr., who has been in uniform for the Broncos' previous 10 games, was inactive as Mitch Unrein was in the lineup, and tackle Chris Clark, who was moved out of the starting lineup Oct. 19 against the San Francisco 49ers, is also inactive for the first time this season.

The rest of the Broncos inactives were running back Montee Ball, cornerback Tony Carter, running back Ronnie Hillman and tackle Michael Schofield.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
10:50
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The San Diego Chargers (6-4) will try to win two straight when they host the St. Louis Rams (4-6) at 4:05 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium.

Here are three things we’ll be watching for on Sunday.

1. Can the Chargers contain Tre Mason? A rookie running back out of Auburn, Mason finished with a career-high 113 rushing yards on 29 carries in the Rams’ impressive win over the Denver Broncos last week. It’s the first time Mason ran for over 100 yards this season. At 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, Mason is a physical, downhill runner who can move the pile and break tackles. So the Chargers have to get 11 men to the football in the run game. The Rams are 3-2 this season when they rush for over 100 yards.

2. Convert on third down: San Diego is 7-of-26 (27 percent) on third down offensively the last two games. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterback Philip Rivers have to do a better job of getting positive yards on first and second down in order to make converting on third downs more manageable. The Chargers also have to protect a dinged-up Rivers from an aggressive St. Louis pass rush. The Rams have totaled 18 sacks in the last five games. Rookie Chris Watt, likely making his first career start at center on Sunday, has to do a good job of communicating and picking up the different looks St. Louis defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will dial up.

3. Win the turnover battle: The Rams are 0-3 when they lose the turnover battle this season, and have a minus-3 turnover differential in 2014. San Diego has forced just one turnover in the last four games. Defensively, San Diego has to find a way to steal a possession or two from St. Louis. The Chargers also have to do a good job of protecting the football on offense. San Diego protected the football early in the year, but has seven turnovers in the last four games.
SAN DIEGO -- A signal that center Rich Ohrnberger will not be active on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers signed offensive lineman Ryan Miller from the practice squad to the active roster on Saturday.

To make room for Miller, the Chargers released cornerback Richard Crawford. A University of Colorado product, Miller was added to San Diego’s practice squad on Nov. 11 after a workout during the team’s bye week.

Miller was drafted in the fifth round by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 draft. He appeared in eight games for the Browns as a rookie. Miller went to training camp with the Denver Broncos, but was released during final roster cuts.

With Ohrnberger questionable for Sunday’s game against the Rams due to ankle and back issues, rookie Chris Watt is slated to get his first career start at center. Miller could serve as depth at interior offensive line, along with center Trevor Robinson, with Watt starting.

Crawford signed with San Diego on Oct. 27 after the team released cornerback Richard Marshall. But Crawford was not active on game day for the Chargers during his time with the team.

Tony Sparano back in office early after Raiders' first win

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
6:55
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ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders were given the day off Friday, one day after winning for the first time this season and ending their 16-game losing streak. Interim coach Tony Sparano, however, kept his same schedule and was back at the team’s facilities early in the morning breaking down film long before the sun began to rise.

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Ben MargotTony Sparano coached the Raiders to their first win of the season on Thursday.
Though the Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention long ago and don’t play again until Nov. 30, when they fly to St. Louis, Sparano saw no reason to change his daily routine. A quick stop to grab a cup of coffee on the way to work qualified as a highlight of his morning.

“I was the first person at Starbucks this morning, I’ll put it that way,” Sparano said. “I left the house at 4:30 and I was in here this morning. But I have every intention of walking out of this building today when the sun is still up, hopefully.”

Many of Oakland’s players have credited Sparano for keeping things together after general manager Reggie McKenzie fired head coach Dennis Allen after the team’s 0-4 start.

The soft-spoken Sparano has repeatedly deflected the attention onto the players for anything positive they’ve done since he took over, and was in that same mode following the stunning 24-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

But he was unable to shrink from the spotlight in the team’s locker room afterward when left tackle Donald Penn handed Sparano a game ball.

“I have gotten some game balls before [and] quite honestly, probably none more meaningful than that one,” Sparano said. “I say that because of what this team has been through and how far we’ve had to come; and how much the guys have stayed together in that locker room. But really, they’re the ones that deserve the game balls. Our owner, our GM, those people and all of our fans that were out there last night. It was fun last night to go out to dinner and see Oakland Raider fans out there last night with a smile on their face. It was good.”

The Raiders won’t resume practicing until Monday. Bet that Sparano will be up in his office long before then.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When they trimmed the roster to 53 players as the preseason drew to a close, the Denver Broncos understood there could very well be days like these because of it.

When the Broncos face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the three available running backs figure to be three undrafted players who have been in uniform for 24 games combined in their careers.

“I guess I didn’t really think about it until now," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase with a smile when asked about the prospect earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIn his second season, C.J. Anderson is suddenly the veteran running back on the Broncos roster.
Running back was already the youngest position group on the roster when the regular season began, as 23-year-old Ronnie Hillman was the most experienced running back, entering his third season. But with Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) now injured, the Broncos have second-year running back C.J. Anderson as their primary back, with rookie Juwan Thompson and third-year back Jeremy Stewart behind him on the depth chart.

Anderson and Thompson were undrafted rookies. Stewart was with the Raiders in the preseason and signed to Broncos' practice squad on Oct. 8.

“I think, during the course of preparation, when you have injuries, you have a pretty good idea some guys aren’t going to play," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You’re able to practice and prepare guys much better than, for instance, in a game when you have a tight end or a receiver go out, those guys are now playing with a whole lot of reps in preparation for that opponent. So those guys have practiced all week, got reps -- we have our test on Sunday."

The Broncos, from Fox to quarterback Peyton Manning to Gase, have all openly discussed the importance of running the ball with more consistency against the Dolphins on Sunday. The Broncos had just 10 rushing attempts, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, in the 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

Anderson had 163 total yards in the Broncos’ victory over the Oakland Raiders, a total that included a 51-yard catch-and-run reception when he made a one-handed catch and then broke several tackles for a game-changing score. Thompson has had 30 carries this season to go with three touchdowns.

Sunday figures to be the first game for Bibbs to be in uniform. He has been a gameday inactive for four games since being signed off the team’s practice squad on Oct. 20, but the Broncos like what he's done and Bibbs spent some time after Friday's practice talking to Manning.

“You feel good with C.J.," Gase said. “He’s shown the last couple of weeks what he can do and just him getting in the rotation has been eye-opening. We might have something good and you just don’t know because he hadn’t had an opportunity. He’s taken most of the opportunity he’s had and the rest of these guys it’s just going to be, ‘make sure I know who’s in the game and help them as much as possible,’ whether it be in the protection game or in the run game."

“All of the guys in the running back room are ready to play," Anderson said. “[Running backs coach Eric Studesville] gets us ready to play; he expects us to be ready."

For the most part, it isn’t carrying the ball in the Broncos offense that is the adjustment. It’s everything the backs have to do to earn the ability to carry the ball. It’s handling all of the audibles at the line of scrimmage in what is primarily a no-huddle offense and it’s getting it right in pass protection.

As Studesville has consistently said: “If you can’t do the right thing in pass protection, you can’t play … you don’t get to run the ball."

The Dolphins have an active defensive front – Miami is tied for fourth in the league with 30 sacks – and they blitz plenty to unsettle opposing quarterbacks.

“I would say the protections are a challenge, but at the end of the day, when they run the ball, it’s just natural instinct," Gase said. “So they just know once you give them the ball, they are just going to find the open hole and hit it. The good ones seem to develop quickly."

“Our job is to do the right thing when we’re in there," Anderson said. “We’re prepared to do that."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A significant part of the Arizona Cardinals' passing game would be missing if wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald does not play Sunday in Seattle.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
If Fitzgerald is sidelined for the first time in 110 games, the Cardinals would be losing 24.9 percent of their passing yards. And no Fitzgerald would be a blow to Arizona’s mid-range passing game and would take away most of the Cardinals’ production on passes to the right side outside the numbers.

Through 10 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Fitzgerald has 248 yards on plays 11-20 yards -- a team-high by 91 yards.

Fitzgerald has also caught 27 passes for 426 yards on the right side of the field.

He was listed as a game-time decision by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on Friday after Fitzgerald missed his third-straight practice with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee.

Fitzgerald leads the team with 46 receptions and 658 yards, and is on pace for his seventh 1,000-yard season.

Fitzgerald has 122 yards on plays up to 10 yards, the second most on the team behind Andre Ellington's 124. The Cardinals wouldn’t feel his loss as much in the deep game. On plays of 21 yards or longer, Fitzgerald leads Arizona with 288 yards, but Michael Floyd is second with 248 and John Brown third with 245. Even Ellington has added 142 yards.

Fitzgerald hasn’t been the main source of offense on the left side of the field on plays of any distance. Brown leads the Cardinals with 23 passes for 334 yards outside of the left numbers. Floyd has 171 yards and Fitzgerald has 165.

However, Fitzgerald has a team-high 67 yards between the hash marks.

Chiefs fall to final wild-card spot

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- I'll do my full, normal, weekly look at the Kansas City Chiefs' standing in the AFC playoff picture next week, after the weekend games are concluded.

Just know for now that after Thursday night's 24-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs now hold the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, both 7-4, would be the AFC's wild-card teams. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker over the Chiefs because of a better record in conference games (6-3 for Pittsburgh, 5-3 for Kansas City). So Pittsburgh would be the AFC's fifth seed, Kansas City the sixth seed.

The Chiefs' first-round playoff opponent if the season ended today would be the Cincinnati Bengals. At 6-3-1, the Bengals lead the AFC North. The game would be played in Cincinnati.

Two games of immense interest for Chiefs fans this weekend with respect to the wild-card race are the ones featuring the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Both teams are 6-4. Each plays an NFC opponent this weekend. Cleveland is at Atlanta on Sunday, Baltimore is at New Orleans on Monday night.

For those who like to fiddle with various scenarios involving the Chiefs and all the other playoff contenders, check out ESPN's playoff machine.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Kansas City Chiefs paid a heavy price for it, but at least they’ll have some time to get their act back together in time for their next game. It’s a big one. The 7-4 Chiefs will face the Denver Broncos on Nov. 30 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Smith
 The Chiefs failed to take care of business on the short week, losing Thursday night to the previously winless Oakland Raiders 24-20.

“We have a little time here to regroup and get healthy,’’ quarterback Alex Smith said. “We come back home and then we’ve got another big division game, and we are about to handle this the right way. We’re going to build from it. As weird as that is to say, you only got two choices to be able to handle something like this. We can regroup and get it together. We still got a lot in front of us.”

With respect to eventually winning the AFC West championship, the Chiefs are only a half-game behind the 7-3 Broncos. But the loss to the Raiders is potentially devastating to the Chiefs as far as tiebreakers against the Broncos. The Chiefs would even the season series against Denver by winning next Sunday night, but the Broncos are still likely to finish with a better record in divisional games, which would allow them to win a tiebreaker against the Chiefs.

Much needs to play out before all of that get decided. And perhaps the Broncos will lose on Sunday to the Miami Dolphins and give the Chiefs a gift like the one Kansas City handed out on Thursday.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Say this for the Kansas City Chiefs in their 24-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night: They went down using their best offensive players.

Tight end Travis Kelce was in for 62 of the Chiefs' 66 offensive players. Among skill players, other than quarterback Alex Smith, Kelce was followed by wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (61) and running back Jamaal Charles (60).Charles' backup, Knile Davis, was in the game for just five offensive plays.

Receiver De'Anthony Thomas played 33 offensive snaps, his highest total of the season. Thomas picked up at least some of the second-half snaps that would have gone to Junior Hemingway. He didn't play in the second half because of a concussion.

Kelce picked up extra snaps because of starting tight end Anthony Fasano's sore knee. Fasano, who sat out last week's game against Seattle, was in for just two plays against the Raiders but made the most of them. Fasano caught a pass on each of his two snaps. One, a 11-yard catch, gave the Chiefs a first down. The other, for 19 yards, was a touchdown.

Most notable of defensive snap counts:

---Nose tackle Dontari Poe, four days after a physical game against Seattle, was in for every one of Oakland's 69 plays.

---Linebacker Dee Ford, the first-round draft pick, was again ignored. Ford didn't play on defense for the second straight week and third game in the past four.

Chargers vs. Rams preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
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video When: 4:05 ET, Sunday Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego TV: Fox

SAN DIEGO -- To remain in the AFC playoff conversation, the San Diego Chargers (6-4) have to keep stacking wins.

But the Chargers face a tough test with the St. Louis Rams traveling to San Diego for a Sunday afternoon game.

The Rams (4-6) have a losing record, but manhandled the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos in a 22-7 victory last week. St. Louis plays with relentless effort, led by one of the most aggressive defensive fronts in the NFL.

In addition to defeating Denver, the Rams have wins over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers this season.

A point of emphasis for San Diego will be doing a better job of protecting quarterback Philip Rivers, who is dealing with a chest injury. The Chargers know they have to play their best in order to get a win over the Rams.

"They have the characteristics of a typical Jeff Fisher team," Rivers said, referring to the Rams coach. "They're just tough, hard-nosed and relentless."

ESPN NFL Nation Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Williams: Nick, Austin Davis completed 63 percent of his passes and had an 85.1 passer rating as a starter. Why did Fisher make the switch back to Shaun Hill? And what's the difference between the two signal-callers?

Wagoner: The simple answer is turnovers. More specifically, the kind of costly turnovers that killed the Rams in close games. Davis threw four pick-sixes, with all of those coming in the fourth quarter. He also coughed up a couple of fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. That's six touchdowns Davis was responsible for. When you're a team built to win with defense, it's hard to do that when you give up points without the defense on the field. Hill is more of a steady hand and has a stronger arm to go with his vast experience. The Rams' defense is starting to come into its own. And with that group rolling, the Rams need a quarterback who can manage the game. As I like to put it, the Rams' defense is playing well enough to win. They need a quarterback leading the offense, so it plays well enough not to lose.

Since we're on the topic of quarterbacks, much is being made of Philip Rivers and this flap with Antonio Gates, and Rivers' health. What's your take on Rivers' status? And if he's not hurt, then what is the reason he went from an MVP candidate to someone who has struggled in recent weeks?

Williams: Rivers clarified his injury status this week, saying he suffered a chest injury falling onto the ball during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game on a sack by Khalil Mack. Rivers said he's been dealing with general soreness, like all players, this time of year, and clarified that Gates' comments were an attempt to protect his quarterback from criticism for his uneven play the past four weeks. Inconsistent pass protection and a lack of a running game have been more of a contributing factor to Rivers' struggling performance of late. Since starting the season 5-1, Rivers has completed 63 percent of his passes for 788 yards, with 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He's been sacked nine times, posting a 76.0 passer rating. The Chargers are 1-3 during that stretch.

Nick, what did St. Louis do defensively to limit Peyton Manning and the Broncos to just seven points last week?

Wagoner: It was a combination of things, including some schematics from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that tricked Manning into a couple of mistakes. And let's be honest, it didn't hurt that tight end Julius Thomas and receiver Emmanuel Sanders missed big chunks of the game. But the biggest thing here is this defense is finally playing as well as expected. We all underestimated (myself included) that it would take this group a little while to adapt to the many wrinkles in a Williams defense. For the first part of the season, the Rams played much slower defensively than anticipated. Now, it seems everyone is settled in and playing fast and aggressive. Leading the way is a front four that has been as dominant as people would expect. End Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald are legitimate difference-makers, and they have solid depth beyond them. But they also have a linebacker in Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald who are legitimately playing at a Pro Bowl level over the past three weeks. That's not hyperbole, and I can't believe I'm saying it, but it's true. The Rams' defense was expected to be a top-five group this year. It's finally playing like one.

Eric, in perusing the stats and the film, it appears the Chargers' defense has had its struggles both on third down and in the red zone. Is there anything you can put your finger on with their issues in those two key areas, and what should the Rams expect from the San Diego defense right now?

Williams: You're correct. The Chargers are No. 29 in third down efficiency (45.4 percent) defensively, and tied for No. 28 in red zone efficiency (66.7 percent). San Diego's issues in those areas have been a result of poor tackling and a lack of a consistent pass rush. But with the return of edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu, along with inside linebacker Manti Te'o, the Chargers were much better against Oakland, holding the Raiders to 3-of-15 on third down and keeping them out of the end zone. Along with the improved athleticism, the Chargers have to play assignment-correct football in those two critical areas for the team's success on defense to continue.

Nick, I know you follow the stadium situation closely in St. Louis as well, something we're also dealing with here in San Diego. What's the latest in terms of St. Louis working to keep the team there, and do you believe there's a realistic chance the Rams could be playing in Los Angeles next season?

Wagoner: It's the billion dollar question right now, isn't it? We've reached the point where there's a new rumor every day. It can be difficult to parse through what's real and what's not. I try to talk to as many people as I can about this, and to be honest, I really think every option is on the table. I wouldn't be surprised if they moved, and I wouldn't be surprised if they stayed. But it's going to be awfully difficult for them to move in 2015. I'm not convinced the league would allow it, especially with the local leaders in St. Louis working on a resolution. Former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock is working diligently on trying to offer a solution, and he's not to be taken lightly. He's well respected in league circles, and the time for negotiations at the kiddie table have long since passed. The big boys will be having the discussions this time around. One other thing that's not being discussed enough is where the Rams would play if they did go to Los Angeles next year, and I don't mean a stadium on Sundays. I mean the day-to-day operations and practices. There's no obvious solution out there, and the longer things play out, the less likely one could be in place before then anyway. I wouldn't be surprised by either outcome long term, and I would be mildly surprised if the outcome turned into a move in 2015.

Sticking to that topic, the Chargers seem to be in a unique spot here because of their proximity to Los Angeles and the amount of business they get from that area. What's the latest from your end, and how likely is it they make the move? Barring that, do you believe they have the support from other owners to try to block a move by another team to protect their interests?

Williams: The Chargers are in discussions with San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer to put a proposal together that voters countywide could weigh in on as early as February 2016. But talks remain preliminary, and several of the stakeholders still need to have a say in order to build consensus for the project. Chargers president Dean Spanos remains committed to keeping the team in San Diego, but the family also is keeping its options open, which include possibly relocating to Los Angeles if the team is unable to get a stadium deal done in San Diego. The Chargers are on a year-to-year lease and could opt out of the agreement in February. The Spanos family is keeping a watchful eye on what happens in Los Angeles, with 30 percent of its business originating from the Orange County area. It's tough to say how much sway Dean Spanos could have in blocking a team from relocating to Los Angeles, particularly with the NFL pushing the move. The bottom line is the Chargers want to remain in San Diego but any stadium proposal has to make sense financially, and relocating to a more lucrative market in Los Angeles remains a possibility.

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Dolphins vs. Broncos preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
video When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos (7-3) were poised to enter a stretch of three consecutive road games with their sights set squarely on the AFC’s No. 1 seed. After that road trip ended with a 1-2 record, including a surprising loss in St. Louis this past Sunday, the Broncos are now in a scrap just to win their division.

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) come to Denver having won four of their last five games. They have surrendered 56 points in those five games combined. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday’s game.

Legwold: James, Ryan Tannehill was a player the Broncos took a long look at leading up to the 2012 draft as they looked for a quarterback prospect to pair on the roster with Peyton Manning. What’s been the key for his improvement this year and how he’s handled things?

Walker: Tannehill is on pace for a career year. I’ve watched all 42 career starts, and this is the most decisive I’ve seen him with the football. His play speed is better and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a good job of accentuating what Tannehill does well and avoiding where he struggles. He’s posted four games with a triple-digit passer rating, including the most recent win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the Dolphins’ offense is getting away with a lot of short and intermediate passes, and I’m surprised defenses haven’t worked harder to take that away. The biggest issues with Tannehill are inconsistency and lack of a deep ball. These are areas that have haunted Tannehill for three seasons, and it doesn’t appear it will change anytime soon. Yet teams haven’t challenged Tannehill to consistently throw deep. I’m curious to see how Denver plays Tannehill.

The Broncos have lost two of three and both losses have come by a wide margin. What is the mood of the team heading into Sunday’s game?

Legwold: The mood from the Broncos players and coaches is, essentially, they got what they deserved in losses to the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 and to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday. They've owned up to it and unveiled the usual vows to repair the mistakes. But perhaps most troubling, for a team that has designs on a Super Bowl trip, is they didn’t have a response after some early trouble in either of those losses. They simply didn’t show the kind of bounce-back capability on the road that any team is going to need if they want to go deep into the postseason. The Patriots had a 24-point second quarter filled with Broncos mistakes and the Rams went up 10-0 in the first quarter. In both cases, the Broncos were wobbly and stayed wobbly. They know they didn’t execute on offense. They let pressure get to Manning, and defensively the Broncos had moments, but never really slammed the door to get the team back in the game. And now with the Kansas City Chiefs at 7-3 as well –- the Broncos have a Week 2 win in hand, but go to Kansas City Nov. 30 –- the Broncos know every week matters as they pursue their fourth consecutive division title.

Keeping with one of the Broncos’ trouble spots of late, defenses have tried to rattle Manning in the middle of the formation. How aggressively do you think the Dolphins will rush Manning, and what’s that mean for Cameron Wake?

Walker: The Dolphins are definitely bringing the pressure. They’ve done that against every quarterback they’ve faced, whether it’s an elite talent such as Aaron Rodgers or a developmental rookie such as Blake Bortles. Manning’s constant audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage could provide reason for Miami’s defense not to dial up as many blitzes. But the team knows the best way to win is to get hits, sacks and pressures on Manning. Several players I spoke to were impressed with the way the Rams defended the Broncos’ offense last week. St. Louis provided a nice blueprint, especially with its defensive line. This will be a big game for Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and others on the defensive line to win those one-on-one matchups.

Miami’s pass protection has been an issue lately. What are your thoughts on the Dolphins’ offensive line pass protecting against the Broncos’ front seven?

Legwold: The Broncos are at their best in the pass rush when they move into a six-defensive back look -- a dime package that really plays more like the average five defensive back (nickel) package when safety T.J. Ward moves down and plays at a linebacker spot. They have speed all over the formation, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware moving around some. As a result, Miller is tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Ware is tied for eighth with nine sacks. They use plenty of pre-snap movement, moving players toward and away from the line of scrimmage, to give the quarterback some indecisiveness, and it’s been a productive personnel grouping. However, some teams have found ways to convert some long third downs; the Chiefs converted seven third downs on third-and-8 or more, while the 49ers and Chargers each converted three times at third-and-6 or more and the Rams converted two third-and-10 situations this past Sunday. Tannehill can extend plays and that will be an issue for the Broncos to consider. But at home they play fast on defense as Ware and Miller have repeatedly caved in the edges of the pocket.

Overall, the Dolphins have had plenty of drama over the last year –- the Broncos had Richie Incognito in for a workout last week -– how has coach Joe Philbin done in the swirl?

Walker: This was a major storyline in the offseason and throughout training camp. But at this point in late November, more than a year since Jonathan Martin left the team and Incognito’s subsequent suspension, the Dolphins have moved on from the fiasco. Miami made the right call to remove both players from its locker room in the offseason. The team didn’t re-sign Incognito and traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers. That set the tone for a better locker room culture to develop. This year’s team is together, and I think winning six of 10 games has helped. In some ways, earning a playoff spot would validate the thought that they learned from the situation and became better for it.

Denver suffered a lot of injuries last week against the Rams. What’s the latest update on tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tailback Montee Ball?

Legwold: That’s been the dark cloud hanging over this team this past week. Sanders, who has been one of the best free-agent signings in the league, is the team’s second-leading receiver with 67 catches to go with 954 yards. He’s now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so the Broncos have to simply wait until he is cleared to return. Ball re-injured his right groin as he played just four snaps against the Rams, an injury that kept him out of the previous five games. He is expected to miss, at minimum, two to three weeks. And Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the Rams. While Thomas’ injury wasn't nearly as serious as the team initially feared at the stadium Sunday, he has had ankle troubles before in his career and will be watched closely. His impact in the offense is no small matter. Thomas played just 13 snaps against the Rams and he still leads the league in touchdown receptions with 12, or at least two more than any other player.

The Broncos don’t have a fullback on the roster, so they can’t simply go to a two-back look to cover for some injuries. Tight end Virgil Green and running back Ronnie Hillman were out last week and Hillman is expected to miss additional time. That means young players such as C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson have to be ready to be the guys at running back and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer should get some snaps in the offense as well.
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Ron Parker was one of the victims on the Oakland Raiders' game-winning touchdown drive Thursday night. He was beaten for the TD, a 9-yard catch by James Jones.

Parker
That’s a fact Parker didn’t dispute after the game. He acknowledged that Jones got him cleanly.

But Parker strongly disagreed with a pass interference penalty called on him earlier in the drive. It happened on a third-down play and it allowed the Raiders to extend the possession.

Parker was penalized for bumping into Oakland’s Andre Holmes.

“I really didn’t feel like that was pass interference,’’ Parker said. “Me and the receiver were trying to fight for the ball. I was trying to come back for the ball and the receiver had me blocked out. We were fighting for the ball but the referee saw it another way so he called [pass interference].’’

Parker indicated the Chiefs were warned by coaches during the week about the officiating crew led by referee John Parry.

“We knew coming into the game this crew [called] a lot of interferences and illegal [contact] and all that,’’ Parker said. “We got a heads-up early in the week before we came to the game. It didn’t work in our favor.’’

The Chiefs entered the game as the second-least penalized team in the NFL in both number of infractions and yards. They were penalized seven times for 59 yards against the Raiders. The seven penalties matched their season high.

“The refs were real tough on us today,’’ Parker said. “They didn’t give us a break.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Used to digging in and standing up to what’s in front of them, the Denver Broncos' beleaguered offensive line has now dug in to fend off a wave of critiques that has gotten bigger with each passing week.

While the group admits there’s work to be done, they aren’t necessarily putting a lot of stock in what’s being said outside the walls of the team’s complex.

“Definitely, it’s a work in progress," guard Manny Ramirez said. “I understand a lot of people are talking outside of here, but we can’t allow ourselves to worry about that type of stuff. We’ve just got to make sure we stick together and continue to put our heads down and continue to grind and be able to with whatever we’re given."

[+] EnlargeManning
Joe Amon/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has been under pressure the last three weeks, and the flow of the Denver offense has been disrupted.
In their recent three-game stretch, the Broncos have gone 1-2 and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown two interceptions in each of the last three games. And while Manning has been able to avoid sacks much of the time, the Patriots, Raiders and Rams were able to get pressure on Manning and affect his ability to step up in the pocket and into his throws.

The Broncos’ sack total is still the lowest in the league for quarterbacks who have started every game, but the increased pressure, especially in the middle of the formation, has resulted in batted passes, interceptions and some choppiness in the offense. The Broncos have also had 37 rushing attempts this season for either no gain or negative yardage.

“If we go, the team goes, we definitely need to improve," left tackle Ryan Clady said. “We had a bad week (against the Rams). I think we’ll get better and we’ll get it back on track."

The Broncos have made four changes in the offensive line in recent weeks, with Paul Cornick replacing Chris Clark at right tackle before being replaced two games ago. Louis Vasquez was then moved to right tackle, Ramirez to right guard, and Will Montgomery was put into the lineup at center.

Those three have played those spots for the last two games. Vasquez has also dealt with some back/neck issues while Clady has been slowed by a groin injury, impacting his ability to move in recent weeks. Clady said his surgically repaired foot -- he spent most of the 2013 season on injured reserve -- felt better this week than it has all season.

In search of a successful organization, the Broncos worked out Richie Incognito, a key figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal.

“We’ve just got to continue working hard at it," guard Orlando Franklin said. “Continue trying to create chemistry, because here’s the thing, you don’t just chemistry in two weeks in the offensive line. It’s not going to be like that ... we understand we do need to get better, we understand our team is relying on us, for us to get better and we will get better."

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Denver guard, blasted the Broncos' line play on a radio appearance in Denver this week, using words such as “horrendous" and “horrible" to describe what he had seen thus far.

Schlereth said “an F would be kind."

The Broncos linemen, who have seen Schlereth at the team’s complex from time to time, said they were trying to tune it all out.

“I care what my teammates think, each and every one of my teammates think," Franklin said. “...We’re going to care what our coaches think, what everybody in this organization thinks, but outside noise, we’re not going to be listening to that. If the Broncos were 16-0 there would still be issues, people are still going to critique our performance ... It’s the NFL, it’s the life that were living, it’s the business that we’re in."

Derek Carr and Oakland Raiders relish first win

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
2:02
AM ET
Derek CarrEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesDerek Carr's game-winning touchdown drive broke a streak of 16 straight losses for the Raiders.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- About 30 minutes after Thursday night's game had ended and the longest active losing streak in the NFL was snapped, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr -- still in his full uniform, pads and all -- made his way around the locker room slapping his teammates on the back and exchanging high-fives.

The rookie had just engineered a fourth-quarter comeback that catapulted the Raiders to a 24-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and he wanted to soak it in for just a few moments more.

"Amazing," Carr said with a grin. "Hopefully there's many more to come, because I like this feeling better than the other one, that's for sure."

Carr had not tasted victory since Dec. 7, 2013, when he led Fresno State to a 24-17 win over Utah State in the Mountain West Conference championship game. He had suffered through 11 consecutive losses -- one with the Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl and 10 with the Raiders -- before leading Oakland on a monumental game-winning drive.

The Raiders had squandered all of a 14-0 lead and trailed 20-17 after Cairo Santos' 25-yard field goal gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game.

After Darren McFadden bobbled the ensuing kickoff in the end zone and kneeled down for a touchback, Oakland got the ball at its own 20 yard line with 9:03 left to play.

Fullback Marcel Reece got the ball on the first four plays of the drive and provided just enough of a balance to keep Kansas City's defense honest. He carried seven times for 34 yards and added an 8-yard catch on the final drive.

Carr did the rest and took a gigantic leap forward in his learning process.

He danced around in the pocket long enough to find Brice Butler for an 11-yard reception on second-and-12 and then gained the first down on a quarterback sneak. He later found tight end Mychal Rivera for 8 yards on a third-and-6 play and drew a defensive pass interference penalty against the Chiefs three plays after that.

Another quarterback sneak by Carr later in the drive netted another first down, and on the following play, the Oakland quarterback found wide receiver James Jones in the end zone for a 9-yard score.

It's the sixth touchdown the Carr-led offense has scored in the final two minutes of games this season. The difference? The others came in what is fondly referred to as garbage time -- when games are well out of hand and the losing team scores late, meaningless points.

This one sent the crowd of 52,865 at O.co Coliseum into a frenzy.

"To go 17 plays on the winning drive, that's impressive, man," Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck said."That lets you know a little bit of the moxie of No. 4."

Several Oakland offensive linemen praised Carr's poise on the game-winning drive. Defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who had lost 24 consecutive games dating to his days with the Houston Texans last year, called it inspiring.

"Because to be perfectly honest, we had hit a dead point," Smith said."Not as far as the play. The energy like it was in the first half wasn't there. The energy that the offense gave us in the last drive just fueled us for that last drive."

For Carr, it was a long time coming and a moment he wanted to relish.

The man many are already calling the franchise quarterback smiled and pumped his arms high in the air after his game-winning throw, kept that same smile on his face as he congratulated his teammates in the locker room and was still beaming when speaking with reporters.

"Absolutely. I know how much effort, how much fight, how much toughness physically, mentally, spiritually that this game has taken a toll on us this year," Carr said."I know how hard it is. It made my day to see those guys celebrating."
James JonesThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)James Jones' 9-yard touchdown catch ended a game-winning, 17-play drive for the Raiders, a drive that ultimately might keep the Chiefs from the playoffs.


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seventeen plays are but a fraction of the snaps in the Kansas City Chiefs' season. But if the Chiefs remember nothing else from the 2014 season, they’ll remember the 17 that defined Thursday night's 24-20 loss to the previously winless Oakland Raiders.

The Chiefs had owned the fourth quarter this season and they had owned this fourth quarter, too, scoring the first 10 points of the period to overcome a dismal start and take a 20-17 lead.

Then came the 17-play Oakland touchdown drive that threatens the Chiefs’ quest for the AFC West championship or even a wild-card berth.

The Chiefs might have been the ones to make the fourth-quarter defensive plays to beat the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks in their previous two games. But they couldn’t manage that against an opponent that was bidding to become the second NFL team to finish 0-16.

Cornerback Ron Parker might have been the hero against the Bills, forcing a second-half fumble and breaking up three passes on Buffalo’s final drive.

But he was penalized Thursday night on the winning drive for pass interference on a third-down play and then was beat cleanly for the winning touchdown by Oakland receiver James Jones.

Safety Husain Abdullah might have put the exclamation point on a lopsided early-season win over New England with a fourth-quarter pick-six, but he couldn’t rein in a pass that would have ended Oakland’s scoring drive with an interception instead of a touchdown.

“That’s one I’m going to think about a lot," Abdullah said.

The Chiefs will all think about those 17 plays. They threaten to ruin their aspirations of an AFC West championship. Those hopes seemed so real before the game, with the Chiefs at 7-3 and tied for first place in the division with the Denver Broncos.

Now, even a wild card seems iffy for the Chiefs. It was just understood that given an upcoming schedule that includes games with the Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers that the Chiefs had to sweep their two-game season series against the Raiders.

The Chiefs can still salvage a split by beating Oakland in a Dec. 14 rematch at Arrowhead Stadium. But that might not be enough to get them into the postseason.

The Chiefs were dealt a tough stretch of schedule. They had to fly to the West Coast on a short week and face an 0-10 opponent four days after earning an emotional win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. In 10 days they’ll be facing the Broncos at Arrowhead.

But they couldn’t find the energy to handle the Raiders.

“You can sit here and make excuses," linebacker Tamba Hali said. “But they played better than us and wanted it more than we wanted it.

“Yes, it was draining, but this is the type of business we’re in. You have to turn it around and muster the same type of energy."

The Chiefs will now take the weekend off, but it will no doubt be a restless time. They could have spent the time kicking back and watching the Broncos play against the Miami Dolphins, comfortable their fate was in their own hands no matter that outcome.

Instead the Chiefs are depending on the kindness of strangers, in this case the Dolphins, to help save their season.

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